The following is a guest post by Daniel Yocom.
You stand in the doorway of your small shop watching people hurry along the muddy street. The rain is a steady, black drip. The water isn’t black, it’s just a dark foreboding like the gnawing feeling deep within you. Although, rain is a good for business here in your sake house. That is, as long as the local yakuza don’t start too many problems and the police don’t have to get involved.
World of Dew by Ben Woener is a roleplaying game (RPG) set in Japan during the period of the Tokugawa Shogunate. That is a period spanning the early 1700s to late 1800s. A time when the samurai were falling out of power and the middle classes of Japan were climbing. World of Dew is an expansion/sequel to John Wick’s Blood & Honor and can be played with or without the preceding game.
Ben Woener expresses his enjoyment of the literature and movies of this period of Japanese history. The stories are usually portrayed in a noir style, giving it a dark and gritty feel. Japan is in a time of transition as the class structure is shuffling and foreigners are becoming more a part of the society. Starting his work after Blood & Honor and giving it a different feel in the structure of the stories, World of Dew creates its own realm while building on the earlier work.
I received a copy of World of Dew from the author for review purposes.
Players are encouraged to take on the roles of the people living and working in the rougher side of the community. You can create characters who may be climbing in the social structure or those whose status is decreasing.
You decide your giri. This is your duty, calling, or profession. Or, in game terms, your class. It is more of a broader term and provides a guide to the character for how they see their position within the society.
Each character has, based in part on their giri, virtues, aspects, and advantages. Each of the choices affect how the player/character interacts, and influences the outcome of risks determined during game play.
Characters start by knowing each other in some way. The last part of character creation is making connections with the other characters. This doesn’t mean everyone has to be getting along, it means they know each other on some level so players can create deeper interactions from the beginning.
Mechanics of Creating the Setting
World of Dew uses the same mechanics as its predecessor. All of the players work with the Narrator in creating the game world by adding themes, locations, threats, organizations, and faces.
At the beginning of this phase of the game, each player is given tokens they can spend to create truths about the shared game world. One player can add a tea house they like to frequent, while another adds how the Protestant priest is creating conflict by preaching near their vegetable stall.
Once a piece has been added to the game, the player turns in one of their tokens to the Narrator, and from that point on the piece added is part of the game. The added feature is now a truth for the game and following players can alter the truth, but not deny that it exists. Such as, not only is the Protestant priest creating conflict within the market, but he is gaining a congregation that come and translate and defend his speeches.
This doesn’t mean everything created is the absolute truth, just the truth as it is known by the players. During game play the Narrator can use the tokens received from the players to create plot twists. More on this in the next section
This setting creation mechanic creates a place the players and Narrator are familiar with. When I was involved with this level of creation, I found we were all creating plots and subplots. By the time we were ready and spent the tokens we wanted to, everyone was excited to start.
Mechanics of Game Play
World of Dew is based on creating a combined narrative. The mechanics are about gaining privilege to tell how that particular part of the story develops.
Any time there is a point in the storyline where characters create an influencing force, they take a risk. A risk can be against an obstacle, another player, or against someone under control of the Narrator. The outcome of a risk is determined by the players involved by creating a dice pool of 6-sided dice. The number of dice is based on the characters, places, and surrounding circumstances.
After creating a dice pool, players secretly decide if they want to set some of the dice to the side as a wager. Then the remaining dice are rolled. If a player succeeds in the risk, and scores higher than who they are challenging, they gain privilege to explain the outcome. The wagers are used to add facts about the event as it unfolds, but the player doesn’t have to use all of their wagers at that time. The next player involved who succeeded gains privilege to tell the story after the first player finishes their part.
This process continues until all of the successful players have had privilege and there are no more wagers to be spent. Wagers can also be used in other ways, so they don’t have to be used during story creation.
One fun part about the sequence of privilege is once a part of the story has been added it can’t be denied. Whatever the first player tells can be added to with “Yes, but…” and “Yes, and…” but proceeding players cannot say it didn’t happen. This adds some interesting twists as players get into the idea of knowing their storytelling sets the scene.
The Narrator has some rights of changing the facts of the story. This is when they use the tokens they have gathered from the players. These points are for creating interesting plot twists.
I have the print version of World of Dew. The book is about 225 pages in an oversized paperback format (about 115 full size pages).
The book is enjoyable to read and the concepts of how the game works were easy to comprehend. Throughout the book traditional Japanese woodprint images and calligraphy are used. The wonderful pictures and graceful characters add to the feeling of what the game is about.
There is also a section for inspirational and research material for creating your game, or setting the mood you while playing.
World of Dew is a fantastic RPG, capturing a place and time in historical Japan that is interesting and provocative. For those who have enjoyed samurai stories, it provides the next chapter of their story for consideration. Those who enjoy the Japanese noir settings, this is a game that will become a standard.
For me, World of Dew is part of our gaming list. And, the list of reference material is now on my book and movie lists.
Daniel Yocom does geeky things by night because his day job won’t let him. This
dates back to the 1970s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better
shared in small groups. He’s written hundreds of articles about these topics for his
own blog, other websites, and magazines after extensive research. His research
includes attending conventions, sharing on panels, and road-tripping with his wife.