By Bryant Durrell.
Believe it or not --
It's out. The first Feng Shui supplement of 1998 (and probably the last Feng Shui supplement we'll ever see) has finally seen the light of day. Blood of the Valiant lives.
Thankfully, Blood of the Valiant is a fitting final note to the Feng Shui saga. I'm sure anyone involved with Daedalus would have been proud to have produced this book themselves. The folks over at Ronin Publishing have successfully mastered the Feng Shui look, the Feng Shui format -- and most important, the Feng Shui content.
It's a somewhat pricy $19.95 for 128 pages, but considering the size of the market and the quality of the material I don't think that's excessive. In return for your money, you get a lot of information. The book starts with chapters on the history and philosophy of the Guiding Hand; goes on to describe the major feng shui sites and operations of the Hand through all four junctures and the Netherworld; provides new character templates, Fu paths, and firearms; and closes with a brief adventure. There's also an appendix with the obligatory filmography.
Unlike Thorns of the Lotus, Blood of the Valiant is well-edited and decently laid out. The art isn't quite as good as Daedalus' art, but it's certainly serviceable. There's also less of it than one would see in a Daedalus book, which provides more room for the words. I think that was a good move.
Chris Pramas' writing is clear and concise. He clearly did his research on both the subject at hand and the Feng Shui feel. All Feng Shui material should reflect a love of Hong Kong movie action -- I want to feel like the author was grinning while he or she wrote the book. Blood of the Valiant pays off that way.
I liked the history and philosophy chapters. They make a good introduction to the Neo-Confucianism of the Guiding Hand, saving us relatively less educated GMs and players from the embarassment of stereotyping our Guiding Hand NPCs. We also get the long awaited full explanation of the Six Principles. I would have liked to have seen a sidebar on what's real and what's fiction, simply because I'm curious that way, but that's not a large matter.
The chapter on sites is a GM's dream. Each juncture has one or two of the important sites described, along with a few NPCs for each site. One gets a real feel for the diversity of Guiding Hand operatives. These aren't static situations, either; every NPC has a motive that implies courses of action -- these guys aren't going to just sit around being scenery.
The operations chapter is more of the same. This is the low down on what the Guiding Hand is doing to win the Secret War. A lot of NPCs are mentioned here, but not statted up; however, you can find them all in detail in either the previous or the next chapter. There's also a fair bit of history here, in the section on the Taiping (and other) Revolutions. Again, this is the kind of material that helps a GM make the Guiding Hand a vibrant active force rather than just faceless unmotivated bad guys.
In chapter five, Personalities, we find out about the big hitters of the Guiding Hand. Here's Quan Lo, here's Wong Fei Hong, here's Fong Sai Yuk, and here are all the others. We get a few people who aren't cards, and not everyone who's on a card is written up, but it's a good cross-section. We also get writeups for the Red, Blue, Violet, Yellow, and White Monks. (Green and Orange were in Back for Seconds.)
Chapter six focusses on campaign resources -- GM hints for using the Hand as both good guys and bad guys, campaign frameworks, and the aforementioned character creation material. The archetypes are a bit redundant in places; there's not a lot that distinguishes the Shaolin Disciple from the Shaolin Master from the old Martial Artist. On the other hand, the Gardener and Archer are unique and intriguing, and it doesn't hurt to have some overlap.
The Fu paths are fun; none of these rank up with the really powerful paths but I like them anyhow. In particular, the Path of Flying Steel defines an area of martial arts which had been sadly neglected up until now -- and I recommend letting your Gamblers use it with playing cards for even more fun. The Path of the Leaping Monkey regrettably reproduces the Transformed Animal Monkey powers, which sort of dilutes their value, and is probably the only thing in this book I'd modify in my campaign.
Finally, the adventure is short, sweet, and looks like it'd be fun to play. I won't spoil it, but it involves some of the big guns in the Secret War: both Kar Fei and Ming I make significant appearances during the course of events. It's tuned for martial arts characters, and gunsels won't have much fun in it.
Blood of the Valiant is a solid piece of work, well-written and useful for players and GMs alike. It's obviously most useful if you're doing a lot with the Guiding Hand, but even if they're only a background faction in your campaign, you'll find something in this book -- and it might convince you to bring them further towards the forefront of the action. Pause for a moment to think about spending the twenty bucks on a relatively thin book, but remember that Ronin Publishing is doing this as a labor of love for a dead game, and reward their efforts.
Disclaimer: Ronin Publishing sent me a copy of this for review, so I didn't have to pay for it. This is completely usual for review copies but Daedalus never bothered to send their biggest fan site anything so I thought I'd mention it just in case. It in no way affected my opinion of the product.
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