Chi-Chian, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Roll Up A Communist Cockroach

Or Maybe Not, I Don’t Know Yet What I’m Going To Roll. Or Even If I Roll.

I don’t want to just do older games or D&D heartbreakers; I want to do any game I own and which might catch my eye. Chi-Chian is one of the games that originally inspired me to do this, way back when, because I knew I’d never play it; it’s only fitting I get around to it eventually, and eventually is now!

The campaign setting, according to the back of the book, is a New York City inhabited by six foot cockroaches, but it’s also set in 3049, so I assume there are some fictional elements added in to the mix, as well as the aforementioned gritty realism. Yes, I’ll be returning to this particular well a lot, folks. I never go for the hard jokes if I can go for the easy ones.

The setting is based on an animated web series and some comic books, neither of which I’ve heard of, by “Voltaire”, who is a modern gothy type and not an ancient philosopher. Knowing nothing but what’s in the book, I’m a good test subject for how well it works as a game in itself.

The first page features a summary of events, which involves skyscraper jumping as a hobby, sentient BioLogic clothing, giant worms that serve as subway trains (and the worm-wranglers that debrain them), lost blind sexbots, homicidal cousins (and the tentacle robots who serve them), and brain merges…. and it still makes more sense, and is better written, and more internally consistent, than Synnibarr.

It goes on for several more pages, in white text on black/grey photographic background. Why white text on black/grey photographic background? Because fuck you, that’s why, as they say on Fark. This book is the product of an artiste, and artistes do not care for your decadent capitalistic running dog bourgeoisie concepts like “legibility”. Actually, it’s pretty much readable, more so than a lot of White Wolf stuff, but there’s a range between “looks like it was Xeroxed in 1974” and “looks like a MySpace page”, and it’s tilting a bit towards the latter.

Anyway… lessee… monks, dragon boats, wormtrains, caterpillar heads, giant samurai, Spirit World, Material World, neuronetic bra(?), waltzing with roaches, flip, flip, more stuff, flip, flip, a bit of fiction, flip, flip… we don’t get to the game until Page 19. I have a feeling I’m going to have to go back and read through the stuff I bleeped through eventually.

Writing for games is, or should be, the antithesis of writing fiction. Tell, don’t show. “Elves get +2 to Perception” is a lot better than three pages of a story about an elf listening for something. At the most, dress it up with “Elves are known for their keen senses, as they are master hunters. (+2 Perception)”.

Now, I get that Chi-Chian is a game set in a specific world, and, as such, introducing that world’s background and history is vital because, without it, you have no guidance as to how to apply the mechanics. Doing this is a delicate dance. You need to introduce the bare minimum of context on an as-needed basis, adding more when it becomes necessary, with dribbles and drabbles of flavor text and micro-fiction, ideally no more than 2-3 paragraphs in a sidebar, to set the mood. Page after page of background, especially background presented in a story fashion, instead of an encyclopedia fashion, is a huge barrier to anyone actually getting to the “play the game” part of things.

Sensei No More

The GM is called the Sensei. Sigh. Anyway, we still have PCs and NPCs, not “Heroic Protagonistic Archetypes” and “Secondary Metafictive Instruments” or some such twaddle. What is an RPG, blah blah, OK, some meat. We have Statistics, which mean what they do in every game, and Capabilities, which seem to incorporate powers, feats, skills, and so on. This isn’t bad; one word means “Shit everyone has some score in”, and one word means “Shit only some people have a score in/can do”. I can dig it.

Oh, cool! A white box, clearly set aside, that gives the framework for making a character. Pick a concept, spend Chi (character points), pick two Tragic Flaws, fill in all the roleplaying fluff (appearance, mannerisms). Good. We have a plan.

Concept. Uhm… uh… OK, this is the time where I go back and read the fluff again, isn’t it, so I can come up with a character who fits in the world… (Why don’t you just hum the Jeopardy theme to simulate the passage of time…)

You know what to do with little “More” type things now, don’t you? Good…

Perdido Street Station Meets Futurama…

Best way I can think of to describe the setting, as I try to read just enough of it to create a character without doing the slightest bit more work than I have to.

Also, gives me an excuse for some gratuitous Amazon links, not that anyone ever clicks on them…


Since the suggested characters include “a sex toy robot with its head grafted on to a tentacle unit” and an albino from Titan in a bunny-shaped exoskeleton, there’s obviously a lot of room for concept, here. There’s a fairly obvious theme, based on my detailed study casual flipping through the book, of people striving for peace and enlightenment despite violence past and present. Given that, we’ll go for something straightforward…. a cyborg war bot or something who is trying to live a peaceful life as a productive laborer.

Future Manhattan is segregated by moral fitness, a sort of vertical Great Wheel Cosmology, with the Lawful Goods at the top and the Chaotic Evils at the bottom. Gamma Plane, third from the top, is a soot-filled, grim, lightless, place where people huddle into tiny, overcrowded apartments for which they are charged enormous sums. In other words, it’s a part of New York that hasn’t changed in a thousand years. Badum BUM! I’m mentioning this since it seems that’s where my character would most likely live/work, and I want to keep that in mind.

What, You Mean I Might Have To Roleplay Or Something?

Interestingly, before making you buy stats or gear, the game demands you create 5 emotional/important moments in your characters life. This has a game impact, as there’s something called “K-Seg”, or “Kind Segregation”, that interacts with your memories, and the GM…er… Sensei… needs to know about them. Hmm.

  • First romantic encounter, which involved hacking a Sex Toy.
  • Joining the New York Militia, back when Manhattan was still part of the ROA.
  • His first trip to orbit, part of basic training.
  • Recovering from the holographic attack on Manhattan, and trying to deal with the death and aftermath.
  • Being brutally eviscerated by a tentacle unit during said aftermath.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s see about the mechanics.

There are 8 stats, that have values from 0 (basically, non-existent) to 6, which is trans-human. Stats cannot be raised above 5 during character creation. The same pool — Chi Points — is used to purchase Stats, Capabilities, Status, and Money, but leftovers can go into the Chi Pool, which I’m sure does something useful.

The stats are:

  • Mettle, which is combat skill and courage. It can also be heavy, death, or thrash.
  • Brains: Exactly what you think.
  • Health: Ditto, except it also includes dexterity and agility.
  • Guile: Deception, cunning, trickery, the finer things in life.
  • Virtue: Spiritual energy, balance, compassion, the unfiner things in life.
  • Charm: Charisma.
  • Tech: Skill with machines.
  • Willpower: Willpower.

It’s fairly telling that only two of the stats are physical, and that social aptitudes that would be covered in one stat, if at all, are broken out at so fine a level. Anyway, lets see how I want to do this.

Average is 3, but you need to buy them up from 0, using a “Buy from 0 to 1, then from 1 to 2, etc.” costing scheme. Fortunately, there’s a chart that does the math for you. Looking at the stats, I think my character would be slightly below average in Guile and Charm; he’s bluntly honest, which tends to turn people off and makes him a poor liar. So we’ll set those to 2, which costs me 3 points each, or 6, out of my pool of 120.

120-6=114. He’s supposed to be a combat veteran, so that means we’ll max out Mettle, 5, costing 15 points. 114-15=99. Health should be 4, costing 10, so 99-10=89. Brains, Virtue, Tech, and Willpower, if all were set at 3, would cost 24, so that would leave me 65, but let’s raise Tech to 4, bringing the total cost to 28, so I have 61 points left, and look like this:

  • Mettle: 5
  • Brains: 3
  • Health:4
  • Guile: 2
  • Virtue: 3
  • Charm: 2
  • Tech: 4
  • Willpower: 3

There are multiple categories that influence status — race, career, family, etc — but I’m going to leave them all at the default, which makes me a Taino (the dominant genetic grouping on Earth, the result of crossbreeding and genetic engineering over centuries) male living on the Gamma Plane.


Capabilities are, pretty much, “all the cool shit you can do”, and encompass things that other games would call skills, feats, talents, powers, advantages, and so on. This is where I plan to spend most of my points.

  • Armor. Seriously, how can you even think about being a depressed cyborg warrior without armor? I’ll start with one level, for 10 points.
  • Enhanced Strength. Ditto. Each level increases Health for purposes of doing Strong things, like punching people, which I try not to do any more, because it’s bad. We’ll go with one level now, 5 point.
  • Scrounge: This adds to Guile when it comes to finding things. Despite his low natural Guile, it makes sense for him to have this, so, two levels, 6 points.
  • Gliding, Retractable: He can summon biomechanical gliding wings for 10 points. Hmm. 31 out of 61, so far.
  • How about a level 2 electricity attack for 20 points? That would give me 11 left.

I’m not going to try to summarize how you spend your Chi to get money, just take me at my word that I’ve got 1000, of which I can spend 500 now.

I also need a Tragic Flaw. The fact that my capabilities are visually-distinctive cyborg parts (I could have defined them in many other ways) does count. I think I’ll also add an allergy to flowers, not likely to show up at home, but if I got anyplace nice, I’ll be a wreck.

Speaking of wreck, with only 500 MYen to spend, about the only thing I can buy is a citizen-class exxo, which means I’ll be relying on my fists and my very weak lightning attack if I actually get into a fight. Probably, if this were for real, I’d drop that attack altogether, spend 10 points to bolster my armor and the other 10 on m0ar l00tz.

A word on the system — what do these numbers mean? Well, it’s like this. You roll 2d10 and add them, then compare to the difficulty rating of a task. Oh, if you roll doubles, roll again, and add. There’s a chart that tells you how many successes you get based on how high you roll. If your attribute rating is higher than the difficulty rating, you get to reroll that many times, and use the roll you like best. If you roll doubles during any of those rerolls, you reroll and add. Thus, you get to roll a lot of dice, and you pick whichever result from the set of results you like best. If your attribute rating is below the difficulty rating, you remove one success for each point of difference, which can lead you to end up with no successes, or even negative successes, which means, the Sensei gets to have fun with you.

Chi-Chian comes in at about 140 pages, a large chunk of which — perhaps half, or more — is world setting and flavor text. I greatly suspect a point of this was to create a worldbook for fans of the comic/web series, but it would be unfair to call the game portion a simplistic tack-on. While very straightforward and low-granularity, it does seem to have some kind of rule or mechanic to cover nearly all reasonable actions.

Oh, and the initiative system? It’s called your OOMF rating. What’s that? “Ooo, oo, me first!”

That’s a winner, right there.


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One Response to Chi-Chian

  1. Crose87420 says:

    Another great review read, thanks.

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