This page is geared specifically to people familiar with tabletop RPGs, and want to know what cool features and “killer apps” there are in Shinobigami that separates it from their other games. These are some features of Shinobigami (the book and the game):
✿ Shinobigami is one of the most successful tabletop RPGs in Japan. It was meant to be a single core book, but it was so highly regarded with praise and sales that it launched an entire game line (and huge fan base) devoted to it. Fans regularly play the game at cafes and homes around the country, and put together fan-made replays, supplements and rules hacks for it. It really grabbed a market in Japan, gamers with limited free time who want a story in One Session; and of course people who like ninjas (and who doesn’t like ninjas? Well, assassination targets, I guess…).
✿ It is a uniquely Japanese experience: Each book contains several high quality professional manga-style illustrations. The skills, magic, ninja techniques, and even vocabulary used throughout the game is seeped in original and uncompromising Japanese ninja lore and tradition. As far as culture and background goes, it’s the real deal.
✿ The book is small (about 7 x 5 inches), about the same size as many manga books seen in bookstores and comic stores. It’s very sturdy and mobile, and very easy to read and reference.
✿ The first half of the book is a “Replay”, or “stage play” transcript (with a few manga illustrations) of an actual game session between the author and some friends. Through it and its notes, you learn the ins and outs of the game, from the setup, to pacing to rules. Once you understand what the game is like by reading the Replay, the rules are in the second half of the book and show you how you can have this same kind of fun experience!
✿ An entire “story” of Shinobigami only takes 3-4 hours to play (assuming 1 GM and 3-4 players). By the end, you have a complete and satisfying tale of drama and battle. After that, you can decide to play new characters in a different struggle, or revisit the same characters again later.
✿ Shinobigami is a game where the players both cooperate and compete with each other, a game of “frenemies”: Some scenarios will put the ninjas against each other (but always secretly working together in small teams, and not an all-vs-all free-for-all), some put the ninjas together against a menacing antagonist: But there is almost always competition in this game.
✿ Scenarios in Shinobigami always have a “prize” (maybe a magical sword, or a scroll, or a person or idea), which all the characters ostensibly attempt to grab and hold on to until the end of the game. Whomever has the “prize” at the end wins… or maybe not! The GM hands out “secrets” to each player, which gives their character a secret background and motive. Some of these secret goals may relate to the prize, but many have some entirely different goal!
✿ There are a lot of dice tables in Shinobigami to help give you inspiration: You can roll for your name (or other character names), character ambition, secret techniques, the moods of your scenes, battlefield conditions and more. If you’re stuck and can’t think of what to do next, let the dice fly and see if inspiration strikes!
✿ The game is very scene focused: The GM and players each have a quick “introduce my character” scene, followed by three distinct rounds where each player gets to create and star in their own scene: In your scene, you might start a battle, find out others’ secrets, form a relationship with others, or rest and heal. After three rounds where each player gets one scene, there is one final ultimate battle where all ninjas appear and fight until they drop out or are knocked out. Finally, an epilogue scene wraps everything up for the session.
✿ Relationships are important: Not only do you get to affect the dice rolls of characters you have a relationship with, but any information their character receives, you receive as well: If you “are devoted to” a fellow ninja and they learn a secret or get other information, that information is passed on to you as well. If someone you have a relationship with gets in a fight, you can join in that fight as well! Relationships are critical in Shinobigami, as relationships and secrets can drive and totally change what happens in the game!
✿ The game at a glance is mostly an RPG, but it also contains strong “German style board game” elements: Namely the fact that to be in a position of strength, you have to understand your resources and the resources of your peers; you need to start to plan ahead and guess the others’ strategies while coming up with your own counter-strategies. It is a fusion of story-focused role-playing game and tactical board game, with secret teams that are discovered in play.
✿ Part of those board game like tactics come out with the simple yet deep “Velocity System”, used for when combats occur: The player determines how fast or slow their character acts (their “Initiative”, from 1-6), which also determines how far away characters are from each other: If you pick low, that means that others will go before you and have a chance to “knock you off the board”. If you pick high, you go first but it also means you have a much higher chance to “fumble”, in which case everyone gets a chance to hit you for free. Everything is about risk and planning in the battle system.
Aside from the final combat, fights in Shinobigami tend to last no more than 5 minutes.
✿ While it does have board gamey elements, the game is at its core a role-playing game. In countless games there will come a time when there is a tactically/game-wise sound action to take, which comes in conflict with a character goal/focused action: What the player decides to do next will rewrite the tale at the table. In the end, role-playing decisions will overshadow tactically sound decisions, and when that happens, incredible story and character twists develop.
✿ Shinobigami is a game that really helps bring new players to the table: It’s fast. It’s easy (not much harder than a mid-level German/social board game). It’s very dramatic. It creates rich, entertaining stories. And you can learn how to play the game – and what RPGs are all about – simply by spending a few minutes reading the replay contained within the book.