Friday, February 16, 2024

OGRE GATE AND STRANGE TALES OF SONGLING REFERENCE PAGES

These are not complete yet but want to put these reference pages for Ogre Gate and Strange Tales of Songling that Adam Baulderstone has been working on. 

STRANGE TALES OF SONGLING 

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

HEAVENLY FRAGRANCE SESSION FOUR

This was the fourth session of my Heavenly Fragrance Campaign, a living adventure prepared using tools and procedures discussed in the Wuxia Sandbox blog posts. This campaign is intended to play as a sandbox but with more dramatic elements. It is a two player campaign where run in what I call "Condor Heroes Mode", where characters begin with only one Kung Fu technique, their family background established and connected to the setting, and using a level advancement system based on encounters with higher level masters who train them. It also makes use of a campaign Shake-Up table, rolled once each session, to manage an unfolding background situation (see STATE OF THE MARTIAL WORLD). I will include footnotes to explain what procedures were invoked during play. The campaign is set in Fan Xu, largely using the Sons of Lady 87 book. 

CHARACTERS

Bao Long: An orphaned street urchin who was adopted by Lady Eighty-Seven's son, Guan Shisu after he came to the aid of Guan Shisu's daughter, Little Guan Hua. All he knows about his background is that his mother died when he was young. Bao Long has been taught some martial arts by Lady Eighty-Four, Yuhuan. Bao Long is a bit dim-witted but tough. 

Little Guan Hua: The daughter of Guan Shisu and the disciple of Guan Nuan. Little Guan Hua is cowardly and feeble, but intelligent.  

THE LONG LASH OF LADY PLUM BLOSSOM 

Bao Long and Little Guan Hua took a carriage to Tung-On. On the road they were forced to stop when an ugly woman holding a pipa, stepped into their path about 100 paces ahead. 

Map by Francesca Baerald

The woman strummed a dissonant chord and said "Bao Long and Little Guan Hua, I am Invincible Pipa and am taking you into custody on behalf of Lady Plum Blossom."

"On what grounds?" Asked Little Guan Hua.

"You have been accused of killing her disciples through sabotage. South Wind Manor has agreed to hear the case and will give you a fair trial."

Little Guan Hua attempted to negotiate, offering to go with her if she first came with them to Tung-On. However she refused so Bao Long lunged forward and stabbed at her leaving a terrible wound. In the course of striking Invincible Pipa, he saw that she was wearing a disguise*. 

Invincible Pipa struck another chord sending a blast at Bao Long who dodged as it sliced off the top of their carriage. Little Guan Hua leapt into the air and delivered a flutter of kicks, sending Invincible Pipa against the ground. Bao Long finished her off but chose to let her live. Removing her mask they saw that she was actually quite beautiful. 

They tied her to a tree and waited for her to awaken. When she awoke she was in no position to negotiate. Little Guan Hua said they were going to take her to Tung-On but she would go with Invincible Pipa to South Wind Manor after. 

THE TALL WALL OF WAN MEI 

They put her bound in the carriage and continued on to Tung-On. As they approached the city, a messenger reached them and said their master was waiting for them and told him to inform them to meet her at a 'bloody and disused homestead."

They followed his directions and found an abandoned stone building on the outskirts of town. Little Guan Hua went in first and explained everything to her master, including that they had Invincible Pipa captive. 

Delighted, Dancing Corpse said "Do you know how to work stone?"

"Yes teacher."

"Good, we will build a wall, and seal her inside, and you will learn to play her pipa. It will be a tortuous and gruesome death. She has mastered the Passionless Heart Technique and shall die if anyone can play a song that moves her."

Dancing Corpse went with Little Guan Hua to retrieve Invincible Pipa.

"Greetings Invincible Pipa," She said. "My student has told me you are to take her to a fair trial. I think this is marvelous news. To show our gratitude we have prepared a room for you for the night. In the morning you have my permission to take Little Guan Hua to South Wind Manor for the hearing." 

Invincible Pipa went into the building and they knocked her out. Then they placed her in a stone hall and began building a wall from floor to ceiling, leaving only enough room for her to wiggle her fingers and only a small opening so she might see and be given food. 

Taking her disciples into the courtyard she informed them that she intended to train them both so they could all go and kill Lady Plum Blossom. But first she wanted Little Guan Hua to master the Pipa and use it to kill Invincible Pipa. When these tasks were complete she would go into seclusion in order to achieve a breakthrough in her training, so she would be strong enough to face Fan Batu with them by her side. 

For two months she trained them teaching the Unfurling Hand of Bing and improving their conditioning**



*This was the product of a Detect roll in which the player rolled a Total Success

**In this campaign I am using free form advancement. Here they learned the Unfurling Hand of Bing and each gained 1 rank in Arm Strike. Their Qi Ranks increased to Qi Rank 4. Little Guan Hua also learned Lash of the Fly Whisk and gained 1 rank in Light Melee. Bao Long learned Clutch of the Hawk and improved his Grapple by 2 ranks. 


Monday, February 12, 2024

PATHS FROM NOWHERE SESSION FIVE

This is a sandbox campaign for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, operating in "Condor Heroes Mode". I used a lot of the procedures described in the wuxia sandbox posts. This is a campaign with three players. Before the campaign started we spent time establishing their family connections, rolling randomly for both their mothers and fathers (normally only one parent is randomly rolled, but in this case we wanted characters with potentially scandalous backgrounds). These characters each started play with just one Kung Fu Technique. 

CHARACTERS

XIANG GUIYING: The daughter of Jade Fist of Twin Fisted Eagle sect and Pale Fox, a notorious bandit. She is seeking pelts from Pearl Tigers. She is beautiful but wears a disguise to hide this from others. 

ZHENG BAO: Short and burly, he is the son of Zhang San of Bone Breaking Sect and of Reckless Storm. However San is married to Chen and has maintained the presence that Bao is Chen's son. Unfortunately due to crucial background information, Chen knows that Bao cannot be his son so is distant. Zheng Bao's uncle, Bone Breaker, is fond of him. He is seeking the Thousand Painful Deaths Flower to please his uncle. 

PAN JU (MOGHA): The son of the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou and Nergui Mogha, Pan Ju grew up in the Kushen Basin but has returned to the Banyan and Hai'an, where he knows his mother resides. 

I KILL THEREFORE I AM 

Zheng Bao sent a pigeon to his uncle Bone Breaker with a brick of tea and a description of his exploits, as well as a request for training. Later that day, while he was doing line drills at the Silver Spear School, Spear Immortal Xiang Di called him aside and spoke away from prying ears. 

"There is an official snooping in town and staying at the Drunken Monk Inn, asking about robberies of merchant caravans in the area. People are saying the official is Jade Swallow, a relative of the king. I want you to take Qing and Jiayin with you, eliminate this problem."

"Yes Master," said Zheng Bao. "How do you want it handled."

"I don't want to know the details, but ensure whatever has been discovered by this official never makes it back to the capital." 

Zheng Bao scoped out the area and planned an ambush. He had Qian Qing follow Jade Swallow and find a spot to stage a surprise attack. An alley near the Drunken Monk Inn was chosen. Zheng Bao and Qian Qing, who was armed with a parasol, hid themselves in crates near the inn's back entrance, while Feng Jiayin waited with a cross bow to attack when she rounded the corner. 

Art by Jackie Musto 

However their attempt failed when she spotted the crossbowman and hesitated. They attacked anyways, but she easily deflected them and countered. Though Feng Jiayin managed to hit her with his bolts a couple of times, she fended off Zheng Bao's spear strike with her axe, sliding the blades down the shaft and wounding him. She quickly dispatched Qian Qing then blasted Zheng Bao with a Qi attack that sent him flying into the ground. Feng Jiayin ducked around a corner and continued to let ricocheting arrows fly at Jade Swallow. 

"I will let you both live if you agree to come with me and face justice. If you do so, I will plead for the magistrate to be merciful."

Zheng Bao let out a roaring refusal and attacked again with his spear. Once again, Jade Swallow trapped his spear with her Axe and slid the blades into him. Zheng Bao was passed out from the blood loss and awakened inside a cage somewhere far from Hening, near a water mill. Jade Swallow prepared a meal nearby. 

 **

In the Autumn Inn, Xiang Guiying was summoned to meet with Mrs. Wu in the restaurant dining area before dawn. 

"I have a task for you," She said. "There is a murderous man, a tattoo artist who gets his victims drunk before performing his services, kills, then robs them. His name is Yin Zhi and he is presently staying at the The Peaceful Wind Wine Shop. I want you to go there and kill him." 

"Can you tell me anything more about him?"

"He is known to carry a firelance." 

"Thank you for this opportunity Teacher," Said Guiying. "May I take Pan Ju with me on this mission?"

"Yes," Mrs. Wu slid a tray of silver taels across the table, worth 1,000 spades. "This is your upfront payment. You will receive another tray upon your return. Your cut of the contract."

Guiying thanked Mrs. Wu and set out for The Peaceful Wind Wine Shop. Along the way they met some beggars who helped them find their destination. Upon arrival, they went were given seats in a dining area and ordered wine. Looking around they saw someone who met Ying Zhi's description, fretting in a corner. After about an hour he went upstairs and Guiying moved outside near the courtyard to observe him through a window. 

Guiying climbed into position and saw him painting on the wall. He was drawing a figure, a tall woman with a puzzling expression and intelligent eyes, leaning on a long stick and an ox tail thrown over her shoulder with the other hand. Guiying recognized her as Towering Beauty Ouyang Li. 

Climbing quietly through the window, Guiying surprised Ying Zhi with a deadly slash of her blade. Another stroke and he was dead on the floor, his blood sprayed over the painting of Towering Beauty. 

Guiying took Ying Zhi's black axe, and then put his head in a box constructed by Pan Ju. 

After the murder, Guiying and Pan Ju headed south to return to The Autumn Inn. On the way they saw a woman heading from the opposite direction. She was tall and looked like the lady Yin Zhi's painting. 

She paused and greeted them then asked where they were going. They told her they were headed to Dee and she said she was meeting someone at the Peaceful Wind Wine Shop. 

Towering Beauty pointed at the box carried by Guiying. "What is in that box?"

At that moment both realized there was blood dripping from the corner. 

"Oh that," Said Guiying. "It is a tiger's heart. We are hoping it will have some value in Dee."

"May I buy it from you? I am late for a meeting and a gift might help smooth things over."

"Actually," Guiying said. "I lied. It isn't a tiger's heart, but a tiger's penis. I procured it for my father who is said that he never had a son. I thought this might be beneficial to him."

Towering Beauty seemed impressed and asked if she could buy the tiger's penis for a large sum, as it would make a good gift. Guiying said he could not part with it but Pan Ju offered to make her a scripture from nearby wood and sell that if she needed a gift. 

Towering beauty Ouyang Li agreed and Pan Ju set out to sculpt. 

"What would you like me to make for you?" Pan Ju asked. 

"Something ferocious," said Towering Beauty Ouyang Li. 

Pan Ju began working on the wood and produced an unrivaled sculpture of a crocodile open jaws*

Towering Beauty was so impressed she paid 8,000 spades for the sculpture and went on her way to the Peaceful Wind Wine shop. Guiying and Pan Ju continued walking to the Autumn Inn. 



*The player rolled a 10 on their Trade (Wood) skill

 


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

WUXIA SANDBOX: KUNG FU AND CHARACTERIZATION ON THE FLY

This is part of my Wuxia Sandbox series. You can see the previous post HERE. These are all primarily written with Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades in mind but can be applied to most wuxia RPG campaign where sandbox is the focus. This series discusses a wide variety of methods and procedures I use. These should be regarded as tools, not as required steps in building a sandbox. I may use all, some or none for any given campaign. Every time I run a campaign, I take a slightly different approach based on what the needs of the current campaign are. 

The purpose of this blog series isn't to set up proscriptive procedures. It is simply to give people a better idea how I run my wuxia sandbox campaigns. 

My view on wuxia in RPGs is every GM has their own take on the genre, their own sensibilities about how to best bring it to the gaming table. This is true of any genre, but with wuxia it seems especially the case. Please do not take my advice as definitive in any way. Watch and read wuxia for yourself and form your own conclusions. What works for one GM, will completely miss the point for another. 

A NOTE 

This post is advice specific to Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. It can be applied to other games but the main focus is on helping the GM come up with NPCs and kung fu techniques on the fly. Some of the preliminary principles have been covered in prior posts but I am including them here so everything is conveniently together. 

KEY NPC PRINCIPLES 

These are three principles I try to keep in mind when making NPCs and running NPCs. While they apply to all NPCs, not just those made on the fly, I wanted to go over them because they inform how I make characters live during play. Because NPCs and Kung Fu are often created hand in hand, I felt these were important to go over. 

THEY LIVE! 

For me the heart of a good wuxia sandbox is less the living world and more the living characters in that world. Again this is the reason I much prefer the label living adventure to sandbox*. 

What does it mean for an NPC to live? It means they have real motivations, goals, hidden layers, that they can be reasoned with, even if they are unreasonable at times or hellbent on some grand scheme of mass destruction. It also means they aren't tethered to a location. They aren't waiting for the PCs to act, they take initiative on their own and they respond when the players do act with their own actions. They act intelligently like a real person. That doesn't mean each NPC is a genius but they do have a brain and use it to make decisions. Their choices are guided by their motives and goals not by the GM's desire for a particular encounter or set-piece. They are an organic part of the setting. In game terms, they are moving pieces on the board. 

THEY ARE GAMEABLE 

Yes you want to make characters who live and give them understandable personalities and aims, but you aren't creating characters for a literary novel, you are making characters for your campaign. This means you need to have gameable elements. 

Art by Jackie Musto 
When I work on NPCs, the questions I keep asking myself is: how is this character gameable? Is there anything in the entry that makes the character more than an interesting personality to meet? What elements can the players engage? This is the difference between world building for engagement and world building for tourism. 

An easy place to start here is with stark goals. What does the NPC want most? An NPC who wants the Five Ghost Hand Manual or who wants to kill Dancing Corpse Queen Wan Mei, is instantly gameable to me when the players encounter them. This doesn't mean meeting them must lead to an adventure, but it can. Also knowing what NPCs want is the core of of a good interaction. 

Sometimes the line between flavor and being gameable is not clear. That is fine. You don't want your characters to feel like they are just plucked off a game board or video game to give your player's fetch quests**. But you want to get a feel for whether the character has hooks the players can work with. 

KUNG FU AND CHARACTERIZATION 

One of the crucial elements in a wuxia RPG is using martial arts to help characterize an NPC. Even random martial experts you make on the fly need to have something that make them stark, sets them apart in the player's minds. In a wuxia campaign an NPC isn't just backstory and personalty. Their martial arts abilities are a reflection of who they are. In any genre, capabilities like this are important, but in wuxia it is important to consider not just the martial arts style and technique of the character but things like the weapon the weapon they use. 

KUNG FU PRINCIPLES 

These are general principles I keep in mind when designing Kung Fu Techniques (whether on the fly or between sessions). 

FLAVOR 

Ogre Gate prioritizes setting and characters. So I would first advise that you think in terms of flavor, genre and what works for the character, before proceeding to mechanics, and when you get to mechanics, don't obsess about balance and don't fret of the precise Qi rank (the exact Qi rank of a technique can be adjusted over time when you are designing them on the fly). Think about what the technique does, how it works in the setting. 

BALANCE AND IMBALANCE 

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is not designed with a rigid sense of balance in mind for its martial arts. In fact, as stated many times here, imbalance is part of the concept. I picture the martial world evolving and changing, with periods of stability and balance and periods where a new powerful technique or suite of techniques throws the martial world into chaos (but the world responds to this imbalance and eventually as counters develop to it, as new techniques develop to contend with it, balance is restored). So think more in terms of balance over time, not balancing each technique rigidly. Also it is okay for there to be power spikes in techniques. This is part of the genre. 

FOCUS AND STRUCTURE 

I try to follow a standard structure when I make techniques. If you look at Ogre Gate, the best techniques usually have  a 1-2 sentence description, followed by a concise mechanical description:

Make a [blank skill] roll again [blank defense]. On a Success X happens. On a Total Success Y happens. On a Failure Z happens. Cathartic: When used cathartically A occurs

I like techniques to be three paragraphs, no more. Some have to be larger but generally this is the preferred length. 

Techniques should also be focused. Keep the concept as simple as it needs to be and make sure the flavor matches the mechanics. If there are too many concepts in a single technique this is hard to do, and it usually is a sign that instead of making one technique you need to divide it up into multiple techniques. Often this is how technique suits are born. 

I wrote about these two points in a previous blog entry which you can read HERE

GAUGING POWER 

One thing you need to do when making a technique is decide how powerful it is and figure out how to make it that level of power. This is more something you develop an instinct for over time, but things to look for are: how many wounds can a technique do in a single attack (is it enough to kill a PC for example), how many targets can it affect, does it have any impact on accuracy, can it weaken powerful foes, etc. 

There are no official rules here but we do have reference sheets we occasionally use. While I do occasionally use this rough sheet to gauge power levels, it really is more of a starting point and it isn't particularly helpful, at least to me, when making techniques on the fly. Still here is one example of such a sheet, but keep in mind, these are baseline numbers that almost never match techniques in the book exactly, don't treat them as rigid guidelines. Once you begin considering other factors, you will find you move these numbers up and down considerably. Note I have a few versions of this, with different variations.  

I do want to reiterate that I post this with reluctance. We experimented with many guidelines and formulas, techniques doing X number wounds per Qi rank, and other methods to provide a consistent level of power. These invariably made the game less exciting and less fun overall. It just made things too uniform, too predictable. So consider Qi ranks a rough horizon to shoot for when making techniques. The one thing worth considering is whether the technique can kill someone a Qi rank higher than the user (or at least a Qi rank higher than its listed Qi rank). You can exceed that if you want to, but it is a boundary to keep in mind. Basically consider the max damage it can do and compare that max damage to the max wounds of characters at different Qi ranks. 

MOVIE AND BOOK MARTIAL ARTS INSPIRATION

Draw from wuxia media when designing techniques. My biggest source of inspiration is Martial arts movies. If you watch enough wuxia, you will develop a library in your head of common moves that should be easy to turn into techniques. And often you will see a technique and this will inspire you to make a new concept based off it. With books it is similar, but books often provide more in depth explanation of principles which can be helpful. 

REAL MARTIAL ARTS

When I first started work on Ogre Gate it was after years of trying to make a martial arts RPG system. I had been taking cracks at it forever, at one point trying to put together a fight system based on slapping down playing cards (because to me that felt like an approximation of a real exchange of blows and also how you mental library of options diminishes during a fight). But by the time I sat down to do Ogre Gate, I had moved away from trying to base it on real world martial arts and leaned more heavily into cinematic martial arts. While that is very much at the heart of the game, just like wuxia movies and kung fu movies draw on real styles, it can be useful to take real elements and bring them into the techniques. Here I would say go with what you know and are most familiar with or if you have read about something recently and feel excited by the idea of it, try turning that into a Kung Fu Technique. 

KUNG FU TECHNIQUES ON THE FLY 

These are just different ways of approaching technique creation on the fly. Most important is to not overthink and not second guess too much. You are making them in the moment, they won't always be perfect, you can revise them when you have more time. The most important thing is to write something down. 

ON BALANCE

Again, balance is not a chief consideration here, especially when making techniques on the fly but I do think when making up a technique or suite of techniques in the moment, you should consider a few important things. How dangerous do you want the user to be to be in the martial world. Don't think Qi rank. Just think about how much damage they can do in a single attack, how many people they can attack at once and if they have solid counters. Also think about how you want the technique regarded by the martial world. Is this meant to be a relatively innocuous ability or is it something special others covet? 

The chief thing to consider is: who can this kill in a single use of the technique? 

WHOLE CLOTH AND SHORT HAND  

Coming up with a technique whole cloth on the fly is liberating because it can be anything you want and anything that feels right for the NPC or group you are making it for. You don't need to write out a complete technique. You just need a note about what it does, a mechanical effect, and if you can think of it, a Cathartic effect (often I assess this after). Getting it on paper is the most important thing. If you do this enough, it starts to become second nature. 

Instead of seeing the time crunch to create in the moment as a limitation, try to see it as an opportunity to truly imagine a character with a distinct martial arts technique. You can untether yourself from the the pages of the rulebook and just imagine. 

MODELING FROM EXISTING TECHNIQUES ON THE FLY

You can use existing techniques as models. Often this is too difficult to do on the fly. But you can do it from memory. After running WHOG for a while you should know a number of Kung Fu Techniques and you can use these as guides for making new ones quickly. Also sometimes you will have time to look up things or think because players are engaging one another in character conversation. So if that is the case, feel free to look up a random technique or a specific one and rework it into something new that fits the NPC. 

This is not reskinning. Reskinning is somewhat illusionary, you want to give you techniques individual character and mechanical heft. So when you built off an existing technique it is more like taking inspiration from a song to write a new song. You can use the core idea, you can use some of the mechanics, but try to throw in enough new material that ties to your new NPC so it feels fresh and not copy and paste. 

RESKINING

Reskinning techniques is something I do as a last resort but it works in a pinch. Just grab a technique, and use that as your foundation for the NPC and the suite of techniques. Take the mechanics but change the weapon, change the flavor, make it fit the NPC. However if you can quickly grab a random technique from the rulebook, or find one in a timely manner that matches what you need in some way, reskinning can be perfect. Also you can and should fiddle with details when you reskin once you get accustomed to this approach, so that each technique is unique. 

THE BEDROCK APP 

The Bedrock App, available on The Bedrock Games Website, is very helpful for on the fly NPCs and Kung Fu Techniques. It has an NPC generator which is useful. But it also has the full library of Kung Fu Techniques which are searchable, so it is a good way to find models to use when you have to make them on the fly. 

MECHANICAL CHOICES 

If you are an improv player in a band, you need a library in your mind that you can readily go to of chords, scales, etc. In an RPG, you need a library of mechanical widgets you can go to. When making a Kung Fu technique on the fly, think about what mechanics in the game you are comfortable sculpting into a martial ability. The work for this begins by trying to observe basic patterns in the system. For example techniques can do a wide variety of things as an effect, but common ones are adding damage dice to a roll, improving an attack roll, reducing or draining defenses such as Hardiness or Wits, turning damage rolls into open damage rolls, adding extra wounds to an attack, improving the users defenses or counters, triggering falling damage, imposing skill penalties, etc. This may seem extremely basic and obvious but it is one of the easiest things to lose sight of or overlook. And you can start to be more creative the more you master the system. 

AN EXAMPLE

This is the most recent example from my own campaign. It isn't a perfect example and there are some flaws, which I will discuss, but I think that is better for demonstrating what I am talking about. In this session I drew on a lot of the methods I describe above to make a technique, an NPC and a small sect as we were playing. 

During the session I had a group of players who were adventuring in Hai'an. One of the players asked someone who trained them in techniques as a favor if there were any notable manuals in the region. This player was interested in finding and learning the techniques in them. When I looked at the list of manuals in the War of Swarming Beggars entry on the blog to inform the NPCs response, I realized it was rather lean and so I added two more manuals in my notes that the NPC mentioned: The Green Raksha Manual and the Silver Spear Manual. 

Both of these suggestions were fairly generic but the player wanted spear techniques and asked about the Silver Spear Manual. So I wrote in quickly thought of the Crack of the Hard Whip Technique as a model: 

I was initially going to go by memory, but there was enough conversation happening among the players as this unfolded that I opened the entry and impulsively changed it to suit a spear, deciding to have it be more about bleeding people than stunning them or debilitating. So this is what I wrote down:

Spear of the Immortal (Qi 3, Waijia): Spin & slit throat. Heavy melee at -1d10 against 1 target per Qi rank. Normal damage plus 2 Extra wounds. On Total Success bleeds target 1 Hardiness each round. TN 5 Medicine to stop bleeding. Cathartic: Does 3 Extra wounds, and TN 8 to stop bleeding. 

The player asked where the manual was and the NPC told him it was in Hening at the Silver Spear School. They then found a group of erhu musicians heading to Hening and offered their escort services for the journey. As we made rolls for the three days of travel I made a note about the Silver Spear School. The technique seemed cruel and ferocious. But the image the Silver Spear Manual conjured was of a righteous looking school. So I wrote down: 

The Silver Spear School: In Hening. Led by Spear Immortal Xiang Di, Qi rank 5; sub chief Lin Wi rank 3, 30 Students. Spear Immortal Xiang Di presents as a righteous chief of a school and escort company but is really a bandit and his students are his underlings. He likes aggression and cruelty, and forms close bonds with his men through their robberies. This is also how they train in their techniques. Chief Lin is sneaky. 

This gave me enough information to extrapolate that if the chief was impressed by the players inititial meeting he would tell him to meet for training, but really plan to test him by taking him to rob a caravan. The other players had decided to look for Mrs. Wu of the Autumn Inn while they were in Hening, so my notes not that were minimal because she has a lot of information in the War of Swarming Beggars entry and in my own note book for the campaign. 

The above has some issues. Silver Spear School is not only very, very generic, which isn't always a problem, but it is worth noting. More importantly I already have a school to the north with a similar sounding name. But you don't have time to get the perfect title. I was a lot happier with the details of Spear Immortal Xiang Di because the character was immediately clear to my mind. And his interactions with the PC worked perfectly. The technique itself also worked well in practice. The player who joined them was able to learn it, so I will see over the coming weeks how good it is. 

In my other campaign (I run two a week), the players discovered that a boat bound for Mai Cun was smuggling celestial plume. When this was introduced I had to come up with the who, how and why. So I decided to lean on a technique I call shadowing. I take something a PC has done in the setting before and create a shadow of that for a new NPC (somehow I find this creates characters the players recognize or find familiar and believable even if they can't quite place it). So I determined that the boat would have been funded by a group in Jinsa led by a man named Iron Crocodile. Again you can see a theme this week of me leaning heavily on color-based named or material based names, something I wouldn't do if I had more minutes to think up the idea. But the point here is to just get something on the page, so that Iron Crocodile it was. I then decided he had two disciples, Bone Eating Monk and White Naga (another color-based name!). Iron Crocodile would be building a plume empire not for the money, but because he wanted to gain notoriety in the martial world in order to rise and challenge others in regular contests so he could prove he was the top fighter in the region (this is the shadowing part of the character). I only had time to write down a single signature technique and started with the name: Iron Tail Whip. 

To mix it up, I decided to make it a pressure point kick, glanced at some dianxue stuff in the book and wrote: 

Iron Tail Whip: Spin kick hits precise point in spine, cause legs fail. Leg Strike and Medicine against Parry. Success target legs limp 1 round per rank Dianxue (if lower Qi rank). Total Success, arms limp too. Cathartic: Limp 1 week per rank Dianxue. Two Total Successes, effects permanent. 

This technique also shadowed the technique of the character I had in mind when I made it (at least in terms of his overall theme. 

I want to emphasize how imperfect these entries were. Sometimes I think GMs over think doing things on the fly and want everything to be perfect. But you are operating in a high pressure moment to come up with material as fast as you can to adapt to choices the players are making. While I would have loved to avoid the pattern of names like Iron Crocodile and Silver Spear, and I would have preferred to come up with a wholly original concept instead of a shadow concept of a previous PC or NPC, the purpose is to have something, anything, written down and useable, so the world and the techniques are all concrete. With techniques, you can always improve them later, and it is important not to get too hung up because a lot of kung fu you introduce on the fly will die moments later with the NPC who wields it. 








*This idea comes from a concept Blake Mobley called The Wandering Major Encounter in the Feast of Goblyns module, and that reflects the advice in the original Ravenloft module to "always keep in mind the motives of the vampire, how he moves about, and what his cunning plot his. You must play Strahd in the same way the players play their character." 

**There is nothing wrong with fetch quests, I use them plenty but the point is these should feel like living characters

Monday, February 5, 2024

HEAVENLY FRAGRANCE SESSION THREE

This was the third session of my Heavenly Fragrance Campaign, a living adventure prepared using tools and procedures discussed in the Wuxia Sandbox blog posts. This campaign is intended to play as a sandbox but with more dramatic elements. It is a two player campaign where run in what I call "Condor Heroes Mode", where characters begin with only one Kung Fu technique, their family background established and connected to the setting, and using a level advancement system based on encounters with higher level masters who train them. It also makes use of a campaign Shake-Up table, rolled once each session, to manage an unfolding background situation (see STATE OF THE MARTIAL WORLD). I will include footnotes to explain what procedures were invoked during play. The campaign is set in Fan Xu, largely using the Sons of Lady 87 book. 

CHARACTERS

Bao Long: An orphaned street urchin who was adopted by Lady Eighty-Seven's son, Guan Shisu after he came to the aid of Guan Shisu's daughter, Little Guan Hua. All he knows about his background is that his mother died when he was young. Bao Long has been taught some martial arts by Lady Eighty-Four, Yuhuan. Bao Long is a bit dim-witted but tough. 

Little Guan Hua: The daughter of Guan Shisu and the disciple of Guan Nuan. Little Guan Hua is cowardly and feeble, but intelligent. 

THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS 

The players arrives in Gao Cun and found local beggars who took them to their Chief, Pei Lung. They gifted him some bath beans, which he seemed to like. 

Little Guan Hua told Chief Pei that they were hoping to obtain information about Fan Batu, especially any weaknesses he might have. 

Chief Pei Lung asked them questions about their bath beads facility, and noted they were operating out of Mai Cun. They explained they did so with Lady 87's protection. He continued to try making deductions and confirming with follow-up questions then pressed them for further details about their operation. Eventually they began to negotiate a price and it was settled at 5,000 spades. Chief Pei Lung told them to give his regards to Lady 87 and that they should go to Ouyang Wine Shop where a person would meet them and provide the information they sought. 

They went to the wine shop, which was more of a wine making facility, but were given a room in the back hall of the courtyard. Eventually a short woman using a spear as a cane arrived, dressed in brilliant golden robes. She told them her name was Wei Xiaoping, and she offered to tell them about Fan Batu if they would sell their business to Yu Qing Manor. 

They negotiated and agreed to pay her 19,000 spades and bath beans for the information, with a promise to speak with Yu Qing Manor in the future about the possibility of letting them buy a portion of the business.

Wei Xiaoping told them that Fan Batu had a master called Divine Astrologer who stopped teaching him when he foresaw that his student would bring great bloodshed to the world. 

They asked where Divine Astrologer was presently and she said that he hadn't been seen in many years but that he used to teach Fan Batu near Mount Dao. 

"Does he have any notable weaknesses?" Asked Bao Long.

"His weaknesses are all the sins he has committed. As for his kung fu, if he has a weakness, it is overreliance on variations of his Iron Body technique."

After the meeting, as she was leaving, Wei Xiaoping said "As a token of good will, I must inform you that Chief Pei Lung has sold your information to Lady Plum Blossom and she is presently searching for you."*

PEI LUNG PAYS HIS DEBT

From Gao Cun, the party went to Mai Cun and had an audience with Lady 87. Little Guan Hua told her what they done in their travels. She emphasized their dealings with Lady Plum Blossom, and informed her of Pei Lung's treachery, asking her grandmother to take his tongue as punishment. 

Lady Eighty Seven was pleased with her grandchildren and had them stay at Guan Manor for a month so she could tutor them in her own techniques. She also suggested they remain students of Dancing Corpse. And she cautioned them to be wary of Lady Plum Blossom. 

She also informed Little Guan Hua that she would indeed take Chief Pei Lung's tongue, provided she discover who was behind the celestial plume smuggling operation on the Wild Cricket. 

Little Guan Hua already had this information and told her grandmother that it was the dealings of a man named Iron Crocodile who had set up a martial arts school in Jinsa. Shortly after she was presented with a golden box containing the tongue of Chief Pei Lung. 

While in Mai Cun, Little Guan Hua held a meeting with Wei Xiaoping to negotiate a potential deal with Yu Qing Manor. Wei Xiaoping informed her that Yu Qing was a difficult man and would accept no less than 10 percent of the business, and that he would likely consider this excessively generous on his part. Little Guan Hua told Wei Xiaoping to tell Yu Qing that 5 percent would be ideal, but she could do 10 percent, though it would pain her greatly. 

WU ZHEN

They returned to Wu Zhen and hired staff for their shop: a shop hand named Chang Chun, a servant named Wan Lin and a woman named Lu Ping to oversee the daily activities of the shop. 

They spoke with their father about training with Dancing Corpse and he told them that Lin Ragua's family sought justice. Some amount of blame was spilling onto him because people had heard that Little Guan Hua and Bao Long were training under the woman who murdered him. However Guan Shisu said they were wise to study under such a powerful master and that even if he had to make a show for the sake of justice, he supported their efforts. 

While there it was announced that Iron Crocodile and White Naga were seeking an audience with Little Guan Hua and Bao Long. They spoke with them, but with their father and his men in attendance. 

"I have come to smooth things over between my people and the 87 Killers," Iron Crocodile said. "Please tell your grandmother, the admirable Lady 87 of the Guan Family, that I offer a contest to resolve matters. She can select a champion to send against me. Should I lose, I will swear allegiance to her and she will gain full control of my celestial plume network. Should I win, however, then she will agree to allow me to operate in peace through her territory with the understanding that I view her as an ally, not an enemy"

Little Guan Hua listened carefully and said "I am pleased to hear you speak in this way Iron Crocodile. I will carry this news to my grandmother, who I am sure will share your interest in avoiding conflict between our organizations."


*As a matter of record keeping when this arose in the session, I altered the Grudge table so that Lady Plum Blossom was shifted to both the 8 and 7 slot (giving here a much greater chance of showing up as a grudge encounter) 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

WUXIA INSPIRATION: DUEL FOR GOLD

This is part of a series I started when working on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, reviewing wuxia films and discussing their relevance to tabletop RPGs. I am a little rusty on these written reviews and my last one was a little long winded, so I am going to aim for brevity on this one. 

If you want to bring wuxia to your RPG table, try Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades or Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. 

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.  

This review contains many spoilers.

NOTE: I did a video review of this movie a few years ago, but wanted to give it a proper written review. If any opinions about the movie are different here it is because that was done seven or eight years ago and I have made a point of not rewatching it for this.  

DUEL FOR GOLD 

Duel for Gold is a 1971 Chor Yuen film, staring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Chang Yi and Lo Lieh. Centered around a bank heist, the film's protagonists are all greed-driven scoundrels revealed to be more depraved as the story progresses. It features some remarkable lightness kung fu effects for the time and is also notable for its gruesome violence. Despite this gore, the movie is visually stunning and tells a great character based story.

What I like most about Duel for Gold, are the characters. This is one of the more cynical and jaded wuxia films, and none of the characters manage to be sympathetic in the least. That is not a criticism. I like how committed the movie is to making every single character irredeemable. The movie may give you occasional flashes of humanity, make you feel bad for a character for a moment, but then that person does something that evaporates any good will you had towards them. 

Duel for Gold takes its time revealing the depths of the protagonists' immorality. Initially most of them don't seem so bad, perhaps deceptive, playful, even a little criminal, but they appear to have connections to other people, they appear to love and have desires that go beyond material wealth and self aggrandizement. As the movie advances however, the characters shed any virtue and humanity, revealing them all to be illusions. They are the opposite of a character like White Fox from my previous review, who arguably was shedding her fetters over the course of an arduous theft. Here the thieves only become more rooted to material possessions and any connections or bonds they form are shallow, weakening in the face of enormous wealth. 

The first half of the film is about a a bank robbery. This part is quite exciting. At first we think there are just two thieves: Yu Yen and Yu Ying, sister acrobats who feign being wounded so they can gain easy access to the Fu Lai Money Bureau. But soon we discover another thief eyeing the bank's gold, then another, and finally a fifth. There is something about the way in which we learn about each of the characters and their motives that works well for me. I also like that the movie dwells a bit on the details and procedures of the bank. It does a good job of establishing how impregnable this place is.

The latter portion of the film is about the conflict over the gold once it is obtained, and I think this is where the movie goes from being good to great. There is plenty of fighting, death and action, but also a lot of dialogue. The relationships between the characters are complex, but unlike some other Chor Yuen movies, it is never confusing. And even though these characters reveal themselves to be unsympathetic, we do feel for them as we puzzle through their scheming against one another. 

The action is flowing, dance-like, and gory at times. If you like Chor Yuen fair, this has fights you will enjoy. The aim isn't to create distinct styles for each character, though they do each possess things that separate them from the others, but rather to create a sense of beauty through collaborative movement. I love this aspect of Chor Yuen movies, but I clarify what I mean by it here because I know some people prefer other styles of martial arts choreography.

I do like how the film punctuates the grace of many of the fights with surprising bloodshed. It isn't that the movie is excessively violent all the way through. But there are some creative death scenes that could give Friday the 13th a run for its money. And while it may seem gratuitous or for shock value, I find it is effective at hammering home just how ruthless greed has made the characters. 

I also enjoy that banter plays a role in the exchanges. Chor Yuen often weaves dialogue between sword strikes effectively, where whole relationships will form over the course of a battle. Here the  repartee has a nice edge to it. I particularly like when Yu Yen explains why she is called the Thousand Hands Goddess Heroine Meng after delivering a lethal blow. But there are many instances of dialogue and action flowing together perfectly. 

Chor Yuen always makes gorgeous looking movies but I have a special fondness for movies from this period in his filmmaking. This and Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan are two of my favorite Chor Yuen movies because of how he fills the space with the actors profiles and facial features. And the look of the film making enhances a number of the themes. For example he makes a point of emphasizing the beauty of the Yu sisters in early frames of the film, and this feels like an intentional contrast with their internal ugliness. And I think viewers are meant to be lulled by this, slow to accept just how evil they are until it simply can't be denied. 

In addition to the action described above, there is a great deal of emphasis on lightness kung fu, which makes sense for a film about a robbery. Not only do we get a solid opening sequence where the Yu sisters perform their acrobatics to a dazzled crowd, but we even have a makeshift bamboo forest duel in the middle of a city street when one character shoots bamboo trunks into the ground and a fight takes place atop the leaves. 

TAKING IT TO THE TABLE 
While Duel for Gold is a great movie on its own, it is also a perfect film for any GM thinking of running a heist or bank robbery scenario. It also should serve nicely for NPC inspiration. 

You get a real sense of the physical layout of the bank, this movie provides clear understanding of their security procedures, a sense of their organizational structure and the role of a bank in this society. Personally I found this very useful. A GM may want to do more than rely on a movie and learn about banking systems in various dynasties, but I think for most campaigns, this will give you a solid handle for presenting something like the money bureau in the film, which has lots of gaming potential. 

In terms of NPCs, there is a lot to take inspiration from here. The techniques the characters use are just one avenue to explore. But also in terms of motivation, I think these types of characters will serve a GM well. Because they are ruthless and motivated by greed, they make for good NPCs that can produce conflict in a campaign. 

For techniques, the ability to shoot bamboo shafts into the ground so they effectively form a bridge is a cool idea. This gave me the notion of a technique for Ogre Gate that uses the Trade (Wood) skill or Survival (Wilderness) to makeshift such objects into something useful, potentially doing damage if you hit someone in the process. A similar Signature Ability could work for Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades. In the movie it did not create a fully formed bridge, but that the characters then used lightness kung fu to walk atop the shafts, inspired me to think this way. 

I also would love to explore the acrobatics at the start of the movie. I already have a lot of Qinggong abilities in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, but things like balancing in the air on the tip of a sword, with the tip of a sword, could be an interesting technique for either show or stopping damage from a fall. It also gave me the idea of a suit of Kung Fu techniques not intended for combat, but meant more for performance, stuff that would draw on things like Talent (Dance) and Athletics. I have players trying to impress important people in the martial world all the time, so even if these techniques had zero combat application, I could still see them being used often. 
CONCLUSION 
Duel for Gold is definitely worth watching. On the whole I quite recommend the movie to anyone interested in wuxia, particularly if the additional crime genre elements are intriguing to you. And it is especially good if you like movies that focus on more nefarious characters like the Hateful Eight. Unfortunately it is hard to find now. It is sad because I recommend this movie a lot to people but in most cases there is no way for them to see it. It is possible that there may be used copies available somewhere or that it will eventually be included in a boxed set. 









Tuesday, January 30, 2024

HEAVENLY FRAGRANCE SESSION TWO

This was the second session of my Heavenly Fragrance Campaign, a living adventure prepared using tools and procedures discussed in the Wuxia Sandbox blog posts. This campaign is intended to play as a sandbox but with more dramatic elements. It is a two player campaign where run in what I call "Condor Heroes Mode", where characters begin with only one Kung Fu technique, their family background established and connected to the setting, and using a level advancement system based on encounters with higher level masters who train them. It also makes use of a campaign Shake-Up table, rolled once each session, to manage an unfolding background situation (see STATE OF THE MARTIAL WORLD). I will include footnotes to explain what procedures were invoked during play. The campaign is set in Fan Xu, largely using the Sons of Lady 87 book. 

CHARACTERS

Bao Long: An orphaned street urchin who was adopted by Lady Eighty-Seven's son, Guan Shisu after he came to the aid of Guan Shisu's daughter, Little Guan Hua. All he knows about his background is that his mother died when he was young. Bao Long has been taught some martial arts by Lady Eighty-Four, Yuhuan. Bao Long is a bit dim-witted but tough. 

Little Guan Hua: The daughter of Guan Shisu and the disciple of Guan Nuan. Little Guan Hua is cowardly and feeble, but intelligent. 

A PLUM BLOSSOM SINKS IN THE RIVER 

The party finished training with their new teacher, Dancing Corpse Wan Mei, who instructed them to go and seek information on Fan Batu, then meet her in Tung-on in one month. Little Guan Hua had heard from a contact in the martial world that Fan Batu was staying at the Swallow's Nest Inn in Gao Cun, so they decided to head there. They departed and found passage on a merchant vessel called the Wild Cricket. They secured passage in exchange for Bao Long performing labor (his first task was to clean the deck of the ship). 

Onboard they spotted a woman in purple robes with three disciples. She sat in a chair staring at the water and her disciples stood at attention. 

Little Guan Hua tried to get their attention and approached, offering them complimentary bath beans. Her conversation irked the woman who said "You are not worthy to converse with me."

Just as the lady was about to turn to go below deck, Little Guan Hua placated her with some sweet language and secured a smile. She then followed in secret to give them a gift but overheard the woman talking about Dancing Corpse Queen. She used words like 'malicious' 'cruel' and a 'menace'*. Not thinking much of it, Little Guan Hua returned to the deck, but later came back, again overhearing conversation, but this time it appeared the lady was plotting to kill Dancing Corpse Wan Mei. 

Talking with Bao Long they decided to do something about it. Little Guan Hua went into the deck and searched, discovering that the real cargo was secreted celestial plume. Understanding the principles of ship building, she sabotaged the keel when the ship was briefly docked in a small town to unload some crates. Then they snuck off the ship and followed on foot to see what would happen. 

Within thirty minutes the ship sank, collapsing violently into the river. Some of the crew drowned but a number escaped. The woman and one of her disciples dragged two bodies from the river. It seemed that her two other disciples had drowned. They followed as the woman and her disciple walked on foot to Fan carrying the bodies with them. 

From there they went to Gao Cun and arrived at the gates of the city. 



*I discussed this in my post the State of the Party. This session they rolled a fated encounter with Lady Plum Blossom on the shake up table so I drew on my own example.