Hearts of Wulin is Gauntlet Publishing’s PBTA game of wuxia melodrama – swords, romance, and, crucially, inner conflict. A lot of the APs available (and there are loads on the Gauntlet’s YouTube channel) focus on campaign play – so I sketched out a one-shot and ran it twice. Once face-to-face, at Revelation, and once online at Virtual Grogmeet 2022.
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Revelation is a PBTA con (report here), so I was assuming some relative knowledge of these kind of games – so we did character generation at the table, exactly as in the book. The notes below assume this. For Virtual Grogmeet, I couldn’t be as sure (and indeed, I had one player entirely new to PBTA) – so, inspired by the Avatar: Legends adventure book, sketched out some pregens.
Entanglements are the Bonds / Hx / whatever of Hearts of Wulin, and they’re absolutely key to getting the sorts of games it generates – in play I think the plot was about 40% external forces, and 60% players pursuing them. They’re really cleverly designed – you get a few to pick from for each playbook, and everyone gets one “general” and one “romantic” one. Each one has one PC and one NPC in it. They took a bit of time at Revelation, so for the second play-through, I sketched them out – picking the NPC but allowing the players to choose which PC they wanted in it.
For example, one of the PCs, Eagle Sentinel, an Aware (Travelling Teacher), had the following Entanglements:
- I love Wu Chao (Aunti Wu’s ward), who I have overlooked too long; now they love [PC]
- I suspect my friend [PC]’s parent is the villain White Fang Chu
They could, of course, swap the PC and NPC positions in these. This worked really well to get everyone on the same page quickly, and they always lead to excellent play. One tip if you’ve only got 3 players (which I had for both games) is to read the familial ties loosely – siblings need not be related, parents need be parents in name only – since you’ll have quite a tight web of romance. For Virtual Grogmeet, I used the Gauntlet’s excellent Character Keeper, and just let them roll their own dice.
So, below are my prep notes – I hope these are useful if you want to run it yourselves, or at least it helps for those “how exactly do you prep PBTA?” questions.
Auntie Wu’s Tea House
A One-Shot for Hearts of Wulin
Nestled in an isolated pass, the only route through the World’s Edge Mountains for miles, Auntie Wu’s has been a staple of the Wulin world. Warriors come to meet, drink tea, and … occasionally… to fight. But now, with the Army of the North massing behind the World’s Edge, you’ve been sent to persuade Auntie Wu and her household to withdraw – for surely the Army will overrun her. Will she listen to her? Will you obey your orders? Who among the encroaching army do you know already, and why did you not expect to fall in love with them again?
PCs & Setup
Follow the usual procedure after creation (no extra moves yet)
- Go round and introduce their PC’s look and style
- Go round and do Entanglements 1 each. Make a note of any new NPCs – the others can be on the table with their descriptions. Note that each Entanglement must involve 1 PC and 1 NPC
- Choose a Bond with 1 of the characters in each Entanglement
In the opening scenes, get any extra NPCs on screen ASAP.
TWO PCs (A and B) have been sent from Magistrate Chen with a message for Auntie Wu – the army is already engaged on the Eastern Front, and they should fall back. Auntie Wu should evacuate her tea house and flee.
A – Why have you been trusted with this mission, and B – why are you reluctant to carry it through?
TWO PCs (C and D) have just escaped from capture in the Army of the North, and have been creeping up to safety
A – How did you escape from this mighty army, and B – what is their greatest weakness?
In both of these make sure to bring in any additional NPCs from Entanglements as soon as possible –
We begin with A and B as they settle in at the tea house and are brought soup. They can see the tea house shift into the evening, as baiju and beer is brought out, and Stone Ox Wu approaches them
Will you share your mission immediately, or wait and enjoy the hospitality of the evening?
Stone Ox Wu approaches them and asks their business – he then asks them to drink with him! This could well be an Impress move, or perhaps a Hearts and Minds if they stake their mission straightaway
Meanwhile, C and D are approaching from the North, climbing through the mountains. As they move through the quiet village towards Auntie Wu’s, they are not alone – there are soldiers here, carrying weapons and fire sticks. It seems that they are interrupting an ambush!
Do you alert the inhabitants or take out the ambushers yourself
As the ambush strikes, the tea house roof is (probably) set on fire – an Overcome move to tackle. Hordes of soldiers provide more than enough for some PCs to Deal with Troops, and they are led by Peerless Falcon and/or Sergeant Cheng and any other NPCs who could conceivably be with the Army of the North
After a period of respite,
- The PCs could get aid from the Bandits, led by Number One Sword – could he help to protect, or shelter the villagers
- They may want to seek help – or wisdom – from Harmonious Jade in his monastery
- Both of these could provide allies
- They could investigate and try and sabotage the advancing army. The outer camps are run by Sergeant Cheng who has them in good order but could be convinced
- Encourage them to also pursue their Entanglements, and remember to trigger Inner Conflict when appropriate
Possible additional “bangs” for these scenes include
- Auntie Wu / another NPC has fallen ill! She needs herbs from the gardens at the foothills – near the army’s camps… or maybe Harmonious Jade can help her
- Constable Cheng arrives, angry at A and B for failing to carry out their orders – why has the village not been evacuated?
- Betrayal is discovered! A guest left an army seal, and a map of the grounds has been found on a messenger. Should they be punished or sent as a message?
The likely end point is a pitched battle – try and pair PCs off with potential scenes individually, including rallying the peasant army (Impress would be the move for this), fighting various NPCs or Troops, or dealing with betrayal
Possible Finale Bangs include
- An ally (Number One Sword / Wu Chao / Stone Ox Wu) switches sides – for reasons established in previous narrative – can they be convinced of their error or punished?
- Fire sticks! The houses around the Tea House are on fire! Villagers panic and rush to save their belongings instead of defending against the army
- Any remaining Entanglement NPCs show up and cause trouble
Auntie Wu, middle aged proprietor – wants only for things to stay the same, her tea house to be safe, and her daughters to be happily married off
Hunchbacked, carries a tray of tea or a walking stick
Sensory: The smell of jasmine, a calming influence
Schtick – crouch low and hunchbacked and nestle your hands around an imaginary cup of tea
Wu Chao, Auntie Wu’s neice – wants to escape her Aunt’s clutches and seek adventure – which probably doesn’t involve being married
Beautiful, porcelain-skinned, fights with flowing robes
Sensory: Serene and quiet, with a twinkle in her eye
Schtick: Winks conspiratorially at anyone (e.g. the PCs) who might be fun
Number One Sword – chief of the World’s Edge bandits, wants his tribe to be safe and money and riches
Bearded, powerful, wields a curved blade with symbols down its length
Sensory: Shouts orders as he appears suddenly, smells of sweat and booze
Schtick: Sit up straight and shout slightly at all times
Peerless Falcon – Captain of the Army of the North, charged with capturing the pass
SCALE 2 FIGHTER
Slender, armored, glowing – wields a pair of curved knives which he also throws
Schtick: Pauses for thought before replying slowly
Sergeant Cheng – a junior officer in the Army of the North
Stout, careful, taciturn. Wields a curved halberd. Is not entirely convinced of the Army’s cause.
Schtick: Looks worried and plays with his moustache
Stone Ox Wu, Auntie Wu’s son- wants to protect the Tea House at all costs
Huge, bald-headed, angry – wields a massive hammer
Schtick: Bellows and drinks Baiju from a glass whenever he can
Harmonious Jade – monk who lives in the World’s Edge mountains, whose monastery is famously neutral
SCALE 2 FIGHTER
Tall, portly, laughing – quick to smile. Fights unarmed
Schtick: Laughs and giggles at all times
Constable Cheng – imperious busybody constable who just likes to check on order
Fights with a staff
Schtick: Looks down on everyone and everything
If It All Goes Quiet…
Use these options at any time when it looks like there’s nothing going on, or if the PCs are reluctant to engage
Men with Knives!
- A group of bandits/audacious soldiers have snuck into the camp to steal what they can before the serious looters arrive – have a PC discover them and them be offered a share of the loot
Big Blade Huang
- A warrior of audacious skill visits the tea house; he has no interest in defending it, seeing beating an army as beneath him
- Trigger the Deal With Misunderstanding move on p110 of the book (nb this is also where the Deal With Grief move is, which you’ll need if someone wanders off)
- The army’s explosives have triggered an avalanche to crush the tea house – can they get the villagers to safety?