, "The Roleplaying Game
of Martial Arts
Action," was published by Wizards of the Coast
in 1999. It won't be found in their catalog, though; this 128-page book is only available online as a series of Adobe PDF
documents. The original book, and its one supplement (Dragon and Phoenix
, an adventure), can still be downloaded at http://www.wizards.com/dnd/DF_Welcome.asp
Premise: Dragon Fist is inspired by Hong Kong martial arts movies, like A Chinese Ghost Story. (Though not released at the time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a somewhat more familar movie in the wuxia style espoused by this game.) The rules, loosely based upon Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, are somewhat tilted towards a cinematic style of play. "If you want a precise simulation of martial arts, look elsewhere. If you want to have a blast playing an action hero, read on."
The Game World: These are dark times indeed in the land of Tianguo. Emperor Jianmin, obsessed with immortality, unwittingly made a deal with the devil (literally). Now, only by feeding souls to this dark master can he keep his life and his considerable power.
Obviously, the people aren't terribly fond of being slaughtered, but most of them can't do anything about it. The player characters are, naturally, a different story. Nine secret societies, known collectively as the World of Martial Arts, are beginning to work together to try to bring down the Emperor and his cackling eunuch sorcerers. "Your kung fu may be strong, but is it strong enough to save the world?"
Rules: For the most part, the rules are standard AD&D 2nd Edition. Proficiencies are gone; most skills are handled as attribute checks. Character kits are mandatory, and conveniently provided (each kit represents membership in one of the nine secret societies). Armor Classes go up, like in D&D 3rd Edition.
Dragon Fist adds the "stunt die" mechanic, which essentially lets players add 1-5 points to all their actions of a certain type in a round, including random cool shit related to the type of stunt. An "Acrobatics" stunt, keyed to your character's Dexterity attribute, allows you both to temporarily improve your AC and to improve your chance of successfully bounding over a tall building. A "Fortitude" stunt will make it easier to do that cool "walking on hot coals" trick. And so on.
In addition to standard weapons proficiencies, every character gets several nifty martial arts abilities. Every character gets Wuxia, allowing vertical leaps of 20 feet or more. Many of the other abilities are inspired by the old Oriental Adventures book - special stunning attacks, various defensive stances, nerve strikes, channeling your ki energy into a fireball like Liu Kang.
The game encourages off-the-cuff bonuses for playing in the spirit of the setting. "A player who 'attacks with his sword' is going to look pretty foolish when the villain counters by backflipping out of the way, kicking up a table, and sending it whirling at the player character."
For Veteran D&D Players: You will only need to skim most of the book, as large chunks of material are simply recycled (like 25 pages of spells, almost all of which are direct copies of existing D&D spells).
For not-so-veteran gamers:
This book is in fact a complete system, containing everything you'll need to play. None of this d20 "you have to own seventeen other books to play" garbage; rules, monsters (hopping vampires, anyone?), and a world setting rich in potential (but not in detail). And you certainly can't beat the price.
Bottom Line: It's free. Take a look. It won't hurt. Only the most ardent fans of Hong Kong movies would want to make a whole campaign out of it, but it would be a great one-nighter.