Tuesday, 7 August 2012

[Dungeon World] Martial Arts Styles, Part 2

Black Swan Style

Emphasizing the unexpected movement and putting your opponent off-balance, this secretive school was developed by members of the Black Swan Triad. Using the techniques of this school will instantly mark you as someone with deep and close ties to the Jade City's youngest criminal organisation.
Basic Techniques:
  • Swooping Hawk Strike: Suddenly move across a distance and attack an enemy before they expect it.
  • Solo Swan Sweep: Trip your foe, either putting them on the floor or off-balance.
  • Unbalanced Equilibrium Stance: When an enemy attacks you, redirect their attack against something else.
Preferred Weapons: Butterfly knives, chains.
Weakness: Unpredictability

Falling Leaf Style

The Falling Leaf school is one of the less common martial arts practised on Chennai. Once popular in the old Empire of the Many Heavens, it has lost traction over the centuries as its practitioners have died off or associated themselves with unsuccessful regimes. Built on the principles of balance and subtlety, it is not an easy style to learn, but those who master it can still be highly effective in battle.
Basic Techniques:
  • Subtle Breeze Movement: Defy gravity for a few moments.
  • Gentle Inertia Tap: Knock an enemy off-balance and force them into a position where you have the advantage.
  • Balanced Awareness Technique: Avoid being surprised and instead act before your opponent.
Preferred Weapons: Staves, swords.
Weakness: Lack of fortitude

Flying Horse Style

The ghazi-warriors of Shatranji are masters of the martial sphere, and have developed several different schools of combat. Flying Horse Style emphasizes the bravery of the charge, the sheer courage it takes for someone to throw themselves into battle and risk death for their beliefs.
Basic Techniques:
  • Headstrong Stallion Charge: Leap at an opponent, ignoring any obstacles, and strike them with terrible force.
  • Implacable Courage Spirit: Ignore fear, terror, or a supernatural assault on your mind.
  • Terrifying Hooves of Destruction: Make an attack against your opponent that is particularly terrifying or awe-inspiring - lesser foes may flee in terror.
Preferred Weapons: Spears, maces.
Weakness: Unsubtle

Shifting Crab Style

Another technique wielded by the warriors of Shatranji, this school emphasizes being where your opponent is not and moving around their defenses, rather than attempting to strike them head-on.
Basic Techniques:
  • Devious Sideways Step: Suddenly move to where your opponent would not expect you to be.
  • Penetrating Pincer Attack: When you have an advantageous position, strike at your foe's weak points and inflict terrible damage.
  • Unorthodox Motion Defence: Avoid an attack or danger by moving in a surprising way. 
Preferred Weapons: Nunchaku, fans, claws.
Weakness: Arrogance

Monday, 6 August 2012

[Dungeon World] Martial Arts Styles, Part 1

The kung-fu moves I wrote about earlier have become central to my Daojin City Blues campaign. Each of the major mortal planes known to the denizens of Daojin City, including its home plane of Chennai, has been established to have a dominant martial arts style.

Dominant Styles

Jade Mountain Style

Perhaps the most well-known style in Daojin City, the school of the Jade Mountain Style was established during the Empire of the Many Heavens. Its practitioners learn to hold their ground against any foe, and to bolster their strength as if they were a great mountain, stern and implacable. 

Basic Techniques:
  • Jade Armour Spirit: Ignore any damage from one attack.
  • Pillar of Might Stance: Resist any forced movement or push attack.
  • Bolder-Crushing Blow: Deliver an unstoppable blow.
Preferred Weapons: Swords, shields, spears.
Weakness: Inflexibility

Flowing Water Style

This style was devised on the paradise plane of Bakuyeo, and it fits the relaxed denizens of that plane well. Techniques focus on being like the water, on avoiding blows rather than resisting them, and on using an enemy's own momentum and energy against them.

Basic Techniques:
  • Rippling Wave Escape: Move swiftly out of the path of danger.
  • Divergent Stream DefenceRedirect one foe's attack into another opponent.
  • Flow Reversal Technique: Use an enemy's momentum against them.
Preferred Weapons: Nunchaku, whips, nets.
Weakness: Softness

Deadly Blossom Style

The Peach Kingdom of Kimoko values peace and order over all other concerns, and thus the dominant style of its poet-knights emphasizes ending battles before they even begin. Practitioners of the Deadly Blossom Style learn techniques that will allow them to strike quickly and return to peaceful existence as swiftly as possible.

Basic Techniques:
  • Uncanny Scent of Danger: Avoid being surprised.
  • Sudden Blossoming of Blood: Strike an unsuspecting foe for double damage.
  • Instantaneous Strike of Cessation: Draw your weapon, strike, and return it to its scabbard before anyone knows you've attacked.
Preferred Weapons: Swords, knives, fans.
Weakness: Lack of endurance

Celestial Fist Style

The Godhead monks of Tianguo learn that the first enemies of the holy are the corrupt spirits and demons that fester just beneath the material plane, lurking and hoping to pervert the pious at every moment. Every element of the Celestial Fist Style is designed to defeat such opponents, who laugh at the laws of creation and defy mortal means.

Basic Techniques:
  • God-Blooded Fist: Smite an unholy foe for double damage.
  • Inescapable Blow Technique: Strike any enemy, even the incorporeal or spiritual.
  • Glorious Leap of Faith: Defy gravity for a few moments, the better to fight foes that do the same themselves.
Preferred Weapons: Fists only.
Weakness: Arrogance

Moving Fortress Style

Ghazi warriors of the Seven Witch-Queens of Shatranji have been known to use many martial styles, but dominant amongst them is the Moving Fortress Style. Like the chromatic moving castles of the Witch-Queens, the Moving Fortress Style emphasizes maintaining a strong defence while shattering your foes' own defences.

Basic Techniques:
  • Shield-Breaking Strike: Destroy an enemy's armour or shield.
  • Inevitable Castle Motion: Push forwards, driving your foes backwards.
  • Unyielding Rukh Defence: Ignore an enemy's attack.
Preferred Weapons: Maces, hammers.
Weakness: Rigidity 

Shadow Dancer Style

The travelling performers of Transantiago often come under threat from the many dangers of the Shrouded Land, from the agents of the inhuman Barons to bandits and monstrous creatures of the deep woods. Their own martial arts emphasize deception and movement, avoiding an enemy's attack and striking only from a position of total superiority.

Basic Techniques:
  • Shrouding Shadow Step: Vanish quickly into the shadows.
  • Instant Insight Impact: Strike without warning at your foe's weakest point, dealing terrible damage.
  • Death Defying Dance: Dance out of the path of danger.
Preferred Weapons: Daggers, staves.
Weakness: Fragility

Burning Sands Style

Harsh and unyielding, the desert sands of Haemyin do not admit those who are not willing to fight to survive. The sandslingers of the Shifting Sands are notorious for their willingness to go to any end to win a fight, regardless of honour or fairness.

Basic Techniques:
  • Burning Hand Strike: Deliver a burning wound to a foe, igniting their own chi as a source of pain.
  • Sand-Slinging Gesture: Blind your foe for a few moments.
  • Blurring Sand Shift: Move instantly from one place to another.
Preferred Weapons: Spears, knives, scimitars.
Weakness: Overcommitment

Drunken Monkey Style

A school of martial arts developed by the brewmaster monks of Konguo, Drunken Monkey Style revels in the chaos of the world. Masters of the school are never obvious martial artists, most likely to be found dishevelled and drunk in the nearest watering hole. The style emphasizes tricks and chaotic movement to confuse one's opponent, and its advanced techniques are easiest to perform when you've had one too many.

Basic Techniques:
  • Harmless Humility Stance: Appear harmless and blend into the background.
  • Irresistibly Irritating Insult: Taunt an enemy, tricking them into moving into a disadvantageous position.
  • Divide And Conquer Defence: Trick one foe into attacking another.
Preferred Weapons: Improvised weaponry, barrels.
Weakness: Incautious

[Daojin City Blues] The Vanity of Yao Lin, Part 1

We opened with the gang of four making their way to the Long Sing Casino, the city's most decadent pleasure barge and a wholly incorporated operation of the Black Swan Triad. Sanjeev, using his contacts in the underground fight scene, had heard of an opportunity for a big job with the Green Spider, one of the Black Swans' up-and-coming operators. The PCs, all being flat broke, leapt at the opportunity.

At the casino, Xiao Hu used his Spirit Tongue move to make contact with the spirits of greed and jade that swarmed over the gaming floor like mosquitos. He learned the true name of the mightiest spirit, Leng Su, a bloated spirit-caterpillar who tempted him with the promise of wealth at the Mijatsu tables - a temptation that the impetuous Little Tiger was ill-equipped to resist. Only the wisdom and quick action of Nobunaga was able to drag him away from the tables before he landed himself in trouble.

In the private rooms, Sanjeev and Li Feng negotiated with the Green Spider, an elegant woman who had clearly mastered a martial-arts style unknown to them. The job on offer was a complicated one - stealing an idea. Yao Lin, a powerful archmage who commanded the secret of giving life to Porcelain Men, had vanished several weeks ago, leaving his secluded estate and factory open to a raid. The Black Swan would pay handsomely to learn the secret of the golem master's art. After a brief Parley, a price was arranged that was suitable to both sides, with a small payment of jade upfront and the rest on delivery of the secret.

Deciding there was no time to waste, the group hastened immediately toward Yao Lin's tower, whose flag fluttered above the city's wealthy Temple District. Xiao Hu, as a child of the tough streets of the Jade City, took point as they scurried through the darkening night. Unfortunately, he blew his Perilous Journey roll and led them straight into the rioting strikers of the Dragonside railworks, just as the city magistrates prepared to attack the unionists with alchemical weapons. Only quick action by Sanjeev saved them from a night in the Halls of Justice, leading the group down an alleyway and away from the blossoming clouds of pain-smoke.

They finally made it to the Temple District, gasping and panting, avoiding patrols of magistrates and house guards, only to find their way blocked by the high fences of Prosperity Garden, the city's largest park, strictly off-limits to those who did not hold property in the Temple District. Just as the would-be thieves prepared to climb the fence, Nobunaga used his Magnetic Detection Goggles to scan the fence for wards. A powerful anbaric field surged through the fence's iron pillars, with enough voltage to fry any foolish enough to touch the fence. Clearly, an alternate route was preferable - which Xiao Hu was quick to identify. The fence surrounded the park on all sides save on the side of the cliff overlooking the Jade Ward, where a picturesque waterfall from Prosperity Garden tumbled down to join the Jin River. By climbing the cliff, they could bypass the anbaric ward and much of the park's security.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as that. Though Sanjeev was able to climb the cliff with ease, followed quickly by Nobunaga and Xiao Hu, the ranger Li Feng's endurance and strength failed him, nearly sending him plunging to his death. He was saved only by Sanjeev's determination not to let him fall. The Shatranji warrior was dragged over rocks as he clung to Li Feng's rope, suffering brutal wounds before he was able to anchor himself and haul Li Feng to the clifftop. 

As the two lay gasping and bleeding, Xiao Hu attempted to channel his Chi Healing powers in order to aid his allies - but his youthful inexperience led him to disaster. Overcharging had drawn energy from the surrounding water spirits, driving them into a zealous rage. They summoned their servants - crocodilian beasts that lurked within the park's gentle streams and reflecting pools - and set them upon the trespassers. Though the adventurers were able to demonstrate their mastery of the martial arts and quickly dispatch the beasts and the spirits, they did not escape unharmed - no member of the party escaped the battle without a nasty scratch or two.

After making their way through a topiary labyrinth and a brief scuffle with the park's guards, the adventurers came to the foot of the cliff below Yao Lin's estate. No entrance was obvious, until Li Feng discovered a secret entrance through the cliff-face into a room with a pillar of water flowing upwards. Seeing no alternative, Sanjeev stripped off his armour and flung himself into the pillar, swimming up into a fountain that lay in the courtyard of Yao Lin's estate - only to be confronted by a horde of heavily-armed porcelain warriors.

The other three quickly followed, but it seemed there was no winning this battle. The warrior's mighty spear and the artificer's Etheric Emitter Glove dispatched several porcelain men, but they continued to advance implacably on the group. Finally, Sanjeev cried out to the others to flee into the tower, as he threw himself against the porcelain army in a sacrificial last stand.


We ended the session there - Sanjeev's player wouldn't be able to make it to any further sessions, so it seemed appropriate for him to sacrifice himself heroically against the porcelain horde - unfortunately, because he'd just gained a level, along with Nobunaga and Xiao Hu. Stay tuned for session two and the climactic resolution...

[Dungeon World] Daojin City Blues - Introduction

So, despite having followed its development from the earliest stages, it's taken me quite a while to actually get around to running Dungeon World game. One of the problems is that my mind constantly sails in nine different directions at once: one moment I'm desperate to run a Farscape-inspired space opera, the next a gritty Marxist interpretation of Planescape. Since I've spent the last year or so indoctrinating a new circle of gamers into the world of role-playing games, I've confined myself to running a relatively traditional game using Old School Hack, set in a reasonably traditional D&D campaign setting that a friend and I have been running games in for years (The Coin).

But this new campaign was going to be different. I've indoctrinated the new crew now; now I have the opportunity to move beyond the fun but rather staid elves and dragons of the Coin into the less traditional realms - but I still couldn't decide what that was going to be. Marxist urban steampunk fantasy built on the bones of China Mieville? Surrealist philosophical plane-jumping adventures in Sigil or Dis? Or some sort of epic wuxia fantasy inspired by Avatar and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

After watching Legend of Korra, the answer became clear to me: I was going to do all of them at once.

Here's the pitch I sold this game to my players with: 

Daojin City.

Most people just call it the City, and it deserves the definitive article. There's no place quite like it, lying as it does in the interstices between the many worlds, towers stretching into the infinite unknown, canals crowded with gondoliers. Its portals and trade consortia services a thousand empires, its streets echo with the sound of a hundred tongues.

But it's a rough place if you haven't got two jade pieces to rub together. You came here to make it big, to show the universe what you're made of - but with the City squeezed from above by the plutocrats and sorcerers of the Jade Council, and from below by the mobsters of the many triads and tongs, there's not a lot of room for an honest adventurer to make a yuan.

A dishonest adventurer, on the other hand...


The DW basics are great, but they needed a fair amount of tweaking to fit in my urban kung-fu steampunk fantasy. 

Firstly, I ditched alignment and replaced it with elemental temperaments, which are essentially the same mechanically. Although the implementation of alignments in DW is one of the best I've seen, it really doesn't sit well in a revolutionary steampunk noir game.

Secondly, I ditched the concept of separate playable races: although the weird and varied races and crossbreeds of Planescape appealed to me, it's easy to overwhelm a setting with too many interpolating forces. Plus, I was already planning to have a varied array of cultural backgrounds to delineate characters - no need for those cultural backgrounds to be defined by biological facts. So humans and monsters.

Thirdly, I came up with the idea of each character having knowledge of a martial arts style. This mechanically replaces race moves, but mainly serves to enshrine the Avatar-like tone. Each character, even the slender wizard, is already a skilled martial artist. 

Finally, I messed with the classes to have them better fit my interpretation of the world. I removed Clerics, used Nathan Orlando Wilson's freeform Wizard rewrite, and added an Artificer and a Mysticas character options.


I opened the game with the premise that the PCs were broke adventurers on the periphery of Daojin City's criminal underworld, whose various schemes to get rich quick in the City of Jade had all fallen through. The four players who showed up brought this rogues' gallery to life:

  • Nobunaga the air-aspected Artifcer, a man consumed by his curiosity and desire for knowledge. An exiled noble from Kumiko, the Peach Kingdom, he is skilled in the Deadly Blossom Style developed by the poet-knights of the Peach King, which focuses on ending battles decisively and quickly, almost before they begin.
  • Sanjeev the fire-aspected Warrior, hailing from Shatranji, the Many-Coloured Raj. A fierce warrior and master of the Moving Fortress Style, he once served as a personal bodyguard to one of the Witch-Queens of Shatranji, but was banished from her presence for unknown reasons.
  • Xiao Hu ("Little Tiger") the air-aspected Mystic, a thirteen-year-old street urchin whose mystic powers were awakened when his older brother was slain by a member of the One Hand Triad. He had devoted himself to learning Jade Mountain Style, a style once practiced by the monks whose abbeys pre-dated Daojin City.
  • Li Fang the fire-aspected Ranger, who hailed from a broken town in the deserts of Haemyin, the Shifting Sands. Once a prosperous centre of trade, its fortunes vanished when the Celestial & Jade Railway bypassed the town, and when its oasis dried up. Li Fang, who is a practised artist of the Burning Sand Style, suspects that the two events are closely related.