Monday, October 24, 2011

Feng Shui

Game Premise

Lock and load, secret warrior. Your destiny awaits on the field of battle.

There is a secret history to our world that changes like the breeze without you ever knowing. Scattered throughout the world are sites where chi, the mystic power the controls destiny, flows strong. Control one of these sites and you will find the winds of fortune blowing your way. Control enough and you can shape the very course of history. In fact, if you know the secret of the Netherworld, a mysterious other realm that connects to other points in time, you could perhaps one day control all of history.

Unfortunately, several organisations of malevolent intent plan to do just that. In 89AD, a society of sorcerous eunuchs, the power behind the throne of Imperial China, uses ensorcelled monsters to extort the populace. In 1850 and 1996 a shadowy conspiracy controls the world from behind the scenes, their claws in everything from police to politicians to media to criminal syndicates. In 2056, a group of unethical scientists are the driving force behind a totalitarian one-world government, enforced by horrific abominations, stolen from the past and augmented with impossible tech. Let's not forget the group of xenophobic Chinese traditionalists, the four immortal siblings who once ruled the entire world and the rebel faction of cyborg monkeys with a penchant for explosives.

The only thing standing in between these forces and the destiny of humanity is your rag-tag team of kung-fu badasses. You're the secret warriors and it's your job to save the entire world, armed with only your kung-fu, spells, wits, tech and whatever other weapons you can use to kick as much ass as possible. Good luck.

Game Overview

Feng Shui is something of a solid b-lister in the RPG world. Known for its relatively fast and loose system and unique setting, its a game based on Hong Kong action films. Feng Shui was originally published by Daedalus Games in 1996, and then updated in 1999 by Atlas Games, the only real difference between the two being some new art and the inclusion of previously supplementary material. The one I'm using is the Atlas version.

The system is designed to both be quick and allow for wild heroics, and the core mechanic reflects this. Take two six sided dice, making sure they're distinctive and nominate one as positive, the other negative. Roll and subtract the negative die from the positive die. Add relevant modifiers and hope you beat the target number. You also get to reroll sixes and add the second number rolled, which can lead to some surprising variation in results. Target numbers will generally range from 3 for simple tasks all the way to 25 for impossible craziness like running along a trail of bullets to get at your enemy. Considering the modifiers characters get, rolling a 25 isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility.

More than anything, I love the setting. It's got everything, including kung-fu action, cybernetic monkeys, evil scientists, kung-fu popes (no, really, he's one of those immortal siblings I told you about) cybernetic monkeys, illuminati-esque conspiracies, cybernetic monkeys, crazy sorcery, cybernetic monkeys, time travel and did I perhaps mention the Jammers, or the organisation of cybernetic monkeys? The stuff about time travel and critical shifts (what happens when a person gains control of enough chi sites to change history on a massive scale) is also well-explained and for someone like me, who wrote their thesis on alternate histories, really thought provoking.

Feng Shui is considered by some to be a little bit dated these days. The character archetypes are wildly imbalanced (I pity the person who wants to play the Karate Cop) and the secondary stats seem a little bit unnecessary. Nevertheless, Feng Shui is still quite serviceable and remains a fantastic game of zany, fast, kung-fu heroics.

Fun fact! I knew about Feng Shui before I was into RPGs. I used to collect a British Card gaming magazine known as Deckmaster, which did an article on a game based off the RPG, Shadowfist. I actually had similar experiences with discovering Vampire through its article of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and Rifts through the Rifts card game Interestingly, Shadowfist is still fairly popular, with new sets still being released and has even advanced the metaplot.

The Character

Step 1) Pick a Type

Feng Shui has every character based on a series of strong archetypes gaining control of a few bits and pieces, but most things pre-defined. People who are into free-form character creation aren't going to be too happy about this. However, there is a fairly large selection of these Types (21 in the core book) and they cover a fairly good range of standard action movie standbys (maverick cop, ex-special forces, ninja) and several things unique to the setting (abomination, transformed animal).

The game recommends the GM start off in the Contemporary Juncture (1996) set in Hong Kong, with characters unaware of the Shadow War, so I'm going to abide by that. That unfortunately means no cyborg demons or sorcerors for me. Instead, I'm picking the Masked Avenger type, mainly because I absolutely adore the description ('okay, so maybe you're a little crazy') and because let's face it, playing kung-fu Batman (well, more kung-fu Batman) is cool.

Step 2) Personalise Your Character

Just because two characters are Old Masters or sorcerors, doesn't mean they have to be the same. Obviously, apart from the mechanical changes, personality is what differentiates your character from everyone else.

I'm going to need two Names for my guy here, one actual name and his vigilante name. I want my guy to be native to Hong Kong, so searching for a good Chinese name I'm picking Tseng Jiang-Shing (his first name translates into 'strong victory', or so the internet informs me). For his vigilante name, I'm picking The Koan.

Now for a background. Tseng was once a leading criminologist who came up with a theory, based on a pattern of activities, that all the major crime syndicates in Hong Kong answered to a single authority. At first he was merely laughed off by his peers, but when he chose to delve deeper, he found his career under attack and a series of misfortunes befalling his friends. Convinced that the conspiracy he had unearthed went deeper, he trained his body in the art of combat, created a series of safehouses and adopted a costumed persona with which to tackle this vast underworld. A fan of both golden-age comic heroes and something of a Zen Buddhist, he picked the guise of Infinite Koan of the Restless Mind or simply The Koan and took the fight to the criminals. The more he battles, the more he comes to peel away layers of the conspiracy. While he's only found inklings of evidence, he's come to the conclusion that there is something of a one-underworld authority that has its hand in every world government.

Lookswise, out of costume Tseng is a dishevelled Chinese man approaching middle age, wearing baggy clothes, crooked glasses and generally without shoes. In his Koan persona, he wears what looks to be the outfit of a hardboiled detective, long coat, gloves, fedora and all, only a silky, dark blue. He also wears a facemask and tinted goggles.

Finally, the Melodramatic Hook. According to Feng Shui, each character must possess some kind of fact that the GM can use to create plotlines. For The Koan, I'm going to pick Take Down the World Criminal Conspiracy at All Costs. While he doesn't know the true nature of the secret war, he has caught a glimpse of it and is determined to prove his theory right.

Step 3) Check Out the Numbers

This is the bit where I work out my character's Attributes and Skill, which are somewhat pre-determined by my archetype, but which I get to modify in small ways.

Each character has four Primary Attributes, each of which is broken down into a few Secondary Attributes. Body is a measure of your physical strength of fitness and has the secondary attributes of Move (which determines how fast you can run), Strength (how much you can lift and carry), Constitution (How well you can resist disease and poison) and Toughness (which is subtracted from damage). Chi is your general level of attunement to the mystic forces around you, meaning most people have a score of 0 and its secondary attributes tend to be fuel for mystic powers. Fortune gives you a number of Fortune Dice to roll each session which can influence a roll, while Kung-Fu and Magic are the fuel you need to power Kung Fu and Magic abilities respectively. Mind is a measure of your general mental capabilities and has the secondary attributes of Charisma (ability to influence others), Intelligence (logic and thinking clearly), Perception (noticing stuff) and Will (resisting attempts to influence you. Finally, there is Reflexes which determines your co-ordination and dexterity and has the second attributes of Agility (general motor skills), Manual Dexterity (hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor control) and Speed (reaction time).

The Masked Avenger starts off with a Body, Mind and Reflexes of 5 and a Chi of 0. Unless noted otherwise (and in this case, it isn't) each secondary attribute is equal to the primary attribute. I have 6 points to spend on primary attributes, 2 point to spend on a single secondary attribute and 1 point to spend on another secondary attribute. I'm going to divide the 6 points among Body, Mind and Reflexes, increasing each to 7. I'm going to put the 2 points in Perception and the 1 point in Intelligence.

Next up, we have Skills, which are pretty much your standard learned capabilities and in this game are quite broad (so for example, guns applies to pretty much any firearm). Each skill is tied to a secondary attribute, which adds to all rolls using that skill, for a total Action Value. Skills also generally have two primary uses, a Practical Use, for example using the detective skill to find clues, and Contacts, which is using the skill to have associates or contacts (who may not be friendly) in the relevant field. As a masked avenger, I get eight points to add to skills. However, some skills, in this case Detective+10, Guns +8 and Martial Arts at +7 can't be increased further at character creation, even by increasing the relevant attribute. This is generally the case for those skills the type is already quite good at so the player doesn't hyperspecialise. I do have the choice to swap the bonuses for guns and martial arts, but I'm not going to. I also have two undefined Info (areas of knowledge) skills in addition to my +2 in Info/Science. I'm going to assign those as Info/Riddles (the guy names himself after a form of them after all and Info/Gangland Politics (he needs to know what's going on in the criminal underworld). Now to actually get to those eight points. I'm going to put +3 in Deceit, since maintaining a good disguise is important, another +2 in Info/Riddles, because that's his deal and finally the remaining +3 in Driving, because every good Hong Kong action movie has driving and I've been in multiple campaigns where nobody has had the damn skill when we needed it.

Step 4) Pick Your Shticks

Most characters, apart from attributes and skills, have some sort of special ability that sets them apart, whether this is trick shots, fancy karate gimmicks, magic spells, monster powers, creepy future tech or even abilities gained from being a transformed animal in human form. These are Shticks.

The masked avenger gets two gun shticks, as well as a unique shtick in the form of a +5 to intimidate attempts against unarmed criminals, that superstitious, cowardly lot. Looking at the list of gun shticks, I'm going to start with Signature Weapon, a unique weapon The Koan possesses that is almost impossible to lose and gives me a +3 to damage rolls. In this case, my signature weapon will be a heavily modified AMT Automag IV(basically a massive pistol) with the words 'One Hand Clapping' written on the side in Mandarin. This is entirely so The Koan can have a catchphrase consisting of “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” followed by a loud gunshot. The second shtick I'm going to pick is one rank in Hair-Trigger Neck Hairs , which gives me two benefits. Firstly, I get a +2 to all Perception Checks. Secondly, if I succeed in that perception check and can respond usefully by dodging or firing my gun, I get to add the Outcome of the check (difference between the target number and what I rolled) to my dodge or shooting attempt.

Step 5) Possessions

Feng Shui cares not for big laundry lists of possessions. I can declare I have pretty much any possessions, within reason, during the course of play. However, I do have to pick a number of Weapons as determined by my type, in this case two weapons of the appropriate juncture (1996). I've already determined I possess an AMT Automag IV pistol, and I think I'm also going to grab an old MP40, a vintage submachine gun which I think suits a character with a flair for the dramatic.

Step 6) Wealth Level

Much like possessions, the game doesn't really care for the bean counting aspect of wealth and thus breaks it down into four categories, Poor, Working Stiff, Well-off and Rich. Masked Avengers are apparently Rich and in Tseng's case I think it will be invested in possessions he's stolen from the gangs he's taken on and things he has pilfered rather than earned monetary wealth.

The Finished Product

Tseng Jiang-Shing aka The Koan

What is the sound of one hand clapping? *BANG*

Abilties: Body 7, Chi 0, Mind 7 (Perception 9, Intelligence 8), Reflexes 7

Skills: Deceit +3 (10), Detective +10 (15), Driving +3 (10), Guns +8 (13), Fix-It +2 (11), Info/Gangland Politics +2 (10), Info/Riddles +4 (12), Info/Science +2 (10), Intimidation +3 (10), Martial Arts +7 (12)

Shticks: Hair-Trigger Neck Hairs, Signature Weapon, +5 to intimidate attempts against unarmed mooks.

Weapons: One Hand Clapping (signature AMT Automag IV), MP40.

Wealth Level: Rich

How I'd Run It

Quite frankly I love Feng Shui's setting so much, I'd run it straight, although it would definitely heavily feature the Jammers (cybernetic monkey anarchists in case you don't remember), because everyone wants to fight a dude called Che Gorilla at some point and also have at least a guest appearance by Huan Ken, King of the Thunder Pagoda and the aforementioned Kung-Fu Pope, because Kung-Fu Pope. One model I've seen that I would love to try out someday, is to run it as a series of films, with each plot arch comprising said film. It would probably limit the full craziness you could pack in to the campaign, but surely I could have some spinoffs like Feng Shui: Banana Republic where everything is all Jammers all the time.


  1. It's always the monkeys isn't it? I've often wondered about Feng Shui, but never gotten around to investigating it myself. The chaotic style running between straight action genre and abstract craziness comes across in your writing, so I assume that's the character of the game.

    Your character here is really cool, a noir style action hero a la the Shadow. Awesome superhero catchphrase by the way.


  2. Great write up... just stumbled across your blog and I am really enjoying it. I played in a Feng Shui game about a dozen years ago, and have been running it for two groups (one in California, the other in Bangkok - I spend a lot of time in both places) for about the past year.

    I love the rules-light aspect of the system. Both groups really are Pathfinder junkies, which I also enjoy, but I find it a really difficult system for newbies to grok, especially at higher levels.

    The idea of your signature weapon and the catchphrase is awesome, I might have to borrow Koan and use him as a NPC in my campaign.

    Nice job man!