The Saving Throw
Qin: The Warring States 06.09.2010
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Overall Review
published by Cubicle 7 reviewed by Scott Wachter
272 pages, 2007, $44.95 (print)/ $24.99 (pdf)
Game Setting 3.5
Core Handbook 3
Art 5
Character Generation 4
Game Rules 3
Intelligibility 2
Review Scoring

Qin: The Warring States is set in 2nd century BC China. Rather than fall to the boredom that can come from historical accuracy, it instead opts for a mythic version: where dragons play for power behind the scenes of the each kingdom, evil spirits wandering the landscape, and crazy wire-fu combat straight out of a Hong Kong action movie. The book itself is well bound with paper meant to give the look of parchment. With the exception of a colour insert for the game's sample characters, all the art is in black ink reminiscent of works from the period and complements the text well. Each chapter is interrupted by sections of short fiction following a young girl with a mysterious destiny on the run from Zhou soldiers, eventually picking up a standard issue adventuring party on the way. The fiction does convey the feel of the setting well, but still feels like someone re-writing their campaign in prose. The book also includes a brief pronunciation guide and explanation of the game's use of Hanyu Pinyin for romanization of Chinese, the choice makes sense, but still ends up reading weird if you're used to Wade-Giles or Pinyin romanization. The obligatory "what is role-playing" section that opens the book reads about the same as the one in any other role-playing book on your shelf. It is worth noting that book was originally written and released in French and later translated to English.

Qin uses a unique system called the Yin-Yang, wherein actions are determined by rolling two ten-sided dice, each of a different colour; one representing yin the other yang, subtracting the lowest from the highest then adding stat and skill points to the roll and compared to a target number if the roll meets or beat the target, you've succeeded. Rolling a pair is considered a critical success, except for double zeroes which is considered a critical failure. Actions are divided into simple tests, which require a single die roll; continuous tests which uses multiple die rolls totaling each result until you reach a pre-determined number called a difficulty threshold; and opposed tests, where two characters in competition roll and compare results, high roll wins.

Combat is broken up into initiative rounds where characters are allowed a number of actions equal to their expertise in whatever given combat skill they're using, and the yang die actually matters as its result is added to combat damage. Damage is represented by hit boxes that are filled in as they take punishment: the more filled in, the bigger the penalty the character takes to all die rolls. This results in game that is more lethal than your standard hit point-based game, and I consider it a plus for any game that penalizes characters for taking damage. The combat rules section is the weakest of the book: with iniative rounds, combat exchanges, and the use of active defense are poorly explained, though I'm not sure if this is the fault of the original text or the translators, but it's still going to make the first few combat encounters a bigger page-flipping annoyance than learning a new system usually is.

Characters in Qin are given a pool of points to divide among five primary stats, a second pool of points for skills, and third pool of points to be divided between techniques (weapons specific maneuvers), Taos (wire-fu), External Alchemy (herbalism and potion crafting), Internal Alchemy (crazy monk stuff), Divination (fortune-telling), and Exorcism (Wu Xing ritual magic). Characters also get choose from a brief list of perks and flaws all of which are mechanical rather than RP-based. This system gives lots of options for players, each type of magic feels very different and I like that your options for magic, except for some internal alchemy abilities take a good deal of time, effort and preparation giving a low-fantasy flavour to the game.

The book also gives a solid background on Chinese myth, the history of the Warring States Period, a primer on relevant Chinese philosophies and religions, as well as fairly detailed descriptions of each state and a chapter on everyday life within the setting. If your players are history buffs of have interest in East Asian studies they'll enjoy going through this chapter. If not, GMs should be ready to give a Cliff's Notes version of close to 100 pages of text, and while you're at it get the players to watch Hero as a primer before character creation.

The Game Master's section gives a few sample beasties and rules for creating more, the rules for tracking player renown, as well as information on the factions that drive the game's plot that you don't want players knowing too much about out of the starting gates. This section also gives the standard explanation of the GM's role and the same advice any other GM's section gives. It also gives a fifteen page adventure module, which is a good introduction to the game but is too self-contained to serve as a springboard for a longer campaign. My biggest complaint for this section is that the bestiary has seventeen common animals, six categories of supernatural foe, with one or two examples of each type, but no sample humans NPCs. This means that GM prep time leans heavily towards designing foes from scratch. I'm a busy guy whose been spoiled by Savage Worlds' quick NPC and creature creation, so this is a big turn off for me.

The book closes out with a glossary of Chinese terms that they throw around a lot because it makes them sound more asian-y, and a list of recommended reading and viewing to get the feel of the game, yet has no index.The lack of an index is a cardinal sin in game's core book and the editors should flogged for not including one. There is nothing more annoying than looking for a half-remembered rule, flipping back and forth through the relevant section trying to find the bit of text you need. It kills any tension you were trying to build. I always like seeing the writers recommend works that inspired them while writing, but it's better placed at the front of the book so you can know what you're getting in to, rather than the end once its already decided what you want to watch and or read to get you in the mood to start preparing a campaign.

I do stress that this is just my first impression after giving this book a read-through, I will probably revisit Qin with a full review after I've had a chance for a thorough play-through. While I may have been a bit harsh with some aspects of the game, I am genuinely excited to run this game and will give it my recommendation.

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