Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Good is Your Kung Fu?

So I'm watching The Forbidden Kingdom last night, and (not that I haven't thought this before) it got me musing that all the complaints over the years about how "unrealistic" (haha) hit points are would be a lot less vehement if D&D had more of a martial arts / Kung Fu slant. In your typical martial arts flick, the good guys beat down / slaughter bad guy minions by the bucketload (read - 1HD cannon fodder), while withstanding truly inhuman levels of physical abuse (read - high level PCs). Meanwhile, bad guy villains can take on the good guys and they'll beat each other bloody for minutes at a time before one finally manages to take the other down (read - two high level characters in combat).

What's doubly odd is that, while the D&D style of fairly abstract hit point combat perfect for representing this, martial arts combat has always been the red-headed stepchild of D&D. There were very lame rules for unarmed combat back in the day, and Oriental Adventures gave us some martial arts rules, and there's been a Monk class off and on in numerous editions, but I get the general feeling that "Martial Arts Campaigns" have never been a subject of real interest for the majority of D&D players. I remember getting the Complete Ninja's Handbook back in the day and reading it for hours (this was before I had access to a used copy of Oriental Adventures). I remember building several of my own campaign martial arts styles using the rules in the CNH (the Order of the White Willow is a martial arts order I created back then that still sees use today in my C&C campaigns).

Outside of D&D, the first martial arts rules I encountered in gaming were the rules in Rolemaster - the Martial Arts Strikes and Sweeps, as well as Grapples and Throws. Along with this were all the Adrenal skills and subskills, and during the three consecutive RM campaigns I played in, there were always a couple of martial artist characters and they were quite effective. I always thought that RM, with its highly detailed critical hit charts, provided great color to the use of martial arts maneuvers. Our GM even invented a new MA style for one of the PCs - The Way of the Mongoose - and gave him a special "Mongoose Strike" move. Fun times.

And beyond this, the only dedicated Martial Arts RPG I owned for a long time was Feng Shui. While an interesting concept and chock-full of some really cool ideas, I think ultimately Feng Shui is long on concept, but somewhat short on system design. I really don't like their core mechanic, and I find a number of their ideas a tad over-engineered. Plus, I think the game's attempt at multiple timelines and multiple martial arts sub-genres just a little too stretched. However, I've never played Feng Shui, so I can't make a completely informed judgment call on it until I put it through at least a one-shot or two.

Anyhow, those are my rambling, flu-induced thoughts for the day. Questions and comments are, as always, welcome.


taichara said...

I think you make some good observations, especially regarding the amount of abuse the heroes manage to survive.

It's also nice to know I'm not the only one who could read the CNH for hours ;3

Best of luck kicking that flu's arse --

Tony said...

White Wolf pays homage to martial arts styles in both it's New World of Darkness system and Exalted. nWoD tries a more gritty low key approach to Martial Arts, while Exalted features the high-flying kung-fu stereotypes that come from mystic kung fu flicks from the orient.

If you want a game that lets you have your kung fu and feel truly epic. Exalted is the best game out there. Just be sure to pick up the Scroll of the Monk Supplement along with the main book.

Blotz said...

Hero Games Martial arts system was always my favorite. Very customizable. We did one really fun Ninja hero h=game based on the Drunken Fist Comics