Friday, June 11, 2010

Qin: The Warring States

I recently finished reading the Qin rulebook (well, most of it, I skipped the included adventure, and skimmed some of the ability lists, but I read the rules and background sections), and as I've been doing for most books I've been reading lately, I wrote up a review for Goodreads. While doing so, I realized that it would also make a good blog post, so I've expanded it a bit, and reposted it here.

Whether or not you choose to use the mechanics of the game, the book is a good sourcebook for gaming in the Warring States period of China's history. There's around a hundred pages just on the history, politics and life of the period. I've read a number of games set in the history of either China or Japan, and this is the first to really give me a sense of how to run a game in the setting (admittedly somewhat enhanced by having watched Hero and other movies set in the period).

The mechanics of the game look interesting, but reviews by those who have actually used them indicate there may be some weaknesses. Namely, criticals seem to give too much power to the "mooks" in the setting, taking away from the ability of powerful martial artists to deal with hordes of mooks like they do in the movies and legends of the period. Also, characters not overly specialized in combat turn out to be relative weaklings due to the way the number of actions allowed to each character during each combat round is calculated. Rather than canceling each other out, these two factors together seem to make some character concepts less viable than others while at the same time undermining a core theme of the setting.

For now I'm taking those reviewers' word for this. I can see by reading the rules that this might be a problem, but I haven't actually played the game to see for myself.

My main concern with the book is the mythical back story that the authors have created for the metaplot that they intend to run throughout the game as it is developed in further products. I'm not against metaplot, but the one they have constructed seems to miss one of the main points of the Warring States period.

As far as I can tell, this backstory is largely a creation of the game's authors, and not based on an existing legend. I could be wrong, as I'm no expert on the period, but some time spent googling the issue didn't turn anything up.

Their secret back story turns Qin into the "good guys". The Qin were not "good guys". They won, and the fact that they won probably led to a better existence for most Chinese of the time, but they won through ruthless tactics and were led by a man that some consider to have been insane. This contradiction is one of the unique factors to playing a game in the period, and by making Qin the "good guys" you miss out on this and eliminate some very interesting roleplaying opportunities and choices.

Fortunately, you can ignore the back story whether you use the system or not, and the book is still well worth checking out if you have an interest in the period.

Worth noting is that this is a translation of the original French game. So far only the core rules, the Game Master's Screen with a small supplement, and a bestiary of fantastic creatures have been translated into English, but there are over a half dozen other products already produced in French.

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