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Qin: the Warring States Review

Posted on September 15, 2007 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Introduction
Qin is to China’s mythological history what Legend of the Five Rings is to Japan’s. While there are superficial and stylistic similarities between the two games and they share the same broad appeal the similarities in no way mean they’re the same any more than the broad similarities between Japan and China themselves mean they’re in any way the same country.

Qin takes a more historical approach – though don’t worry, there are monsters and magic – and has a much more egalitarian and open society structure (considering the source material) than Legend of the Five Rings. Being a peasant or bandit is a much more viable option in Qin and while the social order is divinely mandated and enforced – particularly for women – the period of the setting is chaotic enough and in enough upheaval that this is no longer an issue.

Qin is published by a French company, 7th Circle, and has been taken on (in the ‘seven’ theme) for publication in English by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. The line is planned to be finite and the translation from the French appears, so far, to have been done much better than in many other cases. Cubicle 7 are yet to release any of the supplements yet, however, so it remains to be seen if the quality of translation and presentation will continue with the next releases, I’m confident it will.

This review is based on the colour PDF, though I have held and thumbed through the physical edition.

Overview
Qin is a hefty 275 page, hardback book with a leather-effect glossed and embossed cover. Another example of a swing back towards graphical imagery rather than pictures on gaming book covers. The interior is colour, but for the most part this is a parchment and brush-painted effect, with a few clearer illustrations here and there for effect. The game is complete in one volume and the system loose enough that you could expand the options available yourself with little effort, though the supplementary material will still be welcome when it arrives.

The game is set during the ‘warring states’ period of Chinese history after the fall of the previous Imperial family but before the establishment of the Qin dynasty.

Players take the role of heroes in these hard times where rival kingdoms are vying for territory and the throne and the most obviously available roles would be those of a kingdom’s secret service, or of wandering heroes (or villains) taking advantage of or trying to compensate for the chaos of the period.

Artwork
The cover is a wonderful bit of simplistic and eye-catching design with the matt/gloss contrast along with the embossing doing wonders for the already competent execution. The interior art is evocative, with much of it in the ‘scrappy’ style of a calligraphic brush, accompanied by a few stand-out pieces of more visible, more clear, more linear art where needed. My only complaint, with both the PDF and the hardcopy, would be that the darkness of the background combined with the indistinct nature of most of the images makes reading either a bit of a hard slog as the images can come through a little muddy and there’s not quite enough contrast between the text and the page.

The layout is good, the chapters reasonably well divided but there is a lot of information to convey to the reader in terms of history, politics, background and the general social setting, let alone the rules (which are mercifully fairly simple) but a good balance appears to have been struck so that the information gets conveyed without being too jumbled up. Section headings are in a slightly difficult to read brush stroke styled font which, combined with the dimness of the pages can make reading a little tricky.

Writing
The fiction is, largely, short and to the point and focussed on helping lay out the setting and role/capabilities of the heroes. The bulk of the writing is explanatory text about the myths, history, legends, social mores, societal changes, religions and other aspects of the world including, in the GM section, the powers behind the various intrigues and supernatural forces at work in the shadows. This is, for the most part, fairly matter-of-fact but in places displays a little of the poetry and cadence of translated Chinese epics which, to me, demonstrates the quality of the translation and the love of the creators for their subject matter.

The game rules are described more than adequately and I had no problem understanding the application of them from the descriptions given, which is a welcome break from the situation with other French game translations!

Background
The background is an historical one, the era of The Warring States with particular focus on the rise of the Qin Kingdom which was later to become the Qin Dynasty. The main thrust of the game seems to take the assumption that characters will be operating for the ascendant Qin Kingdom, perhaps as part of their secret service (which would allow for many peculiar mixes of characters). Qin is just beginning its inexorable rise and the other kingdoms are set in opposition to it – as well as each other – iron is a relatively new technology as is properly organised cavalry and the Chinese Empire is surrounded by barbarians, who can also threaten this fractious and fractured land.

That’s the historical context, but Qin is also a game of mythological heroes and supernatural epics. Hungry ghosts and other foul spirits also wander the land and even darker things may also dwell in the ruined countryside, waiting to drag a poor unfortunate down into one of the many Chinese hells. Magic and the secret knowledge of the Tao can empower characters as much as their skills with a sword or their fists.

While the game draws heavily from the Wuxia films the context of the game and the nature of the magic and powers is a little more down to earth than one might expect from such an influence. You won’t find powers on the scale of, say, Exalted here but you will find arrows snatched out of the air and other acts at a lower end of the scale.

The comparisons with Legend of the Five Rings cannot help but be made, however I described things at the beginning and this is definitely the game for the Sinophile equivalent of the Japanophile L5R fan.

Rules
The basic rule is simple, two ten-sided dice are rolled, one designated the Yin dice, one designated the Yang dice. The lowest dice is taken away from the highest and this score is combined with your attribute (taken from the Chinese elements) and your skill to result in a final score. If it beats a target number you succeed, though some long term tasks may require several rolls to be made until enough are accumulated to succeed. Zero on the dice is counted as a zero, not a ten, and matched pairs show Yin/Yang balance which can give you some form of advantage – unless they are both zero.

For combat things flow pretty normally, skill level determines how many actions you can take in a turn (in sub-phases called exchanges), initiative is rolled and combat checks are opposed or static target numbers, much as one would expect. There are rules for ‘mooks’ as easier-to-defeat enemies and unlike many games with special powers the combat moves, Tao and magic seem to interoperate cleanly and without raising too many questions and problems, at least at first and second read through.

Character creation is a fairly easy point based system, though the use of the elements as statistics can be confusing for a while. Compared to many games characters can seem a little two dimensional, the amount of skill and attribute points and the relative range of values available does not make characters stand out too much, at least to start with, and there is impetus and bonus within the game for actually pursuing being average in terms of statistics which, to me, doesn’t seem to encourage stand out and individual characters.

Upsides

* Good presentation.
* Packed with information.
* Exciting and engaging setting.

Downsides

* Dark pages.
* Lack of martial arts depth may disappoint.
* Statistics can be confusing.

Score
Style: 5
Substance: 4
Overall: 4.5

Reviewer: James ‘Grim’ Desboro

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