Why the Sailor Moon RPG is pretty awesome… because you want to know.

December 10, 2011

So after making a bold tweet one morning, it seems I confused a few of my Twitter followers.  I made the daring proclamation that the Sailor Moon RPG wasn’t, in fact, the worst game I’ve ever played.  Instead, I took it one step further and actually listed it amongst my favorite RPGs.

Why would I say something so nuts?  Well, to be honest, I was being a little sarcastic.  Perhaps this is not literally the best RPG I’ve ever played, but this game is certainly more solid than one would be lead to believe.  Licensed products are always hit and miss, as they can tend to be shells of rules that are just pushed out the door to capitalize on the fan base’s love for the product.  There are exceptions, of course, and this game is certainly one of them.

Why do I have such nice things to say about a game based on a sometimes hollow messaged kids’ show/anime?  Here’s my list.

1. The game’s rules don’t suck

The Sailor Moon RPG is actually a lighter form of the anime-inspired rules set named Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  BESM, as it’s known in acronym form, is a very freeform set of rules that can be used to mimic any anime setting.  But, while BESM is a little generic and sometimes overwhelming, SMRPG actually takes the initiative and cuts down on BESM’s clutter.

The skill system in BESM, which I always felt was a little tacked on, has been removed in favor of standardized statistic checks (also featured in BESM, but always modified by skills.)  These checks are made by using a single piece of their tri-stat system (which measure’s a character’s Body, Mind, and Soul from 1 to 12) or the average of two or all three stats for checks that may involve multiple stats (like pushing a block and solving a puzzle simultaneously.)  Players must roll below their stat or average stat on two d6, a common die that almost everyone owns at least one of.  The game also includes degrees of success, so a character who has a stat of 5 and rolls a 3 did better than a character who has a stat of 4 and rolled a 3.  Both characters succeeded in their task, but the player who rolled lower than their target value did better at it.  The same holds true for failure (so GMs can be inventive with their descriptions of the character’s actions.)

When it comes to dealing damage, SMRPG and BESM do the same thing — they rely on your pre-made weapon attacks (or Senshi/Knight attacks in this) to deal tons of damage.  No dice are rolled for damage steps, as the attacks themselves have an inherent damage value that will always be applied when the defender is hit.  If, for some odd reason, you’re punching or using a weapon, damage is simply your combat value (the number you have to roll lower than to hit) multiplied. Damage from a punch is simply your combat value in damage points.  Damage from a non-magical weapon is that multiplied by two. This makes dealing damage easy to figure out and calculate in the heat of battle.  (If you’re asking why non-magical weapons deal so little damage, it’s because the game’s focus isn’t on them.  How often are there guns in Sailor Moon? It’s a setting rule that I approve of, as it keeps to the spirit of the show.)

Finally, characters are built by using attributes.  Attributes are traits or features that are added to a character during character creation.  These traits define what the character is all about.  For example, taking the “Massive Damage” attribute lets your character naturally deal more damage in combat each time you take it.  Attributes are ranked from 1 to 6, becoming more powerful as they rank up, but they will also cost more character creation points.

Long description short, these rules are easy to use, fast to play with, and still provide a good amount of detail for both the players and the GM. Min/maxers have the option to uniquely customize attributes, or even take the “Unique Attribute” option to create their own attributes.  On the other side of the coin, new players can be set up very quickly, and their rules will not overwhelm them the first time they sit at the table.  It’s a perfect split for both play-types.

2. The game stays true to the universe

The point of a licensed game is to re-create your favorite universe, right? Well, the SMRPG does that too.  While the BESM rules have been cut down, the book made sure to keep the most relevant rules to the universe intact and even went so far as to add special attributes and rules that are unique to the universe.  We’ve already mentioned the “guns kinda do crappy damage” rule, because the SM universe isn’t about guns and armor.  Pulling a gun on a Sailor Scout, a magical force of nature, is stupid.  While they may not outwardly wear armor (and some people may rage over their sailor uniforms) there is a magical force that is protecting them and changing them when they are transformed. Ya can’t just write that off.

Other rules include special attributes for anyone who plays a Senshi/Knight character AND special attributes for players or the GM when they create Dark Warrior characters.  Yes, that’s right, you can pull out some Negaverse traits.  It’s not all happy kitties and rainbow attacks in this book, and I’ll get to that more in a future point.

3. The game is a idiot’s guide to Sailor Moon

I’m going to make another bold statement here — I’ve barely watched Sailor Moon.  Barely barely.  I know major characters, the general plotline, and that’s it.  I am no expert on this universe at all.

Yet, the book understands that people like me exist.  It’s the kind, knowledgable friend who will tell you whatever you want to know about the license’s universe in an organized way.

The game starts out by giving you the statistics for all of the major characters, and I mean ALL OF THEM.  It doesn’t pull its punches and give you only the “main ones.”  It goes into all of the major villains, the entire cast of Senshi (and the single Knight, Tuxedo Mask/Prince Darien, and yes I’m counting Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Saturn), the Sailor Starlights, Queen Beryl, her cast of bad guys, Alan and Ann, the entire Darkmoon Family, Wiseman, Rini, Rini’s adult form of Black Lady, and… and… phew… Ok, it’s comprehensive, to say the least.  The write-ups even give you a full synopsis of what they did on the show.

Then the book gives you a write up of Tokyo, a few maps, and then a listing of major locations from the show.  That way you can call identifiable places and get an idea of where people are travelling.  After that is a FREAKING TIMELINE OF HISTORY that denotes when every major event takes place and shows you when exactly all of those episodes happened.  Then, after that, the book goes far enough to run down the first 82 episodes of Sailor Moon with plot synopses.  Intense is a good word for this section.

But, for those who really want to run a serious game, this information is super handy.  You get a perfectly clear picture of what happens and when it happens.

4. The game doesn’t hamstring the players

This is a critical one for me.  The game’s rules not only allow players to make their own unique character with attributes and defects, but it also lets them go beyond the “I’m a Sailor Scout, yay” mentality.  Did you want to play a completely evil campaign where all of the players serve Queen Beryl?  You can do that.  You want to play a one shot where everyone plays the Yoma who attack the Sailor Scouts?  You can do that.  You want to play a guy who turns into a female Sailor Scout when they transform?  You can… amazingly enough… do that.  (The Sailor Starlights actually started that whole thing, so it’s canonical. >.> Might as well insert a case where a woman can turn into a male Knight during their transformation as well. :D)

5. The game doesn’t short change the setting

Finally, the game doesn’t just go, “Oh, here’s Tokyo, have fun.” It doesn’t limit the players to the confines of the primary setting of the show.  In fact, it does what it can to find the loose ends in the universe and offer more insight into how GMs can create really unique campaigns that go beyond the show.

For example, the Negaverse, Crystal Tokyo, the Old Moon Kingdom (lulz, The Old Republic…) and other places are detailed as possible campaign settings.  The book offers the GM what information it can on these areas, and then begins to propose hypothetical questions to get the GM’s imagination running.  What’s 30th Century Crystal Tokyo like?  What trials and tribulations could your unique characters find there as they interact with the main cast?  What’s the culture of the Negaverse like?  Is it a mirror image of Earth?  Do all of its inhabitants support Queen Beryl’s relentless war on the Sailor Scouts?

This allows you, the players, the ability to not only re-create the events of the show, but move beyond it.  The setting is not only supported, but it is infinitely expanded to support your adventures.  That’s cool shit.

So there you have it.  Five long reasons as to why this game kicks ass at what it does.  It’s a simple, approachable system that can be used by both novices and experts to both re-create and move beyond the events of the show.  And, not only does it do that, it completely supports/encourages your own custom characters.  Plus, the book itself is a great resource on the show’s events and multiple settings.

This is a licensed RPG that not only lives up to its namesake, but moves beyond it in some ways.  That’s a good game.


Infinity Corporation Sneak Preview

June 21, 2011

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, today is a sneak preview of the backstory behind the Infinity Corporation, the biotech company of Avarice Industries.

Fun Fact: If any of you were actually around to play my Alternate Reality Game, Wildfire Industries, you may remember that the Infinity Corporation was briefly teased at the end of the game as being an upcoming antagonist.  Now that we’re getting the roleplaying game up off the ground, I now have the chance to really flesh out the corporation and include it as a full blown company in the final game.

But, enough about that.  Onwards with our sneak peek!

Read the rest of this entry »


Revitalized, updated, and ready to rock

June 21, 2011

Look at that!  It’s a new theme! (A readable theme, even.)  It’s a new header!  It’s almost like it’s a new blog!

But it’s not.  You’re still stuck with me, whether you like it or not. 🙂  More stuff to come tomorrow… including a preview of the Infinity Corporation from Avarice Industries. 😀


Avarice Industries: Gameplay Reveal

April 1, 2011

Hello everyone!  As promised, tonight I’m revealing some of the core gameplay mechanics of my brand new pen and paper RPG, Avarice Industries!  I’m extremely excited to finally get to this point, so I hope what we’ve been working on for the last year and a half will excite you as much as it excites us!

As stated before, Avarice Industries is the ultimate business RPG.  We are taking business roleplaying to the next level with our brand new core roleplaying system, Seven Virtues.  This allows you to act out any scenario that might occur in the office with relative ease.

The Seven Virtues are the core stats of the system, and are used as both attributes and skills simultaneously.  Each one has a different function in various business activites, and they are:

— Collating: The ability to collate papers quickly.

— Interwebz: The ability to use the internet to find your email.

— Slacker: The ability to use Facebook to make minutes disappear.

— Bullshit: The ability to make crap up in meetings.

— Keurig-fu: The ability to bend coffee machines to your will.

— Scheduling: The ability to use your Outlook calendar to remember things.

— Agree:  The ability to agree with what someone else said.

Each of these statistics are rated on a level from 1 to 5, and become progressively harder to level up in.

In Avarice Industries, you’ll take on the role of a mid-level employee in a powerful international business.  It will be your job to complete… well… your job, other wise you’ll find a fate worst than death — being fired.

See, in Avarice Industries, we’ve done away with damage or hit points as well!  Our game uses the truly REVOLUTIONARY PINK SLIP SYSTEM! (TM) Each time you fail at a task, you’ll earn a pink slip.  Should you earn five or more pink slips in a game session, you’re fired and your character is out of the game!

Each session, you’ll be given various tasks by the GM — the General Manager.  It’s now up to you to figure out how you’re going to accomplish the task by combining two of your Virtues together.

So, without any further delay, let’s jump into an example of a REAL PLAY SESSION during one of our internal playtests.


GM Sera: All right, so you arrive on time for work at 9 AM sharp.  Everyone is already in their cubicles and at work.  What do you do?

Xavier: Steven Micshak, my character, sits down at his cubicle and opens up Outlook to check his email.

GM Sera: All right then!  So, to open your e-mail, you’ll have to roll Interwebz, multiplied by the square root of your score in Scheduling, divided by 10 because that’s how many fingers you have on your hands, rounded up.  This roll will simulate the dexterity required to push the keys on your keyboard with your fingers.

Xavier: So… ok… let me just perform the necessary math here…

((4 minutes later.))

Xavier: Ok, so I think I roll 1 die.

GM Sera: All right, 1d8 it is!  Roll it and try to get a 6 or more!

Xavier: *rolls dice* Oh, it seems I’ve gotten a 5.

GM Sera: OH NO!  It seems you’ve accidentally trashed your shortcut to your e-mail.  It takes you 15 minutes to get it back.  But it appears you’ve missed an important e-mail from your boss!  1 pink slip!

Xavier: Darn.  I was trying so hard to move my fingers across the keyboard.

GM Sera: Also, I’m assigning the debuff called “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”  It will penalize you with a -2 on your die rolls involving Interwebz and Scheduling.

Xavier: Well… how do I remove it?!

GM Sera: Go see a doctor, obviously, duh.

Xavier: But… but… this company doesn’t give me benefits.

GM Sera: Sucks to be you then!  Looks like you need to work for your appointments!

Xavier: So, well, what do I have to do next then?

GM Sera: Well, you need to assemble a report.  Your cube-mate has already printed 10 copies out for the board, and you have to put them together with the stapler.

Xavier: All right then!  Doesn’t seem so bad.  I’ll use my Collating with my Scheduling, so I can put them together and save time!

GM Sera: All right, so we’re making a Report Building check.  That means we’ll take your Collating, divide by your scheduling because you’re trying to save time, multiply by the exact thickness of the paper (which is .081), and subtract three dice because you’re not caffeinated enough.

Xavier: I… um… don’t think I have any dice.

GM Sera: Oh, well, you always get 1 die for a check!  1d8 it is!

Xavier: *rolls* Um… I rolled a 1.

GM Sera: Oh no!  Critical failure!  It seems like you’ve stapled two of your fingers together!  Blood is now running across your report, ruining them.

Xavier: Er… but I don’t have any insurance to help my fingers!

GM Sera: I would worry more about those reports if I were you.  Woah boy, are they stained!  That’s like… two more pink slips!


We hope you’ve enjoyed this first sneak peek at our brand new RPG!  We have much more to come, so enjoy the rest of your April 1st and we’ll see you soon!


Using gameplay mechanics to support/tell your story

December 17, 2010

Hey everyone!  It’s been a long time, I know, but I want to get writing again on my blog.  It’s been a long time since I’ve written some of my thoughts on gaming down on digital paper, and I miss it so very much!  So, here’s to hoping that I can at least write a post once a week here… I’d like to get back in the habit!

So, I thought for my first post back that I’d tackle a topic of conversation that I was recently discussing on Twitter — using gameplay mechanics to support a game’s story.  My good friend and Avarice Industries co-author Xavier Fox Shandi pointed me to a video on The Escapist that started this whole conversation.  The video in question, “Extra Credits,” discussed how a classic arcade game could use only mechanics to tell its story.  Apparently, modern game designers don’t think that mechanics could be used in such a way.  If you have time, go ahead and watch the video here.  I highly recommend it.

So, apparently, some game designers still understand the correlation here.  Game mechanics, when used properly, can tell a story or support a game’s story on their own.  I find it to be a shame that some game designers don’t understand this basic concept — your game design/mechanics are the core reason you’re playing a game in the first place.  If they can’t be expressive enough on their own, then your game is missing a key component of what makes gaming, well, gaming.

This can even be done with the most simplistic mechanics.  Let’s use a first-person shooter for our example, if we may.  Shooting someone else is a pretty simple mechanic, right?  Can’t tell a story with it, right?


Let’s imagine a game with barely any graphics, no voice acting, no sounds, no nothing.  You start hidden behind a barrier with a few other AI players.  You have a pistol and only a few clips to reload.  There’s more ammo available, but it’s out  to the side from the barrier, visible to your enemy.  Your enemy is a group of red-uniformed men.  They are firing at you and your squad.  The goal of the game is to take out as many of these other men without dying yourself.  As you play, the waves of enemies don’t become harder, but there’s more of them.  More of them are firing at you.  It becomes harder to pop out around the side of your barrier.  Your AI compatriots are dying.  Eventually, you die, because it becomes too much.

That was all game play mechanics, but many of you most likely pictured a soldier making a last stand against an impossible amount of enemies.  You know you can’t win, but you’re going to do everything in your power to stop the enemy.  Your AI soldiers are useful because they’re helping you stay alive against the impossible odds, and you know that when one dies that the game is going to become a lot more difficult.  This leads to you almost “caring” for your AI buddies.  You know you need to keep them alive because they’re keeping you alive.  I didn’t need to give you a script.  I didn’t need for you to have explosions in your ears.  I didn’t need for you to have fancy graphics.  You got what I was trying to tell you because the mechanics are evoking imagery.

In writing Avarice Industries (the game formerly known as Wildfire Industries), I’ve been trying to do the same thing with pen-and-paper RPG mechanics.  Sometimes when playing PnP RPGs there’s a bit of a disconnect between playing the game as a story and playing the game with stats.  There’s no reason the two can’t collide to create something beautiful, yet our PnP RPGs are very frequently all about “tell story to a certain point, demand a check, see how successful check is, repeat process.”

While Xavier and I haven’t eliminated that problem entirely, I would say that our system does evoke the main themes of the game in order to create a better experience.  Let me lay it down for you all.

— Avarice Industries eliminates skills and attributes in favor or the Seven Virtues of Industry — Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Pride, and Lust.  These “Seven Virtues” are both statistics and skills.  They each encompass a domain that executives may use to get important tasks done.  The unique portion of the system is that we allow players to tailor the description of their actions to the GM so they may roll stats they are proficient in.  Basically, if you describe an action well enough that it falls under your preferred virtue, the GM will let you use that virtue in the roll.  Our favorite example of this is searching.  An intelligent character might pick through a person’s belongings carefully, which would lead the GM to use the intelligence stat — Gluttony — in the player’s roll.  A beefy tank character might rip through the apartment, tearing things apart to find what he wants to find.  This would lead the GM to use the strength/warrior stat — Wrath.

— Our other core mechanic is a character’s Motivation.  Motivation is very much like energy/mana/action points in that you spend it to use your character’s special abilities, called Traits.  However, Motivation differs from those examples in two ways:  You can only replenish it with good roleplaying and Motivation can be spent to improve die rolls.

At any point in the game, you may use a point of Motivation to “nudge” a die up or down a number.  In our game you roll d8s for your skills, and you get a success for every d8 that rolls a 6 or above.  Motivation can be used to “repair” crappy rolls, potentially turning horrible outcomes into stunning successes.  We did this because we felt that it was a perfect mirror for how business works — if you want to invest in a roll and put forth all of your character’s energy to make this work, then it will work.  How many times have we played RPGs where that one critical roll is botched and it turns the entire game into crap?

However, Motivation is a resource that should not be squandered.  That is something else we’ve done on purpose.  Investing Motivation is like any business investment — it carries risk.  Do you want to use that Motivation now, on this roll that you don’t want to fail on but can?  Or do you want to save your Motivation for when your character encounters a life or death roll?

We’ve noticed that players with high Motivation are a bit more carefree when they play the game — they take risks with their rolls  and spend Motivation freely.  But as the Motivation pool drops, they begin to seriously consider their actions, and each roll of the dice becomes a grim task.  The lifesaving net slowly evaporates as the game is played, putting your character closer to failure and losing everything if you don’t invest properly.  That’s the story of business.

And that’s how you use mechanics to support your story.