Mortality, and the influence of Japanese cinema in Jade Regent


Jade Regent


First off, I'd like to say that I've been really enjoying reading through the Jade Regent adventure path so far. It has done an excellent job of capturing the aesthetic that I want from a pseudo-asian role playing experience. There is just one thing that I am finding a little incongruous, and that is, mortality.

I think we can all accept that the mythology surrounding this adventure path is predominantly Japanese. So, my problem is this: How can I, as an obsessive fan of Japanese cinema, make the mechanics of this campaign fit in with my idea of the cinematic samurai?
Given that I'm fairly sure that each and every one of my players has watched at least one Kurosawa movie in their lifetime, how can I expect them to accept that a swordfight could last longer than two rounds?

Of course, I accept that Pathfinder is not intended to be a system based on realism. It's a fantasy world, where heroes can get shot point blank in the face with a blunderbuss and live to tell a tale at the tavern about it. I'm quite comfortable with that. But when I'm asked to be influenced by samurai films, as I am in the foreword to Forest of Spirits, I just don't know how to make it fit in.

Take this for example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3r9z0Kmzvk

This is not the best example, I admit. But if this scene were to play out in-game, it would basically only amount to; First, a couple of intimidate checks, Round 1: Samurai A rolls a miss, Samurai B uses some kind of 'blindness' causing power, Round 2: Samurai A fails the saving throw, Samurai B hits, causing death. That's it. Over in two rounds.

But if we were playing Pathfinder rules, and those were two high level samurai, that fight would've lasted about 8 - 9 rounds consisting of two dudes, standing in a field of wheat, carving great big meaty chunks out of each other. I just don't know how to describe that to my players while maintaining the idea that this is still some kind of Japanese-ish setting, when everything they know of Japanese sword fighting tells them that the fight should be over the instant Itto Ogami draws his sword. I don't want realism. I want authenticity, and I don't know how to do it without houserules breaking the game.


A couple of Intimidation checks? Ha! That was an epic battle of wills! Every time the shot switched from one samurai to the other was a round of combat! It was only after one of them had lost all of his hit points on the mental arena did they get down to the mundane business of having the victorious swordsman cut down his opponent.

Seriously though, hitpoints are a weird, abstract thing that don't always work out. They are partially supposed to represent near misses, flesh wounds, and fatigue, but also (as you said) let you get shot in the face and survive, or fall off a cliff and get right back up. So why not bend the concept the other way, and allow two master swordsman to stare at each other, mentally working through the fight, until one is victorious. Only then would you have them physically fight, and end it is quickly and dramatically as you like.

Alternatively, shave all the d20's so they land in the critical threat range. A well timed critical hit would have made that fight totally Pathfinder acceptable.

I would also say that this wouldn't come up in my interpretation of Jade Regent. I see the AP as more "East meets West" than "Japanese Samurai movie." A bunch of Avistanians would have no use for two minutes of intense stares and dramatic music. Some guy tries this on Shalelu and... well...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0EVh4wS2P0&feature=related

The Exchange

The issue is deeper than just overly long fights. By Pathfinder standards, authentic samurai duels are inherently low-level affairs, because high level characters are assumed to have easy access to superpowers. Somewhere between level 5 and level 10, combats start looking like shounen anime, where the barbarian is flying in every combat, the ninja always starts by spamming shadow clones, and the wizard is throwing energy beams that explode boulders.

I don't think there's a single combat in Forest of Spirits that actually could resemble anything like a samurai movie, at least without converting it to another ruleset. Honestly, I'm expecting full-on Dragonball Z action by the midpoint of The Hungry Storm.


Also consider that many of the short Samurai fights can actually be modeled by a high-level samurai fighting a low-level samurai.


Round 1:
Staredown. Draw weapons.

Round 2:
- Bad Guy attacks, misses
- Good guy: Improved feint, crits with vital strike and bleeding critical

Round 3:
- Bad guy bleeds out


The GM of a PBP I was in used a really interesting duel system for those sort of things. It was kinda dependent on the homebrew setting though. So a quick alternate version could be something like this... 1d20 +1 for every initiative / weapon drawing feat. Another +1 for each 5 ranks of concentration / intimidate and the weapons enchantment bonus. Whoever wins gets the epic insta-kill strike. Not perfect by far. But might be something to base a better idea on.

Grand Lodge

LeadPal wrote:
By Pathfinder standards, authentic samurai duels are inherently low-level affairs, because high level characters are assumed to have easy access to superpowers.

Nailed it.

This sort of thing works well in E6.

A level 6 samurai with his 2 attacks a round (and possibly cleave) would really feel like classic 'chambara' flicks when facing level 1-2 warriors/samurai. It may also work well if you use an approach like Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X where there is several rounds of combats with the big bads.

But once you get beyond level 5-8? Its like cutting down a tree... hack hack hack.

Narration is key if you are the GM - the right narration may make it feel more cinematic... where hits are not hits per se (or just cuts) but wear the enemy down.

Roll to hit...

16.

Roll Damage?

ummmm 14.

His defence is good - very good, for any normal swordsman, it would have been a death blow but he got his blade up in time to stop it from taking his head... but you can tell that his defence was not without cost. As he backs away from the attack he winces as he rolls his shoulder.


Mort the Cleverly Named wrote:


I would also say that this wouldn't come up in my interpretation of Jade Regent. I see the AP as more "East meets West" than "Japanese Samurai movie."

Perhaps you're right. Perhaps this is just a question of perspective. It's just that I'd really LIKE to run an authentic samurai film turned RPG. Maybe I'm better off dispensing with my attachment to the genre for now, and saving it for a better time... Or a more appropriate rule system. Maybe some really brutal homebrew GURPS variant or something.

Helaman wrote:

Narration is key if you are the GM - the right narration may make it feel more cinematic... where hits are not hits per se (or just cuts) but wear the enemy down.

Roll to hit...

16.

Roll Damage?

ummmm 14.

His defence is good - very good, for any normal swordsman, it would have been a death blow but he got his blade up in time to stop it from taking his head... but you can tell that his defence was not without cost. As he backs away from the attack he winces as he rolls his shoulder.

Yeah. This is good stuff. I've toyed with things like this before. It's amazing how much you can frighten PCs simply by describing each 'hit' they make as something slightly other than a 'hit'. But it's generally best left for the really Big Bads isn't it? lest the players begin to feel as if everything they're doing is becoming impotent.


A CR20 Seagull wrote:
The GM of a PBP I was in used a really interesting duel system for those sort of things. It was kinda dependent on the homebrew setting though. So a quick alternate version could be something like this... 1d20 +1 for every initiative / weapon drawing feat. Another +1 for each 5 ranks of concentration / intimidate and the weapons enchantment bonus. Whoever wins gets the epic insta-kill strike. Not perfect by far. But might be something to base a better idea on.

That sounds like it might be a really good system for a quick draw duel in The Good The Bad and The Ugly.

Perhaps another quick fix rule might be to ask the player to what degree they are 'invested' in the strike. Or perhaps it could be a very dangerous feat option. Like, say, whenever you make a strike, you can choose to uhhh... I guess 'overextend' yourself. Affording you the opportunity to double, or triple your damage, at the expense of receiving double or triple damage for that round. Essentially, those first two rounds of intimidate checks could be represented in the rule system as Samurai A and Samurai B scoping each other out, and deciding to endanger themselves to the degree that a single attack could destroy all of each others' hitpoints.

Actually. I kinda like that solution.
Thanks for the inspiration!


Glad to help ^^ Hope the system works out for you.


A battle of wits... Wouldn't that be a case of both swordsmen doing the fight, intensely concentrated, eyes locked. Virtual damage is accrued. Both parties can of course opt to back down, but... If neither does, the end result well known, they eventually act it out, getting the awaited results. Remember, if you fear death, there is no life. You could roll a semi-hard will save to start this process, and you could require a will save to actually break off...

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Another simple possibility, might be, that during a duel, all hits with a Katanna do constitution Damage. That way, your character might survive one strike, possibly two, and a critical hit could outright kill your character in one swipe.

And for the rest of the game you keep things normal. I hope that helps


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Draw-cut duels don't work with a system which has levels and oodles of hitpoints. They'd work better with the storyteller system of White Wolf or other systems which allow for one-hit kills.


Try thinking of it as wuxia instead.


If you want to stick with D20 you can bring it close by using Role Master Arms Law (which was originally designed for other RPGs) - Open ended instant gory death.

Arms Law Critical Hits in a d20 World. This guy has being doing a conversion My only change would be to use the damage dice + the amount the combatant exceeds the oppositions AC by for damage done by a weapon.


Evil Midnight Lurker wrote:
Try thinking of it as wuxia instead.

Or the fight scene from Sword of the Stranger. This is sort of what I picture when I see two high level characters going at it.


In the old d20 Oriental Adventures they had a mechanic for Iaijutsu Duels from the Legend of the Five Rings Setting. Basically you got a skill called Iaijutsu Focus that you rolled when agreeing to a formal samurai duel. Both participants would roll their skill with any modifiers and it would replace their initiative roll. After this the winner would deal autodamage with his weapon and get a bonus to his damage depending of the result of his Iaiutsu Focus roll, ranging from +1d6 to +10d6 extra d6 of damage.

This can beef up this first attacks damage considerably, but this system hinges only on a singel die roll, what can be anticlimatic, if your favorite PC dies just because one unlucky die roll ... on the other hand THAT is samurai drama, that your life hangs on the balance of a singel sword stroke. And of course: this might still not be enough, to kill a medium level samurai ... or even kill him halfway, so that he will stand just two rounds after the focus part of the duel.

The L5R RPG has some nice way of handeling duels, maybe you could homebrew some derived Pathfinder mechanic from it.

Hope that helps.


Andric wrote:
Evil Midnight Lurker wrote:
Try thinking of it as wuxia instead.
Or the fight scene from Sword of the Stranger. This is sort of what I picture when I see two high level characters going at it.

#

This is exactly what I've in mind for my game, simply because I feel it fits the rules more.

On a sidenote, I've been out of the anime loop (ironically from living in Asia) and missed hearing about this one, I need to see it!

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Or the battle of wills in Hero where the duel is played out in their minds untill one of them strikes?


DM Rennick wrote:
Andric wrote:
Evil Midnight Lurker wrote:
Try thinking of it as wuxia instead.
Or the fight scene from Sword of the Stranger. This is sort of what I picture when I see two high level characters going at it.

#

This is exactly what I've in mind for my game, simply because I feel it fits the rules more.

On a sidenote, I've been out of the anime loop (ironically from living in Asia) and missed hearing about this one, I need to see it!

One of the things I love about that movie is that I can show it to my D&D group to get them inspired about an asian setting, even if they aren't really interested in anime. Its definitely worth watching.

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