The greatest journey is the one that takes you home.
Tokugawa Japan. Shimotsuki, the month of frosts. Koyasan, the sacred mountain. Five pilgrims, five secrets, one impossible destination.
Storm wind on mountain
wander nameless traveller;
winter’s first snow.
An eternal tale of ghosts and lovers, shared with simplicity and restraint. Encounters with obake and yurei, blessings of the Pure Land, mysteries of the suffering heart.
Kwaidan: Transformations of Moonlight on Snow
Genre/setting: Ghost story / mystery / romance set in late medieval Japan.
Rating: MA (explicit sexuality, adult concepts, mild horror, wasabe).
Game Ratings (out of 5):
Genre: 4.5. (A basic knowledge of Japanese culture may be an advantage. Watching anime or Ringu counts.)
Rules knowledge: 0. Systemless. Simple storytelling games will feature as part of the module.
An itinerant merchant with a ready eye for opportunities in both trade and women, Koyosuke deals in paper and ‘grass pamphlets’ (cheap books) between Osaka and Mount Koya. He is a worshipper (of sorts) of Inari the fox god.
Once a destitute ronin, tortured by loyalty to his disbanded clan and the loss of his beloved lord, Shiki now seeks enlightenment as a wandering zen monk (komuso), a protector of pilgrims. He is returning to the lands of his birth after years of exile.
‘Kwaidan is a storytelling module: characters may have secrets, but players do not. Also, Kwaidan is a module that rewards a little prior preparation. All intending players should read Turning Japanese: A Gamer’s Guide to Bluffing Your Way Through a Japanese Ghost Story.
‘Turning Japanese ‘ is a short essay that asks some questions about the difference between a Japanese story and a story merely set in Japan, explores a little of the module’s cultural and historical background, and makes a few suggestions as to how Kwaidan might be most effectively run. By the end, you’ll be able to bluff your way through a Japanese module confidently and with as much ease as your GM (who, trust me, is also bluffing it.)
Don’t worry about all the background names and details: they’re there for colour, but do think about the suggestions for playing the game offered. Then make them your own.
Character sketches are adapted from the art of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi . Title art, ‘Woman of the Snow’, is by John Hughes.