12 reasons Anime d20 sucks

January 5, 2009

Some time ago I went to read Anime d20 as a system that should supposedly solve some of my problems. If you wonder why I haven’t done it earlier, I can let you know I just gave up after I saw good ol’ dwarves there. Don’t let me be misunderstood, I love dwarves. They just don’t mix with anime. It’s just like trying to ride a bike while having sex: both activities can be fun if tried separetely, but together you’re just gonna fall down and injure yourself and your partner. Not to mention the broken bike and the embarrassement.

  1. Dwarves. Elves too, they are kinda scarce, but dwarves… I’ve watched thousands and thousands of episodes of various anime, I’m not exaggerating. You know how many of those bearded small guys I’ve seen so far? Yes, I’m counting. One. One motherfucking dwarf! The poor lad went against Olibu in a tournament and lost before you could start counting his screentime. Guys, don’t make a standard race unless it’s a common thing, and having just one of that kind is not considered common.
  2. Giant Robots and Hot Rods. I mean, what’s the deal with separating them from Mecha Pilots? The story is never about robots anyway, and even if it is, like in Giant Robo, they are still more of a thing that responce to certain feelings and requests, more of a tool than of a front row character. Robotic characters like Kikuchiyo or Al are not that different from others to separate them. Who cares if you actually drive a robot, fuel a robot or are a robot? What matters is that you solve problems with “robot-ness”.
  3. Ninjas. Yes, for once, I’m against the ninjas. You gotta give ’em some other title, like Shadow Warriors or something like that. You don’t call giant robots “dolems” or “gunmen” because you don’t want to tie it down to RahXephon or TTGL, so don’t rely on this term too. There’re lots of people who want to play a game of Naruto with your rules, please don’t say they all gotta use just this one class!
  4. Pet Monster Trainers. Epic fail. They tried to base it on Pokemon, then swinged the other way to generalise trainers of different traditions, but the result just doesn’t fit anywhere anymore. And you gotta really make distinction between trainers who fight together with their ‘pets’ (Lucy, Jiraiya), who totally control them (Sasori, Squala), and who summon them and try to keep them on the leash (Rekka, Adilicia, Babidi). The details, like what happens when a ‘pet’ dies, or whether ‘pets’ are real animals, magical creatures or supernatural beings, can be written out in the setting itself.
  5. Samurais. Same shit as with ninjas. “Samurai” is a cool term, but it doesn’t say anything about you. If you’re a samurai, does it mean you are all disciplined and loyal? Are you for instance able to use sword-based energy attacks or you just cut people? There are different kinds of samurais, and there are series completely devoted to samurai, so this is a double fail. How I propose to do that? Go for several types of swordsmen that you can identify: the one with a magic sword that’s almost like a ‘pet’ (Kazu, Haru, Aya, all shinigami from Bleach), the one that uses special properties of his swords for his attacks but otherwise thinks of it as a tool (Zoro, Zabuza, Kenshin), the one who is just damn awesome at cutting others (Trunks, Tama, Musashi). Note that a hell lot of swordsmen are naturally “multiclass”: think of Trunks, Hiei, Kamina, etc.
  6. Sentai Member. Epic fail (again). All characters of all classes can be “team players to the core”. Or maybe not. This depends on the subgenre and on the particular game, it’s definitely not multiclassing. Think of Dragon Ball Z: they are all sentai members (at least in the beginning, until the weakest become cannon modder), yet each one of them is unique.
  7. Students. It’s not a class, it’s background. Some games just state you’re all students, some others don’t. Being a student as such does not give you any special powers, and I can hardly think of any anime beside Yu Yu Hakusho that has a mixed set of students and non-students.
  8. Multiclass, or the lack thereof. Given this crappy unorthogonal class system, all of the decent characters need to multiclass, and by using classic rules it’s just impossible. How do you think Naruto would look like? Adventurer(with Jiraiya)/Dynamic Sorcerer(ninjutsu)/Gun Bunny(kunai)/Martial Artist(my way of the ninja!)/Ninja(finally)/Pet Monster Trainer(frogs)/Sentai Member(team7)/Shapechanger(Naruko)/Shapechanger(Kyubi)/Student(ninja academy)? That’s 10 levels just for the starting package. Thank God he’s not a robot!
  9. Attributes, feats, skills. Whereever I look, they are either too specific to a certain series, or too broad and non-specific to anime. I mean, Duplicate? The cost for duplication is totally different in Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, and it’s actually much harder and more rare in the latter despite it being way higher on a power level scale, not to mention One Piece not having any duplication at all, no matter the cost. And what’s up with Dynamic Sorcerers casting D&D spells and forging rings? Gimme a break…
  10. Combat rules. While I like the idea of using a skill chosen from a set to attack and defend (D&D4 does that, btw, modulo the opposedness) and the surprisingly concise and fun rules for attacking multiple targets, most of the specific aspects of anime combat are not addressed. No talking that gives you real combar bonuses, no hostage rules, no power escalation, lousy second wind, etc.
  11. Size. Let’s face it: no-one is going to read a 265 page long document just to fish out the 10% that he’d need as a basis to build his own variant to run his own game. I still believe it is possible to design a more or less universal game system suitable for any playable anime (examples of unplayable anime: FLCL, TWHE) and better and more fine-grained than BESM, but Anime d20 is too far off.
  12. Lack of examples. I do realise this is an SRD I’m reading, but still the lack of examples and references ruins it too. It would look much better with 10 or 20 pages explaning the core rules, followed by example settings, say, 5 pages a piece.

Save or Die

December 18, 2008

‘Save or die’ is one of the most well-known anti-patterns in game design. It names the situation when one roll can decide the faith of the character. Save or die can be a system feature, but usually when talked about, it’s a bug: when the player wants to roll a lot of dice in a witty way, rolling once and dying isn’t exactly what you call fun. To get you the feel of it, here Whole Grain Games blog provides a typical yet nice example of how the problem can be addressed.

Is ‘save or die’ an inherently evil ephemera? I don’t think so. One just has to be very careful as to where to use it. That’s one of the reasons I like D&D4’s concept of tiers that clear separate heroes of one power level from the rest. Within such a tier there should be absolutely no save or die effects: if you want to prove your superiority, you have to work on that. However, against creatures from a lower tier, it should be totally possible: wail of the banshee is awesome shit if it kills all minions and insignificant characters to clear the stage, so to say, for the real action. You would’ve killed the poor bastards anyway.

This usage is the same as the much more revered ‘say yes or roll the dice’. When you are sure you can beat the enemy, it’s better to beat’em up in one shot and save the screen time for more exciting stuff. If you’re not sure, start rolling!

Ore wa katsu!

December 15, 2008

Revisiting the topic of hero advancement, this time for game of shounen genre.

The biggest distinction is that in shounen you just don’t level up until you really need to. Yes, that’s right, you don’t level up until you need to. You can go through a lot, withstand horrible training conditions, overcome hordes of (smaller) enemies, punch the sandbag a million of times, but you don’t automatically gain new abilities or at least you’re not confident enough to show them in public, until you meet an opponent far above your current level, and then you decide: Ok, now I do need to grow. I won’t even give examples here: basically every main hero in every goddamn show has this knack, he grows inconsistently, intuitively, reactively, on-the-fly, on-demand.

Apparently, you should be careful about two limits: the minimum should be possible to boost when you really need to get your friends to go all ‘wow, he’s on a different level now!’; the maximum should be limited to avoid unnecessary godmoding and keep power level elevation on a leash. Let’s just pretend we’re designing a game with this element, so we use the classic pattern of awarding the hero with some growth points for training, for new inventory and for anything else suitable. When the decisive fight starts, the player can decide when to use those growth points to actually grow.

The most important outcome is that the choice of opponents has now story impact. The path that you take, counted in defeated enemies, fully determines the set of abilities you wind up with. In fantasy you grow within an archetype (i.e., an archer or a wizard) and whether you were shooting orcs of giant bees, doesn’t matter. Here it doesn’t matter what your ideal is: the events you participate in and the decisions you take during them — that’s what makes you what you are.

Battle mode

October 3, 2008

There’re genres where there is a clear distinction between “normal mode” and a “battle mode” of a character. Recall fighting anime where the heroes sometimes possess epic godlike powers, but are able to have quarrels with their friends and lovers without snapping their necks and disintegrating them with a blink of an eye. D&D4 has a similar kind of attitude with the concept of “short rest” when a character can spend 5 minutes and some healing surges and be as good as new even after a death-threatening battle.

In the project that I’m working on right now, an unnamed yet fantasy heartbreaker, I’ll try to go all the way here. Why the hell should we keep track of exact amount of hit points if a character is not battling? It is the same loss of time and effort as keeping track of every copper piece an epic character spends on food and tips. We can roll for the hp the moment a hero enters battle, not at chargen time. I believe this is a cool idea.