By Steve Rosenstein
When I was a kid in the heyday of tabletop RPGs, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was king. Sure, there were other games that we played, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, the Fantasy Trip to name a few. This article is not about those games. Being the avid AD&D player that I was, I would, on occasion, pick up genre-related magazines and just look at the ads for miniatures and exotic game systems. The one that always caught my eye was an opportunity to play in a fantasy version of Samurai Japan: Bushido. The cover art catches the eye, a Kaiga-style watercolor by the book’s co-author, Bob Charrette, depicting a Samurai on horseback with the iconic Rising Sun behind his head. I always wanted to play, but never pulled the trigger, that is, until now.
I picked up a copy from the FGU website, but honestly, it’s bound poorly and the pages started falling out fairly quickly, so if you are thinking of grabbing a copy, either get a used copy of the old FGU box set or snag a digital copy from http://www.drivethrurpg.com/m/product/582
The book itself out-old-schools a lot of the old-school rule books that I have read. It is poorly (read not at all) indexed and the typesetting is reminiscent of your high school algebra book. It does try to pack a lot of information into a little space, and at first looks very daunting and confusing, but that gets us to the crux of this article: I really want to play this game and the people I play with aren’t going to read through the book. What am I to do? Well, if I take on the role of GM, that takes care of 99% of my issues. The mechanics, which despite the density of the text, are fairly straight forward with some situational variations. The big obstacle is character creation, you kind of need to know a bit about how things work to do that. So my choices are to run the game with pre-gens, which means that nobody will learn anything coming in, or I can write a step-by-step guide of how to create a character in Bushido. By the time I’m done, provided you have a copy of the game, you should be able to create a character ready to wander the roads and mountains of Nippon, looking for adventure.
First step is to consult the birth table (pg 39), Bushido, like a lot of its contemporaries, puts a lot of stock in the randomization of your background. This roll will determine your Caste, status, and rank, which affects your starting Honor (On) and the amount of money/equipment you start the game off with.
I rolled 22(d100), which gives my character:
Caste: Buke – Ronin
Rank: High (3)
Money Dice: 4
So we lucked out in the birth department, Ronin, while not as auspicious as a Samurai caste, still comes with some benefits like high initial On and fairly decent starting money.
Next step is to choose my profession, the chooses are: Bushi (Fighter), Budoka (Monk), Gakusho (priest, either Shinto or Buddhist), Shugenja (Mage), Ninja, or Yakuza. I went for Bushi. Each profession comes with a number of attribute modifiers, the Bushi ones are as follows:
STR +10 Hit Point Die 1d10
Also +5 to On (35 so far)
Now we get to flesh out the character a bit with the attributes. Bushido is a point-buy system, so no dice rolling, you get 60 points to distribute among 6 attributes. It gets a bit complicated. Some of your derived statistics are based on the difference between what is known as the “Classic Man” (pg 2) which is basically 10 points distributed to each attribute with the modifiers added on, this gives you a template and a starting point to build your character from. The six attributes are STRength, DeFTness, SPeeD, HeaLT, WIT, and WILL. Each attribute then has a Saving Throw associated with it which is calculated by dividing the score by three. Here is the comparison of the Classic Bushi to my Bushi:
Classic Bushi Character
STR 20 20
DFT 20 20
SPD 15 15
HLT 25 30
WIT 5 5
WIL 10 5
And here are the derived Raw Saving throws (pg 2)
Based on the initial scores, we have a character who is a strong fighter, but intellectually and spiritually weak. That is ok, as he is not a Shugenja nor a Gakusho.
Each attribute has associated abilities that are derived from them (pg 3):
STR 25 (pg 3)
Encumbrance Capability: A character can carry two times their strength and remain unencumbered so this guy can haul up to 40 lbs without any penalties.
Unarmed Combat: A strength in the range of 11-30 allows for 1d6 damage in unarmed combat, it’s a wide range, and we fall into it.
Damage Bonus (DAM): For every 5 pts over 15, you get a +1 bonus to weapon damage. At 20, we get a +1 damage bonus.
Your strength also governs what weapons you can use without taking a penalty, the weapons chart on page 58 lists the minimum strengths for each weapon.
20 (pg 4) DFT
Basic Action Phase (BAP): This is your DFT/2, which is 10. This is used in combat and determines order of combat. If you are allowed more than one action per round, your other actions are based on fractions of this number.
SPD 15 (pg 4)
Maximum Number of Actions (MNA): This is your SPD/10, so we get a 2. This is the number of actions you can take in combat; to determine derivative action phases, divide your BAP by your MNA. So we will act on BAP 10 & (10/2) 5…easy peasy.
Base Movement Allowance (BMA): This is the movement, in yards, a character can take in a detailed turn, it is SPD/3, so we get a 5.
HLT 30 (pg 4)
Hit Points (HP) Your base hit points are equal to your HLT score plus your profession’s hit dice per level, according to the Professional Summary Chart on pg 40, a Bushi gets 1d10 hit dice per level. So our HP is 30+1d10 (rolled a 9) for 39 HP, not bad.
Healing Rate (HR): This is the speed that a character recovers HP. The formula is HLT/5 so 30/5 is 6. Further details on healing can be found on page 49.
So far we’ve looked at the physical attributes/abilities, of which our Bushi does pretty well, next come the the mental attributes/abilities, of which our Ronin is sorely lacking. These are the abilities that govern the magic used by the Shugenja and the spiritual powers of the Gakusho.
WIT 5 (pg 4)
Freely Improvable Skills (FIS): = This determines the number skills that can be improved through learning without incurring a penalty. It is equal to your WIT score, so we have a 5, oh well good thing he can fight.
The Perception of Hidden Things is governed by WIT and is equal to the attribute’s Saving Throw, so ours is 1…not very astute.
WIL 5 (pg 5)
Power: Power is the ability from which spells are, well, powered. The base score is equal to one’s WIL, added to that is 1d10/level and the level. If we were creating a Shugenja or a Gakusho, our power would be 5+1d10+1, even if we had rolled a 10, it would be a pretty poor showing at 16.
Some abilities, are derived from a combination of attributes, these are:
Learning Rate (LR) pg 5 : To determine the LR, compare average of WIT & WIL to profession’s “classic man”, if you average is below that of the classic, then your learning rate is 1; if it is equal to or exceeds that of the classic, then consult the chart to find your Learning Rate. The Classic Bushi’s average is 13, and ours is 5; so sadly we have a value of 1. This means for every week spent studying a skill, we are only allowed to gain 1 point. Sad, really, but nobody ever said we were building a genius.
Zanshin (pg 5): This is your “battle awareness” and helps to determine the quality of combat actions. Add your WIL+SPD+DFT and compare the result with the chart on pg 5. Our value is 40, and at level one, our Zanshin is 1. Basically this means that while we get two combat actions per round, the second action is limited to Secondary Actions (pg 61-62). Fortunately, both attack & party are considered secondary actions.
Finally, there are the capabilities (pg 6), which are derived from multiple attributes:
Brawling (avg ST of STR/DFT/WIL) = 4
Climbing (DFT/2) = 10
Leaping (Speed/2) = 7
Magic ((WIT+WIL)/5) = 2
Swimming = (avg ST of STR/DFT/HLT) = 9
Gimmickry (pg 34) (Ninja only) = (avg ST of WIT/DFT + level) we would have a score of 4, again a poor ninja. If you are creating a ninja, it is imperative that you read the section on the profession, as Ninja have several rules that pertain only to that profession.
Now we get to the Initial Skills, some skills are determined from your birth status & some are determined by your profession.
Initial skills from birth (pg 40)
As a member of the Buke, we start off with Katakana (common script) at (2xWit + 10xRF* + initial age) = 57. Hiragana (refined script) at (2xWIT + 10xRF*) = 40. Kenjutsu (sword skill) at +5. Court Dance, and a choice of a Fine Art.
*RF is your Rank Factor- low (1), middle (2), or high (3) and is part of your birth roll
These birth skills are different for every caste, so be sure to look up the ones for the caste that you rolled.
Initial Skills from profession (pg 40):
Kenjustsu (sword), Kyujutso (archery), 2 Bugei, one of: Armory, Bowyer, Go, Musical Instrument, Physician, Hawking.
Again, these skills differ from profession to profession.
Now we need to put value to those skills (Pg 9):
Kenjustsu (swordsmanship) pg 11: STR + DFT + WIL (+5 for birth)= 50
Kyujutsu(archery) pg 11: STR + DFT + WIL = 45
The two Bushi (martial skills) that I chose were:
Ni-To-Kenjutsu (two-weapon fighting) pg 12: STR + DFT + WIL = 45
Atemi-Waza (Karate) pg 9: STR + DFT + WIL = 45
The Art Skills that I chose were:
Court Dance of pg 15: DFT + SPD + WIT = 40
Fou (Flute): WIT + DFT = 25
Katakana (common script): 57
Hiragana (refined script): 40
Now comes the equipment phase of character creation. First, we determine your Inheritance (pg 41), the equipment you start out with:
First roll your starting cash (pg 41):
Money dice is 4 (table on pg 39)
Gold: 4d3 = 8
Silver: 4d6 = 20
Copper: 4d6x10 = 60
And the quality of your sword(s) if you are eligible to inherit one (pg 41):
Sword quality is determined by a d20 roll that adjusted for caste. As a Ronin of High Rank, our character gets no bonus or penalty…just a straight roll. Having rolled a 4, and being of Buke stock, we receive a set Superior Quality Dai-Sho. You cannot ask for better luck!
Each profession starts with some Initial goods (pg 40):
Average Quality Samurai Garb
Average Quality Winter Garb
You also receive a weapon for any Bugei you have chosen. As we already inhereted a kick-ass set of swords, the only other Bugei that would get us a weapon is Kyujustsu, so we get a bow of the appropriate man-rating. A Dai-Kyu (long bow) with a Man Rating (pg 11) of 3 & (4d6) 13 willow leaf arrows (1d6/man rating) damage.
Superior Quality Dai-Sho: Katana D6+2 lethal damage, Wakizashi D6 lethal damage. The ability to use both as one weapon is covered in the Ni-To-Kenjutsu skill.
Armor: The information regarding initial armor is found on page 40 in the professional summary table with some material in inheritance on page 41 (concerning Buke, Samurai, and Ronin). A Bushi starts off with 1d3 added to the armor class & a Ronin adds 1d3+1. Having rolled a 3+2, out initial AC is 6,
This is Complete Light Samurai Armor (pg 56)
Buke also have a chance of starting with a warhorse (pg 41) which is rolled against the initial On (pg 39…chart) score. I rolled a 67, which is higher than the Initial On score of 35 for being a high ranking Ronin.
Age (pg 39) You start out by adding 1d6 to 15 to determine initial age. I rolled a 1, so this character is a kid of 16.
Last, there is Status:
Initial Personal Status (pg 21) is dependent on one’s rank 10 points/rank so we get to start out with 30 for being high rank plus 5 pts/level = 35
New characters have not been afforded the opportunity to gain Group Status (pg 23), so no need to worry about that as of yet.
Lastly there is Status in Society (pg 24), this gives a measure of one’s overall status, and there are several modifiers that can be applied to your personal status to reach this value. Being of the Bushi gives a .6 modifier to status in society = 21
The topics that weren’t covered here are the magic using classes and the ninja. Spell use is explained on pages 20-21. Shugenja are covered on pages 31-34, Gakusho are covered on pages 34-37. Appendix 1 covers Spells and Sacred Texts. Ninja Skills are explained on pages 19-20 and the Appendix 2 covers the Gimmicks.
Now let’s fill in some of the background details, because a character is more than the numbers. Hatakeyama Junichi didn’t ask to be born Ronin, he never asked for clan Hatakeyama to take the fall for the Taira’s betrayal of the Emperor three generations hence. Like his father and his father before him, Junichi hires himself out as a yojimbo, but with lore haunted Hatakeyama blood flowing in his veins, he strives to bring honor to the almost forgotten name that he bears.
And that is that, it looks fairly daunting, but it really isn’t that difficult. There is definitely an old-school feel to the game, but it isn’t any more or less complicated than AD&D or RuneQuest were. I hope that this helps and you can now get a bit of a grasp on this game that haunted my childhood. How well did I do? Well, you can find out by listening to Monday
Night Heroes where we will be playing some Bushido soon at MNH.podbean.com