Monday, February 26, 2018


Recently I decided to return to Return of Condor Heroes, reading it with my friend Kenny. Kenny is in my tuesday game group and is also on our Friday wuxia podcast. He and I both enjoy wuxia stories and wanted to record our thoughts, five chapters at a time. So the format was one-part recap, one-part discussion. It has been interesting and I've had a lot of fun, but also it has had a large impact on my gaming and my reading. 

In my Lady Eighty Seven campaign, it has shown up in a large number of ways, from the way I've handled things like animal companions to family. The latter has become quite important. I generally try to bring family into my campaigns as much as possible. And family drama is always tricky, because you want to be fair to the players, not rely on ties they've handed you as easy adventure hooks or ways to limit their behavior. I try to take an approach that is even-handed. There should be benefits and downsides to every family connection (i.e. an advantage such as wealth or social connection, might be balanced out by obligations or conflict). 
Yang Guo and Xiaolongnu 

In return of Condor Heroes there is a lot of family drama. Taking one of the major examples, Guo Fu (the daughter of Guo Jing and Huang Rong) is a constant source of tension and tragedy for the protagonist Yang Guo. She and Yang Guo seem relentlessly at odds and on multiple occasions she makes decisions that have dire consequences for him and his love interest Xioalongnu. But she is a tie that is difficult to escape from, because his father was sworn brothers with her's and the Guo-Couple are the closest thing he has to real family (his father died before he was born, his mother died when he was very young). There are other important people in his life. He has an interesting relationship with Ouyang Feng (the villain from the first book), and Ouyang Feng's affection is quite paternal. But his relationship with the Guo couple remains significant through the entire story. The ties he has to Guo Fu are not easily severed. So just the relationship with Guo Fu alone produces a lot of interesting conflict and developments. 

This doesn't mean family drama always has to be antagonistic. In fact, I think it is better if it usually isn't. And there can still be conflict without antagonism. I can give three examples (two from my Lady Eighty Seven campaign and one from my Disposable Disciples campaign). In the former, two of the characters are the sons of Qin the apothecary and his wife. Midway through the campaign, they learned that their father had helped smuggle many heroes to safety who were seeking escape from the emperor. Soon after they learned that their mother was one such hero called Saffron Tigress. They gained a lot from this. She was a great hero with knowledge and good Kung Fu. She could teach them techniques and offer guidance. But she was still wanted by the empire, and over time, rumors of their connections to Saffron Tigress spread through a leak in an organization run by their martial uncle. Eventually this led them to a moment where they had a clear choice: protect their mother and abandoned their father's legacy of saving heroes, or fight against the empire and probably die in the process. It is still unclear what they've decided in the end, but they've spent the last session or two mulling over this question. 

This is the kind of family connection the GM needs to be a bit cautious about. I put these sort of situations in the "I am your father" category, where you really can't be doing it all the time because it loses its punch. But it is a type of revelation that comes up often in wuxia, so I think in keeping with the genre. 

I think what is most interesting to me about this is these are characters who would normally not be so selfless. They are not heroes. They are criminals. And they are content to rob, steal, kill and poison. But because this is a family tie, they are behaving differently. And this isn't something you need any deep grasp of wuxia or another historical period to grasp. This is something we can draw from our own lives and apply to our games. Family relationships are significant and they can cause us to behave differently than we do with the rest of the world. 

But not all relationships are happy or pleasant. Like Guo Fu and Huang Rong, another character in the party, has a more challenging relationship with his family. He married into the Eighty Seven Killers, but is a drunk and not particularly nice to people. He and his wife argue and fight, and this would be not very important to the campaign except his wife is the granddaughter of Lady Eighty Seven (the head of the Eighty Seven Killers). 

In many ways this is less dramatic than the Saffron Tigress situation, it is mostly just little spats between Boorish Drunken Sword and his wife, Guan Nuan. However her brother, Yan also occasionally gets involved, and there have been mild poisonings before important missions. But this is a sword that hangs over the whole party, and everyone is aware of it, because the more Boorish Drunken Sword antagonizes his wife, the greater the likelihood that Lady Eighty Seven decides to kill him (and maybe his companions as well). 

At the same time, he's married into the boss's family. So it brings a lot of advantages. Like everything though, this is a double edged sword. He may have easier access to the boss, easier access to resources and connections with various bribed officials, but his household has an enormous target on it. 

In my Disposable Disciples campaign, I have a player who wanted to be a member of Canyon Sect (one of the sects destroyed by Zhe Valley). The leader of Canyon sect became the Green Guardian (a protector of the valley who has no real will of his own anymore). This player wanted to be his son, and have as a goal the restoration of Zhe Valley and his father. I decided to let him try, and in the end he succeeded. And while he achieved what he wanted, there was also now the complexity of the new relationship with his father (who quickly became leader of their restored sect). In fact, this character's siblings have become important as news of the sect's return spread and people came out of hiding. 

I tried to think about each sibling and give them a distinct personality (sometimes with input from the player). One of the brothers arrived, crippled from a great master, but with his daughter and son dutifully at his side. He obviously wanted revenge, so this led to an adventure in itself. But another brother, a former assassin, returned, and was now a monk. He urged his family to relinquish their worldly grudges and let go of their desires for wealth. He rebuked them and left the place becoming a source of concern for their family. 

Here are some of my thoughts on this topic on the podcast:

Here are the podcast recaps and discussions of Return of Condor Heroes (we still have one to go, which will come out this Friday, but this takes you through Chapter 35):

No comments:

Post a Comment