Sunday, February 19, 2023


Counter attacks are essential to wuxia and more broadly to real world martial arts. When I was young and competed in martial arts, I was a counter fighter. This suited my personality. So it should be no surprise that when we made Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, our wuxia fantasy roleplaying game, counters played a big part in the game. But counters in a game like this can have a large on balance, pacing and feel. And different campaigns or groups will want options for adjusting these.

As I have been running my Celestial Plume Masters campaign using the Sons of Lady 87 sandbox, I've been making a point of observing counters with an eye towards providing options to fit different styles of play in a series of blog posts. Because counters are so crucial, I think it will be useful to cover them over time in a series. Today I will focus on making counters less effective so that fights are shorter and challenge levels more predicable for the GM. 

Art by Jackie Musto
From House of Paper Shadows Adventure


If you are concerned that counters are too good in play, making it too easy for characters to avoid being hit, simply use this method. Whenever a character makes a counter roll, instead of using the skill listed in the description, simply have them roll a number of d10 equal to their ranks in the counter's Martial Discipline for their roll. For example, a Character with 2 ranks in Waijia would roll 2d10 for their whirling dodge. This roll should be made with no modifiers, except in the most exceptional of cases. 


The Bowden clauses raises the Target Number of counters that use TN's (most counters roll against the attack roll instead). Instead of raising the TN simply have all counters, whether they state they are made against a TN or not, roll against the attack roll, when there is an attack roll to roll against. For example, Steve attacks Ryan with his Biting Blade technique, getting a 9 as his highest result. Normally Ryan could use Turn of the Zhen Bird and simply roll against TN 7 (or TN 8 if the Bowden Clause is in effect) instead of having to roll against TN 9. With the Supreme Bowden Clause in effect, he will need to roll against Steve's 9 result to avoid the attack. 


This approach is similar to grounded counters but more likely to be consistently successful (albeit at a smaller rate than the default). Simply allow players to perform counters as normal, but disallow any modifiers at all to the Skill Roll for the counter. So a character who is using Stern Rebuke of Heiping as their counter with Butterfly Swords, who has 3 ranks in Light Melee, an Expertise in Butterfly Swords, would normally roll 5d10 for their counter (very high chances of success). This is because the Expertise gives a +1d10 bonus, and the Butterfly Swords have a +1d10 accuracy bonus (3d10+1d10+1d10=5d10). Using the unmodified Counters option, the character would only be allowed to roll 3d10 in this case (still a good chance if they have ranks so high, but the roll can never exceed their Skill rank, which for martial heroes under Qi rank 7, will never go beyond 3d10). 


Imbalance Points are very important in the game and can be a good way to adjust Kung Fu Techniques to achieve different aims. Using the Turner Clause, counters function normally except they still add imbalance points even on a Total Success. This adds additional risk but does so without interfering with character builds. 

For example, Ryan's character with an Imbalance Rating of 2 is attacked by Tai Lan using Tai Lan's Staff Strike. Tai Lan gets a 7 on his roll, so Ryan decides to counter, using Weapon Stride and getting a 10. Ryan's character leaps onto the staff and is able to deliver a mundane attack but he still takes 2 Imbalance points (normally a Total Success means you take no imbalance). 


In this approach, the aim is to preserve the challenge of higher Qi Rank opponents (presently really well built characters can often take on higher Qi rank foes more easily). With the Yeung Clause when characters use counters against anyone who has more Qi ranks than them, they must do so cathartically but doing so only gives them the non-cathartic effect. 

For instance, Kenny's character is Qi rank 2 and is attacked by Hateful Sabre (a Qi rank 4 character). Hateful Sabre swings his dao getting an 8. Kenny uses dip of the Whirling Dodge to counter. He must use it cathartically, and he gets a 9, so he succeeds. However he only get's the non-cathartic result which means so he simply reduces the damage roll from 4d10 to 3d10 (whereas a genuine cathartic result would have meant he completely avoided the attack and took no damage). 


This one is inspired by the Turner Clause, and it functions almost the same except, instead of taking imbalance points even on a Total Success, characters take +4 Imbalance on a failure. 

*These are two options proposed by players in my Friday game (including one of the WHOG co-designers). Each one is named after the person who came up with it.

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