Bushido (role-playing game)

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Cover of Bushido's 2nd Ed. core rules, Book II
Designer(s)Robert N. Charrette, Paul R. Hume
Publisher(s)Phoenix Games
Publication date1979 (Tyr Games)
1980 (Phoenix Games)
1981 (Fantasy Games Unlimited)

Bushido is a Samurai role-playing game set in Feudal Japan, originally designed by Robert N. Charrette and Paul R. Hume[1] and published originally by Tyr Games then Phoenix Games and subsequently by Fantasy Games Unlimited. The setting for the game is a land called Nippon and characters adventure in this heroic, mythic and fantastic analogue of Japan's past. It was the first non-Western game besides Empire of the Petal Throne.[2] It is thematically based on Chanbara movies, such as those made by Akira Kurosawa, in which the heroes are modestly superhuman but not extraordinarily so.


The Bushido role-playing game was originally published in 1979 by Tyr Games (which quickly went out of business)[2] but was more widely released in 1980 by Phoenix Games as a boxed set. This edition included a map of Nippon, a tri-fold screen, a character sheet, Book I, The Heroes of Nippon, the Players Guidebook and Book II, The Land of Nippon, the Gamesmaster's Guidebook. All illustrations in the original boxed set are copyright by Robert N. Charrette. The game is now sold as a single book in which the two original books are combined (otherwise unaltered).

As with most role-playing games, Bushido players use characters defined by a series of attributes, skills, professions and levels. The professions are Bushi (fighters), Budoka (martial artists), Yakuza (gangsters), Ninja, Shugenja (Taoist-style wizards) and Gakusho (priests, either Buddhist or Shinto). Character progression is implemented by both down-time training and level advancement. There are only six character levels, an unusually small number in role-playing games.

Social aspects are very important in the game. Each character is randomly assigned at birth to a class in the strict feudal hierarchy of Nippon - Samurai, various commoner classes, and Eta. For level advancement, honourable behaviour and loyal service to the character's social group (the local lord, the ninja clan, the temple, the gang, etc.) are as important as defeating enemies in battle.

The Bushido system is dice-based, most important rolls being made with a twenty-sided (d20) die. Although the rules system is relatively simple, the cultural setting, the deadliness of combat, and the need to preserve and build the character's honour score encourage role-playing and reduce "hack 'n' slash" tendencies. The gamemaster can use the various social obligations of the characters to create dilemmas which cannot necessarily be overcome by violence.

Shugenja and Gakusho can use magic but it is relatively weak in comparison with many role-playing games. The social focus of the game also works to suppress the power of magic-users. At the discretion of the gamemaster, supernatural monsters may feature in the game, greatly increasing the importance of magic-users.


Bushido is the earliest published RPG set in the Orient.[3] It was praised for its features, but often criticized for its complexity, a common refrain when discussing games from FGU.[3]

Forrest Johnson reviewed the Phoenix Games version of Bushido in The Space Gamer No. 29.[4] Johnson commented that "Karate fans and samurai fans may dig this one. Serious students will just have to wait for something better."[4]

Bushido gained a number of very positive reviews on its publication. One of the first reviews for Bushido was in the pages of Dragon Magazine. D. Okada writes in The Dragon Issue #34 that Bushido is "...worth the price to the person interested in developing a more cosmopolitan outlook" and praises it despite its complexity.[5] In the Open Box feature of White Dwarf #32, Mike Polling gives this game a 10/10 say that it is "maybe the best game I have ever seen."[6] Aaron Day went on later to describe Bushido as having much more substance over style (5/5 and 2/5 ratings respectively), though he comments that the art was good for the time, but not by 1999 standards.[7]

Imagine Magazine Issue #25 dedicated an entire issue on Japanese and "far east" role-playing. Bushido was praised by Mike Brunton as focusing on "non-adventuring skills" and indicating how it was different than the current version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.[8]

In the pages of his own book, Role-Playing Mastery, Dungeons & Dragons co-creator E. Gary Gygax mentions Bushido in his short list of notable RPGs.[9]

Bushido was ranked 17th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Those of us who have had the pleasure of playing Bushido over an extended period of time have noticed that this is a game which lends itself far more towards campaign play than one-off scenarios. Consequently, it takes a lot of effort and dedication on the part of the players and referee alike to play through, and even more effort to run successfully. Nevertheless, the effort is rewarded with fun, albeit a somewhat reserved, thoughtful kind of fun, rather than the more gung-ho kind of action you would usually expect from the likes of AD&D."[10]

Supplements published for Bushido[edit]

  • Valley of the Mists by Robert N. Charrette, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited
  • Takishido's Debt by Steve Bell, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited
  • Honor Bound by Stephen Dedman, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited
  • A Tale of Honor Lost by Jeffrey A. O'Hare, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited
  • Ninja - Shadows Over Nippon, never released[11]
  • Adventures in White Dwarf #47 (Kwaidan by Oliver Johnson and Dave Morris)
  • Articles in White Dwarf #57 (Ninjas), #85 (Entertainers)

Other East Asian-themed role-playing games[edit]


  1. ^ Page 1 Bushido Book II The Land of Nippon
  2. ^ a b D. Okada, "Bushido", "The Dragon's Augury", The Dragon, #34, vol. IV, no. 8, page 46
  3. ^ a b Appelcline, Shannon (2011), Designers & Dragons (1st ed.), London: Mongoose Publishing
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Forrest (July 1980). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (29): 24.
  5. ^ Okada, D. (1980), "The Dragon's Augry", Dragon Magazine (34)
  6. ^ Polling, Mike (1982), "Open Box", White Dwarf Magazine (32)
  7. ^ Aaron Day (1999), "Bushido", Bushido Review at RPG.Net, RPG.Net, retrieved October 23, 2012
  8. ^ Brunton, Mike (April 1985), "The Words of Go-Guji", Imagine Magazine, 25: 24–33
  9. ^ Gygax, Gary (1987), Role-Playing Mastery (1st ed.), New York: Putnam Publishing
  10. ^ Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.
  11. ^ FGU mirror site

External links[edit]