The Wuxia Way Saved My Game

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

During my last bi-weekly BareBones 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.

Wuxia tabletop pics.

Chinese Village Setup
Model Chinese Town Setup

I used a bunch of props in our last wuxia game. Here are some pictures of the setup and action.

The setup from lower left to upper right is the teahouse on the lake, and blacksmith and trade area. Beyond that is the higher-class district with a couple of shrines and homes of wealthier citizens.

Beyond that is the Raging West Wind Pagoda.

In game action!

For minis I use pictures of actors and costume models. I put them in PowerPoint in a  template I made and print them out, cut, fold and then use a binder clip as a base. Simple, easy, cheap and they look pretty good. If I run out of pictures I can always write on them.

The ground cover is just a simple fleece blanket. I like to use these as they don’t wrinkle and are easy to wash if you get model grass, popcorn or other debris on them.

The river is from Flames of War Battlefield in a box river series.

 

Heroes Surrounded!
Heroes Surrounded!

The Destiny cards and the chi tokens I had made with Game Crafter.

All of the trees are Lemax trees.

The buildings, walls, bridges, market stands, are from Renaissance Miniatures which sadly closes its tabletop RPG building line today. Today is the last day orders can be taken.

The initiative cards are the BareBones Fantasy Initiative Cards from DWD Studios . Used here of course for BareBones Wuxia play testing.

 

Baddies Everywhere!
Close up of Pagoda

 

 

Con of the North 2017 After Action Report

kungfu attack from Return to the 36th Chamber
Final battle in Return to the 36th Chamber, Gordon Liu stars.

This second year running BareBones Wuxia! games at Con of the North was a real blast. Comparing the character stats from last year shows some real maturing and tightening of the system. Gamers new to the system are quick to catch onto the basic rules and returning players (and we had a couple!) played up on the nuances of the system.

This year, I ran two new scenarios, A Jianghu Ghost Story and Red Tiger Clan. I try to have one adventure focus on villains and sect strife and the other have some supernatural/magical elements to it. I did that last year with The Willow Blades (master villain/sect strive) and Steel Demon (supernatural/magic).

A Jianghu Ghost story has the players trying to figure out what is causing Chen Mao’s mansion to be haunted. This adventure has assassinations, magic, ghosts, demons, investigations, ancient pacts, love, strife and even a weapon of mass destruction.

Red Tiger Clan has street fights, kung fu sect politics, rescues, an ancient evil artifact, betrayal, loyalty and possibly the creation of a master villain if the players are not successful.

Both scenarios have been very fun to run. Feedback from players has been terrific. The game rules are complete and the changes that were made last summer in regards to weapon damage, Body Points and a few other combat tweaks to the D00Lite system have all come together to make the game exciting, fun and really fit the genre.

Players are really getting into the spirit of things. In the convention games this past weekend the following objects were used as improvised weapons: small plates, a stool, small bowls, money, hot tea, and a railing!

Shut Chung-tin as Duan Yanqing The Battle Wizard

The convention adventures are designed to be played by players not familiar with the system. However, a few players really look close at their character sheets and realize they could do some pretty tricky things. Again, I don’t design the adventures where these nuances are required but the players are certainly rewarded for figuring these tricks out and pulling them off. It also shows that the D00Lite system is anything but simplistic. Easy to learn, yes, but full of extended play options.

I’ve got convention games coming up in April and July and I’m really looking forward to them!

Menomocon, Menomonie, WI on April 9th

Clearwater Con, Eau Claire WI July 7th-9th

If you can make it to one of these conventions, I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Especially if you play BareBones Wuxia!

Under the Hood: Kung Fu in BareBones Wuxia!

various poses of kung fu styles
The many styles of kung fu, pic from proposed Shaw Brothers promo art.

Each kung fu style is associated with a separate warrior of the <insert kung fu style> skill. We’ve covered that before. What I want to talk about this time is what a kung fu style looks like in the game in terms of game mechanics.

A kung fu style description contains the following parts; cool name, defined as internal or external, a description if the style, weapons taught by the style, and finally the techniques offered.

Internal or External: there are two sets of chi abilities that are trained in kung fu. Internal styles teach one set first, then later on the other. External styles teach them in the opposite order. Both internal and external stylists can eventually learn all of these chi abilities.

Jet Li and Donnie Yen in Hero

Weapons taught are the weapons that are most effective with the style. Players can certainly use other weapons and improvised weapons at any time. They can even add weapons to their style to add a little uniqueness to their character. In the beginning, they will want to use the weapons taught by their style until they gain some experience.

Kung Fu techniques are generically named. The Bowing Dragon monks don’t actually have a technique called Arrow Cutting. It might be called, “Thousand Arms Defense”, or “Eagle Deflection”. Another style might call it “Crane Catches the Carp” or “Dancing Lake Brush”. Arrow cutting the technique can represent as many different techniques as kung fu styles that use it. Players are encouraged (with an in-game mechanic) to come up with names for their kung fu techniques and even describe what they look like.

Here is a preview of two kung fu styles that are showcased in the various gaming convention scenarios I’ve run. Enjoy!

BOWING DRAGON (Internal)
This style is taught exclusively to Bowing Dragon Monks. They practice humility and study the harmonies of chi. Many Bowing Dragon monks have levels in the mystic skill. Their renowned Bowing Dragon style combines kicks, back fists, knee strikes and the use of the common staff and a few no-so-common weapons.
Weapons: Bo Staff, Spear, Three-section staff, and Meteor hammer
Techniques: Arrow Cutting, Chi Resistance, Disarm, Keep at Bay, Meditation, Power Defense, and Riposte

FIERY DRAGON (External)
This energetic style uses close in strikes, accupoint strikes and short quick kicks. It is taught in all areas of Jianghu.
Weapon: Chain Whip, Crescent Moon Knife (pairs), Iron Wrist Rings (both wrists), Lajatang and Nunchuku (single or pairs)
Techniques: Accupoint Strike, Danger Sense, Move-By, Multiple Defenses, One Against All, and Two-Weapon Fighting

two oponents face off in Legendary Weapons of China movie
From Legendary Weapons of China

Under the Hood: The Skills of BBW!

Li Gezhao demonstrates his lightness skills in Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei

This time we look at skills used in BBW! Many of them are old favorites, some are altered and a couple are brand new. DWD Studios’ games BareBones Fantasy will be referenced as BBF and Covert Ops as CO.

Alchemist: Alchemy, Diagnose, Wound Mending, Surgery
Detective: Detect Clues, Interrogation, Shadowing & Trailing, Connections
Diviner: Hunch, Foresight, Reading, Identify Convergence Point
Leader: Battle Commander, Guardian, Leader, Warlord
Mystic: Chi Focus, Harmony Sense, Spirit Training, Wards
Scholar: Diplomat, High Scholar, Historian, Signs & Portents
Scout: Animal Handling, Navigation, Stalking, Survival
Sorcerer: High Sorcery, Low Sorcery, Raw Talent, Enchantment
Thief: Deception, Security Systems, Sleight of Hand, Stealth
Warrior of the <insert kung fu style> Style: Martial Training, Deadly Skill, Combat Defense, Kung fu

Sleeve Dance from House of Flying Daggers
Sleeve Dance from House of Flying Daggers

The Detective from CO, and the Leader, Scholar and Thief from BBF remain unchanged from the games they first appeared.

The Alchemist is a combination of abilities from the Enchanter (BBF) and Medic (CO). The abilities have been altered to fit the genre.

The Diviner is a new skill, which shows up in many wuxia stories. This skill has some really cool abilities that make it seem like the Diviner can actually tell the future. This skill has been very well received in playtests.

The Mystic is the other brand new skill. The mystic is like a detective of the spiritual and magical worlds. They are able to sense things no one else can and are good at fighting demons and spirits. A person with this skill also harnesses more chi than others.

Yan Sinniang, master thief in Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei

The Scout has been altered in only one way. Tracking has been changed to Stalking. You still use the skill when tracking but now the skill expressly includes stealth in natural environments.

The Sorcerer at first glance is much like the Spellcaster in BBF but it is actually quite different. For starters, the skill uses WIL not LOG as its ability score. Sorcerers bend the forces of nature, the elements and other powers to their will. Sorcerers have the ability to enchant magical objects. Lastly, they gain one spell with each new level. They will have to find other spells as they adventure. This encourages Sorcerers to seek out magic in old tombs and trap filled ruins.

Heroes of Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei
Heroes of Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei

The Warrior skill now represents as many different skills as there are kung fu styles. For example you could have the Warrior of the Way of Honorable Thunder Style,  the Warrior of the Golden Fist Style, or the Warrior of the Soaring Dragon in the Sky Style. Each is treated as a separate skill on your character sheet. However, if Warrior is a primary or secondary skill, then all warrior skills you take will be primary or secondary. If that much of your talent is directed towards fighting, it will apply to all fighting skills you have.

Since this is wuxia much attention is given to the warrior skill. As you character gains levels in warrior they will learn new kung fu techniques of their style and their damage with weapons and unarmed combat will increase. They will also become better at defending against attacks. You can still use the warrior skill untrained but, you won’t do much damage, you’ll always use DEX to resist physical attacks and worst of all, you won’t know any kung fu.

Lightness skill in Hero

Multiple warrior skills may be learned. Do you become a master of one? Or do you learn several to diversify your abilities? That is up to you!

Why no assassin, cleric or monk skills? Yes, assassins, clerics and monks in BBW! abound! But they are not represented by their own skill. The skills in BBW! have been carefully chosen to represent unique sets of abilities. The warrior skill, warrior and thief skill, thief and sorcerer skill etc could represent an assassin. The same goes for clerics and monks. These archetypes are best represented by the unique abilities of other skills chosen to suit your vision of what they are like in your setting. For example, a monk of the Wodan sect often has levels in sorcerer and warrior, while monks of the Bowing Dragon sect have levels in mystic and warrior. A cleric might have levels in mystic and leader or might have levels just in scholar. It all depends on what you have in mind for your faction or sect.

Next Under the Hood article will look at kung fu in BBW!