While digging around in Amazon recently I stumbled on a cute 1-5 person card-based role-playing game called “Novice Novice Table Talk Role-playing game [steampunk]”, pictured here. In Japanese it is shortened to “Nobi Nobi TRPG”. The game is a simple and relaxed system in which every player (including the GM) picks a PC, and every player takes turns being GM and PC. In each turn the setting is determined by a “scene” card, picked randomly by the GM. The player describes the scene, their PC’s reaction, and how they resolve the challenge. This goes around the table three times, and the game is complete, with some small complications I will describe here. It is a simple, streamlined and very effective way to run a quick, randomly generated RPG.

PC Choices

The PCs are described by cards, two of which are pictured above. Each PC has a special ability and two attributes: Power and skill. In the picture above you can see the Automaton PC, which has power 2 and skill 0, and the special ability that it adds 1 die to all skill checks. The cards are two sided, with one side being a boy and one a girl, except in two cases. Sometimes the skills on each side of the card differ, though they have a shared principle. For example the Teacher can intervene to change the result of another PC’s dice roll, but the way in which the intervention happens differs depending on whether the teacher is male or female. Two PCs, the boy and the girl, don’t have a gendered back face – instead they can swap the card over at any time to become Prince or Princess, at which point their special ability changes.

Skill checks are handled by rolling 2d6 and adding the corresponding skill. Success occurs if you roll above a target number, which is determined by the Scene Card. Available PCs are:

  • Automaton
  • Maid/Butler
  • Phantom Thief
  • Diva/Musician
  • Doctor/Teacher
  • Detective
  • Girl/princess
  • Adventurer
  • Gunner
  • Mechanic
  • Pilot
  • Boy/Prince

In some cases (like musician/diva) the change in gender changes the role name, but their abilities, power and skill follow similar principles and values. The pictures are, of course, adorable.

Introduction and Climax

The game flows in turns, with one turn finishing after every player has had a chance to be GM (and thus every player has also had a chance to be PC). Each turn begins with the GM drawing a Scene card. However, the entire story has a theme, which is determined before the turns begin by drawing an Introduction card. This card sets up the story by introducing the PCs to a conflict, involving an adversary and an overall situation. For example the Introduction card Conspiracy of a Secret Society (秘密結社の陰謀) tells the characters that there is a plot by a secret society to undermine or destroy their world, and when the adventure starts they are pledged to stop it. This introduction sets a theme that runs through the entire adventure, and is expected to influence the scenes that follow.

After three turns of play have elapsed and the GM role returns to the person who was GM In the first hand, the gameplay ends and the game enters a Climax. In the Climax there is no GM or players, and everyone faces a common threat. This Climax is determined by the Climax card, which is drawn randomly at this point. This climax card sets up a final challenge, which the PCs as a group need to overcome, and also sets out the rules by which they must do this. For example the Climax card Countdown to Destruction (爆発カウントダウン) tells the PCs that someone has a set up a timer to a huge explosion that they need to stop, and gives the players each one chance to try and beat the timer using a skill check. The principle of this card, though, is that when the PCs resolve the climax the players describe it in such a way that it draws the entire story back to the introduction, and whether the group fails or succeeds in the final resolution of the adventure, the whole story ends up tying back to the original Introduction card.

There are 12 introduction cards and 12 climax cards. The introduction cards are topics such as:

  • A girl from the sky!
  • A maze in a mysterious town
  • An adventure story that starts with a key

The climax cards with topics such as:

  • Invasion from Mars
  • Big chase
  • Night of revolution

The latter needs to be somehow tied back to the former, and they are all linked by the Scene cards.

Drawing the Scenes

There are 64 Scene cards, which will be drawn randomly by each player 3 times in their role as GM. This means that in a group of 5 players there will be a total of 15 scenes, with each player GMing 3, playing 3, and watching 9. Each scene has a block of text describing the setting, and a small boxed text explaining what skill check the PC needs to make to resolve the challenge. For example, the Idol Contest card describes how the PC is caught up in … well, in an idol contest, on a huge stage in front of a giant crowd. The inset text explains that the PC can win the contest by either a) rolling a power check with a target number of 15 or b) beating a skill check with a target number of 13 or c) the player can perform a song – i.e. actually sing something – and if the GM likes it they can pass the test. For most scenes the player can choose to either do a skill check or role-play their way through the challenge. If they choose the role-play option, the GM decides whether they succeed. There are some scene cards where the GM’s judgment affects how the challenge is resolved, and there are some special abilities which require the PC’s player to convince the GM that their ability can apply. For example the Musician’s special ability grants them a +2 on skill checks that involve “people”, but they have to convince the GM that the rules for this particular scene card involve people, so that their special ability applies. Thus the GM plays the arbitration role for a single skill check or role-playing scene, before the task is handed on, and that GM becomes a player.

Success or failure in the Scene is immaterial to the progression of the game: whether or not the player succeeds, the action passes to the next GM/Player pair. Rather, there are a set of Darkness and Light cards (30 each), and at the end of the scene the PC receives a light card if they succeeded, and a dark card if they failed. These cards typically grant the PC a new special ability, which they can apply in subsequent skill checks. Light cards are positive and happy powers, while dark cards are negative or dark powers. For example the light card Patron grants the PC a protector or patron, and all subsequent skill checks will get a +1 bonus; while the darkness card Comms Device gives the PC the latest radio with which they can call for help in subsequent skill checks. Some of these cards are permanent bonuses and some are one-time effects. None are genuinely negative, and they all serve to build up a sense of who the PC is and how they overcome challenges on their way to the final confrontation.

The flow of the game means that by the time the PCs reach the Climax, each of them will have gone through 3 scenes, been a GM 3 times, gained a total of 3 darkness/light cards (with associated bonus) and had a chance to contribute 6 times (either as player or GM) to the story as a whole. Finally, they will all work together to resolve the climax, tying everything back to the Introduction and finally resolving the whole story. It’s an excellent way to construct a quick, light story that everyone can enjoy.

Final thoughts

The whole game takes, with 2-3 players, about an hour to play. The scene cards are cute, crazy little moments that seem to tie in really nicely to the climax and introduction cards, which also seem carefully balanced to be always able to relate to each other. There is no failure, really, since you’re guaranteed to get to the end, and the climax cards have relatively gentle conditions for success – though it doesn’t really matter if you fail. The game creates cute, chaotic and crazy steampunk stories that are fun to generate and genuinely unique. If there is one problem with this game I would say that it is a combination of typeface – the cards can be a little hard to read – and Japanese: the Japanese is reasonably complicated, and sometimes a little vague (a common problem with Japanese) so that non-native speakers and non-nerds playing the game will be a little challenged to figure out exactly what’s going on in some of the nuances. This is typical of fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk storytelling – there are a lot of quite genre-specific phrases that are really hard for non-native speakers to understand, and a lot of genre-specific vocabulary, phrases and concepts – but this is obviously something you can overcome if you have a good dictionary, patience and/or a native speaker as a player. Other than that, the game is a really fun, simple way to play an RPG, even with complete beginners to the hobby, anywhere and at any time.

In a subsequent blogpost I will provide an AAR of a recent run-through, and hopefully the sense and style of the game will become clear. There is no English translation, but I hope in future the game will become more widely available, and this cute and entertaining TRPG style can be experienced outside of Japan.