2012-02-27

RuneQuest 6: Mysticism

In his February 2012 update about the upcoming RuneQuest 6 fantasy role-playing game, Design Mechanism author Lawrence Whitaker announces the following:
RQ6 will have five very different magic systems: Folk Magic (Common Magic as was), Animism (spirit magic), Mysticism (brand new), Theism (Divine) and Sorcery. [...] Mysticism is completely new and aims to allow characters to replicate all manner of wuxia, martial arts, ki, and other powers that focus on self-realisation and potential. Its not a spell-based system, but it does have a very wide range of different effects/talents to offer considerable flexibility.

This is obviously a very interesting piece of news for any Celestial Empire fans. Knowing the work of the authors of RuneQuest 6, I expect RuneQuest 6 to feature a very kinematic combat system. If you like the historical or literary approach to Imperial China, keep the current BRP-based implementation of the rules. But if you like to centre your games on combat and action, you may well be advised to check RuneQuest 6 out when it's available and consider it as a possible replacement to the BRP.

More on this when RuneQuest 6 is finally available!

2012-02-26

Mùlán

I have found myself watching Disney's Mulan... It made me think about the gender-based limitations in The Celestial Empire (see the side-bar on p10 of the rule-book), and about how playing a heroine disguised as a male would be pretty much the only way of having a female PC in an adventuring party.

Mùlán is quite a popular character in Chinese lore, and there have been numerous films about her (legendary) story. The image on the left is from a 1927 silent film.

Edit: Funny I should read about women warriors in ancient China on my G+ stream the very same day I post about Mùlán.
One of the entries on G+ referred to this book. In Chapter Three, titled From Cross-Dressing Daughter to Lady Knight-Errant: The Origin and Evolution of Chinese Women Warriors, the author writes that
Among the many heroine types types in Chinese literature, women soldiers, wandering lady "knights" (xiá), and female outlaws occupy a unique position [...]  the women warriors of medieval China were the Chinese paradigms of female courage and heroism for Chinese girls to emulate.

If you manage to display the free excerpts of the book on Google Books, they are well worth reading.

2012-02-25

the Shānhǎi Jīng and Traditional Chinese Medicine

I have started reading the Shānhǎi Jīng in its English-language translation by Anne Birrell, as the Classic of the Mountains and Seas. There is quite a long and interesting introduction by the author, who tries to separate the various topics in the book, and why they would appear in it, and who may have written each chapter.

At the moment, I'm still at the introduction, and more precisely at the 'Medicine and the Human Condition' section. I'll quote part of it here because it is simply too interesting in terms of immersive role-playing:
The numerous medical conditions mentioned in the text constitute a health profile of a cross-section of the rural population of ancient China. The most common ailments are swellings of every kind, from the superficial to the fatal, both epidermal and organic. The organs most affected by disease are the stomach and heart, and the bodily parts most affected are the eye and skin. General ailments are piles, rheumatics, fever, choking, shortness of breath, itching, worms, chapped skin, and pains in the chest and belly. Preventive remedies are prescribed for sunstroke, risk of premature death, starvation, physical exhaustion, and epidemics. Social problems include farting and smelly armpits. Mental problems, such as stupidity, amnesia, nightmares, and nodding off are also treated. Psychological disabilities include various phobias (especially fear of thunder), depression, and acute anxiety. The sexual problems for which remedies are given include the need for contraceptives and treatment for infertility. The remedy for sexual jealousy is to eat a hermaphroditic animal, which is also good for carbuncles. [...] In prescribing treatment, the traveller-medic is careful to note any word-magic that might apply to the case. For example, a patient will not be lost or confused () if he or she wears some lost-mulberry (mìgǔ) in the belt. Colour symbolism is also a function of treatment. If a patient eats a scarlet mountain fowl, it will prevent fire. Preventive medicine also extends to personal situations, such as misfortune and bad luck, which is sometimes caused by the workings of the dreaded , a term that covers malign forces, poison, and internal worms.

PS— sorcery is described in gaming terms on p89 of The Celestial Empire.

2012-02-16

Yāshèng Coins

Note: part of the text below has been adapted from the relevant Wikipedia article

Yāshèng (厭勝) coins are a kind of special coin mainly made for ritual purposes. These coins are usually privately funded or cast, such as by a rich clan for their own family ceremony or, mostly under the Míng and the Qīng, issued by the imperial government for big festivals or for ceremonies like the emperor's birthday.
Yāshèng coins are not real currency, hence not legal tender, and cannot be used as a means of exchange in any commercial transaction.

Yāshèng coins are heavily decorated, typically being engraved with complicated patterns and/or archaic characters. These inscriptions customarily hail the Immortals, the virtuous kings of the distant past, or Daoist masters. Wearing or carrying the coins is obviously supposed to somehow transfer virtue, luck or blessings onto the bearer.
Yāshèng coins have a long history, have been in use since well before the Táng, and are much sought after by antique collectors. They first appeared under the Western Hàn (3rd century BC), and under the influence of the School of Naturalists, as paraphernalia for necromancy, for propitious wishes, terrifying ghosts, lucky money, or even for bringing victory at war. Yāshèng coins have hence been dubbed "spiritual coins" by some Sinologists.

For Celestial Empire games, it is suggested that each set of Yāshèng coins should function like a unique magic item. The exact effects can be duplicated from the effects of the magic items described on p83-84 of TCE. Other sample effects are:
  • a +20% bonus to any skill rolls in relationship with government officials for the bearer of a Yāshèng coin cast for the coronation of the emperor
  • +2 protection points to a piece of cloth into which a Yāshèng coin that references a king in armour has been sewn
The gamemaster is encouraged to devise unique effects for any Yāshèng coins in his TCE campaign.

A successful Knowledge (Art History) roll will give basic information about a given Yāshèng coin, such as its period of time, the kind of usage it was destined to, etc. A critical success will give the exact scope and expected powers of the coin.

2012-02-15

Hidden Gems

I love the iPhone and the iPad as tech gadgets but I've always hated iTunes with a passion. Yet I have just discovered a trove of hidden gems in iTunes, viz. the iTunes U service.

This service is the academic version of iTunes: it allows the user to download podcast-like lectures of famous university professors. At the moment, it has more than 500,000 lectures available for free download!
In the French-language area of the service, for instance, one has free access to the Collège de France courses on Confucius by noted Sinologist Anne Cheng [whose seminal work Histoire de la pensée chinoise (Paris, 1997) was a major source when I wrote the background chapters of The Celestial Empire].

2012-02-13

Chuchuna (Чучуна)

I have found out that there is a bigfoot-like legendary creature called the Chuchuna in Eastern Siberia (that would be north of Outer Manchuria on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire). Just like the Yěrén, about which I have already posted, the Chuchuna is not a mindless brute but a cunning hominid. The Chuchuna has been described as six to seven feet tall and covered with dark hair. The Chuchuna would hence have the exact same stats as the Yěrén (q.v.), except for the following:
SIZ 1D6+13 (16-17)
Hit Points: 15
Damage bonus: +1D4
Allegiance: Shamanism 10D6

For those who favour TCE-CoC crossovers... notice how 'Chuchuna' and 'Tcho-Tcho' sound similar! I know the sizes do not correspond, but then the Tcho-Tcho are said to have migrated from the Tibet to Southest Asia, so the change in size could reflect their having adapted to a region where competition for food is fiercer.

2012-02-09

Trade Map of Asia

I have found an on-line map of mediæval Asian commerce routes (both land routes and sea routes). The map is not particularly nice —it is a scan of an old historical atlas— but it is interesting to see how the trade routes in Imperial China follow the rivers and canals. And then of course there's the Silk Road(s).

2012-02-05

Step-by-Step Character Generation

I am creating a character for the play-by-post game mentioned yesterday. The game is set in the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, which is slightly earlier than the time period contemplated by The Celestial Empire. I will use the Táng dynasty list of allegiances, removing Judaism; that should do the trick.

STR 11
CON 10
SIZ 9
INT 12
POW 11
DEX 15
APP 11
EDU 13
Since I'm mostly OK with the results, I'll only redistribute one single point, from APP to SIZ:

STR 11
CON 10
SIZ10
INT 12
POW 11
DEX 15
APP 10
EDU 13

This yields a starting age of (EDU+5) 18.  However, I'm adding a full 30 years of age to the character. That will give me an additional 60 skill points.
Character Age:  48.

Derived characteristics:
Damage bonus: None
Experience bonus: 6
Hit points: 10
Major wounds: 5
Qì points: 11
Movement 10

Fate points: 11. Note that these are managed separately from Qì points in TCE.

Home region: North China.
Name: Blind Bóxī. He's blind, meaning any vision-dependent skill is limited to POW%, unless he can make up with Listen or Sense.
Profession: Masseur (obviously I'm thinking of playing a Zatōichi-like character). Masseur is not amongst the professions in TCE, si I'll just create a "masseur" template:
Wealth: Poor
Status: 30%
Allegiance: None
Primary Skills: Fine Manipulation, Healing Lore, Insight, Knowledge (Streetwise), Science (Natural History)
Secondary Skills: Hide, Knowledge (Folklore), Knowledge (Region [North China]), Listen, Medicine, Mêlée Weapon (Quarterstaff), Persuade, Spot

Now on to using my EDU×20, INT×20, and 60 skill points; each skill has its base value plus the category bonus added before any further skill points are added:
(primary skills)
Fine Manipulation 5+6+30+30= 71%
Healing Lore 12+3+30+30= 75%
Insight 5+2+30= 37%
Knowledge (Streetwise) 10+3+30= 43%
Science (Natural History) 10+3+30= 43%

(secondary skills)
Hide 10+5+13= 28%
Knowledge (Folklore) 5+3+13= 21%
Knowledge (Region [North China]) 20+3+13= 36%
Listen 25+2+13+30= 70%
Medicine 0+3+13= 16%
Mêlée Weapon (Quarterstaff) 25+6+13+30= 74%
Persuade 15+2+13= 30%
Spot 25+2+13= 40%

(other skills)
Knowledge (Rivers and Lakes) 5+3+30= 38%
Sense 10+2+6+30= 48%
Status 30+2= 32%

(allegiance)
Buddhism 0
Confucianism 0
Daoism 1
Manichæism 0
Nestorianism 0

Equipment:
  • leather pouch with herbs
  • gloves
  • walking staff

All in all, and despite his low characteristics and his handicap, I think Blind Bóxī is going to be a fun character to play. His high Sense and Listen skill values will definitely make him a Zatōichi-like hero!