Hey all: About halfway through the Kickstarter campaign, I gathered some of your questions to ask to Tenra’s designer Junichi Inoue. Here they are! I’ll be posting the questions and his answers, and where needed be providing commentary.
1) How did you get involved in the tabletop RPG design business, and what was the first RPG project you made?
The first RPG I’ve ever designed was the original version of Tenra Bansho (1996).
When I was in college, I joined up with the company Hobby Japan, where I worked by doing illustrations for them. I got a foothold into this company because I often contributed art to their in-house TRPG-themed magazine. That was my fateful beginning.
(called “RPG Magazine”, Hobby Japan published it from 1990-1999. They had a monthly “submit your fan art” section, where aspiring or fan artists would submit color and B&W prints with an RPG theme to them; Inoue apparently submitted a lot of art to that magazine, enough quality art to be recognized)
2) What was the first RPG you every played? Did that RPG influence Tenra Bansho Zero?
The first RPG I played was of course Dungeons and Dragons! It was the “Red Box” edition (4th version, 1983; Japanese 1985).
My first experience was the pretty typical starting adventure: A plain goblin extermination. But when that short session ended, I thought, “I’ve never in my life heard of a game as wonderful as this!”
Heh, I actually still think that today! Technology has changed so much since those times, but game-wise nothing comes close to tabletop RPGs. I guess it was inevitable that I would end up making them.
3) The English version of Tenra Bansho Zero is (finally!) being released. Please let us know your thoughts on that. Also, please say a word to the fans of the English version, if you will.
Wow, it’s been a long time hasn’t it*. I really think that all the hard work has been worth it. Thank you, Andy.
For those folks who are looking forward to the English version, I’ll loosely borrow some words that appeared in the Avengers trailer here in Japan:
“Hey, America! This is what Tabletop Role-Playing is all about!”
I hope people enjoy this game, that would make me so happy!
* In the time after I made Tenra Bansho, I created the game Alshard (a game equal parts final fantasy and Norse myth), which has become the de-facto standard RPG in Japan. I’ve also made dozens of wildly popular supplements for it, and even witnessed the second edition of that game. A world (Alshard) was born, Ragnarok came, and the world was resurrected. That’s how long it’s been!
4) As people play your game Tenra Bansho Zero in English, is there anything regarding the rules, setting etc that you want people to be careful of?
Tenra Bansho Zero isn’t a game where you beat up your friends over being correct about being properly Japanese.
For example, if you are playing with some friends, and one of them says in character “I want to eat a Big Mac!”, you shouldn’t get on their case: Rather it is important to develop an attitude of forgiving that sort of thing, and giving it a pass.
Hah, actually I say that but even at my own table we totally beat each other with thick rulebooks about rules nuances and the like. But hey, I’m still in the process of learning and training as well!
5) You are extremely busy these days with your manga “An Otaku Husband and a Chinese Bride”. Are you planning on returning to game design? Or perhaps even revisiting Tenra?
Well, it’s true that my blog (with some 24,000+ views a day) has kind of become the center of my life.
There’s no way I can become a ninja and live on eating and drinking air. I am ashame*.
Tenra is my life work. At some point in the future I will totally return to it with a new edition.
Absolutely, before Maitreya (Miroku-bosatsu) arrives**.
* (I am disappoint; but opposite)
** Maitreya–“The Buddha of the Future”–is said to herald the end of everything, and will arrive 5,669,999,500 years from now.
6) It’s been almost a decade since Tenra Bansho Zero came out in Japanese. Is there anything you look back on and say, “I wish I did this/that instead”?
In those days, the RPG world in Japan was absorbed in a boom of innovative or unusual features. Tenra Bansho Zero was sort of at the spearhead of that movement. After I released my followup game Terra the Gunslinger, that boom ended, and was replaced by an era of reductionism and simplification. My game Alshard became the spearhead of that movement as well.
Because of all of that, sure, there’s a ton of small adjustments that I would have make to simplify the experience. And yet, my ideology which I made the foundation of the Zero edition of Tenra Bansho has not changed one single bit since it came out:
“Create a wonderful story together, with the people at the table, in a spirit of harmony.”
7) You travel a lot to China because of your wife and business. Have you ever thought about, like Tenra, creating a game set in a fictional China?
What I see when I’m in contemporary China is not fantasy, but reality.
Because of that, every day that I experience China, it becomes hard to make the leap to fantasy.
It’s like, imagine if in your D&D session the DM said, “All of a sudden, SOME CHINESE PEOPLE rush to attack! What do you do?” Imagine what kind of face you’d make at the DM if she said something like that.
That’s the way it feels.
8) There’s a lot of cultural Japan in the setting of Tenra (Buddhism, Shinto, Samurai etc). Did you have any fear that foreigners might not “get it”?
There is absolutely no reason to be concerned with how correctly Japanese your experience is. Leave that stuff to academics.
You just have to have an interest in Japanese culture. That’s the most important thing. It’s all about having fun, and keeping your (and the players’) interest going.
That’s far more important than being concerned with whether or not there are cheeseburgers in Tenra.
9) As a player or GM, is there a moment about playing Tenra that particularly sticks in your mind?
Remember, there’s also the recent Japan Times interview with him about his new manga series here: