Friday, February 24, 2012

on funky powers & special maneuvers

So once upon a time I played a few sessions in one of Dave Hoover's Feng Shui campaigns.  This was back before he and his wife Heather ran my kickass local game store, so he still had time to GM.  Dave's one of the best GM's I've ever played under.  My time in his campaign was short solely because I prefer to run rather than play, so I launched my D&D3.5 game not long afterwards and didn't have time to do both..

He will kick your ass.
Feng Shui is basically the game of playing all Hong Kong action movies at the same time.  There's a background involving time travel and demons from the Netherworld and cyborgs from the future of  Orwell's 1984, but the jist of it is "You're John Woo with two pistols, I'm shirtless Bruce Lee.  Lo Pan is stirring some shit.  Let's go."

I played an Old Kung Fu Master template (character class) that I'm pretty sure was designed for jolly little Mr. Miyagi types.  For my own guy (see the picture) I decided that he would be a villain like the guy who gets his balls busted at the end of the 1977 classic Invincible Armor.  My basic line of explorations was "What if the evil white-haired master of a thousand deadly techniques worked for the good guys?"  Since these guys always roll around in wicked cool robes that my guy would be horrible at blending in with modern Hong Kong society.  The pic of him in his civilian clothes is swiped from an old column called FashionSWAT.  Since have the players in the game had chosen templates based upon white action heroes (I think we had a Mafia thug and a Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China, among others) I also decided that my guy would be a grumpy old racist who thought all honkies looked alike.

But my main problem with this dude was with his charsheet.  I claimed to be master of 10,000 ways of killing a man, but mechanically I really only knew 5 different Kung Fu tricks.  So I borrowed a trick from Champions, where pretty much any fluff can be assigned to any game mechanic.  Enter: Chris Pound.  Chris Pound's Language Machines is a collection of word-recombination toys that any GM should keep handy.  Need a few Tsolyani names for your Empire of the Petal Throne game? Bam! Howzabout five hundred Dying Earth style spell names? Suck on this Vancian magic!

For this old kung fu bastard with the ugly suit I printed out this sample list of crazy martial art maneuver names.  Every time I used a perfectly ordinary melee attack I would call out one of these names and then mark it off of my list.  One round a simple punch would become "Roaring Mantis Scratch!", the next round the exact same mechanic became "Golden Sun Claw!"  I never shared the whole list with the other players, so they were always in suspense regarding what sort of nonsense I would next spout.  One time, as an experiment, I simply rolled my attack without calling out its name.  Everyone was visibly disappointed until I quickly looked at my list and tacked on a maneuver name.

I think musing on this experience recently has given me a little insight into why some of the 4e enthusiasts are freaked out about the way 5e seems to be leaning towards the old school.  They don't want to go back to the days of "I swing my sword, again".  That's perfectly understandable.  If I was playing a 4e PC with a dozen weirdo powers I'd probably enjoy announcing my kickassedness just like I did with my white-haired kung fu douchebag.  I think a fair number of Exalted players dig on that as well.

But I also think my Feng Shui experience might demonstrate that you don't really need any mechanics backing you up to achieve that sort of baroque combat ballet.