Category Archives: anime

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.

Peerless Food Fighters 2.0 (PNP)

Peerless Food Fighters! was the first Kyawaii RPG I did, way back in 2008. It was a GM-less little thing about fighting waitresses, with Noodle Fighter Miki a major inspiration. When I took it into my head to try to make an RPG with board game style presentation, PFF was the first one to come to mind. It was already kind of mechanistic and board-game-like in its design, and in terms of its basic design this new version isn’t all that different. The major thing I did was to go completely crazy with cards, plus implementing the “dueling” concept that came out of the time I played the Kyawaii version with some friends. It involves a grand total of 110 cards, spread across four different varieties that serve different purposes. I got about $6 worth of generic board game components (12 pawns, 6 poker chips, 6 card stands) to complete the set, though if you’re crafty you could find some printable pawns and such.


I’m rather inordinately fond of the approach of having a set of pre-made, color-coded PCs. I’m planning to commission some better artwork done so that I can replace my kind of lame attempts at drawing the characters, though I have to hold off a little on spending that money. Using colors and symbols was generally interesting to me, and the Noun Project and Game Icons were invaluable for getting icons for the attributes/card suits.

The Fate Deck wound up being one of the more interesting parts of the game. I decided to replace the six-sided dice from the game with a deck of cards, which in turn led me to add more and more interesting information to the cards. About half have game effects, and the other half have flavor to influence role-playing. They also have suits that match the attributes, which figures into the flavoring and effects, as well as adding a small bonus if your chosen attribute matches.

Peerless Food Fighters 2.0 PDF

The game’s gotten zero testing, though I’m hoping to give it a try pretty soon.

Another Project: Retail Magic

After about 2½ weeks I finished the first draft of the Yaruki Zero book, which weighs in at a bit over 60,000 words. It’s like I got up to a certain speed with my writing and can’t slow down. Right now I’m having some friends look it over before I start on a second draft.

In the meantime, I got inspired to start on another new project. I’ve been wanting to do a new game using the rules of Maid RPG for ages now; I even came up with the idea to call the rules the M.A.I.D. (Maniacs Asymmetrical Interactive Delusion) Engine. I want to do this partly because it’s just something fun, and partly so the people put off by the maids might give the same rules a chance with subject matter that won’t freak them out so much. My attempt to make a new version of Mascot-tan didn’t work out basically because gijinka characters don’t mesh with random chargen at all. I may take another stab at it once I rethink the character creation rules, but a recent bit of renewed hysteria about Maid RPG got me thinking about it again.

My first idea was to do a game in the vein of Urusei Yatsura, about human and alien teenagers in everyday life. Except I don’t really want to rewrite Teenagers From Outer Space. My second idea, and the one I latched onto, was to make a game where you play the employees at a magic item shop in a fantasy setting. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years–I ran a game with the same concept using Risus a couple times–but the moment I allowed the possibility of using the Maid RPG rules for it, it made entirely too much sense. Characters can be random and zany on the level of Dragon Half, and the store setup naturally gives you an authority figure NPC like in Maid RPG. I’m still working out what other kinds of rules I want to put into the game though. I’m definitely putting in a d666 random item table, and rules for generating a boss and a shop. On the other hand while it seems natural if not inevitable to put in some kind of basic rules for doing business, I’m not sure of the right way to do it, especially since it needs to mesh with Maid RPG type craziness. (Also, I need to sit down and play Recettear, since I’ve had it on Steam for a year now and everyone who hears about the concept says, “Hey! A Recettear RPG! Awesome!”)

I very quickly settled on the name “Retail Magic” (if you’re picking up an element of deep sarcasm, it’s because that’s what I intended), and since I had a good chunk of my attempt at a new Mascot-tan written up, it’s not so long a journey to a functional rules draft.

One of the things that’s changed between 2008 and now is that I started working in the video game industry as a localization editor, and that helped me shed a tendency to be overly literal in how I translate things. There are an awful lot of things in Maid RPG that today I would word differently, both to better fit American standards (it would’ve been trivially easy to change the “Lolita” Maid Type to “Cute”) and for simple clarity (like renaming “Spirit” to “Stress Limit,” which succinctly tells you what it does). Putting together my own game text from the ground up lets me get everything just how I want it, and lets me keep a close eye on content without having to rewrite or outright excise a bunch of stuff from an original version.

Since I finished the first draft of the employee creation rules (minus descriptions of some of the traits), let’s give them a test drive.

Angelina (Age 24)
Attributes: Athletics 3, Cunning 1, Guts 3, Luck 3, Presence 1, Skill 0
Employee Types: Adventurer, Weirdo
Employee Special Qualities: Pet (albino falcon), Eye Patch
Employee Roots: Under a Curse
Employee Weapon: Holy Magic
Stress Explosion: Hiding in a Box
Colors: Hair: Wine, Eyes: Amber, Outfit: Beige and Off-White
Stress Limit: 30
Starting Favor: 0

Angelina is a former cleric who lost her eye in battle against the Dark Lord’s forces. She works in the store solely because she fell under a curse that makes it so she can’t leave. She’s been adventuring so long that she doesn’t quite know how to relate to normal people anymore, and when things get to be too much she tends to hide in a box until it goes away.

So yeah, I think I’m on the right track. :3

Update: Here’s a few more attempts at making characters.

Board Games and RPGs / Peerless Food Fighters

Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about board games and what RPGs can learn from them. I’ve said before that I’m not generally much for board games, but it’s hard to look at them and not admire the production values and sophistication. I started a thread on Story Games, which turned up some very interesting points that are very hard to ignore. I also hit on a game I want to put together as a sort of proof of concept, a new version of Peerless Food Fighters.

A lot of the stuff I’ve been able to properly wrap my head around has had to do with presentation, with product design. The thing about the traditional RPG format is that it has tremendous flexibility, longevity, and economy, but it achieves those things by way of sacrificing presentation, teachability, and ease of use. When you buy an RPG you get a book, and that’s it. You have to dig through and absorb an enormous amount of text before you even get started, you have to provide all of the other materials yourself, and you have to do a lot of work to prepare and get everything together, often making a lot of decisions you can’t fully understand until you get well into the game. You get stuff out of the deal–I wouldn’t for a moment suggest tossing out traditional RPGs–but here’s yet another avenue for trying things out and creating something new with its own distinct merits. The better board games do a really good job of easing you in to learning how to play. I recently tried playing Space Alert with some friends, and the game is impressive for how it sets up a series of tutorials that gradually add more of the full game’s mechanics. That’s especially important for Space Alert, which expects you to work your way up to being able to use the cards and such to plan out all of your moves over the course of 10 minutes, and then resolve them all once the recording ends.


The best pithy one-liner from the SG thread is from TylerT, and it goes, “Your game is not a book.” This is true no matter what kind of tabletop game you’re talking about. Even if the book is the whole of the presentation, the actual game is what happens at the table, and the book is the means of teaching it. Board games can be really good at putting game content into easily digestible chunks, while many RPGs subject you to a huge infodump before you even start playing. This is an instance where for example Apocalypse World, with its playbooks and such, really shines, especially on the players’ side of things. My recent forays into card games have been really interesting just for how it’s become a routine thing that for a game I’ll have a Word doc of the rules and an Excel spreadsheet of cards, often with the latter having more text overall.

Board games are also free to be much narrower in scope than RPGs typically are. That’s another one of those things where I wouldn’t want every RPG to be that way, but I would like it to be a viable choice. Going back to the thread, one person pointed out that for example wargamers are really big on putting together elaborate terrain, but they have one battlefield for a given hours-long game session, and wouldn’t put up with having to set up a single-use battlefield and minis for many small battles the way you do if you use miniatures in D&D. Chris Engle‘s Engle Matrix Games are RPGs with small, simple boards, providing a map element that’s self-contained and manageable. Somehow people act like it’s just totally unthinkable to have an RPG with any real limitations on the scope of the game. Looking at some of the board games that have entered my life lately, there have been things like Space Alert (where you play the crew of a Sitting Duck class spaceship for 10 minutes as it records data and you push buttons to try to fend off alien attackers) and Red November (gnomes try to survive in their deathtrap of a submarine until help arrives). I like the idea of RPGs that in essence give you a recipe for something with the scope of a movie and let you go at it with little to no preparation. (Though I have found that the more complex board games are like RPGs in that they run a hell of a lot smoother if someone has read the rulebook over in advance.) The next step up from there in variability is something like Fiasco, where in a sense there are dozens and dozens of downloadable “boards” to play with.

There’s also some stuff to do with how the actual gameplay is structured that I need to dig into more. Here are a few snippets to chew over:

  • Make losing fun.
  • Balance cooperation and competition.
  • Structure gameplay so that you need to watch closely while other players are acting.
  • Emergent rather than front-loaded complexity.
  • Emphasis on building up things.
  • Toys/tactile elements are fun!
  • Small social footprint.


A big part of why Peerless Food Fighters so readily came to mind in terms of being an RPG with board game type presentation was that it was already one of the more board game-like RPGs I’ve done in terms of its mechanics. Even so, going all-out with that type of presentation has been really interesting. Like my dalliances with designing an RPG in the form of a smartphone app (and I really do need to get more work done with Raspberry Heaven), it opens up a whole different set of options and constraints. I’ve taken to calling it a “role-playing board game,” which I think sums up what’s going to be in the box pretty well. Stuff that I would ordinarily have in the form of Yet Another D66 Table instead becomes a small deck of cards. Looking at board game components is also just way more fun than it has any right to be, and I end up wondering what I could do in the way of an RPG that uses things like colored plastic rocketships and various types of meeples. Since I’m aiming to do it through The Game Crafter, their available selection of components is influencing some of my choices. One interesting but subtle things is that since I want to have clear color coding for the six pre-made characters and I want to have colored card stands for the character cards, I’m limited to the six colors they have the stands in (red, blue, black, white, yellow, and green). I think that actually made the character designs a little better, since it forced me to have more realistic colors, and avoid the obvious choices like having one character be mostly pink.

As I write this I’m planning for PFF to have:

  • Event Deck (which provides situations for scenes)
  • Complications Deck
  • Fate Deck (a 32-card deck that’s like a paper d6 peppered with special effects)
  • Score Board
  • Map
  • 6 Character Cards (w/card stands)
  • Pawns (for use on both the score board and the map)
  • Applause Tokens (which will probably the least changed element from the old version)

The rules booklet will be an important part of how you learn the game, but thinner than in a lot of Fantasy Flight’s games. I do think the way I’ve set it up potentially lessens the impact of the role-playing aspect, but it also focuses it, so that you’ll hardly ever want for ideas for what to do.

The essential practical stumbling block for hybridizing board games and RPGs is cost. You don’t normally manufacture board games in quantities of less than 1,000, and for an independently published RPG that would involve some unwarranted optimism. For that reason I’m pretty sure the new PFF is going to be more of a proof of concept, with a print and play prototype and maybe a Game Crafter version with little to no profit margin. Outside the unlikely event that PFF takes off beyond all expectations, on a commercial level this is going to be more of a trial run for something more mainstream (the cynic in me is whispering about Cthulhu here) and more ambitious.

Channel A: OAV Edition

Channel A is now available for purchase through The Game Crafter for $35 plus shipping. I’m calling this the “OAV Edition,” the idea being that there’s a progression from manga (the black and white PNP version) to a short OAV series to a full TV anime series. I’m hoping to do proper release by way of a non-POD printing to get the price down, but the OAV Edition is available for the people who want the game right now. The set comes in one of their basic game boxes (which admittedly isn’t great for storing lots of cards), and includes 200 Title Cards, 80 Premise Cards, and 30 Vote Cards, plus a printout of the rules.

As mentioned in my last post, I also put together two expansions–Channel A: Second Season and A-Soft–which I’ve also made available, for $15 each. Second Season is a set of 108 new Title Cards, while A-Soft has 68 Title Cards and a set of 40 “Genre Cards” to make the game about pitching video games instead of anime.

Channel A
Channel A: Second Season
Channel A: A-Soft

From here I’m going to be aiming to publish a more professional version of Channel A, either by way of a Kickstarter or maybe through a board game publisher if I can find one that would be a good fit. In either case this will be after even more playtesting and getting a proper graphic designer (most likely Clay Gardner) to improve on my design work. I’ll be making very little money from the OAV Edition, so if you order it you should do so because it’s a game you can’t wait to play. (It is IMHO a really fun game though!) If you just want money to flow my way (some people have said as much, which is flattering to say the least), the eventual more professional version will be a better way to accomplish that because margins and stuff. (Though sharing the game with lots of people will help me out in the long run too.)

Dragon World Hack v0.2

I’ve posted about it a good amount already, but Dragon World is my 90s comedy fantasy anime hack for Apocalypse World, a very silly fantasy game. Dragon Half and Slayers are major inspirations, but just about every fantasy anime I’ve ever seen figures into it a bit, along with Discworld and the sillier parts of every D&D campaign I’ve ever been in.

This is the “Hack” version of the game, so to play you’ll need to have a copy of Apocalypse World, or at least a good knowledge of how AW works.

Here are the major changes I’ve made from the previous version:

  1. Leveling Up: I replaced marking experience with leveling up, which characters can simply do once per session between scenes.
  2. Guts Points: PCs now have Guts points that they can spend to avoid Falling Down (or to affect die rolls), but every time they do they have to make a roll to avoid having a Stress Explosion.
  3. Wealth: The group shares a special Wealth stat that can fluctuate up or down, and which they get to roll on when they buy stuff.
  4. Story Threads: Instead of connections/History, PCs now have Story Threads, which encompass other PCs as well as other story elements. These don’t have mechanical significance, but they do create relationships and story hooks.
  5. Setting Ideas: I filled out my initial section of NPC and setting ideas.

Dragon World Hack 0.2 PDF
Dragon World Reference & Class Sheets PDF