the quick and dirty version
feng shui 2 is a game full of style and light on the crunch. is a game about blowing things up and looking cool doing it. Compared to the first edition, it’s a mixed bag with some improvements over the original (especially in the areas of car chases and stages) and some changes that I like less (lack of customization in character creation). overall it’s a fun system with an interesting setup, but I’m not sure there are enough improvements to really recommend getting it if you already own and enjoy fs1.
Reading: Feng shui 2 review
my background (or my biases) (or who this guy is and should I even care about his opinion)
i started my teeth with holmes d&d way back in the last years of elementary school. I’ve played a variety of games over the 35 years since, but have spent most of my time with ad&d (and, these days, fantasy craft), v&v, star frontiers, mekton, and champions (the latter being, by far the system I’ve played the most). I have a distinct fondness for crunchy effect-based systems and don’t need a lot of setup in my main rulebooks (in fact, I tend to prefer laying out schematics rather than encyclopedic details of the world).
Now, let’s get into the details of how I came to my conclusions and how the game works.
the core mechanic of fs is your standard attribute/ability + dice >= a target number (called difficulty). the dice on fs are 1d6 – 1d6, giving an average roll of 0. any of the dice can explode on a 6, making obscenely high and low rolls possible. also, the double sixes (wagons) mean that something special will happen (good if you succeed, bad if you fail). this roll is added to an action value that describes how good your character is at doing whatever it is you’re trying to do. if the result of the action (av + dice) is equal to or greater than the difficulty, you succeed. if the result of the action is less, you fail. if the result of the action is 0 or less, it’s a terrible failure. fs2 adds a bit of jargon related to dice rolls: action value, trucks, action result, and terrible failure as already mentioned, plus deflection (the actual roll), result (action result – difficulty) , hit (how much damage you do) ) and a few others. I’m not a big fan of jargon, but at least it’s used consistently throughout the text and various mechanical effects depend on it.
One thing that helps ensure heroes become heroes is fortune. Each hero has a fortune score, usually in the range of 6 to 8, although some go as high as 9 or 10. A fortune point can be spent to add a single positive die to your roll. these points are reset at the beginning of each session and there are some special abilities that allow heroes to recover fortune points at other times. You can also use fortune to improve your character’s defense (how hard it is to hit), to request hints from the gamemaster about the plot and other plot-related things, and to power up some of your character’s special abilities. character (called schticks). there is some incentive not to spend your entire fortune early on. you may be prompted to make a fortune roll (such as when a stray grenade bounces) and this is done using your current fortune score, not your base score (so if you’ve already spent a large fortune, mr. the grenade not your friend). a final note on fortune; it comes in different flavors. most characters have a basic fortune, but some have chi, magic, or genome. these subtypes are used to power certain types of schticks (fu powers, sorcery and supernatural creature powers, and mutant abilities, respectively).
Initiative works on an action point style system called a shot clock. each character makes an initiative roll at the start of each sequence (turn) to determine their initial roll. Highest shot goes first and GM counts down to 0. Each action has a shot cost, usually in the range of 1-5 with the typical action (including most attacks) costing 3. Once reached 0, a new sequence begins. it’s a pretty straightforward mechanic and the whole idea of the sequence could be scrapped for continuous action, except that certain mechanics are tied to sequences and keyframes (the time from shot x in one sequence to shot x in the next sequence).
damage is resolved by taking the base damage value of an attack, adding the result, and subtracting the target’s toughness. this results in a series of wound points, which follow each other upwards. at certain thresholds, characters take deterioration: first -1 on all actions, then -2. eventually a character will take enough wps to require a verification. if they fail, they fall unconscious and if they succeed, they can continue fighting. either way, they also accumulate a death mark. after the battle, any character with one or more death marks must make a death check to avoid dying (after a suitable melodramatic speech). so while the game does have a death spiral, it’s pretty shallow and there are various cheats that allow characters to overcome or even gain an advantage from the decay.
chases are a special form of combat that has been significantly improved since the first edition. I quite like the flavor and feel of the chase system and it seems flexible enough to cover everything from stagecoach racing to dueling helicopters. each vehicle has squeak (speed), frame (toughness), and creak (damage) characteristics (all of which can be modified with driving tricks). chases are largely abstracted (feng shui is really the antithesis of map-based combat, proudly proclaiming “the map is not your friend”). the combatants are divided into 2 sides: evaders and pursuers and start at a distance of far. basically, who is winning a chase is tracked with chase points, which are modified based on the results of contested driving rolls. distance can be closed to close (basically bumper to bumper) where vehicles can try to crash into each other (and passengers can try to jump from one vehicle to another). eventually, when one side inflicts enough chase points on the other, they cause their opponent to crash. All in all, this isn’t too far off from how I’ve handled chase scenes in just about every game I’ve played (descriptions of competing maneuvers resolved by contested driving rolls and abstracting things like speed and distance), so I’m like these rules.
Baddies come in 4 types: Mooks, Featured Enemies, Bosses, and Super Bosses. Mooks are there to make PCs look cool and function primarily as speed bumps. It can be argued that they are so inferior to PCs that they are almost meaningless except for flavor. Featured enemies are important and tough, but slightly weaker than PCs. a boss should be about equal to a single pc and a super boss should take multiple pc to defeat. In general, the bad guys are pretty easy to put together. simply keep track of your pc’s attack and defense averages, damage and toughness and adjust your bad boys accordingly. Plus, bad guys run on slightly different rules than PCs. Mainly this is done to lighten the load on the gm by removing a lot of things that need to be tracked (fortune, reloads, etc). Pretty straightforward, though I’m afraid the system can be prone to the bad guys starting to feel mechanically indistinct after a while.
character creation and development
feng shui 2 uses an archetype system for character creation. Similar to a class system, your archetype determines what your character can do. unfortunately this is one area where i think fs2 is worse than fs1. in fs1, the archetypes served as a starting point of reference and some points were awarded for modifying the character’s attributes, skills and tricks (different groups of points for each). fs2 has removed this completely, not allowing character customization at all, apart from background and personality details. even the equipment options are “hard-coded” into the archetype. the justification for this in the rulebook is basically that it simplifies character creation and ensures that new players won’t (can’t) make suboptimal character creation decisions. furthermore, those who want to game their system will do so anyway, so they don’t really need rule support to do so.
I disagree with this on a couple of counts. first of all, in most non-random character creation systems that I’ve come across, if someone found that their character wasn’t mechanically up to the task, it was a simple matter of tweaking the character a bit to get it where I needed to be. Sure, someone familiar with the system makes it easier, but no one lost any sleep over it. plus, with the baselines in fs1, it was pretty easy to create a viable character from scratch. in fact, personally, i’ve never seen a fs1 pc that performed less well than the book seems to imply was possible (although i heard a few stories on the old fs mailing list, they all seemed to be easily fixed). the other problem i have is the idea that tinkerers don’t need any guidance. Sure, no character creation system can create perfectly balanced characters every time, but something other than “trade some skills and tricks if you want, but we can’t guarantee character balance if you do” would be nice. I thought fs1 struck a good balance between class-based and point-based character creation, but most class-based systems have more flexibility built in than fs2.
Overall, the lack of character customization is my biggest complaint about the second edition.
As for character advancement, the system does away with the traditional experience point system and gives each archetype a list of advancements to choose from. Your first breakthrough occurs the first time your character reaches a major milestone in the campaign. After that, there is a mechanic called “advance roll” where a single player (chosen by the GM) rolls to determine if the group can advance. I don’t like to place the responsibility for character advancement on a single die roll by a single player. Sure, it ensures everyone advances at the same time, but I’m not a fan of luck which plays a role in whether or not my character improves. I would have been happier with a traditional experience system or with the GM deciding when a campaign ‘tipping point’ has been reached and telling the characters to move forward at that point. really it’s the randomization that doesn’t sit well with me.
In my opinion, feng shui settings have always been their greatest strength. The game seeks to emulate Hong Kong and Hollywood action movies in all their glorious and extravagant variety. then the configuration also tries to do it. The central concept of the scenario is that there are portals that allow people (called inner walkers) to travel to specific points in time: the ancient (7th century AD), past (1850), contemporary (present), and future (2074) juncture. . different factions try to control the flow of chi at these different junctions and thus control the world. furthermore, getting to these different time periods requires traveling through the underworld, an ever-changing otherworldly realm of monsters, spirits, and displaced inner-walkers. there is also the underworld (the realm of demons and other malevolent spirits) which is much more difficult to access directly. This allows everything from wizards with their favorite demons to withered kung fu masters and cyber gorillas to duke it out in the center of present-day Hong Kong.
Of the changes from the first edition, the biggest is probably the destruction of the architects of flesh (mad scientists who combined advanced cyber technology with flesh and demonic magic) when the jammers (rebels seeking to overthrow the aotf) they blew up the future. The future is no longer an oppressive dystopia ruled by mad scientists and autocratic despots and is now a cursed wasteland of wandering bike gangs and armies of cyber apes. some people will hate this, but for me it was a net positive as I always felt the aoffs were the weakest part of the previous setup. the jammers have now split into two factions: one that seeks to undo the mass death and destruction they caused by invading the present, and the other that sees blowing everything up as a great opportunity to reshape the future in their own image, so who invade the present for resources.
A minor change is that the old crossing was moved from the 1st century AD. C., where lotus eaters (evil sorcerers) secretly controlled the Chinese government, to the 7th century A.D. c., where the eotl is trying to regain its power. despotic empress wu zetian.
most of the rest of the configuration remains the same. the 1850s still have the guiding hand (warrior monks in high boots of confusion conformity) trying to resist European colonialism while the Ascended (animals magically transformed into humans) consolidate their secret control over the world’s governments. the contemporary conjuncture still has the ascended in firm control of the entire world and resisting the incursions of future cyber-monkeys. the underworld is still dominated by the four monarchs (the ancient wizards who ruled the world before history changed) and is populated by their minions, other minor factions, and thugs who owe allegiance to the factions of the other junctures.
The other big configuration change was the creation of popup junction points. these are temporary openings to anytime and anywhere. this really sets the stage for whatever the GM wants to include in his campaign. your players want to punch some Nazis in the face (and who doesn’t); send them back to the 1940s. they do it to fight alien monsters; send them to mars in the far future. do you want them to avoid being stepped on by giant radioactive lizards? send them to a less distant future. While fs1 had several fan-created junctures that could be found on the web, it’s nice to have some official setup support for these ideas and the book contains several examples of junctures popping up to start gms.
fs2 is a solid improvement in terms of configuration, but less mechanical. while the core system is the same as fs1, the loss of character customization prevents me from loving the new version as much as i loved the original. if you own the original game and enjoy it, fs2 might be worth it for the setting upgrades and chase rules, but if that doesn’t interest you, I can’t really recommend it. If you’re new to FS and are drawn to the idea of machine-gun-toting, muscular action heroes fighting alongside ghosts and chi-blasting kung fu warriors, check it out, but be prepared to improvise when the time comes. to customize your character’s builds.