RPG Review – Jadepunk

There’s a backlog of great RPG products I’ve meant to comment on for some time now; going by order in which I received them, first comes Jadepunk. Kickstarted by Fate fans, it was developed by Ryan M. Danks, Jacob Possin, and Atomic Robo RPG author Mike Olson (who overhauled the Assets system as I recall). The game combines martial-arts wuxia action with steampunk elements, a strong “fight the evil corporations” cyberpunk vibe, and an old west gunfighter ethos. Good times.


 What is it?

Jadepunk is a full, stand-alone game using the Fate Core system, tweaked to the point where it makes more than a passing resemblance to Fate Accelerated (FAE). It comes in a slim but beautifully-illustrated softcover, with great design and production values. It’s done in sepia-tone shades that bring out the steampunk/old west feel (see linked images). The sidebars are cool things like bloodstains and sheets of paper. Aspects stand out thanks to bolding and inverted text color, which is a fantastic touch.

And at 139 pages, it’s the smallest full-and-complete Fate Core game that I know of. I got a copy via the Kickstarter (Engineer pledge).

What Makes It Awesome?

There’s a lot, so let’s start with the setting. Jadepunk is set in Kausao City, just a sliver of a fascinating world Danks has created. The “wuxia steampulp old west” description is very accurate and is pretty tangible in the intro. Kausao City is a hub of trade in various colors of jade, which powers futuristic (retro-futuristic?) Jadetech devices… and just about every nation on the planet wants Jadetech, so they’ve staked their claims on Kausao.

The city itself is divided between various nations/factions, and it’s a kind of melting pot working together for mutual benefit—which isn’t necessarily in the inhabitants’ best interest, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The criminals are rising up against the governors, but are only in it for themselves as well. That’s where you come in: the heroes of the tale, who stand up for justice and righteousness to aid the downtrodden and oppressed. The setting is broad, sweeping strokes, evoking plenty of ideas to draw from without getting too specific.

Beyond that, it presents the core of Fate Core in an accessible way to new players, and includes a lot of neat Fate design concepts. I didn’t expect a lengthy sidebar about making the scene an adversary using the Fractal, which was a neat and well-implemented idea. For adversaries, it recommends “take only what you need to survive,” advising a few basic Aspects (Portrayal, Need, and Secret) unless the character is important to the story. That’s great design right there, getting to the meat of the situation without bogged down (either as a new GM, or a vet running on the fly).

Jadepunk tweaks the rules in a few awesome new directions. It uses a FAE-style single stress track and FAE-style skills, though they’re six Professions instead of Approaches. There’s some new (well, modified) rules for dueling. But the biggest change was the Asset system, combining Extras and Stunts, which has gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz on the forums and the Fate G+ page.

Every character has several Assets, falling into one of three categories: Allies, Devices, Techniques. Allies and Devices should be self-explanatory; Techniques are martial arts maneuvers and other cool wuxia stuff.  With those three categories, all sorts of cool things become Assets. Want a Red Jade Revolver? Make it an Asset. Want to be better at repairing Jadetech, or be able to smash the ground and damage everyone around you? Technique Assets. Want your own airship? Build it as a Device, then build the ship’s crew as Allies.

Assets are created using a slick new system where you build/buy elements, picking between some keywords, the six Professions/Skills, and coming up with an Aspect to describe the Asset’s function. It’s a bit more involved than Stunt creation, but that may just be that I haven’t memorized the Asset keywords yet; it’s very streamlined and is a strong candidate for use in whatever game I run next.

Bonus! Kickstarter Rewards

One of the Kickstarter reward tiers (Tinkerer) and several higher tiers came with a “getting started” Fate kit, as follows:

  • Four Fate dice (4dF); they’re black on off-white, which is a good contrast. (The closest color in terms of dice I own are the ones I got with The One Ring, though the Jadepunk dice are a bit more yellowed/tan.)
  • Twenty colored glass beads, five per color (blue, red, white, green, black, the five colors of jade), to use as Fate point counters.
  • And, most important, the Jadepunk play mat. This thing is huge, 18″ x 24″, and is double-sided dry erase. One side has a map of Kausao City and spots to record campaign/scene Aspects,  places to write-up major NPCs, etc. The other side is more generic: a large area for sketching zone maps (or anything, really), the Fate ladder and the four actions/four outcomes, and space to write various Aspects and Boosts. It is huge, and epic, and awesome.

Would I run this?

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of martial arts kinda stuff—this isn’t to say I dislike it, I’m just not as familiar with wuxia movies or tropes, and it’s not usually a genre I seek out (compared to pulp or science fiction). That said, I really dig Jadepunk, both as a setting and in the mechanics and ideas it brings to the table, and I really want to play it. Kausao City just drips with flavor, and I’m very tempted to use the Assets system from this day forward regardless of whatever Fate setting I’m in. Same with the Jadepunk play-mat; I’ll be hard-pressed not to use that for every Fate game from now on.

Jadepunk is the most streamlined and complete full Fate game you can find at under 140 pages. Sure, it’s almost FAE without being as small as FAE, but there’s a ton of added components (mechanics from Core, not to mention Assets and the setting and other cool stuff) that make it a standout. Really, I’m just impressed that they included everything but the dice… which was something the Kickstarter took care of.  I’d like to have seen a few more Assets and some more details about the world, but those details are coming in the additional supplements. (Plus, I think the broad strokes is very handy for a first volume, setting the stage and inspiring ideas without fussing over details. And the new material coming out looks awesome.)

I don’t think there’s enough of a reason not to buy Jadepunk; I’d rate it as one of the best Fate Core-era products released thus far, up there with Mindjammer 2.0 and Fate Freeport. The Kickstarter was handled very professionally, with frequent updates and without any delays. I’m eagerly awaiting the supplemental material, and with Green Jade already in the wild…

Jadepunk the book sells for $24.99 print + .pdf, or $14.99 for just the .pdf copy. (If purchased at the Reroll store, 30% of your profits goes to charity.)
The super-amazing Jadepunk play-mat is $10 for print + .pdf or $3.99 in .pdf.  (Trust me, it’s very good. You’ll want one.)

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