The Dragon's Gate for San Angelo: City of Heroes.
Title: The Dragon's Gate
Game Line: San Angelo: City of Heroes
Publisher: Gold Rush Games
System(s): Hero System 5th Edition [Primary], M&M / Action! System [Conversions]
Authors: Richard Meyer, Adam Gratun, Evan Jamieson
Additional Material: Mark Arsenault, Steven L. Long, Lisa Hunt
Here is a pre-release review of The Dragon's Gate from Gold Rush Games for their San Angelo: City of Heroes game line for Hero System 5th edition, a setting source book set in the Chinatown district of San Angelo. This book is due for release in the new year. The book itself is 127 pages of serious source information, with minimal IC text, so you will be getting your money's worth out of this book.
The layout is very nicely done, and the bamboo-and-lanterns borders invoke the feeling of the setting. You can't help but feel that the people who wrote this supplement on San Angelo's China Town really did their research in this book, just from the care they took to make the layout feel like a walk in Chinatown. Whether or not this holds true as I review this book remains to be seen, but again, I do like the borders they've chosen for the book.
As usual for such RPG supplements, the text is in the two-column format. The font chosen for the body of the text is a Serif font. I prefer Serif fonts in RPG books, as it draws the eye along the text and just makes the text easy to read. Some prefer a non-Serif font, so your mileage may vary here. The chapter-header fonts are done in a bold Chinese-style font, while sub-headings are done in a larger, non-Serif font.
Text boxes are black-on-grey, but unlike those of other companies I could mention, you can actually read the text with ease. The light grey background to the text boxes are textured to look like parchment or papyri, which is a very nice touch. Again, it invokes the Chinatown feel to the book.
The artwork of the book are all black and white line drawings, with scenes appropriate to each chapter. The drawing of the gates to Chinatown on the front page was a nice touch, as the gate becomes a stylized motif at the top of each page with Chinese mandalas and Kanji script. Again, this adds to the Chinatown feel of the book.
The rest of the artwork in the book is done pen-and-ink style, and the quality is varied from good to very good. There were only a couple of drawings that I didn't feel add to the book, but again, artwork in any RPG source book is subject to personal taste. On the whole, the artwork was of a good quality, and I especially liked the drawing of the mystic on page 13. He had a whole Fu Man Chu vibe going on, which I liked.
The index is clear and easy to follow, which each chapter sub-divided into sections and subsections. Chapters and sections are in bold text, while the sub-sections are in standard text, making things very easy to find in a hurry. Every last sub-section is listed in this index, so as long as you have an idea of what section the information you require appears in you will have no difficulty in finding it.
"Chinatown? I love it, man. I go down there for lunch with the guys from the office at least once a month. We walk around and do a little window shopping on Canton Street. And my wife and I always try to catch the Chinese New Year parade in February. She loves the dancers. I love watching those guys maneuver inside that gigantic dragon! I mean, where do a hundred people go to practice marching in unison with a costume over their head, anyway? Golden Dome Stadium?" - Doug Mansfield, 33, stockbroker. From the Introduction.
The Introduction is very well written indeed. It clearly defines the aims of the book [which I will be commenting upon later as to whether or not they achieve what they set out to do] in a concise manner. There is also some more flavour text written Out Of Character before the aims of the book are stated, hinting at the parts of Chinatown that the general public rarely see, if ever. This draws the reader into imagining the world presented in the book as something “other”. We'll see how “other” the setting is later on in the review. Despite the information crammed into the flavour text, it is very well written and only takes up a column, so you don't have to wade through to much. It is a pleasure to read flavour text that is well-written and adds to the mood of the book.
The main aims of the book are as follows:
To provide a detailed setting on San Angelo's Chinatown detailing the districts of the setting plus its history, industries, criminal undergrounds and major characters. The index alone suggests that they have all these bases covered.
The next part of the Introduction is suggestions on how to fit the information presented on Chinatown into other Genres from “Dark Heroes” to “Science Fiction”. It is nice to see a company acknowledging that some people will buy their books to use as settings in other genres or even systems, and giving advice on how to change the setting information to suit the genres used. I am considering using this book for Unknown Armies, as getting your players lost in Chinatown would be fun to do. As I write this I am already having ideas for getting players lost in Chinatown, London. All I need now is to transport the setting information onto a map of London's Chinatown...
Chapter 1: The Changing Face of Chinatown
The first comment I would like to make about this chapter is that it doesn't gloss over the problems that the Chinese community have suffered in America over the past 200 years. During the Frontier Days of American history, the Chinese communities springing up in major cities all over the USA were treated with suspicion and were often subjected to injustices that would be intolerable in a modern, pluralistic society. The history of the Chinatown in San Angelo reflects this unfortunate aspect of American history, in as much as the Chinese here had to face the same kind of hardships as their real-life counterparts. I have to give brownie points to the writers of this book for their honesty concerning Anglo-Chinese affairs, and their use of historical precedence in the writing of the setting material.
The second comment I would like to make is that it is a very interesting read. The history behind San Angelo is believable enough to imagine how other Chinese districts in real life cities came into being, as well as the problems they faced in getting the same rights as everyone else. This is important for any RPG Setting – it has to be believable so that the players and the GM can immerse themselves into the world presented. Suspension of disbelief is the name of the game, after all.
This chapter is split into three sections:
History of Chinatown
As I have already commented, the history of Chinatown is very well presented. It covers the foundation of Chinatown during the latter half of the 19th Century, through the last century, including the Second World War and the liberalisation of immigration for Chinese Nationals into the USA, to the end of that century.
Along with the historical commentary listing the major events of Chinatown there is a full historical time line that starts in autumn 1866 and ends on September the 4th 1999. There are plenty of potential story hooks and plot ideas hidden within this section, and it is worth reading purely for the pleasure of it, as well as mining it for gaming information.
The next section covers Chinatown today, including the physical dimensions of the district and its population distribution. There is a small text box giving a percentile run down of the ethnic diversity of the district, which gives the GM some idea of the likelihood of the PCs meeting someone from Cambodia and making the faux pas of mistaking them for a Chinese person [which does happen in real life].
It then goes onto detail the outer layers of Chinatown, those regions that are frequently visited by outsiders – the business districts, the restaurants that visitors are likely to frequent, and so forth.
Finally, it goes onto detail the inner areas of Chinatown, the parts that not many visitors from outside go into.
The third and final section of this chapter details Public Safety – the police, the courts, health and fire prevention. Here you will start to see NPCs spoken of and fleshed out, including their Hero System statistics. The first NPC listed is a police officer, Sergeant Thomas Lieh. His background information is short, but it gives you all the information you need to slot him into your games.
This chapter is very well written, with just enough information to give the GM a feel for Chinatown while leaving him enough room to chop and change details to his requirements, and to flesh out details as he sees fit. I have to say that even when dealing with potential racial stereotypes, the writers handled them well, which is a good thing when dealing with setting information on real world cultures.
Chapter 2: Life in Chinatown
This chapter goes into further detail on the day to day affairs of Chinatown, from education to various businesses that PCs might encounter. The chapter is split up into the following sections:
The Academic Scene
The Commercial Scene
The Intellectual Scene
The Martial World
The Medical World
The Mystic Scene
The Political Scene
The Professional Scene
The Religious Scene
The Street Scene
The Wealthy Scene
Again, this is all source material discussing each of the outlined subjects in detail. It is there to provide the GM with information about how everything works in Chinatown so that the GM has a firm platform to base his adventures upon. If you think of the setting as a major NPC and this section as details of that NPC's personality and motivations, then by reading this section you will be able to tell what would happen if X did Y, and how Z would react.
In each section it details one or two places connected to that section's subject. In the Academic Scene section, for example, you will find details of a high school and vocational college. A NPC is also mentioned in that section, with information as to where his details are located later in the book.
I enjoyed this section greatly, as it was an interesting read with plenty of plot hooks tied into the different scenes in Chinatown. The businesses mentioned in the Commercial Scene section can be used as fronts for other activities, while the Mystic Scene section can be mined for ideas on how to draw your players into games where things are not always as they appear at first, and where reality is only the eggshell of the cosmos.
Again, major and minor NPCs are detailed in each of the relevant sections, with statistics. Some you will have to make stuff up for, but that's half the fun of taking a setting and making it your own. Each of the sections have detailed information in them about their particular subjects, and I really cannot do the book justice without giving spoilers. You will just have to accept that when I say this chapter has almost everything you would want to know about the above sections that you will indeed find such information should you decide to get this book.
Chapter 3: Media, Entertainment, and the Arts
Chapter three is split into three sections. They are as follows:
Radio and Television
Like Chapter two, this chapter goes into detail about each of the three sections in turn, providing information about organisations, NPCs, and potential plot hooks. Again, there is not a lot I can say about this section without giving too much away, suffice as to say that there is a good level of detail that can either be used wholesale by the GM or chopped and changed as the GM sees fit.
Chapter 4: The Tongs
This chapter goes straight into detailing each of the three criminal organisations known as Tongs. They are as follows:
The Wing Chao Tong
Choy Lok On Tong
Qi Leong Tong
Each section details the organisation, major players in that organisation, it's aims and activities, plus what section of Chinatown they have control over. The last subject is dealt with in the form of a small map of Chinatown with it split into three shaded areas and the name of the Tong that controls each one.
One thing that you have to remember about Tongs is that even though they are criminal organisations with the various motivations that come with organised crime, they are also respected pillars of Chinese society as they also keep a certain amount of law and order within their respective territories. This means that the Tongs are just as likely to be erstwhile allies of your PCs (as long as your PCs do not interfere with their activities but make life hard for the others) as they are likely to be mortal enemies. Remember that to a Tong disorganised crime is bad for business, and if the PCs are more useful to the Tongs alive and well than dead, then the Tongs will leave the PCs alone. More or less...
With this in mind you will find a wealth of information about the three Tongs that you can use in this setting or transport them to your own. It is a very interesting read...
Chapter 5: Allies and Enemies
This section details some of the “Super” heroes and villains that your players may meet in Chinatown. Each NPC is fully fleshed out with skills and powers, as well as the usual background information.
Also, several major characters are detailed here that have been mentioned elsewhere, including one that should have been dead about a hundred years ago...
The first two appendices are stat conversions for two other systems:
Action! System Stats
Mutants and Masterminds Superlink Stats
Every last character detailed in the book have been converted to both of these systems, and the statistical information is presented purely as data.
The next two appendices are:
Map of Chinatown
Chinatown Map Key
The map is reasonably detailed, with major routes marked out and key streets named in both English and Kanji [Chinese script], which is a nice touch. The GM could write down partial addresses in Kanji from this map just to make life harder for his players, as they will have to rely upon local knowledge to find their way. Imagine the frustration of being given an address in the inner part of Chinatown in Kanji, only to find that most of the locals are reluctant to help because it leads to the head offices of one of the Tongs...
The key is a list of 93 numbered locations corresponding to the map, and all of these locations are detailed elsewhere in the book.
I really enjoyed reviewing this book, and even though I do not play Superhero RPGs, I would still personally buy it to use in my own games. The layout was excellent, the writing clear and concise, and the artwork was of a reasonable standard, with some of it being very good. It has also made me consider buying San Angelo: City of Heroes as well, as I would have a whole city to play with.
I would recommend this source book for anyone wanting to run games in Chinatown, even if they do not play Hero 5th Edition or other Superhero games.