The very same Asen is kindly sharing the introduction and the summary of another Celestial Empire game he’s currently running.
I find it very interesting because it mixes derring-do adventuring with both historical and supernatural elements, thereby showing how diverse and varied China-themed role-playing can be.
1674, near China
A single pirate ship atacks two traders. The attackers feel well-justified, as it turns out there are many martial arts masters among them! The Qing dynasty has chased many Han (and Hakka, and Hui...) from their homes, what with crushing the rebellions. Among them, many martial artists have joined not only Jianghu, but also the criminal underworld.
Just as the sailors start surrendering, the trap springs! People with caracteristic signs and skill of caravan guards start jumping from below the decks. It's time for the pirates to go back.
However, seeing his men going down when confronting some of the pirates, their leader bellows an order and issues a challenge. The pirate captain declines, having his scalp split during the fight, and the blood obscuring his vision. So he designates his first mate.
The battle doesn't last three steps, really... at least, not three steps after they pass from the traditional attempts to shame the opponent into submission.
First, the old master swings upward. His opponent parries, buying the illusion and readying himself to exploit the opportunity for a counterattack.
The old master releases his sabre's handle, and just continues his move forward. When his palm comes into contact with the chest of Li Hoi San, the Korean renegade-general, the current pirate is thrown backwards.
And then the old master's face changes, as he looks at the arrow sticking from his throat. He falls over Li's frame, spraying blood everywhere. An woman who was just shouting encouragements moments before, has pulled out a hand crossbow.
The situation is resolved quickly and with no more bloodshed after that. Having lost their commander, the caravan guards agree to stop the fight, and leave one of the ships to the victors. There is nothing of value on them — they were set up as traps and nothing else — but at least it is a ship. Should the pirates have fought on, the battle could have claimed a great toll on the pirates. So in the end both sides have shown reason – and both sides have thought that it would be different next time.
The captain is happy for a few days. In the closest port, he manages to sell off the ships (bribing the officials as needed), and picks up a few colourful characters. One of them was a student of an unorthodox master, and only seems to show visible interest in killing. The other one is a joyful girl with a spear and an attitude that won't endear her to any strict Confucians.
Luckily, overly strict Confucians do not abound on pirate ships...
They also take in a Daoist monk and his companion — obviously a courtesan — as passengers to Taiwan. That is their next destination, since the captain has received a prophecy last night in the pleasure house. The prophecy spoke about opportunity to get rich and famous there — and that's where the monk is headed as well.
The morning before their departure, Fan Meili, pirate and member of the White Lotus, notices a man with the clothes of a magistrate. Problem is, he was at an inn! Why isn't he in the yámen?
Her curiosity picked, she sits down and orders tea. Nobody recognises the sharpshooter from the naval battle days ago.
As it turns out, magistrate Yuan has "special orders", whatever that means. He also asks about some girl — and after one of his informers disappoints him, his guards (hired guards, she can notice — something else that does not fit) brutalise the man.
She leaves immediately and goes to the ship. As far as she can tell, nobody has followed her.
The ship has only recently departed when a tornado moved towards her. There is already a boat it has swiped from the water. Worse, it moves right after their ship irrespective of her manoeuvres, as if directed...
Almost everybody has relinquished hope and resigned themselves to a future bath, when the courtesan Liu Xiulang suggests using a piece of fireworks against the tornado. Fan Meili shots it and manages to hit the tornado close to its centre.
Obviously that is too much for the storm-spirit, because the tornado dissipates.
Two of the three people in the 'flying' ship even survive. One of them is a woman, and the other one is a fisherman that she has hired. The woman turns out to be Hua, a famous master of the bow (and some say, half-Korean— but never said it to her face).
It turns out that she has heard of the battle. And she wants to see Fan Meili. A quick competition later, it turns out Fan is not up to task in her book — hitting a piece of wood wasn't a problem. Shooting your bow while standing at the top of the mast and hitting a piece of wood was. Well, not for Hua.
As they arrive to Taiwan, two things become obvious. First, the captain has taken an interest in the courtesan. Second, her current employer is unfazed by this.
So after arranging formalities, the captain goes to his cabin — and not alone. The monk has already left, and the crew disembarks to get their own fun.
A couple of hours later, the courtesan is no longer there, but the captain is dead, with one of Hua's arrows through his chest. Luckily, Fan Meili manages to prove to the angry sailors that Hua has nothing to do with it — the captain has been poisoned earlier, and the arrow has been sticked in later.
The tea the captain and the courtesan have been drinking isn't poisoned, however, except what little remained in his cup. The perpetrator remains unknown.
The next day, they have to pick a new captain!
Most crew members support the first mate but the new spearwoman also presents her candidature.
A duel follows, with the two of them duelling. This time, Li Hoi San lasts much longer, and manages to win, albeit not unwounded! Clearly, the old master simply was too good for him.
After the second cut, Li Baozhai surrenders. The Korean congratulates her skills, and offeres her a place in the crew, and promises her advancement opprtunities.
That very evening, Li Hoi San decides to settle some old debts in Korea. To this end, he hires a couple new warriors, including a Han woman with a Sun-Moon spear and Sun-Moon blades on her sides. She is accompanied by her friends, both of them Barbarians — a long-nosed one, and a southern one from some islands in the ocean. In a fit of drunken honesty, Li promises them to help them as they help him — whatever their heart wish is, since his is to punish his disciple who has betrayed him.
The long-nosed Barbarian does not accept, but the other two do, which prompts a long scene of separation. But sometimes, friendship and even love have to step aside. Li isn't the only one with unsettled debts, the woman makes clear.
After that, they contact the local criminals, who want a smuggler ship captured, and are ready to go.
And then the adventure REALLY begins!
Ships are captured, sold, and re-fitted for piracy. Enemies are made, both human and supernatural. Couples (and love triangles, and a pentagram...) are formed and broken — or cut.
Li Hoi San gets his revenge. Korea receives a new king, who promises to abandon the practice of using hopping dead under sorcerous control as cheap labour and soldiers.
No doubt, this makes the Celestial bureaucracy happy. And Wen Xiaofan, as the last heir of Ming (who used a Sun-Moon weapons for a reason!) was even happier at having secured the help of Korea.
Mystics are contacted, their words studied, and their errands followed. Masters are found, and asked for teachings — or challenged. Numerous battles fought, and only Li Hoi San has lost his hand — but arranging the deal between the student of a martial arts master and a fox spirit, serves as payment for giving him a new hand. And they only have to run once, maybe twice.
Even a dragon has been defeated — although it is a human-made one. Some demons don't attract as much attention.
And then, near the fall of the tumultous year, a Korean army consisting mostly of freed slaves, is ready to join the anti-Qing rebellion in China.
Where will the story go?
Most of the players in this game don't post in RPG-related blogs. But if you want to know more about this campaign game, the GM (Асен Сварталфар) can be contacted relatively easily; he can be found on RPG.net posting under the nickname Asen_G, or through his e-mail address: asen.georgiev1980 [at] abv.bg.