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.

Itha Wen Ua: Basic Rule Set

If you were to ask which game introduced catgirls to tabletop role-playing, some might point to イサー・ウェン=アー “Itha Wen Ua” (1991), citing as evidence the cover art which looks like it was made from a color negative and tellingly has a catgirl front and right of center.

The box set has doujin production values. The game gives players the option of 9 classes—all of which you’ve seen before—and 11 races. The races are human, drow, elf, dwarf, gnome, tindaruratti (a person with a dog head), giant, catperson, half-demon, half-vampire, and fairy. Some combinations of race and class are uncommon or not possible. Characters earn experience points and advance in level. The brown basic box set covers levels 1–5 and Treasure House also produced a black box set for levels 6–16 and a blue box set for levels 17–34. The game calls for the use of polyhedral dice: d10, d8, d6, and d4, which as far as I know were not included in the box set.

As the box set doesn’t include a scenario and there isn’t much in the way of an explanation of how to write or run one, this one doesn’t appear to be aimed at first time players. The end credits include an illustration of the Treasure House staff hard at work on their Macintosh computer. And wearing their cat ears.

Box contents:
• saddle-stapled B5 rulebook, 60 pp.
• 10 character sheets
• double-sided reference sheet
• Treasure House survey card
• user registration slip with a serial number

Phantasm Adventure

ファンタズム・アドベンチャー “Phantasm Adventure” (1988) is a fantasy RPG designed by Troy Christensen, an American attending school in Japan. The translation credits suggest Christensen wrote the rules in English. They aren’t available in English to my knowledge, though an advanced version of the game did get published in both Japanese and English. The cover art is by Akihiro Yamada, who also did the covers for the four supplements (not pictured) Dainihonkaiga published in support of the game.

PA offers 75 playable races. You can be a human, elf, dwarf, minotaur, centaur, goblin, giant, fairy, insect man, treant, slime, or even something resembling a xorn. Pretty much any sentient monster in Dungeons & Dragons is playable. A d100 roll is made and a table accounting for race is consulted to determine the character’s homeland. Six d100 rolls are then made to determine arm strength, stamina, bravery, cleverness, intelligence, and ego. Both race and homeland contribute bonuses or penalties to the six abilities.

The character next chooses his 6 skills. Or the character can forego 3 skills—or 5 skills depending on the character’s homeland—to have a capacity for magic instead. However, the character does not start out able to cast spells. Experience points must be acquired and spent to learn them. The character also chooses one of six clans to belong to, and rolls a d10 to determine rank in the clan, with higher standing conferring more benefits. One can spend money to improve rank. Finally, the character can belong to a religious cult. Members of the cult can be one of twenty levels. Characters start at the first level and spend experience points to advance.

PA’s biggest claim to fame might be that it allows you to play a catgirl. D&D has “rakastas” and Traveller has “aslan”, but sadly these are humans with cat heads. A proper catgirl is a human with cat ears and a tail. Catgirls are a special case of kemonomimi (people with animal ears and a tail). Having a human face enhances the emotional effect and makes cosplay easier. In PA cat people can see in the dark and have retractable claws which give them a +1 when attacking barehanded.

Perfect bound A4 softcover, 152 pp.

RPG All Catalog ’95

I imagine most RPG collectors have heard of Lawrence Schick’s “Heroic Worlds”. It’s a comprehensive listing of English-language RPG items, organized by genre and game, invaluable to collectors in 1991 and still worth having today. “RPG All Catalog ’95” is the close Japanese-language equivalent, published as an extra edition by RPG Magazine. It describes 123 games and 397 items for those games. Every game is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for “ease of play”, “supplement support”, and “availability for purchase”. Most games get a full page description.

Seven games are called out in color at the front of the book. “Sword World” is Japan’s most popular fantasy RPG we are told. “Far Roads to Lord” is full of original fantasy. “RuneQuest” has the most and best mythology and “Dungeons & Dragons” is the world’s first RPG. “Ghost Hunter” is a unique horror game which uses cards. “Shadowrun” combines cyberpunk and fantasy and moreover it is “hard picaresque”, whatever that means. “Torg” has infinite possibilities.

I don’t know how many collectors of Japanese TRPG are out there. Certainly I’ve met a few collectors of Japanese D&D. But if you are interested in Japanese games generally you might want to pick this one up.

Perfect-bound A4 softcover, 160 pp.

Twilight’s Peak

黄昏の峰へ “Twilight’s Peak” (1985) is the 4th box set for Traveller by Hobby Japan. It bundles the 1980 GDW adventure from which it takes its name with the double adventure “Death Station / The Argon Gambit” and “Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium”. All translations are by Hitoshi Yasuda.

“Twilight’s Peak” is a sequel to “Research Station Gamma”. In the adventure Twilight’s Peak is the name of an epic poem so boring the characters are unable to read it and must use a computer to summarize its contents. The poem describes the marooning of the crew of the transport ship Gyro Cadiz near the outpost of an ancient civilization with advanced technology. The poem does not include the name of the planet, but the characters will hear rumors, and if they hear mention of an unfamiliar name, they can check for a match in the library data of the ship’s computer. Should they learn which planet the wreck is on they will need to do some hex-crawling in its heavy-metal tainted atmosphere to discover a derelict octagonal tower built by the Octagon Society. The tower is illustrated in black-and-white in the original GDW adventure, and Naoyuki Kato provided an oil painting using the same composition for the cover of the Hobby Japan box set. The oil painting adds three adventurers to the foreground and the wreck of the Gyro Cadiz in the hazy distance.

If the characters find the alien outpost and manage to enter it, they will have to employ empirical techniques to figure out the function of the artifacts within. There is some similarity to the D&D adventure “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks”, also published in 1980.

The adventure “Death Station” includes the deck plans for a 400 ton laboratory ship used for imperial research. An accident killed most of the crew. The characters are tasked with boarding the ship and figuring out what happened.

Box contents:
• “Adventure: Twilight’s Peak”, 48 pp.
• “Double Adventure: Death Station / The Argon Gambit” 28 pp.
• “Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium” 24 pp.
• pad of icosahedral hex paper
• Hobby Japan questionnaire card