“Maid” is an unusual RPG, which makes for an unusual interview. Rather than an original work, “Maid” is a Japanese role-playing game imported and translated for English-speaking audiences. Here is the description from the website.
Maid is an light comedy anime-themed tabletop role-playing game for three or more players. The very easy to learn rules-light system, complete with random events which drive the story forward, will have you playing the game with friends only fifteen minutes after opening the book. Maid is also the first ever Japanese role-playing game to be translated and released in English.
Today I present an interview with Ewen Cluney, the translator of this unusual game.
Trask: Could you give me some background on yourself? What brought you to gaming and how long have you been at it?
Ewen Cluney: I started gaming in middle school, because I had a friend who wanted to play Palladium’s Robotech RPG. Even though I’d never actually seen Robotech, I got completely fascinated with the game. That was something like 15 years ago. Somewhere along the line I discovered anime in earnest, and that’s what led me to major in Japanese and try to become a translator.
Trask: Tell me about Maid, the RPG. How did you discover it?
Ewen Cluney: In terms of English-speakers who know about Japanese RPGs, Andy Kitkowski is pretty much the main guy. He apparently picked up a copy during a trip to Japan a while back on a lark, and mentioned it in a post, I think on Story Games. I was curious about it, to say the least. I had started ordering Japanese RPGs through Amazon Japan, which is slow and expensive, and smaller games like Maid aren’t available.
Then, I noticed that Sunset Games, the Japanese publisher, has a notice on their site saying to e-mail them directly about ordering. I sent an e-mail in Japanese asking if it would be possible to order and get books shipped to the U.S., and got a reply in English saying I could use PayPal. A couple weeks later (owing to a lack of restraint on my part) all three Maid RPG books showed up at my house.
Trask: So, now you have Japanese RPG books in hand. What did you think of them vs. American RPG offerings?
EC: To me the major distinguishing feature of Japanese RPGs is that they’re typically designed to rocket you into short-term play. I see a lot of games where you pick a couple of templates, grab some special powers, and jump into one to three sessions of play. There’s a popular game called Alshard ff where when the text discusses different ways to play the game, “campaign play” is in a sidebar away from the rest.
They also tend to use small numbers of six-sided dice. That’s partly because polyhedral dice are a bit harder to come by in Japan, whereas for six-siders you can just raid a mahjong set, but I suspect the influence of the first Japanese RPG, Sword World, using a 2d6 system is a factor too.
Trask: In my research for this interview, most of the Japanese RPG games looked very manga influenced. Is this a common theme in Japanese RPGs?
EC: I would say it’s a common theme for pretty much everything that’s geeky in Japan, and RPGs are no exception. That’s partly because that’s just how most “cartoon” art is done there.
Trask: What made you decide to move from “fan” to “publisher/translator” of Maid?
EC: Well, first I translated the basic rules of the game, which are only about 20 pages, just to practice translating things. Then I talked my friends into trying it out, and we found that it was just a blast to play. I decided I wanted to do a proper published English version so I could share it with people, and also to force myself to translate the other 200+ pages of material, all of which looked enticing from my skimming it over in Japanese. Of course, I had no idea how to really go about it, so I e-mailed Andy K for advice. We talked about it a bit, and then he suddenly offered to finance and organize the project. From there things just took off.
Trask: What made “Maid” interesting to you? So much so that you wanted to translate and publish it? There are many more “conventional” Japanese RPGs out there.
EC: Personally I think Maid RPG is a very fascinating, innovative, fun game. Its use of random tables in particular is inspired. I don’t normally care for random character creation, but Maid RPG will provide you with “a sexy heroine cyborg fox spirit who became a maid out of her unrequited love for the Master.” And letting players spend Favor points to invoke random events makes for some amazing gameplay, in addition to letting you play the game with pretty much zero prep
Trask: Could you run it as a longer campaign?
EC: The game isn’t really designed around it–though there is character advancement–but you could if you wanted to. It lends itself to sitcom/gag manga type gaming pretty well, or you can put together a more conventional RPG campaign setup if you prefer. Some of the scenarios in the book show both extremes.
Trask: Had you translated anything else from Japanese professionally before this?
EC: I’ve done quite a bit of work localizing video games now, mostly anime-based stuff. I actually enjoy it a lot despite how incredibly rushed it usually is.
Trask: How long did the translation take to complete?
EC: I think I wound up doing it over the course of about 5 or 6 months, though it got very rushed towards the end as we were scrambling to get everything ready in time for Gen Con.
Trask: Going back to the more mundane aspects of the project, how difficult was it to get the book published? Do you have any tips for potential first-time publishers reading this post?
EC: Well, Andy handled a lot of the grunt work of figuring out a printer, hiring a guy (Ben Lehman) to do layouts, and contacting Sunset Games to arrange the licensing. The one thing I can say myself is: Don’t rush to get stuff ready in time for a con. Selling Maid RPG at Gen Con this year was an amazing experience, but the weeks leading up to it were exceedingly stressful.
Trask: Any future supplements planned?
EC: Well, as far as I know the original designer, Ryo Kamiya, has mostly moved on to other games, so there won’t be any more Japanese Maid RPG material to translate. I have a vague notion of assembling a book of original material in English, but that’ll require writing, playtesting, and paying for some artwork on top of everything we had to go through for the rulebook, so if we do such a thing, we’re going to take our time on it. I’m also (slowly) working on a quickstart rules packet, which will include an original scenario.
Trask: Excellent! Thank you for you time.
EC: Thank you. :3
Trask, The Last Tyromancer