Thursday, January 28, 2016


I saw some discussions this week on Tomb of Horrors and it got me thinking about lethality and fun in RPGs (something I've posted about plenty before). Personally I don't want to weigh in on the module. If someone doesn't like it, or if someone likes it, that really isn't something that affects me much. But I was interested in the discussions it generated because this is one of those topics that always comes up among gamers, and it isn't limited to intense fans online. So I think it is a topic that is important for people to talk about, to set expectations around. Lately I've been thinking about how it emerged in each of our games. 

I view lethality as both a mechanical and GMing matter. Character death is more likely to come up in some systems than others, and a lot of it is baked into the mechanics themselves. But from the GM side, how hard you push the players, how often you take off the kid gloves, these all impact whether characters live or die. So even if you are playing the game 100%, the GM still has a huge impact on survivability. And for me lethality changes a lot from campaign to campaign. 

All approaches are viable here. If players want a game where PCs have a little extra padding form death, especially if they are focused on things away from combat, that can be a lot of fun. But when I am doing a mafia game or a classic dungeon crawl, I like having death on the table. I've enjoyed high body count games, games where characters never die, and games that in the middle. You can see this in our games as well.

Crime Network is meant to be lethal (and in my opinion the core rules actually are not quite lethal enough). Of all of our early Network Games (pre-Servants of Gaius), Crime Network encouraged character death more than any other. Some of our later games have shifted from that a bit. Sertorius is meant to be more in the middle, for example, because we wanted dungeon crawls and crazy magical battles. The real reason we made Sertori demigods emerged from this. Originally Sertori were normal men who manipulated magical energy but every time I ran a dungeon crawl they kept dying. So I decided to give them a bunch of extra Max Wounds out of the gate to act as a buffer, then we explained this after the fact with the whole 'fragment of a dead god in their soul'. Having an ancient deity die and release magic into the world was there from the start, but initially it was imagined as energy flowing freely in the world that people could manipulate, not located in the PCs themselves. So in Sertorius we gave PCs enough health that they could survive, but they'd still die if they were unlucky or pushed beyond their limits (and this panned out in play with a number of PC deaths). This then informed the flavor of the setting. 

When we got to Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (which should go to layout in February by the way), I wanted to bring the lethality more into the control of the characters and NPC but still have death be a threat. I didn't want to eliminate it completely, because it is a bloody genre, but the aim wasn't to accidentally slaughter PCs or make character death a frequent thing. What I wanted was for killing to be a bit of a choice. I also wanted characters to be harder to kill as they grew in power but easier to kill early on. So we established that there was a certain expectation that people controlled their attacks, and we gave PCs the ability to do that. That way if you dish out 7 wounds, you can control it so it only inflicts 5 if your foe has just 5 wounds remaining (instead of killing him---though you can opt to kill). This applies to NPCs as well. The same thing applies to maiming. It is a choice. It can still be unexpectedly lethal to the players if they take on a Profound Master who is hell-bent on killing people in her path, of course. We also increased wounds with Qi level to make characters tougher as time passed. 

So with Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, PCs still die, but it is unlikely that a foe will accidentally kill you. Generally characters will die when an NPC is truly intent on doing them harm, or if they do something like fall off of a 200 foot cliff. The same goes for maiming, and it is a two way street as well (so players can exert control with their techniques to decide if they want to deliver a killing blow or not). 

I find all these different approaches enjoyable for very different reasons. To me it comes down to two thing: what the campaign/game is about and the gaming sensibilities of the players at my table. Personally as a Player, I find I have more fun when things are lethal. As a GM I liked the sense of uncertainty the potential for character death can create but I am pretty flexible since my goal is to entertain my players. 

In the right group, a super lethal grind can be a lot of fun. But games where you pretty much know the characters will survive can also be enjoyable. When I was a younger GM a leaned more toward the latter, then later leaned toward the former. Now I realize I have more fun, and so do my players, if I gauge their preferences on the matter and run the game accordingly. Or if a certain amount of lethality is real important to the concept (like Call of Cthulu or Crime Network), I simply explain this is part of the premise and they should be prepared for character death. 

Monday, January 25, 2016


This is the campaign log for the Twentieth session of a google+run Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaign. The previous session is described HERE

I am running two campaigns in the same setting and treating them as occurring in different realities with some vague similarities. Characters in one may appear in the other, but there are no direct causal effects from one campaign to the next. Partly this is to playtest, but this is also partly due to the multi-dimensional aspect of the universe I run all my games in. It would theoretically be possible for the party from the Blood of the Demon Moon cult campaign to dimension travel to the Secret of Je Valley Campaign, in which case direct interactions could occur (and they could even meet their counterparts in the alternate dimension).  


Player Characters
Zhang Wan (Bone Breaker): An unpredictable and violent martial expert who is the brother of Zhang San. First chief of Qui Pan Bandits. Married to Huo Ju (Little Venom)
Zhang San: A wandering hero and sister of Zhang Wan, more calm than her brother
Chen: A poisoner and healer known for his lazy ways.

Key NPCs
Jade Priestess: Bone Breaker's Sifu and former member of the Demon Moon Cult
Jade Butterfly: San's Sifu
Senior Grand Councilor Cai Yuanyu: Highest ranked official in the Empire below the emperor; plotting to 'invert heaven' and has recruited Bone Breaker into his plans
Prince Yuan: Son of the King of Li Fan, controls the eastern territories. 
General Dee: An important military commander in Hu Qin who pays Bone Breaker for services 
Iron Spear Tip: A magic weapon with a mind of its own, the bride of Zhang Kang.
Little Venom (Huo Ju): Bone Breaker's Wife
The Venom of Zhaoze (Huo Si): Leader of Zhaoze sect, father of Huo Ju (Little Venom) and Sifu to Chen

In the last session Bone Breaker had gone to Hai'an and was trying to unite the martial world while Chen and San fended off an attack from the king's soldiers, allying with the Kushen. We left off when Bone Breaker was preparing to help Hai'an invade the Empire's client kingdom, Hu Qin, and after the Kushen had taken the city of Fan (capital of the southern kingdom, Li Fan). 

San and Chen
As a reward for his bravery and skill, Ganbaatar, leader of the Kushen, gave Chen 15 Li of land between Snake Peak and Opulent Fruit Hill. Ganbaatar also made Chen a Commander of 10,000. After meeting with Ganbaatar, Chen and San went south to find the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou so San could learn Merciless Black Claw technique.

On the way south, Chen returned to Heaven Palace Sect after receiving word that Dawa had taken over. He appeared before her and she offered him use of her Talisman for free as reward for his help. She also said if he obtained the other two talismans for her, she would grant him another use. 

Bone Breaker
As Bone Breaker made his way north to the city of Xuanlu, for a meeting with Hai'an's generals, he and his retinue heard the sounds of flute music through the forest. The surrounding trees were bare white, and as the sound filled the area, they saw Leather Shadow Puppets dancing upon the tree's surface. Abbot Fire Brand fell to the ground as they paralyzed his legs. Bone Breaker too found his left leg went dead. He screamed for his heroes to spread out and kill the flute players, also sending out Spear Tip to deal with them. This was clearly the House of Paper Shadows using its magic against them. 

Bone Breaker tried to reason with their attackers, telling them he had an agreement with the House and that they were working together, but the music only intensified. With his one good arm he punched a nearby flute player in the throat and heard the sounds of blades sinking into flesh all around him. Within a few minutes things had died down and his people stood victorious, rounding up the surviving players for interrogation. 

Bone Breaker demanded information and when it was refused he broke one of the Flute Player's fingers. However, ever since his meeting with Iron Sky Maiden, he'd been wearing the Belt of Mercy and it immediately squeezed him, causing not just pain, but damage to his body. He relented and left Jade priestess to gain speak with the man. She learned that the order came  from the head of the House of Paper Shadows. 

They continued on to Xuanlu. 

San and Chen
Chen and San reached the Banyan and traveled to Cha, where they paid a fisherman named Guan and his sons to take them through the swamps of Zhaoze Zhou. They heard a cry for help deep in the swamp and saw a face bobbing out of the waters. The man screamed for help but they moved on. His cries intensified, so they returned. Looking closely they saw crocodiles swarming nearby. As they approached, the man plunged beneath the water. One of Guan’s sons grabbed a long pole and pushed it down into the swamp to help the man. Something grabbed the pole and nearly pulled him overboard. He would have fallen in but Chen grabbed him at the last moment, saving his life. They decided to leave and press on to the Witch. 

The Witch of Zhaoze Zhou
They found Li Sou Chao, the Witch of Zhaoze Zhu, in her hut. She agreed to teach San the Merciless Black Claw if San used it to kill Queen Lu Zhi of Heiping Sect. San was reluctant and instead agreed to be the witch’s disciple provided she didn’t have to honor her grudge with Heiping. The Wtich agreed and San kowtowed three times and formally acknowledged her as Master. 

On the way back north, after they left Guan and his sons in Cha, the group stopped at a village and met an old man named Ouyang Shi. He was skilled in the art of massage and Chen asked him to teach him the basics. Ouyang agreed for a small daily fee and comfortable travel arrangements. 

Bone Breaker
Bone Breaker went to Xuanlu to speak with the generals and found they looked down on him for being a merchant. However he had the King’s seal and an order granting him authority to organize the campaign against Hu Qin. He was met with resistance when he refused to give details on his precise plans and instructed the generals to simply mobilize. One general, Yan, was particularly dismissive of Bone Breaker's standing and kept pressing him for more information. General Jing was able to speak in private with Bone Breaker and get some assurances. He said they could be ready in about ten days. 

Satisfied, Bone Breaker then sent his people into position and sent an instruction to Bronze Master. Bronze Master, who was disguised as General Dee (the military leader of Hai'an) was to gather all the generals in the Towering Chrysanthemum at an appointed day and time. He then tasked one of his men to go and kidnap the king, he then sent the rest of his retinue to go help Bronze Master. 
Queen Lu Zhi

San and Chen
When they reached northern Li Fan, San and Chen went to inspect their new land. Chen went to master Kwan’s house and informed him of the change. At first Mr. Kwan objected, saying it was his land. But Chen grabbed his finger and twisted him to the ground, telling him the Kushen had taken over and the land belongs to them now. They talked for a bit and Kwan agreed to collect for him if his tax could be overlooked. 

Making rounds through the farmsteads, Chen was attacked by a farmer with a hoe. He came to the man's house to inform him that the land now belonged to him and was going to collect 10% of their harvest. The farmer charged at him and called him a traitor. Chen had his Kushen soldiers detain the man and his wife. He then used his Kung Fu to smash one of the man's walls. 

When the man still refused to submit, and even spit at him, Chen had him sent to work in the salt mines. He then imprisoned his wife, and gave the couple's land to one of his Kushen. 

The wife screamed that Lady Xinyu, a great martial hero who protected the people, would destroy Chen and his men. Chen asked his soldiers to find out about Xinyu. He then went back to Heaven Palace Sect and told Dawa he knew what he wanted her to use the Talisman for. He asked if she could transport their Qui Pan Fortress from Dragon Tail Mountain to the land they'd just acquired and encircle it with a river of poison. Dawa tapped the Talisman and a golden light flowed from it to the heavens and she told him the change was made. 

This is where the session ended. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016


This campaign is set ten years after a previous set of adventures (HERE). This is the twenty-first session of the current campaign (Session 20 can be found HERE)

Xue Lingsu (Purple Cavern Sect)
Xi Kang(Affiliated with Mr. Red Claw)
Batu (Kushen Tribesmen)
Zhi Zhu (No Sect)
Long Shu (Purple Cavern Sect)
Min (Purple Cavern Sect)
Rong (Tree-Dwelling Nun Sect)
Nuan (Xi Kang's Disciple and a former Flying Phantom)

The party had just decided to march into Bone Kingdom and retake the Face of Vaagu. As they prepared their strategy, a Kushen Tribesmen named Batu approached the group and said he had been sent by Togu to help them. He explained that Togu came to him and asked if he would help his companions recover the face, because he was still in poor standing with their Kaghan and was uncertain if he'd return. 

Kang decided to read the wine once again, spitting it against local rocks and interpreting the meaning. Based on his reading, it was fated for Batu to join them. Together they approached the mesa at the center of Bone Kingdom. On their way, a massive serpent like creature of bone, with the skull of a great Markhor emerged from the piles and attacked. Lashing Kang with its sharp tail. 

Batu let loose an arrow that sunk into its skull but it kept going. The party had some trouble hitting it clearly, but they wore it down and Rong dispatched it with Storming Daggers. 

At the Mesa, the went up the stairs near the caves, careful to avoid detection. They climbed up the wall about midway up the stairs and Rong used Great Stride to appear behind the one guard at the entry way. She stabbed with her dagger and missed. As the guard was about to cry for help, Zhi Zhu used Arms of Silk to wrap his face and body. Kang them bashed his skull with the Bone Breaking Stick. Looking through the entry way they saw a garden, leading to a great hall, which was guarded by a sentry. They also heard the sounds of people gathering beyond the hall. Zhi Zhu lurked around the building and climbed up the wall, finding another courtyard behind the hall, where the Face of Vaagu rested. She also saw three official looking members of the sect eating at a table with five disciples. When she returned, Zhi Zhu told the party what she'd seen. 

Putting on the guard's uniform, Kang walked into the entrance way and motioned for the other guard to come help him. When the man came out of the doorway, Zhi Zhi used Arms of Silk and once again, Kang killed the man as he was bound. 

They walked into the garden and checked a side hall that looked like barracks. It was empty, but had recently been used. Kang went into the back courtyard, using his disguise to move easily among the people. He then used Tai Lans Staff Strike to hit everyone at the table. The disciples all dropped, but the others were tougher. Now there were three: a man with an unusual demeanor, a woman dressed non-descriptley and another woman dressed in blue robes, with a blade fixed to a forearm that appeared maimed or amputated. 

The nondescript woman raised her hand and said "You can still stop Fearless Cat if you leave now, and I can help you." 

Confused, Kang paused as the rest of the group came in. The woman explained that her name was San and she was in charge of the sect in the absence of their leader's wife, Fearless Cat (also known as Lady Xiang). San claimed to be the sister of Bone Breaker (the sect leader) and said she had been secretly working against Fearless Cat's plan to 'invert heaven'. She even asked if they received Abbott Firebrand's message. 

It took some time, but eventually San convinced them she may be telling the truth. Kang promised not to kill them if he could tie them up and they accepted him as sect leader. She reluctantly agreed. 

Once they secured the three leaders of Bone Breaking Sect the party discussed its options. They asked San for information about the plague sent against the Kailin, and found it came through use of a Phoenix Talisman possessed by one of the three sisters who lived in the caves below the mesa. Their sect had a kind of agreement with the sisters that was beneficial to both groups. 

She told them that Fearless Cat had used that connection to unleash a plague upon the warriors of the Kailin Tribe, and that she had also gone to Heaven Palace Sect and exchanged her eye for the Immortal Killing Sword (perhaps more as well). With the Immortal Killing Sword she intended to go to Red Mountain Villa and kill the Five Immortals, so she could take the Key of Yao Feng (which would allow her to restore the Demon Emperor). 

Kang asked her to take him to one of the sisters and tell her that he was the new leader of Bone Breaking Sect. She agreed and  he untied her. She then asked if he wanted to see the sister who was most cruel, the sister who was most compassionate or the sister who was most beautiful. Kang decided to see the most compassionate sister. Together they went to the cave of Dawa, the middle sister. San shouted to Dawa from the entrance, asking if she could come in to speak with her. They heard a voice say 'enter' and went inside. They came to a room filled with cages containing Monkey Owls and say a withered old woman in the corner feeding a creature in another cage. San said "This is Kang, our new leader. He has a question to ask you."

Kang then asked the woman about the Phoenix Talisman, if it could be used to destroy an enemy. Dawa said yes but the cost would be great. He would have to perform some important work to make up for the destructive power being unleashed. And it would involve tremendous effort. Kang thanked her and said her needs time to think. 

He then asked to see the most Beautiful Sister and took Batu with him. He asked her the same thing, except decided to ask for a different outcome: he wanted to use the talisman to cause someone to stop or become paralyzed during a battle when he issued a key word. Liling asked them to send San from the cave. When she was gone, Liling said she could do as asked provided he could meet the cost. When asked what she wanted, Liling said she would do it if he arranged for her to marry Chen. Unsure who Chen was, Kang said he would do so and they agreed to use the word Phoenix as a trigger for the Talisman's powers. 

Returning to the Mesa Kang asked who Chen was and found it was San's husband. He then said that Chen would need to marry Liling so they could defeat Fearless Cat. San refused saying that Liling had been after Chen for a long time and created great trouble in the past. 

Batu went to talk with Chen and tried to convince him to marry Liling. He refused, saying that he was once promised to wed her in his youth and it ended badly. He distrusted Liling and loved San. He also told Batu that Liling was only beautiful at night but turned as hideous as her sisters during the day.  

Chen made a suggestion. That they kill Liling and take her talisman. Batu brought his idea to Kang. After some deliberation they decided to use deception: they would perform the wedding, but it would not be sincere, and they would poison Liling during the feast. 

It took some convincing but they persuaded San. Kang released Chen and the two prepared some poisons. 

Kang informed Liling that the wedding was on and could take place that very night. She prepared her gown and phoenix crown and they performed the rite in the courtyard of the Palace. Despite drinking copious amounts of Kang's Freezing Wine, after six hours there was no sign of her growing ill. 

Zhi Zhu gave Kang the poison she had found at the Temple of Peace and he brought it over as a gift, telling her it was his Snake Wine. She drank a small amount and told him it was terrible, but immediately fell and died. 

Zhi Zhu went into Liling's cave and searched. Evading a scaled dog, she crawled on the ceiling into Liling's room and found the Talisman (a ruby object with flame designs and a phoenix). She also took jewelry and a bunch of Hair Pins. 

Batu, Kang and Rong went into the cave after Zhi Zhu to find the library. There they found a series of 17 books called The Books of Bone Kingdom that seemed to be a history of the sisters and the Talismans. They also saw a book called the Flying Guillotine Manual but when they opened it all the pages had been replaced with blank sheets. Batu explored a little deeper and came upon a giant skeleton with massive clawed hands. It chased him and he fled. Kang and Rong joined him and tried to take the books with them (greatly slowing them down). They were not fast enough and the skeleton caught up, slashing at Batu. 

Batu fired an arrow but it deflected off its rib. It was tough but they managed to destroy it and flee the cave. 

The party convinced San, Chen and Zhen Xun (the woman with the missing forearm) to travel with them south to stop Fearless Cat. They left markers for the Kushen telling them to await their return then went across the desert. On the way they were surrounded by wolves by Batu used Storm of Arrows and wiped out a whole pack, then look their pelts. 

Kang took another wine reading to see how the power of the Talisman might be used. In his reading he saw a wedding, which made sense, because a wedding had been offered initially when he made his agreement with Liling. Kang decided someone must get married. 

They reached the Banyan mountains and stopped in Jan. There Kang went to the headman and asked if there were any suitable couples to be married. The headman said he was looking to wed his daughter but there was no one suitable in the village. Kang offered to provide a dowry for any man of the headman's choice. He told Kang to go to Chengdu, that with the appropriate dowry, Chengdu would be acceptable. 

However when Kang spoke with Chengdu, he was reluctant. Chengdu said he would do it for 5,000 spades. Kang made another offer, but it was too low and Chengdu refused. 

Going back to the Headman, Kang offered to marry his daughter himself saying he would give pelts and 3,000 spades worth of gold. The Headman agreed and Kang married his daughter, Ku, the next day. 

After the marriage, Kang went to the elders and asked one of the women to activate the Phoenix Talisman. She attempted to do so, running her finger along its surface, but within moments clutched her head and screamed. She then ran around in a frenzy attacking the other elders. They had to drag her away and Kang picked up the Talisman from the ground, where the woman had dropped it. 

The next morning they left for the southern Banyan. The headman, whose name was Guo, was happy to let his daughter travel with Kang, but wanted them to return to visit. They considered going to the Temple of Nine Suns to see if they could activate the Talisman, but Rong and Zhi Zhu felt that the Temple of Nine Suns sect was too crazy and couldn't be trusted. 

Lady White Blade (Right)
On the way south the group passed by seven Tree Dwelling Nuns. One of them leaned over to Rong as they passed and whispered "There are rumors that Lady White Blade has returned." After the encounter, Rong told the rest of the group what she'd heard. 

Continuing on, the party went to a Temple of Hen-Shi. There they found Nun who activated the Phoenix Talisman. She ran her fingers along its surface and it began to glow a golden light, which flowed into Kang but also up into the sky. Then it dimmed and Kang paid her some spades. 

They camped for the night nearby. Zhi Zhu awoke to sounds coming from Kang's area of the camp. She found a creature with pale skin and billowing black hair floating above Kang. It turned revealing black eyes as it screamed and flew away. When Zhi Zhu reached Kang, she say the characters 停止 (meaning stop) written on his chest. 

The group went back to the temple and Kang banged on the door to wake the nuns. The woman who helped him earlier let him in and he showed her the mark. She told him it looked like the work of one of the five ghosts, and that someone must have petitioned them to brand him with a curse. He asked if she could stop it, but the nun said she could not, that it was beyond anyone's power to remove. 
Strange Phoenix 

In the course of the conversation, Kang became upset and told the Nun he was betrothed to Iron Sky Maiden and had to complete a task. This greatly alarmed the Nun who asked Hen-Shi to forgive him for saying something so vile. Kang then produced the Jade Turtle as evidence of his betrothal. The Nun stared in wonder and said she could go with him and help him, he had been tasked to assist Iron Sky Maiden. She then gathered the other nuns and gave them instructions before leaving with Kang. On the way out she told him her name was Bing. 

The party then went to Red Claw Pagoda and Strange Phoenix (The leader of Red Claw Gang) greeted them. Kang was the number two chief of Red Claw, so she was excited to see him. However Zhi Zhu noticed that Strange Phoenix, whom she'd never really seen this close up, resembled Lady White Blade. 

They went inside and exchanged news. Strange Phoenix confirmed there were rumors that Lady White Blade had returned. She told them that there had been many beheadings and that a person dressed like Lady White Blade was seen by witnesses near the attacks. 

Strange Phoenix and Kang
Kill Mr. Red Claw
Zhi Zhu told Kang she didn't trust Strange Phoenix and told him about the resemblance. Zhi Zhu believed that Strange Phoenix may have been replaced. He then went to Strange Phoenix and asked her if she remembered who else was with them the night they killed Mr. Red Claw. She looked puzzled and said "It was just you and me." This satisfied Kang and he told Zhi Zhu that nothing was wrong with Strange Phoenix. 

The next morning a messenger told them that a local villager had come upon Red Mountain Villa and found the immortals slaughtered. They immediately left for Red Mountain Villa. 

This is where the session ended. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016



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. This is the fourth iteration of the rules. 

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.

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. 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 never work on Kings or Queens. They are immune to these abilities. Pawn Techniques are an exception to this rule. They can be used against the Queen but not the king.

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 a total of 2 captures). For example this allows a rook to move forward, capture a piece, then continue forward until it captures another piece. Optional: The Rook can choose to move through its own pieces instead of attacking when it uses Blazing Charge. It cannot attack however if it uses this option.

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. If more than one piece is nearest to you, then choose which one to capture. Nearest pieces are calculated in all directions (including Diagonals).

Pawns designated as Secret Heroes can use any of the four abilities. The Secret Hero can choose to use any of these four Pawn Techniques once during play. Select which ability to use at the time of activation. Once you use a Pawn Technique, you cannot use any more (remove the white poker chip to indicate this). 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.

The Secret Hero Pawn can use only one of the following 4 abilities, and may only do so once during the game.

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 (which includes the piece that captured you). It can be used regardless of how many pieces are near you. 

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 king, tries to capture you from two or more spaces away, you counter and capture them instead.

Grace of the Tiger: You effortless evade an attack with a dodge and counter that sends your opponent flying back. Use this when someone tries to capture you. The piece that attempted the capture returns to its original position. This still counts as your opponent's move and ends their turn.


This is the campaign log for the Nineteenth session of a google+run Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaign. The previous session is described HERE

I am running two campaigns in the same setting and treating them as occurring in different realities with some vague similarities. Characters in one may appear in the other, but there are no direct causal effects from one campaign to the next. Partly this is to playtest, but this is also partly due to the multi-dimensional aspect of the universe I run all my games in. It would theoretically be possible for the party from the Blood of the Demon Moon cult campaign to dimension travel to the Secret of Je Valley Campaign, in which case direct interactions could occur (and they could even meet their counterparts in the alternate dimension).  


Player Characters
Zhang Wan (Bone Breaker): An unpredictable and violent martial expert who is the brother of Zhang San. First chief of Qui Pan Bandits. Married to Huo Ju (Little Venom)
Zhang San: A wandering hero and sister of Zhang Wan, more calm than her brother
Chen: A poisoner and healer known for his lazy ways.

Key NPCs
Jade Priestess: Bone Breaker's Sifu and former member of the Demon Moon Cult
Jade Butterfly: San's Sifu
Senior Grand Councilor Cai Yuanyu: Highest ranked official in the Empire below the emperor; plotting to 'invert heaven' and has recruited Bone Breaker into his plans
Prince Yuan: Son of the King of Li Fan, controls the eastern territories. 
General Dee: An important military commander in Hu Qin who pays Bone Breaker for services 
Iron Spear Tip: A magic weapon with a mind of its own, the bride of Zhang Kang.
Little Venom (Huo Ju): Bone Breaker's Wife
The Venom of Zhaoze (Huo Si): Leader of Zhaoze sect, father of Huo Ju (Little Venom) and Sifu to Chen

Last session the party had continued its dealings with the sisters of Bone Kingdom. San went with the middle sister, Dawa, to kill Binying (the eldest sister) and secured her Talisman. Chen had fallen in love with the youngest sister, Liling, and was warned by Dawa to make her take an oath before the Emerald Monk not to harm him (if he intended to marry her). They returned to the inn and Chen met with Liling before the Emerald Monk, where she vowed not to harm him and he promised to give her the other Phoenix Talismans if she helped him deal with the invading army. 

Liling said she could unleash a plague upon them, but it would require some small deed on his part. Chen felt he needed to think on the matter so he asked for a couple of days to give his decision. Later he spoke with Dawa, who had agreed to help him deal with Qinwen. She said if he could secure her the Immortal Killing Sword, he might be able to present her as a prisoner to Qinwen (which would settle the grudge between Heaven Palace Sect and Bone Breaking Sect). She could then kill him from the inside. 

In the meantime San investigated the nature of Liling. She came to the conclusion that the sister was using some sort of enchantment on Chen, and she worried others in the party might have been affected but concealed it to deceive the group. 

Chen researched the matter of the Immortal Killing Sword and also looked into potential nearby allies in the region. He learned that the sword was at the Temple of Supreme Righteousness, not two days away. He also learned that the Kushen had united into a large army under the leadership of Gal Ganbaatar Khagan. Chen sent out several messages, including one to Gaanbatar suggesting a joint attack on Li Fan and one to The Temple of Supreme Righteousness asking for a meeting. 

Days later, Leaders from the Temple of Supreme Righteousness arrived in response to Chen's message. They brought the Immortal Killing Sword and were willing to exchange it for the two Phoenix Talismans. However they made him promise not to use the sword for evil purposes. Word also reached Chen that the Li Fan army would invade in 15 days. He decided to move his people out of the inn before that time, and also sent out word that the inn was for sale. 

While Chen met with the leaders of the temple, San decided the only safe way to deal with Liling was to put together an all-female team and assassinate her during the day. She called the Flying Phantoms to send five of their best. When they arrived, she told them she needed their help killing Liling. She went to Bone Kingdom with the five Flying Phantoms, One-Armed Fiery Demon and Fearless Cat. They also took Sand Demon with them but instructed him to remain away from the caves and not approach Liling (they were pretty confident he wouldn't succumb to her charms but wanted to be careful). 

Chen brought Dawa to Qinwen, giving her the Immortal Killing Sword (which she was able to absorb into her body to conceal). Qinwen allowed him into the Jade Hall and was pleased with the offering. He told Chen that their grudge was settled. When Chen returned to the inn, the strange plague of trees was gone. 

San reached Bone Kingdom and they broke into Liling's cave. They found her in a hall with one of her dogs and immediately attacked. She resisted, unleashing a powerful gust of blue energy against the group, but was overwhelmed by their numbers. They killed her and searched the complex. They found the Talisman in her room (taking it). San also took Lilings Golden Moon Pins. Finding her Library they took some books on music and a book by Liling about Bone Kingdom. 

San returned to the inn the same day as Chen. She told him about Liling and they were able to convince him that he had been under an enchantment. 

Chen sold the inn to Master Pei for 250,000 spades. He also sent men to guard the Salt Mines (their most valued possession). The group retreated to Qui Pan Fortress in Dragon Tail Mountain, where they received word that the leader of the Kushen, Ganbaatar had received their message and brought his forces into Li Fan. They were invited to his camp and agreed to work together to defeat the King of Fan. Ganbaatar would take the capital and in exchange he would allow Bone Breaking Sect to continue its operations in the southern lands without interference. 

Ganbaaar's Wife, Alaqa, who was a Commander of Ten Thousand (a Tumen), would join the PCs in an attack (along with eight other units of Ten Thousand) against the Li Fan forces as they headed south to the Inn (while Ganbaatar would take his main force to the city of Fan and defeat it while it was under protected. 

However when Alaqa's army approached, the Li Fan soldiers reacted quickly and nearly fended them off, resulting in in several set-backs for the Kushen. Chen and San tried to boost moral by leaping into the fray, taking out commanders with their Kung Fu. This raised spirits and the army was able to recover and defeat Li Fan. 

This is where the session ended. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I started running Ravenloft as a setting right after the Black Boxed Set and Feast of Goblyns came out. Those were my two major introductions to GMing. I had played in campaigns for years to that point, but never run anything. So I cut my teeth on Ravenloft and continued with it as my preferred setting until at least 2003 or so (something about the d20 Ravenloft material just never worked for me). I even ran some recent campaigns using the 2E rules once again. 

So I was excited to see that WOTC officially announced the return of Ravenloft this week, with plans to release Curse of Strahd. It doesn't look like they plan to release the entire setting but I suspect they are laying the ground work for a potential reboot if module is a success. There is a blog post on it by Jack Shear that is pretty illuminating (HERE).

Jack mentions a Geek and Sundry interview with Chris Perkins (who wrote Curse of Strahd) and he covers many of the major changes. To me these all look like interesting and welcome expansions. The most important one for Gamemasters is they are making Barovia more detailed and useful as a sandbox. The original Ravenloft adventure had a pretty extensive map of Castle Ravenloft, and was great for dungeon exploration, but the Ravenloft material that followed wasn't particularly oriented toward sandbox play or detailed maps (though Castles Forlorn and Feast of Goblyns came pretty close). So it should be quite playable, no matter what your style. 

I'm of two minds here. On the one hand, I think it is great because it makes Ravenloft more useable for a lot of GMs and even if you don't run it as a sandbox, having those kinds of details can always be useful. On the other hand, I never ran my Ravenloft campaigns as sandboxes. They are always more character, investigation and monster hunt driven. So I don't know if it will play the way I would run a session (and I do run Ravenloft very differently from how I run many of my other
campaigns). I am hoping if they do revisit Ravenloft they consider plundering the old Van Richten books for ideas and adventure advice (for me Van Richten Books really formed the blueprint for a successful, long term Ravenloft Campaign). 

They also mention increased diversity, on a few fronts. Here is what Perkins has to say: 
In our stories… there are black people in Barovia. There are powerful women… Even Strahd’s tastes are more open-ended than they used to be. If you look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula himself is not beyond romancing a man. Strahd the vampire is attracted to charismatic, magnetic people. Period.
These changes are, I think, actually in keeping with how a lot of people already ran Ravenloft. Because of its Gothic Horror and Horror roots, people who ran the game tended to include things like that. If you were a Ravenloft GM in the 90s, you were probably also a horror fan, and things like homosexuality were pretty common in horror films and novels at the time (especially anything to do with Vampires). This feels fitting to the setting for me. Also, the domain of Valachan (which is in the core) is populated by people with black skin (though this detail didn't appear in the original boxed set). So there is already a population present that could explain the change in an existing campaign. 

There is more good news as well. They brought in Tracy and Laura Hickman (who wrote the original Ravenloft Module) as consultants. And we will also be getting a new Tarokka Deck. For those unfamiliar the Tarokka Deck is basically like Tarot but there are few ways they can be used. One interesting method is to use them as adventure randomizers (so if the players have a reading done to find out about the Vampire they are chasing, the way the deck plays out actually impacts where things are located, goals, etc). It actually works pretty well if you are comfortable with such important aspects of an adventure being subject to a card draw.

Personally I am excited to see this announcement. I really don't know what to expect. They are attempting to satisfy both fans of the original module and fans of the complete setting. I can say, this prompted me to complete my purchase of the 5E books (I only had the Players Handbook and just ordered the Dungeon Masters Guide & Monster Manual). I may use this book, I may not, but at the very least it will give me a sense of how to update the old material to 5th edition (and also hope for more Ravenloft material to come). Right now I am leaning on using the new module, but setting it in Ravenloft (maybe using a conjunction if it needs to pull characters in from another setting). 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


I love the 2006 Return of Condor Heroes Series and highly recommend it if you have an interest in wuxia or martial arts. There are others versions as well and many are worth watching (though some are impossible to get with English Subtitles). The 1983 Return of Condor Heroes for example is well done and stars Andy Lau (and if you get a DVD version the image quality is surprisingly good for a program that aired over thirty years ago-- in my copy the sound is a little shaky, but you get used to it after a couple of episodes) and the 1995 version is very popular among fans. However the 2006 version is fairly recent, so easy to get in DVD format (which I recommend*) and the image quality is pretty good. Also the key actors are well cast, so the whole thing works. 

Spoiler Warning: I spoil a key plot point in Return of Condor Heroes. If you want to be surprised by a very important twist then ignore paragraph eight (which I will italicize for your convenience). 

Return of Condor Heroes is based on the works of Louis Cha (also known as Jin Yong), and the second installment in the Condor Heroes Trilogy. It can help to watch Legend of Condor Heroes/Eagle Shooting Heroes before viewing Return of Condor Heroes, but I do not feel this is necessary, because if you watch RoCH first, you experience the story from Yang Guo's point of view. This is how I entered the series and it only made me more more interested in the first installment when I watched it. So I think it is okay to start with this one. 

Just to give you an idea of what the show looks like, this is the opening credits sequence of the show: 

Told over the course of about 40 episodes, the basic plot is a story of forbidden love between master and student. The protagonist is Yang Guo, a chaotic and free-spirited character who is placed into the care of Quanzhen Sect by his father's sworn brother, Guo Jing (the protagonist from the first book in the trilogy). Yang Guo proves too wild for the sect and bristles under their strict methods, and eventually runs away, encountering the old auntie of Ancient Tomb Sect (who takes a liking to the boy and tries to protect him from the Quanzhen Priests). Ancient Tomb Sect is virtually extinct at this point. Only the auntie and Xiaolongnu remain after their Sifu died and Xiaolongnu's senior sister, Li Mochou, left to find love in the secular world. Auntie dies fending off the priests as they attempt to take Yang Guo back to their temple, and she forces Xiaolongnu to take a vow to protect the child. 
Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu

This is how Yang Guo and Xioalongnu's relationship begins in the 2006 version. Reluctantly she takes him as her student and he is more receptive to her methods than he was to the Quanzhen Priests. As Yang Guo gets older, their relationship turns into love. In the context of the culture they are part of, this is regarded as a form of incest (because the teacher-student relationship is like the parent-child relationship), so as they go out into the world (chased from their tomb by the now hell-bent Li Mochou who wants her master's secret manual) they must contend with the hostility of the entire martial world (including Uncle Guo Jing and his wife, Huang Rong). 

The plot is pretty intricate and involves an enormous cast of characters. Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu continually get separated through circumstances and misunderstanding, and this leads him on a path to train under a number of different masters as he encounters many of the world's greats. Through these adventures he also learns more about his father from people who know bits and pieces of his past. Yang Guo's father, Yang Kang, was the sworn brother of Guo Jing, but he took an evil path and was ultimately killed by Guo Jing's wife, Huang Rong (this wasn't necessarily intentional). Basically through Yang Guo, the viewer learns more about the first installment in the trilogy from characters that were in it. This is why I am kind of glad I saw Return of Condor Heroes first. 
Li Michou

Eventually, when Yang Guo learns the truth about his father's death, it pits him against Guo Jing and Huang Rong. I won't spoil how that part of the tale turns out, because it is important, but it leads to a number of interesting developments. 

Yang Guo and Xioalongnu continue to have many adventures both together and separately. At one point Yang Guo even has his arm chopped off (Yang Guo is actually the basis for the character in the One-Armed Swordsman). For me, this is where the series gets truly interesting. First off, it comes as a complete surprise when he loses his arm if you have never seen it before. This floored me as a viewer because it is pretty deep into the series, so he is a well established character at that point and you've invested a lot of energy into cheering for his success. Second, the circumstances of how he loses the arm are both hilarious and tragic. But more importantly, maimed characters would be a reality in a world with martial sects who spend their time fighting with swords. Yang Guo is a character shaped by hardship. It fits the theme, and in Yang Guo's case it is hopeful because he learns how to overcome the loss of his arm by training with a special sword under the care of a very unusual master. So this just takes the story in a direction you don't expect and leads to all kinds of interesting things. What is more, it isn't even Yang Guo's lowest point in the story.
Yang Guo

I won't spoil the rest of the plot but it involves battles with Mongols and a tibetan Lama, dealing with the ferocious nun, Li Mochou, facing the wicked lord of a strange valley filled with toxic flowers, and a terrible poisoning that brings everything to a head. There is also a siege and countless side treks. It is a meandering love tale filled with blood, adventure, tragedy and triumph. At its core it is the story of an orphan who is rejected because of his father's misdeeds, but goes on to become a hero of his own making and finds true love in a world riddled with hypocrisy and deception.  

There are plenty of reasons to like Return of Condor Heroes. For me though it comes down to the characters. That is what makes the story, and this series, work. 

The villains of Return of Condor Heroes are particularly vibrant. And most of them have clever backstories that explain their behavior. They are not less evil because they have a past, but their actions and motives make more sense once you understand them. Li Mochou is one of my favorites. She is a perfect example of how a single grudge can explode in the wuxia genre. She carries her resentment for someone who wronged her and vents it against the world (particularly those with connections to the individual in question). But she is also the most passionate person in the story, because like Xiaolongnu and Yang Guo, she found (or at least thought she found) true love. Jinlun Guoshi (called Reverend Jin in my DVD copy) is a former tibetan Lama and one of the great martial experts in the world. Now he serves as an adviser to the Mongols and finds himself pitted against and allied with Yang Guo at various points in the series (their relationship is somewhat complicated). What I love about Jinlun Guoshi is how things end for him. He is probably the most despicable character in the show, but you really feel for him as the end approaches. Another villain who stands out is the master of Passionless Valley. I won't say about about him, except he is delightfully more despicable than Jinlun Guoshi. 

The protagonist is complex, and his path grueling. Yang Guo is both passionate and untamed, yet dutiful to those he deems deserving of his respect (the first two qualities are a real contrast to the protagonist in the first installment), the side characters are all stark and enjoyable, and Xiaolongnu is earnest and graceful. 

One thing that works here is there is room for complicated friendships, alliances and feuds. Li Mochou may be one of the villains of the story, and she is frequently hounding the couple through their adventures, but she is also their senior disciple. Their relationship isn't one built entirely on enmity. 

If you like Star Wars, I think there is a good chance you'll like Return of Condor Heroes. Not only does it have many similar plot elements (albeit in a very different setting and structure) but the extensive use of swordplay and acrobatic heroes should feel familiar. The swordplay scenes are entertaining and have enough variety to keep them interesting over the course of all 40 episodes. Like many wuxia stories, the sword is the most common weapon, but you see people using everything from fly-whisks to sticks. 

The action sequences are pretty good for a television series in my opinion. Here is an example of a battle between Huang Rong and Li Mochou: 

If you are a gamester looking for ideas, this is a great place to find inspiration. There are endless characters and scenarios to draw on for a campaign. Ancient Tomb Sect is basically a big dungeon. Passionless Valley could serve as an excellent basis for an adventure, somewhat in the spirit of Ravenloft. The different sects and the backstories between the characters are also things that could serve a GM looking to give a campaign a sense of a past that is recent enough to still have important echoes in the present. I definitely recommend the 2006 Return of Condor Heroes if you can find it. It is an exciting and engaging adaptation of a classic wuxia story.

*Last I checked the complete series was still available at amazon for 79 dollars. When copies of these shows become rare, the price can go way up, so not sure if this is going to remain available at this price or not.