This post is basically about boasting. As I’m British, this doesn’t come easily to me, but since I am British, people might well wonder why I should be writing a roleplaying game about Shinto.
Let’s handle the roleplaying game part first. I have been writing professionally for roleplaying games for twenty years, and I have written all or part of dozens of published roleplaying books, for Dungeons & Dragons, the World of Darkness, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and Ars Magica, among others. I have also been the Line Editor for Ars Magica for more than ten years, and I designed and wrote fifth edition, which won the Origins Award for best RPG and the Gold ENnie for Best Rules back in 2005. I should be able to do this.
So, why a game about Shinto set in Japan?
First, I live in Japan, and have done for nearly ten years. My wife is Japanese, my daughter has dual citizenship, and I speak, read, and type the language fluently. (I can’t write it, because I forget how to write the ideograms. But then, so do most Japanese people.) One reason for setting the game in contemporary Japan is simply that this is the society I know, the society I live in day-to-day. I haven’t lived in the UK long-term for almost ten years, so I’m not sure that I could convincingly set something there. That’s also why the default setting for the game will be the greater Tokyo area, as that’s where I live within Japan.
Second, I am a practitioner of Shinto. I’ve been studying it for years now, almost as long as I’ve been in Japan, and so I know a lot about it. I know considerably more than almost all of my Japanese friends, for example, and the exceptions are mostly Shinto priests. I also participate in Shinto rituals a lot; I had one performed to mark the launch of this project, for example. Shinto is much more about practice than belief, so the question of whether I believe in Shinto is a lot harder to answer. I don’t believe that the legends in the eighth century texts are literally true, but then neither does anybody else. I do believe that Shinto rituals are worth performing, but I’m agnostic on whether there is anything supernatural behind that. I do not believe that the metaphysics of Kannagara the game are true of the real world, even approximately. The supernatural elements are adapted, for gaming purposes, from Shinto legend and Japanese folklore, and I believe that, if there are supernatural elements in the real world, people have not understood them. After all, we failed to understand the sun, moon, and stars for millennia, and everyone can see them, and agree on what they see. In the case of spirits and the like, where the experience is much less shared, it seems extremely unlikely that people will have hit upon a true interpretation.
As a practitioner of Shinto, I do get irritated by its portrayal in just about any other roleplaying game. Shadowrun Fourth Edition decided to illustrate it with a picture of a BDSM prostitute, for example, and Scion had some very strange ideas about which kami were important. That includes Japanese games; I don’t particularly care for its portrayal in Tenra Bansho Zero, either. Still, I know very well the conditions under which roleplaying games are researched and produced, so I wouldn’t go so far as to say I get offended or angry. Nevertheless, my intent in this game is to produce a portrayal of Shinto that is faithful to the spirit of the religion, albeit with a rather more literal interpretation of the legends than I think is justified in reality.
I think I have the background necessary to do a good job of this game. The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating.