Gold Rush Games (GRG) is one of those little companies that quietly produce high quality products. Two of their products, Usagi Yojimbo and San Angelo: City of Heroes, were nominated for the 1998 Origins awards and were well received by fans and critics. GRG's next product is Sengoku, a game based on feudal Japan and the Chanbara movie genre. I was fortunate enough to be provided a sneak peek of Sengoku by GRG who also agreed to a review of this soon to be released product.
The market for oriental adventuring is current dominated by AEG's Legends of the Five Rings (L5R) game. Set in a mystical land of black magic and clan loyalty, this popular game has a huge following that may be interested in the upcoming Sengoku. While L5R is loosely based on Japan, Sengoku is set in a historical, albeit with magic, feudal Japan.
To enhance the setting, the first several chapters of the book are a historical and social overview of the time period in question. Information is thrown at the reader in copious amounts and the chapters provide details on daily life, the social structure, customs, religion and basic geography. The authors, however, do an excellent job in presenting the information in a clear manner which greatly enhances the feel of the book. Part of the charm of oriental adventures is role-playing in a non-western setting complete with the idioms of that culture. Sengoku does an excellent job of introducing feudal Japan in layman terms.
The actual game system is an adapted version of Fuzion, created by Hero Games. The Fuzion system was reviewed by others on RPGnet and I won't go into detail with it here. However, I will say that GRG did a great job in adding the necessary details to make this adaptable system work in the feudal Japan genre. Using character flaws and traits from Samurai movies, the Fuzion system allows a player to define his character as he wishes.
Acknowledging the diversity of the genre they are trying to capture, the authors present three basic styles of play for Sengoku - historical (low-powered ), chanbara (heroic level) and anime (anything goes). The level of play is determined by the GM who grants a certain number of character points to his players to determine basic statistics and skill abilities.
One major difference between Sengoku and L5R are the number of character types available to players. In L5R players are restricted to two basic character types - bushi and shugenja - with the clans providing differentiation and flavor. Sengoku provides 47 occupations for the PCs to chose from. These occupations range from Abbot to European Foreigner to Geisha to Sohei. I found the range of occupations impressive and felt more opportunities existed for the players to develop a character more in tune with what they wanted to play. As an added bonus, the book presents templates of "average" members of occupations which both guide players in developing their characters and giving GM's stock NPC's to use on the spot.
The magic element for the game is also well handled with the GM to deciding what level he wants to have in his game. One interesting feature of Sengoku is that "magic does not exist in a vacuum, it must be tied to something." For Sengoku that "something" is typically, but not always, Buddhism and Shinto being the main practitioners. One of the benefits of the Fuzion system is that players and GMs familiar with the system will be able to create new spells. Players less comfortable with this will still find an impressive spell list and description of over 35 spells that will continue to expand with new products.
A well rounded bestiary section - with both mundane and supernatural beings - provides the GM with the statistics and descriptions of lots of critters. I'm certain that a full blown bestiary will be released at some point in the future, but what is provided offers a GM lots of opponents for his players.
As an added bonus the book will contain conversion notes for Hero, AD&D, GURPS, Bushido, Chivalry & Sorcery Light and L5R. This range of systems gives GMs the opportunity to add an Eastern element with their favorite games.
Overall this is a solid product that should give fans of the Chanbara genre something new to look at. Whether they actually switch to a new system or use the book as a source for another game system remains to be seen. This book provides lots of new ideas for GMs looking to run an oriental adventure genre game. It should be released in August 1999 and is well worth taking a look at. And, if I may be so bold, with this book GRG presents yet another contender for the Origins Award.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)