[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 5: Gamemastering Tianxia & Review


Hey guys, today we’re taking a look at the GM support chapters for Tianxia, and wrapping up the series with a quick review.

Given that Wuxia isn’t exactly as common as traditional western fantasy fare, I find that it’s very important for any Wuxia game to be able to communicate the tone, themes and elements of the genre.

Tianxia gets this correctly right out of the gate with some very good points. I won’t go into them in too much detail as the GMing advice is solid, but it does hit all the important parts.

Tianxia goes on to communicate that Wuxia is an active game, there’s a lot of action involved and players are constantly moving towards an objective. Heroism in both good (and bad) forms are detailed as well, with relevant examples of heroic characters that end up causing less-than-ideal consequences from their actions.

There’s an interesting point as well about the value of equipment, though not in the same way as most western fantasy would view it. In wuxia, equipment should carry some form of connection to the character, and their history or being. Think of the Green Destiny sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Sure the blade itself is remarkable, but it was in Li Mu Bai’s connection with it that made it truly significant.

The chapter also goes on to detail how to use the Bronze Rule of FATE Core to stat out other elements in the game. Examples of a Mystery, specific Kung Fu challenges, Diseases and Ailments, and Corrupted Kung Fu are all given here to serve as a guide for GMs looking to use such a thing in play.

Zones are also given a thorough treatment, as the characters in Tianxia are remarkably mobile. As seen in the previous character creation article, even starting characters can have the potential to move multiple zones in their turn. As such, it becomes extra important for a Tianxia game to set out the various zones of the setpieces of battle to lend to the dynamic feel that is inherent to Wuxia.

Campaign Aspects are next on the list, and Tianxia offers fine examples of Campaign Aspects that can push a game to various directions, including subgenres such as horror, or comedy and romance, all of which have a place in Wuxia fiction.’

One of the most interesting parts in this chapter is the discussion of Concessions and the use of Death as a Concession. It’s a neat twist to the rules, and one that is very genre-appropriate as well. Being able to turn a defeat into a victory at the cost of a character’s life is something that belongs in the genre. Will players go for it? I know I would.

Another neat option presented in the chapters would be that of Dynastic Play, where players can move on to play the children (or proteges) of their previous characters. It’s easy enough to implement, and I think that it would make for a neat campaign to show the various highlights of each character, before moving on to their children to see if the things established by the ancestors survive the travails of their descendants.

Tianxia also contains other chapters detailing antagonists, sample characters, sample combat and plot hooks. These are all very good sources of quick information so that any GM will be able to pick up and run these templates should they run out of prep time.


Tianxia is a rules-light to rules-medium Wuxia game that introduces the genre in a friendly, easy-to-learn fashion. The book is written well, with a clear language devoid of unnecessary flourish that could distract of obscure the information needed to run the game, something that I certainly find to be very helpful.

The game itself applies minor rules adjustments and a fully formed Martial Arts system on top of the FATE Core rules in a relatively seamless manner, and feels like a system that was intended to work with FATE from the get go rather than being welded on forcibly. Fans of the FATE Core system will find this to be very easy to learn.

Fans of the genre will find that Tianxia covers all the bases when it comes to Wuxia. There’s a little lack of emphasis on the tone and themes of Wuxia in the book, but that’s a minor nitpick on my end as I wish it was brought up a bit in the start of the book rather than at the end with the GM chapters.

There’s an awful lot of mechanical support for GMs, from a campaign creation worksheet, to an adventure menu and pregenerated characters and antagonists to work with.

As a relatively new person to FATE, I feel that I’ll need to get a couple of test sessions to really get comfortable with the combat system to find out the true extent of the various Techniques in the Kung Fu system of Tianxia, but from what I’ve seen they’re certainly formidable.

Overall, Tianxia is a great start to a Wuxia RPG. There’s enough to run a campaign, but plenty of white space around for GMs and the authors to add on new elements. If you’re a fan of Wuxia, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t pick this up for your collection.

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

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

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

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

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

[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 2: The Empire of Shenzhou, the province of Jiangzhou and its capital city, Bao Jiang.

Today we take a look at the default setting for the Tianxia corebook: Jiangzhou, one of the nine provinces of the empire of Shenzhou, and its capital, the city of Bao Jiang. The book immediately assures the reader that the other provinces will be detailed in further supplements for Tianxia, and begins with a general rundown of the empire of Shenzhou.

The brief overview of the empire is a one page summary of the key regions of Shenzhou, detailing the major settlements and features of the empire, just enough to give a sense of place for the setting, and just where Jianzhou Provice sits in relation to the rest of the empire.

This is followed up with a quick summary of the three major religions in the empire: Legalism, Daoism and Bodhism, along with their philosophies.

There are a few notable sidebars as well, one talking about the religions in Tianxia and how to use them to enrich rather than restrict characters in a game, and one about Genre, Gender, Race and Inclusiveness. The second sidebar was essentially express permission from the writers of Tianxia to allow GMs to tweak elements of the setting to suit a group’s preferences rather than be bound to specific “norms” of a setting or its historical inspirations.

The next section of the book covers Jiangzhou Province, a border region on the western side of Shenzhou. It is one of the wildest of the nine major provinces of the empire, and makes for a good starting area for PCs given the many opportunities for adventure.

Jiangzhou has access to two main trade routes: the Jade Road and the Silk River, which makes it a prime location for bandits and pirates that would take advantage of the traveling merchants that travel along both routes.

One of the interesting parts of how this chapter was presented was it’s focus on several key areas in the province without detailing every square inch of it. This gives the GMs plenty of opportunities to fill in the empty spaces with their own setting elements.

Each of the locations detailed in the chapter provide clear plot hooks for the player characters. The writeups themselves have Aspects related to the location, and often have an accompanying character sheet of the notable NPCs that can be found there.

The NPCs listed in this chapter are all very flavorful, and each has a backstory that allows for opportunities for the PCs to interact with them in more than just combat. Heroes and villains alike all have reasons for being, which makes for more interesting interactions with the PCs.

The City of Bao Jiang is covered in it’s own chapter, though the format is largely similar to the previous one. The focus on a large city is important as it gives opportunities for urban stories that involve more investigation and high society maneuvering than would be possible in the countryside.

Given Jiangzhou’s focus on trade, it’s no surprise that Bao Jiang is considered to be a trade hub. The chapter details key locations in the city, from well known establishments to places like a beggar’s quarter and the Governor’s palace. Again, each of these contain Aspects and the occasional NPC writeup of notable characters that can be found in these locations.

Both chapters offer a great number of excellent set pieces that are relevant to any Wuxia game. The author clearly has a love for the genre and it’s tropes, and is able to put together a vibrant setting open to many adventures without feeling too small. One could conceivably run an entire campaign in the province alone without needing to see the rest of the empire.

A few more sidebars pepper the article, with discussions on crime and punishments, and the presence of Eunuchs in a Tianxia game. I find it interesting that the Eunuchs in Tianxia are a product of magic as opposed to surgery, and that both men and women are capable of becoming Eunuchs.

Overall these two chapters paint a vibrant picture of one of the Jiangzhou province. It’s an elegant work, presenting just enough detail to spark the imagination and NPCs with backstories to provide GMs with the kind of support needed to make them feel “real” in play, while still leaving enough room to breathe for every Tianxia campaign to feel different.

Tomorrow we’ll be checking out the Rules of Tianxia, and how they affect the basic FATE Core ruleset, along with character creation, where I try my hand at putting together a character for Tianxia.

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

[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 1: Welcome to Tianxia


Today marks the real start of the Tianxia Let’s Study series, where we take a look at the wuxia rpg powered by the FATE Core rules. We’ll be tackling the first chapter of the book, aptly named “Welcome to Tianxia”

The chapter opens up with a glossary of terms, which relays the various concepts unique to the setting. It’s a good move, as Tianxia sets the expectations that while these concepts are greatly inspired by Chinese history, Tianxia isn’t meant to be historically accurate. This covers concepts from the three major religious belief systems in the setting (The Dao, Bodhism and Legalism) to the concept of Chi and the 5 elements of Wu Xing.

The book then transitions to a section talking about what Tianxia is about and how to use it. Unlike Mindjammer, Tianxia is meant to be used with the FATE Core rulebooks, and does not repeat information that can be found in the FATE Core book. Thankfully FATE Core is available in a “pay What you want” scheme from DriveThruRPG so that’s not so much of an obstacle to those who want to get started right away.

There’s also a short discussion of who the PCs are meant to be. Tianxia assumes that the player characters will be wandering martial arts warriors who go off on adventures in Jianghu, the hidden world (or society) of martial artists, honor, rivalry and action. It’s a very friendly setup, open to various games involving traditional “recover the magic item” hooks, to more unique “avenge your Sifu!” story arcs.

The Wuxia genre is given it’s own section as well, going over the important elements of the genre. There’s a selection of good media to check out early on for people to convey the mood and the tropes of Wuxia, including old favorites like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, Storm Riders and Detective Dee are all mentioned here.

Finally the concept of the Wu Xing is given attention, where the book talks about the system of elements and it’s cultural importance to the world of Tianxia. The use of the Wu Xing as a thematic element is discussed, though thankfully there doesn’t seem to be a hard rule on needing to memorize the positive and negative interactions of the various elements.

Tianxia’s opening chapter is well written and accessible, conveying in broad strokes the necessary tone and elements needed to get a wuxia game off the ground. There’s little in the way of flowery language and overwrought prose, which is a godsend for those that just want to figure out what Wuxia it about.

That said, I think that Tianxia could have gone into a little more detail with regards to the common themes of the genre, such as Honor, Filial Piety, Duty vs. Love, Vengeance, Tragedy and the Fight against Social Injustice and corruption. It doesn’t have to be very extensive, but these themes could go a long way in inspiring the reader as a player or a GM and inform them as to what kind of stories can be told with Tianxia that makes it different from D&D with Kung Fu.

Tomorrow we’ll take on the next chapter: “Shenzhou and Jiangzhou” which details the province of Jiangzhou, the default setting of Tianxia.

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

[Let’s Study Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade] Part 0: Introduction & Expectations


With Mindjammer’s Let’s Study series all done, it’s time to turn our attentions to the other rising star of FATE Core games: Tianxia Blood, Silk & Jade by Jack Norris.

Wuxia is one of my favorite genres. As a Filipino of Chinese descent growing up in the 80’s, some of my fondest memories were those of spending the sweltering afternoons of the summer indoors glued to the TV as they aired obscure movies. Invariably, these movies came in only two genres: Science Fiction B-Movies, and Wuxia Films.

Needless to say, those were truly formative experiences given my preferences in RPGs.

Little surprise then that when I saw a Wuxia game go up on kickstarter, I jumped on the chance. I’m still relatively new to FATE, but I was convinced that if there was one thing to get me to really commit to the FATE Core rules, it would be a Wuxia Game.

Personally, Wuxia is a tricky genre to pull off. While it’s certainly grown in popularity in the western audience, a lot of it is still very rooted in Chinese culture. I’m eager to see if the more subtle points of the culture of Jianghu manifest in Tianxia.

Wuxia stories are the equivalent of the Pulps, where you have larger than life heroes kicking ass in the name of honor and righteousness. As such, I’m expecting to see a really robust martial arts system in place that will hopefully be able to replicate many of the wire-fu things we see in the movies.

Given what I’ve seen in the previews, I’m very positive about this Let’s Study series. Heck, with any luck I’ll be able to mash up Mindjammer with Tianxia and come up with some sort of Wuxia Space Opera… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On Monday, we’ll start off with the first section, “Welcome to Tianxia” and get a glimpse of the game’s scope and the author’s approach to a Wuxia setting.

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

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