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.


Harae is normally translated as “purification”, and this is not a bad translation; harae is how one gets rid of kegare. Harae is very closely linked to misogi, which is also a way to get rid of kegare. Indeed, in contemporary Shinto it is not clear that they are really different, and it is not uncommon to see references to “misogiharae” or “haraemisogi”. The main difference is that misogi involves water, and harae does not.

When one enters a jinja, one is supposed to rinse one’s hands and mouth at the water basin near the entrance. This is an abbreviated form of misogi. On the other hand, if you participate in a matsuri, the shinshoku will wave an ohnusa over you at the beginning, after reciting a harae norito. An ohnusa is a stick with many strips of paper, linen, or thin rice-straw rope attached to it. This is a simple form of harae.

In harae, it is common for the kegare to be symbolically transferred to another object, which is then disposed of. For example, it is common to transfer kegare to a small piece of paper, cut into a roughly human shape to make a doll, by rubbing it on your body and then blowing on it. The dolls are then either burned or thrown into a river to carry the kegare away. At some jinja, people unwind a small piece of rope as part of the harae, and then the remains are burned or washed away. The idea here is that, as the rope is unwound, so too are the binding effects of the kegare on the person. The ohnusa is thought to be derived from this; originally, the kegare was transferred to the ohnusa, which was then presumably destroyed.

However, the ohnusa is also thought to be derived from the cloth offered to the kami as a gift. In the earliest days of Shinto, cloth seems to have been the standard non-food offering to the kami, and it is still sometimes offered today. That is connected to another way in which harae is performed. In some cases, kegare is thought to be transferred to items that are offered to the kami. The kami then removes the kegare from the item when she accepts it. These days, this is one explanation for the money it is traditional to offer at a jinja when you visit; your kegare is attached to the money, and then removed by the kami. This, of course, does not fit easily with the idea that kami hate kegare, but, as I have mentioned before, Shinto does not place a high priority on rigorously consistent theology.

Salt is also used in harae, often being sprinkled on the people to be purified. Salt is believed, in Shinto as in many other cultures, to have purifying properties, and it is one of the standard offerings to the kami. Sometimes, the salt used in harae is dissolved in water, which connects it to misogi.

Full misogi involves stripping naked and immersing your body in water, ideally natural water from the sea or a river. This is unusual in contemporary Shinto; the only example I am aware of is at the Okitsumiya of Munkata Taisha in Kyushu, where a whole island is the sacred enclosure of the jinja, and you must strip completely naked and purify yourself in the sea before setting foot on land. (This island, Oki-no-shima, is also the only Shinto sacred space I know of that women are still not allowed to enter.) Much more common is for men to wear a white loincloth and women to wear a short white tunic, and then immerse themselves in the water. Although this is much more common, it is still not an everyday practice; such misogi is almost always associated with a particular matsuri. For some unfathomable reason, a lot of shrines have these in the middle of winter.

Misogi and harae are often both traced back to the same mythological event, when Izanagi returned from Yomi-no-Kuni, the land of the dead, where he had been seeking Izanami, his wife. As death is a source of kegare in Shinto, he had picked up a lot of kegare there, and he purified himself on the seashore. First, he stripped off and threw away all his clothes, then he immersed himself in the water. Discarding his clothes suggests that the kegare was transferred to them, thus making it a form of harae, while the immersion in water is clearly misogi.

These rituals are very important to Shinto, so they should be important in the game. How, then, do I plan to incorporate them?

Kegare Points

So, how will kegare work in the game? As a resource statistics, like shin’i, it will come in points. Most resource statistics, including shin’i, are spent to get good effects. Kegare is the opposite. A persona can accept kegare to avoid bad effects.

If a player does not like a die roll, she can accept of point of kegare for the persona, and reroll as many of the dice as she wants. Statistically, it is usually sensible to reroll any dice showing a three or lower, as there is a better than even chance of improvement. However, if the player needs all sixes to succeed, it makes sense to reroll anything that is not a six. If the reroll is still not good enough, or even worse than the initial attempt, the player can take another point of kegare to roll again.

A player can also choose to have her persona take kegare to aid another persona. In that case, for every point of kegare that the player’s persona takes, she can change any two dice to be sixes. Normally, changing the lowest two dice would be the best option, but if changing two dice would make all the kept dice sixes, it doesn’t really matter.

In both cases, the players make the decision whether to accept kegare after the dice have been rolled, and the result has been calculated. However, kegare must be accepted and the result altered before any further rolls are made, or further results are calculated.

The problem here is that this kegare does not seem to correspond to in-game actions or events that would be viewed as causing kegare in Shinto. We could say that the effort the persona puts into avoiding the near-disaster drains some of her energy, leaving her weaker and withered. That would fit nicely with the idea that kegare is not sin, but this is something that may need further thought.

There is no formal upper limit on kegare, but a character with kegare suffers from negative effects.

First, kegare is catastrophic during matsuri. The total number of points of kegare held by the participants is subtracted from the number of steps the matsuri has, making the matsuri much less effective. As a result, it almost never makes sense to take kegare during a matsuri, although it is quite reasonable to do so while creating it. In addition, kegare acts as a penalty to any kami’s attitude towards a persona. The number of points of kegare subtracts from the number of dice the kami keeps when deciding whether to aid the persona, even if the persona does not participate in the ritual making the request.

The negative effects of kegare are not restricted to direct contact with kami. If a player keeps at least one 1 on a die roll, then if the number of ones a player keeps, plus the persona’s current kegare, is greater than the number of dice the player kept for that roll, something really bad happens. For example, a player whose persona has 3 points of kegare is keeping 2 dice. In this case, if she keeps even a single one, something bad will happen, because 1 + 3 is greater than 2. However, if the persona only has 1 point of kegare, the player needs to keep two ones for something to go seriously wrong. If the player keeps no ones, then there is no disaster, no matter how much kegare the persona has. If the persona has 3 kegare and is keeping 2 dice, then there is no disaster as long as neither die is a 1. Obviously, this means that these disasters are much less likely if the player is rolling more dice than she is keeping, and much more likely if she is keeping more than she is rolling.

The negative effect depends on the context, but it is worse than a failure on the roll. If something is being created, this effect typically destroys all the progress that has been made so far, but the players should describe what goes wrong.

The persona may accept a point of kegare to avoid the crisis. Doing this too often, however, quickly leads to kegare totals that guarantee that even a single one leads to disaster, and make it completely impossible for the persona to interact effectively with kami, or participate in a matsuri.

If kegare builds up, personae need to reduce it in order to be able to deal with the kami again. That is the function of harae.


The basic framework of the game is now largely complete, but one extremely important element is still missing: kegare. Kegare is a central concept in Shinto, and is normally translated as “impurity”. This is not a bad translation, but it is also not quite right. Sometimes, kegare is referred to as “tsumikegare”, which is translated as “sin and impurity”. This is also not quite right.

The first point to make is that “impurity” is a better translation than “sin”. Traditionally, for example, childbirth attached a great deal of kegare to the mother, but childbirth was certainly not regarded as a sin; indeed, it was the primary function of a woman in society. (Like all religions with a history, Shinto has a history of sexism.) What’s more, physical dirt is a form of kegare, and physically washing it off is an important part of harae, and particularly of misogi, which I will discuss in more detail in a couple of posts’ time. Even more striking is the fact that being a victim of a disaster or a crime causes kegare. Sometimes, kegare is something that happens to you. It isn’t your fault in any way, but you are still impure.

On the other hand, sometimes kegare does arise from your actions. Wrong actions, like moving boundary markers in fields (this is one of the things listed in the nearest equivalent Shinto has to the Ten Commandments — it’s not a very close equivalent), cause kegare for the person who does them. People are, in some sense, damaged when they do something that is wrong. Wrong actions can also, of course, cause kegare for the victims of the action, as noted above.

The precise nature of kegare is unclear, largely because, as I have mentioned before, Shinto does not have a tradition of analytical theology. It is generally believed that having a lot of kegare is bad for you, in the same way as being ill is bad for you. Indeed, being ill might be a result of having a lot of kegare, as might any other form of bad luck. One popular etymology for “kegare” is that it comes from the words for “spirit” and “wither”, so that kegare represents a lessening of your energy. This means that you are less capable, less creative, and more prone to mistakes. It is also connected to damaged relationships with other people, and an inability to take stock of and address your own problems.

Kami really hate kegare. This is why you are supposed to rinse your hands and mouth before approaching a jinja, to make sure that you are not carrying kegare into the sacred area. Performing a matsuri while carrying kegare is a major taboo. The matsuri in which a newborn baby is presented to the kami is a good example of this. This matsuri was traditionally performed when the father and the child had been purified of the kegare caused by childbirth. However, at this point the mother was still considered to be suffering kegare, so she could not enter the jinja. Instead, the baby was carried by its paternal grandmother. This last custom is maintained today, although most shrines do let the mother attend as well. More generally, shinshoku are required to undergo purification before officiating at matsuri, to remove any kegare they have picked up in their daily lives, and anyone attending a matsuri is purified before it starts.

Kegare, then, is something that you get by doing the wrong thing, or because something bad happens to you. If you have kegare, things are more likely to go wrong, and you cannot approach the kami. In Kannagara, I want to use kegare as a general resource statistic. I’ll discuss the details in the next post.

Reducing Resistance

A character’s resistance is not a one-off thing. If it remains at the same level, the personae have to persuade her to get involved every time the issue comes up, and that is a long-term problem for the jinja. If the resistance represents a bad relationship with another character, then the removal of that resistance represents repairing the relationship, and may be one of the persona goals.

How, then, do personae go about doing that? I do not want to introduce another set of mechanics at this point; I think we already have plenty. That means reusing a set that already exists, and the best candidate seems to be the mechanics for creating a relationship. Those are mechanics for doing something to change a character’s long-term attitudes, and that is exactly what the personae want to do in this case.

Most of the steps also make sense. The personae need to work out what to do in order to reduce the character’s resistance, and then do it. This will involve talking to the character, or her friends, and then putting together whatever is necessary. Elements can be used to further develop the character, and the reasons for the resistance, as this is being done.

The problem is setting the difficulty for reducing the resistance. There are two obvious possibilities: one is to use the resistance itself, and the other is to have a fixed difficulty for reducing the resistance by a certain number of points.

Intuitively, it should be harder to remove a stronger resistance. Both approaches meet this requirement. If the resistance itself is the difficulty, then the requirement is obviously met. On the other hand, if there is a fixed difficulty for a certain number of points, the personae will need to choose a higher difficulty, or go through the process several times, if the resistance is higher.

Bearing that in mind, I will go for a fixed difficulty. For now, I will use the same number as used when building relationships: 8. The difficulty to remove a number of points of resistance is 8 times the number of points. This will make it impossible for most personae to remove even a moderate resistance all at once, as a resistance could easily be around 20. However, they could cut it down a bit at a time.

The smallest possible cut is one point, which has a difficulty of 8. That’s easy; almost any persona will be up to that challenge. The question, then, is how to make it a good idea to go for a difficulty that’s a bit higher. One possibility is to allow only one attempt to reduce the resistance in the course of one story, or have some other way to measure the time limit. That makes it sensible to try to reduce the resistance as much as you can in the attempts that you have available. Another possibility is not to worry about it, and to let the time required to make multiple attempts serve as the limiting factor.

One advantage of using a fixed difficulty is that the same mechanics can be used to persuade a character not to intervene in the personae’s project. Normally, a character intervenes when the personae have accumulated a certain number of points towards their goal. By using these rules, the personae can add to the threshold at which the character takes action, and if they raise it high enough, the project will succeed before the character does anything to interfere.

At this point, I think I have, finally, described all the core dice mechanics for the game. I still don’t have a role for harae, however, and that is what I would like to discuss next. It is, as I have mentioned before, a central part of Shinto. The purpose of harae is to remove kegare, so the first step in incorporating harae is to decide what kegare is in the game. That will be the topic of the next couple of posts.

Overcoming Resistance

As I mentioned in the last post, a character’s resistance will be a number tied to a description. To overcome it, personae roll dice.

The easiest way to do this is to have the resistance be the difficulty for the die roll, and, as yet, I don’t see any reason to make things more complicated. That still leaves the question of what the persona’s player should roll, and what she should keep.

I think that the player will roll the persona’s social skill. This will be something like persuasion or etiquette; the skill list will be worked out a little bit later. This means that someone with a high social skill is more likely to get a good result, but that charm and persuasiveness can only get you so far. Other things, the dice kept, are more fundamental.

The dice kept will be set by the strength of the persona’s relationship to the character, as long as the relationship is backed up by appropriate attitudes. Trust and love will be the most common, depending on whether the persona is trying to convince the character that something is a good idea for the character, or to do it because the persona wants it done. If the persona makes promises or threats, however, hope or fear might be appropriate. It isn’t really possible to use hate or doubt to get someone to do what you want.

Sometimes, this will be obviously hopeless. If the character’s resistance is 13 and the personae only have a two die relationship with her, they have no chance of overcoming the resistance. First, they need to either strengthen their relationship with her, or reduce her resistance. This is a good thing, because it reinforces the themes of the game. The personae need to build a relationship to get what they want, not kill things.

In many cases, however, rolling the dice will make sense, because the personae might succeed. What will be the effect of this roll? Right at the beginning of this blog, I talked about the effects that success on a die roll could have, and the need to avoid simple failure. In this case, I think there are two main choices: success might create an option, or change the context.

Success creates an option when it gives the personae another route towards the main goal, one that involves the cooperation of this character. For this to be appealing, the new route needs to be easier than the ones available beforehand. For example, if the personae need a ceremonial mask for a matsuri, and the character has one but is reluctant to lend it, overcoming her resistance lets them use her mask. If they cannot overcome it, the personae will have to make a mask, which will take time and effort.

Changing the context, on the other hand, will normally mean bringing more people within the benefits of reaching the goal. If a matsuri grants bonus dice to everyone present, convincing a character to attend means that she also gets the bonus dice. Of course, since characters do not actually use bonus dice, this would, instead, contribute to strengthening her relationship to the jinja, which in turn contributes to building the jinja up.

The players need to describe what the personae say to the character, and how the character replies. These decisions will be based on the elements describing the character’s personality, and on what the players have decided to have the personae do. This part of the interaction with the character is brief and simple, so the rules do not need to provide much structure. On the other hand, building a relationship is much more complex, as we saw earlier, and there, the rules do provide more structure for developing the character’s personality. What about reducing the resistance? That should also tell us more about the character, and so I will discuss it in the next post.

Character Resistance

The ways in which characters become obstacles to the personae will be defined with numbers, to fit with the rest of the mechanics. However, I think they will be defined with simple numbers, not dice.

This is because the active force in the game should be the personae, not the characters. The personae drive things forward, and make the decisions that change things. In mechanics, that means that the personae roll dice and succeed or fail. The success or failure of character actions depends on how well the personae do at preparing for those actions, not on a die roll made for the character. In any case, since there is no GM, there is no-one to roll on the characters’ behalf.

The first class of statistic is nothing but a number, representing the character’s resistance to a certain sort of action. For example, “Hates Masao” would serve as the resistance if the character were asked to do anything to help Masao, or work with Masao on a project. Similarly, “Blames the kami for his mother’s death” would be a resistance to getting involved with the jinja. The description of the resistance guides the players when they describe how the character reacts as the personae interact with her, and face her resistance. Personae can either try to overcome those resistances in particular cases, or reduce them in the long term. Both of these options will be considered later.

The second class of statistic is more complex. If characters never do anything at all without direct prompting from the personae, the game will not be very plausible, and players will find it hard to suspend their disbelief. Therefore, characters need to act.

In line with making the personae the centre of the story, however, even these actions will be reactions to things that the personae do. A character will be tied to a goal as a possible obstacle, and will take action that causes problems for the personae when they reach a certain stage in achieving the goal. The players, of course, all know that this will happen, because they have all read the scenario. The personae, therefore, also have a general idea that this character is opposed to the goal, but they do not know how to stop her. Investigating the character uncovers the reasons for her opposition, using the normal investigation rules, and the detailed reasons are created by the players as part of this process. The personae can then, if they wish, do things to postpone her interference, or to make it less of a problem when it happens. They might also fail at this, making her intervention even more of a problem than it would have been otherwise.

The game mechanics of the character’s opposition will be defined by the scenario, and may be modified by the actions of the personae. The description of her opposition, however, will be defined in play, based on the way the character and the situation have been developed. The scenario will provide elements that help to guide this definition, but they may not all apply, as the players may have taken things in a direction the scenario writer did not anticipate. Reacting to the character’s opposition may involve creating something, investigating something, or overcoming the character’s resistance, just as in the first sort of obstacle.

How, then, do personae overcome a character’s resistance? That is the topic for the next post.

GM-Free Scenarios

Why do characters come into conflict with personae? Because the characters want things that differ from what the personae want, or because the personae want things from the characters that the characters are not immediately willing to give. That, of course, is the in-game reason. The meta-game reason is that conflict with characters is one of the things that drives the story, and makes the game exciting. For the same reason, creation and discovery are difficult, and personae might fail, or at least have to accept something that does not quite live up to their hopes.

For creation, the players can decide what their personae are trying to create, and then use the rules to see whether they succeed. For discovery, the die rolls determine how useful the information is, and the available elements shape its content. For interaction, I think I can do something similar, which leads me to a conclusion about the fundamental structure of the game.

I am going to try to make it work without a GM.

However, my default position will be that the players are working from an existing scenario. This scenario might have been written by one of the players, or might be something that they have purchased. At least one of the players needs to be familiar with the rules of the game and the structure of the scenario, and things would probably go most smoothly if all the players were. However, in play, every player has a persona, and every player is working towards resolving the scenario in the way the personae want.

This means that a scenario needs to be playable by someone who has read it. For conventional RPG scenarios, this is not possible, because if you have read the scenario, you know everything that is going to happen. However, a lot of recent narrativist games do away with this assumption, and I’m going to follow in their footsteps. Kannagara will have scenarios that work better if everyone has read them, and reading a scenario should make you want to play it.

One way that Kannagara differs from most recent narrativist games, however, is in the level of rules. I don’t think it’s as complex as it initially looks, but it is a complex game. This means that the scenario will have to provide the elements necessary to support these complex rules. I suspect that, slightly counter-intuitively, this will actually make the game easier to play. Players will not have to decide what their personae do from an infinite menu of possibilities. Rather, at each point there will be a list of options to choose from. Players who are familiar and comfortable with the setting will, of course, be able to choose elements of their own, but that won’t be required. Creativity is hard, which is why I think it would be fun to play at succeeding, and why the game needs to make it easier to create in the game than to do it for real.

Of course, if the scenario is just a list of choices, people will not be inspired to use it. Motivation to play will come from the goals offered in the scenario. This might be possible transformations of the personae, discoveries about the world, or the creation of a great jinja. It could also be forming a good relationship with a kami, or resolving deep=seated conflict between characters.

In order for the game to be interesting, however, the scenario must also offer obstacles and conflicts. The rules for creation and discovery provide obstacles already; if a particular creation is defined as being difficult, then the personae need to find elements and improve their abilities before they can complete it. Characters are another source of conflict and obstacles. They might directly oppose the personae, but more often they have goals of their own that create an indirect obstacle. For example, the personae might want a character to do something she is unwilling to do, or a character might want to do something that will, incidentally, cause problems for the personae.

A character’s role in the scenario, then, is defined by what the personae can do for her, or how she gets in the personae’s way. That is not everything about the character, of course, but the rest can be defined by the players in the course of portraying her. The rest of the character can even have game mechanical effects, by defining what the personae need to do to win the character over. This is one way in which the scenario will be unpredictable, even to people who have read it.

While mechanics will be involved with the all aspects of the personality of characters, they are essential to describing them as obstacles, and that is the issue I will look at in the next post.

The Process of Intimacy

The rules described so far can be used for building relationships or changing attitudes. Although the game roles of these two are different, they are closely linked, and in the real world it would be hard to separate them. Therefore, the same kinds of actions can be used to modify either. So, the personae could use the rules to increase the extent to which a character loves or trusts them, or to build a relationship with that character.

Some parts of the process will, however, be different depending on the game mechanic involved. The most important difference is that a relationship is necessarily mutual, because of the way the game statistic is defined, while an attitude may be entirely one-sided. Indeed, it makes sense to allow actions that create a particular attitude in a group of people. It is certainly possible to build trust with a whole group, and similarly for awe. Love and hope may be a bit more difficult to imagine, but they are far from impossible. A whole group of people might have all four positive attitudes to a charismatic leader, for example.

If the persona has no relationship to the people who develop the attitudes, then the characters’ attitudes tell us nothing about what the persona thinks about them. Indeed, in some cases the persona might not even be aware that the characters exist as individuals. Again, think of the fans of a celebrity. The celebrity takes actions to encourage certain attitudes on the part of the fans, but while she knows that the fans exist as a group, she knows very few individuals among them.

Things are different if the persona is trying to build a relationship. In this case, the relationship is mutual, and the persona must be deeply involved with the character. Because a persona and a character have a single score to measure their relationship, the relationship score tells us nothing about their attitudes to each other. What is more, it seems strange to think that two people could have a very strong relationship, but no strong opinions about each other.

There is a simple way to address both of these points. We can say that a relationship cannot have a higher score than the character’s strongest attitude to the persona. This attitude could be a default attitude, if the relationship is only a weak one. Further, we will say that, by default, the persona has the same attitudes to the character as the character has to the persona. The strength probably does not matter, because attitudes will not be used to decide how personae act.

Normally, this is no problem. Personae will be trying to build mutual relationships of love and trust, because that’s the sort of game that Kannagara is. In some cases, however, things might be different. In particular, a persona might want to convince a character to trust her as a first step in getting him to stop lying all the time. In that case, trusting the character is a bad idea, but the persona needs to build a relationship in order to help. In such cases, a persona can try to build a relationship while having a different attitude.

This should be harder than trying to build a more straightforward relationship, and so should give the player a penalty to the number of dice she rolls or keeps. The penalty might be equal to the strength of the attitude, or maybe to the strength of the relationship. Either makes sense; the more strongly someone feels about the persona, the harder it is to avoid that feeling influencing you. On the other hand, as the relationship becomes strong, it is hard to maintain an asymmetry. This is something to be worked on in playtest, so I will make a final decision later.

Building relationships with characters is an important part of the game, but so is interacting with them more casually. As long as personae and characters do not disagree, no rules are needed for this: the characters just go along with the personae’s suggestions. When there is conflict, however, we need rules for resolving it. That is the next technical mechanical topic, but there is a broader topic I want to discuss first. I don’t think that Kannagara needs a GM.

Learning about People

What are the sorts of things that serve as elements when trying to find out about someone? The default assumption is that the personae are not spying on and manipulating the character, although that is possible, and should be supported by the rules at some point (although not necessarily in the core book). Instead, the personae are quite open about the fact that they are trying to build a relationship with the character.

The investigation elements will, therefore, include such things as “talk to her”. In fact, quite a lot of the elements will boil down to “talk to her”, so those elements need to be more closely defined. Recall that personae need to use several elements to build up an investigation, and can only use each element once. Each element, then, should not cover too much ground. “Talk about current events”, “talk about hobbies”, “talk about recent holidays”, “talk about religion”, and so on seem as though they would have a reasonable level of detail. Since the personae are being open about what they are trying to do, we should not neglect elements like “ask her what food she likes”. However, there are other useful approaches: “look at her outfit”, for example, because the clothes that someone wears tell you something about her. If the persona has been invited to the character’s home, “look at her bookshelves” is another option. Some elements here will be made available by the course of the game — by being invited into the character’s home, for example.

The other players describe the response. Here, the elements include things like “complains about politicians”, “plays tennis”, “visited Guam”, or “doesn’t know the difference between a jinja and a Buddhist temple”. Because the game is set in Japan, and most of the players will probably not be in Japan, the source material for the game will suggest some elements that could be used here, and the sorts of things that go together. Of course, the Japanese are also human, so there are a lot of similarities to people in other countries and players can also rely on their common sense.

The pieces of information that the persona puts together are things like “she likes cats”, “she is insecure about her appearance”, “she likes to think that she doesn’t care about food”, and so on. These are features of her personality, and while they can change over time, they are established at this point. These features do not determine what the personae should do to improve their relationship with her, but they do provide hints. They also help establish the character, for future interactions, and may also provide new goals for the personae. For example, they may decide to help a character who is insecure about her appearance to feel more confident about the way she looks.

Finally, the theory is, in this case, a description of the action the personae will take. This might be as simple as “buy her a cat”, or as complex as “hold a party with lots of delicious desserts, but where every dessert is from a different country, and captures part of the essence of the country, so that she can enjoy lots of desserts while telling herself that she is really investigating international culture”. (I think events like that are held in Japan quite frequently.) The players can generally just make these theories up, with the die roll simply determining how many dice they keep when they actually perform the action to boost the relationship. The game should provide some examples to give players hints and guidance, but this is another area that is within the realms of common sense.

One way I will incorporate Japanese culture into the game is by providing sets of elements that go together well for Japanese people, or that make good individual elements. For example, a lot of Japanese women want to own brand-name bags and clothes. This means that “wants to own brand-name shoes” is a good element for a Japanese woman. However, “has no interest in brand-name shoes” is also a good element, because it defines her as not following the general social trend. The important point is that a woman’s attitude to brand-name goods is significant, and, as far as I can tell, a man’s is not. Incorporating that sort of element into the game makes it feel as though you are playing in Japanese culture.

Before we finish the discussion of building relationships, I want to talk about the process. What happens while the personae are performing the actions that will create the relationship with the character?