Outlaws of the Water Margin

TristramEvans

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With the recent Tetsubo announcement,I figured it might be a good time to introduce the game to those unfamiliar with it, by way of a mini review/overview.

Outlaws has long been a system that I've greatly admired and taken inspiration from. I followed it's development for years, and I've name-dropped it here on several occasion in the past (I think the most recent time being the thread on Initiative systems from last month). Sadly it never got an official release, despite it being nearly complete in the last form it was made available online.

Outlaws of the Water Margin of course refers to the classic cycle of adventure tales first recorded in the 14th century. Sometimes translated as "All Men Are Brothers" or "Outlaws of the Marsh", it is a Wuxia narrative of the disconnected adventures of a group of heroes fighting against injustice and corruption that in the end band together as a team. It is considered one of the "Four Great Classic Novels of Chinese Literature" (along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber), although it's more a collection of legends than a novel, akin to the Tales of Robin Hood or the Arthurian mythos.

Based on the historical outlaw Song Jiang and his companions who, in the Song Dynasty of the early 12th century, faced down the army of the Emperor,. The legends are heavily fanticized, featuring magic, demons, and liberal doses of over-the-top kung fu. If you've never read it, or been exposed to the classic 1980's television series, I highly recommend giving it a go. It is pulp Martial Arts mayhem at it's best.



Paul Mason's game is, what he refers to himself as, a "Culture Game" (with Pendragon and Tekumel being prominent examples of this categorization). The rules are heavily invested in placing a player in the mindset of a person living in 11th-12th century China. So while the system itself is quite rules-lite (the franework of the system can be written up as a one-page document (something Mason himself did in an issue of Imazine), the majority of the game book is taken over to indoctrinating readers into the setting.

We start with a Preface in the form of a short story excerpt from the Water Margin tales, and then an introduction which gives an overview of the history of the Water MArgin tales, a brief overview of the rules and warning not too attempt to use every rule at once but introduce complications gradually as they fit the game, and then a section on Chinese language and pronunciation of terms.

These two sections take up only 3 pages before we reach chapter 1 "Characters". There is a utilitarian brevity to the presentation here that packs an enormous amount of information into a condensed writing style I greatly appreciate, especially as the opposite has been something of a trend in the hobby since the 90s.

The game offers three methods of character creation, with the aim of making it as easy as possible for players to jump into the game. The simplest is of course to choose one of the characters from the Water Margin to play - or it would be, but that section of the game was never completed, as far as I know. PResumably when published, an appendix would have detailed the major characters from the legends who could be taken as a pre-gens. Regardless, the second method is not much more difficult -

A player simply chooses a character type, comes up with a name or appearance, and starts playing. Anytime you want to perform an action in the game, you can record a bonus. At the end of the session, you refer back to the detailed chargen rules, and "pay" for the bonuses you've already defined using the expanded Chargen rules.

I really like this focus on getting the players into the game as soon as possible, and worrying about rules later. I don't know about anyone else, but I've had many games fall victim to the dreaded "Session Zero", where everyone gets together and spends a whole session making characters, and the game never goes any further than that. The quicker you can get people actually gaming the better IMO.

From there we get into the "full" chargen rules, which are point-buy, but with a few interesting twists...
 

TristramEvans

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The first choice you make is if you are playing a Heroic character or a normal person. Heroic characters get certain bonuses that make them a little tougher, and capable of performing more extraordinary feats. This choice is largely going to be dictated by the GM and the type of game they want to run.

Next, you decide a character's age. This is given much more weight in Outlaws than most RPGs. As the game puts it "in China, there's no such thing as equality, and one of the easiest methods of determining whether you are "above" or "below" someone is based on age.

(This is our first indication of the large role that social dynamics plays in the game)

Age determines the amount of Experience a character begins with, which is used to buy skills, but also limits a character's Body, Energy, and Unknown Aptitudes.

We then get a quite extensive section on names, with many examples of Chinese traditional family and common names, along with generational names and nicknames, and a guide to modes of address.



Next we determine a character's Physical Qualities. Size is our first numerical stat, assigned a rating from -2 to +2, with zero as average adult human. Size determines how easy you are to hit but also limits your Strength bonus.

Energy, which is based on the Chinese concept of Qi (Ch'i), is the next Physical quality, representing a character's stamina and endurance. A normal character starts the game with 6 points of energy - a heroic character gets 6 + the game's "power level". Energy limits the amount of bonuses that can be applied to a roll, is used to absorb "shock" damage from attacks, and is reduced by wearing armour or other tiring activities. A character reduced to 0 energy is exhausted and cannot take any actions.

Body is Outlaw's equivalent of Hit Points, representing a character's health and toughness. Once again, normal characters start the game with 6 points in Body, while heroic characters gets 6 + the game's "power level".

This manner of applying the "power level" to the game by the GM is clever - if they want the heroes to simply have a slight advantage over layfolk but keep the game mostly grounded in realism, they can assign it as 1 or 2. If they'd rather do an over-the-top Wushu bonanza where Wuxia like Chinese Immortals or the Monkey King are essentially superheroes, they could set it at 9 or 10.

Both Body and Energy are modified by Age, with older characters recieving a reduction in their scores. Likewise a player can buy addtional points in either by spending their allocation for Aptitudes, but this is a quite expensive investment.
 

TristramEvans

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Next come the meat and potatoes of chargen by purchasing Abilities. Abilities are divided into two types, with two pools of points to spend between them.

Aptitudes are natural gifts possessed by a character.
Skills are learned through training and experience.

A player buys bonuses in these ranging from +1 (some training) to +5 (master). Examples include Coordination, Strength, Riding, Martial Arts, etc. In most cases, a character can have bonuses in the same ability both as an Aptitude and a Skill, though there are a few Abilities that are only available as one or the other.

Everyone has the same amount of points to spend in Aptitudes, but younger characters are able to take several Unknown Aptitudes - they pay the points for the bonus, but define/find out what that Natural Gift is during the course of the game. (obviously this is very useful to have in your back pocket when you encounter unexpected events in the game). A 16 year old could have up to 5 Unknown Aptitudes, while someone 28 years of Age could only purchase 1, and characters 30 years or older don't have this option.

On the other hand, the amount you can spend on Skills is determined by age, with older characters getting progressively more points.

So, a very simple approach that does away with the usual (somewhat artificial) divide between Attributes and Skill systems, while still acknowledging the difference between natural talent and those who worked hard to hone their proficiency.
 

TristramEvans

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The next part of character creation is to decide on your "Provenence" - whether you come from the Court, Town, or Country. This provides appropriate bonus skills, and also determines your place in society.

I'll note now that while I've written before about my opinion of "game balance", a concept I look on with no small amount of skepticism, but regardless of that, what I enjoy about Outlaw's Chargen is the way it creates meaningful choices. Case in point, you can choose a character from the Country and get a lot of practical skill bonuses such as Martial Arts and Wilderness Lore, but you have little wealth and almost no psiocial influence or you could choose a wealthy and powerful character from the Court, but you have only a few skill bonuses and these are applied to things like Manners and Taste, - what's valued by the Gentry.



Wealth in Outlaws is handled abstractly, and is of two types: a character's Stipend (which is the value of their family), and Earnings (which comes from their occupation). Wealth, like skills, is expressed as a bonus, but any bonus is the extra money you have to spend, above and beyond what you need to survive. +1 means you have some extra cash for luxuries, while +9 would be riches that rival a member of Imperial Family.

You also have a Position Bonus that is tied to your occupation, so it is somewhat relative. An artisan of +8 position would be highly respected in their trade and regarded as a Master, but even a +1 Magistrate would hold more authority. There is a comprehensive list of Oxccupations to choose from, though you are restricted by your Provenence. Each Occupation is assigned an overall bonus regarding it's Respect (an Outlaw has 0, while a Landowner has +4), an additional set of bonus skills, and an amount of Earnings based on Position.

While Respect is consequence of social class, "Face" is more akin to one's personal reputation. In concept, it's very similiar to FASERIP's Popularity stat. How you act and what you do in the game always affects your Face.

Freom here we get into the Social Currency of Outlaws, in the form of Patrons, Dependents, and Favours. Favours are very important in the game, with the player's ability to call in on (or necessity to respond to) obligations effectively their primary means of getting anything accomplished in Society.

Finally, we have Motivations. Motivation is an important concept in Outlaws, and one that is worth covering in more depth later on, suffice to say a character may choose up to three Motivations, ranging from "Enlightenment", to "Wealth", to "Revenge", and may discard or acquire new Motivations as appropriate during the course of a game.
 

TristramEvans

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The next chapter gives us the main resolution rules. Outlaws is an exceedingly simple system with a 2d6 roll-under universal mechanic.

1) the GM (Outlaws uses the term "referee") sets the Ease of the task, from 10 (easiest) to 1 (near-impossible)
2) the player checks for any abilities that apply and adds the collected bonus from any applicable Aptitudes or Skills to the Ease of the roll.
3) the player rolls 2d6 and if the total is equal or less than the modified Ease, they succeed.

There's a few twists to this:
  • Characters are limited in the amount of Bonuses they can add to the Ease of a roll by their current Energy (i.e. even if a character has a +5, a +3, and two +1's that could apply, if their current Energy is 6, they can only add a maximum of +6)
  • If the Ease is modified to 11 or higher, the player can opt to take an automatic success or roll for the chance at greater degree of success
  • Characters can combine any number of actions (if it makes sense to do so), but rolls for each action seperately, with each additional action recieving a -2 penalty to the Ease.
  • a roll of snake-eyes, even if it's a success. always carries with it an unfortunate side effect.
The majority of the chapter is taken up with describing the specific uses of Abilities, every Aptitude and Skill is covered, so it's quite comprehensive. We also get some rules for improving and learning new skills (obviously you can't learn new Aptitudes). And we get some more info on language and writing.

And then...

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Not going to lie, I think in one genius masterstroke Mason here not only pre-anticipated the major intention behind a large portion of the modern narrative games movement (including Fate, Marvel Heroic, a hundred random one-shot Forge games, etc etc), but he did one better by not sacrificing the essential relationship between the GM and player in a heavy-handed Immersion-breaking imposition of third-person perspective onto character choices.

(whew) OK, going to need a lot more words to unpack that one, so next post...
 

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Paul Mason's game is, what he refers to himself as, a "Culture Game" (with Pendragon and Tekumel being prominent examples of this categorization). The rules are heavily invested in placing a player in the mindset of a person living in 11th-12th century China. So while the system itself is quite rules-lite (the franework of the system can be written up as a one-page document (something Mason himself did in an issue of Imazine), the majority of the game book is taken over to indoctrinating readers into the setting.
That is exactly what I'd want from a wuxia RPG, given my lack of familiarity with China in general, and the wuxia genre in particular.
 

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Very interesting bit, Tristram. I'm eager for the rest of your posts.

In the 70s, I used to watch the TV series (the Shaw Brothers' one, I guess) based on the classic tales, and loving it, but growing up I could never recall the title of that show. The Tetsubo thread unraveled at last that tantalizing mystery, some 38 years after the deeds :-) !
 

TristramEvans

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OK, so I had this GM once. He was running MERP (Rolemaster). Not a bad GM overall, and the campaign lasted close to a year before I bowed out for various reasons. But there was this one thing he did once. He started describing to me how my character felt about something in the game.

I've never been more annoyed, offended, or outright putout by anything in a game. My hackles were instantly raised.



Here he was trying to describe my character's feelings. I was like "what the hell?" (I didn't say that out loud - I actually didn't say anything, but I heartell that when I do feel a strong emotion, it's clearly written all over my face, and that must have been the case because he rather quickly stopped and didn't do that again while he was GMing. I must have been staring daggers or something...)

I've had a lot of time to evaluate that event since. It's not simply that it was instantly immesion-shattering, it's that it violated the essential relationship between GM and player. The character is instrinsically the domain of the roleplayer. The player is responsible for role playing their character, for interacting with the gameworld, and that responsibility can only fall on their shoulders because the emotional framework and thought processes of the character originate and end with the player. A violation of this paradigm cancels out the very action of role-playing.

However, as it's undeniable aspects of a character's "inner life" affect and are affected by events in a game. Case in point Sanity. Call of Cthulhu, let alone Unknown Armies, wouldn't be the games they are without the Sanity mechanisms. While it does take away an aspect of player choice, it does so in a way that that (can be) internalized by the player as a realistic event out of their control, and amalgamated into the manner into their character's viewpoint. This is a thin line to dance though. While I am a huge fan of Pendragon, I've always felt it's Passions mechanic stradles this line.

But when we consider the reverse, the examples are a bit more wonky. We have extremely abstract concepts like Hero Points and Karma, White Wolf's rather lackluster approach to a Will Power pool, Warhammer Fantasy' Fate points, etc., each of which allows a character to spend points to influence the outcome of their actions, but instead of originating with the character, these are external "gifts" granted to the character, often framed as rewards within the game.

Taken to the next extreme, we have games that grant players "narrative editing" powers, essentially the opposite - they originate from the player, but extend outside of the player character paradigm.

But what exactly are we actually trying to represent here?

Well, probably lots of things, depending on if a game is trying to be a collaborative storytelling exercize, emulation of a genre, etc. But I'm going to focus on one concept that I think is universal, regardless of one's playstyle - the concept of a character drawing upon their own will when the situation calls upon it, to push themselves to succeed.

For those completely against anything but complete realism, I could post here numerous studies and documented cases of this being observed in real life. But anyone can google that up quite easily, and this is already a long post. Likewise, I could cite only a fraction of the numerous times this plays out in narratives and media, but I'm going to just assume you all know what I'm talking about and move on.

But how does one implement that in a game, express that in rules? If you put all of it in the hands of a player, you essentially are saying that they can simply decide whenever they like to succeed. If you put it entirely in the hands of a GM, you have a railroad situation, where the GM is determining what's important for the characters. The usual compramise is described above - the player has access to a limited resource and can decide when is most appropriate for that character to spend that resource, while the GM is given authority to dole out the resource.

But that's not completely satisfying. The GM is still making decisions that ultimately should originate within the player character paradigm, but this is accepted because otherwise the player is granted powers that likewise break the paradigm.

Moreover, there's something inherently artificial about this always working. If you have the points to spend, you succeed at the roll. Even if we're talking about Heroic narratives, this certainly isn't always the case. In real life, even less so. There should be times that even your Will Power is simply not enough.

3tsgc0.jpg

And it's here that I think that Outlaws hit upon a better compramise. It's a simple solution, almost deceptivelly so (which is why I'm wasting so many words drawing attention to it), but it addresses both issues in a way that, instead of altering the roles of Player and GM, instead redistributes the decision-making process and adds a self-generating limiting factor.
 

TristramEvans

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In Outlaws, a character defines their primary motivations. As mentioned earlier, these are numerous and range from "Enlightenment" to "Power", "Justice" to Revenge". If anything isn't covered by the comprehensive list provided, it's simply a matter of describing it. A character will have up to three Motivations at any given time, and these can change frequently during play, simplty be temporary ore circumstantial, or remain constant as long-standing goals.

At any point during a game, when a situation occurs that is relevent to one or more of these Motivations, a player can "claim motivation".

Capture.JPG

When a player claims motivation, they make a roll with an Ease of 7. If successful, half the degree of success (amount below the ease) is added to that Motivation, and can be spent immediately. Motivation can be spent just like bonuses to an Ability roll. Moreover, players can roll against the current accumulated points of any Motivation to see if they resist giving into that desire.

But what's to keep a player constantly rolling Motivation whenever they like to gain a vast store of points to utilise? Well, you notice that on a successful roll, only half the degree of success is claimed as Motivation - the other half is claimed by the GM as Bad Joss.

Bad Joss, which is similiar in concept to bad luck or bad karma (using the Western conception of that term), is tracked by the GM. A player character will often not know how much Bad Joss they've accumulated unless they see a Buddhist Priest (or, presumably, get access to a Scientology E-meter), but at any time the player can request a Bad Joss roll from the GM, stipulating the maximum amount of points they want to wager. At least one Bad Joss roll is required per year, though the player can usually chose the timing.

A Bad Joss roll may also be stipulated by rolling Snake-Eyes, a Buddhist priest casting a Retribution spell on the character, or through the influence of certain malific spirits.

The GM then rolls on the Bad Joss table to see what event transpires.

badjoss tables.JPG
 

TristramEvans

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The actions chapter finishes up with a section on wounds, recovery, and different types of damage, with the usual subjects addressed - poisons, diseases, fire damage, medical aid etc. And froim there we are on to Chapter 3:Combat.

I do find it a bit unusual that Injury & Healing rules didn't come at the end of the combat section, but itr doesn't bother me one way or the other.

Combat is divided into Rounds, in this case not assigned a specific amount of time, rather just "the time it would take for a character to perform one action". I see this as perfectly reasonable. I can't recall a time in the last 30 years GMing wherein I needed to know the exact length of time of a combat round.

The only unusual thing about Outlaw's Combat system is that it doesn't bother with any rules for Initiative. Everyone declares what they are doing and makes the appropriate rolls, and those with a higher degree of success than their oppoonents act first.

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The combat roll, or roll to attack, is the same as that for any other action. In this case the Ease is set by the Weapon being used (Unarmed/martial arts has an Ease of 7), anny applicable bonuses are added to determine the chance of success before a roll.

A successful Hit inflicts Damage based on the Degree of Success of the roll. Some Weapons modiify this, and armour and the Protection value of an opponent's weapon reduces it. Each weapon also has a "Shock" value, which is the amount of Damage from that weapon that can be "absorbed" by reducing Energy. The remainder reduces the Body score.

Armour is rated on a scale of +1 (simple leather or quilted) to +4 (metal lamellar plates with chainmail at joints). The amount of protection corresponds to the Energy cost to wear it. A very streamlined approach to encumbrance that I appreciate, providing a reason for Martial Artists to eshew wearing Armour as it inhibits coordination.

There's a few other wrinkles - situational modifiers, special moves - all the sort of stuff you'd expect.

On the whole, I think the system is simple, intuitive, and fast, which is pretty much what I want from any RPG.

Interestingly, there is also a short mass combat system provided, building on pretty much the same principles.. I wouldn't use it myself, probably - too much of a mini wargammer to be satisfied with that sort of abstraction (plus I'd look for any chance to break out Kensei - which coincidentally just got a Chinese expansion)

 
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TristramEvans

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The last significant section on rules comes with Chapter IV: Magic

00000000000000000000.jpg


My first exposure to the Outlaws RPG, and my concurrent following of it's developement, came with Paul Mason's Imazine, for me a seminal publication on RPGs. Mason would often go into depth about his design decisions with articles in the zine, nd I just happened to reread the issue wherein he discussed the magic system yesterday.

So what's interesting is that he sorta followed the same path that I did with designing a magic system for Phaserip; he started with a completely lose system that relied entirely on player creativity. This came of course from the unenviable task of trying to amalgamate the traditions of magic in actual Chinese cuture, that in folklore and legends, along with the Wuxia genre of stories, and then the Hong Kong cinema that for many in the West would be their primary exposure to the Water Margin stories. Even ignoring the other sources, anyone who has studied traditional magic knows how much it frustratingly resists systemization.

I'd like to have seen this initial loose system, just out of curiosity. In my case, I was largely influenced by the criminally-underrated RPG Cineflex, where magic users adopt a number of "motifs" and these are used primarily just as guides for the flavour of the magic.

I don't know if Mason's decision against this was based on the same pitfalls in playtesting that befell mine, but what he offers instead is a very utilitarian system that builds upon the same established universal structure, with spell lists for Feng Shui (Elementalist) sorcerers as well as Buddhist priests. There'ws magic items, talismans, rituals - basically everything you'd expect.

I can't say it excites me per se - much like GURPs magic, it's perfunctory rather than "magical". Granted it is more intimately tied to the setting, and really though it seems maybe like I'm complaining, my only real complaint is that "I don't love it".
 

TristramEvans

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The rest of the game, as released, is mostly given over to setting info, and it is substantial. Everything from religion, to the supernatural, to family relations, numbers, and commerce is covered. And it's covered well - not overlong, exactly the amount of info you need to get an understanding of the culture and run a game in the world. I made an unfavourable GURPs comparison when talking abouyt the magic system, here I'll do the opposite and say this stands among the best of the 3rd edition GURPs sourcebooks as far as presenting it's subject in a way that is comprehensive while being particularly suited to resources for running games.

And honestly it's so complete that I have to really wonder why Mason never managed to add in the (very minimal) finishing touches to get it published. It's certainly completely playable, and heads and tails over a depressing majority of core rulebooks. From video interviews I take it Mason is a perfectionist (a flaw I'm all too personally familiar with), and never felt the game was "just right". But that's a shame, moreso that he's seemingly abandoned further work on it for the time being.

So we're left with a 99% complete near masterpiece of a game. It's absolutely perfectly playable as is, and not in the "online heartbreaker" kind of way, Outlaws is a game that feels polished and professional.

Anyways, that's my mini-review. It's one of my favourite RPGs and the idea that the system might finally be utilized for a published game makes me happy.
 

AsenRG

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The last significant section on rules comes with Chapter IV: Magic

View attachment 16497


My first exposure to the Outlaws RPG, and my concurrent following of it's developement, came with Paul Mason's Imazine, for me a seminal publication on RPGs. Mason would often go into depth about his design decisions with articles in the zine, nd I just happened to reread the issue wherein he discussed the magic system yesterday.

So what's interesting is that he sorta followed the same path that I did with designing a magic system for Phaserip; he started with a completely lose system that relied entirely on player creativity. This came of course from the unenviable task of trying to amalgamate the traditions of magic in actual Chinese cuture, that in folklore and legends, along with the Wuxia genre of stories, and then the Hong Kong cinema that for many in the West would be their primary exposure to the Water Margin stories. Even ignoring the other sources, anyone who has studied traditional magic knows how much it frustratingly resists systemization.

I'd like to have seen this initial loose system, just out of curiosity. In my case, I was lasrgely influenced by the criminally-underrated RPG ?Cineflex, where magic users adopt a number of "motifs" and these are used primarily just as guides for the flavour of the magic.

I don't know if Mason's decision against this was based on the same pitfalls in playtesting that befell mine, but what he offers instead is a very utilitarian system that builds upon the same established universal structure, with spell lists for Feng Shui (Elementalist) sorcerers as well as Buddhist priests. There'ws magic items, talismans, rituals - basically everything you'd expect.

I can't say it excites me per se - much like GURPs magic, it's perfunctory rather than "magical". Granted it is more intimately tied to the setting, and really though it seems maybe like I'm complaining, my only real complaint is that "I don't love it".
Amusingly, I'm running a game with a completely free magic system right now, namely Maelstrom Rome. All the players had the option of picing Hedge Wizard, and thus being able to work magic, and they all did.
I think they still haven't realized just how powerful their abilities really are... :grin:


The rest of the game, as released, is mostly given over to setting info, and it is substantial. Everything from religion, to the supernatural, to family relations, numbers, and commerce is covered. And it's covered well - not overlong, exactly the amount of info you need to get an understanding of the culture and run a game in the world. I made an unfavourable GURPs comparison when talking abouyt the magic system, here I'll do the opposite and say this stands among the best of the 3rd edition GURPs sourcebooks as far as presenting it's subject in a way that is comprehensive while being particularly suited to resources for running games.

And honestly it's so complete that I have to really wonder why Mason never managed to add in the (very minimal) finishing touches to get it published. It's certainly completely playable, and heads and tails over a depressing majority of core rulebooks. From video interviews I take it Mason is a perfectionist (a flaw I'm all too personally familiar with), and never felt the game was "just right". But that's a shame, moreso that he's seemingly abandoned further work on it for the time being.

So we're left with a 99% complete near masterpiece of a game. It's absolutely perfectly playable as is, and not in the "online heartbreaker" kind of way, Outlaws is a game that feels polished and professional.

Anyways, that's my mini-review. It's one of my favourite RPGs and the idea that the system might finally be utilized for a published game makes me happy.
Yeah, about the only thing it's missing are lifepaths:tongue:. And even then it's at least 60% there with just the way you spend your poins!

And I also wonder why Mason didn't just cut off the idea of using the characters from the Water Margin, and leave the exercise of statting up Li Kui to the players that are so inclined. AFAICT, that would actually make the game "complete":grin:!
 

TristramEvans

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Amusingly, I'm running a game with a completely free magic system right now, namely Maelstrom Rome. All the players had the option of picing Hedge Wizard, and thus being able to work magic, and they all did.
I think they still haven't realized just how powerful their abilities really are... :grin:

For myself, it ended up taking too much time out of the game every time a player wanted to cast a spell to figure out what they could do and how to best go about it. So now the magic system I've gone with is more of a "primer", kinda like "training wheels" for magic - enough so a player will have the basic spells they can use with the intention that they will eventually be able to discard it ands move onto improvisational magic
 

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Hmm, I was a bit on the fence (between mild interest at the source material and wariness at a rules lite storyteller system) till you got to the summary of how the motivations system works. It actually does sound like a fun "alignment system" for lack of a better term, that would be fun to play in a scene and having it also serve as the player power up and gm doom stack is downright elegant.
 

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So while the system itself is quite rules-lite (the franework of the system can be written up as a one-page document (something Mason himself did in an issue of Imazine), the majority of the game book is taken over to indoctrinating readers into the setting.
You wouldn't happen to know what issue of Imazine he did this in would you?

Found it, issue 33.
 
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TristramEvans

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You wouldn't happen to know what issue of Imazine he did this in would you?

I can find out in a bit

edit: Issue 33, looks like.

Honestly, it's not that useful, though. It's just the barebones concepts. I mean, maybe just as a primer to print out and help new players.
 

Sleepyscholar of Shentian

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Sorry to bump an oldish thread. I really enjoyed reading this, and it was very useful in reminding me how my game works, since it looks like I'm being pushed into finishing it off and publishing it. Not sure what the 'video interviews' mentioned were, as I don't remember appearing in any. I'm not a perfectionist, just lazy when it comes to doing stuff that I can't work out how to do.

And I think I also stopped work on Outlaws after I lost the opportunity to play games here in Japan.

I fully agree that the magic section loses 'magic' in order to offer rules. This was mainly a compromise based on the idea that the game was going to be published, and I didn't think a 'make it up yourselves' magic system would go down too well!

I was interested to read about the 'modern narrative game movement' since I wrote a sort of manifesto of the 'narrative approach' in Imazine 14 (1986), and spent the next year or two kicking myself, because everyone thought I was advocating that referees impose stories on players. I had failed to spot the way in which so many rolegamers viewed the ref as an auteur rather than a facilitator. I'm a rubbish ref, and never happier than when the players are taking the ball and running with it (or, to be more Chinese about it, I should probably write 'keeping it in the air').

Anyway, thanks for all the comments.
 

TristramEvans

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Sorry to bump an oldish thread. I really enjoyed reading this, and it was very useful in reminding me how my game works, since it looks like I'm being pushed into finishing it off and publishing it. Not sure what the 'video interviews' mentioned were, as I don't remember appearing in any. I'm not a perfectionist, just lazy when it comes to doing stuff that I can't work out how to do.

And I think I also stopped work on Outlaws after I lost the opportunity to play games here in Japan.

I fully agree that the magic section loses 'magic' in order to offer rules. This was mainly a compromise based on the idea that the game was going to be published, and I didn't think a 'make it up yourselves' magic system would go down too well!

I was interested to read about the 'modern narrative game movement' since I wrote a sort of manifesto of the 'narrative approach' in Imazine 14 (1986), and spent the next year or two kicking myself, because everyone thought I was advocating that referees impose stories on players. I had failed to spot the way in which so many rolegamers viewed the ref as an auteur rather than a facilitator. I'm a rubbish ref, and never happier than when the players are taking the ball and running with it (or, to be more Chinese about it, I should probably write 'keeping it in the air').

Anyway, thanks for all the comments.
Welcome to The Pub Mr. Mason! Pleasure to see you here.

The "video Interviews" I mentioned were from a filmed panel at Manticon in 2018 shared in a thread this one splintered off from...

edit: lol, Bilharzia beat me to the punch on finding the links
 

Sleepyscholar of Shentian

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Worth noting that there are a number of films from Shaw and other studios based on the Outlaws stories too for those who want an easy introduction to the books. I'm biased in favour of the 70s Shaw classics myself.
They are pretty weird, though. I like those Shaw Brothers movies, but they sent me up so many dead ends in doing research!

My favourite visual Water Margin (apart from the NTV show that got me into it in the first place, but had a weird overlay of Japanese sexism and bondage) was the Chinese TV show that they made, I think in the 90s. I probably have the DVDs somewhere or other, though no English subtitles. At one point I considered contacting the Chinese TV company and offering to do English subtitles for it. I'm glad that crazed idea went nowhere!
 
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Sleepyscholar of Shentian

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Is there any place to still get this game?
In theory, it will get published some time. Can't decide whether to go with the original rules (less work for me to do) or the later rules (I prefer them; they're a bit more representative of my ideas on rolegaming). But probably I'll go with consistency with whatever Dave's using for Tetsubo and Kwaidan.
 

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Very interesting bit, Tristram. I'm eager for the rest of your posts.

In the 70s, I used to watch the TV series (the Shaw Brothers' one, I guess) based on the classic tales, and loving it, but growing up I could never recall the title of that show. The Tetsubo thread unraveled at last that tantalizing mystery, some 38 years after the deeds :-) !
If you're talking about the TV show that was dubbed into English, it's almost certainly the Japanese NTV one, much later released on DVD by Fabulous Films, and nothing to do with the Shaw Brothers. It has Sato Kei as Gao Qiu, and Nakamura Atsuo as a sword-wielding Lin Chong (the 'real' Lin Chong was an Imperial Spear Instructor, but I guess the Japanese couldn't handle that).
 

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And I also wonder why Mason didn't just cut off the idea of using the characters from the Water Margin, and leave the exercise of statting up Li Kui to the players that are so inclined. AFAICT, that would actually make the game "complete":grin:!
I was doing it in the 80s, remember. A lot of the decisions in the game were based on a compromise bridging the vast gulf between what I believed about role-playing, and what the overwhelming majority of role-players seemed to believe.

To be quite honest, all that business of coming up with stats for characters and monsters and stuff, while being of immense interest to me when I was 16, had little to offer me in the 1990s when I was looking to complete the game. And my total lack of interest in it now worries me slightly. So don't be surprised if I take your post as an excuse to avoid doing much along those lines...
 

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Hmm, I was a bit on the fence (between mild interest at the source material and wariness at a rules lite storyteller system) till you got to the summary of how the motivations system works. It actually does sound like a fun "alignment system" for lack of a better term, that would be fun to play in a scene and having it also serve as the player power up and gm doom stack is downright elegant.
I don't much like the term 'storyteller system' as it seems to imply precisely the ref as auteur approach that I dislike. The original Outlaws is moderately rules heavy (actually too rules heavy for me, which was why I didn't use those rules too obsessively, and eventually came up with a set closer to what I actually did), But all incarnations have been based on the idea that there is a creative tension between the ref and the players, which benefits from balancing mechanisms.
 

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I don't much like the term 'storyteller system' as it seems to imply precisely the ref as auteur approach that I dislike. The original Outlaws is moderately rules heavy (actually too rules heavy for me, which was why I didn't use those rules too obsessively, and eventually came up with a set closer to what I actually did), But all incarnations have been based on the idea that there is a creative tension between the ref and the players, which benefits from balancing mechanisms.


I'll be honest, I think you should go with your new concepts--since it is your gut feeling. As an author of games myself, I say go with what you would enjoy playing and make yourself happy with the rules. Writing for a specific audience is more difficult by a large degree than writing for yourself. In the end you have to live with the rules longer than anyone else.

As for creative tension, I lean heavily on being my player's biggest cheerleader even when I make things challenging for them. Although, I want them to succeed because that leads to interesting future games, though failure can create other interesting elements if a failure doesn't equal death, but something else. A lot of games assume death is always a default option, and I've found taking it off the table for some games works very well, though characters still suffer often a lot. The players are still playing the game.

I'm also as far off the rails as I can get and still create what might be an interesting 'story." I'm not someone who focuses on the idea of storytelling as my lead goal. Instead, I want the game to suit its genre, and actual play creates something that after the fact the player's choices made for something that is if it were written down in a novel-like form, that it would be fun to read.

I still maintain being a GM, and putting things out there to help create that aspect as a good thing, but the players through their character still take the lead of where things go. There is certainly a lot of wiggle room for them to make choices on what they do. An example might be my D&D game, where there was a potential threat of hobgoblins who'd captured some elves, and rather than combat they tried diplomacy and it worked better for such purposes than other options (such as combat.) They actually made two sets of allies for the future threat they face.

I know that in wuxia as a genre, combat is likely to be a driving force, but it doesn't have to be the only one.
 

TristramEvans

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In theory, it will get published some time. Can't decide whether to go with the original rules (less work for me to do) or the later rules (I prefer them; they're a bit more representative of my ideas on rolegaming). But probably I'll go with consistency with whatever Dave's using for Tetsubo and Kwaidan.
I would really love a published copy of the rules.

I would have written more last night, but I was knee deep in my macroeconomics textbook for my Final at University, which I just finished a few minutes ago, lol.

Let me start by saying that I'm glad you appreciated my overview of Outlaws here and that you found your way to the Pub, We're a relatively new forum, and in the vast sea of the net I'm always a bit surprised by us getting noticed at all.

I encountered Outlaws through Imazine , as I mentioned, and unfortunately only right at the tail-end of the zine's lifespan in 2000 or 2001, but the conversations in there immediately fascinated me as it was the only thing I'd encountered at that point regarding "RPG Theory" (a term I kinda dislike due to associations these days) that really seemed to match up with the way I ran games (granted I missed all the hobby writings of the 80s). By that point there was this very strong push for a narrative gaming experience and what you refer to as "GM as auteur".

I was interested to read about the 'modern narrative game movement' since I wrote a sort of manifesto of the 'narrative approach' in Imazine 14 (1986), and spent the next year or two kicking myself, because everyone thought I was advocating that referees impose stories on players. I had failed to spot the way in which so many rolegamers viewed the ref as an auteur rather than a facilitator. I'm a rubbish ref, and never happier than when the players are taking the ball and running with it (or, to be more Chinese about it, I should probably write 'keeping it in the air').
My own observations (without implying judgement) is that there are certain GM's who derive their fun from showing players how creative they are, and others whose fun comes from seeing how creative their players are. I definitely fall into the latter camp. What I think is unfortunate is that players are often "trained" to expect the GM to direct the game, from induction into the hobby via published modules and adventures. But, I also think that many new GMs are intinidated by having to adopt a "reactive" style to players, requiring a greater degree of improvisation.

Speaking of early Imazine issues though, is there anyway to obtain any of those back issues from prior to it going online?
 
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