Cross-posted from Story Games.
Wednesday night at Story Games Boston was, as far as I know, the third face-to-face playtest of Shreyas’ wuxia heartbreak game, Mist-Robed Gate. M-RG is unique in that the central mechanic of the game involves using a knife (in our case, a tiny metal sword) to negotiate outcomes and threaten other players. To kill someone, you actually stab their character sheet. If you want to delay making a choice about what to do with the knife (the knife is about making hard choices), you have a kungfu fight instead. It’s pretty delicious and is clearly about 80% there, since it’s already quite playable.
Elizabeth posted about the first playtest over at the Forge, which Shreyas responded to at Summerbird. Then, Meg and I posted about the second, 11-person playtest in our respective blogs (Thou and One, Fair Game).
For this playtest, I used a new character sheet for M-RG that I whipped up earlier in the week.
We decided to play the game in a fairly generic, imperial era, fantastical China. The starting factions that we came up with were The Jade Fist, a criminal society hoping to restore the previous dynasty; The Jaguar Claw, the elite soldiers of the current emperor; and The Western Paradise Society, a crazy religious group that didn’t want an emperor at all.
The characters we came up with, in the order of scene framing, included:
The Hammer from Hunan
Boss of the Jade Fist
– Silver Threads
– Trickling Water
– Blackpower Arts (explosives)
Golden Moon Li
Local Constable Seeking a Killer
– Thorny Vines
– Rain and Thunder from a Clear Blue Sky
– Determination of 1,000 Cuts
Far Cloud Wu
The Deady Killer of the Western Paradise Society
– a Closed Lotus
– All-Filling Pure Sunlight
– Discriminating Blade
Second in Command of the Jaguar Claw
– Golden Dog
– Chaotic Winds
– Gigantic Hammer
The Invincible Butcher
Bright Moon Lu
Commander of the Jaguar Claw
– Red Robes
– Worked Iron
– Buddha Palm
Seven Stars Wen
Mother to the Sole Surviving Heir of the Previous Dynasty
– Pink Flower Petals
– Rising Mist
– Scarves & Fan
Play was fast and furious. In the opening scene, Eric’s character cut off the hand of the sole heir (who’s just a boy) under a waterfall and then, for a time, carried the severed hand around in a bucket of water. He was very No Country for Old Men-style crazy.
Back at the lair of the Jade Fist, Adam’s exiled princess tried to get my boss’ thuggish compatriots to participate in a tea ceremony, but then the heir’s unconscious body was brought back. My character went out to hunt down whoever had done this to our future restored emperor, but stumbled upon Dan’s constable instead, who was hunting down the insane monk who killed his entire village. We mistook each other for Eric’s character, which was great, and had a throwdown fight in the mud. Dan’s character won and seized control of the band of robbers from me, hoping to enlist us in hunting down the monk, which we were already somewhat inclined to help with.
Meanwhile, the mad monk and the disposed imperial concubine meet at the Western Paradise Society’s temple headquarters. Eric’s character pours the hand-containing bucket of water over the alter to their gods, while Adam’s shocked princess stares. They pass the sheathed sword back and forth in negotiations for a while, finally agreeing that the monk will ensure the heir reaches the Pure Land… so they think. Negotiations with the sheathed blade are always merely implied, so things were very uncertain.
Then the Jaguar Claw discovered us and launched their assault. Dan’s constable, the new chieftan, bravely led the fight to repel Philippe’s hammer-wielding brute, and my character snuck off to join the Jaguar Claw for drinks at a local wine shop, telling them that I was a humble villager who knew of a secret entrance into the robber’s lair. After all, Golden Moon Li, leader of the Jade Fists, could not be allowed to live! (Basically, I was maneuvering to regain control of my lair.)
At the imperial palace, the mad monk delivers the heir’s body to the emperor, refusing all rewards, and the Jaguar Claw promise that nothing bad will happen to him, that they just want to capture him and allow the imperial alchemists to conduct ceremonies to see if this is really the sole heir of the disposed dynasty.
Back in the woods, the lair is attacked again, using the secret entrance! And yet, this time, Nick’s commander doesn’t recognize Dan’s constable, which he expects to, since the bandit chief is reputedly none other than his own brother! Turning to my character, he finally recognizes me beneath my long whiskers, but not before I have stabbed my traitorous brother in the back for now serving the usurper to the imperial throne. We fight and I kill him, but not before he uses his Buddha’s Palm Attack to ensure, with his dying breath, that I will not live out this day.
The mad monk informs Adam’s former concubine that the emperor has betrayed his promise to keep the heir safe. Together, they assault the imperial palace, leaving thousands of dead soldiers in their wake. In the throne room, they battle over who should be the one to kill the false emperor. Eric wins, slicing through the concubine’s swirling red scarves to stab the emperor. The red scarves, in turn, erupt out the other side of the emperor and, inexplicably, emerging out of the scarves is the now whole heir, complete with both hands.
All of the characters now converged on the imperial palace, where the heir is now being installed as emperor. My character arrives leaning heavily over his horse, since the sun is now beginning to set and his life is about to expire. Philippe’s second in command takes over control of the Jaguar Claw.
In a nearby wine shop, the people are celebrating the old dynasty’s restoration and Dan’s constable sits down at a table to drink next to the mad monk. They talk for a bit and eventually discover the identity of the other. The eventually determine to retire to the mountain temple to fight, so as not to kill everyone in the wine shop. We had some trouble actually getting the fight to start, because Dan wasn’t sure how to maneuver Eric into a place where the fight was inevitable. The rules make doing this somewhat interesting and indirect, which was a struggle, but a good one, I think. During the epic battle, the mad monk slices the mountain in half, but the constable’s dying curse is that the monk will be forced to wonder for eternity, never resting his head in the same place twice.
From the palace, the other characters watch the sun set behind the mountain, now cleft in twain. Though the last dynasty has been restored, Adam’s empress dowager (as she now is) orders my character to commit suicide for failing to play a part in the restoration, which I had sworn to accomplish. We fight and she wins, but, as I’m about to kill myself, the sun sets and I die from the Buddha’s Palm Attack. But my final demand is that the heir, who is not human but the product of demons, should not be allowed to reign as emperor. So Adam’s character takes up the sword half-bathed in my blood.
The last shot of the movie is the dowager opening up the twin doors to the throne room and unnaturally radiant light pouring out of them. She disappears inside, bloody sword in hand…
A few questions we had about the rules, Shreyas:
1. Can props and displays only be invoked for an extra vote once per scene? For example, there were a couple times where we had a fight, someone seized the sword and stabbed their opponent, and then we had another fight where the other character tried not to die. It didn’t seem to make sense to invoke the same props and images all over again in the follow-up fight, so we liked the “use once a scene” idea.
2. How do you resolve unresolved issues if one of the involved parties is dead? For example, at the wine shop Nick’s commander forced my character to swear loyalty to the current emperor, but I passed the sword to Adam and said I was the empress’ servant, for her to command. But then Nick’s commander died before we had a scene where he held the former empress accountable for my loyalty to the emperor.
3. Can you hand someone a drawn blade and demand a fight? People wanted to do this a few times, but I said I didn’t think that was possible.
4. Can you die without being stabbed by the sword? Often, the dying wish of a character was for someone else to die as well, which was natural, but seemed mechanically awkward.