Thursday, December 31, 2015


With 2015 coming to an end, I thought I would put together a list of the most popular posts  on the Bedrock Blog from this year. Based on number of views, these were the most popular posts for 2015: 

I guess you can't go wrong talking about immersion because this post received far more hits than we normally get around here. It is basically just me thinking out loud about some setting design principles I've used over the last few years to help maintain immersion while emulating genre. You can read the post HERE

This was a post about how dungeons fit into wuxia campaigns. It came about because I realized it's easy it is to overlook the presence of dungeons in wuxia film and television shows. So GMs, myself included for a while, might be inclined to avoid them in a wuxia setting. I found that they are both a regular features of wuxia and a great fit in a wuxia campaign. You can read the post HERE and the follow-up HERE

I do regular wuxia reviews on the blog when I have to time to write them. This was my review of the classic movie Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. You can read the review HERE

A somewhat unusual wuxia movie. You can read my review HERE

My review of one of the most famous martial arts movies ever made. Appropriately it is the 5th most popular post this year. You can read it HERE. 

If you follow the blog, you know that I like History and occasionally write about history books and resources. This is my argument for the utility of the Historical Atlas. Read the post HERE

One of my favorite wuxia movies, I did a review of The Bride With White Hair earlier this year. You can read it HERE

I guess people are pretty excited about the Marmoreal Tomb because this interview was quite popular. You can read it HERE

I like characters who have an impact on the world. And I especially like characters who smash things. You can read my thoughts on the subject HERE

I usually do one or two villain posts a year. For some reason this one got more hits than usual. You can read the post HERE

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate 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. 

SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS Swordsman and Enchantress is a 1978 Shaw Brothers release directed by Yuen Chor. It stars Ti Lung (Xiao), Ching Li (Mrs. Lian), Candy Wen (Little Lord) and Lily Li (Lady Feng). 

Based on Gu Long's The Eleventh Son, Swordsman and Enchantress is about a martial world thrown into disarray over a sword called Deer Carver. As the sword is being escorted to the villa of Master Lian, it is stolen by a martial expert named Little Lord. The hero, Xiao, finds himself at the center of the villain's evil schemes when he is framed for the theft. After Little Lord kidnaps Mrs. Lian (the master's wife) and and tries to once again put the blame him, Xiao rescues her. He then fights to protect her against Little Lord, the chief villain's crazed lackey. In the process he falls in love with Lian's wife and eventually is imprisoned in the strange and seemingly magical, Solitary Villa, where he must face Little Lord's master and deal with surprising treacheries. 
Ti Lung as Xiao

The above is a very concise, perhaps slightly misleading, overview of the plot. Swordsman and Enchantress is the kind of movie that winds and weaves in a number of directions and it's crammed with big personalities. It is only loosely based on The Eleventh Son, by Gu Long, and those who have read the source material will follow the film more easily. Still I think it is the kind of movie where understanding every last detail isn't so important on the first viewing. By the second watch you'll definitely pick up on more of the subtleties but initially you can just enjoy the fighting (of which there is plenty), the lush scenery and costumes. 

The sets are beautiful. It can feel surreal in moments, particularly when the characters find themselves at Solitary Villa. This location is in the book as well and pretty crucial to the plot. Here it appears somewhat suddenly and immediately challenges the readers assumptions about what is real and what is false. I don't want to spoil it, but I will say I think it is one of the more inventive set pieces in wuxia and they do a good job bringing the idea from the pages of the Eleventh Son to the screen. 

The fight choreography is classic. Exactly the sort of thing you expect from a late 70s film, but it has a punchiness and vibrancy that is sometimes lacking in similar movies. This is more in the rigid and posturing approach to martial arts cinema, so it is quite stylized. One thing that really sets it apart is the extensive use of the spear by Xiao, which blends so well with the other weapons. Ti Lung handles the fights, and this weapon in particular, with great elegance. 
Lily Li as Lady Feng

The tone of the film is quite dark and it grows darker as the plot develops. In the spirit of movies like Killer Clans or The Last Hurrah for Chivalry it focuses on hypocrisy, corruption and the weaknesses of the characters. That isn't to say the hero is unheroic, or that everyone is ineffectual, just that this is a world populated by people with scars and shortcomings. But there is also something liberating about them. 

The characters are stark and compelling. Plenty of changes were made but they are in the spirit of the book and work well. One of the more unusual characters is Lady Feng. In the book she has a much more prominent role but I think largely out of consideration for time, in the film she makes only a handful of important appearances (though like the book the film opens with her). Her nickname is Man Junkie* and she flaunts social convention by taking many lovers. In an exchange with Xiao she admits this but points to the hypocrisy of scolding her for such behavior while allowing men to sleep with as many women as they want. In many ways Lady Feng and Xaio are two sides of the same coin. They are both incredible martial heroes who feel stifled by the rules imposed upon them by the social order. Lady Feng resists it in her way, while Xiao resists by being a lone drifter. 
Xiao and Lian Chengbi Duel

Other worthy players include Candy Wen as Little Lord (who plays the cruel and vicious character well) and Lau Wing (as Lian Chengbi). Little Lord is a woman who often disguises herself as a man and uses her lethal Kung Fu to hound Xiao and Mrs. Lian. Jian Chengbi is a noble hero jealous of his wife's growing affecting for Xiao. Eventually the two men find themselves united against a common enemy but much of the film's first half revolves around their conflict and the ensuing duels. 

There are also lots of interesting martial sects involved in the chase for the sword. Of these my favorite are the Zombie Casters. They wrap their limbs in bandages and have something of a grim appearance. 

The music is somewhat notable and a product of its time, in a style anyone my age would recognize from countless movies and shows of our childhood (something I like to call elevator baroque). The main theme is harpsichord and winds. It is actually a bit charming the first couple of times, but they overplay it as a kind of love theme and it quickly stands out because it is so rooted to a particular era. 

Little Lord threatens Mrs. Lian
While the climax of the film at Solitary Villa comes somewhat abruptly (definitely more abruptly than the book), and this does take a detour into the strange and surreal, I think it works and it builds upon the already dreamy atmosphere established earlier in the movie. I don't want to give away anything about the villa, but this is an aspect of the film and book I've been dying to incorporate into one of my campaigns. 

Swordsman and Enchantress is a movie worthy of Gu Long, filled with flawed, grimy characters and a villain who exploits peoples appetites for vices. The film is less confusing if one has read the book, but I don't think reading it is required. There are also plenty of changes from the source material (most of which make sense given the need to condense the tale into a film). It is up there with other long-inspired films by Yuen Chor. I recommend it to anyone who likes wuxia or martial arts movies. 
The Zombie Casters

For gamers the movie is worth it for the set-up and the set-pieces (particularly Solitary Villa). One thing it helps illustrate is how unconventional wuxia characters can be (even if they are clearly contained in a conventional world). Another reason to check this film out is the book its s based on, The Eleventh Son, is available in an official English translation by Rebecca Tai (the translation is quite good). So it may be a nice lead into the material (or vice versa). 

*In the book her nickname is The Enchantress. 

Monday, December 28, 2015


When I was in high school, I played guitar in a metal band. When we started, we wanted to be somewhere between Megadeth and Deicide. But we drastically changed our sound after the singer and I heard bands like Solitude Aeturnus, Cathedral and Candlemass. From that point on, wanted to play doom. Following the breadcrumbs in the album sleeves led me back to Saint Vitus and other early doom pioneers. So when I heard the album Absolution by Khemmis, I felt the urge to write a review because it brought my mind back to those days. Khemmis reminds me of the best elements of that period spanning the early 80s to early 90s but still feels fresh and vital. 

For me, good doom makes solid use of guitar melody and finds a slow powerful groove. That is easier said than done. Given the frequently gravelly nature of the vocals, the groove can take you into muppet-like territory if you are not careful, and the plodding pace can get boring or repetitive if the riffs don't evolve and keep the listener's interest. You have to be able to hear at least a trace of Sabbath but the best bands don't just repeat what Sabbath did. From the first to last track Khemmis' album Absolution doesn't seem to have a single misstep. They honor the past but are not repeating it. It is filled with powerful harmonies, heavy riffs and a great blend of natural vocals with the occasional growl. I haven't been struck by a band like this for a long time. It is the kind of album that takes you on a journey.

The six track album opens strong with heavy power chords and clean melodies in Torn Asunder. The opening vocals are natural sounding, reminding me a little of Robert Lowe's early work for Solitude Aeturnus. They are very different singers, but there is something similar in their styles. It's got an honesty to it. I like it, it is an unpretentious and pleasing sound, and it compliments the guitar well. There are growls from time to time as well, but that doesn't seem to be the predominant technique. They use it like a good tool to compliment the overall sound. The second track, Ash, Cinder, Smoke is a reminder of how melodic doom can be while still keeping power and heaviness. I love the tone of the lead guitar on this one in the opening melodic line. I think it is the most memorable track on the album. It is a very smooth, deep and ethereal sound but still has power. The remaining tracks are all well done. Serpentine has a nice crunchy opening and is a bit more on the Cathedral end of the spectrum (at least as far as guitar work is concerned). A lot of the riff work has that vibe to it. Burden of Sin picks up the pace a bit and leads nicely into the very melodic final track, The Bereaved.

I don't know what it is about this album but it is the sort of release that can make you fall in love again with a particular style of music. There are definitely sounds of newer doom here, but as someone who grew up on the earlier bands, this feels like it has that original spark. It isn't just repeating the past, even if it is rooted in it. There are traces of many bands in the sound but for me it feels like blend of Iron Maiden melodic sensibilities, the dour riffs of Cathedral's debut album and the epic aspirations of Trouble and Solitude Aeturnus. There is also a bit of sludge, but the melodies and the vocals help keep that from getting too down in the muck. 

Doom can get stale easy and this is the one of the most vital doom albums I've heard since I first started listening to the style. But it isn't just a retread or aping older is more like they are picking up at an earlier point in time. For me this was a very strong listen, something that made me want to go dig through all my old albums and listen to see where their inspiration may have come from. It just has a really well blended sound that ties the album together but never gets dull. If you liked any of the early doom bands but want something new that looks like the start of something special, Khemmis is a definitely worth checking out. 

Absolution is available on iTunes or you can check it out at he band's website

Saturday, December 26, 2015


After another day of playing, made a small tweak to Wuxia Chess. This is a relatively minor adjustment that allows the Knight to attack when it uses its Technique. It made sense to limit it for balance considerations but in play it just made the Knight very boring compared to the other pieces. 

Here are some rules to spice up a regular game of chess with wuxia flavor. These are loosely inspired by techniques from our game Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. 

What you will need:
  •        A chess board and pieces
  •        Poker Chips (or similar marker)
The rules for wuxia chess are the same as regular chess with one big difference. All Rooks, Knights and Bishops have special Wuxia Techniques they can use once during play (once used, they become normal Bishops, Rooks and Knights). In addition, a single pawn of your choice is designated as a Secret Hero and also has a special ability.

Poker Chips are better
but these worked just fine
Wuxia Techniques are assigned to pieces by their type and indicated by the placement of a poker chip beneath the piece. Rooks, Bishops and Knights all have Wuxia Techniques. Secret Hero Pawns can use one of four abilities listed in the Pawn Techniques section. When the ability is used, simply remove the poker chip so you know that the piece can no longer draw on its wuxia technique. 

To conceal your Secret Hero, take out some white poker chips and write an S on the bottom of one of them. Then take all the white poker chips and place them beneath your pawns (putting the one with the S under your Secret Hero).

Wuxia Techniques (including Pawn Techniques) never work on Kings or Queens. They are immune to these abilities. 

Every Rook, Bishop and Knight has the following Wuxia Technique. These are represented by placing a Poker Chip beneath the piece. Once the Wuxia Technique is used, the poker chip is removed and the Technique cannot be used again by that piece. 

Blazing Charge (Rook): You blast your foes in a blinding charge, leaving a trail of bodies in your wake. You may continue moving and capture one extra piece in your path. For example this allows a Rook to move forward two spaces, capture a piece, then continue forward until it captures another piece.

Qinggong Master (Knight): Your Lightness Kung Fu is profound and you may make an additional move this turn. The second move is your full movement. You can capture a piece on your first or second move, but not on both. 

Ricocheting Strike (Bishop): Your attack ricochets or sends fragments flying at another piece on the board. When you capture a piece, the nearest enemy piece is also captured.

Pawns designated as Secret Heroes can use any of the four abilities listed below. Again, you may only select one pawn to be your Secret Hero. If your secret hero reaches the end of the board and becomes a Queen, it retains its Pawn Techniques. 

As with the other pieces, Pawn Techniques are represented by Poker Chips. Use the white poker chips and write an S on one of them (placing this piece beneath your Secret Hero and giving the others blank chips). When the Pawn Technique is used, it should be removed as the pawn can no longer use it. 

Suicidal Qi Blast: You unleash all your internal energy in a powerful wash of light that strikes surrounding enemies. You can use this ability when you are captured to take two adjacent pieces.

Three-Point Strike: You use your knowledge of pressure points to quickly tap your foe three times in the chest area, causing them to freeze. This can be used on any foe in an adjacent square. The affected piece cannot move for 2 turns. 

Swift Rebuttal: You sidestep and counter your foe’s attack, using their momentum against them. When any piece, except the kind or queen, tries to capture you from two or more spaces away, you counter and capture them instead

Grace of the Tiger: You effortless evade attacks and are difficult to capture. First attempt to capture you always fails. The piece that attempted the capture returns to its original position. This still counts as your opponent's move and ends their turn.