Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Tommy's Take on The Ninja Crusade 2nd Edition

Longtime readers of the blog know I've been a pretty big fan of Third Eye Games' Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. A while back, they released a second edition - now just called The Ninja Crusade - and I thought I'd take a peek inside.



DISCLAIMERS: This product was acquired via a DriveThruRPG comp code. I have freelanced for Third Eye Games in the past, primarily for the AMP game line. I was working on a new clan for The Ninja Crusade, but shelved the project for personal reasons. I also contributed to the Savage Worlds version of Apocalypse Prevention Inc. (in an unpaid capacity, helping with conversions). That said, I've had to professional relationship with Third Eye Games in years. This review contains affiliate codes for DriveThruRPG, which may provide me with store credit equal to a percentage of the purchases made.

FACTS:

SYSTEM OVERHAUL
  • Third Eye Games completely overhauled the system for 2nd Edition, moving to the Chakra System, which is a d10 dice pool system versus a target number set by the GM. 
  • Pools are constructed by combining two different skills and rolling that many d10s. 7-9 are 1 success each, 10s are 2 successes. Rolling any 1s without a success is a critical failure. 
  • Difficulties rank from 0 to 5, and scoring 3 or more successes above the difficulty gives you a Boost (which is a extra effect for the skill).
  • For what it's worth, the game recommends having 10-20 d10s on hand.
  • If you have no applicable skills, you can still roll a single d10, succeeding on a 10 or critically failing on a 1.
  • If a player sticks to the same combo, they start getting a cumulative penalty, to encourage swapping around skills being used.
  • The group has a combined Karma pool of dice, which is added to by things like Triggers and Critical Failures, and which any member of the group can draw from, as long as no one else objects.

WE ARE NINJA
  • The history of the setting is such that the ancestors of the Ninja clans betrayed the Orime Dynasty, which had turned its back on the common people. The Ninjas assassinated most of the power brokers of the Dynasty, destabilizing it, and freeing the land of tyranny.
  • As the various Ninja Clans formed and exhibited their jutsu training (kewl powerz), they were set against each other in the Mercenary War. This led to the smaller ninja clans getting choked off and destroyed by the larger clans.
  • The War of the Withering Fang upended the balance of the ninja clans,  when The Slithering Gods swooped in on them as they grew fat and complacent, and ripe for the picking. Two of the clans reached out to heads of state and had them raise armies, which had fallen out of favor in the Mercenary War, and the Slithering Gods were defeated and sent into exile.
  • The Izou Empire sought to control The Five Kingdoms, which set it against the ninja clans. Many of the clans sought to join the Empire instead, to avoid extinction at the hands of the Empire.
  • This actually turned into a solid time for the ninja clans...until the emperor's heir got caught in the middle of a fight between clans. Jutsu was outlawed...and when a clan lashed out and murdered the emperor's consort, it led to the Fifth War: The Ninja Crusade (which the book is named after, see).
  • In two shorts years, the ninja clans defeated the Empire and assassinated the Emperor...or so they thought...but the emperor emerged a year later and renewed war on the land, sending the Ninja Crusade into full force.
  • The clans have now aligned into The Lotus Coalition, and even share a village named after the Ronin who was believed to have assassinated The Emperor.
THE CLANS
  • The same 13 clans present in Wu Xing are still present here.
  • Each clan has favored fighting styles and Jutsu, skill bonuses, clan gifts and triggers.
  • A list of NPC allies and rivals are listed for each clan as well, to help tie your character into the setting.
  • A set of preset Bonds are listed to tie you to your fellow PCs.
  • The Bamboo Herbalists are healers herbalists and have a longer lifespan than the rest of the ninjas, unless they meet a violent end.
  • The Blazing Dancers are performers who are generally looked down upon and disrespected as vapid entertainment.
  • The Grasping Shadows are classic assassins who most of the Lotus Coalition tolerate mostly for how useful they are for shedding blood against The Empire.
  • The Hidden Strands of Fate are backstabbers and manipulators who betrayed the ninja clans to the Izou Empire, then went back to the Coalition after The Empire tired of them.
  • The Living Chronicle seek primarily to record the history of the clans...but now also seek to restore the order of the clans as well.
  • The Pack of the Black Moon have canine companions that they fight seamlessly with.
  • The Recoiling Serpents are tricky poisoners, looking to position themselves for the post-war world.
  • The Virtuous Body Gardeners are covered in tattoos and piercings, and rebellious.
  • The Wardens of Equilibrium are strategists and businessmen...but kept at arm's length from the other clans due to their unpredictable nature.
  • The Will of Iron serve as law enforcers and have an unyielding moral code.
  • The Ronin aren't actually a clan...but the ninja who serve the Lotus Coalition but have no clan.
CHARACTER GENERATION
  • Character creation is handled in steps.
  • In "Ocean", they pick an element (Earth, Fire, Metal, Water or Wood) and a Temperament. An Earth character may be a Collector, a Fire character Hotheaded, a Metal character Honorable, a Water character Calm or a Wood character may be a Perfectionist.
  • Each element provides skill bonuses,and each temperament provides both a Gift and a Trigger, such as a Loquacious character getting a bonus to Perform, but gaining Karma when they say too much.
  • "Village" is how the character was shaped in their background. They select a Profession and a Focus, in a manner similar to above. The Profession affects Skills and the Focus provides Gifts and Triggers.
  • Artisans can be Artists, Dedicants may be Monks, Entertainers may be Actors, Farmers may be Herders, Healers may be Gekai (surgeons), Nobles may be Elders, Outsiders may be Drifters, Scholars may be Scribes and Warriors may be Sellswords (for instance).
  • In "River", you select a Tragedy and an Affliction. As above, the former impacts skills and the latter adds Gifts and Triggers. Combinations include Civil Discord - Conscripted, Ravaged Body - Scarred, Tormented Mind - Hair Trigger, Unending Stigma - Former Bandit, or Victim of Circumstance - Orphaned. This also impacts the character's Ki Balance (Yin vs Yang).
  • In "Forge", everyone is impacted by war, selecting a Wartime Role (Skills) and Title (Gifts/Triggers). Combinations include Commander - Officer, Communications - Spy, Foot Soldier - Bowman, Medic - Bonesetter, Mercenary - Rebel, Pacifist - Objector, Scout - Pathfinder, Striker - Assassin, Supplier - Dealer or Villager - Shepherd.
  • "The Mountain" is where you pick the clan you most identify with, based on the choices you've made to this point.
  • In "Temple", you take everything to this point, spend 10 points on skills, and pick specialties. Then you pick your Fighting Styles.
FIGHT!
  • There's lots of Fighting Styles to choose from, each of which have three tiered paths.
  • Bear Style...fights kinda like a bear. There's even a callout to the classic "Mama Bear" archetype.
  • Crane Style is described as "poetry in motion" (but no actual Crane kick).
  • Dragon Style likes to avoid direct contact, spinning and twirling to lash out.
  • Eagle Style likes to strike fast and get out of harm's way.
  • Horse Style likes open space and freedom to move, and can unleash powerful kicks.
  • Mantis Style is vicious style with lots of clawing and tearing.
  • Monkey Style is disarming in its humorous approach.
  • Snake Style is very fluid and aims for vital parts. 
  • Tiger Style is vicious and lethal, no time for defense or playing around.
  • Wildcat Style involves more leaping, pouncing and quick strikes.
  • Blunt Weapon Style is brutal and clubbing (naturally).
  • Chain Weapon Style is utilized by practitioners of whips and nunchaku.
  • Paired Weapon Style is for the people who wanna look really cool and fight with a weapon in each hand.
  • Ranged Weapon Style is for those who want to want to strike from a distance.
  • Sharp Weapon Style is for singled bladed practitioners, and even has a path that allows them to deflect missile weapons.
  • THEN there's the 99 Styles: a series of disciplines that are noncombat in nature.
  • Alchemy allows for making potions that can knock you out, sharpen your senses, heal and more.
  • Master of Spies is what you need if you wanna be an assassin and get in position to do that killing.
  • Portents is for diviners.
  • Summoning allows one to summon allies...even teleporting to the Celestial Realm of their bonded animal.
  • Trap Master is for, well, making traps.
Kewl Powerz
  • There's a LOT of Jutsu, and each "Way" is divided into three different tiers of complexity, each of which has multiple manifestations.
  • The Way of Earth allows you to control the earth. At the Basic level, this might mean summoning stones around your fists. At the Median level, you might be able to create pillars of stone to use when fighting. At the Advanced level, you can learn to summon earthquakes!
  • The Way of Fire involves controlling flames (naturally). Some of the more interesting, and less likely uses? Cauterizing wounds, or even restoring items that have been burnt up!
  • The Way of Metal can allow you to incorporate metal into your body, melt metal, or even push and pull magnetically.
  • The Way of Water can let you breath underwater, use soothing waters to heal, or even summon tidal waves!
  • The Way of Wood can allow you spring further from wood, hide inside trees, or maybe make a forest or jungle impassable like a maze.
  • The Way of Beasts allows you to take features and abilities from animals, like eagle eyes or night vision. One creepy power even lets you turn into a whole swarm.
  • The Way of Movement is all about getting somewhere quickly. Wanna run on walls? This is it. You can even use it offensively, jacking up the speed of your punches. The very best can even fly or teleport.
  • The Way of Survival can let you hide your tracks, camouflage yourself, and even create guardians to guard your perimeter.
  • Assassins and the like are big fans of The Way of the Unseen. At its basic, it allows you to blend into the background. But it can be used to make people forget you (if they only had a brief encounter with you), or even change your face completely.
  • The Way of the Warrior is all about martial combat, both melee and ranged, offensive and defensive (like swatting arrows out of the air.
  • The clans even have their own specific jutsu.
  • Be warned: Each jutsu has a backlash attached to it, in case your role goes badly.
SKILLS
  • Characters are defined by their skills, not by typical stats.
  • Skills rank from 0 to 5, which is the amount of dice that skill adds to a pool.
  • 20 skills are in the game, each of which has specialties.
  • Combat skills don't actually dominate, with only Fighting and Marksman being *explicitly* combat skills.
  • Each skill lists a number of common combos (like combining Intuition with Marksman to make a shot in the dark attack against an unseen foe), as well as a list of ways one can succeed when using the skill when failing the roll (such as using Might,  but damaging the object in the process). Each skill also lists Critical Failure effects, and common Boosts (like getting a Boost on Stealth allowing you to not only not be personally detected, but leave evidence incriminating someone else).
YIN/YANG
  • Ki is the metacurrency of the game.
  • It's measured in Yin and Yang, and can inform which Jutsu you can actually use.
  • It can also be used to add to a jutsu activation check, used in place of a Dynamic Action, allow you to bypass armor for an attack, halve incoming damage for an attack, or even be given to another ninja (by touch).
  • As you gain XP, you gain Ranks, which increases your amount of ki and Dynamic Actions.
  • Ranks can also be used as a bonus to intimidate lower ranking ninjas.
MY TURN
  • Characters can perform Dynamic Actions, which allow them to act out of turn.
  • This can be used to do things like counterattacks, attacking someone who is running away, or just interrupting an action.
  • They can even be used just to gain extra actions.
  • As noted, the higher your Rank, the more dynamic actions you can perform in a round.
  • In standard combat, you otherwise get one Standard Action on your Turn. With Dynamic Actions you can chain things together to Plan Attack (gaining a bonus on your attack) and then Inflict Harm (making the attack).
  • Athletics informs the number of free defensive attempts you have, after which you get penalties...meaning a number of adversaries can really wear you down.
  • Damage is determined by comparing successes of the offensive action versus successes of the defensive action, plus any modifiers (such as from weapons or armor).
  • As if the various options presented in combat weren't enough, you can add in Dynamic Environments. The book lists a handful, such as fighting while falling down a waterfall, battling in a burning building, or even social combat at a party.
  • A whole list of Physical and Mental conditions can be inflicted as well, like Knocked Out and Bleeding, or Confused and Dazed. These all inflict mechanical penalties that last based on the severity (with Heavy Conditions lasting a whole session before decreasing in severity!).
LET'S YOU AND HIM FIGHT
  • The bestiary is much more extensive and useful this time around, addressing probably my biggest complaint about the original game.
  • This includes animals, bandits and trained guards, as well as mercenaries, Imperial Executioners, Golden Lions (the ninja who serve the Emperor), Spirits, Celestial Animals, and Oni (demons).
  • The best addition? A table of guidelines for what to assign foes of your own creation to reach the threat level you're desiring for your conflict. Combined with the examples in the bestiary, it's a much more useful tool for a GM.
LIFE IN THE EMPIRE
  • A broad strokes setting chapter is included.
  • A timeline and history is presented again, this one being a little more of a "GM version" with a little more detail.
  • A sidebar discusses how the Emperor survived, but offers no answers, merely common rumors, ranging from the Ronin lying about slaying him, to the Emperor never being present and a decoy dying in his place, to more supernatural explanations.
  • The class system of the lands are detailed as well, divided into Commoners, Merchants, Warriors, Nobles, Criminals and Untouchables (the lowest of the low).
  • The Ten Provinces of the Izou Empire all get a couple of paragraphs and notes on the key cities. You'll have to do a little bit of work in making the setting hum for your game, but there's some strong starting points here. The names range from the matter-of-fact (The Middle Province) to inspiring (The Bridge to Battle Province).
  • The Five Kingdoms get discussed in about the same amount of space, but in broader detail (being kingdoms and not provinces). Again, enough to inspire, but a skeleton to hang the meat of your world on.
  • Two full color maps are included here as well, one being the Ten Provinces and the other being a world map of the Izou Empire and the Five Kingdoms.
GM TIPS & TOOLS
  • A list (randomly rollable) is included for generating names (male and female, as well as surnames).
  • Also included are story ideas and hooks to go with them. This includes stories centered on clans at war, or politically oriented stories. Maybe you want it set on the front lines, instead? It's a nice little cross-section to inspire a GM who's just not sure what they're doing with the game, especially if they're not familiar with the anime influences (like me!).
  • A whopping 18 pregens are included, completely statted out, aside from Bonds (which makes sense), meaning some of the clans get represented more than once.
FINAL THOUGHTS
  • I still love the aesthetic. I like the fantasy ninja stuff here, and only became a bigger fan in the years since the first edition was released.
  • The system feels more dynamic and free flowing than the first edition, which was kind of the point.
  • That said, I feel like the game could seriously use a handout for all the combat options (not a criticism...lots of games benefit from it. I love Savage Worlds, but we always use one there).
  • I normally hate big skill lists but, as I've noted in past reviews, that exception is when they are also the only real "stats" being used. I also like how the Chakra System encourages you to experiment with (and justify) skill combos.
  • The lifepath style character generation is a vast improvement to me, mostly because it's more interesting and contextual. My only complaint is that there's not a set of random tables for me to roll on (not that I couldn't make one up).
  • The Jutsu selection is very cool, has paths that match up with a lot of character concepts, and sometimes overlaps, but in distinctive ways. 
  • For me, the setting is detailed just about as much as I REALLY want...maybe I could do with a few more examples.
  • There's a lot of crunch to the system, and a lot going on with the character sheet, but it's all still mechanically in the realm of what I don't mind managing.
  • As noted in the body of the review, the bestiary is a vast improvement.
  • I'd like to see the actual system in play, but it feels more intuitive than the original DGS-powered Wu Xing, and other bits (like character creation and the bestiary) are substantial improvements.
  • In other words, I'd happily run this.

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