Sunday, May 19, 2024

OF ENCOUNTERS AND COMBAT

Three days ago my wife told me to go to the store and get some rice. Sadly, my car battery had died, so I decided to make the long walk to the other side of town to my local supermarket. To get there I would have to pass through several bad neighborhoods, so I took a hammer with me just to be safe. 

As I passed by the the observatory around the corner from my house, two crazed men, armed with knifes, came charging down the hilltop, stabbing wildly at me. I trapped their blades in the claws of my hammer then brought the poll across their skulls, dropping them both. Merciful person that I am, I dialed an ambulance and then continued on my way when I suddenly found myself waylaid by a ferocious mother bear. 

An oblique encounter at a wine shop
Art by Jackie Musto 
Foolishly I had walked between her and two cubs. The beast charged and chased me for over a mile. With her full weight she dragged me down and pinned me to the ground with her claws. As her jaws opened to devour my face, I managed to bribe her momentarily with a pack of beef jerky I kept always in my back pocket. Bear handled, I continued on, but  had to make my way through Pine Grove Cemetery as the chase had taken me far from my intended destination.

It was approaching dusk but defeating the bear emboldened me, so I walked through the gates and took the gravel path. I'd gotten no further than the old Poole Mausoleum when a shambling mass of undead corpses harried me, claws reaching for my throat. I gripped my hammer firmly and resolved to send them all to hell......

OBLIQUE ENCOUNTERS 

Real world encounters and travel don't look like the above. But it is easy to slip into the trap of having all of the encounters in your campaign be nothing more than creatures and opponents rushing in to kill the players. While you dont' want encounters in the game to be as mundane or dull as real life, they should have some of the mystery, the obliqueness and variety that exists in real life. Part of the fun of an encounter is not knowing what the encounter means initially, whether it will lead to combat, friendship, difficult choices, information, etc 

I talk about this HERE at more length, but the idea is simply that encounters are not always a direct line towards the party, and even when they are directed towards the party, they can come from oblique angles. Yes, sometimes an encounter is simply a charging attack or a group of bandits demanding the player characters hand over their money and supplies. But if every encounter is like that, encounters lose their mystery and become routine procedure. 

There are a number of ways to promote oblique encounters in your campaigns. One way is to bake them into your encounter tables. Personally I don't like my encounter tables to be overly detailed or involved, I see entries as starting points, so another way is to simply reflect on the result you roll and to give yourself the freedom to elaborate so they are interesting. 

Thinking is key. It sounds basic, it sounds like something we all do anyway, but getting in habit of thinking on the fly about the result, why it is there what possible ways the players might find themselves involved, how it presents to them, etc. For example, if you roll a result and you get something like "Eleven of General Jin Zai's Soldiers on Patrol", you could simply have the soldiers approach the party, ask them for passports, and allow the particular details of the campaign to help determine the nature of the encounter (i.e. are the players wanted by empire for some reason). But you don't have to make the party the focus, you could instead have the players happen upon a conflict between the soldiers and other people. Maybe they are chasing a group of Kushen Merchants who were spying or stole something. Now the players have choices when the encounter occurs, and one of those choices is simply to do nothing and move quietly along. But they could help the soldiers or help the Kushen. This helps turn the encounter into a meaningful decision point. Another possibility is you decide the soldiers are on patrol but in disguise, perhaps as musicians or farmers, with the aim of implanting themselves into groups of martial heroes that might be a threat or potential allies to the general. 

FRIENDLY ENCOUNTERS

If every encounter is negative, then there is no reason for the players to think about what they do when an encounter happens. In Sons of Lady 87, I offered up one way of quickly figuring this out (simply rolling a d10 and determining the nature of the encounter on a spectrum of positive to negative based on the result). But that is just a tool. This can be done simply according to what seems the best, most realistic or most interesting choice to you. The basic point is that some encounters, even encounters with monsters and bad guys, ought to be interesting and positive sometimes. 

The key with friendly encounters is to still keep them interesting, and to make sure there is occasionally something that benefits the players themselves. In a world of martial heroes, or even in a world of fantasy heroes, the party's reputation, personalities and achievements are going to make them popular with some people, even villains. One thing I always ask myself for example when I roll on the Personalities of the Martial World for encounters, is how much the NPC in question respects the party and what they are known for. He may have heard of their techniques, he may know some of the people they have defeated. This can obviously go in a negative direction too, but when it is positive it is likely to lead to good things for the party (whether that is a new friendship, resources or even helpful knowledge or martial arts techniques is all based on the specifics). 

Even monsters can be friendly. Look to a movie like A Chinese Ghost story, where not every monster is trying to kill the protagonist (or at least, not fully committed to that enterprise). If the players are capable and worthy, a monster may not be seeking to kill them, but to work with them. 

HEARING THE PLAYERS OUT 

Another very important thing to help keep all encounters from just being about combat or things rushing to attack the party, is the players themselves. Smart parties will try to converse with threats. Even if the encounter is a hostile one, the players can use reason and even make emotional appeals to turn the tide in a more favorable direction. 

I recently had a group of characters who were the target of a paid assassin. The party understood the assassin was quite powerful so they engaged him, and ultimately paid him off. They also took time to make a good impression on the assassin and earned his respect. 

This is largely about not committed to any particular outcome, honestly playing the NPCs and giving the players a fair hearing when they present ideas. 

All this advice isn't meant to change how you run the game if you are satisfied. If you are running most encounters as hostile combat and people are having fun, that isn't a problem. If you are doing so and the game feels like it is growing dull, try some of these techniques and see if they add to your campaign. 

Friday, May 17, 2024

HEAVENLY FRAGRANCE SESSIONS NINE AND TEN

These are the ninth and tenth sessions of my Heavenly Fragrance Campaign, a living adventure prepared using tools and procedures discussed in the Wuxia Sandbox blog posts. This campaign is intended to play as a sandbox but with more dramatic elements. It is a two player campaign where run in what I call "Condor Heroes Mode", where characters begin with only one Kung Fu technique, their family background established and connected to the setting, and using a level advancement system based on encounters with higher level masters who train them. It also makes use of a campaign Shake-Up table, rolled once each session, to manage an unfolding background situation (see STATE OF THE MARTIAL WORLD). I will include footnotes to explain what procedures were invoked during play. The campaign is set in Fan Xu, largely using the Sons of Lady 87 book. 

CHARACTERS

Bao Long: An orphaned street urchin who was adopted by Lady Eighty-Seven's son, Guan Shisu after he came to the aid of Guan Shisu's daughter, Little Guan Hua. All he knows about his background is that his mother died when he was young. Bao Long has been taught some martial arts by Lady Eighty-Four, Yuhuan. Bao Long is a bit dim-witted but tough. 

Little Guan Hua: The daughter of Guan Shisu and the disciple of Guan Nuan. Little Guan Hua is cowardly and feeble, but intelligent.

Fu Yao: The newest member of the party. Not much is known about his past but he specializes in Qinggong. 

SHOWDOWN AT PING LIU WINE SHOP PART TWO 

The group mostly stood at the doorway of the wineshop, with Saffron Tigress' coffin in tow. Four of the 87 Killers stood near Little Guan Hua, who issued orders from the wine shop's portico. Nie Ping and Nao Yinging were also close by. Fu Yao crouched at the peak of the pagoda like structure that was the Ping Liu Wine Shop. There they faced the remaining four uglies, Razor-handed General and a number of South Wind Manor's disciples. 

Little Guan Hua commanded all to attack Jade Ogre at the top of her lungs. 

Before anyone could act, he let his fan fly out in an arc, first striking Fu Yao upon the roof of the wine shop. In a spray of blood that left Fu Yao on the brink of death, the fan curved towards the others. Bao Long leapt out of the way, as did Nao Yingying and Nie Ping. But Little Guan Hua was sliced wide open. The momentum of the fan was finally stopped by one of the 87 Killers. 

Fu Yao leapt high from the towering pinnacle of Ping Liu Wine Shop then performed his Dive of the Falcon technique to flame into Jade Ogre, obliterating his foe so badly, all that remained of his was a pile of bone, meat and blood. 

White Naga was so horrified by the display it disrupted her heart and she stumbled, a hair from death*. 

Sensing her weakness Little Guan Hua commanded Bao Long to charge at her. With a cascade of strikes Bao Long brought her down but let her live. 

Graceful Toad assumed a stance similar to Jade Ogre's prior to his initial attack. 

"I do not wish for more bloodshed," Said Graceful Toad. "I concede defeat and agree to your terms." 

The party remained at the inn and they maintained the pretense of Saffron Tigress death the entire time by having her remain in the coffin. From within the coffin she gave Fu Yao instructions to improve his martial arts, teaching him Drift Butterfly. He then learned a rope dart technique from one of the 87 Killers. 

Little Guan Hua continued to study the Gu Guan Manual. Saffron Tigress provided clarity on key aspects of the manual's principles. After a month she had mastered Endless Cloud of the Fly Whisk. 

One evening before they head out, Little Guan Hua received a message in a gourd saying to go to the fields outside town. There she saw her teacher, Dancing Corpse Wan Mei sitting in a thick circle of fog. 

"Do not approach! Wait for the fog to dissipate"

When the fog faded, Little Guan Hua saw bodies strewn about the ground around her. 

"This is my new technique, I call it the Breath of Death!"

SHOWDOWN AT WAN MEI TEMPLE

The party then marched with Saffron Tigress' coffin to Wan Mei Temple. Upon arrival they saw smoke coming from within. Fu Yao scaled the mountain with the intent of diving onto one of their enemies when Saffron Tigress made her surprise attack**. 

Yun Wan and his disciple exited the temple. 

"Here is the corpse of Saffron Tigress as you requested!" Shouted Little Guan Hua. 

"Excellent," Said Yun Wan. He motioned and his disciple, Li Yaochen, approached the coffin. As he did so, Saffron Tigress burst from inside it and Fu Yao leapt down the mountain***

Yun Wan was split in half by Fu Yao's diving strike from the sky. 

Li Yaochen attacked Saffron Tigress and the 87 Killers with his staff but missed them all. 

Little Guan Hua struck Li Yaochen with The Ten Thousand Finger Strike, hitting all his meridians so that any movement he made would cause internal damage. 

Li Yaochen adopted a relaxed meditative stance and coughed up blood. "I surrender" he said. 

They interrogated him and discovered he had been forced to serve Yun Wan, after having his heart cut out and replaced with a strange stone. Before that happened he was a member of Sun Mai sect. His heart was held and controlled by Yun Wan. They searched the Yun Wan's remains and found a lacquered box containing his heart****

Little Guan Hua and Saffron Tigress agreed to let Li Yaochen go and give him his heart box. They instructed him not to harm any of their allies or interests and he said he would seek a cure to his condition. 

As he departed, Iron God Meng and his men arrived late to the battle. Looking at the split corpse of Yun Wan, Iron God Meng said "He wasn't much of anything, was he?"

Saffron Tigress decided to go back to Tung-On with Iron God Meng and explain everything to him. Little Guan Hua offered Nie Ping a position in her organization running a shop, but she said she would prefer to run an inn or restaurant. 

Nao Yingying
Art by Jackie Musto
 

"Find a place and so long as you sell our wares, we will fund it," Said Little Guan Hua. 

Nie Ping said she would write to them in a month and headed back to Ping Liu Village. 

Nao Yingying asked if there were any positions for her in the organization. Little Guan Hua thought and said she would be better suited to the 87 Killers. 

"I will send you back with them and recommend you to Lady 87 as a prospective member."

As they were conversing, a whistle cut through the air and they saw Dancing Corpse Wan Mei on distant hill. 

"I must go to my master and train," Said Little Guan Hua to the four senior 87 killers. "You men take Nao Yingying back to Mai Cun and recommend her to Lady 87 on my behalf."

Nao Yingying and the 87 Killers left, and the party approached Dancing Corpse Wan Mei. They saw the corpse of Lady Plum Blossom erect and swaying in the wind nearby. 

She made a more formal introduction to Fu Yao and seemed impressed with his diving attack. They spent a month training with her. She instructed Little Guan Hua in her Clutch of the Ghost King attack. 

"I am being hounded by the Sandstone Nun," She said. "You will find her and kill her with this technique and after you succeed, I will teach you more from the Ghost Claw manual."

She gave some minor instruction to Fu Yao and trained Bao Long. When they were done the group headed to Mai Cun, promising to find the Sandstone Nun. 

BUSINESS IN MAI CUN 

In Mai Cun Fu Yao sought an audience with Floating Sea God Shan Shisan of the Dragon Horse Gang. He was given a meeting. 

Floating Sea God Shan Shisan wore all white, was gaunt but built of lean muscle and had the tattoos of sea gods on his chest and back. 

"I seek to become your pupil," Fu Yao explained. He then gave a demonstration of his martial arts. 

"I value thieves not warriors," Said Shisan. "How much can you steal for me each month?"

"Perhaps 10,000 spades."

"Prove yourself by going to the Tafang District and stealing bolts of imperial silk, then come back to me."

Fu Yao left and was put in contact by the Heavenly Fragrance Society with an old thief named Guan Yu. He asked Guan Yu to teach him and to help him steal the silk. 

"You will be well compensated," Said Fu Yao. 

They went to the Tafang District and found a relatively unguarded warehouse where the old man showed him the trade. When they were done, Fu Yao had a cart full of bolts of silk and the old man took one for himself. Fu Yao thanked the old man and gave him 1,000 spades. He then took the silk to Dragon Horse Gang where he was inducted. 

"You will be given tattoos," Said the chief. 

They tattooed his chest with a likeness of Divine Scholar Wu, then his back with a likeness of Sea Goddess Bing. Then Fu Yao began his training under Floating Sea God Shan Shisan. 

Meanwhile Little Guan Hua went to pay her respects to Lady 87 taking tribute with her. She found herself waiting longer than usual. 

When she was brought in, there was only Lady 87 and three guards. The corpse of Nao Yingying was laid out on the ground. Lady 87 had a gash on her forehead. 

"My dear Grandmother, the 87th Lady of the Guan Family, what has happened?"

"She tried to kill me," Said Lady 87. "You should have looked more into this person's background. She is friends with a man named Hell Burning Sword, the sole survivor of Flying Blade Sect, a group we extinguished years ago. She apparently seized the opportunity your recommendation created*****."

Little Guan Hua rushed over to the body and kicked it, then kowtowed and apologized to her grandmother. 

Lady 87 stood up. "You will be punished."

Little Guan Hua nodded and bowed. 

"I must banish you from Mai Cun, from any affairs of the 87 Killers and from all business related to us, including the Heavenly Fragrance Society, for six months."

"Thank you Grandmother!"

"If you wish to get into my good graces when your banishment ends, be sure to bring the head of Hell Burning Sword upon your return."



*The Four Uglies use the Passionless Heart technique, which requires complete control of emotions. This scene would have been horrifying to her and Graceful Toad, so I made a roll required by the Passionless Heart entry (1d10 against Resolve). Because the roll beat her Resolve, she took 10d10 Open Damage plus 1 Extra wound, which brought her to 2 Wounds from death 

**The Strike of the Diving Falcon technique causes the attacker to do falling damage. This was an unusual opportunity, technically due to the height of the mountain, it would do 6d10 plus 94 Extra Wounds of falling damage. The danger is that the attacker, if they fail, takes the failing damage themselves. The risk was small but not zero. 

***I rolled detect to see if they were both surprised and to see if Yun Wan was aware of the attack from above. Yun Wan was surprised but Li Yaochen was not. 

****I assigned a simple 20 percent chance of the box being obliterated by Fu Yao's attack (this would have ultimately killed Li Yaochen had it been destroyed) 

*****When the player sent Nao Yingying to Mai Cun, I had him roll 4d10 to represent Nao Yingying and I rolled 6d10 to represent Lady 87. One of the player's rolls succeeded, but ultimately Lady 87 defeated the assassin. 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

PATHS FROM NOWHERE SESSIONS ELEVEN AND TWELVE

This is a sandbox campaign for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, operating in "Condor Heroes Mode". I used a lot of the procedures described in the wuxia sandbox posts. It is a campaign with three players. Before the campaign started we spent time establishing their family connections, rolling randomly for both their mothers and fathers (normally only one parent is randomly rolled, but in this case we wanted characters with potentially scandalous backgrounds). These characters each started play with just one Kung Fu Technique. 

CHARACTERS

XIANG GUIYING: The daughter of Jade Fist of Twin Fisted Eagle sect and Pale Fox, a notorious bandit. She is seeking pelts from Pearl Tigers. She is beautiful but wears a disguise to hide this from others. 

ZHENG BAO: Short and burly, he is the son of Zhang San of Bone Breaking Sect and of Reckless Storm. However San is married to Chen and has maintained the presence that Bao is Chen's son. Unfortunately due to crucial background information, Chen knows that Bao cannot be his son so is distant. Zheng Bao's uncle, Bone Breaker, is fond of him. He is seeking the Thousand Painful Deaths Flower to please his uncle. 

PAN JU (MOGHA): The son of the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou and Nergui Mogha, Pan Ju grew up in the Kushen Basin but has returned to the Banyan and Hai'an, where he knows his mother resides.   

HEIPING VALLEY 

Xiang Guiying left Pan Ju in Kusha and headed to Heiping Village to meet Zheng Bao. Four Feathered people surrounded Guiying and demanded a tribute for the Horned King. 

In a twirl of steel, Guiying left them in bloody heaps upon the ground, but still alive. 

"These four lives are my tribute to your king"

She continued to Heiping Sect where she found Zheng Bao was in training. Zheng Bao trained for weeks and mastered two techniques. Queen Lu Zhi recommended he seek out the Silken Robe Society to train further. But after discussion, he and Guiying decided to go to Golden Dragon Temple instead, then seek out the Tomb of the Timeless Master. 

Before they left, a letter arrived from Zhaoze Palace: 

Zhaoze Palace is awash with grief. Our great leader, Shan Lushan, is dead! He was killed by the ignoble Pan Ju, Xiang Guiying and Zheng Bao. Unsatisfied with murder alone, they also cut off the arms of my sweet daughter. This evil must be extinguished from the Jianghu! 

Master Huo Si, Supreme Chief of Zhaoze Sect

Queen Lu Zhi informed them that such a letter had been sent to all the sects in the Banyan. Zheng Bao asked if she would send a letter refuting his claims, and she agreed to do so (they had explained what really happened to her).

When they were finished they set off to rendezvous with Pan Ju at Golden Dragon Temple. 

KUSHA 

In Kusha, Pan Ju met with his father, Negui Mogha, the adviser to the Khagan. Kusha was a mining settlement lead by him and Princess Sarnai. 

"Show me what you have learned son," Nergui said. 

Pan Ju demonstrated the techniques that Yellow Mantis had taught him and his father was impressed. Nergui then handed Pan Ju a massive meteor hammer. 

"The time has come for you to learn to fight like a man and to put away your feminine cutlery!" 

He then began training Pan Ju in the meteor hammer and in his Knock of the Meteor Hammer technique. 

When they finished he instructed Pan Ju to seek out a powerful master. After learning that Pan Ju's sworn brother was a disciple of Jade Swallow, he said "She is far too orthodox for the likes of us. You need to seek a master more like Shan Lushan. Were he still alive, and you not accused of his murder, he would have been an ideal choice. Seek out a great master like him to improve your martial skills."

Before leaving Pan Ju snuck into Princess Sarnai's tent and stole The Phoenix Crown of Bao, then left in the night for Golden Dragon Palace. 

MADAME TURQUOISE 

The day Guiying and Zheng Bao set out was the first of the Demon Moon. Undeterred they made their way through the Jian Shu forest and came upon a toppled cart. At the base of the card was a dead man in red robes, and a dried pool of crimson blood. A woman, who looked refined and wealthy, was curled up on a high rock in seeming distress. Turquoise stones were scattered everywhere. 

The woman said her name was Sun Mei and the man was her husband. She pleaded with them to take her with them or escort her north. 

"Where are you heading?" 

"To Kusha," She said. 

They offered to escort her but became suspicious as they inspected the cart more. It seemed the wagon had come from the direction of Kusha. She was able to confirm her husband's name was Pei Tieqiao, but her story was inconsistent and they decided to leave her behind. 

As they declined her request, the skin on her body slid off, and she was revealed to be little more than a rotting corpse. Her body opened up as a mouth and she bit Zheng Bao. 

Guiying cut off her leg, then Zheng Bao stabbed her in the back. She crawled away and pleaded for mercy, saying she would serve them. But Guiying delivered a whipping strike that sent her to hell. 

They took the wagon, the money inside and the turquoise, then headed north. 

THE MERCY OF HEN-SHI

Pan Ju had only a day of travel, but along the way, stumbled upon a battle. A Nun and swordswoman in green robes were fighting. 

"She is crazed," Said the woman in green. "Give me a hand."

"Don't listen to this demon, she is a vile beast!" Said the Nun

Pan Ju looked on, unsure what to do. The woman in green stabbed the nun. 

The Nun fought with a dagger and parasol. "Don't just stand there, help me deal with this creature," Shouted the nun. 

"She is mad, and she will call you demonic when she is done with me." Said the woman in Green as the two woman stabbed each other. 

Pan Ju decided. 

The sky was darkened by his daggers. 

The woman in green collapsed. Her body vanished beneath her robes and a snake slithered from inside. 

The Nun trapped the snake in a magic gourd and chuckled. 

"I am Feng Min," Said the Nun. 

Pan Ju introduced himself and asked about her background. 

"I am follower of Sun Mai, though I have not formally been admitted to the Sun Mai order."

She was on her way to Golden Dragon Temple, so they agreed to travel the remaining distance together. 

Arriving at the temple, they were greeted by Emerald Master who gave them quarters and said  Bronze Master would be eager to meet with their friends when they arrived. 

A FATAL BREEZE 

Guiying and Zheng Bao traveled several days but found themselves surrounded by creatures in the woods, corpses with black eyes, small mouths and swollen bellies. They stretched out their arms pleadingly. 

"I don't understand you, but let us pass and we will not harm you," Said Zheng Bao. 

One of the creatures opened its mouth and unleashed a foul wind that sickened Guiying and Zheng Bao. The two fled but found themselves growing more and more ill as they traveled. By the time they reached Golden Dragon Temple, their minds were addled and they were near death. 

Pan Ju examined them and realized they were suffering from Malignant Wind Disease. Thankfully, Feng Min knew the ritual for expelling the malignant winds and performed it on them both*. She then gave them the Scriptures of Sun Mai and told them to make offerings to Hen Shi when they were able to do so. 

When they were well the party met with Bronze Master. Zheng Bao introduced himself as the disciple of Jade Swallow and apologetically mentioned his familial relation to Bone Breaker. 

"There is no reason to be ashamed," Said Bronze Master. "Though his methods are unusual, he is a truly accomplished individual. I will give you personal instruction and teach your friends a thing or two as well."

Bronze Master took Zheng Bao aside, saying he was going to teach him a secret technique. 

"I would like to take you as my secret pupil if you are willing. I can help your kung fu reach new heights."

"I would need to tell my teacher," Said Zheng Bao.

"There is no need to disclose any of this to her. I will show you what I know and you can introduce me to your uncle."

"I am afraid I must tell my teacher everything."

"In that case I will simply teach you a minor technique and you can introduce me to your uncle later."

Bronze Master gave Zheng Bao instruction, then taught Pan Ju and Guiying some Qinggong. Before they departed Zheng Bao said he would take Bronze Master to his uncle at a later date. 

Feng Min asked where they were going. When they told her they planned to find the Tomb of the Timeless Master, she offered to accompany them. 

"Your companion aided me in dealing with the snake demon, I would like to reciprocate and accompany you."

They agreed and left to find the tomb. 


*They had only had three days to live when they reached the temple



Saturday, April 27, 2024

HEAVENLY FRAGRANCE SESSION EIGHT

This is the eighth session of my Heavenly Fragrance Campaign, a living adventure prepared using tools and procedures discussed in the Wuxia Sandbox blog posts. This campaign is intended to play as a sandbox but with more dramatic elements. It is a two player campaign where run in what I call "Condor Heroes Mode", where characters begin with only one Kung Fu technique, their family background established and connected to the setting, and using a level advancement system based on encounters with higher level masters who train them. It also makes use of a campaign Shake-Up table, rolled once each session, to manage an unfolding background situation (see STATE OF THE MARTIAL WORLD). I will include footnotes to explain what procedures were invoked during play. The campaign is set in Fan Xu, largely using the Sons of Lady 87 book. 

CHARACTERS

Bao Long: An orphaned street urchin who was adopted by Lady Eighty-Seven's son, Guan Shisu after he came to the aid of Guan Shisu's daughter, Little Guan Hua. All he knows about his background is that his mother died when he was young. Bao Long has been taught some martial arts by Lady Eighty-Four, Yuhuan. Bao Long is a bit dim-witted but tough. 

Little Guan Hua: The daughter of Guan Shisu and the disciple of Guan Nuan. Little Guan Hua is cowardly and feeble, but intelligent.

Fu Yao: The newest member of the party. Not much is known about his past but he specializes in Qinggong. 

MEETING IN DAOXU

In Daoxu they went to the Ro-Fish Inn and seeing Saffron Tigress seated at a table motioned for her. She went upstairs and the players followed. Little Guan Hua explained that Saffron Tigress' account of things were verified by Iron God Meng, that Yun Wan was indeed a villain, and that they should all work together to defeat him. She also told Saffron Tigress that Iron God Meng was waiting outside the village hoping to meet with her. 

"If he helps us deal with Yun Wan, I will speak to him after the fight," Said Saffron Tigress. 

Little Guan Hua said she would inform Iron God Meng, and also asked about learning from the manual that Saffron Tigress possessed, the Gu Ruan Manual. After some discussion, Saffron Tigress said she would instruct Little Guan Hua. 

Nao Yingying; art by Jackie Musto

On their way to speak with Iron God Meng, the party were met by a man in the inn named Fu Yao who had heard about their growing enterprise and need for hired escorts. He offered his services. Little Guan Hua and Bao Long tried to estimate his talents and as they were doing so, Fu Yao impressed them with his ability to intuit their reactions*. Little Guan Hua agreed to his offer of 1000 spades a day, under the condition that he bath, use their bath beans regularly and agree to get new clothes that were more befitting of a member of the Heavenly Fragrance Association. 

They then went to Iron God Meng. Little Guan Hua conveyed Saffron Tigress' message to Iron God Meng, who agreed and said he would return to Tung-On, await a message from them, and help engineer a surprise attack on Yun Wan. 

On her back, Fu Yao climbed atop the inn and shouted down to Bao Long, "Let me give you a demonstration of my talents."

Understanding his meaning, Bao Long got into a fighting stance and awaited the inevitable leaping attack. 

Fu Yao leapt into the air as high as he could but stumbled and crashed into the road, visibly hurting himself**. Climbing back up he shouted "Another round!" and leapt high, this time succeeding and then rolling into a dive striking Bao Long with tremendous force. 

Bao Long signaled that he was impressed and they returned to Saffron Tigress, who gave Little Guan Hua the Gu Guan manual. 

"I will not learn the contents of this manual," She said. "But I understand its principles and can help guide you as you read it. I suggest beginning with the Ten Thousand Finger Strike Technique."

For the remainder of the week Little Guan Hua trained with the manual and Saffron Tigress until she had mastered the ability. At the end of the week they discussed their tactics for contending with Yun Wan. It was suggested that Saffron Tigress fake her death, agree to transport there in a coffin so they could present her to the monk, making it appear as though they killed her on his behalf. She agreed to this and so they set off, but first made a trek to Mai Cun.

THE ROAD TO MAI CUN

Reaching their destination Bao Long and Little Guan Hua presented ten golden taels to Lady 87 and to Guan Guan. 

Lady 87 was pleased with pleased with their progress. When they informed of their intentions to attack Yun Wan, she lent them four of her men and wished them well. 

After checking on their business in town, and proceeding three metallic threaded robes for Fu Yao they went off again. However Fu Yao suggested that they seek out Bao Yingying, who lived in the same district that Wan Mei temple was in. Knowing that she was a celestial plume fiend, Little Guan Hua was reluctant but ultimately agreed, so they went first to Ping Liu Village and the Ping Liu Wine shop to recruit Nao Yingying. 

SHOWDOWN AT PING LIU WINE SHOP PART ONE 

On the way Bao Long mentioned that they ought to be concerned about Southwind Manor, as it had been weeks since he had met with Razor Handed General. They looked into the matter and discovered that Southwind Manor was actively searching for them***. 

Leaving some of their men outside the entrance of the inn, the group went to Nao Yingying's room on the second floor and were greeted with a waft of celestial plume smoke when she opened the door. After some discussion, she agreed, and was quite satisfied when they promised a steady supply of plume. 

They heard one of the 87 Killers whistle from outside and ran to find the street obstructed by three remaining leaders of the Four Uglies: Gracious Toad, White Naga and Jade Ogre. Razor Handed General was also there. They had approached the inn from four different lanes in the street, blocking off escape from the inn. 

"We are here to speak with the Fragrant Something Something Society about Invincible Pipa and Lady Plum Blossom," Said Jade Ogre. 

"The Heavenly Fragrance Association has been maligned, Her fate was brought upon by herself," Said Little Guan Hua. 

"Then we must seek justice today, and extinguish the Fragrant Something Something Society" Said Jade Ogre. 

"Justice? You call this justice?" Said Little Guan Hua. "By our calculations you owe us millions of spades in damages. Your sect has been harassing us and threatening us, now demanding blood in the streets of a small village. Very well, we will settle this today, and if we defeat you, you shall be allowed to live so you can pay us the millions you owe."

"We offered you a fair hearing and you repeatedly refused," Said Jade Ogre. "But it is inconsequential and so is this sum of money. Should we be defeated we shall pay it, but you won't live to enjoy your wealth." 

As everyone got into an attacking stance Jade Ogre announced "Our quarrel is only with the Fragrant Something Something Society, the rest of your retinue is free to leave or fall back. We don't want to harm innocent people."

Little Guan Hua and Bao Long looked to the four men Lady 87 assigned. One of them nodded "We serve the Guan Family and fight against all your enemies!"

Nao Yingying began to back off as they looked her way. Little Guan Hua reminded her that she had agreed to join them and was being given a full supply of Celestial Plume, so she nodded and stood by them. 

Everyone fell into a defensive line and the two sides prepared to fight. 





*The player was examining the facial expressions of the other players for 'tells' and social cues. We had him roll an Empathy check against their Wits and he succeeded, in one instance getting a Total Success, so he was able to get a clearer read on them. 

**He attempted to launch an attack with Leap of the Swan but failed and fell, taking 2d10 Open Falling Damage. 

***This reminded me to make a Grudge Roll check, which I hadn't done, and the result was Southwind Manor (who occupy a number of lines in the grudge table: my current method is to add multiple entries when grudges are becoming more intense)

Friday, April 26, 2024

WUXIA INSPIRATION: REIGN OF ASSASSINS

This is part of a series I started when working on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, reviewing wuxia films and discussing their relevance to tabletop RPGs. I am a little rusty on these written reviews and my last one was a little long winded, so I am going to aim for brevity on this one. 

If you want to bring wuxia to your RPG table, try Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades or Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. 

Note: I am writing these as a fan of the genre. I am not a movie expert or an expert in asian cinema. These are my own observations based on what I have learned by watching wuxia and kung fu movies, and by reading about them through interviews and books. But my knowledge is quite limited and I am an English speaker. So understand that my commentary comes from this perspective.  

This review contains many spoilers.

REIGN OF ASSASSINS
Reign of Assassins is a 2010 film directed by Su Chao-pin and co-directed by John Woo. It stars Michelle Yeoh, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Shu, Jung Woo-sung, Shawn Yue, Leon Dai and Kelly Lin. This review contains some minor spoilers, but the major plot turns are avoided.  

There may not be a movie that engages me as perfectly as Reign of Assassins. It is filled with spectacular action, colorful martial heroes and twisted villains, touches on interesting spiritual themes and has a moving love story. The film operates on a number of different levels, while capturing all the things I love about wuxia. 

It centers around turmoil in the martial world that arises from a highly coveted artifact, the mummified remains of Bodhidharma. His body supposedly contains the secrets of his incredible martial arts, and the one who wields it can control the martial world. Beyond that, it has the power to heal, to regrow organs, to make the blind see and to bring life to dead limbs.

In this chaos is Dark Stone, an order of assassins led by a man named the Wheel King. He has three chief followers: Drizzle, Lei Bin, and The Magician. Knowing that half of the Bodhi's body is with Prime Minister Zhang, they attack his residence, killing him and his son, but Drizzle betrays the group by absconding with the body. On her way off, the nearly dead son of Prime Minister Zhang, Renfeng obstructs Drizzle's escape on a bridge but she stabs him one the heart-side of his chest and drops him into the river. 

At this moment, Drizzle encounters a monk named Wisdom and spends three months with him. He provokes her anger towards the end of their time together and they fight, during which he reveals key weaknesses in her water shedding sword style. In his final demonstration, she kills him, seemingly by accident and seemingly intentional on his part. 

This is where the movie really starts to crystalize for me. Drizzle seeks to escape the martial world and finds a doctor who can change her features, and then seeks quiet retirement. 

Dark Stone identifies a replacement for Drizzle in Turquoise Ye, a woman sentenced to death for murdering her fiancé and his family on the night of her wedding. Compared to Drizzle she is far more deranged. To call Turquoise psycho doesn't do her madness justice. She slips into Drizzle's role in the group well, becoming close with Wheel King, the group's leader, and harboring jealous resentment towards her predecessor. 

Living a peaceful life, Drizzle, now calling herself Zeng Jing, marries a courier named Ah-sheng but as one might expect their domestic joy is interrupted when Dark Stone Gang tracks her down. Wheel King tells her he will let her leave Dark Stone if she gives them the Bodhidarma and helps them steal the other half of the body (believed to be in the hands of a crippled official who wants it so he can walk again). 

From here it is difficult to describe the plot in detail without spoiling major elements of the story, but it reaches a satisfying conclusion, and along the way, there are great fight sequences and major surprises. The movie flows quite well from the opening exposition that sets the scene, the love story at the center and heist and battle for the mummified remains leading up to a final showdown with the leader of Dark Stone. 

There are so many things I like about Reign of Assassins. On my most recent viewing, one aspect that stood out was how well all the pieces are laid down in the story. With each revelation and twist, I felt I could look back at something one of the characters did or an ambiguous expression and feel like the film was shot in a highly consistent way. This matters in any movie but here it is paramount, as everything hinges on the character and their motivations. 

Perhaps what I like most is how emotionally satisfying the film is. It is moving and cathartic. But it is also balanced. Even though it has a romantic core, this is a very dark movie, with characters contending with one another in a merciless jianghu. The love story holds it together, but the love story itself is more about the spiritual progress of the characters. It is a well woven storyline, where the romantic heart of the movie is threaded through all the other elements. 

Reign of Assassins also works on a variety of levels. It can be enjoyed as a straight forward action film set in a  glorious martial world. But the spiritual themes and metaphors are obvious. This isn't a movie that makes its symbols difficult to decipher or discern, but you can find greater richness in them with each viewing. So it is a deep movie but not a pretentious one. 

And it does a good job of making one wonder how figurative or literal it is being. An example that leaps to mind is the final showdown with Wheel King. He is presented as the embodiment of the king of the tenth court of hell, determining the person's next rebirth. As he approaches Drizzle in a cemetery for their confrontation we hear him say "The 10th Yama Palace. The Wheel King lives alone in the 10th Yama Palace putting souls on trial and determining their life spans, diving the rich and poor and sending out souls for reincarnation." This is an amazing way to start a duel that has built from the beginning of the movie, it just fills the screen with drama. But it also makes the viewer wonder what is genuinely going on here. You begin to consider this might be the 10th court of Diyu. And there are more scenes with this kind of feel to them. 

Ultimately though it is a movie about rebirth, about Buddhist morality and people trying to find new lives after living ones of evil. They all want to escape, even their leader wants to escape. But every character makes sense, every character has something redeeming or understandable. Wheel King, who is the central villain of the film, his motives make sense as well. Again I don't want to spoil the story, the reasons why he wants the remains of Bodhidharma, are reasonable. 

The fights work great, and I think in particular the range of weaponry is quite nice. And each character is distinct so it is very easy to know who is who in any given battle (even people who show up for one minute to be impaled the next, you get a clear sense of their personality). The movie isn't one fight after the next, but there is no shortage of them. They are also very well spaced throughout the movie and there is usually a lot more to them than just trading blows. One thing that stands out is how well the movie leads into the swordplay. In one dramatic moment, a character patiently sharpens his blade on a whetstone and talks with the killers before attacking them. The martial heroes in this movie all face death and bloodshed with a stylistic edge.   

And I love the characters in Reign of Assassins. Each of the main figures in the film Drizzle, Ah-sheng, Wheel King, Lei Bin, Turquoise Ye and the Magician, they all bring interesting things to the table. They each stand out and have clear motivations. They're all eccentric in their own way, they are all part of the martial world, but stand apart from it. 

The performances are also very good here. Michelle Yeoh is great as Drizzle. I think her acting is one of the things that elevates the movie and makes so many of those crucial scenes have the emotional weight they need. Wang Xueqi plays wheel king perfectly. He is creepy and dangerous but there is real emotion in the character, and he is terrifying when he needs to be. Barbie Shu plays an incredible psycho, but even her character, crazed as she is, is driven by personality traits and motives that feel real. One of the more fun characters is the movie is The Magician played by Leon Dai. He brings real flair to some of the martial arts sequences by incorporating magic into his kung fu. And Lei Bin, played by Shawn Yue, has an obsession with noodles, and making the perfect noodles, that is infectious. And there are plenty of other characters on the fringes of the story too. In the end it creates a strong sense of a martial world that is lived in. 

Also the individual details of the world are great. There is an incredible bank robbery scene and they do a wonderful job of breathing life into an institution that the characters inhabit. Even the ground level stuff surrounding Drizzles attempt at domestic life creates a sense of place. 

TAKING IT TO THE TABLE

Reign of Assassins is perfect fodder if you are looking for a heist style adventure or if you want an adventure centered around a contested object in the martial world. I drew heavily on the movie for an extended adventure in my Sons of Lady 87 campaigns. In this case, I liked the idea of the mummified remains, but went more supernatural and had them be the remaining flesh of Sun Mai after he had become an immortal. The mummy was like the petrified outer shell of the man that retained his memories but also all of his negative qualities. The adventure is called King of the Pure Ones and I provide notes on it in the Sons of Lady 87 Campaign Book, beginning on page 161. 

The other key idea I love from this movie that works at the table is having a sect leader teach his students martial arts with gaps so that he can easily defeat them if they ever turn against him. Mechanically this could be done a number of ways depending on the system. In Ogre Gate or RBRB, I think the best way is a counter that is specific to the style or kung fu technique. That way they may have a technique that is very good on its own, but becomes dangerous when used against a person who knows the counter. The other approach is to simply have literal gaps (i.e. they only know 4 out of 8 of the techniques). 

In terms of providing broad inspiration, Reign of Assassins provides a clear blueprint for filling your martial world with characters. And Dark Stone can serve as a good model for an organization, with the named members in the group all being clearly described. It is an approach I often take in my own campaigns, where the upper members of the sect are individually stated out, while the henchmen are grouped into single stat blocks. It also shows how dynamic an organization is. When Drizzle steals the body and leaves Dark Stone, they recruit her replacement. The person who takes her place has a personality of her own that changes the overall character of the group. 

Reign of Assassins is one of my most enthusiastic recommendations in the genre and something I especially suggest for anyone thinking of running a wuxia campaign. But it is also just a good film. Definitely check this one out if he haven't seen it before. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

PATHS FROM NOWHERE SESSION TEN

This is a sandbox campaign for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, operating in "Condor Heroes Mode". I used a lot of the procedures described in the wuxia sandbox posts. It is a campaign with three players. Before the campaign started we spent time establishing their family connections, rolling randomly for both their mothers and fathers (normally only one parent is randomly rolled, but in this case we wanted characters with potentially scandalous backgrounds). These characters each started play with just one Kung Fu Technique. 

CHARACTERS

XIANG GUIYING: The daughter of Jade Fist of Twin Fisted Eagle sect and Pale Fox, a notorious bandit. She is seeking pelts from Pearl Tigers. She is beautiful but wears a disguise to hide this from others. 

ZHENG BAO: Short and burly, he is the son of Zhang San of Bone Breaking Sect and of Reckless Storm. However San is married to Chen and has maintained the presence that Bao is Chen's son. Unfortunately due to crucial background information, Chen knows that Bao cannot be his son so is distant. Zheng Bao's uncle, Bone Breaker, is fond of him. He is seeking the Thousand Painful Deaths Flower to please his uncle. 

PAN JU (MOGHA): The son of the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou and Nergui Mogha, Pan Ju grew up in the Kushen Basin but has returned to the Banyan and Hai'an, where he knows his mother resides.   

THE ARMS OF PAN JU 

With Zheng Bao gone among Heiping Sect, Pan Ju and Xiang Guiying headed on their own, north through the Banyan towards Kusha to see Ju's father. While moving through the forest they found themselves surrounded by four aggressive tigers. At that moment, Guiying saw a bald figure in white robes gazing at them from a distant hill. Leaping into action, she slashed at the tigers with her sword whipping strike, leaving them still on the ground but alive. 

From the hill, a burning ray of energy emanated from the figure and roasted Guying's jian. The sword turned bright like the sun, then shattered into black fragments. Guiying vanished and appeared upon the hill, using her Qinggong. 

In that instant, she recognized the power of the figure before her. The man was tall, and strange, and not at all afraid. She also remembered that Pan Ju lacked the lightness Kung Fu to reach the hill so fast, that she was here alone with this master, and would be for several minutes. 

"You two should both surrender to me, I want to be merciful and take you alive."

"What is it we have done to you sir?"

"I have a contract for your lives. Your lives belong to me, so follow and I won't kill you."

"How much have you been paid for this contract?"

"Eight Silver Taels."

"I am wealthy, I will pay you 17 silver taels to forget the contract and tell me the identity of the person who hired you."

He laughed, explained his name was Golden Ox, then took the money and said "Madame Hamaya, of the Fragrant Petal, hired me." 

They agreed to meet Golden Ox for wine in the future and departed. 

While traveling, Pan Ju continued to train his martial arts, while Guiying tried to instruct her monkey, Peach, to use kung fu*. On the 23rd day of the Butterfly Moon, they reached Zhaoze Lake, a place Pan Ju knew to be near the headquarters of Zhaoze Sect.

"We should pay our respects to Shan Lushan while we are here," He said and Guiying agreed. Knowing there were many pearl tigers in the area, Pan Ju sculpted one from nearby wood and produced a beautiful figure, expressing the territorial nature of the creatures very well**. 

They were brought into Zhaoze Sect by Little Venom, the daughter of Big Venom and given an audience with Shan Lushan. They smelled the acrid scent of poison as she walked ahead. 

"This tiger is marvelous," he said. "Most artfully sculpted and captures its territorial nature perfectly. What can I offer in return?"

Without pause Pan Ju asked to learn some of Lushan's martial arts, having heard he was extremely talented. 

This was the first irritation Shan Lushan felt toward the party. He could not refuse the offer, so he agreed. 

"I will teach you a defense. Please step over here and strike me full force, don't hold back!"

Pan Ju struck the master with The Many Indignities of Yellow Mantis, and it landed***. 

This was the second irritation Lushan felt towards the party. 

"Please," Said Lushan calmly, "Strike me again."

This time the hit was intercepted by a fist to the neck, as Shan Lushan instructed Pan Ju with the full cruelty and brutality of the Hidden Fist of Yanshi.

They spent the next week training and ended it with a great feast of tiger meat to please Shan Lushan. 

When they had arrived, Pan Ju announced himself as a master chef. So Shan Lushan proposed that before preparing the tiger meat, he play his flute for the party, to inspire Pan Ju's cooking. This way the meal would be a blend of their talents. 

Lushan withdrew his flute and played, stuttering through an aimless series of sour and painful notes****. 

This was the third time the party irritated Shan Lushan. 

Acting as if nothing unusual had occurred, he told Pan Ju to take his inspiration and make a fine meal. When the tiger meat was finished, Shan Lushan tasted the herbal concoction, which brought out the full flavor of the tiger. 

"This is one of the finest things I have tasted," He said*****

This was the final time Shan Lushan was irritated by the party. 

When the meal was done he escorted them to the gate and wished them a safe journey. They made their way north once again but noticed someone following them through the trees. They stopped and called out. 

In response a slew of needles flew at the them through the air. Guiying leapt from their path but Pan Ju was struck and felt poison course through his veins. 

The figure ran away but Pan Ju leapt at her with Blade of the Dancing Fox and cut the poisoner down. It was Little Venom.

The attack did not kill her, so Guiying bound the disciple of Zhaoze and spoke with her. 

"We do not wish to have any quarrel with your master, why would you attack us?"

"To stop you from spreading lies about Shan Lushan******"

"We have no wish to do so. These lips do not gossip, your master can rest assured we will not say anything about our meeting. But for now, you must give us the antidote. Give us these and we promise to never sully Shan Lushan's reputation."

She gave them three pills, telling Pan Ju to take one each day. 

Pan Ju cut off both her arms. 

Then Pan Ju revived her with his Plum Blossom Palm.  

Bleeding and screaming she let out a litany of diatribes against her assailant, and Guiying watched in stunned silence. 

"I do not abide poisoners. But I spare your life on account of Guiying. May I suggest you slither back to Zhaoze Palace and become proficient in kicking."

Little Venom stood and ran back to Zhaoze, crying and shouting outbursts of fury at Pan Ju. 

They continued and passed by a group of Dehuan Priests as they reached the Jian Shu forest. The priests explained they were on the way to Heiping sect, and the party informed them their friend, a disciple of Jade Swallow was there. Impressed the priests promised to give regards to their companion upon arrival. 

A couple of days later, the two finally reached Kusha. 







*This worked and Peach now has a Qi rank and knows Spear of the Infinite Emperor 

**The player rolled a 10 on his skill roll

***He rolled a 9, while Shan Lushan rolled a 3 on his counter. 

****Shan Lushan rolled a 2 on his Talent (Flute) skill

***** The player rolled a 9 on his Talent (Cooking) skill 

******Shan Lushan had been embarrassed before the party by failing at the two things his sect was known for: kung fu and the arts. She was concerned they were going to tell the rest of the martial world about his poor performances 

Saturday, April 13, 2024

PATHS FROM NOWHERE SESSION NINE

This is a sandbox campaign for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, operating in "Condor Heroes Mode". I used a lot of the procedures described in the wuxia sandbox posts. It is a campaign with three players. Before the campaign started we spent time establishing their family connections, rolling randomly for both their mothers and fathers (normally only one parent is randomly rolled, but in this case we wanted characters with potentially scandalous backgrounds). These characters each started play with just one Kung Fu Technique. 

CHARACTERS

XIANG GUIYING: The daughter of Jade Fist of Twin Fisted Eagle sect and Pale Fox, a notorious bandit. She is seeking pelts from Pearl Tigers. She is beautiful but wears a disguise to hide this from others. 

ZHENG BAO: Short and burly, he is the son of Zhang San of Bone Breaking Sect and of Reckless Storm. However San is married to Chen and has maintained the presence that Bao is Chen's son. Unfortunately due to crucial background information, Chen knows that Bao cannot be his son so is distant. Zheng Bao's uncle, Bone Breaker, is fond of him. He is seeking the Thousand Painful Deaths Flower to please his uncle. 

PAN JU (MOGHA): The son of the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou and Nergui Mogha, Pan Ju grew up in the Kushen Basin but has returned to the Banyan and Hai'an, where he knows his mother resides.   

THE ROAD TO HEIPING 

Guiying fashioned a sheath for the Wind Sabre to disguise it during their journey, hoping it would not stand out among Pan Ju's other weapons. Once that was done they set off and the first day of travel was uneventful*. On the 20th of the Butterfly Moon they were accosted by two women, identical twins dressed in nondescript brown robes and wielding a variety of weapons. One woman, Ying, stepped out from behind them, while the other, Rong, approached directly from the front. 

"Draw your weapons," They said in unison. 

"Who are you?" Zheng Bao demanded.

"We are the Double Killing Squall and today is your day alive" they continued to speak in unison. 

"Why do you want to kill us?" Asked Zheng Bao. 

"We were assigned a contract."

Guiying asked "Who assigned this contract, was it Lady Yang?"

"We are not at liberty to discuss who, and we have never heard of a Lady Yang" Said Rong, the twin who stood before them. 

Zheng Bao pressed for more information, "Well, how much are they paying you?"

"We cannot share that information with you either," Said Rong. 

With a shrill and irritated voice Ying, the sister who stood behind them, shouted "You are not taking your last day on earth very seriously!" 

Bao immediately attacked her, but his strikes were fruitless against the woman's Iron Body defense. 

Pan Ju attacked the other sister and his strikes also slammed with futility against her impervious flesh. 

Guiying then sent a fierce sword whipping strike at both ladies, only to also have her attacks deflected by their impenetrable iron body. 

Ying threw 12 daggers in formations resembling flowers at the party, cutting both Zheng Bao and Pan Ju. Guiying was able to whirling dodge out of the way of the deadly blades. 

While the party was already seriously injured, Rong sliced her sword across the air sending a shimmering blue attack at the entire party, which sent them back 60 feet. 

At this moment 7 figures, one wearing a mask, leapt from the trees and formed a line between the party and the twins. The one wearing a mask, who appeared to be a Flying Phantom of Mystic Sword Sect, shouted at the party "Run away, we will hold them for you!"

Zheng Bao stood and shouted "No my friends, we will fight along side you. We are not cowards!"

"We have orders," Shouted the masked man. 

Zheng Bao and the rest of the party refused to flee and joined in the fight. Zheng Bao once again felt his spear deflect uselessly against Ying's Iron Body. Pan Ju, however, sent a slew of daggers at both twins and managed to hurt them. 

The Mystic Sword members were mostly junior disciples, save the Flying Phantom. One of them succeeded in grappling with Ying, who put her palm to the junior disciple's face, which sizzled leaving a blackened print as he fell dead in the woods.

The Flying Phantom, Guo, sliced Ying in retaliation. 

Pan Ju once again unleashed Storming Daggers but the twins both deflected with their Iron Body defenses. 

Ying used Nock of Countless Stars, sending arrow after arrow into Ju and Bao. Her arrows also took down another Mystic Sword Disciple.  

Soon the tide started to turn against the twins, and Rong attempted to flee to the north east. Pan Ju leapt forward and cut down Ying with Blade of the Dancing Fox. Guiying intercepted her with a great stride. Rong then unleashed a flurry of daggers on Guiying, but she was able to whirl away from the attack. 

In a blaze of steel, Guiying dropped Rong with her Sword Whipping Strike. 

When the battle was over, Guo explained that Lady White Blade had commanded them to follow and protect the disciple of Jade Swallow**, as a show of respect to the great hero. He told them he would leave the remaining junior disciples with the party but go to get reinforcements. 

The party found 8 Golden Taels on the twin's bodies, which they split between themselves and Guo. 

They spent the next day resting and meditating. Before they left, a group of Heiping Nuns passed by. 

Zheng Bao introduced himself and displayed his Jade Swallow medallion, explaining his teacher had asked him to go to Heiping to train with Queen Lu Zhi. They agreed to escort him to Heiping sect and introduce him to their leader. Because Pan Ju was under strict command from his mother not to bring the Wind Sabre to Heiping, he and Guiying declined to joint them, but would instead go north and meet up with Zheng Bao after. 






*Here the players failed an important Detect roll to see if they had been followed

**This is Zheng Bao 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

WUXIA SANDBOX: FIASCO TABLES AND SECT TABLES

This is part of my Wuxia Sandbox series. You can see the previous post HERE. These are all primarily written with Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate and Righteous Blood, Ruthless Blades in mind but can be applied to most wuxia RPG campaign where sandbox is the focus. This series discusses a wide variety of methods and procedures I use. These should be regarded as tools, not as required steps in building a sandbox. I may use all, some or none for any given campaign. Every time I run a campaign, I take a slightly different approach based on what the needs of the current campaign are. 

The purpose of this blog series isn't to set up proscriptive procedures. It is simply to give people a better idea how I run my wuxia sandbox campaigns. 

My view on wuxia in RPGs is every GM has their own take on the genre, their own sensibilities about how to best bring it to the gaming table. This is true of any genre, but with wuxia it seems especially the case. Please do not take my advice as definitive in any way. Watch and read wuxia for yourself and form your own conclusions. What works for one GM, will completely miss the point for another. 

FIASCO TABLES 

Something I have been making use of in my campaigns recently are Fiasco Tables. These can also be thought of as event or hanging complication tables. They are an expansion on an idea I started adding to my grudge tables around the time of my Sons of Lady 87 Campaign. These can still be used with the Grudge Tables, but because those rely on a 2d10 bell curve, they don't quite get the effect I am going for in play as much as a dedicated 1d10 table in this particular campaign. In Ogre Gate I use a combination of 1d10 tables, 2d10 tables and d100 tables depending on what I am trying to achieve. Here the greater randomness is more the aim. 

A fiasco table is simply a way to better manage things in a living adventure that can fall by the wayside. I talk more about Living Adventures HERE, but the basic idea is that NPCs and the world are reactive to the party, they are just as real as the PCs themselves and should be run like PCs. And for the most part, you don't need random tables for that. If the Gentle Demon of The Valley has taken an interest in the party, you can decide what he tries to do about it and how. He is a piece you control on the board. But sometimes the PCs do a bunch of things that warrant multiple parties becoming involved, and this is a simple way to track those things. When situations grow complex or shake up the martial world, I like shifting to Fiasco tables. It also boosts the excitement of a campaign by regularly rolling on the table to see when they come up. 

Art by Jackie Musto 
As I said, you can simply put this stuff on a grudge table if you want, that way, Gentle Demon's involvement with the party might come up every so often on the grudge table as a reminder to the GM, and any other lingering complications would come up. Here I am doing a table dedicated to each complication. You can have one of these at any given time, or you can have many. You can roll once a week (which is the default I use) or roll more or less frequently. You can only roll on them as a consequence of a failed survival roll if you prefer. 

These tables are somewhat specific. This one is for my campaign where the players have gotten their hands on the wind sabre of Sunan. This helps me to randomly determine who gets involved and how. Some results are parties already involved. Heiping Sect wants the sabre because it was stolen from them by the Witch of Zhaoze Zhou. Other results I will need to creatively interpret. The way I use tables is I look at the result and I try to reason through them and figure out a good explanation. Here I may have to puzzle through why sects who are opposed to one another are working together to get the wind sabre, or why the PCs enemies suddenly want to protect them. I did this intentionally to help produce more twists and turns to the game. 

I view tables as creative prompts. And I think the art is in taking the results and arriving at something that is both interesting and makes sense. So I sometimes like results on tables that force me to square ideas. This table is essentially being used to help determine if anyone comes after the party to get the Wind Sabre for themselves. But there are a lot of possibilities that could arise depending on what combinations the dice yield. 

I also realized I needed a general table on sects for this to work. Normally I rely on more local sect tables. But I put together a broad one that includes all the sects from the major books (note it doesn't include groups from some of the supplements yet, just Ogre Gate Inn, the Core Book, Sons of Lady 87 and War of Swarming Beggars). I may add more to this later. 

If you look at the sect table, you will see it is a bit messy in appearance. This is also intentional. I wanted to show my thought process in putting the table together. I made a master list of the sects and then as I came to each one, I tried to decide if it was more likely or less likely to come up and decided the range of between 1-3 based on that. I may refine this further, as these were snap judgements.