One of the stretch goals we have met is an expansion to our supernatural materials. I have usually defaulted to no magic in my playtest sessions, but we have also had some great games with little magical touches: spirits, nine tailed foxes, ghosts, etc. Our full supernatural take will have some new moves and playbooks. But the easiest hack right now is to add new role moves to each of the existing playbooks.
EXORCIST (STUDENT ROLE)
Through study or experience, you have learned how to protect yourself and others from malign forces. Think Ning Choi-san from A Chinese Ghost Story or Abbot Fahai from The Sorcerer and the White Snake.
When you create a barrier to expel or bar a supernatural spirit, roll. On a 10+ you do so, forcing the spirit away. If the spirit is of a higher scale, you can decide how to engage it. On a 7-9 you do so but there is a complication (cost, harm, or something is left out, broken, or threatened). If the spirit is of a higher scale, mark chi also. On a fail your efforts make things worse for you and others.
MONSTER HUNTER (BRAVO ROLE)
You have dedicated your life to tracking down monsters. In your time on the road you have learned their tricks and ways. Think Xia Bing from Painted Skin or Xiaolan from Monster Hunt.
When you try to see through the illusions and disguises of monsters and supernatural creatures, roll Study. In addition to usual results you can always ask: What is this creature called? If the target is above your scale, your Study questions may offer impressions rather than specifics. You begin with an additional entanglement: a ghost who loves you, a monster you protect, a creature seeking revenge tied to someone they care for.
You are secretly a monster, drawn to the human world through desire and love. Think Susu or Qingqing from The Sorcerer and the White Snake or Xiaowei from Painted Skin.
You must keep this a secret. Decide what your tell is. You have +1 when you use Hearts & Minds to create or enhance misunderstandings between people. During end of session if you have pushed another player into rewriting an entanglement, clear an element.
ALCHEMIST/HERBALIST (LOYAL ROLE)
This can represent a fantastical version of Chinese medicine or acupuncture. Think Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China or Hu Qingniu from The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber.
When you Duel someone of your scale you may enflame one of their elements, say which you wish to target and roll. On a hit, in addition to the normal duels results they are driven by one of those negative impulses until treated. On a miss you enflame yourself in addition to other effects.
TAOIST? MAGICIAN/SORCERER (AWARE ROLE)
There is a lot of symbology and association of Taoism with magic in these stories. Some of that comes from a historic effort by historical Taoists to present themselves as possessing such powers. So it might be better to use a more neutral name for this role. In any case, think Yin Chik-ha from A Chinese Ghost Story or Priest Tsui from Encounters of a Spooky Kind.
When you Duel with supernatural forces, take +1 Ongoing.
CURSED (OUTSIDER ROLE)
You are bound by the forces and fate and destiny. This may have a concrete form, such as a mystical person who has control over you. Think Nip Siu-sin from A Chinese Ghost Story or Lian Nichang from The Bride with White Hair.
You have a four segment count-down clock. In play you may add a tic to the clock to give yourself +1 to your roll. Additionally, you may add a tic as a cost or consequence. When your countdown clock fills, a future scene will showcase a terrible event and a close NPC. They might be injured, haunted, or seek revenge. You reset this clock when you deal with their issue.
One of the ideas we have talked about is adapting Hearts of Wulin for samurai period romance. Brennan Taylor did some work on this previously. More recently the eagerly anticipated Thousand Arrows has brought PbtA to Sengoku-era Japan and beyond. The latter is amazing, but perhaps more sweeping that I am picturing. I have to think about this more and if we do anything formal, I would want to get someone with strong experience in Japanese culture, especially covering questions of sexuality and romance in the samurai period.
But I have been thinking mechanically about the concept. One of the tropes of samurai cinema is the highly formalized duel. Not the clashing of swords, but the fight that has characters waiting, observing, shifting slightly until one of them moves and then suddenly it is over. How can we model that without over-elaborating the rules or moving away from established moves. I am picturing a sequence you would use rarelyâ€”only for those dramatic, ritualized engagements. For everything else you would use Duel and Deal with Troops.
Legend of the Five Rings introduced the concept of Challenge, Focus, Strike. I am imagining something similar, with two preliminary phases, followed by a resolution. In this version, a PC has five degrees of scale in relation to an NPC. The three from the base game: Below Your Scale, Equal Scale, and Superior Foe. But we also have in-between states: You have the Edge and They have the Edge. The first two phases are about moving that relation.
Challenge: This phase is about intimidation and presence. You might project force or you could project calm. Your intention is to put your foe off-balance and learn something about them. Roll anything but your style element. On a 7-9 gain one hold. On a 10+ gain two hold. You may pick each result once:
- Take a +1 Forward to either Focus or Strike. Say what you notice about the form or stance of your opponent that gives you an advantage.
- Learn the scale of your foe in relation to you.
- Ask a question about their purpose, emotions, or motivations.
- Declare something about the situation or the fighting style of your opponent.
Focus: This is about centering yourself so that you can act at the precise time you need to. Roll anything but your style element or the element you used for challenge. On a hit, take +1 Forward to strike or you may shift the conflict one degree in your favor. On a 7-9 you must mark the element you rolled. On a fail, concede the duel or continue with the scale shifted one degree against you.
Finally roll Strike with Style Element on the following table.â€‹
On Twitter I mentioned another idea we had. When I drove Sherri into work, she suggested a way to do something like The Water Margin with Hearts of Wulin. This would have players as a group of rebels trying to build up their resources and battle a corrupt government. The Water Margin aka Outlaws of the Marsh aka All Men Are Brothers is a sprawling text of classic Chinese literature. It is also the loose basis of one of my favorite video games, the Suikoden series.
We had done a Legend of the Five Rings clan building game a few years ago that everyone enjoyed. They were a newly established family of the Dragon, created as a reward and a buffer. By letting the players establish the culture of their family and focus on that, we steered away from some of the issues the setting had. It was a seasonal game with players taking actions to build up the region. It borrowed some from Blood & Honor by John Wick. You can see some posts about my old campaign here.
Anyway, you could take the basic HoW engine and add some new mechanics and mini-games to handle courtly intrigue, infiltration, skirmishes, battles, etc. It you wanted a variety, you could have players run two PCs. But one and a bunch of NPCs might be enough. The big idea would be to adapt Wrath of the Autarch mechanics (by Phil Lewis) for resistance building. If you are not familiar with it, but you like big idea rpgs you should check it out.
I do not think it would be too much work (he said underestimating the work). It would be a fun way to add an even larger, more epic campaign structure to Hearts of Wulin. If you want to go further, you could even do it as a generational game, ala The Great Pendragon Campaign. I am already thinking about it when I should be working on other things...
I also want to point to a thread on Twitter. Erik Seguinte took the Hearts of Wulin playtest docs (available on the KS page) and used it to do a modern setting. It has echoes of John Woo and Ringo Lam. I love it and he has a long thread on the session you can read here.