Tag Archives: Maid RPG

Maid RPG and Cultural Contexts

A blog post I came across recently got me thinking about the reception Maid RPG has gotten, the ways in which different sorts of people have reacted to it. I want to stress that I’m not mad about what Mike wrote there, but I definitely do disagree with him on some major points.

Maid Front Cover
Maid RPG (English Version) Front Cover

I got into anime in the late 90s, when it was just starting to become available in the US in a not-totally-bastardized form. Back then there were relatively few people around who knew much about it, and even us hardcore anime fans were struggling to get all the scraps we could. Now you can get simultaneous releases on CrunchyRoll, and you can get anime and manga stuff at every Hot Topic and Barnes & Noble. That means there are now three or so different generations of Western anime fans, and for the younger generation there’s much less of a sense of separation between anime and other media. That’s vitally important, because that artificial separation made it harder for everyone concerned to properly evaluate it. The distinctly Japanese aspects of anime are still important, but even more basic things like narrative and visual design are equally important. Moreover, there’s enough diversity within anime (and the many related media) that lumping them all together is decidedly counterproductive. That flawed view is part of what led to the problems with Big Eyes Small Mouth, and generally stunted anime-inspired RPGs in the West for a while. (Basically, we should’ve been paying more attention to what Mike Pondsmith was doing with games like Mekton and Teenagers From Outer Space.)

One somewhat reductive way to look at Maid RPG is as a big wad of tropes that you access through random tables. That means that you have to understand a bunch of anime tropes in order for it to really produce a coherent experience. This becomes a big deal for an RPG because there’s a significant and vocal contingent that doesn’t get anime tropes. That’s not a bad thing in itself–no one even has time for every kind of media–but I think tabletop RPG folks can sometimes have an inaccurate picture of the cultural landscape. It’s in the basic nature of the medium that participating in an RPG requires having a certain amount of shared cultural background. RPGs variously create that background in the text and lean on established tropes the audience is already aware of. The selection of tropes you have to know to properly enjoy D&D is largely invisible to people who’re sufficiently involved in gaming, but they’re actually highly specific and more than a little quirky, a result of Gygax’s eclecticism and 40 years of contributions and refinements from a rotating cast of TSR and WotC staff and freelancers. Even a lot of people who are hardcore into D&D aren’t aware that works like Three Hearts and Three Lions, Moorcock’s Elric stores, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories, and so on were major influences on the game, even more so than Lord of the Rings. Similarly, the works of H.P. Lovecraft are well-known and even overused in tabletop gaming, but relatively obscure if you’re not hardcore into either horror literature or tabletop.

Seriously. Platinum Bestseller. I have no idea what to even think about it.

Maid RPG is a weird game, with some skeevy content and grounded in anime tropes (with some truly obscure stuff even in our localized English version), but it’s absolutely found its audience, and we really don’t have to go out of our way to sell it at anime conventions. It’s sold thousands of copies around the world, and it outsells Golden Sky Stories disturbingly often. A surprisingly large portion of its fanbase it women too, and I want to serve that audience better in anything I do with the game in the future. It was in many ways not a rational choice to publish it, but by the standards of independent tabletop RPGs it’s a runaway success. I put it up for sale on DriveThruRPG relatively recently, after the game had been out for several years, and if you look at its listing now, you’ll see that it’s a Platinum Bestseller, in the top 0.51% of products on the site, which puts it in some heady company. I’ve never really promoted Maid RPG on DTRPG apart from a few social media posts pointing out that it’s there and a few more gawking at how high it’s gotten in the rankings. It’s also a cornerstone of a good relationship with Indie Press Revolution, which regularly takes it to sell at conventions. Moreover, it’s just a really good game, and cultural issues aside, the simple fact that it’s a blast to play was the major thing behind my desire to publish an English version. It also was an intensely educational project for me and Andy, and the English versions of Golden Sky Stories, Tenra Bansho Zero, and Ryuutama are all vastly better for that experience.

When Mike says “But there’s no saving MAID in the Western market,” I have to disagree. It was never going to get much traction with the old guard of RPG players (including indie RPG folks), many of whom don’t get or even are actively hostile to anime, but people who enjoy and understand anime enough to appreciate Maid RPG are a lot more common than any of us expected. It’s been my experience that gamers who aren’t into anime tend to greatly underestimate how much reach it’s gained, even though the kids who grew up watching Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon are adults now. Maybe there are people who heard about Maid RPG and jumped to conclusions about Japanese TRPGs as a whole, but I suspect anyone who didn’t get Maid RPG would also be lost with Alshard or Shinibigami or any number of others.

Way back at my first ever job at a shitty electronics store, Tamagotchis were all the rage and some guy asked if we had any of “those tama-hoochie-goochie things,” a phrase he repeated even after I told him they were called “Tamagotchis.” I feel like some people have a similar resistance to even trying to understand anime, and while there’s nothing wrong with having preferences that don’t include anime, it’s weird to project that onto everyone else, especially in an era when you can watch anime on Netflix and Hulu and buy manga at every major bookseller. Anime has won over to such an extent that there’s a younger generation of fans for whom it blurs into other similar media, hence there’s been so much Homestuck, Steven Universe, and Undertale cosplay and fan art at anime conventions. There’s newer stuff that I don’t even get myself (like how I don’t really get the appeal of LP videos or YouTube celebrities in general), but I remember what it was like to be young and excited about something new.

In general I think it’s useful for game designers to stop and ask themselves what assumptions a game is carrying, what bits of culture players need to make it really work as intended. D&D is one of those things that’s become a cultural touchstone in itself, but the rest of us aren’t so lucky. You’re never going to have a play group whose particular pop culture gumbo is going to exactly match yours, but if you make a game grounded in something you’re genuinely enthusiastic about, it’ll show through to the people who share that enthusiasm. Certainly the bigger RPG publishers have stumbled a bit when trying to appeal to anime fans (GURPS Mecha and White Wolf’s Year of the Lotus books come to mind), whereas games like Breakfast Cult can appeal to that audience without missing a beat. The audience for anime-inspired RPGs may never approach that of D&D, but for better or for worse that’s likely more to do with the commercial limitations of tabletop RPGs than of the ones with anime stuff in them.

More on Kagegami High

Since it’s about the only thing I’ve made any real progress on lately, I might as well post a bit more about Kagegami High.

Early on I laid out a bunch of tables and other stuff to built out the setting and the game, and the lion’s share of the additional writing I need to do is simply completing the tasks I’ve set for myself, like writing up the 36 classmates and 18 faculty members, and filling out a bunch of random event tables for different general situations.


I’ve ended up spending a lot of time adding visual elements to Kagegami High, and far more of them than for pretty much anything I’ve done before. Despite that, at least for now I haven’t commissioned any original artwork and probably won’t unless I decide I want to crowdfund an updated/deluxe version of the game. The game’s source material includes a lot of titles that tend to express things in ways other than illustrations, and what visuals there are for Welcome to Night Vale tend to be the sort that allude and imply things rather than showing them outright. The purple Night Vale logo with a crescent moon inside of an eye really sets the mood for the audio content, and in a way it makes sense to do something like that for a certain kind of role-playing game.

I’ve been using the Noun Project a lot in my various games and such (to the point where the $9.99 a month for a pro subscription has been well worth it for me), and the black and while symbols for things have been incredibly useful for Kagegami High, both as-is and as raw materials for creating the things I actually want. While it was a simple matter to get an icon of a soccer ball to be the symbol of the school’s soccer club, for the “Popular Girls Club” I used two existing icons to build the one I wanted:


The other thing I’ve been able to do is make weird schoolgirl silhouettes to scatter throughout the book. It took me a little while to figure out the right process for this, and now I may have gone a little overboard.

  1. I start with stock art, usually from DLSite or one of the many sites offering stock art for RPG Maker. In both cases the key search term to know is 絵素材 (esozai) literally “picture materials,” but basically “stock art.” Not all of these are at print resolution, but that’s one of the benefits of making them into silhouettes and vectorizing them.
  2. In Photoshop, press Ctrl-U to get the Hue/Saturation adjustment dialog, and drag the Lightness slider all the way to the left to make the entire thing black. (Though you may need to use a paintbrush to fill in any white spots left over.)
  3. Open the image in Illustrator (or paste it in).
  4. Click on Image Trace to create a vector version. Maybe tweak the settings a little to get it how you want. Click Expand, then use the Ungroup command to separate the new vector object from the original raster image. Get rid of any extraneous stuff left over from the conversion.
  5. Once I have the vectorized silhouette, it’s pretty easy to take some Noun Project elements and turn it into something especially weird. The Noun Project’s app for macOS lets you drag and drop, making that step super easy, but it’s not too big a deal to download the SVG file instead. Regardless, the Live Paint tool is invaluable here since it lets you easily fill in parts of objects, much like the paint bucket tool in Photoshop. In the example below, I started with this eye icon, and filled the pupil with black and the white with, you know, white, so that it didn’t totally disappear when placed on top of the silhouette. Thus we have a gangly schoolgirl with one vividly visible eye, and in a form that can print smoothly at any scale.
  6. Since I’m still doing layouts in Word for some reason, I save it as an EPS file, which I can then embed into the Word doc.

untitled-1So yeah. Between icons and silhouettes and a few other things, the book will probably have a few hundred visual elements (in addition to some shenanigans with fonts and Unicode characters and such). It’s something that fits this particular game really well and wouldn’t work most of the time, but I’ve been very pleased with the results, and not just because it’s inexpensive.

Rules Stuff

The rules are another thing that I’ve given more attention that I expected to. Early on in the process I started by literally copying and pasting the rules section from Schoolgirl RPG as a starting point, which is to say I began with the lightest possible implementation of the Maid RPG rules, and from there I got inspired to make some important changes.

The biggest thing was that the Ghostbusters RPG and Spooktacular made such an impression on me that I decided to graft a variant of that dice system onto M.A.I.D. Engine chassis. Rolling a bunch of dice has smoother probabilities and is just more viscerally fun than rolling a single die, and the Ghost Die (which becomes the “Weird Die” in Kagegami High) generally adds a lot of fun. While the notion of something hilariously screwing you over doesn’t fit as well, having a die trigger something weird (which can just be a random event if all else fails) works nicely. (It also gives me an excuse to get custom Weird Dice made!) This also consequently meant that the scale for stats needed to be a little wider (1-6 instead of 0-4), and generally led to some tweaks elsewhere in the game.

I also added Principles and GM Moves, descended from the principles and MC moves of Apocalypse World. These are essentially a distillation of the techniques I’ve worked out for playing/running Maid RPG, adjusted for how I envision Kagegami High working. The GM moves are a little different from AW’s MC moves in that some of them fall into the realm of actual mechanics, presenting stuff like calling for random events and assigning Awesome Points into that clear format.

The most recent–and most experimental–addition is the concept of “invoking a trait,” which lets players spend Awesome Points to leverage a Special Quality or other trait into making something happen in the fiction. It’s tricky because unlike Fate (where the idea came from, of course) Maid RPG wasn’t designed from the ground up with that sort of thing in mind, but I definitely do like the idea of having a procedure for making Special Qualities and such come into the game in an interesting way.

There’s still plenty left to do, but I’m definitely looking forward to playtesting and eventually publishing this one.

Kagegami High

I haven’t written about it all that much here, but lately I’ve been working pretty intently on Kagegami High. Of my self-published games, Schoolgirl RPG is the most spontaneous and also one of the most successful. I ended up making quite a bit of material for it, put together a Complete Edition (with a POD version available), and then giving it a rest. When I decided to come back to the game, I had the idea to create a book that presents a premade setting, a high school with explanations of places, students, teachers, etc. I’d barely gotten started on brainstorming for that when the idea for Kagegami High took over.

Kagegami High Cover_

Continue reading Kagegami High

Yaruki Zero Podcast #22: 2013 in Review


Yaruki Zero Podcast #22 (39 minutes, 42 seconds)

2013 was quite a year for me, plus I haven’t done a proper podcast in ages (literally over 2 years…), so I decided to do an overview of my year, covering the Channel A and Golden Sky Stories Kickstarters, Maid RPG, Fate and Adventures of the Space Patrol, Destiny Dice, Beyond Otaku Dreams, and a few other odds and ends.

This podcast uses selections from the song “Click Click” by Grünemusik, available for free from Jamendo.com. If you like the song, consider buying some CDs from Nankado’s website.

Caricature of Ewen courtesy of C. Ellis.

Maid: The Role-Playing Game and Star Line Publishing

coverBeginning in 2014, Star Line Publishing will be taking over handling Maid: The Role-Playing Game in English. Maid RPG is a slapstick anime comedy RPG, and an earlier work by Golden Sky Stories designer Ryo Kamiya. Andy K originally took the lead role in the business of publishing the game, while I handled most of the translation and otherwise took a back seat. With Andy moving to Japan and my own publishing venture getting up and running, it made sense to switch the game over to SLP. For the time being we’ll be treating Maid as a “long tail” product, making it available primarily through PDF and print on demand venues, though we’ll still be able to offer printed books at conventions and to interested retailers. We’ll be expanding to a few new POD/PDF sales channels as well, notably DriveThruRPG and Amazon’s CreateSpace (which will in turn make it available for order through Amazon), though given that Maid RPG has gotten and stayed disturbingly high on their sales charts, we’ll definitely continue the partnership with Indie Press Revolution that Andy started.

Whether there will be anything new for Maid RPG depends a lot on what we have the resources to accomplish and what people express interest in. I do plan to eventually complete and publish my Retail Magic game (a comedy RPG based on the Maid RPG rules, but about employees at a magic item shop), and I might go as far as to look into finally putting together a book of original Maid RPG material, and possibly a cheaper and slimmer introductory Maid RPG core rulebook similar to products like the Explorer’s Edition of Savage Worlds. If there’s something you’d like to see, let us know!

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.

Retail Magic Design Journal 2

Last night I ran my first Retail Magic playtest, and it went really well. Granted at this stage it’s basically a reskinned Maid RPG, but as my attempt at using those rules for a new version of Mascot-tan demonstrated, that wouldn’t have been a guarantee of success. For the game I rolled up a store I named Vanderveldt Bros., originally under the control of two archmages, but since they died (most likely at each other’s hands) their nephew Eric Vanderveldt (a talented young mage but largely clueless about business) inherited the store. Over the course of the game Axebeard (a female dwarf) held an interview that led to Red Maj (a little girl) being hired, while Wyrmsbane (a shiftless loser dressed as a wizard) slacked off. There was a bit of flailing around dealing with customers, missionaries, and so on before it turned out an ancient dragon was coming to burninate the city, and they had to gather the ingredients for a ritual in order to weaken the dragon enough to defeat it. It was fun, and very silly. It also felt a whole lot like Maid RPG at a magic shop, but then that was kind of the idea.

One thing I’m thinking about is writing a bit about how to approach playing the game. I have enough experience with running Maid RPG that I think I could put together some useful advice. I just discovered Craig Judd’s blog The Game Mechanic, where he just put up three posts about his experiences with Maid RPG as the first of his experiments with expanding his RPG horizons. It’s really interesting to read about someone else struggling to figure out how to play the game and ultimately finding their own style, which is apparently considerably more serious than mine. It’s going to be a challenge to find the right midpoint between offering advice while making it clear that people can do what they want, but I think very worthwhile. It’s probably going to end up looking a lot like the advice I wrote for Dragon World.

I came up with a small innovation, albeit one that gives me a lot of work to do. The idea is to have a d666 table that is in essence a set of six d66 tables with different themes. I’m doing this with the item table, which has different general types of items so that you can just make a d666 roll for any old kind of item, or make a d66 roll specifically for a cursed item or an outworld artifact. I’m also thinking of doing this with the random event tables, which will both give the game enough random events to hold up to more play, and provide event tables for more themes.


I finally started playing Recettear, which I’m enjoying a lot so far, plus it helped me figure out a general approach for putting together the “commerce rules” for Retail Magic. Assuming I can put together something workable, I think “store management” is going to be its own style of play, distinct from random event-driven, favor race, etc. Recettear, like a lot of Japanese simulation video games, uses a concept of “turns,” during which the player has a budget of actions they can take to try to pursue their goals. The system I’m thinking of will be a bit more abstract, without manually doing the haggling of every sale like in Recettear. I’m still in the earliest stages of designing it, and we’ll have to see how it works out.

A while ago I stumbled across Norm Feuti’s book Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee Handbook. He’s the creator of a comic strip called Retail, about the staff of a department store and the shit they have to deal with. It draws on his 15 years of experience working at various stores, and Pretending You Care is a more direct distillation of that experience, full of stuff that I wish I’d known during the one retail job I’ve had. It’s kind of depressing to read–and retail has if anything gotten a bit worse since the book came out in 2007–but it’s giving me plenty of ideas as I re-read it.

Anyway, that’s about where I am with the project. My next step is to basically write more material–items, events, etc.–and try them out. Although it’s getting way ahead of myself, I’m also thinking a bit about possible supplements. I don’t want to get quite as out of control as Maid RPG did, but producing stuff like, say, a collection of scenarios with some accompanying rules material could be interesting. For that matter a friend of mine had an idea for a hack that would basically be a zany fantasy version of Community.