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
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.
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.
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
I must caution readers that today’s post contains graphic depictions of moe—sensitive readers should proceed no further. We will be taking a look at ウィッチクエスト 小さな魔女エディス上卷 “Witch Quest: Little Edith” (1991), and in particular volume 1, which contains two replays. There is a second volume containing the rules and the cards. Six-sided dice are also needed for play.
Witch Quest is an RPG adaptation of the movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) using a game engine called Apple Basic. The distinctive artwork is by Hime Kugatsu. The game requires an even number of players because every witch must be paired with a cat. The witch tries to use her magic to help people, but her competence is low because she is only 13 years old, so the cat helps out. This is one of the first ほのぼのとした “heart-warming” games.
The first replay is called “Waitry’s Strife”. Waitry is the name of the town depicted on the map. The second replay is called “The Flight Contest”. The two scenarios used in the replays are described at the end of the book. I’m not going to list the later Japanese games that were influenced by this little classic, but it clearly struck a chord.
Let’s take a look at an issue of ウォーロック, the Japanese edition of Warlock magazine, for which Hitoshi Yasuda of Group SNE served as editor-in-chief. The parent magazine was a British publication dedicated to the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. It lasted for 13 issues. The Japanese edition lasted longer, expanding its scope beyond gamebooks and becoming the leading RPG magazine in Japan for a few years.
Volume 14 (February 1988) promoted Tunnels & Trolls, newly published in Japanese by Shakaishisosha. For this purpose the Group SNE team decided to exploit the popular Record of Lodoss War replays then being serialized in Comptiq magazine. As Yasuda explained it, Lodoss was a setting that could be used with any number of fantasy RPGs. At the time the Comptiq replays were explicitly using the Dungeons & Dragons rules, but that would change with the September 1988 issue of Comptiq.
Previously, the only people mentioned by name in the credits of the Lodoss replays were Group SNE founder Yasuda and the artist Yutaka Izubuchi. However, in the Warlock replay we get to meet the entire staff at Group SNE. It turns out the Dungeon Master was Ryo Mizuno, Deedlit was played by Hiroshi Yamamoto, Parn by Nao Kitakawa, and Slayn by Taro Yoshioka. I believe Ghim was played by Yasuda but Warlock magazine doesn’t confirm that detail.
The Warlock replay starts with everyone getting premade 1st level T&T versions of their characters. Etoh the cleric is missing, no doubt because there is no cleric class in T&T. Although the setting is the same, this is to be an adventure unrelated to their previous campaign on Lodoss Island. Kitakawa, playing Parn and having read some Appendix N literature it would seem, describes himself as an Eternal Champion.
The starting location is a tavern in the town of Novice on the western border of Allania. A priestess is looking for adventurers, and deeming the party suitable she takes them to a temple where she reveals a fairy she found while looking for medicinal herbs near the enchanted Forest of No Return. Fairies are seldom seen these days in Lodoss and this one has lost her memory. The priestess asks the party to return the fairy to her home, giving them directions to the location where she was found and where the priestess saw a hole in the ground.
The party uses a rope to lower themselves down the hole into a dungeon. The first encounter is with goblins. At this point there is a digression on how combat works in T&T. The goblins are defeated, but a group of trolls are not so easy and the party is forced to flee. Things look grim until they open a gate which reveals a magical fairy light which turns the trolls to stone. The amnesiac fairy suddenly remembers that she is Luck, the queen of the fairies. Also it turns out the party can’t go back home because hundreds of years have now passed in the outside world due to a quirk in how time works in Fairy Land. The Forest of Return, it would seem, lives up to its name. Yoshioka (Slayn) notes the similarity to the fairy tale Urashima Taro and the story of Rip Van Winkle.
The GM suggests that maybe they should create fairy characters for the players. Since the replay ends there I don’t know if those characters ever got created and used in an adventure. I haven’t seen the write-up at least.
By the way, vol. 14 also has product reviews, a map of the city of Novice, and a stand-alone adventure game called “King of Four People” with over 20 illustrations. The magazine was packed with good content!
トーキョーN◎VA “Tokyo Nova” (1993) was designed by Taro Suzufuki, founder of F.E.A.R. (Far East Amusement Research). Artwork is by Chiemi Suyama.
Tokyo Nova takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. A pole shift caused catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis. Glaciers advanced to cover much of the earth’s surface and a deadly virus decimated the survivors. Tokyo Bay dried up. A new city called “Tokyo Nova” was built on the reclaimed land. Despite the disasters, the setting is high tech, with computers, space travel, and cybernetics. The game classifies itself as a “cyber action” instead of cyperpunk.
Tokyo Nova is perhaps the first RPG to dispense with dice and use cards to generate random results. The English language “Castle Falkenstein” also does this, but came out the following year.
The box set has a pack of 22 “arcana” cards with personalities drawn on them. A character is generated by choosing three cards from the arcana deck and reading off the ability scores for “reason” ♠, “emotion” ♣, “body” ♡, and “outside world” ♢, which are numbers from 0 to 3. The values are summed to get 4 ability scores for the character.
Also included are a pack of regular playing cards. The referee deals out 4 cards to each player. To resolve an action, the player uses a card from his hand. The card value is as in blackjack, with face cards counting as 10 and an ace as 11. The suit determines the ability score that is added to the face value of the card to get the achievement score. The card is then discarded and a new one drawn from the deck. The player can thus control his achievement score to an extent. He can also choose to take his chances and play a card drawn from the deck. If he draws one of the arcana, this is treated as a fumble.
PCs are called “cast” and NPCs are called “guests” or “extras”, depending upon their importance. Later editions of the game would extend the film production metaphor, developing the scene system that has been widely adopted by other Japanese RPGs.
Box contents: • Minor Arcane Book, 64 pp. • Major Arcane Book, 36 pp. • deck of 84 cards
The January 1987 issue of Comptiq magazine features episode 5 of the original Record of Lodoss War replay. Woodchuck, raised from the dead in the previous episode, observes that death means little and henceforth he might as well throw caution to the wind. The DM tells Woodchuck that he was lucky to survive being raised given his low constitution, an interesting comment given that system shock is an AD&D rule and they are supposedly using the red box.
Phan, king of Varis and father of the rescued princess, summons the party to an audience. Parn buys a new suit of plate mail to look sharp for the occasion. When the party arrives at the castle, they find red carpet laid out for them. The king thanks the party for saving his daughter and gives them a leather bag with unspecified contents as a reward. Etoh tells the king about Karla, and Elm, the court magician, recognizes the name. Elm says that the king was advised by the great sage Woot that if Karla gave aid to Marmo, then Varis would lose its war with Marmo. Now that Karla has revealed herself, the king is advised to seek the counsel of Woot again.
Parn volunteers the party to serve as messengers, a task requiring them to cross the mountains through a tunnel excavated by dwarves but now infested with monsters. The king proposes that before he entrust such an important task to the party, they first undergo a trial, namely that the party should travel to an island at the mouth of the Varis river and kill the minotaur who dwells there and exacts a daughter of marriageable age every year from the kingdom as tribute. And with Parn having accepted the trial before hearing the details, the party is ferried to the island. On the shore they encounter 3 lizardmen who demand that the party leave their territory in the neutral alignment language. The party refuses and a battle ensues in which the lizardmen are killed and Parn takes 3 HP of damage. At the entrance of the maze the party encounters 5 more lizardmen. Slayn puts 4 of them to sleep and the 5th escapes into the maze.
A postscript gives the results of a readership poll to see who is the most popular Record of Lodoss War character. Deedlit wins with 41 votes.
Shinwa’s ultimate original accessory for classic Dungeons & Dragons was モンスターアソートメント “Monster Assortment”, published in May 1991. And it is one of the harder Shinwa products to acquire—you would be fortunate to find one in nice condition for less than $200.
The cover art is “Dragon Attacking a Small Party” by Larry Elmore.
The contents are 32 random tables, each containing 50 encounters. There are tables for
• ダンジョンレベル Dungeon Levels 1-10 • 廃墟 Ruins • 森林地帯 Woodlands • 空中 Sky • 山岳地帯 Mountains • 海 Sea • 平原 Plains • 都市 City • 湖沼地 Swamp • 砂漠 Desert • 極地・ 寒冷地 Polar and Cold Regions • 河 River • 街道 Highway • 荒れ地 Wasteland • 熱帯 Tropics • ロストワールド Lost World
The monsters are drawn from the basic (red) box set, the expert (blue) box set, and the AC9 “Creature Catalogue” accessory. Each encounter includes stats necessary to run the encounter.
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