Monday, October 17, 2016

OVA, The Anime Roleplaying Game: First Impression

I'm probably what you would call and 'oldtaku', that is, an anime fan that has been an anime fan for a very long time relatively speaking. I'm not so much of an anime fan nowadays. I'll pick up some manga or get into whatever good anime I hear about that's on one of the streaming channels that I subscribe to, but I'm not as avid of a consumer as I used to be. But I have attended a few conventions and delved deep into anime and manga to the point where it became a subculture for me and I'm pretty familiar with the tropes and trappings that come with it. That's not very important for this overview but I thought I should note where I am coming from when I got this product, OVA: The Anime Roleplaying Game.

So, I mostly play pathfinder and while there are many realms and genres that Pathfinder can simulate sometimes (often) jumping on that train is difficult or downright impractical, even when it's possible. So I've been opening up to some new games since I had a few games to run that needed something different and because of my background noted above some of those concepts are inspired by anime or are directly playing around with an anime setting. I wanted to toy around with modern settings and giant robots, magical girls, high school shoujo drama. All kinds of things that would make a fun game and an anime focused game seemed to be a good place to start.

Now this started with my wife wanting to run Sailor Moon after I discovered a copy of the Sailor Moon RPG from publisher Guardians of Order, so of course my first stop was Big Eye Small Mouth, a generic anime rpg from the same publishers. Actually sorting out what edition I wanted and getting a hard copy for a reasonable price proved more annoying than I wanted so I landed on something that usually came up whenever 'anime roleplaying' is discussed along with it being pretty rules lite. I came across it at my local game store and took a shot. But is it worth it?

Your Character

To make your character there is a list of Abilities and Disadvantages. Each of these have a rating ranging from +/-1 to +/-5. more often than not these add bonuses to your rolls but the numbers also represent different degrees of whatever the ability is. After that you write out the derived information for your attacks and get +40 Health and Endurance and you have a character. That's it!

Granted things are a bit more complicated than this, mostly because all the abilities are not strict bonuses and actually can do things. Your abilities are kind of your general stats and skills where you start off as a normal and untrained in your rolls and your abilities make you something above average in a category and your weaknesses make you worse. You can also add or subtract endurance costs using Perks and Flaws. There isn't a real base rule for how to dole these things out but it does offer several ways to go about it. You can make everything a sum zero situation where all your abilities are bought with equal amounts of weaknesses , you can give points and price each ability, you can set limits on how many abilities you can use. Its really more of a freeform flavor driven game and that's emphasized by two abilities, Gear and Transform. Gear is a zero cost ability that can have other abilities attached to it only it has the bonus of being able to be given to others and has the downside of it being able to be taken from you and you don't get it back. This isn't really an ability and more of an item and is in fact the only way to really get a new item since there isn't really a gear section or other way for gear to work. If you have players that find something like a magic sword in a treasure chest, there isn't a way to give them that item other than to grant them an ability that has the gear ability (or the weapon flaw). So the game is pretty abstract in what constitutes as an ability and the balance between them. Transform is less of an ability but an ability multiplier. You get to transform into some something that has a net total of abilities equal to twice the ability points you put into it. Its blatantly not equal to other abilities by that fact alone.

So for most contexts its a bad idea to hand over the book to players and just letting them use all the options build a character with whatever build limitation you choose because a number of them aren't balanced at all and are situationally appropriate. This is fine for the minimalistic approach but really I sure wish that these things were divided up a bit better. Gear, Vehicle and Weapon are really cornerstone concepts for the game that define any item that the players could come across that they didn't buy with an ability and its off balancing if you take it away or give out uneven prizes, and handing out items is fundamental in pretty much every game I know. It would have been nice to have more of a guide to it or at least have abilities like that scooted to a sidebar. Also Transform is one of those abilities where everyone has it or no one has it. But that's probably just me. I'm not often one for game rules that seem like nebulous blobs so I guess my only real beef is that these concepts aren't broken down enough in the book and they get passed over as another ability and even that is somewhat fair given the general lack of standard guidelines for even assigning abilities making the game made up of more suggestions than rules and being a generic system with this kind of framework means that you have to sort it out yourself anyways since we're trying to do Giant Robots and powerless schoolgirls in the same book.

 Playing the Game

Task resolution is 2d6 to do about anything. Only they aren't added up, you take the highest roll. If two dice are the same number then you can add them up and take that as the number you rolled. This is important because abilities you gain often add dice to this roll. For example; a + 2 adds two dice to the roll and you take the highest dice with like numbers combining. This takes a second to get used to but works out.  The bonuses you get are stackable when they cover the same subject but have a different source. For example if you be smart, and also have an encyclopedia that is also smart in a particular subject and combined they add a ton of dice to your roll.What you roll for what isn't always codified so this can be pretty abstract.

Combat works similarly. You roll initiative and get one action a turn. You add up everything that adds to your attack roll and roll off against the opponent's defense roll.  If you succeed then the difference subtracts from the opponent's HP. Some abilities multiplies this damage. If your HP goes down to nothing damage is dealt to your Endurance instead. If both go down to zero then you are incapacitated.  There's a bit more to it but its not very complicated. Where I do find things a bit complicated is the defense roll itself. How dice are rolled already involves some dice sorting and having two people people do that at every offensive action seems annoying. I really wish there was some kind of derived stat for defense. I'm sure it wouldn't' be too hard. The other issue I have is that if your initiative sucks you can reroll it to try to get a better position. That doesn't seem too bad but for me any time I run initiative I don't keep track of the original numbered rolled because that's annoying and usually useless to keep track of.


I'm usually not that big on games that are as abstract as this. I tend to get by on a bit more meat and crunch. At least a hard separation between items and innate abilities or how things equate to each other. But to some extent I do have to think a little differently to express my feelings for this game because although it is a generic system the range within the tropes it's trying to represent are really broad and goes from the mundane to the over-the-top. Its also not a game of strategy or even roleplaying, from the mechanical point of view. This can be seen as bad but I've never been a fan of game mechanics that tell me how to roleplay and the games I needed this to run aren't strategic fighting/war scenarios. OVA is somewhat roleplaying games at it's core. Its using limits and numbers to define what you can and can't do and from there you play pretend and its more of a skeleton of a game or a tool than a solid game itself.

Despite being light on the rules the game is pretty flexible and it does cover quite a bit of tropes that I wanted to play around with from anime. Its abstract to a degree but has a solid list of codified abilities that aren't so codified that ab-libbing and or guessing isn't a norm. Its useful for what I want to do but I don't see using this for very long campaigns because mechanically it isn't very interesting or have places to really explore and grow. For throwing together a one shot or a short campaign of anime-like subgenre like school romance, magical girl, sentai or mecha, this works out fine enough to hammer something out that you can quickly play and I find it useful for being really flexible in that regard so I expect to use it quite a bit, especially since it can go from slice of life mundane to extreme and overpowered. That and its the most adequate backbone for a pokemon game I've seen and I think I prefer it for specific weird subgenres compared to Savage Worlds or FATE because unlike Savage Worlds it has worthwhile social Abilities and Drawbacks that become really interesting and relevant and interesting and powerful things aren't stuck behind a wall of reality, and unlike FATE what exists and what works are abstracted but still has some definition and structure (and a way to make up stuff), instead of leaving you to your own devices. You're also allowed to get a bit more cartoony here with silly things like Gag Damage existing.

So if you want to do a lot of games a bit niche and are short to medium campaigns, I would highly recommend OVA. If you're going for something a bit more complicated and long but want to deal with these tropes I think you're better off with a more narrow game or system that deals with the subgenre you want specifically. Otherwise this is a useful tool that will save you a boatload of money due to how flexible it can be in very few words while still being stable enough to really get a handle on things.

The only obstacle is that the sample NPCs aren't entirely useful and there aren't any examples of equipment that is agnostic from the player. I wish there was a creature and item book or something.  The NPCs and example characters are more useful for understanding how you're supposed to build characters and how the rules replicate what you want and really I think that more time spent on elaborating things would have worked better because the system is way more useful than it initially appears once you figure out how to make things work. I think of it less as a system and more as a system builder like FATE only with less guesswork and making things up and that's probably because I'm not used to or am somewhat biased towards the newer age gaming systems that are more abstract and freeform. 

Of course I want to talk about this game a bit more but there isn't really any published support so the next I talk about it will be in the realm of play reports or things that I've found. Maybe at some point I'll make my own weapon list and NPC stat blocks that are more useful to GMs.


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