Kaigaku Kickstarter: Interview with Jacob Ross

After the disappointment I felt receiving the Heavy Gear Kickstarter I decided that I was not well suited to be a Kickstarter Backer. Some people liken Kickstarter to a pre-order system but that’s not really the case. At least with a pre-order the product has been fully developed. The reality is that with Kickstarter you are backing a concept and there’s a risk that what the creator is trying to make won’t be something you want, if it doesn’t fail entirely. The reward is that you get what is essentially a good bundle-deal.

I was a little surprised, then, that after talking about how disappointed I was in Heavy Gear that Jacob Ross approached me to promote his first Kickstarter. I guess he felt that if he could convince me he stood a good of convincing other backers.

A quick word on motives. Mr. Ross is trying to spread the word about his Kickstarter. I am doing so because I’ve never run an interview and was interested in trying it out. I have not received any promotional considerations and this is me reporting on something, not endorsing it.

Kaigaku Arms and Armour

An example of the type of art commissioned for the Kickstarter

Kaigaku is a high-drama fantasy samurai RPG in an original setting with OSR-inspired mechanics. The Kickstarter is not intended to fund the developments on the rules; the rules are finished and available as a free download from the author. The Kickstarter campaign’s goal is to raise money to pay for art and copy-editing. Mr. Ross has already completed additional rules in the form of NPC generators, a mass battle system, rules for using honor as a weapon and additional special abilities called “ryu”.

Mr. Ross was kind enough to answer some questions I had after reading the Kickstarter description and skimming the rules.

Interview with Jacob Ross on the Kaigaku Kickstarter

The General’s Tent: Kaigaku seems like a very simple game. The free rules are very short which seems to keep with the aesthetic of OSR games. I’ve noticed that the rules for weapons are basic but fans of Samurai seem to be obsessed with the exotic weapons of the period. Do you worry that the target audience will be disappointed that rules-wise, the Katana, Wakizashi and Ninja-to are the same?

Jacob Ross: While the Katana, Wakizashin and Ninja-to do have the same damage and other statistics, each weapon is used differently by the various clan schools. Additionally, we do have lots of exotic weapons, from kanabo to jitte and even guns and grenades.

The General’s Tent: OSR can be a divisive term with some people complaining that games are too OSR and some are not true to the spirit of OSR. What would you say to each camp that would make them want to try your game?

Jacob Ross: Kaigaku is descended from The Black Hack. It plays quick and its rules are easy enough that a group of people who’ve never played an RPG before can sit down and play without learning them beforehand. My wife and our friend were able to make characters and get in an adventure during their first-ever session. That said, Kaigaku has strategic depth to make combat more tense and interesting.

Kaigaku Sample Page

Kaigaku Sample Page

The General’s Tent: In your Kickstarter description you mention Chinese, Mongol and Korean influences in addition to Japanese. The Japanese influence is clear but what about the other cultures, how are they represented?

Jacob Ross: The Imperial Family is based on a mix of Chinese and Japanese structures. In real history Japan modeled itself very closely after the [Chinese]1 political system. One clan in particular, the Shirai, has a Korean flavor in that they have a “noble youth” tradition based on the hwarang warriors and they’re led by scholars patterned after the Joseon-era court. The Mongol influence comes from the Kherin, steppe people from beyond Kaigaku who regularly menace the border. The Watanabe clan protects the Empire from incursions, but their current daimyo is half-Kherin and the rest of the clans are concerned about what would happen if the Watanabe were to ally with the Kherin Horde.

The General’s Tent: To be honest, and I don’t want to seem mean, your stretch goals are a little underwhelming. Any thoughts to spice them up? For example, will David Okum’s paper miniatures work well as tokens in Roll20? Any details on the contents of the periodicals which may entice backers?

Jacob Ross: No offense taken. That’s a good idea, the Roll20 tokens. The periodical, The Kaigaku Chronicle, is going to have several articles in each issue. These include adventures, fiction, write-ups of new Lesser Clans and their schools, notes on running various character types (ninja, bushi, etc.), information on ronin, criminals, sumo wrestlers and other roles in life, plus more information about the gaijin empires. The other expansions that I have planned are clan splat books. I’ve decided that each one should feature two rival clans and have not just background and new schools, but also material about using the tension between the two clans as part of a campaign. Depending on how things go I might present material from the clan splats in the Kaigaku Chronicle.

The General’s Tent: Recently I had a bad experience with a Kickstarter which has put me off somewhat. Why should someone like myself want to back your Kickstarter instead of simply waiting for the game to be released.

Jacob Ross: You and me both. Before I got started my wife actually told me “Make sure you don’t pull a (Name of Notorious Multiple KS Non-Deliverer)!” Kaigaku is already written up and edited. It’s currently in layout. There are some parts that have to wait until the KS campaign is complete before I can finish them (such as the index and table of contents) because I may make slight tweaks to the text based on backer suggestions. One really fantastic example was of a backer who asked for an optional skill system. I’d been toying with the idea myself, and I had one planned for the Kaigaku Chronicle, but I’m now putting it into the core book. Basically, there’s only one day’s worth of work left on the book, as far as layout goes, and waiting for art to deliver. Once I have everything it’s a simple matter to add the art to the pages, upload it to Drivethru and get the proofs printed.

Why You Should Back This

It probably seems strange that I’m reporting on this Kickstarter after swearing off the concept. It’s true that I’m not backing anything for the forseeable future but neither am I calling for a Kickstarter boycott.

In this case Kaigaku is a return to the original values of Kickstarter before large companies started regularly using it as a ersatz pre-order system. Jacob Ross is an independent game designer who needs a little bit of money to take his game from an amateur to a professional publication. Backing the Kickstarter helps that happen. Of I were backing the game I would go with the $15 pledge level. PDFs work for running RPGs and I wouldn’t want to back a Kickstarter without getting the stretch goals.


  1. In his answer Mr. Ross wrote Japanese here but from context I believe he meant Chinese and thus substituted it myself. 

Tyler Provick

Tyler Provick is a writer and a gamer that likes to combine his two interests and share them with the community.

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