Daedalus Entertainment, Inc., 1996.
feng shui: Chinese art of arranging the elements of a home in harmony with its environment, according to ancient prescribed methods. Its practitioners claim that they can increase the flow of "chi", or life energy, through a home, resulting in increased health, wealth and fortune for its occupants. Could flippantly be referred to as mystical interior decoration. Those who wonder how this would make for a good RPG should read on.
What you get/need
A 286-page full-color softback book contains the complete game. The full-color first printing is $30. The second printing is in black and white on flimsy paper, for $25.
The goal of Feng Shui is recreating the breakneck pace and improbable martial arts theatrics of the Hong Kong action movies which have recently begun to quicken the pulses of American moviegoers. For the uninitiated, run out and watch the easily obtainable Hard Boiled (blazing guns) or Rumble in the Bronx (manic kung fu) -- or both, for that matter. When you've finished, you'll understand the atmosphere in which Feng Shui PCs fight to save their world.
With that, we come to the game world itself -- a universe tailor-made to justify the maximum amount of kung-fu-fighting, guns-blazing, spell-slinging time-travelling mayhem that a GM could possibly cram into a role-playing campaign. It all starts with feng shui (you don't say! ). In this world, feng shui masters can and do turn homes (or any other manmade spaces) into powerful conduits for chi. Anyone who is "attuned" to the structure (i.e., owns it, or lives or works in it) reaps the benefits of this chi flow (in game terms, extra experience points -- but we'll leave that aside for now). Throughout history, certain groups have sought to use these benefits to increase their own power (and continue to do so -- Feng Shui is a time travel game). A group which controls many sites with "good feng shui" sees their power, wealth and influence grow rapidly; a group which controls a sufficiently great number can actually rewrite history in their favor, shaping the world's future in their own image. As you might expect, the gamebook is chock full of such conspiratorial clans to hurl against a party of PCs. There are degenerate eunuch sorcerors from ancient China, stoic Confucian martial artists from 19th-century China, and cyberpunkish bioengineer/wizards from the 21st century (who aren't necessarily Chinese, but why mess with the motif?). In the default style of Feng Shui game play, it's the job of the PCs to prevent these rat finks from seizing precious 20th-century real estate for their nefarious ends -- preferably by hitting or shooting them until they stop. A GM availing himself of Feng Shui 's game world and style of play stands a good chance of giving his players an extremely enjoyable evening. The conspiracies can be Byzantine enough to satisfy the most twisted Illuminoid -- but once exposed, to the delight of the more straightforward player, the solution is always the same: kicking bad-guy butt in the most flamboyant, outrageous fashion possible.
The chief virtue of character creation in Feng Shui is that it can be done in as few as ten minutes, enabling everyone to get on with playing the game as quickly as possible. The drawback is that this is accomplished at the cost of a degree of freedom that experienced gamers tend to prefer when creating characters. Basically, the player begins by choosing his character's "stereotype" from a cast of several: Maverick Cop, Martial Artist, Scrappy Kid, and other action-movie standards, along with more esoteric choices like Ghosts, Sorcerors and Cyborgs. The stereotypes have mostly preset statistics, with a few bonus points that can be sprinkled here and there to personalize the character. The most appealing part of the process is assigning your character his special abilities, or "Schticks". Different stereotypes have access to different lists of Schticks: for instance, your Maverick Cop might choose a Gun Schtick like "Carnival of Carnage", allowing him to mow down hordes of cannon fodder in one fell swoop. (is there any other kind of swoop? ) Martial Artists have a host of colorfully-named fighting techniques to choose from; sorcerors have their lightning bolts; and characters from the near future can play with weird biomechanical "Arcanowave Devices". With that decided, your character needs little more than a name and a background, complete with plot hook (e.g. "searching for long-lost father/dog/whatever"), and he's ready to go.
The limited range of options in this system doesn't bug me too much, since Feng Shui characters are stereotypical by necessity. GURPS players and others who insist on maximum player control over the character may find it a little galling, however. It's worth noting that the Feng Shui system is based on a game called Nexus, which does have point-based character generation. It would take a little effort, but Feng Shui could probably be tooled to this system.
And how. Feng Shui is one of the most playable games that I've run across in recent months. THe basic game mechanic which drives the system is a little eccentric -- it involves rolling "negative dice" and "positive dice", and subtracting one from the other -- but it's easy to pick up and hardly interferes with the breakneck pace of play. The mechanics themselves aren't necessarily groundbreaking (in fact, they've appeared before, in Nexus), but there are a few clever little touches that make all the difference in making it a fast-running game -- for instance, the rule that unnamed characters only have two states: in the fight, and out of the fight (I know, I know, you've been doing this for ages, but how often has a professional game designer thought of it?). Everything is quick, simple and streamlined, and anything that isn't can be tossed out the window without being missed.
For campaign games, as mentioned before, there are plenty of world- and time-spanning conspiracies for the PCs to whomp on. In addition, players also have the constant goal of capturing sites with good feng shui and attuning to them. The more feng shui sites a character is attuned to, the more experience points he receives to spend on ever more kung-fu powers or what-have-you. I personally am inclined to believe that the frenzied pace of the game, requiring action sequences that constantly escalate in novelty and intensity, will cause a campaign to burn itself out rather quickly -- kind of like how movie sequels tend to progressively get worse and worse. But that's just my opinion -- and at any rate, I don't think low campaign viability lessens the quality of a game (look at Call of Cthulhu, for instance).
Clear, easy to follow, and occasionally pretty funny. I don't much care for the short story at the beginning of the book; but then, I never do.
Mmmm . . . purty. Full-color illustrations by some of the more popular collectible-card-game artists, including Melissa Benson, Doug Shuler, et. al. Did I mention that there's a trading card game set in the Feng Shui universe, called Shadowfist? Now you know.
THE VERDICT, PLEASE...
Highs - Fast! Furious! More fun than masturbating! (unless you know something I don't)
Lows - That darned inflexible character creation system. Also, in my opinion there's not much for a long-running campaign here, but that's more a matter of taste than anything.
(If S.S. can do it, so can I)