Shadows of Yog-Sothoth

ヨグ=ソトースの影 “Shadows of Yog-Sothoth” (1986) is a translation of Chaosium’s first stand-alone scenario for Call of Cthulhu. Organized into seven chapters, Shadows is the archetype of a Call of Cthulhu adventure: the investigators trot the globe, suffering in all likelihood death and loss of sanity, possibly to witness the rise of R’lyeh from the ocean floor and to confront the game’s titular monster-god. Which sounds untoppable, but oddly Shadows does not make many “best of” lists. The chapters are said to be uneven, with Devil’s Canyon and Easter Island being two of the better ones.

The Japanese version is a box set, which has the advantage that the handouts can be provided detached. I suspect the real reason Hobby Japan made a box set out of this had something to do with their distribution channels. It’s fascinating to see this adventure as a box, but the JV doesn’t add any additional artwork or content. The translation is by Jun Arisaka, who also translated the Call of Cthulhu rulebook.

When looking over this game, I realized for the first time that the character that looks like an equals sign in the Japanese title is how the Japanese represent a hyphen in the source language. An actual hyphen would look too much like the katakana long vowel marker.

Box contents:
• “Shadows of Yog-Sothoth: A Global Campaign to Save Mankind”, 68 pp.
• “Bonus Scenario 1 / Bonus Scenario 2” 12 pp.
• Handouts, 8 sheets
• Hobby Japan survey card


メタルヘッド “Metalhead” (1990) is the first Japanese cyberpunk game, delivering what you need to run a game in the world of Gibson’s novels, including cybernetics and a virtual reality populated by monsters. As a bonus it adds some elements of post-apocalyptic fiction, such as the vehicles of “Mad Max” and the mutants of “Gamma World”.

The nine ability scores are generated by 3d6 rolls: STR, REF (reflex), DEX, INT, EDU (education), PER (perception), SYM (sympathy), WIL (will), and LUC (luck). For comparison the English language game “Cyberpunk” (1988) has nine scores generated by a single 9d10 roll and allocated at player discretion.

Some actions are resolved via ability rolls, which are 2d6 + ability score. The GM sets the difficulty somewhere between 10 (easy) and 25 (extremely difficult). The player can spend a point of luck to reduce the difficulty. A point of luck is regenerated if a player rolls double sixes on an ability roll.

The classes are “landblaster” (a mechanic and driver able to plug in to vehicles), “netrunner” (a computer hacker), “bouncer” (a soldier), “hustler” (a treasure hunter), and “broker” (a negotiations expert). There are 48 skills which are percentiles like in say “Call of Cthulhu”. Each skill has 1 or 2 relevant abilities scores which give the character a bonus on skill rolls if high. The GM can double or halve the value the player must roll under if the task is easy or difficult.

For combat, characters have HP (hit points) and SUV (survival), the latter functioning a bit like armor class. To attack one makes a percentile roll and consults a table. Possible results include LW (light wound), MW (medium wound), HW (heavy wound), MO (fatal wound), and K (kill). The 2nd column indicates the hit location, e.g. 脚部 “leg”, 腕部 “arm”, etc.

One of the favorites in my collection!

Box contents:
• Player’s Manual, 80 pp.
• Masters’s Manual, 44 pp.
• “Scenario 1: Double Trap”, 24 pp.
• Chartbook, 16 pp.
• Character Sheets
• Hobby Japan Game Catalog
• Survey Card
• Dice: 2d10, 2d6

Tunnels & Trolls

The 5th edition of Tunnels & Trolls was published twice in the UK, the 2nd time by Corgi Press who discarded the illustrations of the American edition and instead used the work of Josh Kirby for both the cover and interior art. The Kirby art was also used for the 1987 Japanese edition of Tunnels & Trolls (とンネルズ&とロールズ). This was Shakaishisosha’s first RPG book and it sold well enough for them to justify another 12 books for the game. The success might owe something to the inexpensive bunkobon format (the Corgi Press edition was a British mass market paperback) and the game’s exclusive use of six-sided dice. These traits would be adopted by later Japanese games.

Kirby’s interior illustrations depict Higley (a warrior), Rethe (a female elf rogue), and Myrmar (an elf wizard) fighting a manticore and two ogres—all stuff straight out of the sample combat section from the text. Tunnels & Trolls combat has characters rolling a number of dice depending on their choice of weapon and adding modifiers for reasons such as high strength, dexterity, or luck. The party adds all their rolls together as do the monsters and the two numbers are compared, with the difference coming off the constitution of the players if they had the lower number. Otherwise it comes off the MR (monster rating) of the monsters. The system works well for solo play since there isn’t any need to make tactical choices for the monsters. On the other hand, it turns out that if the MR of the monsters is not in a narrow range, the outcome of the battle is pretty much a foregone conclusion. If the MR is in that narrow range the combat can go on for a long time, requiring 40 or more rolls to resolve.

The Japanese edition comes with a folded sheet with four character cards on it. Three are blank and one is filled out with a sample human male warrior called “Our Fang”. My copy also has an advertisement for the T&T Gamemaster’s Screen, sold separately.

Bunkobon 366 pp.

RPG Fantasy Encyclopedia: Japan Edition

幻想辞典日本編 “RPG Fantasy Encyclopedia: Japan Edition” (1988) is an illustrated digest of Japanese folklore and a sourcebook for fantasy campaigns set in Japan.

The encyclopedia notes interest overseas in Japan as a setting, citing “Oriental Adventures” for AD&D and “Land Of Ninja” for RuneQuest, but dismissing them as not something a Japanese person would play. The author finds it odd to see the samurai on the cover of Oriental Adventures seated on a lion-dog, statues of which frequently guard Shinto shrines in Japan. He makes a joke about a geisha class which can perform party tricks with folding fans and water for some reason.

The first chapter relates the story of Izanami and Izanagi, created by the first gods, who use a spear decorated with jewels to create in turn the island Onogoroshima, where they procreate and give birth to the islands of Japan. Izanami dies and Izanagi seeks her out in the underworld, but she is not allowed to leave because of the food she has eaten there. Also Izanagi realizes his wife is rotting and flees in fear. After barricading the entrance to the underworld with a boulder, he performs the necessary rite of purification to cleanse himself. From the ablutions three gods are created: Amaterasu the sun goddess, Tsukuyomi the moon goddess, and Susanoo the storm god (all of whom are assigned 400 HP by TSR’s original “Deities & Demigods” by the way). Amaterasu and Susanoo have a god-making competition and Susanoo, believing himself the winner, celebrates by defecating in his sister’s palace and flaying the “piebald horse of heaven”. Amaterasu sulks in a cave, plunging the world into night until the god Omoikane persuades her to come back.

The encyclopedia concludes with a bestiary. The oni 鬼 (ogre or demon) perhaps inspired the ogre magi of AD&D. It is described as having horns, tusks, and superhuman strength. It wears a loincloth of animal hide and carries a spiked club called a kanabo. Onis are the villains in the fairy tales “Kintaro”, “Momotaro”, “Issun Boshi”, and “Usurei Yatsura”, all stuff to add to my reading list.

A5 softcover with dust jacket, 296 pp.