Every week we showcase a Kickstarter project that captures our imagination. If you love Japanese period dramas like Kurosawa Akira’s films, comics like Path of the Assassin, and historical narratives like The Tale of the Heike, you’ll definitely want to check out Thousand Arrows, a tabletop roleplaying game of samurai action and drama currently on Kickstarter, having reached its funding goal. Here’s why we love it.
In a fictional parallel of sixteenth-century Japan, you and up to six of your friends will vie to take control of the warring states and possibly change the course of history. Using the Powered by the Apocalypse ruleset inspired by Vincent Baker and Meguey Baker’s Apocalypse World, you’ll roll two six-sided dice to determine how your character succeeds and what complications may arise as a result. Characters are defined by their role, allegiance, and attachments, which can grow into obsessions as the game progresses—unless you’re willing to betray them, as so often happens in stories set during this era.
“Thousand Arrows characters start out in positions of power,” explains creator James Mendez Hodes, a Filipino-American who has been working in the tabletop RPG industry since 2014 as a writer, developer, editor, and cultural consultant. “They’re generals, spymasters, religious leaders, revolutionaries. Hundreds of people follow their orders, and the fates of entire clans, states, and religions are in their hands. In your first couple of sessions, you might fight off a pirate incursion, defend a crucial mountain pass against Oda Nobunaga himself, or assassinate the head of your clan so you can take their job.” As your characters grow in power, they might find themselves becoming suspicious of each other, but the attachments mechanic of the game only draws them closer as they come into conflict.
What helps set Thousand Arrows apart from other samurai RPGs is Mendez’s background, the careful consideration paid to the research underpinning the game, and the mechanics themselves, which are designed to help players navigate the world of the samurai in a respectful way. When asked what inspired him to create Thousand Arrows in the first place, Mendez replied, “Historically, orientalism and stereotype have dominated Asian settings and themes in English-language games. I want to create a game which shows Asians as we see ourselves and each other, not as the white gaze sees us. The Warring States setting works perfectly for this purpose because it contradicts Japanese clichés.” Whereas Asian-inspired settings in other RPGs are usually synonymous with honor and the Code of Bushidō, a game about the tumult of the warring states period could see chivalry, religious virtue, friendship, and loyalty all fall away.
Mendez has already established himself in the tabletop RPG industry with credits on 7th Sea Second Edition, Scion Second Edition, Monsterhearts 2, and the fifth edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, but he also possesses strong academic credentials. “Nearly all my professional work has drawn on my real-life experience as a Filipino American, my undergraduate background in West African religion and North Indian dance, or my graduate work in Eastern Classics (the great books of Japan, China, and India),” Mendez explains.
In addition to drawing from primary and secondary sources from Japan and other East Asian countries, he also has some direct experience with some of the weapons and fighting styles used in the game. “I spent twelve years studying Bujinkan budō taijutsu, a traditional Japanese martial art. I learned to handle most of the weapons and armor featured in the game, and how they fit into battle and espionage contexts, and also got punched in the face a lot.”
Thousand Arrows also serves as a primer on how to play historical games while portraying the characters and setting in a clear and respectful way. Mendez reassures players that “you don’t need to know a damn thing about samurai, history, or anything else to play this game. If you’re a history buff or a Kurosawa fan or something like that, you have lots of opportunities to infuse your character with your inspirations…but the same way you don’t need to know anything ahead of time about dungeons or dragons to role-play, you don’t need to know anything about the Warring States Period to play. If you’re scared you’ll say something offensive, that’s a good instinct—but the game has your back. It’ll teach you how to approach respect and authenticity as well, and if you make mistakes, it’ll help you through them, not punish you.” Mendez has expanded on topics such as cultural appropriation, sensitivity, social justice, and race on his blog, which also includes articles on how he approached the content and design of Thousand Arrows.
Kickstarter backers can choose from digital or physical rewards tiers for the core rulebook, which is slated to be a 200-page hardcover. Extras at higher tiers include Thousand Arrows swag, and you can even pay for a martial arts lesson from Mendez himself! Backers also gain access to the “ashcan” digital edition of the game right away, so you can start playing immediately and send the creators your feedback to help guide the development of the game. The Kickstarter ends on November 30th, so don’t miss your chance to declare your allegiance or rise to rule the warring states yourself!
What are some of your favorite Kurosawa movies, Warring States-era comics, or other East Asian media? Tell us in the comments below!
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Image Credits: Gallileo Games, James Mendez Hodes