Saikoro Fiction



Now that the 4th game in the Saikoro (Dice) Fiction series
published by the Adventure Planning Service (Bouken Kikakukyoku), Magicalogia, has come out, I’m going to talk a bit about Saikoro Fiction itself before I get into a detailed review of MagiLogi.

Saikoro Fiction started off in 2008 with Peekaboo (seen to the left), a TRPG about elementary school kids who can see ghosts, called Innocents..  Each kid is accompanied by “friendly” ghost, called a Spooky, which is played by a different player.  2 players together form a pair which share a single character sheet and work together to solve mysteries that are occuring in the neighborhood caused by evil spirits or monsters.

The next game in the series was Shinobigami, which took the same system and applied it to ninja battles in a modern setting.  There are currently 5 books out for Shinobigami with more in the works.

The third game came out last year, called Hunters Moon.  So far, this is the only game not created by Toichiro Kawashima, and the design shows.  This is a straightforward and simple to play (but not to win) game about Buffy-style monster hunters.  There isn’t a lot of role-playing involved in the game, but it’s easy to set up and get going without any fuss.

The latest just came out at the end of April, with Kawashima-sensei back at the helm.  Magicalogia is about magic users and their attempts to capture and control magical grimoires that are set on wanton destruction.

Each of these games share a number of features that form the basis for the Saikoro Fiction style of game.  They include the use of handouts, the 3-phase scenario outline as well as the cycle and drama/battle scene system, (usually) 6 classes or character types, and most perceptibly, the 6×11 grid that dominates the character sheet that forms the basis for most resolutions.  Click the following link to go to the Shinobigami download page to find links to character sheets (in Japanese).

Handouts:  Like most modern Japanese TRPGs, handouts are very important to facilitating play.  Scenarios are almost always written in advance, with a certain balance of characters in mind.  Unlike other game systems, though, handouts are more than simply an indicator of what sort of characters ought to be appearing in the scenario.  This is most apparent in Shinobigami: the aim of a character and their Secret come in the form of handouts that serve as a crucial tool in the development of the story and also have important functions rules-wise as well.

3-Phases:  Each scenario follows a basic outline: Introduction, Main and Climax Phases.  The Introduction simply gets each character involved in the scenario.  The Main Phase is where the meat of the action is; all investigation, preparation, meeting with NPCs, forming relationships, etc. occur during this phase.  The main phase is usually timed to give the game a sense of urgency (i.e. no resting to regain all your magic after every battle, etc.).  The Climax Phase is the final climactic battle that ends the scenario one way or another.  This outline allows the game to proceed in a timely manner and still get each part of the scenario in during the gaming session.

Cycles and The Drama/Battle Scene Dynamic:  Each game hurtles towards the Climax by using cycles: usually after 3 cycles the game is resolved with the Climax Phase.  (With the exception of Hunter’s Moon) Each cycle is comprised of Scenes that are under the complete control of 1 player, 1 at a time.  Once all players have had their turn directing a Scene, the cycle ends and the next begins.  In Shinobigami and Magicalogia, a character’s Scene can be either a Drama or Battle scene, but not both.

The Grid:  The most distinctive feature of Saikoro Fiction games is the use of a 6×11 grid.  It is divided into 6 categories, which differ by game, and each category is filled with appropriate skills, talents, or other descriptive words.  For example, the grid in Shinobigami has 6 categories of skills, such as “Body,” “Tools,” or “Supernatural,” which are filled with skills like “Running,” “Ballistics,” or “Curse,” respectively.  Magicalogia has more abstract categories that represent magic types: the “Song” category has “story,” “love,” and “tears.”

The grid is utilized to settle all dice rolls in the game: basically each player starts the game by choosing 5 skills and circling them on the grid.  Whenever a skill check is required, the grid is referreed to: if a character in Shinobigami has to pass a Hydromancy check and they have the skill circled, they need to roll 5 or higher on a roll of 2d6.  If the same character must pass a Shuriken skill check (let’s assume that the character was attacked by someone throwing shuriken), then they check the grid; including the Gap in-between each category, Hydromancy is 2 squares away from Shuriken.  For each square away, the target number of 5 is raised by 1.  In order to be able to wash away the shuriken with a spray of water, the character will need to roll a 7 on a roll of 2d6.  Rolls of natural 6s are criticals and Snake eyes are fumbles (usually).  There are few to no stats in the way that a d20 game might have; instead everything is determined by rolling on the grid.  It’s an elegant and interesting new way of making characters.

The system has some great new ideas for role-playing but also some flaws.  Battle tends to take a long time, due to both attacker and defender rolling and adding numbers.  I think that a lot of western gamers are put off by the scenario and handout style of play.  I’ve found that players used to games like Dungeons and Dragons have a hard time adjusting to the narrative-heavy style of a game like Shinobigami.

On the other hand, Saikoro Fiction does a lot of things right.  A single game can be run from start to finish within 4 hours and still be satisfying.  Character creation is quick and intuitive.  The games are simple enough to be played online via IRC or Skype.  The concepts involved in playing are very easy for new players to pick up quickly.  Each game uses the Saikoro Fiction engine in such a way that emphasizes the game’s theme: Shinobigami actually feels like you’re taking part in some badass ninja anime.  The books are relatively cheap, too.  At about $15 a pop, it’s easy to pick up a copy just to read the replay that comprises half the book.

Yeah, each book, including the supplements, is prefaced by a replay that fills more than half the book.

Now that I’ve gotten this Saikoro Fiction primer out of the way, I’m going to go into more depth into each game in the series once I get more time.  Of course, there are many more games I’d like to get into with more depth, including the SRS System and its games by F.E.A.R. but right now I’ve got Magicalogia on my mind (especially after watching that Magica Madoka show).  If you’ve got any questions or some other game in particular you’d like to know about, feel free to let me know.

~ by mattgsanchez on May 8, 2011.

4 Responses to “Saikoro Fiction”

  1. Very interesting!

    I hope you continue talking about these games. 🙂

  2. I am curious if you could do a review on Gear Antique?

  3. […] Matt Sanchez’s recent blog post on Adventure Planning Service‘s Saikoro Fiction[1] system got me inspired to finally sit down and read the rules of Shinobigami, which had been sitting on my bookshelf for way too damn long. It’s a really neat game, and the design of it makes me wonder how much is American indie RPG influence and how much is Kawashima just being that brilliant by himself. The rules are pretty short too–something like 70 pages including stats for NPC enemies and setting info–and about 2/3 of the book is taken up by a replay. […]

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