Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tommy's Take on Wu Xing: Land of Seed and Blossom

Anyone who has read this blog a long time knows that I dig Wu Xing by Third Eye Games quite a bit. This is especially impressive, since I don't really go for the whole martial arts/anime type stuff. Wu Xing has had two big hits, though, the corebook and The Firebrands, but now it's time to see how its first regional sourcebook - Lands of Seed and Blossom - fares.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Land of Seed and Blossom is the first regional sourcebook for Wu Xing and clocks in at $9.99 in PDF format for 109 pages, while the print version sets you back $19.99. The cover is another great piece of work, showing a pair of ninja in battle (or sparring). I own the softcover and the PDF, but this review is primarily working off of the PDF version (referencing is just faster that way).

The book opens with some flavor fiction, in which a member of the Phantom Voices meets with a member of the Grasping Shadows in hopes of gaining support for the Land of Seed and Blossom to overthrow Imperial Rule. It does not end incredibly well, due to the Empire stumbling upon the meeting, but does a good job of illustrating the politics at play.

Next, we get a history and overview of the Land of Seed and Blossom, showing how the seven clans from this land spawned from the Seven Catastrophes (which included plague, pestilence and even a mini-zombie apocalypse), hinting that the Uprising may be the Eighth Catastrophe, which would presumably spawn a new clan. Given Third Eye Games' notoriously hands off policy on metaplot, I'm not sure how that would work. This chapter also notes important facts (ninja from this land are longer lived), and disturbing truths (the Imperial occupation is starting to have its effect on the people, warping their mindset).

Seven clans are detailed as well. The Bamboo Alchemists are the clan that the Bamboo Herbalists from the corebook split off from, and they are incredibly long lived. The Crystal Bearers are believed to be the first ninja clan, and are pushing for The Land of Seed and Blossom to throw off the shackles of oppression. The Grim Creepers fended off a blight of bugs and are now host to insects...and barely human. The Phantom Voices attempt to calm the Restless Dead. The Sisterhood of the Blood are the most peaceful of the seven clans. The Splendid Chameleons are shapeshifters and guardians of the wild. Finally, Yakubyo's Pox are murdering warmongers in skull faced paint.

Coincidentally (or not) the Land of Seed and Blossom is divided into seven provinces, each largely ruled by one of the Clans. It is said that the first Immortal set foot in the Horoki Province - not surprisingly, The Crystal Bearers hold sway here. The Sisterhood of Blood rule the Kokuso Chitai Province, where they work to hold a peaceful balance between The Crystal Bearers and Yakubyo's Pox. Yuuki, capital of the Land of Seed and Blossom, sits in the heart of the Hanei Province, where Yakubyo's Pox can ensure its safety. The Shinde Shizukana Province houses The Phantom Voices, whose villages resemble graveyards as much as anything. The Bamboo Alchemists lay hidden in the Midori Province. The Toguchi Privince, home of the Grim Creepers, appears wild and overran. The Mejireta Tsuri Province, where the Splendid Chameleons dwell, is also a wild territory, but with lusher, greener grass, clearer water and so on. The Land of Seed and Blossom also holds the Untamed Wilds...which hides its secrets at its heart.

The cool mechanical stuff comes next. For instance, instead of the Elemental natures, each ninja has a Birthstone that affects their temperment depending on the amount of chi they have: Diamond, Emerald, Onyx, Opal and Ruby. A new Passion is also added in Martyr. The sole new Gift is related to the Caste system in this kingdom, from Gatherer to Family Bearer to Hunter to Adventurer to Advisor to Chief. A pair of Drawbacks are present, one in which your ninja has contracted a blood disease and the other in which they never received a birthstone.

We get new Fighting Styles. Frog (which has a few leaping tricks), Rhino (think charging and thick skin), Sloth (think before you act) and Spider (which likes to focus on multiple attacks).

We also get new Wushu: The Way of Denied Repose can fend of the point of raising the dead - including the user - at the higher ends of the spectrum! Way of the Hive Body is as creepy as it sounds, starting with using bugs as messengers, developing into using them as eyes, and even transforming into a swarm. Way of Molded Bodies allows you to use your bones as weapons, stretch and make servants of your flesh, switch genders and even perfectly clone yourself! The Way of Shards seems pretty basic...until the ninja uncaps the limits of their power and taps into a strength akin to the Immortals. The way of Unending Blight is used to unleash disease on all around.

Bats, boars and frogs are added as Celestial animals.

Though the Blossom Ninjas are hostile towards the Lotus Coalition Ninja, the adventure in the back of the book is designed specifically to bridge that gap. It's a short adventure, designed soley to connect the two sets of ninjas and can be used as a mixed group (as it seems to be intended) or for Lotus Ninjas (entering the Land of Seed and Blossom for the first time) or Blossom Ninjas (escorting Lotus Ninjas into the Land of Seed and Blossom).

The book does include an index, as well as a hint at the next Wu Xing Book: Truth and Lies (focusing on the Strands of Fate and the Will of Iron).

WHAT WORKS: Crazy cool new powers, which is kind of the Wu Xing specialty, and a group of unique clans, who have a whole game mechanic that somewhat sets them apart from the Lotus ninjas (the Birthstones). The writing has great flow, as the Province descriptions move seamlessly from one clan to the next. The book is full of plot seeds that can be picked up on and developed. I nearly complained about how the new clans were kind of useless with the old clans, due to hostilities, but that was resolved nicely with the adventure.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I'm a sucker for a good bestiary, and Wu Xing doesn't have one. Oni are still vaguely defined, and one art piece has ninja fighting off carnivorous plants, which are kind of outside the purview of the setting thus far. Shouldn't be too hard to swipe monsters from Part-Time Gods or API, but what if folks don't HAVE those games?

CONCLUSION: I still love Wu Xing for all its crazy, over the top stuff like turning into bug swarms and transforming your bones into weapons. A very worthy collection of material for Wu Xing and a very promising start to the regional sourcebook series. In fact, I would say the adventure is the most *useful* adventure included in a Third Eye Games book because of how simply and effectively it ties the Lands of Seed and Blossom to the Lotus Coalition. Strong recommendation for Wu Xing fans.