Saturday, June 19, 2010

Japanese Stormbringer

One of the things I really love seeing are foreign language editions of English language RPGs. I find it interesting to see how a game I'm familiar with is "localized" in terms of artwork and presentation. Unlike some gamers on the Net, I don't place a lot of stock in the notion that foreign editions are almost always better than the originals when it comes to esthetics -- I've seen too many positively awful foreign language editions to believe that. Nevertheless, there are times when foreign editions look just awesome or otherwise make me wish that they were available in translation. (And Games Workshop often proved, way back when, that it was often possible to produce another English language edition that was better than the original)

Anyway, my world traveling friend (and player of Vladimir the dwarf) is in Japan on a business trip and sends along the following image:

It is, as you can see, a Japanese edition of Chaosium's Stormbringer RPG (the 5th edition from the looks of it). I think it looks absolutely awesome.


  1. Of course it's awesome--it's illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano, who also did original cover art for several of the Elric novels.

    IIRC Moorcock once said that of the many artists who've illustrated the Multiverse, Amano comes closest to capturing Moorcock's own vision of his characters.

  2. There are tons of great-looking Japanese GURPS and Call of Cthulhu supplements that were never released stateside, too. Surprisingly, their D&D products don't seem to have revamped artwork or layout.

  3. The larger than life action of the Elric saga has always had an anime feel to me, so that kind of art is just a natural for it.

  4. Elric and anime is a natural. After all, he is the archetypical troubled, bishonen elf anti-hero.

    I still have a soft spot for the Japanese version of Battletech. While the orignal FASA designs were "borrowed" from anime shows, their later designs were just unimaginative boxes on legs. The Japanese had original designs by Studio Nue which looked damnfine.

    Have a look:

  5. Ooh nice find there, very interesting. I have a big soft spot for Stormbringer too, it was my first non-TSR fantasy rpg and quite the shock to the system.

    a little off topic but John you are 100% correct! The anime 'mecha' designs that FASA borrowed from the Robotech source material totally sold me on the game the first couple editions. Just the other day I was thinking how consistently crappy later battlemech always looked...

  6. My Japanese is pretty poor, but the blue lettering underneath Elric's horse reads "Eternal Champion Elric and his black sword Stormbringer."

    And it's not surprising that a Japanese artist working in one of his country's dominant popular-art idioms captured Elric so well: so much modern Japanese illustration features androgynous, even fey, men with etiolated, elongated features -- our antihero to a tee.

  7. Surprisingly, their D&D products don't seem to have revamped artwork or layout.

    Perhaps not the newer products, but that's certainly not true of the older editions

  8. Elric and anime is a natural. After all, he is the archetypical troubled, bishonen elf anti-hero.

    Dammit! Beaten to the "Stormbishie" connection by a country mile.

  9. There's a lot of interest in pen-n'-paper RPGs in Japan than we'd expect. There are quite a few gaming stores there which sell Japanese language gaming products. Indeed, they've a few companies of their own, like Group SNE, which publishes the Sword World RPG and a number of GURPS supplements.

  10. Fantasy role-playing a la D&D is uniquely an Anglo American invention. It can be reasonably asserted without sounding pompous that everyone in the world becomes fascinated with various aspects of the Americana. Consider Bedhouin shopkeepers in Syria who restore and race 1960's American cars, German fascination with the American West,a nd the fascination with the fallout in Europe. American cocnepts such as first person shooter games, and concept from video games and some rpg rules have influenced literature and film in other cultures, whose audiences may never see or play the American videogames. In light of this, it is surprising that
    i) American role-playing rules have not been exported and/or adapted overseas to any greater extent, unlike, say, biker lifestyle, a uniquely American tradition, down to all of the major American biker gangs, which now have chapters all over the world. By the same token, it is also surprising that other cultures have not sprung their own unique role-playing games, as is the case with the forms of literature - each language produces lietrature offering slightly different stories, themes, and subject matters. fans of sci-fi, try to find Chinese Sci-Fi, which has been producing stories since the 1960's at least, and I may have seen one written in 1947. It's not space opera, not hard sci-fi and it's not the hive mindset one would associate with Maoism. From what I have seen, the French and the Germans have produced some unqie board games, a la "Settlers" games for kids. France has translated Chivalry and Sorcery rules, and Spain and Germany have released D&D clones, but nothing original, like adapting history books and literray classics to the comic book format to increase their popoularity among the middle school kids, as was done in Europe, but the PNP RPGs have not been exported abroad as well as CRPGs. GURPS may have traveled to japan via the American servciemen stationed there. I first heard about GURPS back in 1987 from a couple of thrity soemthing sailors who were discussing Steve Jackson's divorce and alimony on an obscure military outpost.

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  12. "By the same token, it is also surprising that other cultures have not sprung their own unique role-playing games..."
    Allow me to help you take a few steps into a wider world. Larping, "free-form" games, and Jeepform are huge in Scandinavia, as are more traditional role-playing games, euro-style board games, collectible card games, etc.

    Matthijs Holter's anthology Norwegian Style (and his blog of the same name) is full of amazing, mostly short-form, games.

    You can probably find a blog post or two by most of the recent anglophone guests of honor at Finland's Ropecon about how the Scandinavian gaming scene. Their gaming culture has already started to feed-back into American designs.

    For further reading, John Kim's RPG Encyclopedia has games indexed by language (I've linked to the page on Japanese games -- I found the random tables of Maid RPG to be delightful and inspiring, and I'm a bit excited about the English language release of Tenra Bansho Zero), andwikipedia (again, linking to Japanese games) has a surprising amount of information on many subjects. If you can stand the forums, RPGnet is a good place to start any search.

  13. Please disregard the various unfinished thoughts (the extra "how" in the Ropecon sentence for starters), and minor typos in the post above. I filled the "Leave your comment" box with so much markup that I couldn't really read what I was writing.

  14. @Brooze: Sorry. Definitely have to disagree with you there. I have many fine RPGs that never did, and never could of, originated in the US, including two from Germany and one from Spain (and one from Sweden [which I still can't read], and about a dozen from France).

    Some of them have been lucky enough to be translated into English, but in many cases a lot of the original feel was lost in doing so. [Many of them are culturally distinctive and do not suffer translation well, whilst others were deemed (from the apparent result) to be considered unpalatable in their native form, probably due to an assumed cultural bias on the part of the intended audience.]

    And that ignore the excellent role playing games that have been produced by other English speaking countries as well, which can't be found on the "American" market, and which maintain a distinct cultural identity (and I don't just mean by including Drop Bears, Wendigo, or Toffs).

    The problem is gaming is a very small market (I consider comparisons to being the model railroaders of the 80s to be apt). There usually isn't the financial incentive to rerelease games in a different language, as compared to computer games, fiction etc. And the production of CRPG is much more lucrative (or not, as MultiSim found to it's dismay). And it is correspondingly hard to find out about these games unless you actively look for them.

    [There are lots of Japanese only RPGs I'd like to have, except I'm even worse at reading Japanese than I am at Swedish. <grin> I definitely hope Diamond Sutra's success with Maid gives them the opportunity to translate many more uniquely Japanese RPGs (I agree with you @George on the excellence of that game).]

  15. Pavane, Austin, I stand corrected. I will follow up your links, GA, my questuon to you both is, card and board games aside, what are some of the topics and settings covered by the RPGs in other countries that you know of, that we don't see in the US? I know that there is a diverse scene of indie RPGs even in the US (Dust Devils, Ars Magicka come to mind), which never got any airplay in the context of the D&D discusisons, whoich is unfortunate, since I have improved my AD&D game play by adapting game mechanics from other systems totally unrelated to traditional RPGs - Decks of cards, Narrativism, etc.

  16. There is a French RPG set in Jack Vance's Lyonesse that was never translated into English. It's one setting I'd love to see a ruleset for.

  17. To be honest, Brooze, I agree with your idead. RPG is something 100% american, and the rest of countries adopted your canons and standars. But there are some games whose ideas are very unique and related to their native country's culture.
    Spain's Aquelarre comes to mind: a very antiheroic game, based on the Spain of the 13th-14th century, a game were the develop of the christian church of the date and the relationship between the diferent kingdoms, finally united to constitute the country plays a very important role in the development of the characters and their relationships, with real racism & intolerance rampart (as people were in that era) and strong satanic overtones. For 1990 it was pretty groundbreaking.

  18. Touche! Jose!

    Aquilarre sounds like a great game. What's the game emchanic like? The last days of the Visi-Goths in Spain and the 200-300 years mmediately before the Spanish Conquistadores have sailed forth into the new World are a dark and an intersting period in history much overlooked by pop history at least here. Language barrier and the insularity of the American pop culture might be to blame. RPG scene being what it is, it may have turned out differently even here. Had role playing different roots, we may have had an RPG influenced by Jack London or Ernst Hemingway. A horror RPG based on Ambrose Bierce is probably impossible since his world does not lend itself into ready translation into game terms. I have noticed a theme similar to Aquillare in the German fan design of the Fallout 3. It featured a Lutheran missionary ina gas mask with a rifle in one hand. The symbol and the meaning is rooted in German history and to those not familiar with the Protestant Misisonariesa as opposed to Catholic, might not be readily apparent.

    To Rudd, isn't Lyonesse already a variant of D&D? Wouldn't Foreign Legion's exploits in Sahara or heroes in the service of Napoleon Bonaparte be more of a uniquely French theme?

  19. To Brooze

    I'm not saying the Lyonesse game itself is unique: it may be, I've never held a copy and and if I had my French is inadequate. Rather I'm saying this is one game I'm aware of that is unique to France.

    I also don't think a game has to have anything in common with a nation's culture or history to be unique. D&D while an American game is focused on settings that have a very old world flavor.

    There may very well be games where you can play a Legionnaire. I've seen some pretty cool looking French comics, another very American medium that the Gauls have put their own spin on. :)

  20. I find that Japanese editions often look more recent than they really are, because of how Japanese-style drawing has become popular in the West.

  21. James;

    I have lived in Japan the last decade and I have to say they do illustration well. On the other hand, the translation of English games leaves something to be desired!

  22. Rudd, you might be right - D&D is thouroughly modern and American in how the fanatsy milleau is presented and the French game based on the Vance's Lyonesse mught be unique. It's modern because Grehawk setting is really post-nuke holocaust cold war setting adapted for medieval famtasy and Forgotten Realms is really Balkans with the Elves and woodlands. The presentation of both is unquiely American, because settlers in America had greater access to firearms and had less cetralized control, oppression and repression in their lives. Europeans view holocausts destructions and cataclysms a lot differently and do not romanticize destruction and chaos, primarily because the dwellers of tghe old world have seen a lot more wars and hasd their countries invaded and occupied more often. But more that that, during the great plagues of the 13-15 centuries, people in England could not just pick up and flee into the countryside to "adventure". They sat at home and awaited their fate, because the courts and military patrols maintained order, because ther was nothing to eat in the countryside and you could not just squat on private roperty, but more importantly, every Englishman was on the roll (centruries before census, there were rolls for hearth taxes) and people in towns, cities and villages were on the dole receiving food aid so that they would not starve in the absence of harvests and regular commerce. The problem was that you could only receive aid where you were registered to pay the hearth tax. So, you are right, Lyonesse might be a diferent game, because Europeans will probably coceive of a campaign world differently.

    I am looking at the different cultures' rpgs the way comparative literature looks at its subject - difference in literray forms across the cultural lines.

  23. Regarding Japanese RPGs:
    I really like the Japanese format. WoD, Warhammer, D&D, the all come in hardcovers that are roughly comparable to US trade paperback comic books.

    Lyonesse was a Swiss RPG. It was based on a die step system, and I guess some or most RPG stores wouldn't have carried it in the US, thanks to cover artwork that would have been considered NSFW.

    How the RPG idea was greeted in Europe: Lots of links!

    Gaming in France
    Comparing the gaming/market evolution of France and Gernany

    The first German RPG, Midgard

    Das Schwarze Auge and D&D - head to head!
    The success of Das Schwarze Auge: Metaplot!
    DSA emphasises Storytelling
    Has anyone played DSA?

    TSR was not interested in foreign editions
    AD&D grognards hurting themselves

    Eventually Amigo adapted AD&D to German market sensibilities
    German AD&D came in boxed sets

    Foreign markets actually have more RPG products (to choose from) than the US market
    (post #11 and especially #24)

    Gaming communities in big cities (Berlin, Germany)
    (the thread really starts around post #11)

    Justifiers is getting a multimedia relaunch in Germany

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  25. Thank you, everyone, for all the feedback and the links. GA, Jeepform seems like a cool idea, some philosphers in France/Switzerland must have adapted role=playing game mechanics to situationist philosophy from the nouveau art and architectural movement from the 1960's. I am glad to see Norwegian style has made onto the RPG scene. Now that I read it, it's a form of pretend role-play form Northern Europe. Long before I knew D&D, at around 8, we would climb under a desk amd spend hiurs pretending it was the cockpit of a spaceship, rigging up our instrument control panels to aid in role-play. Another time a bunch of us would get together at someone's hosue and pretend that we all WWI officers aboard a ship bound for battle. This lasted for a whole school year when I was 10. As we hung out, everyone invented their own biography. There weren't any real story, direction or rules per se, no dice and no combat, certainly. We mostly sat aroud and told each other stories about previous exploits. One upmanship generally ruined the game by making stories extreme and unbeliavable, and was ver much frowned upon by the group, tonthe extend that people got thrown out; there were no referees on the scene. There was no finalle to the game, it just ended with the summer vacation.

    I think that the German version of D&D (space dungeon made of bones) actually indpired the D&D 3rd edition "Alternative Dungeon" design. The Japanese style of narrative based role-play I think is actually rooted in the Japanese culture. Modern D&D has been shaped by he market forces more than by anything else. Te form of D&D role play has been shaped by the miniatures tied into the game. I never used miniatures and went in the direction of the REAL pencil ad paper and story telling. I have created my own campaign setting so that no player will have played the module before or could go to the store and buy a source book. The world must be a strange and alien place to the player. I have never used the setting that came wiht the game rules.

    Of course there is OD&D scene in other countries, that goes for both, bearded intellectuals in Russia and China who learend English and are trying in small circles in isolation to figure out the game play, and for the other language OD&D clones and derivatives.

    The intersting part, and that is probbaly the overseas effect of being from America, is that in the US, the game is primarily a hobby for teen agers who do not look beyond the immediate game.In other parts of the world, the game is amuch more serious intellectual exercise. A similar dynamic in the West would be the CRPGs Planescape Torment and Fallout. Someone has put a lot of philoosophy, and California street culture and supersition (magical powers of tattoos) and mixed it up with the traditional Cairo and 18th Century British street slang to creat the Sigil, the City of Doors. The Fallout serries, especially the first game, was a brillint allegory for the Cold War, modern and post modern California. Unfortunately, Planescape was not a big seller and Fallout de-volved into something drawn by commercial designers from fashion industry (judging by the concept art that they released), who had no business putting their claws on that game. Ah, well, the late great golden age of the CRPG. The good thing is that the D&D appears to have found the same kind of a reception in Europe. I did not know that the RPG had as big a following overseas as it apoparently does.