Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reskinning Feng Shui

Feng Shui 2 presents a lot of awesome character concepts and flavor, but they are very much based in the stated histories and settings of the book. Specifically, they are very much based on a Chi War where a lot of the heaviest battles are in Medieval China, Colonial Period China, Modern Day more or less as we know it and a Post-Apocalyptic Future. As such, it makes sense that most of the characters from the past are Chinese or at least Asian. However, the major junctures can and have changed in the past and even minor junctures can prove to be incredibly important, as proven by the rise of the Ascended. But the game isn’t made for that, right? No, all the archetypes are Chinese or Mad-Max-ish or the like. They even have little symbols about what time setting they’re appropriate to come from, totally can’t mess with that, right?
Actually it’s quite easy in most cases. I’ll look at them below.

Easy “Normals”
These archetypes represent very little work to reskin into other concepts. At most you will have to change the focus of an info skill. For this I’m sticking with the group that are predominantly intended to be exception men and women with intense skill. I’ll handle supernatural stuff later. 

·         Archer – Intended to represent a Chinese archer as noted by the info skill. A simple change in fluff and info skill could give you an Olympic archer, a time-stranded member of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, a masked superhero a la the Green Arrow, a Japanese expert in Kyudo, an American bow-hunter, a Navajo brave, a student of Heracles or any of a large number of other potential origins.

·         Bandit – Again, the focus here is on the archetypical Chinese bandit from Outlaws in the Marsh or Journey to the West. It can easily be reskinned to represent gang-leaders in the modern day, war party leaders from the future or any of a variety of other things.

·         Big Bruiser – There is no work that needs to be done to adapt this to many concepts. The Big Bruiser as presented already can represent anything from Little John to Zhang Fei or Blaster (of Thunderdome fame).

·         Driver – Like the Big Bruiser, this is already set up to represent cavalry-men, road warriors, race car drivers and the like.

·         Everyday Hero – The info skills and fluff as presented certainly present the movie-stereotypical American everyman, but some twisting here and there and you could get a peasant or folk hero from cultures as wide spread as the Chinese countryside all the way to a desert planet in a galaxy far, far away.

·         Exorcist Monk – “Hey, you said you were avoiding supernaturals, why’s this here?” This is here because the focus on chi is a lot more subtle and can be seen as exceptional skill rather than supernatural power. Either way, any culture that has a warrior focused on facing supernatural creatures could present such a character. This includes a Templar from the Crusades, spirit warriors from America, Jaguar-Warriors from South America, runemasters from the Norse and so on. This could even be an exile from the Four Kings’ timeline.

·         Ex-Special Forces – At first I was wondering about this archetype’s dependence on guns to put it in this category, but a good look reveals that the schticks it begins with don’t particularly need even a ranged weapon much less a modern firearm. Any elite soldier of any time period could be modeled on this character.

·         Gambler – Another case where the dependence on the Guns stat made me look closely, but you could presume that “Guns” can be used for thrown daggers or other such ranged weapons that an ancient gambler might carry on them as well.

·         Karate Cop – This can be used for a wide variety of time zones as already indicated by the archetype as published. Little to no work needs to be done to reskin it from a literal karate cop to a former boxer “copper” from Victorian England or so on.

·         Martial Artist – This is not a phenomenon limited to ancient Asia. You could use the same archetype to represent a Cu Cuchlain-like warrior trained in a number of seemingly supernatural “Feats” (that’s where we get the word apparently), a hero trained by the immortal centaur Chiron, a warrior from Central Africa, an Iroquois brave from the height of their strength or any of a number of other such people.

·         Masked Avenger – This is an archetype which has appeared in fiction for hundreds if not thousands of years. Very little needs to be done to reskin it to time periods other than the modern day.

·         Ninja – On the surface it appears to be a very supernatural based character, but as stated it could be used to represent anything from the Assassins from the Crusades to a CIA operative in the modern setting. The Chi powers can just represent anybody with exceptional skill in stealth. The archetype as written already says this and simply uses the ninja as a prime example.

·         Old Master – I almost put this in the section below. The chosen martial arts path for this character is very much Wire Fu Hong Kong action Kung Fu movie stuff. That said, similar feats of physics defying acrobatics are often displayed by figures from Norse, Celtic and other myths. For example, who wouldn’t see Beowulf as the Old Master taking on the dragon?

·         Private Investigator – In ancient times, the concept of a private investigator would have been less common. However, there were likely people that could be looked to investigate various mysteries in the area. More developed civilizations like the Romans, the Chinese (obviously), the Japanese and so on who likely had official law enforcement are also likely to have had mercenaries whose primary specialty was in uncovering information. Spies for hire essentially. The archetype already notes the possibility of this by noting that it could come from any of the four major junctures.

·         Redeemed Pirate – Again, while the image and backstory present a Chinese pirate, this archetype is readily usable to represent anything from said Chinese pirates to the Dread Pirate Roberts or the like. In fact, you could use this to represent dashing members of an official navy rather than a pirate. Who can’t see Captain Amelia of Disney’s Treasure Planet coming out of this archetype?

·         Scrappy Kid – Realistically speaking, this archetype is unlikely to come out of a time period or setting where things like child labor laws are as alien a concept as a Lovecraftian entity. That’s realistically. This game is reproducing an action movie aesthetic and so a lot of rational history and culture can be kicked to the curb and the scrappy kid can come from anywhere as implied.

·         Sifu – Once again, the outward appearance is such that you couldn’t really do this as anything but a Wong Fei Hong homage and thus you would be limited to Chinese martial artist doctors. The schticks even focus on pressure point and acupuncture type healing. However, those can be easily reskinned to represent other healing traditions such as druidic, shamanic, runic or alchemy. Even before I ever heard of Feng Shui the RPG, I played a character based on this archetype who practiced a Nordic meditative martial art and was a European apothecary/doctor.

·         Spy – Any time there are established factions, nations or even tribes there is a potential for the development of a spy. The book leaves the far future out of the potential places where spies can appear, which makes sense because the chaos makes their brand of investigation much less efficient, but even there it is possible assuming you change out some of the info skills due to a general lack of geopolitics. Spies are a common element of Wu Xia, Samurai or even ancient European stories.

·         Sword Master – While the picture and backstory are very much the image of a samurai, this archetype is easily reskinned into an Arthurian knight, a Roman sword master, a Chinese saber or jian wielder, a Korean noble or Patrick Swayze dumped into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

·         Thief – Once again, the game has done much of the work for you. The lack of a far future icon makes sense given that the sort of security measures that a thief’s skills would be needed to pass are rare to non-existent. If the Simians were to gain a stronger foothold on things, then thieves as we know them might start to pop up as common security measures like locks, alarms and booby traps again become more common.

·         Two-Fisted Archaeologist – This particular archetype is shown to be limited to the Past and Present junctures. Actually, archaeologists could reasonably show up in any setting where there are lost ancient civilizations such as Sumeria, the City of Brass, El Dorado, Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu and so on. Which means that you could potentially have this sort of archaeologist (possibly called “tomb raiders” or “ruins explorers”) in any situation where a large number of people consider the artifacts of the past to be important. For example, both the Jammers and the Simians might employ archaeologists to find remnants of the world they put down.

Gun-Centric “Normals”

The Bodyguard, Bounty Hunter, Drifter, Full Metal Nutball, Highway Ronin and Maverick Cop are all characterized by having access to a lot of Gun schticks and possibly some driving schticks with no mention in either their advancement scheme or their starting abilities of any Martial Arts schticks. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Full Metal Nutball and Highway Ronin since those are specifically modern and future archetypes specifically. Some might also question why that’s a problem for the Bodyguard, Bounty Hunter, Drifter and Maverick Cop since these appear to be modern centric concepts. However, even the rule book notes those last four as being viable for all four major junctures. Likewise, you can find the essential elements of the Full Metal Nutball in any of a number of heavily armed goofballs from stories set in a variety of time periods. The Highway Ronin is also feasible in a number of time zones. The sad truth is that apocalypse happens pretty much constantly in isolated places pretty much constantly. The basic concept of the wanderer in the chaotic remnants of a recently fallen civilization fits for the European Dark Ages, several bad points in Chinese history, quite a few places in the modern times and so on.

So the question of how any of this is a problem might come up. After all if it’s possible to refluff all of these into similar concepts in the various four junctures, then why not just do that. The problem comes in the fact that these archetypes only have Gun Schticks (and sometimes Driving Schticks). That could represent archery or thrown weapons to some degree, though any Schtick dealing with reload in these circumstances would be useless. Even the grenade centric Schticks are fine because grenades have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. The main issue here is that the Ancient and Past Juncture equivalents of Bodyguard, Bounty Hunter and Maverick Cop all primarily used melee tactics. Drifter, Full Metal Nutball and Highway Ronin are less problematic in this regard, but it is still a thing that the ancient world is primarily a melee centric one. In addition, there is the problem that archery centric Gun Schticks are entirely the province of the Archer archetype (which I agree with.)

There are a couple of solutions for this. The most obvious one is to play a different archetype and personalize their attitude to be more like that of the desired archetype. Sword Masters, Bandits, Archers, Martial Artists, Big Bruisers and several other archetypes can, with very little difficulty, all be played as bounty hunters, bodyguards, drifters, magistrates and so on. This will be satisfactory in most cases. Unfortunately, this does mean that such characters will lack the Core Schticks tied to these character archetypes. The loss of Core Schticks is minimal in the case of the Highway Ronin and Maverick Cop, each of whom only has one modestly flavorful Core Schtick while most of the rest of their archetype’s flavor comes purely from roleplay. The Nutball is a little bit worse of in this regard with a very amusing a flavorful Weakness. However, the Nutball’s weakness primarily makes sense for someone who uses a large amount of thrown weapons and the Nutball Luck is similar flavor to a lot of the Everyday Hero stuff. The primary place where a lot of character flavor is lost when switching Archetypes is in the Bodyguard, Bounty Hunter and Drifter, all three of whom have a large selection of rather unique and flavorful Core Schticks that work just as well combined with melee as with ranged fighting. In fact, the choice of weapon with those archetypes really feels like it is secondary to those Core Schticks.

One possible solution to matching the Fu Schticks with the Core Schticks of these archetypes is to take one of the other archetypes and exchange some of their starting Schticks with the Core Schticks of the Bounty Hunter, Bodyguard or Drifter. Or you can exchange the standard advancement scheme for those archetypes with the advancement scheme for some other archetype and switch the primary attack from Guns to Martial Arts.

Tampering with the mechanics of a game system is not to be taken lightly. This is much easier in point buy, effect-based systems because in those cases you’re not really tampering with the mechanics, you’re just defining the specifics of how the effects manifest in the fiction of the setting. Feng Shui is template based, however, and the mechanics of character building are not transparent which makes shifting around things as significant as Schticks and advancement tracks things that need to be considered carefully. At the very least check with the GM as to whether such exchanges are reasonable. Preferably check with the other players as well to make sure none of them have issues with you making such extreme changes. There is some precedent in the system with the suggestions for creating Transcended Animals other than Dragons or Crabs, so it isn’t totally out of the ball park.

Reskinning the Supernaturals

The supernatural archetypes in the Feng Shui 2 book are very much bound up in the setting elements of the story presented within the game. It would seem that the limits of superhuman and supernatural things for Feng Shui would be bound up in those concepts presented within these archetypes and the various villain examples. However, it is part of the entire basis of the overall setting the rules of the world have changed at least once and that control of the feng shui sites can result in changing the very nature of metaphysics of the world. And the existing supernatural archetypes can represent a large number of alternate supernatural type characters other than what is recognized.
·        Cyborg – What is this doing here? It’s not supernatural, right? For all intents and purposes, yes, it is. This is a sort of being explained by super-science that really fit with the physics of natural world as we know it to be. Still, how would you be able to reskin it into something? Well, first of all, the simplest thing you could do is change the melodrama of the default cyborg to something other than an unwilling cyborg wanting to die. Perhaps they are a volunteer that became a cyborg in exchange for some benefit for their family or some other reason. Another thought might be that they are an exile from a timeline where cybernetics was much more common and now they have difficulty maintaining their enhancements. I thought briefly that it could represent a golem or some such, but the Creature archetype might better represent that.

·         Gene Freak – The mutations are the result of corrupted chi flowing through the world and altering some people. That’s going on in the modern and future Junctures, but a substantial amount of this corrupted chi flowed into the 69 AD Juncture from the previous edition of the game. While the majority of Gene Freaks rising out of those times are likely stranded, the occasional pop-up juncture could still bring one out into the Chi War. Also, imagine a timeline where such mutations became a general truth of the world. Instead of “Gene Freaks” you might have “Chaos Mages” developing strange mutations over time and practice with at least the reputation that such people go insane or evil. There might also have been a past timeline of superheroics that has bled over into the current timeline.

·         Ghost – This seems pretty cut and dry. The archetype is very clearly meant to represent the Chinese style ghost a la Chinese Ghost Story. In fact, I do believe that it is that specific movie series that is most being modeled by this archetype. However, there are a number of spirit-like entities from mythologies around the world that can be similarly represented. Nymphs, dryads, baensidhe, the Yuki-Onna, jurougumo, succubi, or other such spirits from mythologies around the world.

·         Magic Cop/Sorcerer – The discussion of these two archetypes is combined because they are very similar. The default in Feng Shui is Chinese sorcery but the same basic rules can be used to represent Shamanism, Hermeticism, Nordic Runes, Egyptian magic, Kabbalism, onmyouji, invocations of the divine and even, with some minor shifts in trappings (to borrow a Savage Worlds term), mad/super science.

·         Supernatural Creature – Whether you’re talking a Deep One that’s gone against the elder things and sided with humanity, an exile from a timeline when creatures were the norm and humans were the oddity, werewolves, realities where life evolved differently (which might also work for Gene Freak) or any other thing, the creature is pretty much already set up to allow for a large amount of variety. The starting schticks for this archetype are an amphibious shapeshfiter though with GM approval you might be able to exchange a Schtick or two.

·         Transformed Animals – There are a lot of cases where this can modified, especially for characters like Miho from the “My Girlfriend is Kumiho” Korean drama. However, you might also note the reversion mechanic for stuff like the eventual fate of Yuki-Onna where she was able to live as a normal human until her husband told the story about his encounter with the ice-woman and broke the spell that allowed her to live as human. This might also be something that could be used to represent invoking one’s totemic spirits or the like. There’s a lot of cases in myth where such magic has the danger of one losing one’s humanity entirely, those myths might be based on the adventures of transformed animals.

Alternate Chi Wars

As noted, the default storyline is that focused around Ancient China, 1850s China, the modern time and an apocalyptic future. However, it wouldn’t take much to rework Feng Shui into something like, say Templars vs Assassins (know, I haven’t actually played those games, but I’ve heard enough about them). You could also have a Chi War based around the modern time, a future setting, 1920s New England and ancient Arabia and do a Lovecraft thing. Replace the Four Kings with Hastur, Cthulhu, et all. You might even go further back and learn that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings really was about a far ancient past now forgotten by most of the world. In addition, you could also possibly have a campaign of chi warriors from all over stuck in a pop-up juncture trying to take feng shui sites as part of a subtle way of taking over similar to what the Ascended did. 

 There are a plethora of alternate storylines you could take with the same basic mechanics and archetypes with some caveats. 

 The mechanics, archetypes and intentions of Feng Shui are meant to represent high octane action movies. This can be grim and gritty or it can be goofy and fun-filled, but the focus is on action and characters being awesome. If you were to do the Cthulhu Mythos with Feng Shui, it wouldn’t be a cosmic horror game, but a game with people taking a steel-toed boot to the Elder Gods

The general setting is one where the villains are in control and the heroes are standing alone against a sea of corruption and greedy people. In general, the good guys are going to be the underdogs and the official authority are either going to be ineffective, complicit with the villains or actually be the villains.

 If the government or some other significant “good” group is in command over the feng shui at the moment, then they will be largely under constant siege. The feeling of being against the odds is important. Look to the Jean Claude Van Damme movie “Time Cop” for example where the official organization responsible for keeping history secure is under constant assault through the bureaucracy with budget cuts and so on.

If you have a less frantic situation; competent and stable governments protecting the world and history as we know against ne’erdowells; then you could just skim past the downtime parts for the points where there is a major crisis building. Or don’t, depending on what the players like. The Nanoha franchise gets a lot of mileage from spacing slice of life elements in between long stretches of awesome, hot-blooded action sequences. Also, in this case, you could end up with a secret system of diplomacy stretching out across centuries with meetings between Wu Zetian, Imhotep, Abraham Lincoln, King Minos and Luke Skywalker about protecting the time stream (to pick a random set of characters).

Actually, now that I think of it, that last reminds me of the Antarctic Press Time Lincoln comics, by Fred Perry, I believe. 

The characters are the good guys. If you're playing a vampire exile from an Anno Dracula time line then your a vampire who successfully helped humanity conquer the right feng shui sites to make sure that Dracula's vampire world order never occurred. As an innerwalker, they now live in the future they helped insure and have found that there are new villains to face. If you're an eldritch abomination born of the Elder Gods, then you have for some reason come to like humanity and helped them arrange things so that humans came out on top instead of Cthulhu and company. If you're from a lost utopia, you aren't setting out to return to it because your code of ethics prevents you from taking away the lives that all these people around you already have so you mourn your lost timeline and make due the best you can. No matter what your origin, you're there to take names and kick ass to protect the common man.

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