Wednesday, March 4, 2015

WUXIA INSPIRATION: TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate draws on a number of sources for inspiration. I watch a lot of wuxia movies and TV shows, and these have had a big influence not only on Ogre Gate, but on Sertorius and many of my d20 campaigns. I am hoping to share some of my favorite movies and shows in the genre here as we work on WHOG.

Note: I am writing these as a fan of the genre. I am not a movie expert or an expert in asian cinema. These are my own observations based on what I have learned by watching wuxia and kung fu movies, and by reading about them through interviews and books. But my knowledge is quite limited and I am an English speaker. So understand that my commentary comes from this perspective. 

Note: This review contains many spoilers.

Trail of the Broken Blade is a Shaw Brothers film released in 1967. Directed by Chang Cheh (The One-Armed SwordsmanGolden Swallow and The Five Venoms), the film stars Jimmy Wang (The One-Armed Swordsman, Golden Swallow and Chinese Boxer), Lisa Chiao Chiao (The One-Armed Swordsman), Chin Ping (The Magnificent Trio, The Sword and the Lute), Chiao Chuang (King Cat), Tien Feng (The Shadow Whip, Raw Courage,and The 14 Amazons), Paul Wei and Chen Hung-Lieh (Come Drink With Me). 


THE TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE

The film's first scenes are initially confusing, but the plot soon becomes clear. It begins with Li Yueh (Jimmy Wang) killing an imperial official responsible for a false accusation that led to his father's execution. This is a murder of vengeance, and clearly a just end for a corrupt man. The act forces Li Yueh to go into hiding as wanted posters with his likeness are pinned across the empire. 

Next we are introduced to the other major characters. Li Yueh has already assumed a new identity and we encounter the son of the master of Flying Fish Island, Tu Hu, who sets his sights on Yueh's former love, Liu Chen-er (Chin Ping). As Tu Hu and his men start a row the Liu family villa, wandering swordsman Fang Junzhao (Chiao Chuang) of Wudang arrives and fends them off. In the battle he wounds Tu Hu with a dart, forcing him to flee in a bloody trail. 
Chen-er


Tu Hu makes it back to Flying Fish Island, as his father is killing some prisoners and testing out his new black net technique. He clings to life long enough for his brother, Tu Long (Chen Hung-Lieh), to embrace him as he dies. Their father, Master Tu Qian Qui (Tien Feng), examines the dart and concludes it belongs to Fang Junzhao. Tu Long vows revenge and takes a group of men with him called Jiao's Four. 

In the meantime, Fang remains at the Liu family villa where Chen-er's father encourages him to spend time with his daughter, hoping she will forget about Li Yueh. Chen-er realizes that Fang is falling for her, but explains that she wants to be reunited with Yueh. Putting aside his own feelings for Chen-er, Fang vows to find him, no matter how long it takes. 

Li Yueh has assumed a new identity in a remote town as a horseman for a stable at an inn. There he is in close contact with the owner of a local gambling house named Shi Gan (Paul Wei) and his daughter, Xiao Mei (Lisa Chiao Chiao)
Fang (left) and Yueh (right)


Xiao Mei and Hu Zi (who works at the gambling house) have a scheme where they steal the winnings from gamblers who have a good night at her father's establishment. One evening Li Yueh sees them and intercepts their efforts, revealing himself to be a martial expert in the process. He reprimands Xiao Mei but when her father comes to him with a bribe the next day, he realizes he may have exposed himself too much. He smooths things over with Shi Gan, who is worldly but proves to be loyal (initially it is unclear what his intentions or character are). 
Tu Long

Fang eventually passes through town and notices Li Yueh lift a large trough with just one hand. Impressed he spends time with Yueh and the two become close. Fang believes Yueh has a natural talent for martial arts and wants to take him to Wudang. 

Tu Long and Jiao's Four arrive in the town and find Fang, facing off in Shi Gan's gambling house. This proves to be an engaging scene, with the gambling hall providing plenty of visual fodder. They exchange banter over a number of games of chance, slicing dice and then fusion them together with Chi energy, before a battle breaks out. Yueh arrives in time to save Fang and kill Jiao's Four. Tu Long flees but promises to return in a month for revenge. 

Things get a bit complicated as Chen-er follows a trail of her own to the town. Just as she arrives and Fang, Yueh leaves for Flying Fish Island to defeat Fang's enemies for him. In a note he explains that Fang is a righteous man and can take care of Chen-er, that they are ideal for one another, and that he as a man on the run could offer her no real future. 


Tu Long confronts Fang 
The pace picks up considerably here as Yueh slices his way through Flying Fish Island and Fang and Chen-er rush to help him. Yueh faces off with Master Tu while Fang and Chen-er negotiate their way through pits and traps, eventually facing and killing Tu Long. Yueh and Master Ta each deliver a fatal blow to the other and die. When Chen-er finds his body, she takes a sword and kills herself. We then see their spirits ascend together. 


RIGHTEOUS FRIENDSHIP AND TRUE LOVE
This is a solid movie, but certainly not Chang Cheh's best effort. Jimmy Wang plays a strong lead as always and Paul Wei stands out as the indecipherable Shi Gan. It was nice to see Lisa Chiao Chiao and Jimmy Wang (who are lovers in The One Armed Swordsman) share scenes, though in Trail of the Broken Blade the love is unrequited.

The action is more traditional swordplay, like you see in a lot of these earlier Shaws Brothers films. I rather enjoy this. While I love modern wuxia with its sharp editing, one of the nice things about movies like Trail of the Broken Blade is you can see the actor's entire body and movement in each shot. It isn't nearly as fancy as the stuff we have grown accustomed to, but it is very real and requires a good deal of athleticism from the actors. One downside is mistakes are not as buried by the editing, each misstep is magnified. 

The swordplay itself is good, but not great either. It has strong moments. However it isn't really the focus of the film. The beginning and end have plenty of action, but the middle of the movie, though it has some brief encounters, is devoted mainly to the characters. The final battle itself is considerably entertaining and has a few surprising moments. 

The line between good and evil in Trail of the Broken Blade is stark, with The Flying Fish Island sect taking delight in mayhem, while Fang (A Wudang Swordsman) and Li Yue are the epitome of selfless righteousness, sacrificing their own happiness for others. Ultimately it is a tragic story where our righteous heroes are doomed by their very nature to unfulfilling ends. On the other hand, the film's final sequence, where Yue and Cheng-er ascend together as spirits, is hopeful. There seemed to be a theme of righteousness ultimately being rewarded, even if it means suffering in this life.

The movie reminded me of Last Hurrah for Chivalry with its focus on true friendship in a world that cynical and filled with betrayals. It is unapologetically sentimental and I have to admit I really enjoy that. One of the pleasures of wuxia is it can walk the line of acknowledging the grim realities of life, pointing out hypocrisy and corruption, but also leaves room people whose hearts and deeds align in moving displays of fidelity. 
Villains of Flying Fish Island


The friendship between Fang and Yue is central to the story. It also serves as a vehicle for highlighting their moral character. In fact all the relationships do this. A common theme in wuxia is putting the happiness of those you care for before your own. Fang loves Chen-er but in order for her to be happy, and because he feels Yueh is a good man, he devotes himself to re-uniting the couple. Yueh loves Chen-er but lets her go because he has no future and knows that Fang would make a worthy husband. Chen-er is willing to die for her love and Xiao Mei, who loves Yue, emulates Fang and works to reunite them toward the end of the movie. This is certainly a confusing network of feelings, but it makes sense as the film plays out and it works well to emphasize importance of selflessness. 

Trail of the Broken Blade has a lot of classic wuxia elements that can inspire Gamemaster. It really does have it all: love, loyalty, tragedy, grudges and larger than life heroes/villains.

The premise of the hero in hiding, would be an interesting way to introduce an NPC but could also arise as a development for a party of characters on the run. The movie highlights some of the challenges such characters might face.


Flying Fish Island
This could also work as an adventure, where the players need to track down a person's lover who is in hiding from the law. It creates an interesting basis for an investigation where the PCs would need to be careful so they don't inadvertently bring the person they are tracking down to the attention of authorities. 

Flying Fish Island would make a spectacular location for adventure, with elaborate traps (including caves filled with poison gas) and a stable of villains worthy of any campaign. 

I would certainly encourage both game masters and wuxia fans to check this one out. 




Monday, March 2, 2015

INTERVIEW WITH JACKIE MUSTO (THE BOOKSTRAVAGANZA KICKSTARTER)

I recently spoke with illustrator Jackie Musto, creator of Kay and P and The Adventures of Lady Skylark, about her upcoming kickstarter. Jackie is also responsible for most of the interiors in a number of our own products from Bedrock Games (including Servants of Gaius, Sertorius and the upcoming Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate).

Jackie's Kickstarter, the Bookstravanganze, is aimed to support a print release for her Lady Skylark and Key and P comics. You can find the kickstarter here: BOOKSTRAVAGANZA

Brendan Davis: Tell me about the Bookstravaganza Kickstarter. Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter for this project?

Jackie Musto: I've actually used Kickstarter a couple times before for smaller projects, and they turned out really well! Usually when a new book is coming out, I set it up as kind of a "pre-ordering" system. Since the artwork is completely done before I start the campaign, there is less worry or risk involved for backers—they know they're going to get their product. This project is actually even more important than the previous ones too—I self publish and that is very costly when it comes to printing color. Usually, I can only order a small amount of books so when I sell them, I really only make enough back to cover the book. My printer has offered me a sweetheart deal though, and since I have a whopping five books to print if I order a large amount of them they'll cut me a better deal. This means I can finally offer them in bookstores, which is a really big deal. Kickstarter is great for this because it allows me to reach a pretty grand audience and offer some cool extras like buttons, stickers and t-shirts.

BD: Lady Skylark is steampunk pirate adventure while Kay and P is more modern with a dose of the supernatural and heavy focus on characters. Why these two genres and how do you manage doing two separate comics?

JM: Well I super love fantasy in all its forms. It should come as surprise to no-one that I've been an avid gamer since I was about twelve years old, and often made up elaborate stories for my toys going on adventures before that. The modern fantasy of "Kay and P" evolved out of wondering what it might be like to have a magical best friend, and then how you'd try and deal with that. Sometimes I'd be trying to get on a crowded bus and wonder: "If I had an invisible friend, how could I get them on here?" or something like that. It was fun to puzzle the logistics of it.


I think that it's also interesting to have these kind of weird creatures that have real lives as well. Just because you're an animal person or a minotaur doesn't mean you don't have to work! 

On the flip side of that, Lady Skylark is heavier into the fantastical side of things. There is straight-up alchemy magic, flying ships and giant sky beasts. It's actually a really nice contrast to have a heavy action sequence in comparison to the often more subdued modern setting. I think steampunk is a really interesting "what-if" scenario as well. I really dig Shadowrun and cyber-punk as well, so finding out there was a historical version instead of a sci-fi version was pretty neat.

As far as how I manage—ha, lots of coffee! Really, it's planning and scheduling. Once I got quite quick at my technique, it was easier to estimate how much time I was going to need per page and schedule around it. I can't stress enough to aspiring comic artists out there to really sketch out your panel layouts and script and such way in advance so you can foresee any problems ahead before it's too late!

BD: What is your writing process for the story lines? The art?

JM: When I'm writing Kay and P, I think of it as episodic. Each issue of a comic is around 32 pages, so that's what I place a story arc in. I begin by drafting an outline of what I want to happen in an issue, often referring back to the giant whole-story timeline I have and what scenes or characters will be there. Then I break that outline down in specific actions or details in each part, and then edit! It's important to realize sometimes stuff can't fit and needs to be cut for time, or isn't required to move the story along. It's very valuable to spend sometime working the scene and characters before as well (figuring out the room layout, what a character is going to wear, and of course sketches of new characters). I then work the paneling and script in tandem. I layout a thumbnail of each spread of pages (so I know what the left and right pages will look like next to each other) and start scripting underneath. I write out the scene, actions and dialogue. Above, I loosely pen in the frames of the panels, and sketches of the contents of these panels (including the speech bubbles). When I'm satisfied with the sketch, I move onto the computer and draw directly there — I find it really easy to manipulate the art and move things around if I need. Once I'm in the computer, it's surprisingly like a traditional comic: I pencil, ink, color and add the text. Lady Skylark is a little different as I am following a script in that one, but otherwise the process is rather similar.

BD: How long does it take you to develop each issue?

JM: From concept to finished pages, I've ground it down to about three weeks (though not all in a row). I spend a couple days on outline and sketching, then I can handle about two pages a day if I'm on a roll. It actually takes a lot longer for it to come out than it takes to produce. Kay and P updates twice weekly and Lady Skylark on the weekend.

BD: Who are your biggest influences?

JM: It's a weird list, but: Alphonse Mucha, Rankin & Bass, Jim Henson, and a lot of the wonderful female contemporary indie comic artists out there. I'd name them all, but we'd be here all day. I think it's important as an artist to take a look around and see what is being made along side you. Get inspired by their awesome skill and determination—it can help when you're feeling a little stuck or down yourself. I grew up with tons of fantasy as well, so I am sure that has really shaped how my ideas form and what I think is interesting.

BD:  One of the things I appreciate about your work (particularly in the Lady Skylark Series) is how alive your characters seem. Their personalities glow and are visible to the reader. I am curious how you approach giving this kind of life to lines on a page.

JM: I'm going to spill one of my true secrets here: I have a mirror next to my desk and I make faces into it all day long. Seriously! Whenever I need a face, I make it so I can see what it looks like. In addition to that, I once had a drama teacher who told me: "In life, you are volume 5. On stage, you're 11!", meaning that you almost want to over-act a little if you want your message to come across to an audience way out there. Subtle movements can be lost, so a big facial expression or movement is super helpful. I also thank my love of animation— if you pay really close attention to the masters, they make shrink and stretch do magic. The gesture of a form moving is really what makes it exciting - if you make all your characters look like they are on coat hangers, it's not quite as fun!

Links:

twitter - @kayandp

Sunday, March 1, 2015

THE SECRET OF JE VALLEY PART TWO (WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE)

This campaign is set ten years after a previous set of adventures (HERE). This is the second session of the campaign (see the first entry HERE).  


Characters:
Xue Lingsu (Purple Cavern Sect)
Kang Xi (Affiliated with Mr. Red Claw)
Zhi Zhu (No Sect)
Long Shu (Purple Cavern Sect)
Rong (Tree Dwelling Nun Sect)

We continued where we left off with Zhi Zhu dragging Kang Xi and Long Shu from the Golden Grotto Academy and Xue LIngsu bringing the daughter of the city engineer (Su Long) to Poet Hong's residence after rescuing her from the Grotto. 

As the three party members stumbled out of the academy they met a Tree Dwelling Nun sect member named Rong, who offered to assist Zhi Zhu carry her incapacitated friends. Reluctantly she accepted, handing Kang Xi over. 

Upon their return to Hong's residence they connected with Lingsu and asked Rong about her background, who expressed further interest in traveling with them. Though suspicious of her motives, they brought her into the party. 

Poet Hong toasted the party for rescuing Su Long's daughter, Yuyan. He gave them several hundred taels in a well crafted box and hosted a meal in their honor. They decided to take Yuyan with them to the Inn of the Emerald Monk where they still needed to dismantle the water clock so it wouldn't activate and drain the local martial heroes of their Qi. But before they departed, Long Shu arranged a meeting with Headmaster Mu, hoping to convince him to take a different path. By Long Shu's account of the meeting, he appears to have succeeded. 

As they left Chen on the southern road, the party was confronted by a group of mystic sword disciples led from the rear by a man on horseback (who they would later learn was Lying Tiger). Lying Tiger demanded they turn over the report of the Phoenix Crown and attacked when they refused. The battle was quick, with the party dropping the disciples right away, but Lying Tiger released his Sword Whipping Strike, allowing him to strike everyone in the party with a green ribbon of energy. They did manage to wound him with a blasting blade attack and tried to retreat. Zhi Zhu nabbed him with her Arms of Silk technique, unfurling her robes to engulf him. This worked for a time, but he struck with his Whipping Blade once again and the party thought it safer to let him flee. 

When they reached the Inn of the Emerald Monk, the party reunited Yuyun with her father (who had been onsite building the Water Clock). They also detained the foreman of the project, a Golden Grotto Academy master, who Lady Tao had beheaded. 

Lady Tao thanked the party for their performance and assigned an easier job of transporting the body of local bean curd merchant to his ancestral home in Rong-Yao. The body would require the Spirit Keeping Rites for the journey's duration, which meant they had to hire a Yen-Li priest or shaman. 

They went to the Celestial Spirit Temple, where they met the head priest. He talked them into hiring him personally for the job at about 80 spades a day. The first day of travel went well, but that night the Celestial Spirit priest looked sick and said the Spirit Keeping Rite was more difficult than usual to perform. Because the ritual appeared to be harming the priest, they decided something was amiss and opted to bury the body there in the road. As they were digging a grave, the priest keeled over and the coffin began to shake. Zhi Zhu tried to contain the coffin with her Arms of Silk but it burst open and the stiff body emerged with a gaping mouth. Kang Xi recognized it as a Hopping Ghost, and told the party to burn it. They took torches from the camp and oil and set to the task. Though it nearly managed to bite a few members of the party, they escaped certain death and put it to flames. When the fire died, they inspected the body, opening an incising that had been made on its chest. Inside they found a paper note attached to a bronze rod that read "REMAIN". 

They purchased another coffin at a neighboring village and continued to Rong-Yao where they delivered the body. Then the party headed back to the Emerald Inn and explained what had happened. Lady Tao believed the note was left by the man's wife and said she would take care of the matter. She also informed them that Lying Tiger had been to the Inn looking for them, and that she couldn't employ them so long as they had a dispute with Mystic Sword Sect. 

After discussing the issue, the party decided to forge a copy of the Report of the Phoenix Crown identifying false locations for its possible current whereabouts. They didn't want Lady White Blade to obtain the crown because it might enable her to claim leadership over the martial world. Xue Lingsu spent the night making a forgery and when he found out Lying Tiger was staying at the inn, he brought it to him. Lying Tiger accepted the book and thanked Lingsu. He also asked if Lingsu knew anything about the disappearance of his sect member, Iron Ghost (who the party had helped kill in Chen). Lingsu lied that he did not, but said he had heard One Armed Fiery Demon was after him. When pressed further he described the one armed swords woman in greater detail. 


After their meeting, Zhi Zhu remained on the roof near Lying Tiger's room and eavesdropped. Speaking with one of his junior disciples, Lying Tiger speculated that One Armed Fiery Demon was his former traveling companion, Min, who had stolen the Wind Saber of Sunan from Heiping Temple (her own sect) to give to her husband Leng. In the end, Lying Tiger betrayed his companions to his own master, Lady White Blade and they were defeated in the Battle of Je Valley where Min lost her arm, Leng was killed, and Shu (the third member of the group) was blinded before falling to his death in a deep canyon. The final result was Lady White Blade took the Wind Saber for herself. 

After resolving the matter, Lady Tao was still reluctant to hire the party until she knew there was no issue with Lady White Blade. So the group decided to investigate the whereabouts of the Phoenix Crown. The book mentioned three places it might be: With the Kushen, With One Armed Fiery Demon and with Heiping Temple. They decided to find One Armed Fiery Demon as their first point of investigation. 

The group went north again but on the road to Water Village (Naam) they were ambushed by the Nephew of Master Ta, Flying Hawk, who wanted revenge for Madame Hamaya (someone they killed last session). His men blocked their path and he struck from behind. Luck was not with Flying Hawk as the players quickly overcame him and dispatched his men (without killing them). They bound Flying Hawk to a tree and made it to name where they found One Armed Fiery Demon at the local Inn. 

This is where the session ended. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE: THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTERS

One thing that I've noticed when I prep for my Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaigns is I make way more NPCs than in other settings. This may have to do with my own approach to the genre, but I also think wuxia by its nature is about people and you need lots of characters to make things work. 

Anyone who has watched even just a few martial arts movies, knows that many of the characters are defined by narrow personality traits and a particular Kung Fu skill. Taking this approach has helped me, because the players face so many bit-player foes, I don't want them all to disappear from their collective memory, I want them to each stand out starkly and be memorable. One of my starting points is their martial nickname and the one or two key Kung Fu techniques they are known for. 

Nicknames in wuxia are important. They help encapsulate the character. In Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber, one of the more interesting characters is Golden Haired Lion King, and this immediately gives me a clear image if I am a GM of what kind of personality I am dealing with (someone powerful and boisterous). I try to find names that help shape my selection of Kung Fu Techniques and give me a clear handle on the character's personality. Because I am juggling lots of different underlings, foes, and vengeance seekers, it is important that I have this mental short cut during live play. 


Selection of Kung Fu Techniques is quite important on its own. In Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, every martial hero gets a number of special abilities called Kung Fu Techniques. These are more than your standard kicks or sword-blows, they are extraordinary attacks that draw on a character's Qi. With a Kung Fu Technique you can do anything from diving into a whirling attack with your sword to unleashing a a wave of Qi energy with a roar. Presently all characters start with 6 Kung Fu Techniques and can gain more as they earn Experience Points. When I am making NPCs, I like to include a list of all their techniques but single out their signature techniques for paraphrased text from the entries. This makes it easier for me to use the techniques in a fight, but it also gives me a clear idea of what their opening moves might be. I try to fit the techniques to the NPCs personality. 

All this is important because I am making so many characters for the game. Whereas in a typical Sertorius session I might make 1-3 major NPCs per adventure but spend the bulk of my time with stuff like mapping, with Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, I am easily making 2 to 3 times that many characters per adventure. There are still locations to map and items to describe, but you often have multiple competing groups converging on these places or going after the same prize. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CAMPAIGN SET UP AND STRUCTURE IN WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE

I just wanted to go over some of the details about how I have been prepping my Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaigns. We may offer some advice rooted in this in the rulebook but this is really more just to give people a sense of how we play tested the system for long term adventures more than anything else. 

I usually start with something I call the campaign backdrop. We already have the setting, but this is more like the current events and recent history of the region the adventure is occurring in. This sets in motions the NPCs, Sects, groups and threats that will be perusing their own agendas over the course of the campaign. This helps create a situation filled with adventure potential that I can then drop the PCs into. 

Once I have that I plan out some possible adventures around a core party concept the group has agreed upon. For example my current party established that they would all be seeking employment together at a security company in the Banyan region, so the first series of adventures were possible contracts available at the Emerald Security Company. 

I also made a point of weaving in some of the backdrop elements into the adventures themselves. Their first adventure was to investigate the death of a local official in Chen. The person behind the disappearance was planning a grand revenge against an old foe and acquired a number of important manuals and texts toward that goal. As the party investigated the villain they encountered people from other sects who had an interest in these texts which made for some exciting and unexpected conflicts. They also formed an alliance with a woman who had a longstanding grudge against one these interfering sects. 

From here I have a number of adventure seeds that I am prepping for. Over the course of the adventure the players encountered a number of potential leads, including the possible whereabouts of something called the Phoenix Crown of Bao. So I sketched out some basic elements for each of these should the players choose to explore them. Because the book already has so many NPCs in it, I can freely draw on those as I need as well (which is helpful). 

But I am also keeping dibs on my backdrop players as well because many of them are potentially interested in avenues the players may explore.

For me this works pretty well. It is a bit less dense than how I prep my Sertorius campaigns, and more dynamic as well. 

I would describe it as a combination of character driven/situational adventure with bits of sandbox and investigation thrown in. The role of fate also allows me to play a more active role as GM. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE: THE FRONTIER

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is set in the world of Qi Xien, and here there is a great empire with a vast bureaucracy as one might expect from a wuxia-style setting. However the focus of the game, where we anticipate most people will set their campaigns, is a place called the Banyan Region, a frontier inhabited by native peoples, with pockets of land under the control of local magnates. 

A frontier setting is quite conducive to adventure and a good fit for the wuxia genre. The Banyan is a locale where many of the major martial sects have their headquarters and are safely away from the reach of the emperor. Bandits, warlords and powerful martial arts masters terrify the locals but there are also heroes here who protect the weak from the strong. 

The Banyan is densely forested land, cut through by jagged mountains and plunging ravines. Native tribes live in defensible cliff-side villages accessible only by narrow trails and farmers work the land for local magnates. Travelers face many threats from thieves to mountain tribes led by shape-shifting Demon Shamans. While local magnates provide oasis of safety, the martial sects help establish a kind of balance by preventing any one magnate from amassing too much power. 

The frontier is also a world of martial heroes and warring sects. Away from the emperor's grip, the different martial organizations have free reign in the Banyan and their experts often find work in the service of magnates. Some simply choose to roam, searching for worthy opponents to defeat. 

The martial sects were once united against the emperor, but now they've turned inward in the Banyan. Their bloody feuds spill across the rivers and grottoes of the frontier, as they settle ancient grudges. 

For me, this is a perfect setting for a wuxia campaign. So we've devoted a good chunk of the book to describing the Banyan. We do describe other places in the setting too, this just gets a lot more focus and attention. If Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate does well, we will follow up with PDFs describing places like the Empire and Hai'an. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

GRUDGES

We just started a new Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate Campaign (HERE) and during play I realized we had been approaching Grudges all wrong. While I think the initial idea for a Grudge Encounter table was sound, the problem was it didn't connect well to ongoing events in the campaign. I realized that the Grudge Table needs to be built up as party's incur more grudges, and its use is mainly just a way to see if and when they come up in play. I don't know why this didn't occur to me before but because the group managed to potentially create two grudges in a single session, I think that helped things click in my head. 


One interesting function the new table serves is it rewards parties who make a point of not developing new grudges. To some extant grudges may be unavoidable but parties who just wade through enemies and kill them mercilessly will find their actions come back to haunt them on a more regular basis than those who do not. That said, as you will see below, avoiding grudges is not such an easy thing, nor is it always the best decision. 

In our last session we had two instances that could lead to grudges in the future. First the party killed Madame Hamaya of the Fragrant Petal after they had subdued her in battle. After that they allowed a member of Mystic Sword Sect to be killed during an interrogation. In both cases, I as the GM have to decide how likely it is that knowledge of these actions leak out. In one case they might be better protected because they made a point of committing the crime in a region of town controlled by their sect. In the other instance they hired a priest and directed him to the body. While a prudent gesture, it might be enough for the group to be connected to the death. 

The dilemma characters in this sort of setting face when they confront opponents and decide to kill or merely subdue and release is important. Killing a foe eliminates them as a direct threat. And that matters because enemies do often come back and try to kill you later. Showing mercy avoids having to deal with relatives or friends seeking revenge down the road. So while parties don't want to go around making grudges left and right, being merciful has its consequences. 

This is one of the things I love about the genre and work into my campaigns. Choices have an impact. Violence has consequences but so does non-violence.