Saturday, February 12, 2022

Art of Wuxia - A Partial Review

This is going to be a partial review of the Art of Wuxia RPG rules. It's "partial" not because I am biased, or because I haven't read the entire rulebook (I haven't) or played the game, but because I have decided to not use much of the rules for my campaign and so I did not read those parts thoroughly, and I cannot give a review of them.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are a few wuxia RPGs out there, but because of my own idea of how I want my wuxia setting to be and how I want the play to feel, I eventually decided on getting Art of Wuxia. Rather than giving a detailed and systematic review of the system, I will just highlight those aspects of the rules which sold me on it.

The first is how "schools" or "sects" of kung fu are represented in the game. One of the core tropes of the wuxia genre is different schools having different strengths and weaknesses. In Art of Wuxia this is depicted by having a list of over thirty kung fu Techniques. These Techniques are like the special skills in Blood Bowl, and as your character levels up, he can learn more skills. The genius here is, each school typically 'teaches' only 5 or 6 skills, which together define a certain fighting style: an assassin style school will have skills that grant dexterity and missile bonus or moves, while a "brute" style school will have skills that increase your melee attacks or damage. Since the combination of the sets of Techniques are unique (I believe) to each school, practitioners from each school will have different fighting styles or combat roles within a party. You can choose which school your character is from by looking at the 'build' you want him to achieve over the course of a campaign, in the same way you would build a Blood Bowl player.

More broadly, schools are either of the Internal Qi of the External Qi style. The concept of Qi is of course another core trope of the genre, and here I feel the author did a great job representing not just Qi in general, but also the differences between the Internal school and the External school. Both schools can use Qi points for things like healing surge or re-rolls, and the External schools have some abilities not available to the Internal schools, but only the Inner school has the ability to use Qi for 'Lightness' or flying/wire-fu. This superpower is offset by the way the rules for Lightness works: characters typically have 3 points of Qi, and using Lightness does not expend a Qi point but requires you to have at least one point left, while carrying someone while you 'fly' will require you to have two points in reserve. This is a simple but elegant way of balancing the game without making the choice a forgone one.

On to the mechanical part of the rules. The basic system is a d00 system, so characters succeed by rolling equal to or below a target number. This is pretty standard, but the rules allow you to take multiple actions in a turn, with the successive action incurring a 20% penalty. This means that a character with a high score in, say, melee can make multiple attacks with good chances of hitting. In addition, some Techniques allow you to make additional attack or defence rolls without incurring the 20% penalty (or rather the penalty is deferred to the roll after if you choose to take another action, as I understand it), so high level characters can take on several opponents alone.

Another thing I like about Art of Wuxia is the way human NPCs are represented. Unlike PCs (and monsters, which I don't use), NPCs do not get a full 'stat block'. Instead, a 'mook' level NPC will just get a single score of say 60 as a target number for combat and tasks/skills that he is good at, and half that for tasks/skills he is not so good at. (This is the same concept behind the Monster Math in Five Torches Deep RPG.) This simple system allows the GM to run a large number of low level NPCs, certainly another beloved trope of the genre, without having to look up several numbers.

Major and Master level NPCs have more stats, with a different number for taking actions and resisting attacks, and they also have skills and Techniques like the PCs. In another stroke of genius, the author represents the "fighting formations" by treating the mooks who will make up one of these formations as a single Major NPC, so a GM can recreate this trope without having to learn another set of rules.

So those are the things I like about Art of Wuxia. There are many other aspects of the rules that I think work fine, but don't really make me excited.

The Class/Skills system is a hybrid of a class-based and skills-based character system, in that each class encompasses a number of skills, but some skills rolls can be tried by a character even if he is not of that class, while some class skills like those of the Alchemist and Mystic can only be made if your character is of that class. There are ten classes, and each PC takes two (one of which is almost certainly the Warrior class). Since I omit three of the classes (Diviner, Mystic, Sorcerer), I can't really comment on how the rules for magic and divination work.

There is a default setting and fluff for the game, but I have set my campaign in historical China, and the rules can certainly accommodate that. There are rules for a more high fantasy campaign, including the Journey to the West style with humanoids, deities, and demons. Perhaps one of these days I will run such a campaign, but for now I think we can have a perfectly good campaign even when we don't use all the magic and monsters - after all, many popular and beloved wuxia novels/movies/TV series don't either.

If there is one complaint about the rules, and I am really nitpicking here, it is in the 'translation'. Specifically, it is the names of some of the Techniques, schools, and items, and also some of the quotes from characters in the flavour text. Now I am functionally and compulsively bilingual, so when I read or hear something in English in entertainment media (yes, it's rather specific) I automatically translate it into Chinese in my head. And the thing is, certain word that sound cool together in English don't always sound cool when translated into Chinese. To be fair most of the names are good, and the whole is certainly not the travesty that is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny.

All in all I am very happy with the rules, and if you are looking for a set of rules for a wuxia campaign, I hope you have found my review helpful.

1 comment:

SteveHolmes11 said...

Excellent review.

It's interesting to see how a ruleset copes with a narrow class range while maintaining interest and variety.

As a wargaming analogy, consider rules for Ancient warfare, with chariots, elephants, legionaries, heavy knights and almost naked men with a sharp stick.
A very broad class range.

Now consider rules for the American Civil War.
Most men have a rifle, bayonet and backpack.
A rather narrow class range, but variety is possible by considering training, motivation, and specifics of their armament.