Last week I went to the mall, basically to do some stuff by myself and clear my head. I was especially thinking about getting more of my creative stuff off the ground. One side of that has been harassing my artist friends to get my T-shirt design project seriously under way, but over lunch I pulled out my laptop and wound up rereading the unfinished manuscript of Tokyo Heries, and I realized that I really liked what I saw. Which is why I wound up dropping everything else I was doing (writing/RPG design-wise) for the moment to work on this game.
The Power 19 are a series of questions meant to help guide game designers. I decided to take a stab at answering these for Tokyo Heroes, and later on other RPG projects I’ve been working on or contemplating.
1.) What is your game about?
Heroes that work together to beat up bad guys.
2.) What do the characters do?
Seek out, confront, and defeat bad guys.
3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
The GM comes up with the Monster of the Week. The players try to do what they characters would want to do, building up to that episode’s final battle.
4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The game has a milleu of sorts, but the setting is left up to the individual group. From the source material, there is a notion that heroes are the same in every setting. Despite the similarities and the crossover movies, each year’s Super Sentai Series is a totally new setting.
5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Characters must be made as a group, with many important details decided by the group as a whole, and thus they have to be concieved as a team.
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Teamwork is strongly encouraged; going solo is difficult at best.
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Hero Dice and Karma are the most important form of reward in the game. Hero Dice contribute to the teamwork side of things — and are all but required to win battles — while Karma points reward individuality and thereby create a certain amount of tension.
8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Mostly in a traditional fashion, except that at the end of each session players have an opportunity to give the GM input about what will happen in the next session/episode.
9.) What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
The heroes in this game must participate and do things in accordance with their Keys in order for the group to gain enough Hero Dice to function effectively.
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
It’s a dice pool system using six-siders. The base target number is 4 (so dice come up as successes half of the time), but this varies depending on the circumstances. Hero Dice can be spent on any given action by any group member.
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
The resolution mechanics are intended to strongly encourage teamwork. Characters can almost always assist their friends in some way, even if the target gets pushed up to 6. Unlike previous attempts at the game, it lets each player roll their own dice and see their contributions to the whole.
12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Basic character competence is improved by spending Karma points, while new weapons, giant robots, etc., are handed out whenever the GM feels like it.
13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The fact that Karma is the basis of character advancement adds to the characters’ individual drive for achievement, and is meant to create tension. That the GM periodically plays Santa Claus draws in the source material’s tendency towards deus ex machina, but also frees players to spend Karma on improving their characters’ abilities over time.
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
Primarily, I want to capture the fun, melodramatic, vivid, and cool style of sentai shows, and get them to play their characters to the hilt.
15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The game is mostly about a genre, so the emphasis is very squarely on conveying that genre and why I think it’s cool enough to be worth the effort of roleplaying to the reader.
16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
Aside from the fact that it’s meant to bring what I consider to be a really fun genre into the realm of RPGs, I’m really excited to see how well the Keys/Hero Dice really work. To me it’s at the heart of the game, and a big part of what makes it feel like it’ll fit the genre.
17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
The sentai genre has been almost completely overlooked by RPGs, even in Japan.
18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
My main concern is putting together a fun game to play with my friends, but if I can put together something that other people would actually be interested in, I’ll probably try to get it out there, on Lulu.com and RPGnow and such. I don’t have the personality or resources to really concern myself too much with it as a commercial venture, but from the beginning I was eyeing this game as possibly something to sell.
19.) Who is your target audience?
People who are fans of sentai, or at least curious about it. It’s a small niche hobby, but as I mentioned before there’s next to nothing for it in the realm of tabletop RPGs.
I dug into Tokyo Heroes again after not looking at it for a couple weeks, and it looks like the actual rules are mostly done now. I need to fill out the rules for making bad guys, finish writing up the sample characters, and the last of the fluffy flavor text. Hopefully once that’s done I can get back into working on Thrash 2.0 — which is also mainly a matter of grunt work at this point. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to get done once school starts, of course. This semester is looking to be pretty intense.
On the TH inspirational stuff front, Tokyo Mew Mew has been getting really good lately (I’m on episode 37 right now), mainly by finding interesting things to do with the different characters. I watched the first few episodes of Genseishin Jutsirisers and was surprised by how good it was (especially after seeing the first episode of Sazer-X). It’s basically a sentai show, but it has its own distinct feel, separate from the Super Sentai Series. Similar to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (but in different ways) it deals with what it means to be a “hero” with weird powers. Two of the main characters are high school kids, and they’re fighting in spite of their misgivings and fears about the whole thing. I also like how the girl character is on the school’s lacrosse team basically as an excuse for the characters to have a metal stick handy when mooks show up.
Last night we had our first session of Truth & Justice, though it was mostly prologue and roleplaying. The real super action hasn’t started yet, but the campaign is off to a good start at least. We’ve been playing mostly on Sundays at the FLGS, and the first time we played on a Saturday it was much more crowded than we’ve ever seen it before. It’s definitely encouraging to see that many people playing games.
Lately I’ve been pondering the craft of writing — putting together words with skill — as it applies to RPGs. And not having much luck. One of my other hobbies is writing fiction and poetry, and I like to think I’m at least not completely horrible at it. However I find I have a hell of a time fully applying what writing ability I have to roleplaying game texts. I’m sure the differing writing genre makes a difference (I have a harder time with creative nonfiction too by the way), especially when it comes to writing game rules.
The RPG books that I can remember liking the writing style have mostly been either crisp and clear (Primetime Adventures) or sort of like a really excited yet coherent friend telling you about cool stuff (octaNe). Exalted books always develop a really awesome setting and have sentences here and there where the wording seems awkward to me. Part of that, I’m sure, is that I’ve found that as I work on longer pieces of fiction, the revision process lengthens exponentially rather than in a linear fashion (I don’t want to talk about how long this novella is taking me, and I’m afraid of what’ll happen when I try for a full-length novel). Another part of it is simply differing priorities; I’m not just writing, I’m putting together a game that needs a coherently interlocking array of rules and concepts. Just typing up the rules as I have them in my head is a challenge sometimes. I’m wondering if I should’ve tried taking a technical writing class alongside all those creative writing classes… And I may have to finally break down and get Dogs In The Vineyard (even though it’s not something I’d run with my group), since its writing style is yet another of the things people keep praising it for.
The thing about Tokyo Heroes is that it deals with a genres that have only a cult following in the English-speaking world, so there are a lot of non-rule concepts I want to convey in the text, but I keep finding myself using “noodly” language with lots of conditional phrases (“Often the Sixth Ranger is…”). That’s partly just a fault of how I think and write; another reason I like writing fiction is it’s easier for me to get away from that. One idea I’m contemplating is using vingettes to convey certain concepts. Granted, RPG-related fiction is notoriously bad, outdoing even novelizations of movies at times, but I like to think I could do a bit better. ^_^;
Anyway, for that (and other purposes) I want to put together sets of original characters — a sentai team and a magical girl team. For the magical girls I’m just taking the protagonists of a story that never quite came together, Magical Girl Rose, which takes some cues from Abaranger for how the five heroes are organized (three main heroes, one mentor, one who starts off evil and comes around at the end, and a dangerous/defective transformation item thrown into the mix). For the sentai I originally at least had the name (Dynaranger), except that then I’d wind up having heroes with the same names (Dyna+color) as Kagaku Sentai Dynaman. Besides, I want to come up with a more detailed and somewhat less generic sentai team concept. In the “wish I’d thought of it” category is one of the PBP RPGs in the Japan Hero forums, “Kensei Sentai Slashman.” One of my favorite things about OVA is that it has a set of sample characters and uses them for every illustration and example.
And in other news, I ordered the aforementioned TRPG Super Session Daikyouen book with the Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger game in it, though it’ll take around 3 weeks to arrive. I don’t feel so bad for not knowing 饗宴 (kyouen; “feast”), since apparently the clerk at Kinokuniya (a native speaker) didn’t either. A friend of mine is moving to Japan next month and I’m going to be sorely tempted to bug him to buy TRPGs for me… But it’d be much better to wait for my other friends to take their 2-week trip to Japan instead.
I’ve been trying to watch more source material for Tokyo Heroes, starting with Tokyo Mew Mew. I don’t know that I’d call the series good, but it’s definitely fun, and as usual in spite of the fact that between sentai and magical girls the number of hours of programming I’ve watched is now in the triple digits (holy crap, I never realized that before!) I find I need to watch it with a notebook in arm’s reach, should I suddenly gain new insights into the genre.
Three posts in less that twelve hours! Woo! (I really have had RPGs on the brain lately…)
Reading all this theory blog stuff (not to mention finally reading through more of The Burning Wheel) got me thinking of this idea of “character as communication.” This post in Jay Loomis’ LJ digs into the nature of the whole disadvantage concept as seen in GURPS, which helped bring an idea together:
A character sheet is a means of communication between player and GM, and both sides need to treat it as such. When a player puts a disadvantage or somesuch on the character, he should be in effect saying to the GM “I want the game to partly be about this!” Burning Wheel stresses this quite a bit actually, though with the added wrinkle that the group will periodically vote on new traits to be added to each player character based on how they act in-game. In RPGs, players tend to get disadvantages for points and hope that the actual downside will be minimalized, while GMs can sometimes get too caught up in the overall plot to have the PCs’ individual stuff be more than a sub-plot.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of both, though my character for my friend’s upcoming superhero campaign has some serious stuff that will come back to haunt her (which come to think of it is not unlike my character for his Macross-based Mekton Z game, though for very different reasons). With my superhero character (Victory Rider) I went so far as to even list off some possible plot/episode ideas. I deliberately left her father’s alien origins a total mystery, and also suggested some wacky stuff with her rider transformation getting weird before it adapts to her physiology.
For Tokyo Heroes I’m attempting to do something with this idea. The game has a “Keys” mechanic similar to TSOY, but for Hero Dice that are shared by the group, and the group chooses 2 Keys that are possesed by all team members, and the player selects one related to his character’s Aspect (ranger color) and has the option to buy a “Personal Key” to boot. Each player also has a Heroic Flaw (inspired in part by Enemy Gods), which I’m thinking of linking to the individual XP-type mechanic somehow. None of these have any point benefit during character creation; you have to pick them. Between those the players are saying a lot about what they want out of the campaign, so the text recommends that the GM either have copies of the character sheets or make a cheat sheet of the characters’ stats, and look at them before doing any serious campaign planning. This is something I’m definitely going to be trying out with pretty much any game I run.
Tokyo Heroes also has a “spotlight episode” mechanic. In sentai and magical girl shows there are often episodes that revolve around one particular hero; the team gets drawn into the plot because of a friend of that hero, and it’s that hero who leads the way into battle. In Dekaranger the episode titles are actually color coded, and there are episodes like “Perfect Blue” — where DekaBlue has an old partner come to Earth for a visit, but turns out to be a bad guy, and they have a climactic shootout. So, in Tokyo Heroes a player can invest personal points (I’ve been calling them Karma in my notes, but as a placeholder) — sort of like the Star Power in Hong Kong Action Theater 1st Edition — at the end of a session to have the next session be a spotlight episode. The character gets certain mechanical benefits and has the plot center around them for that session. In spite of that last sentence being really horrible convoluted, the point is that this is a way for players to force the issue and make it so that their characters’ desires and whatnot become a part of the game.
Also, just when I thought there weren’t any other sentai RPGs out there at all, it turns out there is in fact one in Japan. It’s called Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger (Hero Sentai Justice Ranger), part of a 175-page RPG anthology called TRPG Super Session: Daikyouen. From what I’ve read it seems to be a little toungue-in-cheek, and pleasing the sponsors in order to get more toys is a major part of the game. Still, I’m definitely going to see about ordering a copy from Kinokuniya when I get a chance.
Neat RPG Blog Posts
- Vincent Baker: But Even Better… (A new frontier in roleplaying games! Or a way to insult flamers. Nifty either way.)
- The 20′ by 20′ Room: Minor Disconnect: A Range of Tastes (Using sex and food as analogies for people’s tastes in games).
- Rainfall: ACE (The beginnings of what could be a very promising mecha RPG).