Wherefore art thou Oni?

I have been looking around for some decent 28mm miniatures to represent Oni. I must say that I am not having a lot of success.
Other than Kensei’s pretty good yet fairly expensive figure there doesn’t seem to be too much on the market at the moment.

Oni

Yes, there are a few Ogre Mages in the Ral Partha, Wizards and Reaper ranges but nothing that screams ‘ONI!’ at me.

If I don’t find something soon I shall have to have a go at converting some plastic Warhammer Ogres. I would enjoy doing this, but I worry that if we include an Oni Buntai in Daisho it might be difficult for players to field such a force at a reasonable cost.

If you know of a figure manufacturer that produces decent 28-32mm scale Oni please let me know.

Daishō Design Notes – 25/05/2014

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Just completed the first draft of the Sōhei Buntai this morning. It will go through several iterations before it is ready for publication but you have to start somewhere.

One of the things I noticed immediately was how the combination of the new Skills, Ki Powers and Magical Powers can allow you to create really imaginative and cool characters in no time flat.
For example I wanted to add a character to the Sōhei who wasn’t a leader figure but had real depth and would prove a thorn in any enemy’s side. So meet Iron Wind…
Now before I began creating this character all I had was the name – Iron Wind, sounds cool eh? I went from there to imagining a young orphan boy turning up at the monastery gate, ragged but brimming with energy and potential. The Abbot takes one look at him and decides to take him in.
Jump forward a decade and you have a lad in his late teens who has never really fitted into the harmony and rhythm of the monastery, yet the Abbot has continued to train him for to leave such as this to the fickle winds of fate might be to create a monster.
The boy is now the master of the Kanabō, an iron staff usually only wielded by strong men. With the expenditure of his Ki* he can use this to attack every man who is unfortunate enough to be within the staff’s reach (Whirlwind Ki Power). It has turned out that there is magical blood in him and he is hard to harm with metal weapons (Skill Born of Metal, metal weapons pluck penalties do not apply) and his mind is a steel trap (Will of Iron).
Many Ashigaru and Bushi will have their bones broken and skulls crushed by this child of the Sōhei before they learn to respect him.
The rest of the Sōhei can draw upon armoured and unarmoured monks armed with a range of weapons including the ubiquitous Naginata, the Tachi, Wakizashi, Tanto and Daikyu bow. They will be led by their Abbot, an old and cunning warrior, and may be able to call upon a Yamabushi or even the legendary warrior-monk Benkei.

* Remember that with Ki Powers they cost Ki to use so the Whirlwind power could only be used a few times in an engagement, yet it could be a game-changer if used well.

Daishō Design Notes – 23/05/2014

Victory through Honour

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In a society where death can come quickly and unexpectedly a man’s immortality relies upon his reputation. In mystical Nippon this is seen in the honour that he is held in by his comrades. This is called ‘On’. So to most men honour is everything. They will fight to gain honour, commit acts that in other societies may be seen as brutal for it and, most importantly they will die to preserve it.

In Daishō this is covered in the section on ‘Victory through Honour’. Unlike IHMN, each scenario is set up with objectives that will earn the Buntai On. Achieving these objectives is the primary driver of the game. However, there are also actions that figures may be able to take in any game that will earn them extra On.

For example defeating your opponents will earn you On equivalent to their social caste. So the more socially important figures are worth more, with Leaders worth bonus points as well. There are other actions that can earn On and these will be explained in detail in the rules.

Also if a figure is defeated and captured he can still attempt to save On through Seppuku. This is important as you lose On if your men are captured and thus disgraced.

Samurai by Tony Yates

[Illustration © Tony Yates]

A very important point is that failure to achieve a scenario’s objectives may not mean defeat. If a Buntai can achieve enough On through honourable actions they may still win, even if their opponents technically succeeded at the scenario objectives.

We feel that this is another mechanic that will encourage players to get the feel of mystical Nippon and produce some entertaining and heroic results.

Daishō Design Notes – 15/05/2014

Although many of the rules for Daishō shall be very similar to those In Her Majesty’s Name, we shall be adjusting and supplementing these rules so that they are more compatible with the setting of Mystical Nippon. Areas in which we shall be doing this include Talents and Mystical Powers, so I thought you might appreciate a glimpse into our thinking on these two related topics.

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The myths and legends of Japan present a very different feel to those of the Victorian era, and many of the mythical powers attributed to their heroes and villains are unique. Thus we decided to replace Talents and Mystical Powers with  three lists of special abilities named Skills, Magical Powers and Ki Powers.

Skills are roughly equivalent to IHMN’s Talents. They are trained abilities exhibited by the more able figures. Some of these shall be copied directly from IHMN, some shall simply be renamed, others reworked to meet the style of the setting and there shall be several new ones.

Japanese legends have many men, demons and beasts that are capable of harnessing the elements and the spirits to their will. In IHMN we referred to such abilities as Mystical Powers. In Daishō we are calling these Magical Powers. There shall be a few that will be reminiscent of those in IHMN, but many more that are new and reflect the powers described in Japanese mythology and Samurai Anime and Manga.

Finally we have Ki powers. Ki is an important part of Japanese folklore that lives on to this very day. Heroes are said to have been able to draw upon this inner reserve of spiritual power to perform extraordinary and supernatural acts of skill and valour. In Daishō certain figures shall be allowed to have between one and three points of Ki. They can then buy Ki Powers from the list, just as other figures buy Skills and Magical Powers.

During a game they can choose to expend their Ki points for single uses of these special powers. If they have more than one power they can choose the one that is suitable to their situation. Ki powers tend to affect only the figure that has them rather than others, empowering them to perform acts that are truly extraordinary. If used wisely they might prove to be game-changers.

As an example imagine a Samurai Bushi who is surrounded by Brigands that intend to mob him. He expends a point of Ki and empowers himself to be able to make a strike against each of his enemies at his full Fighting Value (instead of splitting his FV). Imagine a Kyujutsu (Archery) Sensei who is charged by said brigands in the movement phase. In the subsequent shooting phase he expends a point of Ki and can loose an arrow at each one at point blank range and at his full shooting value. These powers could lead to spectacular and cinematic results. Note that both of the ideas described above are being discussed and weighed up at the moment and so might not make it, in this form, into the final rules.

We are currently discussing whether to allow figures to restore their Ki points during the game by performing feats such as defeating powerful enemies or showing unnatural valour. This is not decided yet, and the KISS principle may have to be applied if doing so became complicated.

So a quite different approach to IHMN, but one that we feel will serve the setting well. What do you think of this? Are there any particular abilities from Japanese myths and legends that you would like to see in the game? We cannot promise to include anything you suggest, but all ideas are welcome.

Daishō Design Notes – 07/05/2014

When is a sword a sword?

One of the issues that has faced us in the past is how we accurately represent iconic weapons yet stay true to the KISS principle. Our approach has been to look at the function of each weapon and then classify it by that function.

So, for example, in IHMN we had a simple entry called ‘Sword’. This covered infantry officer’s swords, cavalry sabres and other one-handed swords such as scimitars. Although each weapon was different in look they all performed the same function on the field of battle.

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The Katana

We face the same issue in Daishō. Samurai and Ronin Bushi carry the famous Katana. Many ‘lesser’ men, such as the Warrior Monks of the Sōhei and Ikkō-ikki carry a Tachi, and the Ninja carry the Ninjato.

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The Tachi

Each of these swords are about the same size and perform the same function. Classic illustrations show each being used one and two handed, so in Daishō they shall all be classed as swords. However, due to their status, the Katana of the Samurai are much more likely to be master-worked or of a legendary nature, thus gaining important bonuses to their capabilities.

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The Ninjato

Similarly we shall be classifying the Samurai No-dachi in the same category as the Sōhei Ōtachi as Great Swords.

Daisho Design Notes – 02/05/2014

Well a fairly quiet week in which we did all the preparatory work on our shared drive.

Charles set up all the folders and sub-folders and we filled them with templates based upon what we perfected during writing the three IHMN books. We also set up the status sheet that splits the work out between us and allows us to keep each other up-to-date during the writing process.

This level of organisation is critical to a shared project. Before Charles joined me on the first IHMN book I was doing a bit here, doing a bit there and following my muse. I had essentially wasted six whole months like this and, although I had created plenty of material, it was about as organised as a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. As a result, and despite Charles’ best efforts, we went to print with enough errors to fill a page of errata. You will note that there has been no errata since he came on board as my partner.

You must understand that as well as being a good writer Charles is one of life’s organisers. By dint of logic, cool professionalism and just a hint of OCD he brought order from the chaos. Without him I would not now be writing this.

What I brought to the partnership was several years of applying the KISS principle to rules writing. As some of you may know I have other blogs, most importantly Gawd ‘Elp Us games (http://thegamesshed.wordpress.com/) and Dead Simple Roleplaying (http://deadsimplerpg.wordpress.com/). In each of these I have worked hard to produce playable games which are only one page long. With the help of a merry band of collaborators – the inestimable Forge of War Development Team – I have spent years whittling rules down to their bare essentials. I did this for two main reasons:
1. Famously I have the short-term memory of the dog from the film UP! (Squirrel!). I really cannot remember long winded rules sets. For example; I have been playing Warhammer 40K since the first days of Rogue Trader and I still have to be reminded of the turn sequence.
2. Most gamers play games for enjoyment, it is their hobby. Therefore the rules should not get in the way of that.

Now this does not mean that rules have to be ultra short or overly simplistic. We are not firing matchsticks out of toy cannons here. However, they should be written in such a manner that the key mechanisms are very clear and have an understandable logic to them. For example:
– You can play a game with a simple reference sheet at your side that after two games you generally ignore.
– Any action has no more than one dice roll with no more than half a dozen possible modifiers, of which only a couple will apply at any one time.
– You need no in-game paperwork and only a few counters (if any).
– There is a simple rule for deciding situations not covered by the rules.

We are not writing tournament rules here. These shall be rules, like those for IHMN, which will allow players to have a fun game that, in the end, will have a story to it. One of the things we have both loved from IHMN are the number of marvellous AAR’s and stories about games submitted by players and which we have featured on the blog and IHMN board on the Lead Adventure Forums. I believe that it shows that we have hit the mark on this objective, and is something we shall carry through to Daishō.

So our guiding principle is always KISS. We do not add anything that is essentially unnecessary to the playing of the game. This does not mean that the game cannot have depth or character. I hope that any of you that have read the IHMN series will agree that they have plenty of both. We spend a lot of time researching the background to our games trying to capture the spirit of the period and instilling it into the very heart of the rules and thus the way the game plays.

We are now beginning to fill in the foundations such as armour and weapons, upon which all the companies shall be built. We are also talking through a few core concepts such as karma, honour and ki. If I say any more Charles will probably kill me.

I’d like to thank all of you that have contributed to my question on what makes a Samurai. These opinions are very important to us, and we shall be asking more of you.