Feng Shui Capsule Review by Papyrus on 02/02/03
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
If you’ve never seen a Hong Kong action movie, you’re missing a great deal. Feng Shui covers all this ground and more.
Product: Feng Shui
Author: Robin D. Laws
Company/Publisher: Atlas Games
Page count: 256
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Papyrus on 02/02/03
Genre tags: Modern day Conspiracy Asian/Far East
If you’ve never seen a Hong Kong action movie, you’re missing a great deal. Like a role-playing game, little bits of reality are sacrificed for the sake of the action in the story. There is a sense of constant movement, danger and infinite possibilities. The genre spans Hong Kong’s history, from fantasy to police drama to scifi. For those who haven’t seen one, nor the US film “Big Trouble in Little China”, think of them as needing to be toned down to reach the action level of a movie like “Terminator”. Nothing is spared, heroes can be evil, the good guys can loose and pivotal characters die. Feng Shui covers all this ground and more.
The book itself is a full size hard cover with color art outside, and B&W within. The pages’ boarders are not too large, the font and layout are easy to read, and the diagrams/charts are large and clear. Every part of the rules and standard campaign background are described in loving detail, with examples and in campaign fiction that demonstrates the concepts and locations in the rules text. To an experienced role-player it can be overkill, to someone unfamiliar with gaming or the genre, it is helpful if not invaluable.
The rules are kept simple but cohesive. Character generation is via templates featuring standard movie character types; Everyman Hero, Sorcerer, PI, Scrappy Kid, Masked Avenger and Martial Artist, to name a few of the 26 provided. Players then modify ability scores and choose skills based on the time period their character is supposed to originate from. In addition, characters can have schtiks (based on their template, think of them as theatric skills) or powers if they can use magic, or fu powers. Character advancement can raise scores, skills, schtiks or powers. Players are encouraged to describe their actions with flair. Extra experience points are awarded for things like saying “ka chink” when your character cocks his shotgun. Tips are provided for handling players who provide no colorful action and that give too much detail as well.
Action is the name of this game and combat is the source of most of the action. Simpler rules are provided for dispatching the NPC mooks that are only bit players, in an effort to speed the action and maintain excitement. Main character villains get a more fair treatment and may even have an advantage, as the genre dictates the archenemy gets away at the end to menace the characters again. The rules intend players to exploit the genre seriously, goofiness is to be punished, points are given for appropriate genre actions (like saying “ka chink”, see above). As a result, bold and nearly impossible tasks are often the way to go over caution and conservative approaches.
The background itself is where the game gets hairy for me. To avoid spoiling it, as it is best kept secret until discovered by the players, let me just say it tries too hard to encompass every Hong Kong action film sub-genre into a single campaign. Comments are made about more focused sub-genre campaigns, but no support is provided. I can really see these rules running any number of action oriented campaigns outside of the proprietary one. Super hero, high fantasy, espionage, dystopia and films like Matrix, Blade, 007, Aliens and Arnold Schwartzenegger (sp?) are all very well suited for these rules. My recommendation is, if you like smart violence (not hack and slash) and fast action in your gaming, buy this book. Whether you’re interested in the campaign provided or not, you will have all you need to satisfy needs. I only wish I could keep the rules in a separate book for easy reference.