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. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

THE SECRET OF JE VALLEY CAMPAIGN (WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE)

This campaign is set ten years after a previous set of adventures (HERE). 

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

This session started at the Inn of the Emerald Monk (a kind of neutral ground in the martial world), where the players were each heading in search of employment with Lady Tao and the Emerald Security company. On their way in they saw preparations for the upcoming Phoenix Festival, including the construction of an elaborate water clock. Upon arrival they met the Lady and she offered them a contract helping Poet Hong of Chen investigate the recent death or disappearance of his good friend Su Long. They were to be paid 100 Taels upfront and given more money by Poet Hong himself upon arrival. 

While speaking with Lady Tao, they noticed a number of martial heroes in the Inn. Among them they saw Madame Hamaya of the Fragrant Petal, who seemed to be sizing them up. They took to their beds and made preparations in the morning to travel to Chen. The journey would be a day or two north along the river. 

They passed through a small town called Water Village (Naam) on their way but it was still just approaching sunset, so they decided to press on. Kang Xi however decided to linger behind and find an Inn or Tavern to get wine, saying he would meet up with the party after. 

Kang Xi went to the Inn of the Divine Scholar and upon entering found himself in the midst of a stand-off between 8 Mystic Sword Sect disciples and a one-armed woman with white hair and a large saber. The lady turned to him and hissed "Do you serve Lady White Blade". Kang Xi replied that he did not, and the woman flew into the air with her sword spinning, cutting off the heads of all eight Mystic Sword Disciples. She the strode out and Kang Xi purchased some wine from the cowering proprietor. On his way out of town, he he followed the woman with white hair when he realized she was going in the same direction as the rest of the party (north). 


Meanwhile the rest of the group was on the road to Chen when Xue Lingsu spotted a figure waiting hiding in some nearby trees. As they passed, the figure attacked revealing herself to be Madame Hamaya of the Fragrant Petal. She unleashed a blasting wind attack with a wave of her fan and the swirling debris stung the flesh of one or two party members. A battle unfolded with Madame Hamaya seeming to hold victory in her hand until Long Shu used Great Stride to sneak behind their attacker and impale her with Spear of the Infinite Emperor. Madame Hamaya plummeted from the tree top and crashed in a heap on the ground. 

The sound of fighting had alerted both the White Haired woman and Kong Xi, who eventually arrived at the scene as the party was interrogating Madame Hamaya. The White Haired woman asked if they intended to kill Hamaya, and Long Shu said they did not. In a brief exchange they learned her name was Shang Pu, but she left soon after. When Kang Xi explained to the group what happened at the Inn, Zhi Zhu immediately ran after Shang Pu and expressed her disdain for Mystic Sword Sect. The lady paused and said "Bring me the head of a mystic sword sect disciple and I will teach you a technique", then continued northward. 

The party interrogated Madame Hamaya, who was reluctant to talk. They were able to determine she had been paid hundreds of taels and she responded to leading questions from Long Shu evasively. In the end the party learned what they could, which wasn't much, and debated whether to kill her or not. She had apparently been hired by someone to interfere with their journey. Kang Xi killed her before the others could commit to a final decision on the matter. 

The next morning they arrived at Bixie Villa, poet Hong's residence on the outskirts of Chen. He explained to them that three months ago his good friend, Su Long died mysteriously in a fire. The house was burned to the ground and the bodies of Su Long and his daughter, Yuyan, were recovered and buried personally by Poet Hong. However weeks later Poet Hong saw Yuyan running through the Ghost Market (an evening market in Chen). He followed her as well as he could, eventually losing the trail when she ducked into Li's Fortune Pavilion. From there he was unable to find her. 

Unsure if he had seen Yuyan or a ghost, he tried to forget about the event. Then a few weeks after that he saw her again at Xu's Mutton Stew Restaurant with a number of students from Golden Grotto Academy. He tried to go over but as soon as he stood there was a great commotion in the room and by the time he reached the table Yuyan was not to be found. The students denied knowing anything about her. 

He also told them that his friend Su Long was Vice Administrator of the Office of Research and Development for the Chen Bureau of Works. When asked for further details he explained Su Long was known for a number of great achievements but was particularly regarded for his water clocks. 

Poet Hong asked if the party would investigate the matter for him and paid them 400 taels when they agreed. 

The party split up with Kang Xi and Long Shu going to the Ghost Market and Xue Lingsu and Zhi Zhu going to the Golden Grotto Academy.

At the Ghost Market, they went to Li's Fortune Pavilion, where Kang Xi had his fortune read. He was told that he had just incurred a grudge and that a bloody future awaited him. After some bribes, Mr. Li (who was blind) said that a girl had come into his pavilion, but was immediately taken out by a man who he believed was Menglao of Menglao Tea House. 

At Golden Grotto Academy, Zhi Zhu and Xue Lingsu devised a plan where Xue Lingsu would pass himself off as a new student seeking entrance to the school. He forged a letter of introduction from a well known scholar in Hai'an and was taken to the dorms to await his introduction to the head master later in the week. Zhi Zhu climbed on the roofs of the Grotto keeping an eye on Xue Lingsu. 

Xue Lingsu asked about any students who were known to go to Xu's Mutton Stew Restaurant, and he learned that a group, led by the librarian, frequented the establishment. He then followed the librarian from a distance, spotting him enter the library at an hour when students were not permitted inside, making use of a secret passage. After the librarian left, Xue Lingsu took he secret passage himself and found it led to a small study beneath the library with a table and some manuals. The manuals included a treatise by Su Long (which he took), The Report of the Phoenix Crown of Bao and The Western Heaven Lineage Manual. Under the table he found a diagram of a water clock that resembled the one they had seen at the Emerald Inn. There was also a poem on the diagram itself that seemed to be about revenge. 

From outside, Zhi Zhu saw a figure dressed in black dart into the library and follow Xue Lingsu. She decided to head toward them to help. 

Inside the chamber Xue Lingsu, who had not seen the figure enter, was caught off guard when the cloaked attacker grabbed the Report of the Phoenix Crown and ran away. The thief was intercepted by Zhi Zhu who laid down some caltrops. A small fight broke out, ending when Xue Lingsu slammed the attacker to the ground. They took back the book but not before getting a glimpse of their assailant's face. Zhi Zhu was able to identify him as Wuji, a member of Mystic Sword Sect. 

On the other side of the city, Kang Xi and Long Shu went to Menglao Tea House. It was a sophisticated establishment that catered to scholar-officials, who entertained one another by composing poetry. Kang Xi tried his hand at poetic verse but failed terribly. However he was able to get into the basement of the tea house when Long Shu distracted the proprietor, Menglao. On his way down he saw an emblem with a sword on it over the door and inside he found a locked chamber that was empty but had shackles. After fussing over the bill, Kang Xi and Long Shu left. 

The party regrouped at Poet Hong's villa and they discussed what they had found. Reading through the books, they lean red that the Western Heaven Lineage Manual was a book of Yen-Li rituals designed to drain peoples' Qi energy. They also noticed that many of the Western Heaven Lineage symbols were on the diagram of the water clock. Based on this, they assumed there was going to be some kind of attack involving the water clock at the Inn of the Emerald Monk. 

When Kang Xi and Long Shu explained what they had learned, Zhi Zhu was able to tell them that Menglao is a well known member of Mystic Sword Sect, and better known as Iron Ghost. Because of obvious Mystic Sword Sect involvement, they decided to try tracking down Shang Pu once again. They found her at a restaurant and had Zhi Zhu explain the situation. She agreed to help them deal with Menglao. 

They lured Menglao into a Tea House in a part of the city with many Purple Cavern Sect members. There they were able to secure the help of the Tea House manager and some locals. Once Menglao sat down before Xue LIngsu, Shang Pu sprang from behind and unleashed her Blood Letting Thorns technique upon him, ravaging his throat and causing him to collapse barely conscious on the table. 

Menglao confessed to kidnapping the girl, but said he was just a middle man working for the headmaster of Golden Grotto. They learned that the headmaster (whose name was Mu), was a Eunuch whom Lady Tao had persuaded to castrate himself with the promise of the Merciless Sunflower Manual (a powerful martial arts book that only Eunuchs can use). This was apparently a trick, as she never revealed the whereabouts of the book and only meant to torment him for killing her nephew. According to Menglao, Headmaster Mu had been plotting revenge ever since. 

After the confession, Shang Pu told Zhi Zhu to kill Menglao, but she refused. The one armed swords woman muttered how useless she was and killed him herself. Then left telling Zhi Zhu to bring her a mystic sword disciple head when she developed the nerve. 


The party then returned to Golden Grotto Academy and split up. Zue Lingsu went to search for the daughter of Su Long in the dormitories, Kang Xi and Shu Long went to confront the headmaster, and Zhi Zhu lingered on the roofs to step in when either side needed assistance. 

The confrontation with the headmaster didn't go as planned. It was a furious battle, and but he end all three participants lay unconscious on the ground from one another's attacks. 

Xue Lingsu had more luck, tracking down Yuyan in one of the dormitories where some of the students were watching her. He was able to take her out but was stopped halfway by a woman from Zhaoze Sect who seemed to be in the employ of Headmaster Mu. A battle took place but Zhi Zhu came to help and Xue Lingsu was able to escape using Great Stride. The Zhaoze woman went after them but they lost her. 

Zhi Zhu managed to pull Kang Xi and Long Shu from the headmaster's hall and help them stumble out of the Golden Grotto. 

This is where the session ended. 




Friday, February 20, 2015

MARTIAL ARTS AND ARMOR: THE DILEMMA

One of the things we put off addressing until the very end in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, is armor. If the setting were more gritty, we would have simply ported in the Armor rules from Sertorius and Servants of Gaius, but this is a game about larger than life martial heroes, who can leap over houses and parry sword blows with a finger tip. In a high octane martial arts game, armor presents a problem, because in the genre most characters simply don't need it. It presents an even greater difficulty because the mechanics for armor and the mechanics for allowing martial heroes to boost their defenses can clash or stack. 

We've looked at a variety of solutions and we are leaning toward having all armor impose a -1d10 damage penalty. However each type of armor would be keyed to certain types of attacks. So this would allow us to avoid increasing the penalty (which gets too big at -2d10 and -3d10) while having different classes of armor that are differentiated in meaningful ways. So there might be a type of Armor in the game that imposes a -1d10 penalty to damage rolls from attacks made with bladed weapons. A person who attacks you with a sword and would normally roll 3d10 damage, rolls 2d10 instead. Armor also isn't effective against most Kung Fu techniques. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

ADVENTURE DESIGN IN WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE

Here is a glimpse of the adventure design section of the rules: 

DESIGNING ADVENTURES
There are countless ways to design adventures and any one of them can work for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. Much of this is dependent upon your GMing style and the playstyle of your group. What follows is advice based on how we ran Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate.

It is all about where you begin. We’ve simplified and focused on three areas you can focus on: Villains, Location and Conflict.


Start with the Villain
This approach works well in horror campaigns but we found it useful in creating adventures for wuxia style play. At the heart of such an adventure is the threat, which emanates from your villain. If you make a villain with clearly defined motives and a strong personality, the adventure itself falls into place quite easily.

A good villain is compelling, being both repulsive and attractive at the same time. This isn’t physical repulsion or beauty (though it can be). Rather the villain ought to be repulsive in an area of behavior and belief, something that can frighten your PCs or stir them action. It can help to balance this with redeeming features, something that makes their time in the campaign memorable. They do not need to be sympathetic (though they can be). They just need to be something your players can fear and respect at the same time. You can have a villain who is wholly evil, shows no mercy to the innocent, and is consumed by selfishness, but perhaps she is intelligent or a skilled and passionate musician. No matter how evil your villain, it should be possible to have a conversation with her.

For your villain be sure to create a background, goals that fit the background and a personality that is easy to get into during play. In order for your villain to be gameable, you want the villains goals to potentially intersect with the party, hopefully causing a threat to their interests or a person/place they would naturally be inclined to defend (including themselves). This could be anything from the villain bullying a town of innocent people to a villain who steals money or relics from the players’ sect.

While it is usually best to create your villain whole cloth, feel free to roll on the ADVENTURE TABLES below if you need. Simply roll for each one (VILLAIN IDENITTY, VILLAIN GOAL, and VILLAIN PERSONALITY). You may want to roll more than once on the Personality table.

AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN IDENITY
Roll d10
Result
1
A sect leader
2
A general
3
A Respected Scholar or Priest
4
A reputable leader
5
A sifu
6
An envious brother or sister
7
A wealthy aristocrat or merchant
8
A bandit leader
9
A lone martial hero or villain
10
A Roll on Villain II

AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN IDENTITY II
Roll d10
Result
1
A servant or eunuch
2
An imperial official
3
A musician or artist
4
A sorcerer
5
A great martial hero or villain
6
A great sect leader
7
A great sifu
8
A doctor
9
A band of great heroes or villains
10
A being or thing from another world

AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN GOAL
Roll d10
Result
1
To exploit defenseless community
2
To possess a person who loves another
3
To possess a powerful artifact or weapon
4
To possess a secret manual
5
To trick a person or family out of great wealth
6
To poison an enemy
7
To befriend and then betray over a grudge
8
To settle a grudge with a person
9
To settle a grudge with a community
10
Roll on Villain Goal II

AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN GOAL II
Roll d10
Result
1
To command a criminal organization and grow wealthy
2
To achieve the objectives of a former master
3
To massacre a large number of people
4
Become the greatest martial artist in the world
5
To improve a family member’s standing in society
6
To eliminate a threat or problem once and for all
7
To complete a great work of art, engineering,etc.
8
Kill an important leader
9
To control a city
10
To rule the martial world

AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN PERSONALITY
Roll d10
Result
1
Cruel
2
Aggressive
3
Intelligent
4
Artistic
5
Rude
6
Hedonist
7
Crazy
8
Vengeful
9
Hypocritical
10
Roll on Villain Personality II


AVDENTURE TABLE: VILLAIN PERSONALITY II
Roll d10
Result
1
Kind
2
Calm
3
Stupid
4
Scholarly
5
Polite
6
Ascetic
7
Inflexible
8
Merciful
9
Truthful
10
Roll on Villain Personality II