Kabuki Kaiser is an indie designer running a small OSR press, Kabuki Kaiser. For the last three years he has been teaching video game design in India and today he spoke with us about his new OSR adventure, FlowerLiches of the Dragonboat Festival. It is available now HERE.
The book just came out today, just in time for Halloween. I have been taking a crack at it myself and it looks very cool. If you like wuxia, if you like Chinese Horror movies or ghost stories, definitely check it out.
Brendan Davis: What is Flower Liches of the DragonboatFestival and what systems is it compatible with?
Kabuki Kaiser: There’s this Dragonboat Festival, a race on the river, which takes place for a week in whatever city you play with. For a week, the race is under the control of powerful undead creatures—Flower Liches invoked from undeath to bring prosperity back to the city. It’s a setting encapsulated in time where the PCs can do whatever they want: investigate side quests, steal from the Flower Liches, fight them, participate in the race, etc. It’s like a sandbox setting, but a tightly contained one because it’s all just for a week. It’s roughly compatible with everything OSR, I mean it has an AC, HD, spells, magic items so if you play with an OSR ruleset, you’re good to go. As usual, I advise playing with either Labyrinth Lord, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but anything will do, really.
BD: Why did you decide to make Flower Liches of theDragonboat Festival?
KK: I saw a poster when I was in Vietnam. It said Tu Lich, and had flowers in it so I went wow Flower Liches! More seriously, I’ve read a lot about Chinese/Japanese Ghost Stories, travelled a lot in Asia, and wanted to bring that to the game table, this crazy fusion of gore, Wuxia, and high octane fantasy that you find in HK movies. I wanted to design something truly exotic, that would baffle your usual Oriental Adventures/L5R player, and yet, be true to the original Wuxia.
BD: How would you describe your approach to design?
KK: People are clever, that’s my motto. They don’t need to be told everything, they don’t need to be pushed in the right direction because that’s a roleplaying game, and there’s no such thing as a right direction in a roleplaying game. I want to be surprised, I want people to grab this book, and blow my mind. You can design with that kind of goal, set the triggers here and there, plant the seeds of chaos so that this will eventually happen. I don’t like to say things up front, to describe stuff at length, and all, I like to do it covertly so that you don’t see it when you read the book, but when you play it, BANG, the puzzle falls into place, and then we share our imaginations for a bit, it’s like magic.
BD: Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival has an interesting look and structure, with many portions of the text color-coded depending on how people plan to use it; can you talk a little bit about the structure and why you took this approach?
KK: Because it’s a place, at a certain time you know. It won’t change because you play halflings, or because you’re up to no good, it has its own life, and I wanted this place, and time to be interesting, and challenging for all kind of players, and all kind of characters. You can play 1st level characters just fine, and you can die a sorry death with 15th level characters too, trust me. But when you do this, you need a way to show the DM how to navigate it, to leave breadcrumbs, that’s why I use a few codes here and there.
BD: While Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival can be run with a regular group, you wrote it so it can be played with a single player who takes on the role of Detective Tu Wang Ping in the manner of Judge Dee. Can you elaborate on this aspect of the adventure? How do you see people using this book?
KK: That’s just a possibility I left to whoever buys it. If they want, they can play all this with just a friend, and a pre-generated character. There’s an investigation going on, it’s a more focused kind of play, but it’s also fun, and rewarding. You know, I’ve played for ages and ages, but sometimes there’s just me, and sometimes just my partner and me, so I had to devise my own means to get the play going: solos, now 1 vs. 1, this kind of things.
BD: Can you talk about the art and graphic design of Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival?
KK: I’ve tried to make it look like something you would find on a shelf in China some 20-30 years ago, I don’t know how well I succeeded, maybe it’s okay. Evlyn joined me pretty soon on this project, and made a lot of illustrations, and then, I don’t know why, we chose to use Prisma to make this really eerie, and psychedelic. When we realized that Prisma wasn’t okay with commercial use, I wrote them, and got their approval, and permission. So that’s basically a Russian software processing Canadian pictures for a book sold in the US, written by a Frenchman about Chinese Ghost Stories.
BD: You describe it as a wuxia Ghost Story; for those who might not be familiar with the topic, can you explain what sort of things people can expect to see?
KK: There’s a lot of innocence, an almost pulp-era level of innocence in Chinese/Wuxia Ghost Stories. Heroes are heroes, and they fight all kind of really, really gross demons. I mean, Flower Liches, how can we get more outrageous than that? Smell my orchid old death. I’ll spoil a bit here: they’re not just Flower Liches, they’re Kung-Fu Flower Liches. So there’s a lot of room for innocence, and goodwill, but also truly grotesque demons, and a lot of triple jump fireball fists of anger.
BD: What were some of the influences that helped inspire Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival?
KK: I’ve got a whole Appendix N there: A Chinese Ghost Story, all the books from Robert Van Gulik, the Detective Dee movies, Role Aids’ Lichlords of course because like in Flower Liches, you could play the one against the other, trick the liches, etc.