Opening with a short but atmospheric piece of fiction that tells of a young girl who survives a bandit raid on her village but flees straight into a dragon's lair, this is a game set in a semi-historical China, mysterious and exotic. If you enjoy shows like Monkey and The Water Margin you will feel right at home here (and if you fancy the game but don't know these shows, try to track them down!). There is a brief outline of the concept and an even briefer one of 'what is role-playing?', and that's the Introduction.
Next comes The History of Heaven and Earth. This is written in a gentle lyrical style, true in nature to the way such myths are told in ancient Chinese literature. These are the stories that children might grow up with, learning of the formation of the world and everything that is in it. Everyone should read this, it will help players get into the right frame of mind as well as providing background that would be familiar to their characters. Sweeping through dynasties, explaining religious belief and more, this sets the scene and the tone.
Mood set, next come a selection of pre-generated characters. Use them as exemplars or leap in and play them if you want to try the game out before getting to grips with character creation. A swordsman, a soldier, an exorcist, a taoist, a renegade, a spy, and a highwayman await your pleasure, each with a backstory, full stats and an illustration.
This is followed by Characters, which explains how to create your own from the ground up. Even if you want to use the pre-gens, read though this to get an idea of how they work from a game-mechanical standpoint. Starting with a concept - a brief pen-picture of what you have in mind - you distribute 14 points between the Aspects (Metal, Water, Fire, Wood and Earth), select a Gift and a Weakness and purchase Skills with a further 15 points. Then you have yet another 15 points to assign to Combat Techniques, Taos and Magic. Then you can make up his background, what got him to where he is. Bear in mind that your character is intended to be a hero from the outset, with luck he should become a veritable legend.
There are plenty of notes to explain what all these terms mean and guidelines to aid you in picking the right ones to suit the concept that you have in mind. It's all quite straightforward and easy to understand, but couched in the style of mystic China, making it easy to slip into character. Once he is ready for play the next chapter, The Rules, puts all this detail into context showing how to use your character's abilities to effect. However, there's a note recommended that in some ways the rules should be a last resort, to be turned to only when it is not clear what the outcome of an action might be. They make use of the Ying-Yang Die, which is actually two D10s of different colours rolled together, subtracting the lower result from the higher to get your result, which needs to exceed a 'success threshold' based on the difficulty of whatever you are trying to do. You add Aspects and Skills to your roll as well. That's pretty much it, but there is further explanation and examples to set you up for play.
Next come chapters on The Taos, Martial Arts and Magic. These give the game its unique flavour, particularly the Taos. The Taos are the decrees of Heaven that govern the operation of the universe, and particularly the world of men. Some exceptional people - like your characters of course - are able to bend the Taos to their will. It seems a bit complex and daunting at first glance, but persevere - it's well worth it! You may think of them as feats which verge on the supernatural - leaps that appear to defy gravity, for example. Martial Arts deal with all manner of combat. It is the norm for people to tend to specialise in a single weapon, but to strive to become exceptionally good with it.
We then move on to understand the world in which the game is set, with The Warring States describing recent history, governance, justice, geography and the like; then Life in the Warring States discussing what it is actually like to be there - family life, morality, social conventions, clothing, food and so on. We then learn of Jiang Hu: The World of Martial Arts, a semi-mystical world on the margins of society where people can get a second chance and where martial arts reiqn supreme. Other chapters look at The Hundred Schools of Thought (prevalent philosophies), Religions and Superstitions, and finally Living in the Warring States, which covers weapons and equipment, and other costs. This concludes the 'player' section of the book.
We then enter Game Master territory. It's always a bit puzzling when everything is packed into one volume - are players expected to buy a book and not read half of it? How many people only play a game and never GM it anyway? Every group I've been in, there was generally almost a fight over the GM's chair. Anyway, here we find The Bestiary - a fine collection of monsters from fact and fable with which to beset your party, The Powers Behind The Throne (which deals with Gods and dragons...), notes on handling experience and renown and on setting the scene for your players. Plenty of useful information and advice here. Finally there is an introductory scenario, Towards a World of Forests and Lakes, This serves as an introduction to your campaign, with the characters coming of age and beginning their adult careers... and of course nothing quite goes to plan, with ghosts from the past and portents of a troubled future threatening to disrupt their chosen lives almost before they have begun. Pains are taken throughout to show how the rules work to effect, thus providing an introduction to game play as well.
Altogether this is a fascinating embodiment of legendary China, a place that never was but could well have been... and remember, do not despise the serpent for having no horns, for who is to say that he will not grow into a dragon!
Return to Qin: The Warring States Core Rulebook page.
Reviewed: 18 April 2016