Shinobigami is designed to be played in a single sitting, with an entire scenario wrapping up in about four hours. This feature of many Japanese role-playing games is put to great effect in Shinobigami, allowing dynamic characterization between sessions and exciting long-term storyline possibilities. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will surely understand how a series of contained stories can lead to some exciting campaign story arcs.
Before the game begins, each player should have a completed character sheet. The Game Master will hand each player a handout containing their character’s Mission and Secret. Once everyone is ready, play begins.
A scenario is made up of four separate phases: Introduction, Main, Climax, and Ending.
The Game Master will introduce the NPCs and the scenario’s inciting incident during this phase, and give each player character a scene. During these Introduction Phase scenes, the character gets to show off their character, describe their appearance, and reveal their Mission to each other. The players will record the names of each character in the People section of the character sheet for future reference. The objective of the scenario, and the “prize”, is introduced.
During the Main Phase, the players takes turns as the Scene Player. While acting as a Scene Player, a player has narrative control over a scene in which their character comes closer to fulfilling their Mission.
A Scene Player may choose between a Drama Scene and a Combat Scene. During each Drama Scene, a player will roll on the Scene Chart for inspiration, then narrate a scene in which their character uses a skill to forge an Emotional Bond, uncover another character’s Secret or Location, or recover a lost Life Point. If a character has found another character’s Location, they may engage them in a Combat Scene. Combat Scenes are quick, lasting only a number of turns equal to the number of combatants, meaning that each combat is quick and bloody.
A Cycle is complete as soon as each player has taken their turn as Scene Player. A scenario typically has 3 Cycles. Once the final cycle is complete, the Climax Phase begins.
In the Main Phase, the Prize is put into play: It may stay with one person or change hands several times over the course of the three cycles.
The Climax Phase is where lines are drawn and the ending determined. Each player will need to rely on allies they think they can trust to survive and complete their goals. A final combat scene with special rules will last a number of rounds as decided by the GM or scenario. This is the only point in the game where a character can be knocked out of the game or even killed. The last person standing can claim the Prize, or perhaps they will reject it in favor of another reward more in line with their true character goals!
Once the people standing lay down their arms, the game moves to the Ending Phase.
The events of the Ending Phase are largely determined by the outcome of the Climax Phase. Repercussions and the results of complete or failed missions are shown or acted out in a final scene for each character. Finally, experience points are handed based on completed goals, secret goals and player actions.
And From There…
Commonly the next step is… to play the game again! Likely another day, and perhaps with a new Game Master. Perhaps all or some of the previous session’s characters will appear again (though it’s not a given). Maybe there will be a new antagonist, or maybe the characters will act as each others’ enemies. With a simple new scenario (and a new “prize” to capture) and new secrets, no two games of Shinobigami will ever feel the same!