Cut-Fu is about kicking unholy ass with anything that chops, slices, or stabs. It’s about cutting the cardinal’s men to ribbons with a bow and a flourish! It’s about swinging from the rigging of your pirate ship while turning aside the blades of imperial soldiers. It’s about dispatching your old nemesis with a single, lightning stroke.
The first section of this Wushu guide covers the essentials: types of blades, basic fencing maneuvers, and cinematic stunts. Next, I’ll show you how to run one-on-one duels with the Wushu system, for all your Nemesis-slaughtering needs. Then, I’ll give you plenty of reasons to bring knives to gunfights, so you can incorporate blades into modern and sci-fi games. Finally, you’ll get to see Cut-Fu in action via some extended examples of play.
Soon, you’ll be a whirling dervish of steel and blood!
Wushu treats all weapons the same as far as tactical issues like damage, reach, and speed are concerned. That leaves you free to choose the weapon that best fits your character. To do that, though, you have to know how various types of bladed weapons are meant to be used...
These tiny terrors are as varied and numerous as all of their big brothers combined. They range from pocket-sized utility knives to massive bowie knives to slim sleeve daggers. Modern knife fighting techniques teach you to hold the blade forward, like you would a steak knife, and attack with quick jabs and slashes. Medieval techniques used an underhand grip, usually to stab downward through the ribcage and into the heart. You can also use a dagger with a long sword, as an off-hand parrying weapon, and they’re easy to throw.
There’s no clear line between a dagger and a short sword, but the latter tend to look more like swords. The Japanese wakizashi is an excellent example, as is the Roman gladius. They are faster than their larger cousins, meant for quick thrusts and slashes. They are also easier to conceal in a coat or gym bag. Their primary disadvantage is lack of reach; an opponent with a long sword can hit you before you get close enough to hit them.
Most of your traditional swords (broad swords, katanas, sabers, etc.) fall into this category. They’re good at stabbing and parrying, but their weight and length make them best for slashing attacks. They can hack off limbs, split open abdomens, and lop off heads with relative ease.
During the Renaissance, long swords became lighter and faster, like modern fencing foils. Rapiers are lightning quick, but lack the mass for slashing or chopping attacks. Instead, they channel their force into the tip, which can deliver extraordinarily precise thrusts to vital areas. They are archetypal dueling weapons.
Heavy blades like axes and machetes are far too slow to provide any kind of defense. Instead, they must be wielded with such aggression that your enemy has no opportunity to attack. Screaming like a madman never hurts, either.
In the Middle Ages, most soldiers carried polearms; these spear-like weapons could keep swordsmen at a safe distance and even take out knights on horseback. There are countless martial arts weapons with blades of one type or another: the hook swords seen in CTHD, the sickle-like kama, and so on. Oh, and don’t forget the scythe, official melee weapon of the grim reaper!
In a Wushu game, the key to victory is creative and exciting narration. To describe a sword fight well, you need to know the basic vocabulary. This is not meant as a technical glossary, only as a way to give you terms more colorful than “attack” and “defend.”
A direct, stabbing attack. A long-distance thrust is usually called a “lunge.” This is the most efficient form of attack for most sword types. The key to embellishing a thrust is in the peripheral details: your target (hand, heart, leg, eye), the speed of the attack, your footwork, the way the sun glints off your blade, and so forth.
I use this as a general term for any swinging attack. You can make long, slow slashes to sever limbs, quick slashes designed to exploit momentary weaknesses, and fancy-looking, spinning slashes that resemble dance moves more than combat. As with a thrust, the key is in the peripheral details.
Any move that blocks an incoming attack. This is usually done with your own sword, but there are other options. Shields are always popular, from tiny bucklers to the full-body shields preferred by the Romans. You can also parry with a weapon in your off-hand, usually a dagger. There are even fencing techniques that use a cape or coat in the off-hand to parry attacks and blind opponents.
A fencer is always most vulnerable once they’ve committed to a move, whether in offense or defense. A feint is a fake attack designed to get your enemy to commit to a particular defense, creating vulnerabilities elsewhere. The attacker then switches the direction of their attack, striking where it will be most difficult to parry.
An attack made after parrying an enemy’s attack. Many times, skilled fencers will intentionally leave themselves vulnerable in order to bait their opponent into a particular attack, then execute a particularly fast or clever counter-attack.
This one’s a cinematic favorite, because it can be used to bring two fighters together for a dramatic close-up. You can take control of an enemy’s blade by trapping it in a wall, grabbing it with your off-hand, tangling it up in another enemy’s ribcage, pinning it with your own blade... the possibilities are endless. In the movies, both combatants lock each other’s blades at the same time, drawing them face-to-face so they can trade snappy one-liners.
Any attack that is designed to take an opponent’s weapon away from them, rather than injure them directly, is a disarm. In a Wushu game, an unarmed opponent is just as dangerous as any other, so you might not get much mileage out them. Still, it’s something to keep in mind, especially if a gun is involved... or are you calling Batman a pansy?Photo Credit: Buster Brown
Sword duels between masters of equal skill (like a hero and a Nemesis) have a style all their own. Understanding that style, and how to recreate it using Wushu, is essential to running truly climactic duels.
The spotlight is held on one character at a time during most Wushu rounds, but a sword duel requires much faster back-and-forth between combatants. Each side (usually a player and the Director) should limit themselves to 1-2 details at a time. That’s enough to describe most feints, ripostes, and other maneuvers. You may need to increase the maximum dice pool so you don’t have to roll as often.
It is said that two masters can fight an entire duel without ever drawing their swords. If you’re familiar with the principle of the psych-out, you’re half way there. You can spend the entire first round of a duel just circling your opponent, measuring their skill, and/or intimidating them into submission. For a more artistic approach, you could fight a “shadow” round that takes place in the characters’ minds. (See “Hero” for the quintessential example.)
A good duel can go on for quite some time without either side scoring a solid hit, but that’s not to say no one’s winning in the meantime. In a duel, the first few hits on each character should be considered losses of tactical advantage, not necessarily wounds. The attacker has moved into a better position, pushed their opponent into a worse position, put them in a lock, disarmed them, whatever. The victim then spends Chi just to stay in the fight, not to negate the lock or keep their weapon.
Most duels are not just about physical confrontation. At their core is some deeper conflict between the characters themselves, perhaps a philosophical difference or personal rivalry. The resolution of the duel should reflect the resolution of this conflict, and the way you do that is through dialogue (which earns dice, naturally). Usually, the dialogue goes something like this:
Okay, so swords are cool. We can all agree on that. But there’s a reason that modern soldiers don’t use them: they’re no good against guns. Fortunately, the role-playing milieu allows us to take certain liberties with tactical reality. If you want to use blades in a setting dominated by guns, just pick your favorite excuse...
Bullets are tiny and only threaten a particular point in space for a fraction of a second. Characters with preternatural reflexes have no trouble ducking or sidestepping them. In fact, most handguns and SMGs are inaccurate enough that your average mook won’t be able to hit a normal person at a distance... as long as they keep moving. (Just ask John Woo.) Even trained shooters will have a hard time drawing and firing at a target who’s within a few dozen feet. Rush them and get in close enough that they can’t bring their gun to bear, then cut ‘em up!
Think of this one as the Jedi Principle. Bullets have very little mass, so it’s easy to knock them out of the air with a decent sword blade, provided you have the reflexes, precognition, or cybernetically-augmented senses to pull it off. Kevlar armor also does an excellent job of blocking bullets, but a good knife (or arrowhead) will slice through it like silk sheets.
Most gunshot deaths are caused by shock, not blood loss or any kind of catastrophic injury. In the genres most beloved by role-players, many hostile entities are not so easy to put down. On the other hand, even a regenerating soldier, walking corpse, or killer cyborg will be averse to losing an arm, an intestine, or their head. Again, possessing such a power will also make players less afraid of firearms, freeing them up to rely on their trusty axe or rapier.
Okay, they’re pretty damn cheap in most settings, but your average post-apocalypse is quite another story! You can also artificially limit access to ammunition during an adventure by trapping your heroes in a remote wilderness, or just not giving them any spare clips. When bullets become a commodity, a weapon that works as long as you have the strength to swing it starts to look better and better.
Modern forensics can match a bullet to a gun based merely on the pattern of scratches the latter leaves on the former. In sci-fi settings, ballistics might be even more traceable, and/or tightly regulated by the government. Assuming your characters are engaged in some manner of illicit activity (gasp!), they might opt for more discreet weaponry.
A key difference between bullets and blades is that the former does its work when beyond the user’s immediate control, both physically and mystically. The sword is an extension of the self, and therefore an extension of its wielder’s will. Got superhuman speed? So does your sword. Know how to channel lightning? Steel is notoriously conductive. Bullets pale in comparison.
Conversely, bullets may also be easier for your adversaries to work their mojo on. Telekinetics will have a much easier time turning away bullets than wrestling away your broadsword. A gun’s inner workings are easily sabotaged by magic, but steel never misfires.
Blades and bullets... two great tastes that taste deadly together! Even if one of the above excuses is in effect, there are many ways to use a gun and a sword in tandem. First, you could use the sword as a parrying weapon against bullets, as described above. Second, you could save the gun as a hold-out weapon, either because bullets are expensive or because bullets are traceable. Many gunfighters used their flintlocks as parrying weapons after firing their single shot at point blank range. Finally, there’s always the bayonet: a blade mounted on the end of a gun.
On the other hand, there are plenty of character types for whom guns could be simply too distasteful to wield in combat: honorable samurai, anachronistic duelists, Luddites who refuse all modern tech, and other endearing weirdos.Photo Credit: Till Krech (Wikimedia)
(or Buckling Your Swash)
While the crew of the Kraken is ashore, burying their booty, an Imperial boarding party draws alongside the ship. It’s up to the cook and the cabin boy to repel the scurvy invaders! The cabin boy rushes into the hold to grab his cutlass and pistol, while the cook retrieves his favorite weapons from the galley: a pair of enormous cleavers. By the time they’ve armed themselves, the Imperials are climbing onto the deck!
The Cabin Boy (Spunky 4) sails up from the cargo hold, pulled skyward by a severed cargo line. He fires his pistol at the closest Imperial and screams the wild battle cry of his Gurkha ancestors as he zips up into the rigging. (5 dice)
This boarding party is just the appetizer before the game’s main course (an all-out assault by the Imperial battleship), so you give them a mild Threat of 15. The Cabin Boy rolls 4 dice for attack and keeps one for defense, getting 3 Yang hit and 1 Yin hit. He suffers no gunshot wounds for his daring stunt and knocks the mooks’ Threat Rating down to 12.
Now that the Imperials are out of ammo, the Cook (Slice & Dice 4) wades into battle, swinging his twin meat cleavers with abandon! He hacks off a mook’s sword hand, rendering him helpless, and knocks another over the side with a well-placed kick. Quickly, he blocks a pair of sword thrusts on his left flank and yells, “You look like a meaty one! I’d love to have you for dinner!” (6 dice)
The Cook maxes out his dice pool at 6. He chooses to roll 5 Yang and 1 Yin, getting 4 Yang hits, but no Yin. Not being used to this kind of exertion, he loses a point of Chi. However, he also brings the mooks’ Threat Rating down to 8.
The Cabin Boy sees his friend faltering and rushes to the rescue! He cuts loose some of the rigging and swings down into the fray, claiming a powdered wig (and the head beneath it) with his cutlass. He lets go of the rope and does a quick back flip before landing on the deck. He grabs his pistol by the barrel and uses the grip to parry a vicious swing, then runs the brigand through! (6 dice)
Still on the offensive, the Cabin Boy rolls just one Yin die and the other 5 for attack, getting 1 Yin hit and 4 Yang hits. He loses no Chi to the mooks and drops their Threat to a rapidly fading 4.
The Cook has had just about enough of these salty wankers! He goads one of the two remaining mooks into a foolish attack by juggling his butcher knives, appearing to leave himself undefended. When the mook lunges forward, the cook steps to the side and lets the mook stab his comrade (who is fighting the Cabin Boy behind him) right in the spine! Then, the Cook snatches one of his cleavers out of the air and buries it in the clumsy oaf’s neck. (6 dice)
The Cook knows the end is near, and he’s still got Chi to burn, so he goes all-out offensive, rolling 6 Yang dice. He loses 1 point of Chi for not defending himself, but nabs 4 hits, which is just enough to send the last of those Imperial swine to Davy Jones’ Locker!
Zi (Kendo 5) stares into the Black Heron’s eyes (Artist with a Blade 5) and watches the entire duel play out in her mind. Every stance, every move unfolds before her. They face each other on a silent battlefield of anticipation, where conviction and character, not physical reality, dictate the course of events. Only when this psychic duel is won will she deliver the real stroke. (In other words, this a handy excuse for wuxia stunts in an otherwise mundane setting.)
She draws her katana like a lightning bolt and snaps it’s chiseled edge towards her opponent’s throat. (2 dice) The Black Heron shifts his weight back, just out of reach, then pulls his mammoth war sword from its scabbard and swings it straight down, cleaving the air above Zi’s head. (4 dice) She raises her blade and gently guides the heavier weapon to the side, then runs up her adversary’s chest, kicks him in his armored face and backflips out of reach. (4 dice) The Black Heron leaps into the air like his namesake, covering the distance in a heartbeat, and brings his war sword down at a sharp angle across Zi’s body. (3 dice) She kicks off the ground and floats up to the lowest of the temple’s three tiered roofs, well out of harm’s way. (2 dice) Her enemy snarls in frustration and follows her skyward. (2 dice)
That’s a whole lotta dice! Both characters earned a total of 9. Zi takes a balanced stance, rolling 5 Yang and 4 Yin. The Black Heron is on the war path, so you devote 7 dice to attack and roll just 2 Yin. Zi gets 4 Yang hits against the Black Heron’s 2 Yin, so he cashes in 2 of his 3 Chi. However, you roll a much more impressive 6 Yang hits against Zi’s 3 Yin, wiping out her Chi in the first round! In this instance, that means that Zi has been driven onto the defensive; the Black Heron is intimidating her.
Now atop the roof, Zi slips into “Lunatic’s Revenge,” a wildly offensive stance. (2 dice) Her nemesis adopts the “Wu Shan’s Relentless Onslaught.” (1 die) Zi swings wide, striking at his left flank. (1 die) When he moves to parry, (1 die) Zi drops her weapon, grabs his sword arm, and twists the blade into his abdomen. (3 dice) He bellows in agony, pulls a concealed knife from the hilt of his sword, and stabs Zi in the chest, driving towards her heart. (4 dice)
The evenly-matched combatants, both near the end of their Chi, know victory will be a matter of chance. So, they each hedge their bets by rolling 3 Yang dice and 3 Yin dice. It all comes down to the roll: Zi gets 3 Yang hits for her spectacular feint, but only 2 Yin hits. The Black Heron slips up with 2 Yang hits, not enough to get through Zi’s defenses. You roll only 1 Yin hit, reducing him to -1 Chi. Zi has turned the tables by exploiting her adversary’s over-confidence. Now, she gets to narrate a coup de grace...
Back in the real world, Zi glimpses defeat in her enemy’s eyes. She springs forward like a striking snake, whips her katana from its sheath, and slices his neck open. Arterial blood sprays behind her like a crimson fan. Her blade is back in its scabbard before his body hits the ground.Photo Credit: Rudiger Wolk (Wikimedia)
The Earl of Saint Nazine (Duelist 4) has suffered a most egregious insult at the hands of a Spaniard (Swordsman 5). The blackguard had the gall to say, in public, that the Earl’s female companion had an “inviting smile.” Well, you can imagine the Earl’s outrage at such a vulgar insinuation! Why, the mere idea was so ghastly that the Earl drew his saber on the scoundrel right then and there. However, as dueling is forbidden within city limits (by the Earl’s own decree), he had to settle for the Spaniard’s promise to meet him outside the city gates at sunset. Now is the appointed hour...
“So,” the Earl says as the Spaniard arrives, “you are a man of your word, after all. I would have thought you’d be aboard the fastest ship in the harbor.” (1 die)
“And I would have thought a man with such a beautiful woman on his arm would spend his evenings in bed” replies the Spaniard. (1 die)
“I shall cut that foul tongue from its moorings!” The Earl draws his saber and lunges forward. (2 dice) The Spaniard parries with his rapier, then draws a dagger and slashes at the Earl’s throat. (2 dice) Ducking under the riposte, the Earl spins around, getting close enough to smell his adversary’s fetid breath, and delivers a punishing elbow smash to his face. (4 dice) The Spaniard disengages with a quick step back and removes the Earl’s powdered wig with the tip of his sword. “Bald. I thought so.” (3 dice)
That’s a pretty good opening bout. The Earl gets a total of 7 dice; he chooses to roll 4 of them in offense and 3 in defense. You take the Spaniard’s 6 dice and splits them evenly between Yin and Yang. The Earl rolls 3 Yang hits and 2 Yin hits, while you get 3 of each. The Spaniard is just getting warmed up, but the Earl must cash in one of his Chi to make up the difference. His anger has plainly put him at a disadvantage.
The Earl, his bald head flushed with rage, rushes forward and swings savagely for the Spaniard’s left leg. (2 dice) The Spaniard moves his parrying dagger to block, (1 die) but it was a feint! The Earl’s saber has already pivoted up to strike at the Spaniard’s head! (1 die) He is forced to parry with his rapier, stopping the saber just inches from the tip of his nose. (2 dice) The Earl leans hard on his weapon, driving it through the block. (2 dice) The Spaniard whips his parrying dagger up from its lowered position, slides it into the saber’s crossguard, and rips the sword out of the Earl’s grasp. (3 dice) This time, it’s the Earl’s turn to retreat. (1 die)
The Earl was definitely on the offensive this round, so he rolls 4 Yang dice and 2 Yin dice. Once again, the Spaniard splits his 6 dice evenly. This time, you roll a couple of sixes, resulting in 2 Yang hits and 2 Yin hits. The Earl rolls lucky on all 4 Yang dice, and 1 of two his Yin. The Director gives up 2 of the Spaniard’s 3 Chi, and the Earl loses one more of his, leaving both characters with a single point.
“Rendered impotent, once again,” the Spaniard gloats. (1 die) The Earl pulls a knife from his belt and charges. (1 die) The Spaniard intercepts this wild attack with the point of his rapier by stabbing the Earl’s sword arm. (2 dice) Pain flows into the Earl’s mind, clearing it. He leans into the sword thrust, pushing the rapier clean through his forearm and trapping it between his ulna and radius. (4 dice) The Spaniard brings his dagger to bear, (1 die) but the Earl impales his off-hand on its blade and twists it up against the Spaniard’s throat. (2 dice)
You are so impressed with the Earl’s mettle that you calls the round then and there. The Spaniard only gets 4 dice, which you split evenly once again. The Earl takes his 7 dice and rolls 5 Yang and 2 Yin. He gets an impressive 4 Yang hits and 1 Yin hit. All of your dice turn up hits, but it’s not enough to save the Spaniard. The Earl loses his last point of Chi, but the Spaniard loses 2, dropping him to -1. Now, the Earl gets to execute his coup de grace...
The Spaniard struggles, but cannot liberate his blades from the Earl’s body. He begs for mercy. “You can only push a gentleman so far,” replies the Earl. “Let this serve as a reminder.” He drags the dagger up the Spaniard’s cheek, drawing a ragged line from chin to temple. Then, he rides back to his mansion and the virtuous woman who awaits him there.
Three super-powered vigilantes find themselves under siege! Their nemesis, the insidious Doctor Fang, has tipped off the cops as to their hideout. A small army of kevlar-coated SWAT guys surrounds the derelict warehouse, seals off the exits, and fills the place with a hail of hot lead!
The Reaper (Bringer of Death 5) just walks towards the nearest mob of goons, letting their bullets tear through his regenerating flesh. He drinks in their sweet, sweet fear as he raises his scythe and lops off three consecutive heads. (5 dice)
The Blind Man (Perfect Aim 5) runs through the gunfire, knocking bullets out of the air with his wakizashi. His scarlet blindfold trails behind him like a parade streamer as he draws a desert eagle and plugs a dozen bullets into a dozen unarmored necks. (5 dice)
The Savage (Hunter 5) leaps into the rafters above, dodging a stream of bullets as he disappears into the shadows. Moments later, his twin machetes hurtle out of the darkness and cleave both the kevlar and sternums of two mooks. The Savage’s victorious howl echoes through the warehouse. (5 dice)
Everybody gets 5 dice this round. You give the SWAT mooks a Threat Rating of 30, because you wants this to be a showcase fight. The Reaper is an unholy bad ass, so he rolls 4 Yang dice and just a single Yin; he gets 4 successful attacks, but his Yin die comes up a failure. Apparently, even the undead should fear a solid wall of bullets! He cashes in a point of Chi. The Blind Man and the Savage both roll 4 Yin and 1 Yang; they both get their obligatory 1 Yin success, plus a total of 7 Yang hits. That’s a grand total of 11 hits, dropping the mooks’ Threat Rating to 19.
The Reaper lets the next rank pepper him with bullets until they run out of ammo. Then, he chops one off at the knees and continues his swing up into the skull of the neighboring mook. He pulls back the hood of his black sweater jacket, exposing a rictus grin and milky white cataracts. The last goon is on the run before he even gets to say “Boo!” (6 dice)
Now behind cover in the back of the warehouse, the Blind Man senses SWAT guys approaching from both sides, so he leaps out into the open before they can flank him. When they open fire, he uses his waki to deflect bullets from each side into SWAT guys on the other side, turning their face plates into clouds of face-slashing shrapnel! (6 dice)
Meanwhile, the Savage dives out of the rafters like a hawk, hits the ground in a forward roll, yanks his machetes out of two corpses, and comes to his feet smack in the middle of a crowd of four. He drives his blades up into the jaws of the SWAT mooks to either side, kicks the one in front of him square in the jimmy, and reverse head butts the one behind him. By the time they hit the floor, only his howling remains. (filibuster)
The Savage’s filibuster nets him 6 dice, same as his two compatriots. Everyone rolls 4 Yang dice and 2 Yin dice. The Reaper gets 3 Yang hits and 2 Yin hits, much safer than last round. The Blind Man gets lucky on all 4 Yang dice, but both of his Yin dice come up sixes! He loses a point of Chi. The Savage scores 3 successes to attack, and the obligatory one to defend. That’s a total of 10 Yang hits, which leaves the SWAT team at Threat 9.
Sensing the end is near, the Reaper takes his time with the last two on his side. First, he spins his scythe like a windmill and nails one mook to the wall. Then, he reaches towards the other with a skeletal hand, sinks his fingers into the guy’s chest, and stills his heart’s panicked beating. (6 dice)
Guided by tiny disruptions in the room’s feng shui, the Blind Man locates five SWAT snipers in elevated positions around the warehouse. Holding his gun and wakizashi across his chest, the Blind Man spins out into the center of the room and uses his blade to block the snipers’ bullets. His desert eagle barks like a machine gun as four rounds explode from its chamber and puncture the eyes of four different snipers. As he finishes spinning, he extends his sword arm and throws his waki right through the kevlar vest of the fifth. Smoke rises from his gun barrel as he comes to a rest. (filibuster)
The Savage leaps on one of the last goons like a snarling leopard and rakes his chest with both machetes. The goon’s partner rushes to the rescue, but the Savage parries his kick with the flat of one machete and hacks his kneecap with the other. As the mook falls to the ground, the Savage brings the first machete up, burying it deep in his skull. (6 dice)
Once again, everyone earns or filibusters the maximum dice pool. The Reaper puts in 4 Yang and 2 Yin. The Blind Man and the Savage both go in for 5 Yang and 1 Yin. Everyone gets their obligatory 1 Yin hit. The Reaper contributes 3 Yang hits, the Blind Man earns 5, and the Savage pulls in 4 more. That’s a grand total of 12, which reduces the mooks’ remaining Threat to its component atoms. Of course, our anti-heroes’ place has been turned into a corpse-filled block of Swiss cheese. Easy come, easy go.