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Ninja Death Theatre

Back in the day you had to come up with something fun to role-play EVERY DAY. We’d meet before class and discuss the idea. At lunch we’d play it. One game that had a good run of sessions is one I call Ninja Death Theatre, and I think it’s an idea that’s due resurrecting.

You are a ninja. Here’s a map. You are here. You must get there.
Why am I standing at the edge of a huge Japanese garden? Why is that garden a maze of ponds, lagoons, rope bridges, parallel bars, balance beams, pits, ramps, and cargo nets? What lies through the gate at the opposite side? Empty your mind of these questions and focus at the task at hand.

Ninja Death Theatre is a purely tactical adventure game of gritty no-holds-barred ninja combat. The goal is to successfully run a gauntlet of prepared obstacles, traps, and enemy ninjas. We played this one-on-one without any mechanics beyond the social contract.

My dream is to come up with mechanics that match the imaginative gameplay we had when we played this back in high school, i.e…

To the ninja, everything is a weapon…

I’d like to see a mechanic that sets up situations where improvised tactics and weapons are required and rewarded. Maybe standardized weapons, tools, and tactics have very set stats and capabilities. When you improvise you can change and exceed these stats for the term of one conflict. There would still be a deep and varied enough pool of “stuff” to allow for meaningful tactical choices. To improvise, you MUST use something in the scene, either on the map itself, or in the narration.

You know that scene where the ninja kills, like, five guys in one round?

I’d like to see a mechanic where ninjas must deal with things that happen too fast to react too. Maybe instead of things happening once per round, some things can happen “between rounds”. The only way to deal with them is to pile up some kind of debt. The deeper the debt gets, the greater the results of failure. Part of the game then becomes trying to get into a clear space where you can rest for a beat and clear your debt.

As some of you know, tactical gameplay isn’t my forte (though I’ve been consistently trying to improve it). I tried something like this with DungeonPunk, which turned out OK (DungeonPunk previously discussed here, here, and here. I’m not yet ready to make this into a fully fledged game, but I think I’m getting there.


I'd like to tie this in with Phil's cool post previous to this. How about each ninja has a pool of numbers or rolls, as well as some equipment and moves that have a number assigned (i.e. they can be used with this number at any time). The only way to get a roll on a number you don't have in your pool or an item of EQ is to improvise. When you improvise, you also get to describe the cool thing you're doing, of course.

I would definitely play such a thing. Check out Clinton's experiments with awesome Ninja goodness here:

Steel Shadows

(Because of stupid Blogger comment links not opening a new window, you should right-click that bad boy.)

Are you thinking your game would be an RPG, Tony?

Yes, definitely an RPG, though I can see it pushing some people's definition of an RPG. I see this game having narration, and I see a GM creating the challenges for each session.

Some might argue that it's almost a board game with narration, to which I might reply that a board game with narration is an RPG with a board. :)

This idea actually would also neatly fit with the tile variant I wanted to do for Great Ork Gods.

You have a bag of tiles and set of rules that "power" the tiles. You could pull tiles as randomly or pre-lay them on the table and flip as necessary. Tiles could be random or the GM could choose them for appropriateness.

I have a competitive variant of this that I may post on its own.

That is bad ass, and I would love to use this in play sometime.

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