Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The Trigram Chronicles #1

L to R: Li, Wu, Zhang, Luo, Wang, and Soong 

Assassination attempt on General Yen fails; our heroes are saved by Cripple Li

Tiantai Monastery burned to the ground; our heroes outwit the Black and White Emissaries

It was the third year after the Qing's passage through the Great Wall (1464 CE). Prince Regent Dorgon had issued the queue edict during the previous year, and it was being enforced in the lands south of the Yangtze with great brutality. Chief among these enforcers was General Yen, a former Ming general who had defected to the Qing. Forces under his command massacred those who defied the edict - tens of thousands perished.

Our heroes - former imperial assassin Zhang Ziyi, warrior-scholar Wu Wen Xiong, blind beggar Wang Ah Hu, and lay student of Shaolin kung fu Soong Wu Qing - all of whom have lost family to General Yen's forces, came to learn that he was traveling to the north, and thus laid an ambush on his entourage as it passed by a narrow defile. But they had overestimated their own skills, for while they were able to slay several of his guards, the four were no match for General Yen - Zhang and Wu were sent off the side of a cliff to the river below, while Wang narrowly escaped capture, saved only by the quick wit of Soong - together the two leapt off the cliff too to avoid falling into the hands of the Qing.

When they awoke, our heroes found themselves in a cottage, tended to by an old physician who called himself Cripple Li, and his student Li Hui. They had drifted down the river, unconscious, until they were found by fishermen and brought to Li's cottage. Cripple Li learned of the heroes' quest for revenge, and tried to dissuade them from their mission, but they could not be convinced. Cripple Li revealed that General Yen had mastered the Heaven and Earth Kung Fu, and possessed such power that was matched only by a few in the wuling.

His tale was then interrupted by the arrival of Qing soldiers, hunting for our heroes. Cripple Li handed Li Hui a bundle, and bade her to take the heroes to a shack in the mountains nearby via a hidden path, and thence to find his friend the Claypot Monk at Tiantai Monastery at Jiuhua Mountain, while he tried to stall the soldier. As the party climbed the foothills, they could see smoke rising from the village, and Cripple Li being cut down by the Qing soldiers...

When they had reached the shack, which was used for shelter by Cripple Li and Li Hui when they went to gather medicinal herbs, Li Hui opened the bundle to find a letter from her master. In it he told Li Hui that despite her natural aptitude for kung fu, he had instead taught her the healing arts, believing that it was more virtuous to save lives than to take lives; however, in times such as those they faced now, one sometimes had to kill the wicked to save the lives of the innocent, and thus he had passed his kung fu manuals to his student.

The party traveled south, eventually arriving at the great Jiuhua Mountain, and ascended to its summit. When they arrived, they found the main prayer hall of the Tiantai Monastery smothering, its pillars burnt out and its great tiled roof collapsed. In the courtyard laid the bodies of more than thirty monks and twenty thugs, each wearing a red scarf around their neck, all of them bearing wounds. Li Hui, who had met the Claypot Monk once when he visited Cripple Li, could not find the body of the man. The party searched the compound, but found only ransacked quarters, kitchen and scripture hall. It actually took blind Wang, prodding through the tiles of the great hall's collapsed roof, to find the monk's body. When they unearthed him, they found his body covered with wounds, and his arms were wrapped around a buddha statue. Once again, it was beggar Wang who felt the cracks in the back of the statue, giving a clue to a secret compartment within. Just when the party had figured out how to open the secret compartment, they were interrupted by the voice of a man demanding they hand the statue over.

The party looked up to find themselves surrounded by ten men, eight of whom wore red scarves around their necks; the remaining two, who appeared to be the leaders of the band, wore broad-brimmed straw hats; one wore a black cloak, and the other a white cloak.

Wu recognised the two as the Black and White Emissaries, two of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan, leaders of a vast band of bandits that terrorised the lands after the collapse of Ming authority. Our heroes refused the Emissaries' demands, and the bandits attacked. Outnumbered, our heroes began to fall one by one, until Zhang fled the fight with Li and the buddha statue, drawing the Emissaries away. Zhang hid Li in the monastery's kitchen, and then led the Emissaries on a chase, until at last Li emerged and offered to surrender the statue for their lives. With many of their thugs dead and the White Emissary wounded, the Emissaries agreed, and left with the statue. Unbeknownst to them, Li had opened the secret compartment and removed the metal scroll case which was hidden within.

To learn what was hidden therein, gentle reader, please turn to the next chapter...

Prepping and Running the Game

So went the first session of our wuxia campaign, and I must say I have not had this much fun GMing for a long time. That is not to say that I did not enjoy our previous campaigns, but because of how familiar all of us are with the wuxia genre, we found ourselves speaking in character much more than we did in our other campaigns. Granted, most of the dialogue were "cut-and-paste" lines from various wuxia novels, movies, and TV shows, but one can say that this is the essence of the genre and indeed much of classical Chinese literary tradition, and it was a lot of fun saying them, sort of like an extended session of an RPG session where the characters spoke exclusively in Month Python quotes. To further encourage my players, I tossed them replica Chinese copper coins representing Experience Points each time they said something in genre.

The second fight scene of the session and the idea of the Twelve Banes of Jiangnan was inspired by the 12 Golden Butchers, but the other scenes are just tropes you must have seen in over a dozen wuxia movies.

The opening scene was railroady, but the players were happy to go along for the ride, with two of them even throwing their characters off the cliff into the river because they knew that was what they were supposed to do. Sadly for them, they did not all wake up in a cave where the text of the ultimate kung fu could be found inscribed on the walls as they had hoped...

The second scene was an exposition scene, where the players could tell their backstories, and where I could further detail the dastardly deeds of General Yen.

The third scene did not go quite as I expected it to. As these rules are new to us, we did not manage to get all of the rules correct, and the players certainly did not yet know how to use all of their characters' special skills. As a result they were overwhelmed by the bad guys, but fortunately for everyone they managed to outwit the opposition, and pull off another wuxia trope.

What I realised after the game was that the players and their characters had failed to fight as a team to capitalise on their strengths and to cover for each other's weaknesses. This was not necessarily a bad thing though, as this would be realistic from the narrative point of view too. Hopefully we will see them gel together in the Avengers fashion after a couple more fights.

I started this campaign with nothing planned beyond these three encounters, but thankfully my players gave me some ideas on what their characters want to do next. The next session will be in two weeks, which will give me ample time to plan for it. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

SteveHolmes11 said...

This is a very strong start: Early action, a clear objective and exposure to a major enemy.
It would be a great opening to a movie, and works just as well for an RPG.

Having laid a solid background, there is now scope for character growth (personal and team) while the plot can develop at an appropriate rate.

The sage once said "Do not despise the campaign that begins with railroad. Every beginning has potential to become an epic".