This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Mon, June 17 2019 12:00 AM UTC +00:00.
The goal of this campaign is to raise the funds necessary to publish Hearts of Wulin, a tabletop roleplaying game of wuxia melodrama by Agatha Cheng and Lowell Francis. If this campaign is successful, we will be able to pay for professional editing and layout of the Hearts of Wulin text, commission artwork from a variety of artists, and fund offset print runs for both softcover and hardcover editions of the game.
In Hearts of Wulin, players take the role of skilled martial artists in a world of rival clans, conspiracies, and obligations. The game emulates films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chinese wuxia TV series like The Smiling Proud Wanderer and Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, and Chinese martial arts novels from the second half of the twentieth century. In these tales, romance is as dangerous as a blade. Everyone has ties to factions, loves they can’t quite express, and secrets which will shake them to their core. As in the source material, stories in Hearts of Wulin are driven by the characters’ duties, romantic desires, and entanglements with other characters.
Hearts of Wulin is Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), meaning its mechanics are inspired, in part, by Apocalypse World by Vincent and Meguey Baker. The game is strongly influenced by several recent PbtA games, including Monsterhearts 2 by Avery Alder, Masks by Brendan Conway, and The Veil by Fraser Simons. That said, Hearts of Wulin stands on its own, and has several distinct features that help players tell stories steeped in wuxia melodrama:
Playbooks and roles
Character creation involves choosing one of 6 playbooks: the Aware, the Bravo, the Loyal, the Outsider, the Student, and the Unorthodox. These playbooks are fairly broad in scope, and each has moves and other details that hit on common tropes of the wuxia genre. Additionally, each playbook has several roles from which to choose. These roles each come with a signature move that helps you further define your character. For example, if you choose the Student playbook, your role choices are Hopeful Apprentice, Wandering Monk, or Younger Sibling.
Entanglements and Inner Conflict
At the beginning of the game, you create a web of Entanglements with other characters, which is the emotional core of your story. Each character has one general Entanglement and one romantic Entanglement. When these Entanglements come up in play, your character earns experience toward advancement. Additionally, these Entanglements are governed by a move called Inner Conflict. Inner Conflict is triggered when you come face-to-face with emotional turmoil related to an Entanglement. Will you keep yourself together, flee the scene, or worse?
Ability scores in Hearts of Wulin are called elements, any one of which can be used during a die roll, depending on how you approach the situation. For example, if you try to solve a problem with creativity or passion, you roll with the Fire element. If you approach the situation with patience or curiosity, you roll with the Wood element. But be careful: an element can be "marked" as the result of a poor roll, meaning your passion can turn to recklessness or your patience can turn to overconfidence.
Combat in Hearts of Wulin is a conversation; what is said between the opponents is as important as the martial arts. Mechanically, it is resolved with a single, elegant die roll. Player characters have a relative scale, reflecting their skill and notoriety. Compare your scale to your NPC opponent: if you are a higher scale, victory comes easy; if you are a lower scale, you'll need to train or find additional resources to defeat them. Duels between player characters are handled differently: a negotiation between players governs the outcome. What will you give up in the story in order for your character to win?
Playtest materials are available at the link below! The playtest packet represents an early version of the game, and is missing much of the support text. However, so long as you have a basic understanding of how PbtA games work, it is enough to run a short campaign of Hearts of Wulin. Backers will receive regularly-updated materials until the final book is released.
There are a number of exciting rewards available, including digital and physical copies of the game book, online game sessions hosted by amazing GMs, signed hardcover books, and invitations to create your own NPCs and factions that will appear in the game text!
Details for each reward:
PDF rulebook - The Hearts of Wulin rulebook in PDF form. The PDF will be internally bookmarked for ease of navigation. The team behind Hearts of Wulin is committed to making the game as accessible as possible, including to those with visual and cognitive impairments. As part of our commitment to accessibility, we are consulting with experts on the layout and format of our rules during the development of the game. PDFs will be delivered via DriveThruRPG.
Digital stretch goals - Scenarios, supplements, and alternate settings that we unlock during the campaign. These stretch goals will only exist in PDF form.
Softcover rulebook - A physical, softcover copy of the Hearts of Wulin rulebook. The softcover book will be part of an offset print run, digest-sized, roughly 200 pages (depending on stretch goals unlocked), black & white interior. UPDATE: An unlocked stretch goal means the book will now be full-color!
Hardcover rulebook - A physical, hardcover copy of the Hearts of Wulin rulebook. The hardcover book will be part of an offset print run, digest-sized, roughly 200 pages (depending on stretch goals unlocked), black & white interior. UPDATE: An unlocked stretch goal means the book will now be full-color!
Signed hardcover rulebook - A physical, hardcover copy of the Hearts of Wulin rulebook signed by Agatha Cheng and Lowell Francis. The hardcover book will be part of an offset print run, digest-sized, roughly 200 pages (depending on stretch goals unlocked), black & white interior. Please note that signed hardcover books will ship a little later than other physical rewards. UPDATE: An unlocked stretch goal means the book will now be full-color!
Detail an NPC - You will be invited to detail an NPC that will appear in Hearts of Wulin. Your NPC will have a name, look, fighting style, signature weapon, and short description. Note: the authors may ask you to revise your NPC idea in order to conform to the tone and premise of Hearts of Wulin.
Detail a faction - You will be invited to detail a faction that will appear in Hearts of Wulin. Your faction will include a name, important NPCs, general aesthetic, a list of artifacts important to them, and a description of their history and aims. Note: the authors may ask you to revise your faction idea in order to conform to the tone and premise of Hearts of Wulin.
2 online game sessions - A member of The Gauntlet gaming community will run 2 online sessions of Hearts of Wulin for you and 3 of your friends. Sessions will be scheduled for 3 hours each and will be organized no earlier than October 2019. While you are not able to choose who will run your sessions, many of the best GMs in our community have volunteered, and we feel confident you and your friends will have an amazing time.
Your name in the backer credits - You will be listed in the backer credits as a member of whichever faction is noted in your pledge tier. For example, if you pledge at the $15 USD level, you will be listed as a member of the Jade Brush School. Your name can appear however you wish. You may decline this reward if you prefer not to have your name in the book.
Shipping fees are not included as part of your Kickstarter pledge. Shipping will be calculated and collected after the campaign ends (using Backerkit). The estimated shipping fees are as follows:
- Estimated shipping for a softcover book sent within the United States is $3-5 USD.
- Estimated shipping for a hardcover book sent within the United States is $5-7 USD.
- Estimated international shipping for a softcover book is $8-12 USD.
- Estimated international shipping for a hardcover book is $10-14 USD.
We have two deluxe tiers available, each of which is limited to 1 backer.
$700 USD - Eight Petals Dancer - You will receive 4 signed hardcover copies of Hearts of Wulin (with free shipping anywhere in the world) and all digital rewards, be invited to detail an NPC that will go in the book, be invited to detail a faction that will go in the book, and co-author Agatha Cheng will run 4 online sessions of the game for you and 3 of your friends. Sessions will be scheduled for 3 hours each and will be organized no earlier than October 2019. You will be listed in the backer credits as Eight Petals Dancer. Note: please be mindful of timezone differences before pledging at this tier. If you live in a timezone that is significantly different from the United States, please send us a message so we can confirm with Agatha she will be able to schedule a game with you. The authors may ask you to revise your NPC or faction idea in order to conform to the tone and premise of Hearts of Wulin. This tier is limited to 1 backer.
$1,300 USD - Moon-Sworn Heart - You will receive 4 signed hardcover copies of Hearts of Wulin (with free shipping anywhere in the world) and all digital rewards, be invited to detail an NPC that will go in the book, be invited to detail a faction that will go in the book, and co-author Lowell Francis will run 8 online sessions of the game for you and 3 of your friends. Sessions will be scheduled for 3 hours each and will be organized no earlier than October 2019. You will be listed in the backer credits as Moon-Sworn Heart. Note: please be mindful of timezone differences before pledging at this tier. If you live in a timezone that is significantly different from the United States, please send us a message so we can confirm with Lowell he will be able to schedule a game with you. The authors may ask you to revise your NPC or faction idea in order to conform to the tone and premise of Hearts of Wulin. This tier is limited to 1 backer.
We have planned a slate of exciting book upgrades and digital stretch goals for the Hearts of Wulin campaign. Below is a list of announced and unlocked stretch goals.
- $10,000 USD - Book Upgrade #1: Magic and the Supernatural - UNLOCKED
- $12,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #1: The Trial of Many Venoms by Jason Cordova - UNLOCKED
- $15,000 USD - Book Upgrade #2: Full-color interior - UNLOCKED
- $17,000 USD - Book Upgrade #3: Combat Choreography by Eli Kurtz and Eric Farmer - UNLOCKED
- $20,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #2: San Francisco, 1905 by Banana Chan -UNLOCKED
- $23,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #3: Shadow of Joseon by Clio Yun-su Davis
- $26,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #4: Fight Me IRL by James Mendez Hodes
- $29,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #5: Le coeur de l'épée by Catherine Evans
- More stretch goals to be announced as the campaign continues!
Stretch goal details:
$10,000 USD - Book Upgrade #1: Magic and the Supernatural - UNLOCKED At this level we will expand our section on magic and the supernatural. This will include new roles, playbook options, and custom moves for handling xianxia tropes and beyond. We’ll consider the world of monsters and spirits in Chinese culture. This section will look at how wuxia movies like Painted Skin, White Snake, and A Chinese Ghost Story deal with these elements. We’ll also talk about how to define “magic” in these stories—what constitutes a martial talent and what defines sorcery. We’ll examine how ideas like Taoist Mages and Evil Sorcerers have been presented in history as well as in stories like Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils and The Bride with White Hair. Finally, we’ll present ways to handle high magic settings and the world of gods and devils shown in tales like Zu Warriors and Ice Fantasy. This book upgrade will apply to the PDF rulebook, softcover rulebook, and hardcover rulebook rewards.
$12,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #1: The Trial of Many Venoms - UNLOCKED At this level, we will publish Jason Cordova's much-loved Hearts of Wulin scenario, The Trial of Many Venoms:
Gilded Eel, leader of the notorious Many Venoms Sect, has summoned the greatest warriors in the empire to his island compound for a tournament of assassins! What does he hope to accomplish by pitting the world's most skilled martial artists against each other? And why hold a tournament now, in the middle of the succession crisis roiling the Imperial City? All will be revealed in... The Trial of Many Venoms!
Jason Cordova (He/Him) is the founder of The Gauntlet gaming community, co-hosts several well-regarded TTRPG podcasts, and has run no fewer than 16 playtest sessions of Hearts of Wulin. He understands the game like few others do, and The Trial of Many Venoms will reflect that experience. In addition to setting details and important NPCs, the scenario will include custom moves and procedures for using Hearts of Wulin to tell the story of a martial arts tournament.
$15,000 USD - Book Upgrade #2: Full-color interior - UNLOCKED At this level, we will be able to upgrade the interior artwork and graphic design to be full-color. This book upgrade will apply to the PDF rulebook, softcover rulebook, and hardcover rulebook rewards.
$17,000 USD - Book Upgrade #3: Combat Choreography - UNLOCKED What makes a good fight? Eli Kurtz (he/him) and Eric Farmer (he/him), hosts of the Jianghu Hustle podcast, present a guide to the narrative and choreographic fuel behind wuxia violence and how to bring out the best of it at your table. In this stretch goal, they provide the tools to describe thrilling combat arcs within the melodramatic context of Hearts of Wulin. Not familiar with wuxia media? Never studied stage combat? No problem! Eli and Eric are here to provide the training you seek! This book upgrade will apply to the PDF rulebook, softcover rulebook, and hardcover rulebook rewards.
$20,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #2: San Francisco, 1905 - UNLOCKED If we can hit this target, the amazing Banana Chan will write a historical scenario that re-contextualizes the game for turn-of-the-century San Francisco:
It's 1905 in San Francisco, a year before the earthquake tore buildings and businesses apart in Chinatown. Immigrants to this new world moved here to find a better life, but were met with persecution and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Still recovering from the bubonic plague from prior year, Chinatown's people are trying to rebuild what little they have, while surviving the police brutality and the Tong Wars that brewed crime and violence.
Setting touch points: Warrior (TV show)
Content warnings: Racism, assimilation, colonization, gang violence, classism, (potential CW) drug use, (potential CW) sex work
$23,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #3: Shadow of Joseon - If we can hit this target, the talented Clio Yun-su Davis will write a scenario that re-contextualizes the game to take place in historic Korea:
Shadow of Joseon is set during the Joseon dynasty, when tensions between the aristocracy and the citizens they abuse are at at a peak, but hope glimmers on the horizon in the form of outlaws, outsiders, and nobles willing to use their privilege for the greater good. Bands of fighters steal from the rich to give to the poor, but sometimes clash with each other as well. A child king goes on the run until the time comes to reclaim his stolen throne, but soldiers scour the country in search of him, destroying the lives of any who stand in their way. The battle-scarred seek revenge for betrayals that occurred in the heat of the second Manchu invasion, even if it means they will never return to their families. Those who attempt to take a stand against corruption must be willing to sacrifice everything, though their hearts may be pulling them to the homes they left behind or those they would make a future with.
$26,000 USD - Digital Stretch Goal #4: Fight Me IRL - If we can hit this target, James Mendez Hodes will write a cyberpunk scenario for the game:
Mendez's cyberpunk take on Hearts of Wulin draws on modern trends of globalization and commercialization in the martial arts to portray a jianghu under attack. How can youxia keep their passions and traditions alive in a world where cultural appropriators teach stolen secrets to clienteles of thousands via social media? Will bionic augmentations expand accessibility to a world of strenuous physical demands, or concentrate violent power in technocrats' grasp? And what new allies and rivals hail from the rivers and lakes of Africa, the Americas, and Oceania?
$30,000 - Digital Stretch Goal #5: Le coeur de l'épée - If we can hit this target, Catherine Evans will write a scenario that re-contextualizes the game to take place in a historic French setting:
This interpretation is inspired by stories like The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Dangerous Liaisons. It preserves the character-driven melodrama at the core of Hearts of Wulin but gives it a costume change, placing it in fabulous rococo garb. Romance still cuts like a blade, friendship twists and turns, tested by shifting alliances and conflicts of duty, duels still settle conflicts of honour. However, the action moves to sailing ships and ballrooms, martial arts become cinematic, swashbuckling acts of derring-do, clans become court factions and secret cabals, and the seeds of revolution against the decadent nobility begin to bear fruit as heroes rise up to oppose them.
Your personal history and romantic relationships still form the core of your Entanglements, but you’ll see some different elements too. You might face a worthy foe in the form of your Nemesis—perhaps a sibling or a friend, a dark reflection of yourself; encounter some different takes on the playbooks (you may not find many Wandering Monks, or Travelling Sifus, but you’ll get to meet the Veteran, the Highwayman and the Courtesan); and find some different kinds of Inner Conflict to explore through family obligations or the conflict of science and religion.
Social Stretch Goals
We also have several stretch goals that are tied to social media sharing targets.
- 100 Facebook Shares - Book Upgrade #4: Expanded Scenario Starters
- 100 Twitter Re-tweets - Play Aids #1: Folio Playbooks
- More social stretch goals to be announced as the campaign continues!
Social stretch goal details:
100 Facebook Shares - Book Upgrade #4: Expanded Scenario Starters - We currently have 18 campaign and scenario starter hooks that will be part of the core rulebook. If we can hit this social media goal, we will double that number and add tables to generate random trappings and details. To help us reach this goal, please share the following post on Facebook:
100 Twitter Re-tweets - Play Aids #1: Folio Playbooks - If we can reach this social media goal, we will create a set of multi-page pdf playbook folios. These will include the basics, plus discussion of what the playbook is about, basic moves, model characters, appropriate entanglements, discussion of the playbook moves, and journal space for long-term character play. These fully laid-out folios will let face-to-face GMs running a campaign give their players complete table resources plus a game journal for their characters. To help us reach this goal, please re-tweet the following tweet:
"I've been lucky enough to play games of Hearts of Wulin with a few different GMs, as well as running a game myself. The game has consistently delivered tonally solid, genre-appropriate games, while still allowing for strong GM and player voices. The way duelling and other displays of martial mastery work gives space for dynamic, descriptive combat, while keeping meaningful choices on the table. But the heart of the game for me are the rules around character entanglements and interactions which ensure that for all the high production-value action scenes, this is a game based around people and their melodramatic lives, not simply action heroes."
"Hearts of Wulin is a game about wuxia drama. More than that, it is a game about people—about people torn between tradition and desire, between duty and fate, always looking for that one good thing that would elevate them and utterly destroy them at the same time. Yes, it is that melodramatic. It is over the top with almost anything, and then—suddenly—there is a quiet meditation, and some wise words flowing like water, and it seems that balance and even happiness might be achieved. And lest I forget, the action parts of the game are amazing. Elegant, slim, unique, fights are like dances. 'A fight is a conversation', the game says, and sometimes it’s just a short, barked command at some ruffians, at other times an intense game of lies and intrigue, and sometimes even a love song. Go. Play this game. Fall in love with it. Like I did. "
"The richness that comes from the fiction of Hearts of Wulin stems from an arrangement of innovative mechanics that have been meticulously iterated upon to make it a game you must experience for yourself. It represents the cutting edge of a new wave of design work; one which breathes new life in the space."
-Fraser Simons, author of The Veil RPG
"Hearts of Wulin is a joyous exercise in capturing the heart and soul of a beloved media genre in the the sublime form of a well-designed roleplaying game. Lowell and Agatha have seamlessly blended action, romance, humor, pathos, and a deep appreciation of source material ranging from classic Shaw Brothers films to modern serialized TV dramas, to produce a dynamic play experience that'll make great stories even if you're only passingly familiar with those works."
-Jim Crocker, JimLikesGames.com
"Hearts of Wulin has all the things you could want in a narrative game of wuxia melodrama: heartbreaking entanglements, breathtaking duels between masters of their art, and moves that let you easily create a character from any corner of the wuxia spectrum. I have played this game more than a little, and it has never failed to deliver awesome battles, heart-wrenching personal conflicts, and the best melodrama in any game I've played."
"I played Quan, a simple man who swept the temple. The spirit of the order's founder lived inside Quan's broom... and they were in love. Our short series climaxed at a wedding with switched brides and a massive battle with ghosts. Hearts of Wulin sets up complex relationships, bizarre love triangles, and fierce rivalries, then supports the exploration of those relationships through action and drama."
-Lu Quade, co-Producer of the Fear of a Black Dragon podcast
Video: Actual play from Gauntlet Con 2018
Agatha Cheng (She/Her) is the co-author and cultural consultant for Hearts of Wulin. Outside of furiously researching for this game, she is a writer, cultural consultant, and co-host of the Asians Represent podcast. She loves story games, Chinese web-novels, and dark chocolate.
Lowell Francis (He/Him) is the co-author of Hearts of Wulin. He co-hosts The Gauntlet Podcast and records multiple Gauntlet Hangouts ttrpg sessions each week. His blog, Age of Ravens, won the Silver ENnie for Best Blog in 2017 and is now part of The Gauntlet Blog. He has worked on comics including Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard and DC Comics's Flashpoint: Project Superman. He knows Laughing in the Wind isn't the best wuxia TV drama, but he loves it the most.
Minerva Fox (She/Her) is the principal illustrator for Hearts of Wulin and is drawn to the fantastical and high-drama of the wuxia genre. Influenced by manga and western comics alike, she enjoys using ink and marker to bring hers and other people’s ideas to life. You can find her work in Codex, a monthly zine by The Gauntlet, Vigor RPG, and Dino Wranglers. In addition, you can watch her process live on Twitch on Mondays and Thursdays (@blue_troller).
Stretch Goal Authors
Eli Kurtz (He/Him) and Eric Farmer (He/Him) are the co-hosts of the Jianghu Hustle podcast. Eric is also a game designer, best known for the Trash Pandas tabletop RPG. Eli, in addition to several tabletop RPG credits, is a martial arts instructor.
Banana Chan (She/Her/They/Them) is a roleplaying game (tabletop and larp) designer, as well as the owner of the board game publishing company Game and a Curry. Banana has written for TTRPGs such as 7th Sea: Khitai, Kids on Bikes, and The North Sea Epilogues. Her larp work includes They’re Onto Me (winner of the 2016 Golden Cobra Challenge for Best Pervasive Larp), which was published in The Imposters anthology, Grimasques (published in Itras By: The Menagerie), and Zero (published in RESISTOR). Game and a Curry is the publisher of Yeah! Diamonds and Judge Dredd: Block War.
Clio Yun-su Davis (They/Them/She/Her) is a game designer and writer who creates larps, tabletop roleplaying games, interactive fiction games, and card games. Their freeform game The Long Drive Back from Busan won the Golden Cobra Challenge award for Best Game That Incorporates Meaningful, Non-Romantic Relationships in 2017, and their game about the future of ancestor worship, The Truth About Eternity, was presented at Fastaval 2019 in Denmark.
James Mendez Hodes (He/Him) is a martial artist, cultural consultant, professional game master, writer, editor, and poet whom you might know from role-playing games such as 7th Sea, Scion, and Thousand Arrows; or from essays like “Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth” and “May I play a character from another race?” He has an academic background in West African religion, Eastern classics, dance, and English literature. His interests include hip hop, weird invertebrates, and collecting stuffed animals. He lives in the greater New York metropolitan area on traditional Lenape land.
Cat Evans (@perpetualgloom on Twitter, She/Her) has been in love with hacking RPGs since she and a friend turned the World of Darkness rules into a down-and-dirty, low magic, game of fantasy mercenaries. These days she writes mostly for Dungeons & Dragons, but pops up in other places, too. All of her creations are sculpted out of hard choices, difficult consequences, and tragic romance.
Risks and challenges
The biggest risk for this project is simply that this is our team's first standalone game, and we may run into complications that a more seasoned team would know to avoid. Another risk is that our estimated shipping fees may be out of date by the time we go to print. We have taken several steps to ensure we can overcome these potential challenges and complete this project. First, we have avoided adding too many physical rewards to the project. Things like dice and cards add greatly to the cost and complexity of a project, and we have chosen to forego such things so we can stay focused on the book. Second, we are working closely with the publishing team at The Gauntlet, who have been publishing the successful Codex zine on a monthly basis for the last 2.5 years. That team understands how to get high quality work finished on time and under budget. Finally, we are working with Samjoko, who have produced and shipped a number of successful books, including The Veil RPG line, Hack the Planet, and more. We will be relying on Samjoko's experience when it comes to working with printers and international shippers. We feel confident we will be able to complete the project on time.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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