Ah, finally a review that leans into both my lifelong hobbies: anime and tablet RPGs (or TRPGs in short). I’m always curious to see what happens when the two worlds entwine, but beyond my personal interest, this being an official English release of a Japanese TRPG already makes it worth checking out on its own. Though it’s pretty common for video games from other languages/regions to receive official English translations, the same cannot be said of tablet games. Japanese language TRPGs with official English releases are few and far between – with Tenra Bansho Zero’s 2013 Kickstarter likely being the most prominent example. So I was excited to pick this up if for no other reason than to encourage future translations of tabletop titles (fingers crossed for a release of Sword World one of these days…).
I won’t go too in-depth into KONOSUBA As I’m sure most reading this are already quite familiar with the series. But in brief, KONOSUBA is a story about a young man named Kazuma Sato who dies and is reincarnated into an alternate fantasy world. Forming a party with the goddess Aqua, the wizard Megumin, and the crusader Darkness, Kazuma and Co. Embark on quests, fight giant monsters, and generally get into wacky situations. It’s an action-comedy romp that revels in the tropes of many modern RPG games, which of course makes TRPG a natural fit.
In terms of gameplay, this TRPG boasts a very straightforward system. Most actions are resolved by rolling 2d6 and adding them together, usually with a modifier based on an attribute. You try to meet or beat a target number against passive opposition (such as picking a lock or trying to listen through a wall) or try to beat an opposition roll against active opposition (such as trying to attack an opponent). Additional d6s can be added to the pool via abilities – most commonly the expenditure of Blessings, the game’s Luck mechanic – and they are also added to the total. If any two dice show 6s that makes for a critical (regardless of how many dice were rolled), and you get a fumble if all the dice show 1s. This makes spending Blessings a way to fish for criticals and lower chances of fumbles at the same time. The use of d6s rather than d20s and other polyhedral dice may shock some readers since the d20 is almost synonymous with the hobby, but it is not completely unheard of, and the “odd” polyhedral dice can be expensive to purchase and difficult to find in regions outside the US. 2d6 rolls also tend to be more forgiving and consistent compared to the d20 which is notoriously “swingy” in turns of the table feel.
Characters are defined by their race, class, and origin. This is likely a familiar framework if you have any experience with other fantasy TRPGs, but there are some fun twists here. First of all, while the way race is handled can be a thorny issue in many RPGs, I like the KONOSUBA TRPG’s approach. The three races presented are Reincarnated Person, Native Inhabitant, and Crimson Magic Clan. It’s simple and functional, allowing for some variety in character creation while largely avoiding some of the more negative tropes associated with race in RPGs.
Classes are largely what you would expect. There are warriors, thieves, wizards, and the like, as well as advanced classes that can be taken down the road as your character levels up. Classes are defined by the list of Skills that they can take, which are less similar to skills in games like D&D (which are usually modifiers to certain in-world mundane actions, like Stealth or Athletics) and more analogous to what would be considered powers or spells. The KONOSUBA TRPG’s skills can range from a wizard’s fireball to a priest’s healing to a warrior covering a friend from damage; Like its source material, the skill system is clearly inspired by MMORPGs which often gives all classes a suite of powers that operate more or less in the same space. Each skill is a discreet little block of text, much like a spell list might be in other games, with listed timing for when to use it, effects, cost in mana or MP, etc. In this way it is actually somewhat similar to the 4th edition of D&Dwhich was also criticized of being too MMO-like (though, for my money, it was also a terrific game).
Origins, Blessings, and Cheats round out the player characters. Origins are basically simple story-bits that help you find out how you got to where you are and what your long-term goal might be. Blessings are essentially a fate or reroll mechanic, where you have a pool of extra dice to add to rolls (or you can spend them to reroll checks entirely). Cheats are a special optional rule that has lots of tantalizing benefits and drawbacks that can be quite flavorful, but the game makes it clear that those wanting a more grounded experience might not want to use them as they can break things wide open. Personally, I found the Cheats quite charming and in line with the flavor of the show, and while the game can be played without them, I imagine most fans of the series will want to use them.
Combat is pretty straightforward and obviously where the meat of the rules are focused. Characters act in order of initiative based on Action Points (which is a flat initiative value and not, in fact, a pool of points that are spent). They get a move, minor, and major action, which are spent for the round once they act. Distances are abstracted and measured in “engagements” similar to zones from other games. Characters who are close to one another are in an Engagement and generally feels similar to most fantasy TRPGs that have concepts like attacks of opportunity, zones of control, etc. Other RPG strategies like taking cover, taking hits for other party members, or allowing warriors to tank and pull aggro are also implemented. If you’ve played any fantasy RPG of the past few decades, you’ll likely feel right at home with the basics.
As such, the KONOSUBA TRPG is largely what I would consider a traditional tabletop game, heavily leaning into the gamist and simulationist spaces of game design. There is not a whole lot in the way of manipulation of narrative beyond Blessings and Cheats, and players familiar with RPGs (of tablet or video game variety) will probably feel right at home. It also lacks a lot of the overt story-centric focus of games like Fat, Powered by the Apocalypse titles, or Forged in the Dark games. It’s a small, light, comfortable little game.
But that’s not to say it isn’t without its fun flourishes. For example, when handing out XP at the end of a session, even the gamemaster earns experience points. This is then applied to whatever characters the gamemaster has, with the understanding that in future sessions someone else will run and they will get to play their character who has been quietly leveling up in the background. The implication is that there will be some rotation of GM-ing responsibilities within the same campaign; not completely unheard of, but certainly not the norm at most tables I have been at. Still, I like that this is baked into the core rules and there’s a sense that even the GM is making progress week to week, something which is often left out of most games.
This translates to the reading of the book as well. The game is north of 300 pages; it is an easy, digest-sized read jam-packed with an example adventure, plenty of pre-made adventure hooks, a touch of background information, full monster bestiary and trap list, gamemastering advice, and more. That said, there are some elements which may cause hang-ups, most prominently the opening replay. A replay – also known as an actual play – as the opener to the book, where we get a serves a detailed account of a game session guest star player characters. This group includes Natsumi Akatsuki, the creator of the original light novel series. We get detailed writeups on each of the characters, full custom art for them, and the full transcription of their adventure. While most modern TRPGs include a few pages of example text from a session to give a sense of the tempo of the game, these tend to be brief. In KONOSUBA‘s case, however, we get a complete session that comprises 80+ pages; In other words, 25% of the book is dedicated to someone else’s session, and while players new to TRPG may appreciate such an inclusion, I’m not sure it’s worth the space it takes up (especially when recordings of real play sessions are easily accessible online).
There are also a few readability issues to note. First off, the book is very affordable but that comes at the expense of production value. It is priced and formatted like a manga or light novel release in paperback – there are a few color pages early on, but it is largely black and white print on middling quality paper. The layout and usability is also a bit of a mess. While everything flows pretty logically as you read, it is very difficult to reference concepts. In making a character and testing the mechanics I found myself flipping around the book constantly, and while there are some reference sheets, just remembering where everything is placed in the book can be a challenge. Then again, the book is cheap enough that you could probably grab multiple copies for your table and mark them up for easy reference.
I have to make a particular note about the digital version of the book, too. An affordable pdf version is available on BookWalker (roughly $8.00 USD at the time of this writing), but as with the physical release, the quality leaves much to be desired. For one, the scan at the time of this writing is atrocious. It’s so low res that trying to zoom in even slightly on a mobile device will strain your eyes. Furthermore, there’s no bookmarking or any of the other modern conveniences we’ve come to enjoy from modern TRPG pdf releases in recent years. Sure it is cheap, and looks fine on a regular monitor, but most players (in my experience) like to have a PDF on a phone or tablet in addition to a physical book at the table, which allows the to individually look up rules while someone else is using the physical book. Simply put, I don’t think the pdf is legible for that use due to how low-quality the scan is at this time, and that makes its utility next to zero.
The issue of complexity is also one to mention. In my experience, lighter games are great for new players and/or shorter campaigns and one-shots. The more complex the game, the more support there tends to be for long-term play. The KONOSUBA TRPG has breadth for sure but not a terrible amount of depth, and the mechanics can feel repetitive after a few sessions. Certainly things like changing class or gaining an advanced class may keep things fresh, but I can easily see players falling into patterns of using the same skills over and over without much variety.
That said, simplicity lends to expandability, and many early, simple games like white box D&D flourished because people were constantly homebrewing new rules, spells, and ideas into the very basic framework the game provided. Any GM or player willing to put in a bit of time with the KONOSUBA TRPG could likely generate tons of new skills and abilities, or fun sub-systems for domain management, running a business, entirely new classes, and more. There’s also plenty of design space to come up with creative uses for Blessings or new Cheats to create that much-needed variety long-term play often requires. And though it is a fairly generic fantasy RPG in most respects, that makes it very easy to port over adventures or ideas from the plethora of other fantasy games on the market.
Overall, this is a terrific little gem that I think will please most KONOSUBA fans. While it is a simple little game, I think that like its source material there is just enough charm to make it a fun experience for at least a few sessions – and with a bit of work, perhaps many more.