Feng Shui 1e by Night10194
Lock and LoadOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Lock and Load
I won't be covering this game in the same sort of detail as Mors Rattus did, because they already covered pretttty much every book. Heck, that review is why I started reading F&F regularly, and why I bought Feng Shui! So I don't need to reproduce that much fluff, though I'll still be going over some of my own thoughts on the fluff, setting, and tone of FS.
What I'm really here for is the mechanics. You see, Feng Shui is a gonzo action movie time travel mashup game of high-flying, high-octane super-human Hong-Kong murderfests. It's combat is also mechanically completely miserable to play, because it was made in 1996, and it commits a lot of 90s' game design sins. It just does them with a lot more style, while making them a little less notable because you're wowed by the fact that you can be a bio-mechanical monster hunter from the future fighting alongside ancient Chinese heroes to try to battle an entire faction of David Lo Pan while one out of place American makes dumb wisecracks. This is a game that dares to explore how Chinese history could have been drastically different if Wei Shen, Worst-Best Hong Kong Undercover Cop, was sent back in time to kung-fu kick both the palace Eunuchs and also Dong Zhuo (Look I know he's a century off the 69 AD juncture give or take but fuck it, I need Dong Zhuo fighting the Lotus), and also the Eunuchs were summoning demons, and maybe Lu Bu is there too being addicted to treason, and some future guys are trying to steal the demons while secret chicken-men try to ensure they will own 1996 and cybernetic gorillas arrive to try to blow everything up until something makes sense.
In short, this is a game that does mashups right. This was enough to make me run a bunch of campaigns in it despite all the stuff it does wrong. Stuff I can't totally blame it for! This is the game where we start to really see codified rules for 'all those guys with AK-47s are only there for your coolest guy to style on'. This is a time-traveling mashup game that's like 'Hell yeah, give a Han Dynasty Provincial Inspector a future fully automatic .50 caliber pistol and see what happens' and that included ways for any character to learn any power-set over time. It was totally mechanically useless to do so, but who doesn't want to be a hard-bitten ex-special forces soldier who discovers they have the blood of a transformed dragon and learns mystic kung fu to go with their brutal gunslinging? Who doesn't want to have a party of a pictish warrior-sorcerer, a mechanic from Detroit who just wants his goddamn '69 Charger back, a lost future monster hunter, and an old master who refuses to get written out of the script? All of that is doable! All of that is encouraged. This is absolutely the part Feng Shui got right, and is the part everyone who played it remembers fondly. It is one of the earliest games where "Can I do crazy thing?" defaults to "Hell yeah!"
And that's kind of why I want to cover it. Because I can see its intentions. I can feel its intentions. I enjoyed the hell out of its intentions when I ran it and played it. Buuuuut...well, this is also a game with some really, really awful actual combat rules. And advancement rules. And character creation rules. And campaign structure. Now the advancement stuff is partly because while the 1996/9 version (I have the 1999 version) is technically for long serial campaigns, it's really clear that character advancement was kind of an afterthought next to character archetype. There's all kinds of ways to sort of screw yourself long term in character creation that won't matter if you just play a couple sessions and end. But there are also tons of character classes that kind of suck, because there are character classes that aren't that great at fighting, and Feng Shui, the Action Movie RPG, is all about diving sideways through the air while doves descend all around you, firing two guns and flying out a window. A PC who can't do that great is in for a sad time. The entire stat system is not great. Combat tends to stall out. And the resolution mechanic, as implemented, is, uh, not great.
So join me as we look at how extremely, totally rad Feng Shui is. And how terrible it is at the same time.
Next Time: Action Value, d6-d6, and you.
Root of the IssueOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Root of the Issue
So, we're going to jump right into resolution mechanics, because the main book does anyway. This is where Feng Shui hits its first big snag, anyway: The d6-d6 resolution mechanic. So to do an Open Check (the most common sort) you roll a positive d6 and a negative d6. If you get a 6 on either die, it explodes and you keep rolling until you don't get a 6. If you get a 6 on both dice, you have set up a critical success or a way awful failure, depending on if you end up succeeding or not; you essentially start a new check, ignoring future double sixes until it's resolved, and then the success is especially cool or dramatic or the failure is especially slapstick and hilarious. Once you're done rolling, you add or subtract the overall result to your base Action Value, your skill/base chance in the action you were trying. If you're over the difficulty of the check, you succeed and take your Outcome: How much you succeeded by. Outcome won't always come up, but it's always important in combat, and combat is the most common kind of check in Feng Shui because this is a goddamn action movie. To do a Closed Check, you do the same thing, but no dice explode. Closed Checks are used when the system wants to keep a check bounded to +5/-5 ranges.
PCs will generally start with base Action Values from 13-15 in their important skills and abilities. You can also crit-fail if the negative die kicks you in the dick and decides to explode several times and gets your check result to a negative number, but unless you were attempting an action you sucked at this isn't very likely.
Example: Julia Gallagher is a gunslinger, trying to kill a guy with her pistol. She's very good with a gun, and has a 14 base Action value. She rolls +d6 and -d6, getting a 4 and a 3. So she adds +4 to her AV of 14, then subtracts 3 from that new total of 18, to get a 15 check result. She needed an 8 to hit that guy (he's some poor mook), and so gets an Outcome of 7. If she'd rolled a 3 and a 6, she'd have kept rolling the negative die, getting a 4. As a result, she'd take +3, then -10, and get a 7 overall, somehow managing to fuck that up and feeling very ashamed of herself.
Now, the issue with d6-d6 isn't actually the exploding dice. They can make it swingy, but let's be real: Generating sudden outliers is half the reason we use dice. How many RPG stories hinge on 'and then a rolled a 20'? The issue isn't really the exploding dice, but rather that the majority of the time the positive-negative aspect of rolling makes the dice system highly deterministic. You'll have wild outliers, sure, but they're actually pretty rare, and more importantly, they usually only matter that much in a challenging or dangerous situation when they're outliers on the positive side. Statistically, the majority of dice rolls (52% or so) are going to be +2/-2 or less. The most common result for a roll is +0. If you needed a positive 3 result, for instance, you actually have pretty poor chances. Sure, exploding dice can help you out, and explosions will happen pretty regularly, because you're rolling 2d6 and d6s are small dice, so rolling max on one or the other isn't uncommon (about 27.8% of rolls will have an explosion one way or another). The thing is, that's a coinflip, and if you were trying to do something challenging, and you got a negative explosion at all, you're probably fucked even if you roll a 1 on the second roll and rolled a 5 on the positive die to start with.
This can interact really badly with a lot of the static AV modifiers we'll be seeing later when we get into combat, special abilities, etc. Suffice to say the most common AV penalty for trying to do something cool is -2. If you needed a +0 to achieve something and got a -2, your odds actually suffer significantly. That base -2 takes off a good 25% chance to succeed and makes you about 30% likely to succeed.
Now, you can even these odds in a few ways. One, some characters have points of Fortune. Fortune can be spent to add an additional positive die to a roll, which explodes if it's an Open Check. This naturally gives you a huge boost; if any AV variation is a significant boost, 1-6+ extra AV is really good. You'll also get special powers and stuff that give you bonuses to AV. But base AV is one of the strongest traits a character can have, because if you go into a fight with a guy who is 2 AV below you, you have huge odds of hitting him and he's got Starting Warhammer PC level odds of hitting you. Vice-versa.
So yeah, it ain't the dice explosions, it's the fact that rolling a positive and a negative die makes the majority of the results only vary slightly from your base AV, which then ends up making base AV extremely powerful. If you have a 14 (a 'good' starting PC or normal named enemy) and the other guy has a 22 (some super faction enforcers have these kinds of stats) your odds of doing jack or shit to them are very low, because the base AV of your best fighting skill is also your passive dodge rating/base chance to get hit.
Now, let's talk about another fundamental part of the system, again because the game puts it here since we're just about in character creation. You derive your AV in a skill from a Stat and a Skill Bonus, but due to a lot of factors Skill Bonus is mostly vestigial. What really matters is just how the actual AV shakes out. There are 4 stats, and each has 'substats'. You have your Body (how well you take hits and punch people), your Chi (How well you do magic, your luck, and your kung fu), your Reflexes (The God Stat: How many actions you get in combat, boosts the AVs of most physical combat abilities), and your Mind (Willpower, intelligence, etc). Normally, all of a stats's Substats will equal your score in the stat. If the primary stat goes up, and a substat was equal to or below the primary, it goes up with it. If a substat was higher than the primary, it does not increase when the primary does. Body is split into Toughness (Damage Reduction), Strength (Melee Damage), Constitution (Resisting special attacks and poison), and Movement (How far you move). Reflexes are split into Dexterity (Guns, driving, cutting the red wire), Agility (Martial Arts, Jumping Out a Window While On Fire and Doing Six Flips), and Speed (Initiative, which also determines how many actions you can take, which is why Ref is a God-Stat like all nineties games). Mind is split into Will (Resist dark wizard), Charisma (Make a sappy speech while a pop ballad plays), Perception (Spot stuff), and Intelligence (Lots of Brain Skills). Chi is special, and is usually much lower than other stats; the averages for the others are 5, but an average PC will have a 0 Chi to start. Chi provides Fortune (Pool of luck dice), Fu (Pool of Kung Fu Special Attack Points), and Magic (Wizbiz/Demon Powers/Cronenburg futuretech!).
Now, the issue here is that you create a PC by picking and customizing an Archetype. Archetypes have a bunch of base stats, abilities, and what's called Schticks (Feats/perks/special moves, with a cooler, catchier name. I love the name Schtick for it). They then modify those with free points provided in the Archetype to taste. This is the kind of Action Hero you are. I'll be going over some of them as we get more into character creation and what PCs look like, but if you want the full list of them I'll refer you to Mors' stuff in the archives, again. Flavor-wise? Archetypes are good. So, so good. You get so many cool ideas for PCs just flipping through these, and the writing for them is just brimming with energy and fun. Mechanically? There's, uh, some balance issues. We'll get to it.
But first I want to digress and mention one of the reasons Feng Shui is goddamn great, which comes through as early as the Archetypes: Feng Shui is a game that is one hundred percent unapologetic about what it is. It's not ashamed of itself. It's not trying to throw in shitloads of gratuitous grimdark to convince you it's 'mature'. Some dark shit can happen in Feng Shui, but it's more like...the bad guys shot up a hospital and now you're fighting in an on-fire maternity ward and extras are dying all around you to rescue the babies while you have a huge, running gunfight with the grizzled villain and his mooks. You know, like in Hard Boiled. There's no compulsion to put in really gross shit. There's no hedging bets. This is a game that encourages you to make dumb sound effects with your mouth or gives you a mechanical bonus for miming the KA-CHAK on your shotgun between attacks. It's here to have a good time and it wants you to have a good time, too, and the writing is just goddamn excited to be talking about its favorite movies and stunts and cool stuff you can do. While the mechanics fall down in a lot of ways, the intention of Feng Shui is a game built around 'yes' instead of 'no', and for a game that first pops up in 1996? That's legitimately groundbreaking as a way to think about an RPG.
Similarly, while there are super tough enemies and stuff in the setting, you're kind of intended to eventually kick their asses. No-one is 'beyond' you like you'd get in a lot of other nineties games. Every metaplot character is there for you to matter to. You might be their best agents, the guys they rely on completely. You might be their bitter arch nemesis. But all the people you run into in Feng Shui are meant to be played with. Right from the start, your PC is a big deal. The game also does a good thing with its metaplot, which is groundbreaking for the 1990s: This game has a 'snapshot' metaplot. Some shit went down just before your game started, and the default Hero Group faction (The Silver Dragons) are mostly dead, leaving you an in to be the new generation of Silver Dragons as a default if you want. But all the setting material is based around that snapshot in time, rather than advancing the 'story'. This makes it a lot easier to include the setting material in your games, and would've meant that a group acquiring this material as it got published would instead be getting new cool stuff about what was going on Right Now instead of stuff that suddenly writes lots of pre-existing material out. It's a great way to handle it.
Anyway, back to mechanics: One of the issues in PC creation is that your main fighting AVs tend to be locked during PC creation and unable to be raised until you have EXP. Lots of skills have an = after them. Same for some stats, or substats. What this means is that even if you raise a stat that should raise that AV, the AV stays locked. This is why I say stuff like 'Martial Arts+11' as a Skill Bonus is mostly irrelevant; a character might alter their Reflexes during creation, but since their AV was locked at what it was when their Reflexes were base for their class, that +X skill bonus stops being accurate. I always just ended up recording the actual AVs instead of Skill Bonus, because raising a skill with EXP is based on its total AV anyway. Skill Bonuses are just another of the awkward ways the stat and PC creation systems interact.
The reason for the locked AVs is reasonable enough. If you didn't lock them, what happens when a character with a ton of free Skill Bonuses on their Archetype jacks a fighting skill up to 20 and styles all over the dedicated 'best at skill in fighting' Archetypes? But it can lead to a curious thing where, for instance, raising Reflexes during PC creation so you have a high Speed (you want that) means that if you'd instead raised Reflexes with EXP later, you'd have also effectively raised a ton of your Fighting AVs, which is way more efficient EXP wise. At the same time, because you get diminishing returns on raising stats with EXP later, putting static points of +1 into a stat to jack it up is efficient in its own way. We'll get into the weeds with EXP later, but the whole EXP/character creation resource split is something you see a lot in this era of gaming. Now, worrying about this kind of stuff is meant to be a bit against the spirit of the game; FS is not the kind of game where you're supposed to worry about min-maxing. The issue is that with Base AV being such an important stat and the die system being highly deterministic, the person playing a PC with a 15 fighting AV is going to get to kick people into a helicopter blades significantly more often than person who has a 13. And with Archetypes being kind of unbalanced, it can be easy to accidentally pick a character who will be frustrated and unable to pull off cool shit.
We'll get into that next time, with the Archetypes.
Next Time: Melodramatic Hooks, Characters, and Archetypes
The Man Your Man Could Kill LikeOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
The Man Your Man Could Kill Like
So, let's talk archetypes and PC creation in detail. Like I said, the Archetypes sell themselves. Pretty much every Archetype makes themselves sound cool enough to be worth playing as. Choosing your Archetype is the most mechanically significant decision in the game, and the book is also clear that if after the first session you're not happy with some of your choices, you can go back and retcon them. The focus is on getting you into the action, and to that same token making a PC doesn't take long.
Archetypes decide what kinds of powers you start out with access to, what your base AV is, what non-combat skills you know for the 'breather' scenes where you do character drama or hunt for clues, what your stats are, and what Juncture you're from. See, Feng Shui is a time travel game, where characters go from one era of time to another via a magic netherworld full of the ruins of past timelines. These time-spots are usually pretty fixed, and provide sub-settings and cool sets for you to have fights in. Since they matter a lot to Archetypes, let me give you a quick rundown:
69 AD: Most portals go to ancient China, at the latter end of the Han Dynasty. This is full on mythic China, full of wuxia protagonists, demons, and evil sorcerers. The main conflict here is that the palace Eunuchs that controlled access to the Han Emperors aren't just politically powerful and cunning operators, they're
1850 AD: Once again, a lot of the portals go to China, but you can also go to Europe or the American West if you want some Cowboy shootouts. This sub-setting is fought over by a bunch of sinister Neo-Confucian kung-fu masters (Seriously: The Guiding Hand are amazing and I'll probably be going into their setting book in time just because their fucked up philosophy of the Superior Man is great writing) who are trying to co-opt and subvert all Chinese resistance in the aftermath of the horrible First Opium War. Its actual setting book has a ton of great stuff on a turbulent period in Chinese history and how to drop-kick assholes throughout it. The people doing the colonizing and gunboat diplomacy are partly members of a secret society of hidden fairytale animals who want to suppress magic, called the Ascended, who act as a turbo-Illuminati and overall own 1850 and 1996.
1996 AD: The Contemporary Juncture. Much of the action here will happen in pre-handover Hong Kong, because Hong Kong is the most important city in the universe. That isn't an exaggeration in the slightest. Other than that, it's the mid 90s; Cold War's over (for now), Clinton's President, the West is booming, Russia is full of crime and sadness, the US is throwing its dick all over the planet in triumph, the internet's new and people still thought it was going to be used for something other than advertising and surveillance, etc etc. It's a wild time to be alive, and kind of the 'default' for PCs. Also ruled by the secret Chicken Illuminati, who like to point to the fact that the internet exists and you can get a cheeseburger to justify their existence. Given what happens next, and the shit going down in 1850, all Ascended are scum.
2056 AD: So, uh. Global warming went real bad. Around the 2030s (which is remarkably prescient) global agriculture collapsed from climate change. A pandemic that could've wiped out humankind was only stopped by sterilizing Haiti before it spread. The dark future has been returned to being stable, bright, and shiny by the Bureau of Tactical Management (Generally called Buro), which invented artificial means of feeding everyone, put together armies of cybernetic horrors pulled out of Chinese Hell, and clamped down on the world with an iron fist composed of everything the Far Right has ever been terrified of. Yes, the Dark Future of Feng Shui has bio-horror magic invented by dark scientists and UN cyberdemons enforcing inter-racial marriage as the norm and is generally a parody of American right wing paranoia combined with Demolition Man and a Croenenberg film.
So your PC is from one of these times. Your Archetype will tell you which ones that Archetype can be from. For instance, one of the Archetypes is the Monster Hunter; these are the guys and gals who actually go into the Netherworld or 69 AD to grab demons to cyber up. Naturally, with an insanely dangerous job that sees them working for the Dark Future equivalent of Umbrella Inc, some of them decide to get the hell out while the getting is good and try to change the future. But since their backstory is heavily tied to using Arcanowave (the evil bio-magic tech of the future), you generally have to be from 2056, even though you probably start your campaign somewhere else.
In fact, let's look at the Monster Hunter as our first full Archetype example, because I always have a bit of a soft-spot for ascended mooks who used to be doing a ridiculously dangerous, thankless job at the behest of mad science. The Monster Hunter begins play with a 5 in all 4 primary attributes, meaning their Chi is very, unusually high. They need that since Magic fuels Arcanowave devices, and that's their core power set. We'll get into the mechanics of all the power sets later; Arcanowave is probably the weirdest. They then get 5 points to distribute among their Primary stats, and no Secondaries. So a Monster Hunter PC has pretty okay starting stats; they could start out with a 10 and all 5s, or go more evenly distributed, etc. They start with a whopping locked AV 15 in Arcanowave (which also means their base Dodge AV is 15, even if they're not using their Arcanowave devices), a locked 12 in Guns, a 9 in Martial Arts (can go up to 10 before locking), and a 9 in Information: Ancient China, with 4 skill points to distribute elsewhere. So they're kinda shitty with a gun by PC standards, amazing with hell-magic, and only a little above a mook in kung-fu. They get 2 Arcanowave Device Schticks, and then 1 Gun Schtick; they're meant to be a hybrid AW/Gun character, even if they kind of suck with the gun to start with. They also come with one gun from 2056, but characters throw guns away and get news guns so often that it's hardly worth mentioning most of the time.
So your Monster Hunter is fighting AV 15 for purposes of not getting hit (again, this is just their base; it applies whether they have their hell-tools or not), and gets to play with their hell-magic bio-rifles and shit at AV 15. They're a bit of a special case, because AW isn't that great for direct combat (the one AW item that is is a massive hell-rifle that can be hard to carry around) so they're probably going to rely on Gun a lot, but in most cases, a character doesn't benefit a lot from splitting between multiple fighting skills. After all, if you can fight on AV 15 or fight on AV 12 and there isn't some very pressing mechanical reason to use the AV 12 skill (like the enemy being completely immune to the AV 15 one, which can happen, or you just not having your giant hell-cannon) you're gonna take that +3 AV every time; the odds go way up if you do.
Let's look at another infamous Archetype: The Big Bruiser. This is for people who want to play the huge person who gets punched a bunch in the stomach as their acrobatic little enemy tries to do cool kung-fu moves on them and just yawns, then smashes the little guy. They're also infamously one of the worst Archetypes in the game, because the way the dice system works out, that scene basically never goes like that. They're insanely strong and tough (They start with Body=11, Toughness=12!) and take more damage before they start to suffer wound penalties or risk dying. They hit like a train in melee, potentially, since they're Str 11. They get 0 Chi, 5 Ref, and 5 Mnd, then 2 points to add to one of those (Both points must go to one stat). Their issues start when their highest AV is 12. They start with Martial Arts =12, Guns 8 (max 10), Intimidation 9, and Info (Your Choice) 7, with 4 extra skill points. They have 0 Schticks. They might have 0 Fortune. So you run into a situation where you can't fucking hit an AV 15 guy, and meanwhile he can hit you, but you're Toughness 12, so you're pretty hard to hurt. So the other guy is chipping away at you, 2-3 damage an action or so, when it takes 50 damage to kill a Big Bruiser. And meanwhile you're swinging wildly and missing. It's not a recipe for exciting action. The Big Bruiser's terrible AV basically translates to 'until you level up a bunch, you get to sit and watch other people be cool while you mostly fail to take out extras'. Bruisers can be from any Juncture, of course; Big Guy/Gal is a universal constant.
Or let's look at one of my personal favorites, and the other major AV outlier: The Old Master. Yeah, you're supposed to die in act 1 so your student can avenge you, but fuck that! You want to be a PC. Old Kung Fu Masters can be from any Juncture, because there are always old Kung Fu Masters hidden away in all time periods. They get Bod=4, Chi=10 (Fortune=0!), Mnd 5, Ref 5, but also get 4 points to distribute between Ref and Mnd. They know Info on Calligraphy, Chinese Poetry, Chinese Painting, Eastern Philosophy and Noodle-Making, because that is the way of the superior man (or woman). But that's not the real reason you come to the Old Master: It's for the Martial Arts=16. Yep. They start with a 16 AV. AND they do more damage with their fists and feet than most people do with a sword or spear, to make up for their frail starting Body. They are the exact opposite of the Big Bruiser, and they kick ass. They also start with 5 Fu Schticks, so they can know an entire style of magic kung-fu. They're awesome for the exact reasons the Big Bruiser sucks.
I also bring them up because c'mon, you can actually just play an Old Master who refuses to get written out. And you can be from any time period! You can be a frail old woman living in peace on a mountain away from the climate change and UN stormtroopers when a VTOL lands on your porch and crushes your peach tree and then a few minutes later a cyberdemon and a bunch of BuroMil goons are all in a bleeding heap on the floor as you steal their ride and set out to bring justice back to the world. Because they fucked with an old person living on a mountain. In a kung fu movie.
You can be Rambo, you can be Inspector Tequila, you can be Jack Burton, you can be Jacky Chan or Donnie Yen. You can play a noble Hell Demon or a Cyberdemon yourself! You can be a ghost! A ghost who is a wizard! You can make a famed Han Dynasty Magistrate have a buddy-cop story with a cybernetic rebel monkey from the future. All of this is supported by the Archetype system. The issue is that a bunch of the Archetypes come out to AV 13, no real Schticks, and a bunch of 'non-combat' utility. The Spy, the Thief, the Journalist; those guys all kinda pale next to The Killer with his 15 Gun AV and shitload of Gun Schticks, or the Maverick Cop's amazing driving skills and two-fisted pistols. They're still cool, but the guy with the better numbers is just going to do more cool shit, because you need the numbers to actually hit the checks to do the cool shit. And the one sort of situation you absolutely know is coming up? Combat.
Another fun thing is the Melodramatic Hook. You have a Melodramatic Hook. This has nothing to do with game mechanics. This is your elevator pitch. It's to get you thinking about 'why is my character here, and what cool thing am I trying to do'. Your hook is why the audience cares about you. Some asshole capped your partner. You've been dragged back in for one last job. You got someone important killed and can't go back to Buro. You're in love with someone you shouldn't be. You're trying to bring your evil father/brother/mother/sister to justice or redeem them. You need the money for your mom's operation. You came back to Hong Kong undercover to kill the Triad guy who helped your sister OD. A quick, simple, 'why do we care' that gives you a hook. It's a great thing to add for making the kinds of character Feng Shui is about. Sure, you can fill in more backstory as your series goes on, but this is your 'into the action' hook and it's a good move.
So, to demonstrate why character creation might be something of a mechanical mess but still produces strong character concepts at least, throw a concept at me and I can make it in Feng Shui, almost guaranteed. Even if you know nothing about the setting beyond the general tone so far and those Juncture descriptions.
Next Time: Showing off PC creation in detail
Get me those pictures!Original SA post Feng Shui 1e
Get me those pictures!
Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD is feared all across the shelters of the American Midwest, a terrible rebel against the Bureau of Happiness and Productivity whose crimes include replacing the populace's Productivity Drugs with placebos, publishing an underground medical journal, helping other rebels replace their biometrics, and kidnapping the children of known subversives (Read: Hiding them from BuroMil snatch squads). He and his spider-themed minions (and their sticky web projectors) have yet to actually be convicted on a single count of murder, but there are many, many counts of public endangerment and unlawful restraint to answer for!
And on the case is ace Public Order Flying Squad detective Lance Cortez, an all Amero-Hispanic flying ace and crack investigator who has sworn to bring the masked, handsome doctor to task. That Lance Cortez is Dr. Igor Tarantula (MD) by night is irrelevant, and he is still held up on propaganda posters throughout the tornado-ravaged underground shelter-cities of the midwestern United States.
Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD uses the Criminal Mastermind Archetype from Seed of the New Flesh, the Buro book. These are costumed villains and megalomaniacs who seek to bring down the Buro of 2056...which...kind of ends up making them the good guys. All the real psychos went and joined the secret police, you see. So they end up good-hearted rebels against the dystopian future, but they also get to have fun, which is usually illegal in 2056.
Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD starts off with a 5 in Bd, 0 in Chi (=4 Fu), 5 in Mnd, and 5 in Ref, with up to +4 in those stats (max 2 per stat). As he is a genius doctor, he will take 2 points of Mnd, then 2 points of Reflexes to represent how he is also a flying cop by day. Jetbike cops are the prestigious cops of 2056. He gets a base 14 of Martial Arts (locked to 14) and 10 in Guns (locked to 10), but can swap them; he does so because I think a gun is cooler for him. He knows about the criminal underground in 2056 (10, raises to 12 from increasing Mind), Leaderhips (10, increasing to 12 from Mind), and Intrusion (7, increasing to 9 from Reflexes) so he can sneak about. He gets 2 additional skills, so also takes 1 point in Drive/Ride (Note: You can drive/ride ANYTHING) for an 8 and 1 in Medicine for another 8. He is a medical doctor! He then gets the choice between 2 gun schticks and 1 Fu schtick, 4 Gun Schticks, or 2 Fu Schticks; the gun choice is way more EXP efficient, so he takes that.
Guns are kind of the 'single classed fighter' powerset of Feng Shui. They're also hands down the best weapon in the game for sweeping away mooks. Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD is going to take 2 ranks of Carnival of Carnage. Normally, you spend 3 action points (Shots) per attack with a gun. Each rank of Carnival of Carnage makes you spend 1 less, min 1, to shoot at mooks. This means he can kill mooks all goddamn day. He also takes Hair Trigger Neck Hairs, a Schtick that gives him +2 to Perception tests against danger and means he's always alert and ready to draw down; if he succeeds a spot check to see hidden danger, he can add his Outcome on that check to his first gun stunt that sequence. Or to his AV for his first action roll dodge. He also takes Signature Weapon, having a signature Buro Blade of Truth (Their little bullpup SMG-uzi...FROM THE FUTURE!) that he always seems to have on his person and that now does +3 damage. It now conceals like an SMG, hits like an assault rifle, and in his capable hands, mows down (non-lethally! He is a doctor, and knows how to avoid killing mooks when taking them down) mooks.
As a Criminal Mastermind, he also gets 2 sweet unique abilities. Unique Schticks, so to speak. He is a Mook Magnet, knowing the gentle ways of the kinds of people who put on spider-themed body suits and join a themed criminal. He can go around and recruit mooks for his posse; after a full day cruising dive bars, wharves, abandoned warehouses, and offering people booze and easy pickings, he can make an Open Check (with no base AV). Add 1 to the result of that check, and that's how many mooks he recruits. They're mostly useless, but if any of them survive 3 whole combats, they get a name! And a backstory! And become actual characters/contacts/allies and start gaining EXP points like he had the Leadership feat in D&D.
To pay for that, though, he has the unique drawback Slave to the Cheese: If he defeats a Buro character, he just...it's just not done. No-one just shoots these people. That's not how it goes! He lowers them into the vat of ill-tempered mutant octopi while gloating and making a speech. He gives them crazy but fair deathtraps and games and means to escape. Just killing them is boring, and fuck, he didn't get into this job to be boring.
His Melodramatic hook, of course, is that he lives a double life as both the fantastic Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD and the heroic Lance Cortez, who spends a lot of time talking up how dangerous and cool Dr. Tarantula is, if you pay attention. As an added bonus, he's Rich, though wealth is mostly meaningless in FS.
Mako Ishii was a slightly tougher one, but I decided to go with the funnier option of Supernatural Creature rather than Abomination or Transformed Animal.
Mako Ishii is your normal 25 year old post-doc Japanese student, studying biochemistry in the US and trying to make it in the world. Except the part where until last year, she was due to die of cancer within a few months. Interning with a super-scientist who turned out to be an Ascended front, she was used to study how they can stop themselves from turning into animals if exposed to magic, via partly turning her into an animal, by exposing her to magic. Fortunately for Mako, this actually did cure her cancer. Unfortunately for Mako, she now sometimes turns into a mighty sharktopus. Even more unfortunately for Mako, she now owes 700,000 dollars in medical bills in addition to her student loans, having drastically underestimated the nefarious US Health Insurance industry and its links to superscience and the chicken illuminati. Now she's stuck fighting in a time war she never imagined to pay the bills. At least she has superpowers. Demonic ones, it turns out.
Normally a Supernatural Creature comes from 69 AD, but I can bend things a little and have Mako be from 1996; you're supposed to do so if you backstory works. They start with Body 5, Chi 0 (Mag=8), Mind 3, and Reflexes 5. They add 5 to one stat, 3 to another, and 1 to another. Mako adds 5 to Body, 3 to Mind, and 1 to Reflexes. She's now Body 10, Chi 0 (Mag=8), Mind 6, Reflexes 6. Above average in almost all ways, extremely mighty. Her only powers are Creature Powers =15 (so her base AV is 15), and Martial Arts 9 (10 with Reflex boost, max 12). She gets 3 skillpoints, and spends 1 on Info (Superscience), one on Medicine, and one on Info (Manga). She's neglecting her Martial Arts, but don't worry; Creature Powers will be all she needs.
The real kicker here is her 5 Creature Schticks. Creature Powers are a grab-bag of crazy abilities, many of them running off Martial Arts as well as the Creature Powers skills, that can work great as weird superpowers. She takes the Transformation power, letting her turn back into a normal post-doc student. She takes a second rank of it so she can stay in that form/adopt hybrid forms while using Creature Powers. She then grabs Regeneration (Slowly heals during and between fights), Tentacles (Has long tentacles that keep enemies at bay and can use her Creature Powers stat to attack), and Amphibian; she can live and move in water with no penalty. The seas belong to Mako. Beware of Sharktopus.
Her Melodramatic Hook, of course, is that she owes huge medical debts to an evil superscientist and the legal system won't let her wriggle out of them. She's actually quite lethal. Also, as a grad student, she's poor.
Zhuge Liang still has that goddamn fan and aura of constant smugness. I also have the perfect archetype for him, but it takes a little bit of refluffing. He is an Uberkid in Archetype; these are hyper-geniuses that, in the normal fluff, were made by Buro to be a next generation of superhuman advisor and agent. Many of them have since escaped from Buro, because they're too damn smart for their own good, but are finding it surprisingly hard to get the rebel groups of the future to listen to a 9 year old. Instead, he'll use their rules, because they fit the smug bastard perfectly, but he's just Zhuge Liang, but somehow he managed to find a time hole and slip into the Netherworld.
His Melodramatic Hook is obviously 'Is Zhuge Liang' and 'Will prevent the collapse of the Han Dynasty, probably by luring people into buildings and setting them on fire, it's his thing.'
He starts with Body =4 (Weedy), Chi 4, Mnd =11 (Superhumanly smart), and Ref 5. He gets +2 to one stat, and +2 to one Secondary, so he takes +2 Chi and +2 to Fortune, because there's no way this bastard isn't getting lucky all the time. He comes with Deceit =13, Detective 11, Fixit 11, Info (Geomancy) 11, Medicine 11, Martial Arts=13, and Guns 5. He adds 4 to Info skills, so he learns Info/Han Dynasty 1 (12), Info/Strategy 2 (13), and Info/Lotus 1 (12; he's done some homework on the Eunuchs he's going to have to stop). He gets 1 Fu schtick, and takes Willow Step, which lets him spend a little bit of Fu to make himself harder to hit at no costs, because he saw it coming. He also gets some unique Schticks: He can spend Fortune to just learn stuff from the GM (Like a character's powerset, or AVs, or ridiculous things he should have no way of guessing at goddamnit Zhuge Liang), he gains an extra EXP a session because he's too goddamn smart, and he gets the same +2 to Dodge AV as the scrappy kid sidekick archetype does. Because again, he saw it coming.
He's actually really infuriating to kill, but can't do much himself with his weedy arms and little fancy fan. He's sort of the 'built to be what sounds really cool, kind of sucks' character, though his massive Fortune can turn things around some. Most of those non-combat abilities don't really help him be an action hero, and a 13 to-hit and 4 Body as a Martial Arts character can be, uh, a problem. He'll never let on that he struggles with anything, though. He'll just keep setting things on fire until the Han Dynasty holds on.
Volkov is 100% the guy who fucked himself mechanically because he took the Cyborg archetype. Cyborgs sound cool, right? His Melodramatic Hook is looking for his heroic cyber-dog, Chitzkoi, who has somehow become lost in the time stream. He will move heaven and earth to get that good boy back. He's also from an erased timeline that had a really hammy Stalin in it.
His problem is Cyborgs suck. He starts with Body 5, Chi 0, Mind 5, and Reflexes 5. He adds 3 to one stat, 1 to another, and then only 2 to one Secondary. He'll take 8 Body, 6 Reflexes, and then 2 into Dex, wanting to be fast and strong. He should have put it in Speed, not realizing he's just making it harder to raise his Guns skill, and he's going to be relying on Guns. He starts with a 7 in Arcanowave (He's an AW character who gets 0 base Magic and a terrible AW skill; why does Cyborg exist!?), =13 in Guns, =11 in Martial Arts, and 7 in Sabotage (which at least goes up to 10 from his +1 Ref, +2 Dex). He could swap Martial Arts and Guns, but decides not to. Guns are cool. He gets 6 Skillpoints, and puts 4 in Arcanowave (to hit its max of 11), and 2 in Intrusion to be a cunning agent (setting it to 8). He gets 4 Arcanowave Devices, despite not really being any use with them, and 1 Gun Schtick. However, he sort of saves himself here a little; a lot of cool AW gear doesn't actually use AW checks, or have relatively easy ones.
He grabs an Aerial Mobility Unit; he can fly, and make AW checks to speed himself up in combat. Only for how far he can move, not for how many actions he gets. He grabs a Feedback Enhancer, which makes Sorcerers have their spells backfire when they target him, without needing a check. He takes a Neural Stimulator, which does the same thing as the Aerial Mobility Unit but for his actual Init, but causes him Impairment and thus lowers his AV (dodge and attack) by 1 after each long-ish round he has it in. He then takes a Juicer, which will negate Impairments from wounds or his Stimulator. Sounds good? It also risks mutating the shit out of him, like all AW devices. And with 0 Chi, some of the AW backfires can kill him instantly, since they can reduce Chi as a stat and if you reduce a stat that's already at 0, AW mutation kills/turns you into an NPC monster. He also grabs Both Guns Blazing with his Gun Schtick and two Buro Godhammer .50s. That sounds cool, right? Both Guns Blazing takes multiple Schticks to stop sucking; it makes you do 2xWeapon Damage+Outcome-2xEnemy DR, so if your weapon damage is lower than their DR it actually weakens your attacks. It also imposes a -2 AV when used, with the penalty lessening by 1 per Schtick of Both Guns Blazing.
So he's an AV 13 on attack and defense, has a mishmash of cool-sounding abilities that don't work together great, can accidentally kill himself (unlikely but possible), is terrible with his AW gear despite it being his main schtick, and took the worst Gun Schtick in the game because he thought firing two massive magnums would be awesome. Sorry, Volkov. Even Zhuge Liang is a better action hero.
Hominid Case is in debt with some bad folks after some bets went wrong at the cyber-pony track down by the Netherworld Junkyard. He needs a case that'll make him some dough, quick, or else he'll be swimming with the fishes. And since he's a giant gorilla in a trenchoat with an implanted set of Film Noir movies stuck in his onboard computer, he's too heavy to swim.
Hominid Case is a Gorilla Warrior, and exists thanks to Mors being really thorough back in 2012; I actually don't need to find my book. He comes with Bod 9, Chi 0, Mnd 4, and Ref 7, because he's a giant cybernetic gorilla. He comes with 10 in Martial arts (Can go up to 13), 10 in Guns (Can go up to 13), 11 in Sabotage, and 9 in Info: CDCA (The Buro mad science people). He also comes with 4 Hardware Schticks; heavy cybernetics that can make him a super badass. And one gun Schtick. He would lose 1 point of EXP a session if he didn't have an ape pun in his name, but he does, so he's cool. He'd normally be associated with the Jammers, who are a group of insane cybernetic monkeys and rebels led by Battlechimp Potemkin (we'll get to him, I promise) and who want to free the world by blowing a lot of shit up. But you can't do Private Eye without Private, so he's a gorilla on his own. He also gets 7 skillpoints, so he fills out Gun to 13, then puts 1 in Detective, 1 in Intrusion, 1 in Info (Noir), and 1 in Fixit to handle his own components.
Being an incredibly intelligent detective, he takes Onboard Computer (-1 Strength, but sets his Intelligence to 11, making him as smart as Zhuge Liang) though the discount cyberbrain he's got came with a full noir personality suite and every movie Humphrey Bogart ever acted in, as if they were his own memories. He also take Sensory Upgrade, for 11 Perception but -1 Will. And Body Armor for Tgh 13 (!) but -3 Movement. Finally, he takes an Adrenal Enhancement for 11 Speed, but -2 Intelligence; but since Onboard Computer sets his Intelligence to 11, the penalty is negated. That's part of how Hardware Schticks work. Finally, for Gun Schticks, he takes a Signature Weapon: A trust Colt .45 that never leaves his side. He's a brilliant detective, a genius with machines, and astonishingly fast on the draw. And he can get the shit beaten out of him and keep coming even better than the Big Bruiser, while not generally sucking like they do. You can't keep this gumshoe down.
Next Time: On To Power Sets
Gun Gun GunOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Gun Gun Gun
So before I get to our first power set (Person With Gun) let's talk about another little detail Feng Shui did right. Every single skill in the game is also used for 'knowledge' and 'contacts'. So take Mako's Info (Manga) or Zhuge Liang's Detective skill; not only can they use those skills to know everything about the development of famous Japanese comic books (and obscure ones) or to solve mysteries, but Mako would know how to contact other enthusiasts (and maybe some comic artists) and a bunch of industry stuff. While Zhuge Liang would know all about all kinds of famous detectives, magistrates, and others, as well as how to use that same skill to deduce the patterns of people hunting the party through the streets of 2056 by realizing where they're leaving evidence behind. Skills are very broad, and are much more about the player coming up with a reason the skill can apply than someone saying why it can't; this is kind of thing I mean when I say the game is designed with the assumption of 'yes' rather than 'no'. Bullshiting your way through clues and mysteries by the random stuff you know as an action hero is an intentional part of the non-combat breather scenes.
In another decent bit, where you learned your skill matters...but only a little. So, Zhuge Liang would struggle a little the first scene he tries to use Detective to guess the patterns of PubOrd in 2056, while Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD would have difficulty leading a group of ancient Chinese mountain bandits at first. That then goes away after a short comic interlude of your character having some hijinks about figuring out the new timeline they're in; Zhuge Liang staring intently at a vending machine before deducing everything he needs to analyze 1996 culture from the existence of vending machines, Dr. Igor Tarantua, MD realizing that mooks are mooks no matter the era, Mako getting really into late-edo period woodblock art, etc. The penalties for 'wrong juncture' fade extremely quickly and then are forgotten about before they get old, after everyone has a good laugh at how you adjusted. This is good.
Similarly, there are no language skills. Everyone can understand everyone. You're all speaking Cantonese, translated into English by subtitles for an American audience if you're playing in the US. Everyone is speaking Cantonese. All the time. Ancient sorcerer? Cantonese. Russian oligarch? Cantonese. Future Hell Demon? Cantonese. If you couldn't trade banter, it'd just be an annoying tax on your skillpoints, and there's enough annoying character building stuff in the weird interactions of the combat engine already, damnit.
Now, on to shooting sixty people. So, Guns are the bread and butter combat skill of Feng Shui. They're the easiest sort of fighting to be good at with the fewest stats, because you don't need Strength for damage with them. A Gun Character can even do a fair number of useful things without Schticks, while an Martial Arts character with no Creature/Fu Schticks is probably going to suck for awhile. This is also partly because Guns only ever care about your Guns AV (and your Dex can add to that). You must have a 12 or higher Gun AV to learn any Gun Schticks. Gun Schticks cost no resources to activate, and don't need anything but your Gun AV. They're medium cost (Each new Schtick is 8+X, where X is how many Gun Schticks you'll have after buying the new one). They're quite effective. And guns hit pretty hard.
So while Gun Character is sort of the vanilla Fighter of Feng Shui, Gun Character is also really fucking good. We'll have to get a little into the base combat system before any of it will make sense, so let's do that now. Feng Shui is famous for codifying 'mook rules'. Your average unnamed goon (the decider for if a character is a full character or not is if they get a name in the script, or just a stunt-man credit) doesn't have HP or anything. They just die or get KOed (player's choice) any time someone attacks them and gets a 5 or higher Outcome on the roll. If you get a 1-4, you 'hit' them but nothing happens so game-wise you missed. You can normally try to hit more than one mook an action with a -2 to hit, -1 more for each mook beyond the second. This matters because Guns are the absolute best thing in the game for killing mooks. No other weapon will sweep mooks off the screen like a gun. When I was playing an Ex-Special Forces gun character, I was regularly erasing 20-30 Mooks per longer back-and-forth turn and I wasn't even *fully* optimized to do it.
The issue with this is that this is either an extremely important role, or completely useless. There's kind of no middle ground. See, the average Mook is AV 8. Which means they need a +5 Outcome to hit even a relatively poor PC (AV 13). Which, you know, requires a positive die explosion with no corresponding negative. So average mooks have extremely low chances to hit, but are all still rolled individually and treated as individual combatants; there's no 'brute squads' like in 7th Sea in Feng Shui and God did it need them. A quick rules patch is to let mooks group up and make a single attack at higher AV so that you aren't rolling 6 attacks individually that all have very low chances to hit. But! The point is if you're fighting low AV mooks, the mooks are set dressing and not a threat. The main thing your Gun Character is doing sweeping them off the field is removing a headache that would slow combat down and take forever to resolve, which is actually very mechanically valuable but kind of a bad reason for something to be thus.
Alternately, later books will introduce higher AV mooks, without thinking about the fact that a mook's *defensive* AV is effectively 5 points higher. So an AV 12 or 13 mook vs. an AV 12 or 13 PC is actually tremendously hard for that PC to hit without bonuses or Fortune dice. Sure, they only have to get hit once, but still, bouncing off effectively AV 17-18 Defenses kind of sucks. A Gun Character can reduce the Outcome needed to waste mooks, and can do it without even needing Schticks. A Gun Character with a 7.62mm or heavier Assault Rifle or MG needs +3 Outcome to kill mooks instead of +5. 5.56mm needs +4. So bring the M14, not the M16, if you were in a situation that let you carry an AR. Not only will this sweep away low AV mooks like a tide, but it also makes it a lot easier to kill high AV ones.
Guns also just do solid damage. Guns do 8-13 damage, generally, with some outliers. Damage on an attack is (Weapon Damage+Outcome-Enemy Toughness). It usually takes 35+ damage to kill a named character. Melee usually does Str+1-4; a very high Strength character can start to outdo guns, but it takes a lot of investment. The gun doesn't need any of that investment. That's part of their power. A weedy Bd 4 guy like Zhuge Liang, if he learned Guns, could whip out an AK-47 and do Damage 13 shots all day. Also, now you have Zhuge Liang with an AK-47 and I'm not sure what the fuck Cao Cao is supposed to do about that. Automatic guns can also fire in bursts, where for every 3 shells you fire on an attack you get +1 damage. If you fire more than 6, though, you get -1 AV per additional burst, and given Outcome directly adds to damage...never fire more than 6 shells a burst, it's effectively useless.
Guns also require ammunition, and worry about Concealment. Concealment is its own fairly complicated subsystem, but suffice to say you can get a pistol and two clips into most situations fairly easily, but if you want an AR or shotgun at a fancy party you'll have to stow it in a duffel bag on the premises and then grab it later in the action scene. Concealment is meant to be the reason you don't just carry an AK-47 everywhere, because mechanically an M-14/AK-47 is the best possible weapon. Also, 1850s guns and 69 AD Bows use the same skills, but all suck compared to modern weaponry, so you want to bring an AK-47 to ancient/19th Century China as often as possible.
One of the issues with the gun rules is that there's just...no acknowledgement that some guns have no mechanical argument for using them. It's buried in 'well that gun is cool'. Take Shotguns. Shotguns have a famous rule where if you spend an action point and mime going KA-CHAK, your shotgun does +1 damage next attack. That's fun. But shotguns do the same damage, with the same concealment, as heavy assault rifles. Which also take out mooks easier. And you had to spend time on doing that KA-CHAK thing. The AR also can fire in bursts, and a single 3 round burst...gets you +1 damage. For no action cost. So you end up mechanically punished for trying to do the fun, cool thing the rules were excited about, while the person plugging away with an AK and giving exciting descriptions of the hails of bullets and where they're diving while they fire it achieves more actual success.
This is sort of everywhere in FS: It never really catches on to how it needs to back 'it's cool' with 'the numbers are good', because you need the numbers to let the mechanics let you actually do cool things instead of just try to do cool things. We'll get to that in a lot more detail when we get to stunts.
Anyway, the other nice thing is Gun Schticks are simple and extremely effective. Take Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD's Carnival of Carnage; he attacks unnamed characters really fast. Characters normally have d6+Spd stat 'Shots' per turn in combat. Shots count down and serve as round-phases in a Sequence (an actual round), with characters trading licks as their Shots tick down. A normal attack action normally takes 3 Shots. Carnival of Carnage lets you spend 1 less Shot per Schtick spent on it shooting unnamed characters, and if you get more than 2 Schticks in it, makes you need less Outcome to take them out even if you aren't using an AR. At best, it will only take you to needing Outcome+3; it won't stack with an AR itself. But it can let you mow down whole hordes of guys with a pistol effortlessly, and in record time. A single Gun Schtick, Eagle Eye, lets you completely hard-counter any enemy armor (As in, completely ignore Armor ratings with guns) while making extreme range shooting easier (removes 2 points of long-range difficulty from gun stunts per Schtick). Gun Schticks can help you spot ambushes and get a bonus to shooting first against the ambush. They can make shooting 3 unnamed guys per attack free; no penalty (10,000 Bullets is awesome). A gun character with 2 in Carnival of Carnage, 2 in 10,000 bullets, and using an AR? Can easily wipe out a whole platoon of guys in a single sequence. And you can start with that! The best Gun Character, the Killer, has AV 15 and 5 starting Schticks.
You can take Signature Weapon to have a lucky gun you'll never, ever really lose that does +3 damage. You can make ALL gun attacks easier to do faster, not just ones against mooks. You can give yourself literally infinite ammunition if you have 3 ranks of Lightning Reload; instead of reducing the shot-cost of reloading, you eventually just get the ability to properly ignore magazine like a proper action hero and shoot as much as you goddamn well please. Gun Schticks can do all kinds of cool shit with guns.
The thing is this is all character building decisions; a Gun Character doesn't really have many decisions to make in combat besides who they shoot at. Other characters have resource subsystems and lists of special moves; Gun Characters have 'use gun on man'. Now, Use Gun On Man is a damned good special move, and you still get to go wild describing how you do it. So that might be enough for you. Guns are also one of the most likely powersets to get hard countered; a fair number of supernaturals are completely immune to normal bullets, and there's a lot of stuff that can block Gun, relatively. Cover, for instance; people behind Cover can get +1 to +4 to their AV to not get hit depending on the cover, and +4 AV is, with a dice system that generally falls within +2/-2 as a die result the majority of the time, pretty fucking hard to hit if they had a decent AV to begin with. That Cover isn't going to do shit to stop Mako doing a triple flip over the table the guy's hiding behind and slamming him into the ceiling with a tentacle, but it MIGHT stop Hominid Case emptying his Colt .45 in your direction, is what I'm saying.
Still, Gun is tremendously effective and a great start to the powersets, and a nice bit of one of the mechanical things FS does right: No powerset is useless. No powerset is really that much better than any other outside of some edge cases. There's cool shit in every power set. Totally Normal Police Detective With Revolver Who's Too Old For This Shit is, generally, exactly as badass as 'Secret Dragon In Human Form Trained In Iron Tiger Kung Fu'. While some sets do different things mechanically (like how Gun kills mooks like nobody's business) they're all still pretty badass and you'll find something cool in every set.
Another neat detail: You get a lot of guns that all do the same thing, but the book is clear that that's the point; it's so you can pick a gun and your gun character can go on and on about how it's the coolest, best gun model ever, without it having to have special mechanics. It's there to help you pepper your dialogue with gun talk, which doesn't need to be accurate or realistic because guns are a fantasy element in action movies just as much as magic and kung fu. No real gun works anything like an action movie gun, and Feng Shui gleefully embraces that; this is much appreciated. Anyone trying to complain about the 'realism' of their firearms is directed to the Sharktopus grad student or the cybernetic detective gorilla. Similarly, your PC will make all kinds of cool customization and mods to their gun, and will swear they're using the finest special bullets and explosive rounds and stuff. These do nothing. Your PC thinks they do, and they look cool, but they have no rules and no effect on the game. Another good touch.
Next Time: Zhuge Liang Knows Kung Fu.
The Critical Importance of Interior DecoratingOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
The Critical Importance of Interior Decorating
So, while plotting the Kung Fu update I realized I need to go and talk about Feng Shui before I write about Kung Fu, because some of Martial Arts' issues stem from a setting conceit. It's a little out of order, but this is also a good place to talk about EXP and PC advancement a little, since it's wrapped up in the very serious business of interior design.
So the central conceit of Feng Shui is that Feng Shui works. Feng Shui works really well. Feng Shui works so well that it directs the course of history. 'Feng Shui Sites' are the main resource this crazy-ass action hero time war gets fought over. People who properly attune to these sites will find themselves luckier, better, and generally more powerful than they ever were before. Entire conspiracies exist to get people more Chi flow from these Feng Shui Sites, as people fight across time to control the future of the planet via owning cool buildings (and natural features) with excellent interior decorating. Most people know nothing of Chi and just go about life, which is why most PCs start with 0 Chi.
In practice, Feng Shui Sites exist so you have a great excuse to have huge gunfights amidst cool architecture. Or so your heroes rescuing a little hole in the wall Chinese restaurant out of the goodness of their hearts is suddenly rewarded by discovering it's actually a font of good Chi (and that that's why the mob was really after it) to get them into the time war in the first place. Theoretically, the normal campaign structure of Feng Shui is your players running around trying to take Sites and shift things around so that they can change the fortunes of the planet for the better and fuck over the tyrants and bad guys who are trying to use Chi domination to enforce their rule.
The issue comes in several places. One, playing territory control can get kind of dull. Sometimes, you just want to shoot a dozen guys, not worry about capturing the zone for points. Two, sites power PCs up. A lot. Mechanically, taking Sites is the most important thing you can do. Three, Chi Domination is played a little too straight for my tastes. As in, there's a bunch of fluff about how you can't stay in 2056 for very long because the pervasive Chi controlled by Buro will make you agree with them, or there are multiple places where the Ascended can just kinda...turn you off in 1996 because they run the world. Sure, the bad guys should be powerful, but sometimes the fluff on Chi Domination feels limiting. 'I'm invincible, I have too much MacGuffin for you to ever challenge me!' is usually the kind of thing a villain confidently proclaims a moment before they get kicked in the dick, is what I'm saying. So we always played it that Chi Domination is powerful, but never as powerful as the various time tyrants think it is; after all, if it was, why have past time tyrants gotten their shit kicked in?
The reason you want to capture sites comes in the EXP/Advancement rules. Normally, you get 0-6 EXP a session, and getting more than 3 should be 'an event'. Not much, when Hominid Case needs like 30 to buy more cybernetics, or people have to pay Current AV+1 EXP to boost an AV, or 2xNew Level to buy up a Substat, or 4xNew Level to buy a single point in a Primary stat. Well, that's where Feng Shui Sites come in. Every Site the PCs control gives 3 Bonus EXP, minimum. Every session. Some Sites even give more, or have other passive buffs for your PCs, mostly made up on the spot. We're talking stuff like 'Owning part of Cuba suddenly makes assassins think an exploding cigar is a good idea, so you're protected from assassins'. Also, you cannot raise stats (only base AV and schticks) without being attuned to at least one site. You also get bonus EXP for 'burning' a Site; destroying it in a way that it will take a lot of effort for anyone to repair it. The Chi flowing off the ruined Site makes you stronger, usually to the tune of 5-7 bonus EXP. Feng Shui is the main source of EXP in Feng Shui.
The issue for Martial Arts characters is this: Martial Arts without Kung Fu (or Creature Powers) is just a shittier version of Gun that needs more high stats. BUT to use Kung Fu, you need the Chi stat. The one most characters have a 0 in to start. Kung Fu is powered by your Fu substat in Chi, which forms a resource point pool per Sequence (those longer rounds) to spend on cool special attacks. Many Martial Arts using archetypes still have 0 Chi. And start without any Fu Schticks, either. This means they essentially have to buy up Chi or Fu (and just buying Fu on its own is a little bit of a waste, because Fortune is supremely useful even if you never intend to use Magic, the 3rd substat of Chi) AND an entire suite of Schticks before you're anything but a shittier gun character.
Let's talk one of the most fun (but not great) Archetypes to get at what I mean. The Karate Cop is one flavor of Jacky Chan character; you're the honest, decent cop who really believes they can help society and help people get ahead in life. You do community engagement, you teach martial arts to at-risk kids and try to help them with their problems. Everyone at the station likes you and knows you're an upstanding and decent person. You even get a unique ability to make a heartwarming speech that convinces people to work together and do right, and you get +2 to Martial Arts if you aren't actually attacking people but instead are using it to do cool flips and acrobatics. They're great! Except that Karate Cops are a mixed Martial Arts/Gun character (14 MA, 13 Gun) who start with Bd 5, Chi 0, Mnd 5, Ref 5, no Fu Schticks, and no Gun Schticks. Now, you could spend your initial stat points (3 in one Primary, 2 in another, 2 on one Secondary, 1 on another) on raising Chi, but effectively, that's sort of a mistake from a character building perspective. 3 points in Chi is effectively 20 EXP. 3 points in Body right now is effectively 84 EXP. And you're going to need Body; Toughness is very useful anyway, but Martial Arts characters rely on Strength. A lot. Remember: Since each point of Outcome on an attack is 1 point of damage, if you're Damage 9 with a punch (Body 8+1 for Punching) you're effectively 4 Outcome behind the guy with the assault rifle already, and need a 5+ Outcome to even hurt someone like Hominid Case.
So you're stuck with a cool Archetype that is going to need a lot of time to develop to actually keep up with, say, a normal Martial Artist (AV 15 MA, 8 Fu, 3 Fu Schticks) or an Old Master. Or let's take the Everyman Hero, the other Jacky Chan archetype. They're kind of bad at everything and have AV 13 Martial Arts, but 10 Fortune (Which is, itself, enough to be a good schtick for them). Their schtick is they get +1 to MA AV if they're using an improvised weapon they grabbed in this scene, because ain't nothing more dangerous in this world than Jacky Chan in a ladder factory full of vases holding a baby while he don't want no trouble. (Note: The Everyman Hero can also be Jack Burton). That schtick and their Fortune can see them a long way, but it will still take them forever to actually develop Fu, which is what you need to make Martial Arts more fun to use.
So the whole setting conceit where Chi is extremely rare on characters, but Martial Arts is tied to Chi, ends up making it take a long time for most characters to learn any cool parts of Martial Arts. A Gun character who started without Gun Schticks because they're a Journalist or a PI can just pick up a Schtick and instantly start blasting mooks. A Martial Arts character who starts buying Fu Schticks without actually having the stat won't be able to use them at all. For some reason, Fu Schticks are rare and precious at creation, despite being the cheapest Schticks to buy in game; some classes give you a choice of Gun or Fu, like the Ex Special Forces character or the Criminal Mastermind, and if they do you always get way fewer Fu Schticks than Gun Schticks, which is weird when Fu Schticks cost 4+Number of Fu Schticks EXP and Gun ones cost 8+Number of Gun Schticks.
Anyway, all that out of the way, we are now actually ready to turn Zhuge Liang into a kung fu machine.
Next Time: Flying Windmill Kick
Taste the power of my Flying Windmill KickOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Taste the power of my Flying Windmill Kick
So, Kung Fu has the most complex subsystem of all the power sets. It can be really cool and fun to use, and is probably the most mechanically engaging style of combat. Kung Fu works by generating a pool of Chi Points equal to your Fu substat every combat sequence. You then use these points to activate special Fu Schticks you've learned. Very few Fu Schticks are 'passive' abilities, unlike Gun Shticks. Fu Schticks are basically your list of special powers. Each Fu Schtick has a Shot Cost (How many Shots of action it takes to do) and a Chi cost. Characters with high Fu can actually afford to do a lot of Fu Schticks and accomplish a lot of cool stuff each Sequence. Fu is one of two paths to making Martial Arts fun.
Fu powers are all arranged on 'paths'; Kung Fu styles that take investment to learn. You can't learn the awesome Flying Windmill Kick (Actually, Flying Windmill Kick isn't great, but it SOUNDS awesome when you first read it) without first knowing some of the rest of the Path of the Leaping Storm, etc. The trees can get kind of convoluted, but they're listed out beneath the descriptions of the Schticks and are generally easy enough to follow.
So, what can our buddy Zhuge Liang eventually do with his Kung Fu? Well, he already has Willow Step, which is also a chance to talk about Dodging. So, when you're attacked, you have the option to drop 1 Shot in Initiative and say you Dodge, getting +3 to your defensive AV. Zhuge Liang's Willow Step move lets him do the same thing, except he spends 1 Chi but 0 shots, and only adds +2 to his defensive AV. Still, saving time he could be using to fight back is very worthwhile. There's another Fu defense, The Fox's Retreat, that costs 1 Shot AND 1 Chi, but gives you +5 to your AV. Remember how the math works out; that means the person attacking you is almost certain to miss unless they were really outclassing you to begin with, in which case you're probably screwed in the long run anyway. Trust me: If you use Dodging a lot, you will slow combat down immensely. And Fu makes Dodging much better with the Willow Step and Fox's Retreat options. Still, blocking is boring; let's look at how you fight with Fu.
For one, the Path of the Sharpened Scales A: Works while wielding a weapon and B: Is one of the only ways to just straight add to your attack AV. One of its powers, Breath of the Dragon, is just 3 Chi, 3 shots (as in, a normal 3 shot attack action) for +3 to attack AV. That's a big boost. It can also add to damage, but it's better to use the +AV move once you have it; it costs 1 more Chi, sure, but it's effectively +3 damage if you would have hit anyway, and making a hit in the first place matters.
Other paths will do stuff like let you fuck with Arcanowave devices, punch through enemy Toughness and ignore it entirely, pick out the character with the highest Shot count at the start of a Sequence and spend 8 Chi to set your Shots to theirs, use your Chi stat in place of Strength (Excellent for Old Masters) for a full Sequence, do all kinds of shadow ninja magic, do Drunken Kung Fu that makes you hard as hell to hit the more you spend time speed-drinking in the middle of battle, seal Chi with pressure point techniques, counter-attack, heal allies, armor yourself, punch magic so hard it stops being magic, or reflect a man's bullet back into his gun so hard the gun explodes. Yes. You can even learn the amazing Shadowfist, namesake of the original card game, a forbidden technique that seals an enemy's fist and permanently reduces their Martial Arts AV by 5 while removing a Fu power they know, at cost of you permanently losing 1 Fu and Chi. Kung Fu does a lot of awesome stuff. You can stand in a fire in order to draw chi out of the fire while posing for a cover shot, for god's sake. There's dozens of reasons to use Fu, and they're the Fu Schticks.
Another fun bit of flavor on Fu? You can hold EXP in reserve and buy Fu Schticks in the middle of a kung fu fight. "Now I must use my Secret Technique!"/"Only now do I understand my master's words!" mid-fight revelations are completely acceptable reasons to buy a new Fu Schtick. Feng Shui is, if nothing else, very dedicated to genre emulation.
The weaknesses of Kung Fu as a fighting style come from a few places. First, not all the abilities are winners and you might have to buy some weaker ones to get to the good ones. Second, you need multiple stats to make Kung Fu work; a Gun is much simpler. Third, Kung Fu kind of sucks at dealing with mooks. It can do it, but it gets no real special abilities to handle them more easily like Guns. The closest it gets is the ultimate Dragon Kung Fu power, which adds 4 to the Outcome of a check you already succeeded; you can use that to make a multi-targeted mook kill push over the edge into the 5+ territory you needed. You also get a Gathering Storm power that lets you spend 2 Chi to attack a second unnamed character after dropping one, but that's...expensive for not much effect. Also, most Fu doesn't like weaponry, despite armed Martial Arts being very strong. A Signature Melee Weapon Sword or Spear is a Str+7 damage weapon, which can really start to outdo guns; but you can't use that with many of the Fu Schticks. So you also end up needing a ton of Strength to make your Str+1 Punches and Str+2 Kicks (By the way, no reason to ever punch in Feng Shui; kick all the time) work if you're up against anyone with good Toughness.
Also, let's look at one of the coolest sounding powers, the Flying Windmill Kick. Flying Windmill Kick, you always knew how to disappoint me. I'd set you up, set the stunt and the scene, declare my awesome ultimate technique, and...nothing. See, Flying Windmill Kick lets you make an attack against a foe for 5 Shots and 7 Chi. If you hit, you attack them again. Until you miss. The issue is, your opponent sees you set up to Windmill Kick, and they declare they Dodge, like Lucy pulling away the football. Even if they don't, if you were attacking anyone reasonably tough, your odds of hitting them continuously are lower than you think. The only real use for this technique (and this is a real use, at least) is kicking the shit out of a weaker named character you were already going to clown on since you out-AVed them by a lot, but doing it a lot faster. Which is still an advantage; anything that speeds up Feng Shui's combat is welcome.
Still, in general, Kung Fu is pretty well designed and mechanically engaging to use. If you can get your character into it, having a big ole' list of special techniques makes keeping your combat descriptions fun a lot easier, too, which is another big bonus. As someone else said, there's only so many ways to say 'I shoot those guys, with my gun'; Kung Fu is way easier to change up and vary, especially as you'll be developing new styles and paths as you go.
One of the other issues to be careful of, though? Supernaturals can hard counter your Fu as much as your gun. We'll get to that when we get to Mako's powers. Also, someone with the right Arcanowave device can just make you lose 5 HP every time you spend a Chi point, which with moves costing 3 Chi a move, and you having 35 HP until dead? Kinda hurts. Effectively shuts down your Fu. There's a lot of those hard counter devices and powers in Feng Shui, and I can't say I like 'em. Something that defends against Fu? Fine. Something that instantly shuts down one character's entire powerset? Ehhhhh.
Next Time: You incur the wrath of the Abyssal Fountain, fool!
Penalties for being subtleOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Penalties for being subtle
Enough about kung fu and guns. You want to be goddamn David Lo Pan, but a good guy, right? Well, tough luck if your game takes place in 1850 or 1996 outside of Hong Kong. Excellent luck if not! It's time to talk about Juncture Modifiers, one of the worst ideas in Feng Shui! You see, part of the fluff is that a conspiracy of magic families of transformed animals in human form keep magic down (and themselves on the thrones of power) in 1850 and 1996. So there's no magic to draw on in those Junctures, outside of Hong Kong where anything can happen. So any Sorcerer PC in 1996 or 1850 suffers a -2 to their AV. Including Dodge AV. You go from AV 15 for the Sorcerer Archetype to AV 13. Have fun with that. But say you go back to mythic China? +2 to your AV! Netherworld? +1! 2056? +1! So depending on where the game happens to be set, you either outshine everyone or you eat shit. The same sorta stuff happens to Abominations/Supernaturals like Mako and their Creature Powers, and to Arcanowave users. This sucks. It limits where your characters go, what they do, and it makes some characters suddenly stand out while others don't. We dropped this pretty damn quick because it's way more fun to not bother with it; one PC getting to be AV 17 just because we're in ancient China but having to be AV 13 if we're going to blow up some transformed Jackal mobsters in 1996 wasn't fun for anyone.
Sorcery has one nice touch: Sorcerers can't be subtle. Trying to do anything subtly and without great power incurs penalties. You are supposed to embrace your inner ham. Practice cackling! Practice chortling! Know the difference! Similarly, Sorcerers actually need their paints, inks, spell components, etc. They always have them, but the intent is that you can take away a Sorcerer's magic the same way the bad guys take the Gun Character's piece when they're captured. So you can still disarm a Sorcerer.
Sorcerers are probably the mechanically messiest group in the game. Their powers are some of the worst defined, they have a hand-wavey combo system, and worse, many Sorcerer powers target an enemy's stats, rather than their AV. This is a problem: Say you're casting an Enchantment spell; its base difficulty is the target's Magic, Chi, or Will. However, you're targeting it with your full fighting AV. They get modifiers based on what you're asking them to do, but this is generally not a contest that starts in the defender's favor. Sorcerers have a huge grab-bag of powers, where they can heal, buff, do damage (though they actually kind of suck at damage), throw people around, fly, summon monsters, banish monsters, control monsters, influence emotions, grant semi-immortality (with a complex and weird subsystem that I doubt saw much use), make plants grow, make people more likely to have kids, curse bloodlines, you name it, wizards can probably do it.
Thus, it's sort of difficult to get a handle on Sorcerers. They can do so many different things, but many of them aren't necessarily immediately useful for adventures. In general, anything you try to do with Sorcery is modified by how much it assists in moving the plot along, and by how hammy and weird it is. You get bonuses to your (non-combat) tests with magic if what you do is wild and flashy, or if it just helps move the story along without derailing it. One curious thing about Sorcery is that because so many power types run off the Magic stat, it's not that hard for Supernatural Creatures or Arcanowave characters to dip over and learn Sorcery, and since Sorcery has a ton of 'out of fight' utility as a general plot macguffin, that can actually be worth doing. So Mako could get really into the mystic arts and learn how to cast healing spells and mess around with Chi in addition to her tentacle kung-fu; it's one of the better 'dip' powersets since it has so much weird stuff that might not require a fully powered fighting AV. A rule of thumb for the difficulty modifiers on Sorcery out of combat is 'the longer you argued that your ability should be able to make a huge reach and do this, the less chance you have', which is a little bit of a weird way to do it.
There is an annoying requirement that you spend 2 years training to take the Sorcery skill in the first place, but if I wanted Magic Mako I could've just taken a 1 in Sorcery at creation and picked stuff up later to get around it. Or you could just ignore that rule since everywhere else in the book if you mention training time they say 'montage or handwave it, get back to kicking butt'.
Mages can also burn points of Magic temporarily to add to the AV of a spell. Note this will drop their AV afterwards, but for that one spell, a guy who throws all his Mag into it is going to be some serious shit. Magic can also Backlash. Any crit-fail causes some real problems; crit fail with an attack spell, take 10 Wounds, etc. Generally, it does the opposite of what you were trying to do, and does it to you.
To get more into what magic's like in a fight, we need to talk about Blast. Blast is the core schtick for a pure Sorcerer, used to do damage. It normally does Mag Rating+2. Blast also has a ton of special effects, which range from just changing the SFX of the spell (Conjured Weapons and Acid and Fire and Lightning all just do damage, etc, but suggest different descriptions and stunt possibilities) to actually having game effects (Chi Blasts can forcibly deattune people from Sites, and also gets +2 AV per point of burned Mag instead of +1, etc). You can cripple and debuff people with Disease blasts. Blast is highly, highly variable. It also drops mooks reasonably easily (-1 per extra mook, rather than -2 for the first extra target and -1 per extra after that) which is nice. You only get a couple Blast effects when you pick up Blast, but you can buy more cheaply so you can throw out every color of the rainbow.
We also have to talk Movement. Movement is the standout broken power for Sorcery, because it has a Speed booster. Cast Movement on someone with Difficulty (Their Speed+5). They add Outcome to their Speed this Sequence. Combine this with, say, spending a Fortune Point and using the Harvest Chi power (Sorcerers who know Fertility magic can sacrifice a Mag point to add +d6 to a check) and put it on your best fighter. Congratulations, you've shattered the action economy harder than an abomination's kick shattered that mook's pelvis. Hope everyone likes sitting around while one character narrates their 6-7 unopposed actions. Movement Sorcerer is a pretty infamous part of Sorcery in Feng Shui 1e. And every Sorcerer is going to take Movement, because it includes the ability to fly without needing to make checks, and who doesn't want to be able to fly? Or pick up a big ole' truck with magic and throw it at a guy? It just also includes the 'Press Button to Shatter Action Economy' move.
Sorcery is cool, it just needed more definition. As it is, it's all about how much you can get away with, and is kind of designed to produce arguments with the GM over the many, many subjective modifiers it can get. The heart's in the right place. I especially love the focus on drama and special effects. And Blast being really, really flashy and decent against mooks but secretly not great when it comes up against the hero? Perfectly in genre! It just needed to think a little more about what it means when an Influence spell targets a bare stat that's likely 5-8 with a class whose base AV is 15. And dump Juncture Modifiers. Juncture Modifiers are a trash element where a setting conceit then greatly limits your mash-up potential, and c'mon, FS, you're usually good on mashups. Don't let the Chicken Illuminati make the game swing wildly between the Sorcerer PC being awesome and sucking depending on if we're in Hong Kong or Rio.
Next Time: Mako Smash
What do you mean I have to make two checksOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
What do you mean I have to make two checks
So if Sorcery was messy because it's a bit ill-defined, Creature Powers are messy because they're trying to cover such a wide range of monster movies. They have to let you play a Jiangshi (You cannot possibly have this game without hopping vampires), a big ogre, a demon toad, a gribbly monster with too many mouths, weird cybernetic genetic designer devils, a werewolf, or even, yes, a grad student with Sharktopus problems. To accomplish that, they have to cover a very wide conceptual space, and that makes them messy. They also totally rule; Creature Powers are a personal favorite power set for me because they make a great standin for weird mutant superpowers as well as terrifying monsters.
They have the same Juncture issue magic does, and the Juncture Modifiers should be thrown in the trash for Creatures same as magic. Especially as they have two tables, one for Abominations and one for non-cyberized all-natural unnatural horrors. They also get a funny rule where they can appear to be moving much slower than they actually are, shambling and looming and lumbering around the scene but somehow always keeping up with people sprinting full tilt away from them. Cute. Anyone with Creature Powers also gets Horrific Appearance: Anyone seeing the full horror of Mako's Sharktopus form should be horrified, and she gets to act as if she has 2 ranks of Intimidate (or an Intimidate AV 2 points higher) whenever she's undisguised. However, this kind of makes buying at least one rank of Transformation so you can look normal a necessity. Pretty much every Abomination/Creature character I've seen grabs Transformation. Most grab two ranks of it, because hey, who doesn't want to be able to shift to midpoints between 'normal human disguise, who is a normal human like you, with skin and things' and 'hideous demon form' as dramatically appropriate?
Also, Creature Powers are the only sort of powers that are genuinely hard-locked off other characters. You have to start with Creature Powers to pick up more...or you can fuck up with Arcanowave Devices and mutate enough to get mutant powers. Some characters might take that as a plus. Most Creature Powers characters started with them, through being a Supernatural Creature, an Abomination (Which play as kind of a hybrid Creature Powers/Arcanowave/Physical class), or a Ghost (Who are also all Sorcerers, by the way. The default FS Ghost is a Ghost Wizard). What makes Creature Powers nice is there are a lot of them that don't actually need the Creature Powers skill at all; lots are passive buffs or abilities that you needed Powers to get but that run off Martial Arts. So an Abomination who is putting all their actual points for fighting into Arcanowave or Guns or Martial Arts doesn't need to spend tons on Creature Powers; they just take lots of passives. Creature Schticks are 8+X, where X is how many Creature Schticks you'll have after buying the newest. So, for example, Mako's got 5, so buying her 6th would be 14 EXP.
The issue with Creature Powers is they have some of the biggest 'fuck you' powers in the game. Let's talk about Damage Immunity. You can only spend 2 Schticks on this during creation, but it makes you straight up immune to one source of damage. Like Guns (Though holy bullets will hurt you), or Bare Hands (Though Fu will hurt you), or Melee Weapons (One specific weapon will still hurt you, like Machetes or whatever). Jiangshi are immune to bullets. This can make things a little annoying for a Gun Character who didn't know magic bullets were a thing. You can even be immune to 'all but 3 Creature Schticks'. Or Immune to Cars (And Car Explosions, And Car Crashes). These kinds of 'hard-counter' moves are everywhere in original Feng Shui.
You can also take, say, +2 Damage per Schtick for your basic unarmed hand-to-hand, up to 4 Schticks for +8. Or +2 Armor (adds directly to Toughness, though a Gun Character with Eagle Eye will blow through it) up to 4 times for 8 Armor. Imagine Mako with 8 Armor. Now she'd be DR 18. Even someone with a Buro Hellharrow 9.76mm monster-killing cannon would need Outcome +5 to even hurt her. You hear that sound? It's the Big Bruiser crying in the corner because the one thing he did, Mako could be built to do way better. You can steal AV from enemies by drinking their blood (It takes a MA test, then a Creature Test, but you target their Mag or Chi, so the second test is super easy). You can learn to attack peoples' Kung Fu or Chi ratings instead of their Toughness, getting special attacks that blow past conventional toughness and armor. You can pick from a list of conditions and every time one of them happens in a fight you gain +1 to a primary stat until the fight ends (Most are getting hit by special attacks, but you can take one like 'do 10 Wounds in one blow'). You can die messily when you run out of HP and then immediately make your INEVITABLE COMEBACK, BABY! You can use Creature Powers to Blast just like a Sorcerer! You can heal quickly between fights, you can have jumpy legs, you can do all kinds of crazy shit with Creature Powers.
The issue is mostly that whether you actually use your Creature Powers skill for anything is pretty up in the air. Mako can, because she has Tentacles and they let her make unarmed attacks at range with her Creature Powers AV, but an average Supernatural Creature may well find themselves with a 12 offensive AV for awhile while they buff their Martial Arts early on. It isn't as bad as the Big Bruiser, since they at least have a 15 defensive AV from Creature Powers, but still.
Part of the reason Creature Schticks are some of my favorites is they help capture the attitude of Feng Shui; all that weird shit the enemy monsters can do? You can play one of those. Nothing stopping you. Nobody's going to talk you down for playing a good-guy hopping vampire or a demon that decided they just didn't feel like spreading horror and misery anymore. In fact, the default assumption is you're probably going to have a Melodramatic Hook about how you're from an evil species of demons or spirits but like, you're good and don't want to be a dick. Or maybe you're in love with a mortal. Or maybe you just couldn't eat that baby because he was cute as heck, and now time ninjas have kidnapped your precious adopted mountain son and you have to be a bad enough monster dude to get him back. Or the Lotus summoned you and made you do stuff so bad that even a demon from Hell was like 'wow, fuck these Sorcerer guys, they're jerks'. Maybe you're an Abomination, and while on assignment in 1996 you tried a pancake, and the sheer joy of it melted the brain-toad the Buro uses to keep Abominations in line; you have eaten the pancakes, and you are lost to them forever. The possibilities for ridiculous mutant monster melodrama are endless and I appreciate them.
Plus, much as everyone's superpowered to some degree or another? Sometimes it's really fun to play the character with the really overt superpowers, like flying or jumping really high. How many other settings introduce something like the Abominations and then immediately go 'Yeah, also, you can just play as that?' The powers and the fluff make playing with them fun, and they're pretty effective! I just wish stuff like Damage Immunity was handled a little different, because it can either turn out useless (took something that doesn't end up coming up) or hard-countering and shutting down entire encounters. Still, the nice mix of passive and active abilities makes Creature Powers one of the only other powersets you'd consider dipping into from a mechanical point of view, and that's pretty unique.
Next Time: Gentlemen! Behold! ARCANOWAVE!
The Wave of the Future. Do you get it. They're waves.Original SA post Feng Shui 1e
The Wave of the Future. Do you get it. They're waves.
Arcanowave! So, with all this Geomancy bullshit, eventually scientists were always going to get involved. At some point between 1996 and 2056 (2014, to be precise), Doctors Anita Dao and Curtis Boatman founded the CDCA, the Cross-Disciplinary Convergence Association. Dr. Dao was convinced there was something to various paranormal claims, and was finally able to prove it with the discovery of what she dubbed "Arcanowaves". They're a scientific measurement of Chi flow. Scientists finally figured out how to actually measure, quantify, and control Chi flow scientifically rather than by using Sorcery or Kung Fu. Trust me, we'll be hearing more about Dao and Boatman later, especially as Boatman is a strong contender for Worst Person in the World.
Boatman is a big reason why AWDs can be kind of fucked up. He is, after all, the guy who originally started weaponizing Arcanowave devices and was responsible for the original cyberdemon programs. Arcanowave is thus the weirdest powerset in a game with very weird powersets, because Arcanowave Devices take the form of a mixture of bio-engineered living plastics, demonic tissue, and arcane runes. Most resemble a living thing, covered in weird shell plating and prone to bleeding or even screaming when used. These are very, very Croenenberg. If you ever wanted to shoot people with the living gun from Videodrome, that's Arcanowave (though mechanically, that specific gun sucks). In general, Arcanowave is split between extremely good items, and extremely useless ones. It's also the most awkward powerset to use, because it's the only one with an explicit drawback: You risk back-draft from plugging living cybernetic demonic magitek into yourself, which can slowly mutate your PC into an abomination. This isn't all bad, mind; you get Creature Powers and you're still in control of your PC, so depending on how it goes down it might turn into more of 'genetic enhancement, unplanned' rather than hideous curse. Characters who are already Abominations also don't mutate, so they can freely use AWDs without worrying like their human counterparts.
To limit exposure, most AWD users only actually plug the AWD in when they need it. The issue with this is it takes 3 shots to plug your device in; effectively losing you one attack. Every Sequence you keep a device plugged in, though, you add 1 to a 'Mutation Check' difficulty at the end of the session. It is not, mind you, 'per device'. It's number of rounds you had 1 or more devices plugged in, so it's not as harsh as it sound. You also need to have enough AI/O ports surgically installed on your body to fit your devices, but you can have as many as you need without penalty, so that's rarely an issue. You can't use a style of device without its Schtick; you need to have magically attuned yourself to that model, but once you know how to use a Helix Ripper (which you'll want, we'll get to that) you can use any old Helix Ripper. There's also nothing about how fast you gain Mutation if you plug stuff in out of combat; I'd probably do it by scene? That's like a sequence. The Mutation check is an Arcanowave skill test, made on a closed roll (so the dice can't explode). Remember that most AWD characters that are vulnerable to mutation are going to have a 13-15 AWD; Cyborgs suck too much to really use them and Abominations don't need to make Mutation checks, so it's probably just going to be Monster Hunters. Therefore, your actual chances of mutating unless stuff goes really wrong or you're basically trying to turn into a
Speaking of things going wrong, any time you roll snake-eyes on an AWD test, your device tries to kill you, shoots mutating magic viral loads into you, and stops functioning. You take 12 Damage (reduced by Toughness) and +3 Mutation, plus the device stops working until you make an easy AWD test and spend 8 shots 'unjamming' it. If you try to use a single AI/O port and a 'splitter' cable to get more devices in you, this happens on double 2s, as well. Don't do that. AI/O ports are free. Take more weird, runic tattoo USB ports on your body goddamnit. Get weird! You're already playing an AWD PC! They also suffer Juncture Modifiers, like everything that isn't MA/Guns, but weirdly they get +2 in both 1850 and 2056, and only -1 in 69 and 1996. Juncture Modifiers are still trash and should be dropped immediately.
So, what do you get for all this bullshit? Well, some of what you get is remarkably useless, in a 'this was never playtested' way. Let's take the Slap Patch. It's a patch of magic skin you slap onto a wound with an AWD test to heal someone, no need to plug it in. It heals them by your AWD AV+Dice Result. That sounds good, right? They then make a bare Constitution check (remember, their Con is probably 5-10, vs. your AWD Fighting AV which is likely 13-15) and if they fail, they aren't healed at all and take 4 Wounds they can't save. Either way, they get +3 Mutation difficulty. And remember, Mutation is based on AWD skill; an average PC has 0 Chi and 0 AWD, so even a Difficulty 3 check is less than a 30% chance they'll make it. All this thing does is fuck up, hurt people, and mutate them. It's a complete waste of a schtick because no-one in the dev team thought about 'bare stat vs. fighting AV'.
Or let's take the Helix Activator, the Videodrome gun. This is a weird flesh and bone revolver that makes the enemy sprout demonic limbs that try to rip them apart. Sounds cool, right? The limbs have Action Value 10, and attack the character they're attached to every Shot, but lose 1 AV per Shot. At 0, they're reabsorbed into the body. Against Unnamed characters, it's just a normal 'need a 5+ Outcome to kill' weapon. So now you're rolling a shitload of increasingly unlikely to do anything weak attacks for each set of demonic arms you've given someone (The arms also provide -1 to all of the target's AVs per active patch of arms, which is more useful than the damage. By the way, the writer forgot to include a Strength value for the arms so even if they hit someone, you don't know how much damage they do). Also, as well as the plug-in penalty, every bullet fired increases your Mutation. Your target also takes 1 Mutation for every hit.
Sucker Rounds are the same thing: They reduce your damage with a conventional gun by 2, but bullet hits from it cause Mutation to your enemy. Which...is kind of useless for a PC and only exists to put on NPCs to fuck over PCs with, which is a bad reason to have a weapon in a game.
So far, AWDs are sounding like a pile, yeah? When they suck, they really suck; I suspect they got the least playtesting of the various powersets and were generally the least popular. But when they're good, they're really good. You can get stuff like a robot limb that, when plugged in, instantly sets your Str to 12. Remember: An Abomination can be plugged in ALL THE TIME and can benefit a lot from 'passive' AWDs like that. If it's not plugged in, you suffer -2 Dex, but only with that one arm. Still pretty useful for humans, given you're not likely to spend that many Sequences in combat a session anyway. Then there's Variable Mass bullets/weapons. A VM Sword uses magitek to make itself light at the start of a swing, then increase its weight and force on impact. It's a Damage+6 melee weapon. Get that, Signature Weapon, and a Cyber Arm and you're doing base damage 21 with melee; that's on par with an anti-tank rocket. The Helix Ripper is a huge horror beam rifle with infinite ammo that lets you use AWD to fight directly, doing Damage 15 and ignoring armor (It'll blow through up to 12cm of armored plate without being stopped as it mostly ignores non-living material) and killing the hell outta mooks (It's a huge gun, though, and basically impossible to conceal. Does get lighter when plugged in, though!).
You can get AWDs that fuck over fu, AWDs that open enemies up to attacks from AW equipped PCs and Abominations (including normal physical attacks from Abomos), you can get a little eye-monster for your conventional guns that lets you use AWD as your Gun skill and gives you more cover since you don't have to peek your head over a table and can blind-fire accurately. AWDs can fuck over sorcery and help you dodge any kind of attacks that use Chi (Fu, Sorcery, or other AWDs). You can transmit your own pain when you're hit into a grenade and reflect it back onto the enemy. You can just outright take out Creature Powers users with a long-term stun (Again, the Wave Suppressor is the kind of 'ultra hard counter' I'm not too fond of). You can block bullets with mass-produced devil-contract ghosts. When AWD is on, it's on. It just has some big, notable loser abilities. One of the interesting things for AWD is that Abominations have plenty of 'passive' AWDs to choose from; an Abomo with Cyber Limb and VM Sword is murderously powerful even if they're AV 13 to start with.
Any character can learn Arcanowave, but as it uses Magic and requires surgery by someone who knows 2056 and knows Arcanowave devices, it's generally easier to stick to starting with them. The GM is told to make it harder to learn AWDs if the PC is a good person. I suppose the demonic elements of the items don't really like being used for good purposes. AWD users can also sacrifice Mag temporarily to make their devices work better, but doing so is going to lower their AWD AV, which...well, remember, you use that at the end of the session for Mutation, and you don't get the points back until next session. Useful if you want to Mutate, though.
Speaking of mutation, if you fail the Mutation roll, you check a chart and see how much you failed by. If you've failed Mutation rolls previously, you add your current location on the chart to your current failure; it always gets worse. You start to get odder and more mutated until you hit -8 Failure, when you gain the ability to buy Creature Powers and begin to count as an Abomination. After that point, Mutation has noticeable effects: You start losing points from Mind, Reflexes, and Chi and adding them to Magic and Body. Note that points of Chi lost this way won't drop your Magic score, despite it being a substat of Chi. By full mutation at -14, you'll have -2 Mnd, Chi, and Ref, +3 Bd, +3 Mag. If any stat OTHER THAN CHI hits 0 from this, you're retired as a mindless horror. Chi can drop all it wants with no consequences, so Volkov is actually safe. Hey, just toss a point in Transformation so you can turn normal again and enjoy being a weird super-mutant demon-hybrid, that's my advice. Mutation isn't quite as bad as it sounds.
Arcanowave is really weird and most players avoid it like the plague, but it's got its up sides. Also, I'd like to point out the CDCA was fracking Hell long before the Union Aerospace Corporation was making fucking around with demons into a weird corporate cult. That said, I would like to see the Doom Slayer go through the CDCA like a weedwhacker some day. That would be fun.
Next Time: It All Comes Together: Combat
It All Doesn't Come TogetherOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
It All Doesn't Come Together
So, the powersets actually sound pretty exciting and fun. Archetypes work great for coming up with off the wall character ideas and throwing them in a blender. The time travel stuff means you can put together hilarious, fun-sounding parties that include magic strategy men and hard-boiled gorillas. Everything looks pretty good for Feng Shui, dicey dice mechanics and the hints of combat mechanics we've already discussed aside. What could go wrong?
Basically everything about combat. Feng Shui, a game that is entirely focused around getting into combat and doing cool things, has a terrible combat system. Combat in Feng Shui, if everyone is using their abilities, tends to stall out. It also comes with 'you need to be giving an exciting description of what you're trying to do' attacks, in a game where you're going to probably miss, a lot. And because the description feeds into the difficulty of your combat actions, FS1 wants you to do your combat descriptions before you roll the dice.
So, we've already mentioned some of this because it was essential to explaining some of the utility or lack thereof of things you could get in the power sets, but let's recap. To enter a fight, you roll d6+Speed. That's your Initiative/Shot Count. Most actions in combat cost 3 Shots. Active Defending costs 1 Shot and can be done on someone else's turn, raising your Dodge AV by 3. If you're down to 1-2 Shots, you can take a 3 Shot action without penalty. Most attacks will do Damage Rating+Outcome (how much you hit by), reduced by enemy Armor and Toughness. Unnamed Characters have terrible AVs (usually) and take a +5 Outcome or better to take out. Your base Dodge AV is the highest fighting skill you have, or your bare Agility if you somehow have no high fighting skills (No PC is like this). People trade licks as their Shots go down, with each Shot effectively being a phase of a round.
It seems simple enough, but in practice, if you use Active Dodging (and remember, mooks can Active Dodge too!) you will slow down combat. A lot. Extremely tough enemies will also slow down combat. A lot. Large numbers of mooks (which you need to have any of them survive/have a chance of achieving anything besides just being fodder to style on) will slow down combat. A lot. Yeah, mooks wholly being fodder is fine, but then what about the Gun character who spent a ton of resources on killing mooks on the assumption that was a job that needed doing rather than just a way to remove an annoyance from the field so it doesn't slow everyone down? The mook killing power of Gun is so high that mooks become irrelevant or you have to have a platoon of the damned guys on the field, and remember you're rolling for them all individually. And no-one else can down them anywhere near as quick, so if you have mooks to challenge Gun, others can't really handle it.
Similarly, well, let's look at named enemies. Named enemies either go down like chumps or hang around forever. This is partly because it takes 35 Wound Points before someone starts checking for death. 50 if they're a Bruiser. You can, depending on the Toughness and/or Armor of named enemies, end up in situations where you outclass them clearly but it takes a long time to actually put them down. Alternately, you have an Abomination with a Cyber Limb, VM Sword, and Conditional Escalation (Body, Did 10 Wounds) and they just hack right through them and get bigger as they do it. Or Fu that ignores their Toughness. It takes a mixture of AV and a few other factors to make taking out Named Characters reasonably quick.
AV being what it is also makes 'boss fights' difficult in this system. After all, the main lever that makes a named character stand out is how high their AV is. Big boss enemies from the various factions tend to have AV 19 or better, up to 22. If your players are AV 13-15 and put up against that, well, good fucking luck laying a hand on them. While they punch you into next week. If you're outmatched by 2 or more base AV you're in a very weak position against that enemy, especially as big enemies tend to have their own Fortune dice and Fu powers and special abilities from whatever power sets they have. Which also means your solution to fighting boss characters is to gain EXP and buff your AV, which then makes you as badass as them and kind of immune to everything below you the same way. Fights in Feng Shui are usually either complete curbstomps (which tend to be the fun ones) or grind to a halt.
But surely Stunting will let you get an edge on these guys! Stunting is supposed to be a big part of Feng Shui, where you come up with cool, on the spot extra things you do in combat by describing, say, shooting up an oil drum and blowing up a bunch of nearby bad guys. Or tilting your helicopter's rotors forward and lawnmowing your way through incoming Jiangshi. Except there's a problem. First, there's no actual mechanical guidance given on what Stunts can do, beyond 'you can attack multiple characters with a -2 AV, -1 more per extra character you attack'. That's the only firm guidance given on Stunts. Second: Every Stunt imposes at least a -2 AV. More if you're trying to do something more impressive. For instance, in a later book when they start describing how to Stunt a little more, one Stunt attempt is breaking an enemy's limb. You roll at -1 to -3 based on what limb you're targeting, then need a 7+ Outcome to actually cause the break. So...never going to happen against any serious enemy. The kind you'd want to do that to.
Plus, remember the dice system: -2 to an action? Actually a serious dice penalty. Plus, you already have a ton of defined special abilities in your Schticks that don't take any penalty to do. If you're in the kind of fight where you need 'I'm gonna pull his shirt up over his head and punch him a bunch in the gut to give him some Impairment' the -2 (or more, the GM is encouraged to make it cost more if it's powerful or 'seems hard') penalty can make landing the hit very hard.
Also remember that you're supposed to be taking the time to give big choreographed descriptions of what you do, and because the Stunt penalties and effects are GM assigned after you're described what you try, you do it before you roll. I cannot tell you how exhausting it can get to come up with cool shit you do in combat only to be met with 'sorry, you missed' over and over. After the sixth time your relatively weedy character bounces off the mostly harmless but implacable Big Bruiser or you miss a dangerous enemy in a high stakes duel, you start to long for just saying 'fuck it, I hit him, roll.' Feng Shui's combat, RAW, is tiring. I imagine almost every group that ever played this game ended up with some variety of houseruling that would speed this shit up.
And let's get into another problem: The Damage System. So, you can take 35 Wounds before you die, and most attacks are going to do like 3-5 Wounds to an average character. Doesn't sound so bad. It isn't, normally. The issues come from a couple other places: One, when you're on the ropes at 25-29 and 30-34 Wounds, you take -1 and then -2 to all AVs, respectively. So as you get the shit beaten out of you, instead of having a chance of a heroic second wind or something, you just kinda peter out and death spiral. Because if you were losing at AV 13-15, you're really going to lose at AV 11-13. If you go down to 35+ Wounds, you roll a Con check, ignoring your Impairment from any source, with a difficulty equal to how many wounds you've taken over 35. If you succeed, you stay on your feet, but the next point of damage inflicts another Death Check.
If you fail the Death Check, you drop, and you're dying, anywhere from 6 hours from now for failing by 1, to 15 minutes for failing by 13. If you fail by 14 or more, you die immediately, the camera shifting to your death scene and a sad pop ballad playing over a flashback of your career and its good times. Yes, everyone gets an actual death scene. If you're dying, a character with Medicine can come over and use their skill, with a difficulty of (Your current Wounds-35), to save you. Sorcerous Healing, Slap Patchs (if they don't kill you themselves, which they will), etc can all do the same. Even if you're saved, you're now out of play for days equal to how long you failed the Death Check by originally, and you get to sit in a hospital and do nothing while your buddies try to protect you. Sounds fun.
PCs can also be healed (if they don't have some special rule saying they can't) once per scene by anyone with Medicine or Healing magic or whatever, reducing their wound total by the Action Result of a Medicine/Sorcery/whatever check. Note you can be healed multiple times per scene if you have multiple sorts of healers. So say Dr. Igor Tarantula, MD is wounded; a Mako that's learned the Heal Sorcery could Heal him, and then Zhuge Liang could treat his injuries with normal medicine, but he couldn't then treat himself because he also uses normal Medicine. PCs also heal to full at convenient cliff-hangers or at the start of a new session. They might still be bloodied and battered, but a few bandages and the audience will buy that they can press on.
The issue is this: The only way to actually force an end to combat with a named character is lethal. In fact, you are exhorted later in the GM section to 'never pull punches' and make sure anyone who drops dies, even beloved named characters. What is baffling about this is how the fuck does THE ACTION MOVIE RPG not have a possibility of a combat outcome where the PCs are captured and then have to break out of prison after learning the villain's plans? How did that oversight ever slip through? How does a game that is normally so great on the actual Genre Emulation side not actually have ways for combat to end in stuff other than failed Death Checks?
The answer lies in the insistence that Feng Shui is a Hong Kong action movie game, and that Hong Kong action is usually more tragic and doesn't pull punches. But I'm gonna be straight with you: Feng Shui is not a Hong Kong Action Movie. It has inspiration from them, you can play a character built mostly on Hong Kong tropes, but there are a lot more genres in a blender here. Sci-fi dystopia, 80s dystopia, western Conspiracy stuff with the Ascended, Fight Club Nihilism Explosion Monkeys, etc etc etc. Feng Shui is really, really not 'Hong Kong Action' so much as it's a huge gonzo genre mashup. I really would've preferred some actual mechanical support for getting captured, because getting captured and breaking out is fun.
So, in the end, FS's combat system is just...bad. Like, bad to the point that players started trying to avoid combat because the character drama was more fun than the dice coming out. If you try to make it challenging or program in any chance of failure, it can drag on forever and the really deterministic dice system will probably grind down the disadvantaged side. If you just make it a curbstomp, it can be fun, but you start to run out of stakes, and it can still take a long time and involve a lot of moving parts for what ends up mostly being a foregone conclusion in describing what happens. The deterministic element is what breaks combat, as is the fact that the designers built around an idea of 'well you only need a 2+ positive result, that's not unlikely', without really working out that high dice results are actually very unlikely and the d6-d6 resolution mechanic tends to settle around base AVs. Oh, and that it's sort of a coinflip even if you do get an outlier result because negative outliers are just as likely.
And with that out of the way, we can get back to the good bit, which is talking about the fluff. Because Feng Shui still has good fluff!
Next Time: Fucking Chicken Illuminati
Time WarOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
I know, I know, I promised you Chicken Illuminati. They're coming, I promise, but I gotta go through the Time War first or else nothing is going to make sense. So, you remember how Feng Shui is one of the most important resources in global history? Yeah, there's also time travel. There's an 'inner kingdom', a mutable, crazy series of caverns full of the remains of discarded timelines and leakage from actual Hell called the Netherworld. If you know how to get into it, you can use it to go to other Junctures in history, which all move together in synch. So like, if I leave 2056 on September 21st, and I'm out in 1996 for a week, I come back to 2056 on September 28th in both 1996 and 2056. The main 4 junctures open are 2056, 1996, 1850, and 69 AD. There might be portals in hidden places to other times and places, or you can add a few in your game if you feel like it. Want to jump into the American Civil War and bring an M249 SAW to the Battle of Gettysburg to mow down some secessionists? Go ahead. Still, for the most part, you'll stick to the pre-arranged junctures. Trust me, they complicate things enough on their own.
People who find out about and visit the Netherworld become known as 'Innerwalkers'. That's you, your PC is an Innerwalker. If you become an Innerwalker, your identity is mostly 'set' in time. Your circumstances can change if someone managed to change the heck outta history, but you'll stay 'you' and you'll remember being you. So you're good, you're set. You're ready to do kung fu and save the world throughout history. The thing is, History is really, really resilient. It doesn't like to change. This is for convenience's sake so you don't gotta worry that if you waste a bunch of people in 69 AD or step on a butterfly or something you're going to change all of reality in one jump. We'd never get anything done in the later Junctures if changing history was easy. It finds ways to rewrite itself so things mostly go how they're meant to go.
That said, you CAN change history. Canonically, this can only be done by taking enough Feng Shui sites to cause a Critical Shift where you alter how history went. This is one of the reasons the guys in 2056 can't be comfortable with just ruling the world at the end of the timeline, by the by; they gotta worry some jerk back in 1850 is going to seize enough sites to make them never happen. How many do you need to seize to do this? Eh, who knows. Whatever seems appropriate for your campaign. In practice, we usually ended up making time-shifts happen when it seemed dramatically appropriate and based 'em more on boss fights than on just taking Sites alone. Partly because taking Sites gets kinda boring and after awhile we'd just say 'yeah we've sure got us some Sites' and then focus more on having kung fu fights with villains as a way to change the timeline. Still, you never quite know what's going to happen when you start distiming shit and sometimes you might end up going back to a prior juncture to try to fix your own oopsie before it happened. Did you trust Quan Lo and the Guiding Hand because they seemed like nice Confucian boys? Did you accidentally cause Fist of the North Star? (That is one of the possible mistake Critical Shifts that can happen in Blood of the Valiant, the only book to include some really great end-game Critical Shift ideas) You might want to recruit Kenshiro and bring him back into the past to punch the universe until it makes sense again.
One thing you'll quickly notice when we get to the factions, which is quite 90s indeed, is that basically everyone is evil to some degree. The Silver Dragons were the only group that mostly ment well, and when your game starts, they just got stomped on by a massive turbo-fucking from every other faction betraying them at once. Most everyone else is some flavor of Chi Tyrant in the making, or the Jammers. The Jammers are a group of rebels who really, really hate that Chi exists. They would like to blow up every Feng Shui site, to ensure Chi stops existing. This may kill everyone on earth. They don't really care. We'll get to them in their own faction writeup. The default FS campaign has your good-hearted and eclectic heroes drawn into this war, and then probably meeting the surviving Dragons and taking over leadership of their faction to try to achieve something. Then failing and dying. There's a strong undercurrent of that with some of the writers, though others are way more cheerfully into the PCs being the straw that breaks the (transformed) camel's back and saves the world. It varies a bit. I naturally preferred the latter.
One of the issues with Feng Shui's writing is it can never decide if you, the PCs, are going to be the thing that somehow makes it to a better end game of the cross-temporal war over furniture arrangement tyranny. It's a bit hard to even imagine what an 'endgame' of Feng Shui looks like, so it's probably better to focus on accomplishing your melodramatic hooks and fucking up one or two factions or particular villains you really hate. That leaves you room for sequel hooks where their mates swear revenge or the other power blocs of the time war decide they have to stop you and now you play as the next generation of heroes drawn into a new war with all the Juncture moved 20 years forward. Another issue is that it tends to take the Chi domination stuff a little too far; they treat it like staying in a region controlled by someone with strong Chi will just brainwash your PC, which is one reason no-one goes to 2056. I always preferred to say that's just how some of the Chi Tyrant wannabes think about it, while ignoring there are other ways around their power so that PCs have a chance to boot them in the head.
Another issue is that sometimes, they try to treat the time travel stuff as something to get clever with instead of an excuse plot that brings a ton of character types together. So you get stuff like Seal of the Wheel talking about the Ascended fucking with your family in 1850 so that there'll be 'superficial' shifts that change your life a little around you and 'keep you off balance'. No, bad writers! Bad! Don't pull back the curtain/ask too many questions about the time travel shit, just use it to get Zhuge Liang into a game of wits with a CIA analyst working for a conspiracy of magical stoats. That stuff is generally rare, but concentrated a lot in the Ascended book and one of the reasons I dislike them (there are a lot of reasons to dislike the Ascended).
Another nice thing is the Netherworld is a living place to have adventures, too. There's all kinds of previous timeline people lost down there; you want to run into a pirate using John Dee's Blood Magic to protect his ship on the seas of not-Hell? Go for it. Laser Jews from a lost timeline where the Hebrews discovered Feng Shui during their exodus? Already in there, see Mors' review for reference. Some kind of mad double king from a timeline when Divine Right absolute monarchy didn't go far enough? That's...basically just the faction of the Four Monarchs, actually, when I think about it. So yeah, Double Kings are already in there, just instead it's a Thunder Pope. With a massive magical pinball parlor. You want to take over a Feng Shui site that's actually a cult to a field of magical tentacles ruled by a shitty televangelist? That's already there, I didn't make that up! I wish I had made that up!
What I'm trying to say is if you just want to have gonzo not-Hell adventures the Netherworld is an endless source of fun, too. And that's FS's Time War at its best, when it's an excuse to say yes to all kinds of off the wall stuff. Not when it's played straight as a strategic battlefield. Let the plot and your crazy ideas drive it, not a worry about what a global conspiracy 'should' detect, or how many soldiers a future dystopia 'should' be able to throw at you.
And with that out of the way, we can finally get to one of the main factions of the story: The Ascended.
Next Time: Arise, Chiken. Chiken Arise.
Would you like to know more, Consumer?Original SA post Feng Shui 1e
Would you like to know more, Consumer?
This one is going to be a little long, and a bit awkward, because I'm completely aware of why people don't like the Bureau of Tactical Management (I usually call their faction Buro instead of The Architects) and the CDCA. And it's totally legit; their writing is extremely uneven because outside of their faction book nobody can agree on what their deal is or how to use them aside from 'they got mad science and cyberdemons'. They're very much victims of some of the general setting conceits in a lot of the fluff; nobody suffers more from the whole 'Super Overt Chi Domination' flaw in the writing than Buro. Plus the writing often seems to assume they can just instantly hunt down any Innerwalker PC instead of making them out to be a relatively incompetent Evil Empire you can sneak around in long enough to spend time in 2056 and actually enjoy how wild the place is. So yeah, I get not liking Buro or playing with them in the normal fluff very much.
But I goddamn love them and I'm going to be here to explain why. Of all the factions in the Secret War, they're probably my favorite. Maybe it's just that Greg Stolze is a really good writer (it's definitely partly that Greg Stolze is a really good writer) or just that I really like Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, but once I got to Seed of the New Flesh? Yeah, I'm down with the UN Cyberdemons and their cheerfully propagandistic dystopia as a setting element.
So, let's get to Buro's issues, first, then get into why I ended up running an entire Buro campaign once. Firstly, Buro's corebook writeup is pretty cursory and doesn't make them out to be very exciting, because it doesn't get to any of the interesting parts of their faction. It portrays them as a pretty basic 'First World uses the UN to enact Neo Colonialism' new Empire fueled by mad science and with no designs on anything but ruling the world. So if that's your introduction to the Buro, of course they're going to sound boring and shitty. All you ever really see of them in any of the other books in the line is 'assholes with Croenenberg Tech and Cyberdemons, who keep coming back in time to try to take over the world', and a lot of the line really, really over-emphasizes how much they have 2056 locked down, to the point that people start thinking of 2056 as off-limits to play in. 2056 is originally written solely as a place that Kyle Reese stumbles out of through a time portal, yelling at Sarah Connor that the future is all fucked up and now the fucked up future is trying to fuck up the past so it'll get even worse. That's not much fun, and doesn't make for a good Juncture.
Sure, even in the core book there are hints about the fun parts of 2056: The SERU (Supernatural Entity Retrieval Unit) Hunter is a really fun PC archetype. Playing as a formerly-cheerful man or woman in gaudy plastic future armor sent into a situation they had no real preparation for who was sent to ancient China/the Netherworld to fight/capture demons? Fun! But there's nothing about Buro as a faction beyond 'amoral, violent military thugs and psycho mad scientists' in most of the books. So it's no wonder most people don't like them.
So, who are they, really? The Bureau of Tactical Management is a one-world government that took over on the back of the global climate collapsing. Spearheaded by Johan Bonengel, who is legit one of the more interesting characters in Feng Shui, they developed artificial food vats that could feed the population of the planet in the wake of the collapse of natural agriculture. According to the core book, they also got a lot of their start providing superscience weapons to pacify the world for the UN, eventually superseding it and getting Bonengel elected world president. Seeking an answer to the 'body bag' problem in military deployments, they decided first to use cyborg monkeys (this went really badly and produced the Jammers when the monkeys rebelled) and later hit on the idea of cybering up hellish demons and using them as shock troops. By 2042, they ruled the world, and since they had Arcanowave theory and scientific understanding of Feng Shui, the CDCA under Dr. Curtis Boatman (Dao was out of the picture by 2025, teleporting to the Netherworld to avoid being murdered by Boatman) had built plenty of government buildings and sites over places with great chi to ensure they'd keep what they had. Boatman is ALSO one of the more interesting characters in the setting, and the Worst Person In The World. More on Bo and Bo in a bit.
The thing is, once you get to Seed of the New Flesh, Greg Stolze actually gives Buro a culture and an ideology beyond 'grey future of nutrient paste and sadness'. They're still meant to be bad guys (Primarily due to Boatman), and they're still a dystopia, but they're a lot more understandable when you actually get into what happened in the period they call 'The Reckoning'. They're more like people. Funny, weird people from the future, but people. They're also weirdly one of the best intentioned sides in the Secret War. Er, if you talk to Bonengel. Not Boatman.
One of the keys of Seed of the New Flesh is that it starts out with reasons someone in 2056 might not see 1996 as a paradise. Sure, you can get a cheeseburger and drive a fast car. You can also get beaten to death for being gay. The cops can shoot you for being a minority (as opposed to Buro, where the cops might shoot you for a lot of reasons, but not for your race or sexuality). Hate crimes and groups that perpetrate them are dug deep into society. You can starve to death in the streets or get fucked by the health industry and no-one will do anything about it. Women are paid less than men and generally not treated equally. You're polluting the hell out of the environment and pushing it towards apocalyptic collapse, which everyone in 2056 is still paying for. Your people don't fully understand the importance of Daniel Pinkwater (Having read Daniel Pinkwater as a kid, this throwaway joke gets me), the greatest writer in human history, nor do you yet understand just how vital brand identity is as a social signifier yet because no-one's invented consumer theory. Really, a benighted era.
That part, where they talk about what's good/bad about 2056/1996? That's what first got my imagination going about Buro. There's a lot of 90s era 'Buro is basically like the Soviets, and they crush all personal initiative and slackers who have government connections will get ahead while the hardworking get ground under the wheels of 'equality'' stuff that's admittedly real cringey to read (Especially knowing that, you know, 'I got connections' goes extremely far in 'free' societies, too), but the basic seed of 'A lot of people in 2056 really do believe they're working for a world of equality, fairness, and one that will correct the mistakes of the past' suddenly gives you a lot more room to do stuff with those characters.
Plus, 2056 has a lot of fun aesthetics. The new Buro cities are all built to channel Feng Shui to the government, but they're also of the 'bright, clean, and smooth, but kind of lifeless' style of dystopic construction instead of all being grungy and run down. Ethnic discrimination really is mostly a thing of the past in 2056 in Seed of the New Flesh (Which is why I say it doesn't really gel with the earlier 'neo-colonialist' schtick Buro had before their sourcebook), the world is no longer heteronormative, buddy cop movies have evolved into a brand of romance film (heterosexual or non), and people are referred to primarily as Consumer. This is because this is the thing that unites us all; we all consume, so it's a title that applies to everyone. Also, no more gendered titles that imply a woman is a man's property by noting her martial status; everyone is Mc. So Mako would be McIshii, just as Buropresident Bonengel would be McBonengel. Everyone is Mc. All of them. Clothing is no longer considered gendered, and anyone wears whatever they feel like. Cities are rebuilt for walking and covered in moving walkways. You can get cool rollerskate shoes to speed up your commute.
Doctors still get called Dr, though. I bet Boatman insisted on it.
So, what's bad in 2056? Well, for one, there are so many laws that you're almost certainly breaking one of them. The internet ended up being used primarily as a tool of indoctrination, propaganda, and oppression (So like the Climate Change angle, Seed of the New Flesh was prescient) and is spying on you at all times. Your main choices in life are which brands you buy from, which leads people to build much of their identity around consumer goods as the companies that make them know everything about you and try to present you with 'their' lifestyle (again, prescient). TV is pay per view. The currency of the world is the Hour (for an Hour of labor), but a lot of government positions set their own salaries at higher than an Hour per Hour. Remember how you're probably breaking at least one law? The cops probably know. They have the whole Statsi thing going on where they know so much and have so many informers that they honestly can't parse it all, themselves. The arbitrary nature of when they decide to arrest you adds to an aura of everpresent anxiety. There's also the cyberdemons and mad science and Dr. Boatman.
But let's get more into Boatman and Bonengel, because they'll tell you a lot about 2056 from their own characters.
So, first. Johan Bonengel. Johan's formative experience came when he was in love with a Sri Lankan woman as a young university student in Germany. She was murdered by neo-nazi skinheads for 'dating outside her race'. He resolved to get into politics and set to work trying to build a world where that shit would not fly. When Haiti was hit by an outbreak of a horrific pathogen called the Melter (Guess what it does), Bonengel was the political functionary who took charge of the situation, and eventually convinced the governments of the world they needed to take decisive action and sterilize the hotzone. With missiles. And a weather satellite. Depending on sources, the satellite might not've helped the whole 'climate change' situation. The thing is, Melter was designed by the Ascended, if you pay attention to Seal of the Wheel. It was designed to spread globally and kill everyone. I am not normally a Hard Decisions type, but 'there is an engineered pathogen that might go global if it gets out' is one of the only situations I could ever justify that kind of thing. When the climate collapsed, Bonengel was there, spearheading the programs to ensure people were fed. When war broke out, he put an end to it. By the end, he was Buropresident, and set about trying to build a world without violence, starvation, or ethnic hatred.
He's just...been a bit heavy-handed in the process and chosen the worst possible partner in the whole thing. But the thing is, Bonengel is one of the only big Faction Leader guys in the Secret War who isn't just a selfish dick. He's also only recently actually learned about Chi; his partner, Boatman, got sick of how Bonengel treats the world like it matters at all and tried to tell him all this only happened due to Chi, even the apocalypse. I've always taken Boatman's claims that the Melter, the wars, the climate, etc were all 'caused' by Bonengel's Chi so he could appear a savior to be a self-interested lie because he was trying to convince Bonengel to stop caring about the state of 2056 and relax; they sound like bullshit, even for Chi. Bonengel was horrified, though. Now, he partly believes that everything he's accomplished might be because of magic furniture arrangement and not actually because anyone believes in his future, and he wants to prove that people really will listen to him of their own accord. Thus, he comes across as one of the few major setting antagonists you might be able to talk to, or change. He's heavy-handed and willing to do some awful things for what he sees as greater goods, so he's not hard to use as an antagonist, but he feels like you could take his good intentions and try to help the guy do better.
Boatman, on the other hand? Fuck Curtis Boatman. I think you can get everything you need about his character from how he lives and how he treats his wife. To Boatman, 2056 is a paradise. He has all the natural food he wants. He has whatever money or power he wants, because he and the CDCA are necessary to Buro's functioning. He sleeps around as much as he cares to and uses influence magic to make sure people can't say no. And to make sure his wife suspects he's unfaithful, but can't ever prove it. Then makes sure she hates herself for it and remains his devoted wife forever, because he thinks it's funny. Even better, OTHER people don't have what he has (You might be seeing a parallel to the Tranimals). He's a stupid little prick who stole Anita Dao's work and her agency, sold it all out to the Military Industrial Complex, and set himself up as one of the tyrant kings of the future. He's also happily at work gutting his golden goose, because he's sick of dealing with self-righteous Bonengel. So he's got all kinds of plans to make himself sole ruler of Buro, and meanwhile Bonengel has become suspicious of him. They're absolutely set up so that they're going to have a huge falling out and as the two big power blocs of the future, the crack for your PCs to do heroic shit is right there. Plus, Boatman is such an obvious source of much of what's wrong with Buro, and even better, he actually has tremendously powerful Arcanowave magic, so he can provide a dramatic boss fight at some point (if dramatic boss fights worked in FS).
Another thing that made me like the Buro and brought together how I write them was one of their sinister plans for their Tactical Operations agents (The Cross-Time commandos). It was to go to the third world in 1996 and...just help people out. Because the Ascended don't bother with the third world outside of trying to exploit it. They hoped doing so would get them sites the Ascended ignored because it was unglamarous, but would also make it so 1996 heroes might actually join Buro, thinking they're good guys. The added bonus of showing their troops why they're fighting the Ascended is just gravy on the biscuit. Reminding their soldiers the glitzy apartments and fancy hotels of the Ascended aren't all there is to 1996. You can run with that kind of thinking, even if Buro are your villains; suddenly a lot of their soldiers have a good reason to be fighting you before you convince them you hate the Ascended too and they should defect.
So, what do you need to adjust to actually have fun in 2056? Play up the culture. Make them more odd than purely grimdark. Play up, quietly, that this society exists because of an apocalypse. They aren't all eating paste because someone's greedy, they're eating paste because someone was greedy. Remember that your PCs are action heroes; Buro can send 20 guys and a future-chopper, but you can handle 20 guys and a future-chopper and then vanish into the shadows. Make getting caught an action scene instead of 'endless waves of shitty cops until you're dead or you've fled the juncture'. Play down chi domination. Maybe even play up that the chi domination thing is just what the 1996 Ascended tell themselves has to be the only reason anyone works for Buro. Play up the splits in their government so PCs have levers to work at to try to bring things down. Play up the idealistic propaganda and have fun with it. Use the good intentions to give your PCs an 'in' to help turn 2056 characters, and use the 2056 characters to help 1996 people see some of the bad shit in their own time period, and being heroes, swear to do something about it.
And if you're doing a Buro game, as I did? Well, you've got the hook right there: At some point, you're going to fight Curtis Boatman. No two ways about it. If you're going to make Buro the protagonist, you're going to have some serious work to do. But you're heroes. That's your thing. A cheerful TacOps team and their cool Abomination buddy stomping the faces of (other) time tyrants and then eventually turning their eyes to stopping a bunch of the evils at home and overthrowing the worst man in the world? When I ran that, it ended with a Cyber-Sphinx in human-ish form having a kung-fu fight with a Chi-roided up Boatman on top of the pyramids at Giza while a TacOps team fought an Abominationed-Dragon before putting Dao back in place as head of the CDCA and turning shit around. You can definitely do it if you lean into the good intentions and the better sides of 2056, and really want to play around with blocky plastic guns and superscience.
Told you this'd be a long one. And I didn't even cover everything I wanted to, but I'm cutting it here before I just end up doing all of Seed of the New Flesh and violating my 'one post a faction' policy.
Next Time: The Silver Dragons
Not those guys, those guys were losers. I believe in youOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Not those guys, those guys were losers. I believe in you
So the Dragons mostly get their writeup in Golden Comeback, and I have a dark secret to admit: The Dragons were lame and you're not missing too much by most of the previous batch being dead as hell. I get that they're the general 'Bunch of cliched but good hearted action heroes get together, don't have an army or nothing, try to save the world but have no idea what they're doing' faction, but I have to wonder if part of the reason the last batch had so little personality was just because they dead. They dead as hell. They got tricked by a pretty simple plan by the Ascended, led into an ambush, and murdered to death. A few of the survivors then stopped a plan to control all Netherworld portals and withdrew to the shadows, realizing their group had been devastated. Only a few conveniently support-oriented NPC types survive (As well as a few more action oriented people who may or may not be dead if you need allies), waiting out there to make contact with your cooler group of PCs, who are hopefully both more interesting and luckier than the last batch of dead guys.
The Dragon writeup is mostly done by the original author of Exalted, Geoff Grabowski, and it's not great. There's a lot of focus on how the Dragons are consistently doomed. They always get their asses killed. They're powerful and righteous individuals who see the Secret War, rise up to try to do something (no details on what, exactly), then piss everyone off and die in ignominy. There've been a lot of Silver Dragons over the centuries and timelines. There may have been an original group of Silver Dragons, long forgotten, or the name might just be kinda catchy. The Dragons might keep popping up because they're a manifestation of the Spirit of Freedom or something, showing up whenever tyranny is about to win completely and the Secret War gets close to actually ending, only to die after achieving not that much. They might have powerful supernatural patrons. Or maybe like I said, it's just a catchy name and there's usually at least one survivor who can recommend it to the next batch.
After all, if you're going to rise up in a doomed struggle against time tyrants and get your shit kicked in, you'd better have a cool name while you do it.
You might note the Dragons writeup is really fucking short. This is because the Dragons are intentionally sort of a cipher that your group takes over. They dead, like I said. The most interesting part of their writeup is the baked in assumption that the Dragons will almost always fail, and the total lack of writing about what any of the Dragons were actually fighting for. What was their goal, exactly? Freedom, I guess? Again, fine that most of that is left blank; your PCs should be deciding what the Dragons stand for anyway, if they become the new Dragons. But it's curious and part of why the past Dragons are a little hard to get excited about.
More dangerous is the bit about how they always, always get themselves killed. It's not everywhere; lots of this line will assume you'll have a full campaign with an endgame and a denouement and all. But some places in Feng Shui seem to imply that the default structure some of the line's writers assumed you'd use is that the PCs would start out, kill some dudes, have some adventures, then get crushed by the weight of the world. That the eventual path of a campaign is to play for awhile until you eventually fail and die. There's always a little bit of an odd undercurrent of 'you're just 3-5 weirdos from across time, you don't have the troops to cover Feng Shui Sites, the teams of lawyers, the money, what could you do?' that feels like it buys the villains' own hype about themselves.
The Dragons are also a part of one of Feng Shui's other kind of 90s issues: Pretty much everyone except the Dragons is evil by default. You can shift things around to make some of the groups good guys, or to fight the bad guys within a group and try to make it better, but default? Everyone's some flavor of evil tyrant or murderous nihilist. Yes, even the funny rebel monkey guerillas with the ape pun names and cybernetic chain guns. Yes, even the Shaolin Monks. Basically everyone outside of your PC group is, by default, some flavor of bad guy; the original operation that killed the Dragons had the Jammers somehow signing up in alliance with a bunch of other groups, after all. All to kill the Dragons and cut out the other factions of the Secret War. So the entire setting is kind of against you; yeah, there are alliances of convenience, but almost everyone wants to either rule or probably destroy the world in some fashion or another.
In short, you don't end up with much of a hook for what your Dragons are trying to do, especially with the nature of Chi. Again, this can be mitigated some by making Chi a little less deterministic and more of a significant edge rather than total destiny, but you're still left with the fact that by default the life force of the world keeps ending up empowering some flavor of tyrant or another as soon as they learn the secrets of furniture arranging. The Dragons as written just end up reacting to the other factions, trying to stop anyone else from winning all the marbles but not really having a plan beyond treading water. There's really no thought given to what a 'good guy' endgame for a story even looks like, and I have to wonder if that doesn't link back to the original Dragon Writeup emphasizing that you're going to struggle against impossible odds and then die.
Another thing I note with the Dragons: Anita Dao is one of the surviving support people, and in every game I've written, I've come up with a different background, character, and personality for her if she's going to come up. I've had to do this because she doesn't really have one in her writeup (okay, also because I like doing it). Her writeup talks entirely about what she does as a scientist, and how she escaped Boatman trying to shoot her in the back by using a prototype portal device, and how she'll die of supercancer if she ever actually leaves the Netherworld now. There's no actual character there, just a list of stuff she did to make the plot happen. Which is okay for the Dragons; again, a lot of this is serviceable in making a group of support people who might approach your PCs as potential mentors and who might need a lot of adjusting to your group anyway. It's why I don't say the Dragons are bad, because I can see where a lot of this could be totally intentional since you're intended to take over this group and make it your own by default. The only Dragon with any actual personality is Kar Fai, their kung fu master, and he's fun but pretty predictable. A virtuous but worldly old master from 1850 who actually likes the modern world, hates the Guiding Hand, and who wants to find worthy students who'll be heroes so he can get back to drinking and fishing on weekends is fine.
So in the end, there isn't a lot to say about the Dragons, other than they help reveal some of the ongoing minor issues with the setting and campaign structure of FS. Sometimes it just can't decide if 3-5 people should be treated as the extremely serious threat they probably should be in a roleplaying game about high powered genre mash-up action heroes, and it suffers a little for the indecision. Or the way everyone is default evil and the Secret War is generally portrayed as unstoppable. If there's a good end out there, you're going to have to punch, shoot, creature powers, wizard, and arcanowave your way towards it for yourselves. And the empty seat of the Silver Dragons is there for you to try to do it with.
Next Time: Four Monarchs
The simple pleasures of a monkey chaingun fightOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
The simple pleasures of a monkey chaingun fight
It is only fitting that the Jammers cut in line and push the Monarchs back a bit, surprising everyone by storming onto the scene well before they were promised. In truth, I'm covering the explosion monkeys because I feel like it, because they're a really great faction and an important part of Feng Shui. They also contain one of the other really great characters for the setting: Battlechimp Potemkin. They're a great faction because there's a ton of things you can do with them: Uneasy allies, comic relief, crazy psycho murder terrorists, or just a really wild and explosion fueled main campaign faction. Also, their actual goal is quite sympathetic, just...not really their means. Or the way there's a chance what they're trying to do could erase all of history and leave you running back to 69 AD to undo your mistakes.
So, the Jammers formed around the survivors of the second Buro supersoldier program. The first one was all about massive human enhancement, but it got shut down because the public was terrified of it. The second? Robot monkeys. Robot monkeys with enhanced intelligence. Project: Cornelius was designed to produce intelligent gorillas and monkeys with chainguns and rocket launchers strapped to them. In many ways, the continued success of the Jammers shows that Project: Cornelius was a stunning success; the cyborg apes and monkeys are actually really tough bastards. The issue came when they made a command unit: The very first Battlechimp. Potemkin was made to be stunningly intelligent, so he could direct the apes of wrath (that's not me doing wordplay, Jammer heavy infantry are, in fact, The Apes of Wrath) with enough skill to obsolete human generals the way his mighty winged monkey (well, helicopter-bladed monkey) armies were obsoleting the human soldier. This was a bad idea, as you might imagine; making a hyper-intelligent, hyper-charismatic unit stuffed with every powerful combat cybernetic you can come up with was just asking to backfire. The very first thing Potemkin said after analyzing everything that had been uploaded into his brain was 'kill me'.
After awhile, Potemkin convinced the project staff that making a sentient race solely to enslave it into doing your killing for you was, in a word, pretty fucked up. He'd processed for a bit, and gone from 'kill me' to 'kill the government that thought making me wasn't a fucked up thing to do'. With the Project: Cornelius staff in tow, they fled the facilities they were born in and the cyborgs made their way to the Netherworld. Here, he would meet Dr. Dao and, with her wanting to get back at Boatman for the whole 'tried to kill me' thing, she handed Potemkin a prototype Gatemaker. Being a genius, and in possession of a bunch of CDCA scientists, he was able to replicate this thing; it punches temporary holes into the Netherworld for a quick escape. Perfect for a unit of Gorilla Warriors. Now the cybernetic Battlechimp had a means to strike and fade, an army of cybernetic monkeys, a bunch of scientists, and the ability to become a beacon to all resistance against the Buro. But in the process, he'd learned exactly what Feng Shui was; calculating that it directed all history, he decided that along with Buro, Feng Shui had to go. After all, if Feng Shui enabled tyrants like Buro, the Lotus (I am excited for Lotus times when we get to them), and the Ascended, what the hell good was it? All it was was a chain around the neck of history. The strongest and smartest didn't rule, but rather those who happened to own lucky buildings and places.
Yeah, destroying all chi (Gonna keep using that romanization so I don't slip myself up) might kill everybody, but to Battlechimp Potemkin, better the world should die if it can't live free. To achieve his goals, he will do anything and sacrifice anything; the soul of the world, the liberty of all life is at stake. He's even started up a factory to forcibly produce a sentient race of cybernetic monkeys en-masse to indoctrinate into a life of mindless destruction so he can have the soldiers he needs to win. You know, the thing he originally argued was so fucked up that anyone who did it needed to die.
So, one of the reasons the Jammers are useful is that most of the time, they're a joke faction. They're funny! They all have ape pun names, they take to their work with extreme glee, they're crazy half-baked nihilistic anarchists who just want to tear everything down and get hammered while they do it. They're dangerous, but they lack the huge backing of most other factions and they're usually a disruptive element in plot arcs rather than the main event. If a story arc is ever getting boring, you have the full blessing of the setting to suddenly and without warning teleport 8 heavily armed cybernetic monkeys and their attendant riot of punks and explosives onto the scene to liven things up as they try to blow up whatever site or plot your PCs and their other enemies were arguing over. Things bogged down in legal proceedings? Non-combat scene going too long? Here come the fucking explosion monkeys! Time to shred some scenery and cause some collateral damage! You would not believe how helpful that is to a GM.
The thing that makes the Jammers great, though, is that the joke can stop. Suddenly. You can play them entirely for humor and fun. You also have the option to suddenly have the silliness come to a screeching, explosive halt the moment Potemkin walks on scene. He's intelligent, completely ruthless, and he will do literally anything to win; nothing else in the world matters besides destroying all feng shui. He has plans to get a nuclear device into Hong Kong and destroy the city entirely (He's been trying to get a nuke for 3 years). He orders his soldiers to dump toxic waste on sites they burn so they can't be repaired. He actively orders the Jammers to cause as much ecological damage as possible because natural beauty can have good feng shui. If he could cause WWIII in 1996, he probably would; it'd kill Buro, after all. If you want him for one, Potemkin can make an absolutely chilling villain. Which is extra good, because then you've got your players legit worried about a guy called Battlechimp Potemkin. Also he's a huge badass and one of the strongest combat faction leads, so if you want a campaign arc to end on fighting Potemkin in a missile silo before he can launch a rogue strike on Hong Kong, he'll put up a hell of a fight even if they have the AVs to fight him.
It'll probably stall out because he has huge toughness, unless you have Creature Powers characters or Fu characters who can bypass Toughness, in which case they can probably take him down in a reasonable amount of time if they've got the AV to be doing this in the first place. But hey, this is still Feng Shui.
But the other good part about the Jammers? For all the crazy, there's also a lot of good. One of their projects in 1850? They've realized the Ascended are going to make America increasingly important to their plans, and guess what's producing a shitload of chi? The Southern Plantations. So the Jammers have joined the Abolitionist movement. But they ain't content with lobbying for an end of slavery, or helping slaves escape. No, they're smuggling crates of Buro Blue Spear assault rifles and shit back to 1850 and getting ready to put together the mother of all slave rebellions. You want to play a good guy Jammer campaign? Get on down there, team up with John Brown (now with an AK-47), and smash the southern planter aristocracy as you play out Django But More. Similar, they're sending smallpox vaccine (and probably a few more AKs and Blue Spears, but mostly those are going to the slaves) to the native Americans out west, in hopes that they can support them and put a stop to the US conquering the Indian Wars. So you know, you want to play as future rebels fighting alongside the victims of historical genocide and chattel slavery and kicking the shit out of imperialists? That's already in there. The Jammers are canonically into that. Sure, they're doing it for magic secret war purposes, but fucking hell, you can have a completely main-rulebook supported game where you spend the game shooting slaveowners with uzis. I am into that.
There's also the part where, considering almost everyone else in the Secret War is evil and feng shui really does tend to enable tyranny, they're kind of right. Just that the people saying 'hey if you kill all that you will kill everyone' may also be right. But it's ambiguous. They could turn out to be right if you're playing a Jammer campaign; you could break enough sites and suddenly the world is free and history is changed forever. It's up to you depending on if you want them as comic relief, villains, or a PC group.
Similar, they do a lot of awful things; Potemkin really would do anything to destroy Buro and feng shui. The aforementioned 'I would absolutely nuke Hong Kong', the fact that he gives no shits about collateral damage at all, or the fact that if he knew that destroying all chi would destroy history he probably wouldn't stop, etc? If you want a game where your PCs get in it to free the world and realize their bosses are insane and then defect to become the Dragons, you've got a lot of room for that. Even if the Jammers are played as villains in your game, they're also villains who might work with you as allies of convenience. Again, Potemkin would do anything. There's also a nasty social darwinism streak to the Jammers; they believe that what chi is in the way of is the 'strongest and smartest' ruling. The reason I keep coming back to Potemkin is because he has complete, basically dictatorial control of the Jammers; a lot of the faction is a personality cult centered around him, and he's often depicted as highly adept at emotional control and manipulation. Despite the goal of global liberation, people are mostly tools and things and numbers to him. One of the reasons PCs might start out Jammers and not stay that way is being sent on suicide missions by a Battlechimp that doesn't mind sacrificing them.
Another general note on FS's fluff that comes up as I reread the fiction: FS is notable for being very anti-colonialist, and this was in the 90s. The British conduct in the Opium War is uniformly depicted as villainous, and something that any heroic character is going to struggle against. The most sympathetic things the Jammers do are in the 1850s, fighting against American Chattel Slavery and aggression against the Native Americans. Those historic atrocities and the way the Ascended benefit from them (there's all the excuse plot chi magic stuff, but at the end of the day they're still doing them for money, power, and imperialism) are always depicted as big reasons the Ascended are motherfuckers no matter what they say about how they ensure you can get a cheeseburger and download porn on the internet. Another thing: FS has, for its time period, an unusual number of gay characters, depicted in a variety of roles and never as stereotypes. It'll just be mentioned that the Queen of the Ice Pagoda's ultracompetent chief of staff lives a happy home life with his husband in among the rest of his writeup, or a plot seed will have a woman asking the PCs to help her get her wife out of 2056. 2056's gay marriage laws are depicted as one of the few unambiguously good things Buro does. It's nice.
So yeah, the Jammers are a fun faction of wildly energetic rebels and explosion lovers, who make for great comic relief, allies, potential PC protagonists, and enemies at the same time. You barely have to change anything to use them in any of those roles. They add a lot to the setting, and not just from being able to say 'Furious George comes through the wall unbidden and without warning, spinning up his 30mm chaingun' whenever the going gets slow.
Next Time: Okay, actually the Four Monarchs
Doomed Highborn ManchildrenOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Doomed Highborn Manchildren
The Four Monarchs exist primarily to show you what a Critical Shift looks like. You see, until fairly recently (by Innerwalker reckoning) the world was kind of a shitty medieval fantasy world, ruled by 4 immortal god-kings and god-queens (2 and 2). They were, as said in the Ascended bit, total dicks and it's for the better they were kicked out. Just a shame the people (animals) who did the kicking were also total dicks. They were Pu Ti, the mistress of ice, Li Ting, the
Unlike most factions, these guys aren't huge players in the Secret War; they're there to set the stakes. The fact that they could be displaced into time is there to show you that even godlike double-kings (queens) can be cut down by losing enough of their Feng Shui sites. They were once four siblings who all got together to murder their father and then take over the world with magic and kung-fu, each ruled a fourth of the world, and then they got taken out at the knees and history rearranged itself around them. So you got stuff like Pu Ti having to flee with her court as what was once her ice palace turned into a 1980s Soviet nuclear warhead manufacturing facility and they were chased into the Netherworld by Hind Ds. Which is goddamn hilarious. Also, they'd never actually seen automatic weapons or industrial warfare before, so for the wizard monarchs they were suddenly being attacked with completely unthinkable weaponry that hadn't existed and their magic didn't work great anymore.
Like I said, cut off at the knees. Once they got down into the Netherworld, encouraged by Pu Ti, they all turned on one another and blamed each other for losing. They've since settled into a stalemate down in the tunnels between time, glaring at each other, vaguely plotting to come back to the world and kick its ass for kicking them out. The Monarchs are a little odd in that they don't really get game stats. Everybody else? You get buff enough with enough EXP to match their AV, you can take them on. Monarchs? You'll get stats for every member of their court except for them. It stands out when everyone else in the setting is statted up for an eventual fight and they aren't. Not that most campaigns are going to bother going after these losers; they've already lost the Secret War.
Except for Pu Ti. The Ice Queen is the designated less-shit Monarch, who never really wanted to use immense kung fu and divine magic to take over the world anyway. Given the Ascended started their conspiracy on her lawn, it's implied she might have let them get going so as to stop having to be a God-Queen. She's quite happy being down in the Netherworld as a distimed, unassailable super-tyrant and regional queen. Also the only one who's modernizing her forces. Where once her guards used icicle swords and fancy magic sleighs and stuff, now they have snowmobiles and MP5s and tactical gear. You still ice a guy with an MP5, it's still in theme. She's also recently started to have a thing for the Dragons, though it's up to a GM if this is a momentary whim or if she's available to be a heavy hitter backer for your PCs. It's possible she may be sick of the Secret War entirely, seeing the whole thing as a mess that only exists to hurt the world. If that's the case, and that's what your Dragons are up to (trying to mitigate its harm/find a way to put a stop to all this), hey, never hurts to have a demigod backing you.
Li Ting is the Fire King. He likes fire, and made up a warrior philosophy called FIRE RIGHTEOUS. It's about how courage and stuff is like fire. Also has some Islam in it because he used to rule the middle east. He is 'backing Islamic Extremists' in the contemporary junctures in hopes that he can get them all het up about fire and use them as a springboard to get back to the world. He's brave and murderously powerful and into being cold and controlled in a fight. Also kind of likes using demons, because he thinks if you're firey enough you can turn evil to good ends. He's probably the most forgettable of the four. He really wants to come back to the world, at least, and was part of the plot that killed the last batch of Dragons. Also has cool fire sleds that run on fire.
Ming I is just evil. She has an evil shadow arm, and she loves blood, death, and torment. She bathes in the blood of virgins, she eats the hearts of children, and her court is full of blood sacrifice and cannibalism, because she ruled Mesoamerica, you see. So that's...not great. That's not a great look, the Aztec-style queen being the murderous baby-eater with the court full of monsters and devils. She works with the demons from actual Hell not because she worships them or anything, but because she agrees with them. Philosophically. They get along; they both love fear and pain. Of all the Monarchs, she's the one you're most likely to run into trouble from her not having game stats; she's kind of set up such that PCs will probably want to kick her ass. She also uses the blood magic she practices to mind control heroes who oppose her, loving to make them into her servants. She also loves competing with the lord of the Lotus, Gao Zhang, and neither of them will admit that they both really enjoy their extended conflict of trying to out-evil one another. Of all the Monarchs, she's also the one most trying to make it back into the world; she was part of the big plot that killed the last batch of Dragons.
HUAN KEN is the Thunderpope. He is the best Monarch. There is no competition. HUAN KEN is a flamboyant tyrant who used to rule over Rome, and so made himself Pope forever in addition to king. He's a total dick, but he's a weirdly charismatic total dick since he always seems to be having the time of his life. His thunder knights are arrogant bastards who are always extorting the poor and oppressed people of the Netherworld, and they're also always getting their clocks cleaned by good hearted heroes; his realm is full of dramatic outlaws that fight against him (one of which is one of his own many daughters). He owns a giant pinball hall and arcade where he patronizes the electronic arts because he's decided pinball and loud arcade cabinets are awesome. He marries many women, then annuls the marriages, because HE IS THUNDERPOPE, he can do that. If your PCs want to spinkick an arrogant asshole knight who is bullying the peasantry and wearing a butterfly suit, HUAN KEN will get you that. He's a boisterous man who has dozens of plans to get himself mastery of all the Netherworld! None of which are going to work! Because he's not very good at his job!
Thunderpope is the kind of thing that keeps me loving Feng Shui's setting. You do you, Thunderpope.
As you can see, the Monarchs aren't as fully developed as a lot of the others, because at the end of the day they're bit players compared to the factions that haven't already had their shit wrecked. They're terrifying individually, but the world isn't very well suited to what they want to do with it; magic doesn't work great outside of their new Netherworld realms. Still, they're living reminders of what you could do to the current global tyrants if you work away at them. Plus, you can still get some adventures out of HUAN KEN and Pu Ti. Just really wish Ming I didn't have quite the same sorts of 'Mesoamerica was a land of blood and horror' implications she's got. Not to mention the Islamic-ish flavored one being a state sponsor of terror isn't exactly a great look either.
They're also a little important to the setting because they provide a convenient reason no-one is trying to take a huge army into the Netherworld and conquer it; there are already 4 big armies backed by doomed highborn manchildren with godlike power. They keep each other in check, but they also keep anyone else from easily seizing the passages between time, thus making travel relatively free for small units of secret warriors like your PCs.
Next Time: Quan Lo, The Perfect Jerk
Perfect Master, Mediocre BoyfriendOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Perfect Master, Mediocre Boyfriend
The Guiding Hand are a secret society of Shaolin monks in the 1850s juncture who are deeply upset by the whole 'Britain responded to China outlawing opium by making war on it and forcing it to buy drugs' thing. Which, fair. That is a super shitty thing to do and one of my (many) go-tos about the fucked up stuff Empires just get up to in the course of swinging their dicks around the world stage.
The Guiding Hand are actually one of my inspirations for how I ran 2056 when I was running, because they do a thing where the majority of the Hand are really pretty good guys. The issue comes with Quan Lo, the actual overall leader of the Hand. He is kind of a nutbar. See, the Hand originally got its start in an association of Shaolin monastaries and masters who wanted to do something about the opium epidemic in China in the early 19th century. They were originally called the Golden Candle Society, trying to influence the Imperial court to take decisive action against the drug trade; even when they were able to get the court to take a stand against the stuff, nothing seemed to actually stop the import of the drug. Over time, they began to discover something called the Jade Wheel society behind a lot of the political pressure leading on the drug trade. An enemy with seemingly infinite wealth and influence, who always seemed to get lucky whenever they needed it.
If you guessed it was the Tranimals of the Ascended and their Eastern branch, you guessed right.
Quan Lo was a Neo-Confucian scholar and Shaolin Master who did everything he could to take over the Golden Candle Society, wanting to turn it into a more militant organization and coming up with a theory that geomancy was behind the constant success of their enemies. He also wanted to use the Golden Candles (now called the Guiding Hand) to enforce Neo-Confucianism as set down by Chu Hsi (who is real, but I have no idea if his philosophy is presented accurately because I don't know China well) and modified by Quan Lo, driving out any and all Buddhists from the leadership of the society. He starts normally enough, from the idea that people have a fundamentally good nature and that distractions and obstacles to that nature must be removed so they can express that virtue and live by benevolence and righteousness. At first, when the Guiding Hand discovered that the Jade Wheel were transformed animals in 1842, they figured they'd found the source of the problem: The people guiding the corruption of China and aiding the foreigners in humiliating their country and flooding it with drugs weren't people and so lacked the inherently good nature of humans to begin with.
Then, well...Quan Lo, spurred by discovering Feng Shui was a real thing that provided immense power, invented a whole lot of crazy once the time portals opened up and he saw the other eras. He was outraged by 1996 and 2056, thinking them lands that lacked any order or Confucian principles. But he was even more enraged to discover evil wizard eunuchs controlling China in 69 AD. He came up with the idea that there must have been a perfect timeline once, that Feng Shui was a doctrine set down by Sage Kings to guide the world to perfect governance, and that all this time travel nonsense existed because the Enemy Within, the filthy eunuchs, had corrupted the flow of Chi by using it for dark sorcery and split the universe into warring time periods. He...he had no actual evidence for any of this, but that didn't stop the Perfect Master from inventing an entire mythology of a fictional golden age. The Hand intend to take 69 AD and force China to be exactly what Quan Lo imagines the Chinese past should be: a perfectly ordered society with no disobedience, no person ever questioning their station, and rudeness or disobedience severely punished. If the perfidious enemy within who corrupted the golden past could be removed, the world could go back to a golden age where the superior Chinese ruled over all of creation and everyone on the planet obeyed proper ancient culture as Quan Lo imagined it to be in the 19th century.
When I read all this, I couldn't help but notice: Quan Lo is a fascist, isn't he? Ethnic/racial superiority, an imagined and elaborate golden age that must be returned to by violence and purging, a world of total hierarchy, and an obsession with corrupting influences that ruin the purity and superiority of those who rightfully should guide the entire world. He's a fascist trying to co-opt a resistance movement against a legitimately oppressive evil so he can use it to take over all of time and make it behave how he always imagined it was 'supposed' to.
He's generally pretty good at indoctrination, making people go through steps of enlightenment to make certain they're ideologically pure and already having purged the upper levels of his faction of ideological enemies, but he also faces a couple issues. One, he, himself, is actually kind of shitty at kung fu for a kung fu faction's faction leader. A starting Old Master can potentially kick his ass one on one; he's the weakest faction leader in the game. Two, because of this, he has a lot of extremely badass people on his side who are much more generally idealistic and heroic than he is, and less obsessed with total purity and control, who he can't simply purge from the ranks both because he needs them and because they could kick him in the dick. Many Guiding Hand are good and honest people who are trying to fight the British and the carving up of China. Blood of the Valiant is full of 'And wouldn't it be great for the Dragons if this honest and heroic kung-fu protagonist was convinced to turn on Quan Lo and you ended up in a game where you join forces with the good parts of the Hand to fight the colonialists without Quan Lo's nutjob plans?' He also just doesn't have an army; he tried to take sites by sending badass kung-fu monks to kick everyone out of them and attune to them, only to find Ascended sponsored British and Chinese soldiers coming down on them like a ton of bricks.
The Hand also does one of the few interesting time tricks: They train and convert people in 1850, then go to 1996 and see which of their descendants still ascribe to Hand philosophy and will willingly help them while being natives of 1996. One of those natives is Ho Shen, who poses as a humble restaurant owner in 1996 New York. He and Quan Lo do not get along; when monks from the 1850s started showing up and telling Shen that he had to ignore the US and go focus only on China (after explaining to him how time travel works, first), and that he should only care about the Chinese, Shen told them to stuff it. Everywhere in the world suffered under the Ascended, and everywhere in the world needed the philosophy of Confucius. This led to a falling out that saw Grandmaster Shen 'promoted' to General of 1996 and told never to speak to Quan Lo again, and he's decided that suits him fine; he'll liberate America and put a Neo-Confucian in the white house to show those stodgy bastards that he can save the world without them. One of his best friends is a hardcore black liberation activist and Vietnam vet that likes his philosophy and took to kung fu like mad, and who helps with his plans to train underprivileged people in fu powered martial arts to take low level sites and drive the Ascended's instruments of oppression (from corrupt cops to violent gangs and mobsters) out of their communities. Which is a pretty cool hook. Kung Fu Revolution in America could always be fun for a campaign.
The big trick with the Hand is that Quan Lo's crazy is kept hidden from outsiders. The monks do their best to look like good allies for the Dragons, because one of Quan Lo's general principles is that lying to people is fine as long as you remember the truth in your heart and don't enjoy doing it. In fact, Quan Lo is pretty down with a lot of evil stuff as long as you 'don't mean it'. The Hand are unique in that their book actually contains multiple possibilities for what happens if they Critical Shift the world and how PCs can keep adventuring if that comes up. In one of them, Quan Lo accidentally causes the Fist of the North Star to happen when millennia of all of humanity learning magic kung fu leads to stuff like 'I boop your nose and your head explodes' being common and the world degenerates into warband-dojos centered around superpowered martial artists. His head gets a'sploded, too, because he is NOT a superpowered martial arts god. In another, he manages to ensure all of humanity stays in a highly structured and rigid society exactly as he imagined it should, with anyone trying to step out of place getting beaten down harshly. In another, Ho Shen wins instead, and 2056 loses its Arcanowave tech and replaces it with smooth, iPad like 'technolochi' as the Confucian States of America develop kung-fu based SDI systems and survive a nuclear war. The Ascended worm their way back in, corporatizing and fixing the state exams. Without magic being constant to revert them, they can continue to work their wiles on 2056 and continue to ruin everything; they're actually delighted by this shift.
Also, in every case, because of a weird fluff thing where the Netherworld's juncture modifier has to balance to 0 with the sum of the Junctures' sorcery mods? By purging all magic from the 'main' timelines, they turn the Netherworld into a place where Sorcerers are at +8 AV. On everything. The same Netherworld that already has 4 banished God Kings (and Queens) in it. Who are Sorcerers. This might be a problem.
I really appreciate their book actually giving the stakes of 'what happens if they win'. Other books could've done with that; these are only suggestions, too. The Hand aren't hard to make into good guys, after all. Focus on fighting the Colonialists, eject the weird old man with his imagined ideas of a golden past of perfection, and actually save the world with benevolence and mighty kung fu.
I do really enjoy that Quan Lo can fuck up so hard that he causes Fist of the North Star. That's a powerful move, and could make for a pretty hilarious campaign twist where you suddenly find you have to recruit Kenshiro and put the world back together by punching the past until things make sense again. And rather than it being 'oh, the Chinese guys want to be stagnant and hierarchical' or whatever, it's...just Quan Lo. That's just his thing. He's a crazy old man. Most of the Hand just want to protect their country in a really fucked up period of its history.
I call him the Mediocre Boyfriend because one of the other setting NPCs in one of the books is his ex and calls him as much. It fits his character to a T that he's also a bitter weirdo about women (he is also a bitter weirdo about women; Buro prefers to use female agents against the Hand because it drives them off the wall).
Next Time: YOU DARE FACE THE WRATH OF GAO ZHANG!?
Best for Last, Says Gao ZhangOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
Best for Last, Says Gao Zhang
The Eaters of the Lotus are a cadre of evil palace eunuchs with powerful dark magic who rule over China in 69 AD, corrupting the Han Dynasty and setting it on the path to suffer the rule of Dong Zhuo and the collapse of the Han. They are also here to be the villains in fantasy/wuxia stories, and occasionally to come forward in time and be comic relief villains. You know how most groups I've been like 'here's ways you could make them the protagonists'? Yeah. No. That ain't the Lotus's deal. If you're playing as the Lotus, you know what you're in for: You're here to be ridiculous, hammy evil wizards living the high life and passing off the blame when everything explodes. You want to be David Lo Pan, as seen in cinematic masterpiece Big Trouble in Little China? This is how you play David Lo Pan. As you've probably guessed, Big Trouble in Little China has quite a bit of influence on Feng Shui. I'm sure you're surprised.
Like many factions, the Lotus are highly defined by their extremely powerful leader. GAO ZHANG is everything the Lotus are, but more. He's a corrupt eunuch minister who discovered dark sorcery when he captured three powerful wizard-bandits, forcing them to teach him how to summon demons and cast spells in return for their lives. When he proved to be way, way better at it than those losers, he had them liquidated and reformed the palace eunuchs into the Eaters of the Lotus, taking over the government completely and using demons and monsters and Imperial armies to bully the people of China into paying for his luxurious lifestyle through his puppet Emperor. If you can name an evil wizard plot, Gao Zhang has tried it. He is incredibly powerful at sorcery, treachery, and sorcerous treachery. He is also paranoid beyond belief, a massive showoff, and eager to have evil-offs with any and all other major villains in the setting. He will never admit how much he enjoys those! It's simply joy at crushing his enemies and showing off his incredible prowess, it isn't that he loves being a showy supervillain with minions and catchphrases and a massive special effects budget!
Well, one day, Zhang and his henchmen are chilling in the Imperial palace, enjoying the fruits of their massive villainy, when they get a report that some weird shit is going down in the villages of China. Someone is attacking their demonic enforcers. Someone weird. Someone who doesn't look Chinese. Someone who seems to have demons of their own. He takes some guys and goes to investigate, and finds it's Buro. Buro is there, ganking his demons to make supersoldiers out of. Weird people in plastic armor with strange magic and stranger weapons. This being a challenge to Gao Zhang and his boys, they take to the Netherworld after the weird interlopers, and discover the time-stream. There's an entire future out there, and horrifyingly, it says that a fat warlord kills all the palace eunuchs and takes over in like a century or so! That shit will not stand! Gao Zhang and the Lotus swear they're going to take over the future and prevent their good racket in the past from coming to an end, entering the Secret War.
The main problem is none of them know a damn thing about the future. This leads to the funny bit where the Lotus send ancient wizards into 1996 to poke around and try to figure out the modern world. They do this primarily by going to the movies. The Lotus love movies, but they hate action films; there's more than enough kung fu and gunplay in a Lotus Sorcerer's daily life, thank you. They like high concept character dramas and tearjearkers, instead. More than one Lotus agent has been seduced away from their mission by the temptations of the modern world, or even worse, the future. We had one Lotus Sorcerer who just went native and opened a pizza parlor because he loved experimenting with weird pizza and using emotion potions to make people love it. The Buro has managed to convince several sorcerers to join them by surgically returning their testicles (with listening devices quietly implanted within their new pair). The Lotus will betray the shit out of Gao Zhang the moment they think it's safe to do it and it will get them something they want. They're adorable little treason machines.
Like the Dragons, the Lotus really aren't complicated. They're here to play to type, to get a lot of fun out of the time travel mechanics, and to run up a huge bill on the SFX budget. They're there in case you feel like playing a supervillain and their cadre, complete with enforcers, modern mercenaries, mind controlled gangsters, and summoned demons; a Lotus Party is going to be colorful. If you want to play as them, play up the comedic, charismatic nature of their hammy villainy. Make them cartoony. Have fun with it!
It isn't that I don't love them; they're fantastic fun. There's just less to say about them because they're intentionally simple. Their sourcebook spends a lot more time on cool demons to fight, new Creature Schticks, magic treasures, and how to do a fantasy/wuxia campaign than it does on trying to give the Lotus deep motivations or anything. They're here to give you a great reason to fight a hammy evil wizard, whether you're playing a 69 AD wuxia hero or you're Jack Burton and you just want your goddamn truck back. They're in it for themselves. Their motives are 'more money and power for the Lotus', without bothering to even pretend to justify themselves like the Ascended. Much like the Dragons were fairly blank because you're meant to fill in your own Dragons, the Lotus are simple because they're there to provide memorable, weird NPCs and big gribbly demons to flying kick in the face.
Which gets at one of the strong ideas in Feng Shui's advice on writing NPCs: Make them simple at first. Hang a strong idea and some memorable quirks on the character when they first appear. You don't know how long the PCs are actually going to interact with this person; they might smoke them in their first appearance, or decide they hate them and don't care about them even when you wanted them to be buddies, or they might just turn out to be a non-starter as a villain once they're on the stage. If you made up dozens of pages of backstory and plot-hooks for the person, not only will you have wasted your time, you'll be tempted to try to force them into the story anyway even though they didn't land. But if you start out with a few things that don't take a shitload of exposition to make them stand out, you can gauge if you want to go deeper or have them recur by the players' reactions. And even if they get toasted, if they did something really cool or funny or memorable before it happened? Players will still think that crazy sorcerer was a good part of the adventure. The Lotus are the faction equivalent of this; you can add a bunch of detail to the Lotus if you want to make them more prominent villains and your players are really digging fighting eunuch sorcerers and ancient devils. But they're off-the-shelf supervillains, ready made to ham it up even if they turn out to be bit players, and I can appreciate that.
In fact, this approach is a big reason Feng Shui's big setting NPCs actually got used a lot in my games when I was running it; you get the core of their characters most of the time. But the rest is left malleable, for you and your players to fill in. The whole setting is like this: A bunch of strong core ideas and hooks, with enough detail to feel filled in and get you started, but malleable enough to play around with and make it your own. My Buro is almost certainly different from Greg Stolze's Buro, but because Greg Stolze and a lot of the writers on Feng Shui are very good RPG setting writers they made their Buro (and other factions) with the seeds to inspire mine, and those of everyone else who plays their game. It's why FS's setting rarely feels stifling, despite how much is going on in it. And that's a legitimate achievement in writing a setting, to put this much in it and not have it feel like it's even hard to use; it's written to inspire you to write. It also helps that the tone and writing in the books is just fun to read and the material tends to be memorable. That sense of being unapologetic that I mentioned earlier is a big help; Feng Shui isn't ashamed of being a setting where a cyborg monkey kicks the shit out of wizard while a Sharktopus wrestles his pet demon. And it doesn't want you to be ashamed of having fun with that, either. You're not wasting your time with dumb power fantasy or something, you're having fun mashing ideas together and coming up with characters.
And the Lotus slot great into all of that.
Next Time: Wrapping the Shoot
That's a WrapOriginal SA post Feng Shui 1e
That's a Wrap
Feng Shui came out of the 90s a lot better than many of its contemporaries. There are elements of the game's setting that might be a little awkward in play, owing to coming out of a CCG. There are a few elements that don't read quite so well now, like the Conspiracy Theorist angle on the Ascended. But overall? For a 90s game, and compared to a lot of, say, White Wolf's output at the time? Feng Shui's writers deserve to be proud of their writing. Much of the writing is still very solid, very readable, and very fun. Though I can't help but wonder something: When I read Back for Seconds, the 1996 first add-on book for the game, I can't help but shake the feeling the original intention was to have a CCG/event driven metaplot to tie the two gamelines together since Back for Seconds had a lot more 'we're revealing the secret history of What Really Happened in the big card-game plot event!' style writing. But by the time the 1999 Revised Edition and Seed of the New Flesh showed up, Shadowfist was (temporarily) out of print (they refer to as much in the rulebook, hoping to find a new publisher after things didn't go hot for Daedalus Games) and I can't help but wonder if the writers didn't realize they had a solid thing going with the 'snapshot' metaplot and then ran with it from there.
If that's the case, even then? Good on 'em. Running with a good idea is still a good idea. Avoiding a heavy metaplot really, really helped Feng Shui's setting. Same for having the standard hero faction desperately in need of 3-6 Time Badasses to come in and give them new direction. It might sometimes believe its villains' hype a little too much, but on the whole FS does a great job of being a game about your PCs, especially for a game with its origins in the 90s. Even more than the breezy tone and self-confidence, this is one of the reasons FS stands out.
Another part of it that works? Let's look at why Potemkin is so memorable. Potemkin leads a colorful faction of rebels with ape pun names and explosive hijinks. But if you want to take him seriously, he's a scary guy. The way he completely buys the same framework as his enemies but instead puts absolutely anything and everything to tearing it down, no matter what it would cost? The way he's an expert at manipulating and controlling his seemingly random minions? The way he's making an army exactly the same way he was made, despite hating everything about his existence? You can make the joke stop. You can take that character seriously. Despite all the silly surroundings and wild mashup stuff.
One of the things we can all learn from Mad Max: Fury Road is that an action movie can be a stupendous action movie full of exciting car chases, fights, and explosions without being stupid. It can be downright smart. It can have compelling characters and actual drama. If you want to write a more serious main plot in among the madcap antics and time wars of Feng Shui, you've got the tools to do it, like Potemkin. The setting writing is flexible and evocative and full of ideas that can be used either way. You can use it to tell a short story about crazy stunts and hijinks, or you can go deeper and play things straighter sometimes. It's not a one trick pony.
It's also not a pile of grimdark, and again, that's an achievement for something from the 90s. People in FS do awful things, yeah, but there's no piles of sexual violence and menace (outside of some reminders the mob does a hell of a lot of human trafficking). The same self-confidence that makes it unashamed to write a game about kick-flipping off a falling table and shooting six guys with a pair of .45s meant it wasn't constantly reaching for buckets of muck to try to convince the reader it was 'mature'. Bad shit happens in Feng Shui, and the villains are willing to kill a lot of people or choke the shit out of the world to make it do what they want, but it never gives the impression of wallowing in darkness. It could do with more representation, but judged by the standards of 20-23 years ago? Feng Shui is notable for already treating gay relationships as a normal thing for some of its characters, being pretty danged unflinching that colonialism and Empire are shitty things, and giving you campaign options for shooting up the southern planter aristocracy.
Also, from a mechanical point of view, Feng Shui comes from a transitional period in RPG design. The 90s are as they are partly because they're the time when D&D's dominance not just as a game, but as the model for what RPGs do, what RPGs are FOR, was seriously challenged. Mook Rules were an innovation. They were badly done, but they were an innovation. Trying to design from a point of view of saying yes to player ideas instead of trying to constrain the game? Legitimately a good design goal, especially for what FS was trying to do. It also avoided a lot of the 'what are you supposed to do' problems by having a strong elevator pitch (Are you a bad enough Time Badass to stop tyranny across the timestream? And if you don't care about time travel, do you want to play a show and/or action movie?) and it never struggled to keep a PC group together within its fiction. Schticks legitimately work well as one of the major building blocks of a PC. A lot of FS is an attempt to make RPG play more collaborative, to make the GM and the players partners. The setting's full of badass NPCs, yeah, but even from the word go your PCs are designed to be a big deal. You won't (and shouldn't) punch out Dessy, Potemkin, or Draco from Day 1, but you're not (EXP wise) that far away from them and very little of what's in the setting is genuinely off limits to a PC. There's nobody with 'You Lose' written on their sheet, because this isn't a genre where that would make sense.
The issues come with the AV system and the d6-d6 resolution mechanic being highly deterministic when you actually look at your odds. The variable initiative/action economy thing is still an issue, too, but a little less of one than in a more normal 90s RPG where combat favors the attacker extremely heavily. D6-D6 exacerbates some of the major balancing issues in the archetypes. Say you're throwing an AV 17 boss at a starting party, as the adventure in the back of the book does. Against an AV 15 player, that guy has about 75% odds to hit, 30% odds to be hit; bad odds, but enough people with those odds can overcome them even if it's gonna slog a bit. Now how's that change against the person who picked an AV 13 class because it seemed cool and fit their character concept? If you need a 4 or 5+, you're in serious shit. And with a 2-3 point spread between starting AVs, that's gonna come up. A lot. 2-3 AV is an extremely large mechanical advantage. Many of the classes that start with AV 13 don't even get much in return. Consider Zhuge Liang or Volkov. Liang might be hard to hit, but he can't actually do anything back to the enemy as built. Volkov's class was just kinda ill considered, and in fairness: I made him bad on purpose since that's what he was showing off. That you can build your PC bad by accident by picking the wrong class or stats.
Heck, it's completely possible to start with a 'non-combat' class like PI or Spy and have an AV of 10 if you didn't know you really needed to spend starting points on maxing your fighting AV. Similarly: Mind is easily the least useful of the 4 primary stats. Mind is usually used as a resistance/saving stat in combat, and often up against very difficult numbers for it. You simply won't get the same thing from having Zhuge Liang's Mnd 11 as you would out of, say, Ref 11 or Bd 11 or Chi 11. Even if you gave yourself the Ref 11 when you were making your PC and thus locked yourself out of raising AVs by doing so (Ref is useful enough for Speed alone that that can be completely worthwhile).
Even outside of PC creation, the game simply rewards minmaxing. A lot. And makes it fairly easy to do, especially with some of the later material like Hardware Schticks not being that well thought out. Remember: Within 30 EXP, if he suffers through a few sessions with AV 13, Hominid Case can jump to AV 17 overnight due to a mechanical oversight (And a human 10,000 Dollar Man or Cyborg like Volkov with a base 5 Ref can do that even more drastically, being able to jump from 14 or 13 to 20 or 19). In fact, taking the abilities that do it for him at PC creation makes them a waste of a Schtick. An 11 Dex when his AV is locked doesn't do him much good. An 11 Dex when it's unlocked is 60 EXP worth of AV (and anything else he gets for Dex) for 30 EXP. On the Cyborg/10,000 Dollar Man Archetypes? Even moreso. That's a late-material edge case, but the same is true all over PC creation and EXP use. Substats and Stats advancing as they do (with substats following the main stat unless they were already higher, and locked AVs at creation, which exist for a damn good reason but cause problems later) causes a lot of issues where a player can accidentally get a lot less for what they spend than their allies.
Why does this matter? Because someone with AV 15 and a ton of schticks gets to play more than someone with AV 13 and none, the same way a Wizard gets to play more than a Fighter in D&D 3.5. It's hard to properly split the spotlight when one player can do things and one player misses all the damn time; just ask the Big Bruiser. And because stunting runs off of having excess AV (since Stunting runs off of penalties to your base AV to do additional things) if you throw down a foe the 13 character can fight, the 15 character can Stunt on them.
Also, just reading the books...firstly, Stunting is not handled well on its own. For instance, in place of some mechanical guidance about what to do with Stunts beyond '-2 to hit to hit 2 people, -1 more per extra person', the core book tells you 'giving you more would ruin the fun, like giving someone a list of moves in a fighting game'. That's nice and all, I get that they want you not to feel limited, but I'd like a little bit of a guideline on what a point of to-hit is worth, and how to interact freeform stunting with the defined special powers in everyone's schticks. Instead, guidance on stunting focuses entirely on the fluff of it all. There's much more focus on coming up with 'cool moves' rather than what they mean for the mechanics. When you have something that is heavily, heavily 'GM May I' you need to give out some guidance; if a GM imposes too much penalty for not enough benefit, it slows fights down even further and no-one Stunts. If a GM imposes too little and too much, your normal schticks stop mattering and/or most fights end up a curbstomp.
Secondly, one of the other issues with AV and how it interacts with the d6-d6 isn't just in how it skews towards rolling close to your AV. That part is intuitive. Just looking at the base mechanic tells you that'll happen. However, it obscures your actual probabilities, but it does so behind seemingly small numbers. Take the standard stunting penalty; that drops you down to 30% odds of actually hitting if you originally matched the enemy's AV. The +3 Dodge move everyone has? Really, really drops the enemy's chances. More than the books seem to think. I think this is a consequence behind hiding large drops in percentage chance behind what looks like small actual numbers. -1 doesn't sound like much, but it'll take your chances of hitting a +0 AV down about 13.9% (Admittedly, the case with the largest -% chance, since +0 is the most likely individual roll). That's a pretty significant percent drop! It reminds me of how an old 3.5 GM of mine used to say stuff like 'Well, you only need a 13 or higher on d20, this is an easy check'. 40% chance isn't bad odds, but you're still going to fail the majority of the time.
Much like the mooks all still being too detailed and individual (while not actually being dangerous enough to merit it), it just ends up slowing down more than it needs to. Trying to do interesting things incurs a -AV penalty, and those penalties are often quite harsh. Feng Shui never ends up hitting the right balance of light and heavy. Much of the system is still too slow, while being surprisingly undefined and left up to an individual GM who has to try to navigate the balancing issues and patch the holes.
However, and this is a big however. Despite all my complaints, despite all my issues? I still consider Feng Shui an achievement of a game. It deserves to be remembered fondly. So it has a shitty combat engine and a system that didn't think through its core dice mechanic. Join the goddamn 90s club. That's like the one respect where it isn't ahead of its contemporaries. I mean, fuck, look at Roll and Keep or Storyteller. They're trash-fires. I can at least see a logic to FS's design, even if I think it was wrong-headed. And what it's trying to do is legit a really hard thing to do, anyway; keeping multiple power sets all relevant? Mixing a shitload of character types? Stuff like 'Dude with Gun isn't weaker, inherently, than Genetic Horror From The Future or Wizard or Magic Kung Fu Guy or Ancient Demon'? Those are tough things to get down.
The fact is, the big secret? If my players asked me tonight, when we meet for Friday gaming 'Hey, Night, rules aside, you want to run Feng Shui 1e again and fuck it, we'll see what happens'? I'd be happy to. Even with all its problems, I have a ton of good memories of where the setting's excellent writing and strong concept and ability to play really wild PC types took the games I both ran and played in. I get my blood up about the system primarily because even 23 years after it was designed, everything else about FS and what it was trying to do is really good. Yeah, there's some fluff issues and criticisms and things I'd change on a matter of taste, but overall? Feng Shui 1e deserves to be seen as one of the great games to come out of the 90s, and I'm glad I played and ran it.