Interview With the Creators of “Henshin!”, a Tokusatsu Tabletop RPG
The Tokusatsu Network had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Batiuk and Sam Kusek of Cave of Monsters Games, creators of Henshin!, a tokusatsu inspired tabletop RPG experience.
Henshin! draws its inspiration from Super Sentai and Power Rangers in particular, as the game centers around the players forming their own team of heroes, led through the “episode” by the Game Master, known as the Narrator in Henshin!. Players may select Red, Blue, Green, Black, Yellow, or Pink as they create their characters based on each color’s generalized traits. When players complete specific actions that match their character’s personality (known as “turns”) they acquire tokens that can be used to perform other actions in the game. Henshin! provides a unique twist to the tabletop RPG genre that’s sure to excite players whether they love tokusatsu or not.
More information, including game downloads, play session examples, and more can be found at Henshin! Game. The base game is offered for free, but if you like what you see, considering adding some dollars to the purchase to help the team create more expansions to Henshin! or expand into other tokusatsu related games.
All artwork used in this article and inside the Henshin! game assets were created by Evan Palmer. We urge you to check out his work at his website.
Tim and Sam were kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the game and their creative process.
What inspired you to create Henshin!? Did you take inspiration more from Super Sentai, Power Rangers, or equally from both?
Tim: So, Sam is the sentai nut, and inspired me to watch series after series of Power Rangers, and to a lesser degree Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. I was interested by all these tropes that felt under-represented in western role-playing games. Also, this prevailing theme of heroes needing to work together felt similar to the aims of collaborative storytelling, yet I hadn’t seen a game that pulled both off. I figured we needed to write something new, and so we started work on Henshin!.
Sam: For me, it is a simple story. I started playing storytelling games when I moved to Portland OR, after a short stint in Los Angeles where I got really re-invested in the genre. See I used to work for BOOM! Studios, the publisher behind the current Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comics and as research, I had been watching season after season of Power Rangers & Kamen Rider and was hungry to tell my own stories but couldn’t find anything in the gamespace that fit the bill. So I decided, why not make my own? I pitched Tim on the idea since we had been playing together for a few months and a year later, voila!
Was the game mechanic inspired by any existing campaign engines?
Tim: I’m a fan of finding opportunities to use a token resource economy in roleplaying games rather than random dice rolls. The first RPG I played that used tokens in this way was Golden Sky Stories, or Yuuyake Koyake, a Japanese tabletop game about shapeshifting creatures. But I’m also influenced by the conversational framework of Powered by the Apocalypse games, especially a lesser known game called Dream Askew‘s mechanics to accomplish that without dice.
If no, the concept of forming an “episode” for each session and guiding the players through scenes and turns to earn tokens seems incredibly unique and true to the tokusatsu formula. What steps did you take to craft the engine?
Tim: Well, so, let’s say our sentai hero has these incremental markers that represent their health but actually show whether a player has agency over that hero’s actions, and we’ll call that mechanic ‘hit points’. If bad things happen to your hero, usually in the form of damage (so, loss of hit points), eventually your hero may get removed from the action or even die. Since these bad or good things carry a lot of weight, let’s resolve them with chance using dice rolls, which can simulate how capable the hero is at different things but still use luck for unexpected outcomes.
Alright, so the player gets some bad die rolls, and their hero is out for the count. Like, mid-episode. They’ve lost control over their story. This didn’t really feel like the formula for sentai.
What we wanted is a tight narrative structure that could create the structure of an episode, so that meant players needed different types of choices. Instead of choosing to roll the dice to see what happens, tokens allow players to choose when they control the fiction. Giving up control by allowing something consequential to happen means they receive a token, and taking control of the fiction to accomplish something means spending a token.
Bringing this back to sentai, the heroes are usually pretty capable, and they’ll stumble around early on in an episode but usually work together to find some way to succeed by the end. We saw those narrative beats happen when players used tokens via the Turns written up for each hero. They usually succeeded when it really counted, but were willing to embrace the complications and failures to get there so long as it made for interesting fiction. Once the person directing the game, the Narrator, had the tools to respond to Turns and guide this along a story structure, we saw gameplay familiar to these TV series emerging.
From there, we distilled tropes across multiple series to write Turns and flavor text specific to Colors, each representing an archetype of a hero that was individually interesting yet worked well together. Lastly, we focused on ways to make this accessible to players (especially those unfamiliar with the genre) and customizable to anyone sitting at the table, and then that was Henshin!.
With the success of Power Rangers Hyperforce on HyperRPG, would you ever consider doing something similar with a streaming campaign (or a podcast campaign, similar to your play example) of Henshin! with a group of employees, friends, or perhaps staff from the really awesome website interviewing you right now? 🙂
Sam: Oh absolutely! For us, it all comes down to the hook…what is going to surprise and grab viewers. Power Rangers Hyperforce is a great campaign but is so rooted in the larger Ranger mythos that we want to make sure whatever we put out into the world next, is vastly different, which is a fun & interesting challenge. For example, I’ve had an idea rolling around for a world where pollution monsters have won and your squad are some of the last remaining humans who have to use animal spirits to try and keep the race alive. Kind of a post apocalyptic Wild Force. Whatever we decide to do, we’ll make sure to keep to our channels updated as things develop but in the meantime, we want to encourage fans to share any campaigns that they may have created. You can reach out to us either through www.henshingame.com or directly to me on Twitter @SlamKusek.
Are there any plans for future games that might work more for other toku heroes that aren’t based in teams (ie Kamen Rider, Ultraman, etc.). Perhaps a scenario where one person is a hero, and the other players act as support. Maybe even a player vs. player campaign ala Kamen Rider Ryuki or Kamen Rider Gaim. The possibilities are endless!
Sam: Yes! We’ve got some ideas toying around for a Kamen Rider model, where one person would play the rider and the support players could provide power ups/become riders themselves over time, as well as a potential magical girl mod…maybe a Digimon style campaign. What we love about storytelling gaming is that it is insanely flexible so there are a lot of ideas & genres we can play with.
With that in mind, the focus right now is building out other modules, like the one we launched with, Monster Freak!, that have squad concepts, aesthetics, monsters and settings already made up so that any players who already have the basic playset can get started right away with something cool. Not to reveal too much but our next set is going to focus around Constellations & the Five Chinese elements, which we are aiming to launch in January!
Finally, tell us a little bit about yourselves. What are your favorite tokusatsu heroes? Favorite tokusatsu series?
Tim: Power Rangers Dino Thunder is probably my favorite series, since it felt like the best return to roots of what made Power Rangers great and with more meaningful character focus on this initial three-cell team. Favorite hero, well, Gentaro Kisaragi from Kamen Rider Fourze probably hits that mark. I mean, a hero with great hair and throws friendship at any problem until it sticks? I’m down.
Sam: As far as toku heroes, I’ve always had a soft spot for Kaiju, with one of my favorite films being King Kong vs. Godzilla. Other series & heroes that come to mind include Kamen Rider Gaim, Golden Bat, Supaidāman, Goranger, JAKQ and Battle Fever J. I’m also currently enjoying Kamen Rider Build & Kyuranger for what its worth; lots to love in both, especially love the Banjou & Sento dynamic & just Spada’s whole deal. On the American/Power Rangers side of things, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy and RPM both hold a special place in my heart, as two series that managed to do something really unique in the face of odd production challenges. Calling out Kai Chen and Ziggy Grover specifically as characters that really inspired some of what you see in our playbooks!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Any other thoughts or comments for the tokusatsu community?
Tim: Thank you all! Even if folks in the community are totally unfamiliar with or turned off by RPGs, try giving Henshin! a spin with some friends and let us know what you think.
Sam: Thanks for having us! Henshin! is a really indie operation, which means that word of mouth is what really helps us get the word out; we don’t pay to advertise anything. If you haven’t checked it out and this article peaked your interest, please visit us at www.henshingame.com and download the game there. If you have downloaded it and you like the game, tell your friends! Tell the world! Play a game and let us know how it goes! We’d love to hear from you.
Source: Henshin! Game
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