One thing that I’m discovering as I’m writing the Mythic China/wuxia book is just how flexible and powerful the secondary skills are. As they appear in Adventures Dark and Deep, they’re an expansion of the skill system that Gygax wrote for the Castles & Crusades game (specifically for use with his Castle Zagyg project), specifying relevant attributes rather than relying on “prime attributes” (which ADD doesn’t have), and dropping the categorization in favor of specifying an x.p. cost for each skill. In ADD, if your character’s highest attribute isn’t the relevant one for that skill, it’ll cost more x.p. to pick up a skill level.
The system works in general by saying, when you earn experience points, you have the option of spending them on learning a new secondary skill, rather than earning a new experience level. Once spent, those x.p. are lost, although a character can of course re-earn them in the normal fashion.
Adventures Dark and Deep uses this system to not only give a set of generalized skills that might be useful for adventurers, but also as a means to convert specialists such as blacksmiths, sages, etc. into game mechanics which suddenly become available to player characters, if they wish to spend the x.p. Some character classes, like the savant, automatically begin the game with a secondary skill (scholarship, which is based off the old AD&D sage rules).
In practice, the skill system works sort of like the 3E system of “taking a level in another class”, except the skills are very micro-targeted, rather than giving the character all the benefits of a multi-classed character. Advancement in the secondary skill is also optional; you can spend the x.p. to gain a skill level in espionage, but nothing says you need to spend more (twice more; x.p. costs are per skill level) to get a second level.
In the new Mythic China/Wuxia rulebook, I’m taking this to a whole other level. While there are, naturally, new secondary skills that are appropriate for a Chinese-based setting, the system as a whole is the basis of the new kung fu rules.
You want to learn kung fu? You spend x.p. to learn a particular style, and you’ll get access to benefits in combat, some of which require a skill check (based on the relevant attribute), and some that just give you an automatic bonus in combat. You want to get better at a particular style, and learn new moves that open up new possibilities? Just spend the x.p. Oh, and find a teacher willing and able to instruct you in the new moves…
I think this is incredibly elegant, and really demonstrates the power of Gygax’s original system, if taken to its logical conclusion. Kung fu moves don’t “stack”, unless you spend yet more x.p. to learn Kung Fu Mastery, which allows you to combine certain types of bonuses, so the risk of someone becoming some unbeatable killing machine is somewhat mitigated by both the need of spending extra x.p., as well as the specific restrictions. But the system in general allows you to recreate many of the really cool martial arts skills that you’ve seen in the movies, if you’re willing to forego advancing in level to be able to levitate or jump backwards over an enemy to strike him from behind.
It’s like feats, but fitted into a 1st edition aesthetic. And damn, it really works well.
Working on this book has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the secondary skill system in Adventures Dark and Deep, and I daresay its one of the several things that really makes this game stand out in the pack of retro-clones.
Rather than needing to create an entire sub-class for some specific function in a particular setting, a GM could simply create an appropriate secondary skill and decree that members of the Royal Guard in his setting need to learn it. In that instant, he has created not only a mechanical device to add distinction to the royal guards (who might be experts in the use of the one-handed halberd, or whatever), as well as providing an in-game roleplaying mechanism (you can’t learn the skill unless you can find a teacher, and you can’t become a member of the King’s Guard without it, so you better find a way to learn it from someone if that’s your character’s ultimate dream). I could see race-specific skills, too, being defining traits of sub-races and the like. It’s really a powerful system, and it really works smoothly.
I’ve got a long way to go before it’s done, but I’ve recently had a spurt of inspiration and energy for my wuxia/Chinese folklore supplement for old-school gaming, and I thought I’d post some of my thoughts on how it’s going to be organized, and what sort of stuff will likely find its way into the book.
First off, it’s completely China-focused. One of the things that was both baffling and annoying about the original Oriental Adventures book was its mish-mashing of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian material, with a decided focus on the Japanese. There will be neither ninjas nor samurai in this book. That’s not to say it’s an historical game; far from it. But the influences will come solely from China.
Secondly, it draws inspiration from two sources; wuxia film and literature, and traditional Chinese mythology and folklore. In the same way that Gary Gygax took inspiration from European and Biblical folklore and literature for a lot of spells, magic items, and character classes, this book will draw from Chinese mythology and folklore. I’m also adding in a healthy dose of wuxia tropes and themes, most specifically in the introduction of rules for kung fu.
Building on a mechanic of the core Adventures Dark and Deep rules before it, this Chinese supplement will treat kung fu abilities as secondary skills (which in turn were inspired by Gary Gygax’s rules for skills written for the Castles and Crusades game), kung fu skills are learned in three stages. Each stage costs a set amount of experience points per level, with the amount of xp required decreasing if your character’s highest attribute is relevant to the skill in question. Once you “spend” the xp to learn that level of a particular kung fu style, they’re forever lost, but you can of course earn more xp to replace them. Spending them does require that the character find a teacher that is both able and willing to instruct the PC, naturally. Monks, by their nature, start off with a level in one kung fu style.
To take one example, “Dragon Foot Style” allows characters to kick enemies back one foot per point of strength, and gain damage bonuses if using pummeling to kick, plus other bonuses as they buy new levels in it. A lot of the kung fu rules lean heavily on unarmed combat (naturally), and the Adventures Dark and Deep unarmed combat rules, which I think are a lot easier than those in 1st edition, will be included as an appendix. Other styles allow characters to fight blind, do backflips to get behind enemies, and even levitate and climb walls. It’s intended to really capture some of the cool moves featured in some wuxia films.
The traditional “Tolkienesque” fantasy races don’t feature prominently in a mythic China setting, but two new races are included; shanxiao (monkey-men) and gou ren (dog-headed people). Every character class is covered, even if it’s a perfunctory “this class doesn’t exist in a mythic China setting”, such as paladins and druids. New classes include monks, wu (shamans, a sub-class of cleric), and fangshi (a sub-class of mage). Naturally there are tons of new spells for both classes.
So far, I’ve got 67 new spells (plus all the original spells that the wu and fangshi can also cast), 43 new magic items, and 85 new monsters, including the various sorts of elementals (including meta- and quasi-elementals) that one would naturally expect when one adds elemental planes of metal and wood. All that from just reading books on Chinese folklore. Naturally, there will be entries for Chinese-style weapons and armor, and everything will be fully compatible with Adventures Dark and Deep, and, by extension, most old-school RPGs (with maybe a few tweaks here and there for some rules).
All in all, I’m really pleased with the way the book is going. It seems new to me, and it’s definitely a change from the Japan-centric “oriental adventures” books that have come before. There will probably be a Kickstarter at some point to pay for art and editing, once the text is done. I’ll keep you posted.