Tagged: design

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!

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

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!


BareBones Wuxia! Design Guidelines, Part 4 Mysticism

From Legend of Zu Mountain

Before beginning work on BareBones Wuxia! (BBW!) 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 BBW!

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. BBW! 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 BBW!, 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.

From Holy Flame of the Martial World

Two new skills are added to BBW! 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 BBW!. 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 BBW!.  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 BBW! 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 BBW! 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.


From Burning of the Red Lotus Temple

These last two guidelines don’t really fit in any category but they have shaped every aspect of BBW!

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. BBW! 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 BBW! 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.

From Wuxia Edge Website, http://www.wuxiaedge.com/, Click for Animation

I’m not promising that BBW! 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.


BareBones Wuxia! Design Guidelines, Part 3 Tropes

Donnie Yen kung fu fighting
Donnie Yen in Wu Xia

Before beginning work on BareBones Wuxia! (BBW!) 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 BBW!

The tropes in wuxia are very strong. I’ll write another article on wuxia tropes later on but for now I’ll focus on my design guideline list.

Design Guideline: Anything can be used as a weapon. I have seen everything used as a weapon in wuxia movies and TV shows and the books are even more over the top. Built right into the weapons table in BBW! are improvised weapons. So if you can imagine using something as a weapon, you can.

Design Guideline: Unarmed attacks should be almost as good as armed attacks. Heroes in wuxia tales are usually as good with their fists as they are with their swords. The same thing is true in BBW! There are certain cases where having a weapon is better than not having one but it isn’t overwhelmingly so. One of the kung fu styles in the game doesn’t even teach weapons.

Design Guideline: Armor needs to be limited. Nearly every hero you see in wuxia stories doesn’t wear armor or if they do it is something light. You’ll still find armor in BBW! but the damage reduction it offers is variable, and it is expensive. Unarmed peasants (minor NPCs) don’t stand a chance against armored troops (minor NPCs). But if they have some heroes defending them…

Design Guideline: There should be a poser turn. I’ve talked about this one before. It is a favorite at my game table and at the convention games I’ve run. Just as in wuxia movies and TV series occasionally the heroes pose and the camera zooms in on them at a dramatic moment, so too this will happen in your game. It is a moment where the action pauses and something cool to help the PCs happens before the next turn begins.

Design Guideline: Adventures should include love and vengeance. Here is where the wuxia genre really departs from traditional fantasy. I can’t think of a wuxia story where these two elements weren’t a key plot element. The GM is encouraged (if the players are up for it) to provide romantic entanglements for the PCs to get involved with. These come with plot complications (he’s the son of the governor and she’s an outlaw) and can lead to further adventures. This is not forced on anyone and is an option if you really want to embrace the genre. After each adventure the GM goes over a checklist to see if anyone will seek vengeance for some slight, or harm caused by the PCs. Beware murder hobos! Beware!

Design Guideline: There should be wuxia examples and quotes. To help players and GMs get into the wuxia genre we are putting quotes by famous NPCs in the book. The quotes are designed to reinforce the tropes of wuxia and possibly give GMs adventure ideas. We’ve also listed examples of what spells look like for that wuxia feel and even specifically spells cast by certain sorcerer sects.

These guidelines were created to help ensure that wuxia tropes would be integrated into the rules. Yes, there is a list of wuxia tropes in the introduction but that would be useless if they weren’t reinforced throughout the rest of the book. Tropes can be shown with NPCs, items, skills etc. but the rules or “game verbs” of the book need to solidly support them.

You can see how strong the tropes of the wuxia genre are for yourself. Go to the Downloads page, download, and print the wuxia bingo cards. Then play wuxia bingo with friends while watching a wuxia movie. Remember to yell “WUXIA!” when you win.

BareBones Wuxia! Design Guidelines, Part 2 Adversaries

Villains from The Crippled Avengers

Before beginning work on BareBones Wuxia! (BBW!) 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 BBW!

Nothing defines wuxia heroes more than the adversaries they face.

Design Guideline: Bad guys should come in several flavors; crunchies, villains and master villains. Wuxia heroes wade through crunchies, have duels with villains and have epic battles with master villains. The D00Lite system (of which BBW! is based), already differentiates between minor NPCs (crunchies) and normal NPCs (named villains). We’ve added Master Villains to the game and they are designed to battle a whole group of player characters. In fact some of their stats are related to the number and power of the heroes. These are used at the end of major adventures. Heroes must come prepared to face such a challenge and give their all.

Design Guideline: Unimportant NPCs should be able to be fought by the dozens. Wuxia heroes are clearly cut of a different silk. They may start out weak but once they come into their own they can take on hordes of minor NPCs and not take a scratch. As mentioned above we already have minor NPCs and they are not much of a threat to heroes. BBW! lets you take it further and with the spending of chi, player characters can take out a dozen or more minor NPCs in one turn. Even more if you use the Battle Fu option.

Design Guideline: Most adversaries should be human; some will be demons/monsters. A strong trope of the wuxia genre is that these are human stories about human deeds, emotions, desires and actions. A guardian monster might play a role. A demon might be a powerful opponent but ultimately it must be about humans. The guardian monster is guarding something for a human. A human summoned the demon or otherwise let it loose for their own failings or ambitions.  BBW! does have a monster section in it for GMs that want more fantasy in their game but adventure generation tables and published adventures will focus on the goals of humans. Wuxia stories are personal stories and the main villain is seldom if ever a nameless monster.

Pai Mei (played by Lo Lieh), master villain of Executioners from Shaolin.

Adversaries are crucial to good wuxia stories and BBW!, by having genre examples of several different strengths and types, has you covered for any wuxia story you want to tell.