Review: Third Eye Games – Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade

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Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade
Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is complete Asian epic fantasy, martial arts system (powered by the Dynamic Gaming System) published by Third Eye Games and written by Eloy Lasanta.
By Aaron T. Huss

Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade claims itself to be a “Action RPG of Martial Arts, Mysticism and Rebellion” and truly sticks to that description. The setting is influence, quite obviously even, by traditional Asian themes such as Taoism (Yin and Yang) and ch’i (qi). However, the setting itself is unique (although influenced by Asian legends and folklore) and contained within its own world filled with ninja and a seemingly large empire. Traditional fantasy themes are replaced by those of martial arts philosophies and cinematic fiction. The setting, and much of the mechanics, is also influenced by martial arts Anime creating a seemingly over-the-top effect filled with kick-butt ninja action!

Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is powered by the Dynamic Gaming System. A basic roll-over d20 system where bonuses are added from a characters attributes and skills and then compared against a fairly standard target number (doesn’t float around as much as THE d20 System). The system utilizes only a single d20 with in-game mechanics based upon bonuses and penalties instead of using different dice for each roll. After learning how the mechanics work (as noted later on), it almost seems as if the system was built around the non-stop, martial arts action prevalent throughout the setting. Game-play should be very dynamic, interactive and filled with ninja action!

NINJA VS. THE EMPIRE

Ninja vs. The Empire is an introduction to the Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade setting and a complete look at the surrounding events and clans. This include the history leading up to the current ninja war – The Ninja Crusade. From here you get a brief introduction to the different clans and what it means to be a ninja – which is the most important part. Not only what it means to be a ninja, but what it takes to survive as a ninja. The background then goes into the Izou Empire, the “superpower of the world”.

From here the content moves into a description of the physical setting with a look at the ten provinces and the five kingdoms along with maps for both. This is a fantastic introduction to the setting and creates some flavor to add to a characters background.

CLANS

Clans is just that, a full description and explanation of the 10 clans and the ronin “class”. Each clan is detailed with a very short story, history, lifestyle and agendas. This is followed by all the clan mechanics which apply during character creation. While this is important information, it’s oddly placed before the Character Building chapter. This chapter would be much better placed between the Character Building and Wushu chapters. Regardless of that, the description is quite complete and each clan is unique. Being a ninja only system, you have to make characters stand apart from each other somehow. This is done by flavoring each clan in a different way such as stealth, arts, dance, survival and several others. This also establishes the way in which future clans can be created throughout the many lands that have not been detailed or even introduced. The possibilities are virtually endless and this is basically similar to creating different classes, races or sub-races.

CHARACTER BUILDING

The guts of character creation, but in a very flavorful way. Third Eye Games has taken some of the ninja-styled concepts and incorporated them directly into character creation. This starts with the character setup. First is concept, quite standard. Second is passion, could also be called beliefs. These passions have actual in-game mechanics and establish some of the mannerisms of your character. This includes Code of Honor, Faith, Greed, Power, Truth, and many more. When a character sticks to their passion, they get bonus XP. Third is an incorporation of the elements (think of the Five Rings). Characters are associated with one of the elements thus granting certain bonuses and penalties (tied to chi). Each elemental association also carries different balances with yin and yang which can change further character creation decisions.

Now that the flavor has been created, character creation moves on to determining chi, attributes and skills. Chi is figured with yin and yang and includes balance and amount available. These mechanics were a bit confusing to me, but they are seemingly simple enough during game-play. Attributes are fairly standard and created by distributing attribute points during creation. Determining skills is done very similar to attributes except there are (of course) more to choose from. The skills list is a good length, not too long and not too short.

This is the point where you actually choose a clan. Choosing a clan moves creation to choosing a fighting style. Each clan is associated with a couple different fighting styles which is thus chosen during this point of character creation. Each fighting style includes a grouping of combat techniques with all applicable mechanics. Each fighting style also includes bonuses which increase as the characters advance in level. Characters are further fleshed out with gifts and drawbacks to give them unique characteristics. This helps to set one ninja apart from another. These steps produce the player character and the only thing left is to choose wushu and equipment. A full example of this character creation is also included.

WUSHU

Wushu is ninja magic or rather supernatural abilities, influenced by yin and yang. Wushu really brings out the Anime-styling in the system. Each wushu is properly described with all in-game mechanics and their linked skill. One thing about the wushu mechanic I really like is that activation is linked to a skill from the character creation list instead of creating new mechanics to govern them. There is quite a variety and each one is grouped and correspond to different clans (as favored wushu).

EQUIPMENT AND COMBAT

This chapter says what it means. It details all the available equipment including basic items, weapons and armor. Although unarmed combat is a fairly strong in-game combat method. Continuing on you learn all about combat.

Combat in Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is quite different than most role-playing games. I’m going to use the term integrated turn sequence (which creates very interactive combat). Each round of combat is divided into 20 counts. Every action (combat, wushu, etc…) and reaction has a speed which corresponds to a number of counts required to perform. While there is a basic initiative, characters only perform one action and cannot finish again until the action/reaction completes. During the time the action is being performed, the opponent declares their action and the two basically occur at the same time. If character 1 performed an action that took a long time (such as speed 8) and the opponent performed a short action, then character 2 may have the chance to commit their next action before character 1. This means all characters involved are acting sequentially depending on how long their actions/reactions take to perform. This is in complete opposition to systems where character 1 performs all their actions and then character 2 performs all theirs and so on and so forth. Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade has all characters exchanging actions throughout the round.

While this system may seem complicated for other settings, it makes a lot of sense for high-action, martial arts. When you think of two ninjas fighting, it’s extremely dynamic, interactive and cinematic. It is a constant exchange of blows where one gauges the response of the opponent to determine what to do next while simultaneously reacting to the opponents attack. Standard role-playing systems don’t represent this type of combat, but then most don’t need to. If you want to have a high-powered, action RPG, then standard just doesn’t fit the flavor. Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade definitely does.

ANTAGONISTS

This is the standard bestiary. There’s not much here though in the way of creatures. Although I doubt your PCs will come into combat with very many creatures, it just doesn’t fit the flavor. So to coincide with the setting, antagonists primarily focuses upon townsfolk, guards, ninjas and summoned celestial animals (not natural creatures). Again, this fits in well with the setting.

STORYTELLING

Storytelling describes the systems influences and the gaming experience it is designed to create. This includes a look at a handful of different themes and multiple adventure seeds for each. This is also the section that includes game mastering information, tips and techniques.

OVERALL

One of the strongest points of Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is how the mechanics can replicate high-action, cinematic combat (common to many ninja-themed movies and Anime). If you’re ever looking to replicate this type of gaming experience, then this is the game for you. The setting is very focused upon the atmosphere it’s trying to create (that of the latest war referred to as The Ninja Crusade) and characters are bound to find themselves wholly absorbed into that setting. As stated before, the game is very dynamic and very interactive.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 8 out of 10
The chapter-by-chapter layout and presentation is very smooth and well done. Along with lots of great looking illustrations, the publication quality is high. However, the overall layout of what order the content appears could be improved upon. I found myself skipping ahead to Character Building to make sense of the Clans section (where the in-game mechanics for choosing a clan are found). While seemingly minor, I found myself not fully understanding the first two chapters due to a lack of knowledge concerning how to create a character. Once you get past this hurdle, everything flows well and the content is very easy to read. This content is also done in a very concise manner which meant I rarely found myself misunderstanding what was being presented. Much of this is easily overlooked when you see the illustrations and how awesome some of them are. While they have a bit of an Anime feel, they are definitely fit perfectly with the settings theme.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I love how the mechanics fit in so well with the martial arts, action theme. When you think of a cinematic fight between two ninjas, it’s a constant exchange of blows – actions and reactions. The choices you make effect the length of time your action and reaction requires. The seemingly more difficult the move is, the more time it should take. And as opposed to simply taking turns, a single round is interactive in which all characters are performing moves instead of simply waiting until your opponent resolves all their actions. Another big plus is how the mechanics are tailored to fit the theme of the setting (such as wushu replacing magic). Character creation is fairly straight forward but the number of character bonuses and penalties can be a bit daunting. There are a lot of bonuses/penalties to calculate outside of a simple bonus-to-hit or bonus-to-damage. There are bonuses/penalties for the different combat moves and opposed checks and it becomes a bit much. You don’t want players to worry about too many mechanics during game-play. However, this fairly minor and the system still works wonderfully with the setting’s theme.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
For a game focused on high-action martial arts, there’s no need to look any further than Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. Many of the Asian themes and influence come through quite nicely and the interactive turn sequence means that combat should never be dull. Many of the stereotypes surrounding ninjas and their high-velocity combat is felt within the mechanics (especially the fighting styles in chi). This is a definite, solid action system that keeps all players involved in every step of that action.

Overall: 9 out of 10
With solid mechanics, an interactive system that reproduces cinematic action and a fully fleshed out setting, Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is an excellent choice for fun-filled action adventures. Those who enjoy Anime and ninja-clad movies should get plenty of enjoyment out of this game. Those who enjoy high-action, cinematic combat will also get lots of enjoyment out of this game. There’s even opportunities for long-term campaigns pinning the PCs in a struggling rebellion against a repressive empire.

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