Anime Boston Schedule!

I’m going to be at Anime Boston this weekend, April 3-5. I have about seven hours of panels! So if you’re there and want to see me talk about anime, here’s when I’ll be doing it:

  • Friday:
    • 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon, Panel 208: Latin Latin Madoka More Latin IV: The Voyage Homura: Probably the last time I do my annual AB Madoka panel. Topics this time around include kamishibai, the history of magical girls and witches, manga spinoffs and why they tend to suck, and Homura as Faust, Milton!Lucifer, and the Nutcracker.
    • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m., The Fens: Postmodernism and Anime: A brief introduction to postmodern techniques anime tends to use, and then discussion of some anime particularly notable for their use of it.
  • Saturday:
    • 10:00 – 11:00 a.m., Panel 206: Tengen Toppa Evangelion: Aim for the Top!: Traces the use of repeated motifs and themes across four decades of Gainax mecha anime, from Gunbuster to Evangelion to Gurren Lagann to Rebuild. (Not on the schedule at the moment due to an error, but AB panel department assures me it’ll be added before the con.)
    • 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., Public Garden: Reading Too Much Into The Slayers: If you’ve been following my posts on the show…. yeah, that.
  • Sunday:
    • 1:00 – 2:30 p.m., Panel 208: Big Eyes, Small Mouth: The Anime RPG: Take 2! The audience participation segment at AUSA was a flop, so I took it out in favor of more storytime and just walking through making a character.

Upcoming Convention Appearance: Anime USA

I’ll be giving several panels at Anime USA (October 3-5 in Washington, DC):

  • Analyzing Anime 101: Probably my most popular panel, definitely the one I’ve given most. Basically a compressed overview of basic analytic techniques with examples from anime.
  • Postmodern Anime: Brief discussion of postmodern techniques and concepts, then a bunch of anime examples.
  • BESM: Introduction to the anime tabletop RPG–where to find it, basics of play, recommendations of approaches, and then having the audience collectively build a character.
  • Break the World’s Shell: Anime Apocalypses as Social and Personal Revolution: Title basically says it all. Briefly tracing the apocalyptic genre from its origins in the ancient Near East (Utnapishtim, Atlantis, Revelation), through Hesse and 50’s science fiction, and then plunging into specific anime for the majority of the panel (including Akira, Saikano, PMMM, Evangelion of course, Utena, and others). Central thesis is apocalypse as metaphor for massive change on a cultural or personal scale (or both).

Don’t know times/days yet, but all those panels have been confirmed. BESM and the apocalypse panel are both entirely new, Postmodern Anime I’ve done once before and Analyzing Anime 101 I’ve done probably a dozen times.

How I Make One-Shots

My annual Running of the BESM One-Shot at Anime USA is currently in jeopardy, as the head of Traditional Games has left and, in the resulting vacuum, no one knows what’s going on. On the other hand, there are early glimmers of the possibility that I might be able to do a variant at MAGFest instead. We’ll see.

In the meantime, some musings on how and why I give my one-shots a fairly unusual structure. 
Typically, a one-shot is a one-time thing you run to fill time or introduce players to a game. Generally speaking, since character creation can be quite complex and time-consuming in most tabletop RPGs, the GM will create and provide a balanced, varied selection of characters for the players to pick from. After that, the campaign is designed (as any preplanned campaign generally will be) as a sort of flow chart. At every node, the players have to overcome some sort of obstacle, then make a choice which leads to the next node/obstacle, and ultimately all paths converge on a final challenge and the ending. 
The most common way to do this is to make the campaign geographically driven, as with a dungeon or labyrinth. (Indeed, this is so ingrained in tabletop gaming culture as to be practically instinctive.) Each room is a node and contains an event such as an NPC or enemy encounter, treasure or useful items, puzzle, or some combination. The room’s exits represent choices of paths, and lead to the next node; what paths are available may be partially determined by the players’ degree of success or choices in dealing with the current or past nodes. 
It is a structure that works and works well, which is why it has become ubiquitous, but it has its drawbacks. It can be constraining for the player, since their choices of where to go next are tightly constrained and few other meaningful opportunities for choice exist. It emphasizes the tactical elements of the game, since most of the remaining meaningful choices will be “who should use which power/ability/skill on what”? And it is straightforwardly solvable; there are a small number of paths to the end, all of which represent fundamentally the same narrative. 
That last is usually not a problem, since a GM typically runs a given one-shot once. But at AUSA, I was being asked to staff a dedicated BESM table and run my one-shot up to EIGHT times in a single weekend.
So I decided to take a different tack in order to avoid boredom. First, I picked a set of seven varied characters based on trying to get as wide a variety as possible–well-known anime characters from the 90s through present, mostly, with the occasional Western cartoon character thrown in. Next I went with a MUCH more open environment than a typical one-shot dungeon, namely a village (though if I get to do it this year, I plan to set it at the con itself–still way more open than a dungeon). This frees the players to go almost anywhere from the start, increasing their feeling of freedom and the variety from session to session–but how to have a plot if players can go anywhere?
Here I take a cue from The Ur-Quan Masters. I still tie events to locations as in a typical dungeon-style one-shot, but rather than the event automatically occurring, there are conditions necessary to trigger it. There is nothing hugely novel here; such conditions are fairly common, usually based on such factors as defeating a particular enemy or solving a puzzle. However, also I take advantage of the fact that I am using prebuilt characters who–being from extant anime and cartoons–have their own established worlds, supporting casts, and rivals or villains. I add conditions for which characters are present, so that their rivals and villains only exist if a player chose that character. What’s more, since each of these villains have differing personalities, motivations, and goals, their actions and schemes will therefore also differ, as will the consequences of those schemes.

For example, in the first game I ran, there was an NPC named Satoko (from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni). If a player chose to play Guts (from Berserk), Berserk-style demons would show up–and Satoko is exactly the kind of person they would try to recruit and transform. So the first time I ran the game, she was tainted with evil. She was also a desperately unhappy and trapped-feeling young girl, so in the second session, when a player chose Homura, she was being pursued as a potential magical girl by Kyubey, and therefore also had a miasma of evil associated with her. But the third session, neither of them was present–shocking a player when he tried to use a Detect Evil ability in full confidence that he would get the same result as the first two playthroughs.

The second year, I did more with interactions between villains. For example, I decided to run with the interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena in which Akio is literally Lucifer. In one session I had both Michael from The Dresden Files and Utena, sending the Michael player into near-panic when he saw Nicodemus (Michael’s nemesis, a powerful and high-ranking fallen angel) kneel to Akio and refer to him as “my lord.”

But the basic principle remains the same, of designing one-shots as a flowchart. I simply found it more fun to radiate out from a central point rather than necessarily converge on a single point. And yes, that’s a lot of work to put into a one-shot, since it is impossible to see every event in one playthrough–but since I repeat multiple times in a weekend, there’s a good chance that every or nearly every event I came up with eventually gets played.

Plus the players really enjoyed the novelty of having the game change depending on their characters. Both years I had repeat players within the same weekend–which according to the head of Traditional Games, has never happened before.

Anime USA BESM Campaign!

This weekend (Friday through Sunday) I’ll be at Anime USA in Washington, D.C.! Rather than my usual panels, at this particular convention I will be in the Traditional Games room, running a BESM campaign. It is a single 4-hour session, and I will be running it several times over the weekend. Stop by if you’re interested or want to say hi!

Campaign Synopsis:

Someone or something is messing with history in 1850 Karuisawa-shuku, Japan, and it’s up to the Interdimensional Action Squad to put a stop to it! Choose your squad member (Utena Tenjou (Revolutionary Girl Utena), Gary Oak (Pokemon), Kanata Shimonome (AKB0048), Zelgadis Greywords (The Slayers), Michael Carpenter (The Dresden Files), Toph Bei Fong (Avatar: The Last Airbender), or Doctor Whooves (Doctor Who/My Little Pony)) and help save history… before there’s no history left to save!

As with last year’s campaign, I’ve set it up so that the plot of the campaign and identity of the villains changes depending on which characters the players pick. (So, for example, there are certain events that occur if both Utena and Gary are in the campaign, while other events only occur if Zelgadis is in the campaign but Michael is not, etc.) That way it stays fresh for me even though I’m running the same campaign a dozen times in one weekend.