The Career Path Of The Martial Artist

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The creation and development of superhero martial arts characters often follows a definite series of steps or stages. This process can be referred to as the "career path" of the martial artist character.

The first step on this path is a step that all players have to take. the creation of the character and the selection of an interesting martial arts style for the character to use. Often the selection of the style will dictate other things about the character, such as his appearance, philosophy of life and goals. Unfortunately, this is as far as many character designers get— even though there are several more stages of development.

The second step along the path can happen when the character is first created, or it may take place sometime after that, such as when the character is being rewritten or redefined. This is the establishment of a Hunted that involves the character's martial art in some significant way. For example, the Hunted might be opposed to the character's martial arts order or school, might be a practitioner of a corrupted or evil version of the PC's art, or might be dedicated to some principle that the PC opposes because of his art. For example, Nightwind, has as his enemy Qi Feng ("Jade Phoenix"), who is sort of a corrupted version of Nightwind.

At this point, the character is starting to develop strong ties to his martial art. It is no longer a just a means to an end (beating up bad guys). Instead, it has become a Way of Life, something that defines who he is outside of the combat arena.

The third step along the path takes place when the player (sometimes with the GM's help) develops a very detailed view of the principles and aims of his martial art. He now begins to expand its base of maneuvers, manifest special powers that it might have, and so forth. The GM will now become more involved with the character's development as he thinks about the character's role in the Martial World and begins to introduce more plotlines centered around the character, his art, his fellow practitioners and his enemies.

Furthermore, the PC now is proficient enough that he can begin teaching students in earnest— NPCs will begin to seek him out for instruction, perhaps at the behest of the PC's own sifu or sensei, perhaps of their own initiative (depending upon the character's fame and reputation). These students may include former enemies whom the PC defeated and who now recognize his wisdom and seek to learn from him.

At step four, the character gradually develops into the main defender of his martial art—the champion his master sends for when the art is threatened, the main enemy of his master's enemies, the renowned leader of the art recognized anywhere in the martial world and so forth. The PC may even be the last living practitioner of his art. This aspect of the character may eventually crystallize into a major, large-scale plotline where his art's very existence is threatened and only he can save it by relying on its virtues and strengths.

The fifth and final step along the martial artist's career path is when the PC becomes the master of his art. Obviously, this won't happen to all characters or in all campaigns. It may happen when the PC's master dies, disappears, becomes One With The Universe, or otherwise becomes unavailable. Depending upon the feelings of the player and/or the GM, reaching the fifth step may signal that it is time to retire the character and have him devote himself to preserving and promoting his art full-time.

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