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Secret Texts of the Martial Jungle Design Notes

Previously, I have host the Asian Martial Arts by Asian Creators Game Jam with Sam (@BabblegumSam) and Pammu (@TheDovetailor). My submission for the jam is Secret Texts of the Martial Jungle, a #SwordDream-adjacent wuxia TTRPG. Here are some design notes that I initially posted on Twitter.

I attempted to mash together elements of traditional RPGs and ideas of story games. Martial arts in wuxia novels are often separated into the "inner techniques" (內功) and the "outer techniques" (外功), and are made into the Chi and Body stats in my game. The Agility stat is based on 輕功, techniques which allows the user to run on rooftops and walk on water. In wuxia stories, many protagonists are fast learners, a quality related to their Understanding (悟性). Not directly related to martial arts, Glamour is the stat for social manipulation (was originally Charisma, but there is already a stat beginning with Ch). You roll 3D6 drop lowest for your stat, which yields an average of just over 8.

Having a lower number at start means there is more room for a character to grow in their abilities. The actual modifiers are still similar to what you get in other games though, with the standard array offering -1, 0, 0, +1, +2.




Conflicted loyalties is a main theme in wuxia media, which is how I designed the Bonds. Inspired by games like Lady Blackbird, you can gain XP by strengthening the bonds, but you also gain a large amount of XP for breaking them (at the cost of the Bonds).


I prefer having the combat follow the fiction, which is the "default" way to play this game. It is not very chivalrous to gang up on your opponent like some munchkins would on a dragon. There are alternative rules to use a more traditional RPG initiative if you want.

RPGs have an obsession in counting the money and exact inventory a character has on them. You can safely ignore them in this game.

Chi is sometimes like magic in wuxia media. People can heal and duel with chi in the stories, and I wrote some "fun" mechanics for them.

Inspired by PbtA and other story games, you can play this game with zero prep. Just introduce the characters and their bonds, and you have your plot hooks. I do plan to write a starter scenario in the future for players who prefer having more structure.

I have written short player and facilitator principles for now, but I may expand on them later. As I have said before, wuxia stories are about conflicts between one's loyalty and duty. It is important for the player to keep them in mind when playing their character.


As for the titular Secret Texts, I have written 6 starter martial arts TEXTS for the game. Each of them has 3 combat styles that are used for attacking, and a unique passive that helps the user in a fight. The techniques are roughly equal in terms of power, though the weapon styles have a slight edge over the unarmed ones (that's what you get for bringing your fists into a sword fight XD). I tried to make each technique feel different by changing the dice and how they're used.



Let's start with the three unarmed techniques. Each one is based on a different stat; Chi, Agility and Body. They all start with a single D6 for base damage. The Chi TEXT allows the user to spam their powerful attacks. The Agility TEXT lets the player roll A LOT of dice.

Jian and dao are the two main bladed weapons in wuxia stories. Jian is the traditional two-bladed sword, and is supposed to be the more elegant of the two. Dao is more like a sabre with a wide blade, and is often associated with a more ruthless fighting style. While both TEXTS have D8 as their base damage, the jian styles keep the D8 and has more consistent damage. On the other hand, the dao style uses D12 for the advanced styles, meaning that the damage has a wider distribution.

The last TEXT is for hidden weapons, which scales with a character's glamour (charisma in this game). This technique allows you to charm your way through the game and still stand on your own in a fight. Also, you get to throw caltrops by rolling D4s and you always shoot first!

 
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