Longtime Know Direction fans will know we love being inspired by a good anime series. But with dozens of quality titles every season, it can be easy to let some quality entertainment slip through the cracks. Today I’m here to share my nine favorite sources of inspiration this season, and what you can take from each series to inspire your next campaign or character. I’m going to keep my reviews spoiler-free, and I’ll use the first opening theme song of each series, even if it’s a sequel. And to round it off to an even ten, I’ll go ahead and use this preamble to point out Afterschool Dice Club which features a number of popular American and German board games being played by high school students in Kyoto. I should also point out that, with the exceptions of Afterschool Dice Club, Chihayafuru, and Ascendance of a Bookworm, these series contain adult elements like drug use or torture that, while no more challenging than many Adventure Paths or Modules, are not intended for young audiences.
I’m usually hesitant labeling any series a “timeless masterpiece”, but Vinland Saga comes closer than any anime I’ve seen this decade. A viking revenge story, the series is based on an epic historical manga and the adaptation thus so far has been nothing short of masterful. Whether you’re a fan of Nordic history, the impact of early Christendom on the growth of Europe, or just want to see some amazingly choreographed berserking, you won’t be disappointed. And yet after I was baited by the intrigue and barbarism, I found myself hooked by some of the utterly profound moments that give the series that gravity necessary to propel it to my top pick. I highly recommend this series, even if you don’t normally “like anime”. They do a wonderful job faithfully adapting many existing Viking heroes, including the absurdly strong and lovably single-minded Thorkell the Tall. Whether you’re running your own Viking campaign or playing it up in the Saga Landss, Vinland Saga will give you some great ideas for missions, battles, or just making a three-dimensional Nordic barbarian with more going for them than an anger management problem.
Oversized Volley | [Two-Actions] Feat 8
| Barbarian || Rage |
Prerequisites: Raging Thrower
Requirements: You are holding an object of at least 6 Bulk using two hands.
Channeling your fury, you hurl a massive object capable of crushing your enemies. You may throw the object up to 10 feet for every point of Strength modifier (or half as far if you would become encumbered carrying the object). The target and any other creatures in squares now occupied by the falling object must attempt a Reflex save against your class DC..
Critical Success The creature takes no damage.
Success The creature takes bludgeoning damage equal to half the object’s Bulk.
Failure The creatures takes damage equal to the object’s Bulk, plus additional damage from Rage and Strength to your thrown weapon attacks
Critical Failure The creatures takes damage equal to double the object’s Bulk, plus double additional damage from Rage and Strength to your thrown weapon attacks.
Special: A monk may use this feat in conjunction with Whirling Throw (doing so takes 3 actions).
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
The original 1988 Legend of the Galactic Heroes is still my all-time favorite series. But for those without the time or means to watch the original 110-episode series, the 2019 remake Die Neue These really came into its own this season. The series itself is an epic space opera detailing the history of the legendary heroes who fought at the most critical juncture of an ongoing 158-year war. The series is best described as Game of Thrones meets Star Wars meets Napoleonic era tactical strategem. It’s known for its realistic depictions of the nature of war, the best and worst of opposing political ideologies, and the impact of the choices made by those standing at the precipice of history. It is yet another anime I commonly recommend as an “anime for people who don’t like anime”, and you can’t go into this expecting the normal conventions of the genre. There is no invincible ship. There is no plot armor. There is only one man’s good versus another man’s good, taking their own steps forward in the ceaseless march of mankind’s shared history. It’s a great watch for its worldbuilding alone, and I’d love to see a campaign use its “documentary-style” presentation we got in the original series’ episode 40. I’m afraid I can’t explain the Starfinder item without spoilers, but it doesn’t spoil anything to know that the series has enough assassinations to satisfy Achaekek.
Particle Beam Ring
Level 8; Price 8,400
Damage 3d4 F; Range 10 ft.; Critical wound
Capacity 4 charges; Usage 2
Bulk -; Special conceal, boost 2d4
A particle beam ring is worn around a user’s finger and designed for covert assassinations. Due to its size and covert nature, the weapon only has enough charges to shoot once or twice.
It’s pretty hard to have missed Dr. Stone this season, and it lives up to the hype. The world gets turned to stone. Thousands of years later, a genius inventor and his best friend manage to break out and try to rebuild civilization. I like to think of it as Breaking Bad meets Minecraft… with some Kingmaker? The series is great for anyone who’s thought of running a prehistoric game. Whether it’s using time travel for a one-shot, or you’re straight-up playing post-apocalyptic “Cavefinder”, this series can help give you some fun ideas (I recommend checking out Sky Key Solution for more inspiration). I love the idea of “pursuing inventions” as your quest, and the series isn’t without the many hazards of both chemistry and mother nature… such as random plumes of acid that spew out of volcanic calderas!
Ryuu-san’s Breath | Hazard 5
| Complex || Environmental |
Stealth DC +15
Description: A 20-foot high, 120-foot radius cloud of invisible acidic gas roils down the mountain, mercilessly suffocating any living being unfortunate enough to be caught in its path.
Disable Thievery DC 26 (expert) or Engineering Lore DC 23 (trained) to assemble a gas mask, or gust of wind (counteract DC 24) to counter the cloud.
Routine (1 action) The cloud of acidic mist moves 200 feet per round.
A creature that starts its turn in the cloud takes 4d8+14 acid damage and begins to suffocate. Any creature currently holding its breath (or that does not need to breathe) takes no damage and does not suffocate, and any creatures immune to poison are immune to the damage of the cloud.
Bonus! Dr. Stone also gives us a great example of a Kanryu-style spearman that caught my eye, which makes me wonder why Paizo never gave us a kuda-yari before. If you’d want to play him in 1st edition, I’d check out the spear fighter archetype.
Price 1 gp; Damage 1d8 P; Bulk 1; Hands 2
Group spear; Traits deadly d8, forceful, reach, uncommon
This flexible spear is used with a sliding tube allowing its wielder to transfer great force when thrusting. An expert wielder can use an Interact action to begin twisting the spear in one hand and gripping the tube with the other, causing it to twist in all directions and giving the wielder a +2 circumstance bonus to Feint until they drop the spear or voluntarily stop its mesmerizing rotation.
Ascendance of a Bookworm
Ascendance of a Bookworm gives us a wholesome but gritty look at the life of a modern bibliophile reincarnated into a sickly medieval peasant. Determined to read and write books, she goes about using her knowledge of our world to do whatever it takes to become a librarian… if only anyone in her caste had even seen a book. The series is well-paced, engaging, and teeth-rottingly wholesome. I feel as though I’d use the characters as generic NPCs in case my players found themselves wandering into the “wrong side of town”, especially in a low-level game needing some mundane quests. But I’m a sucker for the isekai genre, and the Oracle we saw in the APG Playtest gives us a fun way to potentially stat our cute but sickly Myne. (If you want to play an Isekai in Starfinder, check out Star Log.EM-080: Isekai Characters.)
Curse of the Devouring
Your body contains the energy and memories of more than one soul, giving you brief memories of a past lifetimes, at the expense of potentially losing your own sense of self. The extra spiritual energy causes your body to produces more magical power than it can safely contain, causing it to overwhelm you with debilitating fever in stressful situations. Given the nature of this curse, it’s benefits can vary depending on the state of the prior life contained within the body of the Oracle, and can thus be used with any other mystery, replacing that mystery’s curse.
Minor Curse: A magical energy builds, you begin to feel sick. You become sickened 3 at the start of each encounter. Whenever you use the Cast a Spell activity for a non-Revelation spell 1st level or higher, reduce your sickened value by 1 for the duration of that encounter. Retching does not decrease this condition.
Moderate Curse: The magical power building inside of you causes your eyes to glow like a prism of light. In addition to the effects of your minor curse, you gain the stupefied 3 condition at the start of each encounter. Reduce this value and your Sickened condition by 1 whenever you use the Cast a Spell activity for a non-Revelation spell of the highest or second-highest level you can cast. This condition does not disrupt your spellcasting. At the start of each encounter, you may attempt a Recall Knowledge check against any one creature you can see.
Major Curse: You are unable to completely remember who you are, your identity in crisis as you experience the memories of two lifetimes, the magic energy of two different souls overwhelming your bodies’ ability to function. You retain the effects of your minor and moderate curse. You gain the confused condition at the start of each encounter and your spellcasting is disrupted by your stupefied condition for as long as you are confused. Each time you successfully Cast a Spell, you can attempt at DC 11 flat check to recover from your confusion and end the condition. You do not fall unconscious if you attempt to cast a revelation spell while under the effects of this curse, but instead become Confused again.
Chihayafuru Season 3
Ever wanted a card game series done as well as a high-school sports anime? Chihayafuru gives you a fantastic look into the world of competitive karuta! The series gives you a first-hand look into the passion and drama that goes into this amazing game. The games themselves are intense enough that you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat, on top of which you get some great lessons into classical Japanese poetry and decent high school romance. The series really helps highlight how to write and what motivates a character who is completely sucked into a unique subculture that celebrates their heritage. Channeling that same passion into your NPCs can help build make your world feel that much more alive, especially when challenging your players with subgames and skill challenges instead of your standard combats. Cult of Cinders has a number of such activities that make the Ekujae really come to life, and my players had an absolute blast participating in their games and activities. If you liked Hikaru no Go, or are just a fan of sports anime in general, check this out.
| Downtime || Concentrate |
This game requires a reader and any number of pairs of players. Each player is given half of a deck of cards that they spread out face up in front of them. The reader selects a random card from their own deck and reads the poem they draw, with each player attempting to touch the card in front of them that has the last two lines of the poem. The reader may be a skilled hireling.
The game consists of three rounds done in 4 phases. Each round represents the early game, mid-game and late-game of a match. It is assumed that the players play multiple games, but the most memorable game that sticks with the players is represented using the checks below. All players who played Karuta for a day of downtime receive a +1 morale bonus to initiative during their next encounter. All players who won their most important game receive a +2 morale bonus. If a player spends at least 7 days of downtime playing Karuta, they receive this bonus on their next two encounters instead.
Phase 1: The reader must attempt a DC 18 check using perform (expert), games lore (trained) or poetry lore (trained).
Failure: Each player gets a -1 penalty on all rolls during phase 2.
Critical Failure: Each player gets a -2 penalty on all rolls during phase 2.
Phase 2: Each player attempts to recognize which card is being read. This can be done with a DC 18 check using poetry lore (trained), games lore (trained) or society (expert).
Critical Success: The player gets a +1 bonus on all rolls during phase 3 and phase 4.
Failure: The player who failed gets a -2 penalty on all rolls during phase 3 and phase 4.
Critical Failure: The player gets a -4 on all rolls during phase 3 and phase 4.
Phase 3: Each player attempts to spot the card being read. This can be done with a DC 20 perception check. Reduce the DC of this check by 2 each subsequent time it is rolled in the same game, to DC 16 in the final round.
Critical Success: The player gets a +1 bonus on all rolls during phase 4.
Failure: The player who failed gets a -2 penalty on all rolls during phase 4.
Critical Failure: The player gets a -4 on all rolls during phase 4.
Phase 4: Each player attempts to touch the corresponding card. This is a DC 15 check, but only the player with the higher roll successfully wins the round. This check can be rolled using an unarmed attack roll or Thievery, and gains all bonuses and penalties the creature has to initiative.
Critical Failure: The player grabs the wrong card, getting a -2 morale penalty to all checks made in the next round.
Psycho-Pass Season 3
This season has a lot of great sequels and remakes, doesn’t it? Psycho-Pass 3 is so good I’m tempted to suggest skipping Season 2. The series has been described as Minority Report meets Blade Runner. The series follows a greenhorn detective in a future dystopia wherein the ubiquitous “Sybil System” uses psychometric scans of its citizens to determine their likelihood of committing crimes. It can provide a number of fun urban mystery adventures for Starfinder, and you could easily convert any guard’s gun into the series’ iconic “dominator”, assuming your characters are in a closed system with some sort of panoptic system such as a space station. Letting a weapon only function against a criminal can help give your players an excuse for opening fire in the midst of a crowded population center without a tedious trial. Of course, there’s a good chance that your party of murderhobos will be scanned almost immediately as potential criminals…
Level 9; Price 13,200
Damage 2d6 E; Range 40 ft.; Critical knockdown
Capacity 40 charges; Usage 4 (see use)
Bulk L; Special nonlethal (see use)
This electromagnetic anchor pistol is registered to a particular city or station-wide infosphere. A powerful processor scans any target and adjusts the gun’s damage to correspond to the potential the target has to commit a crime. Dominators are usually registered to specific agents, and do not function if the officer is not permitted to carry one. They cease functioning when out of range of the settlement’s infosphere, and any attempts to hack the dominator will result in a warning, followed by the weapon’s self-destruction.
Use: The dominator will always alert it’s user as to which mode it is set to based on the psychometric scan of the target. Against a non-criminal acting within the lawful parameters of the settlement, the trigger is locked and the gun cannot be fired. Against a criminal committing or potentially committing a non-violent crime, the dominator functions as normal. Against a violent offender, the weapon does 4d6 E damage in an attempt to subdue the target, using 6 charges instead of 4. Against a potential threat to the peace of the settlement, or a nonliving offender, the weapon does 6d6 E damage, is no longer nonlethal and uses 8 charges instead of 4.
Ever wanted to run a fire-fighter campaign? Well Fire Force has you covered. The series is from the same author as Soul Eater, with a fresh take on an otherwise grim setting of pyrokineticist fire-fighters doing battle with a mysterious force that causes humans to combust! I recommend it to anyone who loves a good action series, and I could see elements of it being used in an Age of Ashes campaign. If you wanted stats for an infernal, I highly recommend Luis Loza’s Pyreborn!
Rapid-Man Blazing Talon [Two Actions]
| Monk |
Prerequisites: Rain of Embers Stance
Requirements: You are in Rain of Embers stance.
Your fire can propel enemies with great force. You Stride. If you end your movement within melee reach of at least one enemy, you can make a fire talon Strike against that enemy that deals an additional 1d4 fire damage. If you hit the enemy, you can immediately Push them as a free action.
Boku no Hero Academia Season 4
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in a cave on Mars, you’ve probably heard of Boku no Hero Academia. Whether or not you love western superhero comics, this series has become an instant shonen staple. The idea of the veteran hero passing their legacy onto the next generation is a staple of the fantasy and superhero genres, and this one manages it without coming off as hackneyed or tired. Come to think of it, the series does a great job deconstructing tropes like training and tournament arcs to develop and change its cast in a way I haven’t seen since Hunter x Hunter. If anything, the real takeaway I got from this series as both a GM and a player was to never think of any moment as mere “filler”, but rather allow the characters in a party to develop and shine even during random encounters and downtime! Season 4 gives us some fun criminal intrigue and investigation, while continuing the trend of giving GM’s a buffet of fun powers you can pluck and steal for your next encounter. The series is getting me especially pumped for playing a city guard in the third 2e AP: Agents of Edgewatch.
|| Downtime || General || Heroic || Skill |
Prerequisites: Guard Lore (trained) or Society Lore (expert)
You have invested enough time cultivating your name as a hero that just volunteering to help the town guard is enough to curb petty crime. You may spend a hero point when you Earn Income in a town as a member of the guard or watch. The activity gains the following effects.
Critical Success You gain a Temporary Hero Point. Each ally in the same community gets +2 to Earn Income during the same Downtime.
Success You gain a Temporary Hero Point. Each ally in the same community gets +1 Earn Income during the same Downtime.
Critical Failure At the GMs discretion, this may result in not only souring your name with the town guard, but also hurting your reputation among local criminals, potentially marking you or your party as an easy target.
Special If your game session ends with a Downtime check, the Temporary Hero Point can carry over to the next game, allowing you to start with a Hero Point and a Temporary Hero Point.
Sword Art Online: Alicization Season 2
Did you know the first Sword Art Online light novel was written for a contest in High School? Alicization really shows how much the author has improved since his early days. I’d even call the series is necessary if you ever wanted to run a “video game isekai” campaign. The “real world” metaplot of the Alicization Project creates a far more interesting premise than merely “stuck in a VR game”. The second season has thus so far been about the unintended consequences of season 1, with another shift in the protagonist role that keeps the story fresh. You only need a passing understanding of what came prior to enjoy the series, but the first few episodes of the original Sword Art Online aren’t bad. The “magic system” within the game itself is worth investigating.
Armament Full Control Art | Feat 12
| Champion || Cleric |
Prerequisites: Divine Ally (Blade) and Emblazon Armament
You permanently emblazon one weapon as your armament, granting it the benefits of Emblazon Armament at all times. You gain the release recollection focus spell. If you don’t already have one, you gain a focus pool of 1 Focus Point, which you can regain using your cleric or paladin Refocus activity. Release recollection is a divine spell.
Release Recollection | Focus 12
| Uncommon || Cleric || Paladin || Evocation |
Cast: [two-actions] Verbal, Somatic
Area: See below
Saving Throw: See below
Requirements: You are wielding your chosen armament
You release the memories of your divine class weapon, unleashing all of its latent power at once. If the progression of your magic item one step and then deal normal damage for your weapon, including all appropriate bonuses, penalties, modifiers, and properties, to each creature in the spell’s area; they must each attempt a basic save. A creature that critically fails this save also suffers any additional effect you would normally inflict with your weapon on a critical hit; if the creature that critically fails its save is immune to critical hits, it merely fails the save instead. The area of the spell is either a 20-foot cone, 15-foot burst, 15-foot emanation or 40-foot line, chosen when you emblazon the armament. The saving throw is either Reflex, Fortitude or Will, chosen when you emblazon the armament.