Full Blog Archive

Going to School

I have been a bit distracted over the last month or so.

First, I was asked to translate an academic paper into Japanese. That’s hard work. In general, it is a bad idea to try to translate things out of your native language. Fortunately, the translation was for internal use only, so awkward language is not a problem if the meaning is fairly clear. Even so, it took a lot of effort, so I couldn’t do any work on this for a couple of weeks.

Then, Wizards of the Coast announced the Dungeon Master’s Guild, which is an opportunity to write D&D material for the Forgotten Realms and get paid for it. I’ve wanted to do this since I was 15, so I’ve been getting myself up to speed on D&D 5th edition. (It’s good. It is notable that the elements discussed as things you might want to include in a game do not include any of the elements I’m working on here.)

However, I’ve not abandoned Kannagara by any means. I have, however, switched to the School of Magic for now.

Development there is going much more quickly than it did for Kannagara. It is quite easy to design situations, and I have a lot of ideas. This is a much better way to work out how the mechanics should go than doing Kannagara, where I also have to worry about accurately portraying Shinto.

And working out how the mechanics should go is important. I am still happy with the basic structure, but “game balance” is not easy. There are a whole bunch of things with numerical values, and I don’t have a good sense for how high those values should be. This isn’t really surprising, as neither I nor anyone else has ever played the game. I’m getting an idea for what sort of things make good elements of situations as I go along, and more ideas for how different situations can interact, but I do think I’m going to need to finish the basic rules for the school of magic before I can realistically do Kannagara.

Once I know how the rules fit together, I will know what I need to take from Shinto to make a workable game, and how the things I want to include can fit in.

In addition, from my point of view, the school of magic game is another one I have wanted to play for years, so I still get what I want.

I’m not sure whether I will have a fully playtestable version by the end of March, but it is still looking realistic.

This is a good example of how creative work is unpredictable. Given the brick walls I kept running into with Kannagara, and their complete absence in the new game, I think the switch is clearly going to be a faster way to complete Kannagara, even though there is a whole other game in the mix. I’m not going to commit to any schedules on Kannagara, but I want that one soon, as well.

Renouncing UK Citizenship

Today, I had a phone call from the Legal Affairs Bureau handling my application for Japanese citizenship. The Ministry of Justice wants me to renounce my UK citizenship, and will send the necessary documents. That means that my application for Japanese citizenship has been successful.

People who have followed my citizenship application process know that we ran into a snag with the paperwork. The Ministry of Justice required proof of citizenship in addition to a passport, but UK embassies recently stopped issuing the letters that they had previously supplied. That meant that I could not supply that particular document, and no-one at the Legal Affairs Bureau in Kawasaki knew what to do, because they were not qualified to change the Ministry’s policy. The decision at that point was to submit the rest of my application, and see what the Ministry of Justice decided.

Asking me to renounce my UK citizenship is the last step of the process. In order to renounce it, I need a document from the Japanese government confirming that they plan to give me Japanese citizenship just as soon as I renounce my UK citizenship. This is because almost all countries try to avoid making anyone stateless, at least for any longer than it takes for the paperwork to go through. Indeed, if, for some reason, the application does not go through within six months, I remain a British citizen, and the language suggests that, legally, I will be considered never to have renounced it.

This indicates that the Ministry of Justice has decided that they do not need any further proof of UK citizenship from me. (Obviously, it will be difficult to get such proof after renouncing…) From my perspective, that’s a nice decision, because it means that I do not need to spend time and money to get yet another piece of paper. I assume that it’s a generally applicable decision, as well, as I can’t see any reason why I would get special treatment. This is yet another sign of the essentially pragmatic character of the people in charge of citizenship applications here; if a foreign government does not issue a particular document, they do not insist on getting something like it.

Incidentally, it costs £223 to renounce UK citizenship. This is better than the US, which charges $2350, but still a bit pricey.

As the application part of my application is now over, I can say that my case worker did not do a home visit, and the contact people I listed have not mentioned being contacted. I did have an interview, at the Legal Affairs Bureau, and my wife was also interviewed, separately. In addition, my income for the most recent month at the time of application was substantially lower than my average income from the previous year (which was on the tax returns I had to submit), and that wasn’t a problem. (My income has gone back up again now; I got more students.)

There is one interesting question that now arises. Yesterday, I applied for my photo ID My Number card, the new standard Japanese government-issued ID (with cute cartoon bunny rabbit). Because it is new, they are issuing it to all 120 million residents at once, so they expect to actually issue the card in March. It is possible that my renunciation and naturalisation will go through before they actually get around to issuing it. Of course, if I become a Japanese citizen then, my name will change, so the card will have to be reissued before it is even issued. However, given what I’ve heard about the time take for renunciation (up to three months) and the final paperwork on citizenship (a few weeks), I rather doubt it. I’ll just have to apply for a reissue quite early on.

School of Magic

As I mentioned at the end of last year, I decided to look into whether designing the School of Magic game I’ve been wanting to make for decades would speed up the process of getting the mechanics into playtest. The only way to do that, really, is to try writing, and see whether progress is significantly faster, so I tried it out this morning.

The answer would appear to be yes.

The broader structure of how individual situations would fit together, and what the personae could achieve, was much easier to do in this setting. I guess twenty years of working on Ars Magica has made it rather easier for me to think about this sort of thing. (And yes, the broader structure in question does show the influence of Ars Magica. That’s not really something I could hope to avoid, even if I wanted to. It also has a very specific bit of influence from GURPS.)

I have a lot of background ideas, all of which can easily be made to work as story drivers given the system. Even exams fit in really easily as a major point of tension.

There is one important thing that I still need to test: how easy is it to design a specific situation? “Situation” is a specific term in the game system, referring to the units that serve the same purpose as “encounters” in other game systems. It has a different name because the personae are not typically encountering anything in a situation, so “encounter” is a bad name for it. A situation is quite elaborate, just like encounters in most other games, and has a number of elements that need to be designed. Players would normally take these from published material, in much the same way as they take Pathfinder monsters from the Bestiary, so the game needs to have a lot of them before playtest. This bit actually went quite smoothly in Kannagara, at least for some of the areas, so if this doesn’t go more smoothly in the School of Magic game (which will need a name, if I continue), there’s a good chance that I will go back to Kannagara. I’d really like to try this out this week, and my schedule suggests that I should be able to.

In practical terms, my thinking is this. If this week’s tests suggest that I will be able to finish a playtest scenario for the School of Magic by the end of March, I will do so. If they suggest that it is going to take longer than that, I will go back to Kannagara. I’d like to finish the playtest scenario earlier than that, if possible, but that’s the deadline I have in mind. I plan to continue working on Kannagara directly when the School of Magic is in playtest, and then fold the responses back in. However, if School of Magic continues to move more quickly, I will probably look at taking it to publication before I do the same for Kannagara.

My hope is that this change of tack will, in the long term, actually speed up the appearance of a playable form of Kannagara, as well as of the School of Magic game, but creative work is never that predictable. We’ll have to wait and see.

Strategy for 2016

Another year draws to a close, and Kannagara still isn’t finished. On the bright side, I didn’t run a Kickstarter for it. On the down side, I would have liked to be a lot farther along than I am at the moment. Writing a significantly different kind of roleplaying game turned out to be quite hard and a lot of work; who would have thought it?

Still, I have made some progress this year; quite substantial progress, in fact. I have a basic set of mechanics that seem to work quite well, and have an obvious way to incorporate facts about Shinto into the game. It’s now a matter of writing the material so that there is enough to play with, and getting people to try it again. I think this version will work better than the last one, but only a playtest will tell. So I need to get it to that point.

With that in mind, I have been considering a change in strategy. Actually, this is something I’ve been considering on and off for a long time. The problem is that I am designing a new kind of game about material that is almost completely unfamiliar to my target audience. Even people who know a lot about Japan tend to know relatively little about Shinto, and the details of rituals and matsuri that are important in Kannagara are a mystery to the overwhelming majority of Japanese people. I periodically wonder whether trying to do both of these at once is too ambitious. That is, it might be better to use a different setting, one more accessible to English-speaking gamers, to get used to the mechanics, and then write Kannagara.

If I did that, the setting would be completely invented, because part of the problem is working out how to fit real-world things into the game system in a respectful and informative way. With a completely made-up setting, I don’t need to worry about that. What’s more, there’s a game that I’ve wanted to play for years, decades, in fact. That is the “School of Magic” game. I think this goes back, ultimately, to reading A Wizard of Earthsea when I was about ten years old; in specific game terms it goes back to reading The Principalities of Glantri in my teens. The thing about the game that I want to play is that it is about learning magic and discovering magic, not about killing monsters in the tunnels under the school. I have yet to find a rule system that supports this. GURPS will let me create the characters, but does not really support the game, not even with the supplement on schools that came out recently.

The mechanics I have written for Kannagara would support that game. I could make up the magic system and the school system to work well with them, and “School of Magic” is a sufficiently well known trope that I would expect the game to be accessible to many gamers.

Eventually, I definitely want to write both games, because they are both games that I have wanted to play for years. The question is which to write first. I haven’t decided yet, and I will keep moving Kannagara forward until I decide definitively to work on the other one, but I may switch tack early next year.