Sunday, 18 January 2009

Lessons Learned from Kung Fu Hustle

I can't recommend this film enough, but I don't want this to turn into a review. Here's what it taught me about running and designing games.

Don't fear the TPK

This film has a neat twist (don't go any further if you want to avoid spoilers) in that it keeps you guessing who the main heroes are going to be. The three masters that become revealed in Pig Sty alley trying to live normal lives seem to be our initial candidates, but soon get themselves killed by the two musicians. In step the landlord and landlady to defeat their killers and go on to fight The Beast, but after they're both defeated the real hero is revealed. I've always been a fan of death being a real possibility in games but there are very few that handle it well. In the case of this film a good supporting cast means new heroes can be drafted in when the first batch fall and it still makes sense for the story. In the Wuxia genre particularly we often see characters dying. Embrace death and look for ways to use it to your advantage in your game!

Have Style

This is one of the main focuses of A Wanderer's Romance. Every character in the film has their own style of fighting which is visually recognisable and comes with a neat sounding name. Even in games that don't feature mechanically distinct combat styles, consider how each person's techniques might appear. 

Comedy can Coexist

There's no doubting the film is a comedy, but it features action scenes that are often as impressive as anything in a straight Wuxia film. I'll confess that I was also moved by the emotional plight of the characters. You can add comedic elements to a game without removing the plot, character development and exciting action. In fact there are very few genres that don't benefit from a sprinkling of comedy. This is doubly so when you're creating the story with friends and it's something I fear some GMs worry about. Try embracing a touch of comedy in your next game where you might have tried to play it straight. Your players will thank you and in-character joking around is greatly preferential to out of character joking during a game. 

I've enjoyed writing these "lessons learned" posts a lot and would love to hear if anyone else has found gaming tips from more unlikely sources. In a future post I plan to talk about how training as a schoolteacher taught me a lot about GMing and game design. There are really more links than you might think!

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