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This gorgeous Japanese tabletop RPG lets the characters’ scars do the talking

Aionia: Without Mercy wants its dark, high fantasy world to be eminently approachable.

Promotional artwork for Japanese tabletop RPG Aionia: Without Mercy
Image credit: Fushigiworks

Sometimes you come across a tabletop RPG whose artwork stops you dead in your tracks, and then when you go looking for more information you find a pitch that knocks you from flat footed to fully laid out. Such was the case with Aionia: Without Mercy, a Japanese title with a freely available digital version already online.

I must admit that, despite some research, I can’t be sure that the information I found is 100% accurate as most of the text is in Japanese, and I’m not about to trust Google Translate. While I’ve attempted to cross-reference information wherever possible, I didn’t want a language barrier to get in the way of spotlighting a tabletop RPG with some delicious art and a hook that a lot of readers will find compelling. We’ve reached out to the publisher to see if some official English resources exist.

In Aionia’s dark, high fantasy world, players will traverse harsh but beautiful climates, gradually gaining scars from battles, hardships and fateful encounters. Aionia’s system converts these scars into character stats, permanently altering their capabilities - this likely swings both positive and negative, such as becoming hardened after facing down a massive dragon or scaring squeamish NPCs with their fearsome trophy. Regardless, the designer claims this system portrays heroic people who “live life to the fullest.”

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Characters won’t level up in traditional Dungeons & Dragons 5E fashion, starting at lv. 1 and climbing the ladder up to lv. 20. Instead, advancement opens a broader pool of skills that characters may add to their repertoire and thus diversify their options in combat and social encounters. Designer Fushigiworks has kept an eye towards accessibility, not wanting to gate new or lower level characters from adventuring alongside veterans. A specially designed growth system aims to bridge that experience gap and sounds like a sort of catch-up mechanic in MMORPG video games.

Aionia’s world, depicted through dozens of illustrations, has been left intentionally vague so that the facilitator and groups can fill in the gaps to match the kinds of stories they want to tell. At minimum, it is suffused with magic - anything else can spring from the shared imagination of the table. If you happen to read Japanese and want to design for Aionia, the designer has developed a permissive open license that will not claim any ownership over third-party creations and other derivative works as long as they print some standard boilerplate language in the back, similar to MÖRK BORG’s third-party license.

The digital PDF version of the core rules, a 173-page document, is freely available from the publisher’s website. It also includes a link to a character sheet designed in Google Sheets that includes tons of options for tracking skills, scars, session developments and more. It’s fantastic to come across RPGs from outside the broad Western cultural sphere, and Japan has been pumping out some real bangers of late, including its own Elden Ring RPG, the long running Shin Megami Tensei RPG and Fledge Witch, which is due to receive an English translation. Other titles, such as the beloved WaresBlade are finding English audiences through translation outfits like LionWing Publishing.

Collage of artwork in Japanese tabletop RPG Aionia: Without Mercy
Image credit: Fushigiworks

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