In 2006 I read an article that said that there was a team working on a role playing game for one of my favorite series of books, “The Dresden Files”. After that article the semi-patient wait began. Now the year is 2010, and the game is finally being published. The game uses the same game engine that “Spirit of the Century” uses. SotC uses the FATE system, and I don’t believe that there is anything inherently broken in the scope of the rules. I am extremely happy for the release date to get here, and so that I can hold the rules in my hot little hands.
This holiday week heralded a rash of activity. Amazon brought a gift to the door while I was in the hospital; GURPS Vorkosigan Saga. This is the first GURPS 4th edition setting book that I have actually looked closely at. After reading parts of the book, I decided that the game group should get used to 4th edition before we try this campaign. After making four characters, I can say that I truly enjoy all of the changes to the rules that I have witnessed so far. I ran my first game tonight and everyone seemed to understand the differences and enjoy themselves.
A few years ago I became friends with a game designer that I have a lot of respect for. He translated and published a french RPG called Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros, and also designed his own game system called Seven Leagues. I became involved in play-testing Seven Leagues, and greatly enjoyed helping to create the final published work. If anyone is looking for a new game system, Malcontent Games has two games that no one should pass up. The games are available in either a PDF or a print format.
Last weekend I picked up a new RPG from 7ème Cercle. Qin, The Warring States is a game set in mythic china. The home page is http://www.7emecercle.com/7cv2us/rpg/qin.html .
Here is a review that I am reposting from RPG.net:
Overview and cosmetics
Qin : the Warring States is a roleplaying game set in ancient China during a period known as the Warring States. Those of you who have interest in Chinese movies may have seen The Emperor and the Assassin or, more likely, Hero. Both of these movies are set in this period, around 200 BC, when the ruler of Qin was on the ascent with the aim of reuniting the Seven States under one banner, his own. The idea behind the Qin RPG is to play heroic characters during this troubled era who, plunged in the political turmoil, may come to influence the destiny of the Kingdoms.
Qin is a 272 page hardcover with a sober dark red cover embossed with the drawing of an Oriental dragon. The inside covers display a detailed full-colour map of Ancient China. The content is two-colour processed on glossy sepia paper with a full-colour section depicting sample characters. Although I’m rarely one to pay too much attention to artwork, I must say that the graphical aspect of Qin is impeccable in taste, evocative and mostly beautiful. The layout is very dense, with probably more material in Qin than in most RPG books of equivalent thickness. Although I’m also not one to complain about having too much material, this density is sometimes a little heavy on the eyes and the brain, especially in the background section.
The book starts with a short introductory novel followed by an overview of the Chinese creation myth and mystical history. Then there’s the colour section detailing the pregenerated characters followed by character creation and system. This first part runs for about 120 pages. The second part is the detailed description of the background and is covered in roughly 100 pages. Finally, the 40 page long GM section closes the book. It includes setting “secrets”, advice on how to GM Qin and an introductory scenario.
Before I detail the contents of the book further, it seems important to describe what I understand of the design philosophy behind Qin. The game has been built in layers, both in terms of background and system: – The first layer is “purely” historical, with perhaps a few simplifications to ease playability. This layer includes the basic resolution mechanic and combat manoeuvres and the background as described in the background section. It allows you to run Qin as a low-powered historically accurate Wuxia game. – The second layer is “heroic history”. It includes the Taos, which kick the Wuxia aspects into high gear. The power level here would be comparable to a movie like Hero. – The third layer is the supernatural layer, which includes Alchemy, Divination, Exorcism, supernatural creatures and the setting’s secrets.
It’s all very modular, so you can go for the full supernatural thing or stop anywhere in between. You could even use the supernatural elements as antagonists while skipping the whole high Wuxia thing, although that would make it very deadly to the PCs, most likely.
The background of Qin is impressive both in terms of breadth and in terms of depth. In fact, it could be argued that there is too much material presented to make it easily digestable. Then again, I suspect most people want more detail than I’m happy to run with, so that’s probably not a valid criticism for most of you reading me. There’s certainly more than enough in this core book for years of Warring States era China gaming. Those who are familiar with the Sengoku RPG on Feudal Japan will have an idea of what to expect in terms of how much Qin covers in its background section.
The setting is rooted in early creation myths and the story of the mythic first emperors. As will be made evident later, some of the elements in this mythology are important to the underlying mysteries of the setting. In particular, the story of the terrible Gonggong and how he broke the pillar of heaven and was later defeated by the gods and sent in the Tenth Hell for eternal torment. The description of the early myths segues into recent history and tells us of the breaking down of the Zhou dynasty and the fractioning of China into seven States.
In the background section proper, each of the seven States is described in detail : past history, politics, conflict, relations with other kingdoms, key characters, etc. Further elements on each State and the “powers behind the throne” are found in the GM section. An interesting aspect of the setting is that Legalism has become the default system of government in this era. Most of the States could therefore probably be described in modern terms as fascist, or at least extremely rigid socially. The egalitarian yet harsh philosophy of Legalism has had a significant impact on social organisation, and especially on the previously powerful nobility. Furthermore, all the States are gearing for war, with Qin being the most powerful, but not yet powerful enough to face a potential alliance of rivals. The external influences on the States, especially the horse-riding barbarians are also described in detail.
Anyone worried about spoilers shouldn’t read the following paragraph, as it alludes to one of the supernatural secrets of the setting. The driving forces between each of the Seven States are the Guo Long, the scions of the Dragon Zhou Long who was the living incarnation of the Mandate given by Heaven to the Zhou dynasty. When the Zhou dynasty broke down into vassal States, Zhou Long’s power was fragmented and incarnated into the Guo Long who each attached themselves to the power of one of the States. The Guo Long are minor dragons who all feel incomplete and know that only by defeating their brethren will they feel whole again, and this of course implies military defeat of the opposing States. Furthermore, long forgotten servants of Gonggong are stirring trouble to try and plunge the seven States in chaos and thus liberate their master from the Tenth Hell.
The background section also includes several chapters on the cultural aspects of ancient China, from social organisation to personal life of a Chinese man or woman. These really are delightful to read, especially for those who, like me, enjoy exoticism. In the same way that understanding the very different mindsets of feudal Japan or Caliphate Baghdad can be thrilling, this trip into the ancient Chinese way of thinking and its impact on society is both enlightening and ripe with possibilities.
The subsequent chapters detail the life of the clans, the defeated nobles who fled the cities and live in remote areas trying to maintain traditions and values that predate Legalism but also living on the fringe of banditry. This is where the martial arts culture has emerged, and da xia, the wandering knights of Ancient China often have their roots in this “world of forests and lakes” as the Chinese call it. The last two chapters of the background section detail philosophical and religious aspects, with an overview of the fundamental tenets of Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, Legalism and several other –isms.
Overall, the background is colourful, detailed and, as far as I can ascertain, fairly accurate historically. The supernatural elements fit the tone well and truly are plug and play, so as to be removed if one wished to do so. It is a little intimidating, like all rich rpg backgrounds, but there is good advice in the GM section on how to “tame” it and use it to its best.
Characters and System
There’s no restriction in Qin in terms of what a character can be, although obviously the political context may have an impact on how easily a character may be integrated into a group. The default assumption is that, for whatever reason, the characters have taken to adventuring, but the game easily supports more focused campaigns (Scribes of Wen Chang hunting down forgotten secrets for the Qi libraries, Assassins from the Silent Bell, Spies for the state of Qin, etc.)
A character is defined by five aspects associated to the five elements : Metal is the martial attribute, Water the physical attribute, Fire the social attribute, Wood the mental attribute and Earth the mystical one. Aspects range from 1 to 5. Characters are further defined by skills ranging from 0 to 6, each skill being associated with an aspect. There are about 60 skills listed in Qin. The character’s aspects determine a number of crucial in-game stats including Chi, Passive Defense and Breath of Life (hit points).
Once the core of the character is designed, it may be further enhanced by combat manoeuvres, which allow for spectacular (yet realistic) actions in combat, Taos which allow the wilder actions depicted in wuxia movies (running on walls, catching projectiles, etc.), a gift and a weakness.
A Fangshi (sorcerer) character uses magic abilities and chooses from four “schools” consistent with the thinking of the time : internal alchemy, which allows the enhancement of the body through subtle adjustments of internal humours, external alchemy which necessitates the brewing of potions and elixirs, divination, which allows intuitions about the future, and exorcism which specialises in the understanding of supernatural creatures and the techniques to get rid of them. Magic is somewhat distinct from Taos in that it is only accessible to characters who explicitly pursue it. However, it’s important to note that neither Taos not Magic are considered abnormal socially. They may be feared or admired, but they are not considered to be outside of normality, despite being rare.
The power level of beginning characters is equivalent to what can be seen in low-level wuxia movies, but the range of power can bring veteran characters to quite spectacular things. None of the supernatural powers available are world shattering, though, we’re not talking Exalted or Weapons of the Gods power level here.
The resolution mechanic that underlies the whole system is called the Yin Yang Dice. It consists in rolling 2d10, a black one and a white one and substracting the lower dice from the higher one. The result of the Ying Yang Dice ranges from 0 to 9, to which an aspect and skill are added for a final result that’s compared to a target number. The difference between the target number and the roll defines a success margin used in opposed rolls and to calculate the effects of certain rolls. If the Ying and Yang dice roll the same value, balance is achieved. That means an automatic success at a margin equal to the value of the dice.
The combat system is fairly straightforward, allowing for spectacular feats, especially when combat manoeuvres and Taos are used. Characters may perform multiple actions, thus emulating the fast and furious style of wuxia duels. Combat is also fairly deadly in its basic resolution (again, Magic and Taos may alter the level of lethality), making for generally short combats. Magic is often ritual, with few instantaneous effects available. The result of this is that Magic users need to plan ahead if they wish to use magic in combat, a nice change from most fantasy systems.
The character design and system are fairly simple to grasp and consistent enough that players can pick them up really quickly. Furthermore, the resolution of all kinds of actions is very fluid and doesn’t get in the way of the action or the roleplaying, which is an added bonus. Obviously Taos and Magic powers are numerous, which requires a certain amount of acquisition on the GM’s part to use efficiently, but it’s nowhere as complicated as remembering D&D spells or Exalted charms.
When I got hold of Qin, I was attracted to it because of the few movies and books I’d read on the period, not because I was already a fan of Ancient China and/or wuxia. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a game both playable and easy to grasp, despite the intricate setting. The GM section helps a lot in that respect, giving clues to better exploit the setting in terms of plots, factions, etc.
Another thing that really thrilled me with Qin is the layered design which really allows me to run it in historical mode if that’s what I want, or go for a more fantasy approach if I’m more in that kind of mood. Finally, I love stories revolving around machinations, manipulations and, more generally, politics, and the setting of the Warring States really is ripe for any kind of campaigns revolving about these themes, although obviously more action oriented adventures are supported as well.
Overall, I’d say Qin is an excellent game, and certainly the best rpg set in the orient that I’ve ever read. Swords of the Middle Kingdom was inspired but messy, and set in an alternate fantasy China. Sengoku was awesome for its background but the system was horrible (and before anyone comments, I know Sengoku is set in Feudal Japan, not China), and I can’t think of any others that have significantly made an impression on me.
There are two things I felt could have been done better with Qin. One is the editing, not in terms of layout or spelling mistakes but in terms of level of language and efficiency of the writing. Some sections are written in a style that is simply to flourished to be easily legible, and I believe that contributes to my feeling that it’s heavy reading. The other criticism is that the adventure provided in the core book is not all that interesting and probably only makes sense in the context of the upcoming campaign. As a potential GM, I find that a little bit frustrating.
That being said, the production values of the game in all respects are very high, and I heartily recommend Qin for both fans of Wuxia and historical China who would intend to play it as it is.
We are so tired from Halloween!!! we will pull this out of the edit pile, dust it off and get it going soon enough. I’m probably going to have to impose on Jade to do the posting for a while, but this is going to be a place to communicate and share. Enjoy!