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Formula for Martial Art Build Concepts

This document behaves as if the term "Traditional" implies the Style is derived from one of the basic and most accessable Martial Art schools. Obviously, many Martial Arts exceed the scope of this document. Don't worry about it - loosely following the guidelines will be as fruitful as adhering to them strictly. It may even be more fruitful to ignore certain parts. These are a few of the things I've learned when planning out Martial Art Styles. Enjoy.

3-4 Disciple Charms
The Disciple Charms lead up to the Form Charm, and are the build-up for the pivotal change into the much more serious training undergone for Master Charms thereafter. How these four Charms are made will define the rest of the Arts strengths and limitations. Typically, a traditional Martial Arts build is thematically aligned with a noun of some sort. The Disciple Charms are only general representations of the Style, and so it's okay for any of them to have a deviance or two from the overriding theme. These are, essentially, tricks a student learns on his first steps towards enlightenment.
1 Form Charm (or, Enlightenment Charm)
This is not only the Charm that will be most-used by the Martial Artist, it is also the summary of the themes within the Style itself. It should embody all of the elements of the Style at once, in both atmosphere and mechanic. Atmospherically, it is aligned purely with the theme pertinent to the Style. The Form Charm represents the first stage of true enlightenment that the Style grants.
3-5 Master Charms
Master Charms are the true meat and potatoes of the Style. These are the tricks and maneuvers the Style is renowned and feared for. They are powerful, and they are frequently impressive to behold. Often, their use is an unmistakable hallmark of the Style. Including Charms that take that into account (called Signature Charms) is highly recommended, though Master Charms needn't always be obvious to a beholder. It is recommended at least one Master Charm be treated as if it were a Signature Charm and, if possible, the rest should, too. Master Charms are what it really means to be enlightened - they allow the character possessing them to manifest an array of special abilities that seem to stem directly from the Form Charm.
1 Ultimate Master Charm
Whereas the Form Charm is the atmospheric summary of all the Charms to follow, the Ultimate Master Charm is the culmination of all the metaphysical philosophy embodied in the Style, given shape in one powerful magical effect. Ultimate Master Charms often straddle the border between Charms and Spells, almost certainly being abstract and very unusual. The philosophical outlook of the Style and the enlightenment it grants are crucial to the shape of this Charm. If it doesn't match up appropriately with the themes, it will need to be revised. It's best to go out with a bang, in other words. Ultimate Master Charms are so powerful, mortals and Gods witnessing them will have no doubt that the Exalt is a dangerous and crafty kung-fu master more than capable of taking them on.

More powerful Martial Arts typically include one or two scene-long, reflexive and supplemental Charms in their complement, aside from the Form Charm. Additionally, Permanent effects are not unusual for Disciple Charms - really, sometimes Disciple Charms are so weak, making one permanent is hardly an improvement. Charms may or may not focus on a Virtue. However, an element of atmosphere and an air of specialization often comes with the inclusion of a Virtuous corrollary.

It is recommended that a designer of a formula Martial Art compile a few differing concepts for the same Style Cascade, and simply summarize the Charms for each concept briefly. Afterward, the really good Charms may be picked from the rest of the chaff, and fleshed out to create the final Style. This process is merely one of brainstorming - with solid Martial Arts concepts, it could occasionally be better to write the Style in one dedicated sitting. In the long run, the process of creating multiple candidates for the same Style is a bit like having it playtested. The designer can weigh different combinations of the summarized Charms together, and find the one that feels right.

Finally, sketching out roughs of your Cascade breakdown is unusually useful in weighing out how strong each Charm in the Style Cascade should be. It is strongly recommended some sort of rough be produced before the Style is finalized - this will also have the effect of linking the Charms together in a logical and flowing, natural-feeling way.

Concerning Martial Arts other than traditional schools of thought, each typically thematically differs on one important scale: Scope. The scope of Terrestrial Styles aims towards low and specific elements of a thing, whereas advanced ("Inner School") Sidereal Styles focus on abstract representations of the entire thing. An example could be a Storm Style. In this example, the scope of the Style determines what part of the Storm the Style focuses on.

  • The Terrestrial Style might be Thunder & Lightning Style, and focus on the effects of electric elemental effects.
  • The Celestial Style could be Hurricane or Tornado Style, and focus on emulating the force of a single type of storm.
  • Basic School Sidereal Style would be Roiling Vernal Tempest Style, embodying the very Essence of storms in general, and their effect on the world.
  • Advanced Sidereal Style could be Trembling Pillars of the Sky Style, and would go farther than Storms and Weather, going on to embody the more abstract concepts of the moody Heavens.
Crimson Panoply of Victory, an example style
Major Themes:  Triumph, War, Competition
Minor Themes:  Murals, Red Colors, Glory, Alliances
Armament:  Spears and Shields
Scope:  Basic School Sidereal

The breakdown: I'm cooking up a Martial Arts concept for my Storyteller. It's going to be an old Sidereal Style taught to my Lunar Exalt by a friendly Gold Faction with great plans for the Lunar's Circle. It will be an old Style passed down from one Chosen of Battle to another. So, the first thing I did was look on the internet for relevant definitions. What did I look up? The title of the relevant Maiden. Battle. And after that, I chose the word from the Style's title that I least understood. Panoply. These will be the definitions I sculpt the Style around.

Pertaining Definitions
bat·tle, n.

  1. An encounter between opposing forces.
  2. Armed fighting; combat.
  3. A match between two combatants.
  4. A protracted controversy or struggle.
  5. An intense competition: a battle of wits.

pan·o·ply, n.

  1. A splendid or striking array.
  2. Ceremonial attire with all accessories.
  3. Something that covers and protects.
  4. The complete arms and armor of a warrior.

The first half of the Disciple Charms, I decide, will take the form of a struggle between Maiden forces, instead of a synergy between them. There will be a Charm to trump surprises in battle (secrets), and a Charm to interrupt foes attemtping to flee a battle (journeys). The other half of the Disciple Charms will, after all, be synergies. There will be a Disciple Charm involving taking comfort in warfare and conflict (serenity) and one to fill the staple bonus-to-attack Disciple Charm slot (endings).

People have patted themselves on the back for putting combat weaknesses into Styles, but I'm not impressed. After all, who can rightfully judge the quality of something by examining only its downfalls? Crimson Panoply of Victory Style is martial in ways even other Martial Arts are not often martial. Damage and accuracy effects will be a useful way of conveying the deadliness of Crimson Panoply Disciples.

Reading the above definitions, I have a few ideas. The first is to compose three paths of Master Charms - one for singular Combat and one for Mass Combat, each with two Charms (offensive and defensive). The final Master Charm will be for non-Combat use, and will affect any personal contest between two parties, such as shows of dominance.

For my Ultimate Master Charm, I rely on good-old inspiration. I crank out some of my favorite bands while I work, and pay attention to the words. One is indistinct, but I think I can make out the vocalist talking about being caught "under a wheel of thorns". Well, well. Wouldn't that make a cool name? I just imagine what it would be like to be caught under a wheel of thorns, and I have my Ultimate Master Charm, and also a good mental image to describe the effect with.

Here's the summaries I give my Storyteller:

Crimson Panoply of Victories Style

(Tactical Warfare Version)

Disciple Charms

  • Splendid Fruit-Bearing Triumph - Survive on sustenance from glory
  • Prowess of Historic Calm - Immune to tactical surprises
  • Reaching For Heaven's Eye - Double attack range with spears
  • Chariot Splinter Cloud - Disable fleeing foes via hamstringing, tripping, etc.

Form/Enlightenment Charm: Crimson Panoply of Victory Form

  • Pay motes for delayed strategic counterattack
  • +1 per foe bonus to accuracy
  • Bashing Soak Becomes Lethal Soak

Master Charms

  • Culling the Wounded - Accrue damage the more foes you strike per round
  • Yawning Canyon Collapse - Redirect attack before soak is applied
  • Stirring the Calm - Inflict premonitions of defeat
  • Spear Becomes All - Scenelong bonus Spear specialties = perm. Essence
  • Circle Swallows the Unwary - Tactical insight gives attack penalty to foe

Ultimate Master Charm

  • Wheel of Thorns - Damage all in spear range on successful attack

And I let him flesh it out from there. Life as a player is good.


As all my documents, this one is meant mostly for myself, but since I've phrased it as a tutorial, I'd love to hear anyone's comments on it. Thanks! - Balthasar

Well, if you don't mind terribly, I'd like to steal a name and write out a Roiling Vernal Tempest Style; it's too good a name to be left without attached techniques. The same goes for all your Charm titles; they're top-notch. - FourWillowsWeeping

Joel's nifty about naming stuff. As for comments, I'd be sure to include a guideline about keeping Charm ascades coherant. Lesser charms lead into greater charms, refinment and advancing techniques. Don't need just a whole hodgepodge of tricks. - Telgar

I don't mind at all. Knock yourself out - use anything here you like. I'd love to see it when you're done! And, true, John. I'm sure I'll add that another day, when I'm feeling less lazy.  :-D - Balthasar

Well, I've posted some ideas in my idea pile... I'll transfer them to their own page when I get unlazy. I'd of course be overjoyed to see comments and additions; brainstorming is the best part of Charm creation. - FourWillowsWeeping

Well, I finished MartialArts/RoilingVernalTempestStyle, and have linked to this page (which is eminently useful) from the MA frontpage. - FourWillowsWeeping

Any chance we can see how the finished form turned out? I'm a big fan of the Chosen of War, and this would be very in character for one of my PCs. Scrollreader

Balthasar has been having difficulty getting web access lately, but I'll give him a nudge and see if I can get him to cough something up, if he's got anything. - Ashande

Hey man! Sorry for the delayed response. See above :-)

I'm afraid no one ever finished Crimson Panoply; I gave the notes to CrownedSun, and then the game went kaput. I sure wouldn't mind seeing someone develop the ideas. I'd probably be around occasionally or by email (esmevane at if anyone wants a critique, though. Balthasar

This is a very solid foundation. I'll try and write it up this weekend, if anyone is curious about what I would do with Joel's descriptions. So I did, eventually. MartialArts/CrimsonPanoplyOfVictoryStyle1. - willows

Is this set of guidelines the source of the apparently prevailing assumption that Celestial Martial Arts should have about four pre-Form Charms? I've been struggling over this assumption due to the fact that almost all of the non-Immaculate canon ones have two such Charms... - szilard

Snake Style also has only 2 pre-form charms. -Fifth

I'd note that, while there are styles with only two pre-forms, there are also a lot with four that aren't Immaculate Styles. All the ones in the PG, and Violet Bier of Sorrows style for instance. Well, not TECHNICALLY true -- Dreaming Pearl Courtesan only has 3. However, Righteous Devil has 5 so that makes up for it. Ebon Shadow has 3 pre-forms too. -- CrownedSun