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.
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.
This second year running Art of 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!
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!
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.
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
This time we look at skills used in Art of Wuxia 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
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.
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.
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.
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 Art of Wuxia abound! But they are not represented by their own skill. The skills in Art of Wuxia 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 Art of Wuxia.
Before beginning work on Art of Wuxia I developed a list of things that I wanted out of the game. Before every writing session and play test session, I take that list out and read it. My rule is that the list must absolutely be followed to keep the design of the game focused on its most important parts. The next few articles will cover this list and explain why I feel each of these guidelines was important for Art of Wuxia.
Wuxia is a broad genre category. There are many sub genres, some that don’t have any magic at all and others where nearly everyone has mystical powers such as magic or chi. Art of Wuxia has magic in it at about the same level as BareBones Fantasy (typical fantasy RPG fare) but there are notes in the GM section showing how to add more fantasy and magic or remove it entirely. We want to give you the tools you need to play the type of wuxia you want to play which means providing lots of options.
Design Guideline: Magic should integrate. BareBones Fantasy already has an excellent magic system. For Art of Wuxia, some spells were dropped and others added and a few altered to fit the genre. Genre examples are given wherever possible so players and GMs have ideas to work with. Alchemical items are right in the Equipment lists to purchase and the rules on spell acquisition altered so that finding old magic tombs becomes very desirable thus promoting exploration into dangerous old trap filled tombs of ancient evil sorcerers.
Two new skills are added to Art of Wuxia that specifically address wuxia mysticsm, the Diviner and the Mystic. A diviner can see the future and it has been a real hit with play testers. The mystic is like a detective for the occult, sensing aura’s, evil and even areas of chi. These skills add a lot to the flavor of Art of Wuxia. They can also be dropped if you are looking for less magic in your game.
Design Guideline: Chi should be baked into the system. Chi is absolutely an essential element of wuxia stories. Chi act a bit like hero points in other games but are designed to enforce the tropes of the genre. Most everything chi is shown to be able to do in wuxia stories is possible in Art of Wuxia. Chi can be used to heal someone, expel a poison, add extra effort to actions, leap over walls and more. Sworn brothers/sisters can even share their Chi pool. I’ll talk more about that another time.
Design Guideline: Lightness skills should enable huge leaps and running or skipping across water. Wuxia wouldn’t be wuxia without highflying action. And highflying action in wuxia comes from lightness skills. In Art of Wuxia lightness is a chi ability granted early on by internal kung fu styles and later on in external kung fu styles. Players love the tactical options it provides and GMs are encouraged to make their battle encounters three dimensional. Bad guys should be knocked off balconies and there should be sword fights on rooftops or atop torii gates.
Design Guideline: There should be demons & spirits. Ghost stories and plots around evil spirits or sorcerers summoning demons show up in many wuxia tales. Most creatures encountered in Art of Wuxia are either normal animals or some sort of spirit. Some spirits can take human form. Truly evil spirits become demons and are consumed by their hungers. The creatures and sample setting provide many adventure hooks for integrating them in play.
THE META GUIDELINES
These last two guidelines don’t really fit in any category but they have shaped every aspect of Art of Wuxia.
Design Guideline: If it isn’t fun, get rid of it. This guideline is really the ultimate arbiter of what goes in the game and what stays. This has been the most important guideline of them all. Art of Wuxia is about wuxia and that means great action and drama. If these things aren’t fun, there isn’t any point to playing. I have no qualms about throwing out pages of hard work if it doesn’t contribute to fun at the table. If it is part of the other guidelines, of course we try to make it work but ultimately no one wants to play a game that isn’t fun. And if something isn’t fun, it is dropped.
Now is this subjective! Absolutely. No group of people can agree about whether everything is fun. There will be differences. But still…if you like the tropes of wuxia, and your game supports the wuxia style with ease and gets out of the way and your players are smiling and really getting into their characters I think you have found your fun.
Design Guideline: Unofficial Litmus When watching wuxia movies or tv shows or reading wuxia books I constantly ask myself, “can Art of Wuxia do that?” Actually, now my play test group players are doing that. They see things in movies and then try to pull them off in the game. It is working very well. That feeds back to the fun guideline.
I’m not promising that Art of Wuxia will be the ultimate wuxia RPG for everyone. I can confidently say it is my favorite RPG and I think it is measuring up nicely. I can’t wait till it leaves its kung fu school and makes its way out into the world and into your hands. I cannot wait to see what it becomes as others take it in new directions.