Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is a game with a completely self-contained setting, inspired by the Ninja Mythology and Powers, but without actually being Japan per se. The names of certain places sound Chinese as well. I think it’s very important to bring this up early on to avoid any form of dissonance. Eloy Lasanta lays out an entire stand alone setting, one that pulls on a bit of Japanese culture and history, but isn’t beholden to it, giving him leeway to exercise artistic license when it comes to his world.
That said, the Wu Xing is set in the Izou Empire, a powerful civilization born from a history of strife. Created in the wake of several conflicts involving Ninja, the Izou Empire grew in size and strength due to their aggressive expansion, one that resulted in the assimilation of many smaller cultures into itself. Ninja were once respected members of society, and their proficiency with Chi manipulation and strange powers made them ideal mercenaries. In the early days of the Izou Empire, those who could practice the arts of the Ninja could do so freely, but those days are now over.
The current Emperor of the Izou Empire suffered a terrible tragedy, as his two sons were caught in a crossfire of a battle between two ninja clans. Only one of his sons survived. In response he called for a crackdown on any ninja or Chi manipulators in this empire, forcing many of the more peaceful ninja to flee. This in turn sparked another, more cruel reaction from a group of rebels, who beheaded his consort, and poisoned his daughter with a wasting disease.
In his grief and rage, the Emperor declared the eradication of the Ninja, starting the Ninja Crusade in earnest.
Ninjas in the setting now must live clandestine lives not merely out of preference, but for survival. Their ability with Chi manipulation and the special skills they’ve developed for deception and assassination are powerful, but they do not have the number necessary to stand against the military might of the Izou Empire.
Faced with the threat of extinction, the ninja clans have banded together in the Lotus Coalition, a barely-functioning alliance where the Ninja Clans attempt to set aside their differences in order to come up with a means to stop the Crusade before they are all hunted down and killed.
The Ninja Clans themselves are a diverse lot, each practicing a different philosophy and ability:
- Bamboo Herbalists are the premiere medical ninja whose skill with the healing arts are unmatched, but their thrillseeking natures often put them in dangerous situations.
- Blazing Dancers know the secret of manipulating fire with their Chi, an art that they conceal by masquerading as traveling performers.
- Grasping Shadows are among the oldest of the ninja clans, renowned for their ability as spies and assassins. They are perhaps the most “iconic” of the ninja that most people think of when they hear the word.
- Hidden Strands of Fate are insidious ninja with the ability to bend another person’s will to their own. Deception and power are their bread and butter.
- Living Chronicle ninja see themselves as historians trying to preserve the secret history of the ninja way, recording history upon their skin.
- Pack of the Black Moon are a curious clan who specialize in training canines to work and fight alongside their ninja.
- Recoiling Serpents are a hated clan that are barely tolerated in the Lotus Coalition, but their mastery of poison and inherent resilience make the a valuable member nonetheless.
- Virtuous Body Gardeners are the newest of the ten clans, they consider themselves to be artists, employing strange tattoos in when harnessing their Chi in grand displays of power and skill.
- Wardens of Equilibrium are agents of balance, hidden among merchants and the rich, they use their influence (and funds) to force their agenda onto the world via material means.
- Will of Iron are honorable metalworkers, bonding with their weapons to become unstoppable agents of justice.
With such a diverse collection of philosophies and methodologies, it is inevitable that there is a lot of friction between the Clans. In hopes of mitigating this, the Lotus Coalition has started creating mixed teams of Ninja, so that the Clans might learn and accept each other’s idiosyncrasies and improve their ability to cooperate.
The Ninja Clans themselves are all unique and interesting, and I’m happy to say that at least some of the powers are bordering on freaky. I would have pushed the boundaries even further, but the original ten clans of Wu Xing are a good entry into the setting without getting too creepy. (For those curious some of the more extreme Clans can be found in the Land of Seed and Blossom supplement.)
Each of the clans is also given the white-wolf style 3 page summary, with a short vignette, a description of their history, agendas and lifestyles and mechanics for Character creation. These 3 pages also contain a very nice character portrait and a sidebar featuring in-character opinions of the other clans. It’s a good way to get people started, as it helps players parse information in nice bite-sized chunks. They might not necessarily know everything about the other clans, but at least they know everything that they need to know about their own.
One interesting choice in this game is the early reveal that one of the ten clans is a traitor to the Lotus Coalition. While there is a sidebar explaining just how far this conspiracy is, it does bring into question how players of that particular faction will survive if this information comes to light. That said, I think that it’s a great plot hook that could be a source of a lot of tension in a game, depending on how well the group handles it.
The one thing I noticed in Wu Xing was how strangely open the setting was. While the first chapter gives a lot of detail on the Izou Empire, there’s always that sense that a GM is free to add his own little touches without breaking the setting. I like the fact that the book is written to be accommodating of that kind of improvisation.
Tomorrow we’ll head on to Character Creation, where we try to put together a ninja of our own ready to fight for survival against the armies of the Izou Empire.