We open this week with something oddly wonderful from Japan, a game designed as a gateway into RPGs that invites folks of all ages to enjoy story and wonder in ways very new to the average gamer, I think.
Ryuutama is an RPG developed in Japan by designer Atsuhiro Okada. It is set in a world where the “NPCs” of the village–the bakers, farmers, shopkeepers and healers–set off on a wonderful adventure exploring a fantasy world together. Some people colloquially call it “Hayao Miyazaki’s Oregon Trail“, because of its heartwarming (in Japanese “honobono“) feel of family anime, and its focus on traveling and wonder over combat and treasure.
The characters are travelers in a world without classical fantasy wizards and warriors. Instead, the characters are minstrels, merchants, healers, hunters, artisans, farmers and nobles who decide (or were fated) to leave their towns and explore the world. Using a light rules system based on polyhedral dice where the randomness in results leads to more story development, Ryuutama provides a framework for travel-focused stories fun for adults and enjoyable for all ages.
The game master also creates a special character with its own unique character sheet, called the “Ryuujin“. The half-dragon Ryuujin remains “offscreen” most of the time, but watches over the other characters, and can provide limited spells and abilies to support them. The GM provides adversity that the players have to overcome, but at the same time they protect and nurture the characters.
- Experience is gained in Ryuutama primarily by making difficult journeys to new places, far more than monster slaying.
- Magic is based on seasonal essenses, and focuses on the classic creative use of magic to overcome problems, over combat-themed spells.
- Combat is simple and fun, featuring a classic console style “Front/Back Line Battle Mat”
- The players at the table have a hand in creating the towns that their characters visit together, so that everyone has an interest in the next leg of the journel!
- Critical fumbles (rolling 1s on both dice) hurt, but all the characters at the table get a bonus to a future roll in return.
The game was produced as a flagship project in Japan to easily get people into playing and GMing RPGs; to that end there’s a lot of advice for brand new GMs, including scenario creation. There are lots of sheets and templates to help brand new or novice GMs develop great Ryuutama-worthy scenarios.