Monday, November 5, 2012

Avatar World, Art: Martial Arts of Bending, The Samurai Art

Hey, let's talk some more about Avatar World!
Pretty soon I'm gonna have done all the songs off the Underworld: Awakening soundtrack. It's a great song - I far prefer when he's not yelling, but I still love it.

Jump right to the second half of the post if you're just here for the art!

Okay, so I got some return feedback from Jonathan Reiter again after the previous post responding to his post on Google+. As such, it mostly consists of response to the Stand Fast vs Move With Intention issue, and the issue of the Honorable Warrior.

Today though, just the SF/MWI issue, and I'll expand on that and talk about Avatar's martial arts in general - I need more time to mull over the Samurai's Honor. Here's the response from Jonathan:
I like your current treatment of SF v. MWI. My comment about hard v. soft martial arts has to do with the different objectives from martial art to martial art. Compare a practioner of karate and aikido. The former attempts to use strikes to incapacitate a foe, whereas the latter attempts to use his foe's momentum against him to incapacitate his foe. Hence, it is a praxis between (a) offensive and (b) counteroffensive combat. But now with your current treatment of SF and MWI, this comment is irrelevant for basic moves.
 That's entirely fair, and I'm quite thankful that the current treatment of the basic moves are satisfactory in general. However, I still think this is something worth approaching. To start, let's recap what the martial arts portrayed in Avatar are as below: (note that I am disregarding developments from The Legend of Korra, such as the alterations to waterbending thanks to pro-bending - I haven't yet seen LoK and will cross that bridge when I come to it).
Airbending: Airbending is based mostly on Ba Gua, along with a small hint of Hsing Yi. Ba Gua is characterized by a lot of circular motion, or and "turning the circle" or circle walking is its distinct method of stance and movement. It has many forms of distinctive weaponry (such as oddly-shaped blades like deer horn knives or extremely large blades), but makes a point of being able to use anything as a weapon through its principles.
You may have also seen the style in a couple of other medias: the Hyuga clan from Naruto uses a style based on Ba Gua, several characters from Tekken and Mortal Kombat use the style, and a character in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can be seen using a weapon associated closely with the style. Feng Shui as a concept is also based on the eight trigrams, the guiding principles of Ba Gua.
The Hsing Yi style is a much more internal style of martial art, characterized by aggressive, seemingly linear movements and explosive power.
In general, Airbending itself uses the circular motion concept extensively, allowing for easy misdirection and deflection of attacks, and the constant circular movement seems to evoke a feeling of constantly building momentum.
I've only ever seen one airbender, so no Air duels. If you want to see Air used to fight in general, the whole show.

Airbending is definitely a counteroffensive combat if it's used for direct combat at all.

Firebending: Firebending is...complicated in its style. It's based on the Northern Shaolin style of Kung Fu, but I can't find great explanations of what exactly that means since Shaolin kung fu has taken on so many variations. The Avatar Wiki says that it, along with a few techniques Firebending takes from Northern Seven Star Praying Mantis, feature quick, successive attacks that strike with momentary bursts of explosive power. It encourages constant offense, abandoning defense for strength, and rewards pre-emptive striking (which leads to firebenders being aggressive and starting fights before they're attacked themselves - somehow I imagine this aspect of the art was exemplified in Azula, especially in the final episode with her mounting paranoia).
However, the style isn't always consistent. Long-range firebending and close-quarters firebending are entirely different, instead opting for styles such as Tae Kwon Do in very close proximity (focusing on fast jabs and powerful kicks), Southern Dragon Claw (for close range combat that involves seizing or holding the enemy - the hand is the focus), and Hsing Yi, just like Airbenders incorporate.
It also seems that Firebenders use circular motion as well, often for nurturing a flame's power to greater heights, and more noticeably in the generation of lightning.
Also, we don't know all that much about the more harmony-focused style of the Sun Warriors, but the Dragon's Dance technique definitely flows a little more consistently than the very segmented and abrupt motions of typical Firebending.
Firebending duels, known as Agni Kai's, are an integral part of Fire Nation culture and occur several times. The great ones to watch are Zhao v Zuko (awesome for understanding the basics of Firebending) and the final Zuko v Azula duel (to see real masters amped up by the comet).

Without a doubt, Firebending is an offensive style. It doesn't even have contingency techniques for defense really.

Earthbending: Mostly based on Hung Ga kung fu, Earth also incorpates a lot of elements of the "sticky hands" philosophy and neutral jing. There are exceptions - the wiki notes that Toph's style is based off Southern Praying Mantis kung fu, because it involves more precise stepping, which helps her since she needs to stay rooted to "see." That's a consistent theme of Hung Ga though, deep low stances (especially the horse stance, which is even referred to by name in the show) and a powerful root to the ground. Stance training is an integral and early part of the style, and the bending style is more stance-focused than the others. It also makes use of powerful hand gestures. The wiki adds that the style is based on the movements of animals, including the tiger (used when starting hard blows) and the crane (used to gently re-root oneself).
Sticky Hands, then, is a philosophy of combat revolving around keeping oneself in contact with the opponent's body, the idea being that by feeling the small movements they make as they prepare to attack you can already know where they're going. Toph uses the technique remotely instead (which I will note makes her extraordinarily effective at it) through the ground.
The neutral jing thing is actually touched on in the show, about how active inaction generates neutral jing, which is the basis of earthbending. When you choose to do nothing, waiting and listening for the opportune moment to strike, you're generating neutral jing, and that empowers your earthbending.
The Southern Praying Mantis style is a variant Earthbending used by Toph, and thus is likely a big influence on Aang. It's an extremely close-combat style, using hand and arm techniques plus low kicks. It's often considered not unlike common street fighting. An important aspect is that the footwork is extremely precise to keep oneself from being placed off-balance.
For reference of some great Earthbending duels, Aang v Bumi and Toph v The Wrestlers are great.

The style is, without a doubt, a counteroffensive style. Especially the way Toph practices it.

Waterbending: Waterbending has two very distinct methods. The main style, practiced by all but a small subset of waterbenders, is based on T'ai Chi Ch'uan, often known as just Tai Chi (which I will use for ease of typing). You see this a lot nowadays as a health discipline, and its martial origins have in general fallen by the wayside. As a whole, it's a very fluid technique, nearly intending to emulate the flowing of water, making it a natural fit for waterbending. There are five traditional schools of Tai Chi,but I can't find evidence of which one is used in waterbending. Like Air and Fire, Water uses some circular motion, more in a spiritual manner than a combat one, representing balance. More often, it uses a flowing motion using the arms almost exclusively to keep streams of water moving in a fashion that holds onto momentum, never really stopping. A lot of the methods about using water without lifting it directly is more focused on the push and pull elements, mimicking the balance of moon and ocean.
If you're curious, the wiki claims that the Northern style is more defensive and strategic while the Southern style is more aggressive and offensive. I have no idea where they pulled this from though, since we've only ever seen one Southern master, Hama.
The small subset I mentioned is the Foggy Swamp waterbenders. In addition to being able to bend plants (though perhaps this is more about exposure to them), their style is much more rigid and stiff. I'm not sure what this really lends to them, but it IS a difference. They seem to have brought foot movement in as well, which isn't usually a major element in waterbending.
The best waterbending duels are Katara v Hama and, my favorite, Katara v Pakku. The Pakku duel at the end of season 1 is easily my favorite bending duel in the whole show, final episode included. I don't know what it is, but it's just so dynamic and powerful (and I'll mention here that I didn't particularly like the Aang v Ozai fight, there just wasn't a lot of super-creative uses of their elements).

Oddly, waterbending is both offensive AND counteroffensive, especially when used in a waterbending duel. In the end though, I'd say that the style is still more offensive than counteroffensive, though it has a lot of protective/deflection elements.

And so, the big question is what am I gonna DO about it? Well, actually, let's real quick look at a couple martial styles we see that AREN'T bending.
Sokka: Well, Sokka is without a doubt a straight melee combatant, especially by the end. Building Sokka will easily fall into the Samurai playbook. Nothing real bizarre here.
Mai: Mai is actually really easy with the current playbook setup - she's a Ninja, through and through. Knife throwing all over the place.
Ty Lee: She's...uh oh. I realized this yesterday - I haven't the slightest fucking clue what to do with Ty Lee. I mean seriously. Hold that thought!
Kyoshi Warriors: God dammit, MORE that I can't classify?
Let's unpack this little issue. What is it about each of them that I can't do? Ty Lee is a nimble acrobatic character that loops and wheels around the battlefield, striking precisely and carefully. She takes advantage of the enemy's pressure points to block the flow of chi through the chakras, and can even take her foes's bending away with a quick set of strikes. The Kyoshi warriors have a style that's based not on strength but on a counteroffensive style, turning the foes's strength against them, through deflection and throws. They're also somewhat sneaky.
So, saying that, they sound like Ninjas. The problem is that my vision of the Ninja class actually places an emphasis on stealth. Mai easily falls into that assumption - when she shows up, it's always her knives that are seen first. No one gets the drop on her. The Kyoshi warriors have a bit of a stealth element, but it really isn't the focus, and Ty Lee isn't really about stealth.
This is actually a gap caused by a previous design decision: the axeing of the "Martial Artist" playbook. While the Samurai was a very powerful combatant who faces his foes head on in armed combat, and the Ninja was a very stealth focused playbook, the Martial Artist was about fast and light, but still overt, combat. My life is easier and the game is better for not having that playbook, but it kinda leaves Ly Lee and Suki/The Kyoshi Warriors out in the cold.
So what do I DO about it? Well, 90% chance I just restructure the way the Ninja's playbook moves work to encompass them. I'd rather not, but it's the simple solution. It won't take too much stretching to make the Kyoshi warriors, and I guess I could solve Ty Lee with a single move about the chi thing, and all the mobility stuff is just Moving With Intention anyway.
Now I need to remember to put fighting fans on the Ninja gear list.

While I'm talking about chi, I've got a different thing about that to discuss. I entirely forgot about a certain part of waterbending: healing. Waterbenders can heal. Crap, that's quite a skill, but it sure as hell isn't the focus of the waterbender playbook, and I don't want it to be, but I still need to account for it. I suppose it's just a move for the waterbender, but it's awful strong. Still, the limited number of moves you can take will hopefully keep the power level from growing out of hand. I know I can also word the trigger to restrict it to just waterbenders or to open it up to easier access for other playbooks if I so choose ("When you use water to heal wounds..." vs "When you manipulate chi to heal...").

Okay, back to the initial question: what am I doing about all those offensive/counteroffensive styles? Offensive is extremely simple - that's what Commit Open Violence is built to do. Defense itself is in Stand Fast, but counteroffense is tough. I think that each of the bending arts can be touched differently though.
Airbending: You haven't seen my Momentum thing yet. I actually think that my intended thing for this will be able to build up both the offensive and counteroffensive styles. Trust me on this one.
Firebending: Very straightforward. The exact martial stylings are all flavor at this point, and no real attention needs to be paid to counteroffense here.
Waterbending: Tags. Seriously, the whole deal with Waterbending is tags from what I'm thinking. Build up those tags offense, take advantage of those tags to avoid attacks and pile on more hits.
Earthbending: The big one. I don't have a fancy answer for it, and I don't have a subset mechanic like I do with the other two counteroffensives. And it seems that Earthbending is almost entirely about counteroffense. The best solution I have is to alter the way Stand Fast works for them. If they take this move, when they Stand Fast to avoid or weather attacks, they can deal some damage or take forward or some such. In essence, they gain the ability to return strikes with their defense. Does this work?

Well, that's probably enough for the minute. Now, let's get to a fun piece!
I did some art again. It's the Samurai playbook! Let's take a peek at the original sketch I made - it was on an index card.
I highly recommend NOT clicking it - I didn't size it down or anything, it's just the photo so it's enormous. Enjoy looking at my keyboard.
I did something different this time. Last time you saw a sketch that I AW-itized was probably The Angel, when I drew the thing itself and then inked before scanning. I did it differently for a specific reason: I wanted three tones. Something I've learned from doing all these pieces is that I prefer doing these with an additional color on top of the black and white. Here, you can see every block of space denoted with a letter: B for a black space, W for a white space, and Y for a color space (intended originally to be yellow, like the color I use for the Earthbending text). If you can't tell, the drawing itself is of the end of a katana over the mask and helm of a samurai, all inspired and drawn from this image:
I liked this mask,, it felt right. Jumping aside to design, I totally think a Samurai move or gear choice of one of the masks, and it could provide a bonus to Speak Without Honor or something. I just like it as an intimidation factor.
Anyway, let's just get to the finished piece already!
This one I DO recommend clicking for full size!
So, let's go over this real quick. Several elements jump out at me.
1. The color is not yellow. Yeah, that was just a general switch for me. This color is a combination of both red and yellow, with an inclination toward red, which is the playbook's main elements' colors!
2. No eyes. The broke the look - I thought they could work, but was never attached to them, so they got dropped.
3. The sword. I'm starting to think I should have just dropped it. I'm starting to think I still will.
4. The text. I used the Manga off (link to font), and the chinese text reads translates to warrior or samurai (bushi) - I THINK. PLEASE tell me if I got it wrong. I don't actually know any asian languages (though I hope to learn some Korean through Magicians - Kickstarter plug! It's amazing, go back it - get it to 30k so we can learn Chinese too!), and want to get it right.
5. The texture. I wanted a texture on it, and basically guessed with a couple methods of how to do it. This worked, kinda. Still experimenting. Really want to find a good texture though.

6. The Entire Style. It is NOT set in stone that I will be using the Apocalypse World-inspired art style. I'm actually kinda interested in doing a more scroll-drawing type look, but am worried about my artistic ability to do so. I drew this anyway though - even if I don't use it, hey, I still think it's cool.

So I think that's all for today! Enjoy the stuff, feedback encouraged: Do you like the art style even in an Avatar-inspired game?  Do you know a great way to handle light and fast combat? Do you know anything about martial arts that can help here?
Later folks.
End Recording,


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