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Friday, 1 September 2017

Free RPG Day 2017: The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th was Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quickstart. One of the regular pieces of support for an existing roleplaying game in 2017 is The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart. Published by Third Eye Games, best known for roleplaying games such as Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. and Mermaid Adventures, The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition is a game inspired by anime and movies such as Naruto and Kung Fu Hustle in which the Emperor of Izou has declared war against the ten Ninja clans, forcing once rivals to co-operate as the Lotus Coalition to ensure their survival. Players take the role of these ninja, whose role in this setting is as honourable if stealthy warriors, since this is not a world with samurai.

Characters in The Ninja Crusade belong one of the ten ninja clans, each of which has its own speciality. So the Blazing Dancers are performers and acrobats, the Pack of the Moon are farmers and herders known for their specially bred ninja-dogs, and the Living Chronicle are historians who keep stories and knowledge on their bodies and in their minds. Besides a Clan, a Ninja is defined by twenty or so skills, plus an Element, Profession, Tragedy, Wartime Role, Clan, Contacts, Martial Training, and two ‘Ways of…’, the latter paths of training. Each of the Element, Profession, Tragedy, Wartime Role, and Clan provides a Gift and a Trigger. The Gift grants a bonus, whilst the Trigger gives Karma under certain conditions. For example, the Water Element with its Devious Temperament gives an underhanded Ninja a bonus to his Fighting when attacking in unsportsmanlike way and earns him Karma when he cheats the wrong person and it comes back to haunt him. 

To undertake an action, a character combines two skills appropriate to the action and then rolls a number of ten-sided dice equal to the combination. For example, to go on a lengthy journey a Ninja might need to roll a combination of his Travel and Fortitude skills, to quickly draw and throw a blade, he would roll a combination of Speed and Marksmanship skills. Rolls of seven, eight, and nine count as successes, whilst rolls of ten count as two successes. A simple task requires the one success, a moderate task two successes, and so on all the way up to five successes for a legendary task. If three or more successes are rolled above the difficulty, then a boost is gained, which can be a damage bonus, extra opponents being targeted, bonus information being earned, halves a task’s time, complete a task with style, trigger a weapon’s condition—for example, a brutal weapon inflicts extra damage whilst a piercing weapon ignores a level of armour—and so on. A critical failure appears to be any failure in which ones are rolled, the more ones rolled, the worse the result, though neither is clearly explained in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart.

In combat, a Ninja gets one action plus one for each success rolled on his dynamic dice. These can then be spent to conduct various dynamic actions—inflict harm (make an attack), plan an attack (aid a friend), increase damage inflicted, knock an opponent back or down, mold Ki to regenerate it, dodge or block an attack, and so on. Ki can be spent as part of dynamic actions to do various things to temporarily gain certain effects, for example, counter attack, deeper cuts, deflect attack, and thicker skin. Now exactly how much Ki a player begins play with is not made clear in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart as none of the pre-generated ninja have any. Perhaps a ninja needs to mold his Ki to generate it before it can be used? Attacks appear to be resolved as opposed rolls, for example, an attacker’s Perception plus Marksmanship versus a defender’s Athletics plus Speed, but again, this is not spelled out in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart.

The basic damage inflicted in any attack is modified by the number of successes rolled, the weapon used, and any dynamic or boost damage. It can be quite deadly given that the sample pre-generated Ninja have a Health of between five and eight. To forestall a ninja taking too much damage, whether this is to their Health or their Pysche, a Ninja can instead suffer a Condition, equal to the value of the damage taken. This might be Bleeding, Bruised, Burned, Slowed, Afraid, Confused, Scarred, and so on. There is a limit to the level of these Conditions and how many a Ninja can have, so it is not possible for a Ninja to accumulate Condition upon Condition—eventually he will suffer actual damage, whether physical or mental. Each Condition has, of course, a negative effect, and depending on its severity, it may take a scene, days, or even weeks to recover from a Condition.

Accompanying the rules is a scenario, ‘Trial of the Lotus’, and six pregenerated Ninja.This sees them sent on a mission under of the guidance of MasterDaiku, whose approval they need to work for to successfully complete the mission. This is to infiltrate a neighbouring region, get past various guards and soldiers, and then sneak into the Autumn Brand Festival. It includes lots of tests of skill as well as of character and should provide a good session’s worth of play, if not two.

Technically, ‘Trial of the Lotus’ requires four Ninja, not six. Which begs the question as why there are six pre-generated Ninja included in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart. The given answer is so that the adventure can be played again, but with different characters. This is problematic since it is unlikely to happen and because although it showcases more character types, they take up extra space that could have been better devoted to explaining the rules, because ultimately, it is the rules that suffer in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart. Or rather their explanation does. Another page or two, perhaps including an example of play, a fuller explanation of the core mechanics, an explanation of Ki, and so on, would not have gone amiss.

Well presented, if not well developed, The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart is not as good as it should be. The essential problem is that it is ill suited for beginning players and game masters alike because it does not explain enough of the rules or guide them through how the game should be played. This should not be as much of a problem for the experienced player or game master who will be able to make the connections between the rules given in The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart and so be able to play or run the given adventure. Another two pages—or rather, two fewer pre-generated Ninja—and The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition QuickStart could have been the quickstart it should have been.