Monday, November 16, 2009

Lucky Number Kung Fu

I may be playing Oriental Adventures this week. For me, the fact that the East somehow feels less dungeony to me is somewhat compensated for by the fact that in Asia--or at least in the crazy D&D Asia in my head--there is lots of kung fu. More kung-fu, in fact than in the original rules (though there is some).

Now there are a million clever ways to add more kung-fu to this game, but I know my New York crew and I know that if I'm gonna spring this on them I need a system that is simple, fast, and requires very little on-the-spot-making-shit up during combat or character generation. We'll see if they bite...

So here is:

The Simplest D&D Kung Fu System I Could Think Of
  • Each PC, NPC, and humanoid monster has a certain quantity of "kung fu numbers"--these kung fu numbers can be any number from 2 to 19.

  • The quantity of kung fu numbers a character has is equal to his, her, or its dexterity bonus +1. Monsters can, alternately, have a number of kung fu numbers equal to their hit dice.
  • Kung fu numbers can be chosen by the player during character generation (and the DM during adventure-writing) or can simply be 2, 3, 4 etc. or 19, 18, 17 etc. for everybody to keep things simple.

  • Rolling one of these kung fu numbers (naturally and unmodified) on an ordinary to-hit roll in melee, whether or not this number indicates a melee hit, means that the character has maneuvered themselves into a position suitable to perform a kung-fu move. This kung-fu move effect is in addition to any damage that may or may not have been inflicted by the same roll.

  • The kung fu moves available are: disarm, prevent opponent moving* for one round, move opponent 2 tabletop inches in any direction, knock opponent to the ground, take something from opponent, grab opponent--or anything else within reason that does not simply cause more damage.(i.e. you can cause more damage by knocking someone into a flame pit but you can't say your strike just 'causes more damage' without some situational reason.)

  • A character that successfully rolls his, her, or its kung fu number(s) may automatically execute the move of their choice. The effect occurs immediately.

  • Common-sense restrictions apply--like you can't knock a giant snake over.
  • Ninja, kensai, and monks all get one extra kung-fu number.
After first level, shit gets more complicated in as-yet-unspecified ways. If you're still using this system by the time your players are second level, let me know and we'll figure it out.

*The victim can fight, shoot, cast spells, etc.--just not move around the tabletop.


  1. This sounds fun as hell. I can see it being a blast in combat - and totally fuck-you-overing (as a player) when the monsters pull it off.


  2. "the East somehow feels less dungeony to me"

    Hmm, the East has always felt MORE dungeony to me. Look at the Chinese Hell ("a maze of underground levels and chambers"). Look at the bathhouse in Miyazaki's "Spirited Away."

  3. I imagine the Chinese hell as being like caves--and I am aesthtically opposed to caves. The bathouse, for sure--crazy still-in--frequent-use palaces, ok, sure. But my sweet spot is vast forgotten underground cities, which has always seems very european to me.

    it's a taste thing.

  4. Interesting kung-fu mechanic. I use Sham's What Price Glory grappling rules (contested 2d6+mods roll) and the Rambling Bumblers' super simple combat manoeuvres ("Suffer the effect, or take damage instead") to represent "WU-PAH!" combat wackiness.

    So far, no demands for more crunchiness from the players. I can live with that.

  5. This is super cool. This principle could be applied to any campaign for more variety in combat.

  6. Its a neat idea! Im a rule minimalist, but as a colour to the narration and as a bonus option for the players I think it works well in non-oriental campaigns too. Players tend to love it, and it does not break any gamebalance nor atmosphere at all.

    Personally I use similar mechanics taken from, but besides automatic successful maneuvers I also allow secondary attacks if the PCs choose to use nearby furnitures, tools, etc as ad hoc weapons.

    (BTW I follow this blog since its started and I consider it to be the best of the Autumn. Keep going!)

  7. chris--
    in effect, i use the rambling bumbler rule without the "choose damage instead"--works fine.

    indeed--it doesn;t fuck up your campaign if the bad guys can do it too

    matyi--THANKS! yeah, if i had a more complicated system, ad hoc weapons would be a big part

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  9. Hey, I just found this today - wish I remembered who linked to it. But anyways, I'm a more recent reader of the blog and I'm glad someone dug this out and linked.

    Cool stuff. :)

    Question: if the player gets to choose their numbers, wouldn't they always have the advantage if they put them on the lower end of the scale, since that way even if they "miss" they can still "damage" the opponent?

    I'm thinking maybe if the numbers are at the high end, and maybe spaced out and descending based on how many you can have. So if you have 1, it's 20. If you have 2, it's 20 and 15 or something. That way, the more "lucky" you are, the more likely it is you can drop some fu even if you "miss"?

    Or maybe monks get this graduated scale, or get the choice of numbers, while non-monks would get only the highest end of the scale. I like that idea too, because it means that if you hit, you can fu, but makes monks have that extra ability to fu even when they miss.

    Anyways, plenty to think about. I also like what Rainswept said about making them class based, too. I'll have to think on that. As a luck mechanic, I really dig it. :)

  10. colin--
    i can see players differing philosophically about whether it's better to have a high number damage + kung fu) or a low number (if you miss you still get kung fu), but, more than that, the people I play with are--for the most part--not cutthroat enough to notice or care about the math.


  11. Thanks for the answer, Zak. What I like about the distinction is that in addition to being a mechanical/strategic decision, it also reflects the source material. That is, even if you don't have players who care about number crunch, it actually makes sense within chop-socky tropes, too.

    Bruce Lee or some other total badass would probably have the lucky numbers at the top of the scale. I'm thinking of his numerous iconic bad-guy finishes here.

    A regular joe who bumbles though ad-hoc kung fu moves is more like the Jackie Chan everyman like in Rumble in the Bronx. He would have his numbers at the lower end of the scale.

    I dig it and am already thinking of ways it could be used with other attribute checks based on class.

  12. Not sure where I encountered the description (1,001 nights?) but Arabic/Persian hell might feel appropriately dungeony- 1000 towers with a thousand rooms with a thousand benches with a thousand prisoners suffering different torments

  13. This is brilliant! I've been looking for ways to give basic fighters an edge besides magic swords in my "mostly b/x" campaign. something like this, characterized as brawling or swashbuckling or whatever, could be just the thing. Do you have ideas yet for higher levels? My off-the-cuff thought right now is to base it on levels instead of on Dex, just 'cos i've been trying to de-emphasis ability scores... maybe as simple as "If your natural roll is no higher than your level, you get to perform a brawling stunt" or something. onlr very experienced and lucky fighters will get both stunt and damage.

  14. Just stumbled across this post, and I'm inspired. I think I'm going to adapt this to some kind of power-tree system for a 4th edition delve. I think players everywhere would have fun being even more awesomely kung-fu.

  15. Zak:

    Just found this blog, been a fan of your art for a while and now this. Be less awesome, please. You make us look bad.

    I dig this concept and think there's a simple explanation for the low-numbers vs. high-numbers thing: It's a hard-soft contrast. "Soft" martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan would go for the low numbers because the idea isn't to meet force with force but to "flow" around your opponent and send them sprawling. Picking high numbers would be akin to "hard" forms that do emphasis powerful kicks and blows.

    If someone cared to make it more complicated and "real," players could choose a form from a list, with each having corresponding numbers.

    Regardless, very fun. Good stuff.

  16. Wow; this is quite elegant. I think the best part of Western people playing Oriental Adventures is that the players start caring about "honor" & such, in a way that most don't in other settings.

  17. hmmm...I like this. Good job team. Aka. Zak. S. *snatch*

  18. I like it, and it feels like it would end up with a whole bunch of people doing a whole bunch of cool stuff.

    The first thing I had in mind was "I have the scroll!" "No, I have the scroll!" as people snatch it from each other.

    I suggest either-or, so you get the damage in or you get to do the kung fu.

    It seems like something cool could be built in if I roll my kung fu number and it's also your number - maybe you block it and I know from now on that I can't do kung fu on you with that number.

    Since the kung fu result is based on an unmodified roll, it really doesn't matter where the numbers are. It still feels right to go 19 downward, but scattering them makes it impossible to draw monster-power conclusions (he rolled 17 and didn't get a kung fu, he must be 2 HD or lower, etc).