Translators’ Notes

Shinobigami was translated by Matt Sanchez, Andy Kitkowski and Joshua Kleibscheidel.

In Matt's Words

If I hadn't received a copy of Shinobigami as a gift, I very well may have overlooked it. This unassuming book is scarcely larger than a normal replay, so I had no idea that a game was hidden inside. The fact that the game itself took up less than half the total page count so intrigued me that I read it immediately, and was instantly consumed.

Shinobigami was the very first Japanese RPG that I read, and subsequently, the very first game that I translated. I wanted so badly to play this with my English-speaking friends that I set to work almost immediately, translating just enough to be able to play.

The perfect balance of dramatic tension, narrative control over your ideal character, and crunchy combat fit exactly the type of games that I'd been wanting to play ever since I started playing tabletop RPGs. To me the game perfectly represented the type of game that just isn't possible on a PC or console. In fact, the game even fulfills my sole requirement to be considered a masterpiece: allow me to run a flawless Jojo's Bizarre Adventure game.

To this day the game has many more secrets to reveal to me, and the team at Adventure Planning Service continue to push the game--and the industry itself--in increasingly interesting directions.

In Andy's Words

When I first saw Shinobigami, I fell in love: The small form factor of the book, the presentation of "Replay in front, Rules in the back", and the character sheet with all its bells and whistles, whispers of possibilities and strategies and excitement.

And that cover pic, the raging fierce schoolgirl with the katana, tears streaming out of her eyes, where you know in like two minutes someone - or lots of someones - is going to be dead at her feet. Honestly, it's one of those one-of-a-kind covers that so plainly and expertly conveys the feel of a game: Not just "cool stuff that appears in the book", but what the game is about and what it feels like: "Crying but rage-filled ninja is going to f--- you up now."

When I started playing the game and then running it, I found out that the feel of the game indeed play out just like what was on the tin: In just a few scenes, through manipulation my characters are on their way to completing their goals... but where and how the dice landed along the way, that twisted the relationships and reality of the situation. This is one of those kinds of games I love, where you aim for a result by trying to min-max your abilities against the NPCs or other characters: And whether you succeed or fail, when you take a step back and look at the results... the story changes dramatically because of them. My character suddenly is reframed in my mind as a bloodthirsty revenge-driven savage, or perhaps as a cold and calculating puppetmaster.

And of course, those secrets, the real goals of your characters: Lisa's character, who I've been punching in the face for the last two hours, turns out to be my long-lost sister and I didn't realize that we were essentially on the same team. And likewise, the reason I'm trying to get into fights with Eric's ninja character is not to kill him, but rather so I can enforce a "He Loves Me" tag to him; because while my goal in this scenario is to get the magical sword before his clan does, my secret is that my character has loved his from afar, and I am only seeking a requited love...

But most of all, it's the transformative nature of the game that I love, much like a German board game: The first round or so of Shinobigami with new players, everyone takes time to "find their feet", and to navigate the game and its rules. By the second round, you understand your goal and what you need to achieve it, and are already considering strategies. By the third round, you're analyzing the other players' strategies, coming up with counter-strategies, thinking about the best way to quickly achieve goals with the least resistance while throwing others off your trail; you've started thinking like a goal-driven ninja... in other words, at the beginning of the game you're Just Another Role-player; but by the end of the game, because of the game-y elements and roleplay-focused secrets, the game has slowly turned you into a ninja.

It's incredible, and it's one of my favorite games of all time in English or Japanese. I hope to share this experience with others as well!

In Joshua's Words

"Replays," or published actual play transcripts, have long been a part Japanese gaming that had few analogues in the English-speaking gaming world, though recently we have seen online an explosion of interest in actual plays, be they written transcripts, recorded videos, or even live streams of games. One of the most important roles of these play-examples is introducing to gamers new ways of playing games. When we simply share tales of our games, they often come in the form of vague summaries and highlights of our favorite parts, and while entertaining, these capsulized play reports often leave their readers or listeners wondering: how exactly did you manage to create such a magical moment in your game, and how can I do it too? When we pull back the curtain and show other gamers how we actually play, instead of simply an entertaining story to wow our audiences, we provide an invaluable tool that people can use to explore new avenues in their own games.

My first exposure to Shinobigami, beyond a vague cover-blurb description about modern-day ninjas, was the first replay included with the game's core rulebook; I read it even before I read the rules for the game (though those too become readily apparent as one watches events unfold), something almost unheard of for a rules-and-crunch loving gamer like myself. Being able to watch a game of Shinobigami play out before my eyes, rather than as a mere personal conception of how bits and pieces of rules might be used in practice, did more than anything to sell me on what a gem of a game Shinobigami is.

I saw a world inhabited by extreme and colorful characters that felt like they were pulled straight from the pages of my favorite manga. In fact, Shinobigami itself is inspired by the fictional works of Futaro Yamada, tales of fantastical battles between individuals wielding supernatural powers whose influence can be found everywhere in the modern day Japanese fantasy.

I saw a game that defied common role-playing game conventions about PvP, party-splitting, secret information, adversarial GMing--all things which we have been told countless times are taboo in gaming, that they cannot possibly work, that they will ruin friendships, etc.--and turned them into the core of the game itself.

And perhaps most importantly, I watched a story unfold with a level of drama and suspense that felt nearly effortless. Shinobigami's willingness to confront those taboos of gaming, rather than resulting in bitterness, regret, and failed campaigns, instead created a story and an experience that I don't think would be possible in most other role-playing games. Furthermore, because we can see the reactions of the players themselves, we are also given insight on how to avoid the problems that have made these subjects so taboo in the first place; how to make failure as entertaining (or even more so) as success, how to revel in mystery and uncertainty, and how to play the game in a way that makes your turn in the spotlight as entertaining for the other players to watch as it is for you to play.

And yet, for all that, it still only scratches the surface of all that Shinobigami is capable of. When I finished reading the replay, I thought that I had Shinobigami figured out. But as soon as I started reading the rules themselves, my mind was alive with new possibilities, how a character with a different skill set might have approached the same scenario in a completely different way, or even how simply changing the order in which the characters approached scenes and events could have radically altered the resulting story. This uncertainty is what makes each Shinobigami session such a suspenseful, entertaining, and unique experience, and is where the game's true heart lies.