The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘feng shui’

Tagline: With Atlas acquiring the rights to Feng Shui let’s take a look at one of the old-school supplements.

Feng Shui: Marked for Death - Daedalus EntertainmentAs this review is being written I have just received news that Atlas Games has acquired the rights to the core Feng Shui rulebook, virtually guaranteeing a re-release of one of the best RPGs ever created. I thought I’d review a couple of old sourcebooks for the game (this one and also Back for Seconds) as a form of mild celebration. Although Atlas hasn’t negotiated the rights to these supplements, I figured what the hell. You should be able to find some of these in a used box somewhere.

Marked for Death is a collection of five adventures for the Feng Shui game – one written by each of the authors. It’s a pretty impressive credit list, with some of the really great creators in this industry taking part – demonstrating that the pure action-packed fun of this game attracted the best of the best. The results don’t disappoint, although it’s always been difficult to get really excited about a set of disjointed adventures. In a lot of ways I feel like I’ve picked up a themed issue of Dungeon magazine instead of a supplement.

As always this review is prefaced by the notice that these are a set of modules. The plots will be discussed as part of the reviews and players should avoid reading this review if they feel that their GM might end up using any of these in the course of their game.

In any case these adventures are really quite excellent. They are also well-balanced, taking advantage of almost all the available facets of the Feng Shui mythos to one degree or another and ranging in complexity from basic introductory to exceptionally complicated.

The first adventured, “Brinks”, written by Bruce Baugh, gets the PCs involved in a bank robbery which is really just a cover for the seizure of a highly potent feng shui site. Very basic, very simple, very good.

In “Blood for the Master”, by Greg Stolze, the PCs are drawn into one of the great staples of HK action flicks – a gang trying to terrorize a neighborhood into submission. The twist? The gang is terrorizing the neighborhood because a demonic temple is about to materialize. The PCs’ mission? Kick demon butt.

“Pai Lai”, by Chris Pramas, takes the PCs into Feng Shui’s future where they are asked to help free a site from Buro control. Unfortunately they get screwed over (welcome to Feng Shui) and a Jammer tries to doublecross them and destroy the site. Oh, did I mention the ancient demon lord that gets freed? Well, there’s this ancient demon lord….

John Tynes really shows off in “The Shape of Guilt”, weaving a complicated political tale in the Netherworld. Tynes describes it as “Hamlet meets The Heroic Trio” – and that’s not the half of it. I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to spoil the fun; plus trying to untangle this twisted web is practically impossible without overwhelming this review. You’ll like it. Trust me.

Finally Allen Varney takes on the challenge presented by “The Shape of Guilt” and succeeds in crafting an even better story with “Shaolin Heartbreak”. This expertly crafted adventure may be a little bit difficult to work into a campaign, but if you take the time and effort to do so you won’t be disappointed. The basic summary: A monk from 1850 travels into the present to save the warrior woman he loves (naturally against the taboos of his religion) from an evil magician. Natually (this is a Hong Kong action flick after all) this warrior woman is a dead ringer for a celebrity that the PCs have become involved with. Fun and mayhem result.

This book is a fun read even if you don’t get the chance to play through the adventures. It’s relatively cheap and I don’t think you can go wrong by taking a look at it.

Style: 4
Substance: 3

Writers: Bruce A. Baugh, Chris Pramas, Greg Stolze, John Tynes, and Allen Varney
Publisher: Daedalus Entertainment, Inc.
Price: $12.95
Page Count: 78
ISBN: 1-888335-01-7

Originally Posted: 1999/04/13

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

Tagline: This is the book which accompanies quite a few games – the odds and ends which got excised from the primary rulebook, padded out with a handful of NPCs.

Feng Shui: Back for Seconds - Daedalus EntertainmentIn the few short years since its creation and demise at the hands of poor business acumen Feng Shui has established itself as one of the classics of the industry. Unfortunately it was marred by a mixed bag of supplements – some were very good, but others were drawn from the bottom of barrel. Back for Seconds is, in my opinion, the worst of the lot.

To understand the atrocity which this product is you have to understand from whence it was conceived: First, when Robin D. Laws finished the core rulebook some of the material he produced had to be excised due to space considerations – the in-depth description of Operation Killdeer and also several of the character creation Types. Second, the setting for Feng Shui was loosely based on the elements found in the collectible card game Shadowfist — included in the Shadowfist game were several cards detailing specific characters and some cards detailing feng shui sites.

Welcome to Back for Seconds, a bastard child of supplement creation. With a foundational structure of the dozen pages or so of Laws material which didn’t make the final cut of the rulebook, Jose Garcia (the “executive producer” of the Feng Shui line of products) hired a hodgepodge of creators to write out the characters and locations from the Shadowfist cardgame. John Tynes (the product’s “developer”) describes the result best in his introduction as “Central Casting” – but I can’t say I’m impressed with the results.

(None of this, by the way, should be taken as a condemnation of the creative personnel involved in this project.—with names like Bruce Baugh, Greg Stolze, and John Tynes working on it there’s no way you could sanely say this was true. But the product was conceived as a hodgepodge and the result is precisely that: A hodgepodge of questionable usefulness.)

Insofar as it is a hodgepodge, Back for the Seconds is probably the best product of this variety I have yet encountered. The NPCs are generally engaging and interesting (even if they are largely based on one sentence “catch-phrases” from the Shadowfist cards). The types which were cut from the main rulebook provide valuable options to the character creation system. The locations are interesting, if of limited versatility. But the overall product can’t overcome the basic flaw of its conceptual base. It simply fails, in my opinion, to be a valuable sourcebook. About the only thing which would make this worth your money would be the Robin D. Laws material (which is why this receives a 3 and not a 2 rating in substance), otherwise you’d be just as well off spending your money on renting a few Hong Kong action flicks and ripping them off. You’d have more fun.

Style: 3
Substance: 3

Writers: Bruce Baugh, Dave van Domelen, David Eber, Jose Garcia, Steven Kenson, Bob Kruger, Robin D. Laws, Andy Lucas, John Tynes, Greg Stolze
Publisher: Daedalus Entertainment, Inc.
Price: $14.00
Page Count: 78
ISBN: 1-888335-02-5

Originally Posted: 1999/04/13

Feng Shui was one of two games that got me back into roleplaying games. In the mid-’90s I had drifted away from roleplaying games: I had lost my regular groups, other interests were beginning to consume my time, and I had also lost easy access to the online communities that had seen me through previous dry spells. But in the summer of ’97, I was living in Mankato, MN with my dad.

About midway through the summer, I read a blurb in the Comic Buyer’s Guide talking about TSR, Inc. being essentially bankrupt… Wait. What?!  (I guess that explains why I haven’t seen an issue of Dragon Magazine in months.) In an effort to figure out what was going on, I ended up figuring out how I could access some of my old haunts on Usenet and Fidonet. The result was that I got plugged back into gaming news.

I don’t remember now whether it was Feng Shui or Heavy Gear that intrigued me enough that I looked up a local hobby store and biked across town to check it out. This little hobby store only had 3 shelves of incredibly unorganized RPG material, but by some miracle they had these games: One I had come looking for; the other captivated me. I ended up buying both and spent most of the rest of the summer biking back for more.

(And it was an incredibly exhausting bike trip: Mankato is built around and over a cliff facing a river. My dad’s apartment building was located, almost improbably, halfway up this cliff: So no matter where I went, I was either biking up the cliff to get there or up the cliff to get home.)

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

In a comment on my very old review of Fading Suns, Potato asked me to provide a rundown of how I put together my system cheat sheets for RPGs: “It sounds like a good way to get a grasp of the rules when learning/trying out a new system.”

He’s absolutely right about that. And the cheat sheets themselves, of course, also make great references at the table for both you and the players.


My goal is to make the system cheat sheet comprehensive. That means including all the rules. Often I see cheat sheets that just cover the basic stuff that’s used all the time. But that’s actually the stuff I’m least likely to need cheat sheets for because it’s quickly memorized through repetition.

Heavy Gear - Second EditionObviously, this requires that I both cut down the amount of space the rules take up and the amount of time it takes to read and understand those rules. The quickest way to accomplish this, in my experience, is through the use of concise bullet points.

For example, here’s a chunk of rules text from the second edition of Heavy Gear:

The Silhouette system uses everyday six-sided dice to add a random element to the game. These are sometimes referred to as “1d6” in the rules, “2d6” for two dice, 3d6 for three, and so on. The same die rolling convention is used for both the roleplaying and wargaming aspects of the rules, so this is not repeated in the respective rule sections.

When two or more dice are rolled simultaneously, their results are not added together. Instead, the highest result is considered to be the outcome of the die roll. If more than one “6” is rolled, each extra “6” adds one (1) to the total. If every die rolled turns up “1”, the die roll is a Fumble and counts as an overall result of zero and no modifiers may change this value. Unless specifically mentioned otherwise, all die rolls work this way.

The totals of die rolls are often influenced by modifiers. Modifiers are added to the total of a die roll. If negative modifiers lower the total below zero, the final result is always zero and cannot go any lower. Modifiers are not applied to Fumbles.

A Fumble is a mistake or mishap that cause the failure of the action attempted. It is not necessarily caused by an error or the incompetence of the character, and may well be the result of environmental factors. No matter what caused the Fumble, however, the total die roll is always zero.

In the tactical game, Fumbles produce clear results. This is hardly the case in the roleplaying rules due to the mind-boggling number of possible actions and outcomes. The effects of each separate roleplaying Fumble must thus be described by the Gamemaster. In general, the harder the task attempted, the greater the effect of the Fumble.

This is then followed by an equally lengthy section listing various examples. Using bullet points, all of this is simplified on my cheat sheet down to the major points:

  • Roll Xd6: Result = highest die +/- modifiers. (Cannot be < 0.)
    • Additional Sixes: Each additional 6 = +1 to total.
    • Fumble: If all dice = 1, result = 0 (no modifiers).

Short and sweet. Using the same technique, I’m able to squeeze the next three pages of rules into a quarter page of my cheat sheet.


The exception to my “include everything” methodology are what I used to refer to as the “character option chunks” in the system: Feats. Disadvantages. Spells. Powers. Weapons. That sort of thing. Any small packets of specialized mechanics that are only invoked if the character has selected that packet.

These days I think of it as invoking the “power card principle”. It’s not that having a quick reference for these rule chunks isn’t useful. It’s just that it’s more useful for those chunks to be included on individual character sheets, character-specific cheat sheets, or reference cards.

To boil that down: If everybody (or nearly everybody) uses a rule, it goes on the system cheat sheet. If not, put it on the character’s sheet or in the NPC’s stat block.


Well-written rulebooks include a lot of clarification and advice. This is good: It helps you to both learn and implement the rules effectively.

Technoir - Jeremy KellerBut when you’re prepping your cheat sheets, you want to jettison all of that. For example, here’s a chunk of text from Technoir:

Adjectives are open to interpretation. They are part of a language we use in the game to collaboratively tell stories. Adjectives have  a couple of designations to help us agree on how they affect our characters.

Adjectives can be applied to a character directly — representing her physical or psychological state — or to an object belonging to a character — representing its physical condition or the state of its electronics and software.

Adjectives can be positive or negative. These determine how the adjective affects the dice you roll. This process is explained in the “Rolling Dice” section starting on page 92.

A positive adjective can help the character who has it. They allow you to add Push dice to your roll. They are written in the positive column of adjectives on the protagonist sheet or stat block.

A negative adjective usually hinders the character who has it. They force you to add Hurt dice to you roll. They are written in the negative column of adjectives on the protagonist sheet or stat block. Sometimes they may only apply to a part of the body — like a broken arm or a shattered kneecap. In these cases, write the body part in parenthesis next to the adjective. Sometimes they apply to an object the character has. In these cases, draw a line from the adjective to the object.

This is all good stuff. But on my cheat sheet, it boils down to:

  • Hurt Dice = negative adjectives
  • Push Dice = can be discharged for each adjective, object, or tag

Where to draw the line of inclusion/exclusion can occasionally get a little blurry. For example, in my Heavy Gear cheat sheets I didn’t include the table of Typical Thresholds (3 = Easy, 6 = Difficult, etc.) because I felt like it was a useful guideline that I didn’t necessarily need to reference during play. You might feel differently.


The last thing I do when putting together a system cheat sheet is to avail myself of the opportunity to reorganize the rules.

The truth is most RPG manuals suck when it comes to organization. Related rules will end up smeared across a half dozen different chapters, forcing you to flip madly back and forth while trying to adjudicate situations at the game table. This sucks, so take this opportunity to group material together in a way that makes sense when running the game. (And, as much as possible, try to keep all the relevant rules on a single page or two so that you can look at the totality of them simultaneously.)

Unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast rules for this sort of thing. It’s more an art than a science, and it’s mostly a matter of common sense.


After playing a session or two, revisit your cheat sheet: Was there stuff you missed? Stuff that could be phrased better? Stuff that should be cut? Stuff that should be moved around?

Do it. Print a new copy. Repeat until you’ve refined your cheat sheet into a lean, mean running machine.


As a couple of examples, click through for the RTF cheat sheets I put together for the first edition of Fading Suns (more than a decade ago) and Technoir (a couple weeks ago). For the latter, however, you might want to also grab the official (free) Player’s Guide, which I discovered actually does a really fantastic job of cheat sheeting the system.



Recent Posts

Recent Comments