Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate: RPG Review

Wandering Heroes Of Ogre Gate
Welcome to a review of the portable document format (PDF) of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. A wuxia & xianxia inspired role-playing game (RPG). Don’t know what wuxia or xianxia is? Admittedly, I had only a passing knowledge myself. We’ll get to that. Digitizing in before me is nearly 500 pages of game content.
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Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is available in Hardcover, softcover and PDF at studio2publishing.com and at OBS sites (RPGNow & DriveThruRPG) Bedrock Games is an active indie publisher and has a number of RPG products available. This is the second RPG product (Mafia, Cosa Nostra being the first) I’ve had the pleasure to review for this column.

A brief on Wuxia and Xianxia:

One of the most well-known and readily available examples of wuxia is the movie Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon. If you haven’t seen this movie I highly recommend you do. If you don’t care to learn what wuxia is, I still recommend it. It’s good. To put it roughly, wuxia is Chinese mythologies knight errand. The literal definition is martial hero. Typically, these heroes roam the land righting wrongs, for the sake of virtue, instead of a typical knighted hero, for god and country. The driving elements in wuxia or of a wuxia story, are the martial artists’ journey for virtue itself-to do a thing because it is virtuous, rather than as with the western ideal, in the name of said virtue.

Xianxia literally means immortal hero. A xianxia story deals in the fantastical, bringing in the elements of demons and magic wrapped in Chinese mythology. The merge of these elements is attributed to the influence of Taoism, a real world religion being practiced today. While martial arts are a prime feature in wuxia, in xianxia martial arts are an element of the story. Xianxia themes are more to do with the supernatural. The best western movie I can think of to compare (or one which you may have seen) is Big Trouble in Little China; this to me, is a xianxia movie. Thankfully, the preface provides an explanation that should have any westerner ignorance covered, or least does so in an effort to create a roleplaying game with these themes. Now that we’ve covered that in brief, let’s get to it!

The setting of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is Qi Xien, the realm of man, which following the multiple definitions used by Chinese language also implies the physical world players will explore. To say that amount of setting detail in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate impressed, is putting it mildly.

Historical Eras are succinctly defined providing a mythological themed “beginning of time” and a brief description for each of the following eras to the setting’s present. The timeline encompasses about 4,000 years of Qi Xien (fictional) history. A few of these eras even come with their-own map! Those that read this column know that if this reviewer is a sucker for anything; its maps and setting. Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate has both. Admittedly, the setting elements of this RPG were the first chapters/sections I jumped to when I began my review. Beyond eras, lengthy sections expand and tie in the basics of Qi Xien: religions, cosmology, customs & daily life.

Chapter Eight: People & Places-provides a detailed outline of the Zhan Dao Empire, (the likely, governmental protagonist) and a number of brief outlines for the independent regions and cities beyond. Just about every notable region, or city location indicated on the map, is provided a treatment. While a picture paints a thousand words, the description provided in regards to the setting make sure that this picture is specific (or at least will be) in the theater of the (players/GMs) mind. Wander Heroes of Ogre Gate doesn’t imply, it richly describes it.

A bit of an aside, but with a little improvisation the setting elements of this RPG could certainly be inserted into just about any medieval fantasy setting. I have some thoughts to even incorporate Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate as a land afar, for my current D&D basic campaign. Let’s move on to the fiddly bits, otherwise known as game mechanics.             

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate utilizes a variation of the Network System. Mechanically, the Network System is a skill based system. Characters don’t have what we classically consider attribute or ability scores, which aim to simulate physical and mental aptitudes. The system utilizes a D10 dice pool. Unlike previous editions the system, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate incorporates incremental numerical (+1 or -2 etc.) modifiers. Difficulty is determined by the Game Master and can be adjusted by situational modifiers and/or, martial hero capability.

A character’s skill or level of aptitude directly correlates to the total number of dice rolled for a check. With the target number set by the GM, as long as one of the dice rolled is a number equal or greater than TN, the character succeeds. A specific action which is determined by roll of the dice is a success, a greater than normal success, or failure.

A few particulars of this system are that with an unskilled check or trying to something in which a character has no rank in the relevant skill; the roll is 2d10 and the lowest result is taken. Penalty and condition modifiers can alter a roll dramatically reducing or increasing the dice roll by as much as (+/-) 3d10. In addition these modifiers, additional numerical modifiers equal to the number of dice, which are added (favorable) or subtracted (unfavorable) from the result. Rolling an unmodified 10 is counted as a greater than normal success and awards a bonus dependent on the specific nature of the roll, be it in the attempt at a skill or combat roll.

I’ve done a couple a reviews without; so let’s make a character!

Character creation in Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is no simple task. The reason for this is the number of options and the meticulous nature of the writing. Right away, while everything is clearly outlined and this being my first delve into making my martial hero, I can tell I’m in for it. I’m giving a brief treatment here rather than covering all of the thirteen steps.

Step One is picking a race. There are four other worldly options besides being human and the subtle features of these races (advantages/disadvantages) are borrowed from Chinese mythology. I took the road most traveled here and select a human.

Step Two Primary Skill Groups. Players select their primary and secondary skills groups, note, not the actual skills themselves, until (step seven) the character is better fleshed out. Primary skills are selected among two of the six total categories, and receive 12 points for each. Six points are given for Secondary skills and can be among any of the other six categories. What interesting about this section is the ability for characters to increase the physic of their characters is possible by availability of skill ranks which reflect physical aptitudes. Most skill based systems avoid the mechanics of physicality (or at least the ones I’ve read mostly do), but as the practice of martial arts is certainly a physical activity I was glad to see these options. Skills are divided into two categories General and Expertise.

Step Three is to Select a Sect and/or Sifu. I’ll let the game speak for itself here:

 “Martial sects are organized groups of Kung Fu Experts and come in many forms. Some sects are associations or communities, some are religious orders and others are martial arts schools. Sects are divided into orthodox and unorthodox sects….” (PG 190; Martial Sects, CHPT 6)

There are a dozen sects to choose from. Each are provided a brief treatment: History, Organization Belief, Reputation & available martial arts techniques. If I ran a Campaign, I would certainly have the players start in the same sect, though this isn’t a requirement.

Step Six is selecting from among four Kung-Fu disciplines which players previously allocated points to determine proficiency. Each discipline has a specific number of techniques attributed. What’s most interesting here is the way Wander heroes of Ogre Gate balances a characters ability to utilize techniques by creating an applicable mechanic: imbalance and limiting the initial techniques that are available via sect/Sifu. Each of the four disciplines, the available techniques and options receives a detailed treatment encompassing roughly 60 pages of content.

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is certainly not an entry level RPG. Though a minor point, that could be a criticism, but if it is, it’s really the only one I can muster up. The level of detail is likely the first thing you’ll notice if you pick it up. In fact, as I wrote this review I had to carefully decide what to include and there is a lot of good and great content here I’m not mentioning.

The layout and organization is very important in a product like this due to its sheer enormity, but thankfully the table of contents acts as a mini index; chapters and heading titles have been thoughtfully linked in the PDF. One click and you arrive. Beyond what is written I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single aesthetic that I didn’t like; which is pretty rare. I usually find something to nit-pick. The clean lines and effects of the interior black and white illustrations, certainly add to the wuxia and xianxia vibe. The artist Jackie Musto is awesome! As is the cartography work. The maps, borders, headers and side pane illustrations are very trim this product nicely.

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate is a product I defiantly recommend. And in so far, the best RPG I’ve reviewed for this column, this year.