Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adapting Wushu Genre to Homebrew

So today a more rpg mechanics oriented post, going over what I'm working on for the Wushu campaign. At heart, I'll be using the classic Storyteller mechanics. I'm used to them-- having adapted them for Legend of the Five Rings, various HCI portals, Exalted, and Vampire. Classic ST uses a dice pool system-- for most tests a number of dice equal to rating in appropriate skill plus appropriate stat. Dice which show up as 7+ count as a success, with 10's rolled counting as two successes. How many successes you need depends on the difficulty of the task involved. The system has nine stats broken into Physical (Dexterity, Strength, Stamina), Social (Charisma, Manipulation, Appearance) and Mental (Perception, Intelligence, Wits). There's a pool of about 30 broadly defined skills. Those basic resolution mechanics work well, so we'll run with that.

Combat will be handled slightly differently from that system. Storyteller is good in that it allows multiple actions pretty quickly, but that system can work against itself. With high dice pools, players can game out the system with multiple actions and running out an opponent's actions. The big change will be that players will have two separate dice pools in combat: an Action Pool (for attacks, parries and other tested maneuvers) and a Dodge Pool. The Action Pool is based on their particular skill, like Melee + Dex and the Dodge pool's based on Dodge + Dex. When a character defends he can choose to take a Parry, in which case he rolls his Action Pool or a Dodge, in which case he uses his Dodge pool. Each time he takes an action from a particular pool, he drops two dice from that pool.

So for example, let's say Scott has 8 dice in Melee and 8 dice in Dodge. He's attacked twice before he goes, so he opts to defend with his Dodge pool, rolling 8 against the first attack and 6 against the second. This means when he does attack, he can roll 8 dice for his attack. If he'd chosen to Parry one attack and Dodge another, he would have rolled 8 dice for each. However, when he went to attack, he'd only roll 6 dice.

What's the difference between dodge and parry?
*Dodge is affected by any armor the character is wearing.
*A character is limited in the number of parries and attacks he can make by the rate of his weapon, typically 3.
*Some weapons give parry bonuses.
*Some things cannot be parried.

Weapons, Armor and Damage
Since this is a fantasy game, I'm going to build the weapon table relatively broadly. One of the things about the Wushu genre is really that any weapon (except maybe a magical one) is about as effective as another one. Not realistic, but in fitting with the genre. So, if we assume that the standard 1H Sword is the baseline weapon, then you can define things from that. For example, a bow will have a lower rate, but has the bonus of being usable at range. Those two things balance out, so a bow will probably have damage close to a sword. On the other hand, the thrown dart/knife, has a standard rate, usable at range, and can be concealed, so it will have a slightly lower damage. Other elements-- like having to use two hands, parry bonuses, or special effects (like assist with disarms) will be worked in. I'm not saying that all weapons will be equal, but I'd like to get away from the problem Exalted has-- where there's one weapon everyone ought to have, period or else they're behind the curve.

I'm doing away with the distinction between Lethal and Bashing damage. Damage is damage. Armor has a Damage Resistance rating, usually fairly low-- since armor's less of an element in this genre. So maybe the heavy plate will eat up five wounds. You don't have to roll for that, it is simply subtracted. Armor, on the other hand, will significantly impinge on your ability to Dodge. Beyond the set DR of a character's armor (if any), they will get to roll dice equal to their Stamina against damage. Each success reduces the damage by one. Damage done with a weapon is rolled-- equal to weapon damage plus strength plus any maneuver bonuses. When the player rolls the initial attack, any 10's they roll also give them an extra die to roll for damage. 10's count as two successes for damage. Characters will have a pool of wounds (around 12) based on Stamina plus any advantages.

Combat Styles
The heart of a Wushu game--he basic principle for the Martial Arts system in this game is that characters learn elements which they may apply to their Attacks and Defenses. Elements are learned in sets of styles. In the beginning, characters will be limited in the number of elements they may apply to any single maneuver. Warrior Archetype characters will be able to apply one more than other archetype. A character can only apply a particular element twice if they have learned it from two different styles. For example, Damaging might be called “Hammering” in Blessed Smithy Style and “Dragon's” in Claws of the Storm Style. If a character knew both styles, he could apply both to get something like Hammering Dragon's Strike, which would give him +2 dice damage.

We found in play that having one's maneuver elements on cards allowed players to quickly sort and come up with what they wanted to do. I've generally listed elements as being applicable to Offense, Defense or All. In addition, some obviously apply to Ranged or Grapple attacks so I've noted that. Some are very magical elements, so I've noted them as “Super”. Not all of these elements are necessarily balanced, but styles should have about six elements which should balance that out-- as well, more powerful effects will appear less frequently among the styles.

Scholar and Courtiers archetypes will have some guidelines for applying the elements to their respective spheres. They will also have a set of three styles each exclusive to their Archetypes.

Some example elements:

Must follow a successful grab. Adds +2 damage to a Grab and Crush attack. Doubling adds +3 damage.

Maneuver gains a +1 bonus to damage.

Fighter may parry a normally non-parryable attack such as a missile weapon. Doubling allows the fighter to either parry unusual attacks such as flames or thrown boulders or reflect the attack. If the attack is reflected, the original attacker must defend against his own attack.

Successful maneuver knocks weapon out of target’s hand in lieu of doing damage. Target must make a Strength test to resist. Doubling allows the fighter to gains control of the weapon used if the disarm is successful, gaining a bonus if they attack with it.


If the attack or parry is successful, the target also loses a point of Chi.

Maneuver draws the attention or the target or temporarily disrupts his senses: flash powders, spat needles, etc are examples. The opponent suffers a -1 penalty to all Perception or Attack rolls until the end of the turn. Doubling makes this penalty -2 or doubles duration.

If the attack or parry is successful, the target also loses a point of Willpower.

Here are three sample styles:

Eight-Diagram Sabre
Nerve ---> Demanding
Grab ---> Harrying
Resilient ---> Mirrored
Choke ---> Righteous
Feint ---> Sublime
Lock ---> Hidden

Taunt of the Monkey
Venom ---> Nail
Damaging ---> Lashing
Breaking ---> Gift
Distraction/Trickery ---> Monkey’s
Precise ---> Echo
Returning ---> Crying

Fist of Precise Thought
Paralyze ---> Empty
Rapid ---> Continuous
All-Around ---> Total
Distraction/Trickery ---> Dividing
Mook-Breaker ---> Singular
Unblockable ---> Final

Characters can freely apply elements from different styles together to create new attacks and new maneuvers. These maneuvers are still classed as an Attack, Parry or Dodge. Some of the Super elements, like Explosion, with have a Chi cost as well to activate them). This is yet another reworking of this system and this time I've tried to eliminate or change maneuvers which brought up timing issues. Also some effects I've moved out to special abilities or stances just because they did work as well.

Note that elements and styles are not weapon specific-- they can be equally applied to anything one is doing. This simplifies things-- meaning you don't have to keep two or more sets of different kinds of word and also represents the flexibility of the various martial forms.

Styles are purchased in sets, with three ranks to be purchased. The first rank gives the character four of the style's words/elements. The second rank gives the character another word, plus a stance particular to the style. Stances are continuous effects a player may invoke on their turn. For example, a stance might increase a character's ability to soak damage, might allow them to conduct secondary actions uninterrupted (like writing a letter while fighting), or provide a bonus to resist grapples. The third rank gives the last word of the set, called the Secret Word-- often one of the more potent or Super elements. As well, it also gives the character a special ability.

I have 22 styles done up in basic (elements with their particular words). Nine of these (three each) will be specific to particular archetypes (Warrior, Courtier, Scholar). The rest will be generally available. My thought is that they represent basic schools and forms-- so there might be some variation depending on sub-schools and so on.

Willpower, Virtues, Chi and Epics

I'm pretty sure I'll have two different expendable resources for the players. Willpower is spent by characters to activate Virtues, ala Scion. Characters choose three Virtues to represent themselves at the beginning of the game, like Honor, Sincerity, Valor, and so on. They have a rating, usually from 1-3. If a player wishes they can explain how a particular action fits with the carrying out of that virtue. They can then spend a point of Willpower to gain dice on that action equal to their Virtue's rating. They're also limited to doing this in a scene to a number of times equal to the Virtues rating.

Chi, on the other hand, will have a couple of uses, but will be primarily for activating special abilities. I'm still getting the dynamics of that.
Finally, I'll also be using the concept of Epic Dots in stats. An epic dot in a particular stat means that when you roll that stat, you get an automatic additional success. I'll be keeping this fairly limited, but I'd like players to end up with a couple of Epic dots just to give them some potency.

More later.


  1. Quick top of the head math notes. 7, 8, 9 are .1 successes subtotal .3, 10 is .2 successes. On a single die, total .5 avg successes.

    Odds of no successes is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 60% per die.

    With 8 dice, you'll typically get 4 successes. ~13% of no successes. 0.01% of 16 successes. I can make a spreadsheet later if you want details for different sized dice pools.

    Can you take your 6 die attack early, then make an 8 die attack next?

  2. No, the dice countdown works as a factor of your focus getting diverted through the course of the round.

    To give you a sense of the several ways we've handled things in various ST formats.

    In old, old Storyteller, your actions were a pool, based on the lowest skill. You divided your dice into actions and if you used them up and got attacked you were effectively SOL. It had a nice tactile feel, but some real problems.

    Second stage ST rules went like this (basically). On your action, you said how many actions you were going to take-- let's say four. Those actions included active defenses, like dodging. What would happen is you'd get your first action, less (1+ # of actions you planned to take), so in this case 5. Your second action would lose 6 dice, then seven, then eight. If you had actions set aside for defense, but weren't attacked, you had no way to convert those lost actions into anything.

    The way we've handled it recently has been-- if you're going to take multiple actions, you lose two dice off the first action, then three, then four and so on. The problem is when you get a large pool of dice or a system that doesn't include rate as a factor.

    I know Sherri's got a table of probabilities somewhere-- though that might have been on her old machine, and I think those were about different dice conventions (6+ success with 1's rolled canceling a success; 7+ with 10's getting rerolled to try for another success, etc.)

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