Mimusubi in 2013

Following in the footsteps of people like Fred Hicks at Evil Hat, I’m going to post about the business side of Mimusubi, with actual numbers. I can be open about this, at least for now, because I have a lot of things going on apart from Mimusubi, so these posts will tell you very little about my personal financial situation.

The summary is: lots of red ink.

This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, I haven’t sold anything, and I have had expenses. So, here’s the breakdown.

Internet Presence: ¥18,780
Advertising: ¥55,015
Labour: ¥214,500

Internet Presence is basically the hosting fees for this site. Yes, it’s higher than it could be, but I want the site to be on a reliable server that will scale, and I can afford it from my other income.

Advertising hasn’t happened yet. I got in on a couple of Kickstarters, one with someone I know directly, and one with someone I know indirectly, and paid for levels that will have them advertising Kannagara some time this year. So I need to get it moving. This will involve convention demos in the US, something I have trouble doing personally, and provide a channel for marketing to people interested in RPGs and Japan. I have no idea whether they will actually pan out, but they both provide something strategically useful.

Labour is paying me for the time I have put into the project. I’ve figured the hourly rate as the rate that I could choose to get paid if I dropped Kannagara as a project, so that it accurately represents my opportunity cost. As this isn’t an out-of-pocket expense, the number is a bit notional, but Mimusubi won’t be really profitable until it has paid for all of my work, as well as anyone else’s.

So, I’ve been going for a year, more or less, and I have lost ¥288,295, or around $3,000, depending on where the exchange rate is. The investment is still quite small, but I haven’t finished developing the game yet.

Playtest Results

Over the new year, I arranged for two playtest sessions of Kannagara. I was involved in one, but not the other, which was deliberate. For the game in which I was involved, I could see how things went for myself, and have a direct sense of the dynamics, but I also, inevitably, guided the game in the way it was supposed to work. For the other game, I only have a written report, but I do find out how the game goes without the designer helping out.

Unsurprisingly, it goes better when the designer is present.

The other thing that became clear was that the first draft does not work.

This is not really surprising. Kannagara is quite different from existing role-playing games, particularly from the ones I have most experience of writing, so I don’t have any close precedents to rely on. Even when one does, when writing an Ars Magica book, for example, the first attempt does not always work. I am not, therefore, very disappointed with the playtest result. It would have been nice if everything had worked first time, but it would also be nice to win the lottery; I don’t make plans on the basis of either happening.

The main problem is information overload. The players felt that there were too many new words, and new ideas, coming at them too quickly, and they had trouble keeping track of where they and their personae were up to.

I was aware in advance that this was likely to be a problem, but obviously did not do enough to address it. I want to avoid requiring people to read a thick book before they can start playing, but I also want to introduce a setting that is unfamiliar to most Westerners. That was never going to be an easy task, and I haven’t succeeded yet.

As I still want to avoid putting a huge book in front of new players, the only way to solve this is to restructure the initial scenarios so that information and background are introduced more slowly.

That will also be connected to a couple of other problems that arose. Because the personae are created in play, some people complained that they didn’t know enough about their personae to roleplay, while others said that they didn’t initially realise that the options available to the personae were presented by the rules. These are connected, of course: because the players do not know enough about their personae or the setting to make sensible decisions, the rules tell them what those sensible options are. I think I need to make this more explicit. Players will become able to make their decisions completely freely (based on what the personae know) after they have played through enough scenarios to understand the world and their personae, but in the initial scenarios they are still learning the game and the setting. Of course, players could read all the background material first and start off with a wide range of choices. That will be an option when I have the full thing written.

One other thing that came up from both groups was that they thought cards would be very useful. There are a lot of elements of the game that could be printed on cards, and arranged to help the players keep track of what they have created so far, and both groups thought that this would be a good idea. Since I have been wondering whether I should use cards since extremely early in the development process, the next draft will.

However, it will not be a card game. It will be a roleplaying game in which the cards do some of the record keeping for you. They may end up doing quite a lot of the record keeping for you; I’ll have to see how development goes. This is not completely new; Everway had something similar years ago, and Shadowrun seems to be doing almost exactly that with its gun cards now.

The bright side of the playtest is that I got very positive feedback about the basic ideas behind the game. It is true that I was playing with friends, or having friends do it, but about half of the playtesters have professional RPG writing credits, and are not going to encourage me to waste my time. The executive summary of the playtest report would be this:

It needs serious revision, but please do revise it.

So, that is what I will get started on now.

Playtest Scenario Finished

Today, I finished the first draft of the first playtest scenario. The next step is to try playing it, to see whether it works. This very first playtest will be very limited in numbers, because the game might well not work at all, and I will use the feedback from it to revise and improve the rules of the game. The scenario itself will probably also need some revision, but at this point I’m more concerned about getting the rules of the game right.

This is an important milestone. I just hope that the game isn’t so bad that it’s also the end of the journey.

Good Progress

Today, I’ve made good progress on Kannagara. The first playtest scenario is nearly finished in first draft. I think I need another day to get it done, which augurs well for it being completed within the year. Then I will try to recruit some people to actually try it, to find out whether it is at all playable.

One thing that I’m a bit concerned about is that the freedom of the players to decide what their environment is like is a bit limited in this draft. On the other hand, I dropped that because I decided that it was a good idea to try to get the basic structure working first, and then add the more elaborate things afterwards. The final introductory scenario may well include more opportunity to change things than this one.

(No) Progress Report

There have been no updates to the blog for the last couple of weeks because I’ve not made any progress on the game. My family all came to Japan for my daughter’s Shichigosan ceremony, so I haven’t had any time to work on this project. Shichigosan is a Shinto ceremony, so it is, at least, a thematically appropriate distraction.

Today, I’ve looked over the files again, reminded myself of where I was up to, and, I think, got myself into a good position to do more work on the game later this week. Still, for now there has been no concrete progress.

Work Continues

I’m continuing to work on the introductory scenario.

One of the features of Kannagara is that the players can define the details of the world that their personae live in through their choices as they explore it. The players decide what the personae discover, and those discoveries define the world.

There are two versions of this. In the first, the background is defined by the game material, and the personae discover it. This is going to be an important part of the game, because this is how scenarios will be offered. In the second version, the material provides options. The players can choose to have their personae discover a character, location, or plot, or they can choose to leave it undiscovered and, therefore, not part of their world. This is even more important, because even when the background is defined for a scenario, the players will make the initial decision as to whether that scenario will happen in their game.

So, right now I’m trying to get the second part to work. I think I’ve got most of the way there, but there’s still something missing. In the introductory scenario, this has to be a minor aspect, because an introductory scenario needs to be focused, so that inexperienced players can work out what is going on. Getting it to work for something minor is proving to be difficult. Indeed, in the end I may actually drop this from the scenario, as adding too much complexity. However, before I decide whether to do that, I want to get it working, so that I can use it for important options after the first scenario.

I’m not sure how long it will take me to get this done, but I think it is the last new bit of mechanics, so once this is working it might get easier to get the whole scenario finished. Or it might not…

A Sample

Here is a sample of text from the first scenario. This section concerns the creation of the norito for a harae to purify the personae.

Norito

The rules for creating each part of the harae are the same, and we will create the norito first.

First, one of the personae must come up with a concept for the norito. To do this, roll a number of dice equal to norito knowledge, and keep a number equal to norito skill, following the standard rules, which are described again below. The quality of the idea is mainly influenced by the persona’s skill at creating norito, but the more a persona knows about norito, the more likely she is to avoid creating something with a serious flaw.

If the persona has a higher score in norito knowledge than in norito skill, keep the highest dice. For example, if the persona has a score of 3 in norito knowledge and 2 in norito skill, roll three dice and keep the best two. If the two scores are equal, keep all the dice. For example, if the persona has scores of 3 in both norito knowledge and norito skill, roll three dice and keep all of them. If norito knowledge is less than norito skill, roll a number of dice equal to norito skill, plus the difference between norito skill and norito knowledge. Then keep the lowest dice, equal in number to the score in norito skill. For example, suppose the persona has a score of 3 in norito knowledge and 5 in norito skill. The difference between the score in norito skill and the score in norito knowledge is two, and when that is added to the score in norito skill the result is seven. Therefore, you should roll seven dice, and keep the lowest five.

Add together all the dice that you keep to get the result of the die roll. For example, in the final case, suppose you roll the dice and get 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5. The lowest five dice are 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, so the result is 14.

None of the personae have scores in norito knowledge or norito skill yet. Every persona receives 4 points with which we can buy these abilities. We may also use any points we have left over from previous scenes. If you want your persona to participate in creating the norito, it is better to have a score of at least 1 in each ability, as both will be kept at some point in the process.

All of the personae may roll once to come up with a concept, and then we can decide which concept we will use.

The difficulty of a concept depends on how many steps it will add to the harae.

1 step: Conception 1, Implementation 8

2 steps: Conception 4, Implementation 14

3 steps: Conception 7, Implementation 20

4 steps: Conception 10, Implementation 26

5 steps: Conception 13, Implementation 32

A persona may come up with any concept, as long as the conception difficulty is equal to or lower than her total on the conception roll. If her result on the conception roll is greater than the conception difficulty, she may subtract the difference from the implementation difficulty.

For example, suppose that a persona gets a result of 12 on the conception roll. She could choose to have a 1 step idea, with a conception difficulty of 1. She would have 11 points left over, so she could reduce the implementation difficulty to 0, meaning that there would be no chance of failure in writing the norito; she just needs to take a little time to write it down. She could also choose a 2 step idea, and reduce the implementation difficulty by 8 points, to 6. This idea would be easy to turn into a norito, and she would almost certainly succeed on the first roll. If she chose a 3 step concept, she could reduce the implementation difficulty by 5 points, to 15. This is likely to take some cooperation and revision, but it should be within the personae’s abilities. Finally, she could choose a 4 step idea, and reduce the implementation difficulty to 24. This is likely to be difficult to create, but if the personae really need those four steps, they should try it. Her conception roll is not good enough to get a 5 step idea.

The descriptions of all the concepts are the same: “A norito asking the kami of harae to purify us of the kegare we are carrying.” The personae understand the differences in the concepts, but they know about norito, and the players (probably) do not. Players who do know about norito may add more detail to the concept if they wish.

The second stage is for the persona who came up with the idea to start writing it down. Once again, she rolls norito knowledge and keeps norito skill. The player should choose one norito element, a phrase in the norito, to reflect what the personae has created.

Haraetamai kiyometamae — a phrase asking the kami to purify the persona. This would normally go near the end of the norito.
Moromoro no tsumikegare aramuoba — a phrase asking the kami to do something if the persona has any kind of kegare. Tsumi is kegare that a person gets because of something they deliberately do, and tsumikegare indicates both kinds of kegare. This would normally go before a request for purification.

Haraedo no Ohkamitachi — a general term for all the kami of harae.

Seoritsuhime no kami — a female kami of harae, a kami of rivers.

Haya’akitsuhime no kami — a female kami of harae, a kami of sea currents and tides.

Ibukidonushi no kami — a male kami of harae, a kami of the wind.

Hayasasurahime no kami — a female kami of harae, a kami of the underworld.

Izunomë no kami — a female kami of harae.

Kamunaobi no kami — a kami of harae, normally portrayed as male.

All the kami names would normally go before the request for purification, but could come before or after the “moromoro” phrase.

The Japanese phrases are actually included in the norito, while the English explanations are (obviously) not. Norito are written in archaic Japanese, which is not quite the same as modern Japanese; these are the forms for use in a norito. Players who know how to write norito may include appropriate phrases that are not on the list.

If the result of the roll is equal to or greater than the implementation difficulty for the concept, the norito is complete at this stage. For example, if the persona rolled a 12 again, she would complete a 2 step norito, with an implementation difficulty of 6, but not a 3 step norito, with an implementation difficulty of 15. If the norito is not completed, the result of the roll is the progress total towards completing it. For a concrete example, let us say that the concept is for a 3 step norito, so the progress total is 12. The persona includes the phrase “haraetamai kiyometamae”.

If the norito has not yet been completed, the next stage is for a persona other than the one who came up with the idea to look at the draft, and make suggestions for revisions. To assess the draft, the persona should roll norito skill and keep norito knowledge. The main influence on assessment is how much the persona knows about norito, but a persona who is better at creating them is more likely to offer useful advice.

It is harder to make useful comments on a more elaborate concept, so the player subtracts the conception difficulty from the result of the die roll to get the assessment total.

For example, suppose another persona, with 2 dice in both norito knowledge and norito skill, tries to assess the example 3-step norito, and rolls an 11. The conception difficulty for a 3-step norito is 7, so the assessment total is 11–7, or 4.
The assessment total is used to buy a revision element. Each revision element has a cost, to be paid out of the assessment total, and grants a number of dice to keep when trying to revise the norito. A revision element can only be used once for a given norito, and only a single element can be chosen when assessing the norito. In most cases, this means that the player should choose the most expensive element she can afford. However, each revision element fixes some feature of the norito, and the player may wish to avoid including or removing a particular feature, and so choose a different element.

In addition, a revision element may only remove an element that is already present in the norito, and may not require the addition of an element that is already present. It is, however, possible for an element to be added, then removed, then added again. Anyone with experience of writing will know that this is entirely realistic.

The following revision elements are available.

Add one of the elements given above: cost 1, dice 1.

Remove one from the norito: cost 1, dice 1.

Add another phrase that the player knows is appropriate to a norito: cost 1, dice 1.

Include “ashita no migiri, yube no migiri o asakaze, yukaze no fukiharo koto no gotoku” — a phrase from the oharai kotoba, the oldest known harae norito. It likens the removal of kegare to mist being blown away by the wind, which is appropriate here because of the mist in the kamikakushi: cost 4, dice 2.

Include “nigitae, aratae o nagehanatsu koto no gotoku” — a phrase referring to casting away clothing, so if this phase is included in the norito, the haraegu must include removing one or more items of clothing (see later): cost 7, dice 3.

In the example, the persona has an assessment total of 4, and so chooses to recommend adding “ashita no migiri, yube no migiri o asakaze, yukaze no fukiharo koto no gotoku”, giving 2 dice to keep.

The revision of the norito can be carried out by any persona who has read the norito and heard the assessment. The persona who made the assessment always qualifies, and the persona who originally wrote the norito qualifies if she has heard the assessment. However, a third persona who has both read the norito and heard the assessment may also carry out the revisions.
To revise the norito, the player rolls norito skill and keeps the number of dice granted by the revision element. The total is added to the progress total for the norito. The revising personae also chooses one element to add to the norito.

In the example, the revising persona has 2 dice to keep, and gets a total of 9. Added to the current progress total of 12, this takes the total to 21, more than enough to complete the norito. She chooses to add a reference to Ibukidonushi no kami, since a kami of wind is an appropriate match to the phrase about wind blowing mist away.

If a single revision does not allow the completion of the norito, a different persona may assess the revised norito, and make a new suggestion. However, each persona may only assess a norito once, and the original author may not assess it at all. (Normally, a persona may assess something more than once if she sleeps in between assessments, but in this case the personae are not going to sleep in the kamikakushi.)

The personae may work on more than one norito at once as a group, although one persona may only be working on one norito at a time. When they have finished, they can choose the one that they like best to use in the harae.

Revising Revision

And as the process of creation gets underway, things change.

In writing the initial scenario, I found a significant problem with the proposed revision mechanics. They were as follows.

Roll the assessment dice and double the result. Subtract the current progress from this result to get an assessment total. Subtract the assessment total from the current progress to get the difficulty for the revision roll. Make the revision roll, and add the amount by which it exceeds the difficulty to the current progress.

Mathematically, this is equivalent to the following.

Roll the assessment dice and double the result. Add the result of rolling the revision dice. Subtract the current progress. This is the new progress.

This is problematic, because it means that it becomes impossible to get a high total if you are unlucky enough to roll fairly high but not really high on the first rolls; the current progress is a penalty to the highest possible result. This is not the way that things should work. A current progress that is close to the implementation difficulty of the creation should mean that completing the creation is easy, but, in fact, it makes it harder.

So, I’ve changed these mechanics, to the following.

Roll the assessment dice, and subtract the conception difficulty for the creation. This gives you an assessment total. Use the assessment total to buy a revision element. Each revision element provides a number of dice to keep, and costs a certain level of assessment total. A higher cost generally means more dice, so in most cases a player will choose one of the most expensive elements she can afford. However, each revision element specifies a change to be made to the creation, so if she does not like the changes that the expensive elements specify, she might choose a cheaper one, that offers fewer dice.

The revising character then rolls an ability, and keeps the number of dice granted by the element. The total is added to the current progress.

This version of the mechanics has many advantages. First, when the current progress is near the implementation difficulty, you have nearly finished. Keeping one die will probably be enough to finish. Second, it gets rid of the doubling of the total, and relies on buying elements, which is something that I am already using in the creation of theories. That is, it makes the mechanics more unified, which is always a good thing. Finally, by introducing more elements, it adds more ways for the players to develop the world around them.

I suspect that the revision elements will normally be based on the elements used to describe a creation. Indeed, the simplest ones will simply require the addition or removal of those elements. However, there may well be cases in which special revision elements make sense. This also provides a way for personae to add to a concept that is already under development, because a really good assessment roll might allow you to buy a revision element that improves the initial concept.

Another thing that I’m noticing as I write the scenario: Kannagara material is going to be hard to write. I think it is going to be easy to play, but a lot of the work that gets offloaded onto the GM in conventional games has to be done in the writing. From a commercial standpoint, that’s not actually a bad thing: it means that published material should have substantial value to players. It does mean that writing the initial scenario is taking quite a long time.

Development Continues

The frequency of posts to this blog is likely to drop off a bit for a while. I’m working on the playtest scenario, and while it’s coming along nicely it doesn’t lend itself to posting on the blog quite as easily as the initial, more abstract, development. In addition, things are changing as I make them concrete. This doesn’t surprise me; RPG development always works like this. Things will change again once the scenario is finished and I’ve had the chance to play it, and have other people play it.

I think I will be able to post some snippets from the scenario here, however, so look for those in the near future.

Performing Harae

As I mentioned earlier, simple harae and misogi rituals are an essential part of any visit to a jinja, and all matsuri. I don’t think I need special rules for them; they are something to be mentioned as colour. Shinto believes that people acquire kegare through their normal activities, and the standard harae rituals can be considered to remove that impurity. That suggests that a penalty should apply to matsuri if personae perform them without performing the standard harae rituals, but that would take a deliberate declaration by the players that the personae were not performing those rituals.

However, for kegare gained as a resource statistic, something more is needed. The personae must create and perform a special harae to purify themselves.

A harae is similar to a matsuri; there is still a norito, for example. However, the mikë is replaced with haraegu, the items to which kegare is transferred, and kagura is replaced with misogi. Unlike kagura, misogi is not something the personae can fail to perform, but it can only be included if the persona has a suitable body of water available, and is willing to get wet, so including it provides an automatic 1-step bonus, in addition to any further bonuses from the design of the misogi ritual. In a similar way, harae that can only be performed by more than one person get a bonus analogous to the bonus gained from kagura. If two people are needed, the bonus is 1 step, if four, 2 steps, and if eight, 3 steps.

Every step added to the harae ceremony purifies one point of kegare from a single persona, the persona at the focus of the ceremony. The purified persona does count as one of the people performing the ceremony, for the purposes of bonuses to the number of steps.

The most important difference between a harae and a matsuri is that a harae asks the kami of harae to remove kegare, and these kami are always both able and willing to do that. This means that there is no need to roll to see whether the kami are capable of removing the kegare, and also no need to roll to see whether the kami respond to the request.

This is a good thing, as the standard penalties to matsuri from kegare do apply. If the players needed to roll to see whether the kami responded to the request, they would almost certainly fail. However, that is not necessary, so that penalty is not an issue. The other penalty for performing matsuri while suffering from kegare does make a difference, however. That is, for every point of kegare held by a participant, including the persona to be purified, the number of steps in the harae is reduced by one. Clearly, there is no point having other people participate if they have any kegare themselves; the penalty from the kegare will outweigh the bonus from additional participants.

There is one final requirement. A harae must remove all of a persona’s kegare, or it cannot remove any of it. That is, if a persona has 6 points of kegare, she can only be purified by a 6-step (or greater) harae. Since her kegare subtracts 6 from the number of steps available, the harae itself must have at least 12 steps. With three elements, the norito, haraegu, and misogi, this is not impossible, but it is not easy.

This, then, is what provides the limit on taking kegare. If a persona acquires too much kegare, she will not be able to purify herself.

At the moment, I want to say that, while other personae can help to design the ceremony, or even do the whole design, it must be designed anew every time. That is, the personae cannot create a standard harae ceremony that they all use to get rid of their kegare. From a game design perspective, we need to strike a balance between the personae being able to take as much kegare as they want, whenever they want, and players never daring to take any. We also need to avoid the design of harae ceremonies becoming a chore that players need to get through to get on with the interesting parts. These are not easy questions, and they are ones that will be addressed in the playtest.

And that is the next step: writing a playtest scenario and running through it.