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.

Comptiq Magazine: December 1986

The December 1986 issue of Comptiq magazine features episode IV of the Record of Lodoss War campaign that taught Japan how to play Dungeons & Dragons. Episode III ended with everyone in the party but Etoh put to sleep by the sorceress Karla. Etoh pretended to be asleep.

In episode IV the party wakes to find themselves locked in a room without their weapons. Woodchuck looks through the keyhole of the door and sees a corpse which Etoh says was animated by Karla. Etoh overheard the magical password that Karla used to lock the door. Deedlit suggests fashioning clubs from the legs of a table. Etoh says the magical password to open the door and Ghim and Parn rush the zombie and bash it apart. The party members locate their weapons in another room and then ambush Karla’s henchmen when they come upstairs to investigate the noise. The battle leaves the henchmen dead and Ghim with a single hit point.

In another room of the house the party finds a chest on a table. Woodchuck shakes it, breaking the potion inside. Woodchuck picks the lock of the room where the princess is imprisoned. She is apprehensive until Etoh speaks to her using the lawful alignment language. Parn asks whether the princess is beautiful, and indeed she is (18 CHA). Parn announces his intent to be the next king of Varis. In an aside to the readers the DM says this is unlikely to happen. When exiting the house Woodchuck is killed by an invisible stalker and Parn drinks a potion of heroism so he can kill it.

The party takes the henchmen’s horses and returns to town. En route a roc flies overhead and lands in front of them, polymorphing into Karla. She offers the party whatever they desire in exchange for the princess, while preparing a magic missile spell should they refuse. The DM at this point has to remind the party that their alignment prohibits them from accepting the bargain, which proves unnecessary as a squadron of knights in service of Varis arrives. Karla says she will meet the party again and flies away. The party members level up and Woodchuck is raised from the dead.

B5 perfect bound magazine

Wares Blade

ワースブレイド “Wares Blade” (1988) is a Japanese fantasy RPG with a technology component—essentially the power armor popularized in anime shows such as “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Armored Trooper Votoms”. In the world of Wares Blade these suits (操兵) are magical artifacts which transform the pilot into a giant up to 8 meters tall.

The Wares Blade rules use d10 dice exclusively. When d5 rolls are called for, one rolls a d10 and divides by 2. The ability scores are SEN (sense), AGI (agility), WIL (will), CON (constitution), CHA (charisma), and LUC (luck), and these are randomly determined during character generation by 3d5 rolls. One divides each ability score except luck by 3 to get a modifier from 1 to 5. These modifiers are added to a d10 roll to determine success or failure in most situations. For example, the SEN modifier is used in attacks and the AGI modifier in defense. Physical damage is applied to CON and “life force damage” is applied to WIL. LUC can be used to increase a roll, but it is an exhaustible quantity.

The game has four classes: warrior, sorcerer, priest/monk, and commoner, the last including thieves. Sorcerers belong to one of eight schools, each having 12 spells to choose from, at least in the starter set which covers levels one to three.

Warriors can choose as a skill the ability to pilot the suits (操兵), though they are not for sale and difficult to acquire. All the same the game includes character sheets for the suits with slots for SP (speed), POW (power), ARM (armor), and BAL (balance).

The lead designer for the game was Satoshi Chibi, who also wrote the first novel 聖刻1092 “Seikoku 1092” set in the Wares Blade world. The cover art is by noted fantasy artist Jun Suemi. Plastic kits for the suits were produced: do an image search for “MOクラフト WARES 1092” to see examples.

Box contents:
• Player’s Guide, 48 pp.
• Rule Book, 48 pp.
• Scenario Book, 48 pp.
• copies of “Character Sheet 1”, “Character Sheet 2”, “Suit Sheet”, “NPC Sheet”, “Skill Sheet”
• Character Counters
• Wares Blade World Introduction sheet
• Hobby Japan survey card
• 3 d10 dice

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

火吹山の魔法使い “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” (1984) set off a gamebook boom in Japan which would last through the end of the 1980s. Shakaishisosha, originally a publisher of middlebrow science books, translated the first 33 titles in the Fighting Fantasy series. Fighting Fantasy gamebooks use character sheets and dice, so they can serve as a gateway drug if you will to role playing games. Shakaishisosha themselves would go on to publish several RPGs, mostly translations of stuff originally published in the UK.

Gamebooks in Japan were invariably published as bunkobons, which are the mass market paperbacks of Japan. A lot of RPG material would get published in bunkobon format too. Bunkonbons are A6 sized, which is about an inch shorter than an American mass market paperback. They have dust covers and are often sold with an obi. All the bunkobons I’ve seen are East Asian style books with the front cover on the right and vertical text.

To play “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain”, one must first generate a character by rolling d6+6 for SKILL, 2d6+12 for STAMINA, and d6+6 for LUCK. Monsters also have SKILL and STAMINA. When fighting, both the player and the monster roll 2d6 and add their SKILL. Whoever has the lower sum subtracts 2 from their STAMINA.

The Japanese version of “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” uses the art from the original UK edition: the cover is by Peter Andrew Jones and the interior art by Russ Nicholson. The translator is Sayako Asaba.

Alone Against the Wendigo

ウェンディゴへの挑戦 “Alone Against the Wendigo” (1986) is the first supplement released by Hobby Japan in support of the Japanese Call of Cthulhu box set. I wouldn’t have predicted them to choose a solo adventure for their first supplement, but gamebooks were exploding in popularity in Japan at the time. The other surprise is that Hobby Japan made a box set out of this; the Chaosium version is just a booklet. However, the box set does include an ample supply of blank character sheets and these are useful as players will want to make several forays into this usually lethal adventure.

The player can choose to be Laura Christine Nadelmann or Lawrence Christian Nadelmann. Laura has inferior hit points, but better luck and sanity, so I chose her and I seemed to be doing well, advancing my Hanninah Mythos skill to 35—learning about the Hanninah Mythos is the point of the adventure. However, I eventually made a poor choice and the monsters cornered me and Norman, one of my grad students, in a cave. Our only hope was to shoot them down with our rifles before they incapacitated us with their cold rays. Sadly, I did not select the rifle as one of my skills and I ended up as a subject for experimentation on the monsters’ space ship.

The Japanese version translator was Teiko Nakayama. The art is the original version art by Dan and David Day.

Box contents:
• Alone Against the Wendigo, perfect bound book, 72 pp.
• 8 character sheets
• Hobby Japan survey card

Double Cross

ダブルクロス “Double Cross” (2001) was Shunsaku Yano’s entry in an RPG contest conducted by F.E.A.R. Originally called “Universal Guardian”, it did not win the contest but it would prove more popular than the winner as scores of supplements and two subsequent editions attest.

The game takes place in a world like our own except for the presence of a superpower-inducing virus. The player gets to choose which of nine syndromes are caused by the virus, each with its own sphere of power: angel halo (light), black dog (electricity), bram stoker (blood), chimera (bestial body), exile (shapechanger), hanuman (reflexes), neumann (intelligence), salamandar (heat), or solaris (drugs). The player also chooses one of 46 occupations (mostly adult occupations, though student, even elementary school student, are available). The syndrome and occupation determine the character’s 4 abilities scores: physique, intuition, will, and sociability. HP is a sum of physique and will; initiative is a sum of intuition and will. Whether an action is successful is determined by rolling one or more ten-sided dice and taking the highest, the number of dice determined by one of the character’s 4 ability scores.

Using special abilities conferred by the virus will increase a character’s encroachment rate; if this reaches 100%, the character becomes a germ, which is an NPC monster. However, the character has relationships with three NPCs called Loises (a Superman reference) who help the character stay human. For each Lois a positive and negative emotion experienced by the character is randomly determined. The player chooses one emotion to be conscious and the other to be subconscious. Death of the Lois or rejection by the Lois can trigger more super powers.

Like several other modern Japanese RPGs, Double Cross uses the scene system: instead of an open world for characters to explore, there are only 4 scenes in a scenario that the character can visit, and the game “cuts” between scenes. In the interest of dramatic effect, a character’s powers or encroachment rate may change from scene to scene.

B5 perfect bound softcover, 210 pp.

Comptiq Magazine: November 1986

The first Record of Lodoss War replay was serialized over eight issues of Comptiq magazine. The November 1986 issue contains episode III of the replay, the plot of which is turning out to be quite different from that of the anime.

Previously the party had cleared the dungeon of the crystal guardian and everyone except Slayn the magic user and Deedlit the elf leveled up. Etoh the cleric, now able to cast spells, uses detect magic on the weapons and potions recovered from the dungeon. In a tavern, Parn hears about war between the countries of Valis and Mamo. The party decides to head east where the conflict is. En route on the royal highway, they see flashes from a fireball and a lightning bolt; they hear screams and the clash swords. Arriving at the scene of battle they find only dead and wounded.

Etoh casts cure light wounds on a soldier, who tells the party he was one of four soldiers accompanying a headstrong and disobedient princess, when overcome by a sorceress and her henchmen. He urges the party to rescue the princess. At this point the player playing Etoh supposes the sorceress is Karla, who they learned about last episode. The DM tells the player he is correct even though there is nothing about the in-world situation that justifies such a confirmation.

The party follows the abducted princess to a dilapidated house and rushes in. Slayn puts two of Karla’s henchmen to sleep and Deedlit charms a 3rd. Then Karla comes downstairs and puts everyone in the party to sleep except Etoh, who feigns sleep, ending the episode with a cliffhanger.

B5 perfect bound magazine

WARPS: Wild Adventure Role Playing Game

ワープス “WARPS” (1988) is the creation of Masayuki Onuki, the translator of the Dungeons & Dragons basic set. WARPS presents a generic set of rules intended to be supplemented by additional box sets, nine of which were produced by Tsukuda Hobby. A second edition of the game was announced but never published because of Onuki’s death in 1993 when he was only 28 years old.

WARPS is an initialism for Wild Adventure Role Playing Game. The name recalls GURPS, and like GURPS the game uses a hex grid for combat, but beyond that the games have little in common mechanically. Of greater influence was the James Bond RPG by Victory Games, a translation of which was being sold in Japan and from which the idea of “hero points” are taken. Onuki saw in hero points a way to give game play a dramatic quality like the plots of books and TV.

In WARPS characters have 12 ability scores generated by percentile roles. The game has no classes, but a character can advance to the 100,000th level if 100 billion experience points are earned. Players are free to choose the age of their characters, and this has consequences in terms of ability score bonuses and penalties. Age also determines how many rolls a character can make on a table containing 100 skills, which incidentally tend to be the kind of thing one might learn in college or at a trade school. Hit points start at 3d10 and max out at 10d10.

Characters have a “direct hit” score and an “evasion score”, both which improve with level. When attacking, a character must roll under his direct hit score with 2d6. The defender also rolls 2d6 and compares with his evasion score. If the difference is greater than the attacker’s difference, he evades the attack. Also, both the attacker and defender can incur critical hits or fumbles by rolling a 12 or 2 respectively.

There are 16 heroic actions available to first level characters and hero points can be spent to perform them. There is a heroic action which allows the player to ask a question of the GM, who must answer truthfully. Another heroic action allows a character to sacrifice himself so that the other players can overcome an obstacle.

A short guide to monsters is provided at the back of the rule book. Among the described monsters are wolf, cloud man, “yamata no orochi”, pteranodon, merman, and Loch Ness monster.

Box contents:
• rulebook, B5 pamphlet, 64 pp.
• master screen, 28cm x 59cm
• 30 character sheets, top-tearing B5 pad
• two hex mats, 26cm x 20cm
• dice: 2d10, 2d6