You’re respected as a scholar or expert, though perhaps you do not understand your place. Think Bai Letian from Legend of the Demon Cat or Gongsun Ce from the Lord of Justice series.
Take +2 Forward when you have a Duel (Social) against someone of a superior scale. In addition, on a 10+ you gain the attention and interest of a mysterious benefactor.
You’re among the many wealthy nobility, further down the line of succession or heir to a smaller faction. Think Prince Jingyang from The Flame’s Daughter or Ning Yi from The Rise of Phoenixes.
When you go to manipulate courtly gossip, roll. On a hit you may ask for a rumor about a person. You may enhance, change, or reduce that rumor or another. On a 10+ you may declare an entirely new rumor which will take a life of its own. On a miss, your efforts create a dangerous rumor about you or an ally.
You’re a trusted courtier, officer, or appointee. Think Commander Ziyu from Shadow or Yuchi from Young Detective Dee.
You’ve learned to navigate the palace well. When you try to gain access to a protected person, location, or item, roll. On a hit you make your way in. On a 10+ you do so quietly, impressively, and without fuss. On a 7-9 there’s a complication. Choose: a rival’s already there, your time is cut short, word of your violation leaks out in the worst light. On a miss, it turns out to be a trap.
You come from the North, South, Desert, Provinces-- just not here. Consider why you’ve been welcomed to this court. Think Lai Xi from Warriors of Heaven and Earth or Kūkai from Legend of the Demon Cat.
When you leverage your strangeness or barbaric manners to disrupt a social event, roll. On a hit, the gathering or meeting is broken up. On a 10+, you may skew things to arrange a new meeting between parties. On a 7-9, your actions have costs. Choose: make a new enemy, mark an element, or lose support of an ally. On a miss, your embarrassing disruption cements connections between the parties you wish to split.
You are the declared or commonly believed heir to the ruler. Everyone knows that someday you will be in command here. You may or may not have accepted that, but you wield power without realizing it. The ruler may approve of you or believe you’re a potential rival. Think Wu Luan from The Banquet or Zhao Liying in Princess Agents.
At the start of each session, if you have no influence, gain +1. When you spend Influence for The Game of Court, roll with +2 instead of +1 for each influence spent. You may roll with up to +4 for this.
You’re a handmaid, assistant, guard, or the like. Perhaps this is merely a cover for other activities. A few see and confide in you, perhaps even becoming a friend. But most above overlook you as you move through the court. Think Chu Qiao in Princess Agents or Lie Ruge from The Flame’s Daughter.
After a private conversation between a PC and another character, explain how you were in a place to overhear it and roll. On a 10+, you heard everything and manage to escape without detection. On a 7-9, you heard everything, but one of the involved parties sees you leave or finds evidence of your presence. On a miss, you hear and see nothing, as your superiors catch and punish you. The GM may decide if your presence is reasonable in the fiction. (Written with thanks to Brandon Leon-Gambetta).
NEW PLAYBOOK MOVES
Drop: Hidden Dragon, A Touch of Zen
Beating the Dragon Robe: When you rally a crowd to your cause, roll. On a 10+, you succeed and may direct their anger, grievances, or fanaticism towards your desired aims. Additionally choose two: your role is hidden, the crowd survives, there’s no retaliation. On a 7-9 choose one. On a miss you turn the crowd against you and what you represent.
To Subdue Evil: When you fight alongside or call in agents of authority, take +1 Forward.
Drop: Legend of the Fox, Thief of Thieves
Invincible Eight: You have a group of skilled agents at your disposal. Choose what kind: guards, scholars, spies, saboteurs, merchants. When you send them out to perform a task, roll. On a 10+, they succeed admirably at what you sent them to do and no one’s the wiser. On a 7-9, they succeed but either suffer loss and injuries or reveal your handiwork in the worst possible light. On a miss, they turn against you. You will need to recruit new agents to replace them.
Love on Delivery: When you attempt to manipulate the affections of an NPC towards another, roll. On a 10+, they will find themselves taking or losing an interest in spite of themselves. They will find themselves torn about their existing feelings. If they’re unattached they will act to meet or avoid the object of their feelings. On a 7-9, there’s a complication. Choose: a third party resents your interference or someone from your entanglements misunderstands and becomes jealous. On a miss, your efforts create the opposite results and you create a rift with one of your entanglements.
Drop: Trail of the Everlasting Hero, Two Wondrous Tigers
Emperor and His Brother: When you work to change the course of your own faction, roll. On a hit you shift opinion, choose one: they rethink a major decision, reinstate someone who has fallen out of favor, or give back something they controlled. On a 7-9, there’s a cost. Choose: you create a major obligation for your faction; you lose the trust of your leadership; or you reveal a dangerous secret about yourself. On a miss, you fail to convince them and the outcome is worse than you feared.
Trust And Brotherhood: You have a wide network of support and favors. You may have up to six Influence at any time.
Drop: All Men Are Brothers, House of Traps
Heart of Dragon: When you Duel (Social) you may use both bonds and influence. When you play The Game of Court, you may use Bonds spent instead of influence to roll with.
Sword Stained with Royal Blood: When you act to change a conflict to a social duel, roll. On a 10+, your opponent must accept. On a 7-9, they must accept or suffer two consequences from The Game of Court of your choice. On a miss, your words ring false and the physical conflict proceeds. The GM chooses one result from The Game of Court to apply to you.
Drop: Face to Fate, Smiling, Proud Wanderer
Golden Lotus: When you set up an event, party, or gathering, roll. On a hit, everyone absolutely must attend for fear of being left out. Take +1 Forward on any social moves you make during the scene. On a 10+, choose: gain 1 influence, draw out someone from hiding or reclusiveness, or gain an office or appointment from someone in power (GM chooses). On a miss, something goes catastrophically wrong. Choose: a rival puts on a better event at the same time; your theme offends someone important, or bad omens appear and everyone quickly leaves.
Shadow: You have a body double, trained to mimic your every word. When you reveal in a scene that it isn’t you but your double, roll. On a hit, the revelation’s a shock. You may suddenly and unexpectedly appear or cut to a scene elsewhere to show what you’re doing at the same time. On a 7-9, there were cracks in the performance, mark and element and choose one NPC who suspected something. On a miss, you appear but choose: your double acts on their own secret agenda or suffers devastating harm.
Like the Thief and Hidden roles, the Shadow move creates ambiguity of identity. That means it’s important during character creation to establish who knows what. Which PCs know of the double? If someone has an entanglement with the Shadow player, does it refer to the PC, the double, or both?
Drop: The Golden Lion, His Name is Nobody
The Banquet: When you protect someone from the anger or oppression of those in power, roll. On a 10+, you succeed and protect them immediately and from future repercussions. Choose one: take +1 Influence; gain a loyal assistant or informant, or cause their oppressor social embarrassment. On a 7-9, you succeed, but choose one: the protection is temporary or you lose someone’s backing. On a miss, your intervention makes things worse for them, if not right now then in the near future.
The Shadow Whip: You have a complete alternate identity within the court. You could be a guard, a minister, or something else. You can change between your guises with implausible speed. Revelation of your alt identity is up to you.
With these new mechanics, characters now have two kinds of scale. The first, applying to physical duels, is Martial Scale. The second is Social Scale. This acts as a kind of protection for foes. If someone is one equal or higher Social Scale, you must duel with them socially when you face them in public. The reverse does not hold true for PCs-- if you wish to avoid a physical duel in public you’ll need to make a social move.
Like Martial Scale, all PCs have equal Social Scale. However, the kinds of things you can now offer for a PVP duel increases (support, allies, influence).
Just as you might work to reduce someone’s Martial Scale, you can take actions to reduce Social Scale. Their scale may come from many sources, see below. There can be Social Superior foes. This means PCs will need to use New Technique to ferret out the secrets of their foe’s position and authority, and then work to exploit that weakness.
RIVALS (GM Notes)
When thinking about court rivals for the PCs, consider how they have the power they do. These can serve as the source and guide for moves you make against the PCs. They’re also the things the heroes can strike at to even the scale. See the examples below.
Also consider their rival’s plots, plans, and agenda. What do they want? If you want to make this concrete, use Clocks, taking a page from Forged in the Dark game. A clock has four, six, or eight segments. Write down what happens when the clock fills. Mark a tick on the clock a) as all or part of a GM move or b) when the players have to do extended recovery scenes. If players interfere with a plot remove ticks.
If you do this, decide if you want to make this public or private. Public knowledge means the players can see and feel pressure from the plot. You may or may not tell them the details of the scheme or what happens when it fills. If you keep the clock hidden, you can reveal it when the players investigate or take a Study move to understand the situation. In any case, you should be clear with your players about your use of clocks.
REASONS YOUR FOE IS A HIGHER SOCIAL SCALE
- They’ve carefully accumulated blackmail material over the years.
- They have a long-standing reputation for honor and fairness.
- The secret cache of wealth they embezzled years ago.
- Old glory on the battlefield.
- Privy to secrets of the highest.
- A network of agents who bring them rumors and whispers.
- A cadre of agents with secret techniques who eliminate rivals.
- Those who oppose them have a history of vanishing.
- Backing of the military
- Support from an order of political advisors
- Prophecy from a seer about their importance
- Tied to the ruler by marriage
- Tied to the ruler by blood
- Has the ear of the ruler’s spouse
- PC Rivalries