Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hearts of Wulin: Conventions & Assumptions

I'm finishing up the rules for my Hearts of Wulin PbtA hack, in prep for Sunday's session. I'll post more about it after we've played a session. I'm hoping our game will be able to emultate the melodrama of these novels, TV shows, and movies. I wrote up some of the conventions for the players:

We’re a week away from the first Sunday morning session of Hearts of Wulin. My inspiration comes from Chinese wuxia TV dramas; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Painted Skin; some Shaw Brothers films, and more. You don’t have to know those, just melodrama. I’m still tweaking things and I’ll send a link to Google folder materials later in the week. Here I want to talk about conventions of this setting and game.

  1. This is set in a “fantastic” version of ancient China. Characters can do fantastic things but there’s no sorcery or the like per se. The world of the martial clans operates outside the normal realm. They have their own power structures and rules. While they live under an Emperor, that relationship can be fraught. Our stories will deal with relationships and struggles within the Wulin world.
  2. This is melodrama. Reactions and responses are heightened, nothing is simple, there’s always something at stake.
  3. Characters often talk obliquely about things: emotions, desires, drives.
  4. Characters have duties: to a clan, a school, a mentor, a sibling, a parent and these come into conflict with their desires and friendships.
  5. Fighting can be a conversation, telling and revealing things through that struggle.
  6. Everyone has a scale*. If someone is better than you, you can never beat them. UNLESS the circumstances change: you cheat, you’ve gone away to study and learn how to fight them, you’ve set up something in the environment, you’ve acquired a special weapon or technique, you’re fighting alongside a friend that you have a close bond with. If that happens, the results come into question.
  7. People believe things: if it’s written down it must be true. If someone says something people accept it until they have clear and specific evidence presented to counteract that. Yes, I know he’s a noble hero with a good reputation, but this person said that he slaughtered this village—OK, checks out. People who ought to know better will fall for this.
  8. Everyone has a set of Entanglements, relationships which cause them problems or strains. Each entanglement is a triangle connecting you, the subject of the entanglement, and a third party.
  9. You’re awesome and you’ll get the chance to describe your awesomeness.
  10. Anything can happen at any time. Suddenly Ninjas!
  11. Travel just happens. We don’t worry about distance and time unless a) there’s some clock you’re racing against or b) you have an encounter on the road. But usually if you say you’re going somewhere, regardless of distance, we just cut to there.
  12. If someone’s wearing a disguise, it is perfect up until the point it isn’t.
  13. You gain experience in the following ways: you lose to an opponent, you allow yourself to be fooled by a villain, you make your entanglements more messy, or you accept pressure from a fellow PC. There are a few other ways, but those are the big ones. Sometimes as a reward we’ll cut away to the villains talking about their plans and plots.

In session one we will create a set of clans: righteous, unrighteous, and ambiguous. I’ll have a list of possible names and we’ll assign keywords to them. Imagine them like Corporations from the Sprawl, larger groups and institutions you’re connected to or interacting with.

We’ll then build characters from there, establish entanglements, and get rolling.

One point to be clear on: this is a fictional version of China, with all the historical and cultural accuracy of a soap opera. We will work to be respectful of the cultures involved within the context of this heightened, exotic, and fantastical space.

*Thanks to the Jianghu Hustle podcast for giving me the terminology to describe this.