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posted by hyphz Original SA post

NOT Eoris Essence. Something else instead. Something dafter.

No, I haven't forgotten Eoris. I just happened to be cleaning out a bunch of old books I'd gotten rid of and found a copy of this and thought it deserved a write-up here. I'm breaking off to do it because it's so short I'll do it in a single post.

House of Horiku!

To call this game "Obscure" doesn't really cut it. The only reason I have it at all is that it somehow ended up in distribution in the UK from some pretty big places (like Leisure Games), although they presumably carried it through support for indies. The author is Annie Rush, who has at least done some other indie games before that had at least some positive attention paid to them, namely The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men and Run Robot Red .

The listed publisher on the book is "Itesser Ink", which nobody has ever heard of. Searching on Google it turns out it's the author's blog, although some older pages on it have links to Gingerbread Men and Robot Red under the heading "from a past life". There's no mention of Horiku at all on the site, and certainly none of the support material that the book claims the site provides.

It's.. certainly kind of obvious it's self-published. It's a 12-page A5 book with a cover made of green card and stapled down the middle. The only art is a pencil sketch of a ninja on the front cover. Even at 12-page A5, it still has big ol' borders. Literally, I'm going to have trouble posting about it without actually duplicating the entire book.

It's also understandable that Rush would deny its existence. Because even in 12 pages, we get a nonsensical setting and an utterly broken rules system, and an utterly bizarre premise. Because, this is a game all about answering the vital question:

Are you a man, a woman, or a ninja?

Yes, you did read that correctly. The reasonable follow-up questions of what? , seriously, WHAT? and who in hell even asks that question? are not addressed. In fact, neither editing nor playtesting appear to have been addressed either.

The setting

Ok, settle down, class. Our history is important to us. So..


Women who do not fulfill their duties as women have long been cast out of a particular village. It rests at high altitude - as high as these common folk would dare to live. Even so, members who do not perform their function in the society put a strain on their families.

"Even so"?
Yes, even though it's at high altitude, people who don't work bring shame on their families.
How are those two things even connected?


The worst insult that can be thrown at a person is "not worth feeding". Situations do get so bad in the winter that at least two people starve to death each year. Usually women. Those who are dead weight in the village are considered better dead, or at least not in the community. When a woman is found to be "not worth feeding" either by her husband or her father (most often the former) she is cast out to fend for herself in the wilderness. Such is the custom.

And what about the men who weren't worth feeding?
Well.. I guess there weren't any. Or maybe there were some and they did something else with them.
Wouldn't throwing the guys out have been a much better idea, given that throwing out women puts population growth and even replacement at risk because every society needs babies?
Well, no because.. look, they're evil and they're sexist. That's what we're trying to get across here.


Or at least such was the custom until the day when three women were found lacking and rejected at the same time on the same day. Sundown. The mater (sic) of social rejection had bothered Horiku for some time and to see three women, one young, two older, cast out together was too much. He took a stand in front of the village elders and told them that condemning the women was unforgivable and inhumane. Rather than let them die in the wilderness, he would go as well. He, with his moderate wealth, would take over the keeping of the unwanted women. Yes, well outside the village so none of their shameful places would be seen in the town square again. Horiku was old enough to be widowed, but young enough to still have reserves of naivete.

It was not until the second day of the group's journey away from the village that they had lives their whole lives in that Horiku learned why women were cast out of the community. They were lesbians. Lesbians who refused to serve their husbands sexually, or pursued relationships with outher women in the village. Normally it was the first case, refusing to lay with her husband and having strong masculine characteristics or tendencies besides. But occasionally, perhaps once each generation, or every other generation, two women would be caught in a tryst. Two of the women traveling with Horiku were such a case. The other, with her stubborn ways, had tried her husband's patience for the last time.

So the great reason why people were being thrown out of the village was because they were lesbians, but one of the three who was thrown out wasn't a lesbian?
Well, no, she obviously was a lesbian really, if she'd annoyed her husband.
And the village elders thought any woman who wasn't feminine enough was a lesbian?
Evidently. They're evil and sexist, remember.
Yes, but they didn't tell Horiku that themselves, did they? He "found out". So who did he find out from? Did the women tell him? Or did he just decide it for himself? Doesn't that make him just as bad as them?
Well, yes, um, no. Anyway -


Over the next months, Horiku and the three women in his charge set up a household eight miles from the village they left, and at least 10 miles from any other settlement. Using Horiku's remaining money they built a home and developed the land.

They built a home out of money?
No, of course not. They bought food and building materials.
From the village?
Well yes, ok, from the village.
The village that was eight miles away, where the elders were individually upset with Horiku, and which was already so short of food couldn't feed its own people, let alone sell food to one of its own exiles?
Well, came on, from the other villages, then!
:v: The other villages that were ten miles away, had never heard of Horiku, and apparently had enough surplus and willingness to exchange that they would trade with Horiku for his money from the original village, but not enough that they would just trade with the elders of that village and solve their winter food problem?
:hist101: They're evil and sexist, remember? They're obviously so evil that they allowed their own people to starve so that they could throw people out of their village.


Horiku kept in vague contact with his trusted friends back home. He learned through these discrete channels the varied reactions to his departure.

Six months, to the day, after the women and Horiku left, another woman was cast out of the village. She left with her head held high, stopping only at the edge of town to say, "I am going to live with Horiku", then turning away and never looking back. The village buzzed with rumors. Did she know where he was? Was he still alive? Would he accept here? What was going on out there?

Before sunrise the next day, Horiku's house was one of five.

That was five years ago. Horiku's colony flourished, now home to more than three dozen women besides Horiku himself.

:v: What about the other women who were sent out to die in the wilderness?
:hist101: Well, they obviously died, didn't they?
:v: What, even though this "wilderness" was actually suitable for just three women and one guy of "modest wealth" to build a village in six months and a sustainable colony in five years? Why didn't they do that themselves, or go to one of the other villages?
:hist101: Well, they weren't together then, were they. And they didn't have.. um, never mind.
:v: They didn't have a big strong man to guide them?
:hist101: That wasn't what I was going to say. Honestly.


Many of the women were from villages other than Horiku's previous home, looking for refuge from communities who did not accept their deviant ways.

:v: Their what ?
:hist101: Obviously I totally don't think they're deviant, I just.. wrote it..


In fact, four of the closest settlements in the region send their able but chronically unacceptable women to the only house that will let them in. Thin lines of communication exist between the colony and the associated villages, but Horiku has built his haven to be self supporting, complete with internal economy, and agricultural and education systems.

:v: So all the natural resources necessary to do that were there?
:hist101: Yes.
:v: And Horiku got them without needing any soldiers or weapons?
:hist101: Yes.
:v: Between eight and ten miles from villages that were so short on resources they were sacrificing people to save food?
:hist101: Yes.
:v: (shakes head)


Whole (sic) the society is broad minded, it is no vacation and holds deep secrets. Women are provisionally accepted as soon as they arrive, but must prove their worth in the exile community and participate in Horiku's school which trains those in the colony on the 'path of enlightened action'. His philosophy is of 'one mind'. The women must decide to ultimately be masculine or feminine, not both (or at least this is what they hear at first).

:v: They have to prove their worth, and decide to be either fully masculine or feminine?
:hist101: Yes.
:v: So Horiku set up a colony to rescue women who were rejected from their villages for being worthless and/or not fitting a traditional gender role, yet he throws them out of the colony if they're worthless and don't fit a traditional gender role?
:hist101: Well, yea, but it can at least be the male gender role. You see..


When a member becomes fully masculine, he is sent to join the emperor's army.

:v: The... emperor's army?
:hist101: Yes. There is totally an emperor and he has an army.
:v: So the 'husbands' who were in the original village were veterans of the emperor's army?
:hist101: Well, probably some of them were..
:v: Meaning that the women would be the ones doing the work, since they weren't the ones drafted, and it would make no sense to throw them out?
:hist101: Dammit, they're evil and sexist! Will you get this into your head?
:v: And the emperor also just sat back and watched as the villages totally mismanaged their population growth, when he would have a personal interest in the growth of the villages because they're the source of his soldiers?
:hist101: Shut - up! Just - shut - up!


When a woman becomes fully feminine, she is sent to the city to make a new life, or (if he will have her and she wil go) back to her original husband.

In the past years the thin line of communication that existed between Horiku and the villages who sent women to him has expanded to allow husbands to send letters to their estranged wives. Women in the House of Horiku may respond to the letters, but not initiate contact on their own. In the same spirit, women are not required to reply to the letters.

After living with Horiku for six units of enlightenment (in other words, when Horiku declares them ready), some of the women are introduced to the third path of his philoshopy. This third path encourages them to leave behind the trappings of masculine or feminine association. Those who are drawn in this direction take on the dangerous but highly skilled work of contact killing.

:v: Sorry, what!?
:hist101: Of course! If you don't want to be completely masculine or completely feminine, you must want to be a murderer for hire! In fact -


Aspiring to be more than a whole man or more than a whole woman is aspiring to become a ninja.

Horiku's ninjas work in small squads to eliminate dangerous elements from the surrounding lands.. or elements with rich enemies.

Um. Yes. So, this is a game that takes on gender issues while apparently being utterly and completely hostile to anyone even slightly transgendered. Let's see what we have so far:

- Women who don't please their husbands enough must be lesbians, even if they've never slept with another woman.
- These women need to be "cured" by becoming full men or full women...
- ... But if they become full men, they are fit for nothing but katana fodder.
- Anyone who doesn't want to embrace either side fully must want to be a murderer.

And that's it for the setting.

The System

And herewith, the completely broken and ridiculousness of the rules system.

Characters have no stats; the system is based on 11 skills. 10 of these are divided into five groups of two, with one "masculine" and one "feminine" one in each pair. The 11th skill is "Ninja rank" which has a separate system.

The main five skill groups are persuasion ("Cajole" (Feminine) and "Intimidate" (Masculine)), fighting ("Improvised Fight" and "Trained Fight"), survival ("Indoor" and "Outdoor" - apparently Indoor Survival, the feminine skill, also includes treating long-term illnesses), intelligence ("Wisdom" and "Strategy" - the text sort of implies that "Wisdom" means feminine intuition, yet for some reason couldn't use "Intuition" as the name of the skill), and magic ("Intangible" and "Tangible").

Each skill has a rating, usually out of 26, and a "rank" which is what's actually used for calculating dice rolls. Your rank increases at particular numbers of points in each skill. 1 point gives rank 1, 5 points for rank 2, 10 points for rank 3, 17 for rank 4, and 26 for rank 5. In the one vaguely good bit of design in the game, these are represented by spirals coming out from a center point.

Ninja rank has a different and larger spiral. 1 point gives rank 1, 8 points gives rank 2, 23 for rank 3, and 46 for rank 4. Also, unlike the other skills which just make you generally "better", reaching Ninja ranks unlocks special combat moves. At Rank 1, you can "Disarm an opponent who is not trying to attack you" (um?) and knock out people who can't see you.

At Rank 2, you gain "Throw: Hurl a liftable item with your arm" (I am not at all sure WHY that is considered a Ninja skill), and "Disappear completely in shadows". At Rank 3, you get to MOVE in shadows without being seen, and break bones in melee. And finally, at Rank 4 you get the Ninja Death Touch which instantly kills an opponent in melee.

Making your character is simple: split 12 points between the non-Ninja skills, then split another 10 between all the skills including Ninja Rank.

Ok, all good so far, a little light. The insanity begins at the dice rolling.

When you want to use a skill, you add your Rank in the skill to your "Path dice", and that's the number of d6 you roll. Your "Path dice" are one for each of the three "paths of Horiku" you've experienced - man, woman, and ninja. So PCs roll 3 dice. Another ninja would roll 2 (or another transgendered character, apparently). Regular Joes and Janes roll 1.

Any dice that rolls an odd number is a success on a feminine skill; even numbers are successes on masculine skills. To overall succeed, you need a number of successes equal to your Skill Rank...


Wait, what?

So in order to succeed using a rank 1 skill, you need to roll 1 success on 4d6 - with each dice giving a 50% chance. But to succeed using a rank 2 skill, you need 2 successes on 5d6, and by the time you're up to a rank 5 skill, you need 5 successes on 8d6. In other words, as your rank goes up, your chance of succeeding at a task goes down. Dramatically.

You do get to reroll a number of dice equal to your Ninja rank on these skill tests, but I haven't been able to figure out if this makes enough of a difference.

And yes, it does specifically say that you have to roll your Rank on the roll, even if the task you're doing isn't any harder. In fact, the method of dealing with that is especially ridiculous: you're supposed to "mention your Rank number in the description of what you're doing". The examples given are "I will convince him to wait one quarter-hour", and "I will scare four people away". At five, you don't have to mention Five every time - you can mention any number, higher or lower.

Every time you succeed on a roll, you get a point in the skill. If there's someone opposing you, you and then add up the number of pips on successful dice and the one with the most pips wins. Yes, that means that masculine skills are just better than feminine ones in conflicts because they'll get to consider dice with higher pip counts as successful.

Ninja skills work a bit differently. A success is counted as a pair of any number. Two pair is two successes, but so is a set of three. As before, you need a number of successes equal to your Ninja level to succeed. But, don't worry -


To offset the requirement of needing pairs, a player rolls double the dice for Ninja actions - (3 + Ninja Level)x2.


This is just plain "words without thought". At Ninja Level 1 you'll be rolling (3 + 1) * 2 = 8 dice. Since you're rolling 8 d6's, you are stone cold certain to get two pairs on every roll. At every Ninja rank, you will roll an extra 2 d6's, which is 2 extra guaranteed pairs (or guaranteed increases in existing sets, which has the same effect). So no matter what rank you reach or what you're trying to do, you cannot ever fail at a Ninja roll. You gain Ninja points in the same way you gain skill points, by succeeding at tasks, so raising Ninja skill is rather easy.

After that brilliant rule, we then get the combat and initiative system. The initiative system is:


The flow of the fight goes: one of us, one of them, one of us, one of them, one of us, etc. The "us" order should remain as consistent as possible.

That's helpful and clear (um, not). Taking damage knocks points off your skills - damage is done by rolls in the fighting skills, and the amount of damage done is one point per skill pip. A night's sleep cures "all ills". There are no rules for breaking bones (which ninjas can do, remember) and no actual rules for dying.

And that's pretty much it. After that, there's rules for transferring skill points around: you can trade two points in any skill for one point in any skill on the 'opposite side' of the chart, although it doesn't have to be the same skill, and you can trade 10 points in any combination of skills for a point of ninja rank. Why on earth anyone would do that when you can raise your Ninja skill by going into a field and throwing things (and you can't possibly fail) I don't know..

And finally, there's the end game. The game ends for a character when they do one of three things: a) max out all the Masculine skills, b) max out all the Feminine skills, or c) use the Ninja Death Touch.

If you max out Masculine or Feminine, then there's a big ceremony in which Horiku uses magic to complete the transformation. If it's Masculine, the character is actually turned into a man and sent to the army. If it's Feminine, then -


Those becoming fully feminine will be cured of their misplaced lust.

Yes, it actually says that in the book.

If you use a Ninja Death Touch, your character is committed to being a Horiku Ninja for the rest of their life, which probably seems like the best option by that point.

In fact, according to the rules, if you max out Feminine or Masculine you're stuck with that as your new whole gender no matter how many points you had in the other one.. and even if you actually had Rank 4 or Ninja, but just hadn't used the Death Touch yet. This conjures up the images of members of Horiku being one point away from being transformed and wandering randomly around the land looking for a random person to kill with the Death Touch in order to prevent themselves leaving the house..

And that's it. We're told there are "NPCs and adventures" on the Itesser Ink site, but there aren't.

So, we have a game written by a woman, about gender issues - that apparently hates transgendered people and doesn't think much of women. A setting that doesn't make sense and a system that doesn't work. I honestly wonder why in the world anyone thought it would be a good idea to distribute this, and shows a fair reason why "supporting indies" has potential to be a very, very bad thing..