2014 looks like it’ll be a Fate-tastic year; on the heels of the Fate Core Kickstarter was a veritable army of other Fate-based Kickstarters. This week alone saw the release of finalized .pdf copies for Tianxia and Jadepunk going out to their backers. And they both look pretty freaking awesome.
I’ll do a more in-depth review after I receive the physical books (and Jadepunk’s play mat) in the next month or so, so this is more of a quick first impressions thing after skimming the .pdfs over the past few days.
Tianxia – Blood, Silk, and Jade
Tianxia‘s final .pdf released first, and it’s drop-dead gorgeous: impressive design and a lot of color. The idea behind it was to add wuxia/martial arts rules to Fate Core, but has its own setting to boot, heavily influenced by traditional Chinese folklore. The rules stick primarily to Fate Core but have several additions, modifications, and addenda, namely the stunt-like system to handle kung-fu and martial arts forms. My favorite, of course, is its use of my friend the Fractal to handle mysteries, kung-fu challenges, even plagues. Quite a lot of good stuff on display; it’s very effective as a martial arts toolbox and has a nice setting to boot.
It’s got a good balance of style and substance, and doesn’t skimp on either; the rules are meaty, and from a quick read-through the setting looks solid. The sample characters alone make me want to run it; big damn heroes, so big that their skill pyramids start with a peak skill of +5. And surprising to me, one of the best sections is the stereotypical example of play. I’ve found most games don’t handle those too well, and either aren’t explanatory enough for the newbie or don’t add anything for the experienced gamer. The one in Tianxia is one of the best examples of Fate play that I’ve seen, bar none, and I foresee printing it off just to show new players what you can do with the game.
Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City
Jadepunk is going for an interesting blend of Asian-inspired wuxia in a steampunk setting, plus allusions to Western gunslingers (both their sixguns and code of ethos). While Tianxia is all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jadepunk looks more at the crime/thriller side of Hong-Kong cinema, with antiheroes rebelling against corrupt authorities in the shadows of a seedy metropolis. It’s design isn’t as eye-poppingly colorful, but it emanates its setting’s sepia-tone decay; there’s some great design touches, like the way bolded text is handled, or how the sidebars are written on parchment or in bloodstains. It’s incredibly evocative. Plus, jadetech revolvers.
And where Tianxia is more of a toolkit-plus-setting for Core, Jadepunk—much like the Fate Worlds books—tweaks the Core rules; while it’s still Fate Core, Jadepunk is a streamlined derivation. Skills are broken down into six professions (Aristocrat, Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, Scholar, Scoundrel) much like FAE Approaches. Assets are the other main addition, covering everything from gear to minions to martial arts maneuvers, which mostly replace stunts and Extras. (Assets can also have Flaws, or negative Aspects, much like in Bulldogs! or stock Core.) The rest of the Fate system—fudge dice, Core’s four actions, Aspects, etc.—it’s all still there. Jadepunk succinctly goes over those details as well, so it’s all but a standalone game.
The Bottom Line
The Jadepunk .pdf clocks in at 119 pages (one intentionally left blank); Tianxia’s .pdf weighs in at 190, including the covers and two-page Scroll of Names (the list of Kickstarter backers; look ma I’m on TV!). Both are also due to have supplemental materials coming in the future, in specific as stretch goals. Jadepunk’s three big ones are a world guide and sourcebooks for Jadetech and martial arts/mass combat; I’m very interested in all three. Tianxia’s include a Lifepath generator (yay!), and three .pdf/print-on-demand supplements, all of which add more detail to the Tianxia setting… plus mechanics like a kung-fun magic system, monsters, mass-combat rules, and more “regional” character options.
I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two books, since each excels at the style of wuxia it wants to be. They’re going in two different directions, but damn I want to mash them up and run some epic wuxia adventure. Or run each of them and run two simultaneous epic wuxia adventures.