Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Conditions, Consequences and Kung Fu

Weapons of the Gods has a wonderful system for kung fu, and has some of the best mechanics I've ever seen for integrating the rules with the setting. However, it also has a bit of a reputation as being opaque, one that is not entirely undeserved. The primary points of confusion emerge from the subsystem which is used for non-kung fu activities (things like medicine, magic and such).

The basic idea is that powers put statuses on your stats (or on concepts that correspond with your stats) - these status might be good or bad, and the color on them is all about the kung fu flavors - having your chi out of balance and such - but the mechanic tends to be a bonus or a penalty to the stat. The basic idea is that once you create such a status, it can be increased, decreased, inverted, or moved to another stat. The logic of how these things are done are where thing get a little convoluted.

Anyway, this is where I end up thinking about simplifying the whole system, but keeping the idea intact, by using the fixed status list. The idea came to me as I am thinking about healing in the MUSH context, turning a "Hurt" status into a "Tired" status, or even into an "Angry" status to do berserker rage.

As with all such models, a lot of this hinges on coming up with a robust list of statuses (a task of its own) but the idea of how the statuses interact and can transform is a fruitful area to play around in mechanically. But to illustrate, let's assume a 4 stat system of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, in a vaguely Everway sort of arrangement. Each might have a positive and negative status: Earth might be Resolute/Inert, Fire might be Energized/Tired, Air might be Sharp/Dull, and Water might be Flexible/Spineless. (Pick other statuses if you like. This is purely for illustration.

So, something bad happens and you end up "Tired" (Negative Fire). You go to the Shaman, and what he does depends on his skill. He might be able to do one or more of the following:[1]
  • Flip an element from negative to positive (on a per-element basis, or universally) - In this case turning "Tired" into "Energized".
  • Move an element one step clockwise or counterclockwise - Tired could be changed to "Inert" or "Dull"
  • Move an element to the opposite element - "Tired" could be turned to "Spineless"
Let's say this Shaman is a skilled Water practitioner, so he can turn water statuses from negative to positive and back, but he can only move things "around the wheel". He would need to move Earth/Tired to Air/Dull to Water/Spineless and then invert it to Water/Flexible. That's 3 steps and assuming each step has a cost or skill roll associated with it, that's much more complicated than, say, going to the fire Shaman who could just flip "Tired" to "Energized" in a single action.

Obviously this is a fairly crude example, but consider if it had a somewhat more flavorful or setting-specific set of statuses, maybe things that actually represent curses and blessings - say a saint and a devil for each position of the cross, or as Weapons of the Gods does, the humors of the body and the good and bad parts of each. This wheel model is one of the neater semi-hidden features of WOTG, and explicit statuses seem to be a way to make it easier to introduce into another game.

Alternately, this need have nothing to do with stats or character sheets. With a little bit of tweaking, this is a decent model for any closed-but-flexible dynamic, such as a political system. Imagine if you replaced the elements with, say, the factions at court (King, Queen, Church and Council, for example). The statuses become "In Favor/Out of Favor" and you suddenly have a map of the dynamics of the court, and your place within it. Even if there are no explicit mechanics for the change, this is something that the GM can use to keep track of the results of events in play.

1 - There are also a lot of even more fiddly options, like "Invert, but only by changing it to the opposite element", to say nothing of creating and removing statuses. And, of course, it's entirely possible a character might have more than one status if the setting logic allows for it.


  1. You know, that favor thing works better for me than any of the more, uh, physical consequences examples you're talking about, at least in the form you're presenting them.

    The problem with the original WOTG system you're using as a launch-point here is that so much of the "move it around the wheel" or "invert it" things just feel like a stretch in terms of plausibility. Some of the conditions inflicted and represented on the wheel just don't feel as malleable or transferable as the move-it method implies when used, and as such any use of the system causes a feeling of sudden ejection from the story.

    The favor stuff, though, now that feels more plausible -- because really, you're not talking about a bunch of different things so much as a set of common things all of a given type ("favor"), and as such it all feels much more movable, etc.

    I can totally see my favor with the king going sour -- or being transferred over to the queen. Not so much with my sprained ankle turning into crushing ennui and then to flights of fancy.

  2. Interesting. I found WotG to be an intriguing but ultimately frustrating game, specifically because of that opacity. Every session involved at least an hour of "How does this work again?" from my players. But you've crystallized here the essentials of the Secret Arts. I really like the idea of expanding that to cover other situations.

    (And not to pick nits, but your example uses classical Western elements, not the Chinese elements of Water, Fire, Earth, Wood, Metal. But whatever. I'm just sayin'.)

  3. The original WOTG thing mostly makes sense in a movie-version-of-chinese medicine sort of way. You are tired because your Fire Chi is out of balance, but by proper application of acupuncture, we can make you really smart by changing that negative fire imbalance into a positive Air imbalance.

    Saying it out loud, it does sound kind of silly, I admit.

    That said, I think you can still do some funky things with it, so long as you can find something overtly magical that sort of fits within that logical framework. Might be interesting to consider it with the major Arcana of the tarot, upright or Inverted, as a dance of destiny. Hmm.

    -Rob D.

  4. @mike Yeah, I couldn't remember the WOTG ones well enough to explain, so I just went with a simpler model out of laziness. :)

    -Rob D.

  5. everway, kung fu, and stat-tagging --I love it.

    What's interesting to me here is that you can use the status tags as keywords. If you define a list of "reserved" words, you can then use abilities that key off those tags.

    Example: I kick an enemy in the nuts, dealing damage and assigning him a "in pain" status. There are other abilities that I can use, and let's say I have another ability..err, headbutt, let's say, that goes:

    If your opponent is "in pain" do extra damage/add extra status effect.

    So the groin kick does stat damage, but is also valued for the tags it places on the enemy and what synergies those tags create.

    This notion of tag-chaining would be pretty awesome, particularly because it would be so easy to use it in non-combat applications. Normally you think of combos and you think of fighting, but wouldn't it be cool if you could use my teasing to ability to tag "humilation" and then use another to turn that to "shame" and then use that shame status to trigger some control ability.

    OK, I'm rambling wildly. Love the new blog.

  6. I was just coming back here to remark on how this idea could be used for physical combat, but it looks like someone beat me to it!

    Anyway, I was going to say that you could handle injuries this way by going clockwise around the circle, and healing by going counter-clockwise (or "widderhins," if you will -- and I will!). So you start off not even on the circle, but your first hit renders you Bruised, then the next steps would be Bloody, Reeling, and Unconscious. The next injury after that would take you back off the circle, but this time to Dead.

    Healing those injuries would mean starting at your current location on the circle and trying to move back around to Bruised, then off the circle altogether (Dead can't be healed, obviously, since it isn't on the circle to begin with).

    This would work well with gamefiend's suggestion of keywords/tags. "Haymaker: If the target is Reeling, gain a +X to your attack roll" or something.

  7. The combat comments make me want to reopen "Spellbound Kingdoms" because I suspect that there's a lot of synergy with the way it handles combat (basically by moving around a diagram, with your options determined by your place on the diagram).

    -Rob D.

  8. With great respect for Fred, I think the condition moving from WotG is a perfect match for a game of high-flying kung fu and Daoist weirdness.

    And as for WotG and opaqueness, the Secret Arts are frustratingly hard to grok, and honestly require a particular style of game to be worth the cost, but man I am having fun playing it.

  9. I'll warrant that it at least makes some sense in the fairly narrow context of the WOTG setting, but I've only encountered WOTG as something adapted to other settings, and at that point the system's mismatch with everything else that it wasn't specifically tailored for tends to stand out.

  10. I've never really heard of adapting it to other settings. How far 'other' do you mean? Still Wuxia Action adventure, but not the specifics of the native setting? (That's what we do, basically Romance of the Three Kingdoms) or not even Wuxia action adventure?

  11. Other as in Exalted. It just didn't sit right with me.

  12. It actually handled the fighting part of Exalted really well, but it fell down at the rest of it. Exalted characters are really awesome at non-fighting stuff (especially crafting) and that gets a bit clunky with WOTG.

    -Rob D.

  13. Great to see the WotG ideas getting spread around, because it really does have some fantastic concepts in there. I've always really liked the Secret Arts, but I somewhat agree that it doesn't port well to other settings.

    One big issue with porting them is that of how open-ended a variation is. The original system is confusing, but offered a very wide-range of effects, so it's versatile within the setting. Thinking of it as "linked stat modifiers" is missing a big chunk of it. The Dao curses can be used for some rather esoteric things, like "You have an Earth curse that causes rats to sneak into your house and steal coins." Or more mundane stuff like "An imbalance in your Water system is causing poor eyesight, minus 5 to all sight related rolls."

    The point I'm belaboring is that while a reduced set of specified keywords could work, you're also severely cutting down on the utility of the system. I think a lot of the fun there is based on the many ways that a player can manipulate the wheel.

    Still, lots of neat ways to use such a system. One idea that popped into my head just now is the notion of spaceship combat. The shields get damaged, so you "send more power" into them which causes your phaser banks to lose energy. So you yell at Scotty to get you more power, which causes an Inside-Outside transfer that gets you more phaser power at the cost of making Scotty hate you. :D

  14. @codex I absolutely agree that cutting down flexibility brings a price, but the tradeoffs seem worth it, so long as their for a specific end, as you note.

    Most notably, I think you could do better -starting- from a restrictive model, then opening it up. I think it would really make it easier for people to wrap their heads around the underlying idea.

    That said, I love the idea of trading off power for pissing off engineering. I feel like there's an office game in there waiting to happen.

    -Rob D.


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