Thursday, November 15, 2007

Playtest: Wacky Samurai Sports

The last week of indie night we eschewed our Bliss Stage game (though it will return at least once more, we can't get enough of those angsty teenagers fighting for humanity). Instead, we returned to Persona and played a great game of Squash. Yes, thats right. We roleplaying a high-school squash team. And it rocked.

For those of you who aren't aware, there is a sub-genre of anime that can be very strange. Mike and I call it "wacky samurai action anime." But that isn't quite fair because its not exactly wacky (at least the characters in the series take is very seriously), there are never any samurai involved, and unless you count high school sports as action, there isn't action. There is, however anime. Its wacky samurai action because these showes generally follow a formula that we were first exposed in Rurouni Kenshin, a samurai anime. Generally they will concentrate on one particular sport or activity (Street Racing, Go, Girls Baseball, American Football, Soccer, etc), and they will have crazy techniques with names ("Oh my god, its the Dunk Smash", "Drive B!", "The Hand of God"), and a lot of commentary. Generally the main character is extremely good at the sport (from breeding, practice, or natural talent), and they join a team, and proceed to have many many many fights exploring their skill relative to others.

So, last sunday, after explaining all of this to my reluctant players, we attempted to play some wacky samurai sports anime. I suggested Squash because it seems to have a lot of awesome stunting potential, and one of our players plays. I read up on wikipedia about the game, and we were just about off.

Our cast of characters consisted of:

  1. Hideki - The old captain, experienced in the ways of squash, and therefore life.

  2. John Cockran - The former curling player who brought the skills of the ice to the court

  3. Naoki - Tragically injured in a Kendo match, and never able to play again, Naoki has entered the squash circuit looking to escape his past

In addition, we generated rivals for everyone. This worked out pretty well, as there was a lot of room for comedy.

  1. Squash Player X - With special dispensation for medical reasons, squash player X wears a face mask at all of his actions. He also goes to the same school as Hideki's younger brother, and, oddly, those two are never seen together

  2. Hiroyuki Sakai - This french chief has been insulted one too many times by Cockran, and is now out for blood
  3. Ryu Hiyote - Naoki's former kendo rival, responsible for his inability to ever play kendo again has followed Naoki to the squash courts

As you can see we had a colorful cast of characters. After having our first clash of the titans and establishing the Hideo High squash style as the "Squash of the Heart", we quickly moved into the training portion of the adventure. At this point, I went all out on the comedy. After flying the team to tibet, the coach informed them that in order to have any hope of competing at nationals, they would have to climb a mountain without gear, without food, and without help. That mountain: Mt. Everest.

They had to face 4 challenges:

  1. Don't die from starvation! - Wherein we learned that the northern bear squash style can evidently take out goats
  2. The Ice Cliffs of Death - Wherein we learned serving strategies for climbing sheer cliffs
  3. The Thin Air of Everest - Wherein we learned that the vaccuum ball technique can be used to increase the air pressure of an area, also evidently the Squash of the Heart only requires one breath to accomplish anything
  4. The Helicopter of Death - Wherein machine-gun like squash serving machines were imployed to knock the characters off the mountain

These were a lot of fun. And everything culminated in the nationals. There was much stunting and awesome tricks played on opponents.

In the end, I think I convinced myself of a couple of things: almost anything can be a fun roleplaying game, as long as you're willing to be loose about it (and you use Persona). Making technique a cheap fragement is really effective at promoting a "wacky samurai" feel. Fun games don't have to be planned, at all, but it helps to know the rules of squash.

I'm not sure if I'll run another wacky samurai game soon, but I do know I won't hesitate to in the future.

And just to sum up, some of the awesome techniques we saw:

  1. The Spirit Of Japan
  2. The Eiffel Tower (and its cousin - The Tokyo Tower)
  3. Vaccuum Exploding Ball Serve
  4. Hurricane Whirlwind Double Wall Bounce
  5. Snowman-san
  6. Squash of the Heart
  7. Gyrosopically Minded Ball

If anyone from the game remembers any of the names better or more techniques, tell me and I'll update this


shadow said...

You are missing the creepy little girl!

Anonymous said...

Along the topic of wacky samauri stuff, I'm been reading 30+ volumes of a sports manga called Hajime no Ippo. It's about boxing which highlights the genre wonderfully.

What makes is so interesting from a structure perspective is that because of the nature of boxing every fight is in essence the same. This is a fairly realistic anime, which uses actual boxing moves for its fighting. As someone who has on occasion played boxer-style fighters I can tell you that this is extremely challenging thing to stunt in an interesting way (and that is when you're not even stuck in a ring, limited to only punching).

What this has made me wonder about what makes these series good. Ben's game is maybe more like a comedy improv stunting night, but I'm not convinced that the actual quality of the stunting is what necessarily makes the series in this genre.

Just food for thought.

Ben said...

Yeah, no creepy little girl in this game, I've basically stopped using that device entirely :)... Well, except when I want to bring it out...

I definitely agree with buffalo on the differences between my game and wacky samurai action. My game was completely silly, fun, irreverent, more of a parody then a simulation. In other words, my game : wacky anime :: blades of glory : the cutting edge.

The anime side of things always takes itself seriously (even with a "lightning pitch" is involved. And the interplay between the players and techniques is alwasy super serious. I ran my game silly because I felt it would be too hard, at least the first time, to try to run a serious game. I think it can be done, though... But there are a couple of challenges, like camera time, and creating serious opponents and reasons to "fight" or to care about the current conflict.