Mountains and Seas (cont'd)

This blog has already mentioned how the Chinese hated the mountains and the seas. Mountains being unfit for agriculture, and being inhabited by "wild" barbarians, it is easy to see how they could be considered as being the province of mystics and exiles only.

For the seas, it is less easily understandable. After all, the Chinese have maintained huge sea-faring fleets, and are credited with the invention of many tools that have improved navigation.

In spite of their achievements, the Chinese under the Míng practically sealed themselves off any sea-based communication and trade:
  1. At the beginning of the Míng dynasty, the Chinese coasts were suffering heavily from the activities of the Wōkòu (Japanese pirates). The Míng court implemented a policy to forbid civil trade with Japan, believing that limiting trade would in turn remove the incentive for piracy. On the contrary, the ban forced many Chinese merchants to trade with Japan illegally to protect their own interests. This led to the second major phase of Wōkòu activity which occurred in the early to mid-16th century, where Japanese pirates colluded with their Chinese counterparts and expanded their forces. At their height in the 1550s, the Wōkòu operated throughout the seas of East Asia, even sailing up large river systems such as the Yángzi. As a result, the Míng court went on implementing yet a further, harsher step: the whole coastal areas were to be emptied of all human settlement, and it was forbidden to re-settle those areas.
  2. Under the early Míng, admiral Zhèng Hé conducted incredible ocean voyages with his fleet made of giant sea-faring ships, much advanced compared with their Western counterparts. Yet after admiral Zhèng Hé's 7th ocean voyage (1430-33), his treasure ship fleet was disbanded, and the dockyards dismantled.


Two Great NPCs

The brothers Queng are not mine but from the venomous pao's blog. I heartily recommend using these two NPCs, as they are fully in the spirit of The Celestial Empire, possibly in a "Rivers and Lakes" campaign game.

Link to the original post: BRP Characters: The Brothers Queng


History of the Chinese language(s) - Old Chinese / 1

Old Chinese (shànggǔ Hànyǔ 上古漢語), also called Archaic Chinese, refers to the form of Chinese spoken from the beginning of written records (around 1300 BC) until the 3rd century BC.

This first post is about Early Old Chinese, from 14th until the 6th century BC, the language spoken from the Shāng dynasty to the beginning of the Eastern Zhōu.

In written form, the language of this period is represented by the oracle bone script (jiǎgǔwén 甲骨文), which is made up of the earliest form of Chinese characters. These characters were incised on "oracle bones", which were animal bones or turtle shells used in divination. In Imperial times, any records of oracle bone script had been lost and forgotten. Whenever animal bones or turtle shells were dug up -- which could happen quite often in North China -- the results were taken to be dragon bones. These fetched great prices by alchemists and collectors of antiquities. The game master is free to decide whether dragon bones do provide some special bonus in divination, or if they are simple relics from the ancient past.

Oracle bone script is followed by bronze inscriptions (jīnwén 金文). These were used on sacrificial vases, and on bronze artefacts such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons. Again, the game master is free to decide whether adding such script on items destined for enchantments can improve the enchantment or not. Jīnwén being a very ancient script, the person who inscribes the text must roll under a very difficult skill score, eg 1/20th of one's Literacy score, for the bonus to be effective.
Many Zhōu dynasty weapons have been found with such inscriptions on them. Again, the game master is free to decide what magic these weapons may contain.


The Armament of the Yuán Dynasty Soldier

The following are, in BRP terms, the typical weapons and armour of Yuán dynasty soldiers. It must be noted that, on top of the types below, the Yuán could muster all kinds of allies (steppe nomads, Koreans) and auxiliaries (southern tribesmen).

The majority of regular soldiers are Chinese. Mongols provide the élite heavy cavalry. Some others are used as mounted light troops to quell rebellions in warmer or more mountainous areas.

Lance 1D12+db (impaling)
Sword 1D8+db (bleeding)
Bow 1D6+2+½db (impaling)
Lamellar armour 6 AP
Heavy helmet 3 AP

Sword 1D8+db (bleeding)
Bow, Composite 1D8+1+½db (impaling)

Lance 1D12+db (impaling)
Brigandine 4 AP

Sword 1D8+db (bleeding), or Spear 1D8+1+db (impaling)
Crossbow 2D6 (impaling)
Heavy clothing 1 AP


The Armament of the Sòng Dynasty Soldier

The following are, in BRP terms, the typical weapons and armour of Sòng dynasty soldiers. It must be noted that, on top of the types below, the Sòng made extensive use of mercenaries: Mongol defectors as irregular infantrymen, and northern and western nomads as tribal horse archers.

Cavalrymen were less numerous than under the Táng because of limited access to horse breeding countries as a result of territorial losses in the north-west.

Lance 1D12+db (impaling)
Sword 1D8+db (bleeding)
Scale armour 6 AP
Heavy helmet 3 AP

Sword 1D8+db (bleeding), or Spear 1D8+1+db (impaling)
Crossbow 2D6 (impaling)
Papier-mâché hauberk 2 AP (4 AP vs missiles)
Light helmet 2 AP

Knife 1D3+db (impaling)
Bow 1D6+2+½db (impaling)
Heavy clothing 1 AP

Sòng regular soldiers (cavalrymen and infantrymen) were intensively drilled; as a result, their weapon skills should be in the 50~60% range.

Militiamen were given vacant fields close to enemy territory, tax free on whatever they could grow, and a free horse.

The practice of recruiting soldiers from among the lower orders of society (petty criminals, vagabonds, and amnestied bandits) was really started under the Sòng.


The Armament of the Táng Dynasty Soldier

The following are, in BRP terms, the typical weapons and armour of Táng dynasty soldiers. It is to be noted that Táng armament is much heavier compared with later dynasties. The following are typical Imperial troops.

Lance 1D12+db (impaling)
Sword 1D8+db (bleeding)
Scale armour 6 AP
Heavy helmet 3 AP

Sword 1D8+db (bleeding)
Bow 1D6+2+½db (impaling)
Heavy clothes 1 AP

Sword 1D8+db (bleeding), or Spear 1D8+1+db (impaling)
Bow 1D6+2+½db (impaling)
Chain mail 7 AP
Heavy helmet 9 AP

Táng imperial armies were intensively drilled; as a result, their weapon skills should be in the 50~60% range.

Feudal armies were still existing under the Táng (they completely disappeared afterwards). As a result, some troops directly placed under the command of a noble may have different equipment.

Crossbowmen became more common under the Sòng, however the GM may introduce them in a late Táng game.


Special Offer

Take advantage of this special offer: buy the Celestial Empire on Alephtar Games' web-site, and get the PDF for free!


Capital Cities of Imperial China

Suppose you are GMing a Celestial Empire game. The players want to know what city is the capital city of the Empire. I believe most of you would automatically think "Běijīng". Well, depending on the dynasty in which your campaign is set, you may or may not be right. Here's a brief primer:

Under the Táng
Cháng'ān (長安) [present-day Xī'ān], from 618 to 904
Luòyáng (洛陽), from 904 to 907

Under the Sòng
Dōngjīng (東京) [present-day Kāifēng], from 960 to 1127
Lín'ān (臨安) [present-day Hángzhōu], from 1127 to 1279

Under the Yuán
Dàdū (大都) [present-day Běijīng]

Under the Míng
Nánjīng (南京), from 1368 to 1421
Běijīng (北京), from 1421 to 1644

Under the Qīng
Běijīng (北京)



Saṃsāra, the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth, is a fundamental Buddhist concept originating from the Vedic religion, which is an ancient Indian religion. Obviously, after having been adopted by the Chinese, Buddhism underwent some adaptations to the Chinese mindset.

The following is the orthodox Chinese Buddhist view of saṃsāra, as presented by Chán Master Shèngyán in his book Orthodox Chinese Buddhism:

According to Buddhism, except for those who are liberated from birth and death (such as arhats) and those noble ones who can control their own birth and death (such as bodhisattvas), every sentient being is subject to the cycle of birth and death, or saṃsāra.

The round of birth and death actually involves upward or downward rebirth in different destinies, not rebirth along a circular path as around a wheel. Sentient beings transmigrate through a total of six modes of existence, called the "six destinies" (liùqù 六趣) or "six paths" (liùdào 六道). From highest to lowest, these are destinies as deity, human, asura, animal, hungry ghost, or hell-dweller. Rebirth into any of these destinies is based on one's adherence or non-adherence to the five precepts and the ten good deeds, and on one's commission on non-commission of the ten evil deeds (the opposites of the ten good deeds) and the five heinous crimes (killing one's father, mother, or an arhat; destroying the harmonious unity of the Sangha; and shedding a Buddha's blood). Results from practising the five precepts and the ten good deeds are classed into three levels – upper, middle, and lower – leading to rebirth as a deity, human, or asura, respectively. The ten evil deeds and the five heinous crimes are similarly classified into three levels of offence, and lead to rebirth as an animal, hungry ghost, or hell-dweller, respectively. Good deeds lead to birth in the three higher destinies, while evil deeds result in birth in the three lower destinies. After one has exhausted the good and/or bad retributions in one particular life, that lifetime will end, and another cycle of birth and death will commence. This transmigration within the six destinies, being born then dying, dying then being born again, is called the cycle of birth and death, or saṃsāra.

In Chinese: lúnhuí 輪廻 or shēngsǐ 生死


Chinese Playing Cards

Note: the following is mostly directly ripped off Wikipedia.

Playing cards are believed to have been invented in Ancient India. They were found in China as early as the 9th century during the Táng Dynasty (618–907), when relatives of a princess played a "leaf game". A Táng writer from the end of the 9th century AD stated that Princess Tòngchāng (?–870), daughter of Emperor Yìzōng of Táng (r. 860–874), played the leaf game with members of the Wéi 韋 clan to pass the time. In his Notes After Retirement, the Sòng Dynasty scholar Ōuyáng Xiū (1007–1072) asserted that card games existed since the mid Táng Dynasty and associated this invention with the simultaneous evolution of the common Chinese writing medium from paper rolls to sheets of paper that could be printed. During the Míng Dynasty (1368–1644), characters from popular novels such as the Water Margin were widely featured on the faces of playing cards.

Ancient Chinese "money cards" have four "suits": coins (or cash), strings of coins (which may have been misinterpreted as sticks from crude drawings), myriads (of coins or of strings), and tens of myriads. These were represented by Chinese characters, with numerals of 2–9 in the first three suits and numerals 1–9 in the "tens of myriads". Wilkinson suggests that the first cards may have been actual paper currency which were both the tools of gaming and the stakes being played for, as in trading card games. The designs on modern mahjong tiles likely evolved from those earliest playing cards. However, it may be that the first deck of cards ever printed was a Chinese domino deck, in whose cards we can see all the 21 combinations of a pair of dice. In the Guītiánlù, a Chinese text written in the 11th century, we find that dominoes cards were printed during the Táng Dynasty, contemporary to the first printed books. The Chinese word pái (牌) is used to describe both paper cards and gaming tiles.

Bā 巴 and Tǔjiā 土家

Bā 巴 was an ancient state in the eastern part of Sìchuān (四川). It reached the zenith of its power between 600 BC and 400 BC.
The Bā Kingdom was invaded and conquered by the Chinese in the Warring States period (戰國). After the conquest, its inhabitants stopped constituting a separate ethnic group, and became thoroughly Sinicised. However, it is claimed by some that the modern ethnic minority Tǔjiā 土家 people (who speak an isolated Tibeto-Burman language) trace their origins back to the Bā people.
Under the Míng and the Qīng, the Tǔjiā were given an autonomous status within the Chinese Empire, whereby they were ruled by their own chieftains in exchange for providing troops whenever they were needed, to quell local revolts or to fight against the Wōkòu.



Asura are potent creatures from Vedic mythology: demonic and titanic spirits that are opposed to the Deva (the Indian gods), and in particular to Indra. There are four kinds of Asura, depending on their birth: born out of an egg, out of a womb, out of magic, out of water. Asura live deep in mountain caverns, in the underworld, and in the nether regions where the Asura architect-magician Maya has built them huge cities. Asura also live in the sea that surrounds Mount Sumeru.
In Buddhism, the Asura realm is the lowest of the six domains of rebirth. However the Asura are generally depicted as less evil than their Vedic counterparts; their behaviour stems from their karma: it is assumed that rebirth into an Asura is the consequence of having been a human being obsessed with force and violence, always looking for an excuse to get into a fight, angry with everyone and unable to maintain calm or solve problems peacefully.

Asura as creatures for a Celestial Empire game are described on p123 of the rule book. Depending on their birth, Asura may be further characterised as follows:

Egg-born Asura inhabit the flying fortresses that circle Mt Sumeru. They have huge bird-like wings which they use to glide down from their flying fortress when attacking the sky-realm of the Deva.
Womb-born Asura mostly live undergound. They are known for their armour and weapons, and in particular for their superior bows. They are mortal but their lifespan is still immeasurable by human standards. They are the most likely to strive for a better rebirth and hence lend an ear to Buddhist preaching.
Magic-born Asura shun the use of armour and weapons and prefer concentrate on the use of spells.
Water-born Asura are the most wicked ones. They have a craving for alcoholic drinks.

Chinese name: 阿修羅, Romanised as Āxiūluó


Hakka Fortified Villages

As mentioned on p19 of the rule book, the Hakka (Kèjiā 客家) live in fortified villages in the hilly areas of South China.

These walled villages are built to be easily defensible. Each village is made up of about half a dozen round or square fortified houses, called tǔlóu 土楼 ("earthen structures"). Each tǔlóu houses several related families and is internally divided into many compartments for food storage, living quarters, ancestral temple, armoury, etc.

The individual family quarters are built within the walls of the tǔlóu, whereas the common buildings are in the centre of the structure. Each tǔlóu has but a single heavy gate to communicate with the outside world.


Niǎn Rebellion

The Niǎn 捻 Rebellion is one of the many rebellions that brought economic devastation and loss of life at the end of the Qīng 清.

The uprising started with popular agitation brought about by a secret society, which may or may not have been linked to the White Lotus Society (see p94 of the rule book). The rebellion took place in northern China from 1853 to 1868; the most heavily affected areas were the provinces of Shāndōng 山東, Hénán 河南, Ānhuī 安徽, and Jiāngsū 江蘇 [roughly corresponding to the eastern part of "North China" and to the northern part of "Lower Yángzi" on the map on p28 of the rule book].

The Niǎn rebels sport long, loose hair, in open contrast to the Qīng-imposed Manchu hairstyle (the waist-long braided pigtail). The Niǎn are excellent horsemen who, after each attack against imperial troops, retreat into their fortified villages. The Niǎn — and this will be their undoing — do not have a precise political goal; they are mostly unmarried, dispossessed young peasants, ruined merchants, starving scholars: the aim of their attacks is looting.
The Niǎn seldom co-operate with the Tàipíng 太平. But after the defeat of the latter and the establishment of the Treaties of Tiānjīn with the western powers, the imperial government devotes its full military forces to quell the Niǎn Rebellion.


The Chinese Underworld

In ancient Chinese religion the Underworld was called the Yellow Springs (Huángquán 黄泉) — possibly a reference to the ubiquitous Yellow River. The Yellow Springs were not a ‘hell’ where one suffers retribution but rather a place where the souls of the departed were supposed to reside, the destination of the whitesoul ( 魄). Life could be made easier for the if it was provided with the necessary amenities: food, clothing, money, precious objects, and servants. These would be placed in the tomb by the surviving relatives. The servants (human and animal) were at first provided by immolating the actual servants of the deceased in the tomb, but with time (during the first half of the first millennium BC) this practice ended and inanimate representations of the attendants were placed in the tomb instead.

Anything more precise as to the exact ancient conception of the underworld is lost, as the surviving texts from Chinese Antiquity have been written by Confucianists who have generally ridiculed the ancient myths.

Under the Hàn, the God of the Eastern Mountain (Mount Tài: Tàishān 泰山), the abode of the xiān 仙, starts being held responsible for the register of the living and the dead; as a result, the idea that the dead reside under Mt Tài starts spreading. Concurrently with Mt Tài in Shāndōng (山東), a temple in Fēngdū 酆都 in Sìchuān (四川) also starts being considered as the entrance to the underground realm of the dead.

Under the influence of Buddhism, Chinese folk religion eventually includes a fully-fledged place of subterranean torment called Dìyù (地獄). In Dìyù, the souls of the dead undergo judgement through the Ten Courts of Hell, each of which is ruled by a judge; the ten judges are known as the ten Yāma Kings (Yánwáng 閻王). The judge of the first court weighs the good and bad actions of the dead spirit, and decides whether it must undergo the nine other judgements or not. Then each of the subsequent courts deals with a different aspect of atonement and different punishments. Particularly meritorious dead spirits get direct access to the Silver Bridge that yields access to a position in the Celestial Bureaucracy, or to the Golden Bridge that yields rebirth in one of the upper realms.

The Ten Courts of Hell are:
  1. First Court (Qínguǎng 秦廣): Mirror of Retribution. Ruled by Lord Jiǎng, King of Qínguǎng (秦廣王蔣)
  2. Second Court (Chǔjiāng 楚江): The Pool of Filth and the Hell of Ice. Ruled by Lord Lì, King of Chǔjiāng (楚江王歷)
  3. Third Court (Sòngdì 宋帝): Black Rope Hell and the Upside-Down Prison. Ruled by Lord Yú, King of Sòngdì (宋帝王余)
  4. Fourth Court (Wǔguān 五官): The Lake of Blood and the terrible Bee Torture. Ruled by Lord Lǚ, King of Wǔguān (五官王呂)
  5. Fifth Court (Yánluó 閻羅): Sixteen Departments of Heart Gouging. Ruled by Lord Bāo, King of Yánluó (閻羅王包)
  6. Sixth Court (Biànchéng 卞城): Screaming Torture and Administrative Errors. Ruled by Lord Bì, King of Biànchéng (卞城王畢)
  7. Seventh Court (Tàishān 泰山): Torture by Mincing Machine. Ruled by Lord Dǒng, King of Tàishān (泰山王董)
  8. Eighth Court (Dūshì 都市): Hot Suffocation Hell. Ruled by Lord Huáng, King of Dūshì (都市王黃)
  9. Ninth Court (Píngděng 平等): Iron Web and Office of Fair Trading. Ruled by Lord Lù, King of Píngděng (平等王陸)
  10. Tenth Court (Zhuànlún 轉輪): The Wheel of Rebirth. Ruled by Lord Xuē, King of Zhuànlún (轉輪王薛)

When one's torments in the City of Ghosts are over, the whitesoul is summoned to the Tenth Court, where Lord Xuē decides the manner of one's next existence. Then Mother Mèng (孟婆) administers the Tea of Oblivion, which erases one's memory and ensures that all the punishments are forgotten. The dead spirit is now ready to be reborn in a new earthly incarnation.


Geomancy (Fēngshuǐ 風水)

As written on page 52 of the rule book, Geomancy (fēngshuǐ 風水) is the art of adjusting the position and the orientation of buildings, tombs, and even fields, in relation to the magnetic compass, to the physical features of a given site, and to the nearest lóngmài (龍脈, the places where the 氣 of the earth flows strongest).

However, on page 62 the skill of Geomancy is mostly rendered as the mere ability to detect lóngmài.

In keeping with the list of abilities subsumed under the profession of Geomancer, and in order to beef up the profession, this post proposes a few more options in the use of the Geomancy skill.

1. A careful (3D6 minutes) examination of a given locale may give away clues as to any piece of furniture that may have been moved, or any modification that a room may have undergone. This obviously only applies to Civilised (Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese) locales, since the Barbarians do not follow the rules of fēngshuǐ when building their cities.

2. In the countryside, successful use of the Geomancy skill may indicate the presence of an underground stream of water, of a large cave beneath the surface, etc.

3. Successful roll under this skill with a Difficult modifier will tell the player character the cardinal directions. Of course, failure will give the player character a wrong direction (by ±90°); a fumble will give the player character a completely wrong direction (i.e., 180° of error).


The Headless Giant (Xíngtiān 刑天)

Note: This post is the first in a series of 'blog swapping' posts I'll be doing with Scott, the author of the excellent Trollish Delver blog.
The Xíngtiān is a creature from the Chinese classic bestiary, the Shānhǎi Jīng. The latter is a very old book whose creatures do not feature prominently in Chinese fiction. This is why the Xíngtiān does not appear in The Celestial Empire. However, the Xíngtiān has recently undergone a surge in popularity in China because of its appearance in a number of on-line adventure games (see here and there). As a consequence, I have decided to make it available for Celestial Empire campaigns.

The Xíngtiān is a very ancient humanoid who predates even the most ancient Chinese chronicles. It is mentioned as an adversary in the battles fought by the Yellow Emperor in pre-dynastic times. It is told that the Xíngtiān challenged the Yellow Emperor for a duel; in the ensuing fight, the Yellow Emperor beheaded the giant humanoid. However, the blow did not kill the Xíngtiān; the monster fled without its head. From that time on, it used its nipples as eyes, and its navel as a mouth. According to the Shānhǎi Jīng, the Xíngtiān fights with an axe and a shield.

STR 4D6+6 (20), CON 4D6 (14), SIZ 4D6+6 (20), INT 3D6 (10-11), POW 3D6 (10-11), DEX 3D6 (10-11), APP 1D6 (3-4).
Move: 10, Hit Points: 17, Damage Bonus: +1D6, Armour: 0.
Allegiance: Heterodoxy 5D4+5
Morale: Leader.
Skills: Climb 35%, Dodge 25%, Jump 30%, Knowledge (Region [Mountains]) 75%, Listen 25%, Science (Natural History) 20%, Spot 30%, Stealth 25%, Track 60%.
Spells: If the Xíngtiān has an INT greater than 12 it knows the following Battle Magic spells: Befuddle, Dispel, Heal, Mobility, Protection, with a skill value of 30%.
Giant axe 55%, damage: 2D8+2+db (bleeding)
Long Shield
Special defence:
Swallows weapon: whenever the Xíngtiān is hit in the Abdomen, it may swallow the weapon of its attacker on a successful STR vs STR roll on the Resistance table. Damage is still inflicted though.

Hit Location table
1D20 | Hit Location | Hit Point Value
1-5 | Right Leg | 1/3 total HP
6-10 | Left Leg | 1/3 total HP
11-13 | Abdomen | 2/5 total HP
14 | Chest | 1/2 total HP
15-17 | Right Arm | 1/4 total HP
18-20 | Left Arm | 1/4 total HP

Please go and check out Scott's T&T version of the Xíngtiān now. I'm amazed at how he's captured the monster's peculiarities using T&T's system.


Armour and Heat

Looking at the map on page 28 of the rule book, all the provinces south of the North India-Lower Yángzi line have a humid subtropical climate. The omnipresent daytime heat and humidity affect the inhabitants' choice in armour: people in these areas avoid carrying any piece of armour whose Burden is Moderate (or heavier). Should a player character insist on carrying such a piece of armour, he must succeed at a Stamina roll every time he is doing any activity more tiring than walking. A failed roll results in the character losing 1 general hit point of damage because of fatigue. A fumble results in the character passing out with exertion (on top of the hp loss).