Twilight Princess

黄昏の天使 “Twilight Princess” (1988) was the eighth box set to be released for the Japanese version of Call of Cthulhu and the only non-translated item that Hobby Japan produced for the game. The designer was Jun Arisaka 有坂純 and the artist Yoshihisha Aran 亜蘭善久. The box set is, incidentally, my candidate for the most expensive Japanese RPG collectible: I’ve only seen incomplete and damaged sets up for auction, but they still went for over $600. The subtitle of the set is “The Stories of the Demon Princess: First Part”, but publication of a second part was not to be.

The setting is Japan in the 1980s. Cthulhu Now, which had just been released in English the previous year, was not available in Japanese yet, but a 32 page “Sourcebook for the 1980s” is included and provides stats for modern day weapons, skills and occupations.

The 8 scenarios are described in a perfect bound book of 100 pages and a saddle-stapled book of 84 pages. The investigators start by looking into a series of murders happening nightly in a small town, and they make the acquaintance of a beautiful but suspicious young woman who is one of the Katagiri sisters. The investigators eventually meet their father, who still dresses in the fashion of the Edo period. Ultimately, the investigators will learn that after 3000 years it is time to reforge the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, the legendary sword in the possession of the Emperor of Japan, and to do this they must raise a pyramid submerged beneath a lake in the ancient province of Izumo.

Illustrated Fantasy Book Guide

The “Illustrated Fantasy Book Guide” is a magazine-format book (or mook) released in 1989 by the publisher of ファミコン必勝本 “Famicon Winning Book”, an NES gaming magazine. The mook lists 37 works of fantasy originally written in English except for “Ficciones” by Borges. The editors of “Famicon Winning Book” were fond of the Wizardry port to the NES, which is my explanation for their interest in this stuff. In any case, they created the best Appendix N so to speak of fantasy translated into Japanese that I have yet found. The Japanese titles are provided below to aid the online searches of would-be buyers.

The Lord of the Rings 指輪物語
Earthsea Trilogy ゲド戦記
Chronicles of Narnia ナルニア国ものがたり
Conan コナン・シリーズ
The Worm Ouroboros ウロボロス
The Wood Beyond the World 世界のかなたの森
Lilith リリス
Nine Princess in Amber アンバーの九王子
The King of Elfland’s Daughter エルフランドの王女
Gormenghast Trilogy ゴーメンガスト
Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! 魔法の王国売ります!
The Chronicles of Castle Brass ブラス城年代記
Night’s Master 闇の公子
A Voyage to Arcturus アルクトゥルスへの旅
The Princess Bride プリンセス・ブライド
Witch World ウィッチ・ワールド
A Spell for Chameleon カメレオンの呪文
The Last Unicorn 最後のユニコーン
At the Mountains of Madness 狂気の山脈にて
Swords and Deviltry ファファード&グレイ・マウザー
The White Hart アイルの書
She 洞窟の女王
Charmed Life 魔女集会通り26番地
Darkover Series ダーコーヴァ年代記
The Riddle-Master of Hed イルスの竪琴
The Sorcerer’s Ship 魔法つかいの船
Dragonlance Chronicles ラゴンランス戦記
Pawn of Prophecy ベルガリアード物語
Dragon Flight パーンの竜騎士
The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz ボアズ=ヤキンのライオン
Momo モモ
The Magic Goes Away 魔法の国が消えていく
Magician リフトウォー・サーガ
The Ship of Ishtar イシュタルの船
Tea with the Black Dragon 黒龍とお茶を
Ficciones 伝奇集
Dandelion Wine たんぽぽのお酒

Goblin Slayer

Goblin Slayer first appeared as online ASCII art in 2014, and has since appeared in light novels, manga, and an anime television series. The franchise contains numerous references to role-playing games and things came full circle when the RPG was published in 2019 as a somewhat thick (3 cm) bunkobon. An English translation of the RPG is imminent.

In the RPG the playable races are 只人 (human), 鉱人 (dwarf), 森人 (elf), 蜥蜴人 (lizard man), and 圃人 (rhea), the last one having the size and other characteristics of a hobbit. Although the words for “dwarf” and “elf” are written with kanji characters and literally mean “mineral-person” and “forest-person”, the ruby text shows they are to be pronounced as in English. Similarly 小鬼 is to be read as “goblin”, though it literally means “little ogre”.

The primary abilities are stamina, soul, skill, and wisdom. The secondary abilities are concentration, patience, and reflection. All are determined by a 1d3 roll, but races have their bonuses and penalties, so the scores range from 0 to 5. Each primary ability is added to a secondary ability to get the twelve scores that are used in play. Only six-sided dice are needed to play the game, which incidentally are the dice seen being rolled in the opening credits of the anime.

The game has classes, experience points, and 10 levels. In the manga and the anime the characters wear dog tags which are color coded to indicate their level. Priestess starts out as porcelain (1st level) and Goblin Slayer is already silver (8th level). The RPG just refers to levels by number though.

There are two scenarios in the book. Both come with a picture of the bulletin board posting the party will see at the guild. The first asks the party to go into a goblin lair to rescue an infant. The second is from a young widow, who wants adventurers to eradicate the wild beasts inhabiting a mountain pass.

Tactics: May/June 1982

40 years ago today (it is already May 1st in Japan), Hobby Japan published the 3rd issue of its wargaming magazine “Tactics”. It contains several articles on role-playing games. People say this is the first material about RPGs to be published in Japanese.

One of the articles tries to explain what RPGs are. The author is 高梨俊一 (Shunichi Takanashi), who basically gets what these games are about. He would later design his own game called Rule the World. He surveys some of the RPGs available in English and mentions Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, High Fantasy, Empire of the Petal Throne, Dragon Quest, Rune Quest, Heroes of Olympus, Traveller, Universe, Space Opera, Time Tripper, Commando, Gangster!, Top Secret, En Garde!, Bushido, and Land of the Rising Sun.

The second article is a short but complete game designed by アル・シダータ (Aru Shidata) called Donkey Commando. It is a spy game. The object is to infiltrate a secret base, destroy as much as possible, and steal the confidential documents. The base is randomly generated as it is explored. If enemies are encountered, they can be attacked with gun, knife, grenade, or karate chop. Resolution uses 2d6 dice rolls. Your character has 6 ability scores, and when 10 enemies are killed, you roll to see which ability improves. The game can be played solo.

The third article is a session transcript (a replay!) with a game master and two players. One is the wandering knight Erzligner, whose wife betrayed him and caused him to lose his castle. His companion is a woman named Nazavice, who has a dagger which can dispel magic. The session starts at the gate of a castle. Erzligner tries to push the gate open and falls into a pit trap. Nazavice inspects the gate and discovers buttons on either side. Pushing one causes her to disappear. Erzligner decides to push the button as well, and he is transported to a room where Nazavice is confronting the sorcerer who killed her father. The sorcerer attempts to polymorph into a griffon, but Nazavice stops him by throwing her magic-dispelling dagger at him. The sorcerer reverts to his true form, which is an 8-headed dragon. Nazavice attacks the dragon despite being unarmed and is knocked unconscious. Erzligner proposes running away but the game master sternly tells him that knights who abandon women are punished by the gods. The game master also hints that there is a way to defeat the dragon. Erzligner ends up putting the dragon to sleep by throwing whiskey at it, a reference to the Japanese fairy tale about the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi.

It isn’t stated what rules they are using to play—the game master tells Erzligner he has an 80% percent chance of success at one point and asks him to roll, so we can infer they aren’t using six-sided dice exclusively.

Tokyo Nova: The Revolution

A lot of the newer Japanese RPGs use something called the scene system. The best way to learn about it is to read the Japanese Wikipedia article, which Google Translate does a passable job at translating to English. According to the article, the scene system was introduced by トーキョーN◎VA The Revolution “Tokyo Nova: The Revolution” (1998), which is the 3rd iteration of the Tokyo Nova rules.

In the scene system, all gameplay happens in a scene. Periodically there is a cut to a new scene. In TNTR, a cut happens when the cast (i.e. the players and NPCs) travel to a new location. The appearance of a new character also results in a cut to a new scene, and cuts can be used by the referee to simply skip time.

At the start of a new scene, the referee draws a card from the tarot deck and places it on the table for everyone to see. This is the scene card. Incidentally, characters are generated by drawing three cards from the tarot deck, a feature inherited from the 1st edition of the game. It is good for the character if the scene card is one of those three cards, because he or she is allowed to perform the feat specified by the card at some time during the course of the scene. The scene card is also used by the referee, who looks up the card in the “scene chart” and get the “style”, “key word”, and “events” associated with the card. These are hints for deciding what transpires during the course of the scene.

Whereas the 1st edition of the game was a box set, TNTR is a perfect bound book. They still managed to include the tarot cards by putting them in an envelope attached to the back cover. However a deck of playing cards is also needed and you have to provide that yourself. If you compare the tarot cards with those in the 1st edition, you’ll see that some of them got new artwork.

B5 perfect bound softcover with dust jacket, 304 pp.

Dragon Ring

One of the big names in Japanese RPGs today is Shinkigensha. The company releases about two new RPGs per year in addition to being the publisher of the monthly Role & Roll magazine. However, Shinkigensha entered the RPG market back in the day with some unusual products, such as this book of manga from 1989 called ドラゴンリング “Dragon Ring”.

It tells the story of Yuji who we encounter playing a video game on his Famicom. He is fighting a troll when his friend Takashi arrives, and they discuss ways they could defeat the troll “in real life”. Yuji says he would trip the troll with a rope or maybe drop a rock on his head. Takashi suggests sneaking past the troll to get the key to save the village. They bemoan the fact that the game doesn’t give the player those options. A game that did would be awesome though. At that moment a dungeon master in sunglasses walks in and tells them that such a game exists. He even invites them to try it out. It’s called Dragon Ring, and no, it’s not a video game, it’s a tabletop RPG, something Yuji and Takashi aren’t familiar with.

They walk over to the dungeon master’s house where they meet Keiko. She is also going to play. They start with character generation: rolling 3d6 three times for strength, dexterity, and intelligence. Yuji decides to be a warrior, Takashi a thief, and Keiko a magic user. In their first outing they enter a troll cave where they trip the troll with a rope and stab him in the back while he’s down. A fourth player joins at the start of the second session and he chooses to be a cleric. The manga describes seven sessions, each one getting its own chapter. The chapters start with the players sitting down at the table and then the illustrations switch to in-game events. The rules for the game of Dragon Ring are provided in a 16 page appendix.

Perfect bound A5 softcover with dust jacket, 208 pp.

The Asylum & other tales

Hobby Japan’s 4th box set for Call of Cthulhu was 療養所の悪魔 “The Asylum & other tales” (1987). It’s a translation of a Chaosium book from 1983 containing seven unrelated scenarios. One of the scenarios is by David Hargrave, who incidentally had not been on the best of terms with Greg Stafford after Stafford refused to publish the Arduin Grimoire, but apparently they patched things up. Hargrave’s scenario has the investigators explore a mound in the woods of Maine with 13 rooms dug into it.

The title of the book refers to a scenario by Randy McCall describing the Greenwood Asylum for the Deranged. If an investigator suffers a loss of sanity, a sensible course of action would be to have them committed to its care, as the institution has an excellent reputation. However, the investigators may learn that five inmates have died recently of supposedly natural causes, so something’s up.

The Japanese version of “The Asylum & other tales” is a box set. The translation is by Teiko Nakayama and the JV adds no additional artwork other than a photo of a stone building covered by Virginia Creeper on the back. The box set contains two booklets of 36 and 44 pages (the EV book has 80 pages). In the JV the player handouts are provided as 4 loose sheets.

All of the Hobby Japan Call of Cthulhu box sets are in demand and the Japanese version of “The Asylum & other tales” usually sells for the equivalent of $300 to $500 in yen. I haven’t seen one of them for sale with the obi, so unsure if they originally had one.

Box contents:
• The Asylum & other tales Book 1, letter sized saddle-stapled book, 36 pp.
• The Asylum & other tales Book 2, letter sized saddle-stapled book, 44 pp.
• Player Handouts, 4 loose sheets
• Hobby Japan survey card

Hyper Tunnels & Trolls

Information about ハイパートンネルズ&トロールズ “Hyper Tunnels & Trolls” (1991) in the English speaking world is scant, but think I can answer some of the questions I’ve seen people ask!

Miyuki Kiyomatsu, who did the game design for Sword World, contributed a T&T column to Warlock magazine. From Dec. ’89 to Aug. ’90 his column was called “How to Make Hyper Tunnels & Trolls”. Much of the content that would eventually appear in the 448 page bunkobon by Shakaishisosha first appeared there. Development and test play took place at Group SNE.

The 1991 version is a complete set of rules recapitulating the content from 5th edition T&T needed for play. The races are the same: human, elf, dwarf, hobbit, fairy, and leprechaun, as are the ability scores: strength, intelligence, luck, constitution, dexterity, and charisma. Kiyomatsu admired the T&T combat system, calling it fast paced and exciting, so he left it as is. To the 4 classes: 戦士 “warrior”, 盗賊 “rogue”, 魔術師 “wizard”, and 魔法戦士 “warrior-wizard”, HT&T adds 6 more: 武闘家 “martial artist”, 僧侶 “priest, 聖闘家 “holy warrior”, 怪盗 “phantom thief”, 呪術師 “shaman”, and 魔道士 “sorcerer”. New spells are a significant portion of the new content.

When Group SNE published a Record of Lodoss replay in Warlock magazine using the T&T rules, they dropped Etoh the cleric. If they had the HT&T rules they could have made Etoh a priest, which approximates the cleric of Dungeons & Dragons. Like wizards, priests must expend strength to cast spells. Some spells require the priest to have a minimum charisma. There are priest spells for detecting, turning, and destroying undead.

HT&T adds a skill system. Every skill is associated with an ability score. If the character has a skill he has a skill level for it from 1 to 9, though just how high the level can go depends on the skill. Saving throws in T&T are ability score checks: the player rolls 2d6 and adds the relevant ability score. Skill checks add the character’s skill level to the roll too. HT&T awards characters a number of “hyper points” equal to their level at the start of each adventure. These can be spent to increase the number of dice used in saving throws and skill checks. Each point spent adds one die.

Sword World

Back in 1988 Group SNE wanted to start publishing materials for the Record of Lodoss War setting. To avoid paying licensing fees to TSR, they began to describe Record of Lodoss War as a generic fantasy setting. That said, the other fantasy RPGs of the time, Tunnels & Trolls and RuneQuest, lacked some of the classes and races that were used in the replay. The game that would soon be called ソード・ワール ドRPG “Sword World RPG” was thus a more viable alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. It seems unlikely that anyone at Group SNE anticipated that the game would become the leading RPG in Japan, as D&D was quite popular then. But Shinwa, the Japanese publisher of D&D, went out of business in 1991 and D&D wouldn’t even be available for sale in Japan for several years.

The Sword World rulebook was published in April of 1989 as a 448 page bunkobon with no interior art. Ryo Mizuno is credited as the author, but the game was actually designed by Miyuki Kiyomatsu. Bunkobons incidentally aren’t a great format for RPG rulebooks. Surely a larger book that lies flat on the table is better. However, bunkobons are cheap and they can be sold through bookstores. Tunnels & Trolls was the first RPG sold in Japan in this way. And like T&T, Sword World only uses six-sided dice.

The Sword World races are 人間 “human”, エルフ “elf”, ドワーフ “dwarf”, グラスランナー “grass runner”, and ハーフ・エルフ “half elf”. A grass runner is pretty much a hobbit. Once a race is chosen, the six ability scores for a character can be generated: 器用度 “handiness”, 敏捷度 “agility”, 知力 “intelligence”, 筋力 “strength”, 生命力 “constitution”, and 精神 “willpower”. These are numbers which range from 4 to 24, but they are not entirely independent. Quantities labeled A through H are generated in a manner that depends on race, and these are summed in various ways to get the ability scores. If you always thought strength and constitution should be positively correlated, Sword World might well be the game for you.

The classes are ソーサラー “sorcerer”, シャーマン “shaman”, ファイター “fighter”, シーフ “thief”, プリースト “priest”, レンジャー “ranger”, セージ “sage, and バード “bard”. The sorcerer and priest are pretty much the magic user and cleric of D&D. The priest, for example, can cure wounds and turn undead, both of which are treated as spells, however.

Sword World has skills and classes are treated as a type of skill. Skill level is a number from 0–used for those who don’t have the skill–to 10 which is the highest skill level. Players earn experience points to advance in level. Some actions are resolved by the player comparing a 2d6 roll against the gamemaster’s 2d6 roll. The player succeeds if he gets the higher roll, and if he has a relevant skill he can add his skill level to the roll.

Players also roll 2d6 when attacking. Monsters have an 回避点 “evasion grade” number which the attacker must roll at or above. However, a 2 is always a miss and a 12 always a hit.

Damage is determined indirectly by a 2d6 roll. One takes the 2d6 roll and a “key number” which depends on the weapon used and the attacker’s strength to look up the damage in a table. The key number is at least the minimum strength required to wield the weapon. For example, one must have an 8 strength to attack with a broad sword. But the key number for a broad sword can be as high as 16 if the attacker’s strength is that high. There is no additional benefit to using a broad sword for attackers with strength above 16. In any case, if the 2d6 roll is 2, no damage is inflicted, and if the roll is 10 or higher, the attacker can make the 2d6 roll again to compute additional damage. Fighters, thieves, and rangers get some additional bonuses depending on their level. Damage is subtracted from the defenders constitution.

Comptiq Magazine: February 1987

This week let’s take a look at the February 1987 issue of Comptiq magazine, containing episode VI of the Record of Lodoss War replay and incidentally a fine piece of Deedlit fan service from illustrator Yutaka Izubuchi.

The Maze of the Minotaur scenario (pdf, 3.3Mb)

Last month the party was dropped off on the island of the minotaur. They fought some lizardmen, one of whom fled into the maze. This month they enter the maze where Ghim the dwarf falls into a pit trap and is hit by a giant rolling “Raiders” boulder. Etoh attempts to heal him but Ghim only recovers 2 hit points. Next the party enters an orange-lit room where the image of an old man materializes and asks whether the party members are all sacrificial victims for the minotaur. Deedlit realizes the man is the sage Woot and that his words contain the hidden message that every path that doesn’t lead to the minotaur ends with a trap. The players consider whether the man is a self-insert of the dungeon master, and moreover whether the DM is God. The DM modestly points out that his powers are limited by the need to provide an entertaining session.

Next they encounter a maiden in the maze who tells them that she is to be sacrificed to the minotaur. Deedlit is suspicious and casts charm person on the maiden. The spell fails and Deedlit accuses the maiden of being an 魔物 “evil spirit”. Laughing, the maiden polymorphs into the form of Deedlit and attacks Deedlit. This doesn’t benefit the doppelganger since the whole party still attacks it and it is soon dead.

The party sets off some shriekers, which attract a shadow, which Etoh fails to turn. They fight giant rats and two ghouls which Etoh again fails to turn.

Finally they locate the minotaur (HP 37). Deedlit hits it with a magic missile and the others attack with weapons. Parn is killed, but Deedlit takes up his magic sword, ultimately inflicting most of the damage. In a quick wrap up, we are told that there are magic items in the loot and that Parn gets raised from the dead.