Friday, April 29, 2011

Cherry Blossom Rain

Ages ago, after watching Samurai 7 and the release of GURPS Martial Arts, a part of me yearned to run a samurai game.  I already had Weapons of the Gods, but Japanese martial arts are quite distinct in flavor, approach and philosophy from their Chinese counterparts, as are their stories.  I also wanted to dig deep into the combat complexity that GURPS Martial Arts offered, and such a game would give me an opportunity to do so.  Finally, I have long been searching for a proper swashbuckling system (martial arts stories have a great deal in common with swashbuckling) since 7th Sea hooked me on such tales and then promptly failed me as a system.

The result is pictured above.

Originally, I had intended for Cherry Blossom Rain to last a single session, a one-shot that simply explored the concepts and then moved on.  As usual, GURPS proved a remarkably poor match for one-shots, as it requires a heavy investment in character creation (as opposed to other, quicker systems), but as I playtested Cherry Blossom Rain (which you can read here), I discovered a few things. First, the system is better suited to the sort of game I want to see than I expected.  Second, when I introduced Raoul and Roomie to it, even though I ran the same scenario over and over again, they didn't tire of it.  Instead, they learned more each time.  A martial arts game, with its finnicky techniques, deep details and highly specific signature moves, tends to encourage a great deal of learning about your character, trying to see how best to approach a situation, and trying to remember which option to use when and why.  Both expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of playing "only once," and both expressed support for the idea of a campaign.

A small one-shot idea quickly grew into a setting.  The characters came from clans, and those clans had allies and enemies, who also had their own fighting styles, their own histories, their own members.  Martial artists need rivalries and secret loves and hidden conspiracies, and over the months of pondering characters and learning about martial arts, these fell off of me like industrial by-products, seeping into my work until, before I knew it, I had not a one-shot, or even a short campaign: I had a setting.  Given how much detail I was able to create for Cherry Blossom Rain in a few short months, I wonder why I ever dragged my feet on Resplendent Star Empire or Protocols of the Dark Engine.  Perhaps I should work on "One shots" of those as well.

My "first session," the proposed one shot, looms close.  Spring Weekend begins tomorrow, and I need to have my session ready for their high expectations.  However, to my surprise, the people I expected to join did not, either because they could not, they made a mistake, or they felt it better to let other people try (Raoul, as he'd played in the playtest and knew I had limited slots).  All of these people have expressed interest in joining the campaign, but I'm left with a conundrum, facing 5 fresh faces who already find the game, its world and the system interesting, how can I ever fit more people in for the campaign?

But, in preparing this session, I have learned a greater, more important lesson.  Recently, due to frustrations, I ended Weapons of the Gods (more specifically, put it on hiatus as I focused on other things.  I remain undecided as to whether I intend to return to it or not).  Part of my frustration was the sheer amount of work I had to put into each session to get them up to my own exacting standards.  "If I had put more work into the setting in advance," I reasoned, "This never would have happened."  Cherry Blossom Rain should have proved that.  It already has a whole, huge cast of characters.  And, indeed, it lessened the work load slightly... but only slightly.  I've been preparing this session for three days now, far longer than one of my Weapons of the Gods sessions.  Now, to be sure, it's a better session than most of my WotG sessions.  It feels more complete, tighter, and full of details, which is how I like my sessions.  But if all this setting work doesn't ease my planning, then what, exactly, is the point of it all?  Perhaps I must simply acknowledge that "quest based games" like Weapons of the Gods, 7th Sea, D&D and their like (as opposed to sandbox games that dump you in a single location and keep you there) should be designed one session at a time, with an eye on where I want it to go, like Exalted was designed.  Or, perhaps, my standards and those of my players have simply grown.  Or maybe just my standards, as my players often gave me looks (and to my own ear, I've begun to sound like one of those auteurs who's always complaining that his own works are terrible).

As my blog slowly blooms back to life after a cold, hard winter, I hope to put more details down about what I'm doing.  Perhaps I'll have a chance to share more about Cherry Blossom Rain with you, more about what it is, rather than just how I feel about it.
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