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Nine Weeks Later (or something to that effect)

Oh, I had the best of intentions.

I’d started into the RPG a Day thing with the unshakable belief that I would be able to catch myself up, keep abreast of the topics, and finish out with a solid month of posting.  And I had been making a pretty good show of it, overall, with multiple posts on some days and only the barest absence when visiting the in-laws.

And then I hit a weird sort of ironic reversal.

See, everything had been going well on the process of moving into the new place and getting settled in.  We’d even made a point of going off to see the relatives with the ulterior motive of visiting the local Ikea for supplies and furniture to adorn the house.  New chairs, consider a new couch, update a couple of things here and there.  Nothing big, nothing terribly intrusive.

And down that list a little ways was the shelving that I’d be putting in one of the spare rooms.  This would be the newly relocated Games Library.  I’d mapped it out, mentally, with an eye on the display aspect of the room.  See, the Library consists of literal hundreds, perhaps thousands of books.  And my intention has always been to have access to my Library, for ease of use and reference, all while displaying it for my own mental well being.

And for most people, this is nothing to worry about overmuch.  My cousins have their libraries in a corner of their dining room.  Three shelves here, a chest high bookcase there.  Not a problem to accommodate.  One of my good friends took a wall of his basement and was able to store his rather expansive collection.

This becomes an issue when you’re staring down something like 54 banker’s boxes of RPG books, however.  The room I had set aside was well sized, and even so, I was wondering if I would be able to manage it with an estimated 72 feet of shelf space.  (By way of reference, the boxes I’m working with are actually slightly larger, measuring 16 inches or 40 centimeters, give or take.  These can handle, at a glance, sixty-six of Paizo’s Adventure Path modules, with room left over for two hardcovers.  With this in mind, my calculations circle right back around to being able to fit these 54 boxes into 72 feet of shelf space precisely.)  Assuming that the banker’s boxes are the entirety of my gaming collection (they are not) and I would stop buying RPG books upon completion of my shelving (this has never been my intention), I’ll be set perfectly.

Add to this the sheer weight of the books in question (I believe the boxes clocked in at close to 40 lbs. or 18 kilos for the heaviest) on a shelf that would be able to handle perhaps half that weight without problem, and the whole enterprise becomes something of an exercise in logistics and probabilities.  I had researched brackets and techniques for the necessity of supporting this particular load and come to a solution, more or less.  Having wanted a particular aesthetic and construction, I’d zeroed in on the way that I figured would work best.  Now, it was just a matter of getting lumber and settling down to work.

… and it was about this point that I realized that the floor was starting to rot out.

The long and short of this was that the room in question was a late addition to the house, and the construction thereof was … shall we say, questionable.  Inquiry led to investigation, which in turn led to tearing out the floor and pouring a new slab.  Very little of the existing structure of the floor was salvageable, and this led to the inevitability of delay based on simple economics.  Rather than simply buying lumber for shelves, I was now faced with several yards of concrete and the construction of a new floor over that.  These are things that add up.

It also led to some fascinating introspection.  While I am wholly capable of raking concrete and operating an auto-trowel, these are not things that I have skill in or interest in cultivating as talents in my life.  It is dirty, grueling work, and the end result that I am living with is less than perfection.  It’s not enough for me to regret or lament, but let’s just say that rolling a marble across the surface would yield some extremely interesting results.  Now that plywood and carpeting has been lain over that, it’s far less noticeable, but I’m wholly aware of the imperfections.

So, yeah.  I can swing a hammer and smooth out cement, but I’m much more practiced and comfortable behind a keyboard or with a pen in hand.

Now that the new carpet is in place, I’m back to where I was when I reluctantly abandoned my updates; as soon as money becomes applicable, I’ll set about putting up shelves and getting things arranged to be able to give my Library a home.  It’s only taken me close to two months to return to this point of having apparently accomplished nothing.

In the interim, I’ve managed to lay hands on a couple of interesting items.

My rewards for the Ryuutama Kickstarter finally arrived.  When I’d happened past the IPR booth at GenCon this year, one of the guys had assured me that the shipment of books from China was due to arrive the following week.  No idea if this was the case, but I’m not going to begrudge the time taken to get it to me, given that I assume the logistics were mainly handled by one guy.  I had put in for a green leatherette and a normal copy of the book, and both are amazing.  I barely touched the limited one, given that it’s going to go on a shelf mainly for display, choosing instead to delve into the normal copy.

Sidenote:  I actually met the original designer, Okuda, at GenCon one of the previous years.  He was being squired around by one of the translators, Andy Kitkowski, and I had wished I’d had something for Okuda to sign for me.  Alas.  I managed to get Andy to sign a reference card for Tenra Bansho Zero, which was nice.  I was actually in the IPR booth this last time picking up the hardcover limited of TBZ when I learned about the Ryuutama shipment.

Reading through Ryuutama this time, I’m struck by how wide a range of plots and games could be generated from the base that’s given.  There are obvious Lord of the Rings ideas lurking around the edges (fortunately, Cube 7’s The One Ring RPG delves into the journey aspect of the books as a primary mechanic), but nearly every fantasy story deals with the themes of a journey in some way or another.  Immediate and obvious examples are book series like A Song of Ice and Fire, Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series, and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, to add to Tolkien.  Hells, Joseph Campbell was name checked by George Lucas for this idea, tracing the Heroic Journey back into myth and legend.

See, my original intent was to finally run a game based on the Legend of Mana ideas I’ve been letting bounce around my head for the past decade, but now I feel like that would be inspiration rather than hardwired source.  Now I could see weirdness like an Akairyuu (red dragon) game of war and conflict where the characters are soldiers of a vanquished army that have to return to their homes across the desolation of a wartorn countryside.  Where Ryuutama is sold as being the vaguely pastoral and heartwarming Japanese fantasy RPG, the Dragon of Journeys is only one of the four archetypes presented in the book.  A reworking of the themes of Twilight 2000 in eastern fantasy is completely within the scope of the game.

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Experiencing New Worlds

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the games that I like to play that I have a taste for the esoteric and that which is decidedly new.  (It will come as a surprise, however, that I’m managing to upload a post.  Suffice to say that the last couple of months have been oddly harrowing, and the less said about the search for a place to live … the better.  For the moment, let no news be, well, no news.)

Lately, I’ve been putting more focus on the “Foreign Games Translated Into English” range of the spectrum.  I’ve already put words to games like Ryuutama and Tenra Bansho Zero, as well as Shadows of Esteren.  Lately, I’ve been looking over games like Double Cross, Kuro, and Anima: Beyond Fantasy, reveling in the inherent strangeness that accompanies their particular design philosophies and trying to make sense of the directions that they wander into.

I’ve come to feel like there’s a well-trod canon that most American RPG’s fall back into.  My friend, the Admiral, spends a fair amount of time referencing the vaunted Appendix N from the old Dungeon Master’s Guide, a hoary list of sources and inspirational material that helped craft the core of Dungeons and Dragons from its outset.  It’s an interesting selection to peruse in depth, but as I’m going through these new games, I’m left to wonder if it has become a sort of limitation on the hobby.  Time was, all such things were new and fascinating, and the suggested reading in a game like Vampire: the Masquerade would yield up something that could form a future obsession.  These days, it becomes a recitation of the expected, pulling from a shopworn selection of works that everyone else has been using.

It’s sort of like opening an RPG manual and finding that the artwork has been inspired by Japanese Anime or that the setting owes its ideas to Tolkien.  It’s all been done, it all rings the same way.  Back in the day, it was pretty cool to have a game dip briefly into Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror; now, a game without a Cthulhu cameo seems weird.

This is what’s captivating my interest with these new games.  All of the things that have become mainstays in American RPG Design are either absent or lacking in emphasis, leaving a raft of curious and unexpected elements to come to the fore.

The easiest example is Ryuutama.  Here’s a game that looks like it should either be geared toward elementary students or 8-bit video game enthusiasts.  The artwork is simple and centered in Japanese cultural expectations, and the game is supposed to invite a sense of pastoral, homey good feelings.  (They actually market the game with the Japanese term, “hono-bono,” even as they make reference to Ghibli films.)  There isn’t any attempt to sell it as appealing to an American audience (there is a conspicuous lack of Frazetta styled barbarian warriors or supple warrior women), and the game is fine with that.  But at the same time, it isn’t exactly a kid’s game.  There’s a level of meta-narrative that rarely shows up in Western games, where the GM has to build and track the experience points of his own PC, which is integrated into his role in crafting the game while still managing to remain separate.  (As a note, West End’s Tales From The Crypt RPG was similarly meta-narrative focused, but there aren’t many people that are familiar with or own that particular title.  And even fewer that have run it.)

A game like Ryuutama is never going to compete with Pathfinder.  That’s not its intent.  Ryuutama is a game for a specific niche audience, and the translators are bringing it over to the States as a labor of love more than anything else.  (Kotodama also brought over Tenra Bansho Zero, which occupies a completely different end of the Japanese Games spectrum.)  And in doing so, it has a completely different footprint than any other game on the market.  It’s doing things that Pathfinder or Edge of the Empire or any of the old White Wolf games would never be able to do, simply because they’re coming from an American point of view and sensibilities, with the intention to cater to the same qualities in their audience.

There’s also the inspiration that comes with these games, since they manage to step outside of the normal range of experience.  In reading them, I find myself venturing into new territory with my ideas, as different realms of possibility present themselves.

I’ve been skimming through Makkura, the adventure supplement for the utterly brilliant Kuro RPG from Septieme Cercle.  Kuro is one of those games that I feel was built specifically with me in mind.  (This is a common sort of relevance that I am faced with from French game publishers; Shadows of Esteren kindled a similar feeling, what with its Ravenloft, Lovecraft and Game of Thrones source.)

At its base, Kuro is a cyberpunk noir horror game, set solely in a dystopic Japan.  After living there for a time, I feel like I could run wild with this setting, so long as I had a group that was willing to listen to me drone on about the smell of burning rice husks and the peculiar clutter of a Japanese office.  In reading through one of the modules, I found myself immersed in the alien reality of its world, adding my own details as I went along.  One scene involved a cryptic message from an old acquaintance as the characters stood on the subway platform.  Already, I could see myself building the scene narration, talking about the sudden overpressure as the train approached, the alarm bells ringing overhead and the unseen energy of the crowd as they tensed in anticipation.

That’s just speaking to my own experiential base, though.  I’ve set games in locales that my players were unfamiliar with, just to offer some sort of variant perspective and make use of things I have seen.  I’ve done the same thing in a number of bog-standard American games.

The idea that I’m trying to lay hold of is that there are cultural artifacts laying beneath the surface of foreign games, and these fragments of perspective offer new directions to propel your games into. Double Cross puts forth a superhero genre game, even as it suggests homicidal teenagers and secretive cabals with world-changing agendas.  Ryuutama codifies a sense of innocence and pastoral wholesomeness into its very rules.  This isn’t a game that you could run George Martin-esque gritty fantasy in, since the system doesn’t lend itself to such.  And Kuro imparts a grimy sense of isolation that I recognize from having walked the same streets as the game designers.

Games like Pathfinder and Edge of the Empire speak to us as Americans.  The designers think like we do, which leaves us to absorb the ruleset without having to grapple with anything new underlying the game itself.  They are comfortable and familiar, which makes the adaptation to the gaming table a quick and painless process.  Sure, there may be new rules or intricacies that need to be figured out, but that’s a minor sort of implication, overall.

Conversely, I sit and consider my properly gorgeous collection of Shadows of Esteren, which requires that I realign my thinking to that of the designers, and a more foreign group of guys I have never met.  They look at our gaming and fantasy culture, distill down the important parts to their games, and offer back a concoction that doesn’t initially make sense.  I love my books and all, but it’s going to take me some time and careful research to figure out how I’m going to run a game worthy of the source material.  It’s that alien to me.

And naturally, I look forward to this immensely.

—————–

Two closing points that I haven’t had the time or energy to fit into the main body of this post:

1.) I would never have considered trying to run a game like Ryuutama with any seriousness, even though I love the strange fantasy that it suggests.  It simply isn’t something that I could have made work on my own.  (As a point of note, I was direly fascinated with Legend of Mana (Seiken Densetsu, originally) back in the day, since it was wildly colorful and imaginative.  But I’m far too horror-oriented in my RPG’s to have gotten much farther than daydreaming about it and moving on.)  This is a good portion of why I have become vaguely obsessed with Ryuutama since I first heard about it.  There’s enough material in it to suggest all manner of fun distraction.  It isn’t a terribly serious game, what with tea-cup neko-goblins and all, but that’s a good portion of the joy of it all.

2.) Right now, I’m eagerly awaiting delivery of a set of books for Anima: Beyond Fantasy.  I had held off picking it up for a long time, since it looked like little more than a variant of Exalted, which dropped it down the scale a ways.  It didn’t help that FFG was taking a shotgun approach to its marketing, what with a miniatures game and a card game to tie into it.  (Sort of like they did with Star Wars.  Much as I love the RPG, I’m not putting out any money for boardgames or TCG nonsense.)  Then I happened upon a copy of the rules and gave it a proper examination.  It looked deliriously complex, which fascinated me, and further research showed that it’s an English translation of a Spanish game that’s trying to emulate Japanese anime and video games.

Sold!

And finally…

3.) I want to take a moment to clarify why I tend to dismiss games that I think are trying to emulate Exalted.  It isn’t because I hate Exalted and its imitators, but more because I love 2nd Edition Exalted.  I got a peek at the 3rd Edition rules the other day.  Whuf.  Their stated goal of simplifying combat made it orders of magnitude worse.  Good lord…  I didn’t think it was possible to screw the pooch this badly.

How I Spent My Gen Con Vacation

Drinking with Game Designers.  Full stop.

Yeah, that’s a piss-poor entry, even my by admittedly loose standards.  Let me see…

Let’s go with a loose, overall set of impressions, shall we?  This way, I can cover some ground of what the various game publishers have been doing, and in the process, I can talk about things as they come up.  Have no expectations about the content or quality, and you shall be less disappointed than otherwise.

First off, the con was slammed.  The press release from Peter Adkison (nice guy, met him once, and he also happened to attend my friends’ wedding) that immediately followed said that it was up 10% from last year and has more than doubled over the past five years.  It was wall-to-wall people, everywhere you looked, and yet, I was still able to hook up with many old friends from years before, just happening past in the aisles.  The con personnel are getting crowd control well in hand, and even picking up my badge from the Will Call line took no time at all.

What’s more interesting is that Paizo is starting to get a handle on how popular their booth is, seeing as they always used to run out of their pins within a couple of hours of the exhibitor hall opening.  This year was literally the first time I have ever been able to pick up all four days’ worth of commemorative pins.  (Don’t ask me why this matters to me; I don’t have any real answer.)  They had to run a line outside of the hall, out in the main corridor, but when I wandered in to look at some of the years’ merch, it moved pretty fast, all things considered.  I didn’t go at exactly peak times, but there were plenty of people waiting with me, and it only took twenty minutes, all told.

And while I love Paizo dearly, they still have occasion to let a mistake past, despite otherwise having raised the bar to nigh insurmountable levels for most other publishers.  It’s oddly amusing to see this happen, precisely because they hold themselves to such standards.  This year’s new hardcover release was the the Advanced Class Guide, where they meld the basic classes into what amounts to being hybrid classes.  It’s a nifty book, well worth the time and money (this is where I could bitch about how one should only pick up a book of theirs if it’s Advanced, while carefully steering clear of the Ultimate ones; it’s a topic for another time), but the first print run is listed as being an Adventure Path on the cover.  It’s a simple logo switch that happened some time in production, but there it is.  The second print run will be rid of the offending text, so snatch up your ‘collectible’ copies while you can.

Competing with Paizo for the long lines is Fantasy Flight.  Unlike Paizo, they couldn’t route people out into the outer corridor, so they had people snaking around their booth and demo area for most of the con.  They managed to get people through that line pretty quickly, assisted by a ‘get to know the people in line with you’ card game.  In theory, there was a prize for managing to collect the right base of cards, but that was well beyond the ten or twelve people we were in line with.

I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the booth at Fantasy Flight, since I had a singular mission, but they did come out with a number of new minis for the X-Wing game, a new fleet tactical game for Star Wars and the new edition of Dark Heresy.  I might have considered a YT-2400 – I’ve always had a soft spot for Dash Rendar’s Outrider and we managed to make it our main ship in Edge – but they were already sold out by the time I got to the line.  (The same holds true for AEG’s Limited Edition wooden box release of Doomtown.  I want badly to get hold of the game, but not at the original price of $120, let alone the notably multiplied eBay markups.)

The Beta for Force and Destiny is a fine thing, as it captures all of the flavor and variance of the old Knights of the Old Republic video game, between the character careers and the lightsaber modifications.  I’m sure that some new stuff will be thrown in for the final edition, being that this is merely the Beta, but what I have in front of me is enough that I’m already jonesing for a proper game to go.

I picked up my backer copy of Primeval Thule at the booth.  They made a couple of interesting design choices in the book, just from my initial perusal.  Since they managed to get the support for three different editions of the damned thing, between 13th Age, Pathfinder and 4e, they had to make some editing decisions in the process.  What this boiled down to was a choice to make an appendix that the relevant parts of the book referred back to in-text.  This way, only one part of the book needed to be changed between the editions.  I’m still debating if this was an elegant or lazy way of doing things.  And in doing so, I’m sort of leaning toward elegant, just on the basis of the novelty of it all.  We shall see if this judgment holds.

They did commit a cardinal sin with the book, however, by including in-text adventures.  Over the years, I’ve found that I would rather have such things appear as web enhancements, like D&D 3.5 did with many of their products.  (A practice that I feel started with Deadlands, back in the day.)  Rather than waste valuable pages on an adventure that may only be run once, if at all, I would much rather have the illustrative introductory adventure show up in some other form, when I’m paying for the book to have as much reference material as physically possible.

… and just like that, I find myself standing at the brink of a Wick hole.

This is a lot of the problem I’m finding I have with Wicked Fantasy, overall.  There’s a lot of wasted space in the book that might have been used for actual interesting things.  I don’t need to know what the Orkish word for blood is.  I want to know what sort of vaguely Klingon-inspired weapon they’re going to use to spill it.  What do their villages and family units look like?  What is it about this world that makes these orks darker and edgier and more dangerous than the orcs of pretty much every other D&D game?  Instead, we get … words … about words.  There are between fifty and seventy wasted pages of bad fanfic that serves no concrete purpose and does nothing to illuminate the world.  The page count on this idiot book could have been cut in half, and I would have come out better for it.

Man, I hate that book.  I would burn the damned thing, if that didn’t go farther to illustrate the wasted money.

Anyway, my point remains.  If you’re going to insist on an adventure to properly introduce a game, then it shouldn’t have to take up real estate in the book itself.  Especially not in this day and age, when a good portion of book sales seems to come in the form of digital copies anyway.  It’s almost enough to make me want to invest in a tablet PC to be able to carry even more reference material wherever I go.

I invested heavily in Fate books, finishing out my Dresden Files collection (of two books; I know…) and picking up a copy of Fate Core.  My main bill at the IPR booth was acquiring materia for other people, including a copy of Tenra Bansho Zero for one of the guys.  In doing so, I accidentally ran into Andy Kitkowski, the translator for TBZ and the upcoming Ryuutama.  He had come back from Nihon for the sake of Gen Con, dragging along Atsuhiro Okada, the actual writer and designer for Ryuutama.  It was an interesting chance meeting, and I took the opportunity to have him sign a couple of the post card GM handouts for me.  Alas, since Ryuutama has yet to hit print, there was nothing for me to have Okada sign, alas.

The final note, as I’ve largely lost the thread of where I was going when I started this post, was that I saw something truly fascinating at the greater DriveThru booth.  As has become usual for White Wolf/Onyx Path, there was no actual product of any weight to be had at the booth.  It’s Print on Demand and digital distribution, after all, why bother with trying to sell it at the convention?  They did have some product on display, but very little of it seemed available to sell.  One thing, in particular, did catch my eye, however.

And this is so much gaming esoterica, I grant.  It was a copy of the oft-lamented BESM 3rd Edition, the final product of Guardians of Order, after the weird horror that was the Game of Thrones RPG that everyone seemed to have tried to buy yet no one ever ran.  BESM 3rd was the full sized red cover version of the rules that somehow ended up in the hands of White Wolf for distribution.  It came out in January of 2007, got snatched up by the fan base and has never been seen since.  Naturally, it’s still ridiculously expensive (to the point that a copy of the original printing, even this long out of print, is only about twice as much), but it’s once again available.

All in all, there was a lot more that passed outside of my perception at the convention, since I had specific goals and aspirations.  There were events for D&D 5th that I blithely ignored, there were new products from publishers I have nothing to do with, and there were games running that I didn’t attend.  But the things I saw were worth my time, and some of them will even merit further study in future entries.

Ryuutama – A Look at the ‘Natural Fantasy’ RPG

Being capable of certain levels of self-reflection, I will admit that there are some definite flaws that I carry as a game master.  I’ve spent way too much time as a literary and horror-driven GM that I’m sort of bad at light-hearted and one-off games.  I’m really, really good at epic games, I’m really good at horror… and the farther you get away from those sorts of genres and tropes, the more likely I am to to suffer.  Depending on the game, I can probably find a hook to be able to make things function, but I’m not going to lie; I stick to the hard stuff like horror because I’m good at it.  I’m not nearly so good at other genres.  While I like the idea of something like Blue Rose, the Mercedes Lackey angle of it all would leave me high and dry.

With that in mind, I want to talk about a game that I absolutely love.  It’s also a game that I am extremely poorly suited to actually try running, since it’s so bright and cheery.

I missed the Kickstarter for Ryuutama.  Had I known about it at the time, I would have given them copious amounts of money, just on principle.  The baseline is that it’s a Japanese RPG that has been translated into English by the guys at Kotodama Heavy Industries, who were responsible for putting together the English translation of Tenra Bansho Zero.  TBZ is currently on my list of ‘beloved games that I have not read all the way through, but I badly want to run it regardless’.  It’s a shorter list than you might imagine, and it’s probably telling that Ryuutama is right next to TBZ on that list as well.

They term Ryuutama as a ‘natural fantasy’ RPG, given that it focuses itself on the more pastoral aspects of a standard Japanese fantasy world.  The characters are the mundane inhabitants of this world, and their inclusion in the broad aspects of the game derives from their defining interest in exploring and traveling.  The artwork is bright and cheery, and the translators throw around the Japanese word, ‘honobono,’ which relates to the heartwarming and more family friendly aspects of the game.  There are inevitable references to Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator responsible for movies like ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, amongst others.  The game is supposed to invoke this same sense of community and bright-eyed wonder in the way it unfolds.

Like I say, I’m probably pretty ill-suited to run this game.  But I really want to.

Different write-ups of the game and its various elements go into more interesting details, recalling elements of all manner of Japanese computer games.  The combat system is player out using a separate sheet of paper to map out the action, harkening back to the combats in different Final Fantasy games.  The artwork itself immediately brings to mind some of the watercolors that games like Legend of Mana evoked.  Items within the RPG are keyworded with specific qualities, so you might end up with a ‘gross’ tent or an ‘icky’ shield, since you’re starting out with poor quality equipment.  As the game progresses, better equipment will have better keywords, just like the computer games have conditioned us to recognize.

One rundown talks about how the players and the GM work together collaboratively to design the world from the ground up, taking into account input from all corners so that there are plot hooks for each character in every sort of locale.  Having seen how this sort of system can work in other games, I can see how it would seriously benefit a game like Ryuutama, allowing a closer connection to the play group.

The one thing that I’m struck by with this game is that the systems of the game go back to reinforce the basic precepts of the game itself.  I look at different games in my library, and I’m always amazed at how wildly different such games can be due to the way the game shifts its focus.  One Ring and Decipher’s Lord of the Rings are nothing alike, even though they work to illuminate the very same world.  Decipher’s Lord of the Rings takes a much more traditional approach to the material, where One Ring chooses to make the story concern itself with the travel, much like the original novels.

For example, several of the mechanical write-ups talk about how the travel system in Ryuutama talk about how it has some basic resource management aspects.  If a group of characters set out on a journey without proper preparation, they will run into trouble.  Likewise, if they run into trouble on the way, usually through mischance or poor rolls of the dice, things can quickly go bad for the group.

In the same breath, however, these hardships can cause them to pull together as a group to get through.  To bring this idea home, there’s a rule that, when one character throws a ‘fumble’ on the dice, every character gets a ‘fumble point’ that they can use later on.  This point can be used to enhance another roll in the future, thereby insuring some sort of future success.  Because the character screwed up badly, he and his friends will now have the chance later on to succeed where they might not have.  They’ve learned from their mistake, and as a group, they’ve found new resolve to persevere.  It’s a really neat idea, and so very Japanese at its heart.

The GM himself has a separate character sheet that represents the Dragon guardian spirit that watches over the group of characters as they travel through the world, and as the characters grow in power and experience, so does their resident Dragon.  The Dragon can aid the characters in small ways throughout the game, opting to stay hidden in the background to allow the story to unfold around the small heroes that are the accepted stars of this particular story.  On a mechanical level, it’s a fascinating way of codifying GM Grace to keep characters alive and moving forward, and on a narrative level, it gives each game its narrative focus, as the character of the Dragon determines much about the world itself by its presence.  The color and character of the Dragon shapes the story and the very world itself.  (The name itself, Ryuutama, translates as ‘Dragon Egg’ from Japanese, reinforcing the inherent importance of such a character.)

The game itself isn’t due to be released until fall of this year, and even though the Kickstarter is already completed, there’s still apparently enough time to get in on the pre-order through the Kotohi website.

This is probably not a game that will appeal to a great, wide audience.  I accept that.  And to be honest, even I am not the most likely candidate for buying it, given my lack of experience with games like Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing or the like.  But there’s something that appeals to me, probably due to my time in Asia, and I’m fascinated by trying to wrap my head around such deeply Japanese concepts that this game seems to embody.  And what the hell…  the guys at Kotodama are doing a wonderful job of bringing games like this to American audiences.  I’ll make a point of buying their stuff as long as they keep producing it.