Japan and Gaming:
Only a few days left, but I wanted to call this one out. +Jacob Ross
has put together a Black Hack style OSR game set in a fictionalized fantasy warring states Japan, called Kaigaku
. It's going through its Kickstarter now, over here:https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1059971838/kaigaku-a-samurai-rpg
I'm pretty critical when it comes to stuffing Japanese culture into fantasy RPG stuff, particularly when there's all sorts of lame stereotypes involved, or language bits that went unchecked, that sort of thing. Even little bits can be like fingernails on chalkboard.
One of my Japanese gamer friends (who helped with the translation of Fall of Magic) pointed this one out in support, as he's loving the Black Hack stuff that's coming out. I took a look into the core files (full disclosure; I made a few language suggestions that will likely make it into the final) and... it's pretty dang cool.
The important things for me (which is how I judged the newest L5R 4th Edition for example, to be kind of a gross language loogie that still has enough culture and coolness and good ideas to be fun): Does it respect the original culture, does it exemplify the original culture, is it creative in some way, and is it fun? Here's the breakdown IMO:Respect
(that is, gets feedback from natives from that culture, doesn't rely on cheap stereotype, doesn't mix cultures blindly): Yes. Realistic names and concepts are used, effort was pushed to get language and culture elements right. It's ultimately not very hard here; it's the 4-caste samurai system just with some magic and cinematic martial arts, but still, others have tried just that and failed miserably.
Also, the families/large persona in the game are realistic and believable, in a cultural and (fantasy) historical sense.Exemplary
(that is, given what the game's setting is supposed to be, does it bend and twist the culture in cool ways to fit that in ways that match? In other words, does it sensibly "awesome-o-fy" the culture in solid ways?): Yes. Four simple character classes, but given an unobtanium magical element and crazy martial arts powers, we have "extreme classic Japanese character types" with their own trains/ranks/levels of power, all interesting. It is properly "awesome-o-fied".Creative/Unique
(what does this do that a bunch of other games haven't done already?) Really pulls on the superlight Black Hack framework to give you an extremely simple buy-in to make characters and play. It basically drops in 20 pages of raw text far more possibilities for play (in rules, character types, and setting) than the first three editions of L5R had. Admittedly, most of the creativity in rules is pulled straight from the black hack, just given a solid deep reskin. But you pick your clan, which gives you, a class (ascetic/bushi/courtier/ninja; strange mix but OH MAN IT WORKS) and "ryu" or "power path", and you have a quickly made deep character to play with. The reskinning is creative and meticulous, it wasn't just thrown together, and provides some really exciting play options, basically like serialized Japanese revenge dramas on TV but with more magic.
Finally, is it fun?
You'll have to pardon me because I have not had a chance to bring it to the table yet, but just the doc alone really has me excited to play. This is ABSOLUTELY not one of those "rich culture and solid rules... but I have no idea what to do with it" games. Again, based on an early 20 page document draft of the rules and setting together, I already started putting together a few cool characters and some fun adventure plots (and make no mistake, it's definitely high adventure: The four classes basically consist of a Feudal Era The A Team
, with all the loaded context that that kind of metaphor implies). It hits the fun bell.
Only thing I didn't find really inspired is that it has an "honor/dishonor" mechanic ala alignment; you choose one, and the more you aim your actions towards your alignment you get Advantage; its opposite grants Disadvantage. It seems a bit like verisimilitude but it means a really black or white kind of play in a setting that - based on millions of hours of TV and movie dramas - is gray all over. In short, I like exploring the concept of honor in Japanese historical-ish games, but when rules give it mechanical weight - and strong weight - it becomes like a wooden paladin convention. In my sessions, I'd still work with the Honor/Dishonor rules but likely would give advantage if the character acted strongly one way or another (with maybe a "3 per session" limit on Honor-Advantage), without needing to particularly pick out which one you are tied to at the start.
But yeah, that's just me picking at pink lightsabers to show some contrast with my open-mouth raves above. Kaigaku looks awesome. Check it out if this seems like it might be your kind of thing. It's built on the The Black Hack
), which itself is pretty brilliant, fast and fun.