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Thread: Burning Shaolin
Sunday, 31st August, 2008, 06:20 AM #1
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Atlas Games has already thrown their hat into the D20 System ring with their Penumbra line of products. But Burning Shaolin is not part of Atlas' Penumbra line. It is part of a new line called Coriolis.
So, just what is the Coriolis (other than the effect that causes water to swirl down your drain, that is)? Well, it appears that where the Penumbra line of products are straight-up D20 System supplements, the Coriolis line will be dual system games that will be targeted in tandem toward the D20 System and one of Atlas= in house gamesCFeng Shui, Unknown Armies, or Ars Magica. Their stated reasons for doing so are to facilitate the importing of features of those games into D20 System terms and to help bring forth products for their other games at a lower price point than if they were for the Atlas game lines alone, and to introduce D20 System fans to the Atlas product lines.
Buring Shaolin is the first guinea pig in this experiment. Burning Shaolin is a dual system adventure targeted at Feng Shui and the D20 System. To be more precise, the adventure claims it is suitable for use in an "Asian style D20 game." That sounds to me like D20STL/OGL speak for Oriental Adventures to me. And it would stand to reason that in the backdrop for this adventure -- ancient China -- using the Oriental Adventures book would help in running this adventure in the setting intended.
With that said, let me proceed with a little disclaimer. I have the Feng Shui game and I am familiar with it on a basic level, but I rarely play it. I cannot claim to have the same familiarity with issues that affect Feng Shui players as I have with those affecting D20 System players. Accordingly, this review should be taken primarily as a review primarily from the D20 System standpoint.
The adventure is designed for beginning Feng Shui characters or D20 system characters of 7th to 9th level.
A First Look
Burning Shaolin is a 32 page soft-cover adventure. The cover color, depicting a pair of leaping warriors armed with swords facing off in combat. The interior is black and white. The interior layout is attractive and functional. An Asian styled font is used for the section header, and the sidebars conveniently contain the names of the section for easy reference. Distinctive symbols and text coloring are used to distinguish material unique to Feng Shui and material unique to the D20 System. Rules material is offset using a gray watermark style backdrop.
The artwork, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Perhaps it is just me missing yet another artistic trend, but I found that the sketchy pencil-work that passes for art in the adventure leave something to be desired.
The font and line spacing used are a little on the large side, giving the book a fairly a slightly below average text density. The adventure is priced at $8.95 US.
The Rules Material
One of the expressed purposes of the Coriolis line is to introduce some methodologies that Atlas calls innovations into the D20 System. It the case of Burning Shaolin, the purpose is to bring the wuxia-style adventure of Feng Shui to the D20 system.
A full page in introduced to the faceless hordes rules. This is an emulation of Feng Shui's unnamed character rules. For those not familiar with Feng Shui, the game has special rules for unnamed characters. Also commonly called mooks, these characters represent the rabble henchmen that characters in martial arts flicks beat up in droves. In FS, the GM does not track damage inflicted on such characters. Instead, if the character hit the mook by a large enough margin, they go down. Otherwise, they are treated as if they took no damage other than for cosmetic purposes.
Some of you probably think this sounds like a neat little trick for making brawls with flunky henchman manageable, right? Well stand by. The basis of the rule is that they only hit on a 19 or a 20, and if they are hit for 4 hp in one shot, but ignore any damage less that 4 hp. That would have been a nice little optional rule to fit the genre if the author had stopped there.
He didn't stop there.
In addition to this basis, the author allows characters a saving throw based on armor modifier to avoid hits by faceless hordes, a lucky shot rule to make them more dangerous, rules modifying how certain feats are applied to faceless hordes, and special rules for the number of attacks you get when you are only attacking faceless horde. I consider it quite unlikely that in a heated combat I would want to process all of these rules in each blow exchanged with faceless hordes. It seems like the extra burden associated with all of this would work counter to the purpose of streamlining the task of beating up flunkies.
In addition to the faceless hordes rules, a page is also devoted to a variety of rules and vague guidelines aimed at giving your combats a more wuxia-esque style. The rules can be summarized as follows:
- Characters get bonuses when the player makes an effort to describe their characters' attacks in a creative and entertaining way.
- Players are allowed (with DM discretion) to make up trappings during a fight scene. Of course, these are there merely to be exploited during the fight.
- Characters in a fight scene double their forward and upward jump distances, and can take a full move and full attack in the same round.
- A vague guideline implies that no move should be denied the players if is sounds cool.
- Characters are easily disarmed, but improvised weapon performs just as well. However, if the character recovers their own -- or another's -- lost weapon, they get a bonus.
I find the first two and the fourth guideline to be fairly appropriate ways to add a little levity to the combat. The last one had me scratching my head a little, but okay. The third rule -- especially the bit about full move plus full attack -- seems like it would have some unintended consequences. Namely, it would make rogues and characters with whirlwind attack into wrecking machines, and it would make spellcasters into grease-spots.
(Warning: This section contains spoilers to the adventure)
The premise the adventure is pretty well steeped in the Feng Shui secret war. The foe in this case is the sorcerer Kan Kuei, a member a society of evil sorcerers called the Eaters of the Lotus. For those not familiar with the Feng Shui game, several antagonistic factions are in a war that spans over specific time periods called junctures. These factions are vying to control or destroy places called Feng Shui sites, which can give them great power. Kan Kuei is out to control one such site set in the AD 69 juncture in ancient China. It is assumed that if you run the adventure under the D20 System that the characters are natives of that time period, or a fantasy setting close to it. Feng Shui characters can be from any juncture as per normal.
Feng Shui characters become involved in the adventure when they here that some operatives in their faction are injured while the PCs are visiting the juncture. The hook for D20 System characters is much sketchier. The author suggests that D20 System characters will naturally want to travel to town to shop and if they don't that the GM should drop rumors of masterwork armor for sell. I'm not sure whether I find that hook laughable or insulting, but there is one thing that I am sure of: Robin D. Laws, who authored multiple GM advice articles in Dragon magazine, can surely come up with a better hook than that.
The adventure gets underway as the characters wander into town, and stumble upon a horde of Kan Kuei's lackeys advancing on five injured men. The PCs are expected to intervene in a bout of wuxia action.
After the bout is over, the characters discover that the injured men are a group called the Crippled Heroes. The Crippled Heroes all have deformities and are foes of Kan Kuei. They are in dire straights having been poisoned by Kan Kuei. They appeal to the PCs to retrieve the jar of poison needed to provide a cure. They also mention that Kan Kuei is out to take over the world and appeal to the PCs to stop that as well.
To find Kan Kuei, the Crippled Heroes refer the PCs to an ally of theirs by the name of Johnny Ko. Ko is said to have found Kan Kuei's hideout. The Crippled Heroes were supposed to meet him, but due to their poisoned state, cannot make the appointment.
Johnny Ko lies in the Netherworld. In Feng Shui, the Netherworld is a cavern network that connects the different "junctures." But don't worry, D20 GMs -- the players won't be hopping junctures. Using a map provided by the Crippled Heroes, the players can find their way to the cave that leads to the Netherworld.
Once in the Netherworld, the players will knock around and face a few hazards, but eventually will find Johnny Ko. It may take a little roleplaying, but eventually the PCs should be able to get Ko to tell them what he knows. Ko is from modern times, and has placed a bug on one of Kan Kuei's minions. Of course for the benefit of D20 system characters (or any characters from the ancient China setting/juncture), he will describe it as a "scrying device." At any rate, Ko will direct the players to the ancient volcano lair of Kan Kuei.
Once the players arrive at the volcano lair, they will find it nearly abandoned, for Ken Kuei is already off to launch his attack on the Shaolin temple that is the Feng Shui site. The players will be attacked by demon monks left behind to guard the lair. After they overcome that threat, they will find Chien Chieh, a cowardly minion of Kan Kuei that had been tortured by his master. It takes little persuasion to get him to sing. He reveals that since Kan Kuei must travel with his minions under cover of Darkness, the players have sufficient time to make it to the temple ahead of Kan Kuei.
The final battle is at the Shaolin temple by a mirror lake. The characters are assumed to get there ahead of time and can try to coordinate with the monks to set up a defense plan. Kan Kuei arrives with his minions and with the Crippled Heroes entombed in glass coffins that can be telekinetically controlled. The players will have to clash with Kan Kuei and his minions and rescue the crippled heroes.
Summary and Conclusion
Overall, the strongest feature of the adventure is the setup of the combat scenes. Lavish notes are given on each major combat location that provide possibilities in creating a detailed combat scene. Most of these benefits probably fall on the Feng Shui side of the house, however, as many of the staples of D20 system combat such as detailed combat grids are absent. Large maps are provided that are good for general purposes, however.
That said, I was not impressed with the module. It seemed very linear and it seemed like that for such a short adventure, there were many places where the adventure can skip the track if the PCs (as PCs so often do) do not follow the footsteps laid out for the author for them.
Overall, the D20 system details seem to be handled well, with a few exceptions. For example, in one location, an ichor pool is described as doing damage equivalent to an acid arrow spell. Okay, but at what caster level?
The fact that the adventure has to list every set of game statistics for each system (and there are quite a few), you are losing a significant chunk of the module to redundancy. In the beginning, the author implies that Feng Shui fans benefit from the scale economics associated in publishing the adventure targeted towards two systems. That may be true, but if you are seeking a D20 system module, for the price charged you can do much better than this.
-Alan D. Kohler
Last edited by Psion; Sunday, 21st September, 2008 at 11:07 PM.
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