What Is the Feng Shui RPG? An Introduction

Heroic killers, maverick cops, evil sorcerers, shaolin monks, walking corpses, car chases, explosions, demons, abominations, secret conspiracies, mad scientists, cyborg gorillas, insidious masterminds, time travel, masked avengers, kung-fu masters, transformed animals, triad goons, seductive ghosts, and a bag full of guns. The Feng Shui RPG is all of this and more, a game of cinematic heroes, fiendish villains, and supercharged action.

Feng Shui is made by Atlas Games, the same people who make the Unknown Armies RPG. Feng Shui shares the same background and the same world with Shadowfist, a collectible card game made by Z-man games. However, you don't have to be familiar with the card game to play the RPG.

Both take their inspiration from the action movies of Hong Kong, a wildly unique form of cinema that combines heroic melodrama, tragic romance, screwball comedy, bizarre fantasy, and above all fast-paced, high-octane, over-the-top action. Western movies have their share of influence, but it is the films of Hong Kong that are the heart and soul of the game. To find out more, check out this brief introduction to the world of Hong Kong action cinema.

Feng Shui and Chi

Loosely translated, Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of geomancy. More precisely, it centers on the idea that the world is imbued with a kind of natural energy called “chi” that flows through all things. The physical characteristics and features of a location, natural or man-made, affect just how much and what kind of chi will be found in that area. A place with “good” Feng Shui has a positive chi flow, which translates into good fortune for anyone who owns or is “attuned” to the location.

The Feng Shui RPG takes this notion and cranks it up a notch. In the game, places with positive chi are known as feng shui sites. Attune to a feng shui site, and you'll find good fortune start to flow your way. Control a lot of feng shui sites, and you'll rise in wealth, power, and stature. Control the majority of feng shui sites in the world, and you can literally reshape reality to your vision.

The Secret War

With this kind of power available, there's bound to be people who want it for themselves. This struggle is the driving force behind the Feng Shui RPG. There's a secret war going on between various factions who have discovered the true nature of chi energy. These factions wage war on each other in the shadows, their conflict invisible to all but a few, as they try to control the world's feng shui sites.

The stakes are the very highest: The winners get to reshape the world to match their vision, while the losers are written out of history… literally. In the secret war, you can wake up to find that everything you know is gone, including yourself, because your enemies went back in time and made it so that you never existed.

That's the real kicker: the secret war takes place not just all over the world, but all throughout history and the future as well.

The Netherworld

But it doesn't stop there either. The secret war spills over from the earth into a weird, otherworldly place known as the Netherworld. The Netherworld is a vast, mystical dimension of trackless gray tunnels and caverns that connects to our world through various portals scattered randomly about the earth.

What makes these portals, and thus the Netherworld, so vital is that they open up to different periods in time, known as junctures. These portals make it possible for different groups to travel through time and seize feng shui sites in the past.

Critical Shifts

If enough sites change hands, this will set off a ripple effect that will alter everything to come. This is called a critical shift, and most people aren't aware of them when they occur. To them, everything is the same as it has always been… because it is.

However, innerwalkers — those who have traveled through the Netherworld — always retain their memories of the past as they knew it. A critical shift can be devastating for an innerwalker, because it changes everything and everyone they have ever known, leaving them stranded in a reality in which they are strangers. The Netherworld is littered with these unfortunates who have been exiled from the timestream.

Thus, in the secret war, it becomes crucial not only to hold on to your own feng shui sites, but to prevent your past from being swept out from under you.

Junctures and Major Factions

The end result of all this is a vast and clandestine war in which warriors, assassins, and sorcerers travel throughout time trying to outmaneuver their opponents and seize their feng shui sites. As of now, there are only four junctures that currently open into the Netherworld. Each one hosts its own faction in the secret war. They are:

A.D. 69

This is a period where magic and the supernatural are powerful. It's home to the Eaters of the Lotus, a sinister, sorcerous conspiracy that has usurped rule in China through black magic and treachery. The inner circle of the Lotus are all eunuch sorcerers who have wormed their way into power in the imperial court. Led by Gao Zhang, they use their necromantic powers to summon evil spirits, walking corpses, and demons from the underworld to fight their battles in the secret war.


This period of change, expansion, and upheaval is home to the Guiding Hand, a secret coalition of Shaolin monks, martial artists, and revolutionaries. Led by Quan Lo, the Perfect Master, their goal is rid China of foreign influences and to create a world based on Confucian principles. Though relatively small, their members possess incredible kung fu powers which give them an edge in battle.

1997 — the modern day

This juncture is ruled by the Ascended, a tightly-knit and highly secretive organization of transformed animals who, like their ancestors, have achieved human form. Through years of subtle machinations and planning the Ascended now lie at the heart of a tremendous global conspiracy through which they control world from the shadows, both in the modern day and in 1850 as well. Governments, armies, police, organized crime, organized religions, multinational corporations, and the media are all under their sway. They fear magic, because it can force them back into their original forms, and so they maintain power in order to keep it from returning to the world.


This nightmarish vision of the future is under the iron rule of the Architects of the Flesh, a cabal of demented scientists who have discovered how to merge magic with science into a twisted new form known as arcanotechnology. They command a brutal police state known as the Buro whose operatives make forays through the Netherworld into A.D. 69 to capture demons and the like. These creatures are then transformed by arcanotechnology into monstrosities known as abominations which serve as their primary shock troops and instruments of terror.

Minor Factions

There are also two smaller factions in the secret war, both of which reside in the Netherworld. The Jammers are a band of subversives, rebels, and anarchists who have escaped from 2056. Led by a cyber-ape named Battlechimp Potemkin, the Jammers are determined to overthrow the Buro, and tyranny everywhere, by destroying all of the world's feng shui sites.

The Netherworld is also home to the Four Monarchs, two brothers and two sisters who once ruled the earth in an alternate reality. Once they commanded mighty armies and held tremendous power, but they grew careless and were deposed by the Ascended, who traveled back in time and eliminated them from history. Forced to flee to the Netherworld, the four now possess only a fraction of their former might, and they spend most of their time bickering and scheming against each other.

The Dragons, Our Heroes

And where do the players fit in to all of this? They are the heroes of the game, members of the last faction known as the Dragons. Drawn from every juncture and from all over the world, the Dragons are a loose collection of redeemed assassins, maverick cops, martial arts masters, and everyday heroes. They have banded together not for selfish gain, but to fight for the cause of goodness, justice, and freedom.

They are the heroes of the movies, facing impossible odds against overwhelming foes, yet still managing to save the day. What they lack in wealth and power they make up for with guts, determination, and nearly superhuman skills and abilities.

These are not your average PCs; a starting character in Feng Shui will be able to take on a dozen or more goons and come out of it unscathed. They'll charge in with both guns blazing, leap through the air with deadly flying kicks, and swoop through the sky hurling fireballs from their palms. They take names, kick ass, fight the good fight, always do the right thing, and always look cool while they're doing it.


Feng Shui uses the action films of Hong Kong as its foundation. Everything is painted in broad strokes and primary colors. The action is fast and furious, the humor is off-the-wall, and the melodrama is laid on thick. Every hero is searching for his long lost love, seeking vengeance against the man who killed his father, or is the sworn enemy of her childhood friend. Relationships are always tangled and complex, betrayal and revenge are commonplace, and the improbable is just another plot twist.

Sure, it's goofy and excessive and sometimes hokey, but like the movies on which the game is based, it's always a lot of fun.

Character Archetypes

Feng Shui is a remarkably simple game to learn and play. The rules are kept light and loose to allow for flexibility and speed. Players begin by choosing their characters from a list of available archetypes.

Archetypes are drawn from the movies and from the game setting, and they allow players a wide variety of choices, such as karate cops, scrappy kids, techies, and old masters. Characters need not be human either; many of the heroes of Feng Shui are redeemed villains, and thus players have the opportunity to create abominations, ghosts, cyborgs, and transformed animals.

Each archetype serves as a template for the players to customize by adjusting attributes and skills and by selecting special powers called schticks.


Schticks are the really flashy and cool powers and abilities that separate the players (and the villains) from the average person. Exotic martial arts abilities, magical spells, inherent creature powers, and lethal gun expertise are all example of schticks.

Melodramatic Hooks

The players also pick melodramatic hooks for their characters. These are the time-honored plot devices that motivate the character, the inner drive that goes beyond money or power.

Maybe your arch-enemy has framed you for murder, and you have to catch him to clear your name. If he also used to be your best friend before you both fell in love with the same woman, that's even better. If he's also secretly your long-lost brother and a powerful triad boss, and the woman you both loved who disappeared years ago has suddenly reappeared with a new identity, and is now also a highly-skilled assassin working for the Ascended, well, you get the idea.

Playing the Game

Virtually everything that happens in Feng Shui is handled by two six-sided dice, one positive and one negative. Whenever you attempt something, you take your relevant skill rating and make a task check against it. In other words, you roll both dice, add the positive roll to your skill rating, subtract the negative roll, and compare the total to the difficulty rating of the task (which is assigned by the GM). If you meet or exceed the target number you're successful.

A roll of 6 on either die means you get to re-roll and add (or subtract) the new roll to the total, with each roll of 6 repeating the process. Thus, it's possible to have some truly spectacular successes or failures.

Similarly, a roll of double-6s requires a re-roll of both dice. A following success means that you've succeeded in a spectacular fashion, while a failure means that you've really screwed things up royally.

Combat is handled the same way, with the attacking character making a task check on their Guns or Martial Arts skill or what-have-you against the skill of their opponent. If they roll above their opponent's skill level they've hit, and the damage is based on their strength and/or their weapon plus the amount by which they exceeded their target number minus the toughness of their opponent.

Like most RPGs, characters who take enough hits will weaken and run the risk of dying. However, Feng Shui characters are extremely tough and hardy, and down does not mean out. Living to fight another day is a staple for both heroes and villains in Feng Shui.

Named Characters vs. Mooks

Action is the heart of Feng Shui, and just as the game takes its influence from the movies, so combat in the game is designed to reflect what you see up on the screen. The players stand out from most of their enemies in that they are named characters, that is, they have personalities and play a significant part in the story.

Unnamed characters are the legions of identical goons that the bad guys throw at the heroes in waves. These “mooks” serve as cannon fodder for the good guys, a chance for the players to show off their stuff.

Players do not damage mooks when they hit them. Rather, if they roll 5 or higher above their target number, the mook is taken out of the fight. Most mooks only have a skill of somewhere between 6 and 8, while most PCs will start in the 13–15 range. This should give you an idea of how mooks stack up in the game. If it doesn't, go watch John Woo's The Killer or Hard Boiled to see what I mean.

Be warned though, the major villains have names, and they can be as tough and deadly, if not more so, as any of the player characters.

Describing Combat

Combat in Feng Shui also stands out in the way in which it is handled. There are no volumes of charts and tables to wade through, nor is it so abstracted as to be meaningless and uninteresting. Rather, players are encouraged to be as creative as possible when describing what they do in combat. Simply trying to shoot or hit someone is not enough; it has to be done with style, panache, and creativity.

Feng Shui heroes leap, dive, and slide across the scenery with a gun in each hand. They jump, spin, flip, and even fly across a room. They use their surroundings to its maximum effect, and they always look cool doing it. Watch any Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Chow Yun-Fat film, and you'll see how it's done.

Feng Shui makes it easy for characters to pull off these kinds of stunts by assigning little or no penalty to these actions. Not only is it perfectly feasible for you to jump over the speeding Ferrari heading toward you, grab the loading crane overhead, and slide across the warehouse ceiling with one hand on the hook and the other blazing away with a H&K MP5, you'll be rewarded for doing it. Experience in the game is given out for playing with inventiveness and style, and that means making all your stunts as cinematically exciting as possible.

So forget your notions of what is and isn't “realistic”. In Feng Shui, if you've seen it at the movies, then you can probably do it in the game.

History of the Game

Originally released in the summer of 1996 by Daedalus Games, Feng Shui rapidly became popular within the gaming community. Four sourcebooks were released, with more planned, before Daedalus folded. Despite the lack of support, Feng Shui continued to have a strong following among gamers, and the few releases for the game became highly sought after items.

Early in 1999, Robin D. Laws, the author of the game, announced that Atlas Games had acquired the rights to the game and that it would be reappearing on the shelves before the end of the year, along with brand new supplements. That promise was made good in August of that year, with the re-release of the game, now hardbound and with striking new cover art.

There are also a number of sites on the Web dedicated to Feng Shui by and for fans of the game. These sites contain a variety of material for the game, including unofficial rules, stories, news, ideas, and a whole lot more. You can check out the links page to see what else is on the Web. Or, you can stay and look around here for a while. There's plenty of homebrew Feng Shui stuff here, including a couple of adventures.