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Hong Kong Action Theatre is a Tabletop RPG that was written by Gareth-Michael Skarka for the small-press company Event Horizon Productions in 1996, the same year that Daedalus Games came out with Feng Shui. Like Feng Shui, HKAT seeks to emulate the crazy action of Hong Kong Cinema.
The game has players playing actors who star in Hong Kong action movies. But this is not a game about doing the boring stuff that real actors have to do sometimes (such as dealing with staff and crew, redoing takes, dealing with the public, etc.), but is more of a framework for running action-packed one-shot "movies," with the characters playing different "roles" in the movie, doing crazy stunts to earn Star Power, and kicking copious amounts of ass in the process. Every character is a martial arts dynamo as well as a Gun Fu god, and while the roles they play may change from movie to movie, the overall character remains the same -- the character's basic fighting style stays with the character from movie to movie, and the character has a Signature Move that can be counted on to show up in each movie, such as Bruce Lee's habit of flipping out when an enemy makes him bleed, Jean-Claude Van Damme's habit of doing the splits, Chow Yun-Fat's penchant for chewing on toothpicks, Jackie Chan's spectacular leaping from great heights, Arnold Schwarzenegger's "I'll be back" Catch Phrase and so on.
HKAT's difficulty ratings in combat are based directly on how important a character is to the general plot rather than their general skill ratings. Characters of no Importance are typically innocent bystanders who generally don't offer any reason to be attacked (and often make for prime Kick the Dog fodder for the bad guys). Characters of Minor Importance (Mooks and Red Shirts) are among the easier targets to hit and tend to go down in droves. Characters of Moderate Importance (minor named characters) are the standard for named Extras and are a bit tougher to take out than Minor characters. Characters of Major Importance comprise Player Characters, important allies and major villains including The Dragon, and Extreme Importance is reserved for the Big Bad and other characters who are generally not taken down until the final scene.
HKAT's "movies" can be classed into several distinct "genres":
- Gunplay - This genre covers Heroic Bloodshed movies, cops vs. triads movies and other movies that feature copious amounts of guns-blazing action. Plots tend to focus on revenge, redemption or a conflict between two opposing sides.
- Martial Arts - Your go-to genre for kung fu fighting action, either in a period of China's past or on the mean streets of the modern day. In addition to revenge, kung fu plots often have the characters fighting crime and injustice, embarking on quests for various things (knowledge, training, enlightenment, a person, etc.) or vying against one another in the ever-popular tournament to determine which among them is the strongest.
- Bizarre Fantasy - This category of HK movies includes fantasy, sci-fi and horror movies. Bizarre Fantasy can use any plot under Gunplay or Martial Arts, but adds its own weird touch to the mix. Kung Fu Wizards, crazy Wire Fu, magical weapons, truly bizarre creatures and other outlandish elements typify this genre, which includes many examples of Wuxia cinema as well.
Event Horizon Productions came out with three major supplements for HKAT, including the excellent Triad Sourcebook, which is a definitive resource on The Triads and the Tongs and their use in Hong Kong style gaming no matter what you're playing, and To Live and Die in HK, a supplement that is to HKAT what Golden Comeback was to Feng Shui, and features rules for car and foot chases, new rules for wire fu, new Signature Moves for your characters, new skills and spells for your roles, and most importantly, rules for "Non-Studio" campaigns for those who do not want to play actors and/or want to play in something resembling a more traditional campaign setup.
To top things off, the book also introduces two new genres:
- Gambling - A genre of movies inspired by the movie God of Gamblers starring Chow Yun-Fat, this genre features immensely talented gamblers in the games of their lives, whether to rip off the Triads, lend aid to others, or just win it big. Since Gambling is primarily a modern day genre, there's plenty of overlaps with Gunplay.
- Kung Fu Comedy - Takes the Martial Arts genre and skewers it for a good laugh, whether by replacing the kung fu action with another kind of action (such as cooking or pool playing), having the heroes be really stupid and incompetent, engaging in kitchen-sink style amalgamations of disparate elements and spoofing everything under the sun, or mercilessly mocking the genre in question and its conventions.
In addition, Event Horizon Productions produced Swords of the Middle Kingdom, which was a straight-up Wuxia game using the HKAT ruleset.
In 1999, Event Horizon Productions was bought by Guardians of Order (makers of Big Eyes Small Mouth), which produced a second edition of HKAT written by a team that did not include Gareth-Michael Skarka, which adapted the game for the Tri-Stat system. Opinions are... somewhat divided over it, but there was only one supplement released for the game, and that was the Wuxia supplement Blue Dragon White Tiger.
With the demise of Guardians of Order in 2006, both editions of Hong Kong Action Theatre are now out of print, and can only be gotten by tracking them down in used bookstores or online through eBay or other means.
HKAT provides examples of:
- Blood Upgrade – The Blood Rage signature move.
- Booze-Based Buff – The Drunk signature move eliminates all injury related penalties for three rounds if you can take a good swig during a fight.
- Bottomless Magazines – As long as you keep rolling better than 3 on D20 for your shooting attacks, you won’t run out of bullets. Once you do, however, you’ll need to spend a full round to reload. If you spend a round to reload without being forced to, you get a damage bonus.
- Catch Phrase - When a character with the Tag Line signature move utters his Catch Phrase once a session, he gains a +10 bonus to any roll.
- Chainsaw Good – Chainsaws have the most fixed damage of any melee weapon that doesn’t rely on Muscle.
- Chop Sockey – How a lot of kung fu battles tend to go.
- Drunken Master – The Joi Kuen style of kung fu and the Drunk signature move.
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting – In HKAT, everybody knows kung fu. Everybody. You even get to choose your character's style of kung fu upon creation!
- Friendly Target – The Sacrificial Buddy signature move.
- Gun Fu – Everyone can do this.
- Guns Akimbo – Using two weapons of any kind does not give you any penalties in the rules, and firing them simultaneously counts as a single attack.
- Hand Cannon – The most powerful handguns are actually called this in the rules.
- Heroic Bloodshed – Many movies of the Gunplay genre.
- Heroic Second Wind – The Heroic Comeback signature move.
- Kung Fu Wizard – Anyone who specializes in magic.
- Lock and Load Montage - One of the many ways to activate the Prep Scene signature move in preparation for a final showdown.
- Mooks - Anyone of Minor importance is a mook. They're easy to hit and tend to go down fast.
- Never Found the Body - A character with the Mysterious Death signature move never dies in a way that would leave no doubt, and usually results in cases of this, which allows the character to come back in a later scene.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown – One of the best ways to activate Heroic Comeback is to be on the receiving end of one of these in an earlier scene.
- One-Hit Kill – Scoring a Natural 20 on any attack kills or KOs (depending on what you are using and your general intentions) characters of up to Moderate importance instantly. Characters of more importance need to make what basically amounts to a saving throw with their Toughness stat to take normal damage instead.
- Plot Armor – Explicitly built into the rules. How difficult you are to hit or kill depends on how important you are to the general plot of the “movie”
- Revolvers Are Just Better – HKAT doesn’t keep track of ammo, so you can blast off with revolvers to your heart’s content as long as you don’t roll a 3 or worse.
- Throw-Away Guns – Reloading takes a full round, which seems to encourage this.
- Theme Music Power-Up - When the player plays the theme for a character with the Theme Music signature move, the character can gain a +10 bonus to Cool or +10 to his Chi Pool (up to maximum).
- The Triads and the Tongs – Featured in the Triad Sourcebook, and can be used in many genres.
- Typecasting - Characters with the Typecasting signature move have their Star Power count as double when bidding on the role that they specialize in.
- Wuxia – The Period Martial Arts and Bizarre Fantasy genres.