A modern fantasy RPG set in Seoul designed to both tell a great story and motivate, facilitate the learning of another language.
Magicians started out as a classroom roleplaying game after-school activity at the academy I taught at a few years ago in Korea. I had just finished reading The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, and loved the idea of a person's unhappiness dissatisfaction with the world being the source of their magic. So I came up with the better part of the game, but for teaching English and for some kids I knew had trouble with bullying at school. The kids made up characters, chose their name and we came up with a high school together via world building. The core of the game was largely the same - I gave them points for telling me stories about their character's troubles in school and then they used those points to fight monsters and do cool stuff.
I always wanted to make a version for Korean and other languages but I always ran into the roadblock of needing someone who was proficient in Korean to mentor, mediate or arbitrate the language learning - until I got a smartphone and started using it for dictation. I came up with the idea to use the dictation app to check for pronunciation and to determine success or failure as a resolution mechanic. The rest is a lot of playtesting, tons of hard work and all of my savings going into initial artwork and editing.
I'm currently majoring in Korean Education (specifically teaching Korean to non-native speakers) and this roleplaying game is going to be the basis for my thesis. I'm working with industry veterans like Daniel Solis and Ryan Macklin precisely so I can do this game justice and so that you, the backer, know that quality is important to me and this project. This has been a labor of love of mine for a long time and with your help I can actually get it out there!
If you hunger for more information about Magicians, you can check out an email interview I did at Futile Position, at Game Knight Reviews or one over at RPG.org, where Rukiara got an article up about her thoughts on the playtest despite falling ill and a trip to the emergency room. In addition, Magicians was recently featured in the Korea Herald! There's another, really nice one up over at Cradle of Rabies now too!
Want the core idea of Magicians explained to you in under 9 minutes? Check out the interview I did with Ryan Shelton at ROLL FOR NEWS.
An interview I did with the guys over at SHARK BONE is up! Here are the show notes I came up with in case you have some specific questions you want to hear answered.
A few days ago I did an interview with the guys over at ED GAMER, which is a really cool podcast about using games in the classroom and for educational purposes. The guys had me on the other to talk about Magicians and the educational aspect of it. Have a listen! This is a great interview where we talk about the language aspect, the story card element and just how the game is organized and how a game is played.
I recently did an interview with William, Rudy and Alex over at the MOM'S BASEMENT PODCAST and we talked about Magicians with more of a focus for game designers - about kickstarters, the role-playing and core mechanics behind the language and magic system. I guess we'd have to mark it off as explicit though I think the only swear in there was an exclamation about the amount of money the kickstarter has raised so far.
Jenn of the JENNISODES PODCAST recently had me on for an interview to talk about Magicians and it was a ton of fun. We covered a lot of material - it's one of the longer interviews but touches on pretty much all aspects of the game, the kickstarter, even a bit about RPG culture in Korea so if you're interested for something in-depth with a really fun, energetic host like Jenn be sure to check it out!
I recently did another interview with Stephen of the POSTCARDS FROM THE DUNGEON PODCAST. It was a really great interview that covered a lot of things rpg gamers would ask questions about I think.
The guys at GEEKY & GENKI had me on the podcast a little bit ago and the episode dropped today! If you want to hear a bit about rpgs in Korea, maybe some info you didn't know about gangnam style and Korean culture and what the guys were thinking about for their card pack check it out! I also did a really quick interview recently with METAGAMERS ANONYMOUS which was a ton of fun. The interview I did for GMS MAGAZINE is now up as well!
Magicians is about having unlimited creativity without complexity. The only thing that restrains you and your character is your own knowledge of the language because the magic system in the game is a language. Doing away with the necessity of a teacher or even dice, all you need is your smartphone and a few hours a week to game with friends to have fun telling a great story and to learn a language along the way.
Magicians will connect you to your character, motivate and push you to do more, learn more and make you feel like you're living out one of your favorite fantasy novels. People who love books like the Harry Potter series, the Earthsea books or The Magicians will have a great time using Magicians to tell coming of age stories about students of magic learning about power and responsibility, pride and humility, trying to grow up with the ability to remake the world at their fingertips.
The setting takes place in modern-day Seoul and adds Korean folklore, superstition and mythology into the mix to create a dense, unique fantasy setting. Long-standing superstitions in Korea like whistling at night drawing ghosts and snakes to you, or insects and mice stealing souls or turning into people by eating their fingernail clippings are woven into the setting. Nine-tailed foxes seduce the unsuspecting and prowl the night, dokkaebi roam the mountainside along with other mythological Korean creatures like the Bonghwang. Dragons live throughout the rivers and other magical creatures are hidden in plain sight. Characters learn magic, deal with high school and university life, and relearn everything they know about the world - secret magical orders that sew sesame seeds into the skin and practice blood art, strange dogs that have human faces lurk in the shadows, bartering souls back to their owners while those who have lost their own prey on the living.
Whenever you want to cast a spell, you speak in Korean. There are three systems you can use but the assumption is that you have no knowledge in Korean whatsoever.
- Prodigy System: Learn and combine 7 archetypal nouns and 6 verbs to create any kind of spell you can think of.
- Apprentice System: Takes the training wheels off and makes it so that you have to come up with your own noun and verb to suit the situation and intent.
- Master System: Has you speaking in full sentences using target grammar and vocabulary.
If you're just starting out you can play the game no problem by just learning how to pronounce 13 words. As you slowly build up your ability you can learn the Korean alphabet, build up vocabulary and then finally start learning how to speak in full sentences.
The Korean alphabet is one of the easiest to learn in the world, it was invented precisely so that it can be learned quickly and is completely phonetic. Here's a great little comic by Ryan Estrada, his trick to learning Korean in 15 minutes.
Cards in the game are tools for telling no-prep, fun, collaborative stories. Plot cards are whole adventures boiled down into 10 separate elements that are drawn every round by players to make a fun, interesting and unique adventure every time the cards are used. All players need to start a game is a set of cards and their characters!
All games require a system to determine success, failure or how the story progresses when there is conflict. Most games use dice to do this - how you roll affects how the story develops. In Magicians, no dice are required (though they can be used for some things); instead, all you need to do is speak the appropriate Korean words or phrase into your smartphone or computer and a free dictation app will tell you if you were correct or not and if you cast your spell properly.
There will be video lessons and free materials for you to watch and download that will help you with everything from pronunciation and the alphabet to more complex grammar patterns if find yourself really wanting to dig in. The PDFs will also have audio files built in so that when any Korean is clicked on an audio recording with proper pronunciation will play so you'll never have to wonder how something in the book is pronounced.
- Daniel Solis (Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple) will be doing the layout for the game.
- Ryan Macklin (The Dresden Files, Leverage) is already hard at work editing the book and is doing both development and line editing.
- Haoran Zhang will be contributing most of the interior black and white artwork along with Theresa Simons and Jamie Lafond.
The book is going to be about 120 pages, will be softcover with a color cover and black and white interior. It will have original illustrations by Haoran Zhang, Jamie Lafond and Theresa Simons. All the artwork is already paid for and has been commissioned; development editing has been paid for and is nearing completion. This kickstarter is to cover the cost of design and layout, line editing, book printing and shipping.
*UPDATE* Instead of a 120-page softcover, the book is going to be a 180-page hardcover. However, this means that the book will NOT be available in April and will have to be pushed about 10 weeks.
There will be an improved playtest document that can be used to play and provide feedback (if you are so inclined) upon the kickstarter's completion at the latest. The physical game I'm hoping to have in everyone's hands by March with the PDF being released as soon as any feedback is taken into consideration, editing is completed and Daniel works his magic.
At the student sketch level, you send us a picture of yourself in high school so that we can set you up with a custom character sheet with your high school self on it! I love the idea of being able to choose someone from this booklet for whenever players need a character to come to life in their game. We'll be putting out the booklet separately and free to all backers; that way whenever you play a game it will be like you're playing with other backers!
At the professor sketch level, you get to detail the classes you teach. This is one of the ways to limit the type or power of the spells that characters can cast when first starting a campaign. Without class rules, you are only limited by your creativity when casting spells (which may be what you want in your campaign) but adding the option of choosing which classes your character is taking imposes some boundaries on yourself so that you have to be both more creative and specialize in certain types of spells and magic which can make for a fun dynamic at the table.
At the professor level you also get to make up your own spell, name it, provide a cool description and I will handle putting in the mechanics and adding it to the book!
*All these add-ons include shipping anywhere in the world*
The signed, numbered, stamped upgrade is the limited edition version of the book. Now that all the books will be hardcover, for helping out with the extra cost of production, shipping, I'm going to get a special stamp made which I'll use to stamp the book. I'll also personalize it by signing it and numbering it and I, of course, won't do this for any books sold after the kickstarter. To keep it fair for all backers and to make it easier on myself, the numbered books will be randomized!
Second, Third Book if you'd like to get a second or third book as a gift or to...fill up your bookshelf...I'll be able to provide them at a slight discount, I know it's not much but profit margins are going to be pretty small and more than three books will mean I won't be able to use small parcel shipping so 3 books is the limit, though you can still add in other stuff you may want.
Your spell in the book is for people who would like to add some content in the book. With the drastic page count increase I'm going to need to commission more art and I'll have more space for more examples. For some spells I will replace or add any examples needed with your own spell and if we get a lot I'd love to make a section for spells you all come up with. You can use a first or last name incorporated in the spell and give me a description of it and I'll add in the Korean mechanics and work on the spell with you. For power levels think similar to Harry Potter - a really high-level spell will kill someone, really big spells are possible but require multiple participants. Send me a message and let me know what you're thinking and I'll work with you on it and I'll provide the mechanics so you just need to worry about something really cool! In particular spells that involve Illusions, Telekinesis, Dispelling, Healing, Precision, Buffing, Clairvoyance, Summoning, Controlling Time and Transformations have a high chance of being illustrated.
*All of these add-ons can be added to any reward level you choose by clicking on the 'manage my pledge' button and manually raising the dollar amount by however much money is required for the add-on you would like. At the end of the kickstarter I'll send out a survey asking what extra add-ons you purchased for your reward level. Thanks everyone!*
The beads, coins and coin pouch can be viewed by scrolling down the page.
All T-shirts are from SHIROI NEKO's (white cat) T-shirt line. I will be buying and shipping them here in Korea. All of the shirts are really cool and inspired by vintage manga, retro tattoos, Mexican "day-of-the-dead" art as well as other culture aesthetics. Due to the process used when making them, no two shirts are alike and all of them are really good quality, designed in Japan and made in Thailand. As you can see, I will be offering them at a significant discount since I will be buying them from a Korean retailer and friend and then shipping them myself (click on the picture to see the American store). The shirts are only offered in medium and large sizes.
If you would like to add a T-Shirt to your pledge, please add $40 to your pledge (this includes shipping anywhere in the world)
All beads are made by Buddhist monks here in Korea. They are high quality and look great. On one side they have both Chinese and Korean writing that says "health charm" on it and, on the other, a Chinese zodiac symbol. Upon the completion of the kickstarter, a survey will be sent out in which you can specify which zodiac symbol you would like to have on your beads. These beads inspired a part of the setting as the beads allow access to the school for magic through the great gates of Seoul.
If you would like to add a set of beads to your pledge, please add $15 to your pledge (this includes shipping anywhere in the world)
The coins can be used for drama points in the game, whenever players earn them in certain scenes they can grab some and place them on their character sheet in the representative places. The coins are 19th century Korean coin replicas and are very cool, they've got some heft to them as well.
If you would like to add a set of 50 coins to your pledge, please add $20 to your pledge (this includes shipping anywhere in the world)
These are some cool, traditional silk pouches you can use for keeping you coins in if you like. I'm only going to be sending out the bigger ones that are about 18cm wide, 24cm tall and can hold well over 300 coins I think so you should be covered. They come in all kinds of colors: plum, dark plum, purple, light purple, orange, light orange, pink, light pink, green, light green, navy blue, sky blue, jade, a light yellowish green, yellow, light/dark brown, red, mustard, pearl grey.
If you would like to add a coin pouch to your pledge, please add $8 to your pledge (this includes shipping anywhere in the world)
Since we couldn't properly demonstrate the mechanics behind casting spells in regards to using your smartphone to check pronunciation and to determine success or failure, here is a short video to show you what it's like!
Here is an example of how to use the free dictation app, Dragon Dictation, for iOS in Magicians to determine if you cast a spell successfully or not. You don't have to write down the spell in Korean on your phone if you don't want to of course, you could always just write it down on some paper and if it matches, good! Also, the pdf will play back proper pronunciation of all Korean words in the book so even if you don't have a smartphone you could say your spell, click on the word in the pdf (or do so via google translate, naver, etc) and if it matches, good!
The guys over at the Mom's Basement Podcast sent me an Actual Play podcast of them playing a session of Magicians. There is some swearing in there, so be aware of that, and is only audio but it should be useful to see some of the mechanics in a game with different, more serious play compared to our video above and one not led or facilitated by me. You can check it out at the Magicians website complete with show notes.
For anyone that is supporting multiple kickstarter projects check down here every now and then to see if you're eligible for a free adventure made in collaboration with other project creators as an extra thank you!
A Tragedy in Five Acts is a kickstarter project run by Matthew McFarland who has already seen a kickstarter through to a more than successful conclusion. The game is role-playing game in which 5 players work together to create a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. If you're a backer of both Magicians and A Tragedy in Five Acts at a level that gets you the game, $10 or more, you will get an adventure in the form of a 10 card pack created by Matthew McFarland entitled "Cloud-Capped Towers", inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest for free as a thank you for supporting kickstarters like ours!
Motobushido is a kickstarter project run by Nathanael Cole that is about samurai, dueling and motorcycles - think Sons of Anarchy mixed with The Seven Samurai. All of those backers who happen to be backing Motobushido at the $25 level and up will be receiving a free card pack designed in collaboration with Nathanael. In addition, he's going to be giving Magician backers over there a new, exclusive path called the 거래자 or the Dealmaker! Pretty awesome! To top it off, the path is going to be illustrated by Rick Marks, who is doing the art for Motobushido and who illustrated the comic series "The Words" about a guy who learns words of power. Very fitting indeed!
Base Raiders is an RPG designed by Ross Payton and is raiding the bases of now-gone superheroes and super-villains in a new type of dungeon crawl experience. For backers of Magicians at the $10 level and higher as well as those whoa re backing Base Raiders at the $15 level and up (which nets you a digital copy of the game) you will receive an exclusive card pack designed by Ross Payton himself in which the mansion of a missing and known-to-be-powerful sorcerer is discovered and a race to the mansion to see what treasures are secreted within ensues! You also get a PDF of three Korean-myth themed base raiders: a magician, a dragon in human form, and a kumiho (nine-tailed fox spirit). The team searches bases for a lost mystical treasure and can be allies or enemies in your Base Raiders RPG campaign!
*UNLOCKED* Designed by the Shark Bone Podcast, a digital card pack in which people mysteriously start go missing. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack who-done-it murder mystery set at the school. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack designed by Jason Morningstar, of the Fiasco RPG game fame among others, in which a school trip to Jeju island goes awry. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack designed by and voted on by all the backers! The backers have spoken, the theme for the card pack will be "People's drawings are coming to life!" Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Print upgrade for the book for nice, high-quality matte paper and cover.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack designed by Zack Gilbert of the EdGamer podcast centered around a haunted dormitory inspired by true events! Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Designer notes with a breakdown and walk-through for hacking any and all aspects of the game - how to hack it for different languages yourself, change the setting and everything else! Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack by the Mom's Basement Podcast, who have playtested Magicians several times now, about an annual tournament at the school involving student duels and lots of magic. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* A digital card pack designed by Giulia Barbano, a game designer and the woman behind the Gaming As Women blog themed around students literally trying to survive exam week. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Andy Kitowski of recent Tenra Bansho Zero kickstarter fame will be putting together a hack for people who want to use the game to get started learning Japanese right away! Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Laurent "Bob Darko" Devernay, perhaps most famous for the Brain Soda RPGs, brings us an adventure card pack steeped in Korean shamanism about a group of students getting pushed too far. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Steve Mathers, creator of the Ingenero RPG, writes us an adventure about a stranger coming to town. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Adam Koebel, of Dungeon World fame, will take us down into the depths of the school to show us how Magicians handles some old school dungeon crawling! Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* The guys over at the Geeky and Genki podcast are going to put together a very Korean card pack. Available to all backers for free.
*UNLOCKED* Jonathan Walton, creator of RPGs Geiger Counter and Metrofinál, among others, is going to put out a full new magic system for the game all centered around traditional Chinese character scripts. The system will be a way to both add a totally new type of magic to your game, reinforce Chinese-derived vocabulary in Asian languages, and will be a great way to start learning Chinese. Available to all backers for free.
Money goes towards a website where I'll be able to host community content and make sure everyone can share their hacks and ideas with everyone else as well as a place to put up video tutorials and other content to help with language learning. The original idea I had to make a forum with the capability to play Magicians or any other RPG via play-by-post with the added functionality of voice support. Instead of just text and images, the ability to post and send voice snippets up to 3 minutes in length (though, most often much shorter of course) is something I want to have happen, unfortunately it's really expensive since no one has done it before. More info in the more recent update.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
While the content and text for the book is entirely complete, most of the artwork has been received and development editing is underway, there are still a few snags that could arise. The book will be printed and shipped from Asia (because I live in Korea) so the biggest problem I could see arising is with overseas shipping, it usually takes 1-2 weeks in my experience but I've never had anything lost.
All of the Shiroi Neko shirts are limited edition, so unfortunately you won't be able to choose a shirt and will have to rely on my finely-honed T-shirt buying skills. There are usually several themes that Shiroi Neko shirts have - vintage anime, Mexican day-of-the-dead art, retro-tattoos or other culturally themed stuff. Every shirt is different so I can't guarantee the shirt will still be there by the time I get the money for the kickstarter. You can tell me what kind of shirt you like though and I will gladly oblige!
There are 3 systems or "levels" in the game that are designed to take a player from absolutely zero knowledge of Korean to speaking in complete sentences. In order to play a game all you have to do is learn some pronunciation by combining a noun (one of 7) with a verb (one of 6). So, for example, if you wanted to cast a spell to see if anyone is invisible you might combine the noun 오감 (oh-gam), meaning "the (five) senses" with the verb to perceive, which is "ah-rah-bah-yo"
You start off by learning the 13 words necessary to cast spells at the "first level" or using the first system. You then can expand and build vocabulary by using the second system which requires you learning the Korean alphabet (a couple hours followed by some light practice and you will have it down pat in a couple days max) and to come up with your own noun and verb combination depending on the context of the situation and your intent. The final system actually teaches grammar and more specific, basic vocabulary like patterns for asking for things, telling time, directions, negatives, body parts, connecting sentences, adjectives and adverbs, asking questions, forms of speech (polite and formal vs. informal). For example, when learning telekinetic magic you learn directions, when learning time magic you learn numbers.
The benefits of roleplaying when learning a language are well documented and often used in almost any formal language learning setting. People are more comfortable making mistakes and it is a good way to get people to open up and have some fun while also learning. This game takes that idea and runs with it.
If you have a roleplaying game group then you hopefully already have a fun, casual atmosphere to learn a language and you get to do what you would have anyway - play a roleplaying game! Conflict resolution mechanics now enforce what you learn while reading through the book. What you learn out-of-game by reading the book and gradually learning a language directly affects what you do in-game.
If you are new to roleplaying games but want to learn a language then this is another tool to learn a language in a fun, safe environment among friends and it may end up being a gateway to a fun, new hobby.
There are a number of reasons I chose to use Korean for the base "language of magic" in this edition of the game.
The first reason is the same reason why I came to Korea in the first place and ended up staying here to do my degree in Korean education - because it's an amazing, interesting language that is unlike any other. It has one of the only invented writing systems in the world that you can learn to read and write within hours, or a couple of days if casually studied, of having been first introduced to it. It's incredibly easy to get into and build a base vocabulary but difficult, deep and steeped in so much history and tradition that you could spend an entire lifetime engrossed in it and I would love to introduce the language to as many people as I can.
The second reason is simple. I'm good at it, and my major is teaching it to non-native speakers. I'm hoping to gather as much data and experiences from people using the book both as a tool for language learning and just simply as a roleplaying game product for future thesis papers at school. You can bet on my continued support and interest in building a community of like-minded gamers around the product.
I am definitely going to be doing versions of the game for other languages that both explore and teach that country's language as well as its history and mythology like I do for Korea or with completely different settings like Technomancers or tribal shamans along with other languages. A Japanese version will probably be the most likely in collaboration with some friends here in Korea. Korean is a great stepping stone to Japanese as a lot of the grammar is exactly the same and even some of the vocabulary. Supporting Magicians will mean supporting other editions for other languages as well.