Friday, September 3, 2021

REMEMBERING BILL


This is the anniversary of William H. Butler's death, co-founder of Bedrock Games, who passed away September 3, 2014. This year, I decided to speak off-the-cuff about Bill in a podcast recording. I talk about how it so hard to believe this much time has gone by, Bill's personality, his importance in our design, and other things. I also talk about why our partnership worked (RPG partnerships are notorious for going down in flames); how I learned a lot working with Bill about achieving the right balance when you are working with another person creatively. He is still greatly missed. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

THE EXHAUSTION OF FIGHTING

Fighting is tiring. One of the first things I discovered when I competed in martial arts, going from sparring to being pitted against someone who was going 100%, was how exhausted I was within moments. By the end of the second round, I couldn't imagine feeling more sapped of energy. People get better at dealing with the exhaustion and pacing themselves the more experienced they get. But exhaustion is still always a large factor and one that people viewing a fight can't necessarily see. When you are tired you can't protect yourself as well, your attacks are more reckless, you tend to get hurt more, you strike less precisely, you make worse choices, you forget techniques, and you feel like you want to collapse. Eventually it takes the fight out of you. That is a lot, and I wanted to try to capture that in a simple mechanic, but its quite impossible to do. So instead I am fiddling with a few different ideas here that escalate or can be combined in various ways to emphasize different aspects of exhaustion. This mechanic can be used as written, but it can also be taken in pieces. It works with Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate or Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades

Kara Hui in Mrs K a martial arts action film that accounts for exhaustion 

This mechanic will not suit all styles of campaign. Martial arts genres frequently ignore or downplay the role of exhaustion with characters fighting and showing no sign of being tired, or at least not being impacted in a way that would translate into mechanical penalties or bonuses. This is really for use when you want a grittier style of play grounded in more real world concerns. This is also just in the idea phase. I haven't tested this yet. I may post an updated version once I've tried it out. 

Another still from Mrs K

Here is how the mechanic works. After the first round, exhaustion can set in. This can be automatic (i.e. the GM just begins imposing these every round) or rolled for. To roll, make an Endurance Roll against TN 8 beginning on the second round of combat and every round thereafter. If you fail the roll, your character takes one of the following Exhaustion conditions (determined by another d10 roll). These all stack and some can be taken multiple times for cumulative effect. 

ROLL 1d10

1-2: Lack of Defense: Your counters all suffer a -1d10 penalty 

3-4: Loss of Heart: Your Hardiness is reduced by 1. This can affect a character cumulatively over combat 

5-6: Reckless: You take 1 Extra wound anytime you are wounded 

7-8: Forgetful: In order to remember your Signature Abilites, Counters or Kung Fu Techniques, you must make a Reasoning roll TN 8. You cannot use the ability you want to use unless you make this roll (if you fail the roll you have to make a Mundane attack) 

9-10: Spent: Your attacks all suffer a -1d10 penalty (can be taken more than once, up to a max of -2d10 Penalty). 


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

RIGHTEOUS BLOOD, RUTHLESS BLADES WINS A JUDGES SPOTLIGHT AWARD AT THE ENNIES

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades won a Judges Spotlight award at the ENNIES. I am very proud of the work we did on this game. It was a pleasure to to work with Jeremy, and an honor to be hired by Osprey (I've long admired their books). It was also great working with everyone involved. 

The goal was to make an RPG that reflected the dark wuxia stories and movies that Jeremy and I had a shared interest in. We tried to make a wuxia RPG that allowed for the tense standoffs, the eccentric characters, the ingenious weapons and devices and the dangerous martial worlds you find in movies like The Bride with White Hair or books like Heroes Shed No Tears. 

The spark of the project for me was the chemistry Jeremy and I had. We were both inspired by wuxia but took very different paths (he mastered the language, moved to China and translated wuxia and xianxia, whereas I got into martial arts and watched hundreds of movies). But we agreed we liked the dark and gritty films, usually inspired by Gu Long stories, which we both loved. It was wonderful to build a martial world that felt grounded in the sensibilities of films like Magic Blade or Killer Constable. And seeing that realized as a beautiful hardcover book that captured the grit and glamor of such movies was a delight for both of us. 

I can't speak for Jeremy, but I fell in love with wuxia for deeply personal reason, and my goal initially when I set out to make wuxia RPGs was to bring attention to the genre and provide another set of tools for fans of the genre to run at the table (the quest for the perfect wuxia RPG is always endless because we all have our own take on it). I hope people like what we did with Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades and am very happy to hear someone at the ENNIES thought we were worthy of a Judges Spotlight. 





Sunday, August 22, 2021

TOP FIVE CHOR YUEN WUXIA MOVIES

A while back I was going to do a top ten wuxia movie list but every time it just filled up with a bunch of Chor Yuen movies. Ideally I want such a list to list the same director no more than once or twice, but I found it difficult to do. So here I am making a list of my five top Chor Yuen wuxia movies, so I can get it out of my system and then do a more restrained top ten wuxia movie film list. 

Putting this list together was not easy. Chor Yuen made a lot of great films including Web of Death, Legend of the Bat, Death Duel, Jade Tiger and many more. The criteria I used was the movies on my top five list had to have a strong emotional impact, had to be films I kept thinking back to and analyzing, and needed to be films I saw more than five times (i.e. movies with good rewatch value). 

5. Killer Clans 

Made in 1976, Killer Clans is about an assassin who finds himself embroiled in a war between different martial sects. Based on the Gu Long story Meteor, Butterfly, Sword, it was the movie that convinced me my favorite wuxia director is Chor Yuen (and that's saying something as there are a number of amazing wuxia directors). This is based on a Gu Long story, itself inspired in part by the godfather I believe, and depicts a martial world ripped apart by violence and sect conflict. This movie is about the martial heroes more as gangsters than saviors. Even though it takes a lot of beats from Godfather (which itself is just taking the beats of the war in heaven and the archangel Michael's defeat of Satan and his forces), by transporting it into a wuxia setting it creates something totally new. If you like movies like Goodfellas or Colors, this will be the wuxia film for you. It is a brilliant depiction of the cycle of violence and how rising to the top can lead to a complete loss of humanity. 



4. Magic Blade

Also released in 1976, Magic Blade is an adaptation of the Gu Long novel Horizon, Bright Moon, Sabre. I am sure this would make many peoples number one, and I can't argue with that. Magic Blade is probably the best introduction to Chor Yuen. It's also a wildly entertaining movie with plenty of twists and comes with a great performance by Ti Lung. It also features some truly memorable characters, perhaps most notable: Teresa Ha Ping as the unforgettable Devil Grandma. This is another Gu Long book translated to the big screen by Yuen, and it works brilliantly. Like Killer Clans, it can be a confusing watch the first time (especially if you've never read the book) but if you just sit back and enjoy it, you'll have fun (and clarity will come with repeat viewings as you pick up more details. 

3. Duel for Gold 

This is a 1971 heist movie where all of the characters are pretty horrible (in the best sense of the world). This ultimately leads them to fight over the gold they've stolen. I love the heist part of the movie but even more I adore how well Chor Yuen captures four terrible people on screen. It isn't easy to make viewers care about characters like this, but he pulls it off. It also has a wonderful opening sequence featuring clever visuals for Qinggong, or lightness kung fu. Duel for Gold is hard to find these days, and it is a little less well known than some of his other films, but if you like gritty 70s movies that are more about following morally gray characters, this is a good wuxia film for you. It is also shot in the classic Chor Yuen style with towering characters on the screen. 

2. Heroes Shed No Tears

Released in 1980 and based on the Gu Long novel of the same name, Heroes Shed No Tears is about a young swordsman played by Alexander Fu Sheng who gets swept up in a conflict in the martial world as an ambitious villain seeks power behind the scenes. It is an emotional movie, pushing its staunch heroes to the point of breaking. This was vying for my number one spot. It is a tremendously good movie. It might not translate as well to modern audiences as it did for me. When I first watched this, the opening music had me right away, and when it was done, I immediately rewatched it (then continued to watch it all week and the following week multiple times). That kind of reaction only happens if a film gets me emotionally and something about this movie did so. It is a combination of factors. There are a handful of shocking and surprising sequences that floored me. One moment in particular, where Ku Feng gives a moving speech that helps sum up the themes of the movie and the film on which it is based was something I found stunning at the time. Like the movie below there is a lot going on in this one, and I don't want to spoil it. Unlike the movie below, the title really does capture what the movie is about. 

1. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan

Made in 1972 and starring Lily Ho and Betty Pei Ti, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is an artful story of revenge. I believe this is his masterpiece. Right from the opening sequence you know you are getting something different. Chor Yuen is a master of making films beautiful, and his films are often a study in beauty, so it makes sense this would be a film where his talents shine. I feel like there are two Chor Yuens, the Chor Yuen who makes films where characters are literally larger than life like this and Duel for Gold, and films that focus more on the beauty of larger scenes and sumptuous set designs. This has always struck me as the former and a very good example of it. There are still plenty of amazing set landscapes but it shines when it fills the screen with a character's personality. 

The movie is about a courtesan named Ai Nu (Lily Ho) on a path of vengeance who ultimately fails in her quest for retribution because she isn't as wicked as the woman who is object of her rage. She murders those who wronged her, leaving a trail of murder that a local constable played by Yueh Hua tries to puzzle his way through. For viewers not as acquainted with the genre, I might compare it to a film like Kill Bill. The main character Ai Nu becomes attracts the attention of Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti), the boss of the Four Seasons Brothel. Lady Chun forces her into prostitution, and Ai Nu slowly plots her revenge (beginning with some of the clients she most despises). However she relies on deception to achieve her goals, feigning love for Lady Chun, feigning interest in the clients she wants to kill. There is a lot more to the movie than the title suggests (the actual title of the film in Chinese is simply Ai Nu). One thing I love about it is how it incorporates a lot of horror movie stylings to build up its villain, Lady Chun. It's also interesting because the female characters are the most prominent and the most lethal in the film. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

CONSTABLE CAMPAIGN XP IN WHOG

I am currently running a Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaign, in the Lady 87 region of the setting, where the players are constables. Normally in my campaigns the players are either heroes or criminals, and the Lady 87 book assumes criminals as the default, so having the players take on the role of constables meant I had to rethink certain things, like how some of the encounter tables function for example. One area where it became clear a change was needed was XP. The XP system in Ogre Gate gives 1 XP for any of the following: 

  • Defeating a Powerful Foe
  • Growing Your reputation
  • Performing a great deed

These all function fine for constables. However, the bonus XP was not working as well. In Ogre Gate you can get bonus XP for: 

  • Performing an exceptional deed that saves the party (2 xp)
  • Finding a secret or forgotten manual through great effort (3 xp)
Technically you can get bonus XP for all kinds of things, those are just suggestions. But suggestions tend to matter in rule books and even I cleave to them a bit too tightly when running my own games. It became clear that constables, at least these constables, were not going to be spending much time, if any, seeking forgotten manuals. They have a job to do and the decision to go hunting this manual or that would interfere with it. 


This is very much playing out as them being officials going on patrols, being sent to deal with specific crimes or seeking out big cases to crack so they can gain prestige and rank. One of them has become the Assistant Sheriff of a district through these efforts. So I talked with the players to come up with an alternative to finding forgotten manuals for the 3 xp) and this is what we came up with: 
  • Capture or bring to justice anyone regarded as one of the top 10-20 most wanted (3 XP)
We will see how this plays out over the campaign. I am thinking of changing it to: 

  • Capture or bring to justice anyone regarded as one of the top 10-20 most wanted OR solve a particularly significant case (3 XP)
Presently they are investigating a major celestial plume network operating over three districts and I think if they got to the bottom of it, found the leaders, even though those leaders are too skillful and secretive to be on a top 20 list, it should still be worth 3 XP. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

BULLET TO THE HEAD: NOTES ON CRIME NETWORK LIGHT

This is just something I am putting together for my home games of Crime Network (if it is substantive enough I may release it as a small PDF or book). It is a stripped down version of the system, where I take out the rules that drag down play, throw in a few tools to make things function better and restore the lethality to the system as it existed prior to making it a Network game (originally Crime Network used a completely different original system). 

This is still a work in progress. I will try running a short campaign with these rules and see if it has the feel of the original system or not. After I will tweak them accordingly. I also want to work out something much easier for managing crimes and rackets. I may incorporate some of the shakeup tables I have developed for Lady Eighty Seven as well into this. 

 

BULLET TO THE HEAD

Shots to the head at point blank always roll open damage multiplied by 2. If the target is surprised the damage is multiplied by 3. 

 

SURPRISE

Anyone damaged by a surprise attack takes Open Damage (see Bullet to the Head for surprise shots to the head). 

 

DICE CAPS

Dice Caps are removed and the new cap is 10d10. You never roll more than 10d10. 

 

FIREARMS

Just worry about damage, eyeball the range rules, and use common sense for magazines. 

 

VEHICLES
These are dealt with purely by rulings. Ignore the rules on vehicles for this version and just use common sense. 

 

RULES REMOVED

This version of the game takes out Facing, Dice Caps (see New Dice Caps), Miniatures are not used in this version, Vehicle Rules, Environmental Modifiers (cover, conditions, terrain, etc). 

 

RULES REDUCTION

Rules that get rare use (not invoked more than once per session) are removed and shifted to the realm of rulings. That is if a rule like Restrain never gets used by the players, then it is no longer a rule in the game, and instead the GM adjudicates restrain attempts by making a ruling on how to resolve it. 


CREW RATINGS

Every crew you have under you to commit crimes has a Crew Rating of 0d10-6d10. This is rolled anytime they are sent on a job to determine if they succeed, get caught or worse. Simply roll against the TN of the Job (which the GM assigns based on difficulty). On a Success they pull it off but may have left evidence behind (the result of their roll is the TN for any police force investigating). On a Total Success no evidence is left behind. On a Failure they fail (the GM should decide the consequences by how low the result is: with a 1 meaning someone got pinched and turned states evidence). 

 


Friday, June 25, 2021

TO HELL WITH THE CAMPAIGN

In the Strange Tales of Songling book, I talked about ventures into hell and escape from hell campaigns, something I was increasingly using the setting for by the time the game was complete. I have been planning another Strange Tales of Songling campaign, and this time it is going to start in the afterlife. The details of the campaign are emerging slowly over the course of research and re-reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. My thoughts on it are being put up on the podcast (see the links below for the current episodes on it).


In order to do this I need to map out some kind of hell-scape for the characters to adventure in. I want it to be inspired by the source material, by real world mythology and religion, but also need it to be gameable. One downside to this kind of setting is it can, at least in my experience, lead to very unnameable scenarios. This is particularly the case if you lean heavily on 'setting tourism', which can be tempting. So I am going to have to elaborate on things simply to make it function for the purposes of adventure.

My starting point is the ten courts of hell. Each of these is governed by a magistrate who passes sentence. The idea is more like a purgatory than hell, where you are cleansed of your sins through punishment so you can be reborn. I have some books on the Ten Courts of Hell, including a translation of the Scripture of the Ten Kings. Like I mentioned in the Strange Tales of Songling book, I am also taking a page from Chang Cheh's Heaven and Hell, which has always stuck with me. I will also be drawing freely on Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio as well for ideas. 

One thing I need is to make sure each court can function well as a place for the players to adventure, but in the context of undergoing purification for the next life (and in expectation of judgment for what that next life will be). I have a number of ideas, all laid out in the podcasts below (just note they are evolving). Two key ideas I want to talk about here are how I plan to deal with levels, and rebirth.

At first I was going to have characters start at level 1 in hell. But since this is supposed to follow the deaths of the characters in the real world, I felt it might make more sense to start them at level 10, and have hell be about all of their levels and abilities slowly being stripped from them as they undergo the process of reform. The abilities reflect their attachments to their prior life. I kind of like this idea. It is a little weird, since the goal is to get less powerful, and it is also strange in that it will make the campaign harder as it goes rather than easier. I am still figuring this out exactly. Since it is hell and you can't die, I figure when characters do die, they go to one of the tortures while the rest of the party adventures. There they lose their level and something else as a product of the pain. Characters who make it through the court level without dying would only lose their level (whereas the character who is tortured may lose a level but also have to adventure through the rest of hell without sight). 

For rebirth I have gone through a number of possibilities. One challenge is whether to do it individually or collectively. I won't get into that here as I am still mulling it over, but it will make a big difference in terms of how this is all executed. The first idea I settled on was to have the players judged in their journey through hell then that shapes what they become in the next life. That can indeed work, but one problem with it is, what is the future campaign-wise if they become a carp? I still want to retain this idea in hell itself (I will talk more on that below). Now I am leaning on the following: their journey and judgement in hell determines what campaign follows. Basically any game or system is on the table, it just needs to align with the judgment. So maybe really bad characters are reborn as adventurers in a Call of Cthulhu campaign, or reborn as Vampires in a Masquerade campaign. I might reward characters who do well, by allowing them to be Sertori in a Sertorius campaign or a supers campaign. Obviously whatever the next campaign is also needs to be something people want to do, but it is an interesting way to mix things up. And the idea is they would make their new characters as extensions of their old ones, just reborn (a bit like Cloud Atlas, with characters going from genre to genre in each rebirth). 

One idea I like is the players changing in their travels through hell, by way of torture, moral purification and moral decay. I like the idea that they can slowly turn into monsters the more they fail to let go of their attachments and the more they hold onto their sins. I don't quite know the details yet, and again this isn't a new game I am making so I want to go light on the kludging, but some kind of corrupting or benevolent mechanic that reshapes the character during their time in hell. This won't necessarily translate into what they become in the next life, but it gives them some indication, and characters who fail utterly, becoming terrible creatures, won't escape.

I should say that this is not something I am doing for publication. If it works great and I really want to publish it, maybe down the line that would be possible, but for now this is just for my own game group. Likely I will be posting material here though, so people can use it if they like the idea.