Review of Rifts: Japan
Overall this book has excellent potential, but fails to carry through with that potential. This does seem to be a common problem with both Kevin Siembieada and Erick Wujcik's work, which is unfortunate since both have excellent ideas. On a scale of one to ten, I give this book a four.
Page 12, Mount Fuji visible from Kyoto and in the area claimed by the New Empire: Kevin Siembieada should dig out a map and brush up on his geography. Mt Fuji, according to the map in Rifts: Japan, would be located east of the large island south of underwater Tokyo, the northernmost mountain on the coast of the peninsula. Putting it both far outside the New Empire, and out of sight of Kyoto. (It's in Toshiie on the map on page 16.)
Shogunates are not the provinces of Japan. They would most likely be considered Han. This is especially true when Daimyo control the provinces, and the Shogun is the overall military commander.
Page 14. Kev mistakes the reason eta are discriminated against. Eta did the unclean jobs such as handling corpses and so forth. Since Shinto stresses purity as one of the virtues of a person, these jobs would not be done by any Shintoist, hence the eta perform them, allowing the higher castes to not be troubled by these unclean tasks. They did not, contrary to what Kev states, find these jobs disgusting or beneath them.
The problem with the samurai's supposed power over the eta, is that contact with eta would be considered unclean, and as such, undesirable. Kev should read up more on shintoism and the Japanese caste system. (i.e. while killing an eta would be fine, raping one wouldn't)
Clarification of the caste positions between farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. Historically, farmers were the highest peasant caste, whereas craftsmen and merchants were of a lower caste. The vaguely worded positioning given by Kevin doesn't clarify whether this is the case in the New Empire, leading to confusion.
Page 15, Ninja. The whole ninja as peasants thing is so cliche and wrong that it isn't even funny.
Doctors, again, contrary to what Kev states, are actually part of the craftsmen caste. This puts them above merchants, but below farmers traditionally.
Yes, religious personages are somewhat separate from the caste system, falling between the peasant castes and samurai. Not part of the peasant castes as Kev states.
Page 17, OK, the maps clearly show Takamatsu as covering the northern part of Shikoku, yet the population breakdown of Shikoku states that, "the rest live in scattered villages, farms, and fishing villages along the southern half of Shikoku Island."
Page 18, General note: 'Ichto' is not a Japanese word as the 'cht' combination does not exist in Japanese.
Overall view of the many different kingdoms and nations of Rifts: Japan.
Basically the ideas behind these are sound and quite good, the continual conflict and mixing of technology and magic, demon kingdoms, corrupt corporations, and so forth is the best idea for Rifts: Japan. This clearly earns the book a nice score as far as Rifts books go. Small notes with lots of detail give a vivid picture of the chaotic atmosphere, providing GMs with plenty of background and room for lots of adventure potential.
Overall view of the areas surrounding Japan.
In general, this is good coverage, the right mix of rumor and truth to give a good idea of how the Japanese view their neighboring areas. One thing of note however, again Kevin should have been paying attention, as there was no US naval base at Subic Bay when the book was written, much less afterwards.
Page 28, Fairly accurate depiction of the Shinto view on a Millennium Tree, with one exception. Kevin calls himorogi "Sacred Tree" which shows more poor research, as a himorogi is actually a type of early Shinto shrine:
Kanji 1: kami: (n) god/(P)
Kanji 2: tamagaki: (n) fence around a shrine
A type of shintai (An object of worship in which the spirit of a deity is believed to reside. A symbol or medium of the spirit of a deity. The word shintai (or goshintai) is the Sino-Japanese term for mitamashiro.), believed to be the primitive form of the [Himorogi] Shinto shrine. A plot of unpolluted land is chosen, and a sacred seat erected, surrounded by evergreens. Today it has been abbreviated to an area of a purified floor, where straw mats are spread out and eight-legged tables (hassokuan) are set up; in the center a branch of the sacred sakaki tree is set erected and yu (stringy fibers of a tree, about a foot in length) and shide (zig-zag strips of paper) are strung on it.
Picture of a Himorogi
Kudos to mongoose for spotting this little inconsistancy.
However, there's still that stupid note about Mt Fuji being visible from Kyoto. (This recurring and detailed noting of this means that it isn't a typo, just really poor research.)
For myself, I'm still of mixed feelings about the existence of Millennium Trees in Japan. On one hand, shintoists did believe that trees contained kami. On the other hand this is just another cut and paste job of previously done material.
Page 37, Elemental Shuriken. These would be nice if CJ stuck to one philosophy of elements rather than mixing two different philosophies (Buddhist and Taoist).
TW Power Shuriken: How can this be a "Chinese techno-wizard item"? The Chinese didn't exactly use Shuriken (they did use a variety of throwing objects, but not shuriken), and if it's Chinese...who makes them and how did they get to Japan?
TW Fire-Breathing Arquebus: OK, first off, arquebuses were not, contrary to CJ's statement (bell-shaped, short-range shotguns). Those were Blunderbusses. Second, as a sort of side note, the Europeans did not introduce firearms to Japan, the Chinese had introduced them years before the Europeans arrived. The reason European firearms made such an impression on the Japanese was their increased quality compared to the Chinese models.
Page 38. Nunchakus...Japanese words don't have an added 's' at the end to pluralize, the cover both singular and multiple items in their original form.
Naginata. While Japanese women did employ naginata in combat, contrary to popular belief, it was not a primarily female weapon.
Katana and Wakizashi as Rune Swords. This was one of the worst ideas that crept into the book. These swords should not have been rune weapons at all, another type of magic sword would have worked much better and made more sense. Any sort of lame justification about them balancing the power of the Oni is obviously a cop-out as it doesn't hold true.
Page 41 Fans...as there were several types of fans in use in Japan, it would be nice to know what type of fans were being used.
Pages 38 and 41 Use of nori/nari as "flute" I have no idea where Kev got this word, or how he's attempting to use it.
Page 43: Tattoos of Strength. Many may disagree with this, however clearly not linking it to Splugorth Tattoo magic is an excellent idea, retaining the originality of both these tattoos and Splugorth Tattoo magic.
Page 44: Ok, first off, I'd like to point out that I whole-heartedly disagree with the New Empire Bushido Code. I give them points for differentiating it from the traditional Bushido code, yet detract points for many of their non-Japanese ideas as part of the code.
Gorin: 4: Senpai's: Senpai are juniors, Kohai are seniors, not Senpai are juniors & seniors. Geez Kevin, watch Rising Sun sometime.
Gorin overall. This whole list should be completely changed as it doesn't really reflect any sort of hierarchical ranking at all. A revised table would look like this:
1.Emperor (As direct representative of the kami, the kami themselves would (for the heavenly kami) be above the Emperor or below the Emperor (for earthly kami).
2. Shogun and Daimyo (since these are somewhat equal in the New Empire Hierarchy, they would be grouped here. The samurai's own Daimyo would fall immediately after the Shogun, with the other provincial Daimyo coming next.)
3. Elder relatives (father, grandfather, mother, grandmother, etc.)
4. The samurai's own teachers and instructors
5. Kohai: Other samurai, important personages and so forth that are senior, older, or higher ranking than the samurai.
5. Friends-peers & equals
6. Senpai: Everyone junior to the samurai. This includes, at the lowest levels of classification, peasants and even eta.
Folding swords-contrary to popular belief, the samurai swords were not folded hundreds and thousands of times, they were typically folded from ten to twenty times. Folding the swords as many times as Kev lists would make the swords almost useless as combat weapons.
Page 47: Ah yes, the missing P.P.E. cost for the Chi MD Death Blow...I'm still trying to find a solid answer on this one. (As I've seen both 2D6 and 3D6 listed for the Paladin's Demon Death Blow, a supposedly equivalent power.)
W.P. "Iron" fan...I love how they always substitute iron for the usually more accurate (as in this case) steel. Of course I'd also like to know what type of fan these are supposed to be...see earlier note about fans above.
Zanji-Shinjinken Ryo-at least the gross mistake of "Ryo" was fixed in later printings and the RGMG.
Level Advancement Bonuses and initial techniques..the first level bonuses and techniques really need to be in the same place instead of divided between the bold text paragraph above bonuses, and the level one advancement bonuses.
Level 12, Sorry, but there's no way that a samurai's martial art is going to teach them how to make swords, much less the caste limitations, since sword smiths were of the craftsmen caste. (Not too mention that Japanese sword making, especially of the caliber described (barely) in Rifts: Japan requires the work of masters (yes, more than one, the sword smith didn't do all the work himself, he just made the blade and fitted the product together, other craftsmen handled the fittings, and more importantly the polishing (a separate and equally demanding craft).)
Overall note on P.P.E. and Rifts: Japan. While for game balance and playability the substitution of Chi for P.P.E. makes sense, it doesn't make sense in terms of how P.P.E. or Chi work. This is one of the big problems with Rifts: Japan, the sacrifice of game concepts for ease of playability.
Page 48. Samurai background table and family skills tables
Giving Samurai backgrounds in entertainment, medicine, and science totally screws up the caste system (though since medicine is somewhat outside Kev's caste system, it would work...however sciences don't really work (these guys are anti-techies with science skills....that's a stretch of plausibility).
Page 49. Contrary to what Kevin states, Ronin did have status in the Japanese caste society. They were considered the lowest class of samurai... above Ashigaru (peasant soldiers) though somewhat above or below Jisamurai (samurai farmers-what a lot of the samurai in Rifts: Japan seem to be...this class was abolished by Hideyoshi Toyotomi after he took control of Japan resulting in a more rigid stratification of the castes...to prevent other samurai farmers from challenging his own position (since he was a Jisamurai himself)).
Page 51. Woo Hoo, more common ninja myths. Where to start. Well, first off, the edicts against carrying weapons were primarily instituted by Toyotomi (big surprise, I know...the guy was a paranoid if you ask me), though some Daimyo did institute edicts of this type in their domains before Toyotomi came to power. Second, the common myth of ninja evolving weapons and techniques as a result of these weapon edicts isn't accurate either. Nor is the image of ninja being originally peasants who decided to take up arms (many ninja clans and schools were in fact created by samurai!). Several things should be said to clear this up. First, the ninja evolved several new techniques to protect themselves, and used improvised and new weapons for shock factor and functionality of the weapons. Second the whole peasants improvising arms comes from the Japanese occupation of the Ryukyu islands in the 17th century (and subsequently forbidding weapons to the natives).
Next, let's move on to the whole peasants with weapons thing. Before Toyotomi's edicts against peasant weapons, many peasants had weapons. The proliferation of Jisamurai and Ashigaru, especially during turbulent periods (like the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in which Toyotomi achieved power) meant that peasants often had weapons, and were even taught to use them in many situations.
Of course, since many ninja clans and schools were created by samurai (among others), this means that they're techniques weren't specifically designed to counter the 'might of the samurai.' As for no formal ties holding them to lords, well, yes many ninja groups were mercenaries, employed much like ronin (though not ashigaru, as these were typically impressed levies with little training). However, other ninja groups did indeed serve specific lords...a good case in point is the employment of the Iga Ninja by the Tokugawa Shoguns during the Tokugawa period of Japan.
Page 52. Giving the Ninja both martial art powers (modified for Rifts and the P.P.E. system) and psionics seems like a singularly bad idea.
Page 53. Again, like Zanji, Ninjutsu (I'm surprised it was spelled correctly given EW's known problems in that area) should have all the level one techniques and bonuses listed in the same place.
Page 55. As Zen is a form of Buddhism, listing it separately from Buddhism is superfluous.
Contrary to the statement, Sohei were not Shinto priests, but Buddhist monks.
The large two handed sword (mislabeled as a 'daito') should be a No-Daichi. Bisento are polearms not spears.
Chi-Gung: Woo, having trouble keeping their story straight yet once again. This description clearly lists Chi as "inner spirit" and P.P.E. as "mysticism." (Which has to make one wonder how all those Double P.P.E. (inner spirit) level advancement bonuses crept into the book.)
Page 56. Again, another O.C.C. with both martial art powers and psionics. Of course since P.P.E. is typically used up developing psychic powers, one has to wonder how these guys get all these good powers (both high levels of P.P.E. and I.S.P.).
Page 58. Again, the incorrect note about Sohei being Shinto instead of Buddhist.
Page 61.Sohei, whoc can be any alignment, start off with HTH: Jujitsu, which can't be selected by principled (20% of Sohei) or aberrant (15% of sohei) alignments. Special thanks to Schizy for noticing this problem.
Page 61. Actually, contrary to the statement, Yamabushi had a quite distinctive costume.
Yamabushi in general. With all those appropriate and interesting nature powers, it's curious that their ties to taoism aren't mentioned.
Page 64. Another mix with the Demon Queller, now we get magic and martial art powers.
General note: Reprinting the Meditation skill several different times (along with many of the other temple skills from N&S) is ridiculously superfluous. Quit wasting space with cut and paste Kevin!
Page 66. A couple of interesting notes. There were several types of tengu, heck the picture on page 67 depicts two different tengu (The humanoid one is a Daitengu, and the bird one is a Karasu Tengu). The Chinese T'ien Kou were partly responsible for the tengu mythology, not as foes, but as the same basic creature.
Page 68. One of those types of tengu gets mentioned here, the Kurama tengu, those inhabiting Mt. Kurama are one of many types of tengu.
Page 70. Another tie between the BTS game world and the Rifts game world...I wish Kevin would make up his mind on whether or not BTS and Rifts are the same world or not.
Republic of Japan general note: Many people have wondered about the US military base at Iwakuni...Kevin, probably doesn't even know it exists. (Although it would explain the existence of Glitter Boys and SAMAS in Japan...another thing that many people disliked.)
Page 74. "The Republic of Japan (and Ichto) possesses the highest level of technology on Earth!" Boy does this statement cause problems. First off, it means that no other books following Rifts: Japan can have tech higher than that of Rifts: Japan (clearly not the case) and that their technology should be superior in most cases to everyone else.
Page 76. "The widespread use of Glitter Boys by the Japanese army far surpasses that of any other organization in the world!" Look out Free Quebec! (Though if those FQ numbers are accurate, what does that say about the number of GBs in Japan?)
Ninja note: (Hey, I'll probably be doing a lot of these) Mystic Ninja, Tech Ninja, Ninja Juicer, Ninja Crazy, Ninja 'Borg, and Ninja-Techno Wizard.
OK, enough is enough, I could see different types of ninja, and some of these even make sense (The Mystic Ninja, a classic/mystical version, The Tech Ninja, the ROJ's answer to people seeking to emulate ninja, and the Ninja Juicer, H-Brand's attempt at creating a super ninja). Others however are completely out of place and shouldn't have been included at all (Ninja Crazy-Unlike the Ninja Juicer, which we could see H-Brand creating, the Ninja Crazy just doesn't work, the Ninja 'Borg-This has got to be a joke...a ninja with cybernetics to help them I can see, but a bionic ninja, it doesn't work, Ninja TW-This class had absolutely no place in Rifts: Japan, Techno-Wizardry shouldn't even have been included.)
Page 95 Other OCCs found in Japan.
Some of these inclusions made sense (for instance the Underseas stuff, the Chiang-ku (as one of the few oriental style dragons...especially interesting is a possible connection between them and the yakuza...someone had to come up with those tattoos), Kilin, Monsters; various from CB1, True Atlanteans, and the Temporal raiders and wizards.) Others, such as the Herbalist, European style dragons, and Splugorth really had no place in Japan.
Dragon Borgs. Personally I found these to be a cool addition, well within the Japanese mindset. Others may not like them, but I found them one of the most exciting parts of the book.
Page 111. You know it, you love it, the mention of the Palm Weapons Link that had no description contained within the book whatsoever (Not too mention being left out of Palladium's more recently released Rifts Bionics Sourcebook...after they were told they needed to include it when asking for input on their message boards).
Page 114. Here we get an explanation of how the Japanese have GBs and SAMAS , but I much prefer having the Iwakuni military base explanation.
Interesting little detail. There's a scant mention of "criminal organizations typically found in Nagasaki"which gives you a slight clue about what can be found (besides wilderness) in Kyushu.
Page 115. The explanation of credits as currency, somewhat useful.
Notes about laser weapons. We all know and love these little bits of info...one of those highly controversial things that somehow made it into this book.
Page 117-120. A reprint, with Rifts notes on various Japanese weapons. Aside from problems stemming from the original notes, a good and useful section.
Page 120-131 Japanese modern weapons. Aside from many bad pics (I feel that Breaux should never have been allowed to do artwork for this book as he fails to capture the feel of Japanese styling), an overall good section.
SAMAS and Glitter Boys, you either love or hate their inclusion, personally I didn't care either way.
Other Power Armors and Bots
Ones I liked: Power Spy, Ninja-Bot (for the humor factor), Tazu-Tengu PA, Super Tengu PA, Banshee bot, and Tatsu "Dragon" bot. These all had a Japanese feel to them (with the exception of the Power Spy, which I consider a good, general style PA).
Ones I hated: Everything else. These bots (especially their accompanying pics) didn't fit at all, and basically sucked. I don't know why they were included or who would use them (with the exception Wrecker and Destroyer bots, which would fit in great in North America, if done by someone like Chipwell).
I basically liked all the armor here, even though only the Infiltrator, Sumo, and Hiker body armors had any semi-Japanese styling.
A huge reprint of skills from Ninjas & Superspies with some new skills that should have appeared in N&S (especially those military skills).
Hand to Hand combat section
Another of the many reprints of N&S material, with some interesting twists. Of note are only two major things.
The quickie breakdown of these styles into hand to hand martial art styles. This made sense on so many levels and should be done with all the N&S martial art styles, which would subsequently replace the generic Hand to Hand: Martial Arts skill.
Note on Erick Wujcik's continual erroneous use of -jitsu instead of -jutsu. Both he and I clearly disagree on this issue, yet from a linguistic, martial arts, and historical standpoint he is wrong. In Japanese, the -jitsu suffix is not synonymous with -jutsu. -jutsu is the correct suffix.
Martial Art Powers. Many people hail this section as a much better conversion of the N&S Martial art powers than Conversion Book 1. I agree with one major exception. That damn P.P.E. instead of Chi BS. Sure it keeps Rifts simple, but totally bends the concepts of chi and P.P.E. out of shape. On the good side, unlike N&S's atrocious editing, the spelling of zenjoriki is consistent throughout the book. Considering PB's problems with editing, I consider this a minor triumph of sorts (of course equally balanced by the continual misspelling of Ryu in 'Zanji-Shinjinken Ryo').
Monsters of Japan
OK, I'll admit it, the Oni setup works for that anime demon feel Which is kind of cool (especially when combined with the LoD random monster table, Nightbane Morphus tables, and BTS/Rifts random monster tables). However, the total departure from the mythological oni (again another Japanese creature with several types and variations) really put me off. As for the Oni Mystic...can you say "We stole this from the Ogre Mage idea in Dungeons & Dragons"...of course you can.
Goblins...the standard, European version of the Goblin had no place in this book. Goblin Spiders, Sura-Kappa, Hannya, and Japanese Imps...a fair conversion of these mythological classics.
Japanese Dragons...I don't know where they came up with these critters, and I've seen over 350 different types of Japanese mythological creatures. Other than that, not bad, they've definitely got a Japanese feel, even if they aren't.
Experience Point Tables. At least they're in the book, in an easy to find location.
Appearance: This book looks great in general, several areas detract seriously from the book though.
Artwork: Awesome Zeleznik cover, Vince Martin excellently illustrates Japanese style. However, Wayne Breaux (who has since improved, and in all honesty, didn't do completely horrible work), Kevin Siembieda and RK Post should not have done art for this book. While Post comes close in some cases, overall none of the three really capture that Japanese feel which would make the book exceptional.
Structure: Aside from Palladium's problems with indexes, only one major thing detracts from the book...not having the world info, technology, and OCC material all found in the same location rather than scattered through the book.
Editing: Well, Palladium has never scored high in this section since they either have spelling problems, grammar problems, continuity problems with their other books, contradictory and vague rules or all four. Also, As you can see from my notes above, I found the general overall research of traditional Japan to be lacking.
Continuity: This book clearly doesn't fit in with the rest of Rifts: Earth, with little tie in possibility. Though it makes an excellent setting for playing in it's own area.