Pirate Campaign Write-Up

I have already mentioned a Celestial Empire play-by-post game that has been going on on rpg.net. It is run by Asen_G.
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.
She accepts.

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?
Who knows?

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.


Expanded Divination Skill

I have just bought Mythic Iceland by Pedro Ziviani. It is a Basic Role-Playing supplement designed to play in mediæval Iceland. Despite its title, Mythic Iceland is firmy set in real world history and is historically, linguistically, and culturally accurate. In that respect, it is similar to the Alephtar Games historical titles :)

Anyway, the nice thing about BRP games is that they are mutually compatible. And 'mutually compatible' means you can steal from a given game whatever you think is cool for your own.

The Celestial Empire features the skill of Divination (pages 59-62). Mythic Iceland similarly presents the skill of Prophecy (pages 206-208), which has a slightly different scope: instead of requiring to GM to come up with a cryptic sentence that somehow predicts future in-game events, it requires the player character using the Prophecy skill to try and give some input to the GM's game through the prophecy itself, i.e., it introduces player-driven narration. Also, the Mythic Iceland version of the skill is much more articulate, with scalable effects depending on the amount of power points spent by the player character.

This post adapts the ideas from Mythic Iceland to The Celestial Empire. By spending more than 1 Qì point, the player character may use the Divination skill as the Mythic Iceland Prophecy skill. Replace the following text from the Divination skill description on page 59 of TCE:
After spending 1 Qì point, the diviner performs a divination ritual according to the tenets of his religion, and consulting the appropriate source; then the GM rolls against the character's divination skill (the result of the roll must remain hidden from the player since he has no idea whether the attempts to prophesy the future was successful or not).
After spending a variable amount of Qì points [see table], the diviner performs a divination ritual according to the tenets of his religion, and consulting the appropriate source; then the player rolls against the character's divination skill. Depending on the result, the player may or may not announce the prophecy.
Fumble > The player character has a prophetic vision of his own impending doom.
Failure > No prophecy.
Success > The player character has a prophetic vision of his future. The player may express it in a seven-word sentence.
Special > The player may express the prophecy in a nine-word sentence.
Critical > The GM cannot interfere with the prophecy.

The table referred to above is the following one:
The divination attempt only involves the diviner...........1 Qì point
The divination attempt involves another person...........2 Qì points
The divination attempt involves a group of people.........3 Qì points
A precise location is 'seen' in the prophecy.................+1 Qì points
Precise people are 'seen' in the prophecy....................+2 Qì points
The prophecy involves some misfortune......................cost×2
The prophecy involves death....................................cost×3

Example: a diviner attempts to prophesy what will happen to his brother who has set upon a dangerous endeavour in Bukhara with a band of fellow adventurers. The divination attempt involves a different person than the diviner: 2 Qì points. The divination attempt involves a precise person: +2 Qì point. The diviner would like the prophecy to involve death: cost×3. Total: a hefty 12 Qì points. The player successfully rolls against his skill and chooses the following prophecy: 'My brother kills the emir of Bukhara'. Now 12 Qì is a huge amount, but the GM may still think it's to easy to get away with it like that. That's where the GM may decide this will happen... several years in the future! maybe after the diviner's brother has escaped from a harrassing stay in the emir's penal labour camps...


Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan

The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan is a collection of fictional writings mentioned by Lovecraft in "The Other Gods" (1921) and "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926). The books (or rather scrolls) are supposed to have been written in Classical Chinese around the 2nd century AD by the Chinese philosopher Hsan the Greater [although Hsan is not even a Chinese-sounding name]. The books allegedly contain information parallelling that contained in the Yìjīng, but with an esoteric rather than exoteric bent. Each scroll covers a specific subject:
  • Scroll One: the works of Huángdì, the Yellow Emperor, his miraculous inventions and cures.
  • Scroll Two: ritual cannibalism and ghoulish cults.
  • Scroll Three: spirits of the air.
  • Scroll Four: spirits of the water.
  • Scroll Five: Deep Ones off the south China coast and their human devotees; space and time: the hounds of Tindalos and the Liao drug.
  • Scroll Six: the Plateau of Leng in Central Asia and Unknown Kadath; their history and inhabitants.
  • Scroll Seven: a Mythos primer.
The Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan may thus be used much like the Yìjīng, but with a more sinister twist to its use. For instance using the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan instead of the Yìjīng for a Divination skill roll (p59 of The Celestial Empire) may yield a darker bent to the results of the roll, or even ill-fated side effects. Using the example in the rule book, White Fox may want to follow the black falcon; however after having travelled through the mountains undetected by the guards in the fort, she may make more unsavoury an encounter, like a lone hermit dabbling in the black arts or even a Mythos-inspired creature...

Similarly, if the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan are used instead of the Yìjīng for a Necromancy skill roll (p63 of TCE) the monster summoned or the answers received will certainly contain Mythos-inspired elements...

On top of their use as an alternative, sombrer version of the Yìjīng, the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan contain useful information for player characters.
  • Scroll One will impart bonuses to characters using cure-like skills and/or spells.
  • Scroll Two contains information about Chinese ghouls (wǎngliáng). This kind of information enables Monster Hunters (see p54 of TCE) to create secret recipes to fight against wǎngliáng.
  • Scrolls Three and Four impart bonuses to the Conjure Elemental spell.
  • Scroll Five contains information about the Hǎiruò. This kind of information enables Monster Hunters (see p54 of TCE) to create secret recipes to fight the Hǎiruò.
  • Scroll Six gives +20% to Knowledge (Region [Central Asia]) and/or to Knowledge (Region [Tibet]) in any cross-over CoC/TCE campaign game.
  • Scroll Seven gives +20% to Knowledge (Religion [Cthulhu Mythos]) in any cross-over CoC/TCE campaign game.

Perusing these scrolls may increase the Cthulhu Mythos Allegiance score of the reader (if used) or, alternatively, reduce the Buddhism allegiance score/increase the Heterodoxy allegiance score by 1 for each scroll read.