Feng Shui Quickie Review

By Bryant Durrell.

So, Feng Shui, subject of quite a bit of pre-release enthusiasm, finally hits the shelves. You've heard a lot about it, you've heard all the playtesters burbling, and you're probably wondering if it holds up to its reputation.

You're going to have to read it for yourself, man. If one RPG could satisfy everyone's needs, we'd all be playing AD&D 3rd Edition or something. But here's some factual notes about it, along with my opinions.

It's 286 pages, with full color all the way through, and glossy as all getout. You'll pay thirty dollars (American) for what you get. The physical quality looks to be about the same as is standard in the industry, although I think the paper is a bit better than (say) the paper used in Changeling. I'm not going to torture-test my binding for your cheap amusement, but I suspect it's good enough.

The cover bills it as "Shadowfist Role Playing," which is OK; we want this to appeal to the CCG players who haven't role-played before. In the text, there's a note that says it isn't the RPG of the CCG, but rather that they're based on the same source material, and I rather doubt Daedalus is going to consider either game more important than the other.

For those of you who aren't aware, the source material is Hong Kong action flicks. The world is one in which various factions vie to control locations strong in chi energy -- Feng Shui sites -- and by so doing gain control over the world. Or worlds. It is, after all, a game that includes time travel.

(It's not a time travel game. There are only four potential eras for the PCs, and much effort is given to making sure time paradoxes don't apply. In the end, I think the feel of the time travel won't be much different than, say, going to a different continent might be.)

The inside of the book is just lovely. There's a lot of full-page art, and it isn't the sort of art a GM might use as illustrations for an adventure. It's mood-setting art; if this is your thing, you'll be happy. It's also pretty stylized, and for the most part meets my tastes well.

The book opens with the quickly-becoming-mandatory story segment. And a typo, guys -- Big Brother Tsien is called Big Trousers once on the first page. But it's a good story, and it'll help you get the feel for the genre.

Following, in order, we have: a general introduction, which is succinct and clear; character generation, of which more later; skills, guns, kung fu powers, sorcery, and Weird Biotech; fighting; and a nice chunky GM section. The close is a few pages on Hong Kong (not really enough to run an adventure there if you don't know something about the place or watch a lot of Hong Kong flicks) and a sample adventure. There's also a good filmography, a character sheet, an index, and a photocopiable summary of the rules for characters.

Each section, by the by, has its own colored background. This could have been really ugly; it's not. It's very readable, and it's already helping me find the section I want quickly. Nice job. The layout in general is pretty keen, actually -- not a lot of wasted space, and the tables, charts, and sidebars are well placed and formatted.

I'm not going to get into the system in depth, since you can get a nice overview at the Daedalus Web page. It's a simple 2d6 open-ended system -- skill plus stat plus die roll against a target number. I will say that it's heavily streamlined, with very general skills, and should move quickly and easily. It's not realistic. It's not meant to be.

Sorcery is, in a weird way, Hero-like. You don't buy spells, you buy general areas of competence (Summoning, Healing, Movement) and you can generate effects within those areas on the fly. Without having a chance to play with this, it's hard to say much about it. I'm a little concerned that it puts too much decision-burden on the GM for a fast-paced game, but we'll see.

Kung fu and Weird Science (OK, OK, they call it arcanotech) both get bought as specific effects. There's a good range of possibilities, but it would have been nice to have guidelines for building one's own effects. Some of us like to have direction, although admittedly it's not impossible to make 'em up out of whole cloth.

This is perhaps a problem with character generation, too; sure, there's a wide range of archetypes but the traditional roleplayer in me yearns for rules for making up more! More! More! Yet it's obvious that the game probably *will* move faster if we're forced to pick an archetype and go with it. Ah, paradox.

I think I'd like to recommend that Daedalus follow HoL's lead, and put such rules in a future supplement, both because I'd like to see them and because I've always wanted to recommend that someone follow HoL's lead. In the meantime, maybe I'll extrapolate them myself.

Anyway. The GM material is good, and should be a great help to anyone wanting to run Feng Shui. The best advice they give is to go out and see some Hong Kong movies, and a list is provided as well. There's also the usual general advice; Robin Laws knows how to write this sort of thing and he does it very well.

The big fly in the ointment is that there are way too many errors that not only obscure meaning, but in some cases provide incorrect information. One of the character archetypes is wrong; one is missing information. There is missing text that makes it difficult to use some of the powers. This sort of thing is just not cool, and I wish someone had spent the extra time needed to proofread completely.

Over all, my reaction is a qualifed yes. I would have bought it even if I'd known about the errors, but I'm not sure it's a must for people who don't play Shadowfist or who aren't in love with Hong Kong movies. The basic system is wonderful; it moves quickly, and it's perfect for the genre -- but if you can wait for a corrected edition, you might want to do so. Check it out, and make your own decision.

Last modified: May 22, 1996; please send comments to durrell@innocence.com.

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