Monday, October 13, 2014

Feeling Good

Despite the more negative tone of my last post, I'm actually feeling pretty good about things these days.  No, Flying Swordsmen didn't turn out the way I'd like it to have turned out.  But it was a pretty solid effort, I think. 

Chanbara is coming along more smoothly, although more slowly thanks to all of my grad school work.  In fact, I should be writing up a reflection to a chapter in one of the books right now, but I'm blogging instead. 

For one thing, I'm much more familiar with Japanese jidai-geki (period piece) and chanbara (samurai/ninja action) film/TV.  A decade in Japan can do that.  The tropes come to me much more easily than wuxia.  Don't get me wrong, I've watched plenty of Chinese fantasy action movies and read some of the books.  I know it well.  I just know samurai/ninja stuff better. 

The other thing is that Chanbara is really lending itself to more D&D style play.  It won't play exactly like D&D, but since the conceit is "fighting monsters to take their stuff and give it to your lord" it plays similarly to standard D&D.  Without the treasure hunting element, Flying Swordsmen has the potential to bog down unless the players are active in seeking their own adventure, or the DM has a good system of hooks/events/complications to use to draw the players in.

A couple of weeks ago or so, I read some good things from the dreaded two-some of RPG Pundit and Zak S. (yeah, the "5E consultants from Hell," cue ominous music!) via G+.  Pundit pulled a quote from one of Zak's art history posts that really resonated with me.  Something along the lines of "don't let your inexperience with a genre hinder you, just take what elements of it you enjoy and rock them hard."  [Sorry, I find G+ too ephemeral to track town the actual quote from Pundit.  Zak's post is here.]  Zak was discussing art.  Pundit was discussing his RPG, Arrows of Indra. 

That's one of the things that inspired me to write my last post.  Flying Swordsmen has enough in it for someone like me to take it, identify the things about wuxia that I think are cool, and play the hell out of them. 

Today, Dariel at Hari Ragat posted something relevant.  So did Bedrock Games about their upcoming wuxia game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate.

I used to worry about the people who don't like OA/Al Qadim/whatever non-Middle-Earth/Hyboria/Westeros mashup because they think it's "D&D in Funny Hats."  As a player or DM, I wanted to get more into the setting/characters/tropes that make these settings distinct.  Then I got over it.

But as a game designer, I was still worrying about that.  I wanted FS to be more than that.  I still want Chanbara to be more than that.  And Dariel's post is spot on about that.  Use what works in the D&D system, if that's what you're basing your game on, but find some mechanics that will reinforce the setting tropes.  I think I fell short in Flying Swordsmen on that account, but I've got it covered in Chanbara.

But like Pundit said and Bedrock Games also, so what if Flying Swordsmen is really just D&D in Funny Hats?  No, it's not the best system for emulating the personal drama that is key to wuxia.  But it gets the surface details right, IMO, and with the right group of players and right GM they can run it with all the character drama necessary for a satisfying wuxia campaign.  It's not baked into the rules, but in a way that can be a good thing.  People who don't know the genre except in a more surface manner can find things they like in it, and use them in their own way. 

I thought this was going to be a short post.  Getting rather long, wouldn't you say?  So I'll just wrap things up.

There are no RPG police.  There are no genre police.  Yes, I hope that eventually I'll get around to revising Flying Swordsmen, and add a few genre specific mechanics to better emulate wuxia fiction.  But until then, I do have to say I'm happy with how it came out, warts and all.


  1. Just have fun with things. Seriously, life is too short. Glad you're feeling a bit better, too.

    1. Thanks! Some non-gaming stress issues have been resolved successfully, so I should be back to more up-beat, somewhat silly posts.

  2. @ Lord G:

    RE Pundit/Zak's quote

    The only caution here is that, when trying to model a culture not your own (especially if it's one you're inexperienced with) you can run the risk of offending folks. From what I've read, a lot of people had serious issues with OA, and not just its mechanics.

    However, when trying to model a genre that's already full of tropes and stereotypes (like Wuxia), I'm not sure how you can get around it. I guess you just have to approach it respectfully, and (if possible) try looking at it through non-Western eyes.

    1. Definitely agree. I guess it comes down to who you game with, though. If you game with someone from or heavily related to such a culture, it might be best to talk things over with them first.

      OA, for example, did come out in the period of "orientalism" (in the Edward Said sense) related to Japan, which still lingers in US culture. Groups who only knew Japan through Sho Kosugi ninja movies probably did a lot of stuff in their games that would really offend some people.

      On the other hand, I never had problems with using stereotypes of vikings in my D&D games from friends of Scandinavian heritage, for example. I think sometimes the IDEA that something might be offensive to a certain group may weigh heavier on a conscience than it should.

      I know Pundit took some flack for including the Caste system in Arrows of Indra. I had a WTF reaction to that criticism. To me, it seems like it would be really easy for a group to either dial that aspect up or down to suit their comfort level. And it's totally appropriate to the setting, like it or not with our modern perspectives. But then again, with Pundit, some people might be complaining about it simply because he's Pundit and that's low hanging fruit for criticism.

      Anyway, as far as cultural sensitivity goes, I think the advice to "Don't be a dick" deals with it fairly well.