Friday, May 27, 2022


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


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


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


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.