To the Island of Madness…

Summer is nearly here, and I’ve been longing for that great mass of super-heated air to roll in off the Pacific and turn this whole island into a sauna, because since April I’ve had few chances to blog, role-play or really do anything except work, work work. I’ve been teaching to what the Japanese would call a “hard schedule” and finding it hard to keep work out of my private life, so blogging, role-playing and in fact pretty much everything else have fallen by the wayside. This Thursday my students sit their stats exam, and I get to cast off the restraints of my course and (hopefully) get my weekends back, which means – after 3 months in Tokyo – that I can finally start role-playing. This time around I’m going to give the Japanese-language gaming a miss (it’s hard work and I don’t have the time!) but I’m thinking of two campaigns that I really want to run:

For the latter, I think I might set it up as a semi-sandbox, with all the adventure ideas I wrote about in the post on Svalbard, plus a fair number of open possibilities. I’ve never done a Compromise and Conceit sandbox, but in my experience small islands are perfect for it. I will use Warhammer 3 (unadjusted) for Svalbard, because I think that Warhammer 3 is quite suited to the Compromise and Conceit world. It has dark gods, madness, chaos, and character classes quite suited to the setting. I may need to make some small changes but I reckon I can just fit it all together without much trouble.  Make You Kingdom will be easy because the rules are simple and it’s quite easy to read (comparatively speaking!) so I think I will start on that first (once I have a group!) I’m going to start translating bits over the next few weeks, and will put some up here (I hope).

I’m going to London in September for a course, so I hope to meet the previous group who played Compromise and Conceit with me (except Paul, who buggered off to Oz) and run a one-shot Make You Kingdom session with them… laughs! So practice in Japan would be good. But first I need to reduce my workload, and in the meantime I have to return to Beppu for a week to collect my stupid cat, which probably means not much posting for at least another two weeks. But it will be nice to be able to return to the RPG world after a 5 month break.

I don’t know if this happens to other people, but I find that I go through phases with RPGs. I spend a long time on an intense project, then kind of take a break after it finishes/ everyone goes overseas[1]. For the first few months of the break I don’t miss it; I find myself wondering “will I decide this time never to go back to it; to put up these childish things?” but then after a few months more I just naturally gravitate back to it, with new ideas and focus, and another round of crazy satanism begins. And so I find it happening again. For 3 months of my new Tokyo life I didn’t miss it, but now that things are settled and the craziness is about to subside, I’m itching to throw a polar bear at a priest.

What can you do, but go with your natural desires?

fn1: When I was younger, this would commonly happen in my friendship groups in Australia.

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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.

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.