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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180216


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Martial Arts: Studio of the Spiral Dragon
A martial arts, urban fantasy chronicle and some notes about Martial Arts Gaming

Some readers wanted to see how we should do Martial Arts gaming. The next couple of posts will fill that need.

Every large North American City has a Chinatown of some description. The City's is larger than one would expect. (We could call it Seattle, but it is just any Pacific coastal city.) It is full of semi-exotic goods in the market, some great (and bad) restaurants, and signs and sounds of another language. The City's Chinatown also has a number of studios (schools/ dojos) teaching Wushu, Kungfu, and other Chinese arts. One such place is the Spiral Dragon. There are actual temple trained Shaolin Monk and the descendant of the founding master of the school training students from all around The City.

Not too long ago, it started.

It started as rumors and babblings of the homeless and odd. The theme of the stories were dark shadows that move on their own, than can stand off walls, and do things. The elders and their apprentices spoke of a Shadow-sorcerer... or some kind of demonic creature .... some even whispered a name Gao-Lin.

Most people don't notice what is going on. For those that do (either by awareness or by crossing paths with them), they know Shadows are looking for something. In their spare time The Shadows will terrorize a person or two (messing with people based on their ancestor's actions). Of course, the students of the Studio will get involved. They have been taught meditative and chi techniques that will allow them not only to sense the shadow-shen, but strike them. The students don't know that yet, but they will soon. They will be on the forefront of the battles to come.

If the Shadows were not enough, the breath of magic has passed over The City. It has awakened other spirits and caused other magical events. Chinatown and even the rest of the city is encountering the strange. In fact, the fey and other shen (vampires, werewolves, etc) are attracted to The City. They are either taking advantage of the level of magic or looking for this new power source (not knowing it is a being).

Eventually it is discovered what the shadow-shen are looking for: the stopped heart of the Shadow Sorcerer (Gao-Lin), trapped in a jar. It is buried under the studio and has been for over 100 years (moved from its last place where it had laid for 200).

The students, aided by the monk and their master, will protect Chinatown, The Innocents, and prevent the Shadow Sorcerer from rising again.
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There are some good bits for this chronicle. Martial Arts and Urban Fantasy are a good mix and have a lot of strong elements to draw upon. The mixing and clashing of cultures makes for a roleplaying element. There is mystery elements. There are the classics of martial art story tropes.... Honor, Duty, Focus, Developing new moves/ abilities, and Exceptional Abilities. The Urban fantasy elements turns up the "power level", allowing for cool chi abilities, meditation psionics, and physical adept abilities. But Urban Fantasy would pit those against magic or kind abilities.

If you are thinking visually, it is full of athletic hot 20 somethings hanging around each other. It has the makings of a good movie or CW TV series with strong night time drama bones. Playing it in Smallville or Hillfolk would be a good way to go.

For published systems, I like Hero (with Martial Hero Book). Without powers or magic systems, the game is fairly simple. It allows for the free use of special effect. It allows for tactical decisions and strategies that really mean something. There are easy to develop chi powers that are priced well to use. Your decision may vary.

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Martial Arts chronicles need a couple of things....
1) A reason to be using martial arts. The main thing that many attempts at martial arts chronicles forget to address beyond just "here are some martial arts to take". There needs to be reasons both social, personal, and mechanical for players (and much of their opposition) to be martial artists. Perhaps The Arts have been glorified. Perhaps swords have all been confiscated. Perhaps their social class only allows martial arts. Perhaps only criminals have guns. Personally, the students might be practicing martial arts for exercise or health reasons. Maybe Uncle Gow runs the studio so they have to show up. Also martial arts have to be "priced to move" so characters can have enough martial arts to be effective. Maybe the price of MAs are discounted or players get extra points or feats to take them. As a GM, you need to make sure that the Chronicle Framework for the chronicle needs to lend itself to the martial art themes and skills.

2) A reason to not be using Guns or Other Weapons. This dovetails with number one. Many of the answers to question one will answer two. Sure your characters are martial artists, but what is stopping other people from pulling their guns and mowing you all down? Especially the criminals. Perhaps the laws for using guns are very, very strict (like HK where for a time a Gun Crime was either a death sentence or a major time in jail.) The use of blades perhaps attract the Watch/ guards. Maybe no one kills anyone without The Big Man's permission. It all keeps the playing field "mostly" even.

3) Fighting is there for "the flashy fun" for the gamer or viewer; the Best Martial Arts Chronicle stories are about character development and interpersonal drama (including vengeance). The fighting comes as either a gateway activity to clear opposition so you can advance the drama. You could be a newly minted pacifist, being tested by your old life. Maybe criminals are moving in on your new found friend's businesses. Sure, you can be episodic crime investigators or a wanderer of the Wild West who is a master of the martial arts, constantly encountering events that martial combat might resolve. That can be fun too, but odds are, like a Western, the best stories are character arcs.

4) Remember that combat can be roleplay. You can communicate a lot about a character with a detailed and descriptive combat system. Martial Arts are all about style and strategy. Players (and the GM) should be describing the ballet of conflict that their characters generate. The troupe should be cribbing cool martial moves from every movie and TV series and comic book. (Storing the actions on action cue cards). They should choose moves and actions that fit the character's personality (and strengths). If their emotional/ mental state has been compromised or they are currently "gun shy", the actions they take should reflect that.

Since most players are coming to this genre from movies, using video/ cinematic descriptions and action camera tropes is a natural fit. Using the language of the camera helps you describe the character's movie/ show's action scenes. It is a tool to make the game "feel more authentic" to the source material.

5) An appropriate game system is a must. Many games claim to have martial arts systems... which really just end up being a general modifier or the ability to use your hands as a weapon rather than subduel. Martial Arts game system needs to give your character options. They need to be able to make real tactical choices that really impact the game, often trading off offense, defense, or damage for a bonus in another area. Do your mechanics and describe the results of your action... continue on from there.

The ellipse is a great tool. Describe the character's action then at the point of real resolution you trail off ... (the ellipse)... quickly resolve the action... and finish the action with the results.

Narrative Games are great for this type of chronicle. It is all about the description of your actions. You lose some of the gamest/ simulationist of the martial arts combat, but if it works for your troupe... play what works. (Just make sure your players don't get lazy, that they are describing all their martial art scenes with as much detail and punch as you can get.)
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