IGC COMPETITION ENTRY
2(a). Conflict Resolution
2(b). Combat & Damage
3(c). The 12 Zodiacs
4(a). The Four Acts
4(b). The Mountain Witch
4(c). The Witch's Minions
The Mountain Witch was originally written for the "Son of Iron Game Chef" (IGC) RPG design contest, held at the Forge website in April of 2004. The IGC competition challenged designers to write a complete fantasy role-playing game in under a week, using at least three of the four following elements: Ice, Dawn, Island, and Assault.
Though the text includes the addition of a Foreword, this version presents the original competition entry, unchanged except for necessary formatting, grammatical and spelling corrections.
The game in its original competition entry form is playable as-is, though it definitely has some rough edges. For example, in the original version no rules for group conflict resolution were given. The final chapter, “Running the Game,” suffered greatly from the time constraint of the contest, and was significantly underdeveloped. During playtesting after the contest, it was discovered that the Fate “You Will Fail Your Best Friend” was largely broken, and that the Trust mechanics needed to be tweaked in order to achieve the intended effect. Admittedly, the original text can also be hard to follow, and suffers from a mass of unnecessary and complicated jargon.
But even with its rough edges, the original version still stands on its own. The system as a whole is extremely focused and fits very tightly with the premise and setting. The combination of player-created Fates, Trust, and the simplified though sometimes brutal resolution system, promotes a game that is rich in interpersonal conflict between characters, and brings the issues of friendship and trust to the forefront of play.
This version of The Mountain Witch, which is presented free to the public, will remain as it stands, permanently. Developments and updates to the game system have been incorporated into the official published version. This version is meant to give audiences a glimpse into the design process of a finished game, as well as pay tribute to the creativity and quality that can be accomplished in just a single week.
Special thanks goes out to Mike Holmes who judged and organized the IGC competition, the Forge, and all the people who commented and playtested the game after its initial entry in the IGC.
As you watch the night sky start to gray over what appears to be a sea of clouds, you recall how you ended up on top of the icy slopes of Mount Fuji. As a ronin, you were use to a hard and lonely life, traveling from village to village, looking for whatever employment you could find. So naturally, when you were approached this time you quickly accepted the offer, though not fully realizing what you were getting into. Now you find yourself on top of this cold rock preparing for an assault on the Mountain Witch himself, along side a group of men you neither know nor want to know. Men who all carry a similar story as yourself.
Who knows what the dawn of this day will bring? How will desperate men incapable of trust react when the only means of survival is to rely on each other?
1(a). WHAT IS "THE MOUNTAIN WITCH?"
The Mountain Witch is a single RPG adventure in which the players take on the roles of ronin, masterless samurai in mythical medieval Japan, who have been hired to attempt an assault on the Mountain Witch of Mount Fuji. The characters may have different reasons for accepting the task, but what they share is that they have all been disenfranchised from their former lives and from society. They also have all grown desperate from the difficulties of their lives, and hope that the payoff from this adventure will finally allow them to regain whatever life they have lost. The characters do not know each other prior to the adventure, and are most likely leery of the new company. What's more, the characters all carry their own dark secret, that when revealed, will test their own courage and the newly formed trust of the company.
The Mountain Witch mixes elements from Japanese mythology, horror, and gangster heist movies to create a dark samurai fantasy about trust, betrayal, and overcoming one's fate.
The Mountain Witch explores the themes of trust and fate, and asks the question: “In the face of Fate, how will desperate men incapable of trust react when the only means of survival is to rely on each other?”
1(b). WHAT DO YOU NEED TO PLAY?
Players: The Mountain Witch is designed for 3-6 players + GM. (Though it's possible to play with more players if you double-up the Fates ).
Dice: Each player, including the GM, should have their own 1d6. Also, it's helpful (but not required) to have an altogether minimum total of 6 dice, for the purpose of resolving duels [see section 2(b) for details on dueling].
Character Sheets: Each player is required to have a character sheet. Players may use any piece of paper for this, though print-ready character sheets can be found in the appendix. [See chapter 3 for more details on character creation.]
Fate Cards: The various Fates should be be written out on cards of some sort for distribution between the players. It is suggested that index cards be used for this, though print-ready Fate cards can be found in the appendix. [See section 3(c) for more details on Fates.]
Pencils: Does this even need to be said? Obviously, you should have a few pens or pencils at hand to write notes and keep track of various conditions that might be imposed on the characters throughout the course of the adventure.
1(c). PLAYING THE GAME
Types of Players
The Mountain Witch follows the traditional player-GM split.
Players:The role of the players is to drive the story. Players each control an individual character of their own creation, as well as certain key NPC's, monsters, or events specifically related to their character's Fate [see section 2(b) for more details concerning Fate].
Game Master (GM): One unique player is given the title of GM. The GM's role is to support the player's attempt to create a story. The GM sets the scene for the player's to interact with, and in doing so controls the environment, NPC's, and monsters [except for key elements specifically related to a character's Fate [again, see section 2(b) for more details concerning Fate]. The GM also controls scene framing.
Actual play consists of the players describing the actions of their characters while the GM describes the environment and the actions of any NPC's or monsters. This narration is generally run freeform, meaning any player is allowed to jump in at anytime and declare the actions of their characters. Players may declare any action within the plausible capabilities of their character.
This freeform narration is only broken when the character approaches some event, NPC, or object that can potentially cause a conflict of some sort with the character's goals or intent. At this time a conflict roll is called. When a conflict roll is called, the roll is resolved and the consequences are narrated before regular freeform narration continues. [See section 2(a) for more details on conflict resolution.]
Between scenes there is also a short intermission where players evaluate their current levels of Trust. [See section 2(c) for more details on Trust.]
Creating “Story”: Play should follow this pattern: The GM should open the scene by laying out the situation to the Players. The Players are then free to decide how they want to react. After the situation is resolved, by playing off the choices the players just made, the GM segways into the next scene in a manner that raises the dramatic tension. In this manner, the players are the primary drive behind the story.
2(a). CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Fortune-in-the-middle, opposed roll [ 1d6 vs. 1d6 ] between player and GM (or if appropriate, between players), roll-over with degree of success (the GM's roll is subtracted from the player's, positive outcomes indicate player success of some sort, while negative rolls indicate failure). A conflict is concerned with the intent or goals of the characters, as opposed to physical actions or tasks.
What Constitutes a Conflict & When is a Roll Required? A “conflict” indicates any situation where the characters must overcome opposition or resistance to achieve their goals. It can take the form of both active opposition from living creatures, or resistance from some non-living or static challenge. With confronting living creatures, a conflict roll is required whenever their goals or intent conflicts with those of the characters. With non-living or static challenges, a roll is required whenever the challenge presents some some of active resistance or when there is cost associated with failing your goal.
Initiating a Conflict: When the players approach a potential conflict, the GM should declare the intent or difficulties of the conflict. The players then declare how their characters are going to react to the conflict. In doing so, the players also determine the stakes of the conflict, meaning what is to be gained or lost.
Scope of a Conflict: Usually, a single conflict roll should determine the outcome of a single general goal or intent of a single character. A single goal/ intent may encompasses a number of individual physical actions. [See section 2(c) for details aiding characters in a conflict.]
Narrating Success & Failures
In general, the winner of a conflict narrates the consequences of that conflict. This most often means that players narrates any success, while the GM narrates any failure. Alternatively, other players not involved in the conflict may spend Trust points to narrate either the success or failure of the characters involved [see section 2(c) for details concerning Trust].
Degrees of Success
As implied, a tie results in a stale-mate. Neither party is able to make any headway towards their respective goals.
+/- 1: PARTIAL SUCCESS/ FAILURE
Neither party succeeds, but you gain either a partial success or failure.
Win-Lose: Alternatively, players (and only players, not the GM) may declare a Win-Lose. In a Win-Lose, both parties succeed. A Win-Lose may be declared after the contest roll is made, but must be declared before the narration is made.
Win-Lose with Advantages/ Complications: If the player prefers an advantage/ complication [see below], then a Win-Lose indicates that the player either succeeded but with a significant complication (positive roll) or failed with a significant advantage (negative roll).
+/- 2: MIXED SUCCESS/ FAILURE
You succeed regularly, but your opponent also scores a partial success (positive roll), or inversely your opponent succeeds regularly while you partially succeed (negative roll).
+/- 3: REGULAR SUCCESS/ FAILURE
The player succeeds or fails as intended.
+/- 4: MAJOR SUCCESS/ FAILURE
The player succeeds/ fails regularly and receives an additional partial success/ failure. This additional partial success/ failure entails is decided after the roll.
> +/- 5: DOUBLE SUCCESS/ FAILURE
The player receives two regular successes or failures. This additional success/ failure entails is decided after the roll.
Advantages & Complications: When appropriate, in lieu of normal success or failure, players may opt for advantages or complications (respectively). Advantages/ complications functionally act as (-1) modifiers to future rolls. How long this modifier stays in effect is dependent upon the degree of success. Advantages & complications are cumulative, meaning all modifiers are added together.
SMALL ADVANTAGE/ COMPLICATION (Partial Success/ Failure)
In lieu of a partial success/ failure, players may opt for a (+/- 1) modifier on their next action.
Flesh Wound: If appropriate, as an alternative to a small complication, players may opt for a flesh wound, an injury that functions the same as a small complication. [See section 2(b) for details on damage.]
SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE/ COMPLICATION (Regular Success/ Failure)
In lieu of a regular success/ failure, players may opt for a (+/- 1) modifier that lasts for one full scene.
Conditional Complication: Alternatively for complications, the complication may be declared conditional meaning the complication remains in effect until an appropriate action is taken to fix the complication.
Hurt: If appropriate, as an alternative to a significant complication, players may opt for a hurt, an injury that functions the same as a significant complication. [See section 2(b) for details on damage.]
Damage: When the appropriate consequence of a conflict is personal injury, characters take damage appropriate to the degree of success [see the next section, 2(b), for details on damage].
2(b). COMBAT & DAMAGE
Combat is run very much like normal play, with the players declaring the actions of their character in a freeform manner. (Note, if all the characters are engaged in different fights, it might be helpful to pass the spotlight around between individual conflicts to aid in keeping all players engaged in the scene.) For the most part, combat is treated as any normal conflict, and follows all standard rules regarding resolution.
Dueling [Com'on, what's a samurai game without kewl duels?!?]
As an alternative form of combat, characters can initiate a duel with other NPC's (or other characters), if desired. A duel is defined as a (usually) clean, mutually agreed upon one-on-one fight. As in classic samurai tradition, a duel usually begins with the two characters starting at a distance before charging each other in an attempt to kill the other with a single strike.
A duel proceed as follows:
- The two dueling players begin by making a secret roll.
- After the roll is made, the players can either decide to charge or make another roll. If either player wants to charge, the other has no choice, the characters charge.
- If both players decide to make another roll, a second secret roll is made and added to the first roll. Again the players have the choice of charging or adding one last roll.
- If a third secret roll is made, it is final and the characters immediately charge.
- Whenever the characters charge, the players reveal the rolls, and damage is determined normally depending upon the total of all respective dice rolled.
[Note, when the dice are revealed, there's no rule saying players can't (unhonorably) declare some other course of action, given that they still adhere to the degree of success of the roll.]
If the duel does not kill one of combatants, play continues as normal and the players are free to declare any course of action they want. Players can decide to initiate a normal fight, duel again with the opponent, or any other desired action.
Whenever the appropriate consequence of of a conflict is personal injury (as is case most often in combat), losing the conflict means taking damage in lieu of normal failure. Functionally, damage acts as a simple (-1) modifier to future contest rolls. How long this modifier stays in effect is dependent upon the severity of the injury (ie, degree of success). Damage is cumulative, meaning all modifiers from any injuries are added together.
What is Damage? Most often, damage means a literal physical injury of some sort; though damage can also be interpreted figuratively, given that the character still receives the appropriate modifier. (For example, a flesh wound [see below] can be interpreted to mean that the character was thrown off-balance, or a hurt could mean that the character's weapon was destroyed and they must find a new one.)
Types of Damage According to Degree of Success
Again, a tie results in a stale-mate with both parties remaining unharmed.
-1: FLESH WOUND (Slight Failure)
You take a (-1) on your next action.
Simultaneous Attack (Win-Lose): In lieu of a flesh wound, players (and only players, not the GM) may declare a simultaneous attack. With a simultaneous attack, the character takes a hurt, but gains a success. As with a Win-Lose, a simultaneous attack may be declared after the roll is made, but before narration.
-2: MUTUAL INJURY (Mixed Failure)
You take a flesh wound [(-1) for one action], but also gain a small advantage.
-3: HURT (Regular Failure)
Generally, a hurt inflicts a (-1) on all rolls for a full scene, but alternatively, the duration of the damage may be based on some special condition. This means, the damage remains until some special action (whatever that may entail) is taken to heal it [see below].
-4: INJURY (Major Failure)
You take a (-1) on all rolls for the rest of the adventure.
> -5: TAKEN OUT (Extreme Failure)
The character is functionally taken out of the adventure. This could mean the character is killed, but alternatively the character may simply be incapacitated (in which case the other characters will need to tend to him... or not).
Recovering from Damage
Flesh Wound: Recovering from a flesh wound is automatic after the character's next action, meaning it does not require some special “healing” or “bandaging” action. (Note, a flesh wound affects the character's next action regardless of when that next action occurs, even if that action takes place in a later scene.)
Normal Hurt: In the event of a normal hurt, the wound automatically heals after a full scene. This means, if the wound is inflicted near the beginning of the scene, then the wound heals at the start of the following scene. Overwise, the wound heals at the end of the following round.
Conditional Hurt: If the hurt is conditional [as outlined above], then the wound automatically heals whenever the appropriate action is taken. This action may be performed immediately (if appropriate) or if required, the character may be forced to suffer the wound for multiple scenes while waiting for an opportunity to heal the damage.
Injury: Injuries cannot be healed, they remain for the duration of the adventure.
Recovering After Being Taken Out: If a character is taken out but lives, at the start of each following scene (note, the character must remain incapacitated for at least 1 full scene) the character may attempt to recover by making a conflict roll.
- If the player rolls a regular success, the character recoveries but with a double injury [(-2) for the rest of the adventure].
- If a double success is rolled, the character recoveries with only a regular injury (-1).
- If a regular failure is rolled, the character's condition worsens, and the character receives a (-1) on all future attempts at recovery (until a successful recovery, that is).
- If a double failure is rolled, then the character dies and is completely removed from the game.
If another character possess an appropriate ability, they may aid the incapacitated character's recovery. An aided character gains a (+1) in future recovery attempts (until a successful recovery, that is). Incapacitated characters may only be aided once.
It is important to note that inflicting harm is different from receiving damage yourself. In general, inflicting harm is treated the same as normal conflict resolution. However, different creatures have different levels of strength, meaning different resistance to injury. The strength of various creatures is listed in the description of those creatures [see section 4(c) for creature descriptions].
A regular success is required to take out the creature. A partial success against the creature indicates a hurt [(-1) for a scene].
A major success is required to take out an able creature. A regular success indicates a hurt [(-1) for a scene], while a partial success indicates a flesh wound [(-1) for one action].
These creatures follow the same damage rules as player characters, meaning the damage rules outlined above.
How did you let yourself get pulled into this mess? Oh yes, the money. Lots of money. You were told that there was a sum of money for the group of men that defeated the Witch, a sum large enough to set you up for a long time. A sum large enough to finally let you settle down and forget this endless drifting. Funny, though, the thought that first popped into your head. "If anyone doesn't make it, that's just more money for myself."
What's also funny was your second thought: "I'm sure everyone else is thinking the same thing."
Trust is an important theme that should be explored throughout the adventure. Trusting others and working together makes tasks and survival easier, but putting too much faith in an individual may backfire. Other characters may purposely lead you astray, or may call in favors and force you to do things you don't want to.
Trust Levels & Trust Points
Each character has a separate numerical Trust rating for all other characters (ie, Trust levels). This rating describes the relationship between those individual characters. Specifically, this rating describes how much those other characters individually trust you.
These Trust levels are directly converted into Trust points, meaning that the current Trust level determines the number of Trust points the player may spend on the character in question in the current scene. (For example, a Trust level of 4 indicates that the character has 4 Trust points to spend that scene.) Trust points can be spent to influence the other players' characters, for both good or ill. [See below for more details on spending Trust points.]
Trust points for different characters work independantly of each other. Trust points do not add into some collective pool, Trust points can only be spent to influence the relevant character, meaning you cannot spend Trust points from one character on another (meaning, Trust points from character X can only be spent to influence character X, not character Y).
[In essence, the way Trust works is that other players grant you the ability (ie, Trust points/ levels) to influence their personal character.]
Trust points refresh at the start of each new scene according to current Trust levels. Any Trust points not spent at the end of the scene are voided, they do not carry over to the next scene.
Spending Trust Points
AIDING IN A CONFLICT (1 Trust Point)
When appropriate, a Trust point may be spent to aid the other character in a conflict. (This implies that the character must physically aid in the conflict.)When a character is aided, they receive an extra die that is added on top of their normal roll. Aiding must be declared before the roll is made. In the event that the combined roll still fails, the aiding character is not harmed, meaning the aiding character does not suffer the consequences of the failure.
NARRATING THE OTHER CHARACTER'S SUCCESS/ FAILURE (1 Trust Point)
At any time (it is not required that both characters be together), a Trust point may be spent to narrate the other character's success or failure. This may be declared after the roll, but obviously before narration.
INFLUENCE AN ACTION (Varies)
At any time, Trust points may be spent to influence or even force the other character to perform an action. In general, the cost is (1) Trust point for each individual action, but alternatively, the price can be set according to the impact the proposed action might have on the character. As a general guide for setting the cost, (1) point for a minor impact, (3) for a moderate impact, or (6) for a significant impact. The player whose character is being influenced may set the price.
Changing Trust Levels
Between each scene, the players are given the opportunity to evaluate their current levels of Trust. Players should evaluate each other character independently. Each player then takes a turn telling each other individual player how they are adjusting their Trust level. Players may either:
- If the player rolls a If a double success is rolled, the character recoveries with only a regular injury (-1).
- Raise their current level by 1.
- Keep their Trust at the current level.
- Or drop their Trust levels by any amount. If the player opts to drop their levels of trust, those levels remain lowered unless raised by normal methods (ie, 1 level per scene).
After every player has communicated how they are adjusting their Trust levels, and after everyone has updated their character sheets, normal play continues with the opening of the next scene.
Before the adventure can begin, the players must make their characters.
Should Character Creation Be an Individual or Group Undertaking? As outlined in the rules [see the next section, 3(b)], for reasons of suspense the first step in character creation, determining a character's fate, must necessarily be an individual decision, since a character's fate is suppose to remain secret from other players. But there is no rule that states that the rest of the character generation process must be approached individually, this decision is left for individual player discretion.
There are reasons why players would prefer both an individual or group-oriented character creation process. The group dynamics of the characters can have significant impact on the play experience for the players, and it's easier to get a coherent group if the character creation process is group-oriented. However, creating characters individually gives the players more freedom to tailor the character around their Fate.
Assumed Skills & Equipment: As samurai, characters are assumed to begin the game with a number of appropriate skills. These include unarmed and armed (sword, spear & bow) martial arts training, horsemanship, and the appropriate civilian skills, such as literacy and etiquette. It is also assumed that the character will carry with them a set of daisho, or in other words, a paired katana (longsword) and wakizashi (short sword). Other equipment can be acquired through the character's abilities [see section 3(d) for more information on abilities].
Steps in Making a Character
Step 1, Determine Fate: The first step in making a character involves determining the Fate of the character. The character's Fate will become a pivotal event in the adventure for that character, so the rest of the character creation process should be tailored around the Fate.
Step 2, Determine Zodiac Sign: The second step in character creation is deciding upon a Zodiac sign. A character's Zodiac acts as a springboard for the character's general personality, and also influences how others will react to the character.
Step 3, Choose Abilities: The third step involves choosing the character's unique abilities.
(Optionally) Step 4, Background & Description: If desired, a character can be rounded out by creating a background or personal description. Creating a background or personal description is generally optional, though some Fates do require a minimal back story. A character's background or personal description does not need to be written down, the player can simply keep it in his head (unless the player wants to write it down, of course).
The Character Sheet
Facts concerning a character are written on the (ubiquitous) character sheet. As stated in section 1(b), any sheet of paper may be used for a character sheet, though a print-ready form (along with Fate cards) can be found in the appendix.
- CHARACTER NAME
- DAMAGE, COMPLICATIONS, or ADVANTAGES:
- Flesh Wound (1 action)
- Hurt (1 scene)
- Injury (adventure)
- Character 1: (Trust Level): (Current Trust Points)
- Character 2: (etc.)
- Character 3: (etc.)
- TRUST: How Much You Trust Others
Restless but tired, you agree that the group should sleep one last time before attempting its unholy assault. As you slowly drift off, you are surprisingly greeted by memories of times past, memories of happiness and former loved ones that give your heart warmth atop this cold and desolate rock. But other memories slowly creep into your vision, memories of heartbreak, hardships, and betrayals. Memories of both others and yourself that you long sought to forget. As the warmth of your heart is slowly drowned in regret and despair, new and unknown visions begin your fill your sleep, visions that soon become nightmares. Visions of the Witch himself and the horrors that might await you.
What was that, a dream? Whatever it may be, you know it must be a bad omen. And judging from the tension and unease that seems to have fallen upon the party, you realize you must not have been the only one to be visited that night.
At the start of the game, each player is given a Fate. The purpose of Fate is to pose a question to both the the Fated character and to the other characters. Fates usually entail a betrayal of some sort. Players have a choice in how closely they want their character to follow their Fate, Fates do not necessarily mean that the character is helpless to resist them.
It is assumed that the character learned of their Fate through a dream the night before assaulting the Witch's Fortress.
Fate Cards: Before the game is started, the 6 Fates should be written on cards of some sort for distribution between the players. As stated in section 1(b), it is suggested that 3x5 index cards be used for this purpose. Fate cards in a print-ready form (along with character sheets) can be found in the appendix.
As the first step in the character generation process, the GM shuffles and deals out one Fate card to each player. Players should the Fate card, but they should keep their Fate secret from the other players. After each player is randomly dealt one Fate card, the players are given the option of exchanging their Fate card for another in the unused deck. [If there is conflict between who gets to exchange their card first, use a simple roll (highest to lowest) to determine order.] Players are allowed to look at all the cards in the unused deck before making their choice. In this way no two characters should have the same Fate.
After everyone is satisfied with their Fate, the GM announces which Fates are in play, though who holds which card remains secret.
“YOU WILL HAVE YOUR REVENGE”
Unknown to the others, one of the company owes you a blood debt. Will you seek to collect it or will the bonds formed of trust overcome the past?
Functionally: Simple enough, another character owes you their life (or at least you believe they do). You are allowed to declare the details of the past event and your true relationship to the character in question.
“A PAST ALLIEGENCE WILL CALL”
A past alliegence that you long fought to forget will soon call out for returned favors.
Functionally: You hold some sort of alliegence to a person or group. Often, this person or group is of an unsavory character and is now working with the Witch.
“YOU WILL FAIL YOUR BEST FRIEND”
When your loved ones needs you most you will surely fail.
Functionally: This Fate kicks in whenever a you build a Trust level around 5 or 6. You can either set up an appropriate situation artificially through narration, by you can simply denying the other character help when an appropriate situation naturally occurs.
“YOUR FEARS WILL COME TO LIFE”
That thought that lingers in the back of your mind and the image that prowls your nightmares will manifest.
Functionally: At some point a monster or supernatural event out of the characters fears will physically manifest.
“YOU HAVE MADE AN UNHOLY PACT, & WILL BE EXPECTED TO PAY”
You have made an unholy pact with the Witch himself, and he is a man of his word. He will deliver his end, but will expect the same from you.
Functionally: As stated, the character has made some pact with the Witch. What's important to note is that the Witch will deliver on his promise, at least initially.
“YOU TRUE MOTIVES WILL COME TO LIGHT”
Being one of the few (if not the only one) to truly know what lies ahead in the Fortress, you came not to kill the Witch, but to take from him. Will you stay with the company, or discard them when convenient?
Functionally: This Fate may entail simple greed, but it also involves some greater conspiracy.
Narrating & Controlling Fates
In general, players have total control over their Fate. Players determine what exactly their Fate entails, and usually control when and how their Fate is revealed (though under the some conditions the GM is allowed the option of calling the player out).The players are also allowed to narrate any NPC, monster, or environmental factor specifically related to their character's Fate. Players may also interpret their Fate as loosely as they desire.
3(c). THE 12 ZODIACS
The second step in creating a character involves choosing a Zodiac for the character.
Role-Playing the 12 Zodiacs: The Zodiac descriptions are meant as a springboard for how players should role-play their characters, and how characters should initially react to other characters. However, the degree to which the character should stick to the Zodiac description is left to player discretion.
Compatibility: Allies & Enemies: The various Zodiacs interact with each other differently. The associated “allies” and “enemies” are meant as compatibility descriptions, not literal allies or enemies. Characters begin the game with an extra point of trust towards allies, and (-2) points of Trust towards enemies.
Choosing a Zodiac: Players may determine Zodiac signs for their characters any way they wish, though no two players may share the same Zodiac, all characters must have a different sign. Players may simply choose a sign, or if there is conflict about which player gets to choose which Zodiac, the players can make roll for choice order (highest to lowest).
Charming, imaginative & ambitious. Though somewhat opportunist, Rats will work hard for their goals. They tend to be overly critical and are known for their quick tempers despite outward shows of control.
Allies: Dragon & Monkey
Patient, conservative, and methodical. Ox have a gift for inspiring confidence in others and tend to make good leaders. However, they also have a tendency for chauvinism and having one's own way.
Allies: Rooster & Snake
Though stubborn, hot-headed, selfish and slightly mean, Tigers are also courageous and tend to be deep thinkers capable of great sensitivity and sympathy for those they are close to and love.
Allies: Dog & Horse
Affectionate, obliging, pleasant. Rabbits are smooth talkers, talented, virtuous and reserved. They have exceedingly fine taste, but they also tend to be overly sentimental.
Allies: Ram & Boar
Intelligent, gifted and full of vitality, Dragons are healthy, energetic, excitable, short-tempered and stubborn. They tend to be perfectionists who must guard against making unduly demands. They are the most peculiar of the 12 signs.
Allies: Rat & Monkey
Charming, romantic, and deep thinkers, Snakes speak very little and possess tremendous wisdom. They are determined in what they do and hate to fail. It is often difficult for them to keep a sense of humor. They tend to be fortunate in money matters.
Allies: Ox & Rooster
Independent and hard workers, Horses are quick thinkers, wise and talented. Though skillful in paying compliments, they tend to talk too much. Horses have a tendency towards selfishness and are very impatient and egotistical.
Allies: Tiger & Dog
Elegant, artistic, and charming. Deeply religious, Rams are passionate in whatever they do and believe in, though they have a tendency to be pessimistic at times.
Allies: Rabbit & Boar
Erratic geniuses, Monkeys are inventive and original. They are clever and skillful in grand-scale operations and are able to solve the most difficult problems with ease. However, they must guard against being an opportunist and being distrustful of people.
Allies: Dragon & Rat
Hard working and shrewd, yet also extravagant. Roosters are dreamers who are always busy with their work. Having the habit of always speaking their minds, they are usually boastful and often take on tasks which are beyond their abilities.
Allies: Ox & Snake
Extremely honest and loyal, Dogs have a highly developed sense of duty and do their best in relationships with others. They know how to keep secrets but have a tendency to worry and find fault.
Allies: Tiger & Horse
Brave and intellectual, Dogs have tremendous inner strength. They are sincere and honest, but sometimes naive, expecting the same from others. They are short-tempered, yet hate to quarrel or have arguments.
Allies: Rabbit & Ram
As the last step in character creation, players are allowed to choose 3 abilities for the character. The word “ability” is used loosely, as an ability may include a physical ability, a special skill, a special weapon or item, or even a magic spell. Players are allowed to choose any plausible ability. The purpose of abilities is to broaden the character's capabilities, thus as a general guide players should avoid abilities that give an obvious inherent advantage.
As another general guideline, abilities should require activation of some sort, meaning abilities that are always active should be avoided.
Props: Certain equipment, such as a fan or straw hat, have no significant or tangible function. This type of item is referred to as a prop, and may simply be declared freely at the start of the game. Within reason, there is no limit to the number of props a character may carry.
Armor & Alternative Weapons: Since abilities are not intended to grant obvious advantages, players should be discouraged from selecting armor as an ability. However, if players are willing, armor can be accepted as a prop, meaning for flavor purposes only.
Likewise, if a player desires an alternative weapon for simple flavor reasons, then the character's assumed daisho may be exchanged for the alternative weapon. Note, weapons that grant some additional advantage or ability (such as a bow) may not be freely exchanged. Also, if the player desires an alternative weapon in addition to the assumed daisho, the player must use one of the character's abilities.
Magic Spells: Though players are allowed to select magic spells of any kind as an ability, players should remember that abilities are meant to broaden a character's capabilities, not create obvious advantages. In general, the scope of spells should be a single target, and the duration of a spell should not last more a single action. Spells that create a small advantage or complication if casted successfully are acceptable.
Examples of Abilities
The following is a sample of possible abilities, and in no represents an exhaustive list.
- Special Weapon: Spear or Bow
- Special Equipment: Rope, Matches
- Special Skill: First Aid, Arcane Lore
- Physical Ability: Superior Strength, Superior Hearing
- Magic Spell: Turn the Undead, Protect [(+1) for 1 action]
RUNNING THE GAME
4(a). THE FOUR ACTS
Once the characters are created and the players ready the adventure can begin. The game should take the form of 4 distinct acts.
Act 1: The Set-Up
In the opening Act, the players are given the set-up for the adventure and the characters are introduced. The act should open with the character standing on the mountain slopes shortly before dawn, ready to assault the Witch's fortress. The primary concern of this Act for the characters is entering the Fortress. Once the characters enter the fortress, the second Act begins.
The primary purpose of this act is to introduce the characters and the story. Players shouldn't worry too much about what happens in this Act.
Act 2: The Fortress
Once the fortress is entered, there's no turning back. The second Act follows the characters as they explore the fortress. In this act the minions of the Witch are introduced, and the feel and atmosphere of the fortress is established.
Functionally, the purpose of this Act is really just to allow the characters to develop their relationships and build dramatic tension before the next Act. During this Act, characters should begin building Trust, but at the same time begin to show signs of the character's future Fates.
The Witch in this act should remain fairly elusive. He may begin to make contact with the characters, but it either be through visions or through his minions. The purpose of the Witch's appearances should be to pull the characters closer to their Fates.
Act 3: Fate
The third act is mostly concerned with the explosion of the character's Fates. During this Act the characters should be in a fairly low emotional state, more concerned with dealing with their Fates than with the Witch.
Act 4: The Witch
The concluding Act follows the characters as they both confront the consequences of their Fates and the Witch himself. Regardless of how it is done, the characters should be driven to confront the Witch.
How should the story end? This really depends on how the players want to end the story. Some players may enjoy their characters slowly succumbing to the darkness of the Witch, while others may want to see their character vindicated by the death of the Witch.
4(b). THE MOUNTAIN WITCH
The Mountain Witch himself should be used more as an omnipresent force in the story than as a true “character” unto himself. His presence should be a thick weight felt throughout the fortress. The characters should feel his hand influencing events, even if he is not physically present. The players should always have the impression that the Witch's minions are following some sort of silent commands from the Witch.
If the characters do engaged him in a battle, he should use powerful magic to protect himself.
The Witch's Appearance and the Cold
How the Witch is physically portrayed is left for GM to decide. The Witch may be a man, a woman, he may change forms, or may the Witch not even be human at all. However, one elements that needs to be incorporated into any description of the Witch is the cold. The Witch is cold, both physically and figuratively. Any physical description should have him be either ice cold, covered in snow or ice, or possible even made of ice himself.
In fact, temperature itself inside the fortress should be related to Witch. As the characters get closer to the Witch and as the story progresses, the characters should feel the air get ever colder.
4(c). THE WITCH'S MINIONS
The Fortress of the Mountain Witch is a large, traditional Japanese fortress that sits right on the summit of Mount Fuji. Unless the characters want to scale an icy cliff, the Fortress is only approachable from the front. Once inside the fortress there is no turning back. Whether the fortress becomes a place of eerie beauty or supernatural nightmares, the GM should strive to give the fortress a life of its own. Just like all the creatures inside the fortress, the fortress itself is a servant of the Witch. In fact, the fortress is the Witch's greatest servant.
YUKI-ONNA (Winter Ghost)
Yuki-Onna is the Witch's mistress, a winter ghost who is able to cast a number of powerful spells. She is beautiful, but her body is frozen. She most often charms her victims, forcing them to either kill others or themselves. If needed, she can evaporate into a white mist and disappear.
The Witch has a giant that sleeps in a cave in the side of the mountain. If needed the giant will awake to defend the fortress.
Strength: Unbeatable. The giant is beyond a normal human's ability to harm.
Jikininki are undead corpse-eaters who feed on the dead bodies left by the other minions of fortress.
Japanese ogres. The Witch has a small squad of kijo that serve his command.
These are fierce guardian spirits that watch over the Witch himself.
Oni are demons that look like humans except that they have three eyes, big mouths, horns and sharp nails. They are able to fly and must often fight in a frenzy.
KUMO (Giant Spiders)
Kumo are giant spiders about the size of a man. When curled up o the ground, they appear like a pile of dirty clothes. They often lie as such waiting in ambush for their prey.
Tengu are creatures normally that prey on wanderers who stray too far from town at night. They normally live in the forests, but were drawn to the fortress by the Witch's power. They look like humans except for extremely long noses and beak-like mouths. Tengu are the generic mook of the fortress, plentiful in number but not too bright. But still, they are able fighters when they need to be.
Tokutaro-san is an enchanted doll. From a distance he looks like a normal boy, but closer it is revealed that he is made of clothe. He normally serves Yuki-Onna. Tokutaro-san will not directly engaged in a fight, but will do what he can to cause the characters trouble.
YASHA (Vampire Bat)
Yasha are undead, vampire bats about the size of a large bird. There are numerous yasha that live in the mountain under the power of the Witch.
"The Mountain Witch" & all text copyrighted 2004 by Timothy Kleinert, all rights reserved.
Text may not be reporduced, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author.
Illustrations copyrighted 2004 by Ethan Harper, used with permission.