Honobono (仄々) is a Japanese word that is usually translated as “heartwarming” or “feel good”. It’s the sort of feeling associated with Hayao Miyazaki’s movies – stories full of adventure and excitement, but filled with decent people and built on healthy, affectionate relationships. The good guys win and the bad guys lose, and maybe some of them turn out not to be so bad either.
A few nights back, while in the whirlwind of the launch of Hope & Glory I discovered a Japanese roleplaying game called Ryuutama (literally, Dragonsegg), and I gave it a look and I was totally delighted.
Because it’s a good solid game, because it’s light on rules and strong on roleplaying, because it’s refreshingly different.
And yes, it’s honobono too, which is interesting.
The basic premise of Ryuutama (actually, Ryuutama, Natural Fantasy RPG) is that we are in a fantasy world ruled over by a council of dragons. The dragon’s eggs are fed/incubated by stories – and so the dragons work to promote storytelling.
And what better way to promote storytelling than to promote adventure, sending a few humans down some off-beaten track on a quest?
But here you get the first twist – your party of human travelers does not feature the usual warrior/rogue/wizard/cleric line-up, but can include traveling salesmen, artisans, minstrels, commoners of all sorts, and the occasional aristo looking for some diversion.
And the quest might not focus on defeating hordes of orcs in the service of some grim lord but just, you know, get to the fair and set up a stall and buy and sell some goods.
Ever heard that one about the travel being more important than the destination? Ryuutama is that sort of game.
All the typical elements of fantasy roleplaying game are present in the Ryuutama game, but emphasis is shifted, from combat and confrontation, to exploration, experience, social interaction, storytelling.
And in a market in which fantasy stories and games are getting increasingly grimdark and your average character is a sociopath that speaks in monosyllables and whose idea of fun is killing people and feeding the remains to chipmunks, I found the approach of Ryuutama to be extremely refreshing.
I am old enough to remember how players coming from D&D were shocked and shattered on their first experience with Call of Cthulhu. Here were people that wereused to play heroes, and that now found out they were, basically, a portion of chips nobody had ordered with the sandwich, but that was going to be eaten anyway.
The same sense of panic and disorientation, the same sensation of the bottom falling off from under their feet is the sort of sensation players may get coming from a meatgrinder power trip like many current games (I am looking at you, Warhammer 40K) to the pastoral scenery of Ryuutama – where you are not cool because you kill things, you are cool because you talk with them and get their stories, and maybe lend a hand solving their current problem.
As you can tell, I like Ryuutama a lot – the system is fine with me, the way the handbook is presented and organized is perfect, and even the sketchy nature of the setting is OK given the way in which the system encourages group worldbuilding.
The game is available in English – and if I am not mistaken in Spanish – translation as a digital download from DriveThruRPG, and I hope to be able to get me a hardcopy edition, because this book is lovely.
It’s certainly a game suitable for kids – and indeed I’d rather start a bunch of teenagers on this rather than on D&D – and it can be quite fun and challenging for grown ups too – because of the change of pace, and of outlook.
And because finding intelligent solutions to unexpected problems can be a lot more challenging than rolling Combat and calculate damage.
Because too many adult roleplayers have become too rough and primitive and simple-minded. I saw it happen.
And Ryuutama is neither rough, nor primitive, nor simple-minded.
And if you think this sort of approach would lack tension, and excitement, and things to do and danger and what not, maybe we’ll need to talk about such entertaining fantasies as Spice and Wolf.
Maybe we’ll talk about it one of these nights, as it’s certainly on-topic here on Karavansara.
And this approach to fantasy also gives one ideas.
What if, with all due respect for the hordes of knuckleheads, one were to ditch grimness and darkness for a while, and start writing stories set in a peaceful fantasy place, in which problems are real, and can be solved by using brain instead of brown?
Maybe a bit of honobono might be fun, and might do us good.
What do you guys say?