Mulan, OSR Queen

1998, no other.
This mood music slaps.

This heroine is my all-time favorite. She’s passionate, loyal, and clever.

For her excellent problem-solving skills and aspirational character, I crown her queen of the OSR.

If you need a plot refresher:

There are five reasons I dub Mulan thus:

1: Choosing one, not chosen one

The inciting incident involves a declaration from the emperor than one man from each family must serve in the army. Mulan is not in the crosshairs of this situation, but her father is. In RPG terms, she is not on a plot railroad where things just HAPPEN to her; she is close to a situation and gets to make a choice about how to respond. And she chooses to break the rules and do what is right. A bit chaotic in terms of alignment, if you ask me.

PCs in OSR games are just regular people, even drifting towards the loser side of the spectrum. They’re not superheroes by cosmic declaration: they roll 3d6 down the line just like everyone else. Mulan is an outcast, a bit of a screw-up, just like your thief with 5 Charisma, the quirk of “head scar,” and a randomly generated family trinket.

2: Clever Girl

Still an outcast, Mulan is then in the army, accidently causing fights and not lying as low as she would like. Our first OSR challenge arrives: retrieve the arrow atop a tall post. Oh yeah, and you must carry the twin weights of “discipline” and “strength”.

This is determination.

The solution requires being clever, not lucky. There’s no “she tries harder and finds the drive via sappy flashback and wins”. No thanks.

Inside of the riddle of “discipline and strength” she discovers an original answer using the tools she’s given.

This is when your PCs used nothing but an immovable rod and twine to defeat the boss, or freed the basilisk and led it down the hall to chomp the goblins for them, or deciphered the monster’s weakness to sunlight from an ancient verse. These are examples of ingenuity that feel great to retell and even better to witness in action. And they happen at your OSR table when PCs are given tools and toys, many times without explanation.

“You’re the hero, you figure it out.”

And you’ll win experience, self-respect, and maybe even friends along the way, as Mulan did.

3. Leverage Environments

Later, Mulan and the Chinese army are against the impossible odds of the entire Hun army. They’re vastly outnumbered.

So Mulan takes the last cannon, which was intended to take out Shan-Yu, the leader of their enemies, much to the dismay of her comrades. She uses that cannon to blast the mountain top and cause a massive avalanche, wiping out the entire army, not just one man. Stinkin’ brilliant.

A player of mine in the Campaign of Skorne (Maze Rats system) was notorious for leveraging the most reliable weapon the world has to offer: 9.8 m/s2. Yes, he would push, throw, and drop his enemies however he could to impose the law of gravity on their poor spines. And then check their pulse, because as reliable as gravity is in the real-world, fiction has a way of evading confirmed kills via dark pits and shadowy depths. He wouldn’t have any of that nonsense.

That said, it’s tough to confirm the kill of an entire army buried in the snow, so while we’ll give Mulan a pass for that, the big bad still lives.

4. Subterfuge

Shan-Yu has captured the emperor and is holding him hostage! Note: this is another situation to react to, not a plot point that happens to her. AND it’s a situation that’s unfolded as a result of her actions, which is why there’s only a handful of Huns and not the whole army like before (good scenario design, GM!).

Mulan and her friends need to sneak into the palace that’s been taken over. How to do it?

Disguises! This is just one step below straight sneaking in the shadows, as far as common OSR deception tactics go. The “interacting with an enemy while in disguise” might just be one of the most fun scenes in any RPG, I don’t care which.

It’s underhanded, it’s unexpected, it works.

We also get a nice call-back to Mulan’s first OSR challenge as they scale the posts to get inside the walls. And it plays into the theme of breaking convention to do what’s right. Many levels here.

5. Combat Tactics

This sums it up for me right here:

Then she sweeps Shan-Yu’s feet from under his, pins him to the roof, and blasts him with a rocket to finish him off. SHE BEAT HIM WITH A FAN. Peak fighting dirty, peak awesome.

In the OSR, I’ve seen grease used to slick the stairs, fire oil to close off exits, and poison applied to weapons of all shapes and sizes. Always keeping the upper hand is kind of a staple here, especially in decisive combat systems like Skorne and Into the Odd. Seize the initiative on your enemies and never get caught out!


Mulan is a subversion, she’s an outsider, she gains experience, she acquires an edge and never lets go. Scrappy and smart, she’s an excellent example of problem solving from common origins, much like the best OSR player characters you can see at your table.

She chooses her battles and applies what she’s learned.

She’s the OSR Queen.

Players, go be like her. GMs, prep situations (and tools and toys) following the guidance from the movie.

Thematically related metal awesomeness to close us out.

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