Thursday, December 13, 2018


We have been playtesting and developing the Dark Wuxia RPG I mentioned a while back. I've also been involved in a couple of related conversations which got me thinking about where I am in terms of game design, particularly when it comes to martial arts systems. 

The first big venture into wuxia for Bedrock was Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. The point of Ogre Gate was to emulate wuxia martial arts and to bring the Jianghu to life with its sects, grudges and broken hearts. Because it is based on individual techniques, and characters can have a lot of them, we knew that would mean the game would be a bit on the heavier side, or at least combat could take time until people get accustomed to using the system. I liken it to running a D&D campaign where everyone is a wizard. Keeping track of the Techniques is the challenge. It is especially challenging for the GM. But in my view, this was worth the trade off for what we wanted to achieve. Still there was an inescapable downside to this method, and we were aware of that going in. 

But Bedrock started out as a rules light company. And I've always gone back and forth between different types of games in my own gaming life. So I started working on a simplified version of Ogre Gate for the Strange Tales system. This game is also more horror oriented, but it takes the core Ogre Gate mechanics and uses them in a way that produces fast character creation (generally under 20 minutes), and fast play (combat is very quick). The focus of Strange Tales is on the role-play and the adventure. 

Now I am working on another game as well. This is a wuxia RPG, with a dark and gritty feel to it. It is not going to be published under Bedrock Games. Another publisher will be releasing it. It is meant to be played fast, with an emphasis on role-play, but unlike Strange Tales, it is firmly in the wuxia genre and still needs to emulate that. However unlike Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, this game is more in the spirit of Gu Long. If you ever read Gu Long, his fights are almost the opposite of Jin Yong. The latter often has fight sequences that go on for a chapter or even two. Gu Long tends to emphasis the suspense and build-up to the fight, with sudden, violent results. His stories also focus more on intrigue and mystery and seem to have a darker underlying point. This is more what we are going for in the new Wuxia RPG. 

In order to achieve this goal, we can't take the Ogre Gate approach. We intend to use some of the same core elements, just like we did with Strange Tales, but we can't have a huge list of techniques. Instead we want characters to have a more narrow selection of broad abilities that improve over time. There is much more to the system than this, but that is how we intend to handle the martial arts. And we really want the focus to be the Jianghu. 

Right now, we are heavily play testing the core system of the new game. It has been going well. And we really want to take out time vetting each of the signature abilities. But what I want to discuss today primarily is what the point of all these different systems is.

I've usually gamed with groups who rotated GMs or rotated games. There would always be bread and butter (perhaps a primary game, campaign or GM) but generally I've enjoyed trying different systems, trying out different GM and play styles, and getting a feel for different approaches. One downside of designing your own games, is, if you want them to function well, you have to run your own games more than you run other peoples' games. Because I've been playing wuxia campaigns exclusively the past several years, I found that I needed greater variety of mechanical options. Strange Tales was an attempt to add an addition option to the shelf, for when I feel like running a ghostly, monster of the week adventure in the style of A Chinese Ghost Story. The dark wuxia RPG is so I have something on the shelf when I really want to keep the focus on the characters, the drama and the intrigue or suspense. Ogre Gate is for when I want more in depth martial arts. At some point, there are two other approaches I want to explore. 

If I have time, I will get to them eventually. One is to do a Kung Fu Craze RPG. I've toyed with the idea and would like to get to it at some point. The other is to do an RPG specifically rooted in Jin Yong's stories. This one would be class based, and feature class dipping in an interesting way. Essentially every martial technique or style would be a class. And you could multiples freely. So you might take levels in Dragon Subdoing Palm, or Nine Yin White Bone Claw. The idea was inspired by the moment in Return of Condor Heroes where Jinlun Guoshi breaks through to the 10th level of his Dragon Elephant technique. There is a lot of quantification in Condor Heroes that feels highly gameable. 

One last game I'd always love to do, but probably wouldn't be able to because we'd need to secure the rights, is to take the Bride With White Hair source material by Liang Yusheng and make either an Ogre Gate supplement built around it, or a completely new game. I actually took extensive notes reading Baifa Monu Zhuan for the purpose of doing just that (I had started a large list of all the techniques, with some description and the pages they appear on. I also took notes on other important aspects of the book like all the characters and sects. If I did it, I would want it to be official, to actually be The Bride with White Hair RPG. But again, securing the rights, particularly since it gets into movie IP as well, was the thing that makes this so unlikely it will probably always just be a thought. 

I hope this sheds more light on recent developments and where I am coming from when I make games. I decided to write this because there was a conversation at my wuxia community on Google+ about this subject and people seemed curious when I mentioned some of my reasoning behind Ogre Gate. 

I suppose one last point worth making is this: I get a lot of questions about specific rules in the Ogre Gate system. One thing to consider is, if I did Ogre Gate today, there would be some differences. For example, I treat open skills rather differently in my own campaigns now than the book currently does. There are little details like that, which I would adjust. But, there are lots of techniques that have deliberate ambiguity around points that would either raise or lower the power of the ability. This was intentional. There were many moments in design meetings with Dan and Ryan where we asked something like "but what happens if they add this technique on top of that one" or "can you do this while doing Y, or Z". In each of those cases, we decided it was better to leave that to the GM to decide. We did this because we realized, even among ourselves, we would each handle the call very different and we believed in providing a rulings over rules framework. So one of my most common responses to many questions is to provide my personal ruling, clarify the literal meaning of the text (especially if the wording is not ideal) and to say this is basically a GM call. 

By the way, I really enjoy hearing from people and getting these questions. It is never fun to design a game and get no feedback. Ogre Gate has gotten a pleasant response, and I love that people have these questions and I have a chance to share my thoughts with them. One thing I particularly appreciate about wuxia RPG fans, is everyone has their own tastes. Ogre Gate has a particular feel and style, which captures my take on the martial world and on the genre (and some related genres). There are clearly lots of ways one could go about making a wuxia RPG. And it is nice to see an enormous about of output in this respect these days. And one of the benefits for players is that means everyone is striving to the best they can because they see quality all around them. But it hasn't felt bitterly competitive to me at all. It has very much felt like all the other designers I've met and spoken to have a mutual respect that makes this design environment enjoyable, yet challenging. I think that is ideal, because one of my frustrations when I was trying to run my own wuxia games using existing systems, was finding the perfect game that did exactly what I had imagined. The more choices that are out there, the better it is for anyone who wants to run a wuxia campaign. 

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