Broken Tiger: Tales of a Divided Throne

Lee Min-ho as a warrior of Koryo in the SBS TV series Faith.

So far, I’ve been calling my planned setting/system for a second-world Korea Choson, which was the name I was using for a previous game set during the Imjin War that I ran at Gen Con 2008. That is no longer a proper name for the game which is no longer historical.

The working title is Broken Tiger.

Koreans use the tiger often in symbology. It was even part of the crest for the “Red Devils” soccer/football team that competed in the 2002 World Cup shared by South Korea and Japan. The shape of the peninsula is often compared to that of a tiger, which is said to drive away misfortune. It’s also been said the peninsula resembles a rabbit, which is an important traditional symbol for wisdom, but lacks the coolness of a tiger.

“Siege of Haengju,” a painting in the Korean Army Museum.

The focus of the game’s setting – the kingdom which right now I am calling Goryae (in reference to the kingdom of Koryo from which we get the term Korea) is going to be the land of the Tiger Throne.

In the time period in which the game is set, Goryae is split between rival factions and an invading army from an island neighbour. The capital is in the hands of the new dynasty while the older dynasty – receiving some assistance from its imperial neighbour – is holding on in the East.

The land of the Tiger Throne is broken.

As mentioned, this is a land in the convulsions of change, as a new dynasty replaces the weak and corrupt old royal house. Part of this is to provide areas that are under the control of the centre – both the new, militaristic society and the older, bureaucratic society – some that are in the ferment of civil war, and some that are under an oppressor’s boot. As I mentioned earlier, there were many parts of Korean history I wanted to consider, and this allows me to mix and match.

Another strength of the second-world as opposed to the historical.

Welcome to the evolution of Broken Tiger: Tales of a Divided Throne.

You can find out more about Choson/Broken Tiger here.

Systemized Choson

I have many ideas for the new Choson RPG – new name forthcoming – and much of that is tied to system. Like Centurion, I’m starting this from the ground up, with no inspiration spurring me on. I have an idea for a setting, and I want the system to fit in it.

There are two things I need the system to do: mirror the divide between the military and the bureaucracy, and mechanize the hierarchical stasis of social classes.

That’s not a lot for system to do, but both of those are very abstract. Creating mechanics to illustrate societal trends has not been my strong suit, but I want to try it here. This is about a setting, yes. I want to create a setting that allows me to play with all of the historical aspects of Korea that interest me. But I don’t feel that bolting on an existing system will do that setting justice. The setting and the system can reinforce each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

And so the system also needs the right feel. What will PCs be doing in this second-world Choson? What heavy lifting will the system be called on to undertake.

And here lies the rub – PCs might be involved in political intrigue, they might be battling armies or bandits, they might be seeking out supernatural dangers, they might be doing any number of things.

However, this is not as great of a problem as it might seem. Nefertiti Overdrive, in my experience, has been able to handle all of those without missing a beat. Every Challenge – be it kinetic or cerebral – worked basically the same and all that changed was the narrative of how the PCs overcame the Challenge.
So the system needs to handle any kind of task under the same basic mechanic.

I also intend conflict resolution to be relatively grounded. Again, this I more like Centurion than Nefertiti Overdrive. While I cannot control the narrative people using the system will create, the Challenge or Task structure – how the odds are arrayed against the PCs – will help to reinforce the intent. If fighting three opponents is exceptionally difficult and dangerous, or deciphering an unknown script requires multiple individuals with the proper knowledge working together, or an opponent is as likely to see through your deceit as swallow the lie, that tells the PCs how the world works.

Yes, PCs will be able to improve to the point where all of these are easier, but as long as we don’t stray into superheroics/wuxia/level 100 territory, we should be fine.

All images from the movie Musa (the Warrior) which is set in the Koryo period of Korean history. You can learn more about Musa at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find out more about Choson (RPG) here.

Choosing Choson

I am resurrecting Choson.

Not the nation/dynasty, but the idea for an RPG. And I’m a little bit excited about it. Let’s hope the enthusiasm lasts.

Here’s the thing, I have never really created a setting for publication. Well, that’s not true. I created Albenistan for our Spec Ops line of products, and I created a bunch of settings for Arcane Kingdoms. What I haven’t done is created a setting tied to mechanics and then published those. The closest I got was Immortals of Bronze, and that barely got off the drawing board.

My desire to create an RPG set in Korea ran into a few problems. I would need to choose a period. The one period I considered as viable and interesting was the period of the Imjin Wars – when Shogunate Japan invaded Korea as a route to hit China. This was the period in which my favourite Korean historical figure emerged – Yi Sun Sin.

Right now, it looks like there will be another RPG coming out soon-ish set in the same time period. I know nothing about it, other than someone whose taste I respect liked it on playtest.

There is certainly room for more than one RPG set during the Imjin Wars, but there were also problems with that period from my point of view. One of the aspects of Korean history I really found interesting was the inflexible hierarchy of Korea’s bureaucracy, even though it was based on the more open model from China. During the Imjin Wars, anarchy reigned, and power was diffused from the court. Peasant generals and Buddhist monk guerillas emerged, something unheard of at other times.

So while the Imjin Wars would have been an amazing time to set an RPG, I’m happy to look elsewhere.

There’s also the question of appropriation. I ran into this when I wrote Nefertiti Overdrive, and the game’s characters and characteristics changed as I began to recognize that I was guilty of disassociating Egypt from Africa in my conviction that it was a Mediterranean culture. While I am happy with the compromise I felt I reached, I don’t think it assuaged all the concerns that were raised, and I in no way want to discount those concerns.

I didn’t want the same thing to happen with Choson. I am far more conversant with the history and culture of Korea than I am with Ancient Egypt, but even then, I remain cognisant that I am an outsider. I feel there is a level of disconnect when it comes to history, or else only those within a culture could write its history. I feel that an outsider can bring a level of objectivity that one within a culture, especially one so heavily aware of its own history as Korea, would have difficulty mustering. That said, everyone brings their own biases.

So now I am now thinking of creating a system and second world setting (not the real world) heavily influenced by three major states of historical Korea – Silla, Koryo, and Choson. As a second world setting, it will allow the inclusion of all the elements of those three periods into a single one, disassociate it somewhat from the actual culture, and avoid duplicating an existing effort.

Are you as excited as I am?

You can find the Albenistan adventures here.

You can find Arcane Kingdoms here.

A couple of articles on Immortals of Bronze are here.

You can find other discussions of Choson here and here.

You can read about the Imjin Wars period at Wikipedia as a starting point.

Hadrapole Darkness

I have returned to fantasy RPGs.

I previously mentioned how I had to split the Ottawa Warband. I now have two groups for which I run games. One group picked the post-apocalyptic offering and the other picked the fantasy one.

This fantasy is urban-based as have been most of my fantasy games. Sword Noir‘s setting is the city of Everthorn. This new game is based on an old setting of mine, one which I had used for many years before moving to Ottawa, a place called Hadrapole.

The game still uses the Riggers system, which continues to evolve, though now in baby-steps rather than major changes to the system. It also isn’t straight up sword & sorcery. It has a bit of horror, or at least threatening magical darkness. This is also a common theme in my fantasy games, and I blame that on Glen Cook. Both his novels Shadows Linger and Tower of Fear focused on structures that evoked dread, though for different reasons.

In Shadows Linger, the second book in the Black Company series, an ex-Company mercenary is selling bodies to the denizens of a mysterious ruin, and that ruin is slowly growing into a tower, though no one is every seen working on it. Tower of Fear centres on a conquered city, the Imperials and mercenaries who conquered it, and a resistance movement trying to get in the eponymous tower in order to wake the wizard sleeping there.

The idea of a mysterious tower or castle is nothing new, but I think that one within a large urban setting provide some level of novelty. These players, also, have never encountered this particular fondness of mine, so they are facing a very new and different situation from the other games which I have run.

Hadrapole, in this incarnation, is also recovering from a great plague which has left large swaths of o the city depopulated. This gives the mysterious forces against whom the PCs are vying space to operate unseen, and it is not that different from a shadowy jungle or an uncharted cave complex in providing a dungeon to the dread force’s dragon (metaphorical, not actual).

You can find our more about Shadows Linger here.

You can find out more about Tower of Fear here.

Why Does One Venture Into the Waste?

One of the new games I’m running with my local is a post-apocalyptic actioner that has the working titles Warlords of the Wastes.

Edge of Collapsed City by Tithi Luadthong

First: yes, I am aware it needs a better title.

But beyond that, I am running it with Riggers, the same engine that ran Dream Riggers and is also the system for Centre of the World (which also needs a better name . . . I have my failings).

Originally, as I prepared for WotW, I was looking at altering Riggers. I was going to include “gear” as well as a mechanic for consumables and for carrying capacities. It was starting to look dire, given my penchant for minimal mechanics and avoiding sub-systems.

I had my gear and carrying mechanics planned out and ready to go. I was looking at the very simple character sheet I was using and considered how to add in this new information. Two pages?

A two page character sheet? What the heck was I doing?

Yes, it gave me pause, and so I stopped and gave it some thought. Why did I want to run a post-apocalyptic game?

My touchstones for the genre are a movie series and a game series: Mad Max and Fallout. But if you look at the inspiration I previously provided (47 Ronin, the Anabasis, and Fallout), only one of those is actually post-apocalyptic.

So what was I trying to do?

As I had done with Sword Noir all those many years ago in an attempt to gain focus, I figured out what I wanted to deliver. What would this version of Riggers be about?

For Riggers in a “dead world” I wanted to explore those left behind when what we call civilization is lost. These characters are on the frontier of a new civilization, one in the midst of its own brutal birthing. This marks the return to the rule of the strong, but the grail of this game would be the imposition of justice rather than order. Strength can provide order, but from where will justice come.

Resource management is nowhere in there. And to be honest, while the shortage of consumables is a story point in both the Mad Max and Fallout series, that is not the focus. It is a narrative tool, and that is how I will use it.

So in the end, other than the list of available skills, there is no mechanical difference between my fantasy and post-apocalyptic games.

And so far, there has not needed to be.