Roleplaying’s Asian Fetish

2006 May 21

With the pre-release rules summery of French publisher 7th Circle’s English version of Qin: The Warring States out, I have to do the expected thing and bitch a little bit. This bitching comes in two parts:

1) Playing Dynasty Warriors does not qualify you to write a 200+ page game about the Warring States. Yes, run a campaign about it, by all means. Yes, make up your own house system. Yes, release a little short indie game, sure. But if you’re going to spend the time and money necessary to produce a massive, full-color tome, make sure somebody knows what the fuck they’re talking about. I mean, if you have that much money, hire a consultant. Warring States my honky white ass.

2) Do we really need another Orientalist martial arts game that fetishizes the rules system and kewl kung fu powers? Don’t we already have, like, at least a half dozen that are still regularly played? What does this do for us that Exalted, Weapons of the Gods, Feng Shui, HKAT, Wushu, Legend of the 5 Rings, and the other usual suspects don’t already do? I mean, I read the rules system and I am bored to tears. Another use of the 5 elements! How original! Yin and Yang! Nobody’s thought of that before! Hey, we can have different abilities tied to different elements! Woohoo!

Yes, I’m sure nobody cares what I think, but, gah! Can we get a game about Asia that is not a walking cliche, please? All I can really think of is The Mountain Witch and the Asian-y parts of The Shadow of Yesterday. Boht of these are MUCH COOLER GAMES.


Ben: Man, if it were like Dynasty Warriors, that would be awesome.
Jonathan: hells yeah.
Ben: That game rocks. But I don’t think this game is nearly as cool looking.
Ben: “Pick a historical figure. You’re this guy. Now make your character.”
Ben: “Okay, so historically I was a failed general. In this game I have bright blue hair and assassinate people with a giant yoyo.”
Jonathan: that would be the shit.
Ben: Andy and I wanted to make Dynasty Warriors for the American Revolution.
Ben: With, like, crazy power attacks and such.
Jonathan: that would be even cooler.
Jonathan: I wanna be Paul Revere and kill people by flinging horseshoes at them.


Later on in that conversation…

Ben: We have more myths about the revolution, but the civil war game would sell really well in the south.
Jonathan: or we could mash them together and ignore the anachrony.
Ben: Nah, but then we couldn’t draw money out of a sequel.
Ben: Anyway, the Civil War is our three kingdoms period.
Jonathan: i suppose.
Jonathan: we’d have to include characters from that general era, though. because I wanna be Nat Turner.
Ben: Oh, man, you could even do the Indian Wars.
Ben: I want to play John Stark.
Jonathan: or, yeah, Crazy Horse.
Ben: Man.
Jonathan: John MFing Brown.
Ben: This is really a limitless franchise :-)
Jonathan: Fredrick Douglas rhetorical attack!
Ben: Fredrick Douglas has a humongous axe.
Ben: And blasts people with force bolts.
Jonathan: John C. Calhoun Fillibuster Shock Prana!

9 Responses to “Roleplaying’s Asian Fetish”

  1. Brand Says:


    As frequent reader of your blog and part of Qin’s team (but being no part in translation), I am wondering why you’re always referring to dynasty warrios and 3 kingdoms period.

    Nobody in our team ever said the game would be set in this period : it is actually set 400 years before, in the warring states period.

    But anyway, if you want to discuss this topic, I will be more than happy to do so by email.

  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Hey Brand. Thanks for responding. I guess that’s the issue that I sorta had while reading the demo of Qin. It doesn’t look or feel very Warring States to me. It feels like the sort of generic Chinese dynastic history tone that is popularized by stuff like Dynasty Warriors.

    That could possibly be more due to the art and layout style than the writing though, since, so far, it looks pretty similar to many other Oriental Fantasy games. But perhaps you guys have done a lot of neat Warring States stuff that isn’t obvious from the demo.

    I’ll be glad to take my questions about Qin to email, if you like.

  3. Brand Says:

    Ok, I understand better now. Actually, as you said, the setting can’t be seen from the demo which was focusing on the most basic combat rules.
    Although it is not in the yet released demos, half of the Qin book is about real historical info about this period. We actually did a lot of research about it…not just playing a videogame or reading a novel but reading most of the historical ressources available about this specific period in French language and some extra ones like Sima Tan’s works.

    And to answer to Chris Chinn’s comment on, that’s the reason we include Wei kingdom in the setting : because there was an actual historical Wei kingdom at that time. To be most accurate, there was even two : Wei and Wey Kingdoms.

    Of course, we added some more stuff for fantasy-fans and made some short cuts to ease the game (for example, we do as if there were a common “chinese” language at that time), but we really wanted to make a game where you can play a wuxia style (and thus allow almost all moves and techniques from main wuxia movies)or a historical PC in a massively documented historical pre-China setting. I don’t know all american historical games, but the only one I can think about right now to compare to now is Sengoku.

    With the same logic, the campaign for this game will be based on the main historical events of this period with enough place for the PC to livre exciting adventures.

    I do not know if there as so many games about old China that allows players to choose to play either realistic or heavy martial arts and are still very historicaly accurate in US, but I am pretty sure that in France it is the only one. I guess there is not so much, if there is any, in US and I don’t see any in the games you spoked about.

    I am not the publisher of the game and I cannot speak for her, but I am pretty sure that this choice was not just “mfing retarded” and due to “Teh Purdy art”.

    I hope this post explains better why we believe in this game and why we are working on it. I’ll be glad to give further details if I can.

    By the way, I forgot to let you my email address in my previous post : jeromelarre + @ + yahoo + .fr

  4. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Hey Brand. Thanks for your detailed response. I apologize for saying, in the post above, that you guys didn’t know what you were doing. I certainly appreciate the work you put into the game.

    I’m concerned that your two goals, 1) historicism and 2) wuxia, don’t really go together. I mean, during the Warring States period, kung fu wasn’t really around and neither were the theories of magic or stories about the types of monsters that are described in the demo book. Hopping vampires? Definitely a much later thing.

    More objectively, I was really struck by the inconsistency in spelling Chinese words, which makes it look like the game was hacked together from various sources. Most of the time, you use the modern Pinyin spelling system (Qin, Zhao, Kongfu Zi instead of Confucius, Fenghuang instead of phoenix), but then you use Chi (Qi), Tao (Dao), Kilin (Qilin), Ching (Qing), and throw random tone marks around, like in Chuishù and Jiànshù.

    It seems really weird to use a Q in the title of the game (Qin instead of Chin) and then replace all the other Qs with CHs in the main text. Also, you should either use tones all the time or (a better idea, perhaps) not at all. Having tone makes occasionally is silly. And if you’re going to switch to more familiar spellings (Chi instead of Qi, Tao instead of Dao) then why leave Confucius and phoenixes out? Most Americans will have no clue who Kongfu Zi is.

    The tone marks are only really important when you’re distingushing between two words with the exact same pronunciation, but different tones. But that still doesn’t help you with the State of Wèi (魏国, 4th tone) and the State of Wèi (卫国, also 4th tone).

    Is the book already at the printers? Is it too late to volunteer to help standardize the spelling?

  5. Brand Says:

    Hey Jonathan. No problem at all about your last posts.

    Though I can’t give you any answer about the tone marks (not that I don’t want, but though I did read a lot about warring states history, I do not speak or read any Chinese), I can give more details about our choices related to the spelling of chinese word.

    I know it might look weird to somebody with a good Chinese language skill but it is a totally deliberated choice. We definitely used the Pinyin transcription as main reference but we made some changes to keep the game easily understandable for eveybody.
    – I can’t say for US but some words are very well-known for years in France with older transcription system (like “Tao”) and people not familiar with Chinese just won’t understand it if written another way.
    – some words are spelled the same way in Pinyin but are used for some very different concepts (like Qi which might refers to the “energy”, the actual warring state, and many other things). To avoid any confusion to people non familiar with Chinese, we used different transcription systems. Especially with technical words that might slow down the game when actually playing it. To keep with the same example, we spelled the energy “Chi” and the kingdom/state “Qi”.

    We felt we had to make it to keep it both understandable for non Chinese speakers and easily playable. This is really no disrespect to Chinese culture and history but a way for us to manifest our interest in them through a game and make it enjoyable by more people.

    I can’t say much about the history/wuxia mix. I guess it is mainly a matter of taste. We had the same reaction here at the beginning of the game but it seems that most people changed their mind and the mix is much more popular now. But as I said, this is a matter of taste, that other people changed their mind doesn’t mean you will eventually like it.
    The main thing here is we tried to give players the choice : you can play the game as in Hero or as in The emperor and the assassin. People make their choice.

    About the volunteering, I am not the one making decision, but can you send me an email (my adress is a few posts up) and I will transfer it to the editor.

  6. J. Andrew Says:

    Hey Brand- Andy K here. Looks like there was a dustup on RPGNet but I didn’t see the post there before it was closed. I was disappointed that the original poster didn’t PM me directly.

    So, sorry to come off as rough, but the other question we had (aside from historical bits, which I’m not as concerned with as the Sinophiles), is why release the game in English?

    The reason I ask is, because in France it doesn’t sound like there are many or any Chinese-themed RPGs out there, so that sounds like a great market. But why try to sell it in English, which seems to be kind of saturated at the moment with Chinese themed RPGs (admittedly, mostly “kung fu magic awesome!!!” games, but still)?


  7. Brand Says:

    Hi Andy,

    Can you contact me through mail (I gave it a few post ago) and I will explain everything about Just I guess it is better to do it privately and nicely.


  8. Manu Says:

    Well, criticise the culture of the authors of this future RPG and make the confusion between Warring States et Three Kingdom could be very funny if it wasn’t so pathetic.
    Please before writing this type of agression, be sure to known what you’re talking about, you’ll look pretty less stupid…

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Personally, I find the mixed spelling confusing. For the English edition, at least, I hope the publisher sticks to pinyin with the proper tone markings. Adding the right characters would be helpfu, but I suspect too much to hope for.

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