Note: Whoops, gave this a "update at 12:00PM" schedule instead of the usual 8:00AM. Problem is fixed now.
During RPG Drive Thru's "Christmas in July" sale, I took the opportunity to pick up Third Eye Games's Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. I haven't had a lot of time to read through it and check the mechanics yet. Honestly, I'm still reading through the various clan descriptions, but the book already has me asking a few questions on how dangerous something could be. In this case, the question is: how dangerous is it to have party conflict built into a character by the game itself?
The basic situation in Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade is that the players are members of the various ninja clans, and have found themselves in the undesirable position of being persona non-grata in their own country. The Izou Empire (their home) has outlawed them, and sent its armies to hunt them down to the last man. Several of the hidden villages and temples have already been burned to the ground. In response to this, the ninja clans have set aside their differences (mostly) and have joined together into a large coalition to try and ensure the survival of their ninja way.
As far as plots for games go, it is fairly decent. There is a large, world based, goal for GMs to jump into if they need to, or just have running in the background if they don't want it. It leaves the game fairly open, all things considered, but the idea is for the players to be part of the Lotus Coalition. The problem enters though, when one of the players chooses one of the specific clans. That clan is secretly still working for the Empire (only the top brass know this) and against the goals of the coalition. The disadvantage for players who choose that clan is that as they get higher in rank, they will have specific objectives that may seem counter to the coalition's goals, because their bosses don't want the coalition to succeed. In short, as that player gets to a higher rank they are faced with having to choose between their clan (family, friends, people they've been trained to be loyal to) and the other PCs.
The potential problem I see here is causing inter party conflict in a game where the players don't want it, or don't respond well to it. Some games, and gamers, are fine with PVP in their game, but others are generally against it. They see it as the root of a lot of problems various game groups have had. Now, you could just disallow that one clan, but that can also cause issues at times. Either way, the GM is either left with the knowledge that one of the party members could be a ticking time bomb for the group, or having to modify the game in order to prevent this from happening.
The other problem is the position it puts the player themselves in. At a point in the game - granted, they've been informed it would come up - they get to choose between being hunted by their clan, or becoming a secret enemy of the PCs. A fun position in some groups, but not in others.
As I said, there are possible solutions. One of which would have been to put the betrayal as a planned thing by the clan higher ups as an optional side-bar thing. Another would be to simply not have it mentioned, but running in the background for GMs to do if they wanted. The clan gets a different disadvantage (even if it is a similar one, just not as loaded) and things go on. There are ways.
But Is It Really A Problem?
The question I'm left with is this: is this really a problem? The game is upfront with this fact. If you choose this clan, you have this problem coming up. It is spelled out in the "public" section of the book that all players can be expected to read, or have read. Everyone, on an OOC level, should know about it going in, which means that it shouldn't cause as many problems.
The answer to this, I think, depends on your philosophy as a gamer. Those who abhor PVP will probably dislike it, while those who enjoy PVP will likely enjoy it. Personally, I like it as a philosophical question, and would be cautious - based on group and desired game - to see how I would run it. Still, it is an intriguing, and brave, idea to do. So, at the very least I gotta give kudos to Third Eye Games for that.