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Fight to Survive: Role-playing Martial Arts Meets HeartClick to magnify
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Fight to Survive: Role-playing Martial Arts Meets Heart

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Fight to Survive: Role-playing Martial Arts Meets Heart is a heartbreaking, struggling, mundane, down-and-dirty table-top role-playing game about martial artists in the 20th century. It seeks to capture the spirit of 20th century martial arts action cinema, with all its sincerity and emotion. It's a game about tough guys and ferocious gals in low-stakes adventures of down-to-earth urban try-and-die martial arts where most situations are violent and usually end in sadness.

Tough guy in a black jacket, fists raised

Frail heroes in a desperate world.

Throwing punches.

Throwing kicks.

Throwing away their lives.

Fight to Survive Book With Splayed Pages

Fight to Survive includes:

  • 1 complete, original, set of easy-to-learn rules
  • 5 ready-made fighters
  • 50+ martial arts
  • 30+ opponents
  • 10 districts in New Hope City
  • 100 years of martial history and lore
  • 3 years of pre-made adventures
  • Shawscope full-colour interior

Take a foray onto the mean streets of New Hope City where your guts and your fists are all you have to fight, survive.

The Game Banner

System at a Glance

For the system junkies out there, Fight to Survive is:

  • Multi-generational: Each game session advances the in-game calendar by one to three years. While it is possible to hold on to a single PC throughout most of the century, it is equally possible to go through a series of characters, exploring the 20th century through a martial lineage.
  • Rules-medium: The weight of these rules are a firm “medium” in terms of their crunch and complexity, if we take the current iteration of the world’s most popular RPG as being rules medium-to-heavy.
  • Theatre of the Mind: No maps, and no miniatures needed, however, you may want to refer to a map of New Hope City from time to time.

Mechanics at a Glance

  • Fights & Other Conflicts: The outcome of fights is determined by comparing moves, with certain moves trumping others, back and forth until there’s a winner—kind of like rock-paper-scissors. The system is diceless, with all other conflict resolution using a comparison of relevant numbers with the highest number winning.
  • Harm & Hardship: There are no “hit points”. Instead, Harm and Hardship—metrics that describe the lousiness of a PC’s life—are governed by a complex series of checkboxes and brackets. If either of these meters are exceeded, the character exits the game.
  • Comforts: These are the people, places, and things a character seeks out to make them feel better. Keep in good with your Comforts to make sure you can rely on them to reduce your Hardship.

Setting at a Glance

  • The Mundane and the Sad: This game is not a power fantasy. Stakes are personal and low. Fight to Survive runs on a vicious cycle of street fights and misery. The only way out is to die, go crazy, or pass on the cycle of violence to the next generation.
  • Historical Accuracy: Historical events relevant to the “Martial World” are important, but Fight to Survive fiddles with the details. Events that actually happened across the continent—in New York, San Francisco, or Toronto—instead happen in the single fictional location of New Hope City, located “where-ever west”. New Hope City acts as a kind of North American Hong Kong, a tremendous hub of cultural diversity where all things intersect.
  • Character Diversity: Districts in New Hope City act as cultural and economic boundaries. Accordingly, the game is ripe for exploring issues of systemic oppression, racism, colonialism, and social and economic hardship. Even if your group doesn’t want to tackle those issues, the game in no way assumes middle-class, straight, white, male, European-descended, American protagonists. A plethora of distinct cultural voices and backgrounds works best and is more in keeping with the state of martial arts throughout the 20th century, anyway.

Inspiration Banner

Design Goals

In brief, my design goals were pretty specific with Fight to Survive. I wanted a system:

  • About martial arts where the players didn’t have to know martial arts in order to play and enjoy it, but which would also give people who know martial arts the ability to make meaningful choices.
  • Where fighting feels like how getting into a fight really feels. This game does not seek to emulate reality, but rather to achieve a feeling of verisimilitude, so there are a number of potentially counter-intuitive design decisions intended to get you into the right head-space and give you choices indicative of the game’s wider themes.
  • That captures the melodramatic emotional side of martial arts movies mechanically relevant to a table-top RPG experience.

 Customers Who Bought this Title also Purchased
Reviews (2)
Discussions (8)
Customer avatar
Nick B November 27, 2023 4:17 am UTC
The form-fillable character sheets aren't form-fillable?
Customer avatar
James K November 27, 2023 2:18 pm UTC
Hi Nick, what seems to be the problem with the form-fillable character sheets? Email me so we can troubleshoot: Thank you.
Customer avatar
Nick B November 28, 2023 12:29 am UTC
Customer avatar
Jared S August 10, 2023 11:00 am UTC
This might be the greatest modern-setting RPG ever made.
It might be one of the greatest RPGs ever made.

Hell, I bought it twice just so I could re-read it.

James Kerr has got the glow.

"When you reach that upper level, Your mind body and soul will be one.
It's a sacrifice, it takes hard work, It's a way of life."
Customer avatar
David C August 03, 2023 7:45 pm UTC
The game looks like a lot of fun.
One minor criticism, the form-fill character sheets do not appear to be form-fill
Customer avatar
James K August 08, 2023 5:18 pm UTC
Sorry for the delay, I've been at GenCon. Thanks for the heads up, David. I can't reproduce the problem, though. I'm using the most-updated Adobe Acrobat. Is there a functionality you're looking for that I didn't think of, maybe?

If anyone else is having an issue with their form-fillable pdf please reply to this comment, and I'll get it sorted out.
Customer avatar
Jerry N June 02, 2023 4:42 am UTC
Page 96 of the PDF, under "Aggressor Acts First," it reads, "The Aggressor and is obligated to issue the Opening Move, or abandon the conflict." I assume this is supposed to read, "The Aggressor ACTS FIRST and is obligated, etc.
Customer avatar
James K June 02, 2023 1:07 pm UTC
Hi Jerry. The Aggressor does not need to necessarily act, they could abandon the conflict without issuing the Opening Move and end the fight before it started. Sometimes it looks like you're going to get into a fight, things are tense, but they resolve themselves in some other way. Thank you for your careful reading, though!
Customer avatar
Jerry N June 05, 2023 3:48 am UTC
Looks like I'm 0 for 2 lol.
Customer avatar
James K June 05, 2023 12:23 pm UTC
I appreciate the careful attention anyway, Jerry!
Customer avatar
Jerry N June 02, 2023 4:32 am UTC
Page 97 of the PDF, under "Turn Order By Build," it reads: "The larger a fighter's Build (marked father to the right), the sooner they go." SHouldn't this be the opposite? Larger Builds go later, correct?
Customer avatar
James K June 02, 2023 1:04 pm UTC
Hello Jerry, thank you for your comment. The text is correct. The next paragraph on page 97 explains why this is the opposite of what you might expect.
I'll have an actual play demonstration video up soon, I hope. In the meantime the Radio James Games Discord is probably the best place for rules clarification, but by all means keep 'em coming.
Customer avatar
David K February 22, 2023 1:37 pm UTC
Does this include the solo rules or is that a separate expansion? The fact you cite Dream Askew diceless mechanics & PbtA shared fellowship mechanics makes this very appealing if a bit expensive.
Customer avatar
James K February 22, 2023 1:45 pm UTC
Hi David. Sadly, the solo rules are separate and have yet to come. Fight to Survive costs more than some indie books because it is 330 pages, has a full-colour interior, and is stuffed with a lot of evocative art. It is meant to be everything you'd need, except the solo rules, of course. I didn't want to tack those on at the end—they're worth a whole book unto itself!
Customer avatar
Brett M February 21, 2023 2:28 pm UTC
I’m waiting for the POD version to be available before purchasing so I can’t post a review yet, but after reading through a proof copy I’ll say this is a very impressive game. Definitely recommend checking it out if you like story games with a bit more crunch to them!
Customer avatar
James K February 24, 2023 11:17 pm UTC
Hey Brett, the softcover POD for Fight to Survive is available now. Still waiting on the hardcover if that's more your jam.
Customer avatar
Abraham Z February 20, 2023 7:03 pm UTC
When it comes to martial arts RPGs, this seems pretty unique! If you are currently handing out review copies, I would love to feature it in my Youtube channel, is there an email where I can contact you?
Customer avatar
James K February 20, 2023 7:10 pm UTC
Yeah sure, I'd be happy to. Just email me at
Customer avatar
Abraham Z February 20, 2023 8:59 pm UTC
Thanks James, email sent!
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File Last Updated:
May 01, 2023
This title was added to our catalog on February 20, 2023.