Posted on July 14, 2008 by Flames
Weapons of the Gods is a Wu-xia martial arts game based in a sword-and-sorcery China and derived from the Chinese manga series by the same name. WotG is a fast paced game of martial arts, intrigue and high powered adventure falling somewhere between Qin and Exalted in the level of overpowered, martial arts mayhem and destruction it describes.
The book is a massive one, totalling out to nearly four hundred pages interspersed with illustrations that are mostly small, so that’s an intimidating amount of text, though most of it is background and plots, and thus optional. It includes the general rules, combat rules, character creation, kung fu, secret techniques and powers and an enormous section of plot and background providing a great many hooks and ideas to players and Games Masters alike. The game is complete in one book but be aware that the PDF I am reviewing from lacked the front cover image, this does make a file smaller but I would have liked it to be there. I have also read the hardcopy version.
The artwork almost throughout – with the exception of a few weapon illustrations – is taken from the Chinese manga. Personally I don’t find the Chinese manga style as engaging or as interesting as that of Japanese manga, this is a matter of personal taste however and the pieces are colourful and well executed and, since the game is based upon the comic books it makes sense to use that art. The layout is fairly simplistic and readable with a faded background that doesn’t interfere with the text or get in the way of reading, though the text layout is a little dull and can run together a bit too much, requiring the re-reading of some sections to be sure you have it right.
The writing is good, but dense, and uses many seemingly unnecessary terms that describe established RPG factors. This obfuscates some of what’s being said requiring a second or third reading and reference to the definitions to really get it. The writing is also very dense, difficult to take in with a single read through but this is only really true of the background/factions/plots sections of the text which does all start to blur together after a time. A Games Master will need to be familiar, intimately, with this section though, in order to run a fully effective game that truly relates to the background. If players are not so familiar with the comic books this can be less of a problem but if players are knowledgable then the GM can be put in something of a tight spot.
The clearest explanation was of the rules, though I’d heard elsewhere that these were difficult to get that isn’t because of the writing, which puts it out there quite clearly, at least so far as the basic rules go. For the rest things get a little more complicated and they aren’t all explained concisely in the same place, which is less effective writing as rules explanations go.
WotG uses a dicepool system but it isn’t one that is entirely intuitive. A handful of ten sided dice are rolled and the highest ‘set’ is used to determine the value of the roll, so you’re trying to get groups of the same number. A single number is read as ten plus the number, two the same as 20 plus the number and so on, 10s are considered to be zeroes. This seems odd and takes a while to grasp but really isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it. The other main concept is the idea of ‘The River’ a storehouse of dice that can then be used later in a scene like ‘wildcards’ in a poker hand to make longer or better chains and thus to get better results.
Layered on top of this relatively simple system are all the exceptions, special rules and conditions that complicate it, and there’s a lot of them from The River to chi of assorted colours to all the Martial Arts powers. This in many ways defeats the object of keeping a system simple but it does make all these special abilities and styles important, which is a good thing when it comes to such kung-fu dependent settings.
The one complaint I do have about the system is that it has a certain lack of detail, something that does plague a lot of dicepool and soft systems, you can harm someone but you can’t, as such, sever limbs or go for specific effects beyond the remit of your powers. This can make battle description a little more difficult to keep engaging and does stifle player creativity somewhat.
Where the game shines, or falls down, depending on your spin, is in the backgrounds. Characters can have fates and destinies and can buy into plotlines that exist in the background of the game as well as tying themselves into the various clans, factions and other powers that be. On the plus side this gives the players tremendous buy-in to the game and provides the GM with a great deal of inspiration to run their games. On the minus side the GM necessarily loses a great degree of control over their own game, the campaign – if you follow the rules in the book – needs to be built upon the desires of the players expressed through what backgrounds they have bought, not the idea of the GM in the raw.
* Simple dicepool system, very accessible.
* High martial arts action with plenty of styles and powers.
* Good player buy-in to the game narrative.
* Unnecessary use of extraneous language/terminology.
* GM lack of control over the campaign direction and content.
* Qin does it better.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough