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Author Topic: Shinobigami  (Read 434 times)


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« on: September 26, 2020, 02:37:37 am »
This is a review of the RPG Shinobigami, from Kotodama Heavy Industries, written by Toichiro Kawashima, and translated by I believe the same people who did Double Cross and Tenra Bansho Zero (don't quote me on that).

I picked this slim little hardback book up for twenty dollars, and I have to admit I do enjoy learning a bit about how the Japanese RPG culture works, though I do suspect some selection bias, as I believe the people finding and translating these games are in fact Storygamers (boo! HIss!!!!). Even if they are, of course, I have to give them full credit for the work they are doing, but if they are ignoring more traditional style games, for shame!

I've noted that Tenra Bansho Zero and Double Cross were remarkably similar in a great many ways, most notably giving you an insentive to grow in power, but also punishing you with permanent death of your character for actually achieving that power... and combining a social/gambling mechanic to 'save' your character at the end of the game/session.  While little else about these two games could be called the same, but in that area they were damn near clones of each other.  I am pleased to note Shinobigami does not have anything remotely similar.

What it does have in common, especially with Double Cross, is that the game is heavily structured around a highly episodic anime/manga style of game play, but more on that later.

Shinobigami is a game about playing Ninjas, particularly ninjas from Ninja themed Mangas, though it does emphasize modern japan, I imagine it wouldn't be hard to adapt it to a more fantasy style setting.  There is a fair amount of emphasis on intra-party conflict, but most notably it is a fast and loose pick-em up style game. And while the rules are simple and loose, they are also innovative and work strongly to support the style of game play that the designers wanted.

As an aside, I think this is the first game I've bought in a while with rough, pulp paper instead of high gloss, and I'm absolutely loving it.  I can compare the simple pleasure of reading from actual paper vs glossy plastic paper to the difference between reading a book and reading a kindle on your phone.  Maybe that's just me, but I'm heartily sick of slick, high gloss paper.

Anyway: Apparently it is a tradition in Japanese RPGs to include a fairly expansive example of Play to teach the mechanics, though I can't recall TBZ doing this, and while Double Cross did, they weren't nearly as obsessive or through about it (though they did use chibi art for their demonstrations, as I recall). ANyway, the first half of the book is one long example of play, and entire session from creating a character all the way to the denouement of the session. I first skipped this, but later read the entire thing and it was quite illustrative and well done.   There is surprisingly little artwork, and what there is manages to be somewhat manga/anime-esque while actually looking not so manga-anime esque... probably because they aren't worried about being inauthentic. 

Characters are handled quite differently than most games in that they are almost entirely defined by their skills, though this does not work as you'd expect.  I need to break this down in a bit of detail so it makes sense.

You have a clan of ninjas (there are six, and there is a cycle of rivalries, though this is mostly flavor). There are six catagories of skill and each clan favors one catagory. Example Catagories are Martial Arts, Sorcery, Stealth... I should just name them all...  The catagories are further broken down into approximately ten skills.  For Example, Martial Arts includes 'Riding' 'Ballistics' 'Unholy Strength', and 'Contortionism'... you might see that these breakdowns aren't quite what you'd expect. Anyway: You get three skills from your clan's favored catagory and three picks of your choosing.  There are no numbers, you either have the skill or you don't.  When you need to do something you roll 2d6 on a difficulty of 5+ the number of steps away from the nearest skill you have (moving to a new catagory is usually two steps, unless it is right across from a skill you have).

Also the Catagories are your hit points. When you take damage, you randomly lose a catagory of skill.

Beyond that you have Ninpo, which are your main ninja powers, taken from a reasonably tight, but very very generic list... Starting Characters get 5.  When I say very, very generic I mean it. Unlike many games where the powers are designed with specific rules to them, generally the Ninpo only has an effect. THe skill you roll to activate it is picked by the player (This also determines the dodge skill, btw), who can also define its special effects.  One example character in the play example based most of their Ninpo on acupuncture, so all their powers involved needles. Another based theirs on pyromancy, and so they had a sword made of fire. 

Then you have one (for starting characters) Ohgi, which is your super secret trump move. Seriously, teh character sheet is designed to be folded at one end to hide your Ohgi from the other players, though this is actually sort of pointless. There are only seven Ohgi effects, from 'does 4 points of damage' to 'does AoE damage' to 'heal yourself 1d6' and that sort, everything else is special effects devised by the player.  Other characters, to include PCs can 'block' your Ohgi only after they've seen it once before, and you can get pretty wild with describing it in action.  Seeing as there are only seven possible effects and the character needs to have witnessed the ohgi personally to block it, hiding part of your sheet is sort of silly. Not completely silly, only sort of.

That is about ninety five percent of your character creation.  You can have some one use ninja items that grant re-rolls, and you have details like your name and your cover identity (because: Ninja, silly!), and there are tables galore to help with setting things up.

BUt that isn't really all there is to the game.

You see, at the start of the game every character (and important NPC) gets a secret and a mission.  Its often quite important to game play to discover the other player's, and the NPC's secrets, and if possible their actual mission, as at the end of the game there appears to be a 'winning' character who gets a 'prize', which is an advantage of sorts that I believe carries on to the next 'episode'.

Because this is very much an episodic game.  Play actually breaks down into three 'cycles' of scenes. Each player gets a scene which they can declare to be a dramatic scene or a fight scene, and the GM can introduce 'Master Scenes' in each cycle. The Player can bring other PCs and established NPCs into the scene, and through this process create 'Emobonds' which is a goofy ass made up term for what is presented as a uniquely Japanese cultural thing. Emobonds is 'emotional bonds', there is a table of six (Most tables are of six), with a single positive and negative trait listed, such as 'Affection or Mistrust', and the player picks which he wants (each character in an Emobond rolls there own).  These Emobonds allows characters to participate in scenes they weren't invited to, and to share information including Secrets, and these scenes are how secrets are discovered (pretty much someone learns a secret in any given scene).

This isn't my style of play, but in this particular case, given how light and loose the game is, I can definitely see how keeping it works to the game's advantage.

I should remark on how combat works, specifically Initiative, which is called 'Plot' here.  Each player rolls a d6, and there is a chart of eight places (0 and 7 are included). THis is rolled in secret. THere is a Ninpo which lets you roll twice, and you can 'guess' another character's Plot roll (this may be a Ninpo too, probably is, I just missed it in the read through), in which case you can 'curse' them by sealing away a random skill catagory.

That's a minor inovation on the bog standard 'high roll goes first', but more interestingly, various attacks have a 'Plot' value... you can only use them if your Plot and your Target's Plot are close enough together. Punching someone in the face? Better have exactly the same Plot value, bub.

And that is it. That is Shinobigami in a nutshell.  There are a lot of things that I don't like on general principle about the design, but I have to admit that the game as a whole holds together rather well. Its simple and episodic, but the designer very clearly also took rule zero to heart, as the play example is littered with all sorts of 'not in the rules' sorts of decisions, and even an out and out mistake in the rules (doing a Combat Scene action during a Dramatic Scene) by one of the players that the GM missed, which is called out in the footnotes, with the advise to just roll with it, as having fun and keeping the game interesting is more important that rules pedantry.

I can get behind that.  And given the price, I can highly recommend this to anyone looking for a neat little game for quick pick up sessions, and to anyone curious about how the Japanese RPG scene looks.
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