Saturday, August 30, 2014


We continued our Orcs of the North Campaign this week. A couple of players couldn't make it because of the holiday weekend so it was only the following four characters:

-Enos Ozihel (my character), an Orc who worships Ozias.

-Festus, a Halfling from the Shahr Republic who has business in the North.

-Aetos, an Orc Tribesman who died, became a Ghoul and was then blessed by Ozias of service and made into a vampire.

-Mogar, Orc devotee of Ozias.

We capitalized on Aetos' new thrall, Kolgar Harch, a Gru Sertori who was a member of the Caelcori. We discovered that some members of the Caelcori dislike the Republic's laws against Sertori holding high offices and they would favor a shift to Sertori leadership. By his estimate this number was about half. Using this information we sent a messenger inviting one of these disaffected Caelcori to meet us in an inn near Neodo. This time we made ample preparation for the meeting, careful to plan to for all possible scenarios. 
Pete takes a new spell as his Divinity rises

As we traveled we also gained more followers as we spread of our message about Ozias and Aetos, the Vessel of Ozias. This made us more powerful, increasing our spell repertoire. At the meeting we spoke with the Caelcori contact and he was open to Malka leading an attack on Cael and controlling a large portion of Caelum. He also told us that the Republic was rapidly moving toward civil war and that there were generals who sensed an opportunity to take seize control as well. We brought this information to Malka and decided to use it in the coming weeks as we planned an attack on Caelum. We also asked Malka permission to go west tot he Aevia and Aeta tribes, where we would promise their chieftains the second death if they joined us against Caelum. Malka agreed but we had another request. 
Dan and Ryan preparing to cross the Sea of Gilva

An attack on Cael might anger Lorgo, the chief God of the Republic. We worried he would join the fight, so suggested involving Ranua, the goddess of the elves who despises Lorgo and blames him for Senga's death. Malka felt this was acceptable and would pursue it. 

We then planned our voyage across the Sea of Gilva. This would be a short two to three day sail by ship, but still potentially a risk as the sea is quite stormy. We arrived safety and traveled to meet the chieftains who agreed to rally their people for a public demonstration of our god's power. At the ceremony, Festus prepped the crowd, expounding on Ozias' mercy for his followers, on the ever present threat of death that our god alone could defeat. He spoke eloquently and at length. Then Enos asked the three strongest warriors to step forward and kill him. They did so, impaling him and slitting his throat, then making sure he died. Within a few minutes Enos was back on his feat and his wounds completely gone. 

This had a powerful effect on the crowd who quickly became followers of Ozias. The chieftains agreed to support us with cavalry (about 20,000) when the time came for war. 

We ended the session here. 

Friday, August 29, 2014


I love classic Orcs. I think they are a great monster for fantasy campaigns and quite enjoy playing your basic half-orc Barbarian. There is a lot to admire about Orcs: their physical strength,aggressiveness and bravery are traits I find appealing. But they are also pragmatic, restless, and prideful. Taken to the extreme these can all be bad qualities, but when we set out to make Gamandria, we sought to play out these traits in more favorable circumstances. What would a successful Orc civilization look like?

Before I get into that, we should look at the Orc entry from the Sertorius rulebook. I've pasted it here for convenience: 

Mechanically they get some nice benefits: A free rank in Wits, Specialist Skill and Command. They get an expertise in Smell (which improves their Detect roll when odor is involved) and they gain Resilient Mind (making them less susceptible to magical transformation). 

As you can see we focused on two characteristics from the beginning: restlessness and a heightened sense of smell. Our Orcs are industrious and intelligent because of this Restlessness. They also have a keen sense of smell and that is important. If you've ever known anyone with a strong olfactory system, you notice they don't usually care much for foul odor. A person who can smell well is going to have a lower threshold for things like poor hygiene than someone who smells cannot smell well. Applied to a fictional race, it made sense that our Orcs would be concerned with hygiene and cleanliness. Already we were picturing something very Roman and this just added to that overall image. So we decided our Orc civilization would take its inspiration from the late Republic/Early Empire. 

TADARIA of Caelum
from Beneath the Banshee Tree
The Orcs of Gamandria are also mentally resilient and tough. Though Restless, they are not as easily phased as humans. This is particularly important when it comes to using magic, where they can shrug off the consequences of overuse more than others. The first recorded instance of a Sertori (a spell-caster in our setting) was an Orc, so it is also possible that they've simply been exposed to magic longer than the other races and have mentally and physically adapted. 

We didn't set out to make a black and white world. Every culture has its good and its bad qualities. The Orc civilization of Caelum has many positive features. They have established a well ordered society based on clear rules of law and they are one of the more inventive cultures on the continent. In fact Caelan books on architecture and engineering are prizes all over the world. Their political system is advanced, though it faces challenges, and they have devised a clever institution for keeping the powers of Sertori in check. However they do have negative qualities as well. Like many societies in Gamandria (which is based on the ancient world) they still use slaves. They also can be terribly efficient in wartime.

However Caelum isn't the only place Orcs live. They also live North of Caelum in Atroxis, where they are divided into tribes and worship an Ice Lich named Ozias. While this is more in keeping with the traditional notion of the Orc, we tried to balance this view out as well. They may seem like an evil society from the outside but we still wanted to bring admirable qualities to them, and we wanted to try to understand what a culture built around a lich-god might actually look like. Over the course of our Orcs of the North Campaign it became clear to us that the Orcs of Atroxis worship Ozias as a kind of merciful figure and find hope in the prospect of being resurrected by the lich or brought back as a form of undead. From their point of view, Ozias a positive force. They are still more rugged and less civilized than the Caelum Orcs, but they are not mindless or heartless. We'll be including some additional information on Atroxis (beyond what exists in the rulebook) in our upcoming free module The Heart of Atroxis. 

One of my favorite sections of the book is the Legend of Cael and the Legend of Sola, which describes two major events in the History of Caelum. Both stories highlight the indomitable nature of the Orcs and shed light on their resourcefulness. The Legend of Cael is about the founding of the Caelum capital. It describes how an Orc Chief (named Cael) brought his people to the foot of Mount Lorgo (home of the god Lorgo) because he liked the hot springs and felt worthy of settling near the presence of a god. However Lorgo hated the sounds and smell of the Orcs. He asked them to leave and Cael refused. Eventually the two fought an epic battle. Keep in mind mortals can't harm gods in this setting, it is pretty much impossible except in very rare instances. After Lorgo broke his body, by sheer will Cael managed to rip out one of Lorgo's tusks and battered the the god with it. Greatly impressed by the Orc's determination and fortitude, Lorgo agreed to let the Orcs live near Mount Lorgo provided they bathed daily and treated him as their supreme deity. Local Orcs believe that centuries of effort to avoid offending Lorgo's hatred of odor led to their strong sense of smell. 

The Orcs of Gamandria are not only one of my favorite races, they are one of the most important ones. The first Sertori was an Orc. The word Sertori comes from his name: Sertorius Poro. So the game is named after an Orc word. I like our Orcs, they are intelligent, tough, a little bit finicky and extremely resourceful. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Starting next month Bedrock Games will begin selling its own PDFs. This means all of our PDFs available through our PDF seller will be taken down September 1st and they will be re-released under the Bedrock banner. These will be the same books as before. 

As a result, all existing reviews will be eliminated, which we regret because we have so many great reviews at places like DriveThruRPG. But ultimately we think this will be worth it for future releases. It also means the current sales status of our books will reset (so while Arrows of Indra is now a Popular Silver Pick at RPGnow, it will no longer be when we release it again next month). 

Definitely feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns related to this change: Contact. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I've been busy working on the upcoming module The Heart of Atroxis and I've also been putting the finishing touches on the first Book of the Archon, so there hasn't been as much time for blog entries as I would like (but don't worry I have a dual review of The 14 Amazons coming up). Today I am going to briefly talk about how we begin developing a module. 

Usually the idea starts at the table, with something Bill or I run. In the case of The Heart of Atroxis, it began as a campaign Bill has been running set in the far reaches of the north, where remote orc tribes are starting to rise. The Orcs in our setting are predominantly civilized, so these orcs are something of an exception. They exist on the periphery of a powerful Orc empire and until recently were of little note. About fifty years ago a local chieftain named Malka united the tribes with the support of a powerful lich god named Ozias. This religion swept over the northern Orc tribes and Malka became their king. 

I think Bill was just intrigued by a society that worships a lich and is at ease with undeath so he set the campaign there. Whatever his reason, he started the campaign off with a great adventure where the party was sent by Malka to a newly discovered island with rumors of two powerful crowns buried beneath the ice. Malka had already sent men to the island in advance of us and we were to go with his daughter there to retrieve them. When we arrived we found a land inhabited by giant tribes, trolls and other nasty things. In addition to finding the crowns, we allied with some of the local giant tribes and formed an agreement with some that our king would give them land if they came and fought against the Caelum Empire. We were not authorized to make such a promise but it seemed like something Malka would approve of. 

So this was the start of the module. When Bill ran it he had to decide which island on the map to use. You can see in the image above that there are quite a few options, but it was narrowed down to two. 

After we had our island and after Bill ran us through the adventure, I was able to step in and contribute. Bill's original island was meant for something less extensive than what we ended up aiming for. There were kernels of everything in that first adventure but parts of it never got explored and Bill would have only developed it if we had stayed and done so. 

First we took the history of the island that Bill had developed and reworked it to make sure it was as seamless with the rest of the setting as possible. We also populated the island based on the history we developed and how things had appeared in Bill's adventure. 

The map above uses 100 mile hexes. We needed to get something more granular so we printed out the map with 30 mile hexes and started placing things. To the right you see an early attempt. Once we had this fleshed out, we had someone make a proper hex map for us, this time switching to 5 mile hexes (which fit our goals more). 

While I can't yet show the new map, I can say it is starting to look quite nice. It is done in a traditional style and works for the exploratory nature of The Heart of Atroxis. 

I don't want to give anything away, because much of the content is GM-only kind of stuff, but we are really excited about this adventure. It explores the ancient history of the setting from a completely new point of view and is shaping up to be a marvelous venue. While Bill already ran it as an adventure in our campaign, it has evolved considerably from the original idea. It also is going to require a bit of play testing. 

I will share more details in the coming weeks. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


We are planning another free module for Sertorius called The Heart of Atroxis. This will be based on material in our Orcs of the North Campaign and will be an adventure set on a lost island filled with giants, trolls, kobolds and more. It begins with a simple quest to retrieve two ancient crowns from a ancient ruin buried in frozen wastes but turns into a potentially endless exploration of the island itself as players learn more about the local tribes, ruins and history. It is also a chance to explore the Orc cultures of the North. Whether the players are orcs or not, they can still participate in the adventure, since Malka the King of Atroxis is happy to work with any willing Sertori. 

We are still hammering out all the details so things could change after this announcement. Presently we are expanding the details of one of the Northern Islands and creating a full hex map suitable for exploration. We are tying the history of the island in with the rest of the setting but giving it its own unique place with some surprising details buried in its past. In addition to the exploration aspect there will be political elements to the module as the characters choices potentially have consequences for Atroxis itself. We don't yet know the length of the module (with PDFs we are not as committed to a specific size from the outset of a project). Most likely it will be in the 70-100 pages range with about five chapters and two appendices. 

We will reveal more as the module develops. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014


We finally have new Doctor Who episodes after nearly a year (and really it's been over a year since we had a regular season). I am sure everyone has their own opinions of the new Doctor and Deep Breath. I was thrilled to be watching Doctor Who again, and while I don't think we quite have a sense of what Capaldi's Doctor will be like, I found Deep Breath entertaining and a good start to the new series. It was a bit sluggish at the start, but I think that may be a good thing because overall this episode had a lot more breathing room than more recent ones (it feels like a move away from the whole condensed storytelling thing
while I've enjoyed all the Smith episodes, I do feel the pacing has been a bit too fast lately). I am curious what others think so feel free to share your love, hatred, or indifference in the comments section. 

What I really want to know is the identity of Missy. This is the woman who seemed to revive the half-face clockwork man at the end of the episode and informed him he had reached "the promised land". I am in the dark as much as anyone (in fact probably more in the dark than some of the real obsessive fans) but I have a few guesses.

The first possibility I thought was she is a future version or an alternate version of Clara. Missy did call the Doctor her boyfriend, and this is the episode where the Doctor emphatically stated "I am not your boyfriend" so there seems to be a possible connection there. Given the fact that Clara exists across the Timelord's timeline, this could be any of those versions of her. It seems likely she is the woman who gave Clara the Doctor's number, so there is that as well. She could also simply be Clara in the future, or in the future in another body or state (with Doctor Who you never know). Maybe things get very bad between Clara and the Doctor and in this is the future outcome.

The next possibility I thought of was this is Madame de Pompadour. There is clearly a connection between the clockwork men in The Girl in the Fireplace and the clockwork men in Deep Breath. But when the Doctor last saw Madame de Pompadour he had promised to show her a star and then returned after she died. Just before that she had seen into the Doctor's mind and knew what he knew. So with all that knowledge, it is entirely possible she came up with some clever way to meet him again after her death. She had quite a few years to work on a solution after the Doctor left. And it is also more than a little possible she has been changed for the worse by this process. Plus she does have valid reason for carrying some resentment towards him (though her letter in the end of The Girl in the Fireplace doesn't suggest resentment to me). 

Obviously River Song is another possibility but if it were her, I'd expect she'd call the Doctor her husband, not her boyfriend. She could also be Tasha Lem, but I think she is actually River Song, so again, I would expect her to call him her husband. Though I could always be wrong about Lem's identity. 

I've heard some folks say maybe it is the Master or even the TARDIS. I have to admit, neither of these occurred to me while watching, but some have pointed out that Missy, could be a shortened version of Mistress, which is a female Master. That seems pretty tight in terms of the name. I could also see the Master calling the Doctor his (I suppose in this case her) boyfriend for any number of reasons (most likely because he finds the idea amusing now that he is a woman---if Missy is in fact the Master). Something tells me though it isn't the Master. I suppose it could be the TARDIS. That feels a little strange. When the TARDIS did take human form she was certainly a bit off, but Missy seems a lot more sinister. 

It is also possible Missy is an older character from the original series. 

What are your theories on the identity of Missy?  

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Illustration by Jackie Musto
for The Guide to Aegyptus
We haven't included a 'What is a Role-playing Game' section in any of of our products since Terror Network and Crime Network. There are several reasons for this. Mainly it is because we assume folks buying our products are already seasoned gamers who have little to no interest in our definition of roleplaying. The other reason is I am not overly fond of defining roleplaying for other people. I don't mind describing it to those who have never gamed before, but I am not interested in establishing a definition that tells others how they should play. So we have simply avoided the issue by not including a definition in our rulebooks. I think this has been a mistake and in future we will resume with a standard 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry. 

It occurred to me while I was discussing one of our games with someone who hasn't played an RPG that every rulebook needs explain what roleplaying means. Now, role-playing and its definition is actually something of a hot topic and there are plenty of arguments and flamewars over how it ought to be defined. I really have no interest in that. Personally I don't want to limit my gaming experience or the experience of others because of partisans on either side. Those are discussions people can have down the road as they learn more about the hobby. I am just interested in giving people a small launching point to start play, some indication of what it actually means to play an RPG so those who haven't know how to proceed. 

In that spirit, I went back and reviewed our 'What is a Role-playing Game' entry from Terror Network. Here is what is said: 
Terror Network is a pen and paper role-playing game—a form of interactive story telling equipped with a rules system to resolve conflict. A role playing game is played by a group of players and a Game Master (GM). If you are a player, you create and control a character called a player character (PCs). If you are a Game Master, you create and control the plot and setting. The plot is the scenario that the GM presents to the players. Think of the plot as a story from a book, movie, or television program, except as a player, you control one of the main characters (your PC). The setting is the world your PCs inhabit. Like the real world, the setting is governed by laws (game mechanics) and filled with other people called non-player characters (NPCs). The GM controls all the NPCs in the setting. The Game Master also functions like a referee, deciding which rules apply to a given situation. When players decide what actions their PCs take, the GM tells them what kind of rolls to make to determine their success.
We wrote this before we were even aware that online "story" and "plot" were regarded asloaded terms and part of an ongoing debate over the purpose of roleplaying. I still have no interest in that debate, I do understand why some may see those words as misleading if readers take them too literally, but I also think they help make the concept immediately understandable. We would certainly alter how we define RPGs in any upcoming book, because I think we are at a different place now. Still I don't think we will be offering a definition meant for those who are invested in internet debates about RPGs. Instead it will be meant for those who may not know what an RPG is yet and just need something to grab onto in order to understand it. Saying an RPG is like being a character in a movie, is a fairly easy way to convey the idea (though there is always the danger folks get too hung up on the analogy). 

To me a Roleplaying game gives you a chance to be someone else and exist in virtually anyplace. You can inhabit the figures of history and fend off plots of intrigue against great emperors, you can chase drug lords through the streets of New York as a modern day cop, you can ride a dragon into war and fend off the hordes who follow the Ice Lich in a world that only exists in your collective imagination. There is drama there, there is story and there is a world you go to that feels real. Now folks can debate what that all means and how you achieve it, but that really isn't what interests me. I'm not worried about the role of the GM, or what mechanics should be employed or ignored and to what end. I'm interested in playing a character and feeling like I am someplace else really exciting and new. 

That is what roleplaying means to me. I still don't know what our next "What is a role-playing game" section will look like. Will be contemplating it further. 

What does role-playing mean to you? 

Friday, August 22, 2014


We have some big things going on at Bedrock and hopefully some exciting news soon, so sadly haven't had time for a proper blog entry in the past couple of days. Hopefully we will get back on track over the weekend. In the meantime I thought it would be nice to consolidate all my Cheng Pei-pei reviews into a single post. 
Cheng Pei-pei in Legendary Amazons

For those who haven't been following the Wuxia Inspiration articles, I started doing reviews of movies starring Cheng Pei-pei. She is a phenomenal actress and is a notable wuxia star from the 60s and 70s known as the "Queen of Swords". She has also starred in a number of more recent wuxia movies, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (as Jade Fox) and Legendary Amazons (as She Saihua). But she isn't just a wuxia actress, Cheng Pei-pei appeared in comedies like Flirting Scholar and in the modern drama, Lilting. I've been strictly reviewing her wuxia movies, but her other roles are also definitely worth checking out. 

Here are the Cheng Pei-pei films I've reviewed so far. I still hope to add this list as time goes on but further reviews may require finding harder to obtain films like Jade Raksha. 

Come Drink With Me
Golden Swallow
Brothers Five
The Lady Hermit
The Shadow Whip
The Golden Sword
The Thundering Sword 
Dragon Swamp
Raw Courage

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


trav·es·ty \ˈtra-və-stē\
n. pl. trav·es·ties    
1. An exaggerated or grotesque imitation, such as a parody of a literary work.   
2. A debased or grotesque likeness: a travesty of justice.  
3. A literary or artistic burlesque of a serious subject.

A couple of years ago we released an interesting alternate history game called Servants of Gaius, which was set in 38 AD and put a bit of a twist on the history of Caligula's reign. In our version Caligula is not mad, not evil, but is actually becoming a god. This was meant to be a playful take on a dark chapter in real world history, something distant enough I didn't think others would fail to see the humor. What I discovered after its release is people fell into two camps, those who thought it was clever and fun, and those who were repulsed by the idea of a historical madman being lionized (even if it was done for humor's sake). I can certainly respect people taking issue with that kind of evil being inverted into something good. Personally it never bothered me, but I would never challenge someone who doesn't want to play Servants of Gaius for that reason. 

A few years before we released Gaius, we put out a mafia RPG called Crime Network. Now in Servants of Gaius, while we redrew a villain into a hero, the characters were still assumed to be good guys. But in Crime Network, the characters are mobsters, thugs and street criminals; basically the bad guys. Again some people loved it, but some people wanted nothing to do with a game where characters participate in street crime and murder. This I also understood and respected. After all, when someone asked me if they could play terrorists in our counter-terrorism RPG Terror Network, I was troubled by the idea. So I have lines I just don't want to cross in games too. Still I would like to explain why I love evil campaigns. Why I have more fun being a bad guy, more fun when my players are the bad guys, than I do playing the hero. 

The reason is to me is simple: these campaigns are not truly evil, not in the sense most people think. Such campaigns are travesties of evil, they are darkly humorous parodies of villains and bad guys seen on screen. It isn't played straight. Now this kind of comedy isn't for everyone but I find with some gamers, it resonates. 

I grew up in a largely Italian American household. My grandfather could speak Italian, my aunts fought over the best way to make tomato sauce, and they all watched mafia movies, treating each outrageous mob hit as a punchline. If you watch mafia movies in general, there is a sense of humor running through them, where death and murder are all made a little easier to accept by lacing them with wit. There is a reason Joe Pesci's character is the one everybody remembers from Goodfellas, he embodied the brutality and humor of the genre. You see this in The Sopranos as well. They don't treat every act of murder this way but it is a recurring theme in mafia media. I think the reason for it is simple: the mobsters are the stars, they are the main characters and it would be incredibly hard to watch if you didn't add the layer of comedy to distance the audience from the wickedness of their behavior. 

This isn't unique to Italian Americans or to Mafia movies, that is just where it comes from with me. But the point is, I grew up with an appreciation for dark humor. I always liked villains the best. And again, if you watch a lot of horror movies, villains often seduce the audience with their sense of humor. Hannibal Lector is horrifically evil, yet some of his best lines are dry one-liners played for laughs. 

I approach evil campaigns in much the same way and so do my players. When they play ruthless mobsters, they're hamming it up and giving their best impressions of Robert De Niro or Fredo Corleone. And even thought they are doing horrible things, it is all done with schtick and wisecracks. 

I love evil campaigns because they let you play someone truly over the top. There is certainly something to be said for the paladin who saves humanity at great personal sacrifice, but frankly I would rather play a guy like Gary Oldman's corrupt agent in The Professional. These are just incredible characters to explore. They aren't better than the paladin, they are not a bigger challenge, they are just more fun for me. 

Another reason for my love of this stuff is I can draw a clear line between playing a character in a game and real life. I see a lot of people bristle at evil games, or even in debates about alignment, because I think they find this line is more blurred. Respectfully I have to disagree here. I think one of the things that really hurt the hobby in its infancy was the notion that the line between fantasy and reality was muddled, that playing a sorcerer meant you would be drawn into real world sorcery, that playing a character who worships the god of snow meant you'd start sacrificing animals at solstice. These notions were incorrect then, when they were used to cast D&D as an evil game, and they are incorrect now when people use them to attack evil campaigns or even alignment systems. For me, I can play an evil character who worships an evil god and does evil things, without it altering my own beliefs. My character's thoughts and actions are not expressions of my real moral principles, nor do they have an affect upon them. 

Again, this isn't for everyone. I completely understand that. If folks dislike evil campaigns, that is fine. For me it is a great way to spend an afternoon with some friends and it provides lots of opportunity dark humor. Personally I don't see anything wrong with an evil campaign. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


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: 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.

This is part of my Cheng Pei-pei review series. You can see my other reviews of her movies here: Come Drink With MeGolden SwallowBrothers Five,The Lady Hermit,The Shadow WhipThe Golden Sword, The Thundering Sword and Dragon Swamp 

I don't think Lo Wei gets his due sometimes. That seems to be changing somewhat in recent years and hopefully continues. While no King Hu, his movies always seem to hit the right notes for me and Raw Courage is no exception. The film is a highly entertaining adventure, that has a steady pace and well done fight choreography featuring a large number of combatants. But the story itself is also engaging and epic. It draws on the familiar, a quest to save the true heir to the imperial throne, and it executes it well, using starkly drawn characters to make you care about the outcome. Above all I think the pacing is exceptional. In wuxia, where there is the need to weave story and combat, that can be tricky. I found this had exactly the right mixture of swordplay, storyline, humor and drama.

It is also a simple tale and the the whole thing feels like it orbits around this simplicity. While I have seen some criticisms of the simple plot structure and the sometimes redundant plot elements, I watched it twice in a row to see if my initial impression was flawed and I came away greatly appreciating the simple approach it takes. 

Raw Courage
Raw Courage was released in 1969 by Shaw Brothers Studio. It was directed by Lo Wei, with action choreography by Little Unicorn and Simon Chui Yee-Ang. The film stars Cheng Pei-pei (Xiuyi), Yueh Hua (Zhou), Ng Fung (Zhenxiong), Tien Feng (Yancang), Poon Oi-Lun (Huajiao), Lee Sau-Kei (Old Monster), Ou-Yang Sha-Fei (Mrs. Bai) and Yeung Chi-Hing (Old Beggar). 
Emperor Jianwen hands his son to Shangguan

The film opens with the fall of Nanjing and Emperor Jianwen, second ruler of the Ming Dynasty following a conspiracy by the Prince of Yan (who becomes The Yongle Emperor). As his city is taken, Emperor Jianwen passes his infant son to Hero Shangguan of the Black Dragon Society and asks him to keep the child safe. Calmly the emperor awaits his doom and instructs his remaining loyal ministers to flee for their lives. 

Some time later the Prince of Yan has become The Yongle Emperor and is consolidating his hold on power using a group of warriors led by Yancang to enforce his will in the martial world. The group (briefly called The East Sea Gang in the subtitles), under the direction of emperor's chief Eunuch, goes to Black Dragon headquarters following rumors that the former Emperor's son is hiding there. They promise Chief Shangguan wealth and power if he simply hands over the child. Shangguan rebukes them and tells the guests to leave. Yancang's right hand, Huajiao, reprimands the chief, saying he should fear the consequences if he refuses. Shangguan's daughter, Xiuyi becomes furious at this and demands they conduct themselves politely. 

As Yancang's prepare to leave through the courtyard, Huajiao lights off a signal (a sort of hand held firework) which alerts soldiers surrounding the Black Dragon Society to attack. A huge battle ensues and it is unclear who will win, when Huajiao hits Chief Shangguan with one of her poison darts, forcing him to retreat with his daughter and his senior disciple, Jin Zhenxiong. They hide in secret passages below the headquarters, where Chief Yancang tells Xiuyi to leave him behind as he is dying, go to his sister and take Emperor Jianwen's son to safety with his brother and their counterpart in Quanzhou, The White Dragons. Initially Xiuyi refuses, wanting to stay and fight to the death beside her father but he tells her to do so would be unfilial and unpatriotic, then kicks her aside as Zhenxiong presses her to leave and perform her father's final request. This is a tear-filled scene that works really well and gives us a sense of the main characters' virtues and loyalties.  
Chief Shangguan Poisoned by Huajiao's Dart

Xiuyi and Zhenxiong make their way to the child. After handing them the baby and the former Emperor's seal, Xiuyi's aunt commits suicide because she knows her presence will just slow them down and put the prince in danger. They depart but are attacked by soldiers as they try to make their escape to the south. During the fight a beggar in a tree leaps down and comes to their aid, helping them drive their attackers off. After the fight their savior tells them simply to call him Old Beggar. Upon hearing that they plan to head south to find the White Dragons, Old Beggar says they are too unskilled to make it on their own, and that they should go to a nearby city and meet Mrs. Bai who will instruct the hero Zhou Feiyun to help them. Stealing one of the soldier's horses they head south.
Farmer (Zhou), Xiuyi and Zhenxiong 

On their way they stop at a small cabin in the wilderness. There they meet a bumbling farmer who offers to share his table with them for the evening and serves them some of the most delicious looking stewed goat meat to appear on film. It was actually striking how enticing the meal looked, and that is a rarity in some of these older wuxia movies. The farmer is kind and timid, and cowers when Zhenxiong demands he give them his clothes (which they need to disguise themselves in the next city). As they take the clothing off his back, the farmer asks why they repaid his kindness with such cruelty and Xiuyi offers an apology. Zhenxiong says he will trade him their horse for the clothes, which doesn't satisfy the farmer, but it is the only deal on the table. 

Xiuyi and Zhenxiong arrive in the next city, where they must pass through the gates posing as local farmers. Just as are passing through, after having sweet talked the guards, the baby cries and the alert is raised. However the farmer they had robbed also arrives at the gates and creates a ruckus, screaming that he has just been robbed. This disturbance allows the heroes to escape and find their way to Mrs. Bai. They follow Old Beggars instructions but are intercepted by a singing beggar on their way to the address at Muzi Alley who warns them through song that a trap lays ahead. They ignore his instructions and are are attacked, causing the beggar (who we later learn is Little Beggar) to flee. 

After a difficult fight they manage to break away, and Little Beggar points them toward an alley way, which they duck into. He then points their pursuers in the opposite direction and takes them to Mrs. Bai's current residence (Mrs. Bai is played quite convincingly by Ou-Yang Sha-Fei). There they meet Mrs. Bai's niece, Nui Nui and are told that the new emperor had her evicted. She wants revenge and agrees to help. 

Back in the city, Yancang and his men interrogate the farmer, learning that his assailants were carrying a baby. They release him and he goes to Mrs. Bai's house where he is revealed to be Zhou Faiyun. Xiuyi and Zhenxiong apologize for taking his clothes and he accepts with good humor, then says he will help escort them to the White Dragons. 

Mrs. Bai, LIttle Beggar and Nui Nui escort them to the edge of the city, where the newly formed trio departs for their next check point. The Emperor has set up a number of these and they are an important part of the plot, where the heroes have to pass through several narrow areas that are heavily guarded in order to reach their destination in the south. 

Mrs. Bai then instructs Little Beggar to retrieve his master (Old Beggar) and returns to her home with Nui Nui. There they encounter Yancang and his men, who were having Zhou Faiyun followed. We don't actually see the fight, but when Old Beggar and Little Beggar arrive after, they find Mrs. Bai dead and Nui Nui seriously injured. This was an effective decision in my opinion, because I imagined all kinds of scenarios where the great Mrs. Bai faces off with Yancang, Huajiao and the others. It also lent weight to Mrs. Bai's death. 
Mrs. Bai and Nui Nui face Yancang

Xiuyi, Zhou and Zhenxiong arrive at their next check point, trying to masquerade as mourners for their mother (which I thought was an interesting choice since it mirrors Bai's death, something they haven't learned about yet). Again they almost make it trough but a dog catches the baby's scent and the alarm is sounded. A massive skirmish unfolds with dozens of participants. The heroes easily fend off their opponents now that they've added Zhou to their ranks, and the guards back off, with their commander summoning Yancang because he knows the trio is too powerful for his men to handle on their own. 

The three heroes take shelter in a cave, as it rains. Zhou convinces them they should press through the rain to get a lead over their pursuers. Pointing out that Yancang and his men will likely take shelter from the rain as well. It takes some convincing but they eventually relent. At this point, it is clear there is a love triangle emerging between Zhou, Xiuyi and Zhenxiong, with the latter becoming increasingly jealous. 

Some time later, the baby comes down with a fever and Zhenxiong reprimands Zhou for talking them into traveling through the stormy weather. Zhou takes them to Doctor Ko, in the next city. Unfortunately Doctor Ko and his wife are crafty and working with the new Emperor. The Doctor betrays the heroes and Yancang arrives with his thugs at the doctor's residence for a marvelous swordplay scene.

At doctor Ko's, the heroes fighting skills prove superior, so much so that Yancang and his men decide to ask Huajiao's master, Old Monster, to help them. This is classic wuxia where skill level is absolute and in the face of a greater opponent you must either improve your own kung fu or find a stronger ally. 

Yancang and Huajiao ply Old Monster with drink, food and women, offering to let him marry Xiuyi if he helps them. Old Monster is a blue faced master with heavy appetites and no moral scruples. He is the perfect counter part to Old Beggar. Convinced by their offers, Old Monster agrees to work with them and they plan to ambush the heroes at an upcoming dragon dance festival in one of the cities on their way south. It is not immediately clear from the subtitles why his face is blue, but he does mention living in a cave so it could have to do with that (or there is an assumption in the genre I am simply missing and will say more about this below).
Old Monster

After they flee from the battle at doctor Ko's, Xiuyi, Zhenxiong and Zhou happen upon a cabin deep in the snowy mountains. The residence have all been slaughtered and left naked. When Xiuyi asks Zhou who did it, he simply says "It is wartime, this is unavoidable." At the cabin the heroes get a much needed respite and we see the jealousy between Zhenxiong and Zhou reach a peak, as it becomes clear Xuiyi is falling for the latter.

When the snow clears, the group continues on and arrives at the festival where they disguise themselves and talk their way into being part of the dragon dance parade. During the celebration, Yancang, Old Monster, Huajiao and their men attack the parade and the heroes flee. They nearly make their escape but Yancang guards an important pass, so Zhou creates a distraction allowing the other two to make it through. 
Trio in Disguise

In a grueling battle with dozens of men and the three evil warriors, Zhou is nearly defeated by Old Monsters, whose Kung Fu is too powerful for him, and he plunges off a cliff, leading the villains to believe him dead. 

Expecting to rendezvous with Zhou in a nearby forest, Zhenxiong and Xiuyi wait and wonder whether he is still alive. Zhenxiong confesses his love for Xiuyi who gently redirects him, saying she is promised to fulfill her father's will. This seems only to fill Zhenxiong with undo optimism. Zhou then arrives and tells them he survived a fall down the cliff when his clothes caught on a branch. 
Standing before Siwen of the White Dragons

Finally they make it to the temple of the White Dragons, Xiuyi exchanges a secret signal and gets an audience with her uncle's nephew, Siwen. In the audience she shows him her Black Dragon seal, which combines with the White Dragon Seal to form a key. Siwen's mood changes and he laughs. It becomes clear he may have evil intentions as he tells them to give him the baby and imperial seal. When they inform him they were instructed to hand the child to her Uncle directly, he says that the Uncle died. Siwen is now head of the White Dragons and plans to become emperor himself. He demands they give him the child and imperial seal. When they refuse, the White Dragons swarm and attack at the directions of Siwen. 

This is one of the best fight scenes in the movie and I will go into more detail about it below. In the end, the heroes survive and Zhou kills Siwen. They take the key from him and use it to open an underground lair that reveals a massive horde of treasure. 

In the lair, the three argue over what course to take next. Zhou suggests they raise a rebellion using Xiuyi as the leader and figurehead. Zhenxiong seems tired and worn down, wanting to give up. The exchange clearly has more to do with their affection for Xiuyi than their situation and results in a duel between the two men. Zhou wins but spares Zhenxiong as Yancang and his men arrive in the lair. 
Old Beggar Arrives to Defeat Old Monster

When the two sides clash, it is obvious the heroes can't beat the kung fu of Old Monster. Zhenxiong is impaled against a rock and it seems the other two will be next when Old Beggar arrives with Nui Nui and Little Beggar, reversing the tide. The two great masters face off, and Old Beggar spears Old Monster in the back with his staff, killing him. They then cut down Yancang, Huajiao and the rest. 

After the battle they thank Old Beggar, who apologizes to Zhou for giving him such a dangerous mission. They decide the best course of action is to take the child north to King Ling of Nancheng, who has a reputation for bravery. The film ends with them in a caravan heading to King Ling. 

Epic Wuxia
Raw Courage is an epic adventure with large scale combat and wide range of locations. Like The Golden Sword, the film spans great distance, and treats the viewer to wilderness, city and snowy mountains. I think it has all the elements of a great Wuxia movie. 

This is is a wuxia movie that has all the trappings of the genre and for that reason resembles a full wuxia television series more than some of films. I think this is largely because it has all the major stock characters. Old Beggar, Mrs. Bai, Nui Nui, Little Beggar, Zhou, Xiuyi and Zhenxiong feel like a complete team or family. And they area balanced out, to some degree by counterparts in the East Sea Gang. It is not perfectly symmetrical but it still seems to be the intention. 

There is a lot of mirroring in the movie actually, not just between the main heroes and villains but between scenes and between organizations like the Black Dragons and White Dragons, or characters like the good emperor and the Yongle Emperor. I think this was intuitional. One interesting contrast is the difference between Xiuyi who is filial and obeys her father's orders and Siwen who follows the letter but not the spirit of uncles' wishes (it is a bit unclear from the subtitles in my version if this is his uncle or his father). 

There is also plenty of humor sprinkled throughout Raw Courage. One of my favorite scenes is when Little Beggar tries to warn them through song about the trap set by their enemies at Mrs. Bai's former address. Lo Wei makes good use of music in his movies, and in each of the Cheng Pei-pei films I've reviewed that he has directed there has been at least one musical performance. This one was striking in its wit and its use of rhythm. 

The battles are large scale with lots of fighters involved. This can appear chaotic, and certainly the movie lacks the precision of Lady Hermit or Come Drink with Me, but it is still well done. In some ways I like these kinds of swordplay scenes better than those with fewer participants because the broader frame gives you the complete picture of peoples' movements. Again if you pay attention to stuff like footwork, it is still quite impressive in my view. In terms of aesthetics it doesn't appear as stylistic, but still quite athletic. This isn't the pinnacle of wuxia swordplay but it also isn't as weak as I've seen some folks say. I found much of the combat captivating.
White Dragons Circle the Heroes

Also because of the large scale fight scenes, it makes excellent use of the mass choreography. Particularly in the battle between the trio and the White Dragons, where the enemies are a swirl of white surrounding the heroes, then at the command of Siwen, encircling them individually like schools of fish in the ocean. I've seen things like this in later movies, but I believe this is one of the earlier films I've ever seen this sort of movement in and it was enchanting to watch. It was a beautifully organized scene. 

This is also a movie where it is clear you are dealing with wuxia heroes who are so skilled they can defeat dozens of troops on their own. This is firmly entrenched in the assumptions of the genre, where powerful heroes stand apart and are the artillery of bigger political players. So it isn't enough to have 10,000 guys, The Yongle Emperor needs powerful men and women like Tancang and Huajiao to stop the heroes. 

In terms of gaming this has a lot. Hiding a prince from usurpers and escorting him to safety is a standard trope in fantasy RPGs and so much of this would work for that sort of campaign. The hidden lairs, the characters, and all the rest just scream RPG to me. So I highly recommend Raw Courage for gamers on the look out for inspiration. 

In the end, I think this is a very strong movie, quite well done.