Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Chin Of A True Hero

If you happen to have wanted a fantasy RPG that does the Wuxia style of movie, best typified in recent years by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and House of the Flying Daggers, then I would very probably point you in the direction of QIN: The Warring States. Set in Ancient China, the core rules come all but complete with the rules, a setting, a meta plot, and a beginning scenario. Just about everything needed to start play. Originally published in France by Le 7eme Cercle, Cubicle Seven is responsible for publishing the English translation.

As much as I like QIN: The Warring States, it is not quite perfect. For example, there is something of divide between combative and non-combative characters such that when a game focuses on combat, the non-combative characters will be at a disadvantage, and vice versa. Further, whilst the mechanics fit the setting, they can be too deadly in combat, which does run counter to the game’s Wuxia feel. The bestiary in the core rules is also a little short, as is the number of options for long term play – the Taos that break the nature of the universe, the combat techniques, and the spells that give QIN: The Warring States much of its Wuxia flavour. Some of these issues are to be addressed in forthcoming supplements, for example, the QIN Bestiary will explore further the supernatural side of the setting. The lack of options for long term play though, is addressed in QIN Legends, the first supplement to be released for the game in English.

With the contents included in QIN Legends, a hero has the potential to become a true master, introducing new Taos, Combat Techniques, Combat Styles and Martial Techniques, spells and magic techniques all at the truly Legendary and Godlike levels of five and six – the core book only listed those up to level four. In addition, rules are given for creating Legendary and Celestial Objects, along with examples of each. Lastly, the supplement is rounded out with a short scenario, “The Treacherous Prince.”

Although Qin: The Warring States is a game of Wuxia action, it is not necessarily that of the high wire action seen in some movies. With the new Taos – command of a Tao enabling a character to act on the Laws of Creation and so impose his will upon the world – in QIN Legends, a character can jump even further, even higher, climb impossibly sheer surfaces, withstand any damage or poison, destroy whole structures with a single blow, move incredibly quickly in combat, throw objects not even to hand, instil emotions in others, and give orders that cannot be disobeyed. There are no new Tao paths here, but rather the development of those already in the core rules such as Tao of the Six Directions, Tao of the Light Step, Tao of Ten Thousand Hands, and Tao of the Serene Presence.

Similarly, the additional Combat Techniques are the development of those already in the core rules, but to those are added several new ones for each of the weapon types in Qin: The Warring States. These new ones are Suicide Attack (a counterattack with no regard for your safety), Blinding (either by bedazzling an opponent with your weapon or throwing dirt in his face), Mounted Combat (a character can now fight on horseback without his weapon skill being limited by his Horsemanship skill), Reducing the Distance (a hand-to-hand manoeuvre for getting inside an opponent’s guard), Mounted Ranged Attack, Disarming, and Trap (a ranged attack that a player can delay until specific event occurs). It should be noted that some of new combat techniques are available at skill levels much lower than is the main focus for QIN Legends. This means that the GM might want to pick up this supplement sooner than he had planned to if he wants to allow his players access to those options at skill levels one through four.

One new weapon type is introduced in QIN Legends. This is for flexible weapons, such as whips, flails, and the deadly Flying Guillotines, an edged disc on the end of a long chain. Of course, these weapons have their own Technique list too.

One aspect of the setting discussed in QIN: The Warring States was that of Wu Lin, the World of Marital Arts, which lies on the margins of civilised society. It did not though, come with any rules for the Combat Styles and the Martial Techniques that the schools found in this region could teach. QIN Legends addresses this also, providing details of a school for several of the weapon types in the game, including a Combat Style for the shield! Each of these schools has high entry requirements, and even finding someone who will take a hero on as an apprentice should be difficult enough. Only three Martial Techniques are given per Combat Style, but all are quite powerful. So for example, in mastering “The Style of the Mace which Shakes the Ground” a hero will learn Fong Po’s Earthquake (crash the mace down on the ground to cause a shockwave), The Hammer and the Anvil (block a blow with such force that the attack is knocked out), and Fong Po’s Comet (throw the mace with incredible force).

Each Combat Style is accompanied by history and background enough that a GM can not only work them into his game, but also create his own. This will probably be required if a character has specialised in archery or flexible weaponry as Combat Styles are given for either.

The section devoted to new spells and magic techniques is shorter than that devoted to the new Taos and combat manoeuvres, covering all Four Ways of the Tao – Internal Alchemy (mastering Chi to achieve immortality), External Alchemy (mastering elixirs, ointments and pills to achieve immortality), Divination (the practice of Geomancy and communing with spirits), and Exorcism (protecting the mortal world from the world of spirits) – that a Fangshi (or “wizard”) can practice. With QIN Legends the External Alchemist can at last learn to brew the Golden Lotus Elixir that will grant him immortality; the Internal Alchemist can also achieve immortality by merging himself with Tao itself with “Rejoining the Kunlun Mountains;” the Diviner can descend into Hell itself and commune with a particular spirit by casting “Exploring the Yellow Springs;” or with “Invoking the Celestial Creatures” ask for the aid of a divine being; and with "Judgment of Heaven", the Exorcist can petition the Celestial Court to pass sentence on a supernatural creature.

Rounding out the rules section in QIN Legends are guidelines for the creation of both Legendary and Celestial Objects, each accompanied by examples. Much like finding someone to apprentice yourself to in order to learn the Martial Techniques of a Combat Style, the acquisition of the material needed to make such items could form the basis of adventures in their own right, as all are either of the highest or more pure quality, or very particular in nature. The accompanying examples are pleasingly diverse, from Legendary Objects such as The Coat of Jun Cheng (which not only grants a bonus to the wearer’s armour and all social tests, but also imposes a Code of Honour that directs the wearer to help those in need) and The Bow of the Wise Hunter (reduces range penalties and increases damage) to Celestial Objects like Blazing Fire (a sabre that can strike invulnerable supernatural creatures, and grants the user several Taos and a bonus in all social relations with the Xiongnu barbarians). Sadly, only two Celestial Objects are given, but all of the come with their own history and all should serve as examples that should inspire both the GM to create more for the his game, and for the player character craftsman to create those for himself, his fellow player characters, or for NPCs within the campaign.

Written to be played sometime after the events of “Towards a world of forests and lakes,” the scenario included in the core rule book, “The Treacherous Prince” begins the start of a campaign called “Tiàn Xia.” It takes the player characters to the borders of the Kingdom of the Horse where they are asked to escort a “barbarian” princess to a nearby town where she will marry the son of the local magistrate and so help cement a peace between the Kingdom and the local Xiongnu clans. It feels reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in places and on the whole is a fairly linear affair. Given that the only scenario to date appears in the core rule book, the GM will doubtless find the addition of another useful, but I think that the lack of maps and the drab look of the book will hinder him running it for his players.

Physically, QIN Legends is a slim book with a rather nice cover. Inside the book’s look is disappointing, with everything being printed on grey pages only serving to give it a drab look. This look does not help the book’s art either, some of it having been originally in sepia tones and is now rendered somewhat murky. Given that the book is only fifty pages in length, it is pleasing to see that it comes with a good index.

Overall, QIN Legends is a fairly crunchy book, adding as it does a plethora of new rules and elements to the core game. These do reflect the more combative nature of QIN: The Warring States, meaning that the book is definitely more useful for martial characters (and to a lesser extent to Fangshi characters) than it is for Scholar, Courtier, or Official type characters, but that is the fault of the game rather than this book. Pleasingly though, QIN Legends finds time to give a little colour around those rules, as with the backgrounds and histories of the Combat Styles and various Legendary and Celestial Objects. It is the rules though that stand out, and what they do is fill various aspects of the game – the Legendary and the Godlike Taos, the Combat Techniques and Combat Styles, and the high level spells – that were not covered in the core book. While they do not make the RPG complete, the material given in QIN Legends helps to make QIN: The Warring States a more rounded game and pushes its Wuxia quotient up to high action.