Review – Wu Xing: Truth and Lies
From the darkness, a single strand of steel wire flew forward and coiled around the guard’s throat. With a subtle tug from its master, the wire pulled the guard off his feet in a silent collapse. Emerging from the shadows, coiling the wire was a thin figure dressed in garb of black. The Way of the Pulled Strings had claimed another victim. Now, to slip inside and show the Emperor who the REAL puppeteer is…
Wu Xing, from Third Eye Games, is a ninja-themed roleplaying game based around a complex clan war structure. The latest release for the system, a sourcebook called Truth and Lies, is the second Kickstarter-funded sourcebook for the system, and an indication of a growing trend in gaming: fan-funded expansion projects. Funded in the Fall of 2012, Truth and Lies made nearly double its goal amount from just 88 total backers. Third Eye Games has used Kickstarter to fund other great projects, such as the utterly fantastic Mermaid Adventures roleplaying game where players explore quirky undersea adventures as a variety Atlantean mermen and mermaids, and Part Time Gods, where seemingly normal folks are suddenly gifted with godlike powers and have to try to balance their old and new lives. And with the Kickstarter model, instead of producing countless splat-books to grind sales from the fan base, a sourcebook like Truth and Lies comes directly from a player base that wants the product.
Truth and Lies hits the reader first and foremost with the level of depth. The book immediately jumps into two extended narratives in the first two chapters of recruits learning about the two clans presented in the sourcebook (The Will of Iron and the Hidden Strands of Fate). This is solid gaming fiction, no doubt about it. Page after page of each Clan’s chapter weaves a deep and thorough story about the Clan: its practices, its motivations, its members, and its history. The reader feels immersed in the Clan politics, and it can clearly be a springboard for building very deep characters with a lot of connections to the political machinations of the Wu Xing game world.
The latter chapters include a variety of game rules to pair with the new Clan offerings or be used a la carte. While there is some variation, the main feel of these options is that they give you a role in your Clan—again, about embedding the narrative of the Wu Xing world into the character generation. From new fighting styles to new mystical powers, there are some great and flavorful elements to enhance characters. The cool-factor hits its peak with a fighting style that uses razor-thin wires to dispatch foes, which combines with puppeteer powers to make a malevolent ninja a master of control, manipulation, and even sinister marionettes. With these new options, Wu Xing players will find that their ninjas can be more unique and powerful than ever. The only thing lacking is a solution to the now-classic defense against ninjas: lighting oneself on fire.
The main critique I felt when reading Truth and Lies was that it felt like a great sourcebook for people who don’t actually play any games. We all know a player or two like this: the sit-and-imagine-what-could-be roleplaying crowd. What they are looking for is not necessarily rules to run gaming sessions, but rather an immersive world to imagine various characters of their own partial creation inhabiting. There’s a strong resonance with a lot of the White Wolf Vampire: The Masquerade sourcebooks here, which I was always convinced were more for people to read and imagine, rather than practically use in a game. While certainly people can play games with the rules in Truth and Lies, to really “use” much of what is presented both the GM and all the players would have to have read the entire book—there is so much lingo, multiple names for the same Clan, and variety of intrigue going on, it’s hard to keep it all straight. And like the White Wolf products, it feels like that “being grounded in your Clan” element is necessary to the kind of stories that are going to be generated. The narrative depth that makes this book a really fun read actually makes it hard for me to imagine playing—a problem with many of the more “political intrigue” sorts of RPGs.
The only other (and related) complaint about Truth and Lies is the adventure included in the supplement. There’s a lot going on in the adventure: too much. It’s the classic moment where as a potential Game Master running it, I said to myself “how in the world will the players figure out all this backstory and intrigue that is supposed to motivate them?” And it’s why I feel like this book may be more interesting to the aspirational gamer than the actual gamer. The aspirational gamer, the older gamer who may not have many free nights to actually get together with friends for a game, can read through the adventure and enjoy the level of intrigue—they can think about how they would interact as a player and how the story would unfold. But for the actual gamer, I think the adventure might be a baffling experience (the classic “what is our motivation?” problem) or feature so much non-organic explanatory revelation from the Game Master that it would bog down (the classic “you missed the fact that this guy works for the shadow organization because his younger sister was kidnapped 18 years ago during a full moon—you didn’t realize that from the earlier description?” problem). Thus, I think it’s indicative of the product as a whole: it’s more for the imaginative space about gaming that is created by the product than a tight rule set for busting heads on the table top. And frankly, in this era of gaming, that might be one of the best-selling and most-popular reasons why game materials are consumed!
+ Fluff-lover’s dream, full of great narrative elements
+ The layout and design is crisp, with industry-standard art
+ Build a rich roleplaying environment
+ Exciting new options for the Wu Xing game, particularly a very thematically cool “Way of the Pulled Strings” character option for murderous ninja puppeteers who fight “silkworm style” with deadly razor-thin wire
- Lack of even a short introduction can lead to some confusion about the clans (which of the many variations is the actual name of the clan?)
- Complex elements require high player investiture
- The adventure presented in the book is unwieldy and overly complex
Overall, Truth and Lies, the new sourcebook for Wu Xing from Third Eye Games, hits more than it misses, and is a great pick-up for fans of the Wu Xing world. Though it can be unwieldy at times, players who want a deep immersion in the story of two ninja clans for their own ninja-themed games will not be disappointed. You can purchase Wu Xing: Truth and Lies at your friendly local game store, or the Third Eye Games webstore for $19.99 (MSRP) print edition or $9.99 (MSRP) for a PDF version.