Thanks to Ed Healy and the wonderful guys at Atomic Array for giving me the chance to do another review for them.  Check the bottom of the page for even more Kagematsu goodness!

Kagematsu is a different kind of roleplaying game.  Perhaps you are used to the GM running a dungeon for you and some friends, hacking and slashing your way through monsters and then persuading the king to pay you for it.  If you’re like me, and your RPG history has been something like what I just described, then Kagematsu will take some getting used to.  I find it refreshing, since all too often I stick myself in the gaming mold of a hack n’ slash dungeon crawl.  A little change can be good for the soul.

So, what is Kagematsu? The game definitely takes “roleplaying” to heart, and combat isn’t even mentioned in the rules.  In many ways, the rules remind me of a board game, since there is a defined goal around which every session is oriented.  One player, a woman, is designated as Kagematsu, the roving ronin.  The others are the townswomen, who are trying to reduce their fear by winning over Kagematsu and persuading him to defend the village from the Threat.  Because the goal is the same from session to session, it seems much more like a board game than a traditional D&D session.  The difference appeals to me.

The focus of the game is most definitely on storytelling.  The rules begin with a short introduction explaining the issues the way Kagematsu approaches storytelling, and establishes the players in feudal Japan.  As the authors point out, feudal Japan is a setting rich with opportunities to tell compelling stories.  The late 1500s are “[k]nown as the ‘Warring States’ era…a bloody time for Japan and its people.”  Because of the frequency of armed conflict, villages are depopulated and the people have much to fear.

Enter Kagematsu!  When the great warrior stops in the players’ village, they have an opportunity to persuade him, using Affections, to take on the Threat.  While the setting is a historical one, the Threat can be mundane, supernatural, or some combination of the two, so extensive knowledge of feudal Japan is not required to create an enjoyable game.

A game of Kagematsu is divided into The Courtship and The Confrontation.  The villagers must attempt to elicit The Promise from Kagematsu to combat the threat before the The Confrontation or Kagematsu will abandon the village to its fate.  It is up to Kagematsu and the villagers to decide who will take on the greatest burden when describing each scene of the courtship, but each player should have a chance to weave a tale.

I particularly enjoy the Affections mechanic.  Each player can choose an affection, such as “A stolen glance” or “A secret told,” that they wish to win from Kagematsu in a scene.  The players must create an elaborate (or, at the very least, compelling) description of the scene, and after rolling some dice they discover whether or not they won the affection.  There is a finite list of affections, each of which is tied to a particular trait, and the final affection is “A promise made,” which ensures that Kagematsu will defend the village.  Affections also win Love or Pity from Kagematsu, which is important for social standing and the endgame.

Like most other RPGs, Kagematsu assigns each character a set of attributes that will influence her ability to win affections.  The stats keep things simple, though, and work well with the story elements of the game.  The mechanics get pretty complicated as they get more involved and you have to delve into the specifics, but they are presented clearly and concisely (which I appreciate!).

I love the way the setting and mechanics focus Kagematsu on storytelling in feudal Japan, and I think the game has wonderful polish and production values.  If you want to try something a little different from your weekly dungeon crawl, I give Kagematsu my highest recommendation.  I can’t wait to play it myself…

Want to learn more about Kagematsu? Read on…

  • Atomic Array: Episode 041: Kagematsu
  • Emerson’s Bookshelf: Kagematsu
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