Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Okko: the Cycle of Water by Hub

While at Gen Con this year, one of the things I picked up was Okko, the Cycle of Earth and the Cycle of Air, both by Hub, sold through the Archaia both. They had a deal where it was buy one get one free and as these are sturdy hardcovers, the cover price of $19.95 seemed more than fair for two of them. I was so enthralled with them, that I immediately ordered the the Cycle of Water, which was waiting for me by the time I made it back to Chicago.

I'd heard of Okko before. Thinking back on it, it was during my numerous trips to Games Plus where I first saw it, but it was in a miniature game format there. The figures always looked interesting but since I wasn't playing anything that would require them, and I have a ton, perhaps more, or miniatures, I always passed on them.

But reading? Hell, I could read that with no problem, especially in a graphic novel format.

So what is Okko about? A group of, well, they're not all quite friends, but allies in some aspects with Okko, the demon queller, serving as the master of the group, go about Pajan, that is not a misspelling, and take care of demons and other supernatural entities.

After reading the thee graphic novels, I am more fist shaking at the skies then before that I didn't have material such as this to inspire my Oriental Adventurers and Legend of the Five Rings games.

In the first volume, The Cycle of Water, which by the way, I'm going to start spolier alerts now so read no further if you wish to remain unaware of what's coming....

Anyway, in the first collection, Okko and his friend Noburo, an oversized warrior who always has a red demonic mask on, is visiting Little Carp, a young Geisha, who Noburo informs her, is preganent. During the night, the house is attacked and Little Carp taken away. Here we see something resembling a hencheman coming into play as Tikku offers his service to Okko if he will rescue his sister, Little Carp.

This is a standard of some stories where the characters have the action brought to them. If the players are sitting around too much, doing too much role playing with the weapon smith and the tavern keeper, have something happen. Force them to engage the setting.

During the investigation to find Little Carp, we are given some glimpses into the setting. This includes visiting Tagakka Uchi, the port of the hundred Morays, and upon that, a trip to the Red Lotus, "the most infamous and dangerous casino in the city.". We also get to see what sets this setting apart from merely being 'Japan' with some misspellings in the form of a demonic water creature that Okko has killed, a summoning of a water spirit, and a combat 'Bunraku', a so called 'puppet' which is actually similiar to a giant robot piloted from within.

Okko and his allies manage to do a lot of investigating in a little time at the Red Lotus. This involves looking around the massive casino, finding secret passages, and finding an abaitor pit in the heart of the casino. One of the things that happens though, is that their 'stealth' is blown early because Noburo, being a masked giant of a man, is quite easy to spot and quite distinctive.

This is something that the GM should keep in mind with the players in his own game. While some players, especially those of rogues or rangers, prefer to stay out of the limelight with dirty grimy cloaks, the fighters, paladin, clerics, and mages, often have very distinctive clothing, weapons, and reputations. If the players are looking for information by those on the run, and they carry such distinguishing marks with them, make things a little more difficult for them.

The next thrust of the adventure takes place on an island. In fantasy role playing games, islands work fantastic to provide some weird things because they are isolated from the main land and can have vastly different rules and structures. In this case, Here, the island is ruled by the Satorror Clan, the rulers of the northern archipelagoes. An ancient, and supposedly dead clan...

The author makes good use of the characters here in providing more challenges and more story.

The drunken monk for example, seeks spiritual guideance, but in exchange, must rebuild the temple left to rot.

The warrior Okko himself, tests out the head samurai here and manages to get a look around the compound.

The giant manages to fit in with the other commoners, finding out details of what else is happening.

Tikku, being new to the whole thing of being an adventurer, does some unofficial scouting of his own and gets a brand upon his forehead of the thief. This brand is a permanent mark and is noted on in later issues. When looking at the cost of failure, I've mentioned before that death does not have to be the only alternative. Having something happen that marks the players, is one way to move the story forward with a complication, but still move the story forward. Perhaps the mark is common and everyone knows it. Perhaps the mark is more obscure and only a select group of people know of it.

In a game like Hero, this would be a distinctive feature and be worth points. In GURPS, or at least the last version I played, while it's still a distinctive feature, earning one during game play provides no points. In class and level based games, such earned scars and marks often do not have any game play mechanics to them but the role playing opportunities can be huge. If nothing else, they are a point of conversation starters for those various nights adventurerers spend at the taverns.

Another twist is that in the battle between the giant and the puppet, our giant masked warrior finds even his strength isn't enough to overcome a giant robot and has to use different tactics. In 4e, some skill checks to provide ideas on how to beat a puppet, even a combat one, might lead to what happens in the comic. In this case, it's a chase to wear the driver down, and then a sneak attack to knock the puppter off a ledge and crush the drivers inside the machine. While 4e skill checks can be some what odious at times, the ability to do things that only combat mechanics would result in failure, is a nice change of pace and does allow the players to use a larger variety of skills.

In the end, it turns out that the enemies Okko faces are a pair of pennagolans (in D&D they're the vampire undead creatures that are just heads with organs) who seek to create a child. To do so, they needed a woman that was already preganent because of their undead nature.

After Okko and his comrades defeat the undead, Okko reads up on the notes of the Lady of the house and discovers their ties to the Red Lotus, and where they originally came from. By putting the details in the back, the author allows the characters to pursue the information at their own leisure. In D&D or other action oriented games, this is a fine possibility, while in a game like Call of Cthulhu, whose nature is mostly centered around investigation, it might be better to have those documents found earlier.

Okko brings together a varied cast of characters in a manner that would work well for any role playing game. By making them demon hunters, the Game Master can avoid a lot of the whole clan and hnor issue that can drag down  certain aspects of OA style games and focus on the demon hunting and exploring a setting different than the standards.

If you're running a fantasy game, especially something like Legend of the Five Rings, Okko is a visual inspiration with a solid story running through it.