Finding Harmony Between Elements With Wu De

By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico,  8 July 2020


On my never-ending search for new games, I’ve been scouring social media and Twitch to look for new and interesting ideas. While there are only so many ways to roll dice, how one approaches and resolves the task can make or break a game.

When Wu De crossed my path due to a retweet, I knew I needed to go and take a look.

 

==The Pitch==

Wu De is a setting agnostic cooperative storytelling game. It is advertised as using Chinese Philosophy as an inspiration for the dice mechanic, and the dice are used in a way to promote storytelling amongst the table regardless of the selected setting.

==What You Get==

Wu De weighs in at 32 pages, one of which is the game’s cover and the last being a cheatsheet for the roll mechanic. The latter (almost) half of the book is dedicated to being a compilation of settings and sample story hooks, while the first half covers the entirety of what you need to play: character creation, roll mechanics/resolution, and a small section for the GM (should one be needed).

==The Good==

Right out of the gate, Wu De caught my attention with the roll mechanic. Like Genesys or the Star Wars RPGs from Fantasy Flight Games, you roll your positive (Yang) and negative (Yin) dice simultaneously. The die facings are each tied to an element, which are either negated or destroyed. This can lead to a success, a failure, or even failing with a benefit or succeeding with a hindrance.

Unlike FFG’s games, this is all handled with a set of standard d6, with the highest roll seeming to be six dice in total. This makes the game readily accessible to get started with, as long as you have dice of different colors (or have a way to separate them).

Finally, the game is a “cooperative storytelling” game rather than a standard RPG. I say this as the default way to play this game is to not have a Gamemaster, but rather have players take turns telling scenes and how they pan out. If you’ve taken a look at Tales From The Loop, you’ll be right at home with the storytelling elements here.

==The Bad==

When I picked up Wu De, I sincerely wanted to like it. Asian Philosophy inspiring a roll mechanic for a setting agnostic game that could cover fantasy, sci-fi, and “Wire-Fu” games? Why wouldn’t I want it?

It sadly didn’t deliver as much as I’d like.

For starters, character creation is…vague. You choose a single one of the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Water, and Air) and…that’s it. That’s the core input you get. You are to take the few keywords they give to build a character and go from there. Considering some of these characteristics include “intuition,” “passion,” and “curiosity,” there’s not much to really set the character and what they can do.

While this very idea isn’t necessarily bad (as sometimes all you need to know is your character is a curious idealist), the game mechanic is where the problem begins. When you set the scene and prepare for a roll, you gather your Yang dice based on your character’s abilities. A skilled pickpocket would be rolling three dice, but a novice would roll one. This places the onus on the players to determine their own limiters, which doesn’t always pan out; the game suggests using the character’s story as a guideline, but I’ve seen some players embrace this and others not get it. With how little is here to support and promote the idea for new players, it’s more of a hindrance than a benefit.

There’s also a bit of a learning curve with the dice system. When playing, you’ll need to grasp the elemental balance, which may not come naturally to a Western player. Even with my experiences there, I had to keep looking things up, and I’m still not 100% certain on how to handle the Qi result.

Finally, the product itself is generally lackluster. While the font is large and readable, the only artwork and color in the book comes from the cover, the element table, a five-element image, and the element grid (for negating/destroying). There’s some editing issues (odd wording, punctuation, etc), and the layout feels more dedicated to page count than actual flow. There’s not much there to grab me in an aesthetic way, and that’s problematic.

==The Verdict==

After some internal debate, Wu De is leaving with 1.5 buns.

I walked into the game wanting to like it. The pitch was absolutely up my alley: cooperative storytelling, an intriguing resolution mechanic, and capable of handling any setting I could throw. Sadly, the end product did not deliver what was advertised in a clear enough manner, nor do I think the product is worth the price listed. There’s great potential here and some useful ideas (thus the 1.5 instead of a 1), but this product feels more like an Alpha or even an Ashcan rather than a completed game.

If you want to see an interesting idea using d6s, then Wu De could be worth the money. Otherwise, I cannot recommend it at this time.

Wu De was created by Ralf Mayenberger and is available on Itch.io for $7.25 as of this writing.


Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, or via Ko-Fi.


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