With tentative plans to run a little Way of the Killshot playtest, I spent some time last week working on ninjas. It's what I love about this line of work. I get to sit around and play with ninjas all day. Then break for lunch.
While the playtest never worked out, it gave me the excuse to crack down on how I wanted my Killshot ninja to look and feel. During my initial research, I found out there are two versions of these historical assassins: actual and made-up. What we consider to be the quintessential ninja is a modern, mythological version dressed head to toe in black save for eye slits is pretty far from the truth. Real ninja disguised themselves as yamabushi, or pilgrims, and ambush their marks out in the open. They were more like suicide bombers of today than the masters of darkness rumors may them out to be. Luckily, Killshot is not about historical accuracy and I wanted to present the mythological ninja for this theme.
What I didn't expect was dabbling in the most obscure and unrealistic aspect of the ninja: magic. During my initial research into the ninja, plenty of references were made to the belief in their supernatural powers granted or taught to them by the tengu, half-man and half-crow mystics dwelling in the mountains. Even many modern films and stories portray them as magical beings able to disappear into thin air (even without the iconic smoke bomb) or heal massive amounts of damage with nothing more than meditation (as seen in the recent film, Ninja Assassin). Even in my first impression of the ninja as a child, the classic B-film American Ninja with Michael Dudikoff, he was able to vanish in plain sight by the end.
Some of the initial concepts for this theme involved an extensive fear mechanic which could then simulate magical effects. For example, when the ninja throws down a smoke bomb, it disorients the mark and causes him to panic at the thought of losing track of this dark assassin. When the smoke clears and the ninja has hidden behind a nearby pillar or furniture, the mark's panic increases tenfold into absolute fear and the ninja can capitalize on it for the final kill. Odds are this may have been the means to my eventual end on handling ninjas mechanically if it weren't for one teeny little thing.
Stages. For some reason - I'm not sure why - I want the four themes provided in Reloaded to increase in complexity as they're presented. Have each theme kind of one-up the other, you know what I mean? When I started stacking the themes in order, I was never truly sure where to place Way of the Killshot. On the surface, there's the historical aspect of these assassins and a deterrence from firearms and modern technology or even playing a type of assassin with a rigid structure and code. Even incorporating martial arts into the fold didn't seem to close the deal for me. No, there had to be something bigger and better. My instinct said this theme had to be the creme of the crop and demonstrate not only the possibilities of Killshot, but the endless limits to the Optional System.
Obviously, we're not talking about D&D spells here. Nor are we talking Ars Magica either. This is magic designed to augment the ninja for a special kind of talent which compliments the others. Not everyone will want to have a magical ninja and there shouldn't be a clear and concise reason for every ninja to have these powers. They have to work with the remaining options and not overpower. Plus, there has to be some form of historical connection making this form of magic truly the ninja's property. And I think I may have figured out a way.
Unfortunately, that seems to be all the time we have for today. Join us next time when I reveal the working draft of the ninja magical art of the Shinobi.