Monday, August 24, 2020


Today on the podcast, Jeremy and I talk about the movie Jade Dagger Ninja and try to explain how it reflects some the design of Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades. We discuss many things in this episode, but I want to focus now on character clusters, because those are a key thing to understand about the game. 

The NPC section of Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades is large. We have dozens of NPCs and they all form clusters or networks. Most of the NPCs are affiliated with other NPCs, as enemies, allies, etc. Unlike Ogre Gate, where the chief focus was on Sects, this game takes an approach that is more character focused, like you find in Gu Long. The sects are still there, PCs and NPCs still can and do belong to organizations that matter, but the focus is on the characters and their relationships. 

This was our aim as we organized our characters. Rather than come up with a list of sects, and then group NPCs into them, we started with characters, their backgrounds and their connections. In many ways this was more complicated, and it proved a much bigger challenge because it is harder to track. But it resulted in something that works great at the table. 

We took to calling this "character clusters". These clusters can be quite extensive, but to use a simple example to illustrate the point, there is Hua Yin, also known as Little Raksha. He mastered his Crazed Raksha style by deciphering a manual rendered on the wall of a Pagoda, which he destroyed so others could not learn his martial arts. He is a minion of Eunuch Zhang, often doing his dirty work, but is being chased by the monk, Purity, who seeks justice over the destruction of the pagoda. In addition to serving Eunuch Zhang, Little Raksha has secret goals of his own (described in his entry). The idea is every character is almost like a walking adventure depending on how the PCs encounter them. We wanted them to all be gameable, not just scenery for the setting. An encounter with Little Raksha could just be a random meeting or fight, but it could lead to more interesting developments if they are drawn deeper into his orbit. He is a doorway to intrigue and conflict with Eunuch Zhang or Purity. It is a bit like chemistry, when you drop an NPC into the mix, depending on what the player characters goals and personalities are, it can lead to all kinds of unexpected directions and works very well on the fly. 

However a more planned approach can work too. You can build adventures around NPC clusters. It is very easy for example to take a character like Zhu Fei the Crimson Stargazer, who has many more connections to other NPCs. She is the wife of The Golden Bowl Chief, who left the martial world and abandoned her for the Halls of Tranquility, and she is the leader of Screaming Zither Sect, which she uses to ravage the Jianghu, hoping to attract her estranged husband's attention. She also has a conflict with a man named Tranquil Scholar Hua Shiyi, who stole her sect's Screaming Zither. This provides the GM with lots of avenues for hooks, adventure goals, etc. An adventure centered around the Screaming Zither could work, but so could one focused on settling the conflict between Zhu Fei and Golden Bowl Chief to bring peace to the martial world. 

Some of the clusters are much more extensive, while others, like Little Raksha's, are more simple. It is one of the guideposts we encourage GMs to look for and utilize when they run Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades. 

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