On Wushu Hacks and the Great Action Game

JW is writing about “Brutal Poetry” and what for makes for a good fight, particularly in the context of story-game. I want to share my attempts & ideas – thus far – for remaking Wushu into my ideal game. No clear success so far, but I’m hoping someone can beat this. Familiarity with Wushu will help below.

The Vision and Dream: I want a game where I can sit down with folks, plug in a style sheet, and quickly rumble through our own version of Die Hard or District B-13.

(I played one game of Emperor’s Heart that came very close to delivering this for me! However, it’s not perfect (yet). Much cred to Chris.)

Chi / Hit Points / Can We Stop Yet? While I was working on my Wushu hack, I was also playing a small demo-game of it. Wushu provides clear metrics for when a fighting is over – Threat Rating for low-key group battles, “hit-point”-like Chi points for important boss battles. However, even in my short demos, I found that the battle felt like it *should* be over before it really was over. We were still having an undesired affect of whittling down “threat points”, long after the thrill of battle was over. (This is in fact more acceptable in D&D, where the tension of hanging onto threadbare resources if part of the excitement. This is unacceptable in an action movie.)

My attempted solution: at the start of a conflict, declare an explicit timeline for how long a fight would take, and the turns that would be taken within it (ex: 4 turns, two per participant). Instead of wearing down a buffer of points, players instead racked up points for their goals in the fight, and were judged at the end for successfulness. However, this lead to some awkwardness in determining who-goes-when. If it was clear that the fourth turn would be the last, the players wanted to time it so that the most effective / most appropriate person would be timed to finish off the fight, in part pre-playing the actual fight of it.

Also: my method of “racking up points” towards goals meant that some players’ goals were quickly shown to be impossible, which was sad at times. (If it was clear you were going to be KO’d at the end of the fight from the start, it puts a damper on any further action.) It think strict constrained fight length is the right idea, but my implementation is wonky.

My ideas here were inspired in part by shot-framing (taking a less fiddly tack), but also in part by the Season Setup in Primetime Adventures, where a character determines their overall arc for the season. I would love to figure out something analogous to determine a character’s contribution to the night’s story overall.

Rewarding Details Wushu clearly rewards adding more detail (in the form of +1 per embellishments). I thought I wanted this, but wanted better, consise detail. I tried to keep the “+1d / embellishment” rule, suggesting that simply referencing a previous detail would suffice, but it still lead to the same end results: too many details, not enough flow.

I considered establishing a clear rubric (guidelines for judging and rewarding proper details), but this is problematic. I didn’t want to take players out from participants or observers of the actions to be come judges of it as well. (Throwing in “fan mail”, a la Primetime Adventures, is one thing, but providing stronger feedback might not be easily possible.)

I also considered making a concept map of specific details that should be reincorporated, excluding freeform details. (For example: there’s a plate-glass window, and I add it to the list. I’m being clear here: I’ll reward a player for kicking a foe (or being kicked) through said window.) I worried this might be overly constraining or static; however, I’ve seen that freeform details alone have not satisfied, while I’ve seen constrained detail come to be of good use (in Geiger Counter for example).

Characters Have Issues. It’s important that fights have some stakes and impacts other than the direct outcome. (The hero is trying to destroy the helicopter, but this fight is also showing us something about his feelings about being double-crossed by the government.) However, I’m not certain about the default approach – tagging these issues as optional or mandatory “stakes” stacked onto the outcome of a fight.

I still like Wushu! I think I can still play it just great. I get its mindset, and I know how to map its bits to represent different parts of what I try to do in play and what I want. However, it’s clear to me there’s other stuff I still want from an action game that this game doesn’t provide . Hence, the hacking.

One thought on “On Wushu Hacks and the Great Action Game

  1. So many things to respond to, so I’ll start with just one:

    I think you’re right on the concrete, established details working better than freeform ones. Like, when Jet Li walks into any room, the audience immediately looks around to see what he’s going to end up using to beat the shit out of people.

    You know how, in Geiger Counter, I place little groups of dice on the map, for the players to pick up and use as weapons? Something like that might work, even if not everything about the weapons was defined before the fight started.

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