Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!
Thrusting its frenzied way onto the international scene at the close of the eighties, Shinya Tsukamoto’s genre redefining 1989 Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a 16-mm underground horror that helped bring live-action Japanese cyberpunk to a much wider audience.
With some truly bizarre scenes (like a gyrating prosthetic-enhanced coupling between the film’s nameless salary-man and his ‘accepting girlfriend’), the transgressive indie-horror served up a blend of all the genres subcategories in an artistic medley of disorienting and gut-turning scenes.
The film follows an anxiety-ridden protagonist as he descends into a metallic nightmare world, brought about by the films antagonist – credited simply as ‘guy’ or in Japanese, yatsu. Yatsu is a metal fetishist who is the literal embodiment of modern man’s delirious obsession with all things technological and how it can ruin everything around us. As he slowly invades the salary-man’s life for the sins the mild-mannered worker has committed, we are given a glimpse into the frantic jubilee that accompanies those who both embrace society’s ills and reject them all the same.
I was recently lucky enough to see the film for the first time at a viewing at an smaller art-house theater during their Japanese Appreciation festival. Despite a somewhat dizzying narrative, the scenes and filming were edgy in ways modern horror films often lack and the subtext of what was on display was refreshing despite being filmed over thirty years ago. Though the film is named Tetsuo, the real star, as in most horror films was for me the antagonist – the Metal Fetishist. Played with giddy zeal by Writer/Director Shin’ya Tsukamoto, the character dashes across the screen like some crazed Fury, looking for vengeance and making for an excellent D&D baddie – so lets get to it!
Conversion. Yatsu started with a difficult beginning. At first I thought there must be dozens of Magneto builds out there for 5E that I could draw inspiration and mechanics from, but unlike Superheroes, like Cap’n America for instance, Magneto turned out to be pretty rare. Which meant that the majority of Yatsu’s abilities had to be created from scratch.
I chose a sorcerer as the basic build for him, as the origins in the film are certainly similar enough: untapped ‘magical’ abilities that are awakened through mystical means. While the mystic class seemed at first glance like a good starting point, the class’s balance issues have always been a sticking point for me. With a sorcerer base we have the base saves (Cha + Con) but little else to work with. So we had to look at the abilities piece-by-piece.
Apart from the save, the next easiest building area is usually resistances and immunities. From the film, yatsu and the salaryman appear energized by electricity – so we have the Flesh Golem’s Lightning Absorption trait to easily graft on. Being a ‘iron man’ also gives our baddie some basis for resistance to standard damage, but also expanded resistance that seems obvious from a metallic standpoint: fire, cold and the like.
In the film, Yatsu at various times makes objects out of his hands, similar to Terminator 2 (which unfortunately isn’t a horror movie!) including an apparent flame thrower. This seemed like a quirky cool power, but also had the apparent ability to make projectiles – giving us the Reshape trait, similar to the mystic’s focus powers, and Yatsu’s corresponding Nozzle attacks.
The core of Yatsu’s abilities however are his mastery over metal. The starting point implementation of this is his Sense Metal trait, similar to the xorn’s ability but without the need for scenting it as its psychic in origin. Again we have the obvious nod to a psychic class, but without the mystic mechanics.
The rest of his suite of metal abilities have very similar implementations in published 5E content already, they just needed to lean more heavily towards a metallic basis-
Ferrokinesis (Metal manipulation) – Essentially a telekinesis spell but specific to metals and with the ability to pull or push creatures in possession of the objects. Originally I had a broken this into a few different abilities, similar to thundewave and thorn whip but I instead united them all as a means of saving space into one, hopefully robust, action.
Rusted Recovery – Healing for Yatsuo seemed only natural, but I also felt like this was from the movie a way for him to do damage. Like Ferrokinesis, this was originally split into two powers, one for healing and one for damage, but again for sake of space and also to limit the number of powers, encapsulating them into one action seemed best. It has all the damage abilities of a rust monster, feels vaguely like heat metal and reflects suitably to his absorptive qualities from the film.
Metal Fusion – This was definitely the most fun ability to create and one that gave room to develop the Metal Servant template baddies. As portrayed in the film, Yatsu essentially manipulates the salary-man into becoming a metal monstrosity, hoping to create a ‘brother’ of sorts, which from my readings is dealt more explicitly with in the later films of the series. Giving Yatsu the ability to, at range, create duplicates of himself, while also doing damage was interesting and though it diverges somewhat from the film (this ability in the film is more mental and hence psychic), feels like a great way to give Yatsu more edge. It opens up Yatsu to being a villain with actual henchmen and lingering, long-lasting harmful effects- the hallmark of any horror villain.
With his speed, Yatsu also felt like a villain that had to dish out damage at a fairly high rate. This prompted his legendary actions, which also seemed to necessitate a fairly high-level CR rating. It’s always difficult to judge where on the CR spectrum, especially given 5E’s CR nebulous design methodology, a monster should sit. It may seem odd for Yatsu to be that much higher in terms of CR from other more ‘traditional’ horror monsters, but a being that is fused with metal and can control it just seemed naturally stronger. Going by these, and his relatively little offensive attacks from the film, the legendary actions are just more chances to deal out his slam damage, which based on the fact that he could mold parts of his body into bludgeoning, jagged or sharp appendages, I thought would be interesting if the damage type could be modified in play- hence variable damage type.
And with that, we have our Yastsu – literally our guy!
But what do you think, is Yatsu too much of a metal-head for your players? Or will they embrace some of their modern-day angst and become a metal servant? Download my rendition of Yatsu in PDF format for your campaign and rust away your player’s hopes for a better tomorrow.
(Updated with comments/thoughts from the Reddit community)
Yatsu is a very chaotic and frenzied opponent. He likes to wade into combat with his prey and takes enormous pleasure in goading them. He may have little concern for his own well-being, believing his powers and abilities are no match for his adversaries – which may be entirely true. Foes should expect Yatsu to fight like a typical, ego maniacal villain, making careless mistakes as he taunts and berates his opponents into submission or acceptance of his warped world view.
Weaker opponents, especially those with an arcane or mystical background he will likely attempt to convert to his bizarre philosophy, using his metal fusion ability to full effect on them. Larger opponents, those he sees little use for or simply those he feels threatened by he will likely simply try to slam into submission or hurl them into the air with is Ferrokinesis.
Above all, Yatsu fights with fearless and reckless abandonment, hoping to bring any who oppose him to a quick end.
Add YATSU To Your Campaign
Yatsu makes a great villain for an Eberron or Ravnica campaign. Perhaps a failed Simic experiment or Izzet explosion released the arcane substance that allowed Yatsu to meld with the metal objects he obsessed over. However he came to be, Yatsu should lurk in the shadows, singling out the creator of his abilities long enough for him to slowly erode the target’s mind, turning either them or others in his immediate vicinity into metal servants. As Yatsu’s power, and the number of his servants grow, he should become bolder, no longer content to hide in the shadows, but openly looking to create a gang or even religion devoted to his twisted beliefs. Whatever district or world he inhabits, there should be enough downtrodden and castaways from a particular society that however bizarre his ideology may be, they resonate with enough individuals to form a small band of terrifying villains.