Thursday, July 31, 2014


Tackling real-world history in an RPG can be daunting, especially if you have never done historical research. I think the first thing to keep in mind is even though history is a challenging subject and quite serious, your research is for gaming and therefore should be part of the fun. So do what you can and set reasonable goals for yourself. The last thing you want is to end up hating the very subject you are trying to learn about. 
 © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

History can come up in a variety of ways in an RPG. For the Gamemaster (GM) this is usually in the form of information he or she needs in order to proceed with prep. It may be in a fictional setting inspired by history or one set in a real historical period. For example, a GM running a game set in The Early Roman Empire might want to know if they had inns in the city of Rome, and if so, what they looked like and who operated them. Right off the bat you start to see a couple of things: historical research begins with asking questions and often the questions that GMs need to ask are not covered by survey books available at the typical bookstore. 

The GM frequently needs to know the minute details of street level life to proceed. So he wants to make sure he has the right sources for these kinds of details. But before he gets there it is a good idea to establish some basic knowledge in the subject. Which brings up the subject of historiography, a very important concept if you want to understand history. 

Keep in mind, historiography means slightly different things in different fields, but in history it refers to the the "history of the history" of a topic. It is all the historical research that has contributed to our understanding of the subject in question. If you are looking at the historiography of Islam for example, you will want to look at everyone from William Muir to Montgomery Watt and Patricia Crone for modern scholars, but also look at earlier Muslim historians like Ibn Khaldun. You need to construct an overview of all the major developments and arguments in the study of the History of Islam. 

A good place to begin is to find some Historiography Bibliographies. These can be found at your local library and provide a listing of the historical journal articles, books, etc., for a topic. An example of a Historiography Bibliography  is the American Historical Association's Guide to Historical Literature. But there are many other books like this, some much more specialized. There are also historiography books that cover the range of viewpoints and research on a subject. You can also find broad overviews of Historiography such as The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography by Arnaldo Momigliano, a useful starting point, or Georg G. Igger's Historiography in the 20th Century, which covers some of the major schools of thought among historians and can help orient a reader not familiar with these different viewpoints. I recommend both to anyone interested in learning broadly about historiography. 

Keep in mind, you don't have to read books exclusively. Many smaller subjects in history are tackled by essays and articles, and often books are simply expansions of essays and articles. You will want to construct a bibliography that includes books, just know it can contain more than books. 

What I like to do is establish what I don't know and then what I know. I do this before I get into any specific question. If I know a good deal, this narrows down the topics I need to cover. If I know very little, then I start from square one and try to build up a large base of information. 

As an example, when I wrote The Landlord's Daughter for Colonial Gothic, I realized I had a lot to learn. While my education was in history, it was not in American History. In fact, I took a total of two required US history courses in college and that was quite enough for me. My interests were in the Mediterranean, Medieval Europe and the Middle East. So I had to build myself a bibliography. Because the adventure also included a book written in Arabic I was sure to include sources relevant to that as well. 

The Landord's Daughter is set in Lynn Massachusetts, the area North of Boston, where I am from. I figured that knowing the local geography would come in handy, and it did. But I still had a lot to learn, so I came up with the following bibliography. It was far from perfect but serviceable at the time: 
A History of the Arab Peoples, by Albert Hourani. 
A History of Lynn, Essex County: Including Lynnfield, Saugus, Swampscott, and Nahant, byAlonzo Lewis and James R. Newhall. 
Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, JM
Colonial Marblehead: From Rogues to Revolutionaries, by Lauren Fogle.Lynn Massachusetts, by Diane Shephard. McConville. 
Massachusetts: A Concise History, by Richard D. Brown and Jack Tager. 
Massachusetts: Voices from Colonial America, by Michael Burgan with Brendan
Native Americans: A History in Pictures, by Arlene Hirschfelder. 
Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory, Dane Anthony Morrison and Nancy Lusignan. 
Salem: From Naumkeag to Witch City, by Jim McAllister. 
Some Annals of Nahant, Fred A. Wilson. 
The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789, by Robert Middlekauf. 
The Lynn Album: A Pictorial History, by Elizabeth Hope Cushing. 
The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, by Brian P. Levack. 
Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance, by Kai T. Erikson.
Some of these books I had to read cover to cover and take extensive notes, some, like The History of the Arab Peoples, I had already read and used mainly as a reference book, others, like Some Annals of Nahant, would prove surprisingly invaluable. Once I had done all my reading and taken notes, as well as thought through the adventure and hashed out the details with Bill Butler (my co-writer) I went to the next stage of my research: primary sources. 

This is where living in the area I was writing about turned out to be useful. The adventure covered historical Lynn (which included present-day Nahant, Swampscott and Saugus), Marblehead, Danvers and Salem (the last two very peripherally). Lynn and Marblehead have well run Historical Societies that preserve and catalog artifacts and function as local museums. They not only have libraries filled with primary source material, they also can answer questions and give tours of historical houses in the area. 

Here I found a number of journals, letters, objects and ledgers that really illuminated things for me. I also learned about important local figures and their residence by visiting some of the historical houses. The most helpful document, oddly enough, was a merchant ledger that itemized trade goods. In the adventure one of the NPCs is a merchant, but to be honest I had no real idea what a merchant from the area traded. The list of goods gave me a window into the local rum trade and this led to other documents that just really opened my eyes and breathed life into the history of the place I grew up. 

Still, despite all this effort, I did make mistakes. Thankfully, Richard Iorio, the designer of Colonial Gothic and the editor for this project, caught them. His knowledge of American History, is encyclopedic and his editorial feedback found errors related to things like what resources might have been scarce at the time due to circumstances. The reason I bring this up, is to show that there is always the possibility of being wrong or making a mistake. Don't let that stop you from trying. At the same time, don't dig your heels in on history when you are wrong. Being wrong is wonderful because that is when you learn. This is why I start by figuring out what I don't know, before establishing what I know. 

Hopefully this example gives you an idea of one way to approach history. Another important thing to consider: there are different kinds of history books and different kinds of historians. It is helpful to know which type will best answer the questions you have. There are micro-histories and macro-histories for example (one covers small scale things like an event, a person or a town, while the latter looks for larger patterns over time). There are biographies, narrative histories, etc. The crucial thing is the difference between a broad surgery, which might give you the entire history of Rome or a particular period of Rome and more narrow books that focus on a smaller slice, or just a specific cultural aspect of period.

Let me give an example of how this might play out using Roman History. You are prepping a campaign set in the Early Roman Empire so you start by reading The Roman Empire by Collin Wells. This is a good overview of the empire from 44 BC to 235 AD. It is also pretty lean, so it doesn't take much time to read. But then you realize you need to know more about how cities function on a daily basis, so you pick up Daily Life in the Roman City, by Gregory S. Aldrete, which gives some detail on life in Rome, Pompeii and Ostia. This is useful if you want to learn how merchant associations worked. You might at this point feel confident about running a city adventure set but still a little unsure about the intricacies of Roman society beyond Rome. So you read Roman Social Relations by Ramsay MacMullen, which provides some information on Roman society between 50 BC to 284 AD, with more coverage of the provinces and the rural. After you start your campaign, you feel ready for some primary sources. Knowing the party is headed to Germania Inferior, you read Germania by Tacitus, a Roman ethnography on the Germanic tribes. This gives you plenty of ideas for adventures and setting so you then read Pomponius Mela's De Situ Orbis andy his gives you a better sense of what the world looked like through Roman eyes. 

I think the key is to set goals using the above methods or any that work for you, make use of local libraries and historical societies and to scale the project to your comfort level. You don't need to do all the things I have laid out. It is enough to know that these sorts of things are out there if you need them. This is after all your game and how you research must serve your needs at the table. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate: Weapons of Ogre Gate

We've been working on the weapon list and descriptions for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate slowly, trying to make each one distinct. We want each weapon to have a different feel that gives it a uniqueness fitting to the genre. These are the entries we have so far. There will be more as we work more on the system. 

We also have been trying to fit the weapons to the Kung Fu techniques in the book. After the weapon list, is a sample technique called Lash of the Fly Whisk that shows how this works. 

Butterfly Swords: Used in pairs, Butterfly Swords are equiepd with long cross-guards that protect the hands and assist parrying. Though short, they are highly effective at close range. Butterfly Swords are sharpened only halfway down the blade, allowing the user to deliver non-lethal strikes with the lower portion. Therefore you can choose to make an attack with Butterfly Swords lethal or non-lethal. Butterfly Swords have a +1 bonus to Parry. 
Dao: These powerful sabers are curved with a wide single-edged blade for slashing and chopping. The Dao is a one-handed weapon. The Dao does an automatic wound instead of adding damage dice when you get a Total Success on Attack Roll.  Damage: Muscle +2d10. 
Gun: This is a wooden staff. It bestows a +1 bonus to Parry when used.

Fan: A fan is an ideal concealed weapon. This is simply a hand fan with sharpened blades that can be used to slash or stab at opponents, and to conceal needles (when thrown using a fan, needles increase their range to 15 feet). Fans also assist parrying and stealth. They provide a +1 to Parry and they provide a +1 bonus to stealth if you attempt a surprise attack with them. 
Fly Whisk: This consists of a handle and a long lash of horse hair and is used primarily to swat insects. However in the hands of a person with the correct training, it can be used as a weapon. To use this as a weapon, the player must expend an expertise simply to utilize its abilities. For the full expertise bonus with the Fly Whisk an additional expertise must be spent. Fly Whisks are more about swiftness than power, so they use the Speed Skill for damage (Speed +0d10). They are also able to be used to disarm opponents. To disarm one must make a successful attack with the weapon in the usual fashion. On a Success, make a damage roll against the target’s Parry score. If this is successful, your opponent drops his weapon.  
Hook Sword: These are meant to be wielded one in each hand. They have long thin blades like a Jian, except instead of ending in a point, they end in hooks used for trapping weapons and tripping opponents. They also have crescent shaped guards to assist attacks and parries. Hook Swords provide a +1 to Parry and can be used to disarm (see CHAPTER FIVE in the SERTORIUS rulebook). When you score a Total Success on an attack roll, opponents must make an Athletics roll TN 10 or be swept to the ground (into prone position). Damage: Muscle +0d10. 
Iron Hat: This looks like a wide brimmed hat with a hole in the middle to place on your head. In actuality it is an iron circle with a sharpened rim. This is a great concealed weapon and particularly lethal if it strikes true. It can also be thrown. The Iron Hat is very difficult to wield safely; if you roll all 1s on your attack roll, you inflict damage on yourself. The Iron Hat can be used more effectively by an intelligent wielder. It does Reason + 1d10 or Muscle +0d10 damage and grants a +2 bonus to parry when wielded. On a Total Success it does a single Automatic wound instead of adding an extra die to your Damage Roll.  
Jian: A one-handed sword, with a long thin double-sided blade for precise slashing and stabbing. Jians provide a +2d10 Accuracy to attacks. Damage: Muscle +1d10Needles: Needles can be thrown at foes using light melee skill. While they don’t do a lot of damage, they are perfect carriers for poisons. Characters with enough skill (see techniques like Storming Needles) can throw multiple needles at foes. If directed at a single target, their damage increases by 1d10 for every needle. So two needles do 1d10, three do 2d10, four do 3d10, etc. 
Net: Nets are excellent for stopping an opponent in his tracks. On a successful attack, they do no Damage, but take away two Moves and impose a -1d10 on all Physical/Combat Skills. On a Total Success, nets take away three Moves. Accuracy: -2d10.
Here is a Kung Fu Technique called Lash of the Fly Whisk. A character equipped with the Fly Whisk or sufficiently similar weapon, who has the technique, may employ it against opponents. 

Discipline: Waijia 
Skill: Light Melee 
Type: Normal 
Qi: 1  
You lash out with your fly whisk, its tethers extending unnaturally long to reach opponents and entangle them. 
Roll Light Melee against Pary. On a success you can extend the lash of your fly whisk to wrap around foes or disarm them at a distance (5 feet per rank of Qi). Anyone struck can be pulled toward you that round (though they can make a Muscle roll against your attack result to get away). 
Catharsis: When used cathartically you can throw your opponent causing 2d10 falling damage per rank of Waijia.


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

NOTE: This is a somewhat lengthy review, that gives a full overview of the plot and that includes many spoilers. 

The Last Hurrah for Chivalry was released in 1979 by Golden Harvest and directed by John Woo, who went on to originate the Gun Fu sub-genre with films like A Better Tomorrow. It stars Damien Lau (Green), Lau Kong (Kao) and Wai Pak (Chang). This is one of John Woo's early movies and feels quite like other films in the swordplay genre. Its chief antagonist is Kao Pang, a wealthy man seeking revenge for his family. Kao Pang is not skilled enough to kill his enemy so he finds a local hero named Chang and befriends him, in order to obtain personal justice. The heart of the film is about the friendship between Chang and another deadly hero nicknamed Green. 

The film opens at the wedding of Kao Pang, who is the wealthy son of a great hero and respected member of the martial world. Through conversations among the guests it becomes clear that Kao is a scholar, not a fighter, but he isn't virtuous and his knowledge is mainly in "the art of love". His bride is a prostitute from the Red Chamber who he paid 1,000 taels to marry him. Kao's villa is attacked during the ceremony by his father's enemy, Pai, who claims ownership of the land. As a fight breaks out, Kao is stabbed by his bride, who reveals that Pai paid 2,000 taels for her to kill him. Nearly all at the villa are killed, and Kao barely manages to escape with a few of his men. 

Kao is nursed back to health by his master who urges him to let the grudge go, but Kao wants revenge for his family and he begs his master to help. The master seems to sense darkness in Kao and says he must change his thoughts, to not think of evil anymore. The master tells Kao that he is not skilled enough to defeat Pai. Kao will need another to perform the task for him.
Kao betrayed by bride

Throughout the film, Kao pressures the master to help and to relinquish a special sabre in his possession, called the Moonlight Sword. In the versions I was watching, the subtitles suggest the blade is magical, but it is possible this was just poor translation. Each time the master resists and urges Kao to forget his evil thoughts. When Kao asks his master if a great hero can help him, his master replies that great heroes only serve great causes, not wealth. To secure a great hero, Kao decides he will have to create a great cause. 

The plot gets slightly convoluted at this point, though on second and third viewing there is a certain elegance to how the various plot threads fit together. Kao learns about a swordsman named Chang who lives with his sick mother and is trying to give up killing. Another swordsman, named Pray (also called Let it Be), is hounding Chang for a fight because he believes he can only be regarded as the greatest by killing Chang. Kao befriends Chang, helps him with his sick mother, and hires Pray to attack his master and take his masters sword on the day of Chang's mother's funeral. 

Pray nearly kills Kao's master, but fails to get the sword. He does inscribe a message at the scene, addressed to Chang, demanding a fight.  When Chang and Kao happen upon the beaten master, Chang vows to kill Pray and the two have a duel in which the latter is killed. 
Green and Chang

As all this is going on, Chang has been developing a friendship with a man known simply as Green. The two met at the Red Chamber while spying on a prostitute playing the Guzheng (a scene very similar to Meng's Forest Villa encounter in Killer Clans). Green is a killer and a drunk, and the prostitute playing the Guzheng is in love with him (though his interest is mainly in wine). However it seems Green is noble, too noble for his profession, and that might be the cause of his drinking. Over the course of the film, Green and Chang meet several times and fight together against foes. Later, and seemingly by chance, they attack a crooked gambling hall run by Pai (Kao's nemesis). 
Green and lady of Red Chamber

After defeating Pray, Chang arrives at Kao's residence to find him in the act of hanging himself. This is all a front of course, but Kao convinces him that he wants to take his own life because he cannot avenge the death of his family and loss of his villa by Pai. Chang is moved and vows to kill Pai for his friend. 

It should be pointed out that, as the movie progresses, Kao transforms as a character. Initially he just seems a bit self centered and cowardly. Gradually he grows more scheming and cruel. This is accompanied by physical changes in the form of posture and dress, with each act of evil. By the time Chang vows to kill Pai, Kao has already killed his own master and taken the Moonlight Sword, at which point he starts to resemble Dracula. 
Kao looking a bit like Dracula

Before attacking Pai's villa, Chang goes once more to the Red Chamber to hear the Guzheng, and there he meets Green again, who has heard of Chang's plans and intends to accompany him. After drinking and strategizing they make their move. 

The attack on Pai's villa is filled with action, with Chang and Green having to take on over 34 guards and several elite heroes such as Wolf, Lance and Sleeping Wizard, before they can encounter Pai. Sleeping Wizard is the most memorable, and played mostly for humor. He literally fights while he sleeps. His stealth is also uncanny, enabling him to literally sneak up on Chang and Green, using their backs to catch a few Zs. 

The two heroes face off against Pai in candled chamber where the villain uses a special solution to breath fire on his foes. The scene is quite long, and has some interesting choreography (will address the fight scenes of the film below). As they are killing Pai, Green reveals that he has been paid 500 taels to kill Chang and it is implied that he does so. 
Chang and Pai

After Chang's funeral, Green goes to collect his money from Kao, who is now rediculously evil and surrounded by newly hired henchmen. Kao attacks Green and the final fight of the film ensues. During the battle, Chang leaps in from the trees revealing his death was staged. He and Green give a speech about true friendship before resuming the battle. This is another long and bloody swordplay scene, with some interesting use of wires. Kao's demeanor and tactics appear very bat-like, with him flying up into the air and then attacking from the shadows. Green sacrifices himself to save Chang, and kills Kao in the process, for one of the most marvelous death shots witnessed on film (less artsy and expensive but more impressive than the final shot in 300 in my view). 

Chang and Green kill a guard
The fight choreography in this movie is a bit rigid, but that is by design. It is stylized and not in the smooth and elegant way of Come Drink with Me or House of Flying Daggers. This has more of a staccato beat and the actors sustain a pose after each strike. It is very much a late 70s martial arts movie in that respect. Personally this isn't my favorite style of choreography but in this case I think they do some great things with it. The movements are wide and exaggerated but they have an enchanting rhythm. Within the context of that style, the movie excels and there are some brilliant swordplay moments.
Death of Green

The opening music is marvelous and sets the tone of the entire film. The melody is played again and again through the film (notably by the lady of the Red Chamber on the Guzheng). The song is called Hao Xia and by Lo Wen (according to Chang Yaoyuan). Apparently the name of the some is identical to the film, but the translation is a bit off. Either way, I think the song is important enough that I am linking it here. The feel of the song and the lyrics help hold the film together. 

Chang and Green against Kao
The Last Hurrah for Chivalry ties in nicely with my last entry, Killer Clans. Both movies deal with the dark side of the martial world and both deal with the question of whether killers can have genuine relationships. Killer Clans answers this with a 'no'. In that movie it is clear that to kill means to be alone, and the hero finds love only by leaving Jianghu (the world of martial sects and heroes). But The Last Hurrah for Chivalry offers a more optimistic response, though it does demand blood. The Hero in this film finds true friendship at the cost of his friend's life. 

It goes without saying, I recommend this film to gamers (I am avoiding movies I wouldn't recommend in these reviews). This is also a John Woo film so I think folks who might not be into the genre may still want to check it out just to see his earlier work. When I first saw The Last Hurrah for Chivalry I wasn't as into it. It wasn't until the assault on Pai's villa that the movie really started to grab me. But it grew on me with each viewing and crept into my favorites category. I do think this is a film that improves the more you watch it. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I talk a lot about believability and immersion. In particular I like to comment on the things that disrupt my suspension of disbelief in games, so I know how to maximize my enjoyment. But sometimes I feel I ignore the issue of flexibility here and how really, believability is a isn't meant to be a rigid, binary notion. 

Concepts that are rigid are weaker than ones that have flexibility. If you look at a tree for example, even the strongest one, if it doesn't bend to the wind, will crack. In the same way, approaching believability in an RPG without flexibility is a potential problem. 

To elaborate, I think at times people approach disbelief in gaming by identifying the things they believe detract from it, then making those things forbidden. So meta-gaming might be an example of this. To aid immersion and believability I could eliminate meta-gaming entirely from my table, but then I think you begin to unnaturally avoid what might be quite organic and normal for your typical gaming experience. Obviously you don't want meta-gaming to become a major issue, but if you are actively avoiding it, becoming paranoid about its hidden impact on play, you then allow it to have just as much of an influence on your gaming. I don't like to restrict peoples' natural impulses at the table, just because I have an idea they might disrupt believability.  

Another place where this occurs is realism. Again, I talk a lot about the need to have the GM step in on occasion and smooth out mechanics when they produce results that are inconsistent with the setting or create unbelievable outcomes. I think this is important. However I still think you need to be careful about applying this rule of thumb, and that you want to reserve it for the more egregious instances. In short, I don't use it to go over everything with a fine tooth comb and vet it for realism. 

And there are also times when believability needs to be challenged. For example when you are trying to adhere to genre conventions in a setting. Granted the genre usually has its own internal logic that you still want to follow, but if you were trying to play or create a game where the point is to experience a setting that emulates the superhero genre, you wouldn't necessarily want physics getting in the way of a cool power, and you might not want death to be so common or permanent. There is a difference between running a gritty game set in a quasi realistic fantasy setting, and running wuxia campaign where the characters are expected to take on thirty guys and defeat them all. Genre emulation isn't for everyone, but it has a place I believe and there is value in distinguishing between realism and what is plausible in the genre. 

My concern is that sometimes in my effort to share my enthusiasm for how I like to play, I give the impression that I am less flexible than I actually am at the table, or that I avoid playing with folks whose preferences are different from mine. This isn't the case. I approach gaming with an eye toward flexibility and learning from others. I also don't like to tell other people how to game, nor to I like to be told so by others.  

This is more of a positive approach to play style than a negative one. Instead of "don't", I am advocating that you "do" the things you believe contribute to a better RPG experience, without restricting people who have a different view. That demands some flexibility at your own table. It means heeding the interests of others, allowing for ingredients you might otherwise avoid. It doesn't mean you embrace everything. We are talking about flexibility, not capitulation. You can incorporate a little salt into a sweet dish, without undermining the flavor. It doesn't become salt because it has a little salt in it.


I had the pleasure of meeting Chang Yaoyuan through wuxia fan pages online. He is from China, well versed in Chinese literature and is enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge of wuxia with English-speakers. In this video he explains the concept of wuxia, getting into the literal and metaphorical meaning of the original chinese characters. 

If you are interested in learning more, here are some handy online resources: 

An Introduction to the Wuxia Genre


Wuxia Edge

Wuxia Pan

About Chang Yaoyuan: Chang Yaoyuan is Chinese language instructor on iTalki and can be contacted here. He is a wuxia fan and writer, with an interest in Chinese history and philosophy. Chang's favorite wuxia novelist is Jin Yong (sometimes called Louis Cha in English) and his favorite Jin Yong novel is Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wuxia Inspiration: Killer Clans

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

NOTE: Killer Clans is one of the more graphic films in the genre and I will be addressing that frankly. So be aware the following review contains things the Bedrock Blog normally avoids. This post also contains many spoilers because it is difficult to discuss the movie without getting into specifics.

Killer Clans was released in 1976 and directed by Yuen Chor (Jade Tiger and Death Duel). It stars Zong Hua (Meng), Gu Feng (Sun Yu), Chen Ping (Lady Kao), and Yueh Hua (Hsiang). It is based on a Gu Long novel called Meteor, Butterfly, Sword. 

The hero of Killer Clans is an assassin named Meng. An orphan, he was raised in a brothel by Lady Kao and kills for her when she receives contracts from members of the martial world. Lady Kao is vicious and has bred both Meng for killing. He doesn't fear death, but he has no real friends, family or loved ones. This is a recurring theme throughout the film. 

The basic plot is a war between two clans: The Lung Men Society and the Roc Society. Lady Kao receives a contract to kill the head of Lung Men Society, Sun Yu, and assigns Meng to the task. Along the way, Meng meets a woman in a forest villa playing the guzheng. They talk about poetry and butterflies and she serves as a kind of contrast to the ruthlessness of Lady Kao. By the the time he leaves Meng has already started to fall in love with her. Meanwhile the growing blood-feud between the clans escalates as each side tries to outwit the other, leading to the murder of Sun Yu's son, and the death of many of others. 

Lady Kao learns about Meng's meeting at the forest villa and reveals that the women is Sun Yu's daughter. Fearing that Meng might fall in love with her and refuse to complete his mission, Lady Kao sends another assassin to complete the task. He fails, and Sun Yu uncovers Meng's intentions but shows him mercy, bringing him into the fold of his clan. 

Sun Yu weaves plans ridden with counter moves and feints and lays down preparations should the worst occur. It becomes clear there is a spy in his society and he must rely on his right hand man, Hsiang. However, Hsiang betrays him. He tries to seize Yu's position, wounding him with deadly needles and causing him to flee. Now the only one who can help Sun Yu regain control of his clan is Meng. It is soon revealed that Hsiang is the one who paid Lady Kao to have Sun Yu killed. 

At this point in the movie things get very dark. Sun Yu has been making plans in advance for years. Throughout the film he talks about the importance of patience and planning, and it is obvious he has all sorts of contingencies in place. One such contingency involves a couple who leave near the end of a tunnel leading from Lung Men Society's headquarters. Sun Yu saved the husband many years ago, and they are pledged to help him hide in a well should he run into trouble (the details of this arrangement are a bit murky but apparently they have to commit suicide in order to keep the master's pursuers from finding his hiding spot). When Sun Yu arrives at the well, the couple's children rush from their home to see what is happening. The look on Sun Yu's face when he realizes they have young children, foreshadows what is to come. The man and wife hurry the master into the well and bring their children home for a last meal laced with poison. 

The look on Sun Yu's face when he realizes children are going to die is intriguing. He is clearly appalled, apparently shocked, but continues with the plan and accepts their deaths in order to save himself. 

The film culminates with a climactic battle at Lung Men Society headquarters, as Meng and Sun Yu attack as Hsiang is trying to form an alliance with the Roc Society. Hsiang is forced to flee and finds refuge at the Dragon Gate Inn, operated by his childhood friend who gives him poisoned wine and kills him. 

At the end of the film, Sun Yu sends Meng off to live with his daughter. At first this seems to be a reward for his aid, and perhaps it is, but he tells Meng he is sending him from the martial world because eventually he thinks Meng will grow ambitious and try to kill him because that is the way of Jianghu. 

Cynical in its presentation of the martial world Killer Clans deals with the cycle of violence created by grudges and ambition. It is a story that emphasizes the cost of killing and of being a part of the clan system that makes up the Jianghu. It is also graphic, featuring nudity and rape. 

Violence is common in these movies. Sex and nudity are not. At first these scenes seem thrown in to give the movie more allure. However I think the reason they are there is to emphasize the grit of the martial setting, the dirtiness of it. 

It is an interesting film. The fight choreography is pretty good, if a bit stiff now and then. The characters seem pretty typical of many of the Gu Long inspired films I have seen (and the one Gu Long novel translation I've managed to get my hands on). I think much of it turns on that well scene. It is a terrible thing to witness but it also does give weight to Killer Clan's theme.