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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 70 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Feng Shui  (Read 1333 times)
Jake Norwood
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« on: May 23, 2003, 12:52:55 AM »

So we got to play Robin Law's Feng Shui last night. I've been interested in the game for a while because of the fanbase it's got, but haven't had a chance to play. A slot opened up last night and that's what we played.

We had only two other players. I ran. The players were a married couple. The husband played an old tibetan master, his wife played a scrappy japanese kid.

The first real observation I have about the game was how easy it was to run. Maybe we were just "on" last night, but the entire genre just seems to beg for some cliches. We started out in the old man's chinatown noodle shop. Add an attempted yakuza hit on a maverick cop that leaves the shop in smoke with a young nephew in the hospital...it was just too easy.

Mechanics: I figured that I wouldn't like the yin-yang die mechanic, as it seemed "pointless." as it turns out it makes die-rolling fun, though there's no real purpose in probibilities that I can see. Good news? Die rolling should be fun, and the dice do this. It's also not as cumbersome as I would have guessed.

I'm also re-discovering my love for "more" mechanics, as I've been very "rules-light" lately. I missed having too many stats for both characters and weapons. Fun stuff, but it does raise the learning time for the game, which I don't like (but I can't have it both ways now can I?).

Balance: Ah, my old adversary. Characters are--get this--a little underpowered for my liking (but only a little). While unnamed characters really do fall left-and-right, named characters are nearly invincible. I guess it comes down to understanding how to run the game. I feel that some of the punches were pulled in design to prevent munchkin-fu. A shame, really.

Fun stuff: This is the first game other than Sorcerer to so neatly incorporate direction of "stunts" and action moves into the rules without handing the game completely over to the players a-la InSpectres. The result was very satisfying, as it creates some of the cooky and dynamic combats that Sorcerer is capable of, but without the demons and deep thought. I was generally suprised by the flexibility and easy of running the game.

Problems: I don't know a way around this; my own designs often incorporate this issue, but the target numbers for certain stunts seem *too* arbitrary. We noted, for example, that making a fine bowl of noodles was as difficult as hanging onto the side of a flying plane. Other very important issues for the genre, like disarming, aren't included in the ruleset. This wouldn't be a problem except that other areas of the ruleset are more explicit, leaving things unbalanced in the minds of the readers/players. It leads to "what can I do?" mindsets, which are a hindrance to role-playing the way I like to. So it's a conundrum.

Overall: I had a dang good time. I want to play again, so the game is successful on that level. Like most harback games I'll probably need to tweak the ruleset to get it exactly as I like it, but that can be part of the fun, too.
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2003, 04:54:38 AM »

Hey Jake,

Characters are--get this--a little underpowered for my liking (but only a little). While unnamed characters really do fall left-and-right, named characters are nearly invincible.

Can you clarify...the unnamed/named distinction applies to player characters, or NPCs, or both? Is it the player characters or the NPCs that are too underpowered for your taste?

Paul
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2003, 06:16:07 AM »

When I played Feng Shui back when the first edition first came out, I found out the same thing about the PC power levels. I made a character that was a Jackie Chan knockoff Acrobatic Cop. I plowed through mooks with no problem and got thoroughly trounced and killed by the first named adversary we came across. We played three sessions, and in each session a PC was outclassed and killed by an adversary. Highly anticlimactic.

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jake. Your description has even given me a small itch to pull out Extreme Vengeance ... now THERE'S an action movie RPG!
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2003, 07:01:43 AM »

Hi Jake,

Glad you had a great time, Feng Shui, to this date, has still been my best gaming experience.  My group ran a 2 year campaign of it, although it was pretty highly drifted, both in mechanics and setting.  We dropped the "shots" for initiative, and damage for named NPCs became very fudgy and "Well, that sounds good!" in terms of when they go down.

The dice mechanics are incredibly fun, especially when you use the exploding criticals/fumbles to make PCs do "too well" or "really terribly".  The best part was being able to pull out an over the top gun scene at least once a session and the players didn't have to cower in fear, but were able to run in and start shooting in the most blatant-kick-over-the-table and run up on ya style fashion.

Chris
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2003, 08:48:51 AM »

I felt that the players were underpowered in exactly the way that Michael described. What it reminded me of was the first matric movie--how the Morpheus and Trinity could just destroy humans in the matrix, but how they also said "never fight an Agent." In Feng Shui unnamed characters are the humans, and named characters with any skill are the agents. I think the problem can be pretty easily solved by simply being aware that this is the case, but I'd like a middle ground. Although, now that I think of it, Feng Shui would be great for a matrix game...

Chris-
What did you all do instead of shots? The idea is good in threory, but I found it tended to break down in "fast and furious use."

And I can see why people love the game. It, like TROS, is a bit Forge-y, but with more traditional RPG trappings.

Jake
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Piers
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« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2003, 10:49:32 AM »

Here's the thing with Feng Shui:

Skill is all that matters.  Okay, that's not quite true, but all other things being equal, if your opponent has a Combat Skill one point higher than yours, you'll need to be lucky to beat him, and if it is two points higher, you can pretty much kiss any chance of winning goodbye unless you outspend on fortune points big-time.

As a result, the Old Master (Skill 15) is easily the best beginning character, and the Big Bruiser (Skill 12), despite his massive Body, is practically useless--which is very frustrating.

I won't go through the actual statistics, but, if your opponent is better than you and consistently takes defensive actions, you don't have a chance of hitting him.  Now this is somewhat modified by the fact that if you gang up on an opponent he can't really dodge against everyone, but the effect is still only a battle of attrition, in which you are hoping to get one really good hit in against him.

The corrollary of all this is the comparative worth of different sorts of Powers in the game.  What you really want are abilties which increase your Action Value, reduce Defense, or give you extra shots/reduce the shot cost of attacks.  Powers which improve Damage are comparatively useless because you probably won't hit.

This means: Fu is good, Transformed Animals are okay.  Guns and Monster powers are only so-so.  Archanotech, expecially because it gives you impairment penalties, is almost completely useless--never, ever, lower your skill.  And Magic is a toss-up--when your skill goes up you are a world-beater; when it goes down, get used to frustration.

Feng Shui is a slick little system, and especially with fights between Fu characters with lots of schticks, the shot system can make it entertainingly dynamic and reasonably tactical.  But, you really have to watch the comparative skill levels very closely, or some people won't be having fun in the fights, except against the mooks (and high skill mooks are yet another wierd system problem).

Piers
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2003, 01:21:18 PM »

Quote from: Paul Czege

Can you clarify...the unnamed/named distinction applies to player characters, or NPCs, or both? Is it the player characters or the NPCs that are too underpowered for your taste?

Mooks are un-named NPCs, the villains are Named NPCs. Jake is saying that the PCs are underpowered compared to the Named PCs, which means that he needs to lower their skill by a couple of points or somthing.

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2003, 06:39:00 PM »

Hi Jake,

Yeah, the shots seem like a great way to "balance" powers and such, but ultimately we threw'em out and went back to the classic 1 action, 1 turn, per player mode.  I'm sure this screws up some of the stats and powers, and probably renders some things useless, but its been a few years and I can't remember the exact details...  All I know is that once I tossed those out, we had no problems and I had a fun, simple system that allowed me to introduce something like 5 non-gamers to roleplaying with little "transition" troubles.

I think I ran the introductory adventure without the drift, and encountered the same problems you mentioned, Jake.  All I know is that combat with named characters took way too long.  I think I ended up dropping the amounts of hits they could take, and gauging stats off  of the players.

Chris
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Bryant
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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2003, 07:40:16 PM »

My approach for creating a middle ground between mooks and named NPCs:

Split the offense and defense ratings for mooks. Thus, you could have a group of elite mook soldiers with 13 Guns (offense) and 9 Guns (defense). They go down on a 14 or more from the PCs, but they add their attack roll to 13 to determine if they hit. This way you get mooks who are actually dangerous but who go down quick if you focus on them.
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DP
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« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2003, 08:55:08 PM »

I realized the same thing as Piers: that an AV of 2 or more than another character's really unbalances the odds.

I figured it out; Piers figured it out; no doubt hundreds of others did. What disappoints me is that Robin Laws didn't seem to figure it out. This wouldn't be such a sin if it hadn't been a problem in the otherwise-excellent Nexus, an earlier game to which he at least contributed.

My design pet peeve is people's inability to learn from their mistakes. GURPS evolved straight out of Man to Man, which kept the same design (and attendant flaws) as The Fantasy Trip.

Having said that, Feng Shui is so sweet, so pure, so fun, that it's entertained "borderline" gamers who otherwise had turned away from the hobby.
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Dave Panchyk
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2003, 08:59:48 PM »

Quote from: Dave Panchyk
I figured it out; Piers figured it out; no doubt hundreds of others did. What disappoints me is that Robin Laws didn't seem to figure it out. This wouldn't be such a sin if it hadn't been a problem in the otherwise-excellent Nexus, an earlier game to which he at least contributed.


It's entirely possible that he did figure it out and that's the way it was supposed to be.  In a hong kong action movie the big bruiser would never ever be able to hit the old master.  There are always those figures in the movies that are unbeatable unless you are extremely lucky (Fortune) or manage to outsmart.
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- Cruciel
Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2003, 03:05:52 AM »

Which is why I personally long to see RPGs include design notes (real notes not ramblings on "what I like") the way wargames used to.

If it was a concious choice, highlighting that and explaining the reason behind it is exactly what design notes are for.
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Piers
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« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2003, 09:31:22 AM »

Quote from: Dave Panchyk
I figured it out; Piers figured it out; no doubt hundreds of others did. What disappoints me is that Robin Laws didn't seem to figure it out. This wouldn't be such a sin if it hadn't been a problem in the otherwise-excellent Nexus, an earlier game to which he at least contributed.


Actually, the design choices of Feng Shui do suggest that he was aware of at least some of the issues.  Nexus was designed by Jose Garcia, and as I understand things, Robin had much the same relationship to it as he had to Over the Edge--that is to say, he wrote large chunks of the background, but didn't do much in the way of system design.

Nexus used the same positive-negative dice system that Feng Shui uses, but had a basic Attribute+Skill system (both on a 1-6 scale).  The result was that players could combat max their characters very easily (6+6=12) and have an overwhelming advantage against even moderately compentent characters in combat (say 4+4=8 for a 4 point difference).  As a result, it was very difficult to create combats which were a challenge for everyone without leaving someone out.  Low skill characters couldn't even throw in a couple of points of damage.

In Feng Shui, the old system is retained in part--the system is superficially stat+skill, but experience is based on the cost of raising the  Action Value of the skill, rather than just the skill component.  Moreover, the template character creation system makes combat skills completely invariant confining them to a range of 3-4 points across the group.  

The resulting mixed system has all sorts of wierd effects (for instance, if you don't have skill points in an ability, you might as well give up on the idea of using it against anyone competent--eg. the base Perception of almost every character (5-10) vs. the Ninja's stealth of 15), but it does show a consciousness of the issue, even if it doesn't go far enough to address it.

Quote from: cruciel
It's entirely possible that he did figure it out and that's the way it was supposed to be.  In a hong kong action movie the big bruiser would never ever be able to hit the old master.  There are always those figures in the movies that are unbeatable unless you are extremely lucky (Fortune) or manage to outsmart.


You're absolutely right about both points, but I find it disappointing that, for instance, the Bruiser's massive strength really doesn't matter at all agaisnt mooks, who are the only characters he can regularly hit.

Quote from: Valamir
If it was a concious choice, highlighting that and explaining the reason behind it is exactly what design notes are for.


I absolutely agree, though, it is occaisionally interesting to try to pick these things out of the carcass of games.  But it would be nice to just discuss the issues up front.

Piers
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