Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Melee Academy - Wu Wei

Wu Wei

Douglas Cole regularly invites the rest of us bloggers to join him for Melee Academy, where he proposes an interesting scenario or question, and each of us try to answer it in our own way.  Today, he proposed the theme of "Opening Moves."  What opening move do I like to use in combat?

I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss a concept introduced to me by Weapons of the Gods that I find fascinating to this day, and also to point out how a few optional rules can completely change the dynamic of combat.

The game in question was my martial arts extravaganza, Cherry Blossom Rain, and the character in question is Shimada Daisuke.  His favorite opening move was Wait: He won by doing nothing at all, because Daisuke understood the concept of Wu Wei.


Wu Wei

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that 
nine will run into the ditch before they reach you
-Calvin Coolidge

The characters at the top, as the handy caption informs you, translates as "Wu Wei," which means "non-action" or "action without action."  You can read up on the concept here.  In this context, it means to gain victory by doing nothing.  Sometimes, our own actions serve as our own worst enemies.  Watch a kung fu movie (Ip Man's fight against the Northerner probably exemplifies this best) and you'll see one character exerting a lot of energy and only managing to exhaust himself while the master waits for him to finish, and then destroys his exhausted opponent with a single blow.  The master learns to bide his time and to express his energy when it serves him best.

Taoism gives us the concept of yin and yang.  I'll return to this again (and again and again), but yang is action, substance, light, stuff, while yin is passivity, void, darkness, lack of stuff.  A tea cup has both yin and yang and needs both to serve you: It needs a porcelain bowl to hold your tea and a porcelain handle so that you can hold the cup without burning your hand: yang.  But it needs a void in the handle so that your finger can fit through, and it needs a void in the bowl so that the tea can fill it.  It must be empty: yin.  A tea cup is a study in yin and yang, and so is a warrior.  A warrior must win by both doing and not doing, by waiting.

Modified Martial Arts

Cherry Blossom Rain used quite a few rules from GURPS Martial Arts, from Douglas Cole's Last Gasp, and some common optional rules.

The optional rules pertinent to Wait were:

Cascading Waits (Martial Arts p108): Obviously, if multiple characters are going to end up Waiting on each other, then we need the Cascading Wait rules.

Stop Hit (Martial Arts p108): By waiting until your opponent struck, you could also attack simultaneously.  Both warriors passed the other in a flash, and the winner of the contest defends the attack at -1 while the other defends at -3.

Contest of Wills (Martial Arts p130): This rule forces a contest between Will (or Intimidate or Mental Strength) to see which has the superior "spirit" or "will to fight."  As an additional optional rule,  if both characters wait for the other and nothing happens, a contest of wills occurs automatically, to emphasize the tension of a mexican-standoff.

Recovery Events (Pyramid #3-44 Alternate GURPS II, page 11): A character who waits regains AP at the end of his turn if nothing triggers his wait.

Wait turns to Evaluate (Optional Rule): I don't have a specific reference for this, but it's one I hear often: If you wait and your wait involves watching someone, if nothing triggers your wait, you gain the benefit of an Evaluate maneuver (which is compatible with Recovery Events as Evaluates have the same recovery rate).

The net effect, I think you can see, creates an ideal dueling situation.  You can pause and watch your opponent.  If nothing happens, you can recover and gain additional insight into your opponent, but if your opponent also pauses, you might trigger a Contest of Wills and if your opponent is scarier than you, that might cause you a problems.  It created a scenario full of psychology and tension and tough choices, which I like.

Shimada Daisuke

Shimada Daisuke
Daisuke was the second son of the Shimada clan, the better son and beloved by his father, but forced to become ronin when a spat with his elder brother, the heir of the clan, turned violent.  He bore Legacy, the unbreakable and ancient ancestral blade of the Shimada clan.  He was skilled in Iajutsu (he had Fast-Draw 18 with a +2 "fastest blade in the east" perk-set) and the quick-sheath perk, and he had cultivated his chi to the point where had mastered the power of Timelessness (Enhanced Time Sense, in essence).  He was skilled in Savoir-Faire and Diplomacy, he had extraordinary levels of Mental Strength, thanks to his considerable Will and Inner Balance, and he had "Shimada Eyes," the ability to roll Intimidation without saying a word.

Daisuke was also a pacifist.  He had Pacificism (Self-Defense Only).  He couldn't initiate a fight, but he should sure as hell finish one.  This created an interesting dynamic for how he fought, which set him apart from the rest of the more aggressive PCs, and highlighted the power of Wu Wei.

Wait!  A typical Shimada Daisuke encounter

When violence looked imminent, Daisuke would always go first (Timelessness) and he would always say this:

I wait.  If (specific character) attacks, I attack them.

Obviously, he had to do this, because he was a pacifist, but he often made a point of it.  He had reasons for it.  He'd do it in the middle of a fight too.  He'd sheath his blade and just stand there, watching people fight.  Several things happened.

First, Cherry Blossom Rain wasn't Dungeon Fantasy.  The typical opponents reacted like people.  They often didn't want to fight, so Daisuke wouldn't push them.  If some thug blustered and bluffed and waved his blade about in a threatening manner, Daisuke just waited.  He might even talk, tell him to relax, that there was no need to fight and sometimes it worked.  Sometimes the kid who was making threats was just scared, or hungry, or blackmailed.  Sometimes, Daisuke's waiting won a fight without fighting.

If they intended to fight, but waited as well, that would trigger a Contest of Wills, and then Daisuke would win.  That forced his opponent to either attack or retreat. Attack meant Daisuke would win, and retreat meant he won as well.

If they intended to fight, but moved or feinted or did some aggressive action that wasn't quite attacking, Daisuke gained an Evaluate bonus and spent no Action Points, while his opponent slowly exhausted himself.

If they attacked, Daisuke would spur into action.  His blade would come out more than quickly enough to beat his opponent to a Stop Hit, which Daisuke would win, which would force his opponent to defend at a penalty (Daisuke could often afford to even apply a deceptive attack to his broadsword skill when making the stop hit, but he had a ridiculously high sword skill).  This made it virtually impossible to defend against, especially if they had failed a contest of wills.  Daisuke would usually sheath his blade again in the same turn and get a free Intimidation roll from his Chiburi, which meant at the end of such a moment, his opponent was dead and everyone else in the room was suddenly less interested in fighting.

Winning Without Fighting

I designed Cherry Blossom Rain to be a lethal game.  It brims with bleeding rolls and power-blows and over-powered Legendary Katanas that did a ridiculous amount of damage.  I intended to make it tragic, a game of wabi-sabi, but Daisuke's pacifism, respect for life, and willingness to give his opponents a chance to change their mind before fighting him saved lives again and again.   Daisuke's player understood something fundamental about GURPS: that is it a strategic rather than tactical game, and that he didn't need to win the fight, only to achieve his objectives, so he walked softly and carried a big stick, and encouraged compromise with his his hand lightly resting on the hilt of his sheathed blade.
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