[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 4: The Deadly Arts of Kung Fu

Posted: June 5, 2014 by pointyman2000 in Articles, FATE, Let's Study, Roleplaying Games, Tianxia
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Kung Fu is the heart and soul of Wuxia fiction and games. Flashy, impressive and occasionally brutal, Martial Arts plays a key role in resolving disputes in Wuxia stories, whether as a philosophy or fisticuffs.

Kung Fu in Tianxia is divided into Styles. Each Style is composed of two major components: An Element and a Body substyle. The core book has six Element substyles and six Body substyles to choose from, for a total of 36 unique combinations. Each substyle also contains several Techniques under them.


In taking a Kung Fu Style, one also gets a Form associated with that style. A Form is an Aspect of the Kung Fu Style being used, and can be used to create an advantage or to generate compels. Forms also have means to gain invocations for free upon a successful attack roll that end up not dealing any stress or consequences. This simulates momentum and rewards attackers even if they don’t get to deal any damage with that action that turn.

A neat little mechanic in this section is the use of the Create an Advantage Action in the form of a Flashback or Montage. It’s a simple means of using the FATE mechanc that adds a lot of flavor to a conflict and one that I see will come into play very often.


Learning new Techniques come with spending a Significant Milestone as opposed to increasing a Skill. Once a character has learned all six Techniques in their Style, they can spend a Refresh from a Major Milestone and become a master and unlock it’s Secret Technique.

Becoming a Grand Master requires that a character master more than a single style. This is a very lofty goal, but certainly worth it, as Grand Master characters gain the ability to develop their own styles, Forms and Secret Techniques.


Tianxia starts off with six Element substyles and six Body Substyles, each of which caters to a different flavor. I hesitate to go into too much detail here, as this would be the meat of Tianxia’s kung fu, but perhaps the names will suffice:

Elements are: Forest, Ghost, Iron, Lightning, Stone and Storm

Body substyles are: Crane, Dragon, Monkey, Phoenix, Serpent and Tiger

Each one has a short and evocative writeup explaining their theme and feel and what kind of philosophy lies behind their names. Each one also has three Techniques listed to choose from when obtaining a Kung Fu Style.

Lost Techniques

The next section discusses Lost Techniques, special techniques that aren’t tied to a particular style, but exist outside of it. These cannot be gained in character creation, but must be earned in-game from a master, or Kung Fu Manual.


Kung Fu has always been an enticing part of any game, and it is one that has always been full of mechanical complication. Tianxia’s take on it is flavorful without being too complex. Each of the styles has been crafted to cater to a type of play, and while I haven’t had the time to really master FATE’s combat, I think that the techniques really serve to make a character stand out from the rest.

Ultimately, Tianxia manages to pull off the stuff that really matters. Not the bean-counting of individual strikes, but the flavor accompanying each style. It’s not a resource management game that relies on ticks and keeping score of power or mana or chi or motes. The system promises to maintain the flavor of the setting, without slowing things down to simulate irrelevant minuitae.

Tomorrow we’ll take a peek at Tianxia’s GMing advice, and see how the books sets new GMs on the proper path to mastery of the Kung Fu of running games.

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

  1. Sounds neat! Worthy of a try.

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