How One Superhero RPG Wants to Bring Kamen Rider to the Tabletop

How One Superhero RPG Wants to Bring Kamen Rider to the Tabletop
Get ready to fight, Masked Rider! (Image: Dave Baker/Cave of Monsters Games)

In 2017, Cave of Monsters Games’ Henshin! brought the Spandex-clad, candy-coated world of Super Sentai (Power Rangers, for those less familiar with its tokusatsu roots) to tabletop roleplaying. Three years later and with a deluxe release of the original game having made waves on Kickstarter, now the team wants to do the same with another toku icon.

Created by the same team as Henshin!, Tim Batiuk and Sam Kusek, Rider Konchu was first developed as a hack of the Henshin! ruleset, as part of a stretch goal in Henshin!’s deluxe release on Kickstarter late last year. While Henshin! brought the vibe of being a Power Ranger to the tabletop — the drama of a double life, the thrill of transformation into colour-coded squads of superheroes, and, of course, occasionally teaming up in a giant combining robot — Konchu hoped to capture the feeling of Sentai’s slightly more mature sibiling: Shotaro Ishinomori’s legendary masked hero, Kamen Rider.

To celebrate the launch of Rider Konchu’s rulebook to Henshin! owners, we reached out to Cave of Monsters Games’ Sam Kusek over email to talk about the process of adapting Henshin! into Rider Konchu, and what it’s like taking the tropes of tokusatsu TV — defined by its live-action, effects-driven drama — and adapting them for tabletop storytelling.

James Whitbrook, Gizmodo: Upon seeing the reaction to Henshin!, how quickly did you realize there’d be an appetite for something like Rider Konchu?

Sam Kusek: Oh pretty quickly! After Henshin! had its initial release in 2017, I was already thinking about how to expand the system to suit the storytelling style of Kamen Rider since the two franchises are so closely linked. I was also hearing a lot from fans that this was something that they really wanted to get their hands on. So I set to finding the right voice and presentation for it.

Gizmodo: Tell me a little bit about your history with toku and Kamen Rider specifically. Which eras were your biggest influences on developing Rider Konchu?

Kusek: Tokusatsu is something that’s always been around. I’m someone who was the right age for when MMPR hit but my interest always transcended that specific franchise. I remember seeing Gamera and Godzilla versus Megalon on MST3K, enamoured with the actual movie instead of the jokes (which is hard to imagine).

Kamen Rider specifically came up because I also started collecting and reading a lot of manga in my early teens and it was hard to ignore any Shotaro Ishinomori stuff. The more I looked into his body of work and contributions to the space, the more interested I became.

With regards to eras that impacted game development, Heisei Phase 2 is what comes to mind. Those seasons, Fourze, Gaim, and Build in particular, do a great job at balancing the action and excitement of getting new suits and fighting, with likable characters who don’t need to transform to have an impact on the story. That balance of how some roles could impact or hinder the action and transformations became the seed for what I thought would make for an interesting Kamen Rider inspired game.

Gizmodo: Henshin! played on a lot of the tropes of Sentai and Power Rangers, but Kamen Rider is not necessarily a franchise all of those interested in the base game might be familiar with, given it never had the same kind of adaptation or presence in the West. How did you approach bringing its ideas and aesthetics to an audience in creating Rider Konchu?

Kusek: The approach was similar to Henshin!’s development, in that the main goal was to find patterns of how Kamen Rider works and gamify that. I always wanted to build this on top of the Henshin! system, since the franchises are pretty similar and the system was built with a low barrier of entry, but I knew Rider Konchu would need to have some key distinct differences for people to consider it its own game.

A few things jumped out right away. The progression of Kamen Rider seasons follows a collection of power up items or trinkets, often leading to one or more characters gaining a final form. This felt like it was not only something that would be really fun to recreate but would allow for some interesting competitive dynamics between players, as well as a great way for a GM to define a campaign length.

I also noticed that Kamen Rider always felt like it had a lot of story happening around the protagonists, both with NPCs and the space they are in, with its own set of stakes and consequences. Sometimes the characters get involved and sometimes they are off doing something else entirely. That got me thinking about how to best present story elements to players without railroading them down a certain path and provide better guidance for GMs who might not already be familiar with this style. So unlike Henshin!, the initial release of Rider Konchu comes with a predefined setting, sets of problems that can happen, and some other fun elements, like a game clock and collectible gear, for GMs to use.

Finding these key differences made me realise that it was important with this game to intentionally add some rails for players to help keep the episodic feel of a Kamen Rider season, while still allowing for them to make an impact with their own choices.

Image: Dave Baker/Cave of Monsters Games, Other

Image: Dave Baker/Cave of Monsters Games, Other

Gizmodo: Henshin! itself has a lot of cool mechanics for group play given the nature of those teams, but Rider team-ups can often be much more...let’s say  fractious. Do Konchu’s systems create opportunities for group players who don’t necessarily want to work together to save the day as a group?

Kusek: Absolutely. So Henshin! was built on a token system, where characters took two kinds of turns: heavy turns, which execute dynamic actions, spending a token, and light turns, which give your character a token for taking some kind of risk. Tokens were managed individually to simulate the trials and tribulations one goes through, resulting in personal growth.

And while that worked for Henshin!, like you said, it’s not exactly the same dynamic that a Kamen Rider show is built on. I love a season where multiple Rider characters are competing against each other for pretty different goals and I wanted to give players a chance to simulate that.

So the token system changed. Rather than each character managing their own tokens, all accessible tokens are added or taken from one shared pool. This allows for players to work more closely together to use turns to add tokens, stockpiling them for a big fight scene, but that also creates opportunities for other players to take those tokens and use them for their own motives. Additionally, we added in new special turns for each character and collectible gear that cost three tokens per use, so there are a lot more ways to spend tokens and impact the story!

Creating this one centralised space to help manage the flow of action that is more or less controlled by the players helped emphasise that rich and nuanced style of storytelling you see in a lot of Kamen Rider seasons.

Gizmodo: Rider shows also often have major support casts of people who aren’t necessarily also the superheroes. How does Konchu take those kind of roles into consideration for character creation?

Kusek: Totally, I wanted to make sure these kinds of roles were accounted for and more importantly, something people would want to play! Rider Konchu has six playbooks people can choose from and three of those — The Best Friend, The Reporter, and The Hacker — all represent the major support role. We refer to these as the support playbooks.

While these playbooks can’t transform like the other three can, not every problem in Rider Konchu is solved by a well placed kick. Their mechanics are more focused around engaging with other players and NPCS, uncovering or introducing new key story elements and aiding the three other playbooks. If you like to be the centre of attention or charm your way out of or into situations, you’ll wanna give these playbooks a spin.

Image: Dave Baker/Cave of Monsters Games, Other

Image: Dave Baker/Cave of Monsters Games, Other

io9: We’ve had superhero RPGs for decades at this point, but what do you think it is about tokustatsu heroes that make them suited for TTRPG mechanics?

Kusek: In general, I think tokusatsu properties like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider have a better model for people to see themselves in stories. The casts of these shows, especially when they come over to America, bring some kind of social or ethnic diversity and continue to push the needle on who or what can be a hero, which you can’t exactly say the same for other superhero franchises. It also helps that a lot of the people in these franchises who became heroes, just start out as normal people getting thrown into a weird, wild situation. That is an easy headspace for people to get into and it creates a great game starting point. What would you do, if tasked with saving the world?

Finally because these properties get a fresh season every year, with a new sense of style and aesthetics, there is this natural sense of evolution baked in. I’ve always felt like that has been one of the biggest strong suits of tokusatsu as it encourages fans to create their own ideas, and I think TTRPGs naturally have become the best venue for that.

Gizmodo: You’ve done Sentai, you’ve done Kamen Rider. Are there any other toku icons you think would work well in this space?

Kusek: I’ve always been intrigued by Ultraman and the relationship a user would have to its alien counterpart. How does that grow and change over the course of a season? How are your decisions impacted by that? I’ve been mulling over how I could translate that into a single-player RPG or journal game, like what Plot Armor did with giant mecha.

Rider Konchu and Henshin! are both available to purchase now on DriveThruRPG.