Yokai Hunter. In format, this free game is two trifolds: one for the player(s), referred to as the "Hunter," and one for the "Grand Master."
|Front of the Hunter's Book: woodcut by Hokusai, 1834.|
Let's start with the latter, the GM tri-fold. It contains a summary of 10 different types of Yokai (supernatural creatures); 2d8 missions; a summary of the historical period; further information on how to create Yokai, hunters, and NPCs; and cogent advice on running the game, with questions about the setting that the group can/should explore.
The Hunter tri-fold contains a character sheet; d20 table of names, ages, and occupations; an equipment list; and the core rules. I have already talked about Tunnel Goons in previous posts. Yokai Hunter differs quite a bit from the original game, taking Nate Treme's invention and making the system into something with the right bells and whistles for a period ghost hunting thing. Here are some of the highlights.
- Sentence-based character concept: "I'm a [trait][occupation] who [something from your past] and seeks [a goal]. E.g. "I'm Hachiro a nervous smuggler who is hunted by a former patron and seeks anonymity." Hunters wear ritual masks when they hunt yokai, so I imagine my character "hiding" in this role, drawing on his family's knowledge of ghost hunting. His dad wanted him to go into the family business, as it were, but Hachiro turned to smuggling to get rich quick – and because ghosts scare the bejeebus out of him.
- Path-based stats: Courage, Self-Control, and Wisdom. These are somewhat self-explanatory, but they are used in interesting ways. The system describes them as follows: when you roll dice "the GM will indicate which path you should follow: Courage (for actions that involve impetuosity or anger), Self-control (for actions in which it is necessary to remain calm and control one's impulses), or Wisdom (for actions that require certain knowledge or prudent and thoughtful behavior)." I'm not sure how intuitive these labels are, given their description.
- Special Equipment. When you acquire an item you test Wisdom and, if you pass, the item grants a +1 bonus, situationally. This is a really interesting way to codify magic items into the system in an unexpected and fun way. You have it, but you have to understand how to use it.
- Resolution gradation. Not sure what else to call this. The author Chema González (aka Punkpadour) has essentially worked PbtA resolution categories into Tunnel Goons. 10+ you succeed. 9 = you succeed, but suffer a consequence. 8 or less you fail and the situation escalates.
- Advantage/disadvantage. And Chema throws in this mechanic, which has become really popular in designs since the introduction of D&D 5e. The hunter rolls an extra d6 and discards one – highest if disadvantaged, lowest if advantaged.
- Cursed die. And Chema adds a cursed die that starts at a d8. Basically you roll it "when you want to bet your very soul" in an action. You can't roll it while advantaged. The die, however, works like advantage – you drop the lowest one in your pool which contains 2d6 and the cursed die. If the result of the cursed die (whether you succeed or fail) is higher than your current Curse Resistance you attract bad luck and lose a point from your Curse Resistance tracker. I'm not going to get any further into this mechanic. You can read it for yourself, but you basically have a pool that shrinks as you become more cursed and is replenished only through ritual cleansing at a holy site (at a cost). And the cursed die changes sizes based on your points. It's cool.
So, what's not to like. Well, I do have a small reservation about two things: 1) having both + and advantage mechanics in the same system and 2) having difficulties that exceed 10 when 10 is a success. (What does it mean if you get an 11, but the difficulty is a 12? Did you get a mixed success, as in a 9?) But beyond questions like that, everything about this game just sings to me. It looks fantastic.
BTW, the art, font-choices, and design sensibility are all wonderful as well. The character sheet is really attractive and makes the curse mechanic much easier to grok.