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Kagematsu: Torrid Samurai Romance!

Started by hardcoremoose, March 14, 2007, 08:24:32 AM

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Hey everyone,

It's been awhile, but after months of little or no activity and two missed GenCons, here I am with my hand out.

On and off for the past twelve months I've been working on a game called Kagematsu.  Ron, Julie, and a few others saw a very early version of it last year at GenCon.  With Paul and Danielle's gentle nudging, I finally worked out a few of the niggling details that were holding me back, and I now have a playtest document ready for public perusal.

Kagematsu is a game about a defenseless village, the horrible menace poised to destroy it, and the wayward samurai who stumbles upon both.  It tells a melodramatic love story, replete with stolen glances, forbidden touches, hidden secrets, and steamy romps in the sack.  It's a grocery store romance novel set in feudal Japan .  If that sounds interesting to you, boy, do I need your help.

These are the things I'm looking for:

Playtesters.  I've played the game quite a bit, but right now I need to see what happens when someone else picks it up and tries to use it.  This isn't a big game, and it plays in a single evening without much prep, so I'm not asking for a huge investment of time.  Likewise, the learning curve isn't steep; it does a few clever things, but it's a nephew to My Life with Master, so if you've played that (or any of its offspring), this won't be a problem for you.  Most of your work will happen after the fact, because I'm going to squeeze you for as much feedback as I can get. 

Non-Playtest Feedback.   Obviously I'm keen to hear what anyone has to say about the game.  I design mostly by instinct, never being good at the theory and whatnot.  Some of the more calculating minds here may have suggestions on things I've overlooked.

Thematic Discussion.  I have a particular interest in gender dynamics, and that comes through in Kagematsu.  I'm interested in discussing how gender perceptions affect our play, and how I can put them to better use in my game design.

I'm No Otaku!  The Japan of Kagematsu isn't the Japan of history, but even so, I want a certain degree of authenticity.  I can use Google just like anyone else, but if you have special knowledge that might help me, even if it's just listing resources I should look at, I'm all ears.

We can discuss basic stuff here, butI have a dedicated blog (nothing special, just a free wordpress blog) where you can see the rules and we can talk at greater length about all of the above.  I appreciate your help, and thanks in advance. 

Ron Edwards

Coolness - since playing an earlier version at GenCon last year, I've been looking forward to more.

Best, Ron

P.S. I moved this thread to this forum because the game's undergone playtesting.

Simon C

I'll read over it for you.  I have no special expertise, other than currently living in Japan, if that's worth anything.  I might have a bit of difficulty looking at your blog, though, becasue of the damn filter at work (I get payed to sit on my ass for hours at a time, but I can't look at blogs - go figure.) Is there some other way you can get me the information?

Simon C

Ooh! I'm really interested in (and somewhat educated in) gender theory and especially gender in roleplaying.  So if you want to talk about that, I'm super in.

Eero Tuovinen

Vey, this has some similarities to Ben Lehman's Bliss Stage, which I've pondered a bit lately. Interesting. Some random thoughts while reading:
- Girls have Innocence and Charm. The main usage seems to be as choice of method in influencing Kagematsu. Do you intend to say something by limiting the avenues of approach in this manner? You could just as well have the players choose themselves what endearing qualities their characters have. I'd imagine that things like Honesty or Bravery would suit a girl courting a samurai just as well. The list of affections and desperations supports play somewhat, but it could just as well be a list of examples, or not tied so tightly to the stats.
- Furthermore, distributing seven points between two pools effectively means that the player gets to choose to suck, should he want to, or otherwise he may choose one of the stats to excell at. Consider some other allocation method as well. Of course there's a balancing factor in the desperations, but it seems to me anyway that specializing strongly on one or other of the stats is the way to go.
- It's notable that there is no mechanics for interaction between the girls, despite them "conspiring to win his affections". It might be interesting to faciliate some kind of dice-loaning or some such, considering that the girls are not courting Kagematsu only for love; I know that I'd want to help my rival to win his heart if that's what it takes to save the village from the looming threat.
- You might want to consider including some slight pressure for playing more than one roll per scene. As it stands, the Hope rewards are best maximized by stopping after one roll. The only reason to continue would be because you'd rolled the three sixes, and that's not that frequent, especially at the beginning.

Overall: I like, this hits many of the sweet spots for me in regards to rules complexity, set-up time and play time. I've created a game with similar social parameters myself this winter, and it's been a big hit simply because it can be played immediately and in one session. The topic is endearing as well.

As a last word, I might well playtest this on the coming Saturday alongside a chargen for Bliss Stage I'm going to do. if not for the onerous requirement of a female player. I'll create a character sheet and print out the rules regardless in case one of the girls stops by and wants to take a shot...
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Eero Tuovinen

Ah, a question surfaces: what do you use Pity for? It's tracked, but doesn't do anything?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Ben Lehman

In practice, in play, how often do you have innocence/charm allocations other than 7/0?  Why?


Eero Tuovinen

OK, here's a couple of character sheets for the game. Let me know if I've misrepresented rules, or there's some other obvious improvements to be made.

On longer deliberation, most of my immediate reactions should probably be discounted. It still seems to me that there's no tactical reason to extend a scene after a successful roll, though; not only do you risk the Hope point by doing so, but you also might limit your desperation resource, as each desperation is only usable once per scene. I see only one reason to stretch the scene, and that is if you want to get ahead of the curve in Love.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Okay, let me see if I can organize my thoughts well enough to answer some of these...

Simon, this seems like it's in your wheelhouse.  PM me with your e-mail addy and I'll send you the playtest document, unless you've somehow managed to access the blog.  That goes for anyone...send me an e-mail addy, and I'll get it to you.

Eero, although you told me to ignore most of your initial comments, I'm going to elaborate anyway...

Comparing it to Bliss Stage gives me pause.  I was lucky to see a very early version of that game before I disappeared into the night, and at the time, I was working on something else that was more similar.  I'd never considered it, but now that you mention it, I can see the similarity.  I'm not sure how I feel about it though.

Innocence and Charm were the words I plucked out of thin air to represent the two most stereotypical kinds of female romantic characters I could think of:  The Good Girl and The Bad Girl.  Much of the game flies in the face of proper medieval Japanese culture, so who they were and where they lived and who they were courting never entered into it.

You and Ben both raise the point about stat allocation, so I'll address both here:

First off, my character creation rules suck.  Right now, they just get you into the game.  But in terms of stat allocation, there are a couple mitigating factors that keep people from just assigning all seven points to one stat:

  • The big one is that you only have limited resources with which to work.  If you squander your points in one trait, you'll get most of the affections it governs, but you won't have much opportunity to bank any of the others.
  • Secondarily, the Looming Shadow rule punishes everyone if you decide you should be rolling huge die pools every scene.  I'm planning on revising this rule a bit, because I just don't think it's elegant enough right now, but the basic idea will remain unchanged...meaning players will have to consider just how many dice they want to be rolling throughout the game.
  • Furthermore, it's a perfectly viable strategy to balance your stat allocation - a 4 in Charm and a 3 in Innocence, for example - and make a game of collecting all of the lower-end Affections in both traits.  The only issue you have is getting Kagematsu to make the Promise, in which case you could rely on Desperation and/or someone else to get the job done for you.

Regarding collaboration between the girls: Yes.  That's something I wanted in the beginning and never quite figured out.  I'm open to suggestions, and I'll be looking at what I have to see if there's some natural way to facilitate such a thing.  Likewise, I've thought about (and discussed with Tim Kleinert, during the very first playtest) the idea that the girls might want to sabotage each other, and that's something I'm still thinking about.  But anything big like that would have to fit seamlessly, because I like where I'm at right now.

Regarding multiple rolls per scene:  It was only included as an option for those players who suspect that they've fallen behind in the Love curve...and only if they care.  Although Love has its rewards, both practically and creatively, you can "win" the game without it.

Regarding Pity:  From a mechanical standpoint, Pity is tracked so that after each roll Kagematsu has to write something down...if he only tracked Love, you'd know as soon as he made a mark on his paper that you had earned a point of it.  In play, and from an emotional standpoint, I've found that it kind of sucks to discover that you accumulated a bunch of pity.  Although it's worth noting, and it's not written into the current playtest document but it was in previous iterations, that Kagematsu is not ever supposed to reveal the final Love/Pity totals to the girls...they'll only know for sure who (if any) he loved the most, and the rest should be left to speculation.

And Eero, the character sheets looks great!  Too bad I'm almost certain to change the character creation rules out from under ya!  :)  If you, or anyone else, does playtest this, consider adding these additional things to the game (I just thought of them today):

  • Have the girls define their "best feature".  This was something I had in the first iteration of the game and somewhere along the line I lost it, but I liked it then, and I think it should go back in.  I'm thinking that instead of having the girls define two out of three of their favorite things, I might have them define their "best feature", their "favorite thing" and their "least favorite thing".  Or something like that....I'm still thinking on it.
  • Add a new act of Desperation: Bribe Kagematsu.  This is a generic one like "Threaten Kagematsu with Violence", available from the get go.  I don't know why I didn't think of it right away, but it's part and parcel with the genre.

Okay, I think that's it for now.  Thanks Simon, thanks Eero, thanks Ben!


Eero Tuovinen

Collaboration and sabotage: it seems to me that the obvious mechanical route would be to allow the girls to assign their Love (if any) for or against any other girl. So another girl is in a scene, and you may, if you want to, interrupt the proceedings and either bring in your character, or narrate a flashback/memory that impedes or helps along the other girl. Then you just tell Kagematsu to either deduct or add his Love for your girl into his total for the roll. You won't know how much of a difference that makes, but it'll probably be something. I don't know if this should come with some kind of a cost; perhaps not.

Character creation: it seems to me that you might simply want to give a predefined list of girls in the final product. That way you can give them illustrations and write plenty about their hopes, dreams and hobbies, if that should be helpful in getting to play. Depending on the form your product takes you could even put them on character cards to make sorting and choosing easier. I don't see how players would create that great a range of different medieval Japanese girls anyway, so you'll probably get all the obvious archetypes in your sieve if you provide eight examples (one for each possible stat distribution) yourself and tell the players to create more if they feel like it, freeform-style.

Other than that, your explanations are appreciated. I figured most of that out myself while creating the character sheets, but the point about extented scenes is a good one: one roll per scene is the default, which is only broken by girls who want to selfishly bask in Kagematsu's love.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Ben Lehman

Another possibility, Nicotine Girls style, would be for one girl to be able to give another girl advice.  Following this advice for the next scene gives the girl +1 die, not following it gives -1 die.  That way you could support or sabatoge each other as you see fit.

The text seems to think that desperation won't get you love.  Why is that?  I can see it giving more love, depending.

Perhaps the girl with the most Pity should also be announced, and her life should be also entwined with Kagematsu in a non-romantic manner.



Hey Ben,

The text does sort of presume that using Desperation will net you Pity instead of Love, but it's certainly not a given.  Not in my mind anyway.

Love and Pity awards are the sole province of the player playing Kagematsu; the text will have a bias about how those awards should be doled out and there's a future discussion brewing about just how I should present that.  I'm working up to that's a highly personal topic.

Nicotine Girls entered my mind more than once, maybe because they share a certain outlook, or maybe because they both feature an all (or nearly all) female cast.  Off the cuff, my first thought regarding collaboration/sabotage between the village women was that one could trade Hope to help/hurt the other.  In the case of the former, you're putting the good of the others before the good of your own in a very real way (since Hope is the most valuable commodity in the game), and in the case of the latter, you're cutting off your nose to spite your face.  I'm mulling it over, and should such a rule actually make it into the game, it would almost have to feature some kind of cool player-to-player interaction, like in Nicotine Girls.


Eero...sorry man, I saw Ben's post first, and then saw yours...

Your suggestion regarding Collaboration/Sabotage is pretty interesting.  If you read my response to Ben, you see what I thought was obvious, and as Ben suggests, I like the idea of the girls having scenes among themselves sans Kagematsu.  The structure of the game doesn't really support that at this point though, and I'm loathe to tamper with things too much until I get some more actual play done.  The idea of a girl entering into a scene, to distract Kagematsu with her Love is very cool, and not hard to imagine within the existing structure...I'd count it as a scene for that girl though (or at least, I think I would), meaning she'd miss out on a future opportunity to get Kagematsu alone...I have to sleep on these ideas, I think.

Your solution to my character creation problem is very appealing.  In practice, you're right...distinguishing the girls from each other came down to the "favorite things" descriptions, which are essentially color.  Plus, we always have such a hard time thinking up new and cool names for our villagers.  Again with the sleep, but I'm enticed by this.

Okay, it's 8:30 AM and I haven't slept. Maybe we'll discuss more this afternoon...


Simon C

Hey, I just wanted to say I read through the document, and it looks like a solid game concept.  The feel I got off it was like recreating an old samurai movie, but with less fighting.  I think other people are more qualified to comment on the mechanics than I am, but I'll give you a brief rundown of what I felt.

- Seducing Kagematsu looks great.  I love the acts of desperation, and if anything, I'd want them to be more useful in the game.  How big a difference is one dice?

- Competition/Collaboration.  At the moment, I feel like it's a bit flat, since all the girls have the same goal, and so there's not much tension between them.  They don't have to be in direct competition, and I'd hate to mess up the clean feel of the game at the moment, but it seems like there needs to be some reason why the girls what it to be them who nets Kagematsu, and not someone else, or alternatively, why they want it to be someone else, and not them.  I think this would address something else that bothered me a little, which is that it would be easy to interpret this game as giving the girls no role other than that of a sexual object.  I don't think that's implicit in the game as it is, but the fact that they're pusuing Kagematsu for reasons other than his own attractiveness, and the fact that their sexuality is their only bargaining power means that it's easy to see this as a game that keeps female characters in pretty traditional sexualised roles.  Giving the girls more agency might mitigate this to some extent, but it's also going to mess with the structure of the game.

On that note, why only Girls? Is there room for older women in your game? I can see the experienced older woman being a pretty enticing character concept, someone who's got a lot of charm, and not much innocence. 

It seems like this is a game about playing stereotyped gender roles, which is cool, especially if the game text is overt about this, but I can see this game having a lot of potential to critique these roles, and I'm not getting that off this initial document.  I look forward to your thoughts on this issue.




Hey Simon, thanks for taking a look!

Regarding Desperation, in practice, one die has proven to be a substantial value, but I'd like to see some more playtesting of it just to be sure.

Regarding Competition/Collaboration...I see what you're saying, about the girls wanting or not wanting to be the one that wins Kagematsu's heart, and that was something that was part of my original vision.  What I have not decided is if it needs mechanical reinforcement apart from what I already have, and if it does, how to best apply it without ruining what I think is (and as you noted) a pretty elegant design at the moment.

And yes, you can play older women if you want, I think.  The use of the world "girl" throughout the text doesn't really line up well with what I think the game is, but "woman" sounded too stiff to me.  It's an early draft, I'm going to have to figure out better terminolgy before drafting the actual text, and I'm open to suggestions.

As for the whole "sexual objects" thing...that's a big thing and I'm not sure this is the best place really to discuss it, but I'll lay some of it out for you (and anyone else reading this).

I'm transgendered.  For me (and this is just my pop psych explanation) that means that if you have Point A as being female and Point B as being male, and you draw a line between them, we're all going to fall somewhere on that line...I'm just closer Point A than most genetically born males.  How much closer I don't really know...I'm still working that part out.

The trans community, which is still largely closeted, has a pretty active fantasy life.  Sexually and non-sexually.  One of the more innocent, and yet pervasive, fantasies is that somewhere, somehow, a genetically born female is going to come along, take us under her wing, and teach us all the mystical secrets of what it means to be female.  A slighty skewed version of Pygmalion, if you will.  Never mind how unlikely it is, or how unfair it is to the women out there who get put on that pedestal, it's really not that strange a fantasy.  Womanhood (and manhood) is partially genetic and partially a learned skill set (varying across cultures), and that latter part is something most trans people have been denied.  Little girls have mothers, sisters, and friends who they learn and share with from the time they're very little...we missed out on that socialization, but we dream about it all the time.

Furthemore, your fledgling trans-woman tends towards extreme, even stereotypical depictions of femininity.  Partially, that's the socialization we missed out on coming through...we never got to be adolescent girls, so we indulge in behavior (bad as it may be) to fill that gap.  Some speculate that it's something we can't avoid...a maturing process that we have to go through before we can emerge again as reasonably well-rounded individuals within our new gender identity.  Add to that the onus of being male but trying to present as female, and sometimes the extreme behaviors (heavy makeup, tight clothing, affected walk and speech) are more about being not-male than being female.

All of that is preamble to explain where I was at when I started writing this game.  It's a game that places people (primarily men, since most gaming groups are male-heavy) in stereotypical female roles and requires that a woman act as judge/mentor.  The in-game content is about seduction, but the interaction between the players is supposed to be Pygmalion.  I didn't realize it until just a week ago, but I wrote a game that depicts, and even enables, one of the classic trans daydreams.

My hope is that although the game panders to and even mechanically reinforces typical gender stereotypes, the players themselves, with the twist that the rules put on gender roles, will see through it and not allow it to just be about that.  I believe there's room for nuance and revelation within the structure of the game.

My largest single concern, and this was why I wanted it as it's own topic, was that the role of Kagematsu may not be written properly to get me to that point.  Mechanically, the rules put Kagematsu in the role of judge, but he/she is also supposed to be mentor to the other players...will the women out there, when playing Kagematsu, reach out to the players and help nudge them towards the Love, or will they let them flail around aimlessly, doling out the Pity mercilessly?  A little of both I imagine, but seeing how it plays out...even that will be interesting to me.

Now that you know the vision of my game, how close do you think I am to achieving it?  What can I do to get it there?