Dungeons and the Supernatural
There is generally a split in wuxia campaign types between those with strong mythic or supernatural elements and those without. Some games cleave more to a Killer Clans, Touch of Zen or The Kid with the Golden Arm feel, they are grounded in reality and only depart from it around some basic wuxia conceits. On the other end of the spectrum are campaigns that feel more like A Chinese Odyssey, The Sorcerer and the White Snake or Painted Skin. These have more fantasy elements like demons, magic, deities and ghosts. Generally speaking I like to keep my games more in the Killer Clans territory, however I sprinkle bits of fantasy in order to give me more options. So a world where ghosts and monsters exist and are just not that common.
This is particularly useful in a dungeon setting and I strongly encourage GMs to consider bringing in the supernatural when they build them because it leaves more tools at their disposal. That isn't to say you can't make a dungeon that is set in an entirely realistic wuxia milieu. You can, and if you prefer it, I say by all means, do it your way. What I've found in my own sessions is it creates a more expansive environment that players react more powerfully to if you leave room for the fantasy. Every session doesn't need to involve skeletons clambering toward the party in an ancient imperial tomb, but it helps if that sort of thing is at least a possibility.
If your experience running wuxia for players is anything like mine, then most of the time you are probably the genre fan at the table. You may have one or two players who are also into it, but generally speaking you'll often be dealing with players who may have a passing interest but might not know a whole lot about wuxia. For these players I've found the fantasy stuff goes a long way toward building broader acceptance of the genre. This is true both in terms of RPGs and movies. Start with Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, then show them Come Drink With Me. Throw them in the bronze hall of the lion cult where they face Hopping Ghosts and Fox Demons, then ease them into an adventure about sect politics.
Manuals and Dungeons
I mentioned this in the first Wuxia Dungeon post but it is really important. Learning new Kung Fu Techniques is central to Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and one of the chief ways to do this is through manuals. Manuals and dungeons go hand in hand. These are the wuxia world's equivalent of relics or magic items. In a world where having the edge over your rivals is crucial to survival, it makes sense for sects to safeguard their secret techniques. If they have manuals, they will protect them.
There are all kinds of possibilities here. If anything is going to be guarded by traps, puzzles and supernatural wards, it's a manual. If the players are after the techniques of an existing sect, they may find themselves sneaking into heavily guarded sect headquarters (like Purple Cavern below). But some sects have been destroyed. Their headquarters remain and still guard manuals with secret techniques, but other people or creatures may have moved in. This is a situation where the classic dungeon really works well and is entirely genre appropriate.
I've used all kinds of things to guard manuals from musical puzzles that open doors or collapse ceilings to guardian statues that animate and attack intruders.
|Purple Cavern Sect Headquarters|
Map by Michael Prescott
While dungeons are generally used for exploration adventures, I've started to think in terms of other dungeon types as well. For example The Purple Cavern Sect Headquarters (right) is certainly a place the players could explore, but because it is the Headquarters of a Major Sect, the primary reason for the map isn't for people who don't know the layout but for players who live there, so they have some sense of their daily training environment. There may still be sneaking around to break sect rules of course. If the players belong to Purple Cavern Sect though, they will know the layout, they won't be exploring it to learn its structure (though the GM certainly could add branching caverns that are not known to the party).
This has been useful on a number of fronts. If the sect gets attacked, it gives me a solid tool for managing such an event. It also provides a great backdrop for an epic Kung Fu battle. Here the dungeon is only a place to map and explore but a potential fight venue where the players move from room to room as they trade blows with a powerful rival. If players are themselves the inhabitants of the dungeon, they can use their familiarity to create tactical advantages for themselves. One of the reasons we did the Purple Cavern Map in 3D was to help facilitate that exact type of scenario.
The Contents of the Rulebook
While we encourage Gamemasters to make and use their own wuxia dungeons we will include a sample dungeon in the book called the Tomb of the Timeless Master. There will be other, smaller examples (as well as headquarters locations like the Purple Cavern Sect of course). While we are trying to keep most of the gazetteer entries brief (just a few paragraphs where possible), entries like Tomb of the Timeless Master and Purple Cavern Sect will be lengthy (several pages long and up to 10,000 words). So these will include individual room descriptions and NPC/Monster stat blocks, though they will still be within the gazetteer.
Right now I can say with certainty (in addition to the world map, hex map of the world and the local Banyan Region hex map) we will have maps of: The City of Chen, The Golden Grotto Academy, The Mystic Sword Sect Temple Headquarters, The Purple Cavern Sect, The Tomb of the Timeless Master and The Silk Tavern. This is more location maps than we've ever done in a book and we may add to that list if we can.