Saturday, September 10, 2022

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

We talked about the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once on Wuxia Weekend. I was surprised by my reaction, having had much different expectations going in.  

Everything Everywhere All at Once was released in 2022, stars Michelle Yeoh and was directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. It also stars Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis.

There was a lot to discuss. You can hear what we thought here: 


Friday, August 12, 2022

SONS OF LADY 87 RELEASE UPDATE

I just wanted to keep people abreast of the latest surrounding the Sons of Lady 87 Campaign Book. Right now it is set for a November release date and is presently in the finishing stages of the layout. Here is some information on what you can expect in terms of pricing, content, etc. 

The final book will be 310 pages. I decided to use slightly higher quality paper because Lady 87 is very important to me and it might be the last print release for Ogre Gate (it is possible there will be more in the distant future but for now I am focusing on other projects). Because the price of paper and shipping has increased, the lowest cover price I can get on it is $59.99. It would have still been higher than normal even without the heavier paper, but this increased the price further. I feel bad, I really wanted to keep it lower and went back and forth with myself for weeks trying to balance affordability and quality. I hope people will understand the reason for the cover price. 

Art by Jackie Musto 

The book itself reflects a years long campaign I ran in the prefecture of Fan Xu within the 87 Killers organization. It is a very character-focused, crime campaign, and the material reflects that. But like Ogre Gate Inn it comes with a complete gazetteer filled with NPCs, locations, etc. The Gazetteer also includes cultural information, details on laws and law enforcement, an overview of each district, the district magistrates and locations inside the districts. 

As a campaign book it comes loaded with advice, notes about how I run Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, an extensive appendix and a campaign set-up at the start of the book. You can run the campaign premise presented or just use the book to run sessions in Fan Xu Prefecture. It also has tools for managing sect wars. 

There is more emphasis on urban environments. It gives extensive coverage of the cities of Tung-On and Mai Cun for example. There is also a strong focus on sects and organizations. The 87 Killers get an entire chapter of their own. The other groups are covered in the gazetteer in their respective locations. 

Art by Jackie Musto

The Sons of Lady 87 Campaign Book may have the most NPCs of any book in the Ogre Gate line, or any book I have worked on. It is filled with a ton of characters so the GM has a real sense of full martial world. 

I organized Sons of Lady 87 in a different way to reflect how I run material for my own campaign. Instead of putting NPCs in a different section of the book, I include them in the locations they are most relevant to (so a sect leader or member would normally be found in their sect entry). This reduces flipping back and forth during combat. 

The book also has a large chapter of new Kung Fu Techniques and Profound Techniques. It includes two profound sects: Celestial Heart Sect and the Seven Blood Cave Alliance. 

As always there are plentiful maps, illustrations and tables. Some of the notable maps include a map of the City of Tung-On and Mai Cun, and a map of South Wind Manor (an elaborately trapped sect headquarters). And there is plenty more as well. 

I will keep everyone updated as we get closer to the November release date. 



Sunday, July 24, 2022

WILLIAM PETER BLATTY'S FAITH TRILOGY

While there is a trilogy of exorcist movies (I, II, and III), there is an alternative trilogy that reflects the writer's attempt to grapple with the themes found in the first film and book: The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and the Exorcist III). We didn't set out do cover the trilogy of faith intentionally but after we did Exorcist III, we ended up covering them in reverse order. The movies deal with questions around the existence of god, religious doubt, the problem of evil, the fall of man, etc. Each movie in the series is based on one of Blatty's novels (The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Legion). The Ninth Configuration and the Exorcist III are both directed by Blatty. The original Exorcist movie was directed by William Friedkin. The storyline of the Exorcist and Exorcist III are directly connected. The story in the Ninth Configuration is connected to the Exorcist by a particular thread but operates in a different genre and involves entirely different characters (with one notable exception). 

Here are our discussions of the movies on the podcast. I highly recommend all three films and the books on which they are based:

Sunday, June 12, 2022

WONDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE PART FOUR: THE EVOLVING KUNG FU LANDSCAPE

This is part of an ongoing series as I prepare to publish the Sons of Lady 87 campaign book for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. Mostly it is just me responding to questions I have seen people ask about Ogre Gate (or highlighting something in the rulebook people might be less aware of). You can see the previous entry HERE 


One of my favorite wuxia films is Lady Hermit with Cheng Pei Pei. The protagonist, Lady Hermit, is forced into temporary hiding after a nearly fatal encounter with Black Demon (a local martial bully), whose Shadowless Claw left her with a serious injury that she is hoping to recover from. She has spent that time devising a way to overcome his technique, and devises on of her own in response. It is based on shifting the weight in her body as she leaps and attacks, and she uses a cat falling and landing on its feet as a way to demonstrate to her pupil how the technique is performed. I won't spoil the film but this is a good example of something that comes up often in wuxia and kung fu movies, an extremely powerful master, technique or weapon presents itself and the heroes have to devise a clever solution (the solution might be a counter to the technique, a special device, or a tactic). This was the guiding philosophy with Kung Fu techniques and power levels in wandering heroes of Ogre Gate, explained in this passage: 

The game leans into the idea of having martial arts that are more powerful than others emerge. Even with techniques in the same Qi Level, there is variety in terms of effectiveness and power. But that effectiveness is only going to help a character for so long, eventually someone devises a devastating counter that makes the technique less safe to use all the time. 

The balance can come from the PCs themselves, or the NPCs. It shouldn't happen right away, but if a technique is very good, eventually one should emerge that can contend with it. A good example in the game is Blade of the Dancing Fox. This is one we knew from play testing was quite effective when used well and a lot of players ended up taking it. Eventually in my own campaigns a technique called Swift Reply of the Fox emerged. It specifically counters Blade of the Dancing Fox and does considerable damage when performed successfully. This is a technique that actually appears in the Lady 87 book. 

So Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (and to a lesser degree Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades) takes an approach to balance that allows for spikes and dips in power. It is a game that embraces a lack of balance on the front end, knowing that this gets corrected organically over time when the Changing Kung Fu landscape approach is fully embraced. It is by design in order to emulate the kinds of movies that inspired the game. 



Thursday, June 9, 2022

WONDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE PART THREE: POWER LEVELS OF OGRE GATE AND THE OGRE GATE SETTING

One of the most frequent questions I get about Ogre Gate, and one of the most common questions I see about it online, is "what is the power level/what does it emulate"? I want to attempt to answer that here, as I know it can be difficult to gauge if you haven't played the system and are just looking at the book with the thought of running it for a specific concept. 

The first thing to understand about Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is its primarily intended to emulate wuxia. But it takes a pretty expansive view of what that entails and it throws in other genres as well. One of the key models for me when I was making it was the 2006 Return of Condor Heroes series, the 2003 Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber and the 2008 Legends of Condor Heroes series*. Another of my primary concerns was being able to run a campaign emulating this take of Jin Yong's classic trilogy. 

However it was also influenced by classic shaw brothers movies from the new school wuxia era (beginning in the mid-1960s with films like Temple of the Red Lotus and Come Drink with Me). This was a much more grounded style of wuxia. And it was influenced by more high powered and over the top films like Web of Death, A Chinese Ghost Story and the Painted Skin movies. Journey to the West and films like A Chinese Odyssey and Journey to the West Conquering the Demons were also influential. Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio also had considerable influence (especially on entries like Ogre Gate Inn and the Strange Land of Li Fan). So I would say the range was meant to be from wuxia to folklore and supernatural to legendary levels like Monkey in Journey to the West, or immortals in the show Journey of Flower. 

An illustration of the Kung Fu technique
"Deflecting Dance"
By Jackie Musto 

One thing to note about how Ogre Gate is designed is the leveling system, while it only goes up to 24 on the XP chart (and that is divided into Martial Heroes, Profound Masters and Immortals), it is assumed this can keep going if the GM pleases. Many of the god entries, for example Supreme Judge Yu are meant to simply be much higher on that chart. Importantly this isn't fleshed out systematically in the book, so the options won't all be immediately available RAW but the idea was a GM could develop those things as needed (which is largely what I did in my own campaigns). 

My personal opinion on Ogre Gate is it works very well emulating wuxia to more over-the-top wuxia and even stuff at the level of Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain. But at those higher immortal levels it requires more work. A lot of that work is available in various supplements but it is scattered (Ogre Gate Inn has a few, The War of Swarming Beggars on this blog has some, the Profound Masters of Ogre Gate posts on this blog have many, etc.). 

To give you an idea of the power levels available the game has three tiers: martial hero, profound master and immortal. Martial hero is levels 1-6, profound masters are levels 7-12, and immortal is levels 13-24. Martial Heroes basically just have access to Kung Fu Techniques and a few other things (like magic rituals). Profound Masters have access to Kung Fu Techniques and profound techniques (which are considerably better). Profound masters get other benefits as well such as being able to increase skills to 4d10 (3d10 is the cap for normal characters). Immortal characters gain all kinds of benefits, including Immortal Powers, Insights, skills going up to 6d10, and being able to ignore the soft die cap of 6d10, so they can roll up to 10d10 in some circumstances. They also gain Immortal Abilities (agelessness, immunity, celestial weapon bearing, regeneration, etc).  

To give an example of different power levels, all Kung Fu and Profound Techniques have a Qi Level (and you have to be that Qi Level to use the technique). Normal Kung Fu techniques go up to Qi 6. Here is a Qi 1 ability: 

Compared with a Qi 6 ability: 

These are both external martial arts styles so here is an example of a Qi rank 4 Neigong technique to give more variety: 

And here is a Qi 7 Profound Technique: 


There are also evil kung fu techniques (some of which are very high level and only available to immortals). These usually give you demon flaws. Here is an example of such a technique: 

For context, characters all have a number of Max Wounds equal to their Qi rank times 2, plus 1. So a Qi rank 3 character has 7 Max Wounds. 

To understand something about what immortal power levels are like, here is a section of some of the immortal powers (they get to pick one each level): 

This is one area I had hoped to expand more in the game. There are 12 Immortal Powers in the core book and a couple more HERE. They are the sort of thing where I saw many as being tailored to individual PCs (so the GM is encouraged to make more based on what is in the book). 

Another key aspect of immortals, and one of my favorites, are Insights. These are gained if you succeed on attempts at going into seclusion and mediating. You can get up to four and they are rolled randomly. Here are the tables and some of the Insights: 

And here is an entry that is pretty representative of what Insights are about: 

There are also realms, monsters and immortals to consider. You can see a good example of how the power and setting level scales to things like Lunar Realm HERE. And below is the monster section entry on Supreme Judge Yu: 



It looks a bit rough I know because I had to extract it, but as you can see Supreme Judge Yu has a Qi Rank of 40 (and he is not the most powerful deity in the setting). And to give an idea of supernatural threats, here is one of my favorite monsters: 


So the scale of power is pretty large, but I would say there are portions where the game is more focused on (like the power scale from Martial Hero to early Profound Master levels). You can scale it into the high levels than that. It may take a little more work though because there isn't as much material in the core book (the books has a huge list of Kung Fu Techniques but much smaller lists of powers for higher level characters like Profound Masters and Immortals). 

I hope this is useful. If anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out through the contact page on this blog. 

















*If you are interested in these series note these ones are not related, the proper follow-up to the 2006 Return of Condor Heroes is the 2009 Heaven Sword Dragon Saber, for instance. Also the 2008 Legend of Condor Heroes takes liberties with the story that angered some viewers. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE: THE FOOT FIST WAY PART THREE

From the Muye Dobo Tong Ji
Bruce W. Sims
This is an ongoing series of Kung Fu technique entries for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate for unarmed strikes (mostly kicks and punches). You can see the previous entry HERE. I will be doing a range of techniques based on my own striking background. Right now I am still primarily covering ideas inspired from Taekwondo. 

Some of these were hard to distill into a clear mechanic. I like Kung Fu Technique entries to be crisp and logical. As time has gone on, entries have followed a much crisper format which I find works best in play. Taking a real technique and trying to reduce it to a particular set of mechanics can be a challenge. This is especially the case I find when your sense of the technique is informed from direct experience with it (there are so many nuances to something as basic as a punch of kick when they are used live). When in doubt, I erred on the side of going cinematic. These are definitely more grounded than some of the flashier Ogre Gate techniques, but I didn't want them so grounded in reality they felt like watching a normal fight. The other thing I tried to do with these is give them some tactical weight. 

As always with these, these are early entries. I may come back and revise them as I playtest more. 

COUNTERING SWEEP 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Attack Roll

Type: Counter 

Qi: 2

 

When your opponent lifts their leg to deliver any kicking attack you sweep them to the ground with a kick of your own by striking their standing leg. 

 

Make a Leg Strike roll against attack roll. On a Success you stop avoid the attack and trip the target to the ground (1 move to get up). On a Total Success the Target takes 1d10 Damage. 

 

This counter gains a +2d10 bonus against any high kicks like Axe or Crescent Kick. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you trip the target to the ground (1 move to get up) and they take 1d10 +1d10 Falling Damage per rank of Waijia (so if you have 2 ranks in Waijia, the target takes 3d10 Falling Damage). 

 

CRESCENT KICK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 3

 

In very close quarters you bring your foot to the sky and strike your foe’s head in a confusing inward crescent motion. 

 

Make a Leg Strike roll against Parry. On a Success you do Normal Damage. All counter attempts against a Crescent Kick are made at -1d10. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you do Normal Damage. All counter attempts are made at -2d10. 

 

TORNADO KICK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 6

 

You drive at your opponent with a powerful spinning kick, rotating like a top and striking with enormous force. 

 

Roll Leg Strike against Parry. On a Success you do Normal Damage plus 2 Extra Wounds. If your attack roll beats the Wits of your foe, they also suffer a -1d10 to any counter attempt. 

 

You can move double your normal movement in the round you attack. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you do Normal Damage plus 4 Extra wounds. 

 

TRAPPING KICK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 4

 

You trap your foe in a wash of roundhouse kicks, using the leverage from each successful kick to torque your hips and opposing leg for another strike, effecting trapping them between both striking legs. 

 

Roll Leg Strike against Parry. On a Success you do Normal Damage. On a Total Success you can kick again against the same target with your opposing leg and you get the target in a Restrain. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you can make an another leg strike against your target (you can keep attacking until you fail) and get the target in a Restrain. On a Total Success you do Normal Damage plus 2 Extra wounds. 

 

  

Friday, June 3, 2022

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE: THE FOOT FIST WAY PART TWO

Muye Jebo, 3rd page (Bruce W. Sims)
This is the next in a series of blog entries covering unarmed strikes for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, drawn on my experience in martial arts. You can find the first one HERE. 

These are based on my Taekwondo training. I leaned slightly more on traditional methods rather than sport here for the cinematic value (if these reflected the use in sport competition or live sparring they would be slightly different). The exception might be the Straight Punch (essentially a jab) and the Lightning Combination). I will do another set of Arm strikes and punches as I didn't have room to get into elbow strikes, backlists etc here. The tiger claw isn't meant to emulate the throat ripping in movies, but more of a strike that temporarily debilitates. 


STRAIGHT PUNCH 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Arm Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 1

 

You strike with your lead hand, often in a flurry to better gauge distance and weakness in your foe. 

 

Make an Arm Strike roll against Parry, on a Success you do 0d10 Damage and gain a +1d10 to your next attack against that target. On a Total Success you do 1d10 damage. 

 

Cathartic: You do Normal Damage, gain a +2d10 to your next attack against that target and can decipher one random technique that person possesses based on how they react to your attack. 

 

REVERSE PUNCH 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Arm Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 1

 

You strike with your rear hand, rotating your body and hips into the punch for maximal effect. 

 

Make an Arm Strike Roll against Parry. On a Success you do Muscle+Waijia for Damage. However, on the following round your turn order rank drops by 2.  

 

Cathartic: On a Total Success you do Muscle+Waijia damage plus 1 Extra Wound per Qi Rank. 


 

LIGHTNING COMBINATION 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Arm against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 2

 

You deliver a flurry of punches hoping to create an opening when your opponent blocks or counters. 

 

Roll Arm Strike against Parry. On a Success you do Normal Damage. If your opponent counters and fails, you do 4d10 Damage. 

 

Cathartic: As above, except your opponent suffers a -1d10 to their counter attempt and you do 4d10 Open Damage if they fail.  

 

TIGER CLAW 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Arm against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 3

 

You clutch the throat of your enemy to debilitate them. 

 

Make an Arm Strike Roll against Parry. On a Success you do Normal Damage. On a Total Success you lower the Hardiness of your foe temporarily by half for 1 round. 


This can also be done as a punch if the user prefers, the important thing is debilitating by hitting the throat. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you do normal damage plus 1 Extra wound. On a Total Success you lower the Hardiness of your foe by half for a week. 



Thursday, June 2, 2022

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE: THE FOOT FIST WAY PART ONE

This is the first in a short series providing some foot and fist striking techniques for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. There are such techniques in the books but I wanted to do something grounded in my experience with real martial arts. I've said before that Spinning Back Kick is the only thing from my own martial arts training I allowed myself to bring to the game (the game wasn't striving for realism of technique). These are preliminary attempts at some of my favorite kicks. Practitioners could certainly quibble over the mechanical details. I may update these in the future as I playtest more and think them through.

These ones are based on my early martial arts experience with Taekwondo. I made them based on how they felt to me in practice (both on the receiving and delivering end). I was always a counter fighter, so that is reflected in the entries too. I am including the original spinning back kick from the WHOG rulebook for reference, and because it would be part of this suit. I hope to add more kicks and then get into other techniques as well (but Taekwondo is primarily a kicking art).

SPINNING BACK KICK

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry (Normal) or Attack roll (Counter)

Type: Normal and Counter

Qi: 1

 

You whirl your body and unleash a powerful kick.

 

This can potentially be used to counter kicks, leaps and charges as well. On success you do normal kicking Damage plus 1 Extra Wound.

 

Must be used Cathartically to counter an Attack.


ROUNDHOUSE KICK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal 

Qi: 1

 

You bring your kick against your enemy in a circular motion turning your entire body and hip into the kick for as much force as you wish. 

 

Make a Leg Strike Roll against Parry. On a Success you do Muscle+0d10 to 4d10 Damage. You set the amount of d10s to add to your damage roll. However if your attack is countered, the target may add the d10s you set to their damage roll.  

 

Cathartic: As above except you can add 1 extra wound per rank of Qi (If you fail as above plus you take half the Extra wounds you would have delivered). 

 

JUMPING SPINNING BACK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Attack Roll 

Type: Counter

Qi: 3

 

You spin and gain enough air to drive your kick into the stomach of an oncoming attacker. 

 

Make a Leg Strike against the attack roll. On a Success you block the attack by interrupting it with your own doing Normal Damage plus 1 Extra wound. You can also send the person flying back for 1d10 damage as well. 

 

Cathartic: Your counter does Open Damage +1 Extra Wound.

 

SPINNING HOOK KICK COUNTER 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Attack Roll 

Type: Counter

Qi: 5

 

You spin precisely and intercept an attack, striking your foe in the head with your heel. 

 

Make a Leg Strike Roll against attack roll. On a Success you block the attack and do Normal Damage plus 2 Extra Wounds. On a Total Success you stun the target for a single round (they can attack but not move). 

 

If you miss you are extremely vulnerable for a full round, taking -3 to all your Physical Defenses. 

 

Cathartic: On a Success you do Normal Damage plus 3 Extra wounds. On a Total Success you briefly knock the target out for 1 round. 

 

AXE KICK 

Discipline: Waijia

Skill: Leg Strike against Parry 

Type: Normal

Qi: 4

 

You bring your leg high into the air and then crashing down on your foes skull. 

 

Make a Leg Strike Roll against Parry. On a Success your leg strike does Open Damage. On a Total Success your attack causes an injury, inflicting -1 to their Hardiness for a day. 

 

Cathartic: Your Leg Strike does Muscle+Qi Rank Open Damage. On a Total Success you injure the target causing them to lose 2 Hardiness for a week. 

 

Friday, May 27, 2022

WONDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE PART TWO: CAMPAIGN STYLE

Something that I frequently get questions about, and something I often see commented on about Ogre Gate, is the question of playstyle. In particular, the "D&D-isms" (for lack of a better term) of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate has many elements you find in a traditional fantasy campaign: dungeons, supernatural creatures, etc. It also has a martial world with sects and martial heroes. I want to talk about how these elements all help contribute to long term wuxia campaigns. 

My main focus when we were working on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate was capturing the wuxia genre in a way that worked well for long term campaigns, with everything based on what worked in table play for me. I had been doing this by kludging together a variety of wuxia and kung fu inspired systems over the years and wanted to use the engine we designed for Sertorius to make my own wuxia RPG. 

Art by Jackie Musto
A challenge in an Ogre Gate Wuxia Dungeon

One of the issues that frequently came up in conversations about wuxia was the difficulty of running the genre, but I always found it a very easy genre to run. I also found that there were a lot of ideas about what wuxia should or shouldn't have, that didn't really make sense to me. To me this felt like wuxia was being treated differently than other genres. Other genres were didn't need to be pure distillations of their literary or cinematic forms when turned into games. And some of the notions about what those distillations of wuxia ought to be, to me felt reductive. A good example of this is the dungeon. 

I used to run wuxia and martial arts campaigns in fantasy settings of my own making with dungeons because they are a reliable adventure structure that can sustain a campaign. But I also found some reactions online to this idea were puzzled or negative. Like if you used them, you weren't doing true wuxia, or you were focusing on the wrong thing. And while I think it is true that the heart of wuxia is centered more on things like the jianghu, there are still plenty of dungeon-like structures found in the genre. And it is certainly seemed just as justifiable to include in a wuxia fantasy campaign as a medieval fantasy campaign (perhaps more so). I got into some of this in my blog entry on WUXIA DUNGEONS, WUXIA DUNGEONS PART II and in other posts like my one on HAUNTED WUXIA DUNGEONS. So I embraced the dungeon as a part of the wuxia campaign setting and I found it very successful at the table, but also something that connected to a lot of the wuxia I was watching and reading. 

Art by Jackie Musto
Four Demon Pagodas 

The other aspect of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, and this is one that does take it more outside the genre in my opinion, is the kind of supernatural elements it included. There is a range and some wiggle room in wuxia, but at a certain point many fans will say some types of supernatural elements take it to other genres (and I do tend to agree though I think that line is much fuzzier, especially when you look at the range on the cinematic side, which I am more familiar with). But I wanted to bring in some of these elements to the setting. This was in  part because it was also inspired by things like A Chinese Ghost Story, Holy Flame of the Martial World, Journey to the West and Painted Skin. But it was also because I felt having these supernatural elements were something useful for helping me sustain a long term campaign. Magic and the supernatural make things easier to sustain in an RPG for some reason. 

Obviously a major aspect of the setting are the martial world and its sects. This is very much the heart of the game. And most of my long term campaigns rely on elements of intrigue, sect conflict and politics. I've said this many times elsewhere but I was trying to model things like Killer Clans, where you have sect wars ripping apart the martial world; Condor Heroes where you have characters seeking out new martial arts and manuals, or Come Drink with Me,  where you have martial heroes contending with ruffians and bandits. And I wanted all the colorful and eccentric characters you get in wuxia. Most of my campaigns are living worlds, where the NPCs live and breath like PCs, and this helps provide movement in the campaign. Helps keep it alive. So wuxia was a perfect fit because it filled with interesting characters. 

An important point about including all these things is they aren't meant to be the sole focus of play. They are features the GM can draw on to help provide a variety of adventure types. You can have more grounded adventures that are focused on plots like two sects fighting, or the players coming in as heroes to contend with a local bully Like Red Claw Demon (obviously inspired by Black Claw Demon from Lady Hermit). But if you start running out of steam with these kinds of adventure types (which I find could happen with certain groups if they were more accustomed to stuff like dungeon crawls), you could always mix it up with a monster hunt featuring a Toad Demon or a delve into a tomb for an ancient artifact. It just worked well in practice. 

Art by Jackie Musto
A party faces Lady Qing'er

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate takes a very blended approach. And the main reason is long term sustainability. Some of this has been captured in campaign logs I have posted. I don't usually post these any more these days. But you can see some of the foundational ones for Ogre Gate here on the right column. Some of these campaigns leaned more heavily into questing type adventures and things like dungeons. Sects were always present and important, but a lot of the fun was going forth and exploring. Most of them were focused on the marital world itself, occasionally broken up with a dungeon adventure here or a long journey there. 

I would say still, the variety is what I tend to enjoy. It gets around the problem of having a wuxia campaign that tends to be short and die once a particular storyline has played out (at the time I was making Ogre Gate, this was something I saw heard a lot of people say about wuxia when they tried to run it). By keeping it focused on the characters and the world, I found it pretty easy to sustain. 

At its core, Ogre Gate is what I call a Dramatic Sandbox. It welcomes drama, but tries to give the players a lot of agency to explore and make decisions. It tends to focus on the interaction between PCs and NPCs (that is the 'fuel' of most of the campaigns). I will try to address Drama and Sandbox in a future blog entry. I also hope to address power levels in Ogre Gate as I know many people have questions about what the actual power range is in the game (it is actually a little complicated to answer that but I will do my best). 

In the mean time if you want to see what an Ogre Gate Campaign looks like, check out the War of Swarming Beggars module on this blog page, our campaign podcasts or my campaign logs.  And if you have any questions about running Ogre Gate, if you have any questions about the game itself, contact me through this page and I will try to answer them (or leave a question in the comments below). 

 


Saturday, May 21, 2022

WONDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE PART ONE: THEATER OF THE MIND AND GRID

In the lead up to releasing Sons of Lady 87, I am going to do a series of short blog entries tackling questions or common topics that come up around Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. My primary aim is to provide a clearer picture of how I run the game, what we intended with certain rules and to clear up any misconceptions or reinforce any accurate assumptions. Today I want to talk about miniatures, tactics and theater of the mind. 

Preview of Sons of Lady 87 art by Jackie Musto

Ogre Gate was never meant to be a light and fast martial arts game. We knew going in, with hundreds of Kung Fu Techniques, each one as complex as a spell in a typical fantasy game, that the game wasn't going to lend itself to rules light. So, like Sertorius, it would have a deep list of options for combat and tactics. But we never assumed tactics to mean grid or miniatures. People can absolutely play Ogre Gate with a grid if they wish. I don't have any particular investment in the game being played one way or the other, but in terms of design it is important because we were not designing with a grid in mind. We designed it with Theater of the Mind in mind. 

I never use miniatures. I think I used miniatures twice while running Ogre Gate (once when we first started play testing it live and once when I ran a very large combat scenario). In all other instances I ran it theater of the mind. There are a few reasons for this. I have never been a fan of grid combat and miniature driven combat. I was turned off by miniatures when I first started (a story I will get into in another blog entry) and only ever used them in campaigns where all the players expected it, or when I was running 3rd edition D&D (where it seemed necessary). Personally I like combat to keep moving. And I find miniatures tend to draw out space between turns as players think about their next move. I also like to focus on what we are all describing rather than what a figure is doing on a grid. But I still keep track of movement as a GM. Tactics still matter in my campaigns, even though things are fluid and not always rigidly pinned down at first like they might be on a grid. 

My method for running theater of the mind combat for Ogre Gate has always been to have me, the GM, keep track of where everyone is on a piece of paper. The players don't see this (I mainly game online). But I put a letter on the sheet with their initial and I use lines with arrows to indicate their movement. Important terrain or objects might be marked down. It isn't painstakingly accurate. I don't track hexes or squares on a map. I just want to know generally where everyone is, and I might throw down a scale key just to help adjudicate questions surrounding movement. More important than this piece of paper is what people are describing. It is just a tool to stay true to what is being described by the GM and players at the table. 

And of course this depends on the specifics. Many combats are simple enough that I don't even really need to write things down beyond Turn Order. 

 

Friday, May 20, 2022

STRANGE NEW ENGLAND: BENDING REALITIES AND THE UNRELIABLE GM

Here is a glimpse of one of the sections of Strange Tales New England, to give an idea of where the game is heading. This is just a rough section of GM advice. We started a regular campaign in the fall when I started work on it and the example is from that campaign (which is still on-going). The character Letha Kane in the scenario is was an homage to the Ninth Configuration


BENDING REALITIES AND THE UNRELIABLE GM 

Reality bends around the central mystery of your campaign and of the conceits of the setting. Player characters may not be who they believe themselves to be, they may mistake friends for monsters and attack or kill them, they may find themselves lunatics in the asylum. The point is psychological horror. And the GM’s role is to intentionally confuse while at the same time offering real choices. 

 

This portion of the game is meant to be very fluid and surreal. The GM should use judgement in presentation of such things. As a general rule, when a player is subject to something false and you believe there should a chance for them to see through it, you can roll 1d10 against Wits and have the delusion fade if the result does not meet or exceed their Wits score. In many cases though such a chance will not need to exist.  

 

When reality is bending, when players are the subject of illusion, false memories or delusion, use the unreliable narrator approach to GMing. This takes a certain amount of care. It is a delicate balance, to mislead while also maintaining the trust of the players. As a general principle, when you are being intentionally unreliable try to be subtle, but also try to include the possibility of the players sensing clues that they are being misled. This technique should also be relegated to things specific to this part of the game. For example when players are venturing into Danvers State Hospital or when the reality of their past lives are unfolding, playing with the truth about who people are, what happened, etc can be helpful. The idea is what the players are seeing and what the NPCs are seeing may not be the same thing. 

 

How this was handled in practice was very much about presentation of information and techniques like artfully switching between groups of characters when they were split (to maximize the impact of information being revealed). In one playtest I ran, the party went to Danvers State Hospital to investigate an inmate who had committed murders that one of the players had dreamed about. Before the campaign began, I rolled a 1 for him when checking for Lunatic Player Characters and slowly started connecting him to a secret past involving this inmate, which came to a head for the player while investigating werewolves near the scene of his original crime. At the hospital they were told this player, Daichi, could interview the inmate, Peter, alone. They agreed and Daichi went to Peter's cell to interview him while the rest of the party went to another area of the hospital with the Physician who had greeted them, Dr. Letha Kane. It was slowly revealed that Daichi was in fact Peter, that he had escaped and they just returned him to his cell. But this was a slow process of revelation. Daichi spoke with Peter, getting pieces of information that started to persuade him he wasn’t who he thought he was. Peter would say peculiar things like “but don’t you remember?”, or “I didn’t do it, that was you.”. I would shift back to the conversation with Doctor Letha Kane and she would begin describing Peter’s multiple personality condition. This went on until it was revealed to the party that Daichi was one of Peter’s personalities. 

 

It is a somewhat cinematic approach but requires a great deal of care still respecting character agency. For instance, only Daichi had rolled a 1 on my check. The other players were fully aware of things. I had permitted a certain amount of illogic and dream logic in the timeline, because this was purgatory, but when they concocted a plan to bust Diachi out of the hospital, the campaign went in that direction. And it was unclear to them for some time if they had been lied to, enchanted by, or told the truth by the people at the hospital. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

DOGTOWN

I visited Dogtown with some friends the other day. It is an interesting site in Massachusetts, a ghost town known for its strange boulders and witches. Now it is basically a nature trail.   

Dogtown was an inland settlement established in 1692 between Gloucester and Rockport, away from the bay so the inhabitants could be safe from attack. It was named after the dogs kept by the wives during wartime, and in its decline became a haven for widows, vagrants and outcasts. Some accounts also say these dogs became feral and roamed freely in the woods. 

Many of its later residents were believed to be witches, including a notable woman named Thomazine Younger. Supposedly she demanded offerings of corn or fish from people who wished to pass through in peace. It became something of a safe haven for people on the fringes of society. The last resident of Dogtown was a freed slave named Cornelius Finson (when they found him he was sick and his feet were frozen, so he was brought to Gloucester). 

In the depression a millionaire named Roger Babson hired stone cutters to engrave inspirational sayings into the boulders in the woods (these are now known as Babson's Boulders). Babson was the founder of Babson College, an engineer, a descendent of the original founders of Dogtown, and had a thing about gravity (attributing its power to moving the stock market and starting an institute to help shield people from its effects: the institute later turned towards the study of gravity). 

The engraved boulders are part of a system of giant stones left behind by the last glacial retreat (the whole area is famous for large and unusual stones). There are trails leading through the network of engravings. The stones are engraved with phrases like "Spiritual Power" and "If Work Stops Values Decay". Some are a little more harsh. 

There are a lot of paranormal legends associated with Dogtown, including stories of a werewolf. There was also highly publicized murder her in the mid-1980s (there is a book about this by Elyssa East called Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town). 

Our main goal was to see the boulders (which we were not terribly successful with). We found cellar holes (boulders with numbers engraved on them). Here are some of my thoughts and below are some photos).