Ryuutama, first session

When Ryuutama was being Kickstarted and it was sold as “Miyazaki-style fantasy”, I was pretty much sold right away. Hayao Miyazaki is very possibly my favorite director; Laputa City in the Sky is one of my favorite movies; Valley of the Wind is one of my favorite manga. So it was an easy sell.

I paid for the PDF level. And when the weekly group was looking for a new one-shot-style game a few weeks ago, I decided to finally try to read Ryuutama and run a session or two. I had paged through the PDF a little, but not extensively.

A problem is that the PDF doesn’t page very easily. It seems to be because the PDF is a very large file, with lots of gorgeous images, so my PDF reading apps can’t handle it very well. However, I was taken enough by what I saw to order a print copy of the book. Andy K was kind enough to charge me no shipping cost for the physical book, since I’d backed the project. The book arrived around Thanksgiving, and I finally learned the rules well enough to run it last week.

Last Thursday, we tried playing it. It was pretty fun!

John‘s character, an alchemist/pharmacist, was also the journal-keeper, so he recorded with good detail what happened in the session. Here’s a snippet:

A section of John's record for our first Ryuutama game

There were many poetic elements: a disappointed vulture, a green cloud, a fishing village where they use pearls for currency, a field of tiny green flowers around a dragon statue. Almost none came from the rules as written; everyone around the table contributed a lot to the narrative.

A few general observations about Ryuutama:

  • It’s actually surprisingly traditional. There’s a full-on combat section, there are quite a few tables to consult during the game, there are lots of little sub-systems to keep track of. It has classes, hit points, spell lists, levels, XP for defeating monsters, and designated party roles.
  • Yet it has a lot of nice innovative systems: condition checks, travel checks, some nice systems for town design, spells that aren’t at all combat-oriented, GMPCs (ryuujin) with interesting but limited narrative power, equipment that can be rated as “cute” or “gross”, more XP gained from travel than from combat, lots of interesting setting detail ideas without imposing a lot of setting on your game… There are a lot of little touches that make it quite pleasant to play.
  • The emphasis on travel, rather than on combat, seems to make a big difference in how it actually plays. I don’t think there was any combat in Thursday night’s session; most of the tension came from navigating paths along seaside cliffs. Hopefully we’ll get a better sense of this as we play more.
  • It has some similarities to B&C. The skill rules, and in particular criticals and fumbles, remind me of the same systems in B&C. The Condition checks remind me of Exhaustion checks in B&C.
  • It has some nice narrative elements, but they aren’t very tightly tied to the mechanics. Instead, a lot of them come out of simple encouragement in the rules. For example, with journey checks, the rules say

    The GM should embellish the description of what happens, or perhaps leave it to the players to tell the group how they managed to succeed, or what occurred when they failed… Don’t let them become a rote chore that silences the players and just produces generic results. (p. 103)

    This, combined with some narratively inventive players who trust each other, can produce some very nice stories.

  • The book is very pretty, with lots of color and some very appropriate illustrations. But the text could be better organized; important rules are sometimes hidden as seeming afterthoughts in out of the way places. And though it has an index, a fuller one would be nice. And the game could probably benefit from a GM screen, since there are a fair number of charts that require consultation.

Overall, the first session was very positive. Hopefully we’ll have a nice little adventure or two with Ryuutama.

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