The Book of Wood.
First of all, this is my first
RPGnet review so any constructive comments on style, content etc will be appreciated.
This review covers Eos Press's Book of Wood which is the first section in PDF form of the forthcoming RPG The Weapons of the Gods(WoTG) , based on Tony Wong's graphic novels of the same name. The game is set in Shen Zhou which translates I believe into the Land of the Gods. Essentially, this is a fantasy Wuxia game in the style of films like Crouching Tiger and Hero.
Unfortunately, the delivery of the completed book has been dogged by delays in the Far East and therefore in order to placate fans, Eos decided to release the first "Book" of the game to whet people's appetites.
Now the PDF is actually for sale on
RPGNOW at a price of $7.95, which may put people off; but I gather Eos are going to do some kind of deal with purchasers of the PDF when they come to buy the Full PDF of the entire book. Contained within the book are a majority of the rules needed to generate a character for WoTG in preparation for the final book, which hopefully will be here in time for Gencon US.
The book has been written by Brad Elliott and Rebecca Borgstrom of Nobilis fame,this for me was another reason to take a look at this game.
First off the book is lovely. Many pages are adorned with illustrations that are either directly from the graphic novels or are inspired by the art from them. They may not be to everybody's taste but I found them to be very supportive of the atmosphere the game is trying to portray. When the final product is released it is likely to be a very nicely presented book throughout if the PDF is anything to go by.
The text is clear and concise in a two column format and a good number of examples have been supplied, no complaints here!
I will go through the major sections of the Book of Wood and discuss them in turn.
The system utilised in WoTG is a dice pool system using D10s. So if you don't like dice pools this may be a turnoff for you, however, generally, you don't roll more than seven dice at a time, so that may not be to big a deal.
When required, dice are rolled and the number of matching numbers are counted; the number of dice matching is the 'tens' place, and the number –on- the die is the 'ones' place - e.g. I roll 5 D10, I get 2,3,3,6.7 , this results in 12,23,16 and 17. Ultimately you are looking for the highest roll possible.
Simple as that! There are various modifiers to this and WoTG utilises a system called the "River" that allows players to save dice sets from rolls for use later in a combat or encounter. Surprisingly, I found spotting the number of matching dice to be easy but that could just be me, it is certainly easier than having to add all the dice together which can result in incorrect addition which may adversely affect the end result.
In addition to "River" there is Joss. This comes in 2 forms, normal Xia Joss that can be used to add additional dice to a contest and "Corrupt Joss" that removes dice from an opponents pool. You are generally rewarded with a point of Xia Joss when you succeed with "10s" as your best set and a corrupt point of Joss is rewarded when you fail with a set of "10s". You can also have Joss awarded by other players and the GM for being in-genre.
The remaining part of this section covers skill tests and how they are resolved. Essentially you are rolling to beat a target number that can range from a low of 5 to 10, which all characters should succeed in, to 60 that is tough even for the most accomplished of high-ranking martial artists.
The section is rounded off with a summary of all that has been discussed and is handy as a ready reference.
Modifiers in WoTG are handled in a fairly simplistic manner. All
modifiers are handled in increments of 5 e.g. +5,-10 etc. In any situation there can be both a positive and a negative modifier, only the largest of both is used, so if someone has 5 +5 modifiers to their roll they only get a +5. According to the text this has been done to streamline play. Now personally I like this approach and just as importantly I appreciate that the designers have explained their decision as well. From what I know Brad Elliott comes from a teaching background so that explains why
there are copious examples and explanations during the text.
Overall the system seems reasonably simple and streamlined.
The character creation section starts off with a little background and then an overview of the whole process. It gives a complete example of character creation and then gives detailed sections for each of the character creation steps.
Character creation is a point based affair, which I personally prefer to random systems. There is nothing worse than ending up with a character that fails to inspire you because of a number of poor stat roles.
You are encouraged to pick one of three Archetypes in the game. The archetypes are Warrior, Courtier and Scholar. These archetypes are not "classes" per se but frameworks to build your character from. They advise you on the types of skills to select as well as Kung Fu, you can follow these recommendations or completely ignore them, your choice.
WoTG has 5 stats and each stat has 5 associated skills. The stats and their "real world" equivalent name are shown below.
Wu Wei Perception
You have 15 points to distribute amongst your stats, with the minimum being 1 and maximum being 5. Stat distribution needs to be thought through carefully to ensure your stats will sensibly support your Kung Fu and skill choices.
The acquisition of Skills, Advantages and Kung Fu are again point-based, with skills having a separate pot of points to Advantages and Kung Fu. The skills are very broad but you can augment the number of dice per skill with specialisations, the game leaves these to the players’ discretion. A specialisation can be bought twice per skill to give up to 2 additional dice to any associated roll. For any skill that is not on the list there
is a catch-all skill called "Expertise", so basically you can make up any expertise skill you like to fill any gaps in the skill list. Each skill has a clear explanation of its use to offer guidance to the players and GM alike.
The advantages are fairly similar to other games so nothing new in that respect. However, Disadvantages work a bit differently than some games; instead of getting additional points to spend on your character from them, you get additional XP during the game for roleplaying the drawbacks when they occur. The disadvantages listed here are again in a similar vein to other games, my personal favourite is "Thick as a Brick" (in other words, your character isn't that bright).
Clans, Secret Societies and Empires: The Social Organisations of Shen
This section details some of the groups that exist in the "Land of the Gods".
These are extremely important in the chargen section because affiliations are a core component of WoTG, with social interaction being a very important part of the game. A number of organisations are given some detail, with the book indicating that those listed are obviously just a small selection to get you going. I gather much more will be covered in the forthcoming Weapons of the Gods Companion.
Whilst this is only part of a finished product I think it clearly shows that Weapons of the Gods will be a product to look out for. I personally find the rules to be not too crunchy and not too light although without the remainder of the book it is difficult to make an accurate judgement. It certainly seems to be a labour of love and it is most unfortunate that it has been delayed. I like many others are waiting for the day when the full book is in our hands, hopefully that will be soon.
Overall I think it has the potential to be one of the "Must Buy" products of 2005 and is definately on my list of essential purchases.