Using LotFP supplements with TCE - Tower of the Stargazer

This module (blurb here) is a stand-alone adventure that can be easily ported to The Celestial Empire. It must be set under the Míng or under the Qīng. If set under the Míng, then it must be set at the beginning of the Míng so that the Stargazer was active under the Yuán. If set under the Qīng, then it must be set at the end of the 18th century so that the Stargazer was active at the end of the 17th century.

The rationale behind these time frames is the major astronomic advances that happened under the Yuán because of the presence of Arab and Persian astronomers. Likewise, there were major astronomic advances at the end of the 17th century thanks to the Jesuit missionaries present at the court of the Kāngxī Emperor.

The rest of this post is hidden because of major spoilers that it contains.

As suggested on p5 of the module, the tower should be placed away from any settlements, possibly in the mountains — which is by the way the most logical place to build an observatory.

Page 9: The dead thief is actually a dead bandit, famous in the Rivers and Lakes.
Page 10, Sitting Room: It's obviously rice wine, not grape wine.
Page 11, Sitting Room: It is the statue of a vixen lady embracing a mandarin.
Page 13, Head Servant's Quarters: His name was Tái Ānruì
Page 14, Wizard's Quarters: His name is Shěn Yùruì
Page 15: The reward is 10 gold taels. More generally, use the 10gp=1 gold tael equivalence throughout the module.
Page 17: Shěn Yùruì is a very powerful (POW 18) Daoist magician. Just make sure he has plenty of offensive spells.
Page 21, Library: The books in the library are written in Arabic if the adventure is set at the beginning of the Míng; they are written in Latin if it is set at the end of the 18th century.
Page 22, The Ghost: obviously it will be a game of go (wéiqí)
Page 23, Eldritch Library: The books in the library are written in Classical Chinese, with many unusual Daoist versions of the characters (-25% to read, unless the reader is himself a member of a Daoist sect). The scrolls will contain Daoist spells, possibly sorcery spells.
Pages 24-25, Workshop and Telescope: the book on the podium is written in Arabic/Latin (depending on the era).
Page 28, Trap Room: the POT of the spider poison is 13.


Chinese Yuletide

All peoples in the world celebrate and have always celebrated the winter solstice. We Westerners have had various pagan midwinter traditions that were later 'transformed' by the Church into Christmas.

Well, the Chinese obviously still have their midwinter festival, which is called the Dōngzhì (冬至) Festival. On this day, all members of the clan must assemble at the Ancestral Hall and worship their ancestors. Failing to do so will cause penalties to one's Allegiance score in most Chinese religions (see the rule book). Specially consecrated tāngyuán (湯圓, glutinous rice flour balls) are eaten during the ceremony. These consecrated tāngyuán serve as protective talismans to keep evil spirits from coming close to whomever has eaten them. In gaming terms, no guǐ-monster can come closer than 10m to the person for 2D6 days.

This year, the Dōngzhì Festival fell on 22 December. Sorry for having been late with the relevant post!



China and the Chinese pop up in pseudohistory. They may not pop up as often as the Egyptians or the Atlanteans, but what they lack in presence they make up in solidity. I certainly do not pay much heed to works of pseudohistory or cryptohistory, but some of them do contain disturbing evidence.

Land masses east of China are present in pre-1492 European maps rumoured to have been copied from Chinese originals. The 1475 Martellus map, for instance, shows a large land mass very similar to South America east of mainland China.

Gavin Menzies uses many more of these troubling facts to claim that Zhèng Hé's fleet reached the Americas. Although his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World does not resist scientific scrutiny, it is great fun reading, and it surely makes for a great campaign setting for The Celestial Empire: imagine that the player characters participate in one of Zhèng Hé's voyages and embark on a long trip round the world!

Other disturbing references in ancient Chinese manuscripts would point to the mythical eastern island continent of Fúsāng being the same as America. But more on that in a separate post!

TCE Forum

The Celestial Empire has its own forum, hosted by Alephtar Games, the fine publishers of TCE and of many other quality historical role-playing games.


Cubicle 7 Sale Starts Today

That's your chance to grab a copy of The Celestial Empire with a 10% discount. Just go to Cubicle 7's web store and look for Basic Roleplaying System in the left hand-side menu.

To claim your 10% discount, use the following coupon codes during check-out:
  • If you are paying in GBP – KW7CWNXUFMT7MW8L1H8BHUSQ
  • If you are paying in USD – EDT87J5RNFGKD5CU6AEBFWAQ


Using LotFP supplements with TCE - The Tower

The Tower is a short Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) adventure from issue No.4 of Green Devil Face, LotFP's in-house magazine. As with most LotFP adventures, it presents a lonely location to be used by the GM as he sees fit. In my particular case, that would be in Imperial China, and using The Celestial Empire!

The rest of this post is hidden because of major spoilers that it contains.

The Tower is a mansion, not necessarily a day's journey from civilisation, but maybe 2-3 hours from the centre of the closest town/village, or in its most ancient part. The architecture is clearly from the previous dynasty, or even older. The mansion is, however, absolutely shunned by the locals.

The thing guarding the door of the mansion needn't be a monster if the setting doesn't contemplate them. It could be a tall, foreign guard, who doesn't speak Chinese.

The door can be kept the same. After all, metamorphs abound in Chinese legends.

First Level: The statues are those of female immortals (xiān); their rhymes refer to a magical lofty kingdom in the abodes of the Immortals, or to a fiefdom within a Dragon kingdom in a nearby river/lake.

Fourth Level: The people who put the woman to sleep are not wizards but some kind of foreign-looking priests. The glyphs within the thaumaturgic circle are undecipherable ancient and/or foreign-looking characters, even for scholarly PCs.

How It Happens: Instead of meeting a knight, the characters meet the wealthy but low-status son of a merchant who dreams of marrying the Beloved Daughter of the Dragon Kind (or some other bombastic title), even if it means leaving this stupid material world behind. His retainers are obviously men from the Rivers and Lakes...


Using LotFP supplements with TCE

Thanks to a recent sale on the PDF versions, I have recently bought quite a few LotFP supplements. For those of you who have spent the last two years on Mars, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) is a weird fantasy role-playing game, which is part of the "Old School Renaissance" (OSR) movement. However, contrary to most OSR fantasy role-playing games, whose sole aim is to re-create that 'dungeon' feeling from our high school years, LotFP has a few innovations of its own, which I'll detail in this post. These are much more important in my eyes than what LotFP is usually only known for: a general taste for adult themes and illustrations.

1. To me, the most important innovation is that LotFP adventures, for all their 'dungeonness', are definitely different from those 1980s modules: they are usually designed for low-level characters, and there is only one major opponent within the 'dungeon' -- the rest of the dungeon is there to unnerve the PCs through its many traps or weird encounters.

2. Another peculiarity of LotFP is that its default setting, although never really described, is more of a 15th-17th century Europe than an imaginary Dark Ages quasi-European fantasy world. Again, this makes for grittier adventures where the enemy is not an exaggerated 'monster' but a cunning, evil enemy that has laid out a careful plan to trap unwanted trespassers.

3. Yet another peculiarity is that LotFP adventures tend to be light on stats and heavy on description. A creature's armour class, for instance, is never given as a numeric value but always as "as unarmored man", "armor as leather", etc. Movement is likewise always rendered as a multiplier of an unarmoured man's movement value.

As a consequence, LotFP adventures are surprisingly adaptable to The Celestial Empire. I have started penning conversion notes for No Dignity in Death, The Tower, and Tower of the Stargazer. Since I don't want to spoil these adventures, I won't write anything here. Just PM me or let me know in the comments if you are interested.



Elegant British game designers Cakebread and Walton have released for free their 139-page d100 engine for Renaissance-themed frp gaming. The system is aptly titled Renaissance and may be downloaded from their web-site.

I haven't had time yet to fully scrutinise it, but I believe this rule set should be >95% compatible with The Celestial Empire and hence an interesting, free alternative to the purchase of Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (BRP) System.

Renaissance features a lengthy section on Black Powder weapons and should hence be a welcome addition to any Qīng-dynasty games.

Renaissance also features a fully-fledged, spell-based alchemy system. Now, I am not in favour of magic-based alchemy systems (I'd rather manage alchemy as a set of mundane skills), but until I produce Chinese Alchemy rules for The Celestial Empire, it might be a good idea to try and use Renaissance's alchemy sytem -- with the obvious modifications for China, such as replacing the Philosopher's Stone with the Pill of Immortality. The Alchemists' Spells listed in Renaissance could be considered as a sub-set of The Celestial Empire Daoist spells.


The Míng Dynasty

Today's featured article on Wikipedia is their outstanding piece on the Míng dynasty. The Míng dynasty was the time period during which most knight-errant novels were written, as well as the 'default setting' for many Chinese tales, legends, etc. Even stories set in other (earlier) time periods frequently make reference to Míng clothing, customs, armour, military tactics, martial arts, etc. Robert van Gulik certainly did so (on purpose) in his Judgee Dee stories.
Also, many instantly recognisable Chinese artefacts date from the Míng: the Great Wall of China, porcelain vases, much art...
Wikipedia's article on the Míng dynasty is hence recommended reading for all Celestial Empire game masters.


Foreign Devils - Part Four: the Portuguese (2)

If the relations between the Portuguese and the Míng had been strained in the 16th century, they evolved much more positively in the 17th century.

Commercial wise, Macau remained the only European trade port in China until the wars of the 19th century, bringing much wealth to the Portuguese, and spawning a whole trading class of European-friendly Chinese in southern China: the compradores (itself a Portuguese word).

Military wise, the Portuguese were key in the reintroduction of cannon and firearms in China. Strangely enough, despite firearms having been invented in China, their use had much dwindled under the extremely conservative and extremely complacent Míng Dynasty. Here are a few key events:
1620: The Míng decide to use Portuguese cannon against the Tartars.
1621: Four guns and bombardiers are sent from Macau. Bombardiers turned back at Canton but guns let through.
1623: Board of War memorialises Emperor in favour of Portuguese gunners.
1624: Seven Portuguese gunners arrive in North China.

Although the turning point between the Míng Dynasty and the Qīng Dynasty is traditionally held to be the fall of Běijīng in 1644 (see p3 of The Celestial Empire), the fight between Chinese Míng loyalists on the one side, and the Manchu invaders and those Chinese troops who had rallied them on the other side, went on for decades; however, the death of Zhū Yóuláng, the last heir to the Míng throne, in 1662, and the defeat of Zhèng Chénggōng's forces by the Qīng in 1683 spelled the end for the anti-Qīng military movement, which would then turn into the anti-Qīng sentiment of many secret societies (see p102 of The Celestial Empire).

Zhū Yóuláng was based in South China, and he received much help from the Portuguese. One of the key battles of the Qīng campaigns in South China was the siege of Guìlín. Guìlín was held for the Míng loyalists by a detachment of Portuguese colonial troops, many of whom African slaves, who were surprisingly loyal, and often considered to be the best Portuguese troops. Even in the 17th century, they were still armed with halberds, or with sword and buckler.

The siege of Guìlín could make for an interesting historical Celestial Empire campaign, with the player characters on either side, and with many 'exotic' factions: Míng loyalists, Manchus, Chinese defectors from both sides, non-Hàn natives, and Portuguese colonial troops. The latter would be best described by the 'Foreign Devils' entry on p112 of Dragon Lines.


Foreign Devils - Part Three: the Portuguese (1)

Much of the following has been excerpted from John M Jackson's web-site.

The establishment of the native, conservative Míng Dynasty in 1368 closed China to the West. With Muslims controlling the lands and seas dividing them, Europe and China would be isolated from one another for the next 150 years. During the Mongol hegemony, Europe had become increasingly dependent upon the spices of East Asia — spices that were useful in improving the taste of winter-stored meats. After the Míng's establishment, the European demand for spice proved a windfall for the traders of western Asia, who sated the European spice demand at an enormous profit for themselves. Just as it had with the ancient silk trade, Europe's isolation from China made it dependent upon middlemen for eastern goods. And just as the earlier silk monopoly had spurred Roman exploration, so too did the spice monopoly incite Europeans to seek alternative routes to Asia.

The search for new eastern routes was not a co-operative one; the late fifteenth century found the major European powers competing to capture Asia's lucrative spice trade. In this struggle to reach the East by ocean, perhaps no other nation was better prepared than Portugal. Bounded on the east by Spain, the Portuguese had early established a strong economic link to the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal's long coastline fostered the development of strong maritime trade and nautical superiority. Meticulous cartography and skilful shipbuilding lent the Portuguese added advantages in maritime exploration.

Not only were the Portuguese more prepared for exploration than most other powers, they were perhaps more motivated as well. Long-standing conflicts with Islam made the Portuguese drive to the East a religious crusade as much as an economic one.
As the Portuguese searched for a way to circumnavigate Africa and reach the East, they sought to spread the domain of Christendom. They were sanctioned in their efforts by a Papal Bull of 1455 which granted them carte blanche to "subdue and to convert pagans (even if untainted by Muslim influence) who may be encountered in the regions lying between Morocco and the Indies". With papal authority, the Portuguese conquered those peoples they encountered. As the "discoverers" of new lands, they felt no remorse for the atrocities they visited on natives. On the contrary, the Portuguese regarded these new lands as theirs to enjoy and exploit as they wished. Furthermore, considering themselves the vassals of God, they justified themselves in whatever they did to the 'heathens' of Asia.

The Portuguese juggernaut continued rapidly south along the African coast, then round the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean by 1495. The Portuguese raped, pillaged and plundered with a philosophy that equated trade with piracy and piety with conquest. Ever victorious against weaker powers, the Portuguese may have felt they were divinely blessed. It was only when the Westerners entered China that their invasion was countered by a power that —at that time— could match their own.

While the strength of Portugal was based largely upon the recent scientific advances of Europe's explosive Renaissance, China's own technological achievements had been acquired through centuries of steady technological development. Even as Europe was making monumental leaps forward, however, Chinese culture had become somewhat static. The empire's technological acumen was perhaps dulled by complacency and a conservative dynasty, apprehensive of threats to its rule. Still, China remained the East's dominant power.

Although the Chinese were perhaps no less ethnocentric than the Europeans, their arrogance manifested itself much differently. Since the earliest of times, the Chinese had regarded all other peoples as (夷), or "barbarians". Though they were able to distinguish differences among other cultures, the Chinese placed these cultures together at the bottom of a social hierarchy that left room for only themselves at the top (see p25 of The Celestial Empire). China had been, in fact, the most developed Asian culture for centuries. Through long-standing tradition, the lesser nations of Asia acknowledged China's dominance by dispatching gifts via tribute missions to the Chinese court. These missions did little to inflate dynastic coffers; as a show of their largesse, the Chinese reciprocated with gifts to their tributaries that were even more valuable than those received. Rather, these tributes were important in reinforcing the image of China as a benevolent paternal figure to other nations.

The Chinese hierarchical ideal did not go unchallenged, however. The Japanese and Mongols, for example, were little inclined to concede Chinese superiority. Yet there were enough countries seeking trade and intercourse with China who paid their respects as tributaries to lend credence to the ideal. Though it recognised the military strength of other nations, China never relinquished its self-perception as the Central Kingdom — the home of true civilisation. Through years of contact with their militant neighbours, the Chinese had learned to appease them —to "manage the barbarians"— and still gratify their own conceit. The arrival of the unfamiliar, imposing Portuguese in Asia would eventually present a new challenge to China's position in the cultural hierarchy.

Chinese merchants first encountered the Portuguese at Malacca in 1511. In the 16 years since the Portuguese had first entered the Indian Ocean, they had effectively ousted the Arabs and replaced them as the intermediary between Europe and Central Asia. Not complacent with their prior successes, the Portuguese continued looking for opportunities to expand their new Asian empire. In 1509, the Portuguese sailed east to Malacca seeking spices and information about the Chinese, of whom they had heard reports since first landing in India in 1498. As the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Malacca was an important trading centre. Though Míng China had largely withdrawn from maritime trade, its merchants still sailed to Malacca. The Sultanate of Malacca had been, in fact, one of the many Chinese tributaries since the mid-15th century.

At Malacca, the Portuguese —under Lopes de Sequeira— found an entrenched Arab mercantile presence. Jealously clinging to their last stronghold in the Far East, the Arabs persuaded the Malaccan sultan to attack the newly arrived Portuguese. Sequeira escaped, but not before many of his men were captured or killed.

While the Portuguese returned to India and considered their defeat, the Sultan of Malacca became involved in a petty war with a rival kingdom. In 1511, the sultan apparently forgot his place in the Chinese empire. He requisitioned the junks and crews of visiting Chinese merchants to transport his troops in battle.

Meanwhile, Afonso de Albuquerque —the newly appointed governor of India— had arrived at Malacca with a new fleet of 18 Portuguese ships and began negotiations for trade concessions and the return of Portuguese prisoners. When these negotiations collapsed, Albuquerque prepared to lay siege to the city. As he did so, the Chinese merchants —indignant at Malaccan presumptuousness— offered their assistance to Albuquerque. The Chinese were much impressed when Albuquerque declined, expressing concern for the merchants' safety. Actually, the Portuguese were probably more interested in insuring that they would be the sole beneficiaries of victory's spoils.

So ended the first Sino-Portuguese contact. The Chinese merchants returned home and reported Portugal's military strength and apparent friendly intentions toward the empire. They also reported the insubordinate actions of the Malaccan sultan. The Portuguese, meanwhile, had conquered Malacca and immediately set about administering their new possession. Albuquerque left a protective force in Malacca and returned to India, dispatching reports to Portugal's King Manuel I and awaiting further instructions regarding the Chinese.

Perhaps impatient with official channels, Portuguese merchants were undertaking their own voyages to China by 1514. Though sanctioned by Jorge de Albuquerque, the new captain-major (governor) of Malacca, these initial missions had no official status. Rather, they were private efforts to assess the feasibility of developing trade relations with the Chinese.

The first of these "merchant embassies" was headed by Jorge Álvares, who landed at the Chinese island of Túnmén (屯門, now part of Hong Kong) in 1514. Here, Álvares erected a stone monument bearing the Portuguese coat-of-arms and engaged in trade. Álvares' stay on Túnmén was a commercial success. He not only witnessed the abundant riches of China, but also sold his own goods at great profit. Álvares soon observed that there was as great an economic potential in transporting south Asian spices to China as in sending them on to Europe.

In a letter written in 1515, the Italian explorer Andrea Corsali described Álvares' voyage. The Italian traveller granted high praise to the Chinese. "They are a people of great skill," he wrote, "and on a par with ourselves." Even here, though, the idea of European superiority is apparent. Though Corsali acknowledged that the wealth and skill of the Chinese matched Europeans', he described the Chinese as being "of an uglier aspect, with little bits of eyes." The Chinese were also, in Corsali's estimation, "pagans".

Even before first-hand descriptions of China's wealth reached Europe, the Portuguese were preparing for an official diplomatic mission. On 7 April 1515, Fernão Pires de Andrade sailed from Lisbon bound for India. There, he would assemble a flotilla and sail for China via Malacca. After several misadventures, de Andrade left Malacca in June 1517. Accompanying him was Tomé Pires, a royal apothecary who was fated to serve as the Portuguese ambassador to Běijīng.

Upon arriving in the Bay of Canton in August 1517, de Andrade applied to the commander of coast guards at Nántóu for permission to proceed to Canton. After a delay of some days, the commander granted his permission (overstepping his authority in doing so), and de Andrade sailed up the Pearl River to Canton.

At Canton, de Andrade committed the first of many Western blunders; he ordered his ships to hoist their flags and fire a cannon salute. The Chinese were outraged by what they considered an open display of aggression in a port of trade. Though they were ostensibly pacified when de Andrade explained that these actions were intended as displays of respect, the Chinese long remembered the breach of conduct.

Despite his early faux pas, de Andrade seems to have conducted himself well and regained Chinese good-will. Appeased by de Andrade's apologetic manner, the Chinese allowed him to engage in trade and to land his embassy. Illnesses among his crew and threats of piracy to the force he had left at Túnmén forced de Andrade to shorten his visit, however. The Portuguese commander returned with his squadron to Malacca, but not before offering remuneration to any Chinese who held claims against the foreigners.

The Portuguese embassy, under Pires, remained in Canton, where they were schooled in Chinese protocol. The local Bureau of Trading Junks superintendent, finding no precedent for relations with the Portuguese, prepared a report for the throne and awaited permission to send the embassy to Běijīng.

While Pires awaited word from Běijīng, another Portuguese flotilla arrived at Túnmén in August 1519. Led by Simão de Andrade, a brother of Fernão, this second mission rapidly destroyed any good-will that the earlier mission had established. Through arrogance and avarice, Simão de Andrade reinforced the Chinese perception of the Portuguese as merely another horde of barbarians. Under de Andrade, the Portuguese erected fortresses on Túnmén and assumed control of the island's commerce. Encountering no opposition, they settled in and practised the methods that had already earned the Portuguese so much wealth and hatred elsewhere in Asia. They refused to pay customs duties, beat a Chinese customs official, and generally ignored Chinese authority. Moreover, the Portuguese incited local brigands to attack villages on the mainland and took captives to export as slaves. Soon, rumours radiated out from Canton about these new barbarians, and the Portuguese reputation for savagery knew no bounds. Tales of the Portuguese being cannibals of kidnapped Chinese children —however unlikely— illustrated the view that the Chinese had of their new visitors. Considering the many real atrocities committed by the Portuguese, it is not surprising that the Chinese could believe them capable of this one as well.

Meanwhile, Pires and his companions lingered in Canton, awaiting permission to journey to Běijīng for an interview with the Wǔzōng Emperor. Finally, in 1520, permission was granted; the Canton officials had been bribed not to inform the court of Simão de Andrade's misdeeds. On 23 January, Pires left for Běijīng with his entourage, gifts for the emperor, and a letter from King Manuel I.

Peres' mission proved a total failure. When opened at Běijīng, the original letter from Manuel I to the Wǔzōng Emperor differed greatly from the translation prepared by Chinese interpreters. Though the interpreters claimed the translation had been altered to reflect Chinese customs of address, the court believed it an act of duplicity; they also found Manuel I's letter to be arrogant and presumptuous. After all, the court considered Pires a tribute-bearer, not the representative of an equal nation.

Unfortunately for Pires —and East-West relations— his arrival at Běijīng also closely coincided with belated news from Canton of de Andrade's activities. Accompanying this blow to Pires' credibility was an envoy from the Malaccan sultan, eager to remind the court that Portugal had seized Malacca —a Chinese tributary— just nine years earlier. Surprisingly, even after the many charges had been levelled against the Portuguese, Emperor Wǔzōng defended them. "These people do not know our customs," he said; "gradually, they will learn them".

Two high court officials, however, were less forgiving. They reiterated the aggressions of the Portuguese: the seizure of Malacca and the conduct of Simão de Andrade. Neither did they forget Fernão de Andrade's firing of cannon at Canton in 1515. In recounting the Portuguese offences, the officials assailed the presence of foreigners in China as a threat to the empire's well-being, and argued for the expulsion of all foreigners from China. Due in large part to the influence of these two court officials, Pires and the other Portuguese were declared spies and ordered to be escorted back to Canton. They arrived there in August 1521 and were to be detained while the Chinese considered their fate. As events unfolded on the coast, the embassy's fate was sealed; they would languish and die in Canton prisons.

First Battle of Túnmén
As Pires returned to Canton, orders came from Běijīng that all trade was to cease and all foreigners be expelled. A new Portuguese merchant fleet had just arrived at Canton, however, and refused to depart. It was perhaps inevitable that armed conflict would erupt; their patience taxed beyond endurance, the Chinese attacked. Though reinforced and possessing superior artillery, the small Portuguese fleet was greatly outnumbered. After a long stand-off and a final fierce battle, the remaining Portuguese force escaped and returned to Malacca.

Second Battle of Túnmén
Apparently unaware of the situation's gravity, the Portuguese sent another fleet, commanded by Martim Afonso de Mello, to Túnmén in July 1522. Not long after their arrival there, another naval battle ensued, and the Portuguese were again repelled. The Chinese likely congratulated themselves for their victory over the European barbarians. The empire had been purged of its threat from foreigners, and China could again bask in the glow of its own self-aggrandisement.

China's economy had become too dependent on trade to remain economically isolated for long, however. By 1530, Canton was again opened to trade — though not to the Portuguese. Instead, the Portuguese spent the next few decades trading covertly off the Chinese coast while currying the Míng Dynasty's favour. Eventually, they were permitted to return to trade in China. In 1557, the Chinese allowed them to establish a trading post on Macau [澳門 Àomén], south of Canton. Acting as trade intermediaries between a feuding Japan and China, the Portuguese developed a lucrative trade at Macau that would last many years. Though China still considered the Portuguese barbaric, the trade the foreigners brought the empire earned them a grudging toleration. China managed these new barbarians by officially ignoring them and maintaining a strictly commercial relationship.


Yěrén (野人)

Several newspapers are currently running stories about the Yeti being for real — here's an example from the Guardian, a serious British newspaper.

The main difference with the usual Yeti stories is that in this case the creature does not inhabit the Himalayas but the Altai Mountains. In Celestial Empire gaming terms, this would place its home at the boundary between Western Siberia and Outer Mongolia.

Another difference is that apparently we're not talking about a brutish ape-like creature any longer, but about a cunning, more human-like creature, that has been able to keep its existence hidden from civilisation for centuries.

As a consequence, I would introduce the Yěrén (野人, this has traditionally been the name given to the Yeti in the Chinese language) to The Celestial Empire as a cunning, humanoid creature, possibly related to the Men of Leng of Lovecraft fame — if you favour this kind of cross-over. Yěrén could even be introduced as the waking world equivalents of the Men of Leng.

STR 3D6 (10-11)
CON 3D6 (10-11)
SIZ 2D6+6 (13)
INT 3D6 (10-11)
POW 3D6 (10-11)
DEX 3D6 (10-11)
APP 2D6 (7)

Move : 8
Hit Points: 12
Qì: 10
Damage Bonus: None
Armour: Shaggy fur 1 point + may wear stolen armour
Allegiance: Roll 1D100: 1-60: Shamanism 10D6, 61-100: Heterodoxy 5D4
Morale: Average

Craft (crude implements) 25%, Dodge 30%, Grapple 30%, Hide 25%, Knowledge (own region) 75%, Science (Natural History) 65%, Spot 40%, Stealth 60%, Throw 45%, Track 45%.

Whatever spell a Yěrén knows will have been taught him by some "master" it serves/worships. This can be of particular interest in a cross-over Call of Cthulhu/Celestial Empire game, where said master can be a Moon-Beast, a priest of Nyarlathotep, or a cultist of the Black Lotus.

Heavy club 25%, damage: 1D8+db (crushing)

Hit Location Table: Use Humanoid.

Demographic History of China

I have found a German web-site that is a real treasure-trove of historical fact. They have a section about the demographics of Imperial China; unfortunately it only tackles it from the Yuán Dynasty onward.

The site provides information for Imperial China that I have slightly re-adapted (original here):

Estimations for the population figures of Imperial China vary considerably. They are mainly based on censuses in which households were counted (please refer to my previous post about the Door-Tablet 門牌). The geographic area for which population figure estimates apply depends on the historic situation and the fluctuations of the size of the Flowery Empire; the difference in areas for which population figures are given has thus to be taken into account.

1368: End of Yuán Dynasty 元朝; China's population estimated at 60,000,000
1550: China's population estimated at 120,000,000
18th century: Agricultural Revolution in China : triple cropping of rice; introduction of new crops (maize, potato, sweet potato) lay foundation to sustained population growth
1700: China's population estimated at 100,000,000
1750: China's population estimated at 180,000,000
1795: China's population estimated at 300,000,000
1842: End of the First Opium War; Chinese emigration increases
1850-1864: Tàipíng Rebellion; China's population contracts from est. 408,359,000 in 1851 to 369,282,000 in 1864
1860's: The opening of ports to international trade and the attempts by the Zǒnglǐ Yámen 總理衙門 [the Imperial Chinese equivalent of a Ministry for Foreign Affairs] to establish a Chinese industry kickstart a trend toward urbanisation, especially in ports such as Shànghǎi 上海 (Lower Yángzi) and Tiānjīn 天津 (North China)
1861: Inner Manchuria open to immigration of Hàn Chinese
1900: China's population 400,000,000 (based on a census of counted households)
1911: Chinese Revolution; population given at 427,662,000


Tartars and Tartary

These two terms are not used by Asian peoples; however, since they often appear in European writings about North Asia, today's post is devoted to them.

Under the Yuán 元 and the Míng 明, a group of Islamicised and Turkicised Mongols called the Tatars ruled much of Central Asia. The Tatars exerted their rule either under the suzerainty of the Mongol Empire, or through their own khanates called hordes. By analogy with Tartaros (the underworld of classical mythology), and because of the great massacres brought on Central and Eastern Europe by the Tatars, most European peoples changed the name "Tatar" into "Tartar". This name was later applied to all Muslim and Turkic-speaking nomads of Central and Inner Asia, and then, under the Qīng 清, even to the non-Muslim and non-Turkic peoples, e.g., the Mongols, and the Manchus in China.

The name then obviously spread from the peoples to the land they inhabited.

  • Little Tartary referred to the land inhabited by the (original) Tatars, in what is now southern Ukraine/southern Russia.
  • Great Tartary referred to the provinces indicates as 'Western Siberia', 'Central Siberia', 'Buryatia', 'Inner Manchuria', 'Outer Manchuria', 'Inner Mongolia', and 'Outer Mongolia' on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire.
  • Within Great Tartary, East Tartary or Maritime Tartary referred to Outer Manchuria and the northern half of Inner Manchuria.

East Tartary was the focus of much Chinese-Japanese-Russian rivalry under the Qīng (see my earlier post about Russian 'foreign devils').


Creatures of the Cold Wastes (3)

Today, Hobgoblins are under the cold spotlight of the 'Cold Wastes' series of posts, even though they are not featured in the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser tales. Rather, they are a reminiscence of my early gaming days. As most gamers my age (I'm 43), I started with 1st ed AD&D. For some unfathomable reason, Hobgoblins in that game were invariably portrayed in Japanese armour and helmet. At the time, I was already fascinated with all things East Asian, hence the hobgoblin was a particularly beloved monster of mine.

Many years later, the Monstrous Compendium of 2nd ed AD&D had its 'hobgoblin' entry illustrated by the talented DiTerlizzi, who portrayed the hobgoblin with an Inner Asian rather than East Asian demeanour. Again, this illustration struck me as very evocative of an imaginary Inner Asian cold wilderness inhabited by dangerous humanoids.

I've borrowed the illustration for today's post. For a Celestial Empire game, and given its vaguely Mongolian outfit, I will consider this creature as an Inner Asian variant of the more civilised Chīmèi (魑魅 – see p113 of the rule book), and call it a Dímèi (狄魅 – 狄 means 'Northern barbarian', and 魅 is short for 魑魅).

Differences with the Chīmèi as described on p113 of the rule book:
  • Lamellar armour 6 AP, and round shield
  • spells: only INT/4 spells are known
The above modifications are to convey the idea that the Dímèi rely more on brute force and less on sorcery than their Southern brethren...


Creatures of the Cold Wastes (2)

Despite Ice Gnomes being featured several times in the adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser when they are in the Cold Wastes, detailed information about them is scant. For a Celestial Empire game, I would treat them as a peculiar subspecies of Tǔxíng (土行 – Earth Travellers, see p120 of the rule book) who are able to travel under snow and ice rather than underground. Their name should hence be changed to Xuěxíng (雪行 – Snow Travellers), to reflect their change in nature.

The Xuěxíng's appetite for beautiful girls is just as strong as the Tǔxíng's.

The Xuěxíng use ice pellets as missiles for their slings.

STR 2D6+6 (13)
CON 2D6+9 (16)
SIZ 1D6+4 (7-8)
INT 2D6+6 (13)
POW 3D6 (10-11)
DEX 3D6 (10-11)
APP 2D6+1 (8)

Move : 6
Hit Points: 12
Qì: 10
Damage Bonus: None
Armour: Hair shirt 1 point
Allegiance: Roll 1D100: 1-30: Daoism 5D6+20, 31-100: Heterodoxy 5D6+20
Morale: Average.

Dodge 40%, Knowledge (Region [own]) 35%, Knowledge (Religion: Daoism) 40%, Listen 45%, Literacy (Classical Chinese) 90%, Spot 45%, Swim 05%.

(Battle Magic) – Travel under ice/snow (each Qì point spent allows the Xuěxíng to travel 2 under ice/snow) 90%.
(Daoist Magic) – As per the rules.

Axe 40%, damage:1D6+1+db (bleeding)
Sling 30%, damage: 1D6+½db (crushing)

Hit Location Table: Use Humanoid.


Creatures of the Cold Wastes (1)

I am currently re-reading the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber. I am particularly fond of the ones set in the Cold Wastes of Nehwon. Many creatures of the Cold Wastes would obviously be at home on the high plateaux of Tibet or in the cold mountains of Western Siberia.

The Snow Serpent is exactly such a creature. Despite its name, it is really a mammal that preys upon unwary travellers and their beasts of burden.

Particularly primitive or superstitious tribes consider the Snow Serpent as a divine animal and avoid killing it. Some others hunt it actively because of the quality and the beauty of its snow-white fur.

The following stats are partially inspired from the Lankhmar supplement for MRQ.

However, after having read the relevant novel, I cannot quite understand why the poison of the Snow Serpent was described as a cloud breathed by the animal or as spat poison. In the novel, Fafhrd is clearly victim to the poison because he's been bitten.

STR 4D6+12 (26)
CON 4D6+6 (20)
SIZ 4D6+12 (26)
INT 7 (7)
POW 3D6 (10-11)
DEX 3D6 (10-11)

Damage bonus: +2D6
Hit Points 23
Move 8

Climb 75%
Dodge 25%
Hide 80% on a white background, 40% otherwise
Sense 50%
Stealth 90% on a white background, 45% otherwise
Tracking 30%

Bite 50%, damage 1D8+½db (bleeding) + poison (see below).

The poison of the snow serpent has a numbing effect. Its POT is equal to the SIZ of the serpent. If it rolls successfully on the Resistance Table vs the CON of the victim, the affected hit location is useless for 1D6 hours.

Armour: Thick fur 2 points

Hit Location table: Use Snake



Because of the great distance and of the impossibly high Pamir Mountains, with passes at 4,900+ metres, Bactria (大夏 Dàxià) has had less of a history of contact with China than neighbouring Sogdiana. However, despite these difficulties, relationships have always existed, with a low under the isolationsit Míng dynasty.

Bactria has been mentioned for the first time in records dating from the 3rd century BC. According to these first documents, goods traded between Bactria and China were available all over China (probably through the Silk Road).
The land has been continuously inhabited by various Iranian peoples, including the rather mysterious Yuèzhī and the famous Tokharians, both extinct, followed by the Pashtuns and the Tajiks. Politically, these peoples have rarely governed themselves, being subject to outside invaders: in the 7th century AD, Bactria was conquered by the Arabs, then by the Mongols (the Ilkhanate), then it was controlled by various Muslim successor states (Persian, Mughal, Afghan) until it became the area where the Russian and British spheres of influence met, at the time of the Great Game in the 19th century.

See p28 of The Celestial Empire for the location of Bactria.


Foreign Devils - Part Two: Western Europeans

The first Europeans in Imperial China were missionaries in the 13th century, followed by merchants. They were not exactly welcomed (Marco Polo under the Yuán being the obvious exception — but then the Yuán did favour foreigners over native Chinese). There are many tales of Portuguese travellers in China who were gaoled or kept in custody for quite a long time before being allowed to go on with their business; some of them were expelled when the officials they met deemed them too uncouth to remain.

Despite these problems, trade went on: Chinese silk, tea, and porcelain were too much in demand in Western Europe, and Western European merchants were determined to take any necessary risks to ply their trade.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Canton [廣州 Guǎngzhōu] by sea in 1514, establishing a monopoly on the external trade out of its harbour by 1517. They were later expelled from their settlements in Canton, but instead granted use of Macau [澳門 Àomén] as a trade base with the city in 1557. They would keep a near monopoly on foreign trade in the region until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century.

In 1757, the Qīng government restricted Western European trade to the port of Canton only. The British were the ones who tried most forcefully to lift this limitation. In 1792-93, they sent an embassy to China to try and establish a permanent British presence in Běijīng and open up trade relations. However, Lord Amherst refused to kowtow to the Emperor of China and was thus expelled from Běijīng. The rebuff was justified as follows:

The Celestial Empire, ruling all within the four seas, simply concentrates on carrying out the affairs of Government properly... We have never valued ingenious articles, nor do we have the slightest need of your country's manufactures, therefore O King, as regards to your request to send someone to remain at the capital, which it is not in harmony with the regulations of the Celestial Empire — we also feel very much that it is of no advantage to your country.

Another area of heavy Chinese-European interaction was the island of Formosa [臺灣 Táiwān]. In the 17th century, it was colonised by the Dutch in the south, and by the Spanish in the north. The Spaniards were driven out by the Dutch in 1642. In 1662, Koxinga (Zhèng Chénggōng), a loyalist of the Míng Dynasty, which had lost control of mainland China in 1644, defeated the Dutch, ending 38 years of European colonial rule on Táiwān. Zhèng Chénggōng established a base of operations on the island, but his forces were later defeated by the Qīng in 1683.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a new element put its weight into the complex balance of European-Chinese relationships: opium. The Dutch were probably the first to have traded it with China through Formosa in the 17th century. In 1729, its trade was forbidden by the Emperor of China. This restriction was ignored by and large. This trade became so important that it negatively tilted the Chinese trade balance with Western European countries and the US. In 1838, the Emperor of China demanded the trade be stopped. The British refused, and a small incident in 1839 brought upon Imperial China the Opium Wars, which themselves resulted in the Unequal Treaties. The Opium Wars and the Unequal Treaties deserve their own post, but it suffices to say that the former brought about great destruction and the downfall of the Qīng dynasty, and that the latter imprinted a sense of revenge upon the Westerners that can still be very strongly felt today...


Foreign Devils - Part One: Russians

When one thinks about 'Foreign Devils' in the context of The Celestial Empire, those who readily come to mind are the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the 19th century who burnt down the Emperor's garden estates and who ransacked the Summer Palace.

But amongst the most active Foreign Devils that the Manchu dynasty had had to face, let us not forget the Russians.

By the mid-17th century, Western Siberia, Buryatia, and Central Siberia had become Russian provinces. This eastward Russian expansion was followed by many conflicts between Tsarist Russia and Qīng China to control the forested territories washed by the river Amur (Hēilóng Jiāng), over which the Manchu dynasty claimed suzerainty. These conflicts were mostly carried out, on the Russian side, by Cossack units, and their benefits were reaped by Russian trappers and fur traders.
The Treaty of Nerčinsk (1689) established the border between Russia and China along the rivers Argun and Gorbitsa and along the Stanovoy Range. This treaty remained valid until 1858.

In the 1850s, Russia took advantage of the Qīng's woes with the many Chinese rebellions and the many Western European invasions to wrest very interesting 'unequal treaties' from China:
  • in 1858 by the Treaty of Àihún, China lost the left bank of the Amur to Russia — over 600,000 square kilometres!
  • in 1860 by the Treaty of Běijīng, China ceded parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire (the territory extending from the confluence of the River Amur with the River Ussuri to Sakhalin Island).

Further west, Central Asia became the focus of Russian interest in the second half of the 19th century. Despite the harsh climate and difficult terrain of the region, Russian troops easily conquered the khanates of Kokand, of Bukhara, and of Khiva [this corresponds to Sogdiana and to Transoxiana on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire]. This expansion was more like the colonial expansion of the other European powers: Russia would use Central Asian cotton for its manufactures, and local goods would resent from the competition of cheaper Russian imports.

The two empires' areas of control met in Turkestan. The 1851 Treaty of Kulja [伊寧 Yíníng] legalised trade between the two empires in this region.
The Russians took advantage of the chaos brought about by Yakub Beg's rebellion (see p40 of The Celestial Empire) to occupy the city of Kulja in Dzungaria. After General Zuǒ Zōngtáng and his Xiāng Army crushed the rebels, they demanded Russia return the occupied regions. Zuǒ massed Chinese troops toward Russian-occupied Kulja. After a few skirmishes and much diplomatic pressure, Russia retreated from the area in 1881 (Treaty of Saint Petersburg).


The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu

I have just finished reading this novel, and it has given me a nice idea for a scenario, or even for a fully-fledged campaign set under the Qīng. The book is set circa 1910, but by moving the action a few years back into the past, it can remain within the time frame of The Celestial Empire.

The idea is to play the plot of The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu the other way round: the player characters are agents of Dr. Fu-Manchu who want to give the Foreign Devils a taste of their own medicine. They are smuggled to London, where they must murder evil Foreign Devils or abduct brilliant Western chemists or engineers and coerce them into working for Dr. Fu-Manchu, typically by kidnapping and threatening the relatives of the unwilling scientist.

Typical player characters would be: assassin-retainers, as the Doctor's personal retainers; former magistrates, who have witnessed the crimes of the Foreign Devils and who have not been allowed to try them because of extraterritoriality; martial artists opposing foreign imperialism and Christianity; defrauded comprador merchants seeking compensation through revenge; outlaws, such as members of xenophobic secret societies; scholars spurred by patriotism to helping Dr. Fu-Manchu; humiliated soldiers with an old score to settle.

Special challenges for Chinese characters in a Western land include: inferior armament, the language barrier, the impossibility of blending into the local populace, lack of access to supernatural aid...

Just like in the novel, the characters in the employ of Dr. Fu-Manchu would be well-advised to base their operations in the East End of London, which at the turn of the century was a poorly policed area with labyrinthine alleys and a large immigrant population.


The Cloudsoul (hún 魂)

It is believed in Traditional Chinese Medicine that the cloudsoul (hún) has an influence on all nocturnal activities, and more peculiarly upon sleep and dreaming. According to the wǔxíng system of correspondences, each phase has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature; in particular, the cloudsoul is associated with liver-yīn. As a consequence, if liver-yīn is deficient, the hún is deprived of its residence and wanders off at night, causing a restless sleep with many tiring dreams. If liver-yīn is severely depleted, the cloudsoul may even leave the body temporarily at night during or just before sleep.

This brings forth an opportunity for a Celestial Empire/Cthulhu Dreamlands crossover where the player characters are somehow depleted of their liver-yīn (through a yīn-sucking creature?) and find themselves in (possibly a Chinese version of) the Dreamlands. Then they might either stay there and have further adventures in the Dreamlands, or try and find a means to return to the Waking World.


Tea Bricks

Tea bricks were the sole form of tea produced and used in Imperial China prior to the Míng dynasty. Each brick weighed about 100g~400g and was thus easily transported, sold or traded. Many such bricks were carried along the Silk Road, or across the Indian Ocean.

In isolated places within Imperial China, as well as in Inner Asia and in Siberia, tea bricks were used as currency.

The various steps in the preparation of tea bricks were all under the control of various guilds who had a monopoly.

Because of the toughness of the bricks, they have to be ground into fine powder before tea can be consumed. Also these bricks are often toasted over a fire to kill insects and moulds. As a result, the taste of tea before the Míng must have been completely different from what we know today.


Sufi orders

Sufi orders are socially important religious orders from the Muslim lands of Central Asia. Sufi orders provide Islamic teaching, religious guidance, and even armed protection to travellers. Students who have remained long enough with an order are given the opportunity to become fully-fledged initiates, after which step they are taught the esoteric teachings of the order. These esoteric teaching will also encompass the use of Islamic Magic (see pages 86-87 of the rule book).

Each Sufi order is named after its founder. The most active Sufi order in the areas close to Imperial China, and hence the one expected to play a major role in any Muslim-themed Celestial Empire campaign, is the Naqshbandiya, named after its founder Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318–1389).

Sufism is frowned upon by conservative Muslims because of its perceived influences of Buddhist and Hindu mysticism, and of Nestorian and Manichæan monasticism.

Sufis also have some rather unorthodox practices like meditation, and pilgrimages to the tombs of saints.


Chinese Muslims

The history of Islam in China is briefly described in the rule book, pages 39-40. The following is an expansion to what is already written in The Celestial Empire.

The first Muslims arrived to China during the 7th century AD, travelling along the Silk Road. They were warmly received by the Chinese government, and they did gain a few converts in the north-western provinces. However, the main impact of early Islam in China was in the coastal cities that were major trade centres, such as Canton [Guǎngzhōu], Zayton [Quánzhōu], and Yángzhōu, which probably already had their first mosques built during the Tang Dynasty. The Huáishèng Mosque in Guǎngzhōu, for instance, is one of the oldest in the world. In these ports, Muslims were not Chinese converts but Arab and Persian traders. The Judge Dee novel Murder in Canton is precisely set against such a cosmopolitan background.

As mentioned in the rule book, ethnic Chinese Muslims (Huí 回) — as distinct from the Turkic-speaking ethnic groups of the Northwest — are descended primarily from Muslims who migrated to China during the Yuán dynasty, and who intermarried into the surrounding population while converting them to Islam, while they in turn assimilated in all aspects of Chinese culture, keeping only their distinctive religion.

Other Huí are descended from Nestorian Christians who converted to Islam after the 14th century, when Nestorianism was on the wane in China; other Huí yet are descended from Chinese Jews who converted to Islam, mainly in the 17th century.

As mentioned in the rule book, the main areas inhabited by the Huí are Gānsù and Yúnnán, thus splitting the Huí into Northern Huí and South-eastern Huí. The former are more restless, having been at the heart of many rebellions, most notably under the Qīng. The Northern Huí have also maintained strong links with Central Asian Islam, in particular with Central Asian Sufi schools and orders. Despite these links, the Northern Huí have also developed their own traditions, like synthesising Daoist teachings and martial arts practices with Sufi philosophy. The South-eastern Huí, on their side, have a much longer tradition of synthesising Confucian teachings with the Sharia and Koranic teachings, and of co-operating with the authorities. The South-eastern Huí have a history of contributing to the army and to the Confucian officialdom. The famous Chinese admiral Zhèng Hé, for instance, was a Huí from Yúnnán.

The Míng dynasty sees the rapid decline in the Muslim population in the sea ports because of the closing of all seaport trade with the outside world. However it also sees the rise of Muslim military generals, and the establishment of centres of Muslim learning in China. The Míng dynasty also gives rise to the already-mentioned admiral Zhèng Hé.

Muslims in China proper are given relative freedom by the authorities, with no restrictions placed on their religious practices or freedom of worship, and being normal subjects of the Emperor. Immigration slows down drastically, however, and the Muslims in China become increasingly isolated from the rest of the Muslim world, gradually becoming more Sinicised, adopting the Chinese language and Chinese dress. During this period, Muslims also begin to adopt Chinese surnames, e.g., Mǎ (馬) for Muhammad, as mentioned on p8 of the rule book.

As mentioned on p40 of the rule book, the Qīng dynasty is both a period of expansion (most notably of the Naqshabandi Sufi order) and of hardships (the 19th century rebellions and massacres) for the Huí. It is also a period of re-established links with Central Asia; many Huí migrate or flee to Sogdiana and Turkestan under the Qīng.

An interesting characteristic of the Huí is the ménhuàn (門宦), which is a Chinese-style Sufi order. Ménhuàn are thought of having originated from a synthesis of Confucianism and the clan system of China (see p101 of the rule book) with the Sufi orders. Ménhuàn are ruled by hereditary sheikhs.


Brilliant China-themed French comic books (cont'd)

OK; this comic book series is Belgian but still written in French. Apparently it's been translated to German but never to English. The author, Vink, was born in Vietnam but has lived in Belgium for the past 50 years or so. Still his comic books are almost always set in East Asia or in Southeast Asia and drawn with an obvious passion for that region.

The comic book series is actually made up of two consecutive series: Le Moine fou, in 10 volumes, and Les voyages de He Pao, in 5 volumes.

The stories are set in the Sòng dynasty, a troubled time for China — but then a perfect time for an action-packed comic book. The main character of both series is the orphan girl He Pao [Hé Bǎo 河寶], a martial artist raised by Buddhist nuns and intent on discovering the origins of the incredibly efficient wǔshù that she has been taught, and who her true parents were.


The Triad Society (Sānhéhuì 三合會)

Period of Time

excerpt from The Chinese by Sir John Francis Davies, 1836
The fraternities which are most dreaded by the government of China are those secret associations, under various mysterious names, which combine for for purposes either religious or political, or perhaps both together. The present weak state of the government renders it particularly jealous of all secret societies whatever, as well as cruel and unrelenting in punishing their leaders. But the chief object of its dread and persecution is the Sānhéhuì, or Triad Society, of which some description was given in 1823 by Dr. Milne. The name seems to imply that when Heaven, earth, and man combine to favour them, they shall succeed in subverting the present Tartar dynasty, and that, in the mean while, exertion is to be used to mature that event.

Dr. Milne's account of the Triad Society, whose nature and objects he took some pains to investigate, is so curious as to deserve particular notice. In the reign of Jiāqìng [reign years 1796–1820], the Triad Society, under another name, spread itself rapidly through the provinces, and had nearly succeeded in overturning the government. In 1803 its machinations were frustrated, and the principal leaders seized and put to death, the official reports stating to the emperor that "not a single members of that rebellious fraternity was left alive." But the fact was otherwise, for they still existed, and, with a view to secrecy, adopted the name which they at present bear.

The objects of the association appear at first to have been allied to something like freemasonry, and to have aimed simply at mutual aid and assistance; but as the numbers increased, their views degenerated from the laudable ends of reciprocal benefit to violence and robbery, the overthrow of government, and the acquisition of political power by the expulsion of the Tartar dynasty. In foreign colonies, as at Batavia, Singapore, and Malacca, the real or pretended branches of the association exist, and their objects are mutual defence, as well as plunder and other dishonesty. They engage to defend each other from the attacks of police officers, and to assist members of their society in escaping from justice. If any one feels himself injured, the others take part in his quarrel and help him to revenge himself.

The management of the combination is vested in three persons who are denominated , elder brethren. Of their internal discipline, Dr. Milne could obtain little information. The society's regulations are said to be written for greater secrecy on cloth, which on any emergency may be thrown into a well, or otherwise concealed for a time.

The ceremony of initiation is said to take place at night. The oath of secrecy is taken before an idol, and a sum of money given to support the general expense. There is likewise a ceremony called guò qiáo, "passing the bridge," which bridge is formed of swords, either laid between two tables, or else set up on the hilts and meeting at the points, in form of an arch. The persons who receive the oath take it under this bridge, and the chief brother reads the articles of the oath, to each of which an affirmative response is given by the new member, after which he cuts off the head of a cock, which is the usual form of a Chinese oath, intimating, "Thus perish all who divulge the secret." Some of the marks by which they make themselves known to each other consist of mystical numbers, of which the chief is the number three. Certain motions of the fingers constitute a class of signs. To discover if one of the fraternity is in company, a brother will take up his teacup, or its cover, in a particular way with three fingers, and this will be answered by a corresponding sign.
The Triad Society originally attracted anti-Manchu patriots; it later evolved into a Mafia-style criminal brotherhood.

- Must be sponsored by someone who is already a member of the secret society.
- The new member must be useful to the secret society, either through his wealth, or through his skills, or his influence...
- Knowledge (Streetwise) must be at least 60%

- Financial benefits from the Triad Society's illegal activities
- Help from fellow members, incl. being smuggled abroad to lie low for a while
- New skill: Knowledge (Group: Triad Society) at a starting value of 10+3D6% - Can be used to find shelter, recognise fellow Triad members, etc. (see Description above)

- Must help fellow members
- Must blindly obey orders from 'elder brethren' ()
- Risk of death penalty if caught by government agents


History of the Chinese language(s) - Yuán Period Chinese

Under the Yuán, the Chinese language undergoes yet again several major transformations, the most notable of which is its transformation into a family of languages from a single fragmented language.

In what will become the lands where Mandarin is spoken today, late Middle Chinese evolves into Proto-Mandarin Chinese. In the southern provinces, each regional dialect becomes a language in its own right, Mǐn much more so than the other ones.

These changes are probably made more dramatic by the harsh rule of the Mongols, who divide the Chinese into two peoples, Northerners and Southerners, with different rights. Chinese culture appeals less to the (foreign) élite, and thus more popular literary forms appear, such as Chinese drama (known as "Chinese opera" in the West), which is performed in vernacular Chinese. Story-telling also becomes extremely important under the Yuán, as do novels written in báihuà 白話 ('written vernacular').

From the Yuán on, there are two concurrent ways of writing Chinese: Literary Chinese (wényán), and Written vernacular Chinese (báihuà).


The Door-Tablet (門牌)

The following is an excerpt from A view of China for philological purposes, containing a sketch of Chinese chronology, geography, government, religion & customs (1817) written by the Scottish missionary Robert Morrison.

In the Chinese Government, there appears great regularity and system. Every district has its appropriate officer; every street its constable, and every ten houses a tything-man. They have all the requisite means of ascertaining the population with considerable accuracy.

Every family is required to have a board, always hanging up in the house, and ready for the inspection of authorised officers, on which the name of all persons, men, women, and children, in the house is inscribed. This board is called a 門牌 ménpái, 'door-tablet', because, where there are women and children within, the officers are expected to take the account from the board, at the door. Were all the inmates of a family faithfully inserted, the amount of the population would of course be ascertained with great accuracy. But it is said, this is not the case. Names are often omitted, and the officers pass it over, either from neglect, or from some consideration given them by the head of the family, who, according to his situation in the community, has various reasons to represent his family fewer than what it is. One reason said to operate sometimes is, that in urgent cases a conscription of every third male, able to bear arms, has been made by the government. That, however, was an ancient regulation, and is not applicable to the present Dynasty, which keeps up a constant standing army. Every Tartar is a soldier. Other say, that amongst the poor, who constitute the mass of the population in every country, the ménpái, or account of persons given in, is generally correct. To be the reverse, exposes them to information and to much trouble.



The following is the full text of 'Guilds', a chapter from the book Chinese Sketches (1875) by noted British sinologist Herbert A Giles. It complements the excerpt already available under the Chambers of Commerce section on pages 100-101 of the rule book.

In every large Chinese city are to be found several spacious buildings which are generally reckoned among the sights of the place, and are known by foreigners under the name of guilds. Globe-trotters visit them, and admire the maximum of gold-leaf crowded into the minimum of space, their huge idols, and curious carving; of course passing over those relics which the natives themselves prize most highly, namely, sketches and scrolls painted or written by the hand of some departed celebrity. Foreign merchants regard them with a certain amount of awe, for they are often made to feel keenly enough the influence which these institutions exert over every branch of trade. They come into being in the following manner. If traders from any given province muster in sufficient numbers at any of the great centres of commerce, they club together and form a guild. A general subscription is first levied, land is bought, and the necessary building is erected. Regulations are then drawn up, and the tariff on goods is fixed, from which the institution is to derive its future revenue. For all the staples of trade there are usually separate guilds, mixed establishments being comparatively rare. It is the business of the members as a body to see that each individual contributes according to the amount of merchandise which passes through his hands, and the books of suspected defaulters are often examined at a moment's notice and without previous warning. The guild protects its constituents from commercial frauds by threatening the accused with legal proceedings which an individual plaintiff would never have dared to suggest; and the threat is no vain one when a mandarin, however tyrannical and rapacious, finds himself opposed by a body of united and resolute men. On the other hand, these guilds deal fairly enough with their own members, and not only refuse to support a bad case, but insist on just and equitable dealings with the outside world. To them are frequently referred questions involving nice points of law or custom, and one of the chief functions of a guild is that of a court of arbitration. In addition to this they fix the market rates of all kinds of produce, and woe be to any one who dares to undersell or otherwise disobey the injunctions of the guild. If recalcitrant, he is expelled at once from the fraternity, and should his hour of need arrive he will find no helping hand stretched out to save him from the clutches of the law. But if he acknowledges, as he almost always does, his breach of faith, he is punished according to the printed rules of the corporation. On a large strip of red paper his name and address are written, the offence of which he has been convicted, and the fine which the guild has determined to impose. This latter generally takes the form of a dinner to all members, to be held on some appointed day and accompanied by a theatrical entertainment, after which the erring brother is admitted as before to the enjoyment of those rights and privileges he would otherwise infallibly have lost.

On certain occasions, such as the birthday of a patron saint, the guild spends large sums from the public purse in providing a banquet for its members and hiring a theatrical troupe, with their everlasting tom-toms, to perform on the permanent stage to be found in every one of these establishments. The Ānhuī men celebrate the birthday of Zhū Xī​, the great commentator, whose scholarship has won eternal honours for his native province; Swatow [Shàntóu] men hold high festival in memory of Hán Wén Gōng, whose name is among the brightest on the page of Chinese history. All day long the fun goes on, and as soon as it begins to grow dusk innumerable paper lanterns are hung in festoons over the whole building. The crowd increases, farce succeeds farce without a moment's interval, and many a kettle of steaming wine warms up the spectators to the proper pitch of enthusiasm and delight. Before midnight the last song has been sung, a considerable number of people have quietly dispersed without accident of any kind, and the courtyard of the guild is once more deserted and still.

It is open to any trader to join the particular institution which represents his own province or trade without being either proposed, seconded, or balloted for. He is expected to make some present to the resources of the guild, in the shape of a new set of glass lanterns, a pair of valuable scrolls, some new tables, chairs, or in fact anything that may be needed for either use or ornament. Should he be in want of money, a loan will generally be issued to him even on doubtful security. Should he die in an impoverished condition, a coffin is always provided, the expenses of burial undertaken, and his wife and children sent to their distant home, with money voted for that purpose at a general meeting of the members. Were it not for the action of these guilds in regard to fire, life and property in Chinese cities would be more in danger than is now the case. Each one has its own fire-engine, which is brought out at the first alarm, no matter where or whose the building attacked. If belonging to one of themselves, men are posted round the scene of the conflagration to prevent looting on the part of the crowd, and the efforts of the brigade are stimulated by the reflection that their position and that of the present sufferers may at any moment be reversed. Picked men are appointed to perform the most important task of all, that of rescuing from the flames relics more precious to a respectable Chinaman than all the jade that Kūngāng has produced. For it often happens that an obstructive geomancer will reject site after site for the interment of some deceased relative, or perhaps that the day fixed upon as a lucky one for the ceremony of burial may be several months after death. Meanwhile a fire breaks out in the house where the body lies in its massive, air-tight coffin, and all is confusion and uproar. The first thought is for the corpse; but who is to lift such a heavy weight and carry it to a place of safety without the dreaded jolting, almost as painful to the survivors as would be cremation itself? Such harrowing thoughts are usually cut short by the entrance of six or eight sturdy men from the nearest guild, who, armed with the necessary ropes and poles, bear away the coffin through flame and smoke with the utmost gentleness and care.


Brilliant China-themed French comic books

France has a long tradition of comic books with an historical background. In the late decade, there's been a surge in high quality China-themed bandes dessinées (as comic books are called in France).

For those of you who read French, I heartily recommend the following:

Le Sabre et l'Epée by Chauvel, Boivin, Araldi. High fantasy against a background of wǔshù rivalry.

Le Juge Bao by Marty, Nie. Classic Chinese drawing-style for classic Chinese detective stories. I love this series.

La Belle du temple hanté by Nie Chongrui. This graphic novel is based on the tale titled The Magic Sword from Pú Sōnglíng's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. The same tale has also been filmed as A Chinese Ghost Story.


The Hǎiruò (海若)

This post is for those of you who are keen on a Celestial Empire-Call of Cthulhu crossover.

The Hǎiruò, or sea genie, is a little-known yāoguài from Daoist mythology. I suggest that it should be used as the Chinese equivalent to Lovecraft's Deep Ones.

The Hǎiruò live in the sea between China and the Ryūkyū Islands. The Míng policy of clearing coastal areas of all population (see my 28 June post) has enabled the Hǎiruò to settle in small, hidden hamlets on the south-eastern coast of China. Imagine the potential for not one, but a string of Innsmouth-like ports, complete with their hybrid inhabitants.

The Hǎiruò serve the Dragon King of the East Sea (Dōnghǎi Lóngwáng 東海龍王), a major Heterodox immortal being. They fear the Sea goddess Māzǔ (媽祖).

STR 4D6 (14)
CON 3D6 (10-11)
SIZ 4D6 (14)
INT 3D6 (10-11)
POW 3D6 (10-11)
DEX 3D6 (10-11)
APP 2D6 (7)

Move : 8 (10 swimming)
Hit Points: 12
Qì: 10
Damage Bonus: +1D4
Armour: Skin 1 point + possibly some bespoke made armour adding up to 3 points
Allegiance: Heterodoxy 5D4+15
Morale: Leader

Dodge 25%, Knowledge (Region: East China Sea) 75%, Knowledge (Region: South China Sea) 50%, Language (southern Chinese language or dialect) 80%, Language (other [possibly Formosan and/or Ryukyuan]) INT×5%, Sense 40%, Swim 90%.


Demoralise 80% [but use of this spell doesn't increase the Heterodoxy Allegiance score of the Hǎiruò].

Claw 25%, damage:1D6+db (bleeding)
Pole arm 25%, damage: per weapon+db (per weapon)

Hit Location Table: Use Humanoid.


History of the Chinese language(s) - Middle Chinese

Middle Chinese (jìndài Hànyǔ 近代漢語, also called zhōnggǔ Hànyǔ 中古漢語), refers to the form of Chinese spoken from the 3rd to the 13th century AD. It is further divided into Early Middle Chinese (for your Táng games), and Late Middle Chinese (for your Sòng games).

As written on p20 of the rule book, Middle Chinese can still be considered as a unique language throughout the Empire. But one's accent will always give their origin away as a Northerner or a Southerner.

Middle Chinese is probably when the Chinese languages got their tones, as the result of a reduction in the number of consonants and vowels. It is probably also when many compound words have appeared, to reduce homophony issues.


The Armament of the Míng Dynasty Soldier

The following are, in BRP terms, the typical weapons and armour of Míng dynasty soldiers. Throughout its history, the Míng dynasty has been obsessed with the Mongol threat. As a result, and despite their southern origin, the Míng have extensively trained their troops to fight against cavalry.

Lance 1D12+db (impaling)
Bow 1D6+2+½db (impaling)
Knife 1D3+db (impaling)
Lamellar armour 6 AP
Light helmet 2 AP

Halberd 3D6+db (bleeding), or Sabre 1D8+1+db (bleeding)
Heavy clothing 1 AP
Light helmet 2 AP

Spear 1D8+1+db (impaling)
Heavy clothing 1 AP
Light helmet 2 AP
Long shield

Crossbow 2D6 (impaling)
Spear 1D8+1+db (impaling)
Papier-mâché hauberk 2 AP (4 AP vs missiles)

Míng cavalrymen, and infantrymen from the 'anti-cavalry squads' are intensively drilled; as a result, their weapon skills should be in the 50~60% range.