Not all wulin characters from wuxia stories and shows are “Heroes” with a capital H. Some are more uncertain and hide their true colors. Or they play the adversary to their own ends. This trope is more common in anime series. Think of Yuri Plisetsky from Yuri on Ice or Goemon from Lupin. See also “Heel Face Turns.” This playbook allows you to play out those stories in Hearts of Wulin.
The Villain’s an optional playbook-- and one the group should discuss before allowing into play. These characters have unorthodox aspects and have been labelled villains, but when push comes to shove, they will rise to be heroic. Some players are comfortable with ambiguity. But others may find it alienating. If used, check-in regularly on adversarial/rival relationships.
Note that a couple of the moves below are modifications of existing playbook moves. This is a draft version of the playbook and may change. The Condemned move is a riff on "What the hell, hero?" from The Reformed playbook for Masks.
Think Ren Yingying from Smiling, Proud Wanderer (or any number of anime)
You have a person or group who consider you to be their rival or villain persecuting them. Or you may simply perceive yourself this way. Your allegiances and loyalties are ambiguous and ever shifting. No one can truly know what you want. You may always use Hearts & Minds to convince someone you’ve switched over to their side. As well when you attempt this, you may mark an element succeed with a 10+ instead of rolling.
Think Zhou Zishu from Word of Honor
You have done true villainy in your life, but something has made you turn your back on this path—an incident, a person, a revelation. You were once more powerful than you are now. But you have suffered a punishment or consequence for leaving your past life, disrupting your inner power.
Choose one of your elements rated at 0. It is considered permanently marked and may not be cleared, rolled with, or advanced. However, sometimes your broken skills return to you. Once per session you may use a move of your choice from any playbook, provided it is not already known by another PC. Once you’ve used that move, you may never use it again.
Think the later Wei Wuxian from The Untamed
You have been falsely labelled a villain, so a villain you have become. When you trade on your sinister reputation, take +1 Forward to Hearts & Minds. As a cost for moves (Duel, Overcome, Inner Conflict) you may choose “prove them right.” When you do so, you create fear and doubt in someone you care about.
VILLAIN PLAYBOOK MOVES
The Delightful Forest
When you break free from chains, ropes, a cage, someone’s grip or other bonds, roll. On a hit you shatter what holds you with ease. On a 10+ you may choose one: do this quietly, gain a bond with a witness, or stun a group of troops guarding you—preventing them from acting until you’ve had another opportunity to act. On a miss, you break free but at a cost to yourself, mark an element (choice).
Long Road to Gallantry
When you attempt to change the loyalty or purpose of a worthy agent of a Hero, Authority, or Orthodox faction, roll. On a 10+ your words reach them. They will act to aid you right now. They may come with you, go to face their master, or flee. On a 7-9 your words make them hesitate. Choose if this plants doubt in their mind or if they take inadvertent action to assist you. On a fail they summon aid or back up to deal with you.
Word of Honor
You may spend a bond you have with someone to get them to pause, cease, or shift their current course of action. They may not do exactly what you want, but they will have to choose a new approach or focus. If the target is a higher scale, you must mark an element. If the target is a PC, they can choose to listen or ignore you. If they listen to you, they gain 1 XP (limit once per session).
When you behave in an aggressive way towards a friend or companion—with taunting, harsh words, or shutting them down-- clear an element and roll. On a hit, they recognize that your rudeness is a façade meant to protect your heart. On a 10+, they see past and convince another NPC to believe in you. Gain a bond with either person. On a 7-9+, they suspect your more tender feelings. On a miss, choose: they flee away in tears or someone else publicly condemns you.
When you call out an injustice that an authority or a supposed hero has perpetrated, roll. On a hit, gain a bond with them. On a 7-9, choose one. On a 10+, choose two. If they are a higher scale, mark an element.
- You get them to inadvertently or deliberately admit their wrongdoing.
- You get them to inadvertently or deliberately reveal a secret or entanglement.
- You trigger actions by one of your target’s enemies or rivals
- You win someone over; gain a bond with them.
- You insulate yourself from reprisals.
The Spy in the Palace
You have an ally—a flunky, a friend from your former life, a hanger on who believes you’re their ticket to success—they will often stumble into hidden situations. After a private conversation between a PC and another character, explain how your follower was in a place to overhear it and roll. On a 10+, they hear everything and manage to escape without detection. On a 7-9, they hear everything, but one of the involved parties sees them leave or finds evidence of their presence. On a miss, they’re seen leaving and the information they relay to you is decidedly wrong. The GM may decide if your presence is reasonable in the fiction.
You regret your past and seek real redemption through sacrifice. When you take on the enemy alone, mark Wounded and describe how you seemingly fall. Your allies may escape. You can reappear later (if you wish), but must narrate the twist which saved you.
When you accidentally or deliberately intercept signs, messages, or go-betweens which tell of a target’s affection for someone, roll. On a hit, you uncover something. Learn who they are sending declarations to (love letters) or who they simply pine for (oblique poems). On a 10+ you uncover something concrete. Choose one: you have proof you can show later, you can alter the message without being noticed, you can change the intended recipient.
On a 7-9, you merely find out about the nature and subject of the message. Alternately, you may take the 10+ result, but someone dangerous finds out about the games you’re playing. On a miss, you show your hand as a manipulator and someone important loses trust in you.
NEW ROLE: SUPERNATURAL VILLAIN
You literally died and came back to give yourself another shot at something: redemption, vengeance, love, plotting. But you brought back something with you-- a spirit, a ghost, a monster-- which remains visible only to you. It possesses unusual senses of some kind-- tracing the broken-hearted back to who wronged them, sniffing out concealed wealth, gazing through fires at a distance. It may taunt and tease you, but it will lend you aid in your endeavors.
When you have to mark an element, you may instead mark your companion. If you do, until you undertake some task for them-- advancing their plotting, feeding their desires, or humiliating you-- they will not lend you their talents and will instead be annoying and apt to cause problems. If you do as they wish, you may clear the mark.
NEW ROLE: COURTLY
This is not who you are. At some point, years ago, you took the place of the real person who bore this name. But it has been so long that you barely remember any life but this one. You became a secret imposter to carry out some long term plan of espionage, assassination, or theft. But when those orders come will you be able to do that?
You’ve been taught to adapt and learn, to pick up on the ways of those around you. When a fellow PC makes an Inner Conflict roll in your presence, gain a bond with them or with the person who triggered their reaction.