There have been a series of good Kickstarters lately. One of those is The Ninja Crusade, Second Edition. (It dropped the "Wu Xing", which makes me a bit sad.) It arrived about the same time that my Runequest II did, and while I was absorbed in my new Savage Rifts PDF. But I pulled myself away from them (no mean feat, because they're both awesome) to read The Ninja Crusade 2E. I carried it around quite a bit for a couple of weeks, read it from cover to cover. (Now I can't find my physical copy. Until I do, at least I'll have my PDF.)
I can't help but compare The Ninja Crusade 2E to the first edition of The Ninja Crusade (aka Wu Xing). I was a fan of Wu Xing, and had invested in it heavily. When the new edition was announced, I wasn't sure if there was a need for it. It's not like I've really gotten to play the original, what with lack of any groups and free time. But I poured over those books, and I didn't want anything to come along that would invalidate it.
But I believe that Second Edition is a worthy successor to the first. Let me explain why.
The Ninja Crusade (both editions) is a wuxia fantasy game inspired by Asia; it doesn't map neatly to any particular nation or culture, but blends numerous elements into its own thing. You play ninja, a warrior possessed of remarkable fighting skill and jutsu (magic). The setting is defined by intrigue and action; as a ninja, you're an outlaw and enemy of the state, and you must walk carefully. But sometimes subtlety just isn't an option, and you have to kick ass and let the jutsu fly.
For other fans of Wu Xing, the thing to keep in mind is TNC2 isn't just a rules update (more on that shortly), but a setting update as well. It's set two years after the original edition, and quite a bit has happened while leaving the basic premise of the game intact: rival ninja clans band together like Voltron to defeat the Izou Empire. So both editions are the same game, fluff-wise, it's just they do different things with the set pieces.
In First Edition/Wu Xing, it's driven home the clans are forced together in an uneasy alliance. Quite a few ninja are unwilling to let bygones be bygones, and will readily capitalize on any opportunity to shame or even kill their rivals. Inter-clan relations are tense, to say the least, and you really have to reach for justifications for mixed groups. Even if you don't hold any grudges, your clanmates do, and it can be difficult to gain status with your clan if you don't support their policies. And it's not like there aren't reasons for the ill feelings -- a respected member of an enemy clan may have killed your mentor. Essentially, your characters have to come up with their own reasons to associate across clans. While multi-clan groups seemed to be the default assumption for games, there was only a little support for that in the books. I had the sense that one was thrown into the deep end of the game and left to figure out how to swim. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, as I'm of the opinion that games don't have to hold your hand and show you how to play every step of the way. There's something to be said for finding your own answers instead of having them answered for you. But
One of the big reasons for the ninjas to work together (well, the only reason) is to take down the Izou Empire. The Empire is ruthless, and persecuted ninjas and even its own people. But they have reasons for what they do -- it was a ninja that poisoned the Emperor's daughter and killed his favorite concubine, after all. There are no clear-cut good guys or bad guys. Everybody has their sympathetic points, and everybody has their flaws. I've heard a few people bemoan this relativity, and the lack of clear white hoods and black hoods, but I think it's one of the game's strengths. No edition of The Ninja Crusade is likely to be your bag if you can only enjoy four-color morality In your games.
The Second Edition advances the timeline by two years or so. The Emperor is now dead, assassinated by (you guessed it) ninja. It's left up in the air how it happened and who exactly did it; I think this is done intentionally, perhaps the PCs participated or were involved in some way, or the GM can pin the act on one clan. This has left the ninja clans in a precarious position. The ninja were once the champions of the people, but some commoners have turned on their former defenders due to the Emperor's death. So they band together tightly out of desperation, and have formed a multi-clan village called Danketsu. The clans have squashed a lot of the beefs they had, because they all live in the same community now, and they're doomed if they don't. The old tensions and grudges and outright hates are still there, but it's not emphasized as much in this edition, and more is made of the burgeoning ties the clans and the individual ninjas are forming. So at least some good came of the regicide, right? And it's a richer foundation for mixed-clan groups. It's nice when the game doesn't fight you when you try to play it as intended.
I have to say that I like the setting in light of the metaplot advances more than the original... which I feel a little guilty about, because I like the original so much. But it is an improvement, and I wouldn't be fair to the new game if I didn't admit that.
So setting-wise, like I explained, it's still the same basic game. But the rules? These are as different as yin and yang.
The original Wu Xing was based on the Dynamic Gaming System (DGS), a d20-based system -- its own system with a d20 in it, not the d20 System of the WotC deluge from decades past. Wu Xing's DGS was crunchy, it had a lot of bonuses and widgets and moving parts and stuff. This is normally not my preference, but it was a solid rules set. And the complexity fit the game. You had all these different martial arts styles and magic and weapons and other things, and the mechanical differences made them distinct. Crane Style was different from Eagle Style, and both were distinct from Snake Style, and not in just the fluff. The basics of the system were easy to learn, it was all the specifics it was hard to keep straight in my head at first. I'll admit that I'm more of a fluff and story guy than one that focuses on mechanical specifics. But I enjoyed the DGS ala Wu Xing once I internalized it.
And then The Ninja Crusade 2E comes along with its radically different Chakra System, based on d10 die pools. And while I like the new rules, I'm still not quite sure what to think about that shift.
First, a handful of d10s recalls certain other games that I don't play anymore. Not just the dice rolled, but there are similarities in the basic resolution mechanic. You add stat + stat + mods to make a pool. 7 and over is a success. 10s explode. 1s lead to dramatic failures. Die pools are additive, with number of dice measuring competency. The goal is to build your pool as much as you can before rolling, leading to a lot of dice tossed around whenever characters do something.
This isn't saying that the system doesn't do anything interesting or original, because it definitely does. It nixes attributes in favor of skill + skill rolls, a carryover from the Combo System in A.M.P., and I approve of this. In some places, the Chakra System is simpler and more intuitive than 1E's version of the DGS, yet it still makes each style, each power, each character feel unique. It's a solid system, and I'd love to actually play it at some point. Might as well, I'm already making characters for it! Because I quite like the lifepath character generation system, no reservations there. (I've been working on something similar for my own game.) Character creation is a blast, and you can use it to generate a huge variety of characters.
Let me reiterate, I do like the Chakra System. The resolution mechanic is straightforward and it works; a lot of games can't say that. But it is a very drastic change from First Edition, and there's no easy way to to convert characters and material from it to 2E. It certainly doesn't spoil me on the new edition, but it is a jarring transition. (As far as personal preferences go, I might have preferred d6s over d10s... though part of this is because I have a lot more of the former dice than the latter. I also prefer smaller die pools to larger ones, using roll-and-keep or other techniques to do more with just a handful of dice than rolling buckets of dice. These aren't criticisms of the game itself, but the reviewer's musings. I'll be happy playing The Ninja Crusade 2E with the system as-is.)
I would definitely recommend Ninja Crusade Second Edition for anyone that liked the original game. And for those unfamiliar with the game or its previous edition, but like high-flying martial arts action and magic in a setting full of intrigue, get this game right now! It's a very worthwhile purchase and I'm looking forward to more books from the line; already, some of the clan books have been converted to the new system.
Just those of you familiar with the old school, don't expect a seamless transition between the two editions' rules.