This is the first and, to date, only full RPG with me as the primary author… though I’m hesitant to really call this ‘my creation’. I wrote all the words, except for the index of events in the back, but it’s Stan Sakai’s world and I just play there.
The way I got this job was, I’d done an internship for Fantagraphics comics when I was in college. In lieu of pay, I got a slew of books, including some nice Usagi Yojimbo collections. I was simply floored by what Sakai had done – creating something so intense, so dramatic, so pure… with bunnies and kitties. And samurai. Huh.
When I found out Mark Arsenault had the rights to do the game, I told him I wanted to write it. Well, that’s how I remember it anyhow. Mark might use the word ‘begged’ but I won’t quibble. I just had this feeling that being a huge Usagi fan would add some pep and spirit to the game translation. I think it did.
From a design perspective, I approached this game with several goals. One was to make fights work like they did in the comic, but at the same time have it be survivable for characters. The second was to have meaningful combat options. In a game set in feudal Japan, you know deadly force is going to be all over the place, all the time, so the fight mechanics have to work, and be fun, and keep your interest for a long time. In too many games, players optimize their characters for one sort of attack or maneuver, maybe with another as a fallback. If they’re successful, they win a lot… but it gets boring, because they win by doing the same thing over and over. In Usagi, I started with Rock, Paper, Scissors and translated them into combat maneuvers. They became Total Attack, Cautious Attack and Total Defense. Three basic moves is simple (and I also wanted this to be a simple game – an unstated goal was ‘the first game my kids could play’) but their interactions create complex outcomes… and you can’t afford to become predictable, because every move is vulnerable to another.
It worked out pretty well. The desire for meaningful combat choices has carried on throughout all my design work since, too.