Saturday, 10 January 2009

Lessons Learned from House of Flying Daggers

I've been catching up on some of the more recent Wuxia films I missed, yesterday being the turn of House of Flying Daggers. Of course, there's no way I could watch this film without getting all sorts of ideas for running A Wanderer's Romance. Hopefully they'll stir up some ideas for your game too. There may be slight spoilers, but nothing too detailed. 

Say it with Colour

If you've seen this film you'll remember the green scene, the white scene and the yellow scene. There are few visual stimuli that hit an audience as immediately as a bold, highly saturated colour. This could be used to make instantly memorable locations. World of Warcraft is another example of how a strong palette can create memorable, flavourful locations. Whether it's through visual aids or pure description colour is an incredibly useful tool for the GM.

Location is your Off-hand Weapon

We all know that blowing your locations up is fun, but why stop there? The bamboo forest in the "green scene" mentioned above is used for far more than chopping up. Said chopped-bamboo forms a bed of spikes over one area, the stalks themselves provide a limitless supply of spears for the attacking soldiers as well as a vertical dimension to the fight. It's the use of your surroundings as a weapon that really appeals to me. If one of your players wants to cut a rope and send a suspended sandbag onto the head of their enemy why not let them? Roll it as a normal attack with their sword, damage and all, and enjoy the flavour. If your system uses hit points and treats them as an abstraction this fits all the better!

Who needs Badguys?

There really wasn't a single villain in this film. Even the faceless guards doomed to be slaughtered were people you didn't want to see die. The way I felt about the characters meant that when the climactic duel came around I didn't know who I wanted to win. I certainly had no idea how it was going to turn out, either, and I liked it! I like this feeling all the more in RPGs because we really don't know who's going to win. If I'm playing in a game where I'm the hero facing off against a supremely evil villain and I die, it just feels wrong. If my character dies by the hand of someone who was only as flawed as my character instead we have a delicious tragedy. The world doesn't end when I die, which leads onto...

Plot Potential in Success and Failure

As I mentioned, I had no idea how the final duel was going to pan out, besides a hunch that there would be some previously noted tragedy involved. As I was thinking about it I realised that no matter what the outcome there was scope for it to be satisfying. One thing I always try to put into my encounters is potential for the plot to move in an interesting direction no matter what the outcome. With AWR especially there's lots of scope for the player's characters to lose duels or contests and fail tests. This should never be the end of the game and call for disappointed rolling of a new character. Even in death the character should have a purpose in the story, whether a new character is introduced or not. There are a couple of characters I'm playing right now that I'm really looking forward to eventually killing off! 

Or maybe I've just been bitten by the tragedy bug and would regret it immediately! I'd love to hear about any experiences you've had with characters living on (not literally) after their death.

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