Game: Blood and Fists: Modern Martial Arts
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 4th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 11
Average Score: 5.50
A martial arts supplement for d20 modern was always going to be a bit of a gamble. It’s a do or die scenario. RPGObjects‘s Blood and Fists is, I think, the first such product out and so it has no one else to learn from. There are other problems too. D20 Modern was written with guns in mind. If you want a martial artist to be on equal footing with the other heroes then you’d need to jazz things up. If you jazz things up then you’re going to have little chance of producing realistic rule mechanics. Fast kicks and swift punches just aren’t as dangerous as fast bullets and deadly rpgs (rocket propelled grenades, of course).
Blood and Fists, aware of all these challenges, sets about taking them on with determination enough to win over the most ardent Golden Harvest fan. Golden Harvest is, of course, the movie company responsible for such classics as The Young Master, Snake in Eagle’s Shadow and it’s famous sequel The Drunken Master. Cinematic kung-fu. There’s one possible solution. The high kicking antics of movie martial artists could well bring the character in line with gun toting characters in a modern setting. Before we even get to the martial arts, Blood and Fists presents three new advanced classes: the Bad-Ass Barroom Brawler (the Americanism easily well known enough here in Europe to avoid any confusion with drunk ninja donkeys), the Contemplative Master and the Martial Arts Master. The latter two are designed to replace the martial arts master in d20 Modern and we’re told, straight up, that they’ve more “bang for the buck” than the original. We’re told why they’ve more bang for the buck, these are the classes you’ll use if you want martial arts to be a bigger part of your game. That works for me. That’s why I’d buy the supplement. It’s not all cinema though. In fact, if you prefer the historical and mystical aspects of the genre then they’re here too. Ki Feats are just the natural union of the d20 system and the mystic power side of the genre. Blood and Fists doesn’t get very much more spiritual than that. You won’t find two Contemplative Masters playing a game of Go while testing the strength of their chi against one another in this supplement. When Blood and Fists talks about different styles it does so by explaining when, who, where and why a style was developed and how it’s used. The supplement details some of the exotic weapons used by martial artists, noting their use too, and finishes by looking at some common themes in martial art based campaigns. There’s a skeleton of a tournament based scenario right at the end and this wraps up the story running through the flavour text.
For any d20 fantasy regular it’ll hard not to think “Barbarian” as a summary for the Bad-Ass Barroom Brawler since the advanced class enjoys the Rage per Day spell feature. The Brawler also enjoys damage enhancing Cheap Shot moves too and so it’s similar to the rogue as well. This class represents super tough but untrained fighters and it does it well. The different between the Contemplative Master and the Martial Arts Master is that the latter is simply interested in mastering the martial moves of their style. The former, the Contemplative, is interested in the teachings, beliefs and conviction of their style. As class specials both Masters receive either a bonus feat or a style Mastery at every level. The range of feats or masteries they can pick from depend on the martial art styles they know.
Just before you get into the plethora of new feats you’ve a quick blast of new skills. Some of these skill incarnations are those “new uses for old skills” that normally send me flicking through the pages but since Blood and Fists is more or less a set of uber-mechanics there’s a real reassurance to see that, for example, the Sense Motive skill is “officially” used by the system to predict attacks.
Once you get into the feats you’ll see that they’re divided easily into categories – the general category rather limply being described as the place for feats that didn’t fit anywhere else. Archaic Weapons – Indian is a sample of a general feat. One of Blood and Fists many successes is the inclusion of Indian (that’s the sub-continent) and Indonesian styles and weapons.
It’s here in the feats that you’ll find the martial arts styles. Martial arts are feats; they have prerequisites and benefits. Blood and Fists offers up a healthy collection of different martial arts and it differentiates between styles at a good level. Styles are different enough in terms of game mechanics to make things interesting but not too complex. External styles tend to concentrate on the physical side and will probably use Strength or Dexterity as the bonus giving stat. Internal styles focus more on the martial artists state of mind and awareness, these styles may use Wisdom or even Charisma as their attack bonus stat. The concept of “unarmed combat” as defined by D20 Modern is broken down further by Blood and Fists and expanded into; punching, kicking and head butts which continue Disarm, Trip, Grapple and Feint. Some styles are adaptable (able to borrow bits here and there) whereas others are fixed and there are those styles considered “aesthetic” and are concerned with spiritualism and the non-aesthetic fighting styles that dedicate themselves to combat. That’s all good, that all works, but the real trick is that the supplement describes how the author (Charles Rice of “Blood and Relics” and “Blood and Space“) built each martial art in the supplement by dividing six points of interest on the above topics. It’s useful being an adaptive fighting style but it costs two of the six points, it’s handy having a martial art that uses Dex rather than Str for the damage bonus and that’ll cost another point. This is great. This sharing of information allows the reader to balance any fighting style of their own design. I recently watched a sub-titled martial art flick where the hero used his long and weighed ponytail (his queue) as a weapon and vital part of his combat style – I could use these rules to create a Blood and Fists suitable style. I don’t have any compelling reason to work my own style out like this; Blood and Fists has plenty.
It takes more than just training in certain zones (punch, kicks, tripping, etc) and a primary stat to complete a martial art. The martial artist needs to start learning the range of special manoeuvres the style teaches. Manoeuvres are another set of feats. Whereas high kicks in Martial Art A might be different from high kicks in Martial Art B, Blood and Fists is concerned only with the High Kick feat. These core manoeuvres also work as feats; this time round the prerequisites include suitable stats, skills and martial art style training. For example, if you’re wanting to master the Deceptive Attack then the prerequisites are: Bluff 5 Ranks and either Cobra, Drunken Master or Scorpion. The Effect: “If you use Deceptive Attack with a normal attack, you add your Charisma modifier to your attack roll. If you use it in conjunction with a feint attack, you may add your Charisma modifier to either the attack roll or the damage roll.” There are a large number of these maneuvers, everything from jabs and flying kicks to combination moves and iaijutsu.
I don’t think it would be quite right to describe the maneuvers as “basic moves”. They’re a level above that. A flying kick isn’t a basic attack. Let’s use the D20 Modern class analogy. If simply punches and kicks without martial art training are equivalent to basic classes then these feat-bound maneuvers are the advanced classes. Signature Maneuvers would therefore be the prestige class equivalent. There are prestige classes in D20 Modern, Urban Arcana introduced them, but you don’t need that WotC book to use Blood and Fists. It’s here, another set of feats (with tougher requirements) that you’ll find the famous Crane Kick, Float Like a Butterfly (since boxing is included in the supplement too), Eagle Claw and Shadow Warrior style feats. It’s here that if a GM wanted to rule in or rule out cinematic moves that he’d make most of his rulings as to what’s available in the game. Some of these signature moves only ever existed in the movies but Blood and Fists doesn’t pretend otherwise.
We’re still not finished with the martial art feats. There are nine Ki feats still to come. Nine doesn’t sound that many and it probably isn’t but where the physical feats elaborate over different ways to hit or dodge the ki feats remain general. There’s Bushido, Great Kai, Hypnotic Gestures, Inner Peace, Inner Power, Inner Strength, Ki, Kai and Wuxia.
There’s more. There’s a whole range of masteries too. These are relatively simple affairs that become available as the martial art master progresses up through the levels. A mastery has three levels; 1, 2 and 3. You need to have the 1st level before you can achieve the 2nd. You need to be of the right character level before you can achieve the 2nd. Adaptable styles have access to less 3rd level mastery than the non-adaptable ones and this is the main equaliser between the two.
Holding this all together is second list of all the martial arts in the supplement. This time round we’re not told about the history of the style nor which zones of attack and defence it teaches. In this list we’re simply told which bonus feats or martial art masteries a style is able to learn.
Here’s the “Python” style as an example. The Python style is a generic offering from Blood and Fists that’s used as the base for any python-based fighting styles from around the world.
“Mastery: Accurate Grapple 1, Accurate Grapple 2, Accurate Grapple 3, Block Mastery 1, Block Mastery 2, Hard Grapple 1, Hard Grapple 2, Hard Grapple 3, Shadow Mastery 1.
Bonus Feats: Alertness, Athletic, Bear Hug, Block, Improved Block, Lock Block, Choke Hold, Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Endurance, Eye Gouge, Ground Fighting, Advanced Ground Fighting, Immovable, Improved Damage Threshold, Jab, Nimble, Pentjak Silat, Poise, Shao-Lin Kung Fu, Stealthy, Toughness.”
When do you get to pick from this list of masteries or bonus feats? Whenever your advanced class, the Completive or Martial Art Master, says so.
Does it sound complex? I suppose it might. That may well be the fault of the review rather than Blood and Fists though – but I did have to double back a few times when reading the supplement. It’s not complex really. There are simply different lists of feats that you get to pick from at different times.
Blood and Fists could end here and still be a great martial arts supplement. It goes on. We’ve got a long list of martial art style weapons. There are more than just old Asian weapons but Indian and Indonesian too. This means we’ve the Chakra (you know, the flying disc used by Xena: Warrior Princess – it is a real weapon), dangerous punch-daggers as well as Samurai blades.
By the time we find ourselves on chapter five we’re more than two-thirds of the way through the 63 pages. Chapter five talks about the common themes found in martial art movies: the evil boss, the evil twin, the rebellious son and the other classics. It’s an attempt to provide something other than hardcore crunch. It’s just long enough to escape any accusations of being filler material.
Blood and Fists finishes with the Hanmei. The Hanmei is an illegal street-fighting tournament run by a shady businessman. It’s an easy way to do a combat heavy campaign that’s more than just a truck-load of dice rolling. The sample NPCs, people to fight, range from 5th to 12th level and just happen to be the characters from the on-going story throughout the supplement.
I’ve found memories of GMing Ninjas and Superspies at school (many years ago!) and even though the system was awful it was fun being able to compare and contrast the different fighting styles available. It was with that gamer-wise sense of know-it-all that we then set about creating our perfect fighters. Blood and Fists will be able to do something similar, there’s more than enough fighting styles in here to make the chargen of a martial artist a work of artistic science. Blood and Fists doesn’t suffer from an awful game system, the mechanics are good. They’re quick, easy enough and yet manage to have enough scope to ensure that different fighting styles and tactics actually feel different once the dice begin to roll. I said at the start that a martial art supplement would be a do or die product and without a doubt this is a Do. Blood and Fists is pretty much everything you’d want it to be.