I’m reading Stephen Hunt’s Six Against the Stars at the moment, I’m only two chapters in and it has already descended into Hunt’s trademark rollicking flow of happenstance encounters, but it’s got a very nice idea for an adventure setting that I don’t think I’ve seen before. The story starts on a far future Earth, its history full of wars and environmental troubles, whose present inhabitants seem not really to fully understand the world they live on or its history. Beneath the earth is the “World Below,” which sounds a lot like a kind of far future Underdark. As our hero runs through it, we have it described thus:

In the heyday of the conflict age, the empire had hollowed out the Earth and refilled it with underground factories and cities, keeping the surface as a park that was only seen by the imperial court.

Some of these subterranean continents had caved in, but others had failed more gradually, only to be reclaimed by the flotsam of the ancient Earth – criminals, slaves, rogue androids, rebels, computer viruses which had become self aware, feral genetically engineered creatures which had broken their own behavioral programming. As the core was abandoned, the pets and toys of the merchant palaces became inbred in bizarre and unanticipated ways, sharing genes and self-splicing where run-down shaping technology lay derelict. They preyed on the safaris that ventured from above. Self-cleaning floors that had learnt to secrete acid to paralyze rodents, drink dispensers which could spray superheated water when threatened, wild herds of protein blocks that had grown armour and gored unwary travellers.

Like much of Hunt’s work, the idea is slightly comic or carnivalesque, but also rich with ideas for adventure settings and a kind of space opera or shadowrun-styled megadungeon. Instead of Aboleths we have ancient AIs residing in abandoned research factories; in place of Mimics, vending machines. Perhaps self-aware cleaning droids float through the corridors like robotic Beholders, and old abandoned tanks or other war machines function like golems and dragons. Were the world above to be fashioned as a post-shadowrun collapse society (perhaps akin to the society from the Amtrak Wars novels?) then the World Below would be a treasure trove of ancient items, and access points that still functioned would be hotly contested by the tribal powers of the surface – or avoided at all costs. Perhaps then some elves would have migrated to the World Below, so it would even have its own stock of shadowrun-styled Drow.

This would be a great setting for a campaign – a post-apocalyptic shadowrun future on the Great Plains of the USA, with a mad max styled surface world where adventurers attempt to enrich themselves and their communities by plundering the World Below. Perhaps more civilized folk use its surface ways as secret routes to attack their neighbours, or to cross deserts and wastelands. Bandits set up kingdoms, and all the rebels and renegades of the surface world flee to the World Below to make their uncertain future. It would be particularly fun to adventure in such a kingdom using Shadowrun, or one of the simpler space opera style systems like Stars Without Number. If you want dungeoneering with a mixture of savagery and high space opera, perhaps Stephen Hunt’s World Below is the perfect place to go looking for adventure …

Following up on a similar post last year, I present another random dungeon table from the Japanese RPG Make You Kingdom. This table is also for generating rooms in one of the kingdoms you invade, but the theme is “man-made” or human-engineered rooms. Again, the rooms are rolled randomly using “d66″. For a d66, you roll 2d6. The lower value becomes tens, the higher value units.

Here, then, is the table:

11 A stone garden 23 A workshop full of half-finished goods 36 A giant stone mural, abandoned mid-carving
12 A spiral staircase cut into a giant-sized pit 24 An ancient battlefield scattered with bones and rusted weapons 44 A huge hall containing nothing but a tapestry
13 An ancient library full of only dust 25 A toilet of carefully arranged stones 45 A line from an underground railway Empire
14 A simple, run-down shrine 26 A high-class kitchen 46 A gallery full of pictures or sculptures
15 An engine room noisy with the sound of pistons and cogs 33 A room of brick 55 A cemetery full of rows of sarcophagi
16 A giant’s causeway 34 A theatre, as silent as the grave 56 A giant’s gate, with a massive, rusted door
22 A room carved from a massive log 35 A midden strewn with rubbish 66 An abandoned prison

Would you risk your fate with this man?

On Tuesday I start working at the Tokyo University Department of Global Health Policy as an Assistant Professor, which means that on Sunday I am moving from Steamy Beppu to the City of Light. I will also be returning to full time work after a year working part time and being a househusband.

This means that my Japanese Warhammer 3rd Edition group has broken up, and my Japanese role-playing plans in general have to go on hold until I can find a suitable group in Tokyo. I don’t know how easy that will be. It also means that I’ll have a lot less time for, and material to put into, long posts, so my posting frequency will go down, which is a shame because I’ve been on a bit of a roll recently.

To keep my posting frequency up I may add a new posting series, about bars and restaurants in Tokyo, because I will be exploring them. I may also put in some taste-testing of various Japanese sake, which I’m becoming interested in… we’ll see. It’s a bit off topic but when I go searching for information about Tokyo night life I appreciate other peoples’ views, so maybe someone will appreciate it being here… also there may be some general aspects of Tokyo life to comment on, so the blog may open a little beyond nerd culture to include general big city culture.

I will of course be trying to expand my role-playing horizons in Tokyo – who knows, I may even play in English! – and exploring nerd life a little. There may also be some Harajuku-related material on here too… we’ll see how busy I am. But the move to Tokyo may well indicate a move to a broader focus on Japanese otaku life, hopefully from the perspective of someone at least slightly involved in it. We’ll see. But for the meantime, expect me to post slightly less frequently, and don’t be disheartened.

The miniature at the top of this post was painted by one of my players, Tencho-san. It’s a likeness of me. You can’t see it in the photo but the book has “Master” written on it’s cover, and on the back of the wizard’s jacket is written (混沌東大), which is Japanese shorthand for “Tokyo University Chaos!” This was part of my going-away present, along with the game Make You Fortress and a collection of cards for the game Make You Kingdom, which contain colour cardboard cutouts of all the cute monsters from the game. I really need to play this game at some point…

A report of the last session of the Rats in the Ranks campaign will be going up soon. In the meantime, any particular requests for investigation you would like to see conducted in Tokyo, please let me know in comments (and yes, if I find a used underwear vending machine I will post a photo!)

May Flopsy guide my schemes...

I crawled out into the freezing cold with a hangover today to visit the Asami Shrine in Beppu, to burn my 2010 demon-breaking arrow and purchase a new arrow for 2011. Burning the arrow that symbolizes the year before gives one time to pause and think about what one did in that 365 days, and to think about the year to come. My year to come promises to be busy, but I have a variety of plans I want to put into action in my gaming, research and real lives. Here is a brief outline.

Gaming Plans

Continue the Rats in the Ranks Campaign: My players indicated they want it to continue, and so I’m going to try and play it right through until I work out at what point WFRP 3 breaks. Whether this happens or not I don’t know, but I have a long-term goal for this campaign (or rather, the adversaries I’m controlling have a very distinct long-term goal in Ubersreik, which hopefully my players will discover before everything goes pear-shaped). After that we’ll see where the campaign takes us. It’s fun and my players are good, so let’s see what happens.

Start an Oriental Steampunk sandbox: Based on the one-off Pathfinder adventure I ran last year for a Japanese group, I’ve been thinking for a while now of expanding that into a genuine steampunk (literally!) sandbox. The players from that group have a hook for one more adventure, and from there we could start exploring. I’m thinking of using my ideas for adapting WFRP 3 to steampunk, or even to high fantasy (depending on the direction I want it to go) and just playing along until it gets boring. This will give me the opportunity to get my Japanese players to collaborate in building a semi-oriental/semi-western steampunk world based around a Meiji-era image of the place we are all living in now, with (at the very least!) gnomes.

Introduce the local convention to some English-language-only games: I’m in something of a unique position here to introduce my local Japanese-language gaming convention to untranslated games, and I’m thinking of running a session of WFRP 3 and maybe Exalted for just this reason. Recently a player at the convention said she wanted to play a game “that used loads of dice!” and it occurred to me right then that Exalted was just the game for her. This type of international exchange segues into my biggest possible plan for the year…

Start a TRPG Club at my University: This may seem a bit trivial but it’s actually a plan full of possibilities. My local University has about 100 nationalities of student, many of them nerdy, from all over the world, and they all meet to study and hang out using two languages that I speak – English and Japanese. So these students could bring an untranslated game from their own country – most likely in Thai, Mandarin or Vietnamese, but you never know what else is lurking out there – and run it in a different language for the other students. Or, they could play a game that isn’t translated to their language for a group of their compatriots. This opens up all sorts of options for language and gaming exchange, and a few people I’ve spoken to have been interested, so I’m thinking I might look into doing that this year.

GM Make You Kingdom in English: I’m going to Australia for a few weeks twice this year, and on at least one such occasion I will be in Melbourne, so I’m thinking of inviting regular commenter (and previous player) Paul to join me in a game of Make You Kingdom, translated of course. This depends on me being able to translate the necessary information by the time I go there and also being able to explain the rules for him (and get to Melbourne). I reckon I can do it, and I can even put stuff on this blog. Maybe I can also GM Double Cross 3 at some point too…

All of these plans are going to depend on a few crucial meat-life plans as well, though…

Meat Life Plans

Go to Iceland: I’ve never been and I really want to go. It’s vaguely in the pipeline to do this year, in which case I might pop into filthy scummy London to see some old friends at the same time.

Improve My Japanese: Today I received a New Year’s Card from the Japanese language school in Fukuoka where I did a 6 week intensive last year, and this year I think I’ll be in a position to do skype lessons with them. So, this year I really want to improve my Japanese to the point where I can do the following:

  • Teach Statistics in Japanese: easier than it sounds, but still fiendishly hard
  • Watch TV in Japanese: a lot lot harder than it sounds, and still impossible for me
  • Read a Fantasy novel in Japanese: I may start with A Wizard of Earthsea, because I know it, but from there I want to read Japanese authors. This has always been a big goal of mine in my Japanese study. I have read one novel already, but it was an easy one and really hard work, so at the moment I’m sticking with manga because they have less words and often furigana.

This is obviously an essential meat life goal if I want to be better able to role-play in Japanese. Or just live here happily.

Get fit: I have never been so unfit as I am now, and although my current fitness level is acceptable for a 37 year old, by my standards it’s awful. This year I need to do something about this!

Research Plans

I’ve got a whole research plan written for the next year (it coincides with my starting a PhD through an Australian University), so I aim to do quite a bit of research. This year’s plans are:

An overview of advanced statistical methods for intervention research: Modern research into intervention in health systems requires quite advanced statistical methods, including heirarchical linear models, time series analysis and probability survey research, but combining these can be very challenging. I aim to get a good, solid overview of what is being done in the field and what can’t be done, with the view of using it or improving on it.

Combining heirarchical linear models in Probability surveys: There has to be a way to do this, and I want to work out how. Or alternatively, work out approximations and workarounds to the problem.

Systematize time-dependent difference-in-difference models: Difference-in-difference models are a fancy way for economists to say “linear regression with interaction term” but all the fancy language doesn’t hide the fact that understanding of how to use these models in the health economics literature is remarkably poor. I aim to systematize this, to point out the (trivially obvious) problems in doing this research without considering the time dependent component of the data, and to make recommendations for its application in health services research.

Who knows what trouble this is going to throw up? But that’s my main research goals for the year.

It looks like it may be a busy year for me, but I think I’m going to enjoy it…

Meat's back on the menu, girls!!

I was a big fan of the movie The Descent, which pits a group of young women cavers against a colony of blind flesh-eating proto-humans in a dark and claustrophobic cave nightmare. This is the kind of movie that you really need to pause regularly, and it combines all of our worst fears – claustrophobia, darkness, betrayal, and being eaten alive by grey slimy beastmen – in one compelling package. So I was interested to watch the sequel, which is a slightly Aliens-style re-entry into the darkness. In the sequel the hero of the first movie, Sarah, has somehow survived the original horrors and turns up on a road 2 days after they all entered the original caves. Searchers are out looking for the missing girls but are, of course, looking in the wrong cave system, so aren’t going to find them, let alone carry their shattered remains out. So when the captain of the search crew discovers that Sarah is in a hospital, amnesic and terrified, he decides to get her to help find the other girls. The fact that she rocked up covered in other peoples’ blood and doesn’t remember anything doesn’t deter him, and in fact causes him to make the big mistake of treating the situation like a crime. He basically thinks he needs to rescue the girls from Sarah’s perfidy, or find their bodies and charge her with murder, and this is how he acts through the entire first half of the film.

A team of cavers is established, and head through an abandoned mineshaft into the caves. From this entry point we realize the provenance of the old caving equipment found in the first story, and discover another emergency exit, but it ain’t going to be no use to our team. By a series of (in some cases slightly disappointing) classic horror movie fuck ups they get lost, separated, and then the beasts in the earth (who I call “the Grey Men”) come to get them. Sarah is with them but nobody trusts her and from the moment they find the first body they think she may be a murderer, or mad. Her memories only come back slowly, as does her sense of survival, and for a short part of the movie she acts distressed and confused, which loses everyone valuable time in dealing with the threat they face. By the time she gets her act together the gore has begun to fly, and the remainder of the movie flows very much like the second half of The Descent - desperately scrabbling to escape a situation that it seems must inexorably drag all the characters to their horrific doom.

The Descent Part 2 was directed by a different, novice Director, so it doesn’t have quite the brilliance of the first movie, but it maintains much of the same tension and pace. The Crawlers are almost as terrifying, though a tad more monster-like. This time they’re  not terrifying solely by dint of their environment, but incorporate greater strength and power, though not to the extent that they’re a caricature. They’re still easily defeated in one-to-one combat in the light by strong humans, and still depend on terror, surprise and darkness for their victories. The fear is still at a quite intense level, and most of the decisions people make and the split-second acts they take are believable and reasonable. Unlike the first movie it relies on a few classic horror-movie tropes that can frustrate the viewer – the “advance even though there’s a big fat warning staring you in the face” option, especially, I find really frustrating and though this was once okay, in modern horror writing I think it’s a bit weak.

Although early on the movie goes over the top on the gore scale, in general the gore is at a lower level than in the first movie. Tension is maintained through environment, confusion, and darkness. The characters have a few more gizmos – radio communication, IR scope, etc – that make for some interesting fear-enhancers, and the discovery of the girls’ video camera makes for a really disturbing scene. There’s also a funny moment of Gygaxian Naturalism, as we find out a bit more about how the monsters live in their colony, and are reminded again that we are dealing with a natural, evolved species who are in that place for a reason, not monsters. I thought there was also a hint near the end of a leader-figure amongst the Crawlers, a kind of alpha male, which could make for interesting future movies.

The ending was a tiny bit confusing – something comes out of left field that really can’t be explained, and is obviously only there to set up a sequel – but the unresolved questions it leaves behind don’t bother me at all, in fact I quite like the possibilities it raised for future movies. In some ways the ending of The Descent Part 2 is even grimmer than the first movie, which is kind of cool. I think though, the way this movie ends won’t be to everyone’s taste – some viewers will think it’s an overdone or preposterous ending, or will just not be able to envisage any kind of explanation for it, so will reject it as farcical. It doesn’t spoil the movie overall though, and right up until literally the last 5-10 seconds the ending makes perfect sense and is perfectly acceptable.

The acting was generally good, though there were one or two moments that were either ham-fisted or melodramatic, but the cast were generally solid and gave us a believable rendition of the mounting fear. Particularly, early on when the first (environmental) troubles hit the group, and we aren’t yet sure if the Crawlers are even on the scene, the cast do a good job of muted unease and fear, which slowly mounts. It certainly didn’t seem to hamstring the general atmosphere.

Overall, I think this movie is a good addition to the original, an excellent introduction to a series of movies expanding on the lives, ecology, and horrible habits of the Crawlers, and for most of its length both well-paced and scary. Of course it’s not up to the standard of the original, but I don’t think it lets it down in any way. Well worth seeing if you aren’t a caver.

Come to my kingdom, he said...

Today was the monthly Oita Devil Spirit Convention, and on the promise that one of my warhammer players would be presenting a second session of the Japanese RPG “Make You Kingdom,” I attended during an otherwise very busy weekend. Along with an apparent horde of other people trapped in the pre-christmas work rush, my player couldn’t attend, but a different chap stepped up to the plate without any preparation, and offered to run a Make You Kingdom adventure entitled “All Random.” The premise was that the adventure would be genuinely, from start to finish, entirely randomly generated. This, as it turns out, isn’t such a great plan for a convention.

Character Creation

This session I chose to play a priest, and we also had a Knight, a Servant and a King. For my Priest I chose the skill “Faith,” which heals everyone in the party, and my job was “cook,” which gave me the phenomenally useful power of “Apron”:

If a monster I kill leaves behind a raw material of any sort, I can convert this raw material into “meat,” which can then be used to make a “lunchbox.” This lunchbox can be imbued with a single skill that the monster originally possessed, and anyone who eats this lunchbox gains the skill for one turn

Also, when anyone in the party eats a “lunchbox” or a “full course,” in addition to its normal effects they gain +1 to their Bravery for one turn. Who knew cooks could be so powerful?

I rolled randomly (of course) for my character’s name, history, motivations, etc., and this is what I got:

  • Name: Hairan, who cannot even kill an insect
  • Background: Owes a huge debt (11 Gold Pieces) and is in trouble because of it
  • Fate: If he pays back the debt, Hairan will gain much favour
  • Age: 46
  • Favourite things: Medicine, his own country
  • Hated things: Being alone, people’s rumours
  • Item: a fragment of a star (swapped subsequently for a lunchbox)

So I decided on the basis of this that my character was a perfectly-dressed gentleman, who somehow manages to be wearing a different suit and hat every day, carries a cane with a sword hidden in it, and is something of a drug-addicted nationalist. Tally ho!

My character had 21 followers. Because the King’s job was “happymancer” I decided that my characters were all part of a carnival, consisting of a marching band of 10 members, 5 clowns, 5 pretty girls, and a giant.

The Kingdom

Our Kingdom, also rolled randomly, contained a palace, a casino and a ranch, and was called “The Ancient Empire.” It was in an alliance with another Kingdom called “Imperial Konparu Kingdom.” Konparu is a word used a lot in Japan (the hall we play at is called “Konparu hall”) but I can’t find a translation for it in any dictionary.

Our kingdom only had 56 citizens, so if all 4 PCs took their full complement of citizens with them on an adventure, only 2 would remain in the city. Not good! This meant we had to ration our supply of followers (except me, because my healing prayer was directly related to the number of followers I had, which was perhaps a mistake).

The Adventure

There was no beating around the  bush – the adventure was introduced as “We have learnt of a new kingdom, let’s go conquer it!” So, we set off to conquer it. First we did a bit of exploring, and discovered that most of the distant kingdom was empty rooms full of traps, but for one room that had 4 Foxes and a Boar in it. I then went for a wander through our kingdom, which proved pointless, and off we went for an adventure.

On the way we were attacked twice by other monsters, and suffered some damage that wasn’t serious. We arrived at the destination kingdom, and entered the first room. Here are the rooms in order:

  1. The Collapsing Ceiling: This room was empty, but had a collapsing ceiling trap that nearly killed our Servant. Nothing else was in this room, whose description I forget
  2. The foxes and the boar: This room contained 4 “Quick Foxes” and a “Sawing Boar,” and also a rose trap that puts its victims to sleep. We avoided the rose trap and attacked the resident beasts, two of whom were asleep, but unfortunately the boar woke up and nearly killed the knight. I used my single “wish” to enact my healing prayer, and healed everyone. We only just survived this room. The boar was turned into meat, which I attempted to use my “Apron” power on to convert to magic meat that grants the Knight the charge skill, but I failed. We then chose to rest here and eat a “lunchbox,” and I attempted to use my special skill (“Dungeon Feast”) to give everyone a +1 to their Bravery. This resulted in a fumble, which caused some kind of disaster that killed all 5 of my clowns, 1 of my pretty girls and the giant. So much for our carnival entry.
  3. The Dead Letter: We moved on to the next room, where the night stumbled upon a letter in an envelope. This was also a trap, and she had a choice of taking 2d6 damage (she only had 12 hps) or everyone in the party losing 1d6 followers (most people only had 5). She chose the damage, and survived, so we decided to rest again in this room so we could disarm the trap in the following room. We rested, and some of us decided to roll on the rest table. I went wandering through the room, rolled up some kind of excellent effect that depended on a skill check, and fumbled the skill check. Result: we all took damage from a dungeon disaster.
  4. The Escape Route: By now we were all down on hit points, running low on followers, and out of wishes. I was borrowing dice from my neighbour because of the huge fumble rate on my own dice. The room we were in was linked to a room that had a “trap” that sends you straight back to your own kingdom. We chose to go down that trap, and return home…

Returning home we rolled on the “return home” table, gaining a few followers and quite a bit of money. We spent the money on building a Watchtower, which increases our available total wishes, and we also gained a level. By the time we had made these decisions, it was 4pm and not worth returning to the Dungeon, so we all gave up and decided to wait the hour till the other groups at the convention finished their sessions.

Conclusion

Rolling a random dungeon was not such a good idea, if there was any risk of the dungeon being filled entirely with traps. Traps aren’t that interesting as an obstacle. So, we had a slightly boring adventure that finished early. Make You Kingdom adventures are certainly deadly – this is the second time I’ve played, and the second time we’ve survived by the skin of our teeth, consuming our fellow citizens and all our items in the process – but this time around a large part of the deadliness was random.

Make You Kingdom remains a really interesting and fun system, but this session made me think that it’s real strength will show in a campaign, not single adventures. Gaining levels and building up your kingdom is a really essential part of this game, as is achieving your fate, and a campaign where you get to do this would be really fun. I think this is going to be my next campaign after Warhammer.

An army of snowmen does his every bidding...

Having presented a random table and monster from the game Make You Kingdom, here are a few more monsters from the game. I have to return the book tomorrow, so there’ll be no more posts about it until I buy my own. Here is a translation of the monster in the main picture, General Winter.

General Winter (level 14 Angelic Monster)

  • Bravery:9
  • Range: 1
  • Damage: 2d6+2
  • Resistance: 13
  • HPs: 60
  • Character: Sly

Common Monster skills: Fist of the Fierce God, Divine Transformation, Swarm Defence, Feat of Arms, Sword Play, Minor Transformation

Storm of Snow: When someone other than General Winter uses a support action, he can interrupt them using this manoeuvre. Everyone but General Winter must make a Bravery check with a difficulty equal to the General’s Bravery +5. Those who fail immediately have their hit points halved.

Text (“flavour”): A valorous commander who serves the Winter Sovereign on the steps to heaven. He also has a side that is kind to children.

(I don’t know what the “common monster skills” are because they aren’t in my book, but they seem pretty scary).

Below are three other monsters that I scanned in as random trash during the process of scanning in General Winter, and figured I should upload. No translations are provided, but they’re all from the “Angels” family of monsters.

What doesn't kill you...

 

This is how you build a Dungeon...

Continuing my series of posts on the Japanese RPG Make You Kingdom, here I present a single table from the random Kingdom generation section. In this section you choose how many rooms your Kingdom will have (1 to 9), then you generate each room randomly. To do this, you first roll a d6 to see what sort of room it is (human creation, natural form, underground, etc). Once you have chosen the form, there is a table of random rooms from which to select each room. All 6 tables use the same random selection method: D66. That is, you roll 2 six-sided dice, taking the lowest as “tens” and the highest as “units,” like d100 – except you don’t designate one die to be a “ten.” Instead, the lower roll is always a “ten” and the higher always a “unit.” For example a roll of 1 and 4 is 14, regardless of which die rolled the 1. This gives you 21 options.

The table below is an attempt at translating the results for the “Heavenly” style of room, which you obtain with a roll of 5 on the original D6 to determine room type.

11 A room with falling rain 23 Atop a cloud, which somehow you are able to walk over 36 A colossal exhaust vent making a huge roaring sound
12 A cavern riddled with wholes like a swiss cheese 24 A hollow veiled in mist 44 A room in which lightning strikes every now and then
13 Many floating gardens layered atop one another 25 A room in which you drift, weightless 45 A room of gently falling feathers
14 White laundry strung out in endless lines 26 A room in which snow falls and gathers 46 A cavity with many walls on which have been painted pictures of a clear blue sky
15 Beanstalks growing to the heavens 33 A cloister floating in mid-air, in which space and time are distorted 55 A room on one wall of which is a mirror
16 A colossal shaft in which hangs a rope ladder or a chain 34 A corridor in which a monster-repelling windmill spins, making a strange sound 56 A cavern in which the aurora wavers and flares
22 A room through which a strong wind blows 35 A cavern, through the roof of which a ruin or relic can be seen 66 A room in which the direction of gravity is disjointed or strange

With only 21 choices, in one campaign you can only make 2 or 3 wind-themed kingdoms before you run out of rooms (unless you make up your own), but even if you mix in a few rooms from a different table (e.g. roll 6, the spirit world) you’ll get an interesting and weird dungeon to play in.

The picture is a human monster, called a Dungeon Geek (“Dungeon wo taku”). I think the name is actually a play on words, because the correct way to write “geek” in Japanese is “otaku,”(オタク) not “wotaku,”(ヲタク) but the verb “taku” means to burn, so “Dungeon wo taku” could mean “burn the dungeon.” There are a few puns in the monster section playing on either Japanese kanji jokes, or English translation jokes (like the “living room” which is literally a room that lives). The Dungeon Geek is a level 5 monster with an attack range of 1 (missile fire), 1d6 damage, 10 hit points and a resistance of 9. His abilities are:

  • Schemer: Enemy tactical checks are made 3 points harder when opposing this chap (I’m not sure what a tactical check is, as I don’t have the basic rule book)
  • Enhance Animated Objects: He can increase the resistance and damage of nearby animated objects
  • Public Enemy: This skill’s rule beats all others. This monster cannot be converted into someone else’s follower. Also, this monster’s skills cannot be acquired by a PC (I presume there is a mechanism by which PCs can steal monster skills).
  • Dungeon Tectonics (I think, this skill is not listed in the book I have): The Dungeon Geek can lay traps for enemies
  • Collector: The Dungeon Geek can equip a single common item of his choice, using it as if it were level 0

The text in italics at the bottom is “flavour” (フレーバー) and says

This is a human who became obssessed with the first dungeons, and was drawn into them unawares. Always losing himself in the quest to make the perfect dungeon, Dungeoneers are his perfect test bench. Being completely heedless of human conversation, he is incapable of communicating his purpose.

A very suitable monster for our little corner of the universe…

[All translations should be taken with the usual note of caution]

Our Dungeon Tectonics Expert and Eunuch Servant

This is the session report for yesterday’s Make You Kingdom adventure. Because we covered a lot of ground and my notes were being taken hurriedly, this report needs to be quite light on details – probably a good thing, since I didn’t understand what was going on about 50% of the time.

The PCs and the Kingdom

There were 4 players, who as usual didn’t introduce themselves – in fact one player referred to another player as “Honourable Older Sister” throughout the session, because he didn’t know her name. We played the following characters:

  • The King, previous job “Doctor”
  • A servant, previous job “Eunuch.”
  • An Oracle, previous job “Sex worker” (Or something similar – performer of dubious origins, perhaps?)
  • A Ninja, previous job “Hunter,” played by me and named (by random roll) “uwasa wo sureba Oboe,” which in English would be something like “The Oboe of which everyone speaks”

I decided that my ninja was of unspecified gender, being so heavily wrapped in black that only his/her eyes show, and wrapped in a great black cloak (part of my equipment). My ninja starts with Quest 5, Wit 2, Bravery 2 and charm 1. This means he/she has 7 followers, who I decided (in keeping with the ninja theme) are all members of the same Visual Kei band. My Ninja had two skills:

  • Hunting, by which he/she can gather food with a good skill check
  • Disruption, by which he/she can expend a wish and prevent 1d6 of damage to a fellow PC

My ninja had the following equipment, all rolled up on random tables:

  • A fragment of a star
  • A used magic item
  • A cloak
  • Some shuriken (throwing stars)
  • A warhammer
  • A full course meal

No character can have more than 6 items. No one carries mundane items. I’m not sure what these items did, and I didn’t get a chance to use any except the shuriken, hammer and meal.

To give an idea of the dangers of combat, my Ninja had 14 hps. My ninja’s shuriken do d6-1 damage. To hit my ninja an opponent needs to roll over 12 on 2d6+bravery, and usually a monster’s bravery is roughly equal to their level. We were all level 2.

Our Kingdom was called “Eastern Champion Land” (also randomly rolled). Within it we had a Palace, Temple, School and Hospital, all randomly rolled.We also rolled up its location in a larger labyrinth section (like a Gormenghastian Traveller sector map!).

The Adventure Starts: The Kingdom Phase

A spy came to our kingdom and told us that nearby was a kingdom called “The Forest of Harvests” that was having a little trouble and was also the holder of a rare magic item. We decided to explore this kingdom, so first of all my ninja used his/her Exploration skill to map out the kingdom. I rolled so well on this process that I learnt the number of traps and monsters in every room, and the layout of the whole kingdom, as well as the type of monsters in one room. With this knowledge our job was made considerably easier. While I was doing this two of the PCs decided to go for a wander around our own kingdom; this is handled by rolling on special “roaming” encounter tables and can only occur during the “kingdom phase,” which happens when you’re in your kingdom. One player found some kind of magic berry or something and gained a permanent increase in hit points (+5!), while the other found us all some money. You can make these rolls any time you are in the kingdom phase, but you can only ever get each result once, and there are some risky outcomes (I think). It’s an example of your kingdom giving you benefits, basically.

Once these things were out of the way we set off. On the way one player rolled a random encounter, which we managed to avoid by making successful bravery checks, and then we arrived at our destination, The “Forest of Harvests” Kingdom.

Room 1: The Entry

There is usually only one way in or out of a kingdom, and the way in is always the first room you enter. The Forest of Harvests’ entryway contained some rolling hills and a road rolling between them, which happened to be blocked by a giant tree. This tree happily moved out of our way after some negotiation (I’m not sure what was said; my hangover was still going pretty badly at this stage)[1], and we proceeded without further trouble into room 2.

Room 2: The Road of Meals

In this room we were attacked by a pair of Ogrekin, who we killed quite quickly. We then explored the room, finding a road running through the middle and a field of mushrooms. Some investigation revealed that the yellow mushrooms healed damage, the red ones exploded on impact, and the blue ones were poisonous to touch. We couldn’t take the red ones with us because they were a little unstable. We travelled to the next room.

Room 3: Fisherman’s Lake

On the road to room 3 we discovered a Black Spot trap, which I disarmed. A Black Spot trap causes any who fail a Quest DC 9 test to be trapped in the black spot. Every quarter they have to make another test to escape it, and everyone else has to wait. This wastes time, but also food; every 4 quarters everyone has to eat one meal. Fortunately we didn’t trigger it, and ended up in the third room, which contained a massive lake. This lake was populated by Kappa, with whom we chatted. They revealed that they catch fish and trade them with a princess called Princess Mira, and told us about the dangers on the road to her room. We thanked them and did a spot of fishing: the Oracle hauled up a rare and splendid “Dungeon Maguro,” which can be used as trade with Princess Mira (or anyone else!) and a rare item (I was writing this so I don’t know what item came out of the tables).

Room 4: The Forest of Relaxation

This room wasn’t very relaxing at all, being gloomy and filled with Giant Squirms, a Chowhound and a Minotaur. We killed all of them. The Chowhound had a special attack called “Warm and Snug” which reduces everyone’s Resistance, making them easier to hit, but we dealt with it. There was nothing else in this room, so we proceeded to the room of the Princess.

Room 5: Mira’s Forest

Here we met Princess Mira, in a room with huge trees and lots of harmless flying monsters. Princess Mira spoke to us when we gave her the Dungeon Maguro, and revealed that the Kingdom was in trouble due to something happening at the “Small Shrine.” We offered to help, and set off to the next room.

Room 6: The Forest of Confusion

In this room we were attacked by 5 Scum and 2 Bad Company. Someone also set up a trap in the battle zone, which was a problem because this trap did 2d6 damage to anyone who triggered it, and was between us and the enemy. Only two of our members had missile weapons, and the Bad Company are pretty solid ranged fighters. However, our Servant had a special skill, “Dungeon Tectonics,” which enabled him to set traps in battlezones from a distance (it’s a type of magic). He used his Dungeon Tectonics skill to set traps, which killed the Bad Company and half the Scum; I then took out the rest with Shuriken. From their bodies we looted a rare magical Business Card that gives a bonus on diplomacy; this we gave to the Oracle. Every ex-prostitute Oracle should have a magic business card.

Every room has a Camp Phase, if you choose, in which you rest or explore. I chose to risk a “Rest Event” and rolled on the Investigation Table; it turns out that during the rest period I explored the room and stumbled on a Rust Samurai’s grave, and from this I looted a few pieces of iron, which I gave to the Oracle to use in her magic item construction powers.

Room 7: The Forest of Nightmare

This room was not actually a forest, but had lots of small buildings and contained some Dwarves. We talked to them and they told us that the next room – the Small Shrine – was occupied by 3 “Hurry Foxes” that could be very bad news. They gave us a bitter potion that we had to make Bravery checks to keep down, and with this we regained a few hit points. We rested here and moved on to the Small Shrine room.

Room 8: The Small Shrine

In the Small Shrine we were met by the 3 Hurry Foxes, who were called Umi, Soru and Chan. They refused to help us unless we answered 3 riddles, which were

Riddle 1

Consider the following equations. What is the answer to the 4th?

  • Bx4=1
  • Ox3=C
  • Sx3=O
  • Dx1=?

This is a baseball reference, and one of our players got it. 4 bases = 1 run, 3 outs=change sides, 3 strikes = Out, so 1 Deadball=Take 1. Thus the answer is “1”.

Riddle 2

In every survey ever done, which planet in the solar system is the most popular with firefighters? Is it Venus, Saturn, Earth or Mercury?

The answer was Earth. The reason: the emergency number for firefighters in Japan is 119, ichi-ichi-kyuu, which sounds very much like ichi-chikyuu, which means “1 Earth.” One of our players got this. I was flabbergasted.

Riddle 3

This involved completing a sequence of kanji I couldn’t read. The players got this in moments (Japanese love kanji quizzes).

With these three correct answers the Foxes told us of a secret road to an 8th room, where a Mushroom Dragon and its followers had set up and were terrorizing the Kingdom. So, off we went… but first a rest… I rolled on the Exploration rest table, and found a secret path to any room of my choice; we set this secret path to shorten our exit route. Then, onto the next room…

Room 8: The Mushroom Dragon

This room was gloomy and foggy, and occupied by a Mushroom Dragon, some Primal Ogrekin, some Ogrekin, an Ogrekin Shaman and a Minotaur. Battle was joined.

This battle was nasty. The Dragon’s breath caused poison damage (1 HP every round) and the Ogre Shaman kept summoning Ogrekin between us and the Dragon. Because the rules don’t allow us to move through occupied spaces of the battlezone, this stopped us from neutralizing the dragon. At one point the King was trapped in the Dragon’s zone, with a wall of Ogrekin summoned between us and him. I had to use all my wishes deflecting damage with my disruption skill, and I also sacrificed 4 of my band members to improve an attack roll; in the spirit of things I made a random table of band members and determined that the sacrificed members were the singer, both guitarists, and the Strange Male Dancer. The battle finally came extremely close to a TPK. The King was on 4 HPs, the Servant on 1 and the Oracle on 2, and me on 10; but Oracle and Servant were both poisoned, so one would die next round regardless of his actions, and the Oracle the round after. The Dragon was a 2d6-damage monstrosity, so likely to kill the King, and the King was our only way of winning initiative – and to do this he had to sacrifice an elite follower every round. Only the King and I were close enough to the Dragon to hit it. If I missed the Dragon its HPs would be too high for the King to kill it, and then it would kill him; if he missed it then it would probably kill him next round anyway, and even if it didn’t the Servant would be dead. For me to hit it I had to roll over 11 on 2d6. At this point the Oracle chose to expend her “loyalty points” on me, doing a kind of mad prayer to give me all the support she could. This effect can be used once a session, and gave me a +2 to my bravery. With this I hit, doing 3 damage; the King then managed to hit, and killed the Dragon. Had he missed, it would almost certainly have been a TPK, and had I missed he probably couldn’t have killed it even with a successful hit.

When the dragon died the gloom of the forest dispersed, revealing a beautiful and happy forest full of fruits that healed our injuries. The dragon was carrying a special rare item that could grant much money on a successful Wits check, which the King failed.

Returning to our Kingdom

The return journey has its own special random table, and rolling on this we got lost for a few quarters (no big deal), and I fell in love with the Oracle. We avoided random encounters on the way home, and when we got back to our own Kingdom we each rolled on a special encounter table for the response of our citizens, who thought I was a hero and granted me an extra follower, and then finally we rolled on a table for our party’s return to the Kingdom; this granted us extra followers. We then used our money to purchase a new building – a Harem. Finally the King rolled a wits check and recovered my band members for me.

Once the game was up there was one final, cute mechanic. Everyone had to close their eyes and, on the count of 10, point to the person they thought was the most effective player. This person gets a single “MVP point.” That person was me!

Conclusion

Including character and Kingdom creation, and an hour for lunch, we got through all those rooms, combats, talks and events in 7 hours. I think that’s an excellent amount of progress, and we had a lot of fun while we did it. This is an excellent system for megadungeon madness, and I think with a bit of GM input it could lead to some really excellent and hilarious dungeon settings. For example, there is a monster called a Red Giant that is essentially some kind of construct of Communism. This could be the final boss for a level 1 adventure, in a kingdom full of enslaved and crazy humanoid and magical creatures with a communist theme. Alternatively, the level 5 Dungeon Geek monster could lead to a kingdom modelled on a D&D dungeon and stocked with suitable monsters. For the times when the GM is not feeling imaginative there are a wide range of random dungeon tables by which a whole Kingdom can be stocked for play.

The game also has an excellent campaign mode, with the Kingdom phase between adventures enabling players to grow their kingdom as well as their characters, and relations between the PCs growing dynamically at every rest point. The final results of a campaign run this way would, I think, be truly hilarious. I think I might invest in this game and try it out on some people to see how a campaign runs – or try and force the GM from the convention (who plays the Soldier in my WFRP campaign, coincidentally) to run such a campaign outside of the convention. This probably won’t happen though, since he’s running Sword World campaign too (which I may be joining).

fn1: An interesting fact about the players in the convention that I really should dwell more on is that they are really kind and friendly, and if I had stopped at this point and asked for a simple explanation of the negotiation, they would happily have done so, and continued to do so through the whole game; in fact at later points “Honourable Older Sister” did this, as did the GM. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad encounter at this convention, which differs remarkably from the pub-based experiences I had in London; furthermore, I’m very confident that a British or Australian group would be nowhere near as supportive of someone with my level of language skills. The players were even interested in my reading method, since I had to translate things as I went and this is a fiendishly slow task. They’re genuinely helpful and warm-hearted.

Two types of pond life

Today I managed to attend the monthly konkon convention[1] in nearby Oita, and was rewarded for dragging myself out of bed with a slight hangover by an introduction to an excellent Japanese RPG, Meikyu Kingdom. The strict translation of this title is “Labyrinth Kingdom” but the nature of the game and the easy transliteration means that the game is actually given the English title Make You Kingdom.This is basically a mega-dungeon exploration and combat game with random tables that make D&D look rather tame and stingy; a social mechanic to rival Double Cross 3; and hireling rules that make your average D&D “I send my hireling down the corridor to spring the traps” look terribly noble. It’s also very cute and engaging, very fast, and has a degree of attention to details that is staggering in its thoroughness.

The basic idea

In Make You Kingdom the PCs are a group of heroes from the ruling court of a small kingdom that is part of a massive labyrinth of similar dungeon kingdoms. One of the PCs is always the ruler of the kingdom. Together with a large group of your subjects (we took about 30), you head off into the labyrinth surrounding your kingdom to explore new dungeons and capture kingdoms for yourself. The world consists entirely of labyrinthine dungeons – this is a real megadungeon, folks – because at some point in the past there was a “dungeon catastrophe” in which all of the world collapsed into the labyrinth – even the sky and the sea got labyrinthisized[2]. There is a whole ecology and science to this labyrinthine system, but from our point of view it doesn’t matter, because our purpose is to explore a neighbouring kingdom, kill everything in it, and take its stuff.

How it works

The mechanics of the game are remarkably simple. There are a couple of classes – Ruler, Oracle, Champion, Servant, Ninja – and each person had a job before they became part of the royal court. In our group we had a doctor, a eunuch, a prostitute and a hunter – and it is from this job that they get their single skill. There are 4 attribute scores – Wit, bravery, Quest and Charm – and 3 derived scores – Hit points, resistance and Supplies. That’s right folks, 4 stats and 1 skill. You also get a skill from your character class (I think the Servant gets 3), so you start the game with two skills. I had “hunting” and “disruption” (I was playing the Ninja – see below). All PCs get basically the same starting scores in their skills – a 4, two 2s and a 1. The ruler and the servant are slightly different, but that’s basically it.

The mechanic for resolving any skill test, saving throw or attack is the same. You roll 2d6 and add one of the 4 skills, and try and beat a target. There are two methods for boosting this roll to 3 or more dice, and damage is also done with d6s.

Combat occurs on a battlefield with 3 sections for each team – the Vanguard, the Rearguard and the Encampment – and the rules are very simple. You can move and you can attack, but you can’t move through a section that’s occupied by the enemy and you can’t disengage from combat. Various special abilities apply in combat, all with their outcome determined by the 2d6 skill mechanism. Monsters are presented in terms of 4 values: Bravery, Resistance, damage and Hit Points.

When your hit points reach 0 you’re dead. One member of the party has to be the ruler, and he/she is not allowed to die.

That’s it. The whole mechanic – including all forms of bad status, which is the Japanese word for “effects” – are written on the back of the character sheet.

There are two special methods for boosting your attack rolls:

  • Wishes, which are generally employed by spending a point of a stat called “vitality” (気力) that is not written anywhere on the sheet, and that we kept track of using paper clips, can be spent to add one die to any roll. Vitality is gained by a rather amusing method. If when you roll your 2d6 skill check you get a 6 on one die, and the other die has a value sufficient to get you a successful result, you get to trade the 6 for a point of Vitality. This applies even if the extra die you bought with vitality got you the 6. You can’t have more Vitality than your wit. This proved a problem for us.
  • Sacrificing followers, in which you get to throw 1d6 of your followers into the fray, and in exchange you can increase the value of your skill check by 1. At the end of the adventure your ruler can resurrect 1d6 followers. Some skills rely on followers – my Ninja could have chosen the skill “shinobi army,” which sacrifices 1d6 followers in order to disarm a trap (sound familiar!?) but he/she only had 7 followers, so this didn’t seem like it would get him/her very far

So, on those two paragraphs of rules the whole game flows.

Except for the social mechanic, and the kingdom-building.

Social mechanics

Similar to Double Cross 3, when you create your character you also have to generate a relationship with another PC, which can be based on loyalty, friendship or love. You can also have unrequited love. You get points in these traits, and these points can be useful. The Oracle in our group had “loyalty 2″ for me, which she used to aid me at a crucial point in the adventure. During the rest phase of exploration things can happen that change these points (see below) or even turn PCs into enemies. You also have a background and a purpose that are related, and these can apparently affect the game (I didn’t see this happen). Some abilities and effects are limited by the number of points you have invested in your relationships with other people.

Kingdom-building

Before you can go anywhere you need to build your own kingdom. Your (and every other) Kingdom is built on a 3×3 grid of “rooms,” each connected by a varying number of corridors. You roll a random number of buildings to spread through these rooms, of varying types limited by your level and some traits of the kingdom that depend on the choices of the ruler. These buildings can take a wide range of forms – there is even a memorial hall – and they can have effects for the characters. For example, if two PCs go into a “Piazza” they can swap equipment and change the status of their relationship. Also, the level of order or education in your society depends on which buildings you have, and I think the number of combatant followers you have depend on some of these things too. We had a Shrine, a Palace, a School and a Hospital, and on my suggestion after completing the adventure we added a harem (which has a very funny picture).

The Kingdom also has 4 attributes – lifestyle, order, culture and something else that I forget. These determine some aspects of the kinds of items you can buy, and the number and kind of followers and allies you get.

Adventuring: Traps and Monsters

So, having established your characters, their interrelations and their kingdom, off you go on an adventure. The GM creates a new dungeon kingdom, also on a 3×3 map, and populates it with monsters and traps. In each room there will be a certain number of each. You explore in turns, that are divided into quarters, and each turn you need to eat once (so you need to pack food! We carried “bento” and a “full course” that  recovers HPs). In each turn there is an encounter/fight/camp type phase, and in each stage certain things happen.  The best thing about this aspect of the game, though, is the monsters, which are hilarious, cute, nasty and intertextual all at once. Here are the monsters we fought:

  • Ogrekin (小鬼), little ogres that are really easy to kill
  • Giant Squirms (みみず), giant worms that are quite easy to kill
  • Scum (人間の屑), really dodgy humans who drink too much and try to rob you
  • Bad Company (極悪中隊), a squad of nasty soldiers
  • Scum (人間の屑), a bunch of useless losers who try to kill you and steal your stuff
  • Chowhound (大喰らい), a great big fat thing that eats stuff
  • Ogrekin Shaman (小鬼呪術師), who can summon Ogrekin (actually a really annoying trait)
  • Primal Ogrekin (原始小鬼), slightly nastier versions of Ogrekin
  • Mushroom Dragon (キノコのドラゴン), which is exactly what you think – a dragon that is a mushroom

We fought all of these, and were nearly killed by the Mushroom Dragon. The picture at the top of this post is the little cardboard token for my PC, next to the token for a Scum. Below is a picture of some of the last group of monsters we fought – some Primal Ogrekin with the Mushroom Dragon.

Who says dragons are a strange idea?

Traps are ubiquitous in the dungeons, and you have to either disarm them or avoid them, and to do either you need to find them. This was my Ninja’s job, but because he can’t find and disarm a trap in the same quarter, he/she left others to do the finding and he/she did the disarming. Traps are quite nasty – we sprung two, one of which did small amounts of damage and one of which seemed to be some kind of disapproval trap that lowered our scores. There are several pages of traps for the GM to choose from, and some rooms had more than one, either in the room or the connecting corridors.

Random tables

The game is built on fighting and exploring, but the social mechanic is important and all sorts of things happen outside of combat, randomly. In addition to the random tables used to generate your PC’s history, purpose and inter-personal relationships, there are also:

  • Random encounter tables for travel between kingdoms
  • Random event tables for when you go “roaming” around your own kingdom. These can have significant benefits but you can only encounter any one line of the table once.
  • Random event tables for when you are resting, and decide to take a rest action. I used one of these tables to explore the area I was in, and found the tomb of a Rust Samurai, from which I looted some metal; I also nearly started a love affair with another PC (by accident)
  • Random treasure tables for every type of monster
  • Random event tables for certain types of action taken to prevent death (usually involving destroying an item)
  • Random event tables for your journey back from a successful quest – these can involve getting lost or having new types of encounters
  • Random event tables for when you return to your kingdom after a succesful (or unsuccessful!) quest, which can involve a gain or loss of followers, more money, new items or buildings, etc

There was a lot of rolling for this sort of thing during the game, and a lot of hilarious results arose from it. The dungeon we explored was already established, but I think that there are probably random generation methods for this too.

Conclusion

In essence this is a very cute, entertaining and light-hearted game that combines mega-dungeon, classic D&D-style dungeon crawling, very simple strategy and resource management, and exploration within a very simple system that incorporates some very clever social dynamics to provide triggers and dynamics for role-playing. The monsters are hilarious, as are the descriptions of buildings, character classes, jobs and items. It’s a really entertaining mixture of manga, classic D&D references, Japanese-style role-playing and strategy game. If you get a chance to try it out, I strongly recommend it. Over the next few days I’ll put up a description of my adventure and some scans of monsters, buildings etc from the rule book, which I’m borrowing for a week.

fn1: Today was the 60th convention, which apparently means it’s been running continuously for 25 years (it didn’t used to be every month). I think that’s pretty good for a town the size of Oita.

fn2: The way that Japanese is written makes this word really easy to invent naturally: Meikyuuka means “labyrinthification” and you can stick that “ka” onto pretty much any noun to get the same effect.

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