Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, Bonne Annee, or as they say here in Kyoto, akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

To keep you safe from youkai in 2014, here is a little video:


Monday, December 30, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Project plans and Palladium 'missile circus' houserules

Wow. That whole 'Weird in Mystic Japan' thread went on longer than I had intended. I still have one more post, maybe two maximum, but thought I'd break things up with this.

I have a prelim exam first week of January, so expect a slowdown until after that. Projects I have simmering are (in no particular order) some dystopic Traveller tables; finishing my Stormbringer 1e adventure 'Spiders and Angels'; more D&D semiotics; and starting my retroclone, Iceships & Inuit.

I also intend to roll out my Palladium Patch at some point. Anyone who responds 'Why bother?' has missed out on some gonzo playing with an admittedly clunky old ruleset. My patch aims to make Palladium's funky old school games playable to gamers with more modern sensibilities who'd dismiss them offhand because of their rusty rules.

To give a taste, here are the Mecha Missile and Melee Mayhem Houserules. We used these back in the day last time I played and the feel of an Itano missile circus a la Robotech was pretty spot on. Give em a try and tell us what you think.

Mecha Missile and Melee Mayhem Houserules

High Explosive Missile – Does an equal number of dice of SDC damage to human pilot or each passenger, pilot can roll for half. Ignore MDC damage multipliers. (i.e. 1d6x10 MD missile does 1d6 SD to pilot or passengers).

Fragmentation Missile – Apply each dice of damage to a different part of the mecha within the blast radius. (i.e. a missile doing 3d6x10 will instead do 1d6x10 to 3 different parts of the mech).

Armor Piercing Missile – In addition to damage, causes critical damage per critical damage tables if any of its damage dice rolls maximum. (i.e. a missile doing 2d6x10 will also inflict critical damage if either dice comes up 6).

Plasma Missile – Does full number of dice in damage first round, then one less dice per round thereafter until no dice remain. Pilots may make a stunt roll to shake plasma off, but can take no other actions while doing so. (i.e. a missile doing 2d6x10 MD will do that the first round, 1d6x10 the second, then 0 thereafter).

Multi-Warhead Missile – Attacker rolls a number of d20 equal to the damage die, then takes the best as his attack roll. (i.e. a 2d4x10 MD missile allows the attacker to roll 2d20 and keep the best as his attack roll, while a 4d6x10 MD missile allows 4d20 to be rolled).

Hand to Hand– Always does critical damage on a maximum damage roll. (i.e. a 1d4 damage punch also incurs a roll on the critical damage table if a 4 is rolled).

Chaff (NEW!) – Each chaff fired automatically leads a number of missiles off course as follows: Mini-missile chaff 1d4, short range 1d6, medium range 2d4, long range 3d6.

Penalties to Dodging or Shooting Missiles – Either roll gets a – 1 per multiple of 5 missiles/ (i.e. – 1 to dodge or shoot down 5-9 missiles, – 2 for 10-14 missiles, – 3 for 15-19 missiles, etc).

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan – Part Three

Here are a few adventure ideas ripped shamelessly from Japanese sources. All adventures take for granted that PCs are under orders of a lord and follow his decrees largely unquestioningly. If not, DMs will have to find different reasons for adventuring. Try to enjoy the weirdness of the adventures and not punch them up with combat too much to please western audiences. Make interactions and social restrictions a vivid part of the world, and you should have the right feel.

1. Possession (Genji Monogatari)
Several murders of night watchmen and travelers have occurred and PCs must find the cause. The bodies are mutilated as if mauled and partially eaten by some animal. Either by stakeout, investigation, or scrying they find that a noble lady is possessed by a demon which turns her cannibalistic at night. The lady is kin to their lord, so they must find a way to out the demon without harming her, all the while keeping the incident quiet from villagers who might raise arms to protect themselves.

2. The Peony Lantern (Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan)
A nobleman has started wasting away, losing strength and becoming wan due to sleepless nights. He refuses to divulge the cause of his lethargy, and so the PCs are sent to find out. By either surveillance, consulting a medium or other means, they discover that the lord is haunted nightly by the ghost of an old lover he spurned and caused to waste away from grief or commit suicide. PCs must drive away the spirit, either by satisfying its demands for justice, or convincing the nobleman to repent and either become a monk or publicly shame himself by professing his dalliance.

3. Space Girl (Osamu Tezuka, Hi no tori)
A peasant’s wife has run away while he was at war, and now returning as a minor noble he asks the PCs to find her and his child. She has left behind a magic kimono of shimmering, unearthly colours that radiates magic. The kimono can only be worn by female characters, and transports them to the moon, where the wife originally came from. The kimono-wearing character can miniaturize two other characters and carry them in her sleeves, but any more PCs will have to find alternate transport to the lunar surface. The moon people are pacifists but also great sorcerers using magic items, and PCs will have a hard time convincing the woman and her now grown son to return to war-torn earth and live with a former soldier. One complication may be that the son wishes to return but the mother doesn’t, forcing PCs to help him make his escape back to earth. Another complication is that miniaturized characters stay that way on the moon.

4. Wolf Head Kashira (Osamu Tezuke, Hi no tori)
PCs are ordered to stop a bandit chieftain has been terrorizing the mountain roads, but investigations shows that he is only attacking the wagons of a certain clan. The chieftain is said to have a wolf’s head and is magically protected by animal familiars. If PCs meet the wolfhead, he reveals that he is the clan’s disappeared heir, whose face was flayed by the current clan head, covered with a wolf’s head as an insult, and then left for dead. By some strange magic the heir recovered but with a wolf’s face and animal powers. He will only stop his attacks when the current clan leader is dead and the heir’s rightful place and face restored to him. PCs may have some serious questing to do to achieve this.

5. Moth woman (Osamu Tezuka, Dororo)
Children from a small village have been disappearing at night from their houses, and the lady of the village has asked for help to calm her subjects. PCs are sent to investigate and sensitive characters or priests may be lead by the beckoning of ghostly children to the run down old hut under which their bodies are buried. Under the tatami mats in a tunnel are the children, wrapped in cocoons and undergoing a horrid transformation into mothmen. Following the tunnel to its end brings the PCs come face to face (tail?) with a grotesque moth creature, who turns out to be the underside of the lady of the village. They must battle to stop her while defending themselves from the child-mothmen she awakens with her screams.

6. Dirty Old samurai (Shigurui/Vagabond)
In a small village on the stormy coast, a veteran samurai lives and protects villagers from bandits and rival clans. On a visit to the village, PCs see that the old bushi has gone rogue, is often blind drunk, tests his blade on villagers, and takes their daughter’s maidenhood when they are 12 or 13. The samurai must be stopped, but as he has higher rank than the PCs, is an expert swordsman, and has magical arms and armor from his past adventures, they will have to find some subtle way to discredit or destroy him. Note that the samurai is paranoid and wily, and will not fall foolishly into any old trap, but will kill all who shows animosity towards him. He is just as deadly when drunk or sober.

7. Freak Circus (Suehiro Maruo, Shojokan)
The circus comes to town, and the elder son of the lord starts dallying at the tents of the freaks. The PCs are sent to drive the freaks off, but must deal with threats including Snakelady, who can shoot poisonous snakes from her orifices; Rotting Man, a bandage-enwrapped ex-soldier who cannot be killed by mortal weapons but simply loses gobbets of flesh; Giant Baby, an ogrish man with the temper and jealousy of a child; The Mouth, a limbless obese giant who rolls over PCs attempting to crush then eat them; and Dr Ching, an evil sorcerer from the continent who can thrust characters into their nightmares. If PCs are victorious, they find the son in a sorcerous sleep, which may require questing for holy objects to break.

8. Shadow Banquet (Lafcadio Hearn, Kwaidan)
A distraught young musician begs the PCs to save him from ghostly samurai who visit him every night. He hasn’t slept in days, and if he falls asleep at night when the samurai come to hear his music he will be forced to join them in the hell between worlds. PCs can either fight off the samurai if powerful enough, or more likely should quest to various temples and apothecaries for magic ink to write wards all over the musicians body and Buddhist Sutras on paper which can bind or wound the ghosts.

9. The Phoenix (Osamu Tezuka, Hi no tori)             
The high priestess of the clan is growing old and has started fearing age and death. She sends the PCs to an island where the legendary phoenix has been spotted, with orders to kill it and bring back its rejuvenating blood. The bird is deadly and fearsome, but getting to its lair is made difficult by the presence of savage natives who revere it as a god. If players do manage to kill it and retrieve its blood, which is always boiling hot, the death of the bird causes an eruption of undead who begin plaguing the countryside. PCs may seek to revive the bird, which can only be accomplished by throwing its body into a volcano. If they do bring its blood back to their mistress, she drinks it but is ironically consumed alive by fire bursting from her innards, also giving birth to a newly formed phoenix which flies off back to its lair. Irony!

10. The Spirit Gun (From a Big Comics Original supernatural manga about an antiques shop whose name and author I forget)
Officials of the clan are being assassinated at night by a young gunman who disappears like smoke whenever guardsmen give chase after a killing. PCs are given sketches of the assailant and must try to find him. If they go to the burakumin (social outcast) district, they will find that the boy was from there but died many years ago, and that his father is a woodcutter on the edge of town. If they meet the woodcutter, he is a kindly old man who invites them in for tea, and tells them the tale of how his son died out hunting. In truth, the youth was killed accidentally by a noble also out hunting, and his spirit now haunts his rifle, which the father keeps hidden in his house. PCs will have to assuage the spirit by somehow getting it justice.

11. The Fox Stole (as above)
A lady of the clan is found strangled in her chambers, but with no signs of struggle or intrusion. If characters investigate thoroughly, they find a few items of the lady’s clothing are missing. A few nights later another lady dies in the same way. If characters investigate, they will find more clothes are missing, and one item, a fox stole, is on both missing item lists. If they interrogate the handmaidens, they find one in either case has sold their deceased mistress’ articles to support their family. Tracking down the fox stole to the antiques shop where it was sold, PCs find that it has just been purchased by another lady. They have scant hours to find the cursed garment and stop another killing by the fox stole, which was cursed years ago by a rival clan to strangle the wearer when placed around neck and shoulders of a noble of the clan.

12. Mud Flinging (Ge ge ge no Kitano)
Construction on a new fort has halted as workers are attacked by a strange giant humanoid rising from a nearby pond who flings enormous balls of mud at them. Men have nearly smothered under the mud, and a death will occur if something isn’t done. The PCs are sent and are easily overwhelmed by the creature. Any PC speaking youkai language will learn that the creature is yelling “tanbo kaese!”, or “Give me back my fields!” It is actually the guardian god (kami) of rice fields that have been destroyed  The PCs must find a place for the youkai, preferably in a rice field that is clean and well-kept.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan – Part Two

It seems like my post on Mystic Japan coincided with some other great thoughts on the same subject. Age of Ravens did a great post on his ‘Age of Yokai’ concept for Lo5R, which incidentally made me rethink my opinion of the system and its setting. Wine & Savages responded to my post and mentioned his own post Mappo Monogatari, another interesting setting for Savage Worlds.

I should state that I am not trying to devalue anyone else’s Japan game, just clarifying where I come from and how I would run one based on my experiences here in Kyoto. Someone living in Texas would have a different idea of a western game than someone living in Tokyo, and having lived nearly 1/2 my life in Japan I have a certain perspective on games set here. If you agree with some of my thoughts and could steal them for your own table, have at it. If not, fair enough and good gaming nonetheless.

Back to the subject, there are a few cultural notions that will color character actions, while adventures themselves based on indigenous canon are very different from western stories and adventures. Below I present the concept of girininjo, which I think is integral to understanding things Japanese. In the third and (hopefully) final part of this series, I will give examples of adventures based on literary sources, and end with some youkai monster examples.


If I remember correctly, the old Oriental Adventures added the attribute of Honor to D&D to emulate Japanese aesthetics. Although honor (meiyo 名誉in Japanese) is as important a value to Japanese as to other peoples, the idea of Asian ‘honor’ and ‘saving face’ is largely a western conception used to try and explain Japanese motives. Understanding the Japanese language and people first-hand, one realizes that honor may accord with the outward show of behavior, but often fails to explain the inner moral mechanisms that underlie it. Trying to evaluate Japanese thinking or behavior simply in terms of honour leads to mistaken conclusions or apparent contradictions, especially since what westerners mean by the term ‘honour’ and Japanese mean by ‘meiyou’ can often be very different. A more useful concept, and one that Japanese people commonly apply to their actions and thoughts, is that of ‘girininjou’.


To understand the motivations and actions of Japanese characters in fiction, and thus reflections of Japanese people in real life and throughout Japan’s history, one has to understand the concept of girininnjou. Girininnjou is a collocation of the terms ‘giri’, or duty or moral obligation, and ‘ninjou’, or humanity or humane feelings. In other words, most Japanese actions can be understood by the paradigm of two values – how they relate to a characters obligations and/or his humaneness.

Thus, Japanese characters would put their obligation to their clan, tribe, sect, or family before others, while these obligations would be tempered by the character’s humanity or humaneness. In Shusaku Endo’s classic novel ‘The Samurai’, if I recall correctly, the youngest brother of 3 samurai ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) is allowed to go first so he can show his older siblings he is worthy of the family and his title of samurai, a ‘kindness’ allowed by their guards. Although the order of death may seem inconsequential to us westerners, as is the kindness of allowing a person to commit suicide at all, Japanese readers would most likely be as moved by the guard’s ninjou and young samurai’s giri as the characters in Endo’s novel are.

In game terms, characters whose actions are lead by girininjou should receive bonuses to XP and NPC reaction. Following one’s lord despite the burdensome nature or questionability of their orders, or letting a downed foe escape because they showed bravery in fighting against insurmountable odds would be examples of giri and ninjou respectively, and should consequently earn rewards and renown for characters. Conversely, NPCs should also be bound by girininjou, and will be helpful or merciful to to PCs who show girininjou and merciless or scornful to those who lack it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mystery Solved

It seems Alex took down the OSR Planet due to some complaints about copyright mumbo jumbo.

I guess some may have valid gripes, but it just seems to me another case of some folks peeing in the water and poisoning the well for everyone.

Oh well, thank you for the hard work Alex. First Eternal Keep, next Old School RPG Planet - looks like anything nearing a community forum gets destroyed. Is this some natural OSR cycle of creation and destruction I wonder?

OSR Planet Takeover?

Is it just me or has the Old School RPG Planet website been taken over by RPG Bloggers?
I suppose it is a free site so no cause or right to gripe, but a head's up would have been nice.

Oh well, the layout is a bit commercial, but is also clear and has categories that may steer traffic a bit more.

Wonder what happened?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Perfunctory Dyvers Response

So anyway, everyone's talking about Dyvers' list of OSR blogs. Might as well jump on the bandwagon.

Charles Atkins' list of OSR blogs with mini-reviews is one of those ideas so brilliant in their simplicity you slap your forehead and wonder why you hadn't thought of it first. More importantly, OSR blogs are sometimes like icepans (as a Newfoundlander, I am familiar with those miniature icebergs and icebits the rime my arctic island homeland), old ones submerging and news ones rising, disappearing and reappearing, being sometimes solid and others treacherously transitory. It is good to have a guide like Dyvers to what is out there and where to aim your feet (or clicks in this case).

Like any blogger, I get a kick (what psychiatrist Eric Berne would classify as a 'stroke') from other people reading and responding to my blog posts. Atkins' review of this blog is refreshingly positive:

Tomb of  Tedankhamen A relatively new OSR blog (it started in March of 2013) that has lost a bit of steam due to the author's attempt to get through his thesis papers. I'm hopeful that once their through with the academia side of things that this insightful blog will pick up steam and continue to look at those little words that bother us all so much: like railroad, profile, and like. Updates: About five times a month.
Finding your voice as a blogger takes time for most, and although Atkins' review focuses on the semantic exercises I sometimes indulge in, I don't see myself as limited to those, but will continue to write whatever pleases me. Instead, Atkins' identification of what works on my blog implies I am finding my voice and subjects that both I and others find worth writing and reading.

And that's what it's all about isn't it?

Good job Charles, keep it up!

PS: I have a few months before the (hopefully) final chapter of the dissertation, so expect more posts in the near future.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Weird In Mystic Japan

From Bushido to Legend of Five Rings, Oriental Adventures to Big Eyes Small Mouth, I have read a lot of rpg material about Japan. As a Canadian who lives outside Kyoto, is fluent in Japanese (日本語能力試験1級獲得), has gotten permanent resident status after 13 years living in Japan, and has studied Japanese mythology, I can say one thing about them all.

They aren’t weird enough.
I don’t mean weird in themselves, as both Lo5R and BESM especially have lots of crazy elements, I mean they lack the delicious alienness, often described as ‘weird’, that Westerners perceive in cultural products from Japan.

Western rpgs about Japan are uniformly examples of the Western tropification of Asia. Characters may wear kimonos and carry katanas, but are usually the same old fighter/thief/cleric/mage made up in Oriental dress as samurai/ninja/soryo/shugenja. In Japanese fiction and fantasy, if characters are not running in terror from peony lanterns, or willing to slice someone’s throat or their own belly at the drop of a hat, something is missing. Ironically, the alienness that makes Japan inherently gonzo to us brought up in Western culture is also the hardest thing to transmit when bringing Japanese concepts over to English contexts.

What is missing is not merely the act of suicide called hara-kiri, which is unthinkable to most western gamers and thus the most prominent symbol of what is lost, but the alien cultural milieu that surrounds it. To Japanese people, tattoos of cherry blossoms (sakura ) representing the transitory nature of life or carp (Koi ) representing luck are far more inspiring than tacky dragons or (Oshakesama forbid!) Chinese characters that so many Westerners love.

This cultural mismatch is equally evident in gaming - whereas Lo5R rpg has clans named after animals like Scorpion and Dragon, the famous fighting clans of the Heike-Genji War were named the less-inspiring Flat (Taira ) and Source (Minamoto ) Clans. Oriental rpg creatures are all too often just D&D dime store monsters with serial numbers painted over in Kanji, but instead should be truly weird specimens like the Long Necked Lady (rokuro-kubi 轆轤首), Eye for Asshole Man (shirime 尻目), or One Eyed One Legged Parasols (kasa-obake 傘お化け) of Japanese Spirit-monster (youkai ) tales. Finally, adventures should not be Samurai Jack style hack and slashes, but missions to protect a libidinous lord against the ghost of a spurned lover, or flush a cannibal doppelganger out of a village.

For those interested in adventuring in Mystic Japan, be warned that it might not match the heroic ideals of Western fantasy, but the experience of adventuring beyond the box of your own culture and embracing the weird of another mindset should largely be a reward in itself. To help GMs and players dip into Weird Japan, here is a list of essential sources.


For starters, Weird Japan’s appendix N has to consist of indigenous works, not Eric Lustbader or Frank Miller reflections of Japan. I give here my own anime & manga Appendix N, as these are visual and thus instantly accessible to outsiders.

4 Shigurui (Crazy for Death) – Not supernatural, but a great source for the samurai ethic, or basically the sadomasochism integral to feudal Japan’s hierarchical society. Incredibly bloody and engrossing as a story, this is a must-see anime. The manga on which it is based, although sumptuous with art omitted from the series, lacks the concision and punch of the animated series, so stick to the animation.

3 Inuyasha – There is a lot of pixel-bitching here (i.e. monsters won’t die unless you have the magical McGuffin), and it is more a Japanese RPG video game translated to comics than a traditional supernatural story. Nevertheless, the themes of reincarnation and helpful monsters as well as evil ones are good examples of Japanese weird.

2 Dororo – No supernatural Japan should go without influence from Osamu Tezuka’s unfinished masterpiece about a limbless samurai who uses katana blades as prosthetic arms and legs to hunt down and destroy the 1,000 demons that stole his bodyparts when he was born. Just read that sentence out loud again to feel how weird Dororo is. Tezuka gave up halfway to concentrate on another blademaster, the unlicensed surgeon Blackjack, but the 3 books of Dororo with their haunting Warring States Japan filled with 7-tailed foxes, ratmen, and child-eating caterpillar women is a must-read for weird. There is a live action Dororo that doesn’t seem to be worth the effort.

1 Ge ge ge no Kitano – This is the piece de resistance of modern Japanese Yokai tales. The first anime series has all the weirdness and gonzo a Westerner can handle, while later series were watered down to a Dragonball/Inuyasha-esque explosion of kewl powers. The manga are also fantastic. It is the story of Kitaro, a one-eyed ghost boy who flings his magic wooden clogs at evildoers and is counseled by Otosan (literally ‘father’), his other eye that walks around on its own miniature body. Over the series he is joined in his adventures by the flatulent and untrustworthy Nezumi-otoko (Ratman), the violent clawed Neko-onna (Catgirl), and the gigantic and ponderous Nurikabe (Stickywall) among other monsters. Written by Shigeru Mizuki (born 1922), who wrote and drew the series despite losing an arm in World War Two, this work deftly melds the sensibilities of Edo period youkai tales with the haunting nature of postwar Japan. There are also live action versions, but these are of middling quality.

For art inspirations, the manga of Suehiro Maruo is twisted and amazing, while for a more traditional perspective see  the yokai illustrations of Hokusai (1760?-1849?), who is mostly known for his famous depiction of a wave and also considered the grandfather of the manga style. If you are looking for weird reading, Lafcadio Hearn’s (1850-1904) Kwaidan is the ultimate source of indigenous Japanese ghost tales before the nation’s modernization.


Great article on thieves' cant

Read it HERE