A Revolution in Fiction Unfolds
June 22, 2013 1:15 AM   Subscribe

Nill Kamui is an independent island caught in a power struggle between the forces of Donatia, the land of Knights and the Church, and Koran, an empire of secrets and the immortal empress Ghost Mother. When the Red Dragon, the ancient protector of the island, goes berserk and starts killing for no reason, a desperate plan is hatched: a team of representatives from each of the three powers is given a mission to find why the Red Dragon went mad and stop him by any means necessary. Red Dragon is a tabletop RPG campaign with its own trailer, and that's not all.

The trailer is specifically for the series of books (also known as Red Dragon) based on transcripts of sessions from the campaign, all of which are available for free online (Japanese only). Unlike novelizations of campaigns sometimes released in English, "replays" are written as transcripts of actual play rather than as fiction from the perspective of the characters. Originally an outgrowth of "How to Play" introductions to RPGs, they've formed into their own genre in Japan and enjoy popularity on their own, as well as spawning better-known adaptations such as the Record of the Lodoss War anime. However, Red Dragon is a little different.

Besides putting all the books free online, the campaign has its own soundtrack and a team of artists providing maps and character illustrations (the head artist, Shimadoriru, is also a player). Play is also supplemented by occasional narrated recordings by professional voice actors playing the parts of important NPCs, which are embedded directly in the online version or accessible via QR code from the published books. Perhaps most interestingly, the majority of the players are professional writers, including Urobuchi Gen (Madoka Magica), Kinoko Nasu (Fate/stay Night), and Ryohgo Narita (Baccano!). The GM, Makoto Sanda, mainly writes RPGs but was also the principal author for the Rental Magica light novel series and later anime version.

Replays are not common in English, but in the past few years a few Japanese tabletop RPGs (called TRPGs in Japan, from "table-talk") have been translated and brought incidental replays with them. MAID RPG was a modest success, but Tenra Bansho Zero and Golden Sky Stories both had wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns, which may open the door for more replay translations.

Though actual play transcripts are hard to find in English, a few sources do exist. Hack and Slash has some literal line-for-line transcripts of D&D style play, while The Delvers is an extensive campaign in a more condensed style. There's also a subreddit, RPGrecordings, for recordings and transcripts of actual play.
posted by 23 (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
This is really neat! If you've got a Something Awful account, this thread about tabletop roleplaying in Japan is a really fascinating resource about how the hobby has evolved in Japan.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:54 AM on June 22, 2013

I asked 23 what "replays" are, and he wrote a post about them.
posted by JHarris at 2:11 AM on June 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also see /r/gametales, which is full of people telling cool stories of things that happened in their RPGs. Covers both tabletop and computer games.
posted by egypturnash at 2:24 AM on June 22, 2013

Well. That's awesome. Goodbye weekend.
posted by longbaugh at 2:50 AM on June 22, 2013

For a bunch of Mefites' RPG tales, check here.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:59 AM on June 22, 2013

I would give my anything to be around people like this. I feel like I have been waiting and hoping all my life and it is simply never going to actually happen.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

We're not talking about actual play reports, are we? Because those seem to be all over the place. RPGnet has a whole sub-forum devoted to them. Story Games has a vast repository. Heck, I have some actual play reports on my gaming blog.

Video recordings of game sessions also seem quite numerous. There are even recordings for ConTessa, which is going on right now.

Now, literal transcripts... yeah, those mostly don't exist for Western-style RPGs. And replays are, by definition, primarily transcripts, yes?
posted by jiawen at 3:35 PM on June 22, 2013

You know, while there is nothing like this in the West, nothing says there couldn't be. We have a good number of prominent geek writers who play RPGs. The results might not be mainstream here, but if the product was targeted towards geek circles, it might work.
posted by JHarris at 5:53 PM on June 22, 2013

Yeah, not saying it can't or shouldn't happen in the West. It'd be cool! And I certainly had fun writing the "how to play" example for Blade & Crown.
posted by jiawen at 6:43 PM on June 22, 2013

My adult RPG experience mostly consists of playing online in what is effectively a chat room with a few handy accessories like automatic dice rolling, so we automatically get transcripts out of the sessions, which are surprisingly fun to reread after the fact.
posted by dfan at 7:05 PM on June 22, 2013

We're not talking about actual play reports, are we?

Nope! Some dip into a fictional style every so often - Red Dragon does this for its opening and a few lines every chapter, though the others I've seen don't do that at all - but mostly they're transcripts. Some are just literal transcriptions, but most will be edited with disfluencies, looking up rules, or ultimately irrelevant wandering monster encounters just described in a few lines. Table noise, particularly things like "everybody laughed", usually get noted though.

If you look at this page in Red Dragon you can see the bold text on the left which is the name of who's speaking - "FM" stands for Fiction Master, and the parenthetical is whatever character he's speaking as.
posted by 23 at 7:22 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like a Call of Cthulhu replay (the same one I mentioned in the other thread) has an in-progress English fan translation - it's just about to where the actual sessions starts.
posted by 23 at 7:29 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember the Lodoss anime but I had no idea that the manga came from a game replay of some sort. I know a number of novels that supposedly have come out of games the authors played in in the American market, but they have the serial numbers filed off.
posted by immlass at 8:04 PM on June 22, 2013

Actually, I can read Japanese a bit, so I get what the transcripts are about. I think it was the phrasing about Western reports that confused me; The Delvers' reports, which are kinda halfway between transcript and standard prose narrative, and discussion of RPG tales here on the Blue got me wondering what we were talking about.
posted by jiawen at 11:40 PM on June 22, 2013

The Dragonlance series started as a "replay" of a D&D campaign conducted by the authors. Its really obvious in the first few chapters, they even mention the word initiative.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:41 AM on June 23, 2013

My time-travelling neighbor (remember him yeah I know) says he likes to go back in time and hit up creative people late in their lives with knowledge of how their work is seen in (spooky voice) THE FUTURE!! To try to blow their minds. Yeah, he's kind of a dick.

He did this with Lovecraft, he says. He says he went right up to HPL on his death bed and told him "Hey dude. In the 1970s some people will take pulp fantasy novels and build a game out of them, where people sit around a table and sort of pretend to be those characters. And a few years later one of the most popular of all these things will be a game built off of your Yog-Sothothery. (By the way your work will be studied in universities and people will write many books and papers about them, okay moving on.) Then off in Japan people will play a translation of this game, and write books that are transcripts of people playing it, which are popular enough that a cartoon -- yes, like those short things Disney has been making -- is made that takes your monsters and twists them around, and they even make Nyarlathotep into a school girl from outer space. What do you think about that???"

He says that Lovecraft stopped what he was doing and got this kind of far-off look. He held it for a few seconds, and a slow smile crept over his face. He didn't say anything. It was like it was all according to some plan. He then felt a kind of chill down his spine, and a large shadow passed overhead outside. Unnerved him enough that he got out of there fast as he could.

I never know if he's messing with me, if he really is a time-traveler, or if he's just a talented liar. But I like to imagine Lovecraft having some slight idea of the weird ways in which the world would react to his work. I think he'd enjoy knowing.
posted by JHarris at 4:28 AM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I love the description of the game from that fan translation, 23:

[...]The Cthulhu Mythos TRPG is based on 1920s era fiction created by author H.P. Lovecraft. The concepts of the stories were then put into a TRPG. A foreign game company, Chaosium, published this game, and from the time TRPGs came to Japan it has continued to be loved by an eager base of users. The characteristic entities within the Cthulhu Mythos, if known by humans, would seem transcendent to human beings. Compared to them, Earth and the humans on it are so much dust.

     The predecessors who wrote these Cthulhu Mythos stories had created 'Cosmic Horror'. It has the ring of science fiction, doesn't it? And so, even within the Earth that will live in, secretly horrific beings lurk. But compared to those monsters who seek blood and meat from humans, or corrupted humans and devils, humans aren't paid much attention by malign entities. Among these beings, perhaps the most conspicuously powerful is Azathoth, who exists mindlessly in outer space, indifferent to all.

     But thanks to that, human civilization, even our existence itself, has been possible. Even so, there have been times when humans have made a furtive glimpse of this malevolent beings.

     This replay of the Cthulhu Mythos TRPG focuses on characters controlled within it, called Investigators within the parlance of the game. They don't have magic, ESP ability, or advanced weapons, but they do not silently wait to be sacrificed. That wouldn't be interesting. So to help them escape from this problem, they collect information, analyze it, use reasoning, occasionally collide with it, and make efforts to survive the situation.

     Even though this is a fantasy war, this is not an action movie. The characters are ordinary people like us. Armed with wisdom and bravery, they have a hard time overcoming these terrors from outer space. It is this type fo drama that makes the Cthulhu Mythos TRPG so pleasurable.

posted by JHarris at 4:50 AM on June 23, 2013

The Cthulhu Mythos TRPG is based on 1920s era fiction created by author H.P. Lovecraft. The concepts of the stories were then put into a TRPG. A foreign game company, Chaosium, published this game, and from the time TRPGs came to Japan it has continued to be loved by an eager base of users

Call of Cthulhu has a kickstarter for a seventh ed. The Chaosium story is worth a few words too. From which eventually came trollball the boardgame and, well, whatever this is.
posted by PandaMomentum at 9:44 AM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's awesome, PandaMomentum! I've thought before that a full FPP on classic-era Chaosium would be interesting to read.
posted by JHarris at 5:42 PM on June 23, 2013

Here's the page on Stafford's page on the creation of Call of Cthulhu. It's worth reminding that its original creator, Sandy Petersen, also worked on the computer game Doom. He rocks.
posted by JHarris at 5:47 PM on June 23, 2013

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