It’s a little overdue, but here’s the new draft of Magical Burst. I’m not totally happy with it, but some things have definitely improved.
Added a set of Normal Attributes and Apocalypse World style moves. These definitely need some work before they’re fully ready, and they may have been muddled by the fact that I didn’t do the AW thing where only players roll dice. On the plus side, they rather eloquently dealt with certain things.
Made some refinements to the relationship rules, notably in how new relationships are formed (they effectively start with 2 Strain, so starting a new relationship isn’t better than fixing an old one) and how they’re used (I scaled back the benefits of sacrificing them, so that it’s not better than taking Overcharge).
I reworked the Change tables so that each attribute has a full d66 table. To do that I dropped the notion that Heart and Fury changes are mostly mental.
I changed the youma creation rules to make them scale to the number of magical girls they’re fighting. The idea seems sound, but it needs a little more work. I think I didn’t take magical girls’ special attacks into account, and was a little too stingy with the special boss powers the youma get.
Added a set of variant rules to for making the game more closely based on Madoka Magica to the appendix.
A few weeks ago I did my first playtest, which was kind of mixed, though heat and allergies did play a role in that. I’ve also been playtesting Dragon World, which has been a lot of fun, but has driven home the point that getting the moves right is really important. I need work more on how to better handle the investigation part of the game (which is my un-favorite and which I may need to find a way to sidestep or something). I also had this notion of having players take turns framing scenes, and it needs to either get developed more fully or be dropped from the game. I’m also not really happy with how the combat system has been playing out (even if I do like how the youma design system is going), and I may try to rethink it from the ground up again.
A couple of other random things I’m thinking about:
Tables/whatever for the origins and motivations of youma.
Making the magical girls just start with relationships to one another automatically. Also, clearer guidelines for adding new PCs after the game has started.
A turn marker that you move along the action cards in combat. It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of stuff.
In any case, this is where I start really seriously looking for feedback and generally trying to finish a damn game for once.
More on Magical Burst
I really want to bring Magical Burst to fruition, ideally within the next year or so. Not only is it a project I’ve been wanting to do for ages, but the game is already just on fire. It’s still a rough draft, yet it’s been played by something like five or six different groups that I know of, and checking site stats it turned out that some Taiwanese fans have already translated most of it. Although I doubt the creators of Madoka Magica are going to pull an Endless Eight and alienate all the fans, the current buzz about it won’t last forever.
Yesterday for the second time I went to the local Panera with all my notes to brainstorm, and this time I tried running a test combat (Yuna and Makoto vs. “Hellerina”). I think the combat system is more or less on the right track. The amounts of damage characters can dish out is pretty brutal (and I’m upping magical girls’ base Resolve to around 18), but I want combats to go pretty quickly. However, thinking back to the clouds and boxes stuff I’ve been re-reading lately I think I’ve allowed it to become a little too much of an abstract sub-game, so I’m going to pull back a bit on that.
Looking at Apocalypse World for inspiration, I ended up deciding to add a set of Normal Attributes (tentatively, Aggro, Cool, Social, and Sharp) and rules that use them in various ways. I’d been kind of avoiding doing that up until now, but I think having that dichotomy in the rules, with magic being explicitly stronger, is more interesting. It’ll also let normal people and potential magical girls actually have something to do in the rules. It’s also making me realize just how powerful AW’s “moves” model is. I was trying to figure out how to handle magical girls facing psychological shocks and how to handle what happens when they lose all their Resolve in a fight, and adding Stay Calm and Revive moves might be just the solution I was looking for. On the other hand that puts my notion of a Shinobigami-style scene-framing system like I wrote about in my last post into doubt, but I’ll just have to see how all that shakes out as I work on it more.
One thing I have explicitly decided to do is to let magical girls take Overcharge after the dice hit the table. In Smallville I definitely like how in a conflict you can struggle to spend Plot Points to win out, and I think that’s even better when each point gets you closer to Fallout. That also means I’m going to have to make voluntary relationship Strain a bit less of an attractive option compared to Overcharge, and I may just limit it to healing or some such. One thing I do need to get better about as a game designer is examining what incentives my rules are creating.
Every now and then I’ll see someone post on a forum that they’ll refuse outright to play an RPG that’s diceless or that uses cards. Lately I’ve realized that if someone says this, I want to know what diceless/card-based RPGs people are playing that’s soured them on the idea, because in each case you can probably count the number of fully-developed games on one hand. In a sense they’re both underdeveloped “technologies,” especially compared to the hundreds or thousands of RPGs that use dice in countless different ways.
As a (wannabe) designer I try to design games based on what I think will work best for the game I’m trying to design. My preferences can intrude on things (I’ve come to really like the Japanese style 2d6+Bonus type thing, I mostly hate exploding dice, and I’m lukewarm on die-step systems), but I can’t imagine outright rejecting any given element or approach without considering its merits.
Of course, with something like playing cards you need to actually use its merits. There are a zillion things you can do with playing cards that are difficult if not impossible to do with dice, as well as drawbacks of playing cards that you would need to work around, but using them as 13-sided dice is a total waste. Diceless games seem to be harder to pull off, though I think that’s at least partly because there’s less existing stuff to build on and less of what is customary in RPG design works the same. Just comparing numbers is boring, but comparing numbers combined with die rolls somehow becomes much more exciting (though not sufficient in and of itself). Amber Diceless seems to get a lot of its success in play from how the people at the table handle things, and the only really successful (design-wise) resource-based RPG design I know of (Yuuyake Koyake) works in part because it has an unconventional tone and mode of play for an RPG, and mostly sidesteps the competitiveness that can make bidding an unsatisfying mechanic.
Rules and Not-Rules
The other day Ben Lehman did another guest post for anyway, about different kinds of rules and their functions. I’ve talked before about how things that aren’t normally rules, or that are “negative space” in the game (like Yuuyake Koyake’s lack of combat rules) can affect the game. In the essay Ben draws a distinction between “continuous” and “immediate” rules, where the latter is what we tend to think of as rules and the former is what we tend to think of as just how the game is played, stuff like speaking in character. Looking at Polaris, Ben is certainly willing to treat the continuous rules as part of his design space, and while not every game needs to mess with that, it’s definitely good to consider such things. There are people who’ve tried to characterize GM-less games as somehow an attempt to strike a blow against tyrannical GMs who are big meanies or something, but in my experience the consensus is overwhelmingly that this is simply something else that designers need to consider in terms of what what’s good for the game at hand, and that can include shaping participants’ responsibilities and interactions differently from a typical RPG. That goes back to Vincent Baker’s thing that games change the parameters of people’s social interactions, which I’m still digesting.
My Little Sunset
Alas, I have become one of those adult males who watches My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. It’s a cartoon for girls, but it has appealing, well-made characters, excellent animation, and good writing. I haven’t become one of the bronies, but I do sometimes see episodes in Yuuyake Koyake terms. Fluttershy just spent 2 Feelings to overcome her Scardey-Cat weakness, then made an Adult check to scold the dragon. I may have to write a hack at some point.
I’ve been wanting to start doing merchandise and such for Neko Machi for a while, and it’s looking like we’re going to get into that finally in a small way with a booth at a local anime convention called Kin-Yoobi Con. There are a bunch of things that comic and webcomic folks do as a matter of course that might be interesting to explore more in RPGs. The big ones on my mind (on account of they’re the ones I’m planning to make for Neko Machi) are buttons and mini-comics.
To make buttons you have to make an initial investment in a button press (the cheap kind run about $120, and average bench press ones are $300+), but after that the materials are very cheap per unit, and you could very easily make a healthy profit selling them at $1 each. Being able to make glossy round things of an inch or so in diameter with any art you want seems like a natural boon to the right kind of RPGs. I could totally see replacing D&D minis with 1″ buttons, or using buttons as came tokens in some other way, not to mention just making buttons to go with a given game. There are also some places you can go to order buttons to be made for a reasonable fee, though you typically need to get at least 50 made of a single design, and if you do 4+ orders ever, you get to where a hand press would be cheaper in the long run.
If you go to any comics-related event, you’ll see lots of mini-comics. Some or more elaborate than others, but the standard mini-comic is simply photocopied, folded, and stapled from one of the common paper sizes, possibly cut in half. I have a box of these, and it fills up a bit more ever time I go to APE. RPGs have different standards of value than comics, so while there have been a few examples of RPGs taking up this kind of format–XXXXtreme Street Luge, Weird West, and House of Horiku come to mind–I don’t know that it’ll be received well among gamers. What I do know is that when I saw the Forge booth at Gen Con SoCal, I was really blown away by the 100-page coilbound books, which showed me that an RPG doesn’t have to be a giant 200 to 300-page tome. I’d kind of like to see that barrier broken down even more, though it raises the question of whether that stuff can create the kind of traction it needs for actual play to happen.
Matt Sanchez’s recent blog post on Adventure Planning Service‘s Saikoro Fiction system got me inspired to finally sit down and read the rules of Shinobigami, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for way too damn long. It’s a really neat game, and the design of it makes me wonder how much is American indie RPG influence and how much is Kawashima just being that brilliant by himself. The rules are pretty short too–something like 70 pages including stats for NPC enemies and setting info–and about 2/3 of the book is taken up by a replay.
There are a ton of things I could gush about with regard to Shinobigami (especially where the combat system is concerned), but Matt’s planning to cover all of the Saikoro Fiction games in depth, so you can tune into his blog for more detail in the future. The big thing from Shinobigami that has me all inspired to work on Magical Burst after taking a bit of a break from it is the way it breaks the action into scenes. I’ve realized that on paper at least my problem with the current version of Magical Burst is that the rules do very little to guide the action. There are important bits of the narrative (like how the magical girls actually find the youma) that are pretty much handwaved. I know for a fact that the folks who’ve been playing the game have been able to work with that, but personally coming at the game I’m not sure I could actually do that good a job of running it.
Shinobigami is about modern-day ninjas, and while it’s possible to have the PCs all work together, the default assumption is that they end up in two competing factions. With conflicting goals and secrets (established by the GM giving out Handouts), the players basically take turns setting up scenes where they pursue information, relationships, etc. that can get them closer to their goal. You can also attack another PC on your turn, but you have to first figure out where they are. After a certain number of rounds of player-led scenes (usually 3), they arrive at the Climax Phase, which is typically an epic battle.
I think something similarly player-led is about what I’m looking for to make Magical Burst more like what I want. There can be other variations, not to mention a distinct possibility of failure or just ignoring the threat, but the base Magical Burst story is about the magical girls finding and defeating a youma and what it costs them to do so, so the kind of structure that Shinobigami uses makes a lot of sense for it. That’s going to affect how I approach a bunch of other things (especially relationship scenes), but we’ll see how it goes.
Aside from that, the things I’m looking at in this stage are going to be relatively small until deeper analysis and/or playtesting suggest otherwise.
I’m planning to make youma stats scale with the number of magical girls. It’s become a thing for me with both design and actual play that finding the right balance in terms of opponents that can challenge an entire group of foes while not being burdensome for the GM to keep track of is a big deal. On top of that, in Magical Burst a youma is (in D&D4e terms) normally a solo, and even the guys at WotC have had a hard time getting those right. This is mirroring some of the stuff I’ve been working on for Slime Quest, and I think “solo” type monsters need to scale not only stats but capabilities in order to keep up with a growing number of PCs.
In general I need to do a more rigorous analysis of the math to keep things on track. Luckily today a fan pointed me to AnyDice.com, which I think will become a very useful tool for that kind of thing.
Obviously, the Change tables need some work. Since I made the decision to switch from Magic uniquely producing Mutations to all three kinds of Overcharge producing Changes, I want to have three full d66 tables instead of one giant table and two half-size ones. I’ve tried to make the Heart and Fury ones be more derangements, but I’m thinking I’ll let them get more into the realm of mutations. Plus, I can prune the Magic Change table considerably, since I’m sure there are results in there that are at the far end of what I got from wracking my brains.
The magical girl creation tables were one of those “stumbling across the finish line” kind of things, and I do need to revise them some. The costume table in particular has a bunch of elements that belong (or are duplicated) in the weapons table. Plus I think “Key” is in there twice. (Did anyone catch on to how the names table is mostly taken from names of magical girls and other anime heroines?)
A Couple Other Things
Jake Richmond is going to be on the Yaruki Zero Podcast at some point to talk about the new Cel*Style games and such, but in the meantime you can listen to him on the Found in the Alley podcast. Jake and the podcast hosts are really entertaining, and I got really inspired listening to him talk about the new games. There’s also the full Panty Explosion head-punching story (amongst others), and it seems Jake is even worse than me for having his eyes glaze over from long rulebooks.
I’ve also been brainstorming for a new iteration of Raspberry Heaven, my heartwarming slice of life Japanese schoolgirls game. There will definitely be some other things at play, but it seems like it’s going to look a lot like a cute, happy version of Fiasco that uses playing cards. I really like Fiasco’s subtlety, and I think the trust it puts in the players is one of the things that Raspberry Heaven really needed. I have half a page of notes so far, but I’ll have to get into things to get a better idea what’s what.
“Saikoro” means “dice,” and the logo on the back of the books abbreviates the name to “Sai-Fi.”
The book also offers Battle Royal as a scenario setup (but warns it can be time-consuming) and hybrids of the various types.
It’s an increasingly common thing in Japanese TRPGs that the GM gives players “handouts” that set up where their respective PCs fit into the story. I’m sure it would get mixed reactions from Western gamers, but it also seems like it’s one of the things that would make Shinobigami sing in actual play.
I’m going to try hard to avoid spoiling the Madoka Magica finale, but among the revelations was the fact that in the series’ setting there are magical girls/puella magi in every part of the world, and they have existed throughout human history. Before that the series had largely avoided the question of what lay beyond Mitakihara Town, and indeed cultivated a surreal atmosphere to the point where I was beginning to wonder if there wasn’t a Dark City type thing going on. The architecture, which has landmarks from all over the globe, certainly added to that impression.
I didn’t need Madoka Magica’s “permission” by any means, but I do want to explore possible alternate settings and campaign concepts for the game. I’m going to come up with some ideas in this post, and I invite my readers to throw in more. I’ve stuck to ones that I might actually run, and that I think I could do justice, so I’m sure other people could do a lot more, especially when it comes to interesting historical settings.
What do magical girls do when a war breaks out? The power of their magic vastly exceeds the capabilities of any mortal war machines, so magical girls could decimate virtually any military force if they’re careful. Of course, magical girls are not immune to national loyalties, so there will inevitably be magical girls fighting not to end war but to bring victory to their homeland. Chances are the tsukaima don’t actually care about what strife is visited on humanity so long as their mission is fulfilled, so they won’t have any compunctions about providing magical girls to the great villains of human history.
Mankind expanding into space doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more magical girls. Whether a tiny moon colony, a gargantuan spaceship, a fragile agricultural colony on a distant world, a great galactic empire, or some other configuration that puts people in space, magical girls can still end up fighting youma.
The Magical World setting I did way back when was based on the idea that magical girls were not only public, but so common that they’d started to become a nuisance. Anyone who cares will try to talk you out of becoming a magical girl, and there are people who see the destruction magic can cause and seek to eliminate magical girls from the equation.
In The Lab Hello, and welcome to the Enrichment Center. Suppose someone decided that they needed to learn more about the magical girl phenomenon. The players’ magical girls are trapped in some kind of research facility under the control of a deranged AI, and they must find a way to escape despite all the dangers the “tests” hurl at them. This isn’t brave. It’s murder. What did I ever do to you?
The world as we know it has come to and end, and humanity struggles to survive in a blasted landscape where might makes right because there’s no other order left. There might be something about a psychic maelstrom too, and a Thunderdome is a distinct possibility. Are the tsukaima somehow responsible? Was the end of the world only the next stage in their plan? Whatever the case, magical girls still exist, and their powers can make all the difference in a world where there are men who would happily kill for a gallon of gas.
Taking a cue from Alien Nine, youma outbreaks are such an everyday thing that people are almost blase about them. Each school has a tsukaima on the staff, and each class has to elect someone to become a magical girl who fends off whatever youma might come cause trouble at the school. This version would require changing the game a little, so that the relationship between magic and non-magic isn’t drastically one-sided.
A while back on Twitter I posted, “Magical Burst is going to be like if Sorcerer and Don’t Rest Your Head got a civil union and adopted a beautiful baby girl from Japan.” In my head there’s this godawful idea for a one-panel cartoon with caricatures of Ron Edwards and Fred Hicks on either side of a Japanese schoolgirl. Ron is saying, “How far would you go to get what you want?” while Fred his holding up some oversized dice and saying, “What’s been keeping you awake?”
Anyway, on Story Games Christopher Kubasik linked to Steven Pressfield’s book Do the Work, which is a sort of manifesto for creative types, and available as a free Kindle e-book (and given the range of platforms you can get a Kindle app for, you have no excuse for not reading it). I’m about halfway through it (it’s pretty short), but so far the most important thing it preaches is to just fucking get in there and create stuff. Don’t obsess about research or fuss with getting everything right–that can come later–just start creating and create passionately and honestly. I mention this because I think that Magical Burst is working in part because that’s about how I’ve been doing it. I’m going to have to get into some more serious analysis and playtesting and whatnot, but I came up with most of the really critical ideas behind the game when scribbling the first broad strokes. Not obsessing over polishing the text is really liberating, though from here on out I think my process is going to have to become much more rigorous.
I got a ton of really great ideas from a thread started by Judgment on 4chan’s /tg/ board (you can see an archive of it here). I wouldn’t even know where to begin listing off all of the ideas I got from here, but while I have been, let’s say skeptical of 4chan in the past, I’m not exaggerating when I say this thread has some of the very best feedback I’ve ever gotten on one of my games. The major things I got invaluable help on here were Overcharge and the combat rules. As I mentioned before, Kurt, who sent me several pages of notes, was likewise immensely helpful, and the folks on the #becomethemeguca channel likewise had some helpful comments.
Again getting way ahead of myself, I’ve put a bit of thought into the potential final appearance of the game, which would have a very deliberate manga style. This is a bit different from “anime” style (which is what you usually see when people do anime/manga-inspired RPGs), with use of line weight and screen tone, but not all that much shading per se. I am very lucky to be friends with a fair number of talented artists, and all the more so to be friends with C. Ellis, who (amongst other things) can do great manga-style comics (check out her portfolio!) and is really enthusiastic about my creations, perhaps more than I deserve. Of course, the graphic design of the overall book is going to be an interesting challenge too, since I want to channel some of Akiyuki Shinbo’s use of patterns, abstractions, and typography. That in turn could involve stuff like digging through BibliOdyssey for visual elements to adapt, plus I want do do something similar to the runes from Madoka Magica.
I have officially made it my goal to get the second draft of Magical Burst done by the 21st, in time for the airing of the last two episodes of Madoka Magica, and I thought I’d post a bit about what I’m working on for that. I am very grateful to Judgment for starting a thread on /tg/ that wound up producing some incredibly useful feedback and ideas, not to mention Kurt, who e-mailed me several pages of comments. Someone’s also running a game on IRC already too. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it’s feeling more and more like I’m on to something, and this may be my first original game to reach fruition. Time will tell.
The final book is looking to be pretty table-riffic. Not quite Maid RPG table-mania, but much closer than I’d have expected going into the project. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish up the “Instant Magical Girl” tables in time–they’re a low priority and they’ve been proving difficult–but I’ve also been adding more tables for stuff like developing tsukaima (and I arranged the Secrets into a table just because). It’s yet another example of the tremendous influence Ryo Kamiya has had on me as a wannabe game designer.
I’m doing a considerable rework of the available Fallout effects. The major thing is that all three types of Fallout include “Changes,” permanent alterations to characters. The Magic ones are the mutations that were already in the first draft (though I’m expanding the mutation table), while Heart and Fury changes can cause lasting derangements or impulses. I’m contemplating a few other things, but this should go a long ways towards making all three varieties of Overcharge equally undesirable. I’m also contemplating a thing where high-level Heart and/or Fury Fallout can spawn a youma focused on harming someone you care about.
The combat system is getting a major overhaul too, on account of having been hastily cobbled together in the first draft in the first place. The core of the new system I’m working on is that at the start of a combat round each participant has to pick one attribute to use for attacking (which also becomes your initiative number) and another for defending. I’m still working out other details, but teamwork, helping or hindering others, etc. will definitely be a part of it.
I’ve figured out a lot of what I want to do with the relationship rules. The big change is that Relationships can take Strain, and three points of Strain will break a relationship. For relationships with normal people, any time you expose them to the unnatural effects of magic there’ll be a point of Strain, and if you harm or betray someone there’ll be Strain too. (You can’t have a relationship with a tsukaima though; they’re not emotionally equipped.) Magical girls can also sacrifice relationships to help themselves out in battle. Some forms of Fallout will also get much nastier for magical girls without relationships too. I’m not sure how I want to handle relationships with other magical girls vs. with regular people. The latter are obviously more fragile, but thematically it makes sense for them to be more important in some ways. Regardless, the text now recommends drawing a relationship map as a group.
Characters are getting both Magical Effects and Finishing Attacks, which have some specific mechanical effects. Magical Effects are things you can attach to your Magical Element or Magical Power that give a specific benefit (like healing, an initiative bonus, etc.), while Finishing Attacks are more powerful attacks you can only use occasionally (probably once per session). I’m also adding character advancement, though nothing too fancy. It’s going to be a little bit like The Shadow of Yesterday, and I may just explicitly give each character a Key.
And for a little extra Madoka-ness, I added some optional rules for playing “potential magical girls.” The way the game is set up it’s not going to necessarily be the most interesting way to play–you never get to roll dice–but the role-playing opportunities are neat at least.
Anyway, as you can see I have a lot of work ahead of me, though I’m hoping to get a whole lot more done this weekend.
Update (4/18): I didn’t get nearly as much done over the weekend as I’d hoped. That’s been a routine problem with my weekends lately… I did finish the expanded magic mutation/Change table, though for now it’s looking like it’s going to be massive compared to the Heart and Fury Change tables. I basically have all the changes I want to make figured out. Implementing them shouldn’t be a problem as long as I can make time to do so (which is going to be hard), but I highly doubt I’ll be able to finish up all the tables I want to make for the final game. The Instant Magical Girl section needs 4 or 5 D66 tables written up to be completed, and I aspire to do a bunch of sample youma, tsukaima, and maybe a few sample rival magical girls.
It turns out a bunch of news about a bunch of really neat stuff popped up all at once, so here’s a post about three different things that I think are really awesome.
The broadcast of the last two episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica got delayed because of the earthquake and tsunami (the relief efforts are still ongoing, and our Maid RPG charity thing is still going on for a few more days by the way), but they’ve announced that those episodes will be airing at long last on April 21st. Not a few fans, myself included, are going to be relieved to finally see the conclusion of this exceptional series.
I feel like I ought to try to get the second draft of Magical Burst done by then, but I’m not sure if I can actually pull it off. Thanks to the recent thread on /tg/ and other people offering feedback I have a laundry list of great ideas to try to implement in the game, on top of all the stuff I already wanted to do myself. (Plus I’m significantly expanding the mutation table, which means lots of time consuming brainstorming and such.)
Atarashi Games x 3
Jake and the gang at Atarashi Games have THREE new games just about to come out, all available for preorder:
Panty Explosion Perfect: A major revision of AG’s flagship psychic schoolgirl adventure game, full of instructional manga and other neat stuff.
G x B: A shoujo dating sim game for four players. One player is a shy girl named Momoko, and the other three are her potential suitors.
Tulip Academy’s Society for Dangerous Gentlemen: A “romantic adventure” game in the vein of Ouran Academy.
The first draft of the aforementioned Magical Burst RPG is done. This is kind of an unusual thing for me in that I got a first draft done without lots and lots of wrangling, and in that I haven’t terribly over-written the book while the rules are still rough. (Hence the text is rather unpolished at this point.) The game is simple enough that at this stage I was mostly writing down and filling out the game in my head. The only major change from the concept I’d started out with was that I changed how the dice rolls work. It was originally a dice pool system, and I ended up changing it to a 2d6+Attribute type of deal, but with exploding dice. I usually hate exploding dice in RPGs, but the concept is eminently appropriate to a game about magic going dangerously out of control at random.
As I’d discussed in my last post on it, Magical Burst is a game about magical girls, adolescent girls who wield magical powers to fight monsters. This is a darker take on the genre, inspired in part by Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Magic is the only means to fend off the youma, but it’s also an unpredictable force that can disrupt your life in alarming ways. This is probably the single most “Forge-like” game I’ve ever done. Its rules are laser-focused on one kind of story, and it trusts the play group to work out everything not in the rules (which is pretty much everything that doesn’t involve magic) by free-form role-play.
I also wrote a script for a 6-page intro comic, which I’m inordinately happy with. Although writing for Neko Machi has been a great experience, I’m finding that writing for more serious comics is really interesting. It’s hard to say if the game will get that far, but I have a pretty solid vision for a manga-style look for the end product.
At this point I need to step back and actually deal with other stuff for a bit, but I can already see a few things I want to work on (notably, tightening up combat and possibly expanding the role of relationships). In any case, I would welcome any feedback on it.
This is an idea I’ve had for some time, though it just coalesced into something I think I can really make work. I’ve been fascinated by magical girl anime for entirely too long, but it’s a genre that cried out to be satirized and subverted. Some might remember how way back when I made a campaign setting called Magical World, a contemporary setting with a dangerous excess of Sailor Moon style magical girls, heavily inspired by the Magical Girl Hunters improfanfic. Later on I had the idea of doing an updated version, titled Magical Burst, which would incorporate Maid RPG style randomness and Superflat insanity, but I didn’t get very far with it.
What has me so incredibly inspired is a new anime series called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a magical girl series from Akiyuki Shinbo, the prolific anime director known for series like Hidamari Sketch, Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei, and many others. (It also doesn’t hurt that the character designs are by Ume Aoki and the music by Yuki Kajiura.) Lyrical Nanoha challenged some of the conventions of magical girl anime–such as by having the protagonist actually sit down and talk to her mother about what she’s doing–but Madoka Magica is the dark magical girl series I’ve been wanting for a long time. It is a series where death is a very real danger, where the desires of adolescent girls are dangerously magnified by magic, and where the forces they’ve aligned themselves with are not so benevolent as they might seem.
Then I stumbled across the TV tropes page on the series, and it turns out that the main writer is Gen Urobuchi. The staff had tried to keep his role a secret as long as they could. Why? Well, in the postface of the first Fate/Zero book he wrote he said, “I am full of hatred towards men’s so-called happiness, and had to push the characters I poured my heart out to create into the abyss of tragedy…” The series is about halfway through its 12-episode run, and it seems like it’s going to get even darker, which is saying something.
This new attempt at Magical Burst incorporates many of my own ideas–too many for it to be Madoka Magica with the serial numbers filed off–and is meant to be fundamentally a game about fighting youma and the unwanted consequences of doing so. The game is shaping up to be sort of like a magical girl version of Don’t Rest Your Head (“Don’t Rest Your Wand”), though quite a few other elements have made their way into the rules, including a D66 table of random magical mutations.
I think the major thing that has me really wanting to realize this game is that it has the potential to create intense stories that really push characters to their limits, all wrapped up in an anime genre I find fascinating. One of the strengths of the magical girl genre is that it thematically works around a feminine coming of age process, and when you stop sanitizing that in the manner of Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew you’re quickly reminded that girls can be pretty amazingly vicious. (Of course, that’s half the premise of Panty Explosion.) I also love how Madoka Magica emphasizes the unnaturalness of magic. One thing about Sorcerer that never came across to me until I listened to the Canon Puncture Game Advocates episode about it is that it’s assumed that your PCs have managed to do something that violates the nature of normal reality. While in other settings there’s fertile ground for magic as something well understood, the consequences of exposing magic to a world completely and utterly unprepared for it are fascinating.
Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there. The actual game should be fairly short and simple, so hopefully it should hold my attention long enough to at least let me finish a full first draft. I’m still digesting Ben Lehman’s (unusually) lengthy essay on playtesting (especially since I barely read it an hour ago), but the main thing I’m taking away from it is I need to be much more rigorous and dedicated than I have been about design.