I've been making some mental notes about how to put together a "running the game/GM advice" chapter for Chanbara, as well as introductory text. This was actually inspired by some of my academic reading, so maybe studying for a Ph.D wasn't such a crazy idea after all. It's making my game writing better.*
First of all, considering the audience (likely to be primarily experienced RPG gamers), I think the introduction will have even LESS "what is an RPG?/How do you play?" stuff than Flying Swordsmen did, and I cut a lot of that out of FS. Instead, I'm probably going to go straight to the heart of the style of game and the goals of play (as I see it).
The goals (what the game is about in Story RPG terms) is two-fold. First of all, the game lets you emulate Medieval Japanese hero tropes battling against traditional creatures from Japanese folklore (and/or Medieval Japanese villains). That's the surface level game. Secondly, the game is about exploring social bonds, duty, responsibility, and reciprocity. This is the deeper game.
Chanbara can be played at a "beer and pretzels" surface level, and hopefully will be fun. "I'm Hattori Hanzo, you're Abe-no-Seimei, together we fight Orochi."** Killing monsters and taking their stuff, D&D in funny hats, katana and sorcery pulp action, call it what you will.
But with the Allegiance system, every character will have a family bond, a patron or lord, and possibly another group or professional organization (trade guild, religious affiliation, etc.). This replaces alignment in the game, and is heavily influenced by the Allegiance system in d20 Modern, but not identical. Characters will earn XP for defeating monsters and overcoming challenges. They can also earn XP for treasure acquired IF they donate it to one of their lieges***. And this is where the deeper game can come into play.
Each family/organization/master will have different goals and desires, threats they must overcome, etc. They can easily provide adventure hooks to players. Also, when players donate treasure to them, they can advance their goals, and there should be rewards in it for the characters. However, it's hard to serve two masters. Donate all of your wealth to your daimyo, and the head of your family clan may turn against you. The master of your shinobi clan's goals may contradict those of the trade guild you also serve. This is built in conflict, and that's a good thing! Not only does it give the GM and player something to use to spur adventures, it is something players can negotiate with the GM to make the game more fun.
Players that wish to explore the deeper game will hopefully get an experience closer to a lot of the fiction I'm drawing on as inspiration. Players will go on adventures (sometimes of their own choosing, sometimes at the behest of a patron/liege. When they're successful, they then have to make choices about which patrons/lieges to support, if any! After all, in order to build up their own social/political power, they'd want to keep as much treasure for themselves as possible. Duty, responsibility, loyalty, honor -- some of the main tropes of Japanese fiction right there, folks.
Or at least that's the goal. We'll see if I can pull it off.
*I kid. The Ph.D course has been great, actually. I've learned a lot and actually enjoy learning more about teaching English to non-native speakers. Even if I never get a position as a professor, it's been worthwhile.
**Hattori Hanzo - famous ninja (historical)/Abe-no-Seimei - famous onmyoji (historical)/Orochi - 8-headed serpent (mythical)
***Thinking of changing the name to Patron as it's an easier term to use, but that's not an exact fit.
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