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:
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.