Monday, February 13, 2012

Blazing Spear: Cultural exchange

The man with no remarkable skills whatsoever!

"Bob" is a joke character I've used in our internal discussions. His purpose is to demonstrate how an "average joe" in Blazing Spear's central culture, the Rulaani Empire, can still be someone extraordinary in the eyes of other cultures. The following is the first anecdote he appeared in, from a chat last september; ideas have progressed since then, but the cultural differences remain in effect.

4:55 PM
me: Rulaani tourist in the mountain kingdoms hears about the legendary Swooping Hawk sword style, whose incredible secrets (the source of much speculation) are taught only at a secluded dojo on a nearby mountain.
4:57 PM
So he decides to go down there on tuesday, knocks on their door and says "Hey, this the place where they teach those 'Swooshing Hawk' moves? I want to see how work."
4:58 PM
Michel: Complete with bad grammar in his non native tongue. Alright, what happens next?
5:01 PM
me: Well, imagine if some guy walks into the most important building in Apple'sheadquarters and says with a bit of an accent "Hello, is this the place where they present the new prototypes to Steve Jobs? Ok, and which room? I am here to observe."
5:02 PM
Almost certainly alot of "Um, wait, who are you?" Because it would be ridiculous to think that someone would just walk in and want to see this super-secret mysterious stuff because of idle curiosity.

Michel: I can just imagine the monocles falling off.
5:04 PM
me: In fact, let's say he actually gets to the grandmaster, and that the real reason he does is because he acts like he has a reason to be there.
5:05 PM
(And does it well, because it's not an act.)
5:06 PM
Now, bear in mind that in my head Rulaan basically has spears as the classic weapon where western culture has swords. They refer to freelance warriors (mercenaries) as "sellspears" or "spears for hire".
5:08 PM
So let's say this guy has one of those on him.
5:09 PM
Michel: brb keep typing.

wanna read this.
9 minutes
5:18 PM
me: The master, with a nervous low-ranking student helping translate, basically is all "So. . .you are a Rulaani of common birth, who has spent four years as a member of your village militia." (Camera cuts to a muddy guy in rags shivering in the cold and using a rusty sword to try and hack dead limbs off some trees. A caption at the borrom reads MOUNTAIN KINGDOM EQUIVALENT. His comrade says "Maybe you should sharpen that thing." "Oh yeah. How do you do that?" "I think you need a rock?" Cut back to the dojo.) "Yep," says the Rulaani.
5:21 PM
Michel: lol
5:23 PM
me: "And word has reached you of our great and much-feared sword school, where the secret sword techniques of Master Li Peng have been passed onto a chosen few for four generations." "Some guys in the village down the hill were talking about it."

(Translator: ". . .He says yes.")
5:27 PM
Michel: keep going
5:32 PM
me: "And you have decided to make a day trip to our dojo, where you expect we will show you these secrets only because you asked." "Oh! No no no, I'm sorry, this must have seemed so impolite, I didn't mean it like that." "Ah, that is good." "Yes, I would never ask to learn your techniques without also sharing my own martial knowledge in return."

(Awkward silence)
6 minutes
5:39 PM
Michel: Well, don't stop there.
5:40 PM
me: The master massages his temple. "Very well, tell him we will accept." Translator does a double take. "M. . .master?" "I now foresee a need to gut the Rulaani in large numbers at some point in the future. It is prudent to observe how they fight."
5:44 PM
So they go to the 2nd-years dojo room and he tells the teacher to indulge this guy by serving as his mock opponent. Guy acts out some basic spear strikes in slow motion, functional but utterly crude in their eyes (spear masters are no sword masters, but they at least have some poetry).
6 minutes
5:51 PM
me: Then his opponent asks if they can try the scenario in a brief actual spar. They face off, and the teacher contempously slaps the spear aside with his wooden sword at the right point in the attack pattern to throw his enemy off balance. The Rulaani barely dodges the follow-up sword swing, but the teacher simply continues his rotation and launches a roundhouse kick to the gut.
5:53 PM
Michel: And?

me: Rulaani is bent double, gasping, dropped his spear. The audience is cackling appreciatively. The master smiles, but his eyes frown for a second. ("Damn, that was pretty good," says the Rulaani between gasps.")
5:54 PM
"Wait, do that one more time," says the master. A similar repeat perfomance ensues.
5:56 PM
The audience is quiet now, still grinning exultantly. But the master is now completely focused. "Do that thing again, with your feet." The Rulaani got his ass handed to him, but it shouldn't have taken three moves. Not with this guy's utter lack of real skill.
6:00 PM
Over the next two hours the master grills the visitor extensively on the training drills he's recieved regarding stance, footwork and movement. Once satisfied, he nods and spends the afternoon patiently coaching the Rulaani on a few useful basic techniques that should be viable for a spear wielder.
6:02 PM
Michel: Continue?
6:03 PM
me: Over the next several years the master implements the most radical series of changes to the Swooping Hawk style since it was created by Master Li Peng almost a century ago.
6:05 PM
Master Li Peng was an absolute master prodigy of a warrior. He invented some amazing things. But he was one man working in isolation, with only very basic practices as a shared starting point- ones he did his best to unlearn, since they tended to be very flawed.

Michel: I get what you're getting at.
7 minutes
6:13 PM
me: The Rulaani was an utterly unremarkable warrior, who had baredly grasped the fundamentals of the martial techniques he was trained in- techniques and lessons based on the work of half a dozen different genius master warriors, each with decent access to their predecessor's ruminations.
6:14 PM
Michel: By extension, this principle makes Rulaan a natural source of PCs

since the kind of knowledge that is useful for making heroes

(alchemical lore, combat techniques, espionage savvy, technological expertise)
6:15 PM
would be more widely shared than in other cultures.

me: Master Li Peng never really thought much about footwork- his stances were ideal for ensuring a strong and versatile attack made from a standing position.
6:18 PM
The school had traditionally assumed that someone who is forced to move backwards in a duel has essentially lost the fight. But if this Rulaani had even a few years worth of real combat experience (and had been in better shape), he would have been able to wipe the floor with his sparring opponent.
6:21 PM
The master could see the potential of the moves enough to realize there was a whole branch of techniques that the school had previously thought to be infeasible.

Michel: Cool
6:24 PM
me: If someone had suggested to a swooping hawk student that this would come to pass, it would mean a duel to the death- someone daring to suggest that their master's knowledge would be lacking? No loyal member of the school would let such disrespect stand.
6:25 PM
Not unlike how every kid thinks their mom and dad truly know everything.
6:26 PM
Michel: ahhh

(until they're thirteen, in which case the exact opposite effect is the case)
6:27 PM
me: (Which is what the majority of masters are like- they clearly know everything. This one was a little wiser than the norm.)
6:28 PM
But to the Rulaani, this guy doesn't represent the absolute pinnacle of knowledge- just a guy who knows a bunch of stuff.
6:29 PM
Michel: I see
6:30 PM
It sounds like our setting is one where travel and exposure count for a lot

And going places and seeing things makes for powerful adventurers

because they'll grasp insights unavailable to the guy who stays in his place.

Am I on target?
6 minutes
6:37 PM
me: Could be, could be. Making a character who's been exposed to a variety of cultures might be how you make a more "multiclass" character- at least in terms of overcoming hurdles in pursuit of an optimal rounded-out build.
6:39 PM
Reeling things way on back to the original point, I expect I was also thinking of things like minimizing raw number increases for high-level characters.
6:40 PM
A level 12 character (well, his equivalent in this system) shouldn't feel "safe" when facing a group of 10 level 1s.
6:43 PM
Not until he does a display of fighting skill that scares the remaining 7 into backing down. Or navigates the fight into a narrow alley where they can't come at him with more than 2 at a time. Or otherwise avoids a "fair fight" in favor of a situation where he has the advantage.

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