member, 158 posts
Tue 7 Apr 2020
at 15:35
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
Hi All - 

As the title says, this is an Interest Check for a wuxia game using the Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA) engine.

System: Hearts of Wulin

The playbooks and playtest rules are available for free here: 

I do plan to hack a few things to fit my preferences. Specifically, I plan to utilize the classical Chinese Five Element Theory to give characters a mechanical rationale to learn a variety of styles, and also to add a strategic element to the game so combat is more than just straight up dice rolling. Nothing too complicated, it'll basically be a more advanced version of rock-paper-scissors...with dice. 

Setting: Per the usual for PBTA, there will be significant player input. However, the game will definitely lean in the following directions. 

My wuxia influences include:

- Jin Yong's novels (e.g. The Condor Heroes Trilogy, Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, etc.)
- Weapons of the Gods (more the RPG than the comic)
- Legends of the Wulin
- Qin: The Warring States
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Regardless of what is decided in our 'Session 0', you can expect the game to heavily incorporate themes and setting elements from the above sources. I am a longtime fan of all of the sources listed, but have always found the mechanical systems of the RPGs above difficult to satisfactorily execute, especially in PBP. I am hoping that the PBTA engine can satisfactorily capture the theme/feel of wuxia while still being practical to execute in a PBP format. 

Thematic Notes/Flavor of Wuxia

- Theme: From a PC standpoint, expect the classic 'young hero growing up to be awesome' tale that's the backbone of most wuxia stories. Start as the young and wet-behind-the-ears grasshopper, grow and evolve into the mighty Grasshopper-That-Dances-Amidst-The-Tornado, or something like that. You know, the usual.

- Realistic: Obviously no wuxia game is completely realistic, but it will be grounded in reality. Characters might be like Lu Bu in that they are a one-man wrecking crew, but he's not throwing fireballs or flying through the sky (gliding from place to place with Lightfoot skill is another story). Don't expect to start anywhere near that power level FYI, I'm just using him as an example.

- Superstitious, but not magical. Exotic (and fictional) poisons are in. Zhuge Liang performing rituals that may or may not be directly responsible for changing the weather is in. Hopping vampires and ghosts are out. Again, there will be no overtly supernatural elements. 

- Adherence to genre convention. Combats would frequently end inconclusively, for a variety of reasons, much like wuxia TV shows. No 'all battles to the death so we can kill them and take their stuff' like many RPGs. I'd try to stay true to the genre in this regard, with rivalries, frenemies, numerous battles leading to an epic conclusion way down the line, and so on.

- Fantasy over Historical. I will stay true to and incorporate a lot of cultural themes, elements, and motifs of China and its history. That said, the emphasis will be on a fantasy version of China That Never Was as opposed to historical fiction. I will likely incorporate historical real world elements a la Jin Yong, but strict adherence to history will not be happening. I don't want us to spend more time researching on Wikipedia than actually playing the game.

Thanks to anyone/everyone who read this far! So with all that said, would anyone be interested in playing in such a game?

This message was last edited by the user at 01:40, Fri 10 Apr.

 member, 157 posts
Wed 15 Apr 2020
at 18:27
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
I love Wuxia and Xianxia as themes for games.  There are so few being run with them.  Though, I think I'm a bit tired of PBtA, unfortunately.  I've been in quite a lot of them lately with different genre skins attached.  I'd probably be more interested if there was a different system attached.  I've heard good things about Badass Kung Fu Demigods, but I do recall playing in other systems several years ago that were streamlined for the Wuxia experience.
 member, 145 posts
 Punk rock joy!
 Molotovs in stemware.
Wed 15 Apr 2020
at 18:39
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
I'd vote for either PbTA or Feng Shui - which while not exactly a Wuxia engine emulates one remarkably well, although you do have to provide your own (melo)drama.
 member, 159 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 01:25
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
I love Wuxia and Xianxia as themes for games.  There are so few being run with them.  Though, I think I'm a bit tired of PBtA, unfortunately.  I've been in quite a lot of them lately with different genre skins attached.  I'd probably be more interested if there was a different system attached.  I've heard good things about Badass Kung Fu Demigods, but I do recall playing in other systems several years ago that were streamlined for the Wuxia experience.

Are you generally a fan of PBTA? If so, I strongly suggest checking out the rules at the link I posted.

I will be the first to admit I had my doubts about PBTA and wuxia. However, there are a couple of ideas that are being implemented that I am very excited to try out.

1) I really like how they divided up opponents into three categories: mooks, rivals, and superiors (exact terms may differ) and how they use the PBTA to represent the different scales of conflicts. It manages to be efficient to run yet true to the genre at the same time, making good use of wuxia tropes. It also does the best job of any attempt I've seen at addressing the widely different power levels of those three levels of adversaries.

2) One key element of wuxia is that no matter who you are, you're good at martial arts. Doctor, courtier, scholar, everyone is kung fu fighting! One problem a lot of systems have is that if you want your character to excel at something non-combat related, their combat skills suffer. I think the way they utilized the PBTA engine addresses this rather nicely, so everyone can be good at fighting and still do other things as well.

3) I think character creation and the playbooks do a good job of tying the characters into the world, which is a fairly standard feature of PBTA. I mention this because I have played a variety of other wuxia games that don't do this as well, in my opinion.

4) I like the PBTA engine for PBP in particular, because I think it is possible to actually run combats in an efficient manner. One major problem with most wuxia games in PBP is that they require a lot of back and forth between player and GM, and it simply isn't feasible to resolve combat in a timely fashion, even if people are posting every day. And given the amount of combat that happens in the genre, that's a real problem. Allowing combat to resolve itself in one roll means we can actually stay true to the genre and have a lot of conflict without the game dying in the first fight scene.

5) I think the system and playbooks in general really do a nice job if integrating many genre tropes and themes; it just feels like wuxia.


I will admit to one major concern with the system, specifically the oversimplification of combat. In the rules as written, characters select one of the five elements to be their 'style element', and they use this element for all combat rolls. If the character is injured in their 'style element', they can no longer fight.

I did not like this for a variety of reasons. I can articulate them if you want, but my planned adjustment/house rule to combat is as follows:

- Characters can learn multiple styles, up to one style per element (five maximum). It goes without saying that knowing multiple styles is a well-established genre convention. Same rule applies, if you are injured in an element, you can't use that element's style.

So why learn multiple styles, given that some elements will have higher bonuses than others? Why not just roll your highest attribute all the time?


Enter Five-Element Theory. Here's a link if you aren't familiar with it (no need to read the whole article, the diagram is the important part):

If you select a style that overcomes your opponent's style (e.g. Your Water Style overcomes your opponent's Fire Style), you roll at Advantage.

If you select a style that is overcome by your opponent's style (e.g. Your Wood Style is being overcome by your opponent's Metal Style), you roll at Disadvantage.

If you select a style that is generated by your opponent's style (e.g. Your Fire Style is generated by your opponent's Wood Style), you roll with +1.

If you select a style that generates your opponent's style (e.g. Your Earth Style generates your opponent's Metal Style), you roll at -1.

Finally, if you use a style that is generated by your previous style choice, you get a cumulative +1 to each successive roll (e.g. You start with Water style. If your next attack roll is a Wood Style, you gain +1 to the roll. If your attack roll after that is a Fire style, you gain +2 to the roll. And so on).

Thematically, it encourages both learning and using a variety of styles.

Mechanically, this adds a strategic element to the game so it's not just picking your largest bonus and rolling the same thing all the time.

It's deep enough that there is no way to 'solve' the system, because there are too many variables (which styles you have, which styles your opponent has, the different base bonuses/penalties you each have to each of your styles).

Even if you both have all five styles with the exact same numbers (extremely unlikely), it still becomes a more complicated version of paper-scissors-rock. You can certainly make educated guesses so it's not just blind chance, but you can never really know for certain.

At the same time, from an execution standpoint it basically boils down to you saying: "I am going to fight with my <Insert Style Name and Element here>."

Then I say "OK your opponent is fighting with <Insert Style Name and Element here>. Roll with <Insert Modifier here>."

Then all you have to do is make the roll and post as you normally would in a PBTA game. Bam! Combat is resolved in one back-and-forth. For really significant fights there might be a few rounds of combat, but each round is resolved in one back-and-forth, which is a very reasonable pace for combat on PBP.

Sorry that was so long. I realize I can't talk anyone into being interested in something they aren't feeling right now, but I did want to explain in a bit more depth some of the things that I find appealing about this system and am interested in trying out. It seems you're both experienced with PBTA, so I thought I'd share a couple things I think this system does particularly well with that engine.

This message was last edited by the user at 01:26, Thu 16 Apr.

 member, 158 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 06:00
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
I actually am generally a fan of PBtA.  If you'll read the quote you used, you'll note that I stated that "I'm a bit tired of PBtA."  This is because I've played in quite a few of them--especially recently.  It does seem like PBtA was popular enough that it's been reskinned for everything from Superheroes to Dragonball Z.  I've gotten kind of tired of it as a system because there are just so many reskinned versions of it.  I don't hate it as a system, it's just an over-saturation for me right now, unfortunately.

I did actually read what you linked before I responded the first time to see just how much of it was being drawn from PBtA.  It does seem interesting, but I don't think I'd be able to give you 100% of my writing if I was going to have to play through a PBtA system again.  I wish I could.  It's not your fault.
 member, 1 post
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 07:12
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
In reply to WinterRat1 (msg # 1):

A Wuxia PBTA game sounds great to me, my only hesitation is that I'm new to the site and haven't tried PBP games in a decade so I'm still unsure of how much of a time commitment these are going to be and how that fits into my life these days.

I'm only in one game at the moment, so it's not that bad, but that is a hesitation.

The rock-paper-scissors fight system seems like a really interesting idea to me.
 member, 160 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 15:42
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
In reply to Redfoxmagi (msg # 5):

My first sentence should have been something like: "Are you generally a fan of PBTA? If so, I strongly suggest checking out the rules at the link I posted. I think they have a neat take on wuxia that might re-inspire you."

That's also why my last section made a comment about not being able to talk anyone into being interested, just wanted to highlight the things I thought were done well. It was supposed to bookend the opening paragraph.

Not sure what happened there, just wanted you to know I did read the section that I quoted. =)

Totally understand that you just aren't feeling the system right now. Sometimes that happens, and certainly PBTA seems to be everywhere these days. I'm relatively new to PBTA, just been using it recently, so it's still fresh and exciting for me.

I hear you about wanting to try new systems. I've tried Qin and Weapons of the Gods on PBP and a couple other niche ones and they all flamed out because we (the group) just couldn't get combat turned around in a timely fashion, which is simply not workable for the genre. So that is a big reason I'm not interested in trying to run one of those systems on PBP right now. Being able to execute a combat scene in a timely fashion is a prerequisite for a wuxia game for me, and I just don't know of another system right now that I think can pull that off.


In reply to GhostShipBlue and UmbrageOfSnow:

That's two potential players; I wasn't expecting to get a number of bites equivalent to say, a Pathfinder game. So a low number of players doesn't bother me. In fact, given the very personal nature of most wuxia stories, I wouldn't want more than three or four players anyway, as I think it'd be really tough to give everyone's story quality spotlight time.

Re: Time Commitment

I completely understand the concern about time commitment.

I typically IC post once every 24-48 hours on average. In my experience, that pace keeps games moving forward and people interested enough to check in on a regular basis. Even a post of a paragraph or so generally keeps the action moving.

On the other hand, I have played in a few games that had longer times between posts, but the posts themselves were really good. I've found that people are willing to wait longer between posts but stay interested if what they are waiting on was worth waiting for.

Generally speaking, waiting days to get a one line response on a regular basis means players and/or GM will eventually lose interest.

Just a few thoughts with respect to pacing/time commitment.

Next Steps

Most PBTA games generally start with a 'Session 0' where everyone can work on characters, their place in the world, world-building, and setting expectations.

Character creation is quick and not very onerous, so if you two are interested we can start with a Session 0 and see what comes of it.

If it looks like we've got something that appeals to us, we can move forward to the game proper.

If it looks like it's not going to work from a time and/or interest standpoint, no big deal, we can call it quits there.

Let me know if you'd like to move forward to Session 0 and I'll get a link to the game up.

EDIT: Alternatively, if you'd like a little more information about the game/would like to discuss anything else before moving to Session 0, feel free to bring it up here and we can address your questions/comments first.

This message was last edited by the user at 15:46, Thu 16 Apr.

 member, 146 posts
 Punk rock joy!
 Molotovs in stemware.
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 16:30
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
I confess to being a fan of PbTA despite a 40 year career of rpg's that includes an equal fondness for crunch heavy games like Phoenix Command and Champions. I love wuxia too, so you have my commitment.

Have you given any thought to what the setting is going to be? I don't have a particular preference but it will end up being a crucial part of the discussion.
 member, 2 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 16:42
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
In reply to WinterRat1 (msg # 7):

Sure, go ahead and start a Session 0.
I've played PBTA exactly 3 times, all convention 1-shots, so I'm not totally new to the system but I'm also not super comfortable with it, but I'm happy to play. I'll do my best to stay on top of posting regularly.
 member, 161 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 18:15
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine
Game is up, albeit still a work in progress. I plan to make it Adult because all my games are Adult and then I don't have to worry about the line between Mature and Adult. Also because it helps filter my audience out a bit.

Is that an issue for either of you? I don't anticipate any particularly explicit material or anything, given the nature of the genre, so this is just me setting up my usual game preferences.

If it's an issue for one of you, I can dial it back to Mature.

GhostShipBlue, I totally hear you on crunch heavy games. My tabletop game that I GM is a homebrew based on Blade of the Iron Throne, one of the successors of Riddle of Steel. So I love me some crunch too! Unfortunately, I find that my love of crunch does not translate well to PBP given the time it requires and time I have available, so I'm hopeful we can simulate the genre well (especially the intricacies of combat) without needing a ton of crunch.

UmbrageofSnow, if you're at least passingly familiar with PBTA that's more than enough. You've got the basic idea and we can figure it out together as we go, which is a big part of PBTA anyway, even for veterans of the system.

As for setting, I laid out some general thoughts in my opening ad. Some things I'm flexible on (historical vs. fantasy China), some not so much (definitely want wuxia as opposed to xianxia). Setting will probably be the first thing we discuss, for the obvious reasons.

Here's a link to the game:

link to another game

I'm already expecting you two so other than the whole confirmation of age thing that RPOL does automatically, there is no RTJ information/requirements, since we're going to talk about what we want together as the first step.
 member, 3 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 18:32
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine

This message was deleted by a moderator, as it was against the forum rules, at 20:57, Thu 16 Apr.

 member, 162 posts
Thu 16 Apr 2020
at 19:11
IC: Wuxia Game using PBTA Engine

This message was deleted by a moderator, as it was against the forum rules, at 20:58, Thu 16 Apr.