Original image by Limeshot Design
Pincel y tinta.
Los cerezos florecen
sobre el papel.
Los cerezos florecen
sobre el papel.
Brush and ink.
As you surely will guess by the verses of the haiku in the heading of today's post I was one of the lucky winners of the contest set by Holocubierta to promote the beginning of the sales of the Spanish edition of Tenga, written by Jérôme Larré and published in France by John Doe Editions.
Tenga is based in late sixteenth century Japan, in the era comprised between the tenth year of Tenshô Era (1582) and death of Oda Nobunaga to Battle of Sekigahara (1600), which marked the beggining of the reign of Tokugawa clan, so here we do not have a a kind of Japanese setting mixing elements of other asiatic countries and many more invented like in Legends of the Five Rings.
Tenga gives us 54 archetypes already created and available to be used inmediately in our gaming sessions, these archetypes span all the social spectrum of the era, so you can play any character ranging from the most humble character pertaining to the lowliest classes to those pertaining to samurai and nobility, with a few examples of characters of western origins like the jesuit monk or the sailor that has reached Japan's coasts (let's not forget that 40 years ago europeans arrived at the little island of Tanegashima and that Christianity is slowly penetrating the archipelago with commerce).
Although it has a generous list of character types players can also create them through the distribution of points between the characteristics (that define them physically), their skills (which determine what they do), their values (which define their beliefs and mindset) and their privileges and setbacks (advantages and disadvantages).
Leaving aside the characters themselves there are also interesting mechanisms for defining group dynamics that unite them to achieve a satisfying game experience for players and referees alike, which will create adventures related to their past and their current circumstances.
Some sample groups and situations that can be generated following this guides can be the warriors group willing to defend a village from bandit's predation (Seven Samurai) and it's Hollywood adaptation, The Magnificent Seven), vassals trying to protect their disgraced lord (Ran) or relationship with a western foreigner just arrived to Japan and the inhabitants forced to give him accommodation while their lord decides what to do and cultural conflicts that this brings (Shogun by James Clavell, novel and television series, adapting live of English sailor William Adams).
The game also provides a brief but complete tour of Japanese history from its mythical beginnings to the death of Oda Nobunaga, that sets up the events of the setting and an overview of the different factions, clans and groups of power (along with most relevant personalities of each of them) starring the politic plots that can ultimately affect the characters.
As for Japanese culture the game offers a broad range of period customs, in a simple but no less interesting: social structure (from the highest with the imperial nobility or kuge, to Hinin, representing the lower castes), religion (Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity introduced by foreigners), food (did you know that at that time there was still no sushi or tempura?), art performances (theater, music), etc.
Rules of Tenga can be rated in its basic principles as "descriptive" because the abilities of the characters (their skills) are assessed using words that describe the level of knowledge of the characters of a similar way as does Fudge, this scale has five degrees (from None to Master) that compared with the difficulty scale (Childish to Almost Impossible) leads to the performance scale of the actions, that are assessed on a scale of 7 degrees (from Disaster to Exceptional).
Assuming that the character does not have a high enough level of competence to reach his proposed action he can attempt to strive, which means throw 1D20 and compare the result of the roll with the score of the characteristic that controls the competence used. The score out of these results across the board will show how many ranges will be summed or substracted to determine whether the action has been achieved.
Combat in Tenga is also quick in its basic principles, wich, like in real life, can be deadly for characters (this game is not Dungeons & Dragons and characters are, in esence, normal people dealing with situations that may kill them).
Although Tenga is a game that is anchored in the real world there is also place for fantasy elements present in Japanese culture, although these will be present in a much more subtle manner (remember this isn't Dungeons & Dragons), so kami or spirits, and other fabulous creatures, are manifestations of nature and as such can not be understood, controlled and contained and you can ask them to favor characters through the appropriate prayers.
Tenga book includes an adventure prepared for new players titled Problems at Honnô-ji putting them exactly in the time and place where the era of changes affecting the Japanese archipelago those years begins, will they be able to survive the situation raised in the adventure?.
To finish I would recommend the game to all the people who like Japanese history and culture and want to start in role-playing games, it will also appeal to role players wanting to try something new and searching for an introduction in Japanese culture as well as to all who like history (in fact I think Tenga can be a perfect complement to be used in classroom).
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