As I mentioned in my previous post, I (slightly foolishly) offered to DM a group of 5 players, in Japanese. The game was last night, so here are a few notes.

We played at my friendly local gaming store (FLGS), upon which at some point I need to blog. The owner only has experience of warhammer games, and in fact the FLGS (called Ringtail, with a website here) stocks largely only warhammer and citadel miniatures. It’s the only store in Kyushu that stocks them, as far as he knows! Warhammer war-gamers are so rare that once a month the store owner visits Kitakyushu to play with a foreign (British?) chap. This chap also asked him to order in Warhammer Fantasy Role-play version 3, and he ordered an extra copy which he is willing to buy for himself to play, but which he would need me to DM (it’s in English). I advised him that he should try role-playing before buying a 10000 yen book from his own stock, so he agreed to a trial pathfinder game.

So we had five players, names and PC classes described, along with an outline of the adventure, here. We played upstairs in the wargaming room of the ring-tail store, at a long table big enough for about 10 people. As ever, Shiga-san brought his huge stock of miniatures, dice, multiple printed copies of the pathfinder rules, etc. – it took up half the room! As ever, Furudera san ate continuously. This time the group, which consisted of 6 people including me, contained two women – Furudera san and Era san, who was playing for the first time in a year because she has taken time off gaming since having a baby, which is less than a year old.

So my first note here is about the gender dynamics. I have never played in a group constituted entirely from within role-playing circles which had two women in it. I’ve managed to shoe-horn friends into a group with two women, but I’ve never met two women simply through the circles of gaming. It’s interesting that in supposedly sexist Japan this happens the first time I ever game here; and even more interesting given one of these women is a new mother, and shoe-horned her husband into child-minding their less-than-year-old child on a Saturday night so she could game. I’ve previously mentioned that I think maybe Japanese nerd culture is more gender-balanced than in the west, and this is further evidence in support of this tentative theory.

Also, further evidence that something interesting is going on in the gender politics of Japanese nerddom is the strange use of pronouns. Kuma-san, a man, refers to himself as “watakushi,” which is extremely formal language only usually used by women outside of Shinto ceremony; Era san refers to herself as “washi,” which is a pronoun typically used by older men. There’s some kind of gender bending going on here, and I think there must be some kind of gender politics that is particular to the nerd scene. There’s gotta be anthropological value in this…

This week, in addition to Shiga-san’s massive horde of stuff, we had lots of snacks. The Japanese role-player’s snack horde includes:

  • black pepper chips
  • “thin flavour” salted chips
  • orange juice
  • coke
  • oolong tea (a necessity for all Japanese women, who take it continuously)
  • potato croquettes
  • fried chicken
  • popcorn
  • pocari SWEAT, a type of rehydration drink that is really rather delicious

plus Furudera san’s infinite supply of food, which includes such mysteriousnesses as bread she eats crust-first, without toppings, and fresh spring rolls, and TWO full flasks of coffee. The room where we played was another “shoes off” room, of course.

Subsequent to the game, reading the social networking sites of the participants, there seemed to be some agreement about what was “surprising” or unusual about the game. Some players were expecting a different experience because the game was being GMd by a foreigner, but they seem to have been largely disappointed. However, it appears that they aren’t used to the following:

  • fighting in only a bath towel
  • extensive use of terrain for the ambush
  • describing their characters’ appearance at the outset (this didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though)
  • the DM employing voice and actions for the NPCs

Japanese people being generally extremely shy and diffident, I’m not surprised by the last two points – shy role-players tend to avoid this stuff where possible, and certainly Japanese people tend to be quite shy and retiring. I’m not actually a big fan of fussing around with terrain, so I hope they don’t think that’s part of my style – I only put it in because of the ambush.

These differences aside, from my point of view I really have to say that very little about DMing the group was different. I still occasionally had to pressure people to make decisions, they interacted in very similar ways to Western players (bar the politeness, of course), and they seemed to employ the rules and respond to the situation in just the same way. The only difference I really observed that there was less of a tendency for a single player to dominate the discussion, which is consistent with Japanese group interactions generally. Oh, and Furudera san and Shiga san played “scissors, paper, stone” (janken) to determine who should play the bard. There’s your moment of Japanese uniqueness right there…

Language-wise, a lot of interactions passed me by, but the core of it made sense, so everything flowed okay, and nobody seemed fussed when I had to look up words or check them, or correct myself or be corrected. No-one seemed to lose interest at any point and it didn’t interfere with the flow much. There were a few moments where I said words in English by mistake and people just kind of got it; or when I thought a word would be an English transliteration but wasn’t (like “rage”). The next day, Era san commented on how Japanese players of pathfinder don’t understand the meaning of the transliterated spells, and when they are translated the words and effects make more sense. That’s interesting, because it maybe means that the gamers here are using a book of several hundred spells which largely just sound like gobbledigook. And certainly when Furudera san said “hijius rafuta” it took me several attempts to work out that she meant “hideous laughter.” But we manage. Today, Era san looked up “Pathfinder” in her Japanese dictionary and was confused, because the Japanese translation sounds like “pioneer” in the sense of “settler” and she can’t understand why a role-playing game would be called “coloniser.” This language issue is interesting.

But at its core, the game flows the same, and feels the same. That, in itself, is fascinating to me.