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Tabletop role-playing games in Japan

Role-playing games made in Japan made their first appearance during the 1980s. Today, there are hundreds of Japanese-designed games as well as several translated games. Traditional RPGs are referred to as tabletop RPGs or table-talk RPGs (TTRPG, or TRPG) in Japan to distinguish them from the video role-playing game genre.


Early yearsEdit

In the 1970s, role-playing games themselves received little attention in Japan as games only had English titles. Several gaming magazines and computer game magazines started introducing role-playing games in early 1980s.

Some of the earliest Japanese RPGs were science fiction titles, including Donkey Commando in 1982 and Enterprise: Role Play Game in Star Trek in 1983. Classic Traveller was the first translated RPG in 1984, with Dungeons & Dragons following in 1985. One of the earliest Japanese-designed traditional fantasy RPGs was titled Roads to Lord, published in 1984.

Late 1980s to early '90s: success of Group SNEEdit

It was not until the late 1980s, when role-playing video games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, modeled after the western computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima, helped popularize the traditional role-playing games. The first Dragon Quest was published by Enix in 1986 for the NES and MSX/MSX2 platform.

Around the same time Group SNE pioneered a new book genre called replays consisting of session logs arranged for publication. The first replay, Record of Lodoss War, was a replay of Dungeons & Dragons that was published in Comptiq magazine beginning in 1986. It became a popular series, and led to an increase in interest in the fantasy genre.

Sword World 2.0, the newest edition of the most popular role-playing game in 90's Japan

Sword World RPG was published in 1989 and became popular very quickly. A notable feature found in Sword World was the Forcelia setting which included Lodoss island from the Record of Lodoss War. Analysis of the game's success suggests that the designers took ideas from many famous American games including D&D, AD&D, Middle-earth Role Playing, and RuneQuest and modified the settings to suit Japanese tastes. Compared to (A)D&D and other contemporary games, Sword World RPG had a flexible, less restricted, multi-class system. It used only ordinary 6-sided dice. Other polyhedral dice are uncommon, especially in rural Japan. It was tied up with light novels and replays. The paperback (bunkobon) rulebooks are inexpensive and portable.[1]

Notable role-playing games in mid-late '80s and early '90s included:

1988 Wizardry RPG Group SNE RPG version of Wizardry fantasy CRPG
1989 Sword World RPG Group SNE Fantasy RPG, in the Forcelia setting
1989 Record of Lodoss War Companion Group SNE Fantasy RPG, in the Forcelia setting
1990 Blue Forest Story (ja) 1st ed. Tsukuda Hobby(ja)
2nd ed. FarEast Amusement Research F.E.A.R. (1996)
Fantasy world similar to Southeast Asia
1991 Gear Antique 1st ed. Tsukuda Hobby
2nd ed. F.E.A.R (1999)
One of the earliest Steampunk RPG
1992 Crystania Companion Group SNE Fantasy RPG, in the Forcelia setting
1992 GURPS Runal Group SNE Fantasy RPG
1993 Tokyo NOVA F.E.A.R. Cyberpunk RPG
1994 GURPS Youmayakou Group SNE English title: “GURPS Damned Stalkers”
1996 Seven Fortress (ja) F.E.A.R. Fantasy RPG

The Winter Age and beyondEdit

In the late 1990s, the RPG craze ended (see History of role-playing games). Role-playing games were surpassed by trading card games (TCGs) such as Pokémon Trading Card Game and Magic: The Gathering; and most RPG magazines were discontinued or changed into TCG magazines. This period is called the Winter Age of TRPG by Japanese gamers.

Alshard, one of the most popular J-RPGs in the 21st century

The "Spring Age" spans from 1999-2002. Notable role-playing games of this age are Blade of Arcana (1999), Double Cross (2001), Night Wizard! (2002) and Alshard (2002). In 2007, Night Wizard! was adapted into an anime television series. Alshard's game system was expanded into a generic role-playing game system named Standard RPG System in 2006. They were all made by F.E.A.R., which grew to be one of the leading RPG companies in Japan.

The growth of fan replay videosEdit

Since the late 2000s, RPG's fan replay videos have grown in popularity on Niconico, a Japanese video hosting service. In the replay videos, popular RPGs are Western Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia. In 2013, Adventure Planning Service released Kill Death Business, a TV-show concept PvP RPG, and it quickly spread in Niconico.

Japanese gamesEdit

In Japan, domestically-made role-playing games are competitive in the market. Despite the market's small size, many original products are published. For example, 95 domestically-made RPG rulebooks, excluding supplements, were published from 2000 to 2007. In the same period of time, 25 translated RPG rulebooks were published.[2] D&D is very popular. However, due to the existence of large competitors, it does not dominate the market.

GURPS Runal, the most successful GURPS supplement in Japan

Sword World RPG, an traditional fantasy RPG produced by Group SNE, has been popular since the 1990s. In addition, there are several original settings for GURPS made by Group SNE. Most games of SNE were tied up with light novels or anime such as Record of Lodoss War, Legend of Crystania and Rune Soldier.

F.E.A.R. games are more heroic and dramatic than usual games. Characters seen in Tokyo NOVA, Blade of Arcana and Alshard are mighty heroes who possess superhuman powers. Also, several connection rules represent dramatic human relationships.

Console and computer RPGs have a profound influence. For example, Alshard is inspired by Final Fantasy and Arianrhod RPG (2004) is inspired by Ragnarok Online. Story-oriented games are also influenced by various foreign role-playing games, such as Cyberpunk 2020, Torg and World of Darkness.

Adventure Planning Service (Bouken Kikaku-kyoku) (ja) produced SATASUPE (2003), Meikyu kingdom (ja) (2004), Saikoro Fiction system (ja)(Shinobigami (ja) (2009), Reality Show RPG: Kill Death Business (ja) (2013), and more).

Translated gamesEdit

From English to JapaneseEdit

The most popular translated role-playing game is Dungeons & Dragons, which has been translated over six editions. Several Japanese games using the D20 System, which is based on the third edition of D&D, have been developed.

Other translated systems include the Call of Cthulhu, Fighting Fantasy (including Advanced Fighting Fantasy), GURPS, RuneQuest, Hero Wars, Shadowrun, Stormbringer, Traveller, Tunnels and Trolls, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and World of Darkness systems. Each title has been translated several times, releasing many different editions. Some games were modified in Japanese and later released, such as RuneQuest 90's and Hyper Tunnels and Trolls.

Several minor products, such as Cyberpunk 2020, Dark Conspiracy, Dragon Warriors, Earthdawn, The Fantasy Trip, HârnMaster, It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show, James Bond 007, Maelstrom, MechWarrior, Middle-earth Role Playing, The Monster Horror Show, Rolemaster, Torg, and have also been translated.

From Japanese to other languagesEdit

The first RPG translated from Japanese into another language was the Sword World RPG. Its basic rulebook and scenarios were translated into Korean. (ko:소드 월드 RPG)

In 2008, the Maid RPG was completely translated from Japanese into English.[3] Tenra Bansho Zero was projected to be the first translation into English; however, Maid was completed first. The original PDF release of Maid had to be re-edited, due to the controversial content it contained.

In 2013, the 3rd Edition of "Double Cross" by F.E.A.R was released in English by Ver. Blue Amusement.[4]


Replays are RPG session logs arranged for reading, similar in style to light novels. A typical format of a replay goes as following:[5]

Game master: In this scene, you should think the reason why your PCs team up the party with each other.
Amu: Well, I will visit Eiji's home, because Eiji became an adventurer. At last, he will repay the money he borrowed from me.
Eiji: Hi, Amu. I became an adventurer at long last. Please lend your money to me again.(Haha.) I don't have money, because I bought chainmail.

In Japan, a lot of RPG replays are commercially published.[6] Replays are more popular than RPG novels. Not only replays of Japanese games but also replays of translated games such as GURPS, D&D, Shadowrun, and WFRP were published.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ KATSURA, Norio (Autumn 2006). "Fantasy TRPG Chronicle". RPGamer. 15: 8.
  2. ^ "RPG old and present, east and west (RPG Kokon-tozai)". Role & Roll. 40: 16. January 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ KIKUCHI, Takeshi (2004). Arianrhod RPG Replay.
  6. ^ Over 43 books of Sword World RPG's replays were published until July 2007.

External linksEdit