Category Archives: ideas


The other day I finished playing Undertale. If you’re not familiar, it’s a pretty incredible PC game that’s… hard to properly explain without spoilers. The trailer calls it “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die.” It takes place in a world where, following a war between humans and monsters, the monsters were sealed underground. You play a human child who finds themselves in the lands of the monsters, trying to find their way. You wind up in a lot of fights, but you have the option to  try to deal with them in a peaceful way (though it’s not always easy). It has a pretty distinctively quirky style to it. In some ways it reminds me of Homestuck, but then the creator of Undertale also composed music for Homestuck.

Undertale definitely seems to have struck a chord, and is a huge success in terms of both raw sales and inspiring tons of fanart and cosplay. I think that like Homestuck it speaks to subcultures and experiences that pop culture doesn’t really cover, but where Homestuck is a sprawling work of incredible scale (the creator once mentioned that if they do in fact put the whole thing out in book form it’ll be something like 40 volumes), Undertale is a relatively short experience, though certainly a memorable one. It has a lot to say about violence in video games (not unlike how The Stanley Parable is a commentary on choice and plot in video games), some interesting worldbuilding, and lots of charming and memorable characters.

Very much like how Madoka Magica helped crystallize what I wanted to do in a dark magical girl RPG and paved the way for Magical Burst, Undertale helped bring a vague soup of ideas together into the idea for a game that I’m tentatively calling “Pix.” (Or that may just be the name of the setting if I can come up with a better name for the game itself.) I’ve been wanting to do something with the inspirations that titles like Homestuck, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Cucumber Quest have been putting in front of me for several years now, and Undertale was what led me to the spark of an idea. Just as Magical Burst isn’t quite a Madoka RPG, Pix isn’t going to be an Undertale RPG per se, but its own animal, albeit with a healthy dose of Undertale inspiration.

Pix is the name of the land where the game takes place. The inhabitants are a little vague on the details, but its origins involve a tormented child finding escape in a video game, until her tormentor comes into the game world, and then some kind of cataclysm happens. Pix is a fragile mishmash of different kinds of reality, tethered to the human world by the Rainbow Spire. It has definite aspects of video games in its basic reality, but it’s rather like what happens with the NPCs when the player’s character isn’t around. The inhabitants of Pix try to live peaceful lives and help each other, partly because they know they need to in order to survive. They do receive information and artifacts from the human world, so they tend to get a bit fixated on pop culture. The aim of the game is to foster weird but gentle stories with a touch of pathos and (nonviolent) adventure.

So far the game is looking to be sort of a hybrid of Golden Sky Stories and Apocalypse World, with the twist that PCs are made by combining a Type (the general sort of creature they are) and a Job (what they do). This is kind of like what I was thinking of doing for the possible Adventure Time-inspired GSS setting, though I’m planning to change the basic structure a little more, and have AW-style stuff for naming and describing characters. I haven’t gotten too far into writing up the Jobs and Types (because I need to nail down more of what mechanics there are for Powers and Weaknesses to play with), but I do like how (for example) the Nerd job (which can variously be a super-scientist or just a huge dork) has a “Shipping” power that helps other people become friends.

Although I’ve now created two setting hacks for GSS, I haven’t done all that much tinkering with the actual engine before. Pix thusfar sticks fairly closely to GSS on several points, but parts ways in many others, and I’m trying to simplify certain parts (like connections). On the other hand I want to try for something kind of like Undertale’s Act commands, giving some degree of mechanical support for coaxing and befriending creatures you encounter.

I don’t start a project with a big manifesto in mind, but while Pix started with a burst of random inspiration, I think I want it first and foremost to be a heartwarming game that says “you belong.” The PCs are going to mostly be good-natured weirdos who are kind of broken inside, but need each other. Even when they’re lizards or sentient patches of fire, they’re people with their own feelings, hopes, and value.

Anyway, I have way, way more than enough stuff to take care of just now, but I wanted to do a bit of a brain-dump on this, since I’m finding it so exciting.

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.

Game Idea: Magic School Diaries

I finished NaNoWriMo this morning. What I wrote is definitely a first draft of Magical Girl Radiant Yuna, with a lot of flaws I’ll need to fix in the revision process, but also a lot of elements I really like. Right now I want to get into the stuff I was setting aside through November, including some blog posts like this one and some podcast stuff. There’s some pretty exciting stuff brewing, and generally lots of finger-crossing on my part.

Here’s yet another game idea that I want to blather about while I don’t really have time to properly work on it. A few years back I did a 24-hour RPG called “Hikikomori.” At the time I was reading a Japanese novel called Welcome to the N.H.K., which was a rather twisted take on the hikikomori phenomenon, where young men are basically refusing to engage with the world. Although the book had a cover by Yoshitoshi ABe and got adapted into a manga and anime, at its core it was more in a modern Japanese literature style. (Though the same author did a novel called “Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge,” which had kind of a magical realism thing going.) Anyway, since I was making a game about intense isolation, it only made sense to me to have it be a game you play by yourself. That was how I hit on the idea of an RPG that’s a sort of fictional diary-writing exercise with some RPG elements involved.


In January of 2011 there was the RPG Solitaire Challenge, a solo RPG design contest. I don’t get much into design contests because they almost always manage to pop up when I’m buried in more important stuff, and this one was no exception. I came up with an idea I really liked though, and the other day when someone tweeted to me that they were having enormous fun with Hikikomori I got reminded of my other solo RPG idea.

For a long time I’ve found the idea of a school where people learn magic to be fascinating.[1] Harry Potter is the blindingly obvious example, and despite some issues[2] I’ve been a fan of the series for a while. There’s also a Japanese light novel series (with manga and anime adaptations, plus a tabletop RPG) called Magician’s Academy, which has lots of embarrassing anime fanservice crap, but also some interesting setting ideas here and there.

I’ve had the idea for the “Mage Academy” for quite a while.[3] It’s a present-day magic school in the U.S., and fairly new. Where most magic schools date back many centuries, the Mage Academy is barely 10 years old. Moreover, its founders specifically wanted to explore areas of magic those older schools were neglecting. Thus they’re doing stuff with techno-magic, as well as comparing the different magical traditions. Before the Mage Academy came along, basically anyone who wanted to learn about another form of magic was out of luck. A Western Merlinist wizard trying to learn Chinese qi magic would be in for the journey of a lifetime, and the great European schools would probably just turn away a Chinese sorcerer. In America there’s a bit of an American Gods thing where all these immigrants brought their magic with them, but the only magic school is on the east coast and tied up with the Freemasons, so most of the people who practice non-Western magic learn it through their families. Taking a cue from Magician’s Academy, the Mage Academy sits in a pocket dimension, though its physical entrance is anchored to an inconspicuous spot in the New Mexico[4] desert.


I haven’t quite nailed down the neologistic tag line for Magic School Diaries, but it would be a diary-writing role-playing exercise, where you follow RPG type rules to guide you through writing a Mage Academy student’s diary of his or her experiences at the school. I envision it letting you make your own character, but having a small number of clear archetypes that heavily influence certain aspects of play. (I hate how much Hogwarts-style houses make sense for that.) It would also have several pre-made NPCs that players interact with in different ways, giving it a little bit of a “visual novel on paper” aspect I guess. I’m eyeing using playing cards for randomness, both for the different ways you can use them, and because having a dedicated pack of cards that you keep in the box in a particular order is kind of an intriguing idea.[5]

[1]Really, I think there’s a lot of interesting and fertile territory in exploring the non-adventuring parts of fantasy type settings. I also want a game about working in a magic item shop, and a game that’s basically “Fantasy Oregon Trail: The RPG.”

[2]Some day when I have nothing better to do I’m going to write a fanfic about an American wizard who visits Hogwarts and is horrified to learn about all the bigotry and other deeply problematic things in Wizarding Britain. (“Wait, you don’t arrest people for using love potions? Seriously?”) He would also be completely and utterly uninterested in quidditch.

[3]I also have this whole idea for a story set there that involves a student mage who came from the distant future as part of a rather dubious time travel experiment. If I do the game I’ll have to make her an NPC though.

[4]“Land of Enchantment” indeed.

[5]The other day I started a thread titled “What can RPGs learn from board games?” There is a ton of stuff to think about there, though I think Magic School Diaries actually lends itself to being a book, at least insofar as it lends itself to being analog instead of digital.

RPG App Brainstorming: Raspberry Heaven

The “How Not to Run a Game Business” blog by Gau/Fugaros from the Something Awful forum has been an interesting and controversial thing. I don’t agree with everything he says of course[1], but from what I know about things I agree with him more than not. Earlier this month he put on a “Brain Full of Games” contest, asking people to submit 250-word synopses of game ideas that could be game-changers. That’s a tall order no matter what, but I submitted my “RPG in an app” idea (outlined in greater but messier detail in an earlier blog post) to the contest. I was pretty confident that I was on to something with the idea, but I was still pleasantly surprised that I was one of the two co-winners. After checking out this blog he went as far as to put up another post and say of me “He likes good games and makes good games. That’s not strictly relevant, but it makes me happy.” and call me a “good-game broseph.” There’s going to be a $10 prize (woo), but the real prize will be actually doing something with this idea.

All of which has me much more inspired to work on the project for real even though I have way too many projects going on. (And as a consequence I’m writing this blog post of about 1400 words and throwing it out onto the internet, cuz that’s how I roll.) I initially had lots of ideas about what to do in terms of the format, but was totally drawing a blank about the subject matter of a game. When I sat down and brainstormed some ideas, Raspberry Heaven jumped to the top of the list. If you haven’t been following this blog, like, forever, it’s a game I’ve been failing to design for years now, inspired by slice of life schoolgirl anime like Azumanga Daioh and Hidamari Sketch. (And it’s one of the reasons I have such a ginormous collection of 4-koma manga.) Twice I built a complete game and decided that it was completely wrong, though for different reasons each time. It’s probably not the most marketable possible RPG app subject matter,[2] but it’s what excites me to the point where ideas for how to make it work are making it hard to sleep, so it’s where I want to be creatively at least.

The game will have a cast of pre-made characters, which aim to be very distinct and iconic in their personalities and looks. I’m thinking 5 or 6 schoolgirls, though I may make them American instead of Japanese for more accessibility and such. My current list of archetypes goes tsundere, space cadet, jock, beauty (I’m thinking of Miyuki from Lucky Star and maybe Hiro from Hidamari Sketch), quiet girl (something like Tooru from A Channel), and spazzy fangirl. The game would have a little “encyclopedia” thing with brief, digestible info about the characters and such that you can bring up at any time, and if you have the app but you’re not the one running the main game you can take advantage of the encyclopedia should you get lost.

When you start playing, each player picks a character and enters their own name for future reference (so if Mike is playing Rose[3], Mike’s name will show up next to her icon to help you remember). If you’re not sure what to pick there’ll be a Random button to let the game pick randomly for you, which will be a thing through most of the choices the game presents. When that’s done, you do the setup for the episode, picking out or randomly determining the general situation you’ll be dealing with. The app could also use the phone’s calendar and weather report to help decide, suggesting nearby holidays as well as characters’ birthdays and such.

The basic structure of the game I’m envisioning is kind of like Fiasco, where players take turns framing scenes in which you mainly do freeform role-play. The game suggests scene elements based on the episode setup, the characters, and what elements have been in prior scenes. I’m thinking it would be neat to have something or other that the scene framer could trigger once per scene or some such, though I don’t yet have any idea what that would be. At the end of a scene you pass the phone on to the next person (determined by volunteer or at random, and someone who hasn’t gone in the current round of scenes) and they evaluate your scene’s outcome for your character. They do this by moving around a couple of sliders (that say between things like “Fun” and “Annoying”) that the game puts in semi-randomly based on the scene’s subject matter and the character.

I’m thinking a standard Raspberry Heaven session would consist of 4 acts, with each player doing one brief scene in the first three acts, and then the aftermath is the third act. That may be too much, and I may take advantage of software and behind the scene calculations to smooth out how you apportion scene framing and evaluations (and perhaps have the app ask for additional evaluations where necessary). That way it can do a much better job of scaling the experience to the amount of time you actually have to play, which is kind of awesome when I think about it. In the final evaluation the game will take the scene evaluations and put them together, with each character having different evaluations weighted differently depending on their personalities, and then you do a short conclusion. I’d like to give the game something to help encourage multi-session play too, but right now I’m not sure how to go about it. Apps can store new data of course, but I worry about how to go about giving players the ability to satisfactorily back up/recreate said data.

The big question is how to go about designing, prototyping, and testing the game from here, since the software aspect invokes new complications I have little to no experience with. I have two friends who are programmers, but neither of them has any experience making mobile apps, and neither of them currently has a Mac for that matter.[4]. I’m probably going to have to get a very simple prototype done as a basic Windows program so I can test it to make sure the actual game design is sound. From there we have the issues of interface design and artwork. I’ll want to have artwork of the characters for a splash screen, for character profiles, and icons to use liberally to keep the images of the characters in the players’ minds. As for the interface design, I happen to know a great graphic designer in Clay Gardner, but I think I’ll have to read up on the subject all the same.

What’s really interesting to me about all this is how easy it is to think of things where letting a computer handle things lets the game be complicated behind the scenes in ways that would be difficult to handle elegantly using paper, dice, and human brains. I’ve got all these ideas for stuff based on random numbers (which always wouldn’t come from number ranges that fit into neat die types), big tables of story elements, dynamically adjusting probabilities, and so on less than 24 hours after seriously starting brainstorming for this project. That’s partly because the period of my life when I was trying (and miserably failing) to learn programming and the more recent time when I’ve started to kinda sorta understand game design have no overlap whatsoever. It presents a whole new set of freedoms and limitations, which I find just fascinating.

[1]This is especially true of the “Stop. Making. Games.” post, though I would agree with a milder version along the lines of “Stop making games that have already been made many times over.”

[2]“He also likes anime. A lot. A very, very lot.” –Gau (Guilty as charged.) On the other hand once the app is done it should be fairly easy to adapt the same framework to other subject matter. I’d like to do something more in the style of an American sitcom (one of the more clever ones like How I Met Your Mother or Community that is), and something with a very strong genre fiction element of some kind. I’ve been wanting to do something about the everyday lives of students at a magic school or magic shop for a while now, for example. OTOH I do want to try designing an RPG app with some kind of combat involved.

[3]I have a character I’ve been wanting to use in something for ages named Rose Valentine, a brave and good-natured heroine type character (who happens to have four older brothers who all but live in a karate dojo). Not sure if she’ll actually make it into this game though. Were you thinking of Rose Lalonde from Homestuck? A Homestuck-ish reality-bending pixel art thing is on my list of other possible RPG app ideas.

[4]I do want to do an Android version (though I don’t have any access to an Android phone at the moment), and possibly some kind of web app. Where we’d actually start will heavily depend on what’s most feasible.

RPG in an App

Over on Story Games there’s been a thread about RPGs/story games going digital, and I had an idea I thought was really interesting, even if I won’t be able to do anything with it any time soon.

Dungeon World now has an iOS app, which is basically an enhanced e-book. It includes several reference features, plus audio commentary, and Sage is planning to add more functionality over time. Which is all really neat (especially since Sage is planning to make the details of how he put the together available for free), but I think barely scratching the surface.

There are two GameCube games that did really interesting things in terms of their interactions with the players. The GameCube version of WarioWare has a multiplayer mode called “Listen to the Doctor,” where a doctor character tells you to do something (sing a song, touch your nose, etc.) while playing one of the micro-games. Afterward the other players can tap A to “applaud” depending on how well they think you did. That shows that a video game can still have a social, human element. Pac-Man Vs. is one of the very few games that made effective use of the Game Boy Advance link cable. One player plays Pac-Man, while the other players are all ghosts. The ghost players share the TV, which shows only the areas of the maze immediately around each ghost. The Pac-Man player holds the GBA, and the screen on it give them a private view of the entire maze. When a ghost catches Pac-Man, the players of that ghost and Pac-Man trade controllers, and the new player gets to be Pac-Man. It would be a bit much to expect every player to have a GBA and link cable, so having it be a thing you pass around as a reward for good gameplay turn having only a single GBA into a strength.

Suppose we have an RPG in the form of an iPhone app[1]. I have two gaming groups, and at best half of each group has iOS devices, and no game no matter how awesome is going to convince the ones without to pony up for an iPhone, even assuming they could afford it in the first place.[2] So the first thing we do is be sure to make it so that you only need one iOS device, and have it either rest with one player who takes up a particular role, or make it part of the game that you pass the device around. (Maybe give the app some kind of “reference mode” or something for if a player has an extra device and wants to use it.) Since the screen is relatively small and not good for doing any great amount of reading, we keep the amount of text relatively small and in digestible chunks. This points to a relatively simple story game type thing, and admittedly the idea crystallized in my head after listening to the Actual People, Actual Play podcast on Ron Edwards’ game It Was a Mutual Decision, which sounds like it’s a powerful experience but on-rails structurally.

Some of the things such an app could do include:

  • Take input from players in any number of ways. One obvious thing would be to let a player enter a character name, and then the game can seamlessly put it into the text for the duration of play.
  • Reveal or conceal things to/from different players at different times, possibly including things input by various players.
  • Do random number generation electronically (and possibly behind the scenes), presenting players with just the results. These could come from an extensive table of random elements so that the players only need to worry about what’s been generated for this instance of play.
  • Make sounds and/or pictures a part of the experience.
  • Integrate any number of “analog” things into the experience, in addition to role-playing of course. In some ways it would be better to make it so you just need the app and some friends, but equally you could put in other elements, whether traditional RPG trappings (dice, paper character sheets) or totally off the wall stuff (Jenga!).
  • Likewise, smartphones have plenty of stuff like GPS, motion sensors, cameras, internet access, vibration, etc. that a game could leverage in various ways.
  • Provide players with built-in tools to tinker with the experience in various ways. Have settings that tweak numbers for pacing mechanics, if the game has something analogous to Fiasco playsets have a way to submit and download new ones, that kind of thing.
  • Let players just peel back the game’s facade and fix stuff if things are going wrong. Change numbers during play, force the game to skip to Act 3, etc.
  • Include liner notes and other reference material available in hotlinks.
  • Let players save the game’s current state to be resumed later.
  • Where multiple devices are available, they could link up via the internet or Bluetooth.

[1]An Android app would be fine too (especially since Android is apparently gaining a ton of market share), or a web app or whatever, but I happen to own an iPhone so that’s what I’ll use as an example.

[2]It would be nifty to have something where, say, you do tactical battles a la D&D4e and everyone has their own device for it, but it’s not gonna happen.

Revenge of the Random Thoughts

Deep Blue Sea
The blue ocean strategy podcast is taking a bit longer to put together than I had hoped, in part because, when it comes down to it, it’s potentially a very broad topic. The thread I started over at Story Games has generated over 80 posts over the course of two weeks, and produced some very interesting discussion, that has in turn helped me better figure out what to do with the podcast. In particular, I think that while RPGs have done a lot of innovation in terms of what the medium can do, there hasn’t been nearly as much innovation in how people market and sell those games. (Though needless to say, design and marketing can and probably should inform one another.)

Four Ee
D&D4e is a great game for campaigns, but it’s really not that great for one-shots. I’ve yet to play in a con game that didn’t run for 6 or 7 hours, even with the party focusing on getting through the encounters. A 4e character has enough of a learning curve that it’s not worth playing one for just one session.

I got a copy of the new Eberron Player’s Guide, mainly because I wanted to see what 4e could do with a fantasy setting less generic than Forgotten Realms, though frankly it’s not quite wacky enough for my tastes, which makes me want to get around to working on the Nine Towers setting I’d tentatively started a while back.

Potential Spaces
At Webstock 09, Ze Frank gave a talk on “Potential Spaces”. Although he’s a very talented guy himself, where he really shines is his ability to create spaces for people to contribute, and over the course of his 50-minute talk he gives several fascinating (and uplifting!) examples. Early on in the video he also talks about the relationship between the rules of a game and what actually happens, and this is something every game designer should be thinking about.

Dragon Oracle
As kind of a short side project I’ve started trying to design a (non-collectible) card-based RPG. It’s a simple fantasy game, tentatively titled Dragon Oracle. I’m trying to stick to using two decks of 54 cards (a Hero Deck for the players and a Dragon Deck for the GM/Dragon Master) and as few other materials as possible (which is why it wound up being non-random), though I ended up having to allow for simple character sheets. The number of cards limits the number of classes for the base Hero Deck to 3, which will be Fighter, Mage, and either Thief or Acolyte (priest/cleric). I’m not sure where I’m going with this. If it works out exceptionally well I may see about POD printing through Guild of Blades, or try submitting it to game publishers, but it may just wind up as a free PDF, if that. Right now it’s kind of stalled, partly because of the dilemma over class choices (though I’m leaning towards putting in the thief and letting the mage heal a bit, so it could be Fighting/Magic/Trickery rather than Fighting/Magic [arcane]/Magic [holy]).

Sunset +3
Over on the Sunset Games blog they’ve posted up an announcement and cover image for the third and final Yuuyake Koyake supplement, Kore Kara no Michi (“The Road From Here”), which as I understand it will be about playing as humans. Ike‘s art is awesome as ever.

Slime Story
I haven’t been getting much done on Slime Story, but I did get the commissioned art for the game’s archetypes:
Karate Star (Matt)
Suburban Ninja (Phoebe)
Joe Hunter (Doug)
Custom Character (Rita)
Dedicated Archer (Christine)
Nerdy Alchemist (Kenny)
Monster Lover (Kelly)

Dragon Ball Zeeeee
I have a vague notion of trying to put together a DBZ game loosely based on the Budokai Tenkaichi (or “Sparking!” in Japan) video game series.

Anime Games I Want

Another issue I had largely dismissed as irrelevant until a friend pointed it out to me is that some people are put off by anime. Titles like Avatar are hurt as well as helped by the label. That’s another example of how it’s become a loaded word for some people. Some people who like Exalted like it because of its anime inspirations, others like it despite them and play up the Greek myth side more, and still others dismiss it entirely because of the anime slant. (And amusingly, Andy has mentioned that the Japanese publisher of WoD–Atelier Third–found Exalted just too overwrought for Japan).

My ideal model for drawing inspiration from anime and manga would be Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s comic, Scott Pilgrim. There are a lot of elements that are reminiscent of manga, but if he was inspired by Japanese comics, he’s fully metabolized them and he’s doing what he wants to do with them. No imitation, self-consciousness, just a kickass comic. (Also, Scott Pilgrim needs an RPG).

Anyway, this time around I’m going to post my thoughts on what things in anime I think would make for really neat RPGs. (Though there are some more that I’m going to save for future installments of “Role-Play This!”).

  • Horror Heroes: While Japan does have a tradition of scary-as-hell horror stories, there’s also a genre of anime about good guys fighting the to protect us from the supernatural. These range from deadpan titles like Blood+ to the wackiness of Phantom Quest Corp.
  • Miyazaki: Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies are in many ways unlike mainstream anime–deliberately so–and they have captivated audiences of all ages. I’d love to see one or more games try to capture some of Studio Ghibli’s modern fairy tale feel. Yuuyake Koyake is probably the RPG that comes closest.
  • Postnuclear: In Japan the atomic bombings of 1945 have been so politicized that no one has really made any effort to confront those issues directly in art. Instead, anime series like Yamato and Evangelion express the repressed feelings and urges while studiously avoiding real-world blame. Bliss Stage‘s scenario starts with some of the same end of humanity nihilism, but I’d like to see a game that tackles these issues more directly.
  • Sekai-kei: Sekai-kei is a genre that focuses on a relationship between two young people, juxtaposed with the end of the world. Jake Richmond’s The Year We All Died is very much based on Saishuu Heiki Kanojo, but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Voices of a Distant Star, Iriya no Sora UFO no Natsu, and Evangelion are all considered part of the genre.
  • Otaku: Dramacon, Akihabara@DEEP, Aoi House, Genshiken, and Megatokyo all show different ways that stories about obsessed fans can make for interesting characters. I want to see a game with the otaku troubleshooter agency angle of Akihabara@DEEP, and the zany, exaggerated, and deep setting sensibilities of Megatokyo.
  • Sci-Fi Western: I want to see a totally over-the-top Western with sci-fi elements a la Trigun, and maybe some fantasy gun magic like in Kurohime.
  • Shinigami: At some point someone needs to write a pretentious essay analyzing the Japanese fascination with shinigami, or “death gods.” In the meantime, I want to see an RPG that draws on stuff like Bleach, Death Note, Soul Eater, Shinigami’s Ballad, and so on.
  • Super Robots: This is the other end of giant robots: cheesy, cinematic, and bold. The robot is an extension of the hero’s blazing heart. Gurren Lagann is the most recent example of the genre to make a splash.

What about you?

In Other News
The layout of Maid RPG has begun. I got to see a sample today. It’s directly based on the original Japanese sourcebooks, and I really like how it looks so far. Andy’s been plugging away at the editing too, so while there will be a lot of rushing around on everyone’s parts, it looks like things are on track. Also, I’ve been poking at my own Maid RPG material (tentatively titled “Maid RPG 120%”), mainly putting together a table of scenario seeds covering old west, reality shows, superheroes, and more.

I’ve started playing with WordPress’ “pages” feature. There are now pages for “About Me” and “My Games.” I didn’t realize I had SIXTEEN different games in various stages of design (from a mere idea to a more or less final draft). Sigh.


Although it goes without saying that S. John Ross is a living fountain of awesome, today I stumbled across the Adventures of Darcy Dare paper miniatures font. The art is done in that kickass illustration style that’s used by lots of industry pros, yet aside from the Esurance commercials hasn’t gotten anywhere near the mainstream exposure it deserves. Some time I seriously want to run a game based around the general feel of Darcy Dare, and have each player pick out a character from the font to represent their character.

Also, since I had more money in my PayPal account than I realized, I decided to order some more things from Sunset Games. I’m finally getting Mononoke Koyake, the sourcebook for Yuuyake Koyake that adds kappas, aliens, ghosts, oni, and michinoke (I’m not sure what those are either). Also, I ordered Aitsu wa Classmate! (“That’s My Classmate!”), a newer game (by an entirely different designer) about high school wackiness. Finally, I’m also getting the newest issue of A Local Paper, Sunset Games’ little in-house magazine thingy. Past issues have included convention reports, mini-RPGs, scenarios, etc., though I’m getting the newest issue which has a Yuuyake Koyake replay with designer commentary, and a Maid RPG scenario.


Since it’s looking like it’s going to become an important part of two of the games I’m working on, I decided to write up a blog post about kishoutenketsu (起承転結). Kishoutenketsu is a four-act structure commonly used in Japan. Although it originally derives from Chinese poetry, it has been applied to all sorts of longer works, including novels and manga. The four stages are introduction, development, climax (or turn), and resolution. Just like the three-act structure (set-up, confrontation, resolution) more commonly used in the West, it is ultimately just a model, and it certainly can’t be used to explain the structure of every story out there.

On the other hand, there’s the case of yon-koma (four-panel) manga. These are comic strips consisting of four vertical panels, and are more or less Japan’s version of our newspaper comic strips (which, possibly not coincidentally, are mostly three panels). When you examine yon-koma comics from the point of view of kishoutenketsu, more often than not the panels correspond exactly to the four-act structure, wrought in miniature. In case you’re wondering I learned about this through (1) a fan-translation of Welcome to the NHK, which mentioned kishoutenketsu in a footnote, and (2) a how to draw manga book I saw at a store and have never been able to find since.

Anyway, with Raspberry Heaven most of the source material (notably Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star) started off as yon-koma manga. Even when I come up with a good idea I usually need some prodding in the right direction, so it wasn’t until Jake Richmond egged me on that I came up with a good idea for how to use it in this game, and in a way that will hopefully make the game that much better. Essentially it’s going to be a part of the rules structure for how scenes are set up and run. The four phases are:

  1. Ki/Introduction: The player sets up and initiates the scene.
  2. Shou/Development: The group commences role-playing.
  3. Ten/Climax: The scene comes to a head, and a “challenge” (a thing that requires rolling dice) happens.
  4. Ketsu/Resolution: A little more to bring the aftermath of the climax into the game, and to close up the scene.

With Tokyo Heroes (at Filip’s urging) I’m also planning to use it, albeit on a different scale. As a genre, sentai has a relatively rigid plot structure, so the four acts could correspond fairly tightly to the stages of the story of a standard episode, with mechanical effects (or a lack thereof) appropriate to each.

  1. Ki/Introduction: The game starts, with the heroes doing something ordinary (for them) that, though they don’t know it yet, is going to lead into this week’s conflict.
  2. Shou/Development: The inciting incident hits. The heroes have to do whatever investigating is necessary to be ready for this week’s battle. For this I’m thinking of taking a cue from Gumshoe/Esoterrorists, and making it more about how the PCs find clues rather than if.
  3. Ten/Climax: The battle finally happens for real. The heroes go all-out and beat the monster of the week.
  4. Ketsu/Resolution: The game goes a little further, to establish what happens after the monster is defeated. The people affected by it turn back to normal, the girl it kidnapped is freed, etc. The heroes go back to base and things settle down. Credits roll. Preview plays.

Raspberry Heaven is coming together fast enough that I might actually be able to playtest it before the month is up. With Tokyo Heroes it’s kind of a different story in that Filip sent me a LONG e-mail (8 pages when I printed it out) with a blow-by-blow critique. It’s been tremendously helpful, but it’s required me to rethink some very basic parts of the game’s structure, and a massive rewrite is in order before I do more playtesting.

(Some day I’ll work on Thrash 2.0 again…)

Yarukimantan: Raspberry Heaven

Now that my freelance translation stuff is mercifully done (for now), I want to get back into doing creative stuff over what’s left of the summer, including getting back into the swing of things with game design. Although I need more time to think about my Slime Story idea, I wound up coming up with a new game idea that while not groundbreaking per se is definitely promising and doable. There’s nothing quite like it as far as I know, and it’s not so ambitious that I’m worried about (a) whether I can actually finish it, or (b) whether the end result will be complicated enough to be a pain to get fine-tuned. More importantly, I’m actually excited about it.

Raspberry Heaven (bonus points if you get the reference) is meant to be a game about Japanese high school girls, but where Panty Explosion has them being mean to each other (plus the occasional exploding head), this would be about fun, everyday stuff. It’s Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, Ichigo Mashimaro, or Hidamari Sketch (take your pick) with the serial numbers filed off. Basically, a light-hearted slice of life kind of thing. I’m still working out how the rules will function, but I’m thinking the end result is going to look like a mashup of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach and Best Friends, but with a general feel more akin to Yuuyake Koyake. It’ll most likely be GM-less, something I’ve been wanting to experiment with anyway, and revolve around the players setting up scenes, very much like in the Roach.

It’s still very much in the preliminary stages, so while I have a rough idea of how I think the overall game will work, lots of things are up in the air, and there are lots of bits that I’m looking forward to discovering how I’m going to make them work. Of the four anime titles I mentioned above, three were originally done as yonkoma (4-panel) manga, so one wacky idea would be to somehow fit the four stages of kishoutenketsu (起承転結; introduction, development, climax, resolution) into the game somehow.

Update: Started a thread in the Forge’s First Thoughts forum.