Your Father’s Armor

I made a character sheet for Riley Madison’s cool Mulan game, Your Father’s Armor.


Raise the Red Lantern

So, on the way to Kelly’s Pesach Seder, Josh and Elizabeth and I developed a LARP hack for the Mist-Robed Gate.

It’s easy.

There’re some central facilitator tasks that you’ll need to assign to somebody, and that person probably shouldn’t play a character, but they may be an audience member, which means they participate in the wirework vote and can frame scenes. Whenever you get to the end of a scene, you should come back to see the facilitator, get a recap of what scenes happened while you were away, deliver your own recap, and then see who’s at the top of the ‘scene frame’ list. That person gets to frame a scene immediately with whoever’s present, or you can wait a small amount of time for another scene to end, if you need a character that’s somewhere else and it looks like they’ll be done soon.

You don’t have cards for props and sets. Instead, you should play in a place with several distinct rooms, and you have a supply of physical objects that you’re allowed to use as props. When you need a new set, you assign the set to an unused room, and when you need a new prop, you assign it to a physical object. You own props by carrying them on your person, so you need to think a little about this; if you use a real replica sword without a hanger as a sword prop, you’ll need to keep it in your hand, whereas if you use a pocketknife, you can stick it in your pocket.

You don’t use a real knife for the knife. Instead, each set has a colour-coded lantern; when the knife is covered, there are no lanterns. When the knife is uncovered, the facilitator hangs white lanterns in every set. When the knife is drawn, the lanterns are changed to yellow, and when it is bloodied for the first time, they are changed to red. If you don’t have lanterns, you can use flags or scarves or something. To show that you have the knife, make the ‘sword finger’ gesture: Extend your second and middle fingers together, and curl up the thumb, ring, and pinkie. Point the sword finger at the person you are passing the knife to. To signal acceptance, kneel and touch the sword finger to the ground. To stab a person, touch them against the throat or collarbone with your sword finger.

When wirework begins, ring a gong to summon all the players so they can watch and vote.

You should dress up so we can see your character’s colour in your outfit.

That’s basically it.

Fledgelings: Playtesting the Epistle and the Gate

Hi, friends! Since we last talked I’ve been very busy. I’ve been fortunate enough to playtest Risalat al-Ghufran and the Mist-Robed Gate twice, and we’ve learned a lot. I’m also really seeing and benefiting from having access to a large pool of strong players. It’s pretty great.

We played Risalat with myself, Elizabeth, and Alexis, and in that playtest we realised that its rules are much heavier than they need to be; after we threw some out the window, it was streamlined and compelling. The rotating cast of characters is thrilling to me; they add a lot of richness and texture, but at the same time, they hold the action down to a human scale. It’s lovely.

We played a second time, Elizabeth, Joshua A.C. Newman, Emily and I, and that went pretty well too. The text needs some serious updating, but we’ve got the flow of play down, and it’s what I want.

I already wrote about the first playtest of the Mist-Robed Gate; we put our heads together and set up an action sequence system that resolves some of those issues, and also includes an adjustable pacing dial. We tested that out with a staggeringly large group, and it worked splendidly. Meguey Baker at Fair Game and Jonathan Walton at one thousand one beat me to the blogging punch (Thanks, guys! ❤ ), so go see them for a rundown of the action. Thanks to everyone who played!

I’m really happy with the way the game handles larger groups; now we’ve just got to run it a few times with a smaller group, and we’re all set. I’m also thinking about explicitly supporting non-character players in a couple of different ways.

As a parting gift, go see Pingmag’s update on graphic design in China, and this beautiful honey package at the DieLine. It’s pretty sweet.

The Mist-Robed Gate: How it does in action

My dear Elizabeth has posted a great AP of the Mist-Robed Gate at the Forge, which unfortunately is being lame and keeps giving me 503 errors when I attempt to reply, so I’m going to post my aborted response here instead of losing it to the ether. If you were present at the game, or you weren’t but you have some thoughts, I’d love for you to share them with us.

I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I was very pleased with the way the knife ritual worked in play. I also want to thank everyone for, like, taking a risk and playing in the first playtest of my game; I know those tend to be kinda rough, and you all really contributed to the game in play, and gave me a lot of good stuff to think about.

It’s really great, also, to hear what worked in play, but let’s also talk about what didn’t…I am trying to remember what happened there, and the critiques from the table that I remember most clearly were:

  • The meaning of the distinction between viewpoint and non-viewpoint characters is non-obvious.
  • We would like a formal option for choosing who shall frame scenes and who may/must be in those scenes. There’s some opportunity for managing spotlight time in here.
  • The value of props and sets isn’t very clear; they appear to be simply colour generators, and that is not satisfying. Perhaps there is a way to add mechanical value here.
  • There is an issue with pacing of action scenes such as kung fu fights, namely, there is no guidance for this, and no incentive to have kung fu fights.
  • Sometimes it seems like the escalation of the knife ritual is premature or excessive; there could be a way to mitigate this.

Are there any major issues I’ve missed? I have some solutions in mind for these, but I’d like to know where the gaps in my observation are, too.

Burning for You

So, at Jiffycon, we did get to play Annalise, which was…well, I have nothing but good to say about this game. It’s rich and textured and I met a new friend and really why am I doing this when Elizabeth has me covered. The Mist-Robed Gate was a lot of fun too, and I learned a lot from the session. I’m diving back into the text now to make revisions based on my brilliant playtesters’ critiques. More on that later.

While at the Mike Doughty concert tonight, I wrote a miniature game, and I thought I’d share:

Carrying a Torch

an autobiographical roleplaying game

So, you remember the first person you really loved? The first person you really hurt or hated? The way it changed you? That’s what this game is about.

Carrying a Torch is a story about how your relationships can have really pervasive, intense effects on your psychology, even long after those relationships have changed or moved on.

To play, you need a group of people who are pretty close, and some writing instruments, a number of smallish moveable markers such as Parcheesi pawns, and character sheets. The character sheets are laid out to support at most six characters, but in principle there’s no reason not to play with more. Each player will have one character; you get to say what that character says and does.

Start by describing a close-knit group of people. Fill out the top part of your character sheet; write down the character’s name and something about him. Then, choose an archetype card for each of the other characters; don’t tell them which archetype you chose. In the bottom half of the archetype card, write the character’s name. This card indicates what that character means to your character; it’s a lens by which he looks at their interactions.

Take a look at an archetype card if you haven’t already; you’ll see that it has a name on top, a meter down the right side, and two halves labelled “Heal me” and “Hurt me.” The meter tells you how good you’re feeling about that character at the moment; it starts in the centre point, at equilibrium. When you interact with this character, if they do the thing in “Heal me,” it makes you feel good, and if they do the other thing, it makes you feel bad. It doesn’t so much matter what else they do. When an archetype card says, “me,” it means you, not the archetype. It represents what you say to the archetype.

So, when they heal you, first nudge the marker on their meter one notch upward. Now, if the marker’s in the top half of the meter, then move the big meter on your character sheet toward the good end as many spaces as the marker is distant from the center, and if it’s in the centre or in the bottom half, only move it one space. That is to say, if you’re in a pattern of healing interactions with that character, then they affect you more, and it has more influence on your holistic well-being.

That’s what the big meter is, by the way, and notice that I didn’t decide for you which end is the good end, so you’re going to have to make that decision and record it ASAP.

Now, when they hurt you, it works a similar way; nudge their meter down and read it like the heal meter, but reversed; if it’s in the good half, then it only takes you down a notch, but if it’s in the bad half then you can go down several notches.

Now you’ll see that your meter has some big Os on it, at the ±5 and ±10 marks as well as the dotted-O at equilibrium. If an interaction makes you cross just one of the fives, then your character does something big in his life. If it was +5, then it’s a thing that improves your life. If it’s –5, then it’s a decision that’s ultimately bad, but it looks fine for now. The next time someone hurts you, they’ll let you know why it wasn’t such a great idea.

That’s not the only thing that happens! You reset your meter to 0, and the character that caused this turn in your life turns over. You choose a new archetype to represent him, or you choose a different character and a different archetype to occupy that spot in your character sheet.

Finally, you imprint that archetype. Set the turned-over archetype card to the side; now all characters can heal or hurt you in that way, to the tune of their own relationship meters. If they’re a character that doesn’t have an archetype for you, then their meter always reads 0. If you have to decide whether a character’s healing or hurting you because an imprint and their archetype disagree, then follow their archetype.

If an interaction makes you cross two Os, which is to say that it goes from less-than-ten to ten or more, or makes you cross 0 and a 5, then all that stuff above happens, but you imprint asymmetrically. If you were healed, cross out the hurt on that card. If you were hurt, cross out the heal. Only the interaction that remains affects you.

You might run out of archetypes eventually. Maybe you should, like, stop playing.

Long Ago, the people were fighting at the end of the world…

a Polaris~Exalted game, by S. Musgrave, S. Sampat, and E. Shoemaker.


The waves parted obligingly for Vendir’s royal canoe. All was still on the oceans of the world today; even the gulls were silent. Only the sound of water splashing on the canoe paddle could be heard. And, in that splash, a footstep, a sandaled foot landing in the back of the canoe. Assassins. Vendir did not take his eyes off of the water, now ruined with the ripples of his would be murderers. he slowly dropped the reed he had been stirring the water with “You should know that this is a private vessel.” Cold knives, still dripping seawater, touch Vendir just below each ear. It runs down to the hollow of his throat. One presses harder, draws blood.

Vendir looked up to the assassin, his eyes much more serious. “You mean to kill me here, I take it? I have a pretty good guess where you’re from.” The waters surrounding the boat begin to stir. A metallic fin surges above the water’s edge in a accelerating cycle about Vendir’s boat. “Are you sure you wouldn’t want to back out now, brothers?”

“The killing of kings is an amateur sport. We are only here to watch you while our brethren salt your fields, flood your armouries, poison your granaries, and otherwise kill everyone you care about.” A curl of smoke rises from the shore, edged with an ominous alchemical purple.

“There’s no time to waste then.” And in a moment, the metallic fin underneath the water reveals itself, a huge sword who’s blade is rigged to its handle with an extending chain, jumps out of the water by itself, blowing straight through one assassin and into Vendir’s hand, from where he cleaves another.

BUT ONLY IF one entire village is already lost.

BUT ONLY IF Vendir is able to swim to shore before anymore major damage.


BUT HOPE WAS NOT YET LOST, FOR ANEMONE PEARL-EATER STILL FELT THE WARMTH OF THE SUN…sitting on a small spy vessel, another clan-member eagerly presenting her with an oyster so that she might provide the clan with insight into this tumultuous battle, her brother Sindbad watching the grey-purple smokes rise up from the shore. Languidly, Anemone runs a single finger along the contours of the mother-of-pearl shell, its creamy sheen glowing slickly brilliant in the light. “Only one village shall fall today, but it will feel like ten.” Her eyes flickered to her brother. “The coast will be thick with purple fog in a fortnight.” The shell seems to vibrate in her hand, almost as if in pleasure. It opens up, and reveals a quite strangely large pearl that is black as midnight, and sparkles with a forboding radiance. Her eyes go wide. “Black pearls mean black hearts. Dark desires.”

Sindbad presses the oyster closed. “One doesn’t need to consult the sea to see that.” He doesn’t release her hand.

Anemone smirks a bit. “Dark desires are ever present, aren’t they?”

Sindbad licks his lips. “Oh yes. Have you -seen- that delicious prince of the land people? He will make a delightful cabin boy.”

The purple smoke on the shore seems to dissipate. The attending clan member runs to the side of the boat to spy on it with the attached spy-glass, searching for the sight of his confidant on the shore village, but he’s nowhere to be found.

Anemone raises a brow. “He is quite lovely, though not half as lovely as you, dear brother. It would be nice to keep him.”

“You are lovelier still, my pearl.”

“Miss Anemone! Somethings gone wrong! I smell a foul trap! Please, the pearl.”

Anemone daintily pries open the oyster and drops the pearl into Sindbad’s palm. “Do you mind?” She asks, parting her lips. The attending clan member pulls on his hair as he watches the couple take their leisurely time, but holds his tongue until Sindbad feeds her the pearl. The seer’s eyes roll back in her head, and her brows knit in concentration.

“One of our assassins.. he is in love with a girl from the prince’s kingdom. He sabotaged our efforts. He has a scar below his left eye.” As Anemone eats the pearl, she is jolted by the visions of what she sees. Her marauding clan, snickering as they tear through the lands of Hastlebrook. Giant machines in the shape of men shooting out the fires of hell from their arms to burn them to cinders. Herself in the Arms of Vendir, licking his naked chest. Herself kneeling above the bloody, motionless body of her brother Sindbad, dropping the weapon that battered him. The visions stagger her into a seizure on the floor of the boat.

BUT ONLY IF Sindbad opens his eyes at the end of the vision.

AND FURTHERMORE, As Sindbad opens his eyes, he sees his sister covered head to toe in red blood, her eyes the emotionless holes of a remorseless slaughterer. (Betrayal of the People)

AND FURTHERMORE, As the camera zooms out, Vendir is revealed, blue and dead, Anemone’s hair twisted around his neck. (Betrayal of the Sun.)

AND FURTHERMORE, Anemone feels that it is impossible to struggle against this fate, and views it with inevitability and lust at her conquest of Vendir. She gets experience and the Aspect, Fate: “Conquest of Vendir”. (Forbidden Love.)


The attendant Clan member grabs Sindbad as her sister shakes on the floor “Fughadabout her!! They need us on the shore! Get in the water!”

Sindbad pushes him aside long enough to hold Anemone still just for a split second and plant a kiss on her lips; then he steps out onto the waves, gliding over them like shifting sand, drawing his red-veined salt crystal sword. At the kiss, Anemone slumps into slumber.


Risalat al-Ghufran: The Epistle of Forgiveness

for Scooter

This is a game about pain and forgiveness. This group of people, they’ve gone through some rough times, some together, some apart, and they have lots of issues with each other that they haven’t resolved yet. But they have a culture of telling stories, and we, taking on their roles, and telling their life stories in this mode that hovers at the edge of mythology, have the power to deal with these heretofore unspoken issues, and untangle them, and lead these characters to a better place. It’s partly the action of telling these stories that does it, by just sharing with others, and partly because telling stories is prayer, and the angels hear their prayers and reorder the world as they are told, so they’re not hollow stories that mean nothing, but real actions with real consequences.

It may help you, as it helps me, to think of this game as a 1001 Nights hack, although it’s departed from that root far enough that you have to learn the system anew. There’s a lot of the game I don’t quite know, but here is a piece that I have the words to describe:

As you begin a story, take a numbered card from your hand and place it in front of you, face-up. This card sets the theme of the story; say it is the Three of Swords. “This story is about lost love,” you might say. Briefly introduce your story and cast the other players in roles in it, as you would in 1001. Your job as the storyteller is to give the other players an opportunity to suffer.

If you’re a human character in the story, then your job is to know suffering. This consists of several tasks. When you have an opportunity to suffer, play a numbered card in front of you that is the same suit as the storyteller’ card, and describe the nature of your suffering. Let the Tarot inspire you if you know it, and take some note of the number on the card; a higher number corresponds with more suffering.

If you don’t have any suited numbered cards, then you know suffering by binding wounds and watching for angels. To bind a wound, when someone else plays a numbered card, you may immediately say, “I will bind the wound,” and play a lower-numbered card of any suit. Take their card into your hand and leave your card in its place; your character intervenes to lessen the other character’s suffering and change its nature. To watch for angels, when someone suffers, you may play a suited court card. Describe how the character reveals its identity as an angel. Make a note of which angel corresponds to the court card, and leave that card on the table next to the character’s suffering. The card corresponds to this angel for the remainder of the game; this means that, if you identify several characters with this card, they are in fact the same character, having gone through some transformation of likeness.

If you are playing an angel, your job is to be a healing hand. Angels may suffer with any suit. They may bind wounds with numbered cards and with court cards. Binding a wound with a court card is like binding a wound and simultaneously seeing an angel. Angels’ wounds cannot be bound by humans; they must be bound by other angels.

Rain Falls Like Rubies

being a Scenario Kit for the Mist-Robed Gate

First, let me get something out of the way. Scenarii aren’t the only way to play this game; they are here as an effort of leading by example. There’s a lot of abstract intuitive-level thought that goes into constructing these, and I don’t have the words to give those thoughts to you as procedures and formalisms, but maybe, given enough examples, you can come up with your own abstract intuitions that work for you.

That said.

Rain Falls Like Rubies is a story about the ashes of Shaolin. The five great temples—Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, Zhejiang, and Guangdong—have been burnt and razed, their abbots slain and their disciples scattered. These disciples are trying to rebuild amongst the wreckage.

Here’s a diagram:


I suggest that, for this scenario, you use the young children as player characters. All the students have weathers and colours, though. If you choose Ma Zhen, Ju Sha, or any of the adults for characters, the tone of the game will change.

The characters in Burned Shaolin are the survivors of the burning, those who have lost family and friends to the great slaughterings. All the children are presently students at Zu Shan. The characters of burned Shaolin are concerned with preserving their traditions.

  • San Gui Wu: “Three Ghosts Dancing” was once “Seeking Tranquillity” Li Zhuian, brother of “Cloud Chaser” Li Zhuiyun. San Gui Wu engineered the burning of Shaolin. These days, he only permits his family members to address him by his original name.
  • Li Wuyun: “Dark Clouds” is the son of Li Zhuiyun. He is about twelve years old. His colour is grey and his weather is “storm clouds.”
  • Li Wuya: “Raven” is Wuyun’s sister. She is also about twelve years old. Her colour is black and her weather is “wind.”
  • Vault of Heaven: Vault is the son of Left-Hand Moon, the abbot of the ghost-temple at Guangdong. He is a ghost inhabiting his own corpse, which looks like an elegantly-dressed skeleton, the bones burnt glossy black. There is an incense burner in his chest cavity. When he was alive he was about thirteen. His colour is white and his weather is “mist.”
  • Gai Zheng: Zheng is the last survivor of Zhejiang. He is about thirteen. He practices embarrassingly innovative martial arts. His colour is sky-blue and his weather is “sunbeams.”

The Outside People have no history in Shaolin at all. They are all presently students at Zu Shan. Outside people are not a proper faction and don’t necessarily have a formal leader or any overarching goals. This might change in the course of play!

  • Ruhi Nankachema: “Snowflakes in Martial Array” is from the Country of Daughters. She is about a year older than Gai Zheng. Her colour is red and her weather, “driven snow.”
  • Bai Hua: “White Flower” is somehow in the service of San Gui Wu. She has the talent of the perfect mimic—she can imitate whatever kung fu she sees. She is maybe twelve years old. Her colour is lavender, her weather “plum blossoms.”
  • Ju Sha: “Chrysanthemum Death,” an assumed name, is one of the two senior students at Zu Shan. She is perhaps twenty. Her specialty is swordsmanship. Her colour is gold, her weather, “twilight.”
  • Ma Zhen: “Truth,” is descended from the northwestern horsemen, thus the family name Ma, meaning “Horse.” He is about eighteen. His specialty is qigong. His colour is green, his weather, “night.”

Zu Shan is the location of the sixth temple, where the survivors of Shaolin are rebuilding their secret societies. There are at least four monks who teach martial arts… The teachers at Zu Shan are concerned with protecting Shaolin from the invading Sparrow People barbarians, and are willing to revamp or discard their traditions as necessity demands.

  • Hei Feng: “Black Wind” is the abbot of Zu Shan. He is not any age in particular. Having known Li Zhuian, he recognises the art of mimicry that Bai Hua performs, and wonders about it.
  • Li Laoshi: “Teacher Yak” is also from the Country of Daughters. She is responsible for the female dormitory. She specialises in teaching Body Hardening.
  • Shan He Yue Xia Dai Qiu Luo: or “Qiu Laoshi” for short, “Waiting for Autumn,” teaches qigong. He has some kind of rivalry with Wu Shi Zhong.
  • Wu Shi Zhong: “Bell of the Fifth Hour” is the oldest instructor, and he insists on dressing like a magistrate from the last generation; this makes the tiny old man faintly ridiculous. He does not have any specialty in particular, but it seems he is presently teaching swordsmanship.

Sets, Props, and Sound


Most of the sets in Rain Falls like Rubies have two versions: a “waking” version and a “dreaming” version. Ma Zhen, Ju Sha, Vault, and anyone they teach the ability to are able to enter the dream version of a location. These are places as seen by the sleeping mind; things are inverted or transformed into visual metaphors, and there are some places that can only be reached by travelling in dream.

The sets here are divided into zones; to move from monastery to monastery, you must have a scene in-between them, set in the Travelling zone. The monasteries have Arriving sets; the first time that a monastery is entered, in a story, it must be through the Arriving set.

White Clouds Monastery

There are four sets in White Clouds:

  • Arriving by the River: Fed by hot springs, the river water is a rusty red-orange colour, passing through twisted grey mountain stones. Wuyun and Wuya like to skip stones, or themselves, across the river. The monks of the temple usually don’t come here. Two people are comfortable here, four are crowded. The sky here is clear and the air filigreed with steam from the river water. In the dreaming, a man of ashes can be seen on the temple roof, fighting a coiling, mazy creature of fire—a dragon-centipede, a serpent or a flame-lettered scroll.
  • The Skipping Stream: Another stream, this one an icy-cold snowmelt source, lies to the other side of the monastery. It’s perfectly clear and surrounded by iron-grey boulders and pale young bamboo. This set is crowded for two; the air is crisp and cold.
  • The Rooftops: The roofs of White Clouds Monastery are of tile in shades of sky-blue, white, and silver, and maple trees spring from the courtyards in vermillion fountains. It’s comfortable here for two, but it can be crowded by up to six. It’s very windy and monks don’t generally hang out here, but they will certainly pursue a prankster. In the dream, the roofs are mirrors that reflect a blue sky speckled with clouds, but the sky above churns with black and purple storms.
  • The Courtyards: Sinuous walls of pale stone are interrupted by the dark boles of ancient trees here, and pierced with round gates and latticed windows. Red maple leaves drift with the breezes. Six people are comfortable, ten crowded, in a courtyard. In the dream, the trees become ancient, slow-moving men carved of wood, leaves flying out of wounds in their wrists and cuts on their faces.

Guangdong Ghost Temple

There are three sets at Guangdong, the temple of towers:

  • Arriving at the Ruin: There is the burned foundation of a temple here, surrounded by the husks of its surrounding buildings, in the deep green bowl of a valley. Smoke rises from the temple ruin. In the dream, a dragon white and curved as the moon, all translucence and wings and light, struggles with another dragon with coal-bright claws, striped red and black like a lantern. This set is large and can accommodate a group of any size. The ghosts of Guangdong never come hee.
  • The Temple Gates: Standing in the temple’s foundation, it can be seen that the smoke rises from many incense burners, and the scent of them is thick in the air. In the dream, the columns of smoke rising from the braziers become curving staircases that lead up to a floating smoke hill (or sometimes a smoke lake), where the ghosts of Guangdong dwell in a white metal temple. This set is comfortable for five and crowded by ten.
  • Left-Hand Moon’s Office: This set only exists in dream. The abbot of Guangdong, who has cataracts in his left eye, can be found here. His office is full of mirrors made of different metals: iron, silver, tin. The rosewood floors are covered in scraps of silver leaf that flake off the walls in many layers. This set is comfortable for one and crowded for six.

Zu Shan

Here are four sets at Zu Shan; there are probably several others (make them up!):

  • Arriving at the Gates: The gate of Zu Shan is at the base of a long staircase leading up to the peak of the mountain and main cluster of buildings. The gate is one of a long trail of gates that arch over the stair, all made of old, weathered rosewood, buried in the black earth and black stones and dusted with snow. Just beyond the gate is a well. In the dream, the stair is a sleeping, heaving serpent covered in wooden scales. This set is good for two, crowded by four.
  • Boys’ Dormitory: The windows of the “Free Eagle” dormitory overlook the archery yard, where red-and-yellow arrows plunge sang! peng! into red-and-yellow targets. The floor is covered in yellow parchment scrawled with bad calligraphy, and on the walls are racks of wooden practice weapons in every stage of disrepair. In the dream, the weapons are made of jade and gold, precious and sharp. The ink on the parchment becomes blood, and the characters flow and change, and the arrows are sparrows, chirping as they fly by. This set is good for four, crowded for five. Obviously, females are not permitted here.
  • Girls’ Dormitory: The “Lion Hawk” dormitory overlooks the field-of-posts where balance exercises are conducted. Its blue-and-green tiled walls are lined with suits of armour, flags, and tack for the monastery’s horses. There are piles of books and scrolls in the corners. In the dream, the flags unfurl and ripple across the room like sheets of wind-blown water, and the suits of armour are inhabited by expressionless ghosts, murmuring a litany of those that died in the fires of Shaolin. This set is good for four, crowded for five. Males are not permitted here.
  • The Qigong Yard: This courtyard, near the top of the monastery, is always exposed to the wind and weather, even under the shelter of the tall black pines outside its pink brick walls. It is divided into many large squares, separated by shallow channels full of water. There are no bridges; the channels must be waded or leapt across, and wading is not encouraged, as it would disturb the ornamental turtles. In the dream, these turtles become black water dragons; they are friendly to children. Most of the monks give this place a wide berth, for fear of running into the fierce Qiu Laoshi. This is a large set, comfortable for six but encompassing up to fifteen.


All the Travelling sets are large enough to accommodate any group. Here are some:

  • The Hills: The grass is green and sparked with scarlet poppies, the sky is clear and blue. In the dream, it is as though the night sky has fallen to the earth; the grass is black and the flowers white, divided by luminous blue rivers, and above, the sky is a rich green.
  • The Mountains: Horses cannot enter the mountains. The yellow rocks rear up against a grey sky, and the wind beats unmercifully at their sides. In the dream, red rain trails down from the mountaintops, alternately hot as lava or as cool as spent blood.
  • The Stupa: A white dome rises out of the earth here; in the dream it is wreathed in multicoloured lama-flames.
  • The Wood: White-barked birch trees mix with red-leaved maples here, and deer race each other in the distance. In the dream, the trees themselves are the antlers of a great herd of deer that walks slowly along the valley floor.


There aren’t a lot of things in this scenario:

  • Zhui An’s Sword: Made of rare five-coloured iron, this sword is as tall as a man and wrapped elaborately in violet silk. It begins the game in the hands of Bai Hua. Otherwise it is in the ashes of Guangdong.
  • Zhui Yun’s Sword: Nearly identical to Zhui An’s, this sword is wrapped in yellow and white. Ju Sha is bringing it to Zhui Yun. Otherwise, Zhui Yun already has it.
  • The Carp & Diamond Manuscript: The qigong classic, Wu Shi Zhong makes his students copy pages of it for calligraphy practice. It rests in the library at Zu Shan.
  • Zhui Yun: He is still a warrior, but his adventurous spirit is broken, and he will only follow in another person’s footsteps. He rests somewhere in White Clouds Monastery.
  • A bucket: Gai Zheng has this ’cause Hei Feng makes him fetch water all the time. Otherwise it’s at the monastery gate.


This scenario has two soundtracks; the waking soundtrack should be used for waking sets, and the dream track for dream sets. The waking track has more emphasis on vocals and, I hope, is more acoustic; I’ve used instrumentals and electric sounds more in the dreaming soundtrack. I’ll post it later.

That concludes this scenario, with many thanks for the unwitting help of Jonathan Walton, Thomas Robertson, and Joshua Kashinsky, who wrote the original Ashes of Shaolin stories with me, from which this scenario arises.

The Mist-Robed Gate

I’m really pretty excited about this game; it’s a new move for me in terms of user-friendly design, and also, I think it provides a lot of sensual richness in a package that is relatively easy to handle.Many thanks to Jonathan for ideas given and ideas stolen, and to Elizabeth for being a taskmaster, and many others…

Update: The game’s finished and for sale. Contact me for more info.

Sword of the Soul: Review

by Tristan Brightman

(Hey, tris, is there a place we can keep the text of this game that’s a little more accessible? KF is not totally link-friendly.)

Sword of the Soul is a game that Tris wrote for me for the True Meaning of Friendship Game Design Challenge. Thanks, Tris! It is the seed of something quite cool, I think. I particularly like the idea that each action scene is mapped to a grid, with a meaningful layout. I’m just going to go down section by section, red-penning as I would with a text I’m marking up for revisions.


Here we learn how to create characters and locations. Characters are constructed out of Motivations, which are things they want or want to do. I like this! On the other hand I feel like we are left out in open water a little with regard to guidance; there are countless different stories you could tell by arranging them in different ways (think about the stereotypical black-and-white fantasy cast, or the tangled, loyalty-blurred wuxia movie, or the swashbuckling story where allegiances are like outfits…) and countless different non-stories you could tell by arranging Motivations poorly (We all want pie! Except Ned, who is a piemaker. Pie for everyone!), and so it’d be beneficial to have an overseeing hand here. Come to think of it, here’s a spot where you could put in an oracle like in a Wicked Age or a genre dial of some other kind.

I’d like some guidance regarding location maps, too, mostly wrt how many features to have and how to arrange them. It’s not a big deal that this isn’t in this version of the text; I think it will take some testing before we can really figure out where the sweet spot lies. Some idea seeds about “areas of interest” would be welcome as well, although I see and appreciate that this is intended as a space to make the game your own. As it stands, it reminds me in a good way of the Set-Piece Battles essay I wrote about running cool fights in Exalted.

I think maybe maps can have walls.


On your go, if you have any “Strike” counters next to you, you may either take the blow, or try to defend them, by starting your sequence with a number of blocks, or dodges. Once you have decided, the player(s) who placed the strikes rolls one d6 per strike. Any die showing 4+ is a hit. You then roll your dodge/block dice. For dodging, a 3-6 blocks an attack, but forces you to move the Dodge rate away from your opponent. For blocking, a 4-6 blocks an attack.

I think that we can simplify this, numbers-wise. I like that you are forced to move some distance with dodges. Here is a thing that has a lot of potential—like suppose that your map is a vertical plane cut through a bamboo grove, and you must always Dodge downward a long distance, and the Move rate is significantly lower? Cool!!

I think that movement could use some clarification, maybe the Move rate is a cap on how far you can move in a turn? Else you may be unable to reach some spots on the board (think about chess bishops). What directions are okay?

Your action sequence must be narrated as flowing from one of the motivations used to drive it.

Suggestion: We don’t need this, as long as we narrate this in the defence process. I think maybe the constant harping on motivations isn’t always what we need, but we need it at these critical points, eh?

a remark

What happens when we’re not fighting? How do we interpret dodging and blocking in the context of a battle of words?