Category Archives: anime

Angel Project

The other day I finally finished Persona 5 (play time: 99 hours 38 minutes), and since I was still jonesing for some JRPG nonsense I decided to play through Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 for the first time in years. That in turn inspired me to start seriously working on Angel Project, the Yuna-inspired RPG I’ve been wanting to do, while some other projects are waiting on other people.

I can’t even tell you just how 90s anime the contents of this CD-ROM are.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna is a franchise that spans three games and two OAV series, running from about 1992 to 1998. Designer Mika Akitaka did a series of “MS Girls” illustrations, making cute girl versions of different Gundam robots, and Red Company and Hudson asked him to create a game for the then fairly PC-Engine Super CD-ROM^2. (NEC branded the PC-Engine as the Turbografx-16 in the US.) Akitaka’s concepts evolved into a visual novel with a series of simple one-on-one battles scattered throughout. In the story, Yuna Kagurazaka wins a beauty contest, and then finds out that she is now the Savior of Light, tasked with protecting the galaxy. Over the course of the two PC-Engine games, two OVA series, and the final Saturn/PS1 game,[1] she fights a bunch of enemies who are mostly cute girls, and winds up befriending the majority of them. The English-speakers who know the franchise mainly know it through the anime, and unfortunately the five anime episodes only represent parts three and four out of a five-part story. It has its own distinct aesthetic and sensibility, but it’s a lot like a sillier version of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha or Symphogear, blending epic battles with lessons in friendship.

Punching in the name of friendship!

I came up with the idea for Angel Project when I was considering doing some alternate settings for Magical Burst (the other two being a Persona-ish thing called “Zero Hour” and a thing with teenagers with special powers in the vein of A Certain Scientific Railgun called “Helix Academy”). Later I ended up designing and publishing Magical Fury (which has been surprisingly popular), and a reworking of the Magical Fury rules felt like the right way to realize Angel Project. Although it has a lot of sci-fi trappings, Galaxy Fraulein Yuna is essentially a magical girl story (Yuna even has a mascot/mentor that grants her powers and advises her, but it’s a little robot thing named Elner), and although Magical Fury is a darker take on it, it’s very much a magical girl RPG. There are a lot of things I’m reworking for Angel Project, a lot of things that need to strike a different tone, but there weren’t too many rules that I had to entirely cut out. The single biggest change was that I replaced Magic/Trauma/Hope with Friendship/Silly/Despair, which should do a lot to change the overall feel and flow.

One kind of unusual and oddly fun thing in the Yuna games is that you travel to various implausibly themed planets, like the Wind Planet and the Beach Planet, so Angel Project has both rules for traveling places and a setting section that outlines places like the Machine Planet, the Fancy Planet, and the Fandom Planet. It also has more clearly defined enemies, in the form of Dark Angels, robots, Shadows (kinda like the Noise from Symphogear), Machine Generals, and so on. It’s generally going to be a bit more fleshed out than Magical Fury, and I’m enjoying doing more with that framework.

While I’m not opposed to doing darker stuff in RPGs, I definitely feel there’s a greater need for more uplifting, positive games. I want Angel Project to be a game that celebrates friendship and redemption, a game where befriending foes is not only a possible outcome, but a common one.

[1]There are a few other Yuna titles, but they’re various remakes, ports, and retellings of the stories of those five entries in the franchise.

Magical Burst 5.0 Alpha

I decided to try taking a more incremental approach to what will hopefully be the last leg of the development of Magical Burst, starting with an “alpha” that will have the bare minimum necessary to play and then filling out more and more elements of the game as I go along, hopefully better informed about how the game really works at the table while I do so. For previous drafts I put in a whole lot of work on things that ultimately wound up being wasted as the game changed, so this time around I’m going to get it out there before I get too far, and not worry too much about stuff like formatting.

I wrote quite a bit about what I’d been working on with the game in a previous blog post, but basically I drew a lot of ideas from Apocalypse World, Magical Fury, and Strike!, and simplified and refined the core system quite a bit with the aim of making everything faster and more flavorful. In any case, here it is:

Download Magical Burst 5.0 Alpha PDF


I have a bunch of games cooking for my Patreon, enough so that some other things are tending to fall by the wayside. One that’s kind of fallen through the cracks is AnimeCon, a freeform game about going to an anime convention. I have a first draft completely done, but I have no idea when I’ll be able to actually give it the playtesting it needs, so I figured I’d go ahead and post it up for free.


In terms of game design, the major inspirations for AnimeCon are Remodel and Amidst Endless Quiet, and the rules it has exist to give a basic structure to what is otherwise freeform role-playing. It has a set of 6 role cards to quickly establish a cast of characters, and you essentially play through a series of scene prompts. It plays with some of the ideas I’ve been working on for Beyond Otaku Dreams, finding the humanity of anime fans at a con, but without the fantastic conceits. It would certainly be possible to rewrite it to deal with other fandoms, but as written it requires a reasonable knowledge of anime fandom.

AnimeCon PDF Download

Magical Burst 2013

Needing to step away from Beyond Otaku Dreams, I ended up getting back into Magical Burst. (Also, making some notes for the alternate settings for Golden Sky Stories.) Getting away from Magical Burst (I was last seriously trying to work on it in October of last year) was apparently the right thing to do, because I feel like I’m coming at it with fresh eyes, and making some important changes that feel just plain refreshing.


One thing that’s been on my mind lately, something that I think not very many people would be in a position to notice, is how different designing and translating games are. As a translator I get very intimate with the actual text of the game. While I don’t remember every word of Golden Sky Stories, I’m exceedingly familiar with the contours of the text, with what goes in what sections. In contrast, when I have my game designer hat on I have an image of the rules in my head, and it’s a struggle to update the text to fit that image as it changes over time. Last month I had a bunch of ideas for Magical Burst (while I was at an anime convention as it happened), and coming back to the actual text is weird because the game in my head has changed so much from what’s in the Word doc. It feels weird that I come across references to relationships taking Strain when in my head I have the much more straightforward system of them having levels that can be gained or lost.[1]

The single biggest thing is that I’m significantly reworking certain key aspects of combat. I decided to implement a “Battlefield” system inspired by Nechronica and Meikyuu Kingdom, basically because it’s something I really, really like. I was never quite happy with the combat system in Magical Burst before, and this gives me a place to implement one of my favorite new game mechanics to come along in a while. I had been thinking of trying an Engagement system like in Arianrhod and 13th Age, but I find the Battlefield map approach far more interesting, and easier and more fun to hang mechanics off of. (It’ll also be a bit of a trial run for implementing a similar system in Slime Quest, which is going to be an altogether more involved project.) I’ve talked about it at great length before, but the core concept is that combat takes place on a semi-abstract map with a small number of positions/areas arranged in a line, and stuff like range and movement is in terms of this set of positions. This provides a potentially fun element of tactical combat while vastly reducing the overhead of having map-based combat at the table.[2]

I also decided to make Magical Attribute assignments semi-permanent. I never really liked the concept of swapping them around on the fly, and it was really an attempt to solve a problem (how to go about tying Heart, Fury, and Magic stats to something meaningful) rather than something I like on its own merits. I’m changing it so that you can rearrange them only when you take certain advancement options. This in turn reverberated through a bunch of other elements of the system, so that it was no longer necessary to have the rule that no two Magical Attributes could have the same value, and didn’t make sense to have relationships follow those types. (And the concept of Fury relationships was throwing people off anyway.)


That’s in addition to the other stuff I was talking about previously with specializations (which give characters more special abilities to emphasize Attack, Defense, or Support), and making Magical Effects into Magical Talents, of which there are a lot more available. One of the things I really like about Magical Burst overall is that it puts my diverse RPG inspirations on full display all at once. It’s traditional, hippie, and Japanese all at once, combining elements of games like D&D, Don’t Rest Your Head, Nechronica, Smallville, and Apocalypse World. The tactical combat aspect might seem a weird approach to the game, but it’s making me a lot more excited to play it.

At this point I’m thinking I’d like to make it a goal to finally publish Magical Burst in about a year or so, though of course I don’t expect life to be so straightforward. The part about how I want the tie-in novel to be ready is going to be a big deal, since that thing is still a first draft and needs a ton of work. On the other hand a new draft of the rules shouldn’t be *too* far off, and I intend to keep a free version available regardless.

[1]The main inspiration for this was the fan-made “Magical Burst ReWrite,” which I’m trying to borrow ideas from (there are several that are too good to pass up!) without plagiarizing.

[2]One of the issues with the 3rd and 4th Editions of D&D is that while doing stuff with a grid can be a lot of fun, you have to put a lot of effort into what is normally a single-use set piece to make it that way. A Battlefield map is both totally reusable and relatively easy to customize (just attach special effects to certain positions).

Beyond Otaku Dreams Alpha

I finished up a first draft of Beyond Otaku Dreams, and just has a rather messy, abortive playtest.[1] Right now I’m kind of lost as to what to do with it, so I’m tossing it on the internet to see what people make of it.

Beyond Otaku Dreams Alpha 001 PDF

The core game is definitely a branch of the Fiasco family tree. I’m really liking the idea of RPGs whose rules don’t particularly concern themselves with success and failure, because it seems to open up a huge number of types of genres and stories that wouldn’t work nearly as well in a traditional RPG (as evidenced by games like Fiasco, GxB/BxB, Hot Guys Making Out, etc.). I especially like the idea of handling an epic “final battle” that way, though I didn’t get as far as trying those rules out in the playtest. I think the big issue with the game right now is that it leaves a bit too much blank canvas for players to fill it, but I’m not sure how to go about fixing that.

[1]We were a bit tired and hot and in mixed moods, so I don’t know how much was problems with the game and how much was from other stuff.

More on Beyond Otaku Dreams

I have a ton of different things I need to work on, including getting more done with the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter (though at this point a lot of that is waiting for people to get back to me), making progress on Magical Burst, and I’ll stop there because I could easily do a whole post just on neglected projects. One that’s been on my mind a lot lately, that keeps popping up in my thoughts even when I don’t intend it to, is Beyond Otaku Dreams. I talked a bit about the idea in a previous post, but recent experiences have helped me solidify the concept a bit more, and really zero in on the heart of what I want it to be about.

For a long time I’ve wanted to make something about anime fans who see into another reality, a “dream layer” superimposed on the world, where they interact with beloved characters and fight spectacular battles while the rest of the world assumes they must be insane. I had a lot of ideas for a novel, and later for an RPG, but neither ever quite came together. Then last year I went to FanimeCon, and I saw the most amazing scene. The Jesus freaks with signs were protesting the terrible circumstance of people having fun, and a bunch of fans were counter-protesting and generally jeering the shouty Christian guys. One guy was playing Final Fantasy music on a saxophone. And while all that was going on, there was an ambulance, and they were loading a girl in full costume, in a powder blue wig, on a stretcher. My FanimeCon 2012 story was mainly about how I bought some stuff in the dealers room, hung out with my friends Jono and Sushu, and wound up playing Jenga with some random people in the gaming area. Someone else’s story was about how a friend who’d worked very hard on a costume had left the con in an ambulance. It reminded me of all the things I’ve seen at cons over the years, covering every hue in the spectrum of human emotions. I’ve seen raucous joy, but also deep anguish, paralyzing shame, perfect religious serenity, and a million other things. Anime fandom has its good and bad points, but it is above all very human. I realized that my game needed to be about that above all else.


More recently I went to Anime Conji, a small anime con in San Diego. It was kind of a shock to be so suddenly and thoroughly immersed in the anime con culture, and it reminded me of the sheer intensity of the experience. I can’t speak with authority on how anime fans behave in real life (I remember how my friends and I were in high school…), but it always feels like people are letting out things they have to keep in most of the time. There’s also a sort of ritualistic aspect of anime cons, and people create new patterns of group behavior that you don’t really see anywhere else. One really striking example is that if someone is wearing a costume, it’s apparently perfectly acceptable to just sort of yell the name of the character at them. Chatting with my friend Guy Shalev about the ritual nature of anime fandom made me realize how important, how immediate the convention experience could be. I realized that I should frame my game around characters going to a convention. The sheer intensity, the amplitude of hope, the collision of reality and delusion, make it the perfect setting for stories about both the humanity of anime fans and about the line between dreams and reality getting blurry.

(The other thing at Anime Conji was that I saw a panel put on by Chocolate Covered Cosplay about taking your fandom passions and making a living off of them. It would not have occurred to me that cosplay could also lead to a career in modeling–cosplay isn’t something I’ve ever been seriously involved with–but they’re apparently way ahead of me when it comes to being anime fans boldly realizing their potential.)

Narratives about and discussions of anime fandom tend to be either highly idealized or treat fans as human garbage. There are academic articles that go on about how amazing and post-modern otaku are, and blog posts griping about how obnoxious they are. Beyond Otaku Dreams is in part me planting a flag in the neglected middle ground, the place where anime fans are human beings with both problems and potential. It’s become a rather personal work (insofar as an RPG can be personal), based much more on my own experiences than references to works of fiction. I have a hard time thinking of many RPGs that quite have that kind of origin (maybe some Jeepform or Norwegian Style games?). I don’t think that makes it better, but it definitely makes it that much more something I want to bring to fruition. It also means that there’s almost zero inspirational material to look at (Akibaranger and Dramacon are probably the closest), which is liberating in a way.


The game that’s just starting to form in my head has some bits of Don’t Rest Your Head, Fiasco, and Polaris (plus a tiny bit of Maid RPG and a few other things). It’s definitely leaning towards the GM-less shared storytelling activity side of things. Like Fiasco it’ll be aimed more at one-shots, but since the characters will tend to survive and become better people, it’ll lend itself to doing “sequel” sessions where you revisit them at the con the following year (or maybe have them going to an even bigger con, or even an event in Japan), learning what new challenges they’re facing. It’s not going to be a game with a lot of numbers–I’m thinking the main thing will be a dynamic of Hope, Trauma, and Delusion[1]–and the more important part of character creation will be a series of DRYH-like questions, including things like “What is your obsession?” and “What do you hate about yourself?” The game would play out in a series of acts and scenes. Acts get random events from tables to shake things up, and scenes will involve stuff based on a character’s answers to the questions. Over the course of the game the situation with dreams intruding into waking hours explodes and climaxes, and then each character gets an epilogue partly based on their numerical scores. Or something like that.

One thing I’ve decided about the end product is that I want the visuals in the book to be mostly or entirely actual photos of cosplayers and convention stuff (kinda like what I put in this post but, you know, all-around better). I love artwork, and I love working with artists, but a lot of the most important parts of this game are about reality, and I want to reflect that visually. I know there are some stock photos I can use–there are a good number of cosplay photos available that way–but it’ll be interesting figuring out how to do the rest, to capture the feel of Artists Alley and a the masquerade and such. The decision to use photos may in turn lead me to have the book be in color (and maybe formatted more like a convention program guide?[2]), though of course that’s getting way ahead of things.

Update (4/30/2013): A conversation with a friend about the game led to kind of an interesting idea. One of the challenges with Beyond Otaku Dreams is helping create something of an anime convention feel even when the players are potentially in a plain, quiet room at someone’s house. Some of the things you can do go a bit outside the scope of the RPG. The Ambiance app provides sound loops for things like a convention hall or manga cafe for example, there’s stuff like having props around (I want to make convention badges, and I’d love to play with someone in full costume), and of course you could just play the game at an anime con. My main idea for helping with that on the game design end is a step just before character creation called “the buzz,” where the group puts together a list of anime titles[3] that everyone in the play group is reasonably familiar with, with the option to put in some made-up ones (say if you just had a memorable game of Channel A?). I think part of the appeal of going to an anime con is entering a special space where your arcane knowledge temporarily becomes shared knowledge, but in my experience even good friends don’t necessarily have quite the same canon of anime series, so I think establishing a baseline for the game will go a long way towards helping players emphasize what they do share. The Buzz should then influence (but not dictate) some elements of characters; if you want your character to be obsessed with a specific anime character, it’ll potentially be more effective to go for one from a series listed in the Buzz. The Buzz will probably also include some elements of the convention itself, like notable guests or events. It would be pretty natural to have a character obsessed with the new anime series Kaiser Bunny Legend[4] and then have the creator of KBL as a guest at the con who plays a role in the story as an NPC.

[1]Specifically “delusion” as a translation of the Japanese word mousou (妄想) as used by otaku, referring to a kind of deliberate, flagrant rejection of reality in favor of self-indulgent fantasies.

[2]Except it would show up on time instead of halfway through the thing. :rimshot:

[3]And other works that fit into the general zeitgeist; putting Idol Master or Homestuck into this list would be fine.

[4]Which is straight from a Channel A playtest, though some day I want to write that story. A group of doujin artists find themselves in a colorful world of magic where imagination has power, so as creative types they find they have all sorts of magical powers. One guy finds his mascot character, a fanservice bunny girl, comes to life. She in turn accidentally takes up the Kaiser Gauntlet, and thus must become the hero who saves the world. With that as a backdrop, the story is really about their relationship and how it changes as she gradually transforms from a fairly shallow character into a complex human being. But anyway.

Retail Magic Design Journal 2

Last night I ran my first Retail Magic playtest, and it went really well. Granted at this stage it’s basically a reskinned Maid RPG, but as my attempt at using those rules for a new version of Mascot-tan demonstrated, that wouldn’t have been a guarantee of success. For the game I rolled up a store I named Vanderveldt Bros., originally under the control of two archmages, but since they died (most likely at each other’s hands) their nephew Eric Vanderveldt (a talented young mage but largely clueless about business) inherited the store. Over the course of the game Axebeard (a female dwarf) held an interview that led to Red Maj (a little girl) being hired, while Wyrmsbane (a shiftless loser dressed as a wizard) slacked off. There was a bit of flailing around dealing with customers, missionaries, and so on before it turned out an ancient dragon was coming to burninate the city, and they had to gather the ingredients for a ritual in order to weaken the dragon enough to defeat it. It was fun, and very silly. It also felt a whole lot like Maid RPG at a magic shop, but then that was kind of the idea.

One thing I’m thinking about is writing a bit about how to approach playing the game. I have enough experience with running Maid RPG that I think I could put together some useful advice. I just discovered Craig Judd’s blog The Game Mechanic, where he just put up three posts about his experiences with Maid RPG as the first of his experiments with expanding his RPG horizons. It’s really interesting to read about someone else struggling to figure out how to play the game and ultimately finding their own style, which is apparently considerably more serious than mine. It’s going to be a challenge to find the right midpoint between offering advice while making it clear that people can do what they want, but I think very worthwhile. It’s probably going to end up looking a lot like the advice I wrote for Dragon World.

I came up with a small innovation, albeit one that gives me a lot of work to do. The idea is to have a d666 table that is in essence a set of six d66 tables with different themes. I’m doing this with the item table, which has different general types of items so that you can just make a d666 roll for any old kind of item, or make a d66 roll specifically for a cursed item or an outworld artifact. I’m also thinking of doing this with the random event tables, which will both give the game enough random events to hold up to more play, and provide event tables for more themes.


I finally started playing Recettear, which I’m enjoying a lot so far, plus it helped me figure out a general approach for putting together the “commerce rules” for Retail Magic. Assuming I can put together something workable, I think “store management” is going to be its own style of play, distinct from random event-driven, favor race, etc. Recettear, like a lot of Japanese simulation video games, uses a concept of “turns,” during which the player has a budget of actions they can take to try to pursue their goals. The system I’m thinking of will be a bit more abstract, without manually doing the haggling of every sale like in Recettear. I’m still in the earliest stages of designing it, and we’ll have to see how it works out.

A while ago I stumbled across Norm Feuti’s book Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook. He’s the creator of a comic strip called Retail, about the staff of a department store and the shit they have to deal with. It draws on his 15 years of experience working at various stores, and Pretending You Care is a more direct distillation of that experience, full of stuff that I wish I’d known during the one retail job I’ve had. It’s kind of depressing to read–and retail has if anything gotten a bit worse since the book came out in 2007–but it’s giving me plenty of ideas as I re-read it.

Anyway, that’s about where I am with the project. My next step is to basically write more material–items, events, etc.–and try them out. Although it’s getting way ahead of myself, I’m also thinking a bit about possible supplements. I don’t want to get quite as out of control as Maid RPG did, but producing stuff like, say, a collection of scenarios with some accompanying rules material could be interesting. For that matter a friend of mine had an idea for a hack that would basically be a zany fantasy version of Community.