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Ninja: A Primer

October 1, 2008

I have been working on a number of projects. Here is one of them: The Primer for Ninja. This is the game that will be in the 12° Cookbook.

Chapter 1: Basics


The word has power. What power? To spark the imagination. It echoes down darken alleys, where men and women, shrouded in shadows, enter buildings thought secure, in order to kill a target, or steal an item of great value. The word “ninja” conjures clouds of spinning metal stars. It is a word hinting at coolness and cold cunning. It is a word of mystery. It is a word of death.


For a group supposedly not existing, a lot is sure known about them.

Ninja, besides sparking the imagination, captures it, instilling a sense of wonder. Why this is the case is very simple—Ninja are freaking cool.

Think about it.

Ninja: masters of subterfuge.

Ninja: masters of arts allowing them to walk on water, kill a person with a single touch, and sneak into any room unnoticed. Ninjas have existed in the culture for a long time. For me, they seem to have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From Frank Miller’s depiction of the Hand in Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, to the high-strung antics of Naruto, and even in the over the top humor of Ask A Ninja, there exist numerous depictions of ninjas.

Growing up in the 1980’s (I realize this makes me old, but so be it) many things existed that captured a kid’s imagination. For this kid, it was ninjas. From my fist viewing of Enter the Ninja to the endless reading and memorization of The Palladium Book of Weapons and Assassins I was dazzled by the black clad shadow hiding master of subterfuge and death. As this kid of the 80s grew into the designer he is today, the love affair with ninjas is as strong as ever.

Ninja is the game I wish existed when I was a kid. It is filled with ideas and concepts that would have lead me to play it endlessly. It is the game I tried to create with the games I had at my disposal in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the game systems I had to choose from where not conducive to what I wanted. It also did not help that I was not the designer I am now.

To steal a phrase my friend, and business partner, James Maliszewski, Ninja is a love letter to days of youth long past. It is a blanket I cover myself with when I watched Shô Kosugi films. More importantly it is the love letter to Basilisk, Ninja Scroll, Naruto, Lone Wolf & Cub, Samurai Assassin, Frank Miller, Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Chris Claremont, the Yoshidai Brothers, Planet Asia, Hip Hop, Erick Wujcik The Godfather I & II, The Tough Alliance, and Hirasawa Susumu. Ninja is influenced by all of this. Ninja is all about fun.

The Game

Ninja is a game influenced by magna, anime, myth and popular culture. It is set in a world similar to ours; but not our world. Drawing inspiration from the mythology of ninjas, Ninja is about over the top action, amazing abilities, duty to clan and honor to family. All of this has a cool Hip Hop beat thumping in the background.

As a player

As a player you create a character who is a member of a ninja family. As a ninja, you also belong to a clan, and all the other players belong to the same clan as you. As members of the same clan, you and your fellow ninja work for the clans as well as defined it from harm.

As your ninja gains in experience, they become more skilled. The more skilled they become, the more dangerous the missions they will be assigned to are. While on a mission you might have conflicting goals due to your family. You might take it upon yourself to ensure a rival loses face and honor. You might choose to go against the wishes of your family and come to the aid of rival because doing so ensures the survival of the clan. These are just some of the possibilities you face as a player.

As a ninja you have many possibilities in front of you. You might be hired to undertake a mission to guard an important businessman. Or, you might be assigned by your clan to bring an enemy to justice. Some missions might not be this grand, instead they might be personal. Though the clan your ninja belongs to is important, your family is even more so. Your family honor sometimes comes first. It is this honor, which often sees you in conflict with your fellow players.

Ninja is about drama. In that, your ninja is more than a collection of powers and abilities. They have their own likes and dislikes. They also have their own history which often times come back to haunt them. As a ninja there are numerous opportunities to make enemies, gain friends or gain renown. All of this impacts on the potential for adventure. More importantly, as a player you must always ask yourself one simple question: What comes first? Clan or family? It is how you answer this question, that impacts the life of your ninja.

As the GM

So what does the Game Master (GM) do? Everything.

Your job is harder than the player’s, where they create one character; it is your job to create a cast of thousands. This cast is designed to aid or harm the players. They serve roles as informants, enemies, victims, targets and clients. They react and act against the players. They pass along needed information, or obscure vital information. Besides this cast, it is your job to create the missions the player’s ninjas undertake. You devise the mission goals, the opponents needed to be overcome, and the ramifications for succeeding or failing the mission. You also act as the referee ensuring the rules are no so much followed, but understood. You decide when to enforce them, when to bend them and when to apply them. More importantly you keep everything in balance. By that, you make sure each player has a chance to shine, and each player knows the risks and consequences of their actions.

Scared? Don’t be. GMing is fun and rewarding. You know all the secrets, and you know all the plots and schemes the players. Even though you know this, part of the fun of being the GM is seeing how events play out. GMing has two rules, and these two rules are the key to not only Ninja, but to all roleplaying games. Knowing these rules will make everything easier.

So what are the rules?

Rule 1: Have fun.

Simple, I know, but truthfully very important. If you are not having fun, neither are the players. For example, a player wants to perform numerous actions to try to succeed at a given task. Many of these actions are not covered by the rules, and play is being slowed down by endless arguments. This is not fun for you to have play bogged down like this. If it is not fun for you, you can be assured that it is not fun for the bystanders. In cases like this let it go. Roll the dice; move the action along, anything other than continue the disagreements.

Rule 2: When in doubt go with your gut.

To put it simply when faced with a question, go with your first reaction, often it is the correct way to go. In the example above, if your gut tells you the actions the player wants to take has a +10 TN, then go with it.

Ninja is a game and it should be fun. If the players do something unexpected, don’t panic. Roll with it and see what happens.

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