Ann Arbor Game Day
Legends of the Wulin
Elevator Pitch: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, and every other wuxia movie you’ve ever (or never!) heard of, in RPG form.
Core Mechanic: d10 dice pool, matching sets; die digit = 1s digit, # of matches = 10s digit, + modifiers vs. difficulty or opposed roll
Dice used: 7+ d10s
In Shen Zhou, a mythic China that never was, there exists a second, not-entirely-separate society: that of the wulin, those who study the ways of kung fu to cultivate their chi, a process which elevates them in some ways beyond the limitations of normal humans. Some do so as a means to enlightenment, others for the more temporal benefits, but all are, in some ways, brothers and sisters.
Members of the wulin move within their own societies, belonging to organizations ranging from the Four Pillars of the Wulin to its Four Banes, and everything in between; to embark on the path of the Wulin is to inevitably become entangled in its web.
Players take on the roles of relative newcomers to this society, pursuing their own goals and seeking to make their own legends. Along the way, they’ll inevitably become mixed up in all sorts of trouble. The way of kung fu is hard!
Legends of the Wulin characters select an Archetype (Warrior, Courtier, Priest, Scholar or Doctor) External Style of kung fu, representing their stance and general techniques, a weapon, which must be within its purview in order to use it with the style, and an Internal Style, representing specialized techniques which cost Chi from their pools to use. These factors define their general abilities in martial arts combat: External Styles and Weapons add together to give the character her baseline combat bonues, Archetypes grant access to Secret Arts, which grant access to more esoteric techniques (such as the Courtier’s ability to defeat foes with barbed or honeyed words), and Internal Styles give a small set of individual techniques which can be invoked at the cost of chi to give bonuses. Characters also start with a set of more mundane skills, which can also be used during duels to create effects. And each character has ratings in the ten honorable and selfish Virtues, determining how important each one is to her story.
The central mechanic of the game involves rolling one’s Lake: a value based on one’s wulin rank, which starts at 7 for ordinary characters. A character can temporarily increase the size of her lake by spending Chivalrous Joss, or decrease the size of her opponent’s with Malicious Joss; a starting character gets 3 divided among the two as she pleases, with more earned in play by accepting Interesting Times or being awarded Deeds. When called upon to make a roll, for whatever reason, you roll your Lake value in d10s, and count up matches to determine the roll result; if a pair of nines is rolled, they can be used to establish a result of 29, for instance. 10s count as 0s; if you only have 0s for your set, the GM (called the Wulin Sage) can offer you Interesting Times, creating an additional complication for your action, but giving you a point of Joss. To the result of the roll, you add your skill or combat modifier, along with any other relevant modifiers, such as if your style Laughs At theirs or if you have a chi condition granting you an action modifier. That result is compared to the relevant difficulty, whether it’s a static one or your opponent’s attack or defense roll.
In addition to Lake, characters also have a River, which is a set of slots where she can “store” unneeded matches from a particular roll. So, for instance, if you rolled two 4s and 2 8s on a roll where you didn’t have the ability to use both sets, you could put the 4s into your river. Dice stored in your river don’t reduce the size of your lake; they’re essentially a set of bonus dice you can apply to sets you roll later (increasing the size of a match and thus its value), or a resource you can spend for certain effects. The river empties itself at the end of every scene, though, and it can’t be filled if you’ve already used it this round, so careful use is key!
Combat between fully fledged members of the wulin is a complex affair, well beyond the scope of this preview to define, but has a few notable features. On a successful hit, usually with a Strike roll, you inflict one or more Ripples on your target. When you score a very good hit, you may force your opponent to make a Rippling Roll; instead of Lake, you instead roll 1d10 for every ripple suffered, and add your Damage value. The target can spend points of chi to fuel her Chi aura up to the limit based on her rank (only 2 for starting characters!), adding her Toughness and Armor as applicable, to defend; when the rippling roll exceeds the toughness one, you inflict a condition of some kind. Conditions are essentially narrative penalties which can be ignored to suffer mechanical ones; an injured leg, for instance, might penalize a character whenever he doesn’t act as if hobbled. In this way, fights are actually about boxing in your opponent’s options until he either concedes or is so battered that he’s taken out by a particularly powerful rippling roll. And conceding early is often wise, because after the battle is ended, all parties make rippling rolls, though these can be for both physical and emotional conditions; it’s entirely likely that, after a fierce battle, the defeated party will come to repent of his wicked ways, or a bare-victor might collapse, dead from wounds he never felt!
Character’s actions inevitably entangle them further with the world. Whenever the Wulin Sage or another player thinks you’ve done something that truly represents one of the virtues, she may award you a Deed of that virtue. Deeds give you Joss equal to your value in the virtue, and Entanglement, a type of xp that can only be spent on Loresheets. Loresheets are a system element that represents your connections to various elements in the world; they can be membership in one of the Wulin societies, enmity of a society or its members, or connections to particular places or people, or religious entanglements, or many things beyond. The twist is that you don’t get to spend the Entanglement; the person who granted you the deed spends it for you! So perhaps your deed of Righteousness impresses the LIttle Forest Sect, giving you a reputation with them and perhaps earning you the right to learn their specialized kung fu . . . or perhaps it sets a Black Lotus assassin on your trail! The way of kung fu is hard.
Rising stars of the Wuiln independently gather to consult a great sage, seeking the will of heaven regarding their own disparate motives. But what they will learn there may change their destinies forever . . .
Getting the Game
You can get the PDF from DriveThruRPG (note that although it says “presales edition”, it’s actually just the normal PDF release; it’s an artifact of the original release to people who preordered the game before it was officially published). Publisher pipeline issues unfortunately mean it’s effectively not currently available in print anymore, but hopefully that will be resolved in the future.