I happened upon Ryuutama when I was musing about games that didn’t have combat as a central source of conflict. It seemed like a perfectly good fit, given its description so I grabbed a copy, and now I’m finally sitting down to give it a read through.
So to those unfamiliar with my blog’s format, the Let’s Study series is an attempt to do an in-depth review of a new game across multiple parts. I try to do a sample of character creation and any other complicated systems in a game and eventually wrap up with a concluding review of the game.
I find it interesting that Ryuutama kicks off with some starter information even before the table of contents. Maybe this is the norm for Japanese RPGs?
In any case, after a two-page spread photo of a tree in a field accompanied with some poetry, the reader is immediately led to a section titled, “Travelers.” In it there is a short list of the seven different types of Travelers in the game.
Each writeup is accompanied by a cute anime-esque full color illustration, and a short blurb describing each type of Traveler, as well as a list of three Skills associated with the Traveler.
Right off the bat the game is pretty clear that Travelers are literally “normal” people as the list is composed of: Ministrel, Merchant, Hunter, Healer, Farmer, Artisan and Noble. Not a single Barbarian or Sorceror in sight.
After this comes a second list of illustrated character “races.” This time they are called Ryuujin, and are exclusively for the Game Master to use in play. Ryuutama is probably one of the only RPGs to actually incorporate the dreaded GMPC as an actual part of the game.
Each of the Ryuujin writeups has another (bigger) illustration showing the Ryuujin and the dragon associated with it. A Ryuujin’s description is accompanied by a list of Artefacts and Benedictions that the Ryuujin has. I’m certain they’ll get around to explaining this somewhere in the book.
The next section is a short one page “How to read this book” portion that goes over Punctuation in the book, and the format by which game concepts are written in the book. Handling rules disputes is also tackled this early on, with a gentle reminder that Ryuutama is a game aimed at providing entertainment and that everyone should play with an eye towards having fun.
It’s at this point that the Table of Contents shows up, and the actual introduction to the game in the form of a letter from the author: Okada Atsuhiro
The Path of Ryuutama
The setting for Ryuutama is a world borne of dragons. the creation myth is an interesting tale of a world shaped first by the four dragons representing each of the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and winter. These then gave birth to twenty more dragons, and gifted them with dominion over the land and sky. These twenty four dragons then went on to create the earth and the weather.
In this setting, players assume the role of Travelers, people who set off on a journey through unknown lands. There’s no attempt to come up with a real rationale for this, and the reader is meant to accept it as fact. The characters may have countless reasons of why they should travel, but the Journey itself is custom.
Travel isn’t always safe, of course, so even if you choose a class for their Traveler, each class still has access to the use of weapons and sometimes magic to help keep them safe.
The perils of travel are your most common enemy, from uncooperative weather, to your own ability to prepare properly for a long voyage, all of these will be tested as you continue your Journey.
The value of these Journeys is revealed in the role of the Ryuujin. As hidden caretakers of the world, the Ryuujin document and test the Travelers on their Journeys to create Travelouges. These are then shared to the seasonal dragons and the world becomes a richer place.
The last bit that the introduction shares is that there is no “canon” setting for the game. Instead the players and the GM will get together to create the towns and environs that will be the foundation of the journey.
Ryuutama opens up with a quick explanation of what roleplaying games are, and why they’re fun. It’s written in a casual, conversational tone that is admittedly quite disarming, and non-threatening to a new player while still going over all the necessary concepts.
The Travelers are given attention in the next section, with a description of the Journey and the lifestyle of people. It’s a neat custom honestly, with an interesting similarity to the “Musha Shugyo” samurai warrior’s pilgrimage of ancient Japan, except with a decidedly more mundane spin to it.
I do like that there’s a specified code of hospitality to welcome Travelers in exchange for giving them tasks that they can perform to earn their keep. It might not be “realistic” but it works for the purposes of play.
Ryuujin are covered next, with a quick description of them as actual in-game characters who act in secret (most of the time) and follow Travelers to create a Travelogue that they feed to the seasonal dragons. There’s also a very short portion talking about their abilities: the Artefacts, which are used to influence natural laws in the world, and Benedictions that are powers that affect Travelers directly and the Reveil, which is the ability to craft a substantial form for the Ryuujin that the Travelers can perceive and interact with.
The last part of the introductory chapter is a quick rundown of terms. Of particular note is that the game uses the full range of polyhedral dice.
However, the basic check is performed by rolling two dice and adding them together and comparing it to a target number. Criticals occur when both dice rolled during a check shows the highest possible result for both die types. Fumbles occur on rolling two 1’s.
Overall Ryuutama presents a very different kind of RPG from the ones I’m used to. The presence of a sanctioned GMPC in the form of the Ryuujin is a nice touch, and so far there seems to be a strong focus on the romance of a journey, the desire to go somewhere far away and perhaps learn a little something about yourself along the way.
Next up, we’ll be tackling character creation by putting together a Traveler or our own.