Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

Do you love dragons and adventure and collaboration stories? Then Ryuutama, the protagonist of our review, could be right for you

Trying a new RPG is always an emotion. Especially when you are lucky enough to play the role of the master, and to guide your players to discover a new world full of surprises. This was also the case for Ryuutama, the new game from Isola Illyon Edizioni. This Natural Fantasy in a Japanese key has in fact piqued my attention right from the setting: a reality supported by dragons who feed on stories, and who live and thrive on the adventures that players embark on.

As a narrator and a player, the idea that the stories played with my teammates were not just adventures but real sources of nourishment for the dragons (as well as for us who were experiencing them) fascinated me right away. Together with the possibility of supporting my brave adventurers with a real character, and to guide them to discover a world created to our perfect measure. Forced away from quarantine, we therefore looked for a point in Ryuutama to meet, and an opportunity to feel united despite the distance. And Atsuhiro Osaka's game, in this, was an excellent ally.

Of dragons and travel: the ingredients of the game

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

Ryuutama is based on an assumption: the world is ruled by four Great Dragons, known as Dragons of Seasons. They are the ones who gave it origin and their breath, combined with that of their descendants, is what keeps the world alive. But like all other creatures, Dragons also need nourishment, and this is where Travelers come into play. Every person who grows up in the world of Ryuutama knows that, sooner or later, he will have to go on a journey. And it will not be just any journey but The Journey, the one that will change it forever. And that's why he won't be able to do it alone.

This is how a game party is formed in Ryuutama. The players get together to make the Journey of their lives, aware that the growth of a future Dragon will depend on what they will live. To join them, the GM will take on the role of a Ryuujin, one of the keepers of the world's secrets, whose purpose is to compile the Travel Journal that will feed the rising Dragon. The Ryuujin is a real character, with skills and abilities that grow throughout the game. And depending on the story you choose to tell, the type of Ryuujin who will be interested in preserving it will also change.

The Journey and the Environments | Ryuutama Review

All of Ryuutama's adventures unfold during the Journey. And he is the real protagonist of the scene, with all his obstacles and difficulties that entails. Ryuutama is in fact defined a Natural Fantasy because of the importance it gives to the environment and its characteristics. Each type of environment has its own peculiarities, and it will be more or less difficult to deal with also in relation to the climate and the season in which it is faced.

A walk on the plains can be simple and fun, at least as long as it's not pouring rain and you're in the middle of a thunderstorm in the middle of a desolate field. Climbing a very high mountain will certainly be complex, even regardless of the presence of snow and very strong winds.

A world created together | Ryuutama Review

One of the highlights of Ryuutama is that all the important things are chosen together. Starting from the creation of the world, which in the manual is characterized only by a few guidelines useful to outline its own version. Before embarking on a Ryuutama adventure, masters and players sit at the table and together choose what characteristics their world will have.. A fact sheet is put at their disposal, which once filled out will summarize all the basic pillars of the story (and keep this sheet thing in mind because we'll be back).

Every key detail is chosen together: from the name to the shape, passing through the characteristic realms and mysteries. And the same happens for the cities that will be visited during the adventure. Before each session, the party is invited to choose what will be done and where the adventure will take place; and the master just has to put all the elements together and bring the story to life.

Depending on the choices you make about the atmosphere and the stories you want to tell, the group can choose which Ryuujin will join the party and which powers he has. There are four types and each of them is interested in a different aspect of the life of human beings.

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

Our world | Ryuutama Review

We, for example, have chosen to be guided and inspired by the themes dear to the black Ryuujin. Tension, therefore, mystery and conspiracies, betrayals and corruption. These were the basic ingredients of our mini campaign, chosen after having created our prototype of a world and a city that could contain them. Thus, guided at a distance by the Kuro-Ryuu (the aforementioned black Ryuujin), the PCs embarked on an adventure that led them to cross torrential rains and gloomy swamps; to arrive in the city of Saka-tsubasa Daitoshi, where a dark corruption held the lake and its inhabitants in check.

The part of creating the world and choosing the themes was one of the most interesting, but also one of the most complicated. For a group of players accustomed to more canonical games like D&D it was not easy to enter the order of ideas of a co-creation. Nor to coordinate to give life to something concrete. But after a few attempts, with a little effort, we came up with a more or less coherent version of the world, which we baptized as Baltapan.

From there we moved on to the creation of the city of Saka, which benefited from our increased capacity for collaboration. And let me tell you, it's great to see your players at work as they outline elements that have until then been the exclusive domain of the master.. A hard goal to reach but full of satisfaction.

The Master at stake: the Ryuujin | Ryuutama Review

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

Another interesting element of Ryuutama is the fact that the master falls alongside his players directly in the scene. Even if his participation depends largely on the Ryuujin you choose (there are some, for example, who have a better chance of interacting with the PCs), it is still pleasant to find such a formalized role.. For example, for years I have been the type of master who often used one or more PNGs at the party, but I've always done it without relying on any formal mechanics; it was a nice surprise, therefore, to find a mechanic that regulated this particular detail.

In Ryuutama, the character of the Master is a young Ryuujin who follows the party from a distance to narrate his deeds. And that can take concrete form (sometimes even human) to interact directly with the players. Has access to Blessings and Awakenings, particular enchantments that have concrete effects on the game. For example, he can modify the result of a roll, or save characters if they are faced with mortal danger. But he can still do it a limited number of times, and by expending part of his life energy. If this ends, the Ryuujin dies and leaves the countryside. This is why it is important to better manage your resources. In addition, each Ryuujin has a set of Artifacts, objects that change the game rules more or less drastically (for example, they can force everyone to follow the manual faithfully or, on the contrary, establish how much and what can be added to the story).

The mechanics of the game

The focus of the game, you will have understood by now, is the Journey. And around the journey, most of Ryuutama's mechanics develop. Players take on the role of ordinary people who face the Journey for a variety of reasons. They are merchants, hunters, healers and artisans, minstrels or nobles. And even peasants. No heroes, then, and not even experienced adventurers. The characters' abilities are limited to their professions, and the Journey is the means by which the inhabitants of Ryuutama grow and deepen their knowledge.

At the time of creation each player also chooses a type between Martial, Magical and Technical, and this will give the character advantages to certain tests and access to Sorcery and Spells of the Seasons, which are the only two forms of spells present in the world of Ryuutama. Finally, the travelers divide the four main roles (Leader, Quartermaster, Chronicler and Cartographer), which will give them the possibility to interact off-role with some of the game mechanics.

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

The characteristics and proofs | Ryuutama Review

Each character comes with a set of four traits: Stamina, Dexterity, Intellect and Spirit. These are associated with dice, from d4 to d8, which represent the specialization of the character in a given sector and the ease of performing actions concerning that sphere. Health Points, Mind Points and other details derived from the basic characteristics complete the character sheet.

As in many other RPGs, any action that can give you a chance of failure (more or less serious) requires proof. Which translates into the roll of the dice corresponding to the two related characteristics and the sum of their result. For example, climbing a tree will be a Physical Effort test, and will require you to build up vigor and dexterity [VIG + DES] and add their results together.

The most important of these tests are those that make up the Travel Rules, and that determine how each day's journey will go. 

  • Condition [VIG + SPI]: Determines the physical condition of the character for that day.
  • Movement [VIG + DES]: Determines the ability of travelers to cross an environment without incident
  • Orientation [INT + INT]: Determines if the group can find the right path
  • Camp [DES + INT]: Determines if the group can spend the night in peace.

Every morning (and virtually at the beginning of each session), the PCs face the Journey Trials, to find out if and what natural obstacles will get in the way during their adventure. Precisely this focus on the environment and nature is the heart and spirit of Ryuutama.

The fights and the states | Ryuutama Review

While travelers are not heroes, they are often forced to get their hands on weapons (or spells) to defend themselves and their equipment. The Ryuutama manual provides a small bestiary from which the party can choose monsters that are more or less difficult to face. These are among others Spectral Beasts, Demons and Undead, divided by level and including all the essential statistics. The only regret, there are no images of the monsters, but only short descriptions from which to start to imagine the creatures.

In battle, the mechanics always rely on tests, and PCs have the opportunity to use the Battle Sheet to arrange their characters on the scene and decide on future moves. Fighting and being injured is just one of the ways in which you put your traveler's life in jeopardy. The Journey and the Environments can in fact turn out to be much tougher enemies than an Undead, if you don't know how to deal with them. In all cases, Characters can be subject to negative states, or penalties that will affect their ability to face new tests.

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin

Some weak side of Ryuutama

While, as you have seen, there are many aspects of Ryuutama that convinced me, and that managed to intrigue even the players I guided into the heart of the game, for others I struggle to find meaning. First of all, the exaggerated number of cards. Between Characters Card, Ryuujin Card, Inventory Card, Battle Card, Travel Journal, City Creation Card, World Creation Card, Sequence Outline Card, Event Card, Achievement Card, and Map Card , the result is that at the beginning of each session you mess with a thousand sheets or windows open on the desktop.

And even if some of these are divided between the players, who take those designed for their role and their character, the number is such that there is still confusion. Off-role but often also in role, when the Stock Sheet and the Inventory Sheet translate into tens of minutes spent buying equipment and trying to fit it into the available spaces. Which are also designed in a particular way, with pens that occupy the same volume as a book or a sleeping bag.

The travel tests | Ryuutama Review

As a group, we also had some reservations about the Travel tests. Rolling a Move check in the morning, and a Camp check in the evening, causes most of the obstacles to be represented by those shots, and there is little chance to shape the days to your liking. I'll explain. If in the morning my PCs have all passed the Movement test, this means that they are able to cross smoothly the Environment in which they are, for the whole day. As a master, therefore, I have no way to add obstacles or to put in front of them path choices that could affect the path, because that shot already determines their success or failure.

And even if the manual encourages us to narrate these tests, we still had the feeling that the choices allowed to the characters were limited, and the challenges already set. We also encountered some problems in the shots on the tests of the characters, which did not always appear clear and immediate to us. Ryuutama's shooting mechanics, in our opinion, could have been polished with more care, to offer more fluidity and leaner, more manageable rules.

In conclusion

It is not easy to arrive at a summary of this review, because Ryuutama appears to all intents and purposes as a multi-faceted and rich game. The setting based on dragons and the atmosphere that can be created at the table, the focus on travel and nature are among the most particular and interesting elements this game has to offer. Furthermore, the possibility of shaping the world together and playing it side by side, players and masters, is a surplus that can give great satisfaction, if you know how to handle it.

But on the other hand, the mechanics are a bit nebulous and also the tests, in certain situations they become more of an obstacle than an ally. Too many cards and too many small details to take into account, however, dropped into a general game system that seems more based on narration than mechanics.

Ryuutama review: adventure and collaboration in the world of Ryuujin Ryuutama. Natural fantasy role-playing game
  • Aa.Vv. (Author)
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Points in favor

  • Fascinating cosmology
  • Focus on travel and adventure
  • World based on dragons and stories
  • Shared creation
  • Push for collaboration
  • The master plays with the characters (Ryuujin)

Points against

  • Too many cards
  • Travel tests a bit limiting
  • Absence of images in the bestiary
  • Inventory management not perfect
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