Saturday, September 19, 2015

Cypher System: The Japanese Melodrama Switch

While we eagerly await "Into the Night" for Numenera so I can resume writing up vehicle rules, we can take a bit of a side trip in to Campaign Switches and Japanese Chanbara films.

Campaign Switch: An optional rule that dramatically changes the basic flavor of the game.

Campaign Switch: The Japanese Melodrama Switch

"Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain."
- First Precept of the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors. circa 1883

In Japanese fiction Giri, or Duty, is a major driving force for many characters, especially ones driven by an adherence to Bushido. These characters when faced with the potential of defeat will drive themselves near or even beyond the point of death to ensure their victory, for it is better to die victorious with duty satisfied than to live in dishonored defeat.

The dramatic idea isn't unique to Japan, even in Hollywood action films the hero, embroiled in the final battle with the story's ultimate villain, takes a tremendous beating that he surely can not rise from, and yet with fiery determination in his eye he does indeed rise and proceeds to draw upon his inner reserves to deliver a mighty beat-down and defeat the villain (and we in the audience wonder why he didn't do that sooner...)

If a GM runs a game with the Japanese Melodrama Switch activated, a sense of duty can drive PC's and major villains to accomplish enormous feats by burning their reserves more intensely the closer they are to defeat. In game terms, a character's Effort is increased by one if they are Impaired, or raises by two if they are Debilitated. These increases in Effort are not limited to combat-related actions.

Normally a character that has become Debilitated can do little more than move an Immediate distance, however under the Japanese Melodrama Switch a Debilitated character may act normally if they spend Effort on the action. This level of effort is not spent just to act, but provides all the normal benefits of a level of effort spent on that action.

Debilitated characters may also spend any remaining pool of points on any action regardless of which pool that action would normally draw from. Expending an action may reduce a character's last attribute pool to 0, killing them. 

This ability allows characters rapidly nearing death to accomplish fantastic feats of power and accuracy... though it may be the last thing they ever do. A PC who dies in this fashion should be given the opportunity to say their final words to their comrades after the combat is over, and then comment on the beauty of the cherry blossoms* as they draw their final breath. A particularly rousing, emotional, or just over the top ham-acted speech may be worth an XP or two for their next character to start with.

* Cherry blossoms are often symbolic of mortality in Japanese culture.

Of course, Major Villains can have a deeply felt sense of Giri/Duty and do this too.

The typical 'faceless grunt' character won't have this capability, but major NPC's who are at two thirds of their HP may elect to burn 3 HP to increase their level by one for one action. A major NPC down to less than a third of it's HP may burn 5 HP to increase their level by two for one action. a GM Intrusion may increase the duration from one action to an entire turn.

Changing in to new and deadlier forms with each third of HP lost is optional (though appropriate in some genres).

Bonus Switch: Every Defense is a Counterattack

While we're at this whole Japanese Action Melodrama thing, we may as well do it all the way...

The hero is surrounded by faceless ninja, a whirling melee of blades and fists ensues in seconds and bodies fly away from our hero as though propelled by an explosion.

Many fighting styles include training in an immediate counterattack after a defense, called a Riposte. Some action film genres, specially cinematic Chanbara ("Sword Fighting") movies, take the riposte to an extreme and every defensive action is immediately followed by a counterattack.

The following rules apply only to melee attacks. Ranged combat is resolved normally.

With this switch on when a PC attacks an NPC in melee combat they must -exceed- the NPC's target number to hit normally, if they -match- the NPC's target number the attack is a draw, and if they roll -below- the NPC's target number they take damage from the NPC as though that NPC had initiated the attack.

Example: A level 3 Samurai (target 9) can be hit by the heroes on a 10 or higher, hits the PCs on a 8 or less, and on a 9 the conflict is a whirl of clashing blades, parries and feints, but no blows are landed.

The same applies on a Defense roll: the PC successfully counterattacks if they exceed the NPC's target number, is hit normally if they roll under the NPC's target number, and the attack is a draw if they match the target number. (the example for defense is the same as for attacking).

Effort is applied to both attacks and defense rolls normally and may be used to increase damage on the counterattack (though it must be specified before the Defense roll is made). Counterattacks may not use special abilities (bash, pierce, etc.), those abilities may only be used on the PC's Attack roll. Likewise an NPC may only counterattack with their normally equipped weapon and can't use any special attacks they may have. Counterattacks may be made against melee Special Abilities as though they were normal attacks. This Campaign Switch does not change the way the special ability Riposte works (providing an immediate, additional, counterattack or an asset to the PC's next attack.)

Japanese Melodrama and Every Defense is a Counterattack Campaign Switches inspired by Tenra Bansho Zero "A Hyper-Asian RPG" by Jun'Ichi Inoue, published by Far East Amusement Research. English version translated by Andy Kitkowski, Kotodama Heavy Industries.