Hello students. This week, faculty member Andrew Young (@ThatOneGM) and I continue a series that should prove exciting and useful to you all. Enjoy!
This week, we discuss one of our favorite games here at the Academy, Wushu.
Wushu is a rules-light role-playing game—designed to tell high-flying martial arts stories—that is incredibly easy to adapt to different genres.
Wushi is technically setting agnostic, meaning that it is just a set of rules and the players figure out the setting when they play. In Wushu, everything that the players decide and narrate happens. The dice and numbers exist to figure out how successful the players are at overcoming the current task or challenge and when the scene ends. This is a perfect system to use for our Power Ranger game.
With the mechanical and flavor elements of our genre in mind, we start with the rules of the existing system. Characters in Wushu have four statistics: three traits (each rated 2-5) and their chi value (effectively health/stamina). Traits in Wushu can be specific (The Sword My Mother Left Behind) or broad (Brooding Samurai), but for our purposes, we’re going to define them a little more narrowly. Chi value in Wushu effectively tells you when a character is out of the story, whether they’re killed, captured, knocked unconscious, or something else.
For our hack of Wushu, each PC has three traits: a martial arts style, a hobby, and a group role. One trait is rated 3, one is rated 4, and the one is rated 5. The PC also has an Escalation value that starts at 3. Our Escalation value is going to serve a slightly different role than traditional Wushu chi value, but it won’t be too different. Instead of simply telling you when your character is out of the story, it tells you when your character is overwhelmed and is going to be forced to escalate the conflict. More on that later.
There are two kinds of opposition in Wushu: threats and nemeses. A threat can be anything from a group of minions to a dangerous mountain climb, and a nemesis is generally a named NPC with similar statistics as a PC. When engaging a threat, multiple players take turns narrating their actions, which happen exactly as they say, and rolling dice. If they defeat all minions but the threat has not been beaten (according to the mechanics), the GM must adapt the threat, and the story continues. When engaging a nemesis, one player and the GM take turns exchanging moves until they jointly agree to roll dice simultaneously. Players do not narrate the defeat of a nemesis until the GM gives the signal that the nemesis has been defeated mechanically.
A threat has a Threat Rating and a Difficulty. The Threat Rating tells the players how many defense successes they’ll each need to roll to avoid taking damage from the threat each round. If they don’t get the minimum defense successes needed on their turn, their Escalation value drops by 1. The Difficulty of a threat tells the players how many offense successes they need as a group in order to completely overcome the threat.
A nemesis has 2-3 traits and an Escalation value of 3 (some nemeses may have higher Escalation values). When a nemesis’s Escalation value reaches 0, they are defeated and the player who defeated the nemesis narrates that victory. Optionally, the GM can rule that reducing a nemesis to 0 automatically escalates the fight to Zords as the nemesis becomes gigantic.
When a player is narrating their actions against a threat or a nemesis, they are encouraged to be very descriptive. Instead of saying “I punch the mook” (which is only a single detail), players are rewarded for saying “I jump forward into the air with a ‘Hyah!’ and land between two mooks, bashing their heads together” (which is at least three details). For every detail a player gives in their narration (the GM counts details), they gain one die. At the end of their narration, they take however many dice they earned (usually up to a maximum of 5 or 6), divide them between offense and defense dice, pick the most relevant trait, and roll the dice. Any die that comes up as less than or equal to the trait’s rating is a success. The rules function the same for nemeses.
In our hack of Wushu, Escalation serves as the measure to determine when our PCs morph from teenagers into Power Rangers and when they call their Zords. All PCs begin a session with an Escalation value of 3; at this value, they are out of their suits and are simply teenagers with attitude. When a PC’s Escalation value is reduced to 2, they note it. Every other player gets a chance to take another action, and if the threats and/or nemeses have not been defeated by the time it gets back to the player whose Escalation is 2, the entire team suits up. The same rules apply when a player’s Escalation goes down to 1, except instead of suiting up, they summon the Zords and combine them into the Megazord. If a PC’s Escalation is reduced to 0, they are out of the scene; maybe they were captured or knocked unconscious, or maybe they’re just busy defending themselves and cannot contribute to the fight.
The last difference from regular Wushu to our Power Rangers hack comes during the Megazord fight. In this fight, the players all act as one unit to describe the actions they take as the Megazord. The GM counts everyone’s details together, and the players each take some of the resulting dice. Generally, the dice limit is increased to 5 per player (though some adventurous GMs may remove the limit altogether for Megazord fights). The giant monster is always treated as a new nemesis with 3 or more Escalation and 2-3 traits (maybe the same traits as before, maybe new ones).
After the Megazord fight ends, the PCs return their Escalation values to 3. For ongoing campaigns using this system, players can swap ratings among their traits or even replace old traits with new ones as the story progresses.
So, we were able to take Wushu, a light but engaging system, and adapt it to our specific Power Rangers needs. We used our previously identified mechanical elements and attached them to Wushu’s traits, and we hacked Chi and turned it into Escalation to better fit the combat scenes of Power Rangers. Finally, we adjusted the way combat is run for Megazord fights in order to make them feel big and encourage teamwork in narration.
Next week, we’ll look at another game system, and we’ll show you how to approach a more complex set of rules without being overwhelmed.