Monday, July 28, 2014


We've developed a vast list of Kung Fu techniques for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and continue to add to and refine this list of attacks, counters and stances. Our goal is to reflect what we see in wuxia films and television, not create realistic fighting styles. At times I have found myself needing to forget what I know about real-world martial arts and think more in terms of the fantasy of film. 

Before I got sick, I was into martial arts for years and would train every day for hours. I had solid experience in a few different styles and over time managed to dabble in quite a few others just to see what was out there. But like a lot of people who trained in martial arts, I also watched martial arts movies (in fact kung fu films inspired me to take up actual training....I'd be lying if I didn't add that Star Wars was another factor). One thing I learned pretty early on was the vast gulf between martial arts on screen and how they are actually practiced. 

When I started designing games, I saw this experience like any other expertise or knowledge I could bring to the design table. Generally when I worked on games with other people, they would defer to my knowledge of this, just like I might defer to the science buff's knowledge of physics. However I noticed this was hindering my ability to make workable martial arts mechanics. I would over think, I would consider things from far too many angles, and generally it just muddled my approach because there are so many variables to consider in real life. I wasn't happy with the results, even if they met my criteria for "realness". 

One day I just decided to stop. I would think more like a fan of the genre than a practitioner when it came to design. This freed me up considerably and I started to enjoy the process more than before. It allowed me to embrace the fantasy element of wuxia rather than get into the nitty gritty of actual practice. 

So when we started on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate I only allowed my self to bring one piece of real world knowledge to the table. There is a single kick in the entire list of techniques (which right now must be close to 80 or more) that is based on my actual experience in the martial arts. Other than that everything is purely inspired by the screen. 

The technique in the book based on my real-world knowledge is called Spinning Back Kick. I modeled it after a counter I used to use at my first martial arts school, and think the mechanics capture that aspect of it well (they fall a little short capturing its more offensive applications). However I have concluded my decision to include a single real-world technique was the right one. Tellingly, no one has shown any interest in taking spinning back kick. Not the folks who choose techniques based on the coolness of the name, nor the folks who choose the technique based on the mechanics. So far, I have only been able to use it through my NPCs. And I have to say, it is serviceable but nothing special in the game. 

I think in game design real world knowledge can be helpful. It can also be a hinderance if you are not careful. Knowing what real world knowledge to apply and what real world knowledge to keep in check is an important skill I have learned over the years. As a generally rule, if it enhances the game, or adds needed depth, then by all means use your real world knowledge. But if you find yourself engaging in unnecessary pedantry or clouding the system with "buts" and "ifs" you might want to step back and refrain. 

1 comment:

  1. Good article. Choices between realism and genre (i.e. source material) are made throughout game design and they deserve to be called out like this.

    Just yesterday my wife was running Murphy in a Dresden files game using HERO System, afterwards I asked her if she liked the P90 I gave her as it did include an extra die roll as part of its build to determine if a bullet tumbled and fragmented (realism).

    She actually liked it because it made it different, and we then talked about the real world weapon a bit and I pointed out that the magazine was parallel to the barrel allowing for a more compact weapon with a 50 round mag, but since it twists the bullet feed before inserting into the chamber it tended to jam on the last few rounds in the mag due to lack of spring pressure.

    She remembered that wasn't on the character sheet and asked if I could add. I said I could, but Murphy has the weapon from the book and it works flawlessly (genre) :)