When I think of my favorite kind of wuxia films, they all share a dark glamour. They paint a martial world that is alluring but dangerous. Each film is a swirl of deadly swordplay and eccentric martial experts, all building to a moment of emotional catharsis (usually a violent one, but not always). Many of them are based on the stories of Gu Long, and a fair number are directed by Chor Yuen. They are dark, but also have room for humor (even if the humor is itself pretty grim). There is mystery and intrigue, death and betrayal. And always plenty of wine. This is the sort of thing I wanted to bring to the table with Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades. For the past two years, I have worked alongside my co-designer, Jeremy Bai, to produce a wuxia RPG that fit this goal. The game will be released soon (as of now, it will make its way to the states in early January, and elsewhere December 10th). I just received a box of advance copies of the book and it looks beautiful. In the coming week I hope to share more about this wonderful RPG.
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Sunday, December 6, 2020
ARE BEDROCK GAMES BOOKS AVAILABLE IN PRINT?
Yes. The answer to this question is yes. We have always been a print RPG company. Most of our books, with a handful of exceptions, are available in print. Basically our core games and modules are in print. Occasionally we make a PDF only supplement (and some of those even eventually end up in print too). However our print books are not sold at DrivethruRPG. I realize it is becoming more the norm for publishers to have both print and PDF available on that platform. We don't do that. Our print editions are all sold through Studio 2 Publishing and also available in stores and online vendors. If you go to our Bedrock Games website you will see links to the print versions of our books.
Also I want to make a point of clarification. Our books are not printed through off-set printing, they are done through Lightning Source. But we have arrangements through Studio 2 Publishing. My understanding is DrivethruRPG also uses Lightning Source (it is possible my information on this is out of date, but this was the last I had heard). We have a good relationship with Studio 2, and do not plan on changing this.
Another reason for keeping this arrangement is, while Drivethru is a very convenient platform for getting all your stuff in one place and we like having our PDFs up there, I think it is better for the hobby in general if we don't have a situation like Amazon. There should be a variety of viable platforms and pathways for books to reach customers (otherwise you end up with a platform that has too much power in the industry). I've simply never been comfortable with the idea. This is just my personal opinion. But it means I don't plan on putting out books in print on Drivethru. All of our PDFs are available there though.
Monday, November 9, 2020
HEAD OF THE TEAHOUSE (STRANGE TALES ADVENTURE)
- Many locals have disappeared in the past several decades, often after being arrested by the elder
- Wan Temple is definitely haunted, he has heard many rumors about this from reliable people
- A ghost haunts the tomb of Jiang Ye, in the Vermillion Hills
- Ouyan and Gu (local street vendors who spend time at the Sweet Ox Wine Shop) were seen around town with Gui Pu when he came
- He doesn't know what became of Gui Pu
- On his way back from the Four Seasons Teahouse last night, he was attacked by a ghost dressed like a monk. He ran for his life and managed to make it safely back to the village
- The Four Seasons Teahouse is a brothel. He has been there many times and always likes to see Li Susu when he has the money. This time he spent his time with Sai Xiaowan. He was here late fall as well and at that time he found the most wonderful poem written in one of the rooms (see AREA D of the FOUR SEASONS TEAHOUSE)
- If they ask about other possible disappearances, Nie Zai tells them that Madame Han's husband disappeared a number of years ago
- He knows the brothel used to be a teahouse and that the husband there tried to take another wife (soon after it became a brothel)
- They drank last fall with Gui Pu at the Sweet Ox Wine Shop. He left that evening to go to the Four Seasons Teahouse, saying he would return to drink with them again the following night (they never saw him again after that)
- Ouyang's son, Bo, was at the Teahouse that night, saw Gui Pu, but left. On his way home he heard a scream. A loud, powerful scream that he believed was a ghost or demon
- If they really trust the player characters: Elder Sai sometimes 'cleans up' the village by "sending people to the district magistrate". If pressed they explain this means people think the Elder has trouble makers killed from time to time
- The woman who runs The Four Seasons is rumored to practice black magic
Dutiful Brother laid to rest by a hand disloyal
Brother, please do not come. Now is not a convenient time. The temple is not safe.
- He stayed one night in the fall (if pressed they can confirm it was room B)
- He spent time with Xiao Yuan that night before suddenly dismissing her
- He left in the morning and said he was going back to the village (this is a lie, and all at the teahouse know it is a lie---the staff all believe he mysteriously disappeared in the night. Chen Rushi knows he was devoured by the monstrous head by the pavilion
The solitary head does not restHe roams about and calls, missing his loveNo one knows or remembers this vestigeIt lost its body to the confusions of pleasure
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
DOOM SPIDER: THE EVOLUTION OF HUA YIN
ZHE VALLEY UNDER HUA YIN
Back when I was running my Bone Breaker and Disposable Disciples campaigns, I came up with a character named Hua Yin. Initially she was a spider demon who fell through time and took over Zhe Valley (the party had abused a time travel device called the Chariot of Du Qian, and this caused cracks i the fabric of time, causing future, past and present to bleed into one another). However very quickly she turned into a much different type of character. This is what I wrote for her initially. She evolved into a human character in the Lady Eighty Seven campaign book who controls the Vermillion Bird Teahouse. But her origins were more mythic and horrific (and well suited to the month of October).
Feel free to throw Hua Yin at your party if you need something a little terrifying this month.
HUA YINHua Yin is a primordial spider from the very first days of creation who fell through the cracks in time and took over Zhe Valley. When the world was young, the Enlightened Goddess made entities such as Hen-Shi and Gushan from her hair and body. But before she made them, she created Hua Yin from a single strand. Hua Yin is a massive spider demon, who sees the world as a conflict between herself and Gushan (the two beings made from the Enlightened Goddess' hair). Though she was there at the beginning of time, she fell through the cracks of history and found herself in the present day, in Zhe Valley. There she found her spider descendants, who had flourished and used them to take over Zhe Valley. These The Valley Spiders follow her commands and take over human bodies by entering the brain. She believes Gushan, her old enemy, has lost himself. But she regards humans as Gushan's descendants and seeks to control or eradicate them.
Hua Yin is gigantic, the size of a modern two-story house. But she can transform into a human-like woman (of any size), though she always has eight arms.
Defenses: Hardiness 8, Evade 6, Parry 8, Stealth 10, Wits 8, Resolve 6
Key Skills: Silken Web: 2d10, Bite: 3d10 (5d10 Damage plus Poison), Arm Strike: 3d10, Leg Strike: 3d10, Grapple: 2d10, Throw: 1d10, Light Melee: 2d10, Medium Melee 2d10, Muscle: 2d10, Detect: 3d10, Speed 3d10, Talent (Poetry): 3d10, Classics (All): 1d10
Equipment: 8 Daggers (2d10 Damage), 8 Sticks (3d10 Damage, +1d10 Accuracy), Crippling Venom Antidote
Bite: Hua Yin’s bite is powerful, doing 5d10 Damage plus 5 Extra Wound and exposing the target to her Crippling Venom (See Below).
Crawl: Hua Yin can move along vertical and inverted surfaces with ease like a spider at her normal Movement.
Silken Web: Hua Yin can shoot a web from her belly (in human form from her navel) that engulfs targets and immobilizes them. Roll 2d10 against Evade. On a Success, the person is wrapped up in a sticky web that pins them in place and makes basic movement nearly impossible. Inflicting 2 Wounds on the web releases the person (as does a Muscle roll TN 9). This can also be used to create weblike structures.
Eight Armed Strike: Hua Yin can hit up to eight different targets, focus all her strikes on one person or even divide her attacks between a few different targets. Roll once using the relevant skill against Defense for her attack. If she succeeds, roll Damage once according to the weapon and add 1 additional Wound for each limb striking the target.
Immunities: Hua Yin is immune to mundane attacks and only harmed by Kung Fu Techniques.
Crippling Venom: Hua Yin’s venom causes tremendous pain and makes targets convulse until they cannot perform physical tasks. Roll 3d10 against the Hardiness of anyone exposed. On a Success, they take an increasing -1d10 Penalties to all Physical Skills and Combat each round. This lasts until the poison is cured.
Spider Minions: There are sacks filled with eggs throughout Zhe Valley. These each contain 1d10 Zhe Valley Spiders.
Shape-Shift: Hua Yin can take the form of a giant spider or a human of any size.
ZHE VALLEY SPIDER
These are thick furry spiders that are extensions of Hua Yin’s ego. They burrow into the body and take control of the brain.
Defenses: Hardiness 3, Evade 6, Parry 2, Stealth 8, Wits 3, Resolve 3
Key Skills: Bite: 1d10 (3d10 Damage plus burrow), Speed: 0d10, Detect: 2d10
Max Wounds: 2
Bite and Burrow: Zhe Valley Spiders burrow into the flesh doing 3d10 Damage each round. Every round they remain inside they work their way to the brain (reaching it in a number of Rounds equal to the Hardiness of the target). They can be removed with a Medicine TN 7 roll. On a Failure the subject loses 2 Wits.
ZHE VALLEY SPIDER DISCIPLE (400)
These are disciples of Zhe Valley who have been overtaken by a Zhe Valley Spider. They are loyal to Hua Yin in their present state.
Defenses: Hardiness 3, Evade 3, Parry 4, Stealth 7, Wits 7, Resolve 6
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 0d10, Leg Strike: 0d10, Grapple: 1d10, Throw: 0d10, Light Melee: 0d10, Medium Melee: 1d10 or 3d10 (Jian), Heavy Melee: 0d10, Small Ranged: 1d10, Athletics: 2d10, Speed: 1d10, Muscle: 0d10, Endurance: 0d10, Creatures (Animals): 2d10, Talent (Poetry): 1d10, Talent (Painting): 1d10, Survival (Wilderness): 2d10
Max Wounds: 1
Weapons: Short Bow (2d10 Damage) or Jian (1d10 Damage, +2d10 Accuracy)
ZHE VALLEY MASTER SPIDER SENIOR DISCIPLE (13)
These are senior disciples of Zhe Valley taken over by spiders who serve Hua Yin.
Defenses: Hardiness 4, Evade 6, Parry 6, Stealth 8, Wits 7, Resolve 7
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 2d10, Leg Strike: 1d10, Grapple: 2d10, Throw: 0d10, Light Melee: 0d10, Medium Melee: 2d10 or 4d10 (Jian), Heavy Melee: 0d10, Small Ranged: 3d10, Athletics: 2d10, Speed: 1d10, Muscle: 1d10, Endurance: 2d10, Creatures (Animals): 3d10, Talent (Poetry): 2d10, Talent (Painting): 2d10, Survival (Wilderness): 2d10, Trade (Wood): 1d10, Command: 2d10, Detect: 2d10
Max Wounds: 7
Weapons: Short Bow (2d10 Damage) or Jian (2d10 Damage, +2d10 Accuracy)
Key Kung Fu Techniques (Waijia 2, Neigong 1, Qinggong 1): Blasting Blade, Breath of Fury, Drift of the Butterfly Fish, Flight of the Hawk, Hands of the Hawk Beak, Rain of Arrows, Storm of Arrows, Intercepting Arrow (Counter)
ZHE VALLEY SPIDER SCHOLAR (13)
Defenses: Hardiness 4, Evade 6, Parry 7, Stealth 8, Wits 8, Resolve 7
Key Skills: Arm Strike: 2d10, Leg Strike: 1d10, Grapple: 2d10, Throw: 0d10, Light Melee: 0d10, Medium Melee: 2d10 or 4d10 (Jian), Heavy Melee: 0d10, Small Ranged: 3d10, Athletics: 2d10, Speed: 3d10, Muscle: 2d10, Endurance: 2d10, Creatures (Animals): 3d10, Talent (Poetry): 3d10, Talent (Painting): 3d10, Survival (Wilderness): 2d10, Trade (Wood): 2d10, Command: 2d10, Detect: 2d10
Max Wounds: 9
Weapons: Short Bow (2d10 Damage) or Jian (3d10 Damage, +2d10 Accuracy)
Key Kung Fu Techniques (Waijia 2, Neigong 1, Qinggong 1): Blasting Blade, Breath of Fury, Drift of the Butterfly Fish, Flight of the Hawk, Hands of the Hawk Beak, Rain of Arrows, Storm of Arrows, Zhe Valley Blade, Zhe Valley Fist, Intercepting Arrow (Counter)
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
FINGER OF DOOM (RIGHTEOUS BLOOD PODCAST DISCUSSION)
Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades is very much focused on the wuxia genre. Unlike Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, or Strange Tales of Songling, which both feature supernatural creatures and magical abilities, RBRB is more grounded in the wuxia you see in things like Gu Long, 70s Shaw Brothers, etc. And Finger of Doom is a good illustration of how to bring horror to this style of wuxia. In the podcast we talk about this, and many other things.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
LOTUS FRAGRANCE: A HUMAN GHOST STORY
If you need inspiration for spooky adventures this month, I highly recommend reading Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling. And if you need a game to fit the themes of Pu Songling, check out Bedrock's own Strange Tales of Songling. Today I want to discuss Pu Songling's story Lotus Fragrance, which inspired one of the adventures in the Strange Tales RPG. Please note for the purposes of this post I will be drawing on the penguin translation of the story.
|Sang and Lotus Fragrance fleeing Li|
Art by Jackie Musto
Lotus Fragrance is a very human ghost story, about a scholar named Sang who is visited by a fox spirit and female ghost, both of which seduce him but who are at cross purposes and in competition with each other. It is a playful tale but also romantic and occasionally frightening. The story is set up very well, where we are introduced to the idea of a haunting seductress through a prank played on the scholar by his friends before the real supernatural creatures arrive.
He is first seduced by a Fox Spirit named Lotus Fragrance, who he believes is a sing-song girl from a local brothel. He is then seduced by a ghost named Li. Often in these stories such creatures do harm to men by draining their life. And the twist here is Lotus Fragrance is protecting Sang from Li. But she is unable to convince him that Li is doing him harm.
Eventually Lotus Fragrance leaves Sang in anger when he refuses to believe, and when she returns months later, finds him hovering on death's door (a result of Li's evening embraces). But these are not just monsters, they are characters with human motivations. When Lotus Fragrance finds Sang in this state she rebukes Li saying:
"How could a beautiful girl like you use love as a weapon of hatred [....] to make love to him like that, night after night! Even a human lover would have endangered his health with such indulgence--let a long a ghost"
What follows is a debate between the ghost and fox spirit over which type of creature is more harmful to men. Li points out that fox spirits kill men as well, but Lotus Fragrance retorts that she is not that type of fox spirit and maintains "...there are harmless foxes, but never harmless ghosts."
|Saffron Creek Map |
by Francesca Baerald
In the tale it is clear that Li's nature is harmful to Sang but largely this seems to be a product of their excess. One of the commentators (Strange Tales is accompanied with commentary text) even states this clearly: "In truth it is neither foxes nor ghosts that hurt mortals: morals hurt themselves." In these kinds of ghost stories, female ghosts frequently seduce men (as do fox spirits), but their love drains men.
The two work together to cure Sang and bring him back from the brink of death. It succeeds, and the three live happily together for three months but eventually Li begins to vanish and then fades completely. However she is reborn in the body of a recently deceased daughter of a well-to-do family named Swallow. Sang and Lotus Fragrance Marry, then the scholar also takes Swallow as his second wife. Again they live happily for some time and Lotus Fragrance gives birth to a boy. However, Lotus Fragrance grows ill. She tells Li to care for her son and expresses the wish that she will see them again in a number of years. Lotus Fragrance dies, and upon her death her body returns to its true fox form. Li cares for the boy as her own son. Years later they meet a young woman who is the Lotus Fragrance reborn. Upon meeting Sang and Li again, her memories of her former life restore. With Lotus Fragrance and Li both human now, they bury their former remains together at the same site and presumably the three live happily ever after.
This synopsis leaves out a lot of details. Lotus Fragrance is one of the longer stories in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio and there are many elements that are worth their own topic of discussion (for example when they meet Lotus Fragrance after she is reborn, they purchase her from a woman; and throughout the first part of the story, Li's small slipper---which is from her foot binding in life, or at this this is the implication---can be used to summon her). But here I just want to focus on the elements that I drew from to write the Lotus Fragrance adventure.
The first thing that struck me about this story when I first read it was how it didn't feel anything like any ghost story I had read before. It had moments one might describe as horror, but at times it reminded me more of something like Three's Company than a horror film. There was a playfulness to it and the fox spirit and ghost both seemed quite human. It was also not stifled by tone. It wasn't one note. There was a lot more than just horror. I think this opened up a lot of possibilities for gaming purposes. It always you to treat ghosts and similar creatures much more like any type of character and it also opens up your imagination because there are fewer tonal limitations. At least this was my sense reading this story and the others in Strange Tales from a a Chinese Studio for the first time. Ghosts have plenty of backstory and personality in English and American horror stories but they are usually antagonistic and you just don't see them form these kinds of relationships. Lotus Fragrance is different. It is a ghost story that has tremendous heart to it.In order to make it work as an adventure I made considerable changes though. I made Li more antagonistic overall, because I felt the adventure needed a villain if PCs were to be involved. This isn't the only way I could have done it though. I tried to think of ways to create a human villain that would preserve more of the story. In the end, making Li the definitive villain of the adventure worked better for what I needed at the table. And it still allowed for Lotus Fragrance to largely remain the same. One element I did change that I wished I had kept, was the slipper. I think that could have been an interesting clue that would leave open the possibility of the player's accidentally summoning Li early in the adventure (which could be an interesting encounter). My adventure also makes it a bit more like A Chinese Ghost story. In the adventure Li isn't a solitary ghost but part of a ghost family who live at a nearby teahouse.
What I do like about the adventure is it keeps one of the core aspects of Lotus Fragrance, which is trying to save Sang from death. The players are only in as much peril as they put themselves in. Otherwise, the real threat is to the life of Sang (who is slowly being killed by Li). When we put Strange Tales together and planned out the adventures, even though Lotus Fragrance was written first as a blog entry, we made a point of introducing Sang in an earlier adventure in the book so that there would be a more compelling hook later on.
The first version of the adventure was written for the Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate ruleset on the blog (I had done a series of posts for each story in the penguin edition of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio). You can see the difference in the original map I designed for the region and the final map that Francesca Baerald did for the book. You can find that first draft of the adventure HERE.
The final version of the adventure in the Strange Tales of Songling Book is refined and expanded. It has more details on thing like how to run the adventure and is just structured more cleanly overall. But I think for the most part, you can get the same evening of entertainment from the blog adventure. The biggest difference really is in adjustments made due to playtest between the blog entry and the time the adventure was ready for the book.
Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio had the most profound effect on my of all the material I was reading and consuming during the development of Ogre Gate. Personally I had an amazing experience drawing on Pu Songling's accounts and finding ways to use them in adventures. Lotus Fragrance was a turning point for me in terms of realizing just how far the ideas could be taken in an RPG. And it is a wonderful story, worth reading on its own if you have a chance. You can find free translations online. I personally recommend the Penguin edition because it is affordable and the prose has a nice feel (just be aware it is only a portion of the full book: there are multi-volume translations available and of those I recommend the Chinese Classics edition).
Monday, October 19, 2020
EDUCATION AND RPGS: HISTORY, GENRE EMULATION AND EDUTAINMENT
I have often said that I am skeptical of the educational value of RPGs. I do believe this, but I think it sometimes is misunderstood, especially by those who haven't read my books or followed this blog regularly. I hope to clarify my position on the topic. I am going to be thinking out loud here, so consider this a work in progress in terms of how I feel about the subject.
When I say I am skeptical of the educational value of RPGs, it is because I think as a medium, it is more social than educational. And its goal is to entertain, rather than educate. Obviously there is a book involved in most RPGs, and that book can contain information that is accurate and informative. But because its primary aim is to provide an entertaining and gameable system and/or setting, I just think people are usually better off reading history books, archeology books or science books if they are looking to learn about the world in a meaningful way. Even when RPGs are aiming to educate, they will feel the gravity of that primary aim. And there is always the danger of a book becoming pablum 'edutainment' when you prioritize education in an RPG book. Or worse, it can become the equivalent of the 'very special episode' format.
|I like my books precariously stacked |
(it creates a sense of danger and foreboding)
In my own books you can see different degrees of this. I would never hold up Sertorius, Servants of Gaius, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate or Strange Tales as scholarly books, but all were heavily researched in their own way. I was a history student and my interest in history has never waned. So it always shapes our games.
Sertorius was built around a lot of my interest in ancient mediterranean culture, Thai history and languages like Arabic for example. It is still fantasy of course. But it is informed by real world history. There is a shelf of history books on Rome, Carthage, The Library of Alexandria, Late Antiquity, Byzantium and more that fed into the process of writing Sertorius. Posting pictures here of some of the shelves I regularly turn to when working on RPGs (my organizational method is extremely questionable).
|Landlord's Daughter, Beneath |
The Banshee Tree and
Servants of Gaius
With Strange Tales of Songling, my main interest was providing a simple system and adventure book that shows GMs how to run adventures based on Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. One of my goals was making that process easy and welcoming. But I did provide an overview of books and movies important to the genre, as well as historical resources for running the game in historical China (the default setting is "World of Songling" to make running the game easier, but it can also be run historically as you will see below). With the adventures I took a lot of time doing research and consulting a historian to get the architecture and the maps as good as possible. I also made a point of visiting the Yin Yu Tang house at the Peabody Essex Museum, which is a fully reconstructed Qing Dynasty era house that was purchased from China, shipped here and rebuilt. I decided to draw on this for one of the major maps in the Strange Tales of Songling Book.
|Where I keep a lot of my books on Rome |
(and Walking Dead)
Servants of Gaius is probably my most historically accurate game (even if it takes major liberties with a key detail). It was set in Ancient Rome and I did my best to provide content so GMs could run an Ancient Roman setting. But note that my goal wasn't to educate, it was to give the GM the tools to run a historical game. Those are two very different things. A historian writing about ancient Rome isn't answering the same questions that a game designer writing about ancient Rome would. Often the things GMs and gamers need to know to run and play a setting, while important historical details, are not the main issues historians examine.
And while history was hugely influential and important to Servants of Gaius, so was the book and TV series I, Claudius (and the book, Claudius the God). And it was alternate history on top of that. The whole basis of the game revolves around that moment from the I, Claudius series where John Hurt's Caligula asks his Uncle Claudius if he thinks he is mad. It is one of the most poignant exchanges, and their relationship, at least for me, forms the heart of the drama series. It is also a redeeming line of dialogue and performance, where Hurt humanizes Caligula. In Servants of Gaius I used that as a foundation for a thought experiment: what would happen if Caligula was really a god? I wanted to treat the character more like the Caligula from that scene (where the conceit is forming a foundational struggle to explain his behavior and to make him a more redemptive figure in the setting). Obviously this takes great liberties with real world history, and it wouldn't be advisable to read that conceit as accurate. But that conceit is what makes Servants of Gaius interesting. For me this is an example where, education and the needs of a game (and frankly the needs of something like artistic expression) were totally at odds. And I think if I had given into an educational rather than creative impulse, the game would have been insipid. The end result was far more flavorful and a lot more enjoyable to write than if it had been straight history.
Going back to the beginning of Bedrock, this sort of approach has always been present. When Bill and I wrote The Landlord's Daughter for Colonial Gothic I did a great deal of local research and general research. Being from the area was quite helpful as it also gave me an understanding of the local geography. It is a horror game as well of course, so there are plenty of creatures, undead maidens and werewolves thrown in for good measure, but just as much time went into researching the adventure as writing it (probably more). And there were lots of things in there that were more emulative of Hammer films than history. And the idea is you trust the reader and audience to understand that (and not take everything in the book as being 100% faithful to history).
|Research with terrible handwriting|
for my Strange Tales of Songling campaign
Even when I run adventures for my own game groups, I do an awful lot of research. It doesn't mean I always stay true to history or the facts. Sometimes I don't want to, sometimes I want to know the facts, so I can believably break away from them. Sometimes I learn the facts and they don't fit what is needed for an adventure to work, so I make changes.
None of this is to say the books or games are perfectly accurate. I am sure there are areas where limits on my knowledge and understanding of a subject are visible. And am comfortable knowing and expressing the limits of my own knowledge. The point is simply to illustrate that I have a healthy respect for research, history and getting things as correct as I can. But I also like the freedom to invent, and the freedom to have fantasy elements that don't always cleave tightly to history. And I am uncomfortable with the idea that my games or my game sessions are tools for educating players.
Presently I am running two 10 session campaigns for Strange Tales of Songling. These are each going to be inspired by a separate Yuan Mei story (I wanted to explore more adventures based on Yuan Mei this time around). However, even though the focus is on this genre of literature, I am also doing a good deal of history research for every adventure. We just finished our first session, set at a Teahouse (which I will post information on in another blog entry). I am very interested in trade and mercantilism, so I spent a lot of my time researching the sugar cane trade and that made its way into the adventure. One of the players was a Scholar-Official, and was promoted to county magistrate as a result of the events of the first adventure, so now I am doing more research into counties during the Song Dynasty (I arbitrarily chose to set the game in 1077). When I am working on an adventure (even one like this for a home game) I still take lots of notes (see picture above). Still at the end of the day, this is just an adventure. I have no misconceptions about that. I don't expect my players to walk away with working knowledge of song dynasty China, and I don't believe my role in the group is as an educator (I think that would be extremely presumptuous of me). Maybe it will spark an interest. Maybe later one of them will remember me mentioning that oxen were used to pulverize the sugarcane, and that might be something they look into to see if it is true. But I would hope none of them take everything I say literally, because in a game, even when you are mixing in facts, you are mixing in fiction and fantasy too. And I think generally this is how we should approach all media: we should never assume what we encountered was accurate or true, even if the writer assures you of their research and expertise. We should always check anything we think might be true later with reliable resources.
There is also the question of a game's goals and the aims of the genre or history you are emulating. I think a lot of people assume if something is set in a given historical period, then historical accuracy should or ought to be the goal. They equate historical or cultural accuracy with good. But if you are more interested in emulating a genre of literature or film that paints with a broad brush against the backdrop of history, that may not be the case. I think authenticity can be very good, but it isn't automatically the aim of a given project and in many instances you don't necessarily want authenticity. And even when you do, what you are trying to be authentic about it very contextual: i.e. am I making an authentic Roman History RPG, or rather am I trying to make an authentic sword and sandals RPG? The two are not the same. A good example of this is Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. That was heavily based on the Song Dynasty in China but it was also a fantasy RPG, set in a historical analog, and its bigger aim was to emulate wuxia and kung fu films. So it owes more fidelity to Chang Cheh's and Gu Long's sense of history than real world history. It much more interested in accurately representing Shaw Brother's sets than historical locations and architecture.
|A Bunch of Bedrock Books|
And I should say every designer and gamer is different. I know some designers who are exceptional at producing historically accurate and gameable settings (those two things together are not as easy as they sound). And I don't want to dismiss what they do, because they do it very well. There are RPG books out there that are educational, or if not educational, at least provide really clear guidance on real world topics and history. But the vast majority are not. They are informed by real information, but in my opinion relying on RPG books to get real world info is usually like learning science from science fiction: it is definitely a decent starting point for developing an interest and it provides you with some crucial guideposts for retaining information, but it can easily lead to ignorance as well.