Tagged: RPG

Art of Wuxia Design Guidelines, Part 3 Tropes

Donnie Yen kung fu fighting
Donnie Yen in Wu Xia

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.

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 Art of Wuxia 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 Art of Wuxia 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 Art of Wuxia 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.

Why Art of Wuxia!?

Heroes of Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber
Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber

My enthusiasm for wuxia as an art/entertainment form is large enough that most folks don’t ask me this question. Because I seem to enjoy it so much it must be good! Right? But still, it is a very qood question.

First, I think wuxia makes an excellent base for role-playing games. Wuxia books, TV series and movies are filled with perfect examples of heroes fighting villains, of adventuring bands foiling insurmountable evil and dramatic character arcs alongside outstanding action. Watching a single Shaw Brothers movie will give you a metric ton of gaming ideas, from devious plots, overt character examples, ingenious weapons, wicked traps, three dimensional battle sets and awesomely cool action.

As a GM I’ve got plenty of material to draw upon when developing adventures for my players. This works for players too. Simply watch a few movies from the genre and you’ll have a huge number of example character motivations and characteristics to draw upon.

Second, so much of the genre is already familiar to players of fantasy games. Yes, there is much that is different but I can get players to try Art of Wuxia by asking them if they like fantasy RPGs and if they would like to see what it is like with high flying kung fu action mixed in. They smile, join my table and have a darn good time. The genre is much deeper than this, of course, but getting people in the door is not as hard as other genres. At least that is what I find.

Just look at the commonalities of traditional fantasy with the wuxia genre: party of adventurers (check), delving into ancient tombs (check), fighting bad guys (check). If your wuxia has magic and monsters (and many examples do), you can see how similar it is. There are many differences and nuances but that can wait until after you have player characters swinging swords and facing master villains.

Third, the D00Lite rules used by BareBones Fantasy and Covert Ops by DwD Studios is an easy to learn game system with much more interesting combat and character development than you would think of games this size. I can teach the basics of how to play Art of Wuxia in two minutes or less. Yet my veteran players continue to amaze me with their interesting character builds and creative exploits when the action is on. It is a subtle system that I think really shines the more you play it.

Fourth, campaign play is very important to me. I simply must have a game that supports long-term play so that my players and their characters can really come together as a team and they can sink their teeth in a world rich with adventure possibilities. Art of Wuxia supports long term character growth and has many tools for the GM to build adventures, villains, monsters, treasure, traps, magic, poisons and more. It also has a setting laid out in broad terms to be developed as play continues. The setting can also be ignored for one entirely of the GM’s making. It doesn’t matter.

Fifth and final reason is that the game rules support cinematic wuxia action very very well. Player characters can wade through unimportant NPCs and have amazing battles with other kung fu experts and face off against master villains with fists, swords and spells! The game uses a press-your-luck system where defense is an action. The more offensive you take things the less you’ll have for defense. This aligns perfectly with wuxia action.

So why Art of Wuxia!? It is a game that has many good adventure sources to draw upon, ease of entry to those familiar with fantasy RPGs, a rules system that is easy to learn supports campaign play, and the action is simply beautiful!

We are currently well into testing all aspects of campaign play and the game is shaping up very nicely.