Wuxia and Passion

Sword of the Assassin
Sword of the Assassin

One thing that stands out with wuxia stories is the level of passion displayed by the main characters and villains. When I say passion, I mean “an elevated emotional response” to other people and situations. I’ve written before about how similar wuxia RPG stories can be to traditional fantasy stories but passion is a key difference. I’m not saying traditional fantasy stories don’t have passion. Not at all. But wuxia stories seem to have an extra heaping spoonful of it. Strong feelings are what drive heroes and villains in wuxia stories. Whether love, regret, longing, revenge, loss or heartache strong emotions guide the destinies of both villain and hero.

Art of Wuxia uses the Moral Code game mechanic used in other D00Lite games (BareBones Fantasy, Covert Ops & Frontier Space). This “alignment” system is very useful for helping players figure out what motivates their character, which is a key ingredient in wuxia and other stories. I won’t spell out the whole moral code here but in simple terms you have several moral aspects such as kind or cruel, selfish or selfless etc. To each of these moral aspects you have a term that describes how dedicated you are to that moral aspect. For example; very dedicated to being kind or being only somewhat brave. In Art of Wuxia, your character must have one “Totally” dedicated moral aspect. You can’t be all wishy-washy about what drives you. At least one thing you will feel passionate about and act accordingly.

Sworn Brothers from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils
Sworn Brothers from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils

Players characters can show great devotion to one another. Through a small ceremony they can become sworn brothers/sisters. Each swears to take on the concerns and burdens of the other for as long as they live. You see this often in wuxia stories and it is a pretty powerful bond not to be taken lightly. In game terms there are some mechanical benefits to becoming a sworn brother/sister.

NPCs have not been forgotten in this game. In the Adventure Idea Generation chapter, there is a “story seed” table. This defines the thing or concept that the main villain or other main NPC wants, covets or demands. In other words, what they are most passionate about. This will help the GM determine why an NPC goes about doing the things he or she does based on what their passion is.

Revenge is a powerful emotion. The GM of Art of Wuxia is encouraged to go through a checklist of possible reasons why someone would want revenge after every game session. Not all game sessions will produce such a person but enough will to keep your games constantly interesting. It also helps to ground the PCs in the setting as others hold them accountable for their actions.

Finally, if you want to add some romance to your wuxia, and I highly encourage you to do so, there is a romance section of rules to help you set up story arcs involving love from initial meeting, obstacles to love, misunderstandings and eventual reconciliation or parting. Included are some random tables you can roll on for inspiration for story arcs involving romance. The point of adding romance to your stories is that it is a common element in wuxia stories and nothing inflames a passionate response like love. The greatest stories every written involve some aspect of how someone feels about someone else.

Lifelong Love and Loss in Nirvana in Fire
Lifelong Love and Loss in Nirvana in Fire

Art of Wuxia embraces the passion of the genre. It gives you several tools to help players and GMs play characters with the depth of emotion seen in wuxia tales. It also has several things that help drive stories with strong emotional content. That is something to feel passionate about!

Art of Wuxia at Clearwater Con III 2017

Jet Li as The Monkey King in Forbidden Kingdom
Jet Li as The Monkey King in Forbidden Kingdom

Last weekend I had the pleasure of gaming with a great group of people at the Clearwater Con in Eau Claire WI. The drive was lovely and the accommodations were excellent. This is the second year that my wife and I have made it to this con and I ran two very fun sessions of Art of Wuxia. I also got to play in a FATE game and one of Abstract Dungeon.

Before I talk about the Art of Wuxia games, I want to note the fun games I played run by Matt Hansen of Sneak Attack press. The first game was a FATE game. This is the third time I’ve played FATE and I still don’t understand it. That is totally on me, not the GM or other players. The second game was an Abstract Dungeon game. I love this game. It is an unusual game in which players roll all their dice at the beginning and spend them to overcome challenges as they play. It is very story driven with some fun game elements. Matt did a great job keeping everyone involved in both games and rolling with all the crazy player ideas. There was much laughter and fun.

The first game I ran I had a completely full table because I stole a player from one of my GM friends’ table. I feel a little bit bad about that but the player got to try a new game, Art of Wuxi, and he loved it!

I kicked things off with the scenario A Jianghu Ghost story. This scenario is inspired by Judge Dee novels by Robert Van Gulik, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling and movies like A Chinese Ghost Story and the modern Judge Dee films. It is full of mystery, investigation, an evil cult, ghosts, dark rituals and the secrets of a family’s past. It fits fully in the xianxia (immortal heroes) end of the wuxia spectrum.

Aaron Kwok as The Monkey King in The Monkey King 2
Aaron Kwok as The Monkey King in The Monkey King 2

Of the five players, two were familiar with the system. I figured they would show the others how the high-flying action works but the new players jumped in with both fee and pretty soon everyone got a good taste of what their characters could do in a fight. There were lots of smiles around the table. One person said, “Sold!” because they wanted to buy the game right now! This group of players did a particularly good job of connecting the dots of the mystery and saving everyone.

The next day at the con, I ran another Art of Wuxia game. This time the scenario was Red Tiger Clan. This scenario contrasts greatly with A Jianghu Ghost Story. This is much more on the kung fu side of things with sect politics and hostile clan leaders. There is still a creepy evil artifact at the end of the story but the rest is classic Shaw Brother’s era movie kung fu.

I had a smaller table this time but all were return players. One returning player wanted to play his favorite character that I use in these scenarios (Mighty Bahu); specifically because he can’t stand to watch others not play him up to his boldly brash promise. Hah! One of the people running the convention, Erik, got out of his table duties to join in the fun. My wife Tina played a character she hadn’t played before and brought a valuable character to the table strong in the leader skill which really helped.

The enthusiasm was huge in this game and a three-player team really sped up decision making. There was a fight in and out of a teahouse. Some furniture (from the teahouse) was destroyed. Then some tense negotiation with surviving sect leaders. There was also the start of some romance, a classic wuxia trope! There was a daring rescue, the big reveal, an alliance of kung fu sects followed by an assault on the Iron Pagoda itself.  A final boss battle had a plot twist that caught the players by surprise and caused them to really dig deep to defeat the real final boss.  The good guys prevailed and new alliances were reaffirmed. The heroes made a real difference in the region.

Donnie Yen as The Monkey King in The Monkey King
Donnie Yen as The Monkey King in The Monkey King

I’m greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm in which players respond to this game. I know it is a niche game but I’m trying to tie every design element into producing the kind of fun action adventures you see in wuxia movies, TV series and books. I think it is working well. Every adventure I’ve made for the convention games I made by using the adventure generation tables in the book. This makes me believe that assuming you are any bit familiar with the genre; the book will really help you make fun wuxia adventures. If you like wuxia and RPGs, this game should be right for you.

Menomocon 2017 After Action Report

The Four TV series

http://www.menomocon.com/about

I got to attend the second annual Menomocon in Menomonie, WI back in April. This is a small con in it’s second year and is run very well. This one-day con is fun and I hope to do it again next year. I was invited to specifically run Art of Wuxia games, the head of the con having played it in a convention last year.

Menomocon is held at the local high school. Luckily, the scenarios I run are appropriate for the PG-13 crowd and up. The first game was a real blast. Players got into their characters and really hammed up the role-play.  They loved the new weapon damage rules (new from last years cons) and I had a return player in my first game and he thought the game was even better this year. He said it felt done, ready for purchase.  Well that is good to hear!

One thing about Menomocon is that it is very very small. They don’t have a sign-up system for games so you have to actively recruit players. Despite a Halo LAN event I still managed to coral a few players for a partial session in the late evening. A couple of players were wuxia fans who told me straight up that they were very particular about what a good wuxia game should have.  Skepticism was written all over them.

Well, Art of Wuxia stepped up to the challenge and in no time they were all smiles having a great time thrashing bad guys and figuring out when to use their kung fu techniques. One of them even asked to start a playtest group when we were done!

Menomocon is a small but well run convention. I really hope to go back again next year and I hope you can make it there as well. The only thing Menomocon needs is more attendees. I can’t say enough good words for the organizers. After running a game, I found a thank you card on my table signed by all of the staff. Nice touch!

Call of Heroes

What I learned this year from Convention Games:

I’ve been refining the pre-gen characters and players seem to like them a lot. I’m putting them in the book as example characters and I’ll use them in future adventures as pre-gens there too. Folks really hit the game running with them so I know they work. I often hear comments of, “I feel like I already know these characters.”

The game works for a wide range of player ages. The game has attracted a large number of female players and they loved that the culture in the setting has female characters that were just as respected as males, NPC or otherwise. I’m going to make sure I include more of this as I revise and expand the setting this summer.

Lastly, and this has been coming for a long time, the working title of this game (BareBones Wuxia!) is going to be changed, probably at the end of my convention run this year. I like the name and it’s call out to BareBones Fantasy but the abbreviation is … troublesome. [Edit – the name is now Art of Wuxia and has been changed in all previous posts.]

My next convention is Clearwater Con in Eau Claire, WI July 7-9th.

https://clearwatercon.com/

 

The Wuxia Way Saved My Game

Chaser, Heartless, Coldblood and Ironhand from The Four TV series

During my last bi-weekly Art of Wuxia game some bad rolls, not the best player tactics and a GM (me) bent on providing a very tough fight almost led to several character deaths. In another gaming genre, this could have gone very bad. The tropes of wuxia saved the day.

The scene: Heroes surrounded in a village by many minor NPCs (crunchies) and several normal NPCs (not crunchies). Many innocent villagers that the bad guys will kill for several reasons not important here. Only three player characters are in the current scene. The rest of the player characters will arrive in 4 turns.

The players had the upper hand for the first part of the fight but then things went bad. While they attacked the enemy, they didn’t coordinate their efforts nor try to focus their attacks. Each player character was doing their own thing. Points to them for playing such individual heroes. I also think they were a little rattled as the villains were hitting hard and not holding back. One of the villains was a sorcerer with a creepy wooden backpack with a demon face inside that would cast spells. They pulled off a poser turn when things got really bad but then again failed to focus on one enemy at a time. They managed to save a few villagers but even that tactic was not coordinated so many of the villagers were still in danger. One hero managed to dish out a lot of damage to the sorcerer but instead of finishing off his target, he dove for cover. This was a reasonable tactic as this a press your luck kind of game and he wanted to reserve something for defense.

Heroes surrounded in Raw Courage.
Heroes surrounded in Raw Courage.

Terrible dice rolls by the players and extraordinary dice rolls by the GM changed things from bad to worse. When the villain sorcerer’s turn came up, he drained the heroes of their strength leaving all but one of them incapacitated.

A dramatic moment

Now this could have played out with the bad guys killing all three player characters right then. However a) that isn’t fun, and b) that isn’t the wuxia way. In wuxia stories, villains much prefer to humiliate their enemies to outright killing them.  The sorcerer used a charm spell on the player character still standing and commanded him to use his sword to kill his friends. The hero, obviously struggling to resist the compulsion slowly walked over to the friend farthest away. His footsteps dragged and his whole body was stiff with the effort to resist. This forced the sorcerer to maintain his full concentration on the spell. When he got over to his friend, he apologized before running the sword through him and into the ground.

Gasps at the table, terror on the faces of the players and then silence… But then the player character who was pretending to be under compulsion (he had resisted the spell earlier and was stalling for time!) used some magic to restore strength to his friend, drew his sword out of the ground (he had faked stabbing him) and they were ready to fight together again. The villain sorcerer could not understand what had just happened. Cheers erupted in our gaming room.

Long Chen as General Meng Zhi in Nirvana in Fire
Long Chen as General Meng Zhi in Nirvana in Fire TV series

The rest of the player heroes arrived and the fight was soon over. They congratulated their brethren on a hard fight and for holding out until they arrived.

So, what could have been a real bummer turned out to be a lot of fun. Wuxia was the reason it turned out to be this way.  As GM, I used the villain tropes of wuxia to gloat and be mean without killing the characters. This allowed the characters to use their wits and try to outsmart the overconfident villains. Even when wuxia heroes are physically beaten, they still can win the day if they are smart. This is classic wuxia in practice.

We play for these moments.