[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 3: The Rules of Tianxia & Character Creation

Posted: June 4, 2014 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games, Tianxia
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Today we take a peek at the rules of Tianxia, and how they tweak the basic FATE Core mechanics to emulate the wire-fu action of wuxia, and put together a sample character.


The chapter opens up with a quick note on the different dice systems that you can use for FATE. This is fairly standard across FATE games, but I did notice that the most recommended option for Tianxia is the 1d6 – 1d6 roll, which results in a range of -5 to +5 with 0 being average. It’s a fun idea given the swingy nature of Wuxia and how characters in wuxia film and literature achieve great successes and tragic failures.


Tianxia uses the same skills as FATE core, with a few notable adjustments.

Having an Athletics of Good or Great allows for Tianxia characters to move 1 extra zone in addition to the free one that all characters normally get. Having an Athletics of Superb or above lets you move 2 zones instead. Finally, having Epic or Legendary Athletics can move 3 extra zones.

It’s a neat tweak to Athletics and helps a lot in pushing the superhuman angle of Wuxia heroes.

Physique and Will in Tianxia are noted as being viable in creating an Advantage given the Genre.

Finally, the biggest addition to the FATE Core rules from Tianxia is the addition of the Chi skill. The Chi skill represents the internal energies of a martial artist. Tianxia goes on to describe how the skill is used for the four basic actions and for special effects like a Chi-powered recovery action.

Character Creation

The next chapter covers changes to the standard Character Creation rules of FATE Core. This chapter doesn’t give a step-by-step guide, as much as it calls out where Character Creation is done differently.

As such, I’ll try to go through the FATE Core character creation steps for this sample character. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll convert an NPC I put together for a Fantasy Craft Wuxia game: Ming Zhaohui.



Here’s a snapshot of her concept:

Zhaohui is a Cavalry Officer that was reassigned to less active duties after suffering the loss of an eye to an arrow in the front lines. Gruff, tough, and nearly entirely devoid of the womanly graces that her mother would have wished for her daughter, Zhaohui is nevertheless popular for her beauty and the fact that she swears like a sailor and can drink a man twice her size under the table.

She is also a remarkable warrior, and it is commonly said among soldiers that have served with her that, “Zhaohui is excellent with a bow, but peerless with a glaive.” Zhaohui is also extremely loyal to her captain, and will gleefully challenge those whom she deems as “disrespectful” to her commanding officer to a duel at the slightest provocation.

High Concept and Trouble

The usual start for a FATE character is to define their High Concept and Trouble Aspects.

Zhaohui has “Unfailingly Loyal Cavalry Officer” as her High Concept. She also has “Bereft of Any Womanly Graces” as her Trouble.

At this point the Phase Trio should kick in, but given that I’m building this without the benefit of a group, I’ll go ahead and define 3 Aspects that suit Zhaohui from her former adventures.

A Traitor Cost Me An Eye” Makes her extra careful, and perhaps a little too suspicious of new people.

A Little Drink Never Hurt Anyone” Allows Zhaohui an edge when carousing, but she does tend to get carried away.

Prefers horses to people” showcases her skill as a cavalry officer, but highlights her lack of ability to socialize with people when she isn’t drunk.


Skills in Tianxia follow the standard FATE Core Ladder. Zhaohui starts off with the following:

Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Drive (Horses), Shoot
Fair (+2) Athletics, Physique, Will
Average (+1) Contacts, Provoke, Notice, Chi


Here’s where it gets a little different. Every hero in Tianxia starts with 1 extra Refresh. The game recommends that this be used to purchase a Kung Fu style (which gives a style Form and 1 Technique.) Players may also spend 1 Refresh to get 2 Kung Fu Techniques for an existing style, or one of their free Stunts to gain one Technique.

At this point, it seems like a good idea to take a look at the martial arts options first for Zhaohui. So let’s assume I’m spending the free Refresh as recommended, and getting a Kung Fu Style.

Zhaohui doesn’t come off as very subtle, so I figure taking Iron Serpent as her style, and choosing Iron Cleaves the Stone as the Technique for this purchase.

This still leaves me with 5 Stunts and 3 Refresh to go.

I’m thinking of the following stunts:

Born in the Saddle – Use Drive instead of Athletics to determine extra movement as per Tianxia rules while mounted.

Peerless with a Glaive – When using a spear or glaive and succeeding at a Fight attack, automatically create a Fair (+2) opposition against movement in that zone until Zhaohui’s next turn.

Riposte – When succeeding with style on a Fight defense, choose to inflict a 2-shift hit rather than take a boost.

That leaves Zhaohui with 3 Refresh. At this point I could choose to learn a second Kung Fu style, but I figure that Zhaohui should start off as being not so skilled in Kung Fu just yet to give her room to grow.

Stress and Consequences:

Now I can determine Stress and Consequences. Given her Fair rating in Physique and Skill, Zhaohui’s Physical Stress and Mental Stress tracks are at 3 boxes each.

Jianghu Rank:

Zhaohui also possesses a Jianghu Rank, a measure of how capable the character is with Kung Fu. Being familiar with one Style, she starts off with a Jianghu Rank of 1.

This bestows her an extra bonus to movement, gaining a 1 free zone of movement.

Overall, character creation seems fairly straightforward, though with the usual speedbump of thinking of decent aspects that will work with a character. I’ve always had difficulty with Aspects, and I’m certain that the ones used in this example could still be improved somehow.

That said, I do like the little tweaks for a wuxia game. Having a Chi skill helps a lot, and though all the extra sources of extra movement might be a little confusing, a little extra care in keeping track will pay off in the end.

Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the Kung Fu system in Tianxia, from the 36 possible Styles, to lost techniques.

If you’d like to follow along, Tianxia is available from DriveThruRPG in PDF format for only $14.99

Tianxia is also available in PDF and Print format from Indie Press Revolution


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