Feng Shui is the name of two separate things:
- A new-age thing that allows neurotic control freaks to look spiritual.
- The RPG where the first session can open with a kung-fu master, a loose-cannon cop who plays by his own rules, a sorcerer from the mists of Chinese history, and a cyborg gorilla eating noodles in a restaurant staffed entirely by ninjas, all with absolutely no homebrewing on the GM's part.
This game is designed in homage to Hong Kong action movies, so expect ridiculous fight scenes and a plot that exists primarily to give the PCs opportunities to show off their Weeaboo Fightan Magic. God only knows why nobody's made conversion rules for running JoJo's Bizarre Adventure games yet. The system is like a very early precursor to the FATE System, using the "wilder curve" of rolling two differently-colored d6s and subtracting one from the other before adding skill modifiers that some FATE games use as an alternative rolling scheme alongside exploding dice. The main source of PC abilities is by taking schticks, special powers and features (and also the crunchier counterpart of FATE's Aspects) which range from secret techniques handed down from the old masters to demon limbs grafted to your body to just being really good at shooting guns. There were two versions of the first edition, one by Daedalus Entertainment in 1996, the second by Atlas Games in 1999, which kept the original text, rolled in some extra archetypes from the Back For Seconds supplement, and gave it new art and layout. It is very, very 90s. A full second edition, Feng Shui 2, came out in 2015, updating the mechanics and setting to fit modern design sensibilities.
Feng Shui was a pioneer in the field of action-driven, rules-light RPGs. Some mechanics and ideas that Feng Shui was the first or among the first to implement are:
- Simplified crunch for random thugs (known as "unnamed characters" or "mooks") that act as living props for the PCs to go ham on
- Getting mechanical bonuses for describing the awesome thing your character is trying to do
- A "shot clock" initiative system, with different actions taking different lengths of time, rather than a pure turn-based system, to better simulate a chaotic action-movie brawl
- Encouraging the players to decide what happens when they fail or suffer some plot-mandatory setback instead of having the GM dictate it to them
- Outright telling the GM to avoid making players roll for things unless the consequences of failure would be fun to play out
- The "ninja rule"-- if the PCs don't know where to go next or the plot is starting to drag, just throw ninjas at them, they'll come up with something
Archetypes & Schticks
Character classes in Feng Shui are called types (or archetypes in Feng Shui 2) and represent cliche action movie characters, like the drifter in way over his head, the vengeful ghost, the kung-fu cop, and the junkyard rat who can fix anything. Feng Shui has a metric fuckton of types available thanks to the 90s supplement treadmill White Wolf made so much money on, and even Feng Shui 2 has 37 archetypes in the core rulebook. For the sake of keeping this article from taking over the wiki, we instead talk about the different types of schticks, which are the primary determinant of what your character can do and work well for dividing characters into broad categories.
- Gun schticks are for characters that are good with guns. Duh. These mostly consist of passive benefits for using guns, or active techniques for a quick boost, and are the simplest schticks in this way, since the only major downsides to guns are occasional supply issues outside the Present day juncture and the ruleset governing reloading, and/or dramatically throwing away empty guns to draw fresh ones. "Guns" also covers bow-wielding characters, and using a bow has the benefit of less time spent reloading at a dramatically inconvenient moment.
- Fu schticks are for super kung fu powers with names like "Claw of the Dragon" and shit. No Kamehamehas, though, that's for Sorcery. You spend "fu points" derived from your Chi stat to activate your fu schticks and then you do crazy Fist of the North Star bullshit. Notably, many fu powers also work with melee weapons. If you're playing a transformed animal, you get a bonus to use fu schticks that are named after what kind of animal you are.
- Transformed animal schticks govern the supernatural powers wielded by intelligent animals that turned themselves human through spiritual refinement and their descendants. A whole assload of these things, separated into thematic buckets based on what animal you are; they tend to have more passive and out-of-combat benefits than fu schticks. Transformed dragons can learn any transformed animal schtick. Feng Shui 2 removed all the transformed animals except for transformed crabs and dragons, paring everyone else down to a bare-minimum stat block with access to the animal schticks that were left in for dragons to use.
- Magical schticks represent the Sorcery powers you know. Fireballs, divination, sensing chi flow, stuff like that. Magic is extra-dangerous for transformed animals, because exposure to magic makes them turn into animals again-- and they can't change back, so it's effectively instant death. (Feng Shui 2 turned this into a "three strikes" system that increasingly impacts the story until you get reverted for real.) The main drawbacks of Sorcery are that it gets modifiers based on the juncture you're in (unless you're in contemporary Hong Kong) and getting a Way-Awful Failure on a Sorcery check turns the spell back on you in gruesome fashion.
- Creature schticks represent the powers and traits of supernatural creatures from the ancient past. This can be anything from razor-sharp claws to shapeshifting to stealing peoples' chi by sticking quills in their testicles. Characters that can take these usually can't be healed by doctors from outside their native juncture because medicine from anywhere else can't handle their alien biology.
- Arcanowave schticks cover the ability to use arcanowave devices, living tools and weapons grown in labs by the Buro and infused with the souls of demons and other supernatural creatures from 69 AD. Doesn't sound bad? They all look like depictions of Chinese demons filtered through the mind of H.R. Giger. Oh, and they can mutate you if you use them for extended periods. Characters with these schticks and Creature schticks are immune to mutation, but they can only be healed by doctors experienced in both medicine from ancient China and the dark future.
- Hardware schticks were cyborg stuff introduced in the Gorilla Warfare supplement for the Jammers. Since they effectively and completely patch out many of the issues the arcanowave schticks had, and can be traded with them at a 1:1 rate at character creation, lots of people did it.
- Scroungetech schticks replace arcanowave devices in Feng Shui 2, and represent shit scavenged from the wreckage of the Future juncture. These don't mutate you, even if they're named after arcanowave devices from the first edition.
- Mutant schticks are unique to Feng Shui 2, and are basically magical schticks without the juncture modifiers, but with a random "miscast" table that you risk having to roll on every time you use a mutant power. They're only used by mutants from the Future juncture and tend to have pithy names like "How Magnets Work" and "Some Damn Thing With Playing Cards."
The setting of Feng Shui revolves around, well, feng shui. Chinese geomancy is real, it works, and not only does it improve your stock returns, it controls the course of history. Attune yourself to enough locuses for the world's chi (called feng shui sites even if they're nowhere near China) and the chi flowing through them bends to your will, granting you fortune and power over the masses. PCs are various types of action movie protagonist dragged into the Secret War (or Chi War if you're playing Feng Shui 2) for control of these sites, which extends across time thanks to the ethereal realm known as the Netherworld. You see, while time looks linear to you and me, it's actually more like a canal shaped like a pretzel. It bends and twists around on itself, and the "knots" become portals to the Netherworld. The Netherworld is a... place of damp, mist-filled caverns which exists outside of normal time and may or may not be made entirely of solidified chi, and by walking through it you can find another portal which will take you to another place in time and space. But mostly China. Don't get clever and think you can use this to fix fights in your favor or send messages to yourself; time travel in Feng Shui is only there for genre chop-suey and the GM is outright told to fuck you up if you try anything. The times that (almost) all Netherworld portals open to at any given moment are fixed, called junctures by those who use them. There are usually four at any given moment, but this is not a hard and fast rule of the setting, and the GM is given permission (through "rumors" in Feng Shui and the new pop-up junctures in Feng Shui 2) to have a portal open to anywhere, anywhen.
Notably, each of the junctures also enforces certain genre rules and norms on you when you go there, since whichever faction controls the chi sites in that juncture sets the paradigm for the world. So, while spellcasters may rule the world in the past junctures (and, indeed, once did), their shit barely works in modern times, while kung fu superpowers are significantly less-effective against well-armed future police. And, of course, a character who's a gunfighting badass is in a lot of trouble if he's stranded in a juncture where all the guns are shit. (Odin help you if you get stuck in Norway in 2056. Vikings give no fucks about your puny guns.) Feng Shui 2 mostly abandoned that rule, save that, in magic-friendly junctures, every spell a character uses magic points to activate heals them, and in unfriendly junctures, it hurts them. And creature power users are harder to hurt in their home junctures but easier to kill in modern times. Stupid modern genre television. For whatever reason, both Hong Kong and the Netherworld are mostly neutral to all sources of power, with all of them going off equally well.
Here's where things get crazy. Because time is anchored to the flow of chi, if you control enough of that chi you can induce a critical shift in the timeline. If you try to do this without the chi being in your favor, it accomplishes jack shit as events bend around your changes. (Say Johnny Wong goes back in time and kills his ancestor. When he gets back to his own juncture, he finds that his name is now Johnny Fong, and he has a different personal history, but everything else is pretty much the same and as far as anyone outside of the Secret War is concerned it's always been that way. This is called a superficial shift.) Critical shifts have the power to completely change the timeline, so there's a lot riding on gaining and defending your feng shui sites lest your rivals in the Netherworld create a critical shift that leaves you and your buddies as bums or something.
The main junctures in the original versions are:
69 AD: A juncture straight out of Hong Kong wuxia movies, the Hong Kong of this juncture is nominally ruled by the Han Dynasty, but officials have become corrupt, and a secret faction of evil eunuch sorcerers known as the Eaters of the Lotus have taken over the administration of the empire, quashing dissent with kung fu mercenaries, summoned demons, and powerful sorcery.
1850 AD: A juncture straight out of period kung fu cinema, where the Chinese and the Western powers clash in Hong Kong. It's also the period for Victorian adventures and Wild West action. One of the groups seeking power is the Guiding Hand, a group of Shaolin monks and other kung fu types who want to get rid of foreign influence in China and bring about a world of enlightenment, which in their mind means a boring and stagnant bureaucracy in which everyone does exactly what their parents and superiors tell them forever. They fucking hate the contemporary juncture. They're clashing with the Ascended for control of it, a fight which they are currently set to lose.
Contemporary ("1996"): The modern day, such as it is in the Heroic Bloodshed genre. This juncture (as well as most of 1850) is controlled by the Ascended, an Ancient Conspiracy made up of the descendants of animals who defied the natural order and transformed themselves into humans long ago, but retain many inhuman superpowers based on their animal selves. The only thing that can turn them back into their natural animal form is magic, and thus, the Ascended and their human agents, the Pledged, are actively involved in the suppression of magic and the discrediting or destruction of sorcerers. The Ascended control the government, the police, the military, and most of the major crime syndicates of the world with their chi-based superpowers, and they aim to keep the world 100% magic-free and their own pocketbooks full of easy cash.
2056 AD: A dystopian future, this juncture is ruled by a one-world government called the Bureau of Tactical Management (or "Buro" in short), monitoring its civilians via a sophisticated surveillance state that is equal parts the World State from Brave New World and Oceania from 1984. (Incidentally, grab the Buro supplement from Warehouse 23 and compare the propaganda of 2056 with the "diversity and inclusion" movements of the current year. You will either laugh your ass off or shit a brick, there is no middle ground.) The group that was instrumental in bringing the Buro to power are the Architects of the Flesh, a group of mad scientists who use arcanowave technology, an unholy fusion of magic and science that warps its users beyond recognition, and who capture monsters from 69 AD and alter them to create cyber-demonic commandos called Abominations, which the Buro uses to fight its wars. While the Buro has good intentions, in a tragic "gone too far" sort of way, it's the Architects that control the chi sites, and therefore the real powers. And the Architects are diiiiiiiicks.
In addition to the factions listed above, three more factions have significant influence on the setting and metaplot:
The Jammers are a group of balls-out crazy anarchists who are among the few people born with immunity to the influence of chi. They started as rebels against the Buro and the Architects in 2056, and have developed their own brand of junkyard tech that doesn't rely on arcanowave science. They were founded by Battlechimp Potemkin, a cybernetically-enhanced ape who was created by the Buro to be a general for a whole army of super-apes, but ended up convincing his creators to help him bust out of the lab that made him. The Battlechimp is a seriously tough cookie who makes "ethical flexibility" his motto and will do anything in the name of getting back at the Buro; one of the first things he did was use the technology from the ape lab to start making a super-ape army for himself. The Jammers want nothing less than to destroy every Feng Shui site in existence so that humanity can be freed from the "tyranny" of chi, which would almost certainly kill the human race. They're actually getting openings generated for them by the Ascended, who are frustrated by the fact that they get torn to pieces between 1999 and 2056 and plan to pull the rug out from under the Jammers when they win and sell out like every successful revolutionary group in history.
The Four Monarchs are four siblings and powerful sorcerers who divided the world up between themselves to rule, until the the Ascended captured enough Feng Shui sites in the medieval era to trigger a Critical Shift in time that brought about the world we know and removed them from power by destabilizing the magic they relied on. Each monarch has carved out his or her own little kingdom in the Netherworld, where it still worked, and they continually plot and scheme against each other and against the other factions. They are, respectively, Li Ting, an atheist who once ruled from Jerusalem (irony) who embodies the intelligent and rational aspects of fire in the most nastily selfish and Ayn Rand-ian way possible, Huan Ken, who was both the Thunder King and the Pope, and is a hot-blooded, mercurial figure who runs around wearing nothing above the waist but his pope-hat and is the best of the four in terms of straight-up ass-kicking, Pi Tui, a literal ice queen who is respected but not loved, gives her subjects a Bill of Rights, and perennial secret patron of the Dragons who, beneath her aloof facade, has come to regret the lives she and her siblings have led and admits that the world is better off with them trapped in the Netherworld, and Ming I, the most straight-up evil of the four and one of the worst villains in the game. She ruled over China and South/Central America in a nightmarish orgy of blood-magic and human sacrifice to remain forever young, and has twisted her once-benevolent shadow powers into evil soul-eating perversions in her relentless thirst to reconquer all time and space.
The Dragons are the good guys, a collection of maverick cops, redeemed assassins, martial artists, Ninjas, big bruisers, monstrous creatures that have learned to love via the friendship of innocent young girls, good-aligned defectors from any and all of the other factions and other heroic types rising from among the humble and the outcasts of the world in order to fight for freedom, justice, and the right to look extremely cool while kicking ass. The Dragons rise again and again throughout time in order to help people and keep important Feng Shui sites from falling into the wrong hands. The reason why they rise again and again is because they keep getting brutally killed. At the start of your game, the latest incarnation of the Dragons has just been brutally destroyed by an alliance of their various enemies. They got double-killed in the shift to Feng Shui 2 since one of their founders went mysteriously missing as part of the 1850 reboot, and the other turned to dust in the explosion of the Chi Bomb.
Then there are the minor factions and personalities that hang out in the Netherworld and can be used for subplots but don't have the muscle to play with the big boys. Most of these were added in the Netherworld supplement Elevator to the Netherworld.
- The dis-timed aren't really a faction so much as a band of shitty refugees bound together by the fact that their timelines were destroyed by a critical shift and they have no way of fixing it. There have been a lot of critical shifts, so there are a lot of these guys. They're the innocents you have to protect when you get into fights in the Netherworld, dress like an explosion in a Hollywood prop department, and generally just try to survive the war between the main factions. A lot of them scavenge from the Junkyard, a big junk-filled chamber that the Four Monarchs throw their garbage in and use as a buffer zone between themselves; the old Dragon HQ is hidden inside the scrapheaps.
- IKTV is the Netherworld's one and only TV station; it broadcasts with some weird machine that interacts with chi to produce radio waves. It's run by the Towson twins, two geeks who somehow found out about the Netherworld and decided that a secret war for the fate of the world was the perfect setting to start their own network. They carry both hard-hitting reporting on the major factions and whatever silly shit they came up with while drunk off their asses. Because IKTV is the only source of news that covers the Secret War, every faction has an interest in storming the two nerds and their fancy antenna so they can use it as a source of propaganda or just keep unflattering stories from getting out. Becomes IKnet in Feng Shui 2, the logical extension of IKTV into Wi-Fi.
- Pinballhalla is also not a faction, but it's so ludicrous that it deserves a mention anyway. It's an arcade guarded by Vikings and owned by a pinball designer who was attuned to feng shui sites by his bosses and sees the Netherworld as an opportunity to prove he didn't need the assist. He uses shaping to make his own pinball machines; Huan Ken gives the place his stamp of approval in exchange for getting first dibs on each new machine. And of course, he also has a human-scale pinball machine for the PCs to fight in.
- The Field of Tentacles is not the writers' magical realm. It's unruly, feeds on human blood, possibly intelligent, and has a Moonie-style cult devoted to it. The cult is completely fucking nuts, but they're dangerous because they can produce a clone of the Field and drop it on people they don't like.
- The Brotherhood of Hebrew Champions is /pol/'s worst nightmare: LASER JEWS. They're dis-timed soldiers from a juncture where the Jews settled in Tibet and learned kung fu, which they combined with Kaballah to make Chi/ballah which is Kenshiro Cascadero "Rattata" Orcuslayer levels of broken. Empowered by this mighty cheese, they conquered Eurasia and eventually sent the Brotherhood into the Netherworld when their empire became a juncture. Unfortunately for them, the simple presence of Netherworld portals shifted their era's chi and within a week the Sacred Hebraic Empire had been erased by a critical shift. These days they just try to keep it together in their small synagogue and fight "devils" (read: Lotus and Architect agents in the wrong place at the wrong time) when they have the chance. Do not fuck with the laser Jews, their KUNG JEW will knock anyone on their ass and their leader can turn anything from the Underworld (including PCs with arcanowave schticks, who die if they're cyborgs or abominations and lose their arcanowave ports otherwise) into jewgolds by thinking at it.
- The Big Babies are probably the most whacked-out thing in Feng Shui next to the laser Jews, which is fucking saying something. They're nine immortal firebreathing titans that used to rule the Netherworld through brute force until they were tricked into drinking water from the fountain of youth, turning them into babies. The problem with this, of course, is that a baby immortal firebreathing titan is still nine feet tall, fully unkillable and fully capable of burninating a bitch. Needless to say, trying to beat them in a straight-up fight is a Bad Idea.
Feng Shui 2
In Feng Shui 2, the detonation of a Chi Bomb triggers a major shake-up in the junctures. The main junctures now are:
Ancient (690 AD): The closure of their original era thanks to the bomb forced the Eaters of the Lotus to find refuge in this new juncture, during the time of the Tang Dynasty, where Empress Wu Zeitan, China's only official female ruler, has begun her reign. Unfortunately for the Lotus, the Empress is not about to tolerate any threats to her power, and has purged her court of sorcerers, so the Lotus seek to undermine her and claim power for themselves. They also accidentally left their evil boss back in 69, and are currently trying to open an unstable portal and get him back.
Past (1850 AD): Uniquely among the main junctures, this one remains attached to its original year, with the Guiding Hand seeking to remove foreign influence from China, the Ascended keeping the world free of magic, and any and all other 1800s-related adventures being open. The book basically admits that, from a story perspective, this doesn't make much sense, but shrugs and admits you can leave it behind if you like.
Contemporary: The contemporary juncture advances with the passing of time, so it's always the present day, and the Ascended continue to maintain their dominion over the modern world.
Future (2074 AD): Thanks to the Chi Bomb, this juncture has gone from a dystopia to a post-apocalyptic wasteland along the lines of Mad Max, with cyborgs, mutants and road warriors struggling to survive in a devastated junkyard world. In 2069, the Jammers detonated the Chi Bomb in an attempt to eradicate chi in all major junctures. Fortunately for the timestream - if not for those who survived - the worst effects were chiefly limited to their time period, killing 97% of the population, mutating many of the survivors, and laying waste to the environment. The Architects of the Flesh, as holders of most of the planet's chi sites, were wiped out. The Jammers, faced with the horrific disaster they'd brought about, split into two factions. The original Jammers now seek to claim sufficient chi sites in the past to induce a critical shift that undoes the Chi Bomb explosion. If people end up dying in the process, well, who cares? They're probably going to get erased when the critical shift hits anyway. The New Simian Empire, meanwhile, seeks the establishment of a new cyber-ape empire, whether in this era or the past. This requires them to raid the contemporary juncture for technology, as the Jammer ape factories were destroyed in the chaos.
In addition, the Chi Bomb's explosion has also triggered the creation of pop-up junctures, temporary portals providing access to other time periods and a convenient hole for metaplot NPCs to fall down and never be seen again. Just in case you really needed some 1920s mobsters and hardboiled detectives in the mix. (Or sure, fine, Nazis, I guess. If you're that uncreative.)
Why You Should Play It
It's an easy-to-learn, fast-paced system that encourages over-the-top action. Also, cyborg gorillas.