Tag Archives: Magical Burst

Magical Burst Stuff

The other day I got to be one of the very few people outside Japan to see the third Madoka Magica movie. It was at a crappy little theater in San Francisco, and we got to wait in the cold until 15 minutes before the showing started. On the other hand we actually got to see it. When they had the double feature of the first two movies they had about two showings total here, which sold out before I could get a ticket. Madoka Magica has always been the kind of show that’s hard to talk about without giving spoilers, and short of watching a fansubbed camrip, most people aren’t going to get to see it until some time after the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release, so I won’t go into detail about it except to say that it was quite good, but really, really weird, and I think it will be very controversial in the fandom.


Although I haven’t really had time to actually work on Magical Burst, watching the movie did give me some ideas, and inspired me to start watching more magical girl anime, which in turn gave me other ideas, so at the rate I’m going I’ll hopefully get back into working on it before long. As much as I liked the third Madoka movie, I feel like it helped me mentally decouple Magical Burst from the franchise a bit more, so that I can look at other magical girl titles more clearly and openly. Although Madoka was a prime source of inspiration, MB was always its own thing in many very important ways, especially with the central conceit of Overcharge and Fallout, which is both very important to how MB works and very different from Madoka Magica. In particular I’ve been watching Day Break Illusion, Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya, Fresh Pretty Cure, and the live-action Sailor Moon series. These haven’t really inspired me to change Magical Burst rules-wise, but they have definitely got me thinking about the genre quite a bit more.


I also ended up having a pretty solid idea for what I want to do for a “Magical Burst Companion” book to eventually follow the core rulebook. This is me getting way ahead of myself as usual, but it helps to have some kind of outlet for concepts that are extraneous to the core project, provided they don’t get totally out of hand. There are several possible alternate takes on magical girls that would make interesting rules options. I want to do something with a dark take on the reincarnation element in Sailor Moon, both as a rules option and in a story. Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya also presents the idea of magical girls having cards they can swap out to get different magical abilities (and of course there’s Card Captor Sakura). Pretear presents a variation on that concept where the different powers come from different people, but using them means risking those people’s lives. A “corruption” system more in line with Madoka Magica could make a nice replacement for Overcharge and Fallout.

The other major part of the Companion would be a set of three alternate settings, which use the same basic rules (with some key changes) to tell some very different sorts of stories.

  • Angel Project has heroines who wear skimpy sci-fi power suits (as seen in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna and a few others) and fight the forces of darkness and occasionally each other. Taking a cue from the Yuna PC Engine games, the setting involves destinations like the Water Planet and the Fancy Planet.
  • Helix Academy is about students at a school for people with special powers, heavily inspired by A Certain Scientific Railgun. I’m not sure how I would really approach this one yet, but I’d like to try something along the lines of Adventure Planning Service’s Elysion RPG, where you have to manage your schedule and take turns doing different things towards your goals.
  • Zero Hour would basically be Persona with the serial numbers filed off, concerning people with special Avatars that give them powers they can use to fight threats to humanity in the un-time. And now that I think about it, the time management type system would be pretty appropriate for this one too.

Anyway, I just wanted to share where I’m at with Magical Burst. I’m thinking over the course of 2014 I want to make a push to complete the new revision, do a bunch of playtesting and refinement, and then move towards publishing it by 2015. And from there avoid having quite so ridiculously long development cycles for my games.

A General Update

I had started writing a design journal post about Fantasy Friends, and then I realized I had made such a post before and I was mostly rehashing stuff I’d already written about. In a way that kind of typifies a lot of what’s been going on with me in terms of game design: there are a lot of things I have more or less figured out in my head but still need to finish doing the actual writing and such. I think that has a lot to do with the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter eating up so much of my time, but the good news is that for the purposes of the actual shipping of physical goods part my own work is very nearly done. All of the many physical items are variously already at the warehouse, on their way to the warehouse, or will be going to the warehouse once printing is done. All that’s left for me is to post some updates and handle letting backers update their mailing addresses when the time comes. After that we still want to get the remaining PDF stuff done in a reasonable amount of time, but it’s not going to be nearly as much pressure. Anyway, I decided to write a blog post about what I’ve been generally working on.

Friday Knights
One of my major projects right now is Friday Knights, a playset for the currently-Kickstarting Costume Fairy Adventures RPG, the inaugural product from David J. Prokopetz’s Penguin King Games. The game is about cute fairies who wear costumes that give them magical powers (there’s a deck of costume cards) and how they generally get into trouble. I’m writing a scenario/playset where your fairies wind up in a house where there’s a D&D game going on. I’ve made a good start on it, but there’s plenty of writing left to do.

Adventures of the Space Patrol
The other day while googling to see what people were saying about Golden Sky Stories I came across something that gave me pause. Someone had pointed out that in describing the Space Agents I had portrayed the male characters in a variety of ways, but managed to talk about pretty much all of the female characters in terms of being young and pretty. I’ve generally been trying to be better about inclusiveness and diversity, both to better serve my audience and to challenge myself to break dumb cliches, so it caught me off guard that I’d managed to do such a thing without even realizing it. On the plus side, that promptly gave me the idea to make Billy Smith’s mother a playable character, which is a dynamic that you pretty much never see in RPGs. Generally tweaking and playing around with the other characters is also going on my to-do list for the next revision of the game, whenever I can make time for it.

I’m also planning to include more robust rules for creating original characters. While I like having premade ones in many different ways, it seems pretty clear that a big chunk of the RPG audience wants the ability to make solid original characters. I also picked up the Fate System Toolkit. It’s packed with all sorts of ideas, but the one that interests me most is Conditions, though I’m not at all sure whether they’re really the way to go. Something to experiment with in playtesting.

Magical Burst
A few people have been asking about Magical Burst. It’s another one of those projects where I’ve pretty much figured out what I want to do, but need to find the time to actually do it. That puts it pretty much at the top of my list of things to do when GSS isn’t eating up quite so much of my life. I also need to find time to sit down and watch more of the magical girl anime that’s come out (the Madoka movies, Day Break Illusion, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, and I’m sure I’m missing something). Of my many neglected projects Magical Burst is easily the one I most want to make happen, and a Kickstarter is a very distinct possibility once I get the rules nailed down. (Though after my experiences with GSS, I’m definitely going to keep extras and stretch goals on a tight leash next time around.) As I mentioned before I want to continue having a free version of Magical Burst available, something along the lines of how Anima Prime has a no-frills free version and a fancy book with illustrations and such.

Other Stuff

  • I haven’t gotten around to posting it, but I did a revision of America’s Next Top Reality Show, making it so that each card has two title words, plus a demographic listed between. That way the game has 144 title words out of a 72-card deck, and doesn’t need for the players to have dice on hand. The game is working pretty well, though it has a very different energy from Channel A, plus we tend to feel kinda dirty after playing it, in a way that doesn’t happen even with Cards Against Humanity. ANTRS parodies something really prevalent in our culture right now, and potentially in a pretty cutting way, since sometimes it does feel like reality shows use some kind of randomizer.
  • Fighting Fighters Coliseum is the title I’m tentatively giving to a game that’s going to be a kind of successor to Channel A, still a party game, but with a little bit more in the way of rules. The idea is that instead of titles, you assemble your final attack name from words on cards. The game would also have a set of character cards, which double as both player avatars and opponents, with different special abilities for both. There’s still some details to work out, but putting together a list of words from special attacks was pretty much just a matter of culling through lists of such.
  • Something’s going to be happening with Maid RPG soon. Nothing earth-shattering, but something. I should be revealing it in about a month or so.

Magical Burst 2013

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Magical Burst Development Stuff

I had kind of hoped that my next post about Magical Burst would be the release of the next version, but I’ve wound up setting myself up with a lot of work to do before it’ll be ready.

One thing I’m doing is a lot of writing in general, filling in advice and even setting information in more detail. I’m trying to better articulate the aesthetic for magic and the youma for example. In Madoka Magica, it’s as though characters don’t have spells so much has colors of paint they can use to scribble all over reality. Mami uses magical flintlock rifles, but that goes anywhere from hauling out a single one to making about a dozen appear to creating a giant cannon version for her finisher. I also want to dig into the characterization of the youma a bit more, about how destructive they are emotionally.[1] I’m also filling out tables of Secrets and Youma Motivations, and I expanded the magical girl costume tables. More importantly, I’m trying to properly clarify and nail down a lot of things that had been entirely too vague in previous versions of the game, like running out of resolve, stealing Oblivion Seeds, when Fallout kicks in, etc. There’s also the stuff with Shocks that I mentioned previously.

I have quite a bit to do in the way of digging into the actual rules. Overall I’m doing more refinement and less adding novel elements, but there are a couple key things I’m now planning to add.

Looking at one of the /tg/ threads I found out about someone’s “Magical Burst ReWrite Edition.” I don’t want to steal from it, but I do really like their idea of giving magical girls different specializations similar to D&D4e’s roles. I myself like games that give characters a decent amount of mechanical differentiation, so I’m hoping to pursue this route, though I’m not totally sure what I want the specializations to be.

That dovetails into some stuff I’m doing tinkering with the combat mechanics. I’m adding something like the Movement and Engagement rules that have appeared in numerous F.E.A.R. games. I really like semi-abstract movement and positioning type rules, but for Magical Burst I need them to be a bit more fluid than the Meikyuu Kingdom style battlefield concept allows, on account of magical girls can potentially do so many different kinds of things with magic, including the most outlandish modes of movement. (It also gives me an excuse to get printable cardstock magical girl and youma minis made.) 13th Age does have something kind of similar to this, though without the “engagement” vocabulary. I think it does a good job of creating a distinction between melee and ranged combat,[2] which I’m hoping will make magical battles a little less like a series of attack rolls. I also like it for how it gives me some more things to hang crunchy bits on, and I think it’s going to be really helpful in terms of the aforementioned specializations.

With NaNoWriMo I’ve tended to go to extremes of not trying or cranking out the requisite 50,000 words, if just barely in time for the end of November. This year I had originally been planning on trying to do a sci-fi comedy story (“Tiny Aliens”), but with magical girls on the brain I decided to make an attempt at the Magical Burst novel I’ve been wanted to do, Magical Girl Radiant Yuna. (Which will indeed concern the same Yuna and Makoto from the intro comic script.) If I manage to do NaNoWriMo it’s going to put work on the game itself on hold throughout November, but it’ll be a strong step towards getting the one tie-in thing I really wanted to do for it. As I mentioned earlier, I want the novel to have full game stats and such for the relevant characters in an appendix in the back.

Another really cool thing that a fan did was Rabbit Eclair went and made a magical cipher. Madoka Magica makes extensive use of a special “rune” alphabet, which fans managed to deciper despite the text spanning English, Japanese, and German (with many quotes from Faust) and three different variant fonts, and I really want the final Magical Burst book to have a similar magical script of its own. I hadn’t been able to find anything quite right, but the “Magical Burstnary” is just about perfect. (Plus it obliquely fits what I want to do with the backstory for the novel.)

Update: NaNoWriMo has begin! I put up a blog post about it on Studio UFO (my non-RPG blog site), and you can check my progress on my NaNo profile.

[1]I based the sample tsukaima in the book on the Seven Deadly Sins, and I was looking for a comparable theme for the youma. I wound up going with basing them off of the tracks of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral.” I’ve been wanting to do something with the pictures that album puts in my head for ages now, though I never would have guessed that I’d find the perfect place to do so in a magical girl RPG.

[2]That also means players need to decide if their Magical Weapons are melee or ranged, which in turn leads to the realization that it’s rather arbitrary. You could have a magical girl who magically throws swords instead of doing actual melee combat with them, and if your Magical Weapon is a car or tea set you can potentially go either way.

More on Magical Burst

The other day someone on 4chan’s /tg/ board pointed people to Carly Ho’s Magical Burst character generator, the result being a rather glorious thread where people used the generator and interpreted the results. I wouldn’t even know where to begin pointing out the amazing stuff in the thread, but this was suitably funny and twisted:

Onigawara Yuri
Pretty Strawberry Lovely Yuri

>Already feeling that pain in my legs, better check my blood sugar.

What kind of girl are you?
Sickly Victim

>Eh. Guess I SHOULD check that blood sugar alright. And stop with the strawberries – it fucks with the chemo.

What convinced you to make a contract?
I realized I’m tired of feeling helpless.

>What, no deep spiritual satisfaction in sitting in that hospital bed being miserable?

What is your wish?
I wish I could be my old self again.

> I assume that she’s referring to the self that has a good chance of living to adulthood.


>Damn, bitch is hardcore.

Magical Element


Magical Power
By magically analyzing things you can discover secrets, and locate weaknesses.

>Say, you seem to have a genetic predisposition to developing leukemia, don’t you?

Costume Elements


I’m hopelessly attracted to someone I probably shouldn’t be.

>But… sempai… we’re both girls, right?…

More creepy lesbian carcinogenic goodness!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Anyway, with NaNoWriMo coming up I’ve been trying to shift out of card game mode, and this inspired me to get back into Magical Burst. It’s incredibly gratifying to see people not only enjoying but being creative with something I made. The magical girl creation tables are this mass of cliches and strangeness, and at times the random results come together in the most amazing ways, doubly so when people as creative as some of the /tg/ posters are the ones interpreting the results.

One thing about me is that I have a tendency to hyper-focus on one creative project or area, and the amount of time I’ve been putting into Channel A and related projects is kind of ludicrous. I have a thing I do where I carry around a notebook to write down whatever comes to mind, and then I’ll periodically write down a list of all my projects. I never leave Magical Burst off the list,[1] but I think I had put out of my mind how messed up it was. I tend towards a very shiny aesthetic, but I also go to some pretty dark places sometimes. Going back to that place was a little bit of a journey, and I had to put on some Nine Inch Nails to set the right mood. (Did I mention that the sample youma in the book are going to be based on the 14 tracks of “The Downward Spiral”?)

I don’t have much of anything to report in terms of changes to the game that I haven’t talked about before, basically because I got stalled and am picking up where I left off, with a bunch of things pretty well planned out but not implemented yet. Today working on Magical Burst was pretty much the extent of my productivity,[2] and most of that was tweaking and expanding the text and working on filling out some tables that were incomplete. Entirely too much of my life is about filling out tables and similar lists of discrete items these days. But anyway. One of the major things I’m trying to work on is more procedural clarity, especially when it comes to setting up a campaign. It’s one of those things where RPGs habitually leave you to muddle through yourself, and I know I appreciate it when a game gives advice on how to achieve its intended tone, especially when its something like this where you have to work at it.[3]

I did already finish up the Instant Magical Girl section (here’s an example of it in action), which now covers pretty much everything for character creation, including a new table for rolling up finishing attack names. It would be hard to pick a favorite from the tables, but the Crisis table is definitely up there. “Crisis” is basically my word of choice for what Ron Edwards called a “Kicker” in Sorcerer, and the table is appropriately full of stuff a character can’t ignore. To me that’s the essence of what makes Magical Burst–and Madoka Magica–so compelling.

Update Stuff

[1]I’ll do that sometimes with, say, Tokyo Heroes. That’s a game I sincerely do want to work on again some day, but that I’ve pushed so far on the back burner that it’s fallen back behind the stove.

[2]Unless you count making a batch of “slutty brownies.”

[3]Like its source material, Magical Burst is meant to have a heavy, oppressive atmosphere and be about characters dealing with some really scary shit. It’s been my experience that that’s exactly the kind of thing that gamers have a natural tendency to use humor and generally step out of character in order to back away from. I really want someone to formally study this phenomenon, but that would require the kind of people who have the expertise and funding to care about tabletop RPGs.

Yaruki Zero Podcast #19: Back in Action

If you know me at all, you know that I’m really random about when I get inspired to actually do things, such that I jump from project to project all the time. The other day I got inspired to revive my project to do an iRiff of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which in turn led me to get some better recording gear, which in turn inspired me to get back into podcasting. This first new episode is a recap of what I’ve been up to in terms of my own game design and translation projects. There’s quite a bit to cover. I started using Audacity (which is quite good), and didn’t feel like messing around trying to get the music in this time around, so for better or for worse this episode is an hour of just my voice.

Yaruki Zero Podcast #19 (62 minutes, 16 seconds)

Very awesome caricature of Ewen courtesy of the talented C. Ellis.

Magical Burst Update Number Whatever

Even though I have like a zillion other things to do, I got inspired to put in some more work on Magical Burst, which I’m sure a lot of you will be glad to hear. I have no ETA on when the next draft will be ready, but I’m in the thick of things working on it in any case. This post is a series of disconnected paragraphs on some of the different bits I’m working on.

I mentioned it in my last post on the game, but one of the big things I’m doing is more clearly writing out the procedures of play, which I think is really important. The big thing that I’ve kind of been groping towards is that the game and its source material are driven by “shocks.” In Madoka Magica the narrative has a constant escalation of shocking revelations, and in Magical Burst a lot of the rules are ultimately an engine for delivering similar kinds of shocks. I want to make it crystal clear in the text that this is the GM’s key tool for making things happen in the game. A whole lot of RPGs leave that kind of thing to trial and error, but I’m aiming for a fairly specific play style. There’s also the part about how my first playtest was kind of flat and I think not pushing the shocks was partly to blame.

In the 3rd draft I added Apocalypse World style moves to the game, especially for non-magical stuff. I did so kind of thoughtlessly, and now that I have some more experience with Apocalypse World (and Dragon World) I have a better idea what it is about the game that does and doesn’t work for me and the friends I play with.[1] The big problem I’ve had with moves is that players tend to want to treat moves as push buttons rather than role-playing towards them first. (Doubly so for moves that use a highlighted stat.) My solution is to treat moves a bit more as a thing the GM brings to bear, and to remove them from the player reference sheets. Moves don’t have to be secret from the players, but I do think the game could work better if the moves weren’t staring the players in the face the whole time. I’m also going to be rewriting them a bit to better fit this GM-oriented approach. I pared down the Normal Attributes to Charm, Insight, and Tenacity too, and let players assign points for them (but with fewer points and lower values than Magical Attributes). I still need to dig into moves and such to get a better feel for them though.

My philosophy for revising the rules for youma this time around is basically, “Make them fucking MEAN, and scale back later if need be.” My experience and pretty much all of the feedback I’ve gotten so far as been to the effect that as written youma tend to get wiped out pretty quickly, which isn’t anything like what I’d intended. It’s surprisingly hard to make good “boss monsters” (or solos in D&D4e parlance) that can effectively fight a full team of PCs, and I think that for the purposes of designing such enemies I need to ignore some of the kind of advice that I think of as good sense in other circumstances, like being stingy with extra actions in a combat round.

I renamed Appendix 1 to “Instant Magical Girl,” and I’m working on expanding the tables enough to make it possible to generate a completely random magical girl. I had intended for it to be more of an optional thing for people to turn to when they’re stumped, but it’s pretty clear it’s become core to how a lot of people play the game. The folks from the Empire Tabletop podcast (who previously did Maid RPG) did a Magical Burst AP episode, and their attitude was basically, “Why would you ever NOT make a character randomly?” For attributes I’m working on a d66 table that gets you one of 36 sets of attributes, and I rearranged the tables so that they follow the same steps as the character creation rules. When I mentioned that I want someone to make an online random magical girl generator on Twitter I got three replies almost immediately, so it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a thing that will happen. I may try to get the youma rules to the point where you can generate one totally at random too.

Update: Carly M. Ho put together a great little Magical Burst character generator!

Update Again: And then she went on to make a Youma Generator and a Tsukaima Generator!

I have a rough outline for a Magical Burst novel about Yuna and Makoto (from the intro comic script), though I’m struggling a bit figuring out how to get started and how to find the right tone. (Watching Brick the other day has me wanting to explore a stark noir style.) I like the idea of making it a tie-in with the game with game stats and info for the characters and such in the back, but first I have to, you know, write a novel and make it not suck. I’m actually worse at finishing novels than I am at games, if you can believe that.

I just finished re-reading Planet Guardian, a manga which hardly anyone but me seems to know. (Even scanlations haven’t gotten past chapter 2.) It doesn’t have all that much influence on Magical Burst, but I like it a lot nonetheless. The main character is Koyuki Kisaragi, a girl who got magical girl powers from a little critter named Pirosuke. Five years later there’s been no sign of the alien criminals that were supposed to show up, and Koyuki just wants to study hard and get a cushy government job (and Pirosuke has gotten so fat that he’s spherical). When the first bad guy shows up, Koyuki goes to fight it only after massive badgering from her brother Itsuki, who berates her for failing to be a properly cute magical girl like in anime. When another magical girl shows up it’s Ririka Saotome (real name: Yoshiko Yamada), an abject psycho whose desire to be the center of attention is potent enough to break the fourth wall at times. There’s also a boy named Shizuku, who treats being a Guardian as a serious duty, at least once he gets over his older sister’s attempts to dress him up in weird outfits. The story is kind of random and aimless, but I really like the differing attitudes towards being a magical girl (or boy) on display, as well as how Koyuki’s attitude evolves over the course of the story as she starts to take the responsibility of protecting the world seriously. But anyway. I may see about ordering the Madoka Magica novel, though it’s apparently over 500 pages.

[1]AW style experience tracking pretty much just fails for us, though that’s more relevant for Dragon World. It’s also related to enough other things that rejiggering the rules to work differently in Dragon World is going to be… interesting.

2011 in Review

I’m apparently making a yearly review post a regular thing now. Also, I’ve been hugely inspired to blog over the past couple weeks, but then there have genuinely been a lot of exciting things going on.

Actual Gaming
This past year I did a lot of gaming with my Friday group, which has been going through a series of short campaigns for some time. Our longest game was also our best. We started off playing Smallville and then switched over to Primetime Adventures, which wound up working out incredibly well. The game was kind of a Smallville-ish thing, a present-day setting where people with superpowers were emerging (to the chagrin of the Greek gods), without any real DC-inspired elements per se. That was what inspired me to write Entanglements, which got its first test run as part of the setup for our “Ameripunk” Wushu game (my character was a bibliomancer trained by Mark Twain and entrusted with the Amerinomicon). I do still need to make some refinements to Entanglements, but it seems to work pretty well.

For a variety of reasons what had been my “main” group heavily dropped off gaming. We did get in some D&D and had a ton of fun with Gamma World, but we nonetheless went from gaming most weekends to someone maybe getting a bit of something together every other month. I think it has a lot to do with human factors more than anything. With working 40 hours a week, attending another game group, and hanging out with friends most Mondays, I’ve tended to spend the better part of most weekends writing and recuperating from the prior week. It also doesn’t help that our game of choice is D&D4e, which while definitely easier on the DM than 3rd Edition nonetheless takes a fair amount of work to run. I tried to run a Dark Sun game, but I kept ending up having plans slapped together an hour or two before the game started. I’m hoping to rope that group into playing Dragon World, because it’s a fun game I can bullshit my way through running, and because if our D&D games are any indication we can definitely get into the right spirit. We’re also getting back a member who’s been absent for a few years, and I’m hoping that will help reinvigorate our gaming.

Conventions and Whatnot
This year also saw the first time I ran a convention booth by myself, first at a tiny anime convention called Kin-Yoobi Con, and then at the Alternative Press Expo. Both were interesting learning experiences, though by the end of APE I was ready to swear of cons for a while. Anime fans are definitely more receptive to RPGs than indie comics fans though. Neko Machi had kind of a rough second year too, and we’re hoping to reinvent it somewhat (with a format change and such) and relaunch in early 2012.

Game Projects
I only did two Kyawaii RPG things this year, and one of them I started and finished yesterday. I still have like half a dozen unfinished ones that I’d like to work on and haven’t touched.

The anime series Madoka Magica was a massive thing in 2011. For me personally it was the dark deconstruction of the magical girl genre I’d been wanting for years, and it inspired me to design an RPG that I titled “Magical Burst.” I have far too many works in progress, but this is easily the most promising and most popular. I put the rough drafts of the game online just for people to read, and it totally took off, becoming a standard of the 4chan /tg/ crowd. I keep coming across threads where people suggest it, and in one case I came across an unfinished Black Rock Shooter game where the creators had thrown up their hands and said, “Just use Magical Burst.” I don’t know how much is my accomplishment as a designer (there are parts of it that make me wince) and how much is other factors, but it’s helping motivate me to actually get the game done for a change.

Dragon World is the other new game I started on, and it proved very fun to both work on and to play (when we did a 3-session playtest). The idea came from when I finally got around to reading the Dragon Half manga, and this “90s comedy fantasy anime” game also draws inspiration from Slayers and a host of other titles. It’s based on the Apocalypse World rules, though of course with plenty of changes for the game’s very different genre. I’m planning to put a “Dragon World Hack” PDF up for free once I get some more things done.

Golden Sky Stories is of course the Japanese RPG I translated and that we’re gearing up to do a Kickstarter to publish. I’ve posted a good amount about it already, but I’m really excited to finally get it out into the world. I’m also working on putting together an original replay that’ll be a free preview of the game in English. I have the rough manuscript and artwork all ready in fact, so I’m just waiting for a friend to tackle the editing and layout. For the game itself, Clay is still working on the layout, and for the Kickstarter I basically just need to wait for my friend to finish up tweaking the video and fill out stuff on the Kickstarter backend for the launch.

Gamer Culture and New Stuff
I’ve made a habit of lurking in the grognards.txt thread on Something Awful. It’s a collection of the most terrible things said by grognards, and is up to about 1500 pages now. It’s kind of therapeutic at times, and it’s helped me get a better perspective on how D&D has changed over time. Probably the biggest lesson from grognards.txt however is simply: people are at their best when they’re actually doing stuff they like instead of bitching about things they don’t like. There are OSR blogs that come off as obnoxious and curmudgeony (at best) when talking about RPGs published less than 20 years ago, and yet when they’re earnestly expressing their passion for old-school swords and sorcery I want to cheer[1]. I’m also contemplating doing a “grognards.mp3” podcast episode with dramatic readings, though with everything going on it’s been really damn hard to find time for podcasting. I have a whole solo episode recorded that I haven’t had time to edit.

For a while now I’ve been interested in trying to expand the medium of RPGs in new directions, particularly in terms of components and presentation. I’ve talked before about looking into using board game components (and I still want an RPG that makes good use of a spinner!), and I love how (for example) Jake Richmond is making good use of comics to teach people how to play his newer games. In December I hit on the idea of making an RPG in the form of a smartphone app and designing it around that medium as much as possible, an idea that won the “Brain Full of Games” contest, which consequently has me starting on a design document for Raspberry Heaven (my Azumanga Daioh inspired slice of life schoolgirl game) as an “RPG app.” I’m already talking to some programmers, so things stand to get really exciting on that front in 2012.

I’ve come to be a bit irritated at gamers, at least as represented on online forums, for how they can come across as having desperately narrow tastes in RPGs. For my part there are things that don’t interest me (board games, horror, zombies… I could go on), but there’s almost nothing in the way of RPGs I wouldn’t be willing to play if a friend really wanted to run it. And yet, if you propose any slight deviation from the books and (standard) dice formula you’ll get a chorus of naysayers. But on the other hand I’ve realized that there are a lot of potential design elements that are uncommon in RPGs in part because they’re difficult to use well. I think part of why resource-based diceless games are rare (for example) is that they only really work when you depart at least somewhat from the traditional paradigm of rolling for success and failure. An RPG that’s totally ordinary except for having players spend points instead of rolling dice for action checks is creating a bunch of perverse incentives and substantially changing the basic flow of things in an awkward way. On the other hand Golden Sky Stories works as a resource based game mainly because the tone of it is so non-competitive.

When all is said and done my desire to mess around with the medium is driven not so much by a desire to find a blue ocean strategy that’ll be a giant success or something, but rather the tantalizing creative challenges. I’ve lost some sleep over ideas for the Raspberry Heaven app, in part because there are so many things I can do differently from an analog RPG that I find just fascinating. I’ve also just started reading up a bit on interface design and such for mobile apps, and given that these days I rarely have my iPhone more than a few feet away from me for any length of time, taking a closer look at this thing that’s so ubiquitous in my everyday life would be really interesting even if I weren’t looking to design an app. I’m hoping that if I can get the Raspberry Heaven app off the ground it’ll at the very least merit making more attempts at this newish kind of game.

At this point 2012 is looking to be a really exciting year of making stuff happen. It’s hard to say what stuff specifically, though I sure has hell want Golden Sky Stories to be out the door and into people’s hands.

[1]On the other hand any discussions of sexism anywhere near the context of gaming seems all but guaranteed to produce posts that are maddening or just depressing depending on how tired I am.

A Further Update on Magical Burst

I think I’ve finally reached a point where I have a good roadmap for where to go from here with Magical Burst. Future iterations are going to be much more about refining what’s already there instead of ripping stuff out or bolting new things on.

After talking to a group of guys who’ve been playing MB on IRC a ton, I’ve realized that I’m not quite as dissatisfied with the combat system as I thought. It definitely needs refinement–youma are still much too easy to kill for example, and lots of people find specific crunchy bits unclear–but the foundation seems pretty sound. One thing I am going to add is an (optional) thing for narrating details much like in Wushu, as part of the general action resolution rules. I realized it could fit nicely into the existing game, and is easy to skip if that’s what you’d prefer.

I think moves and normal attributes just need general rejiggering. Some attributes are under-utilized, or very easy to under-utilize depending on how you play your character, and some moves (especially Sorcery) just need to be fixed up. I’ve just barely started working on this part, so while it’ll follow the same general concept, I can’t say how it’ll go exactly.

Feedback from playtesters has led me to reevaluate how Fallout will work. The IRC group strongly prefers for the GM to tailor fallout to the circumstances, which is totally the kind of awesome thing you think of while playing the game. I had originally intended for Fallout to purposely be senseless and random, but I think explicitly stating that fallout can be more deterministic and tailored will help encourage better play. With Changes in particular there’s the problem that it’s too easy for a random Change to be something a character can brush off.

The whole thing about Changes dovetails into the matter of what for lack of an established term I’ll call “character safety.” Magical Burst isn’t a very lethal game, but Changes can “damage” your character concept. I wonder if the fact that some people have expressed concern over that sort of thing is a difference in subcultures, but regardless it’s something to at least address in the text. I suspect that relatively few indie RPG types would be too concerned about character safety, whereas from what I’ve heard of the freeform RP scene it’s of paramount importance to some people. I think this is another thing to address textually rather than mechanically, both because it’s a social contract issue and because it’s trivially easy to (for example) re-roll a random Change that a player finds particularly problematic.

I’m also working on reorganizing and rewriting the text to better reflect the intended style of play and hopefully to be more accessible. I think the thing I was groping towards with Secrets was along the lines of the Bangs in Sorcerer, stuff that forces the PCs to react. Secrets, the presence of a youma, and Fallout are all ultimately aimed at pushing the story around. Madoka Magica basically runs on a succession of shocks as the characters learn what’s really going on and struggle to cope with its implications. That’s something I’ve done informally as a GM before, and I think that a big part of why the playtest I ran was kind of flat was that I didn’t particularly try to make the shocks happen.

You may have seen the picture of a Magical Burst character named Sumire by a very talented Taiwanese artist who goes by Len. His Pixiv gallery has tons of impressive artwork of his RPG characters (going by his artwork he seems to play a lot of GURPS and a fair amount of D&D), and he’s part of the group that’s doing a Chinese translation of the game. Torbadomy got in touch with me the other day, and it’s worked out that Len is going to be lending his considerable talents to producing artwork for Magical Burst.

Magical burst – Sumire by Len on pixiv

I derive far more amusement from meduca meguca than I really should, and I’m planning to write up something called “meguca borsht,” though I realized it’ll be surprisingly hard to do on purpose. I think it’ll look something like D02: Know No Limit though.

Another Magical Burst Update

I’m still just amazed at how far Magical Burst has gone already as an unfinished free PDF. I think some of that is that there’s a very solid niche of anime fans who want RPGs of stuff that the RPG industry just doesn’t understand or cover. It’s not hard to find forum threads where people are trying to start up a magical girl game, but pre-Cel*Style it feels like with a couple exceptions the RPG industry’s forays into anime have basically been BESM and mecha stuff. I think it really lends credence to my contention that anime inspiration is vastly under-utilized in tabletop RPGs, and too many of the efforts that have been made have been tone deaf about anime as seen by people who actually care about and understand it. I don’t know how the numbers really line up, but if there can be a Leverage RPG, there sure as hell can be a Madoka Magica RPG.

Although I do want to make a pretty book out of Magical Burst (and try to capture some of the amazing artistic style of Madoka Magica’s witches and such), I’ve decided I’m also going to take a cue from Christian Griffen’s Anima Prime and keep having a free version of the game available. If I’m going to be spending money getting lots of art and such done I will need to make some amount of money from the whole thing, but I’m realizing that getting the game into people’s hands is the more important thing. In that respect this is a really successful game already, and it’s given me a lot to think about with regard to how I pursue RPG design in the future. I tossed up a rough draft with parts that make me wince (though I like to think it has some good ideas in it regardless), and it’s getting tons of actual play, with people invariably pitching it as a Madoka game. Also, with people already doing things like adapting the rules for Persona[1] I most definitely want to encourage hacking.

I’m reminded of something I once said at a panel, which is that the guy who’s always hiding his game and making people sign NDAs and getting copyright paperwork done and stuff doesn’t usually produce anything worthwhile, while the guy who’s running around showing his game to people and thereby making it better is much more likely to have a great game in the end. Now that I think about it, that’s something I need to try to live up to more. Certainly Magical Burst wouldn’t be anywhere near as far along without all the feedback I’ve gotten.

The other day Ryan Macklin put up a blog post titled “Action Sequences are Conversations,” which I think points at the heart of where I’ve been dissatisfied with the combat system in Magical Burst. In dealing with fight scenes in RPGs in general I’ve often felt trapped between the extremes of a tactical sub-game (which is what I have in place right now) and noodly stuff that takes a lot of GM and player finesse to actually work well. I do enjoy throwing down with some D&D4e[2], but I feel that tactical combat just isn’t the right fit for a game like Magical Burst where the point is to build up to a certain melodramatic mood. Ryan Macklin’s post is about having action sequences be a conversation with rules that serve to moderate that conversation, and I think that’s the mental model I was missing while trying to grope towards what I want out of battles in Magical Burst. I want the conversation to be the primary thing, and for this game I don’t want a fight breaking out to yank you out of the normal flow of conversation. I think that’s what I wanted to do all along, but I didn’t know how to articulate it, much less design it. I don’t know how these ideas will really shake out, especially since when I try to figure stuff out in my head every time I move one part of the rules a bunch of others start to shift and look precarious. The fourth draft may end up looking pretty different, but then I’m realizing that that’s just how I design games.

Today I’m starting re-watching Madoka Magica to try to get a better feel for how the action flows. Reading Macklin’s ideas for Gun n Fuck I knew specific ideas inspired by Jason Statham movies weren’t what I needed. I want something that gets people narrating stuff like Mami going to town with her magical flintlock rifles or Kyouko’s spear splintering the concrete. Over on Google+ Ben Wright pointed out that the flow of action in Hong Kong movies bears very little resemblance to the turn-taking that’s all but universal in RPGs. I don’t know if I have the design chops to make that notion a part of Magical Burst, but I think it rings true in how fights typically work in anime too. Engaging an opponent means more than just taking a potshot at them, and characters don’t always get a chance to act, especially if they’re fighting an overwhelming opponent. I’m not yet sure what this is all going to look like, but I think fights in Madoka Magica have a rather small number of exchanges to them, and are present exactly as much as needed to drive the story.

Also on my to-do list is to formulate better advice and play procedures to help give the game the kind of mood and style it calls for. In large part that means the GM needs to come up with different story elements to use to mess with the PCs, and put them in at the right pace, in a manner very much like Kickers and Bangs.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’m getting really excited about this game all over again, and I’m about ready to dive back into intensive design work.

[1]Persona seems to be another one of those properties where a solid tabletop RPG is something of a holy grail for a whole lot of people, with or without the serial numbers filed off. (And now I move “Finally play Persona 3” up a bit on my to-do list…)

[2]And it’s the kind of thing I aspire to create myself with Slime Story/Quest. I could probably write a whole other blog post on why I like 4e’s combat despite not liking most board games or war games, but in short I think that both the “no winners and losers” thing and putting the “game” part into the context of an ongoing story are vitally important to me.