Roll Playing in Tokyo
Dragons, elves, fairies, businessmen, corporate executives, a marine biologist and an Orc from Mordor walk into a room – what happens? One amazing evening of fun, a day long convention and friendships. That is what happens. I want to take you on a journey into a world where I have lived in for nearly 28 years, regardless of where I have physically been on this planet. This is the wonderful world of Roleplaying. Wait! What is Roleplaying? Is it like a maid café? No. Let me explain: Imagine you are Indiana Jones racing to save the world from Nazi’s, or Spiderman sailing through the city on your webs, or Frodo about to embark on your adventure only unlike a movie, a book, a play you get to choose what happens! You decide to go left, save the princess, or head down that road because it’s on the map – forget saving the kingdom. Well, Roleplaying is just that – except there are rules, dice, and other players. You and a group of friends get together and using a set of rules (A multi-million Dollar industry supplies these rulebooks worldwide) and using dice you collectively tell the story of your hero as they go on their journey. It’s usually a load of fun, helps improve your problem-solving skills and develops excellent interpersonal communication but more on that later
In the USA and the UK Roleplaying is such a big phenomenon that annually holds dozens of conventions attended by thousands of Roleplayers as they are called, who get together to save the fictional worlds that they play in. Roleplaying in Japan is no different with dozens of local Japanese rules systems in circulation. The merits of the game have long been proven – the idea of Roleplaying is as old as the hills – starting somewhere in the mid 1970’s with official rule books being printed en masse for the first time. Roleplaying gets used for many things too – learning, therapy, entertainment, and fundraising. The image of the roleplayer as being a nerdy basement dwelling teenage male has long since been put to rest – now those nerdy teenagers are titans of industry, leaders of the corporate world, and generally are teaching their children how to play these games of the imagination.
In Tokyo, and indeed most of the rest of the world, Roleplaying within the expat community falls into two broad categories: Socializing and Social Awareness. Where-else in the world can a South African, a Dane, a German, an American and a New Zealander sit down and work together after having only met moments before? Albeit they are working together to defeat some ancient evil dragon. Friendships, Line numbers (think WhatsApp only bigger in Asia), and Facebook swaps happen and people from all over the planet suddenly become friends because Paul – usually the head of finance for a major insurance company – decided to leap his Goblin Princess off the side of the monster and in doing so saved the day. It sounds surreal but the imaginary actions of the characters the players get to play with form real bonds of friendship.
I’ve lived in Tokyo now for a mere five months. In that time I’ve made easily a half dozen friends from across the world and from Japan. How? Through role-playing. We go for drinks, we socialize, and we role-play. Like any sport, the sense of community is strong. I love it.
This happens at the Tokyo Roleplaying Convention – an annual event that has doubled in attendance since it’s inception several years ago. One Sunday in April a convention centre is taken over by roleplayers from all over Japan for an almighty clash of wills. This isn’t for the faint of heart – the event runs from 10AM until 10PM with many players staying in the same game for over 6 hours!
The event is hosted in English and the door charge is a mere $5. All money collected at the event was donated to Doctors without Borders. T-shirts, dice, pens, and of course rulebooks were all on sale to help increase the money raised. Anyone can attend – there are tables for players who have never roleplayed before but who have heard of the hobby and have decided to join, and then there are tables for those of us who have played for a long time. The only age limit is what is set at each table. Young, old, and everyone in between are welcome. The phenomenal thing about this hobby is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what you do, where you come from, or who you know – at least not in the real world. In the game those questions and their answers for your character are vitally important. The game is a great equalizer of people – someone who has played for 10, 20, 30 years can have as challenging and entertaining a game as someone who has played for 5 minutes. Telling stories has no restrictions on experience.
If you need your Roleplaying fix more regularly, then head on over to the south of Tokyo. There you will find the Tokyo Stand-up Comics – running a live game of Roleplaying in front of a live audience. These comics make the games a laugh out loud event that runs for three hours with no cover charge. Dice are rolled by members of the audience on behalf of the players who must then make the most of the numbers. For those who are unfamiliar with roleplaying this is a great event to attend – the rules are explained as the game unfolds, the comics make sure it is a fun, engaging, and sometimes crazy story, and the pub serves an excellent hamburger and fries – plus the beers are cold. The best part – the event runs every month, typically on the last Tuesday of each month. I tweet about it whenever I can make it. It’s call Roll of Initiative and can be found on Facebook.
In September the mother of all Roleplaying conventions in Tokyo happens. The Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying Convention Tokyo event is the largest event of it’s kind in Japan and sees players flying in from all over the nation to participate in the three-day event. Traditionally the event is held entirely in Japanese – something that I was very sorry to hear about. However, me being me, I contacted the organizers to see what could be arranged. My reputation preceded me and they knew who I was from my YouTube channel – which is devoted to this hobby. We now have two tables set aside for specifically English speaking roleplayers to attend. The tables have mostly been booked by Japanese speakers who are eager to play in English. I’m eager to play in a Japanese game – though I can’t yet because Nihongo wakarimasen (I don’t understand Japanese yet). But once I do, you can bet I will make even more friends, learn even more about the culture, and the thinking of my fellow roleplayers and gain insight into a phenomenal world.
Across Tokyo there are dozens of private games running daily and there are many ways in which you can get involved. Many schools – worldwide are adopting roleplaying as a form of extra-curriculum activity because of the various educational benefits the game brings: History, Interpersonal communication, problem solving, conflict resolution, social dynamics, vocabulary enhancement, mathematics, storytelling, imagination development, time management, critical thinking, just to name a few. I know first-hand – school for me was more of a waiting room until I could get to the game. The game made sure my English scores were excellent. I loved history because it gave me more options to slay my enemies if I know what a Halberd was versus a Poleaxe.
If you have read this far let me indulge in a sample of roleplaying. Essentially all roleplaying games or rules systems operate in the same way – a Narrator sets the scene for the players, and they decide how their characters in that scene will act. Then they roll dice and compare that to the rules to see if those actions succeed or fail. They must then adjust their actions accordingly. There is no way to win the game, and no way to fail the game.
NARRATOR: Your path through the ancient forest is blocked – a massive chasm has ripped across the road from north to south. It is around 40 feet wide and easily 70 feet deep.
GILDA (Player 1): Halt! It seems the forces of the Dark Lord wish to prevent us from getting to the castle. A chasm of doom.
PIOTR (Player 2): I examine this chasm; how far does it seem to extend north or south?
NARRATOR: You are unsure but it stretches into the distance so as to be lost amongst the trees. You guess maybe several miles north and south.
PIOTR: And we have to get to the castle by sunset lest the prince be sacrificed, we cannot be delayed by going around. We must go over. But how?
DAVISH (Player 3): We could cut a tree down, make a bridge!
PIOTR: That may work – but it would take time, and the elves of the forest might not like us cutting down their sacred trees.
DAVISH: Oh yes… I forgot about the elves.
GILDA: I have a rope. We could tie it to a tree here, and then hook it onto a tree on the other side. Then climb across. Easy.
NARRATOR: You hear a scratching sound coming from the depths of the chasm. It is unclear what it is.
PIOTR: I take Gilda’s rope – thank you Gilda – and make a loop in the end of it. Then I try to throw that loop over the strongest looking branch I can see on the other side of the chasm.
NARRATOR: OK – please roll (dice) a Rope-Use check.
PIOTR: I rolled 10, plus my Rope-Use skill of 4. So that means I got a 14 in total.
NARRATOR: 14? The rope sails through the air and you watch as it hoops neatly over a fairly strong branch. As you pull it tight it seems to hold fast.
GILDA: Well done Piotr! Now I tie the rope to this side quickly.
DAVISH: Did I mention I’m afraid of stopping?
DAVISH: Yes. Stopping kills you… when you fall from a great height. I look down to the bottom of the chasm. And that is a great height!
PIOTR: I shrug. We must save the prince, I climb across.
NARRATOR: Hang on a second – make a Climb check. And as you are hanging over the chasm that noise gets louder, now it sounds like hundreds of feet scratching in the dirt.
PIOTR: I climb faster! I rolled a 5. Plus, my Climb skill of… 1… means I got a 6.
NARRATOR: Gilda you watch in horror as emerging from the darkness of the chasm is a giant centipede – easily 60 feet in length! Piotr – as you too see this – you miss your handhold (you failed the Climb check) and so slip! Your feet kick out as you realize you are falling into the chasm with the giant beast.
GILDA: I use my magic to catch Piotr!
And so, the scenario would continue as poor Piotr, Davish and Gilda continue on their epic journey to the castle to save the prince. There is no set story, the Narrator is responsible for crafting the story as the game progresses meaning every game is always different. The players of Gilda, Davish and Piotr have no idea what to expect next and so must plan as best they can. And of course, the dice add a random factor into the mix requiring both the Narrator and the Players to be on their toes and constantly updating their plans.
Roleplaying is not new but with legions of players growing and spreading across the world, it is becoming a welcome alternative to television and computer games. It is a hobby that has grown into a means for me to engage with thousands of people that normally I would not have met otherwise. After all – who doesn’t want to be a Hobbit Princess saving the world from Godzilla whilst piloting a helicopter through downtown Stockholm?