Bag of Tricks: Blowing up The World, Feng Shui-style

What happen when you mix a noodle-making old kung fu master, (quite literaly) cat burglar siblings, a street-savvy Hong Kong tech head, a 19th century Wiccan sorcerer, hordes of mooks, idiotic plots and Evil Lunatics?

Well, our average game of Feng Shui, of course!

Feng Shui is a table-top role-playing game, published by Atlas Games. It’s based on action movies, especially HK-style action movies. Not only the cops-vs-triads kind, but also the Eastern sword & sorcery, wuxia type, and even wilder stuff. All rolled into one.

In order to enjoy a game of Feng Shui, you have to get into the right mind set. First, forget about law of physics, if you ever knew about them in the first place. Such trivialities obviously don’t apply in action movies.

Second, don’t sweat too much over a coherent plot; what you need here is fight scenes and some kind of thread to drive characters from point A to point B. Believability is a bonus, not a requisite. Cool fight locations are much more important.

Third, prepare a neat baddy. All-time favourites include eunuch sorcerers from Imperial China (ca. first century AD), Demon-Princes on a power trip (for both of these, ancient artefact-type McGuffins work wonders to drive a plot), kung-fu wielding Triad boss or gun-toting paramilitary officers (or Men in Black, whatever…).

Fourth, set a action movie marathon. Watch a couple of HK-style flicks (one Jackie Chan, for comedy value, one John Woo for the intense gunfights), a couple US-style movies (great one-liners, cool explosions) and throw in a zest of high-action animes, just for the heck of it.

Grab your players and you’re set!

One of the great strength of Feng Shui, is how well its game mechanics and universe manage to stick to the genre. The background allows characters to hail from four different “time junctions” (first century Imperial China, 1850, contemporary, and an Orwellian future), and also to travel to them. Great for cross-time and cross-cultural humour, also great for finding exotic places to blow up.

The mechanics are a bit complicated; the time-tracking system for fights look daunting at first, but works quite well, once you’re used to it. Character creation is based on Archetypes, with a wide selection of “schticks” (special skills) to choose from.

All is not roses, though. The biggest flaw I see is that there is a lot of unbalanced archetypes. Combat skills are most important in Feng Shui (since half of the game will be fights, anyway), but the system is designed so that even one point of difference is a lot. And when you end up with two characters having as much as four points of difference between their best fighting skill, that’s a problem!

One other thing I disliked in the game, is its serious undertones. Often it is advised to play the game with all the dramatics of HK action movies, with sad endings and all. Sorry, but this won’t work here…

My players are, at their best, a bunch of loonies. They want to have fun. Blowing things up is fun. Fighting a golem noodle, Michael Jackson-style zombies, a French sorcerer-chef and the infamous Professor Von Aargh is fun. Melodramatics are not.

If you are into role-plying games and are looking for a replacement for Toon, Feng Shui might be your thing. That’s how we use it.

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