Tag Archives: PDF

Tsugihagi Honpo: An Innovator

Ryo Kamiya, the designer of Maid RPG and Golden Sky Stories (and a few other games) is one of the major people behind an independent game publishing company called Tsugihagi Honpo.[1] I wanted to take a little time to talk about what they’ve been up to, because they’ve been doing some pretty amazing things that could help expand, improve, and enliven the TRPG scene in Japan.

Japan is far behind the West in terms of the adoption of e-books. The patterns of tech adoption by the Japanese tend to be different in really fascinating ways, sometimes cultural and sometimes pragmatic. They can be way ahead of the U.S. (as was the case with cell phones) or oddly far behind (I’ve heard that many Japanese companies still make extensive use of fax machines instead of email). While devices like tablets are hugely popular and the Amazon Kindle is indeed available in Japan, the selection of e-books available for purchase is relatively small. There may be a cultural tendency to prefer physical artifacts over digital downloads, but the real issue is with the publishing industry. Japan is one of the more literate societies on the planet, but traditional publishers are incredibly set in their ways, and have largely refused to seriously consider releasing their properties as e-books. There’s an attitude that piracy isn’t merely a concern, but something to be absolutely avoided at all costs. This is largely true of tabletop RPGs as much as novels, partly I suppose because it’s simply not the standard overall, and partly because a surprising number of TRPG publishers are actually small subsets of large, traditional publishing houses.

On the other hand there is a flourishing doujinshi scene that produces a massive volume of fan works. TRPGs are only a small part of that, but given that the heart of the doujin scene is a convention that attracts about half a million people, that small part still produces a lot of interesting material. There’s even some electronic publishing going on, through sites like DLSite and Melon Books, which is where you’ll find the very few Japanese TRPGs available in PDF form. Tsugihagi has a few available (including the English version of Maid RPG), and there are some other games like Giant Allege and Machine Makers, plus replays and some other material for existing games. More recently, Ken Akamatsu’s site J-Comi started offering some older TRPG material for free.


Tsugihagi went so far as to make their own PDF reader app for iPad, Narabete Reader, which allows you to view two different PDFs simultaneously. Of course, in their Narabete Reader FAQ they resort to mentioning that PDFs are common for American RPGs, because Japanese RPG PDFs are so hard to come by. Needless to say I’m hoping that TRPG PDFs take off, though that’s partly just because even with the added hoops of buying through a Japanese site, getting files from DLSite is a heck of a lot easier and cheaper than special ordering a book from Japan.

Nechronica Miniatures
3D printing is a technology that has some major implications for tabletop gaming, as it has the potential to massively boost the variety of physical artifacts that people can affordably produce in small numbers. Right now making miniatures is getting more attainable–there have been countless very successful Kickstarters for miniatures games–but it’s still something that involves tens of thousands of dollars. 3D printing has the potential to let projects be on as small a scale as you want. Shapeways is already providing a Lulu-style POD service for 3D-printed objects, but I was rather excited when I found out that Tsugihagi is offering a set of Nechronica miniatures. They’re not cheap, and they have the “fuzzy” look of the current generation of color 3D printing, but it’s also the first instance I know of of a game publisher doing an official 3D printed accessory.


TRPG Publishing Workshop
Another pretty amazing thing they’re doing is the “Tsugihagi School” workshop. They charge 2800 yen for an all-day program of seminars on desktop publishing and game design. In the U.S. we’ve done plenty of convention panels and podcasts about this kind of thing, and there have been a few convention workshops here and there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything quite like this. That it’s something viable in a paid workshop format is I suspect in part a result of Japan being much smaller than the U.S. It’s taking place in Saitama, which is part of the Tokyo metropolitan area, and while it’s hardly in everyone’s back yard, a larger portion of the potential audience can get there on the train than would be the case for a similar event in any given U.S. city.

Online Play
Also of interest is how the workshop includes a session solely dedicated to talking about online role-playing. From what I can gather, this is becoming a major trend in Japanese TRPGs. The term オンラインセッション/online session gets shortened to オンセ/onse, and there are dedicated platforms for it, like Dodontof. This is of particular interest for Tsugihagi since one of their games is extremely adult in nature and probably not something a lot of people would want to play face-to-face. Online RPG play isn’t at all unusual in the U.S., but with rare exceptions (like Code of Unaris) it’s very rare for publishers to address it in any meaningful way.[2] Dedicating time and energy to looking at ways to design games that are better for online play is genuinely a really cool thing, and something I hope we’ll see more of.

[1]Which literally translates to something like “Patchwork Book Shop,” but in English they call themselves “PatchWorks.”

[2]I don’t have a lot of experience with playing RPGs online, but it’s definitely something I want to address in my own games.

I got a Kindle. It’s mostly awesome.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, but since I had a little bit of extra money to spare (thanks in large part to Maid RPG) I bought an Amazon Kindle. My home life has increasingly felt like a losing battle against clutter, so while I do appreciate the beauty of a book made of paper, I just have too many things, especially when it comes to books I’m not likely to read more than once or twice. I really want to take the opportunity to cull my book collection and have more room for stuff.

I get eyestrain a little too easily for a backlit display to be an option for serious reading (doubly so when I work in front of a computer all day), so frankly I find it kind of baffling to hear people saying the iPad is somehow superior to e-book readers despite having a display that shoves light into your eyeballs[1]. I already read half of the Harry Potter novels on a monochrome Palm Pilot back in the day, while on my iPhone I got through only two or three pages of Cory Doctorow’s For The Win (pictured on the Kindle below, and a great read so far BTW).

I specifically got the new Kindle 3, which is much improved (and much cheaper) compared to its predecessors. It is phenomenally easy to use, at least for things that are readable on its 6″ display. Books in .azw or .mobi format use the Kindle’s built-in font, which is eminently readable. There’s also text-to-speech, which is about what you’d expect. When you plug it in via the included USB cable it just acts like a drive, and you can drag and drop any supported file type into the documents folder. If you buy an actual Kindle book from Amazon it’ll be delivered to your device automatically via wireless at the next opportunity. (Its “whispernet” thing can also grab software updates and such.)

3x3 Eyes, Volume 1 (of 40)

Reading manga scanlations is shockingly easy too. You can put a folder of jpg files or even a .cbz file into the documents folder and it’ll read them more or less fine. (When it first starts up it sometimes fails to render part of the right-hand side of the image, but fiddling with the back and forward buttons fixes that.) The resolution is just about right for the big and breezy panel pacing of manga, and I would be worried about how well it’d work with more compact Western comics (or anything by Ken Akamatsu or Masamune Shirrow for that matter). There is a simple program called Mangle that can take files and put them into a numbered folder to make sure they show up on the Kindle and get displayed in the correct order, which seems to help a lot.

I don’t think the Kindle is going to have all that much to offer for RPGs in its current form. Although the Kindle 3 significantly improves the time it takes to turn pages, the kind of quick navigation you’d want to do for a typical RPG isn’t really there, as it’s more aimed at leisurely novel reading. (Though it would help if more people making PDFs would include bookmarks and so forth.) Thus for most RPGs it’s better as a way to read the book than as a format for having it at the table, though from what I’ve heard A Penny For My Thoughts can be played while reading the book from front to back, and thus might sidestep this problem.

The PDF reader works very well as long as the pages are small enough to fit on the Kindle’s screen. The above image is of Ben Lehman’s latest game, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon, and as you can see its small pages (5.5×8.5″), relatively large text, and simple monochrome art look awesome on a Kindle screen. Things get more difficult with larger page sizes and smaller type, and I found the PDFs of Blowback and FreeMarket all but unreadable. You can zoom in and pan around, but it’s probably the single most cumbersome aspect of using a Kindle. It is possible to convert a PDF to a .mobi file to read as an e-book with programs like Calibre, but I suspect an RPG is exactly the kind of thing what could trip it up and become difficult to read.

It also features a web browser, which is pretty decent considering it’s on a device that’s not quite meant for that kind of thing–e-ink is at its best when stuff doesn’t move around much–and unsurprisingly it doesn’t support stuff like flash. It can also play mp3s and audiobooks, but since I already have that kind of thing taken care of with my iPhone I don’t have much reason to bother.

The Kindle is a device that’s meant to do this one thing, and does it incredibly well. It extends to a few other things, but it doesn’t try to be an all-in-one thing like the iPad. I don’t really see it becoming much of a thing for RPGs, at least not until the e-ink technology improves and navigation becomes dramatically faster, so the iPad and the Android tablets and such that are just hitting the market are probably legitimately better for such purposes. On the other hand if I ever decide to self-publish fiction (say, a Slime Story novel as an “accessory” to the RPG), the Kindle will definitely be a part of it.

[1]Though this seems to have more to do with publishers wanting to charge $14 or so for e-books instead of $10 or so, despite both price points being significantly more than a paperback, much less a used or clearance copy of a popular book. On the other hand, Amazon’s 70% share of Kindle e-book revenue is pretty painful, and I’d be seriously tempted to offer my own works in DRM-free mobipicket and epub formats.