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Are there any good roleplaying games out there that draw heavily from Japanese mythology, or Japanese traditional religious beliefs?

Free and available online would be best, of course.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The More respected ones:

Sengoku - available in a fusion system and Active Exploits (diceless) version. Named for it's setting: Sengoku period.

The Blossoms are Falling for use with The Burning Wheel RPG. Set in the Heian period

Legend of the Five Rings is in it's 4th edtion, but some 2nd and most 3rd edition books are still available readily. The setting, Rokugan (literally Green Rock and 5 rock), is vaguely Shogunate, but integrates also Chinese and Korean elements, as well as moving from being on islands to being on the mainland in a position comparable to China.

GURPS Japan An excellent multi-era sourcebook for both historic and low-fantasy Japan. Many elements useable with non-GURPS RPGs as well. Covers from 12th C to the Meiji Restoration. Definitely the right book for GURPS fans.

Less well respected but still worthy:

D20 Oriental Adventures adds more southeast Asian and Chinese monsters, and also includes the basics of the Legend of the Five Rings setting, called Rokugan. More details are added in additional books. If you like D&D 3E or 3.5E, or any other d20 system games, this may be a good choice.

AD&D 1E Oriental Adventures is an ecclectic mix of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean elements, in a setting named Kara-Tur. Pretty close to standard AD&D 1 mechanics, but includes the presumption that non-weapon proficiencies will be used, and includes rules for using them. Interesting, but not well supported, and very much not focused on realism. Only available 2nd-hand. If you like AD&D, this is your best bet.

Bushido is one of the oldest of the games on this list. Still, it's quite servicable, and is still available in PDF. The setting material is Shogunate era fantasy Japan. It has one of the best visual aides to Japanese weapons in gaming. The system is quite playable, but the setting materials (aside from monsters) is pretty thin, tho actually impressive for its era of initial publication.

Blood and Honor is a very narrativist system focused on Japanese roleplay, but it isn't very much for the setting aids. (It in fact recommends several of the above.) What it does do is provide for mechanical narrativist resolution emulating the Japanese Pillow-book genre, which is itself originating in the Heian era... It can easily be used for both historical and low fantasy games, as well as no-magician-PC mid-to-high fantasy samurai games.

Usagi Yojimbo - both in Fuzion engine and a custom one by Sanguine Productions. Based upon the comic of the same name, these are both fairly well researched. While the characters are anthropomorphic animals, the setting info is pretty pure shogunate era.

A few more good ones I don't recommend, and why.

Land of Ninja is for Chaosium's RuneQuest RPG. I don't recommend it solely by lack of knowledge - I've never handled an un-shrinkwrapped copy.

Ninja Hero for 5E Hero System. Another "I don't know this one well enough to recommend it." I can say that in 5E, it's not the Martial Arts book; that's a separate book.

Ninja Hero for 4E - while an excellent supplement, it is not really about Japan. It is really the Martial Arts supplement for 4E Hero system, and has a few setting elements drawn from both chanbarra and anime traditions, but isn't primarily a setting book; the setting is just an excuse to use the martial arts included, and they are the majority of the book.

Magic in the above

All of the above have some forms of magic. Yes, even Blood and Honor, tho it lacks any spellcasters. L5R, OA, and Bushido have powerful spellcasters; Sengoku has less so, but still chanbarra level. GURPS Japan, and Land of Ninja use the extant magic systems for their respective systems; Ninja Hero uses the superpowers system for the chanbarra style magic users.

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+1 Sengoku is the one to get -- yeah, same comment as above. It's that well researched. –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '11 at 9:23
    
My actual preference for play is Blood and Honor. Sengoku is best for historical setting, but I'd run darned near anything else before using Sengoku under Active Exploits, and the Fuzion version is very close to being full-up Hero System, so I couldn't sell that to players. –  aramis Oct 25 '11 at 23:36
    
I run my games systemless so have no problem with either Fusion or Active Exploits -- I just ignore those parts! ^_~ –  Sardathrion Jan 17 '12 at 8:16
    
@Sardathrion IMO Systemless != Game. System matters, and matters quite a bit IME. My preference is based upon system supporting setting. –  aramis Jan 17 '12 at 12:10
    
I am more interested in background relevant for role playing within said setting but I agree with you that mileage can (read: does) vary. ^_~ –  Sardathrion Jan 17 '12 at 12:37

There are many, many different games and supplements that are based on one or more parts of Japanese myth. The question is almost too broad to answer.

Legend of the Five Rings and its setting of Rokugan is probably the most prominent pseudo-Japanese RPG, it also had a d20 version as 3e's "Oriental Adventures" stand-in. It's very loosely based on real Japanese myth, however. But there are whole lines of product for it and extremely well developed online communities and other resources that certainly provide about anything you could ask for.

I always preferred Sengoku, billed as a chanbara RPG, as it stressed historical authenticity a lot more. I own the old print version of it. Even though it's billed as "historical" it does have a magic system based on belief systems (Shinto, Buddhism, Shugendo, Onmyodo) and monsters from Japanese myth.

And some of my personal favorites are the Asian Bestiary I and II for Fantasy Hero; I don't play Hero System but if you want a bunch of weird critters pulled from all kinds of Asian myth they'll do you.

Here's a list of "Oriental fantasy" games from wikipedia with some more.

There's about a billion anime games and ninja games and whatnot that pull in little bits of course.

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+1 Sengoku is the one to get. –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '11 at 7:27

The best background detail is by far Sengoku (which is the era most people know of). Originally this was going to be Bushido 3rd edition but the rights could not be acquired from FGU. A lot of Bushido referees (myself included) did not like the fusion system so carried on using Bushido 2nd Ed and using it more as a supplement. GURPS Japan covers too large a section of Japanese history to be any real use in game but there is some useful background information and ideas. Land of the Samurai by Lawrence Whitaker covers the Heian Period of Japanese history, if you want an earlier period, in very good detail. Lawrence knows a lot about what he is writing.

Lof5R, like a lot of the oriental games (Oriental Adventures et al) tends to be a completely westernised pastiche of all Asian cultures. Lof5R has the advantage that John Wick is a good designer and so it's a good game but if you want even semi-historical correctness keep a wide berth as it has very little relevance outside its own Lof5R background. That being said, John Wick does not design games that are historically correct but ones he thinks best sum up what players want to play in. Personally I don't like them but lots do.

Note Bushido 2nd Edition is a very complete and complex system written in the style of wargame rules. The basic mechanics are actually very simple and consistent. The main problem is that the rules look dated and are almost impossible to understand without several read-throughs, but like a lot of rules they're perfect to the background they are trying to create.

If Bushido is not for you, I suggest you pick your favourite system and then skin it with Sengoku.

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@Joe - thanks for corrections. –  David Allan Finch Oct 28 '11 at 10:56
    
+1 for reskinning existing games - the best medieval Japan game I ever played was Pendragon with the thematic material swapped out. Traits, Virtues/Vices and Passions were perfect for representing the conflicts between duty, honor, family, ambition, and personal feeling that make samurai interesting characters to begin with. If it hadn't been for having the book in front of us I would have believed it was custom designed for a Japanese setting (which is also a testament to the GM's skill at blending). –  Robotman Mar 2 at 5:22

Rite Publishing has a Pathfinder RPG Compatible setting called Kaidan: a Japanese Ghost Story which is based on Japanese folklore and Asian horror. Inspired by classic Japanese ghost stories, Kaidan features an undying shogunate and imperial court, enforced by ruthless samurai, with all social castes bound into a twisted cycle of reincarnation. Several exotic non-human races, combine with humans, oni demons, and yurei ghosts populate this cursed and haunted realm. There is a 3 part introductory mini-campaign called Curse of the Golden Spear, 1 free one shot adventure called Frozen Wind, 3 race supplements, 1 faction book with yakuza archetypes, a collection of Haunts, and more supplements coming soon.

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If you can cope with reading Swedish, there's always Drakar och Demoner - Samuraj.

It's out of print, but my recollections is of an RPG that had some decent research going into the world.

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There was a fuzion powered RPG based of Usagi Yojimbo. Don't let the anthropomorphism put you off, it is both a good game and a fantastic comic book series. Well worth your time.

A Sanguine production Usagi game also exists -- thanks Aramis.

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1  
The Fuzion one is OOP. The Sanguine Productions one is a custom engine. Better researched, but a unique set of mechanics. –  aramis Oct 25 '11 at 15:55
    
+1 Thanks. I did not know about that one! –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '11 at 16:17
    
Really, I don't much like the Sanguine one - the rules aren't as clearly written, and unlike Fuzion, aren't grounded in games I already know. It's very well written as a sourcebook of early shogunate Japan, tho. And pretty. –  aramis Oct 25 '11 at 17:56

Game Geeks recently reviewed Iron Dynasty ( http://realityblurs.com/wordpress/?page_id=499). I have not played it, but it does look like an option for Savage Worlds Players.

Here's a link to the review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAiFJ4h7gLw

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Here are three Japanese RPGs that were translated into English.

  • Golden Sky Stories is a heartwarming tabletop RPG from Japan about henge (magical animals) helping people in an idealized Japanese rural town. Some religious elements are included, such as the Shinto views on foxes (a playable animal type), the responsibilities of Buddhist monks, and the existence of local gods. More information is available via its completed Kickstarter.

  • Tenra Bansho Zero is a self-described “Hyper-Asian Fantasy”, an anime/manga mashup that includes elements of Japanese mythology.

    On a distant world in the far future, the Sengoku (Feudal/Warring States) period of Japan is happening all over again—but this time with high-tech weapons, magically powered mecha, taoist magic masters, and super-powered samurai.

  • Ryuutama is more closely tied to Hayao Miyazaki's portrayal of a heartwarming fantasy world than traditional Japanese mythology, focusing on traveling and wonder. It's not yet out in English, as its Kickstarter just completed.

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