The Importance of Authentic Representation

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How does one go about building a setting based on the ideas of an entire culture? Culture is fluid. It is defined by, but also defines those who live within it. Does this mean it’s impossible for me to make a game that’s an authentic representation of Japanese culture? I would imagine there are people out there who believe so, but I would have to respectfully disagree. I believe that people make culture more than culture makes them.

All representation requires people who are knowledgeable about the source material your work is based on, even if the work is unique to you. This is why I believe this article can benefit any writer, and not just one hoping to make authentic experiences from historical or real world cultures. Just like I am attempting to make an authentic Japanese experience, someone can just as likely fail or succeed to make an authentic Lovecraftian, Ancient Greek, or Tolkien-esque setting.

The most important part of creating an authentic or accurate representation is understanding that you likely lack all the information and should go and seek it out. This is true of just about any culture or setting. Even if you are building your own universe, parts of it will still reflect things found in the real world or things someone else wrote. This means you need to inform yourself through research, but more importantly it means you should find and listen to people who identify with the culture you are referencing.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have any input in your own design, or that you should sacrifice everything in the name of accuracy (that is probably one of the worst things you can do). All artists have their own vision and want to express something about how they see the world. Your writing, regardless of basing, is defined by you and your own experiences. That being said, when we create for other audiences it’s important to be aware of that audience and what we end up saying about them. We write about the things that we enjoy, feel passionate about, and identify with. This is why we care about authenticity—we want others to feel the same way about our work too. When we adopt another history into our own work (real world or not), we want fellow fans to identify with it too.

Even if unintentional, misrepresenting a culture can have its consequences. When we unintentionally get things wrong, highlight the wrong traits, or focus on the otherness of real people, we run the risk of disappointing our audience at best, and causing psychological distress at worst. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely something I don’t want to happen. This is especially important when dealing with real-world cultures because you may incidentally make a statement about people’s personal identities and lives. Of course you shouldn’t discount misrepresenting fictional culture or history either, doing so can easily raise the ire of fans.

There’s a difficult balance to maintain here, between your vision, and the experience of your players. But that’s the dilemma of all game designers, and it’s a worthy challenge to engage with. This is where thinking like a game designer can really help out. Creating a good experience hinges on your ability to compromise with player (reader) experiences. A good experience should be a part of your vision, so it’s a simple decision, though usually much easier said than done.

What happens when a writer unintentionally reinforces a harmful stereotype in their writing and some of their readers protest? The writer can decide that having a stereotyped character is not a part of their vision and change it all, they can decide that it’s important for their character to stay exactly the way it is, or (more commonly) they can keep what elements are important to them and change their story to align itself better with the experience of the readers.

It’s important to create an authentic experience no matter what you base your setting in; doing so just makes it feel more alive and real. People born in a culture have a leg up in their ability to talk about their culture. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create an authentic or respectful representation. In fact, I believe the opposite, with research and knowledgeable people, anyone can inform their works and they should be encouraged to try. Culture is inherently transmitted—it is made to be shared with others.

You don’t need to be born in a culture to appreciate it or talk about it. But if you don’t do right by the subject you talk about, you should expect some healthy criticism. People have investment in what you say about their identity. So long as you respect your audience and listen to the people who are a part of the culture you are referencing, you should be fine. The important thing is to be purposeful with your decisions.

I didn’t go into any specifics about what I did for Mysteries of the Yōkai because that would make this article too long. In the coming days, I will post the story behind my work on the setting, the rules I followed, and what steps I took to inform myself about the cultures represented in MotY.


Blessing, your Ace in the Hole

Blessing is a power that grants a positive lingering effect to a character (this is usually referred to as a “buff”, or similar terms, in gaming). In the case of Blessing, the buff is triggered by choice of the character that is blessed, remaining on the character until they use it (or the scene ends). This allows players to hold an “ace in the hole” until they need it. No character can have more than one Blessing at a time, but a character with the Blessing ability can bless each friendly character, providing the whole team with a boost.

 

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There are currently three bonuses to choose from when applying a blessing (though more will be in the final book release. Like Ki Attack, Blessing is a ‘toolkit’ power). You could choose to bless a character in an area where they may not be strong, increasing their chance of success, or apply the blessing on top of an existing specialty in order to get even more effect when the character succeeds.

 

  • Bonus to a check: This blessing allows the blessed character to gain a bonus to any check they make equal to your Zeal modifier. This bonus is in addition to any other bonuses they usually receive, such as Skill + Attribute modifiers when making a skill check. Most starting characters who take Blessing tend to have a +3 or +4 Zeal modifier, which not only increases the chance of success to the check being made, but often pushes the Margin of Success of the roll by +1, increasing the overall effect of the check (such as the damage of an attack). The two effects create a very strong benefit, but the Blessing must be used before the roll is made, meaning there is the risk that if the roll still fails after the modifier, the blessing will have been lost.
  • Damage bonus: A straightforward bonus, the damage bonus is only applied after a successful attack check is made, so the blessed character doesn’t have to worry about the blessing having no effect. Because the Tide bar usually breaks at 7, the +3 or +4 from Zeal mentioned above can be very significant, often increasing the damage more than an additional attack would. In fact, because the damage is added to a character’s normal damage and the total is reduced by the target’s armor only once, a character with Blessing that can’t usually harm a target may be better off applying the damage blessing rather than attacking in some situations.
  • Re-roll: Unlike the first two, this blessing doesn’t actually increase the numbers your character will throw out, but instead gives you a re-roll. Statistically, this is actually the weakest of the three abilities, but it has a specific situation where it’s more useful: when the character is only going to get one chance at something due to time, and already has a good shot at succeeding. This is a “safety net”, for when something really bad might happen if you fail and you won’t get another chance (making an agility check to not fall off a cliff, making a Lore check to figure out which of the two flasks is the medicine and which is the poison at the last second, etc). When you have a good chance of success, but would not be able to guarantee hitting the needed number (or you don’t know what the opponent will roll), you might want to choose this blessing for those times when the check dice come up all 1s…

 

 

There’s a few things to keep in mind when considering buying the Blessing ability for your character. It scales directly with your Zeal modifier (though in rare cases, your GM could allow you to theme it in a different Attribute if it fits your character concept); this means the bonus is more valuable the higher your Zeal, but applying the blessing also costs more Ki when you do so. Before you think about making a character with +6 Zea and blessing the entire party with what equates to almost two full D6 additional dice to checks, or a damage bonus that’s likely to break the bar by itself, remember that after just 2 blessings your Ki Pool will be full, and you will likely spend the next couple Round doing nothing but taking the Ki Release action. It’s not much fun to be a pez dispenser and see everyone else do all the actual playing of the game.

Blessing can easily be designed as a power not based in Zeal. A tactician or officer could inspire or direct their troops to provide similar bonuses. An alchemist could create “on the fly” concoctions that give the bonus, as could a geomancer by applying Feng Shui to the battlefield.


Objection! – We Need Perry Mason!

Objection is an example of an Ability in Mysteries of the Yokai that lets you use a different ability in a way other than normal.. It lets you use one particular “social” or “talky” skill to protect your character from a range of similar skills. Named in homage to a particular video game lawyer you may know, Objection is a good way to represent any kind of character that uses their signature skill to defeat any kind of enemy ploy.
Objection

For example, take the mastermind character, the puppet master who always has a plan hidden within a plan within a backup plan within a ploy. That character may not be particularly good at using Performance to entertain a crowd, but their experience with trickery would easily allow them to spot when someone was trying to do it to them. In the same way, a character with a strong empathy for all sentient creatures would probably never be able to use the Deception or Manipulation skills to trick anyone, but they could sense the falseness in the feelings of someone using those skills on them.

 

Objection is set up to allow you to make Defend actions and opposed checks against these abilities without having to spend a lot of Potential buying all of those skills purely for defensive purposes. It doesn’t let you make actions with those abilities; you just get to use your chosen skill as the modifier when someone uses them on you.

 

Mysteries of the Yokai encourages players and GMs to theme their abilities however they want using the rules printed. For example, if you were making the mastermind character previously mentioned, you probably wouldn’t actually be objecting to things (far too flashy for most masterminds), but you could name the ability something like “Total Control” and base your ability in Manipulation when you buy the ability. During a session of play, if your character was attacked by the herald of a powerful Samurai lord, using Etiquette to damage the party, you could make your opposed roll with Manipulation. In this case, you wouldn’t be opposing the laws the herald was using against you; instead you would be finding a ‘loophole’ in the law through your manipulation of its wording.

 

A GM could even modify the ability further, using a different set of abilities. Let’s take an example where a Game Master is using a modified campaign setting where Psionic powers are common and diverse. The GM may create a “Telekinetic Block” that allowed the character to use their Zeal or Resolve modifier against Weapons and Ki Attack abilities.


Martial Arts

Martial Arts are a fascinating field of study, and they make for great options in most games. Acting almost like a small “character class”, a good martial art includes more than just punching and kicking; it is a way of life with a philosophical doctrine as well as a physical one.

 

During the 12th and 13th century, the closest historical equivalent to the world of Mysteries of the Yokai, Martial Arts were not yet common in Japan. The Samurai had not yet come into full power, and the common folk weren’t forbidden to carry weapons, one of the biggest causes that lead to people learning to fight with just their bodies. China’s influence was not yet as great either; neither the experienced instructors nor the epic sagas of martial valor had taken root on Japan’s soil.
Our game deviates from history in many big ways however, the biggest being the appearance of the Yokai themselves, and the increased overall supernatural presence. The danger from these changes leads to an increased need to protect one’s self, and the positive influence of Yokai has also inspired humans to adapt the powers of the supernatural to ways they can use. With the increased ability to tap into Ki, martial arts are becoming more common, and much more powerful than previous generations.

 

Katas

 

Martial Arts in MotY

Today I wanted to get Game Masters thinking about how they might build Martial Arts into their own campaigns. With all the changes happening in Japan, there’s plenty of new fields of study that potential masters and students would take up. Some may push their bodies to the limit simply for the challenge; mastery of Ki allows a martial seeker to achieve feats previously thought impossible. Some schools may develop around the Yokai themselves; ninjas may learn techniques from shapeshifters, a Yamabushi may befriend a Tengu, Oni or other Yokai living on its mountain and create a style that mimics or honors that Yokai, or a Geomancer may found a school to teach students a better way to respect natural energy.

 

Entire campaigns can be founded around martial arts. Rival schools may compete for the right to found a dojo in the capital. Players could be rival students, forced to work together to defend the city from threats, learning from and about their new friends while still trying to help their own school win the most prestige. If all the players want to play students of the same art, they may be traveling the world as the final stage of their training in order to learn the things they could not within the walls of their master’s home. Even if only a few of the players want to play actual martial artists, the tropes of the martial arts genre always tend to lead to clashes with evil, philosophical debates, and investigations into the unknown places of the world, things any player will have moments to shine during.

 

 

Building a Martial Art

With all the options available to a GM in the world, almost any martial art could be created and make sense. Historically accurate arts could be created much sooner than they were in our world, and fantastic or bizarre arts become possible though Ki and the supernatural. A GM may want to create specific arts to fit the story, and a player may want to develop their own personal style.

 

We encourage GMs to use the Kata mechanic in the game to create a new Kata that represents a martial art. A Kata is a package of related Abilities at a 10% discount; 100 Potential of Abilities only costs the player 90 Potential when they buy it. However, these Martial Arts Katas shouldn’t be abused to simply get discounted Abilities; a Martial Art that is just 200 points of Strength is not only against the intention and feel of this use of Katas, it’s pretty cheesy (and actually not very effective). GMs should approve all arts created in this way. Some suggestions are listed below

  • A Martial Art Kata should be a one-time purchase, especially because they are likely to include very specific Abilities such as Waterfall Training or 1000 Strikes. If these Katas were taken multiple times, those points would be wasted. Because of this, they are likely to be fairly expensive, at least 100 Potential before the discount.
  • A Martial Art should include a mix of combat and non-combat abilities. Real Martial Arts are never entirely about combat (though some derived forms are, ‘quick and dirty’ styles are certainly valid, but would be modeled through buying abilities normally). An art should always include at least a +2 modifier to an appropriate Lore skill.
  • Martial Arts in this way should focus on themes and styles, rather than a universal ‘all situations’ art, which already exists in the game by just taking normal combat abilities. The discount in cost is meant to reward creating interesting playstyles; defensive protectors of the weak, masterful strikers, the seeker of enlightenment through bodily mastery, even the tribute to a Yokai through imitation.

 

 

Example Martial Art: Aikido

Aikido is a very modern art, relative to what you might consider for MotY. But the fundamentals core to its philosophy work really well in the era of spirits and uncertainty. It would make a lot of sense for a similar school to develop in a time of chaos in order to bring “unity with Ki”. It’s a good example of how you could take an art you find interesting from our world and adapt it to the game.

 

Aikido

 

Aikido is based on principles of combining the actions of an attacker with one’s own body to create a wanted outcome (basically, protection). Training in Aikido includes both a philosophical understanding of unity with the world around oneself, and a physical regime that builds health, fitness and endurance. When thinking about building the Kata, this means it should include a very Ki and health oriented outlook, and spiritual studies. For our example, we’ll build around Endurance and Athletics; this gives the character a good Defend action in combat as well as the health and ability to physically exert themselves for long periods of time. On top of that we’ll add Ki Well to model the spiritual health developed in Aikido; practitioners are able to tap into their Ki abilities without quickly burning out because they are mastering the use of Ki in harmony with the universe, not disruptive to it. We’ll wrap this package up with some Strength, Resolve and Discipline to further model that mental and physical path a student walks while learning Aikido.

 

Coming back to the defensive nature of Aikido, we’ll include the obvious Turn Aside Attack (which is a general abstraction of most of the throws and deflection strikes. We’ll also include Protective Circle to represent the Aikido student’s presence on the battlefield. A character practicing Aikido would be able to protect their friends and allies, and the game benefits of Protective Circle do a good job of representing their effect on the battle.

 

Example Martial Art: Kyusho Mastery
Kyusho represents pressure points, the points on a body where effects can be created by applying external stimulus. Commonly, this is usually thought of as either pain (nerve strikes) or healing (acupuncture). The mastery of Kyusho lets a character manipulate the body of others, a sort of physical biomancy, if you will.

 

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This art is an offensively themed one, there is no study of blocks or dodges, only manipulating the body of the target. This is not always deadly, so we’ll include Blessing to model acupuncture and the positive effects a master could give to friendly characters. In fact, in order to really understand how best to strike at the human body, a student would need to know how it operates, which also leads to understanding how to heal it, so we’ll include both Lore: Human Body and Medicine in the art. While this is a damage based Kata, including these gives the character something to do besides just attack the whole game, making for a more interesting gameplay experience.

 

In terms of offense, this Kata models someone who can disable or even kill with a touch. We’ll start with Weapons – Body to allow the character to fight without weapons, and give them enough Agility to have a good chance to hit (+6 between Agility and Weapons Skill). This is good because, without a weapon, a character normally only does 1 point of Tide Damage. The higher chance to hit increases the damage through Margin of Success. In fact, let’s take 1000 Strikes, so that the character does +1 damage for each 2 points of success, instead of 3. It makes sense that a master of pressure points wouldn’t care about the armor of a target, so the Kata should include Vital Strike. Finally, we’ll give the Kata some points in Hustle. This allows the character to act quickly; we could even assume this is the benefits of the character’s manipulation of their own body and the flow of energy through it.


Today’s Ability post delayed

Hey everyone. Today’s blog post is about Martial Arts. We’re going to delay it until tomorrow in order to finish the Kata write ups we’re doing for it. We thought it would be fun to add some new resources for you to build your own Martial Arts with, and we’ve decided to spend a little more time on it. Tonight we’ll be stopping by RPGnet chat for a Q&A session (feel free to come in and ask us questions or throw out ideas for more content! http://tinyurl.com/rpgnetchat ), and we don’t want either the Q&A or the example Martial Arts to suffer because they were stepping on each other.


Ki Attack – Make Your Own Magic

Today’s look at Abilities will run a bit long, as we’re taking a look at a ‘tool kit’ power, Ki Attack. Ki Attack allows you to purchase abilities that do Tide Damage at the cost of Ki. By paying Potential for different values in things like damage, range, etc, you can create your own spells and martial arts, without being bound to a specific list.

Before we go into detail, I’ll quickly summarize how Ki works in our system, to hopefully help the rest of the article make sense.

Detective Yasuri

 

Ki (sometimes Chi or other names) is a concept with a long, though sometimes differently interpreted, history in eastern culture. In fact, it’s so core to human mythos that even western media has it’s own variations; the Force in Star Wars, cosmic energy in comics, even some definitions of sorcery in fantasy settings.

 

Ki is the energy of the universe; it flows through and around all things. I can even drop a little physics on you and ask that you keep the Law of Conservation of Energy in mind while thinking about Ki. Ki exists at all times, but our version of Ki takes a philosophical approach; Ki can always be used, but HOW it is used ends up affecting the Ki itself. Good intentions ‘flavor’ Ki in a positive way, while malicious applications darken it. Because Ki is always flowing, the actions of individuals can affect others and even places. Just attacking a powerful, violent spirit may not be enough to help a town if the spirit’s anger or sorrow has tainted the location.

 

In mechanical terms, Ki in our system functions something like “Magic Points/MP”. It is a currency you use to activate abilities (generally, the more powerful or useful an ability, the more Ki it costs to use). Unlike many MP systems though, our Ki mechanic does not give you Ki to spend until you run out; instead, characters can call upon as much Ki as they want. However, the stress caused by more and more Ki passing through one’s own natural balance can be dangerous, even destructive. In game terms, every character has a “Ki Limit” stat. When a character uses a power that costs Ki, that amount of Ki is put in their “Ki Pool”. As long as a character does not have more Ki in their Ki Pool than their Limit, they are fine. At the end of rounds of combat, Ki is automatically released, and characters can also take an action to calm themselves, breathe, and release even more Ki if they are using too much at once. We think this leads to interesting gameplay; instead of just hard-capping the number of spells you can cast before you need a nap, you can push yourself in critical situations at the risk of burning out from the strain.

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Ki Attack

When you buy Ki Attack, you define a specific ability with damage and range. The damage defines how much Ki you have to pay each time you use the ability, but you can pay additional Potential when purchasing the ability to reduce the Ki Cost during play.

 

You also receive a skill that functions much like a Weapons skill; it is used to make checks when using your Ki Attacks. Note that you don’t have to buy this skill multiple times if you have additional Ki Abilities, it applies to all of them. You can increase your modifier with this skill just like normal skills.

 

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You can build whatever abilities you want with this list of modifiers and then define them with your own story. Want a Ki-infused Martial Art strike? Take a range:1 attack and give it a cool name like Crimson Scything Cricket’s Kick. Want a generic ‘energy blast’? Take a range:2 or 3 attack with damage based on your Zeal modifier and name it “Soulblast” or “The Seven Burning Chains of Sogen-bi”. You can create punches that generate sonic booms by taking a ranged Ki Attack based on Strength, Agility or Endurance, or create an overwhelming aura of confidence by creating an attack that does damage based on your Resolve! No one knows if that old man with the steel gaze can actually fight, because those who approach him are always scared away by his confidence alone.

 

If you’ve flipped through our book previously, you’ll notice the costs on Ki Attack are probably different than when you last looked. Ki Attack is in a state of flux, we’re still balancing our overall damage system, and recently implemented a core change to how stats modify damage, which led to a slight reduction in the cost of damage. However, range is very powerful right now, and the original Ki Blast was priced when there was one more zone on each side. Ki Blast’s range component has received a price increase that may or may not have something to do with certain playtests where Ki Snipers made NPC opponents cry…

 

Ki Blast still has a lot ahead to look forward to, including more modifiers to allow you to build even more spells. Certain mechanics like Area of Effect and Debuffs are still being tested internally, and will be included in the final book.

 


Why Not Call It ‘Warding Circle’? …

Protective Circle is a loyal workhorse of playtesting for Mysteries of the Yokai. It embodies the Protective Magic Ability list. It has a set of mechanics that can be used as anything from an actual magical defensive circle, to a series of wards and charms, to the effects of a brilliant tactician on the battlefield. It even combines multiple mechanics that need to be tested into one ability without having them step on each other.

 

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Protective Circle lets a player increase the defensive abilities of themselves or even the entire party. It provides bonuses to Checks the affected allies make that are defensive in nature, including actual Defend actions. It also includes Armor, which reduces the damage a character takes even if they fail to defend. This bonus applies to a specific area; everything within the circle itself. It takes time and energy to create the circle, represented by the very high Focus Point cost, the Ki Cost, and the Ki Maintain cost.

To set up the ability in play, Protective Circle (‘PC’) costs 10 Focus Points, and has the [Charge] tag (a name we’re using for internal testing, likely to change to something more evocative of the setting later). The Charge mechanic works by letting players take Full actions to spend as many Focus Points as they want; when the FP cost has been fully paid, the Ability activates. Standard characters start with a Focus Refresh stat of ‘3’, and most normal combats start a player at 3 times their Refresh stat, so players won’t be able to activate the circle instantly without some additional abilities. This represents the time it takes to create a circle, whether it’s drawing an actual circle on the ground, purifying a shrine, or directing palace guards how best to arrange themselves to protect the Emperor. Want to get going sooner? You could take the ability ‘Diligent Focus’ from the Combat Prowess Abilities to increase your Refresh, or you could take the ‘Focus’ special action at the start of the battle, both of which would give you enough Focus Points to activate the circle. You might still want to wait though, even if you can activate it right away. If you spend all your Focus Points too soon, the enemy will be able to attack you, and without any FP left to Defend, even the Circle might not be enough to fully keep you safe. Protective Circle is a fun ability, because it gives you a lot of meaningful decisions to make early in the battle. Obviously, the sooner you activate it, the more times its bonuses will apply, increasing its value. On the other hand, if you over-exert yourself, the enemy could focus on your character; ignoring the others who are benefiting from the circle in order to stack damage against the target who cannot defend anymore. In Mysteries of the Yokai, if you can’t or choose not to Defend, you roll only 3D6 with no modifiers (including the circle!), which makes it very likely that any attacker will hit you.

The second mechanic used by PC is ‘Maintain’. Ki Abilities with Maintain require you to pay the listed Maintain cost in Ki at the start of each Round of combat (not including Bonus Rounds). Essentially, you will always have that much Ki in your Pool, limiting how many other Ki abilities you can safely use. PC has a relatively low Maintain cost of 2. Since characters automatically release D6 points of Ki at the end of a Round if they have not exceeded their Ki Limit, even if you roll slightly less than average, you should be fine over the long term battle. But since this cost eats up most of the average roll (3.5) of your free Ki Release, if you begin using other Ki Abilities, you have less cushion.

Early in the post, I made a couple suggestions for alternate ways to define a Protective Circle. Mysteries of the Yokai encourages players to create their own abilities by taking the mechanics of existing ones and ‘re-skinning’ them. As noted, if you were a tactician, you could define your PC as a ‘defensive battle plan’, the bonuses modeling your directions or leadership. In a combat where the GM is representing an interrogation, Protective Circle could be the preparation and earlier investigation of a character; each time the opponent tried to lie or evade the truth (attack actions), the research you bring to the case would make it easier to prove them wrong (bonus to Defend actions) or soften the effects of misdirection ploys (armor).


Fortune Smiles Upon You

Over the course of our Kickstarter, we’re going to look into some of our Abilities in blog posts. The goal is to show off some of the things that can be done in Mysteries of the Yokai, while talking about how we implemented them and why we made some of the decisions that lead to where they are (and sometimes where they’re going before the final book release).

A natural choice for our first ability was ‘Fortune’s Favor’. This ability was not only one of the first we created, but has been a favorite of both our team and our playtesters.

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Fortune’s Favor provides a re-roll once per scene or combat (each basic ‘plot’ block in the game). Even better, if all the dice you roll come up as a six naturally, it doesn’t count as your one use, so you can use it again. This ability represents someone who the universe works to support or protect  in subtle ways. However, this level of inherent good fortune takes a bit of a character’s natural Ki potential; a little bit of the ‘magic’ of a person gets used up with so many changes to the world happening around them. This is modeled in game terms by lowering the character’s maximum Ki Pool by 1 point; the same as if the character were permanently maintaining this as an active Ki Power. This is also done as a balance mechanic. Rerolls at such a low cost are pretty powerful, especially when used on rolls that only involve a single die (giving the character a 1/6 to reuse the ability, as opposed to 1/216 if the player used it on a 3D6 roll).

Fortune’s Favor has been very popular with everyone who has tried it out. At the low price of 5 Potential, it’s the cheapest ability in the game, and generally a no-brainer for any character that doesn’t excessively use Ki (we’ve even had a few people say they will take it on casters and deal with the lowered Ki Limit). The decision of when to use your reroll has been an important decision is several games; do you use it on damage rolls and try to chain 6s to get multiple uses, or do you use it in key Check situations? Being able to reroll an attack when you’re close to breaking the Tide bar against the enemy, or a dodge roll when they are about to break it against the party, can shift the entire battle, and with our Margin of Success mechanic (for every 3 points you win a contested check by, you add +1 to the effect of the Check, such as damage), there are occasionally times you might even want to re-roll a barely successful attack to get a stronger success at a vital time.

For statisticians out there, you may be thinking ‘why would I do that when I can abuse the single die damage reroll?’, and you’re certainly not crazy. The chance to increase damage in a system with relatively low numbers (Tide usually breaks after 7 damage, so the difference between 1 and 6 on a D6 can end up being as powerful as having two additional averagely-rolled attacks) is powerful enough to require careful watching and testing. In fact, Fortune’s Favor is flagged internally for tracking and a possible change in the final game. Without having all of our final abilities and equipment in the game yet, it’s impossible to tell if the current version is too strong, but we may be looking to have Fortune’s Favor only apply to 3D6 rolls. If we change it to go that route, it would end up losing it’s Ki penalty to make up for the loss of flexibility. That said, Mysteries of the Yokai uses a very lenient system in combat; players are encouraged to solve problems in alternate ways to just straight damage rolls. Because of this overall game mechanic, we currently feel Fortune’s Favor is not too powerful to be in the game (though we’re leaning towards a Potential cost increase).


The content of his character (system)

Today we’ll take a look at character building content in Mysteries of the Yokai. With our Kickstarter campaign about to start, it’s been a busy last few months for us, and one of the things always on our mind is the state of game content. We’ve had several playtests lately, and talked with many players about character creation. You’ve given us lots of great feedback, and we hope those of you who’ve played, or even just flipped through our books, like what you see so far.

 

Combining Pieces

We’re now finishing up the second stage of balancing the game, which involves checking how the various abilities interact in play. The first stage we went through was to stabilize the main game rules; this kept us from having to re-test all the abilities if the way the overall rules work changed. When you build systems this big, you can never really lock something in completely until the final book, but you do as much as you can of the foundation upfront. For example, we knew the game would have “buffs and debuffs”, so we needed a rule for how those could be applied to and removed from characters before we started building what they actually did. If the rules for that weren’t already in place, we would have to go back and hack up the main gameplay to fit them in later.

 

The early parts of the second stage were to assign Potential costs to abilities and attempt to find the highs and lows we were looking for. If you’ve read through our books, you’ll see some awkward math; increments of 11 or 13 to level up Skills, Kata costs not in increments of 5, etc. The goal at this stage is to find out what things are worth in relation to each other, so we need these strange numbers to have a good range we can modify by. By turning the knobs up and down on these, we can slowly figure out if 40 points of Ability A is roughly equal to 40 points of Ability B. Of course, in a system as flexible as Mysteries of the Yokai, “roughly equal” does end up being pretty rough after all. How can you compare the ability to haggle for a good price for room and board with the ability to change into a bird, or channel your Ki into your fist and break stone? That question has driven the focus of a lot of our playtesting.
25 Potential Example

(Where do you want to spend your last 25 Potential? Round up those Attributes to increase their modifiers? Train under a waterfall for permanent armor? Be a famous legal defendant that always knows when the facts will save your client? Maybe you want to have a treasured master-crafted blade to see you through your journey?)

 

 

We have a pretty good idea of what’s useful in common situations in the world of Yokai, and what might be fairly rare. We build this value system around the world lore, the way the game mechanics make use of abilities (for example, how much Tide damage can be inflicted), and our own experiences with a full range of game systems (from the most social, handy-wave rules light slice-of-life games to the heaviest math-hammer grognard dungeon hacks, between the team here we’ve played and loved any  kind of game you can imagine).

 

That said, we also know that every playgroup is different. We balance most abilities around a rough estimate of 30% exploration, 30% social interaction, 30% conflict (physical or not), and 10% genre specific material. This material will vary with whatever you plan to do with your game. Want to set Mysteries of the Yokai in the near-future and play a cyberpunk world? Maybe you’d rather break out the Space Opera and do Mecha of the Yokai? Obviously things like this will shift what abilities are useful (or even available) to players. We have to bake in a bit of a buffer in both directions so that those edge case abilities don’t end up costing too much for players that want them in situations where they’re not useful all the time, while still not being too cheap if they would be constantly useful. We do this so that GMs don’t need to do their own complete re-pricing if they stray out of the lore in the book (though they can if they want to, of course).

 

A good example of this is the Languages skill. Some GMs will bypass the language barrier completely (or have a ‘universal language’ trope), rarely having a need for more than the main languages. Others may want to break Japanese into regional dialects and have scenes where the party ends up in the wrong place due to that Kamigata (the Edo equivalent of the ‘Osaka accent’) drawl the innkeeper had when giving them directions.

 

So, bringing the discussion back to where we are, ability wise, we’ve got a solid rules framework and are now expanding which Abilities are available in our example books for playtesting. If you’ve been checking the books for a while, you may remember we started with mostly direct combat abilities and some divine magic. Abilities that affect your stats (like increasing Morale Threshold) and provide armor or modify rolls (like Protective Circle and Fortune’s Favor) were our starting ground. We used them to get a baseline for what combat related abilities were worth when compared to Skills.

 

Now that we have a good handle on our Ki System, we’ve been adding a lot more Ki based abilities. We’ve also added some abilities vital to the Yokai genre, such as Shapeshifting, Illusions, and Ki Attacks. On top of that, we’ve got the first of the ‘social’ abilities, that bridge the gap between resolving social encounters with single Skill rolls and using the Tide System for more complex encounters. Finally, we’ve got the first pass on equipment and economy in the book now, letting you buy and sell things, or even spend Potential to have an Heirloom weapon, or carry a variety of tools so you’re ready for any situation.

 

Recently added Abilities

  • Shapeshifting and Illusions: These abilities let a character build alternate character sheets, create illusions to trick other characters, alter their Attribute modifiers, or just be like that guy from Labyrinth and turn into a bird.
  • Ki Abilities: Now that Ki has been locked in, we have a flexible system to build your own Ki Powers. We don’t use specific spells like Firebolt or Lightning Ball, instead you build an Ability by paying for modifiers like damage, range and your skill when attack. This means you can have anything from a bolt of magical energy to the Ki-infused punch of a martial artist.
  • Social Abilities: Mysteries of the Yokai blends skills, attacks and other abilities, so that you can use anything that makes sense to inflict Tide damage. In a debate, you could do damage with Etiquette to imply your opponent is a barbarian, or use Investigation to point out the flaws in their argument. On top of the basic game mechanics, we want to have a large group of special abilities for affecting non-physical combats that do the same kind of fun things you would do in a sword fight, but in a debate or investigation. We’re starting to roll out some examples of these to test how much they need to stray from the combat mold.
  • Equipment: We’ve added the first pass of buying equipment, weapons and armor, and special abilities related to gear. At this point, values are VERY rough, as we’re still in the early part of phase 2 here, finding the highs and lows we want. We’re also working on balancing the economies of rice (the unit of currency) with Potential (the points a player buys abilities for their character with).

 

Ki+Forms

(Some examples of newly added Abilities. Ki Attack lets you build your own ‘spells’, and Alternate Forms lets you create other character sheets to shift into during the game.)

 

We love hearing from players on which abilities are the most exciting to them. Have something you want to see in the game? Feel free to let us know! We have dozens of abilities that aren’t yet in the example books, but we’d hate to miss something you would want to play with because we haven’t thought of it yet. Drop us a line at feedback@wardingcircle.com, or if you feel the urge to drum up grassroots support for your favorite power or technique, and you’re planning to back our Kickstarter, you can hop on the comments section and tell us, and other backers, all about your grand vision.

We’ll be on Kickstarter Thursday January 27th 2016 so don’t forget to check out our campaign!

 


Farewell to the father of modern yōkai, Mizuki Shigeru

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This week we lost a great man. Father of the modern depictions of yōkai, Mizuki Shigeru’s influence over Japanese culture has resounded far beyond its borders. Many great Japanese works draw some degree of influence from works related to him or those inspired by him. Without the influence of Mizuki Shigeru, much of what is beloved about yōkai today wouldn’t exist.

Mizuki Shigeru is an inspirational figure. He experienced some of the darkest things this world has to offer as a soldier in World War II. Yet in the years following his ordeals, Mizuki Shigeru brought a tangible and positive influence upon the world of art; his contributions have likely made the world better. There are many who take solace and interest in his works. Others have learned from his wisdom, outlook, and knowledge. His creations are inspiring artists to this very day.

It is my hope that someday I can attain the positive impact he had on the world.

Zack Davisson, who has more closely followed the works and life of Shigeru Mizuki than anyone I know, has put it in far better words than I could ever write:

To say that Mizuki Shigeru was a comic artist is like saying the Brothers Grimm crafted a quaint book of fairy stories or that Walt Disney made some cartoons. Mizuki was one of those rare human beings who unequivocally changed the world with his art. Without Mizuki the world—and especially Japan—would be a very different place. There would be no Pokémon, no Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. His presence is so ubiquitous as to be almost unnoticeable. The way Mizuki saw the world has become the world. He saved the spirits and magic he loved from the darkness and gave them a new home.

He was a visionary. A philosopher. A radical. A bon viviant of the mundane. Mizuki relished the simple, sheer joy of being alive. As someone who knew the actual soul destroying pains of hunger and the terror of hanging from a cliff by your fingertips while hiding from an enemy patrol, a cheap hamburger in a full belly brought him more delight than the most expensive piece of handcrafted sushi. He believed in taking it easy, in enjoying life, and often scoffed at manga artists like Osamu Tezuka and Fujiko F Fujio who prided themselves on their hard work and long hours. They’re all dead, he would say, but I’m still here.

The world lost a great artist this week, one whose impact has likely reached you too. Please check out Zack Davisson’s full heartfelt farewell at his blog: Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.