Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inspiration: Kung Fu 2100

In a routine raid, the CloneMaster's secret police picked up a prisoner and brought him in for questioning by their master.  They didn't know their captive was a fully trained Terminator, captured only by sleep gas.  As the CloneMaster walks into the room, the prisoner suddenly shatters his handcuffs and explodes into action...
In a comment to a post earlier this month, Ed “Anonymous” Green suggested that I look at Kung Fu 2100 as a possible source of inspration for a role-playing game campaign.  I knew of the game and I found the premise interesting; however, I despaired of ever obtaining a copy.  Well, it turns out that the game originally appeared in The Space Gamer #30 and the Neutral Good people at Steve Jackson Games have made TSG periodicals available for download (for reasonable prices).  Huzzah!  A PDF is not the same as the actual game, but that doesn't matter for our purposes.

With regard to inspiration, it is interesting to note how Kung Fu 2100 came into being.  It seems that the magazine's publishers receive some unsolicited art pieces from Mitch O'Connell, who eventually became the world's best artist, apparently.  One of the drawings depicted a martial arts battle in a laboratory which The Space Gamer used to create a contest.  Participants were to submit original game ideas inspired by the picture.  The winning entry was submitted by B. Dennis Sustare.  This happened in 1980, after Sustare had co-created (along with Scott Robinson) Bunnies & Burrows, but before the publication of Swordbearer.  Aside from being printed in the magazine, Kung Fu 2100 was good enough for Jackson to publish as a stand-alone game.  Denis Loubet was responsible for the art (other than O'Connell's cover) in both magazine and box versions.  While he may not be the world's best artist, Loubet is never a disappointment (to me, at least).

So, in the world of Kung Fu 2100, “cloning” was perfected in 2006.  Such cloning included rapid maturation of the clone as well as the ability to 'program' clones with the memory and experience of pre-existing people.  Cloning was expensive, but the privileged few who could afford it became effectively immortal.  This “caused worldwide social disruption” and, as a result, “much of civilization collapsed.”  Eventually the CloneMasters (as they came to be known) restored order – of an oppressive nature.  The general population was prohibited from using machines and engines; ownership of metal was not allowed.
          By the year 2100, the world was fragmented into individual fiefdoms, each controlled by a CloneMaster from his personal fortress.  Within this citadel was all he needed to grow and program his clones – letting him live forever in luxury.  Attended by guards, servants, and his computer technicians, snug in his haven, a CloneMaster need to give little thought to the Dark Ages beyond his walls.  Any organized revolt would be quickly dealt with by the CloneMaster's own secret police or by the armed forces maintained co-operatively by groups of CloneMasters.
Among the unprivileged, “a secret cult” was formed – the Society of Thanatos – the purpose of which was to bring lasting death to the CloneMasters.  To this end, members were trained from childhood to attain “the human limit in strength, stamina, unarmed combat, and immunity to pain.”  They could do things like punch through metal doors and dodge bullets.  Members of the Society were known as Terminators.  (Kung Fu 2100 was released in 1980, a few years before James Cameron's film would appropriate that word.)  Not all students were completely successful in their training and some were not able to endure “strict Terminator discipline.”  While not as adept as actual Terminators, these drop-outs nonetheless possessed formidable abilities.  Often, they would become Janizaries – guards in the employ of the CloneMasters.  Janizaries were pejoratively known as “Jellies.”

The sub-title of the game is “The Assault on the CloneMaster.”  In the course of the game, Terminators access a CloneMaster fortress in an attempt to kill the resident CloneMaster.  However, the Terminators must also destroy the cloning equipment or else the CloneMaster will survive as a clone.

Terminators eschew the use of weapons, but Jellies frequently employ them.  Otherwise, there are various martial arts abilities that Terminators and Jellies may possess:  Iron Fist, Lightning Foot, Body of Mist, Mountain Heart, and Monkey Soul.  Yes, Monkey Soul.  How awesome is that?  The game handles martial arts combat in an interesting fashion.  For each fight involving Terminators and/or Jellies, opposing players secretly select which abilities their Terminators/Jellies will use in the form of “tactics counters.”  Players alternate playing counters and effects are resolved based on which abilities are played (e.g., Monkey Soul offers total protection against Lightning Foot).  By taking damage, Terminators/Jellies lose abilities; this limits their tactical options in future fights.

In terms of role-playing games, Kung Fu 2100 was adapted as a GURPS scenario, but I think it could serve as the basis of a campaign setting.  Although they engage in cooperative endeavors, in Kung Fu 2100 each CloneMaster has his own fortress.  I can appreciate the need to personally supervise how one's clones are handled, but wouldn't there be CloneMaster families instead of individuals in each fortress?  This would suggest an ever growing CloneMaster population or caste; however, resource limitations would preclude a population beyond a certain size.  (In his first novel, To Live Forever, Jack Vance postulated a similar situation.)  Let's say that the CloneMasters have cooperatively agreed to a maximum number of immortals; a Technicians' Guild ensures that this number is not exceeded.  If all of a CloneMaster's clones and 'memory banks' are destroyed by Terminators (or some other mishap), there is an opening for a new CloneMaster.  This allows for all sorts of Vancian (if not Machiavellian) politics.

Regardless, despite the fortress/fiefdom social structure, there has to be an industry to manufacture and maintain cloning technology as well as other technology mentioned in the game, such as helicopters and sleep gas.  There must also be an educational system to ensure a sufficient number and quality of technicians to operate all of this technology.  In short, there must be population centers to house and cultivate castes that fall between the CloneMasters and the medieval peasants.  Given these considerations, I doubt that it would be effective to rely upon a truly medieval caste of farmers.  Although not to the extent of 'the Dark Ages,' the lower rungs of a CloneMaster civilization could still be severely oppressed and technologically limited so as to justify the Society of Thanatos.  Of course, there would be people – let's call them tribes – who exist in the 'wilderness,' presumably beneath the notice of the CloneMasters.  All in all, Kung Fu 2100 provides bounteous material and speculation for role-playing opportunities.

Got Monkey Soul?


  1. Oh wow, Kung Fu 2100 is an even better setting than I originally imagined. I need to get me a copy of that game now. Thanks for the write up.

    -Ed Green

  2. And it plays well as a board game too. I remember playing quite a few games when it first came out. The setting would make a great low budget SFish movie too I think.