Category Archives: anime

Magical Burst 3rd Draft

Update: The 4th draft is here now. Seriously. OMG.

It’s a little overdue, but here’s the new draft of Magical Burst. I’m not totally happy with it, but some things have definitely improved.

  • Added a set of Normal Attributes and Apocalypse World style moves. These definitely need some work before they’re fully ready, and they may have been muddled by the fact that I didn’t do the AW thing where only players roll dice. On the plus side, they rather eloquently dealt with certain things.
  • Made some refinements to the relationship rules, notably in how new relationships are formed (they effectively start with 2 Strain, so starting a new relationship isn’t better than fixing an old one) and how they’re used (I scaled back the benefits of sacrificing them, so that it’s not better than taking Overcharge).
  • I reworked the Change tables so that each attribute has a full d66 table. To do that I dropped the notion that Heart and Fury changes are mostly mental.
  • I changed the youma creation rules to make them scale to the number of magical girls they’re fighting. The idea seems sound, but it needs a little more work. I think I didn’t take magical girls’ special attacks into account, and was a little too stingy with the special boss powers the youma get.
  • Added a set of variant rules to for making the game more closely based on Madoka Magica to the appendix.

A few weeks ago I did my first playtest, which was kind of mixed, though heat and allergies did play a role in that. I’ve also been playtesting Dragon World, which has been a lot of fun, but has driven home the point that getting the moves right is really important. I need work more on how to better handle the investigation part of the game (which is my un-favorite and which I may need to find a way to sidestep or something). I also had this notion of having players take turns framing scenes, and it needs to either get developed more fully or be dropped from the game. I’m also not really happy with how the combat system has been playing out (even if I do like how the youma design system is going), and I may try to rethink it from the ground up again.

A couple of other random things I’m thinking about:

  • Tables/whatever for the origins and motivations of youma.
  • Making the magical girls just start with relationships to one another automatically. Also, clearer guidelines for adding new PCs after the game has started.
  • A turn marker that you move along the action cards in combat. It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of stuff.

In any case, this is where I start really seriously looking for feedback and generally trying to finish a damn game for once.

Magical Burst 3rd Draft
Magical Burst Character Sheet
Magical Burst Battle Cards
Magical Burst Overcharge Tokens

Design Journal: Dragon World

“Something is wrong with these people, and I don’t know what it is.”

I’ve said it before, but Apocalypse World provides a fascinating framework to work with. There have been certain big hit games that have thrived in part by encouraging hacks and customization. Fiasco’s playsets are an obvious example, and there are AW hacks, IaWA oracles, and Technoir‘s transmissions are poised to become the next example of this phenomenon. Technoir also joins AW in having a printable player reference book[1], an idea I think I’ll have to try for quite a few of the games I’m working on.

The more I work with moves, the more fun I have with them. Where AW has moves that play into desperate badassery, Dragon World moves reinforce a very different kind of fiction. I’ve ended up writing a lot of moves that say things like “You end up looking stupid in front of everyone.” Writing up moves for the different character types is proving a little harder, and I suspect that’s where a lot of the real challenge of this thing is going to come from. Here’s my first draft of the Explosive Mage character type, which is basically for players who want a character like Lina Inverse from Slayers. I’m not satisfied with the moves yet.

Writing the MC moves for Dragon World is really interesting too, since in a sense I’m trying to distill my own best practices for running silly games like Maid RPG. And when I think about it that way, it becomes incredibly awesome in my head, since it means I’m using ideas and techniques that go back to when I first got my copy of Toon back in middle school, literally something like 20 years ago[2]. I’m too intuitive a designer to make some grand point about how humorous RPGs should work, but I think I’m on the track with Principles like “Break your toys in the name of comedy.” Comedy is subjective and challenging and all that, but I think if an RPG can give players better tools for, say, horror, then the same is surely true of humor.

The thing that’s been sticking in my head for quite a while now is how slapstick characters react to physical punishment. Toon handles this by having Hit Points[3], except if you run out you Fall Down for three minutes and come back. A while back I dug out my Toon rulebook and ran a session. It was a lot of fun, but the whole time part of my brain was saying, “Cartoon characters don’t have hit points!” I’m still feeling out how to handle this kind of thing, but I think that cartoon physics work more on a scheme where characters are fine until they hit a certain threshold, whereupon they Fall Down, and then the scene changes shortly thereafter. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to implement that, and especially how to implement it gracefully within the framework of Apocalypse World’s rules. The big problem with a binary system like that is making it work appropriately for a genre where powerful evil overlords are pretty much a given. For that I think I’m going to have to sit down and really rigorously brainstorm.

Also, it occurs to me that if I finish this and try to publish it, finding someone who can do the right style of art is going to be a challenge.

[1]Though AW’s ludography mentions that Vincent got the idea from XXXXtreme Street Luge.

[2]The fact that there are notable things in my life that were 20 years ago makes me feel old, though my grandma would tell me that I’m nowhere near old yet.

[3]Specifically, a Toon character gets 1d6+6 HP, and things typically do 1d6 damage. Also, I’m trying to not think about rewriting Toon to use AW moves.

Yet Another Project: Dragon World

I may need to come up with a better name, but I ended up starting up yet another RPG project. I’ve been reading an obscure and in my opinion tragically overlooked manga called Dragon Half. When the renowned warrior Rouce went to slay a dangerous red dragon, he ended up marrying her instead, and the result of their union was Mink, a “dragon half.” She’s ridiculously strong, but all she really wants is to meet the handsome monster hunter/pop idol Dick Saucer. The magna got a 2-episode OAV series, which barely touches on Mink’s grand adventures. (There are, however, scanlations out there…) Webcomic artist Josh Lesnick also cites Dragon Half creator Ryusuke Mita as one of his major influences, and having finally read the manga I can definitely see why.

It occurred to me that Dragon Half is part of a genre of anime/manga, along with titles like Slayers, Maze, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves, and that I really enjoy that genre. I don’t really go in for the nostalgic lamenting of the current state of the anime industry that’s become so trendy these days, but there is something I miss about the style of anime that made me such a fan back in the 90s. Since I’ve had Apocalypse World on the brain after it helped me get over a major design block with Magical Burst, it occurred to me that I could probably rejigger the basic rules of AW to make a game for that genre. AW’s moves–both player and MC moves–really reinforce the genre, and changing them is a very powerful tool to make a game that does what you want it to. I’ve tentatively titled it “Dragon World.” Thanks to Dragon Quest, in Japan “dragon” strongly evokes Japanese-style Western fantasy, but I already get it mixed up with Dungeon World in my head, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a different title.

Rules-wise I’m probably going to drop the concepts of harm, gear, and barter (i.e., a lot of the stuff that puts the apocalypse-y stuff in AW). I need to explore the idea more, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that rather than having “hit points” or whatever, characters in a very comedic world (whether wacky anime or Looney Tunes) should have more of a threshold before they fall down, after which the scene ends and the action jump-cuts to whatever consequences there are. (Though in Dragon Half if the foe is a disposable monster they’ll often jump cut to Mink and company eating its roasted carcass.) Likewise, gear tends to be part of characters’ overall shtick (like Gourry and his Sword of Light) and money will tend to be ephemeral one way or another (food bills, thievery, etc.).

My tentative list of character types goes:

  • Adorable Mascot (Mappy from Dragon Half)
  • Conniving Thief
  • Dodgy Alchemist
  • Dumb Fighter (Gourry from Slayers)
  • Explosive Mage (Lina Inverse)
  • Half Dragon (Mink)
  • Nutjob Cleric (Amelia from Slayers)
  • Tweaky Shaman (a nuttier version of Fam from Ruin Explorers)
  • Useless Bard (pre-4e stereotypes of D&D bards, and a bit of Lufa from Dragon Half)

The MC moves are especially interesting to work on, since they very directly relate to the flow of the fiction (and I’m going to have to start watching relevant titles with an eye towards how stuff works in terms of moves), so there’s stuff like add silliness and introduce a new version of an old nuisance.

The other thing about AW that’s striking is the sheer economy of it. The rulebook feels like it’s written as though the book is a necessary evil for conveying the game, and it’s very clear that this is the right way to play/run the game. Moves often take up one to three sentences where other games would write them as a paragraph; AW gives an evocative name and the minimum text to tell you what a move does, and continues to the next one. Given my penchant for overwriting my games, the game’s economy of prose may turn out to be a good influence, but time will tell.

Mostly, this is a project that seems like it’ll be really fun to work on and even more fun to play. I started a thread on the AW forums, though the response has been kind of anemic so far, not that I expect a huge overlap between Apocalypse World tinkerers and Slayers fans. Anyway, I just wanted to toss this out there.

Magical Burst Development Update

I have officially made it my goal to get the second draft of Magical Burst done by the 21st, in time for the airing of the last two episodes of Madoka Magica, and I thought I’d post a bit about what I’m working on for that. I am very grateful to Judgment for starting a thread on /tg/ that wound up producing some incredibly useful feedback and ideas, not to mention Kurt, who e-mailed me several pages of comments. Someone’s also running a game on IRC already too. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it’s feeling more and more like I’m on to something, and this may be my first original game to reach fruition. Time will tell.

The final book is looking to be pretty table-riffic. Not quite Maid RPG table-mania, but much closer than I’d have expected going into the project. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish up the “Instant Magical Girl” tables in time–they’re a low priority and they’ve been proving difficult–but I’ve also been adding more tables for stuff like developing tsukaima (and I arranged the Secrets into a table just because). It’s yet another example of the tremendous influence Ryo Kamiya has had on me as a wannabe game designer.

animated; click to be disturbed

I’m doing a considerable rework of the available Fallout effects. The major thing is that all three types of Fallout include “Changes,” permanent alterations to characters. The Magic ones are the mutations that were already in the first draft (though I’m expanding the mutation table), while Heart and Fury changes can cause lasting derangements or impulses. I’m contemplating a few other things, but this should go a long ways towards making all three varieties of Overcharge equally undesirable. I’m also contemplating a thing where high-level Heart and/or Fury Fallout can spawn a youma focused on harming someone you care about.

The combat system is getting a major overhaul too, on account of having been hastily cobbled together in the first draft in the first place. The core of the new system I’m working on is that at the start of a combat round each participant has to pick one attribute to use for attacking (which also becomes your initiative number) and another for defending. I’m still working out other details, but teamwork, helping or hindering others, etc. will definitely be a part of it.

I’ve figured out a lot of what I want to do with the relationship rules. The big change is that Relationships can take Strain, and three points of Strain will break a relationship. For relationships with normal people, any time you expose them to the unnatural effects of magic there’ll be a point of Strain, and if you harm or betray someone there’ll be Strain too. (You can’t have a relationship with a tsukaima though; they’re not emotionally equipped.) Magical girls can also sacrifice relationships to help themselves out in battle. Some forms of Fallout will also get much nastier for magical girls without relationships too. I’m not sure how I want to handle relationships with other magical girls vs. with regular people. The latter are obviously more fragile, but thematically it makes sense for them to be more important in some ways. Regardless, the text now recommends drawing a relationship map as a group.

Characters are getting both Magical Effects and Finishing Attacks, which have some specific mechanical effects. Magical Effects are things you can attach to your Magical Element or Magical Power that give a specific benefit (like healing, an initiative bonus, etc.), while Finishing Attacks are more powerful attacks you can only use occasionally (probably once per session). I’m also adding character advancement, though nothing too fancy. It’s going to be a little bit like The Shadow of Yesterday, and I may just explicitly give each character a Key.

And for a little extra Madoka-ness, I added some optional rules for playing “potential magical girls.” The way the game is set up it’s not going to necessarily be the most interesting way to play–you never get to roll dice–but the role-playing opportunities are neat at least.

Anyway, as you can see I have a lot of work ahead of me, though I’m hoping to get a whole lot more done this weekend.

Update (4/18): I didn’t get nearly as much done over the weekend as I’d hoped. That’s been a routine problem with my weekends lately… I did finish the expanded magic mutation/Change table, though for now it’s looking like it’s going to be massive compared to the Heart and Fury Change tables. I basically have all the changes I want to make figured out. Implementing them shouldn’t be a problem as long as I can make time to do so (which is going to be hard), but I highly doubt I’ll be able to finish up all the tables I want to make for the final game. The Instant Magical Girl section needs 4 or 5 D66 tables written up to be completed, and I aspire to do a bunch of sample youma, tsukaima, and maybe a few sample rival magical girls.

Also, “planefag” from /tg/ wrote a Magical Burst short story.

News Post Trio

It turns out a bunch of news about a bunch of really neat stuff popped up all at once, so here’s a post about three different things that I think are really awesome.

Madoka Magica
The broadcast of the last two episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica got delayed because of the earthquake and tsunami (the relief efforts are still ongoing, and our Maid RPG charity thing is still going on for a few more days by the way), but they’ve announced that those episodes will be airing at long last on April 21st. Not a few fans, myself included, are going to be relieved to finally see the conclusion of this exceptional series.

I feel like I ought to try to get the second draft of Magical Burst done by then, but I’m not sure if I can actually pull it off. Thanks to the recent thread on /tg/ and other people offering feedback I have a laundry list of great ideas to try to implement in the game, on top of all the stuff I already wanted to do myself. (Plus I’m significantly expanding the mutation table, which means lots of time consuming brainstorming and such.)

Atarashi Games x 3
Jake and the gang at Atarashi Games have THREE new games just about to come out, all available for preorder:

  • Panty Explosion Perfect: A major revision of AG’s flagship psychic schoolgirl adventure game, full of instructional manga and other neat stuff.
  • G x B: A shoujo dating sim game for four players. One player is a shy girl named Momoko, and the other three are her potential suitors.
  • Tulip Academy’s Society for Dangerous Gentlemen: A “romantic adventure” game in the vein of Ouran Academy.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
Daniel Solis’ new storytelling game, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, has launched its Kickstarter (and already met its goal!).

The game is about pilgrims, young people in a world with kind of an Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe, who get in trouble, help people, and have adventures through a fantastic world.

Magical Burst: Getting Started

This is an idea I’ve had for some time, though it just coalesced into something I think I can really make work. I’ve been fascinated by magical girl anime for entirely too long, but it’s a genre that cried out to be satirized and subverted. Some might remember how way back when I made a campaign setting called Magical World, a contemporary setting with a dangerous excess of Sailor Moon style magical girls, heavily inspired by the Magical Girl Hunters improfanfic. Later on I had the idea of doing an updated version, titled Magical Burst, which would incorporate Maid RPG style randomness and Superflat insanity, but I didn’t get very far with it.

What has me so incredibly inspired is a new anime series called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a magical girl series from Akiyuki Shinbo, the prolific anime director known for series like Hidamari Sketch, Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei, and many others. (It also doesn’t hurt that the character designs are by Ume Aoki and the music by Yuki Kajiura.) Lyrical Nanoha challenged some of the conventions of magical girl anime–such as by having the protagonist actually sit down and talk to her mother about what she’s doing–but Madoka Magica is the dark magical girl series I’ve been wanting for a long time. It is a series where death is a very real danger, where the desires of adolescent girls are dangerously magnified by magic, and where the forces they’ve aligned themselves with are not so benevolent as they might seem.

Then I stumbled across the TV tropes page on the series, and it turns out that the main writer is Gen Urobuchi. The staff had tried to keep his role a secret as long as they could. Why? Well, in the postface of the first Fate/Zero book he wrote he said, “I am full of hatred towards men’s so-called happiness, and had to push the characters I poured my heart out to create into the abyss of tragedy…” The series is about halfway through its 12-episode run, and it seems like it’s going to get even darker, which is saying something.

This new attempt at Magical Burst incorporates many of my own ideas–too many for it to be Madoka Magica with the serial numbers filed off–and is meant to be fundamentally a game about fighting youma and the unwanted consequences of doing so. The game is shaping up to be sort of like a magical girl version of Don’t Rest Your Head (“Don’t Rest Your Wand”), though quite a few other elements have made their way into the rules, including a D66 table of random magical mutations.

I think the major thing that has me really wanting to realize this game is that it has the potential to create intense stories that really push characters to their limits, all wrapped up in an anime genre I find fascinating. One of the strengths of the magical girl genre is that it thematically works around a feminine coming of age process, and when you stop sanitizing that in the manner of Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew you’re quickly reminded that girls can be pretty amazingly vicious. (Of course, that’s half the premise of Panty Explosion.) I also love how Madoka Magica emphasizes the unnaturalness of magic. One thing about Sorcerer that never came across to me until I listened to the Canon Puncture Game Advocates episode about it is that it’s assumed that your PCs have managed to do something that violates the nature of normal reality. While in other settings there’s fertile ground for magic as something well understood, the consequences of exposing magic to a world completely and utterly unprepared for it are fascinating.

Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there. The actual game should be fairly short and simple, so hopefully it should hold my attention long enough to at least let me finish a full first draft. I’m still digesting Ben Lehman’s (unusually) lengthy essay on playtesting (especially since I barely read it an hour ago), but the main thing I’m taking away from it is I need to be much more rigorous and dedicated than I have been about design.

Role-Play This! A Certain Scientific Railgun

I haven’t done a “Role-Play This!” thing in forever, but I got inspired all of a sudden.

What Is It?
A Certain Magical Index is a series of light novels that has been adapted into an anime series. It takes place in the Academy City, a cutting edge city of mostly students, constructed to instruct people in the use of special powers. Index presents a dichotomy between the world of science (which includes special powers) and the hidden world of magic, which actually exist in a delicate balance of power.

One of the most popular characters from Index is Misaka Mikoto, a Level 5 power-user (which is as high as the power scale goes) with an exceptional talent for generating and manipulating electricity. She can do a tremendous variety of things with her power, but her signature move is to create magnetic fields to propel a coin at supersonic speeds, hence her being nicknamed “the Railgun.” A Certain Scientific Railgun is a spinoff series that stars Mikoto and delves deeper into the lives of Academy City students.

Why’s It Awesome?
Railgun is unusual among anime in that it both develops an interesting setting and tells a good story. It takes place in a near-future setting that presents “super powers” as a phenomenon that science (mostly) understands, and uses that in lots of interesting ways, both in terms of cool sci-fi stuff and how it affects the characters. The Academy City has both the Anti-Skills (a paramilitary force for dealing with dangerous power-users) and Judgment (a group of students that assist with law enforcement as well as everyday problems), not to mention plenty of people who resent the prestige that high-level power-users seemingly have handed to them on a silver platter. There are also hidden conspiracies, strange technologies that affect power-users, and memorably insane villains.

In Railgun especially this is all conveyed with a bunch of fun, likable characters. Mikoto is joined by her roommate/stalker Kuroko, who also has a scarily effective teleportation power, and Ruiko and Kazari, who remind us that not everyone in Academy City has spectacular special powers, however much they might wish for them.

Gaming It
The setting of the Academy City seems all but made for role-playing. It has a population of 2.3 million, of which 80% are students hoping to develop their special powers, so it’s not the slightest bit implausible to introduce new characters with their own powers.

My #1 pick for an existing RPG to use would be Smallville. With its relationship mechanics and orientation towards melodrama, it needs little or no changes to work for the Index/Railgun setting. It even allows for powered and non-powered PCs to exist side-by-side, so characters like Ruiko (who has no powers at all) and Kazari (whose power is inconsequential) are easy to put alongside Mikoto and Kuroko. About the only things I would change would be more flavor, specifically that while characters might have more than one power in game terms, for the purposes of the story they should have only one (“Dual Skills” are only a hypothetical thing in the setting) and that characters without powers in game terms can have a small, mostly useless power for flavor if they really want (again, like Kazari).

For a more traditional approach, most any superheroes RPG worth its salt should be able to represent the kinds of powers seen in Railgun just fine. (And frankly I’m kind of surprised that the anime characters page of Surbrook’s Stuff doesn’t have any Hero System writeups for Index/Railgun characters.) Hero System, Mutants & Masterminds, Truth & Justice, and so on should work without too much effort.