Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Origin of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninjas

I was reminded about the plethora of samurai in my old GURPS fantasy games yesterday by Jason Packer, and about how I'm responsible for ninjas looting dungeons.

It's no big secret that the origin of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja was endless successions of players* who asked, "Can I play a ninja?"

They always had this really creative back story - "I was expelled by my clan, so I fled the country, and now they're hunting me down." Which naturally led to "So I hang out with these adventurers and kill monsters to loot their bodies." Of course, what other plot would it lead to?

My answer was invariably, no. Just no. No you can't. I once answered something slightly less than "absolutely not" and one guy statted up his ninja before I even realized he took my answer as "absolutely yes." Guess what? He was exiled from his clan, see, and fled the country . . . yeah, he didn't get to run him.

I never liked that idea, even though it made a really bad TV series that I watched every episode of when I was a kid.

It's just that it was a pretty generic 80s ninja hero backstory. Plus it offloaded a lot of work on to me, the GM - make up the ninja clan, explain the kicking out bit, stat up ninja to send after the PC, determine when they would strike, etc. All to explain a PC who had shuriken and a ninja-to and wore black. The story - without the adventuring - would be a good one for a game, but in a straight fantasy game it would impede the basic aim of the game.

No ninjas, Mr. Ninja Book Author? Really?

But here I am, years later, with my name on a supplement that puts ninjas in dungeons.

I'll cop to doing that.

But I didn't allow for that backstory - not really.

That's the reason the ninja in DF12 are in a clan, and follow clan orders** and have a clan code. I so wanted to not suddenly allow, in print, the same goofy backstory I rejected so often. Beyond that, though, I also wanted to avoid the Enemy disadvantage (not part of canonical DF) and directly justify sacking dungeons. So that's the deal - they're assassins, but working for their clan, and looting dungeons (and/or killing specific targets in them) for the greater good of their ninja clan.

You get to use the cool gear, and wear black, and do awesome super-ninja stuff, too. Just without that terribly thin explanation of fleeing your clan right into the fellowship of dungeon looting delvers.

What about my current campaign?

As of right now, I haven't allowed ninja into my Felltower game. The original logic was it was a lot for people to read, and then digest, and then pester me with questions about. So I only put the much simpler assassin template down on the list. I haven't changed it because the world I defined is very old central/eastern European, so there aren't any handy ninja clans. But word might travel, if someone can convince me they need a ninja in my game. One word about hunted by your clan, though, and it's "choose any of the bargain henchmen templates!" for you!

And samurai? That'll be another post.

* Who I can name, in order, if necessary.

** which oddly yet conveniently, are "go into dungeons and kill monsters and take their stuff." It happens


  1. I had a player who liked to play East Asian-themed characters and would write up pages of backstory involving events nowhere near Greyhawk. Needless to say, it was pretty much irrelevant. So I'm glad to read that even in DF, someone thinks of all those backstories, in a way.

    How many rode a motorcycle and looked like Lorenzo Lamas, only cooler?

    1. Well in my current game only one guy has any real backstory. I've aggressively pushed it into the setting. But I'm talking ninja going all the way back to my D&D days. It's just easier to say "no one is hunting you, you get cool stuff from your clan, and you're supposed to be sacking dungeons." And then you just get on with it!

    2. Which one is the one with all the backstory? I'm embarrassed to say that I've read through all the adventure logs and I can't think of who it might be off the top of my head. Vryce has his vow but that doesn't seem strong enough. Maybe Galen?

    3. Honus has a solid backstory, and AFAIK he's the only one.

    4. Aaah okay that must be why I couldn't think of it. Honus' player isn't able to make it too frequently.

    5. His player is a doctor and lives two states away from us. It's surprising he can make it as often as he does!

      But this game is all about the old friend walk-ins, so it's totally fine that he plays when he can make it out to NJ.


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