Playing Feng Shui Helpful Tips for New GMs and Players

The Feng Shui RPG throws out the conventions of most role-playing games:

Players who come to Feng Shui expecting to haggle over gold pieces and check doors for traps may have trouble shifting gears. Unless you're already a Hong Kong film junkie, it can be difficult to get into the over-the-top mentality required.

The following are a few ways both players and GMs can adapt to the Feng Shui style. If you think of any I've forgotten, email me.

General Tips

Keep It Exciting

Everything that follows is an extension of this simple truth. The key to Feng Shui is to keep it exciting, entertaining, and surprising. This is the responsibility of the GM and the players alike.

Go See the Movies

Grab some Hong Kong flicks and watch them, then make everyone in your group watch them too. This is the stuff on which the game is based, so there's no better source of inspiration for your games. Hollywood-produced action will do if you've got no alternatives, but it just isn't the same.

Player Tips

The Fray's the Thing

Combat is the heart of Feng Shui, and the heart of combat in Feng Shui are the stunts. Every attack in combat should be as creative and detailed and possible. Never simply say “I kick the guy,” or “I shoot him.” Explain how you're doing it, and make it exciting.

Visualize your character as if he were on a movie screen, and use all the scenery and the props at your disposal. If you don't know what I mean, go rent Rumble in the Bronx right now and study the fight scenes. Think about how they do it in the movies, then transfer that style to the game.

Feng Shui combat should be fast, fluid, and constantly jumping. The fun is based a mostly on how well you and your friends pull this off.

Two Hands = Two Guns

A lot of games do their best to simulate reality as closely as possible. Feng Shui is not one of those games. Now you're not a superhero, but you can stretch the laws of physics quite a bit. If they do it in the movies, then you can at least try it in the game.

Feel free to use a gun in each hand — you're not going to be penalized for it. Also feel free to take on 12 guys at once, hang from the strut of an airborne helicopter, or slide under a parked 18-wheeler on a speeding motorcycle. Most stunts only incur only a small penalty, and the reward is extra fun now and extra experience points later.

Do It with Style

Feng Shui characters are action movie heroes. That means that not only can they do cool things, but they look cool doing them. Everything should be done with flair, panache, and attitude. Remember, you're one of the big fish, so act like it.

The Code of the Hero

As someone famous once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”. That holds true for the Feng Shui RPG as well. Movie heroes are supposed to act heroes, and so are you.

Naturally, there's some flexibility here — Dirty Harry is no Boy Scout — but a few general rules hold true:

Of course, the code of the hero varies a lot from movie to movie, and it'll vary in the game too depending on your GM. Nonetheless, in Feng Shui, heroism is its own reward.

Subtlety Is Not a Virtue

Everything in Feng Shui should be larger than life. This doesn't just apply to the action either; melodrama is a staple of HK cinema. Romance, heartbreak, betrayal, loyalty, honor, and revenge are all common themes, and they should be played to the hilt.

When your long-lost twin reappears, or your girlfriend turns up murdered, don't be lukewarm, that's not interesting. This is your time in the spotlight — go nuts.

Everyone Has a Past

Melodramatic hooks are not only one of the fundamental keys to defining your character, they're also a fertile source for plot twists and surprises. Everyone has a past, and thus everyone has a purpose.

Maybe you're out for revenge, or maybe you're out for redemption. Maybe you're looking for something, or maybe you're trying not to be found. Maybe you've lost your memory, or maybe you're trying to forget. What matters is that you're trying to do something, and the more defined the better.

If you can't think of something a first, make it up as you go and make sure your GM knows about it. With a little cooperation from both sides of the table, there's always room to introduce long-lost family or traitorous friends who are out to get you.

Don't Loot the Bodies

It's crass. This may be a standard practice in other RPGs, but it just isn't done in Feng Shui. When was the last time you saw a movie hero rifling through the bad guys' wallets for cash?

It's perfectly acceptable to search the bodies for vital clues, or just to grab their guns if you need them, but money is rarely an issue. You can usually get whatever you need anyway, so don't be a creep.

GM Tips

All the World's a Cliché

Nothing's been done before that can't be done again in Feng Shui. The stronger the sterotype the better, so play it up. Villains always come with an army of henchmen, a secret fortress, and a nefarious plan which they will boast about when they think you're at their mercy. Old hermits always are fonts of zen-like wisdom, cynical cops are always idealists at heart, and hitmen always have the soul of a poet.

This doesn't mean every character in your story should be a walking cliché, but you shouldn't worry about using them in your adventures either. However, don't let your games become predictable. After all, the best clichés are the ones that you put your own twist on. Remember, Hong Kong films are known for not ending the way you might expect.

If It's Not Important, It's Off Screen

Some GMs love to play out every situation their characters get into. That's fine for some RPGs, but not for Feng Shui. Anything mundane, and thus uninteresting, should be dealt with quickly and without fanfare. Things like eating, sleeping, and shopping should all take place off-screen.

Now sometimes the weekly trip to the arms dealer will be an opportunity for your PCs to get vital information, or their daily meditations in the Buddhist shrine will turn into a shoot-out. On these special days the mundane gets some screen time, but otherwise, forget about it.

A Game in Motion Tends To Stay in Motion

Feng Shui is a game of action, so keep the action moving. Think of your game as a movie, and then think about what you do — and don't — want to see on the screen.

This doesn't mean the game should be one continuous battle, but you should keep things moving along. Don't let your players get bogged down with trivia or become indecisive. Keep the kicks flying and the gunpowder smoking.

It's Not Just About Combat

A common criticism of Feng Shui is that it's just a hack-and-slash game. This is only true if you let it be so. Like all good action movies, what happens between the fights is as important as the fights themselves.

High melodrama, low comedy, and complex plot twists are as much a part of Feng Shui as the action. Give your players a real story to work through and a chance to develop their characters. Endless fight scenes quickly become dull and meaningless.

Mooks — Set Dressing That's Fun To Beat Up

GMs new to Feng Shui often feel that unnamed characters die too easily, and ask “How can I make them tougher?”. This is missing the point. Mooks aren't supposed to be tough. Mooks, thugs, goons, Imperial Stormtroopers… call them what you will, they're meant to be cannon fodder for your PCs.

Mind you, this doesn't mean that they're harmless. Throw enough mooks at your PCs, and they'll eventually wear them down. It also doesn't mean that mooks can't have a few interesting powers or use clever tactics. However, mooks are the extras of the game, meant to augment your main villains, not replace them. The real challenge should be the named characters.

By the way, don't worry about where all these mooks come from. Villains have an endless supply of losers working for them. “Crunch all you want, we'll make more.”

Eat Your Mooks — They're Good for You

If you run your fight scenes with a map — even just a clear space on the table with some figures — you'll need markers for all the bad guys. To emphasize the appropriate respect the players should have for mooks (i.e., not much), represent mooks with hard candies like Reese's Pieces or M&Ms. The rule is simple: If you take down a mook, you get to eat him.

Unless one of your players is diabetic, this is sure to get them in the spirit.

As a bonus, most hard candies come in a variety of colors. Use just two or three colors at a time, and keep a separate initiative track for each color. This lets your mooks move at different times throughout the sequence without requiring much more record-keeping.

Let Your Players Shine

PCs are the heroes of your Feng Shui action movie — let them act like it. Most of what the heroes do in movies would never work in real life, so don't apply the “real life” rule to your players. Feng Shui characters regularly bend the laws of physics to do the things they do. Roll with it.

Now you shouldn't let your players get away with things that are obviously impossible or just plain stupid. But don't trip them up with rules technicalities or reality checks.

Let Your Players Fail

As a counterpoint to the above, resist the temptation to rig the game in favor of your players. Players can smell a rigged game a mile away. Make them succeed on their own skills, smarts, and luck.

Heroes can fail or even die — it happens in Hong Kong flicks all the time. Just be sure you give the players their shot at revenge later, and let them look good doing it.

Great Villains Never Die, They Come Back in the Sequels

The most memorable villains keep coming back. No matter how badly they seem beaten, they always bounce back with a bigger army of goons, a deadlier weapon, a more impenetrable fortress, and an even more diabolical plan.

Always give your villain a hidden escape route, or at least an ambiguous death. If your players are enjoying it, they may help out with something like, “Well, that's the last we'll be seeing of Mister X. After all, no one could have survived that blast.”.

Of course players, being the savvy (and bloodthirsty) individuals that they are, will still go to great lengths to make sure your villains are truly and completely dead. That's normal, but if you think the players are getting tired of it, let the villain die. He can always return as a cackling ghost if they miss him.

Paint a Picture

Feng Shui is a game that depends highly on visualization, more so than most other RPGs. The players say who they are and what they're doing; it's up to you to provide the rest. The better your description of the setting, the characters in it, and what they're up to, the the more creative your players' acts of mayhem will be. (Go see any Jackie Chan film to see the value of a detailed set.)

More than this, a vivid description brings the game to life, and is instrumental in introducing the Hong Kong cinema feel to your players. A Chinese Ghost Story and Savior of the Soul are excellent examples of how setting and atmosphere can enhance an adventure.