Imagine an ocean world created by the gods, where the largest landmass is only a few dozen miles wide. Thousands, perhaps millions, of these islands dot the oceans, and each can be radically different from its neighbors. Some gods descended to the Earth in mortal form, and became your ancestors. Now, you wander these islands, looking for adventure, discovery and self-fulfillment.
This is the world of A Wanderer's Romance.
A Wanderer's Romance is a rules lite wuxia RPG written by Cristopher McDowell. In it, you play a martial artist travelling between the aforementioned isles. And that's about it.
The setting is not much, but it gives you what you need: a basic backdrop in which to expand upon. Some games through gobs of useless and heavy setting bits at you, and you have to struggle to fit in your custom-made faction. In this way, the bare bones setting is actually a boon. It also allows you to just use the rules as is, and play in a feudal Asia setting with little hassle.
The mechanics for AWR are extremely simple: you roll two dice, add the appropriate stat(s), and try to beat wither 10, 12 or 14 (depending on difficulty). There are some slight variations, such as the application of the Balance stat, but nothing is too radically different than these basic rules. The stats, and mostly everything in the game, revolves around the four classical elements of earth, water, fire and air.
Since AWE is a wuxia game, you should expect fighting styles, and AWR delivers. They have about 54 offensive styles, and 24 defensive styles, each with 3 levels of advancement. Magic based on the elements is also present, but you won't get the generic 'fire magic = fireballs' thing. Instead, fire magic allows you to instill a strong emotion into someone, along with other similar effects.
Combat is resolved through contested rolls, upon which the defender actually rolls the damage, not the attacker. This adds a good bit of stress to damage, so nothing stays boring for too long.
The writing is very simple and flavorful. I was never lost at any point, and the small story excerpts really gave you a feel about the world, in that it is both an elegant and dangerous place. McDowell is a great writer in that he does not fluff up the mechanics behind strange language. He also has several text boxes detailing his decisions on rules, so you can see his reasoning behind things you may question.
AWR is only 45 pages, but they are a great 45 pages. The calligraphy headers used, and the amazing artwork by Pavel Elagin, really give off a sense of style. The cover itself is just gorgeous to stare at. The only gripe I have is the lack of a character sheet, but seeing as each character does not have much info associated with it, you could fit everything you need to know on an index card. I just think they could have produced an equally great looking sheet, is all.
Honestly, A Wanderer's Romance is one of the most elegant and tasteful wuxia games I've ever read. It's easy to understand and to teach (great for first time RPG players), and it allows the characters to really come to the forefront. A lot of different types of environments and settings can be culled from the default setting, which is great if you have a hard time keeping plot lines strung along.
AWR is definitively not 'high flying' wuxia, though. I see it more as an elegant samurai story. It's more Ruroni Kenshin than Dragonball Z, for sure. So if you want to check it out, keep that in mind.
I give it a 9/10, with my only real problem being the lack of a character sheet.
Where to Get
A Wanderer's Romance is available for the low, low price of free from the Stargazer Games' website, found here: http://www.stargazergames.eu/games/a-wanderers-romance/