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Friday 25 February 2022

[Fanzine Focus XXVII] Ninja City

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will be compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Another choice is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Ninja City is different type of fanzine for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Published by Get Haunted Industries as part of ZineQuest 3, adapts the roleplaying game from Goodman Games to run adventures inspired by the Ninja movies and craze of the eighties, cheap straight to VHS tales of crime and retribution, and just a little bit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In Ninja City, the streets of the Player Characters’ hometown have been taken over by Bad Guyz—drug lords, street gangs, crooked cops, and worse—and nobody is doing a damned thing about it! Fortunately for the town and the Player Characters, they have rediscovered the Lost Secrets of the Ninja, found a sensei, set up a Clan in a secret hideout, and at the end of the day, when their day jobs are over, sneak out to strike at the Bad Guyz! Disrupt their operations, destroy their product, free the cheap labour they employ, rescue victims held hostage, defeat the Big Boss and unmask him, ultimately, free the town for good folk everywhere!

A Ninja in Ninja City uses the SWORDZ Attribute System—Stealth, Wisdom, Offence, Respect, Discipline, and Z-Force—instead of the standard set of attributes found in Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Of these six, Wisdom covers knowledge and technology use, Respect includes Leadership, Connections, and Trust; Discipline a Ninja’s use of Kuji-in; and Z-Force both his Luck as per Dungeon Crawl Classics and Super Moves. A Ninja has the same Hit Points as every other Ninja, and a Melee Weapon and a Ranged Weapon which defines him. He also has a day job, anything from a Sponsored Skateboarder, Bartender, or Aerobics Instructor to Street Performer – Portrait Artist, Street Performer – Musician, or Telephone Psychic. To create a Ninja, a player rolls four six-sided dice and keeps the best three for each attribute, selects his two weapons, and rolls for his Day Job on the lengthy table of options.

Jeanette Somers
Level 1 Ninja
Day Job: Mechanic
Armour Class: 12 Hit Points: 10
Stealth 14 (+1) Wisdom 12 (+0) Offence 15 (+1) Respect 13 (+1) Discipline 16 (+2) Z-Force 16 (+2)
Weapons: Bo Staff, Shuriken
Unarmed Strike: +1/1d4+1 Damage 

Mechanically, Ninja City uses the rules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but with a tweak or two designed to make it cinematic. First, a Ninja can use Force of Tiger, Force of Monkey, and Force of Butterfly to do amazing things, each of which costs a point of Z-Force. Force of Tiger grants access to the Fighter Class’ Mighty Deed of Arms; Force of Monkey enables a Ninja to climb sheer surfaces and leap over obstacles; and Force of Butterfly lets him descend falls in freefall. A Ninja can inflict greater damage in unarmed combat, even a single point of damage if he misses in combat!

Kuji-In are powerful Hand Seals which require hand signals and concentration which also require Z-Force points to use. Ten Kuji-In Hand Seals are listed, each the equivalent of a spell—Cleric or Wizard—from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. For example, Rin or Strength is the equivalent of the Blessing spell and Retsu or Control of Time and Space has the same effect of the Sleep spell. Once expended, Z-Force can be recovered after a full day’s meditation. Ninja are also notoriously hard to kill. In fact, they cannot truly die and if a Ninja’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, another Ninja can share his Hit Points, binding the two together, meaning they share damage taken; ‘Embrace the Darkness’ and recover, but remain in danger of turning to the dark side and attacking his fellow Ninja; and even have his energy transferred into an item or be dispersed into the universe. The first option means that the player can continue playing his Ninja as a possessed item or weapon, whilst the second allows him to play his Ninja as a ghost!

Tables also enable the players to roll for their Sensei—including a Sewer Dwelling Mutant, and Hideout, such as a Movie Rental Shop or a Fireworks Shop. For the Game Master there are stats descriptions given for a variety of Bad Dudez, such as Rival Ninja, Karate Fighters, Renegades, and more, as well as suggestions for the contraband they might be dealing in. Put the entries on these two tables together and the Game Master has a ready set of mission hooks. Advice for the Game Master takes the form of a basic framework, very much based on the Ninja movies which inspire Ninja City. This all comes together in ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’, which takes up a third of the fanzine. The Ninjas’ hometown is beset by a rash of crime carried out by the Aviators mercenary crime gang, backed up with Cyborgs. Where are the Cyborgs coming from and who are the Aviators working for? ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’ includes a large map of the antagonists’ base of operations and is a decent adventure which can be played in a single session, so perhaps could be run as a convention scenario, but should take no more than two sessions to play through.

Physically, Ninja City is decently written and illustrated with a mix of artwork, some of it cartoonish, some of it quite decent. If Ninja City is missing anything, it is a bibliography of inspiration for the fanzine. In fact, the map from the ‘Rise of the Cyborgs’ could easily have been shrunk to a single page and the space used for such a bibliography.

As written, Ninja City deserves some expansion. In addition to the bibliography, it would have been nice for Ninja City to have included the description of a town in the thrall of multiple gangs and criminal organisations, a sort of ‘crime sandbox’ for the Ninja to investigate and take down crook by crook. Essentially, an actual ‘Ninja City’ for the Player Characters to make their own. That could have easily been included without breaking the limits or page count of the fanzine format.

Ninja City is a fun little option for an alternate campaign for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. As presented, it will provide a gaming group with a session or two of cheesy chop-socky action, but the Game Master will need to develop a lot more if the group wants to keep on playing.

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