Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Kung-fu Training Minigame

As I said in my previous post, I've been watching a lot of kung fu movies. A core feature of these movies is a training scene. The hero goes from nursing their bruised knuckles to smashing through stone walls. Importantly, there are frequently multiple training scenes. 36 Chambers of Shaolin is essentially one long training scene sequence.

Because training scenes are an important part of the genre, they seem important to gameify. Saying "Okay, you go off and train for a few months and we're back" seems insufficient. 

But how can you make doing 100 pushups, reciting 100 sutras, or carrying 100 jugs of water interesting?

From Kill 6 Billion Demons

Honing Your Skills vs Learning New Skills

When training, you can hone your skills or learn new skills

Honing your skills allows you to improve your HP, master a new technique from your main style, etc.

However, you can only do so much training on your own. You must have a teacher to learn new skills. 

Teachers include:

  • Kung fu masters
  • Kung fu manuals
  • Sparring partners
  • Schools and monasteries 
  • Weirder things, like surviving poison to learn Five-Venoms style
Traveling to find a teacher who can teach you the right technique to overcome the villain is a major point of the game.

Training Montage

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Once per session (often at the end), you may declare that you're training. If you currently have a teacher, the GM will tell you 1-3 exercises they have assigned you

For example:

  • Pulling nails from posts with your bare hands
  • Catching thrown tofu without splattering it
  • Catching flies with chopsticks
  • Watching light bouncing off a mirror without turning your head
  • Pulling a laden cart up and down a mountain

Roll 5d6. You must keep at least one die, but may keep more. Your goal is to get the lowest value possible.

Threes are worth zero points. All other numbers are face value. 

  • If you keep a 4, 5, or 6, narrate a failure.
  • If you keep a 1 or 2, narrate a near success.
  • If you keep a 3, narrate an a-ha moment.
The GM will give you a 1-3 points of focus based on your description (see below).

Reroll the remaining dice and repeat the procedure, keeping at least one die and narrating a description until no dice remain. 

Sum the total value of the kept dice. 

  • If the total value of your training montage is equal to or less than your focus, the montage is successful. 
    • If you are training by yourself, hone one of your skills. If you are training with a teacher, learn a new skill.
    • Reset your current focus to 0.
  • If the total value of your training montage is greater than your focus, you do not learn anything new. You are bruised and exhausted.
    • Note down your total focus. Focus persists between training montages until your succeed.


The player rolls a 3-3-6-5-2 on their first turn. They keep both 3s. They also choose (but don't have to) to keep the 2. They roll the last two remaining dice and get 3-5. They keep the 3. They roll the last die. It's a 4. They must keep it as it is the final die. Their dice are now 3-3-2-3-4. Total score for that montage is 2+4 = 6.


When you try to learn a new technique, you begin with a focus of 0. The GM awards a player 1-3 points of focus for each narration during the training montage. Focus persists between training sessions until a training montage is successful.

1 point: The GM awards 1 point of focus for evocative descriptions of training. 
Example: "I struggle to smash all the hanging water jugs with my head, getting a bloody nose."

2 points: The GM awards 2 points of focus for descriptions that interact with the environment in some notable fashion, taking advantage of the scenery they've provided. 
Example: "As the Sick God continues throwing slices of tofu, I actually catch one this time without mashing it. Then another. Then another. The Sick God looks impressed and begins throwing the slices faster. I quickly run out of hands with which to catch the slices. I catch one in my mouth and my eyes bulge and cross."

3 points: When a player's narration causes the entire table gasps in awe, bursts into applause, or collapses into laughter, the GM should award 3 points of focus. 
Example: "As Ah-Biao and I spar atop the raised poles, I no longer need to look down and think about my footwork--I simply glide across them, like I'm skating across a pond in winter. As I fall back against his assault, he delivers an unexpected kick. I sail backwards, and would be knocked outside of the sparring ring, but I swing my saber in a lazy arc and cut a section from one of the red poles. I kick off of it in mid-air and land back in the ring, ready to continue."

Design Notes

The goal is to incorporate training scenes into a kung fu RPG in a way that emulates classic grindhouse kung fu movies but is also fun. Fun is derived from choices. 

There two main choices delivered by this system: 1) There's a small strategy in the minigame about when to take a low roll and when to reroll 2) The creative exercise of narrating interesting, pleasing scenes set by the constraints of the GM. These are minor but I hope they deliver a nice experience. 

Here are some other things that appeal to me about this system:
  • The minigame is derived from Threes, a dice game my friends and I play while drinking. It's fun without being complex or demanding.
  • The minigame is also super fast. Without narration, a single turn takes about a minute. With 4-5 narration beats, I anticipate this minigame taking about 5 minutes. This feels like the right training-to-play ratio for a standard RPG session. 
  • The focus system is borrowed from Exalted's stunt system. It is a fun system that works when you get your head around it.
  • Because training happens every session, players should be gaining new skills every session or so. Leveling up is fun and is very genre appropriate.
This needs playtesting, but I think there's something appealing here.

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