Tuesday, January 2, 2024


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. Every time I run a campaign, I take a slightly different approach based on what the needs of the current campaign are. 


What is presented in the rulebook or your campaign notes, in terms of sects and NPCs is merely a snap shot. Every time I run a new campaign, especially once I have an idea of where the players will be starting and what they are likely to be pursuing, I sift through my sects and NPCs and think of a way to assemble a current state of the martial world in that area and who the players are. This is often connected to my twenty year back story, which I discussed in the last post. This is a bit like assembling a list of sects and major NPCs with relevant notes on recent activities and alliances, a kind of map of the martial players. Here I will talk about creating a state of the martial world that is connected to the twenty year backstory.

For my current campaign, I wanted to take inspiration from Mei Chaofeng of The Legend of Condor Heroes and have a threat that felt like her, as well as a situation surrounding something similar to the Nine Yin Manual. At first I was going to make a new manual and make a new character, but I decided to flip through Sons of Lady 87 and see if anything there fit the bill as a starting point. I realized Jia Jia the Laughing Freak could easily become someone like Mei Chaofeng. I also remembered that the Five Ghost Hand manual was inspired by Nine Yin Manual, so I would have her end up with it and become a menace similar to Mei Chaofeng. Also this would work because Mei Chaofeng is a widow in Condor Heroes and Jia Jia the Laughing Freak was intended to mirror One Armed Fiery Demon from the original WHOG rulebook. Creating a "twenty year" backstory where she became a widow and acquired the manual seemed like a good direction. 

Art by Jackie Musto
When I sat down to make the twenty year backstory I already had some player information, and I knew this would need to be primarily a five year backstory, which was fine (though some details would be earlier than that). One player character, Bao Long, had been raised by Guan Shisu of the 87 Killers, and was an orphan. His mother was a seamstress named Li Lin. The player knew nothing more about her. I had rolled on a personality of the martial world table to find out who the father was and the result was Fan Batu (a very powerful NPC in the Sons of Lady 87 book). I decided to make Fan Batu the cause of Jia Jia the Laughing Freak's personal tragedy. 

In Sons of Lady 87, Jia Jia the Laughing Freak resides in Oriole Village with her husband, Fu Fanfei and their adopted children. Fu Fanfei also possesses the Dawn Sabre of the Yao Yun Sea, something I decided Fan Batu would covet. 

I then the campaign five years ahead of the official starting point in the rules, in the 102nd year of the Glorious Emperor's reign. With that in mind this was the preliminary backstory I made: 


Nearly twenty years ago, Fan Batu came to Fan Xu to study under Divine Astrologer. When his master inexplicably cast him out, he wandered in search of purpose and fortune. Before his master abandoned him he met a woman named Li Lin, and fell briefly in love. When his master left, he forgot about Li Lin and went on his way, not knowing she was pregnant with his child. He also did not know that she later died and the child ended up in the house of Guan Shisu as a ward. 


Five years ago, Fan Batu went to Oriole Village after hearing a master there named Fu Fanfei, possessed the Dawn Sabre of the Yao Yun Sea. It seemed a worthy blade and he desired it for himself. He battled with Fu Fanfei and prolonged the fight so he could observe his enemy’s techniques and learn the Unfathomable Sabre strike. Then he delivered a killing blow to Fu Fanfei. He also struck Fu Fanfei’s wife, Jia Jia the Laughing Freak, believing it was a lethal strike, but she was only knocked out. He buried them both, erected a tablet commemorating their deaths and his victory. Then seeing their orphan children were living in squalor, took them and raised them in better conditions in an abandoned temple north of the Swallow’s Nest Inn. 


Jia Jia crawled from her shallow grave and believed her husband and children had been killed. She vowed to kill Fan Batu when she was powerful enough and set out to find the Five Ghost Hand Manual. She succeeded in two years, and used its techniques on any who crossed her path, venting her grief in the process. Since then she has become a menace, and grown in power considerably under the assumed name Dancing Corpse Wan Mei. 


Jia Jia’s activity and rumors of the Five Ghost Hand manual have attracted other masters to the area such as Lady Plum Blossom, Ho’elen of Twin Fisted Eagle Sect, and Sandstone Nun. Some seek the manual for themselves, some seek to stop Dancing Corpse.  

This is tentative but it gets the ball rolling. It also gives me some characters to work with and map out. I decided that an interesting addition here would be Sandstone Nun, a new NPC I would make from the Hen-Shi Sect found in Strange Land of Li Fan and the Ogre Gate Inn. I wanted someone who could pose a threat to any character who possesses the manual, even a PC, but also could serve as a possible ally in the right situation. I imagined her like the Blind Lama in Master of the Flying Guillotine (she wouldn't be blind like the Lama or Mei Chaofeng but she would have a terminator-like quality in her pursuit). 

For this campaign, because I really wanted to lean into Condor Heroes as an inspiration, I would also make a point of having some NPCs level. In a few cases this would be based on personalty. I knew Sandstone Nun should be able to level over time, starting at Qi Rank 5 and progressing slowly into the profound levels, because she was essentially on an adventure after having been isolated at Hen-Shi sect headquarters. Others would be randomized to make things interesting, so I would create a campaign shake up table with leveling as a feature. The Campaign Shake-Up table is simply a group of d10 tables I roll on periodically to see if anything relevant to the campaign happens. It includes results like the aforementioned leveling, as well as new NPCs becoming involved, sects going after the player's interests, etc. 

Once I have this I need my listing of sects and NPCs. All of this information is material I keep in an ongoing word document. So I just create a section for NPCs grouped in relevant clusters. Some will be completely new characters. Others will be updated versions of existing NPCs. While many of these may be found elsewhere in my notes or in the sourcebooks, I find it very helpful to have separate listed entries with new information for the specific campaign. 

So what I have might look something like this (obviously stat blocks and body text is present, disciple entries will also include individual names and some personality traits): 


Dancing Corpse Wan mei 


Fan Batu

Oriole Orphans 


The Sandstone Nun


Lady Plum Blossom 

Senior Disciples (3)

Junior Disciples (10)



Yao Tu-An

Junior Disciples 5

This structure works well because it gives me an easy overview of the groups involved. As said, many exist already in the rulebook or other supplements, but these entires will be the updated versions for the present campaign. 

I usually do this all in a word document now (using my binder more for location maps, notes and other more map related elements). When doing so I have learned to use a table of contents with hyperlinks. This just makes the process of navigating the document that much faster. 

Then I go back to my campaign shake up tables. Again these are usually two to four 1d10 tables with entries for NPCs gaining levels, aggressive actions towards the player characters and their interests, new alliances and developments, etc. I try to have some entries that intersect with the PCs in some way but most are just to track this unfolding background scenario. It is also important to restate, the players need not become involved in this at all. There are things that likely could come up. For example one entry on my shake up table is Fan Batu learning that Bao Long, a PC, is his son. Obviously that probably lead to them interacting. But there is no end game or goal. It could be something they become embroiled in, something they are peripherally involved in, or merely a backdrop. 

Next I am going to talk about how I refined the above scenario and list by working out happenings that only directly relate to the PCs. This way I have a backdrop that is vaguely connected to them, but other elements hashed out that are more a part of their immediate environment. 

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