Saturday, December 31, 2022


This was the fifth and sixth sessions of my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 book. You can see the first session HERE. You can see the fourth session HERE


Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)

Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)

Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)

Iron Tiger: The newest member of the party, sent by Night Thorn to help them expand. He has a longstanding friendship with Iron Beggar Sun Kang, whom he wants to leave his lap of luxury in the House of Flying Lanterns so he can train with the Nature Loving Monks and improve his Kung Fu. Iron Beggar in turn wants Iron Tiger to leave the Celestial Plume Masters. Grudge: Pei Ye (he murdered her favorite client, Golden Cobra). 


The party was awakened by an angry shouting in the entrance of Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall. They came down to see a man, Sun Shaonan, the brother of Sun Shuxin, a woman killed by Wang Haoyang. He clutched a wooden pillar in his hands, and around him were strewn the slumped figures of Iron God Meng's guards. He demanded to face the Celestial Plume Masters so he could avenge his sister's death. 

Wei Ziying came down and lied, saying that the Celestial Plume Masters had left days ago to the west. Sun Shaonan was persuaded and left the city, but Wang Haoyang used Stealth of the Spider Demon to follow. When Sun Shaonan took rest by a stream he surprised him and killed him. He searched the body and some money and the Bone Rattling Sabre (the prized sword of Master Xiong Sheng).


Hei Ling's plume-addled informant, Leng Ziying reported a number of interesting developments. The first news was that Boorish Drunken Sword of the 87 Killers decided to go forth and deal with the Jade Owl Bandits (a group who were recently in conflict with the 87 Killers), but mistakenly attacked the Heavenly Wind Cult, creating a new front in an expanding sect war. He then reported that Demonic Venom Sect had taken action in Mai Cun, sending disciples on a suicide mission to massacre people near Lady 87's residents. 


Hei Ling realized he needed to pay Iron God Meng to make arrangements for the wedding and gave him what money they had then set out with his men to make some easy cash getting the bounties of wanted criminals. They learned about a group of bandits led by a woman named Rong E'hua, noted for her many facial scars. 

They tracked her and her men down near Zha. Wei Ziying was able to poison them all. Rong E'hua agreed to go willingly with them and give Hei Ling 120,000 spades gained from their latest bank robbery, in exchange for her men to be spared. On the way to turn her in, Hei Ling decided to give her half the money back and form an agreement to free her if she agreed to work with him in the future. She assented and they went back to Tung-On. 


Iron Tiger arrived in Tung-On and went to the Wood Chip Teahouse to meet the party. He had been sent by Night Thorn to help with the expanding Celestial Plume operation. While he waited for them, he started robbing deliveries of food shipments to the Chattering Gourd, hoping to drive them to ruin so he could swoop in and buy the place. 

The party returned and took Iron Tiger with them back to the Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall to finish making arrangements for the wedding. As they waited for the wedding date, Wang Haoyang trained Iron God Meng's elite guards, Iron Tiger continued robbing the food shipments and Hei Ling continued making preparations. 

They all agreed to a plan to take over the Chattering Gourd by contracting them for an elaborate meal (the Chattering Gourd is known for its expensive alligator dishes and prized wines). Shortly before the wedding Wang Haoyang and Wei Ziying broke into the storeroom at the Chattering Gourd and stole all the food, ingredients and wine, bringing them to a wagon outside manned by Iron Tiger. As Wei Ziying was bringing the last stack of goods through the back door of the kitchen a waiter spotted him and charged with a knife. Wei Ziying used a complex technique that failed, and the result of the failure made him vulnerable as the waiter plunged a kitchen knife into his back. He was seriously wounded but Wang Haoyang quickly dispatched the attacker, beheading him. 

They put the last of the food into the wagon and fled, while Iron Tiger drove the wagon through the streets. Unfortunately he drove too slow and on his way he was stopped by a sheriff and some constables. The Sheriff said "Looks like I have finally caught you."

Iron Tiger replied with a bribe of 3,000 spades which the sheriff took**. 


Leng Ziying reported important news. The 87 Killers had sent 40 of their top men to fight with the Jade Owl Bandits and surprisingly all forty were killed***. He also reported that Lady 87 had sent assassins to kill Northern Wind King of Demonic Venom Sect and had succeeded. Hei Ling determined that despite this one victory, their defeat at the hands of the Jade Owl Bandits was severe, and with 40 less men, they were quite weak. 


The wedding went as planned with a procession that led to the Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall. There Fan Zhen'er and Wang Haoyang, now husband and wife, received gifts from attendees. Wang Haoyang also received his promised Dawn Sabre of the Yao Yun Sea. 

As festivities were underway, Pei Ye, Wang Haoyang's good friend, and one of Fan Zhen'er's fellow Vermillion Stars, saw Iron Tiger and demanded he draw his weapon and face her so she could deliver justice for Golden Cobra, a victim of Iron Tiger and one of her good friends. The two squared off as guests and the couple watched on. Pei Ye launched ten blades at Iron Tiger with her Storming Daggers technique but he used a counter that hardened his body and made it impervious to the attack. Iron Tiger, not wanting to cause a problem with Wang Haoyang, attempted a choke hold and was able to knock her out (though she struck at him with her heel several times). 

Hua Yin 
Art by Jackie Musto

Though Wang Haoyang could not discern it, a look of pleasure crossed Fan Zhen'er's face. 

To that point, the couple had not agreed upon living arrangements, nor had it been decided if Fan Zhen'er would continue at the Vermillion Bird Teahouse. She expressed her wish to reside with him and leave the teahouse, which would require payment to Hua Yin. 

Hei Ling decided to deal with the matter and asked for an audience with Hua Yin, who was at the gambling hall for the wedding where she had private chambers provided to her. He spoke with her and offered payment and/or service. She sized him up and said she doubted he could afford the 400,000 spades she wanted, so she would accept a smaller payment and two years service beginning with a task she already had in mind. Eventually he talked her down to one year, and she told him his first task was to find her son. She didn't know what he looked like, as she hadn't seen him since he was a baby, but he had a birthmark on his foot in the shape of a spider. 

Taking this information to the couple, Wang Haoyan said he had heard that Night Thorn was her son, but over the course of conversation it became apparent that he regularly visited the Vermillion Bird Teahouse (so Hua Yin knew him) and he didn't have a birth mark in the shape of a spider. So they decided to table it and investigate further. 

The next morning Hei Ling's daughter, Li Liang went to him (for she had been at the wedding) and gave him a gift of a spear that once belonged to a powerful Kushen King. Hei Ling had not yet revealed to her that he was her father, but she knew he had a background with her mother. What he didn't know was she had already found out who he was from the Temple of Ageless Wisdom. But before she said anything he said she was his daughter and that he would acknowledge her as such. He also explained the circumstances that led to him being her father and how much he hated her mother. She was very happy to hear this from him and eagerly called him father. 

He also told her he wanted her to stop practicing her toad kung fu as it seemed to be destroying her body, and reminded him too much of her mother. She told him she could not give up her kung fu as her abilities had reached new heights. He then said "very well, if you are confident in your abilities you can demonstrate them to me". 

The two went into the main reception hall and fought while Wang Haoyang, Wei Ziying and Iron Tiger all watched from the terrace. She very loudly said "Show me your skills father," so everyone would know who she was. It was an even exchange at first, with her countering one of his neigong abilities and causing it to deflect back on him with her Bloat of the Toad ability (this worked by expelling Dragon Energy from her body and forcing the energy he sent at her to redirect back at him). However he also managed to wound her. But the contest was ended when she squatted down like a toad and leapt into his with her head, knocking him back and bringing him to the brink of consciousness. 

She laughed and said her Kung Fu was clearly as good as she believed and he should let her continue her training. Hei Ling countered saying he still had trouble accepting it and wanted to duel with her in one year. If she lost she would promise to stop training. 

At first she was angry and felt she had already fairly defeated him. But after a moment of thought she said she would accept if he agreed to become her disciple if he lost the duel. He was surprised by this suggestion, and that outcome would certainly be humiliating. But he felt he had no choice and agreed to her terms. They decided to hold the contest on Boulder Hill. She said she would leave but return in a month to visit. 


Later the party went to the Chattering Gourd to enact the rest of their plan. They put the contract on the table before the head chef, Chang Bai, and pointed to a clause stating that if he failed to fulfill their order for the wedding then he would owe them ten times the amount they had promised to pay. Chang Bai was enraged but it became clear he had little room to maneuver, for it was also obvious the men before him would kill over the amount owed. He tried to explain that he had been robbed and his waiter murdered, but they said that was his problem. They offered to give him more time but at exorbitant interest, which would mean he would owe them one million spades by the end of the month. He couldn't' possibly afford this, so they offered to take the restaurant but keep him on staff. He reluctantly agreed provided they agreed to never change the menu. They agreed to never change the menu so long as he was head chef. 

*These events were the result of the regular pre-session rolls on the Sect War Shake-up Table.

**I rolled a d10 to see if he was amenable to the bribe (high he would be, low he would not be). Prior to that, the player had failed a Ride Skill roll which resulted in him driving so slowly. 

***This was a result of a sect battle roll  

Monday, December 19, 2022


I am recovering from Covid, which is why I only just started blogging again. So forgive me if I'm still regaining some clarity. Slowly getting back into my usual writing habits. 

I want to talk about how I approach entries in my own books. In particular I want to talk about how I handle entries that are short and offer bare bones details. Some entries are more robust, with extensive maps and so forth, while some are more like a broad idea meant as a launching pad. When these come up in play I have two ways of handling them. The first is to plan ahead when I know something is likely to come up, and map out an area over the week between sessions. That is good when you have time, but if something comes up suddenly during play or if, like me this past week, you are too ill or pre-occupied to do the prep, you have to map and plan under the time crunch of live play. This blog post is about the latter. 

This past session my players went to Zikang Grotto in our Celestial Plume Masters campaign, for which I am using the Sons of Lady 87 book. The entry for Zikang Grotto in the book is quite short: 

The entry goes on to provide stats for the couple, gives two paragraphs on the Chamber of the Calamity Star (which includes a description of the Calamity Star Manual) and one short paragraph on exploring the Grotto further. 

I found myself at the start of the session, knowing the players were going to the Grotto but only having this paragraph to work with. I have run the grotto in the past but lost all my expanded notes. And I didn't want to replicate the prior version because I couldn't recall if the players in this campaign had been there or not, so I wanted it to feel fresh. 

I basically had to map out something fast that would engage the players, but do so while they were traveling to the Grotto. This meant I had maybe 10-30 minutes to put something down on paper, possibly less if they were very efficient, plus I had to do so while multi-tasking because I needed to facilitate play (which meant managing the players survival roll attempts for the journey and handling any special tasks or requests). 

Knowing all that I decided to go with a very simple approach. I figured I could just map out a few chambers, and focus on traps as the main threat. Traps would be easy because I could take traps from the WHOG rulebook and reskin them, maybe rework them a little. What I came up with was this: 

This was very manageable in the time I had available, but it ensured there would be some interesting challenges for the players to engage. I also added a slight puzzle element where the way to reach the Calamity Star Chamber would be to trigger one of the traps. The first trap was one of my favorites to rely on: Spear Trap. Here I decided to have it come up from the ground which I thought would be a bit more interesting and challenging. I also added a little twist to the body of Master Wang Fei by having the sword be special (it adds to a person's Command rank). I then decided to have a passage that collapsed, basing it on the Fragile Bridge Trap in WHOG. This would also be the trap that led to the Calamity Star Chamber. Further in I placed a trap of Hen-Shi statues that sent out jets of flame at anyone who approached. For the Calamity Star Manual Chamber, I just decided it would be in an alcove and coated in poison (so I wrote down quick stats for the effects).

My quick rationale for the traps was that Master Wang Fei had built them to protect the bodies of his two disciples (Master Wang is the skeleton in the upper left chamber and was responsible for their fate and riddled with guilt so this made some amount of sense to me). There is a whole tragic backstory that is part of the stat block entry for the couple: 

With more time, this obviously could be much more extensive and greater logic could be applied to its construction. However for the purpose of running a session this worked perfectly well. It gave the first half of our evening plenty for the players to engage. It probably took up about an hour or hour and half of our time. And the sword was a nice touch that worked well later in the game. 

When you are mapping under a live play time crunch, it can be tricky at first. A glance of my writing, which is never particularly good, shows it can be hard to get every letter onto the page so developing a short hand can be helpful. It is also not essential to get your best ideas out. Obviously you want good ideas, and you would like for them to be as close to the best you can do, but working under such tight time constraints you need to shift your focus from making it the best to just making it. Just get something on the page. 

And once you have an idea, just keep going with that idea. You will have plenty of opportunities for more well thought out dungeons and locations. In this kind of situation there isn't time to get overly precious about it. And sometimes that is a good thing because forcing yourself to make an instant choice, sometimes leads to places you wouldn't otherwise go. For instance I would rarely make an all trap location like this. But it turned out to be good because it gave it character and made it distinct from other places they had been. Plus it gave me an extreme focus, which made improvising the details before hand easier. 

I would say it is also useful to lean on the basics and what you know works. That is why I chose traps. I knew I could basically set up about a trap a room, give or take and that would keep things fun. And I kept it very simple. This is little more than three rooms. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022


This was the fourth session of my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 book. You can see the first session HERE. You can see the third session HERE


Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)

Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)

Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)


The part traveled to Zikang Grotto in search of the Calamity Star Manual. They found it after some searching and wandered inside. There Wang Haoyang accidentally triggered a spear trap but was not harmed. They moved forward more cautiously, finding a skeleton with a precious but rusty sword spearing its ribs. Hei Ling took the sword, and instantly Wang Haoyang and Wei Ziying saw this was a good weapon for their leader. Shaking off the rust repealed a handle with lapis lazuli inlays and a perfectly crafted blade. 

They then ventured down a corridor but noticed the entire passageway looked a slightly different color from the surrounding stone. Using an alchemical process, Wei Ziying was able to determine this was not a natural rock formation but a cunning processed material that merely resembled real stones. They thew a rock down the passage and the entire section collapsed 40-feet into chamber intersected by a river. 

Wang Haoyang used his crawling tiger ability to reach the other side and secure a rope. However, Hei Ling fell as he crossed the rope and crashed to the ground. He was hurt, but not badly. When he opened his eyes he saw an entry way flanked by two desiccated bodies. The others came down and Wei Ziying was able to determine that the figures were still alive, but holding their final breaths. They seemed to be two lovers locked in an embrace. 

The party tried to movie by the figures without disturbing them (this involved Athletics rolls). They were able to do so and found a chamber containing the Calamity Star Manual. Hei Ling grabbed the manual. It was coated in a poison and he immediately felt the effects. Wei Ziying couldn't identify the poison because it was unique but he was able to determine the cure was a mixture of basic herbs and ground up snake bones. This would be feasible to produce if they could reach a town, but the nearest one was two days away. So they set out, with Hei Ling growing sicker each day. They also removed the coating from the manual and took that as well. 

Reaching He Yun, they procured ingredients and provided Hei Ling with an elixir to treat the poison. He felt better within hours and they set off for Tung-On to meet with Iron God Meng. 


The players met with Iron God Meng, inviting him to the Wood Chip Teahouse, a place they had set up for customers to indulge in celestial plume. Their aim was two-fold: convince Iron God Meng to replicate their Wood Chip Teahouse model in order to create a bigger market for celestial plume (which they felt would benefit their organization, the Temple of Jade Mercies and Iron God Meng's Golden Way). 

They held a banquet in his honor, but things started to go poorly shortly after they explained their business plan to him. Iron God Meng was impressed initially then asked why he should invest all the effort in creating celestial plume houses, suggesting they need to also share in some of the investment costs. 

Two heroes using plume 

Hei Ling offered a 100 spade discount on his shipments from the Temple of Jade Mercies (after conferring with Gu San), but Iron God Meng demanded a 500 spade discount. Hei Ling told Iron God Meng he didn't think he honestly believed that was a feasible amount. This angered Iron God Meng who felt he had been accused of lying. 

Things began to escalate with words, so Hei Ling suggested they put that aside and hold a sparring contest between his men and Iron God Meng's, to show they are serious. Meng would select two champions to go up against each of Hei Ling's disciples. The matches would be only to first blood. 

The first match was Wang Haoyang against one of Iron God Meng's supreme guards. In the initial exchange, Haoyang launched into a spinning attack but the guard used blade pinch and shattered his sword. This infuriated Haoyang, who made an unrestrained attack wounding the guard well beyond first blood. This angered Iron God Meng. 

In response Meng sent his only female guard and his most skilled, Feng Shi to spar Wei Ziying. Though she was more advanced than Wei Ziying, she was beaten in the first round. But Wei Ziying respected the first blood rule and things didn't escalate further. 

Still Iron God Meng was clearly upset but was placated when Hei Ling asked for a private conversation and bestowed the gift of the Calamity Star Manual to him. To this point, Iron God Meng had been contemplating a way to retaliate for the humiliations he endured that evening. but the gift moved him and erased any bad feelings. He offered to to become sworn brothers with Hei Ling and put aside any ill feelings. 

After, Iron God Meng was enthusiastic and heard the second request. Hei Ling asked if Iron God Meng could host the wedding of Fan Zhen'er and Wang Haoyang. Iron God Meng agreed and this is where the session ended. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022


Adam, the editor of Strange Tales of Songling, has put together this marvelous rules reference document. I think people will find it helpful during play and during character creation. You can see the reference document HERE

If you haven't checked out Strange Tales of Songling, it is monster-of-the-week RPG inspired by Strange Tales from the Chinese Studio by Pu Songling and similar sources. If you like movies like A Chinese Ghost Story, this is the game for you. It takes the core mechanics of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, but simplifies and streamlines them for a more old school experience. I think it is a sleek game. 

The reference is a really great tool for understanding the system and for tracking character abilities. 

It is a handy way to find the Skill and Defenses descriptions. 

You can also select from the four paths available and get a full description of each one. 

When you click on the individual path you can see the Skill rank allotments and their path abilities. 

If you click on the individual path abilities or any of the skills or defenses, it provides a description. 

The reference also has details on weapons, poisons, substances, etc. If you click on those you can see the relevant information. 

This should make the game easier to run and be a great way to walk players through character creation. 

Monday, December 5, 2022


A year ago, around October I started working on a game tentatively titled Strange Tales New England. It was based on some rough ideas I had been fine tuning the previous two years or so. I had a lot of material but wasn't really sure what direction to go until I visited a number of local historical sites with macabre origins. That and a combination of the books I was reading and movies I was viewing, lead to a clearer picture of something gameable that I felt enthusiastic about writing. I designed the core rules in a few weeks and we started playtesting right away. 

We've been playtesting the game for the past year now, usually once or twice a week. With each playtest I've made adjustments to the rules, revised some of the concepts, and streamlined the material. I've also begun many of the preproduction steps of publishing the rulebook. For example the maps are all done. 

It uses the same core system as Strange Tales of Songling, but updated for a modern setting. I also revised a few bits here and there, but the games are essentially compatible. 


This weekend I started a new longterm campaign. The rules are largely made for shorter campaigns, like Strange Tales of Songling, or for one shots. But I am testing a 30 adventure campaign structure as well. This will be about 33 adventures, each one in a monster-of-the-week format. 

There were four player characters for the Keys of Hades Campaign: Noah (an Expert), Terri (a combatant), Milton (a Spirit Medium) and Alex (A Charlatan). Like Strange Tales of Songling, this game is based around character paths. The only Path not represented in this party is the Exorcist. 

The party is centered around Alex, a wealthy backpacker whose parents have hired the other players as his friends and bodyguards to keep him out of trouble in his travels. Alex is somewhat arrogant and clueless, and needs other people around to protect him. In session zero, it was decided they had gone to the Blood Forest of Lancaster and had an encounter with the ghost of Old Man Blood. This piqued their curiosity in the supernatural so they decided to venture to The Bridgewater Triangle for his next hiking trip. 

The Bridgewater Triangle

The way this setting works is I populate the New England map with a number of sites, giving each one a short entry. So I have the basics of the Bridgewater Triangle, including some supernatural threats in the area. But about ten minutes before we start play, I quickly assemble details to give the location more of an adventure structure tailored to the particular party of characters we are using. I usually rely on methods like scanning local papers for ideas and names, and will often rely on things like a series of murders having just occurred, so there is something for the players to investigate if they want. A lot of it though is very freeform. I react to what the players do, and will lean in that direction. 

So for this session I decided that the Witches of Freetown had committed three ritual murders prior to the players arrival in the area. I then scanned papers for names and businesses and used those to put together a list of murders, locations, and members of the Freetown coven. Details were just rough sketch but three murders, one person bashed in the head with a golf club, the others stabbed. A car had been filmed by security footage leaving one of the locations, a tape deck at another. This is basically what I do minutes before each adventure once I know where the players are going to go:

My chicken scratch pre-game notes

Alex and his 'friends' were not intending to investigate the murders, but they had a passing curiosity in them. So this was more like a day trip to explore the Hockomock Swamp and maybe ask people about the recent killings. Not an investigation, but entertainment. They were tourists passing through. 

The party drove first to the Raynham (pronounced "rā-num") Police Station. Alex asked for information about the murders, in particular he wanted to know the license number of the car that had been on the scene and the song playing on the tape player found at another. He was initially rebuffed but pulled a 'do you know who I am!?' and was allowed to speak with the chief of police. Again he was told that information was part of an ongoing investigation, but Alex persisted and even threatened the chief with political fallout because of his parents high standing (again he is a charlatan). Convinced his job was in jeopardy the chief shared the details. 

He told the chief he planned to do a day of hiking in the swamp, and was advised against doing so because the killers might still be active in the area. Alex ignored the warning and took his group to the Hockomock Swamp. 

They noticed a police car trailing them as they headed up route 138, but decided to pay it no attention. Their journey into the swamp was uneventful at first, but after about an hour they saw a person approaching them through the trees. The individual did not respond to their calls when they asked who was approaching. Instead the person groaned and ambled towards them. A figure, rotting, soon appeared, dressed in tattered attire from the 1890s, but shoeless. Assuming it was a zombie they began firing gunshots at its head, but this had no effect. Terri cut off its arm but she was soon grabbed and squeezed suffering an internal injury. Soon two police officers appears (from the car that had been following them) and told them they had to use fire to kill it. One of the cops was armed with a blowtorch and began using it on the creature. 

The fight went on a for a bit, resulting in the cop with the blowtorch being bitten in the leg and bleeding to death (they tried to save him but failed their medicine rolls). The other cop called an ambulance for Terri, who was brought to an area hospital, but told the group he had to arrest them, saying they had been instructed not to enter the swamp and that they were responsible for the death of the other officer. 

Alex objected and asked if he could call his lawyer, which he was allowed to do. His lawyer said he would be at the station in fifteen minutes and that Alex should just do what they asked until he arrived. So the rest of the group was placed under arrest and brought to the station. 

His lawyer got him out, though Alex was warned to go back to the North Shore by the chief. That night they picked up Terri at the hospital who told them a nurse had clipped her toenails. This detail troubled Noah and Milton, who were beginning to suspect many of the locals. They had been researching the clues they found as well and discovered that one of the victims was killed by a putter and that the license number of the car at the scene of the other murder was owned by the son-in-law of James Cleary (who owned a local mini-golf course). 

The next day they discovered Terri had visibly aged, by 12 years, and it seemed was continuing to age with every hour. Convinced it was connected to the hospital and the toenails, they were able to identify the nurse who clipped Terri's toenails, a woman named Myrna, and find her address by going to the hospital website and showing Terri the pictures of personnel until she could identify her. That night they went to Myrna's house. 

They found Myrna sleeping with her husband, awakened them at gunpoint and demanded that Myrna end the effects of the spell. She brought them down to her basement where she showed them a satanic pentagram made from seashells, and the nail clippings in a bowline shell in the center. They were able to end the spell but Myrna said the aging could not be reversed. 

Alex told her a lie, in order to extract more information willingly, that he was the head of a powerful coven who used magic based on computer algorithms (he described them as using the algorithm to find magic that worked). He then used his Chicanery ability to make it seem that Terri's aging had been reversed. The Chicanery ability is basically just a way for the charlatan to deceive people and act like they are performing real feats of magic. But there is always a small chance that they accidentally tap into powers they don't understand and cause real effect. In this case, he caused her aging to reverse because he inadvertently cast a real spell. 

The result was that Myrna believed him and she showed him her grimoire, John Selee's Book of Spells. She then told him that she belonged to a group of witches who served the spirit of John Selee and his two children, Thankful and Nathan, as a kind of perverted trinity. John Selee was an 18th century miller and wizard who used magic to summon imps to power his mill at night. She claimed he haunted the Hockomock but after being told about Alex's superior magic she begged to enter his coven. 

This is where the session ended. 

Friday, December 2, 2022


This was the third session of my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 book. You can see the first session HERE. You can see the second session HERE


Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)

Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)

Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)


At the end of last session, they had confronted Iron Lu about his attack on the Zun Escort Company's caravan. Wang Haoyang rained down an attack with his Whirling Blade Technique, only for Iron Lu to deflect it with his spinning parasol. Then Iron Lu stabbed the parasol towards Wang Haoyang, who lept upon it with his Weapon Stride. They briefly disengaged, Iron Lu asking if there was another way to resolve the matter but Hei Ling commanded "Blood for Blood!" so the fight resumed. 

Wang Haoyang charged with his Whirling Blade once again, slicing Iron Lu and cutting off his head in a crude, uneven chop. This unsettled Iron Lu's men, who begged to be spared*. Hei Ling told them they could go, but said they should instruct their organization never to attack the Zun Escort company again. He kept the head but gave them the body. 

Heading back to Tung-On, Hei Ling gifted the head to Gu San, who was grateful. She had succeeded in getting the proprietor of the Wood Chip Teahouse addicted to celestial plume. Hei Ling told her to turn the teahouse into a place to use and buy plume so that Iron God Meng would see its value and see that there was a market in Tung-on for the substance. 

Gu San informed him that the Seven Demons had encroached on the Eighty Seven Killers territory with some caravan robberies near Daoxu. This was a problem because it was the area that the Zun Escort and Celestial Plume Masters were themselves encroaching on. Hei Ling and his men went to investigate the matter. 


As they searched the woods near Daoxu, Hei Ling tracked the Seven Demons. They were nearly an hour in the group's reach when a song familiar to Wang Haoyang began to float through the trees. It was a melody played by Fan Zhen'er, a courtesan at the Vermillion Bird Teahouse who was romantically interested in him (a person he was seeking to avoid). Haoyang disappeared into the forest so he would not be seen, and the group was soon greeted by Lu Fu, Fan Zhen'er's maidservant. She told Hei Ling that they had prepared food and tents for them to stay nearby, that her mistress had something very important to tell them. 

In clearing they found Fan Zhen'er seated at a banquet table, surrounded by servants and all the comforts of the teahouse. She motioned them to sit and asked where Wang Haoyang was. Hei Ling told her that he was performing an important mission and could not attend. He then asked what she wanted. 

Fan Zhen'er said she had a tremendous gift for Wang Haoyang. Something she wanted to give to him personally. Hei Ling said he could convey the message and asked what was the reason for the gift. 

They talked and slowly in the course of conversation she revealed that she had the Dawn Sabre of the Yao Yun Sea, which she was willing to give to Wang Haoyang as a dowry. Though reluctant at first, Hei Ling realized the weapon's power and told Fan Zhen'er that as Wang Haoyang's master the decision was his to make. He said he would agree but only if Wang Haoyang was willing. 

At this point Wang Haoyang reappeared and greeted Fan Zhen'er. After a bit of discussion he accepted her offer. They were given tents for the night and in the morning Fan Zhen'er departed to the Vermillion Teahouse to have Hua Yin procure them a matchmaker and set a date. Wei Ziying noticed a similarity between some of Fan Zhen'er's servants and members of the Relentless Corpse Sect. 

That morning they continued to search for the Seven Demons. It took them several days. They had a run-in with merchants who informed them of a rumor that a manual with the ability to turn Yao into normal men could be found in Zikang Grotto. They also bought wine from the merchants. Again it took them time but they found the Seven Demons in a clearing, all of them it seemed. It appeared that the one wearing the mask of Fubai was their leader. Wei Ziying leapt in and poisoned them as he had the Demonic Venom Sect. This was followed by Wang Haoyang who quickly dispatched the leader of the Seven Demons. Immediately the remaining members pleaded for mercy and claimed to have only just joined the organization. They slaughtered them, then Wei Ziying wrote calligraphy in the trees reading "The corruption of the Seven Demons has ended". 

As they were departing they encountered Lu Fu again who said that Hua Yin had decided to have the wedding on the 8th day of the Phoenix Moon (the beginning of the Phoenix Festival). She asked where Hei Ling intended to host the wedding and he said Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall. This pleased Lu Fu who said she would bring the news to Fan Zhen'er and Hua Yin. 

Hei Ling then decided they would head to Zikang Grotto to retrieve the manual they learned about, hoping to use it as a gift to bring to Iron God Meng when they asked to use his hall for the wedding. 

*I called for a Command roll from Hei Ling to determine how much he was impacting the enemy morale: because Hei Ling was giving orders, I assumed his Command mattered most, as Wang Haoyang was obeying him. 

Friday, November 25, 2022


When I run Network campaigns I lean heavily on rulings, extrapolating on existing mechanics to fit the situations that arise. I get quite a few questions about this and it is sometimes a thing I take for granted because it comes up so often in play. This is a series of posts that will talk about specific ways to use rulings, which will hopefully give GMs an idea of how to bend the system to the events that arise during a session. These aren't new rules but approaches to existing rules, though GMs who wish can incorporate them as optional house rules if they want (many rulings become house rules over time). 

I thought a good way to do this would be to discuss a hypothetical that recently occurred to me, but hasn't come up in play yet. This way the ruling is one that unfolds more like it might at the table for the first time.  

Suppose the players decide to travel through dangerously cold regions. If you have ever lived in an extremely cold environment, you know how dangerous low temperatures can be. In Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and other Network systems (from Sertorius to Strange Tales of Songling) there is a skill called Survival, which is used for a variety of things but primarily overland travel. Its chief function is to see how quickly you reach your destination and if you have any complications or encounters along the way. Here is a brief description from the WHOG rulebook: 

The section goes on to describe more of the sub-skills, followed by using it for things like food and shelter. But the relevant section is for travel: 
A failed roll typically results in rolling on an Encounter Table. But I think another use of the Survival Roll is to check how well characters handle extreme environments. For example if it is too cold, a failed check could result in 1 wound. I would probably roll again to check for encounter (rather than have the single failure do double duty and both impose a wound and result in an encounter table roll) but that is personal preference. This could also be used for extremely hot environments.  

The ruling is taking the Survival Roll and adapting it so they suffer a wound due to temperature on a failure. I would personally retain having this be a single roll by the PC with the highest Survival, but you could have them each roll individually if you think that is more fair. 

This can be useful if the party decides to travel to the north through the deep snow and cold. Obviously there could be other approaches to this. This is just one way to handle it. Rulings are not about finding one way, just about thinking through the system logically to come up with the method you think best fits that moment, and it might mean you think of other options to choose from. 

For example a GM could forgo wounds if those seems too harsh and instead impose Skill penalties for every failed roll (just keep in mind this can create a spiral effect on the Survival roll itself if you have it affect Specialist Skills, so it might be best to simply have it impact physical skills, and possibly combat skills). You could even have it progress from skill group to skill group, starting with Physical skills till those reach -3d10, then advancing to the next logical category and so on. 

Something I generally do when I make rulings like this is I explain what I intend to do and why, so the players know going in what to expect. This also gives them an opportunity to weigh if they want to object to the ruling and propose an alternative. For me what is important we come up with a mechanical solution all agree reflect what is going on in the game itself. 

You should also tailor your rulings to taste in terms of complexity. The first approach of taking a wound, is a very straight forward and simple solution, while the second one is more involved. You should do what makes most sense to you in these moments. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


A core element of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is the Grudge Table. This tool helps the GM keep track of ongoing feuds with NPCs and sects, ensuring that their enemies occasionally come to settle the grudge. You roll on it regularly and it can also be triggered by a standard encounter table. It is one of the things I found most useful for bringing the wuxia genre to life in a way that feels natural. I want to go over how the grudge table can be modified to add in other complications, in particular dramatic complications. 

Ogre Gate is described as Drama and Sandbox is the core rulebook. Here is a brief excerpt from the GM section: 

The basic idea is to introduce dramatic twists and turns, appropriate to the genre while respecting the players freedom to explore. I primarily work through NPCs when doing this. I find it easier to manage the motives and goals of my NPCs, and see what events those lead to, than orchestrating set pieces (that is just my personal approach, not a statement against using said set pieces in an Ogre Gate campaign). Something like set pieces still emerge, but when they do arise it is because an NPC is trying to orchestrate something grand and succeeds. Again though, this approach is simply a matter of taste and preference. 

Deciding when and how to introduce drama can be a challenge. I usually go by a combination of what seems appropriate, what coincidences and events seem like they are naturally pushing things in that direction and as a response to actions players take. But another method is to rely on the Grudge Tables. 

In the Sons of Lady 87 Campaign book, I describe a modified grudge Table that includes 'lingering complications' which specifically has criminal characters in mind. So a lingering complication may be officials tracking them down over a bank heist. Here is an example of the table: 

For my current Celestial Plume Masters campaign I am experimenting by swapping out Lingering Complication with each of the dramatic relationships the characters established in our first session. I am also rolling on the Grudge Table once at the start of every session. With the dramatic relationships, it looks like this: 

It works like a normal Grudge Table. I roll before the session begins and if something comes up, it will appear sometime during the session when it makes sense. If the result is 2-6 (which are established Grudges) then it is likely to be combat, an ambush, or some other hostile exchange. But if it is 17-19*, then the NPC result is someone they have a more dramatic relationship with, likely someone who wants something from them, and someone they want something from. And because it is a complication, I think it's fair to introduce the encounter at either a moment of inconvenience or in a way that further complicates an existing situation. 

Often times this will simply be a character showing up and talking to one of the players. Their dramatic connections are usually with people they know such as friends or family. And so it need not be hostile.

For instance 18, the result would be Kuo Qingzhao, a terrible man who is friends with Wei Ziying, and wants to know the secrets of a particular poison that Wei Ziying knows the secrets to. He is wealthy, so he might show up at an opportune moment, with resources and make them available to Ziying, hoping to pressure him to reveal what he knows. It may just be a simple conversation, but one that recurs anytime they meet with Kuo Qingzhao's patience progressively diminishing. The idea being this might become more dramatic as time goes on. But if the result was Li Liang, the party leader's daughter, that could be more fiery as she hasn't yet learned he is her father and he is trying to maintain a connection with her and steer her away from the dangerous martial arts she practices. She could track him down and demand answers about her parentage or threaten to go confront her mother, Qixia (something he wouldn't want her to do). It need not be Li Liang herself either. Perhaps someone from Hai'an, like Qixia's current lover, decides to pay the party a visit to sew discord or even threaten them. And dramatic complications don't have to be pure dialogue, they could be betrayal such as leading the party into a trap or making a false accusation against them to stir up trouble. 

If I wanted to I could also have this complicate an existing situation. Presently the party is attacking a man named Iron Lu in Bo Quan (he meddled with the shipment of Celestial Plume going from River Village to Tung-On). Perhaps he is a disciple of Li Liang. She is just one or two districts over (and very near where the celestial plume began its journey). She might even be present and come to Lu's aid once the fight gets underway. This would make dealing with Iron Lu much more thorny for the party. 

I find techniques like this are useful for ensuring interesting things come up, but also forcing me as the GM to fit them to what is going on at the moment. It adds to my own sense of surprise while helping preserve fidelity to the genre. 

*If they gain another dramatic complication then it would be 16-19

Monday, November 21, 2022


The other week I spoke with Mildra about the Sons of Lady 87 campaign book. You can check it out for yourself or listen below: 

Sunday, November 20, 2022


In my most recent Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate session the players made a Survival Cities roll and failed when they came to Tung-On. So we rolled on TUNG ON: CITY ENCOUNTER TABLE I and the result was a 15, a Hustle. From this encounter a character was introduced to the session who became somewhat important. This was a process of connecting the dots between details that emerged randomly and naturally, and I want to talk a little about how to do that. 

I should say, Hustle was probably the one result I didn't want. I had stayed up all night watching a movie and felt a little foggy. Hustles tend to be socially active exchanges and if you aren't on your feet as a GM they can be a little challenging to pull off well. So I opted for a Hustle that would ease into the social exchange, that way I didn't have to immediately jump into a sales pitch or something. I figured someone dressed as a city official asking for peoples passports in order to steal them would work. 

The first step was rolling a character. For this campaign I have been using the Bedrock App to do that. I decided to make him level 3, someone who was competent enough to pull off such a con but not so powerful that it made no sense they were relying on it. The result was the following character: 


Defenses: Hardiness 5, Parry 7, Evade 5, Stealth 7, Wits 7, Resolve 7

Key Skills: Arm Strike: 3d10, Light Melee: 2d10, Medium Melee: 2d10, Muscle: 3d10, Speed: 2d10, Detect: 3d10, Talent (Dancing): 3d10, History (Era of the Dutiful State): 1d10, Martial Disciplines (Qinggong): 1d10, Language (Daoyun): 3d10, Language (Hai'anese): 1d10

Qi: 3

Max Wounds: 7

Weapons: Jian (4d10 Attack, 4d10 Damage), Parasol (2d10 Attack, 4d10 Damage)

Combat Technique: Medium Melee-Momentum

Kung Fu Techniques (Waijia 2, Qinggong 2): Fierce Strike, Eye of the Formless Interception, Bixie Stars Strike, Weapon Stride, Flowing Stroke, Slip of the Rain, Cleave of the Saber

This is just the base stat block generated by the app (with bolding and spacing added for clarity). I didn't add anything and only took away one weapon that seemed excessive. What leapt out at me was the Flowing Stroke technique. That belongs to Relentless Corpse Sect, an organization that one of the PCs has ties to. I decided to connect that dot with the dot of the players being Celestial Plume Masters in order to make the character more relevant. So I thought briefly about the NPCs reasons for using this con on the players. 

What I came up with was Leng Ziying was a former disciple of Relentless Corpse Queen, but had provoked her anger. They aren't enemies, but she refused to continue as his Sifu which pained him because he had grown emotionally connected to her like a son. So he wandered, eventually seeking to forget his troubles in Celestial Plume, to which he became addicted. A shell of his former self, he is now obsequious and tricky, relying on stealing peoples passports and selling them at Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall to feed himself and feed his celestial plume habit. I also decided that he called everyone he worked for Boss, to give him a recognizable way of talking (for some reason I found this useful). 

That was enough that I was able to run the encounter, but also it gave the character fuel for when the players decided to see if he could be of use to them. 

In the encounter itself, Leng Ziying approached the party dressed as a city official, asked to see their passports, talked to them as he examined the slips, then turned and ran away down the road. This led to a chase, followed by a fight, after which Leng Ziying submitted and apologized. The leader of the party realized he could be of use and made an arrangement with Leng to provide them with information and local guidance in exchange for a regular supply of celestial plume. 

Now Leng Ziying appears as though he will be a recurring NPC, but its difficult to say where things will go with him. It really just boils down to connecting random details and details that emerge with other elements of the campaign, the party, the adventure, the setting, etc. What is interesting to me with moments like this is a result I didn't want on a table becomes something that adds a lot to a session (if you read the log you can see that this interaction and his subsequent dealings with the party made up a good portion of the evening) and forms into an NPC that is crystal clear to me as a GM. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022


This was the second session of my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 book. You can see the first session HERE


Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)

Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)

Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)


Iron God Meng
The party made its way to Tung-On, the seat of the prefecture. As they passed through the gates a man in official uniform approached and asked for their passports. He made small talk as he examined the slips but quickly turned and ran away. The party chased him down and a fight ensued. He was competent and wounded Wang Haoyang with a technique that Wei Ziying recognized as Flowing Stroke, from the Relentless Corpse sect. But he was outnumbered and overwhelmed by their attacks so the man dropped to the ground, apologized and placed their passports before them. He introduced himself as Leng Ziying and it became clear he was addicted to celestial plume. 

Hei Ling saw an opportunity and established an arrangement with the man to provide them information in the city in exchange for plume. It was clear he was desperate and with their steady supply of plume he would be easy to control. 

While Wang Haoyang and Wei Ziying went to gather what information they could on the 87 Killers in the area, Hei Ling went to Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall to speak to a contact in the Zun Escort Company. Their contact was a woman named Gu San, who was in charge of escorting shipments of plume to Tung-On. They met in a private area and he proposed they begin establishing Teahouses as fronts so Iron God Meng could use them to sell Celestial Plume in the city. She agreed to begin by taking over a down-on-its luck spot called the Wood Chip Teahouse. She also informed him that shipping the plume wasn't as easy as she thought, and that she'd lost ten men to a man named Iron Lu or Lu Xiannang, who had affiliations with the 87 Killers and was last seen in Bo Quan. Hei Ling was determined to dispatch Iron Lu, so promised to set out for Bo Quan in the morning. 

That night Wang Haoyang, Leng Ziying and Wei Ziying brought information. There were two 87 Killers active in Tung-On: Golden Toad Guan and a lower ranking brother. They had been asking about the disappearance of Brother Hua Yu, and seemed quite angry, putting tremendous pressure and threatening local criminals to extract information. They also learned that Hua Yu had been on his way to buy gun powder from a man named Huo Lei, who they deduced was the person Wang Haoyang saw at the Fox Spirit Inn. In addition they learned that Long Ma Hall and Southwind Manor were suddenly in conflict over some offense committed by Gracious Toad (one of the Four Uglies of Southwind Manor). 


The next day they used the canal to reach Bo Quan. There they learned that Iron Lu was staying at the Jade Toad Inn. Hei Ling and his men approached the inn and shouted to Iron Lu using his internal energy. He demanded the man come out and hear their complaints against him. Two men and a woman, all dressed in silver regalia filed out and stepped to the side, then Iron Lu came out. He was dressed in a similar manner but had golden gloves and boots. 

Iron Lu seemed cautious and to feign misunderstanding. Hei Ling accused him of killing Gu San's men of the Zun Escort company. Iron Lu asked what affiliation Hei Ling had with the company. Hei Ling told him simply that he had an affiliation but that the precise details were of no concern to him. When Iron Lu again inquired about the affiliation, Hei Ling asked if Lu was a moron who did not understand simple words. 

As the conversation played out, Wang Haoyang made a surprise attack on Iron Lu. This is where the session ended.