One day, as I was sitting around with absolutely nothing to do and discussing the Street Fighter system with Tony Faber, I realized that just about every single unbalanced thing in Street Fighter is a product of the Players’ Guide. The system as it exists was fairly balanced in the basic rulebook (with one minor exception, the Ear Pop, which I suppose you can balance out with special effects), and even the slew of silly styles introduced in Contenders wasn’t too bad (as long as you stayed away from the amusing but silly Silat Zen No-Mind/Sonic Boom guys), and Secrets of Shadoloo had really interesting material, but the Players’ Guide introduced us to such fantastic numbercrunches as the Animal Hybrid rules, Cyborgs, free damage bonuses for Savate, and everyone’s favorite cheap-ass terrible maneuver, the Cartwheel Kick. I have to wonder who was pretending to playtest these rules.
It seems that the authors of these various styles were not really interested in adding value to the game, but rather they just were pandering to their own "my style is better than your style" syndrome of old chop-socky flicks. A similar thing happens through some of Contenders (i.e. Silat, otherwise known as "Improved Kung Fu", and Jeet Kune Do, also known as "All Crunchy Maneuvers"), but tends to affect their NPC’s more than their styles and game mechanics.
An interesting concept, but anyone who looks at the hybrid system for a few seconds sees the potential for campaign-ending numbercrunches here. A character who puts even one dot into the Hybrid background gets 2 extra Physical attribute points (craved by all Street Fighters), a free dot of Athletics, a two-dot Animal Companion, and some extra maneuvers plus the ability to buy other maneuvers cheaper (Head Bite for one point, anyone?). The penalties… one dot less in social and mental abilities, and the possibility of frenzying. Boo hoo… a frenzy is somewhat bad, since it can lose you Honor, buy since you are rolling against Chi to maintain your cool, you will probably not be frenzying for long… and all of your enemies will be scared senseless in the meantime.
Now let’s be incredibly crunchy and put 5 dots into Animal Hybrid. You are now completely bestial, and miss out on some of those fantastic role-playing elements that are usually ignored in most Street Fighter adventures. However, for 5 background points, you not only have all of the incredible advantages listed above, you now have 3 "new" basic maneuvers with a free technique of 5. How great is that? Now you don’t need to spend any of your technique points on Punch or Kick, since you now have Bite, Tail Sweep and Claw at absurd levels, so instead you start with Grab 3, Block 3, and Athletics 3 (including the free dot). Now all you need is to be a Jiu-Jitsu guy (Contenders) and get Throw and Breakfall for free, maybe an Improved Pin down the road, a Head Bite (of course) and go to town. See Judo Wolf in the sample characters section for an example of this foolishness.
Same thing. Combat bonuses in exchange for a lesser quantity of "roleplaying" abilities and potential. Gee. One looks at the cyborgs included in the book (those 4/2/4 guys with no Focus powers) and wonders what the hell they were thinking. The whole point of a cyborg is to (once again) get 5 dots in the Cybernetics background, max out your physical stats, and buy Focus powers which now not only are based on your physical abilities (making you ridiculously powerful and easy to develop), but work off of your Health instead of your Chi if desired. Oh, and you get 2 extra health for this very purpose. What’s that… you have 2 less permanent Honor because you’re a cyborg and so regain your chi very slowly? No problem… spend health instead! Health comes back in about 15 minutes! Maybe spend a freebie point on a ring doctor so you get it back faster in multi-round fights.
The other fallacy about the "roleplaying drawback" is that as a cyborg or a hybrid, you don’t necessarily miss out on roleplaying opportunities. Very few GM’s are actually willing to inflict a suitable penalty on a hybrid or a cyborg, i.e. leaving them out of long stretches of the campaign, because of their freakish nature. It seems unfair to the player in question, and it is. So the android monkey tags along on the party’s trips to dinner, or nightly breakins, and just plays his character, which can either be easy ("Ugh, me dumb animal"… "Does not compute"…) or interesting, depending on the player involved. In any case, the player is not left out of roleplaying, and has gigantic exploitable advantages in combat over mere humans which, under the SFSTG rules as they stand, means more chances to advance in renown and experience.
Those Stupid Shoes
Hmm… Savate gets +1 damage because they use hardened shoes. NOOOO… Savate practicioners use hardened shoes because they kick with the toe of the foot rather than some more sensible part, and don’t want to break their main weapons. Aha… but some guy at White Wolf really wanted to be a Savate guy, and in writing the style, found a meaningless way to gain an advantage. What happens if Dee Jay finds a pair of Savate shoes? What about my character? I can hear it now: "Waah, you’re not roleplaying! Only Savate guys can wear special shoes!"
And the +1 soak while kicking… an interesting game effect, but also completely crunched in the Savate guy’s favor. +1 soak when interrupted during a kick because they lean backwards. Well, this isn’t really true, not for modern savateurs in any case. However, the balance is… -1 soak when interrupted with a sweeping maneuver. That includes… Foot Sweep, Spinning Foot Sweep, and Fist Sweep. This is NOT going to happen a whole lot, mostly because Foot Sweepers tend to be really slow, and Savateurs will tend to be dex 5 guys who rely on their stupid shoes to do their damage for them.
Of course, as one friend of mine puts it, "Savate is a weak-ass style and one extra die of damage on its basic (not Special Maneuver) kicks is not going to fling game balance out of whack." This is absolutely true… they have the freaking Haymaker and Widowmaker on their maneuver lists, for a worse price than everyone else gets them, for Pete’s sake. (They must have needed some more filler for that page.) If they had though about Savate a bit more, they may have included some variant kicks like a Dim Mak or variants on the Wounded Knee, etc. However, since they have to try and piece this together from old Savate texts (modern Savate is pretty much like kickboxing, except for the fact that their kicks are unchambered and delivered at full extension), I suppose we can’t expect any better style interpretation from the authors than they have shown for other "realistic" styles.
Someone from the Street Fighter Mailing List recently commented that Savate was a perfectly good style, and that the damage bonus from the thrusting kicks and the special shoes was perfectly reasonable due to the fact that thrusting toe kicks are harder to block because they are different. True… in that case I want my Kung Fu practicioner’s basic punches to have a damage bonus because his hands are held in different shapes from a karateka’s or a boxer’s, and therefore they are harder to defend against. If need be I’ll get him some metal fingernails. The fact is that there are all sort of kicks and punches which can be interpreted as basic maneuvers which are hard to block… the hook kick, the crescent kick and the shadowless kick (Hung Gar Kung Fu) come to mind. Besides, I have not seen a thrusting toe kick in any recent Savate tournament videotapes… the unchambered roundhouse and jab-cross combinations seem to be more popular.
The point is that Savate was interpreted into the Players’ Guide as a fairly realistic interpretation of what early Savate fighting was like, and as a result the style suffers from a cheesy maneuver list and is forced to rely on magic shoes and a soak bonus arising from standing in a ridiculous position to compensate. Why not give Savateurs better maneuvers if you want to go that route? I don’t personally know and Karateka who can throw a Flaming Dragon Punch; is it too far fetched to imagine a videogame Savateur executing an Air Hurricaine Kick? Or maybe using a Stepping Front Kick, or even tossing around a Fireball? The shoes thing just adds too much conflict to the role of the Savateur, which could be an interesting style with some more thought and consideration on the part of the authors. As it stands now, I wouldn’t blame Ken for laughing his ass off at Jaques Desroche and his kicking crutch footwear.
That Friggin’ Cartwheel Kick
Oh please. Some genius thought this up as a way to make his character more powerful (probably the same guy who wrote up Ninjutsu and saw that the Hybrids and Cyborgs and Savateurs were getting away from him in terms of cheap crunches). This is a maneuver that ANYONE can get as a starting character and kick everyone’s ass with. A player from one of Steve Karstensen’s campaigns was nothing but "Cartwheel Kick Guy" and started with Block to Cartwheel Kick (Dizzy). He eventually got Block to Roundhouse, for those moments when he ran out of willpower after defeating tons of people with Cartwheel Kicks. (As if this wasn’t bad enough, he tried to fudge his die rolls to do more damage!) This character needless to say was pretty successful as a stand-up fighter, not through any sort of out-thinking or interesting tactics, just tons of willpower and that damn Cartwheel Kick.
Things get more exciting when you consider the Ninjitsu possibilities for this maneuver. How about the combo Speed of the Mongoose to Cartwheel Kick (Dizzy)? A starting ninja character could theoretically get up to 13 damage tests with this combo, going off at a high speed, combining to dizzy someone. (You stop when they are dizzied, then the next turn as they recover you start your Block to Cartwheel Kick combo.) At higher levels, add in Light Feet (extra movement) and insane kick and athletics techniques. Be a World Warrior at rank 4. Better yet, make sure you practice Savate and get a cheesy damage and soak bonus while you do it. Crunch away! Refer to "Cartwheel Kick Guy" in my Sample Characters section to revolt at the absurdity.
An alternate version of the Cartwheel Kick was provided by Steve Wieck, Street Fighter the Storytelling Game‘s head editor/designer, during some email exchanges we had about the game a while ago. I have reprinted it for your consideration.