I have written before on Tetsubo, Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson’s WFRP supplement covering the far-eastern realm of Yamato. It was never published by GW, though its authors did subsequently make some of its content available. In the last week, however, Grim and Perilous Studios have announced that they will be developing a version of Tetsubo for their Zweihänder system. The lead designer, Daniel Fox, was kind enough to let me interview him about his plans.
What was it about Tetsubo that attracted your interest?
As a fan of samurai cinema (Hideo Gosha, Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Misumi) and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I have always been intrigued by the mystery of Tetsubo. As an eager reader, I’ve read through the draft several times, eager to do something with it. While writing Zweihänder, I had even thought to include a few ‘taster’ Professions to gauge community interest in a Japanese-inspired supplement (and to use it to tee up a conversation later with Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson). The Profession never came to be, however, as I pivoted towards Dark Astral. But I kept returning to the original script, wanting to do something with it.
My career is in digital marketing and business development, while my hobby is in tabletop game design. As such, I look for opportunity, long-play strategy and what could be fun to play. That’s what drove me to write Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG and Main Gauche, as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was dying on the vine at the time both Zweihänder and Main Gauche were conceived. I feel there is a clear gap in the tabletop role-playing game market for Japanese low fantasy gaming. And, as both Zweihänder and Tetsubo were written with WFRP in mind, the marriage of the two properties seems obvious. A brief exchange with Graeme Davis led me to Dave and Jamie. Following ENnies season, we finally spoke over the phone. I walked away from our first meeting with a feeling of excitement, and it seemed to be shared by both Dave and Jamie, too. It didn’t take long for us to work out the licensing details – and now, here we are!
To what extent will the original authors, Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, be involved in the writing?
Dave and Jamie will act as consultants on the project. Within their roles, new material will be vetted against them to ensure we’ve honored the spirit of the original work. In addition, we have a daily dialogue going where we talk about themes (eg periods that the game should be set in), new ideas and artwork (as many saw in Ken Duquet’s Toshiro Mifune-inspired illustration). My job is to ensure that the Grim & Perilous Studios team honors Dave and Jamie’s original vision, brings it up to speed with fresh material and to bolt it onto the elegant Zweihänder d100 system. Dave and Jamie are the ultimate arbiters, however; that which doesn’t fit their vision gets reworked, or discarded in extreme cases.
A large part of the original draft of Tetsubo was made public by the authors. How much of this do you plan to use? What unpublished material have you been able to draw on?
We plan to use most of what has been written, but there’s going to be brain steering exercises with the team to bind everything together through the lens of grim & perilous role-playing. It’s going to require a ton of content auditing, particularly when we look at all the unpublished material Dave has dug out for us from his attic (seriously). There’s over 200+ pages sitting on my desk now I have yet to even dig through yet. In fact, one of our content editors is planning to use a platform called GatherContent to help parse through all the material. It’s a big job that will take us at least 3 months to comb through.
Will you be composing a lot of new material?
Absolutely! Most of our work will be backfilling the Zweihänder d100 ruleset into the work, while stripping out that which is unneeded (decoupling WFRP). But here will be a lot of light to medium lifting for backing in new rulesets to fit the themes of the game. For instance, we are looking at the Order & Chaos Track currently, and turning it into an Honor/Dishonor system with Shame replacing Corruption. Some rules will need to be built bespoke to fit the spirit of the work, whereas others will simply bolt-on modularly. We also intend to blow out all of the careers, and to create a number of new Professions to really give that low fantasy feel fans of Zweihänder have come to expect. Fortunately, the Zweihänder d100 system is well-tested, with 5 years of playtesting under its belt. Finally, we want to provide ways to play in different eras of Japanese history, but also provide enough guidance for a GM to make their own version of fantasy “not-Japan”. Similar to how we approached European history in Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG, Tetsubo Grim & Perilous RPG will be settings-agnostic to some degree.
The original draft for the most part followed Japanese culture, folklore and history quite closely. How closely will the new edition follow those influences? Will it include other Asian influences? Will it incorporate western influences, such as elements of Zweihänder?
There are a lot of lessons to be learned about Bushido RPG and Legend of the Five Rings; both good and bad. Our intention is to have this focused on Japan-only, with the Sengoku period being our assumed era of inspiration. Tetsubo Grim & Perilous RPG will be intently focused on feudal Japanese culture; we are not taking a kitchen sink approach. Mostly, the game needs to be fun – it won’t feel like a history book, nor will it feel like a work of pure Orientalism. For those who have read Zweihänder, you kinda know what to expect in the work – dark humor, pop culture references but with serious undertones. And brimming with artwork!
We are also consulting with a few folks who live in Japan or are Japanese to help shape the right tone and feel. Without going too off on a tangent, I have lain three rules of the road with the Grim & Perilous Studios team: 1) avoid Orientalism, 2) avoid exoticism of a ‘mysterious East’ in the writing and 3) try our best to avoid cultural appropriation. If you look to Chris Spivey’s Harlem Unbound, there are many sections throughout the book that speaks to playing an African American person and how to avoid appropriation as a non-African American role-player. We intend to take the same approach, guided by powerful tabletop design voices in the Canadian-Asian and Japanese community to help communicate these principles. The principles will be a role-playing guide, and not intended to ratchet down on what is the right way/wrong way to play.
Will the new Tetsubo be a standalone game or will it require a copy of Zweihänder to run it?
We are debating whether to make it an expansion or a stand-alone book. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. We anticipate having an answer to this question after our project kick-off this weekend.
Do you have any plans to publish Tetsubo adventures or campaigns?
We do envision turning this into a fully-fledged product line. We have the license for 5 years, so there’s a lot of room to explore and expand upon the core book.
Do you have any idea yet when the new Tetsubo is likely to be finished?
Our goal is to have it in market by Q4 2019. There’s a long road ahead of us, and we’re only getting started! Casting is our focus right now, as we are locking in the right people for writing, design, development and editing. We’ve got 95% of our team lined up, with a few bench warmers we’re speaking to to take on a larger role this time around.
We will be sneaking out previews as time allows in preparation for our Kickstarter, which we intend to launch after US tax season. Otherwise, you can follow our progress at https://grimandperilous.com, on Twitter @ZweihanderRPG and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/grimandperilous. Please help us spread the word on social media using #ZweihanderRPG, #TetsuboRPG and #GrimAndPerilous.
Many thanks to Daniel for agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing his plans for Tetsubo.
Title art by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Internal art by Ken Duquet. Used with permission.