Wu Xing

[Interview] Eloy Lasanta, Creator of Wu Xing: the Ninja Crusade

Hello everyone, a few weeks back, I had the good fortune to be able to ask Eloy Lasanta of Third Eye Games a few questions regarding Wu Xing. Given that Wu Xing is getting its next kickstarter funded project up and running, this will be a great way to get to know the man behind the books.

1) Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us, Eloy. First off, could you give us a quick introduction to yourself and how you got into business of making games?

It’s a standard question, but one with a lot of history. I wrote for a while for a White wolf webzine called Ex Libris Nocturnis (nocturnis.net) and went on to do a few freelance jobs for pay. But honestly i was not really getting the creative freedom that I wanted out of those. I got tired of playing in others’ sandboxes and decided to make my own. So, I started Third Eye Games in an attempt to get out all the ideas I had. They just keep coming, so it’s turned out for the best.

2) What were your inspirations when it came to game design?

In terms of game design, I looked a lot to White Wolf for how they approached game design in terms of presentation, but my mechanics (at least the DGS used for API and Wu Xing) are mostly inspired by martial arts movies. I kept trying to find a game that could emulate the back and forth you find one of those movies, but there just wasn’t anything. the Dynamic Gaming system (DGS) is my attempt at that and I seem to have succeeded. So that’s good.

3) Wu Xing is a unique game that stands apart from a lot of the usual games out there in the market today. What’s your Elevator Pitch for the game to get people to try it out?

First off, glad you liked Wu Xing. The pitch is pretty simple: Players take the role of ninja of rival clans forced to work together or be wiped out. All for one and one for all, except for the centuries of rivalries between the clans. the Emperor wants all ninja wiped out and only by working together with your worst enemies can you truly survive. There’s a lot of different angles you can take during gameplay, which helps out with creating a well-rounded game.

4) I noticed that the default tone of Wu Xing is a semi-lighthearted tone similar to Avatar: the Last Airbender and Naruto. Was there a deliberate decision to avoid delving too deeply into the darker and more macabre themes and elements of revenge, tragedy and Ninja sex-magic that are more common in the likes of anime such as Basilisk and Ninja Scroll?

I feel of the game is one that can go a lot of different directions. Some of the clan fictions are light-hearted (like the Blazing Dancers), while others are just plain sinister (like the Will of Iron). The fact that the game takes place during a war automatically creates a tension unlike anything else, so having that as a backdrop means that the characters are likely going to strive to not wallow in it. It’s all about human nature. Players are welcome to take it in that direction though, it’s set up to handle it definitely and the fights are deadly enough to have all the spaying blood needed. Sex magic… probably not though.

5) Of all the provinces in the Empire, only the Land of Seed and Blossom has had its own supplement. Do you have any concrete ideas at this point as to what you’d like to reveal next about Wu Xing’s setting, and the strange Ninja Clans therein?

Of course. I’m always thinking ahead as far as I can fathom. The Wu Xing gameline is being released in a Clan, Nation pattern. The next book after Land of Seed and Blossom is Truth and Lies, touching on the Hidden Strands of Fate and the Will of Iron (Kickstarter link http://kck.st/QIzW8C). When that books done, we’ll begin development on Land of Crashing Waves. There’s a small preview to each nation in the corebook which should give an idea of what kinds of clans you should expect to see.

6)  Finally, what advice would you have for anyone looking to try making their own RPGs?

Wow. That’s a big question. First and foremost, i’d say that you need to decide whether you are doing it for creative reasons or for money. If it’s for money, you’re barking up the wrong tree. If it’s for creative reasons, I suggest making sure that what you want to do isn’t already out there on the market. That’s how 3EG has survived this long, producing games that no one else has thought of. For more advice, listen to my podcast with is about this sort of thing exactly, Rolling 20s (http://eloythesaint.com/category/rolling20s/).

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about your work Eloy. For those interested in Wu Xing, the Kickstarter for the Truth and Lies supplement has some very good pledge levels that can get you caught up with the entire line for a very reasonable price!

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 6 – Conclusion and Review

And so today we wrap up our Let’s Study series for Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. It’s been an interesting ride, as the book covers a particular niche that I don’t really see often in the market.

I find that Wu Xing is a game that has a lot of open spaces for a GM to fill in on his own. Sure there’s a large central conflict with the Izou Empire and the Lotus Coalition, but it’s just sort of there. The writing doesn’t seem to convey the same kind of urgency that being hunted to extinction is supposed to impart. That said, all the pieces to make it feel urgent are there, the Executioners and Golden Lions are all fearsome opponents, and the Firearms mentioned in the game’s blurb is barely given more than a short sidebar, a paragraph saying that they’re pretty dangerous and take a while to reload and a single row in the weapons table. It would have been nice to see a unit of empire soldiers that specialize in firearms, like Imperial Snipers or something just to amp up how they can turn the tide against Chi-Manipulating Ninjas.

Speaking of the Empire and the Lotus Coalition, even having a small smattering of NPCs from both sides of the conflict would have been nice to see. Giving a name and a face to the big names of the Empire, such as say, a Spymaster could do a lot to make the setting more interesting. Likewise the Lotus Coalition would be more interesting if we knew who were the Ninjas who were squabbling against each other, and what their agendas were.

I’m also slightly put off by the modern language and concepts used in character dialogue in the fiction parts of the book. One particular vignette for the Blazing Dancers Clan had me strangely bothered when the Ninja offers a fan an autograph. It seemed like a very strange anachronism, and one that kept jarring my suspension of disbelief. Some turns of phrase were also far too informal to match the setting, but I think that’s just my expectations clashing with the setting as intended by the author. I think my expectations could have been colored by my experiences and comfort in running Legend of the Five Rings.

That said, the game itself is pretty neat. I mentioned some issues I’ve had about the organization of the rules, such as putting the basic mechanics in the skills portion of the character creation instructions, but once you actually get a hang of the entire thing, it feels like a very solid system. The options for combat, the strong visuals for the Wushu and various techniques, and the little ways to customize your character are all well done. The artwork and layout are all well done, with the various pieces for the Clans being a highlight. Also the character sheet, while dense (and perhaps riddled with just a little too many shuriken) is very useful, and has a mini-reference for all the little rules for combat to help things move along a little more smoothly.

Wu Xing delivers on the promise of being action-oriented, and provides enough magic and mysticism to pull off the whole superpowered Ninja schtick with aplomb. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in playing or running in such a game, but I would also advise them to read the book very carefully just so you don’t miss out on any stray rules tucked away in other paragraphs.

Wu xing: the Ninja Crusade is available from DriveThruRPG for only $14.99 or roughly Php 675.00

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 5 – Storytelling

Hello again everyone, today we’re looking at Wu Xing: the Ninja Crusade’s Storytelling Chapter, where we get to see just what tools and advice are available for someone looking to start running the game.

The chapter starts off with a discussion on the Themes and Mood of the the game. Eloy points out that the primary theme for Wu Xing is Rebellion, given the fact that the Ninjas are all being systematically exterminated by the Izou Empire, they have no choice but to fight back in order to survive. Secrecy is the second theme, as Ninjas are forced to live and practice their arts in secret, while trying to unravel the secrets of their enemies.

As for Mood, Wu Xing’s focus on Action, Martial Arts and Mysticism are all given an explanation. There’s an interesting mix of the overt nature of high-octane action, and the spiritual nature of Ninja wushu and techniques that lend to the unique atmosphere of the wu Xing campaign.

I found it interesting when the author mentioned some anime inspirations in this chapter. Individually, I can see how they did influence the final product, but they can be very different from each other. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’m certain that people who are familiar with animation will be able to discern what I’m trying to say just from the list: Avatar: the Last Airbender, Basilisk, Naruto (and Naruto: Shippuuden) and Ranma 1/2.

The chapter goes on to talk about frameworks and provides plot hooks common to Wu Xing, which range from the trivial and lighthearted to more serious matters. I felt that this is an excellent resource as not all GMs will be able to come up with an appropriate plot hook for Wu Xing right off the bat unless they’re a big fan of the same material that influenced the game.

Finally the chapter ends with a few suggestions by the author on running a successful game. The tips themselves are fairly general, but all are good things to keep in mind for most games, not just for Wu Xing. That said, it does give a bit of insight as to just what kind of gameplay Wu Xing tends to favor, and the tone of the game that exists as the default.

I feel that this chapter is a solid capstone to end a corebook with. Sensible advice, insight to the game’s mood, tone and themes, and more than a few plot hooks to get any GM started are all good things in my book. In our last entry to this Let’s Study series for Wu Xing: the Ninja Crusade, I’ll give my thoughts and conclusions with regards to the game.

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 4 – Antagonists and Celestial Animals

Hello again! Yesterday we had a chance to go over the Dynamic Gaming System, Wushu activation and the Basics of Combat in Wu Xing: the Ninja Crusade. Today we’ll be taking a look at the recipients of all that pain: The Antagonists.

Well, some antagonists anyway. I’m constantly surprised with the chapters in Wu Xing since there’s always some hidden nugget somewhere that wasn’t expected. In this case, what we’re actually looking at here is an NPC chapter of sorts that include non-hostile individuals as well as the standard villains of martial arts / ninja anime.

After a quick introduction to the format in which NPCs statblocks are presented, the chapter wastes no time in going into the listing of the various threats.

First off are Animals, I do appreciate the note that Animals don’t have access to every combat maneuver. It’s a simple thing, but it does idiot-proof things a bit.

Each creature entry is given a short write-up before their stat block, along with a few notes on how they behave in combat. One feature of note here is that there’s a sidebar with the Size rules providing the penalties and bonuses to Strike / Throw rolls depending on the size of the target.

Township threats follow, with entries for “Everyday People” as well as “Town Guards” and “Bandits / Criminals”, while the Empire and Ninja Threats that are detailed after also give an idea as to what makes the Izou Army so dangerous to the Ninja. Aside from just having explosives and firearms, some of the more disturbing opponents are the Empire Executioners, who have the ability to snuff out Wushu Effects used on them by force of will. The Golden Lions on the other hand are the Empire’s own Chi-Manipulators, ninjas in their own right, who have special armor charged with extra Chi to allow them to fight much longer than normal Ninja.

There’s also a short description of Spirits, though there’s no mechanics for them, save for the Oni, which are given their own write up at the end of the chapter.

But between those lie the most interesting part of the chapter, the discussion on Celestial Animals. I’m surprised that the discussion of the Animal Realms and the existence of the Celestial Animals weren’t given that much attention in the setting chapter. These are a neat idea, of celestial creatures from another realm that can enter into pacts with Ninja summoners.

The Summoners themselves are given treatment in a sidebar that explains the summoning mechanics and the cost to becoming a summoner (again, I feel just a little bit confused why the Summoner option wasn’t mentioned in Character Generation.) The mechanics for summoning is a nice plot hook as these creatures add a bit more fantasy and sense of wonder to the setting.

Celestial Animals are creatures that act as mentors and allies to chosen Ninja who enter a pact with them. These are spirit creatures who posses various powers of their own, and many have a long history with making pacts with the ninja. Each family of Celestial Animal is given a short write up of their general characteristics and personality, before a sample creature is presented. This is a full stat block with the sample creature’s name, background, powers and personality.

I’m glad that Eloy included sample Celestial Animals as it lets the GM insert an interesting element into an existing game. Despite being really cool, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re an optional element in the game, and a GM who doesn’t like the idea of such things can excise them from a game of Wu Xing without any ill effects.

Overall, the Antagonist Chapter presents a broad spread of possible characters that the players can meet. I feel a little disappointed that there wasn’t a description of the Lotus Coalition. I like the idea of the internal strife and politics between the Clans, and the corebook would have been a great place to actually introduce and shape the agendas of the individual leaders of each of the Clans.

On Monday we move on to The Storytelling Chapter, where we take a look at how Wu Xing guides the fledgeling GM to running the game.

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 3 – DGS, Wushu and Combat

Hello everyone, today we’re taking a peek at the Wu Xing combat system. Given the positive reviews of Wu Xing ability to pull off anime action, I’m pretty sure that this is where the bulk of the innovation of the system is.  I’m just hoping that my brain won’t surrender at the complexity, as it did when I was studying Exalted 2nd Edition.

The Dynamic Gaming System

But before we go headlong into combat, let’s start off with a quick review of the basic system for Wu Xing. Standard task resolution is a 1d20 + Attribute + Skill roll vs a Difficulty Value set by the GM. Skill Difficulties range from Simple (10) to Legendary (40). Most of the time the standard difficulty will probably set to Moderate (20). A character is successful if the roll is greater than or equal to the Difficulty Value assigned.

Interestingly, I don’t see any rules here on applying Penalties to the roll in question outside of specific instances. I suppose, the GM has to account for everything when setting the Difficulty of a task, something that suits me fine, if anything it reduces the math involved per roll.

The rest of the system is fairly comprehensive, taking into account extended rolls, contested rolls, critical successes and failures and penalties for trying again after failure. The benefits of teamwork, harmonious skills and the use of appropriate tools are all given a thorough treatment.

Wushu

Wushu is the term that Wu Xing uses to describe the Chi Manipulation magic that ninjas use. These are separated into Yin and Yang types. Yang wushu are the sort that can create, heal or fortify. Yin wushu is can destroy, wither and erode. Neither is inherently “Good” or “Evil.”

Activating a Wushu is a simple affair, as the player merely spends a number of Chi points equal to the wushu level of the appropriate type (Yin or Yang) and makes a Wushu Activation roll of Chi Value + Skill Level against a Difficulty set by the level of the Wushu. Level 1 Wushu require succeeding in a Simple (10) Difficulty, with the Difficulty number scaling up by 5 points per level of wushu, to a maximum of Tough (30) for a Level 5 Wushu. This consumes 1 Action for the Round.

Seems simple enough. But as I’m slowly learning, Wu Xing has a surprising amount of little options that build onto its base systems.

Wushu Activation can be further modified by sacrificing health by Bloodletting. They gain a +1 bonus to their wushu activation check for every 1(L) that they deal to themselves.
Other modifiers include Clan Affinity and Elemental Affinity. These are the nice little details that show off just how much thought was put into the Wushu system of Wu Xing, and I have to admit that from a mechanics standpoint, I feel that this is where the Author’s game design takes center stage.

Combat

The first thing discussed in Wu Xing’s combat section is none other than the Speed stat. Every action and reaction taken in a fight has a Speed rating. Much like in Exalted 2nd Edition’s Ticks, this allows for a little bit of tactical maneuvering with regards to the timing of actions taken. It adds a layer of tactical thought while providing some measure of simulation for the fast-paced multiple actions in a span of mere seconds standard of Anime fantasy. That said, as with systems like these, it also comes with its own tracking sheet.

Another element introduced is Stamina. Stamina here acts as a player resource, similar to Willpower in World of Darkness games. Stamina is cashed in for a variety of effects from a combat bonus to gaining emergency Chi when your character really needs it.

Initiative is determined by rolling 1d20 + Initiative Bonuses at the start of every round, with the highest rolling character acting on Count 1, and all other characters acting at +1 Count for every 4 points that they roll lower than the winner.

Taking action involves picking a combat maneuver and rolling. Again, Wu Xing gives a lot of options as to how exactly you do so. There are 6 basic checks: Strike, Throw, Parry, Dodge, Roll and Grappling.  Each of these checks are spun off into specific maneuvers, each of which has a Speed cost, penalties to the base roll, and an effect on the damage performed.  For example, “Strong Strike”  is a Speed 6, -3 Strike, +6 Damage Action. Reactions are also formatted the same way. A Dodge Reaction is a Speed 3, -4 Penalty against Strike.

This makes for an interesting game where Action and Reaction play off against each other, both sides looking for where the other is most vulnerable. I’ve always been a fan of improvisation in combat, but seeing everything laid out like this also has it’s advantages. The author did a good job in taking the most iconic actions in the genre and process it in a fashion that is accessible to all kinds of players.

Wu Xing’s combat system is perhaps where it shines best. For all the reservations I’ve had for the strangely lightweight approach to the setting, the combat system is as meaty as it gets. Add the Wushu and the Techniques to this and the complexity scales up even further. It’s not for everyone, but the fledgeling amateur designer in me salutes Eloy Lasanta’s effort and work in putting something with so many moving parts together in a fashion that works as intended.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the Antagonists chapter, and see just what kind of threats Ninjas from Wu Xing have to face.

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 2 – Character Creation

Now that we’ve had a chance to explore the setting elements and the ninja clans of Wu Xing, let’s try putting together a character for the game.

For a character concept, I feel like creating a ninja from the Will of Iron Clan. The idea of clandestine enforcers that strike from the shadows in the name of justice is pretty good.

Now I have to select a Passion. Passions are character motivations or loyalties, things that they consider valuable or important. As such characters who act in accordance to the demands of their Passions gain additional experience points. Furthermore, the character also gains a +2 bonus to any check that aids in the character’s effort to achieve their Passion in some way. Likewise they suffer a -2, if they attempt to deny or refuse their Passions.

For my currently unnamed ninja, I’ll be taking the Code of Honor passion. It seems to make a lot of sense for someone from the Will of Iron Clan to adhere more strictly to a code of honor. For ease of use, I’ll assume that his code of honor is similar to that of Bushido, the Japanese warrior code.

With that, I move on to selecting the Element of my ninja. All characters are born of one of five different Elemental Souls in Wu Xing, which influences their personality as well as bestowing various mechanical benefits like starting Chi, a minor combat advantage, and drawbacks associated with having too much or too little Chi.

I’m not going for too much originality here, so I’m choosing Metal as my primarly element. Characters with the Metal Element are brave, disciplined and have an overwhelmingly strong sense of justice. Sounds apt.

That said, my Starting Chi is: Yin 2, Yang 1

I also gain a +1 Damage bonus to my ninja’s attacks for each successful attack that his enemies land on him in a Round. This bonus is reduced to 0 at the beginning of the next Round.

A Metal Imbalance (meaning too much Metal) results in the character becoming cruel and destructive too often acting on impulse rather than careful deliberation. My ninja must make a Moderate (20) Insanity check or lose all mercy.

Metal Depletion (lack of Metal) results in the ninja becoming quiet, shy and paranoid. The character overthinks even the simplest situation leaving them with analysis paralysis. My ninja must make a Moderate (20) Fear check or lose the ability to speak out and respond quickly (-4 Initiative)

Now that we’ve noted those all down, it’s time to move on to Attributes. Wu Xing has six Attributes: Power, Agility, Vigor, Intellect, Insight and Charm. These attributes are rated from 1-10 with 4-5 being the average. I get to distribute 30 Attribute points among them, with levels 1-8 costing one Attribute point, and 9 and 10 costing two Attribute Points per level.

This is what I came up with:

6 Power
4 Agility
6 Vigor
4 Intellect
6 Insight
4 Charm

Derived Attributes:

Base Damage: 1
Combat Modifier: 0
Extra Actions: 0
Bonus Skill Points: +4

Nothing too drastic, I’m afraid. I tend to gravitate towards more balanced builds, opting for flexibility as opposed to specialization.

Now for skills. Each character begins with 30 Skill points (plus bonus skill points equal to their Intellect Score) leaving me with 34 points to spend on my ninja. In addition, every Izou ninja begins with the following Skills:

Discipline 1
Legerdemain 1
Stealth 1
Survival 1
Primary Fighting Style 1 (In this case I’ll go for Tiger Style)

Skills are rated from 1 to 15, and skill levels 1 to 10 cost one skill point, and levels 11 to 15 cost two skill points per level.

I find it strange that rather than splitting off the basic mechanics earlier on in perhaps a separate chapter, the author chose to place it just after Skill. I can guess at why it was placed here, but for the sake of ease of use, I feel that having a basic mechanics chapter before the Character Generation rules might be a better option.

That said, a standard Check in Wu Xing is a 1d20+Attribute+Skill roll. Unskilled checks don’t suffer a further penalty, but you’re only limited to a 1d20+Attribute roll. Rolling a Natural 20 or a Natural 1 results in a Critical Success and Critical Failure respectively. There are also Skill specialties upon hitting levels 5, 10 and 15 in a skill, which grant a +2 bonus on applicable rolls.

So, back to skills. I’ll be spending my Ninja’s 34 Skill points on the following:

Athletics 3 (+1 Strike +1 Throw +1 Grapple)
Discipline 5 (Specialty: Concentration)
Empathy 3
Fortitude 3 (+1 Roll, +3 Health)
Intimidation 3
Legerdemain 1
Perception 3
Stealth 3
Survival 3
Travel 2
Tiger Style (Primary) 5
Wildcat Style (Secondary) 3


The next step is Wushu selection. Wushu in wu Xing is the term for mystical attacks and effects used by the ninja by harnessing their Chi (as opposed to the full-contact sport martial art). In character creation, each player selects 5 levels of Wushu in any combination from their Favored Wushu.

Looking at my Clan, I get to pick from Way of Heaven’s Judgment, Way of Metal and Way of the Warrior.

After taking a look at the Wushu descriptions, I figure that Sense the Guilty (lvl 1) and Hunt the Guilty (level 1) are both appropriate. for the remaining three points, I decide to grab the Cage Wushu from the Way of metal.

As you may have noticed, my ninja also has points in two Fighting Styles, with Tiger Style as primary and Wildcat Style as secondary. Fighting styles bestow bonuses that modify any checks made during combat, and each level’s bonuses stack with the ones prior to it.

Characters also begin play with 2 Actions per Round.

Fighting styles are more than just static bonuses however, upon reaching levels 5, 10 and 15, the character may also select a Technique. As my ninja has 5 levels in Tiger Style, this means that he gets to pick 1 technique for that style.

For the sake of this character, I figure I’d pick up the Damaging Block Technique. Also, I’ll take note of the stacked bonuses for my styles:

Tiger Style: +1 Action, +2 Damage +2 Health, +4 Strike, +4 Throw, +4 Roll, +3 Grapple, +2 Dodge, +1 Parry
Wildcat Style: +3 Strike, +3 initiative, +3 Dodge, +2 Roll, +2 Throw, +1 Parry

At this point I feel that having a table with the bonus types as columns, and skill levels as rows could have been more helpful. As currently presented, it’s easy to lose track or make a mistake in adding all of the tiny bonuses for each skill level.

Finally we get to the Gifts and Drawbacks. Characters start play with 10 Bonus Points which can be spent on Gifts on a 1-to-1 basis. Drawbacks on the other hand, give back Bonus Points. No more than 10 BP can be gained by taking Drawbacks.

I’ve decided to take the following:
Connections 3 (Magistrates)
Good Reputation 3 (Citywide)

I spend my last 4 points on pumping my attributes by two points for a total of:

6 Power
5 Agility
6 Vigor
4 Intellect
6 Insight
5 Charm

Derived Attributes:

Base Damage: 1
Combat Modifier: 1
Extra Actions: 0
Bonus Skill Points: +4

For Drawbacks I’ve decided to go for 3 points of Phobia (Drowning), to buy 3 more points of Rank: Magistrates

The last steps for my ninja is to calculate his sub-attributes.

Health is (Pow+Vig)x2)+10 or 34
Stamina Points are at 6

Combat bonuses are derived from multiple sources, but are mainly drawn from the Fighting Styles, though other Attributes like Power, Agility and Vigor are  all good for additional bonuses.

Initiative for my ninja is Agility+IQ, for a result of 9

Movement stats are also pre-calculated.

Character creation in Wu Xing isn’t particularly complicated as it is rather involved. I was surprised at the decision to slip the basic task resolution inside the section on Skills, but I do feel that it was supposed to help in introducing the concepts slowly as the reader progressed. It took me a bit of time to work my way through the Fighting Styles, and I had completely missed out on the Wushu selection portion until after I was done with the Drawbacks.

I think that with enough practice, generating characters will be much easier, but just looking at the character sheet alone, I’m getting the impression that the combat system will be a major chunk of the game. The way that Wushu and Fighting Styles interact should be very interesting. Though a little part of me is fearful that it might end up having a thousand different subsystems again and end up being like Exalted.

Still, I’m enthusiastic about this endeavor, Wu Xing lives up to the impression of being a game with a unique take on things. Tomorrow we’ll review the basic task resolution, and combat rules. I’m hesitant to do a sample combat until I’ve gotten a chance to really study the system in earnest.

[Let’s Study Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade] Part 1 – The History and Ninja of the Izou Empire

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.

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