This is a post sure to catch shit but consider it a synthesis of the things my players like and my attempt to learn from all the various retroclones and the play style of older games. A marriage between the grognard's ways and the crappy taste of the millennial generation, perhaps?
|Probably what people who don't know anime think|
it look like, or something...
Idea 1: Isekai
Oh Isekai. The most overused and mocked genre in anime nowadays, perhaps with some valid reasons. Now for the non-initiated, isekai is weeb-speech for 'transported to another world' type of stores, meaning technically Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz and John Carter are all isekai. Once upon a time this genre was just one among many, producing many good shows such as 'Now and Then, Here and There' or the first season of Digimon. It's hard to deny there is a simplistic appeal to these kind of show.
And then Light Novel and Sword Art Online happened.
Sword Art Online pretty much set the standard for what Isekai would be seen as in the 2010: cheap, poorly written, terribly thought out power fantasy self-insert with bland characters and crappy harem meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Gone are the unique fantastical worlds of old replaced with cheap ass MMORPG....written by a man who never played a video game in his life. No, really, the creator of Sword Art Online does not play video games let alone MMORPG. Yet somehow this vacuous trash is seen as one of the big anime sensations of the decade.
How to use Isekai for a game:
There are a few ways one could use Isekai: after all the core premise is extremely simple but lend itself well to a tabletop campaign. One funny trick with isekai is that you could very hide the game is an isekai. If you play with people with people who are pretty weaboo-ish themselves (I doubt people in the OSR blogosphere do since most are over thirty or forty, I bet and so don't play with people in the 20 to 25 year old range) you could very much pretend you're running a very different kind of game and then BAM! Trapped in another world. That said, a few more considerations:
- Of course, does Isekai itself need to be stuck with the trappings of anime? The answer is obviously no: the core concept itself predate anime and, in fact, one could argue modern anime are very much a case study on how NOT to run a trapped-in-another-world type of game.
- One could very much use a pre-existing setting of their choice, preferably a suitably exotic and fantastical one and bring in character from the modern world. Depending on the level of difficulty you'd want to throw at the players, it could be very well possible that these characters are dropped into a fantasy world with no money, no readily available weapons, unable to speak the local languages and possibly even not looking like the local inhabitants. This could make for a very harsh survival-centered game.
- That said the MMORPG idea has a few interesting concepts grossly underused in these kind of shows. Namely the realities of how MMORPG even works, even assuming the one the players are trapped into allow enough outside-the-box thinking to not make the game crappy. Basically, trapping a bunch of teen, young adults or even lifeless older neckbeards inside a virtual world is a sure recipe for the darkest kind of setting you can imagine once the PVP is turned on and the swear filter is turned off. Like Lord of the Flies but inside an MMO.
- Trapped in/transported to another world stories don't need to be fantasy. Again, John Carter and the stories set on Barsoom are a good example which predate anime by several decades.
- Alternatively, for more politically-driven game one could do the cliche of revealing the transported characters are actually royalty from the fantasy world. Now granted this one is less suited to games with high risk of death. Of course this could open an interesting angle: what happen when the Chosen Ones just....die? Can their once-sidekicks now step in to save the say and defy the odds?
Ultimately, I'd say isekai is prime sandbox material and the concept itself is quite divorced from anime. It just so happen that anime is the medium where these type of stories are more likely to be told nowadays. The concept is flexible to any level of serious one wish to have for their game, from having teenagers running around in a fantasy world with anime shenanigans to a much more serious survival story where average adults are thrown into another world with possibly no change of returning.
Idea 2: Mecha
Giant fucking robots. What else is there to say? Sadly, when it come to tabletop RPG I've found the genre to be criminally underused and I have written a previous post about my ongoing mecha exploration/pointcrawl/survival game here so this section will have much less explanations. This game is how I introduced my players to some new concepts like XP-for-gold. Except it's not gold, it's the resources they need to manage to keep their spaceship and mechs running. Pretty much most of what I had to say on the matter and the core ideas are in that previous post.
How to use Mecha for a game:
Much like fantasy, mecha shows and movies are a pretty varied lot, ranging from the harder scifi and military drama to kids in giant colorful toys whacking giant monsters with a pretty wide spectrum in between those extremes and some sub-genres some of which aren't even clear cut. Hell there's even fantasy mecha series. While mecha is often associated with giant laser sword, drills and two dozen robot combining as a genre it can be played with a rather straight face as long as the mechs are treated more as military machines with arms and legs. The actual plausibility of the mech's abilities is less important than how the setting and characters treat it: is a war machine or basically a giant superhero suit?
- Perhaps the players play a bunch of mercenaries in a war-torn planet or solar system: this very much allow to play things more like exploration mixed with combat and, at higher levels they build/conquer their own domain and it move more toward management.
- Alternatively as outlined in my earlier post, it's an exploration game except it is centered on mechs and giants monsters rather than armored faux-medieval adventurers and monsters. Surprisingly little of what they do in the game change but what tools they use and the overall setting is greatly affected.