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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

[OSR/Tianxia] One day in the year of the fox..

[I]Here's a Tianxia one-shot that I set in the Red Tide setting, in Xian. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Yeah, I know one of those is run an OSR setting, and the other uses the Fate Core system... well, let's say I don't see that as a bug!
Besides, Red Tide is a Southeast Asian setting with heavy Chinese influence. Tianxia would be a rather poor wuxia game if it couldn't represent that!

But why did I need to run that one-shot? Well, it was due to the GM of our Tianxia game (actually, everyone but me and another player) catching a case of absentium ininterruptus (i.e. needing to cancel in the last minute, see you next week, guys), I ran a Tianxia one-shot instead. I kinda ran it at short notice, but since we were there already, why miss the change to try something new? I have already a place in the Red Tide I'm used for a short story (no NPCs met here are from it, though).
The player chose to play an Iron Dragon stylist again, but I insisted on creating new characters, so it wouldn't intersect with the longer Tianxia campaign.

One change I introduced to the Red Tide setting: historically, people didn't make much of a difference between martial arts and magic (actually, supposed magic spells were part of the pre-battle preparation of some participants in the Boxer rebellion). So the PC was created according to the rules in Tianxia, and was an illiterate martial artist. Yet in the setting he was considered a magician, and could become daifu if he proved himself - although he would be of the kind that can't read (promoted for outstanding martial skill).

Here's a short outline, written by the other player.

Before we began, though, I set up a couple Campaign Aspects.
No, I'm not going to tell you what I compelled them for. But here they are, you can try to guess.

"One day, in the year of the fox..."
"When the strong young man of the rising sun heard the tolling of the great black bell..."

I'm relatively well-known for utilising ambiguous Aspects. But, some people would say, which reading is the true one?

I allow all of them, by default. Yes, that includes the contradictory ones. Both people and settings are complicated and often-contradictory. Fate points take care of using "the right reading at the right time".

Wu Kuang was the second child of a farmer in the Xian protectorate. He was a stout and strong but simple man, having learned some Kung Fu from a passing master several years ago. He often took cattle and other produce from his father's lands to the nearby town of Banakampure and the events described here happened on one such trip. It was near sunset and Kuang was sitting in one of the local establishments know for its special services provided by the serving girls but also for the its cuisine, in which the young man was more interested. The girl that brought him dumplings leaned over while putting the dish in front of him in one clean motion and whispered slily if he'd like to help her play a flute in the back room. A surprised “I am not a musician” left her stunned. She thought he was joking but realized that he wasn't when she observed him burn his fingers several times while ravenously eating dumplings with his hands. A man burst through the window screaming “The Kueh! The Kueh want to kill me! I saw them, they chased me!”. The town bells were singing a dark song in the distance to warn of impending danger. The patrons and staff were greatly stirred by what the man said and the alarming cry of the bells. Within seconds the inn was completely empty. Everyone had ran as fast as they could towards their homes in fear and worry. Including our hero, who decided it was no business of his what some demon-worshippers might be doing. Although the only Kueh that might appear would be smugglers or pirates, as the Sultanate,(being founded by a converted Makerite who became Xianese daifu) didn't trade with them on religious grounds.
Soon after exiting town, Kuang saw, not very far from where he was standing, six men dressed in odd black clothes and carrying weapons... he tried to avoid them by running as fast as he could down a narrow path convenient for his escape. An arrow whirred past him and hit a tree slightly off to his left. Fortunately he outran them (keeping hidden between the trees) for now, but he knew they would eventually catch up to him when the path reached the river and where the archer in their group could have a clear shot, so he left the path and took through the forest.

He lost them. But now he sensed another presence, he saw it in the distance – not quite a human figure, moving through the crowns of the trees, jumping from one branch to another as agile as a cat. He couldn't outrun this foe. Kuang took a defensive position behind a tree hoping to avoid an attack from above by doing as a squirrel, moving around the trunk hiding from a clear line of attack. The black figure jumped straight at the tree, pulling out a sword and hacking into the tree trunk to alter its course, spinning round the side and dropping straight on Kuang. The young man tried to deflect, the figure in black spun in the air and delivered a cutting blow to his face. Kuang got a shallow cut, but it would definitely leave a scar. Strength was to his advantage so he grabbed the Kueh in a lock, the Kueh tried to push himself up the tree with his legs in order to slip out of Kuang's grasp- he failed and they both dropped on the ground for a struggle. His grasp tightened around the arms and neck of the killer.

A quick jerk by the Kueh allowed him to hit the cut on Kuang's face with the back of his head but the young man persevered. Another tightening of Kuang's lock made the Kueh lose consciousness. At this moment Kuang saw they were not alone, yet another figure lurked in the dark... he managed to make out the shape of a tiger. Now he was in real trouble. Quick thinking! He cut the Kueh's body in several places and ran hoping the tiger would be satisfied with him rather than Kuang. The plan worked. So far, so good.

Upon reaching his home he saw it burning, the cries of his parents and siblings coming from within. Only one way in – he burst through the burning door and started dragging them out. Singed by flames and choked by fumes he pulled the last of them his little brother and Little Sun Wukong, a 'mischievous macaque he took as a pet and grew fond of over the years. Three times he dove in, dragging two people each time, as the flames tried to choke him or engulf him.

The pirates outside were waiting for him. They had surrounded him and his family. One of the men in black said, “Put them back in, especially that one! Than lock the door from inside. You can leave her outside, though”, pointing to his little brother and his little sister, respectively.

Kuang went on the attack, the only thing left. He dashed a few stabs from the spears, grabbing them and knocking out the man in the middle with a kick. Kuang pushed the spears back to their owners' faces leaving them stunned and one of them losing grip. Kuang swung the loose spear and with a single swing took out both of them. He made it out with only a few scratches from the 2 archers that were now running scared.

Then it was time for the next two Aspects. However, due to scheduling issues, we didn't play long with them before switching. They were mostly a way to compel him, once.

"Fire in her stare, in the woods without a sound"

"Feel no sorrow, feel no pain, feel no hurt, there's nothing gained..."

A halfling appeared form the forest with a heavy breath....
“Looks like I missed the fun”, she said, “well I gotta catch up to them!”. She ran past Kuang and Little Wukong darted after her.
“Hey, who are you?”, Kuang yelled runnig after her and his little friend. She stopped.
“It doesn't matter. I have business with the Kueh. They're not going to strike only here. What are you gonna do now?”
“Are you going after them alone?!”
“Yes, so what are YOU gonna do??”, she replied with strange confidence.
“You're crazy! Come with me to town, there will be a militia!”
“Phah! You're way too scared for a man your size. I mean, look at me, I'm not scared!...Huh! I can't be wasting time with local cowards!”, she disappeared in the darkness among the trees.

(That's actually not what she said – she actually said “if those of you that are 2 meters tall are no good hiding, those 1.20 meters will do the job”. But that's how the player remembers it, and he wrote the AP. So I'm leaving both versions here).
I get a feeling he was going for more gongfupian feel, though, while I was going for the more typical wuxiapian. We should discuss this before next time.)

Kuang picked up LittleWukong and went back to his family. His parents and siblings stayed with relatives in Banakampure, while he joined the militia the next day. The militia was led by a strong and hardened dwarf - Gadril, a master of the underground Kung Fu. He led them from village to village, everywhere they went they saw carnage and burned buildings. What was peculiar is that there were a lot of Kueh corpses strewn in some places. Villagers, what little numbers survived, spoke of a female halfling saving them, sometimes in the last moment. They reached a village almost near the border with the Shou territory. A survivor told them that a halfling appeared and scared off the Kueh... but this time another being appeared, tiger-like yet somehow human. It snatched the brave halfling after an uneven fight and dragged her deep into the woods. The militia was at a loss, although Wu Kuang could confirm the tale of the weird halfling girl.

And it was time for the final confrontation, because the time was running short. This Aspects!

"Once a world of glittering hope, this world is not the world we knew..."

"I have died a thousand times watching all these angels fall"
Also see: disclaimer, again

“There's an old Shou temple nearby, no doubt it's from that cursed place, they used all kinds of black magic!”, Kuang told Gadril.
“We don't have any leads so this is probably our best guess”, the dwarf agreed,”But it's gonna be just me and you, it will be too dangerous for the others, you at least know some Kung Fu.”

Nobody lived at the temple because the magi that conquered the place used terrible weapons on it. Only the temple was left standing, legends said, while the jungle around was levelled with the ground.

Kuang could only conclude that this was a cursed place. Which it was in more than one way.

They set straight for the temple while the rest were led back to Banakampur by a local girl who had weak Kung Fu but was one of the two other militia members to know any. After several hours the duo reached the old temple towering above the trees. It should have been crumbling, yet it was like new, and casting a grotesque shadow, nearly as grotesque as the spirelike building itself. They searched through it, starting by the undergrounds, and finally found a corridor leading to a room in the uppermost floors of the temple, the room was different, there was some sort of energy coming from it.
“You came back for more...this time you won't be so lucky as the time you left me to that tiger.”, said a creature that appeared as if from the slight gust of wind that suddenly shot from the room up ahead. Kuang and his companion saw a slender but sinewy figure that resembled both human and animal, it was definitely humanoid but had the fur, facial features and step of a tiger.
“How?!”, yelled Kuang,”... the tiger killed you!!”
“It did, and didn't. We joined.”
“Where's the halfling??”, asked Kuang.
“I ate her.”, said the tiger-like creature and it jumped to the low ceiling.
Gadril had fallen into an unexpected trans, and Kuang realised what was happening after it took him as well. He was following the smallest hints of the enemy's movements in order to set-up a devastating counterattack. But the man-tiger on the ceiling was doing the same... it was much like a fight, except nobody was fighting. Yet it was going to decide the outcome, he knew!
So Kuang had no choice but to join. He realised the tiger would jump aside – his Chi was strong that way, and he'd disappar in the shadows,he realised.
Instead of attacking, however, he whispered, “She was really tasty. You will be next...”.
Kuang sensed him right behind his back and turned sharply to deliver a blow. As he did, he realised it would have connected! A flurry of blows would follow. But it was just the murderous intent of the enemy he had sensed. At least now he could see him again.
The young man prepared mentally to get the tiger in a lock but his minds whispered his hands would slip - once, then a second time. And the enemy would use this to his advantage, using their attacks to load his "internal spring" and surge forward...
It was at this point Wu jumped forward. So did the dwarf. Yet they haven't read the enemy well, and he had managed to guess their tactics! As a result, they didn't expect him moving forward to intercept the closer one, and kicking ferociously into Kuang's chest, throwing him backwards. He struck his head in the wall, and things got kinda blurry. Did the man-tiger break Gadril's leg then, or later? He couldn't tell.
More blows followed – fully real this time – and then a kick to the face finished it. Kuang was done, the already dim corridor went completely dark, he lost consciousness and regained it again. Or was it that he realised he can't win now, although his ferocious training still kept him on his feet?
He half-remembered running, while there were crunching sounds behind him... maybe he just didn't want to remember details.
He “woke up” in the jungle. No trace of the tiger-like Kueh or Gadril, except maybe some tiny specks of blood on his clothes. He was alive... but as he headed back towards Banakampure, dizzy, he realised a few things.
That wasn't the last time they were going to meet! This enemy wasn't going to stop killing people, but Wu Kuang wasn't ready for him.
So he needed to learn more kung-fu if he was to survive it next time!

Yeah, I kinda left it open for continuation. Because you never know. And just because a player had conceded is no reason to discard a fully formed and already introduced archenemy!
I also belive he learned a thing or two on Tianxia tactics, seeing me deal with him with 1 Fate point per scene. And yes, Tianxia is a tactical game!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Musings on RPGs and numbers

Let's talk about a new system. Here's a link to what the Vivid RPG system is meant to accomplish.
(You can check Gods of Gondwane on rpgnow, it uses Vivid AFAIK. I'll be waiting for the Hari Ragat RPG, because I love Southeast Asian settings... and Southeast Europeans ones, for that matter).
Now, I'm not going to copy and dissect the post for you. Instead, I'd tell you what impresses me most.
It is the part about "descriptive character creation". I've lost the count of people who play freeform and told me they want to join one of my games...
If that's all, they just join. However, if there is a "but", you can almost safely bet the next sentence would be "I'm bad with NUMBERS".
Isn't our hobby doing itself a disservice by insisting on the "lots of numbers, quantify everything" model popular with, say, Pathfinder? It's not a matter of simulationism or narrativism. I've played good sim games with less than 5 numbers on my character sheet (usually by approaching some indie game as a simulationist).

It's a big question, and one I have no answer to. I'd say time would tell, but games like Vivid are unlikely to replace PF on the North-American market regardless of comparative qualities! Popularity, marketing, should I enumerate it?
But maybe they can get a hold in another region of the world first, especially one where D&D and Pathfinder aren't running the show yet? Or maybe you can get freeform players to try it - and face it, freeform players outnumber us by orders of magnitude! Some of them have even invented their own systems by taking note of random or resource allocation solutions they've heard about or invented for use in a past game. Which is more or less how D&D was invented, too, AFAICT...

This post will rightfully be titled "musings". I don't offer any particular insight, just a new game to look at, and even more importantly, I offer you questions. You answer them for you.
Then we could compare notes in a year or two.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Surprising myself, or just buying what I haven't got yet?

Okay, I just made an unexpected observation about myself.
Most of my latest purchases have been either OSR games (DCC, Scarlet Heroes) or narrativist games (Fate-based, but also High Valour and Beast Hunter. And Circle of Hands, if that counts). And I'm considering more OSR games, mainly the Red Tide setting and ACKS (and if Kiero comes to develop his historical setting for ACKS, this one as well).
If it wasn't for Esteren's KS, Tékumel's KS and Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane, I wouldn't have purchased a proper* simulationist game for over a month!

*Proper here means "meant to be simulationist". I find many so-called story-games to have better simulation than some so-called sim games. But they're not meant as such, and that's another topic.