Chinese Number Gestures

Because of the many dialectal differences in China, the Chinese have developed a method of using one's hands to signify the numbers 1 to 10.

Numbers 1 to 5 are, like in the West, simply signified through the number of fingers shown. Note, however, the slight differences with Western usage, most due to the Chinese not using the thumb, except for the number "5".

Numbers 6 to 10, contrary to Western usage, are signified by mimicking the relevant Chinese character using the position of the fingers as if they were character strokes (see picture).

In role-playing situations these number gestures can be used if the PCs have to communicate discreetly (e.g., during business negotiations), or if they are in a place where speaking is impossible (e.g., they are ambushing an adverse party and they need to communicate the number of people in the party), etc.

Obviously these number gestures could also be used to express larger numbers (seven could also mean seventy if the context is unambiguous; a "3" closely followed by an "8" could mean 38; etc.).


Design Your Character

There's this nifty web-site for creating costumed dolls on-line... and one of the sub-categories is Korean Warrior! Obviously you can use it to design your Celestial Empire character.

The Korean apparel is supposedly from late Silla [Xīnluó  新羅], which almost exactly corresponds to Táng in China. But I believe this kind of clothing would fit TCE characters up until the Sòng.

I created the warrior above in two-three minutes of time. The scenery is fixed.


Asian Barbaric Tribe Generator

This is another post inspired by Secret Santicore 2011! This time I am Sinicising Zak Sabbath's Barbaric Tribe Generator.

Roll 6D10 and 2D8, and pray Guānyīn for mercy!

㊀ TABLE I: The cruel and barbarous ways that they adorn themselves

  1. With dogs. Each is chained to a dog (see p335 of BRP)
  2. With a strange bluish paint that renders them fanatical (see p75 of TCE) for ten minutes
  3. With the skins of their forebears. Each tribesman must grow all fat in his dotage so that his son may wear a suit made from his skin and hide inside it. Nobody knows what they look like
  4. With barbarous tattooings. Actually they're pretty bright — each tribesman keeps all his important information tattooed somewhere. Notes on habits of local fauna, phases of the moon, maps, last time the neighbouring trading post was looted, and so on
  5. With the garish and mismatching patterns of many animals. The effect is equivalent to Befuddling the onlookers (see p75 of TCE)
  6. With elaborate tattoos made of Chinese characters. Any literate onlooker will try and read the tattoos instead of fighting the tribesman
  7. With dung. They a-smear themselves and this attracts bugs that act as an insect swarm (see p336 of BRP) against enemies
  8. With the bones and teeth of their fallen (human) foes. New and untested tribesmen have like no clothes upon them because they never killed anyone and the old warmaster crusties have like bonetooth armour (4AP)
  9. With poison (POT 10+1D4). Overcome the poison's potency or take damage equal to it
  10. With two cartridge belts

㊁ TABLE II: Their savage and ignorant beliefs

  1. They don't believe in killing animals because they're innocent. Got no problem killing people though
  2. They believe the soul is contained in the right foot and will evince an unhealthy obsession with severing a foe's right foot, to the exclusion of all other hit locations. Subtract 10 from all their mêlée hit location rolls
  3. They hate food and the eating of food. Publicly. In secret they all eat food (of course) and like it but in company they pretend they don't
  4. They don't believe in Confucianist virtue, Buddhist non-violence, Daoist wúwéi, etc.; they believe in quite the opposite, actually
  5. They believe that emissaries of foreign religions are an abomination and will concentrate all their energy on destroying any priestly player characters
  6. They believe it is blasphemous to use anything that is not stolen. Their equipment, homes, mounts and mates are all stolen
  7. They believe that if they are seen by anyone older than them they'll be owned by them in the afterlife
  8. They believe the first attack must always be a bite. They sharpen their teeth
  9. They believe that collecting their foes' severed heads will advance them spiritually. Add 10 to all their mêlée hit location rolls
  10. They believe that they are the only humans beings in the world and that all other people are demons in disguise

㊂ TABLE III: Details on the tribe's leader

  1. He is hideous and clothed in shadow
  2. He has worms in his head
  3. He has a hump like a camel, filled with jewels
  4. He owes a PC a single favour
  5. His fingernails are nine cùn long (see p20 of TCE)
  6. He is a Nāga (see p125 of TCE)
  7. He is a Yaksha (see p126 of TCE)
  8. He hopes to wage war against the moon and betroth Cháng'é
  9. He's always intoxicated
  10. He is, secretly, at the centre of all events in the campaign

㊃ TABLE IV: Their vicious bestial totems

  1. Their totem is the locust. They gibber and swarm
  2. Their totem is the maggot. They revel in ignorance
  3. Their totem is the jackal. They belong to treachery
  4. Their totem is the crocodile. They are patient, they are swift
  5. Their totem is the hog. They wallow and they wail
  6. Their totem is the scorpion. They live in solitude
  7. Their totem is the centipede. They form a long lean line
  8. Their totem is the snow leopard. They move in darkness
  9. Their totem is the wolf. They harry and howl
  10. Their totem is the suānní. They will burn you

㊄ TABLE V: The tribe's most sacred and vile object of reverence

  1. A powder with unusual properties
  2. Yak butter. A mound of it
  3. Your tears and those of many foes. In a great urn
  4. A baby wǎngliǎng (see p115 of TCE)
  5. The clothes once worn by a corrupt xiān
  6. A trident
  7. The defaced stone ball of a shīzi (see p126 of TCE)
  8. A Tarim mummy
  9. A fat, four-footed weasel carved of lard, smothered in beets
  10. Severed fingers, kept in the finest silk

㊅ TABLE VI: The twisted shamans that guide them

  1. Atavistic, armed with acid, aided by asps
  2. Belligerent, bony, bedecked with baubles. Breathes bats
  3. A crazed and crooked crone. Covered in clusters of candles
  4. A devious dervish. Dominates demons with a dazzling dance
  5. An eight-eyed exotic. An eater of eldritch energies. Engages in echolocation
  6. A fat faction of fleshy flagellants
  7. A glossy guǐ-gadfly. Guarded by ghosts
  8. A hebephrenic harlot. Housed in a hexagon
  9. An idiot and an incunabulist
  10. A jovial juvenile in a jewelled jerkin

㊆ TABLE VII: The tribe's name

Roll 2D8 (for first and second syllable of tribe's name):

  1. Bái-
  2. Běi-
  3. Cháng-
  4. Chì-
  5. Dōng-
  6. Luǒ-
  7. Nán-
  8. Xī-

  1. -dí
  2. -fán
  3. -hú
  4. -lǔ
  5. -mán
  6. -qiāng
  7. -róng
  8. -yí


The Miáo (苗)

Amongst the various tribes of south-central China, the Miáo (or Hmong) have always been one of the most troublesome for central government. As such they are very present in Chinese myths and legends, much more so than other mountain peoples. There are countless accounts of Miáo rebellions, followed by harsh repression campaigns by the various Chinese dynasties, the worse being the devastating massacres organised by the Qīng in the second half of the 19th century. No wonder that, in time, the Miáo have slowly moved southwards from their ancestral home in south-central China to South-East Asia.

The following is a very evocative excerpt from the book Hmong and American: stories of transition to a strange land by Sue Murphy Mote (2004).

The Hmong were furious fighters. Since Shāng times their abilities had been sharpened by the need to defend what they desperately considered theirs. Guìzhōu Hmong, those against whom the Míng built the ten-foot high Hmong Wall, dressed themselves in armour made of buffalo hide, copper, and iron mail. They carried a shield in one hand, a spear in the other, and a knife in the teeth. Crossbows and poisoned arrows rounded out the arsenal. In the late 1600s, a Chinese factional general multiplied the power of the Hmong juggernaut immeasurably when he left behind in a Hmong village some flintlock rifles, gunpowder, and cannons. Another Chinese general, whom the Hmong had sheltered, showed the Hmong how to manufacture their own flintlocks, or blunderbusses, an item used in colonial America around the same time. Hmong made them by the thousands.
At the same time, Hmong began breeding mountain ponies for war. These animals, able to race up and down mountainsides, were regarded by the Chinese as the best horses in the empire.

The "Hmong Wall" mentioned above was like a miniature version of the Great Wall, one hundred-mile long, ten-foor high, and with watchtowers manned by armed guards that the Míng had built in the 16th century. This wall was to contain the Miáo within a given territory, where the Míng troops would foray to capture boys to be mass castrated and turned into eunuch slaves. This territory had the worse lands whereas the best arable lands were given to Hàn colonists. Some of the colonists (mostly Hàn soldiers who crushed the rebellion) would also be given Miáo wives.



Happy new year! The year of the Metal Rabbit is ending today, and the year of the Water Dragon starts tomorrow!

The Chinese New Year is the occasion for all Chinese to tidy up their homes, throw out old objects, buy new shoes and new clothes, and, most importantly, to remove the worn-out pictures of the Door Gods and to replace them with brand new shiny ones. See also p13 of The Celestial Empire.

The two pictures of the Door Gods (ménshén 門神) are placed on each side of the main entrance to the Chinese home and stand guard there for a full year to keep away evil spirits. The pictures face each other — it is considered bad luck to place them back-to-back.

Scenario Seed: Save the New Year!
The characters are resting in the city of [city name] before the Spring Festival. They are in the city magistrate's employ, or owe him a favour. They are summoned to the city yámén in the night before New Year's Day by a close retainer of the city magistrate. This is very unusual, since even civil servants are supposed to be off duty and celebrating with their family on New Year.
The magistrate receives them in casual dress... this is even more intriguing. He explains them that the situation is so urgent that he forgot about behaving properly. May Confucius forgive his misbehaviour. The whole stock of Door Gods prints that the city printer had prepared for distribution the next day has been stolen! The characters must absolutely find a solution or the whole city will go in panic mode once the disappearance of the good luck-bringing posters becomes public!

The characters may suggest...
  • that the printer re-print a batch of Door Gods pictures. This is impossible because there's not enough paper left.
  • that the magistrate buy a batch of pictures from another printer. This is impossible because the closest is in the next city, which is one day travel from their city.

Possible courses of action: the PCs could try and find paper somewhere (didn't that Buddhist abbot want to print out the Dàzàngjīng?), or they could try and a find a means to travel faster (isn't there a Daoist hermit in the mountains who can travel 500 lǐ in a day?). The best idea, however, would be retracing the thief. He's currently on the river bank, waiting for a boat that will take him to a city downstream where he's planning to sell the images.

Possible consequences should the PCs fail: Panic spreads through the city. Ne'er-do-wells and thieves take advantage of it to commit burglaries. The following days, having had word of the situation, brigands raid the city. In a campaign game with supernatural elements, the city could even fall prey to demons or yāoguài.


Weird Chinese Cults

Secret Santicore 2011 is a massive, free role-playing supplement produced by the Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement finest. You may get it from here.

I really enjoy reading the contents of the book, and I often find myself thinking how I could adapt this or that to The Celestial Empire. Today I am presenting you my Chinese adaptation of Weird Cults by Brendan S.

Roll 10D10 and pray the Buddha that nothing too weird happens!

㊀ TABLE I: What do they worship?
  1. A foreign religion (see p39 of TCE)
  2. A demon lord (a mìngmó, see p117 of TCE)
  3. A forgotten deity from the ancient past
  4. Prince of animals (roll on the animal table)
  5. Chī Yóu
  6. Emperor Xīn of Shāng (aka Evil King Zhòu)
  7. The Dào
  8. The new prophet
  9. The overlord of a rival state
  10. An ancient machine
㊁ TABLE II: What is their identifier?
  1. Animal tattoo on their back (roll on the animal table)
  2. Fine silver ring, allowed to tarnish
  3. Ritual cross-hatch scars on upper arms
  4. Glass eye
  5. Secret kowtow
  6. Green blood
  7. Eyelid fold
  8. Sharp teeth (either sharpened or naturally sharp)
  9. Hairless
  10. Verbal prayers of thanks to the patron upon any success

㊂ TABLE III: What is their ultimate goal?
  1. Extinction, but they want to take as many others with them as possible
  2. Accumulate souls for their account in hell
  3. To take back the underworld — men belong underground, demons above
  4. Prepare the world for the ancient masters from the stars
  5. The Pill of Immortality; each cell has part of the recipe, they seek each other out
  6. Enlightenment through extreme experiences
  7. Reforesting the great waste known as civilisation
  8. Red is the sacred colour, as much of the world as possible must be in this hue
  9. Yellow is the sacred colour, as much of the world as possible must be in this hue
  10. The end of warfare (could be latter-day Mohists)

㊃ TABLE IV: Who is in charge?
  1. Mad charismatic crackpot
  2. Demon, corrupt Xiān, or Yāoguài in human guise
  3. Alchemist who found the recipe for the Pill of Immortality
  4. Swindler, bilking the credulous
  5. Swindler, bilking the credulous, unaware that his teachings are true
  6. A sentient yīn lóngmài (see p85 of TCE)
  7. A sentient yáng lóngmài (see p85 of TCE)
  8. Prince of animals (roll on the animal table)
  9. One of the PCs in a past life
  10. An animated icon (see p84 of TCE)

㊄ TABLE V: What is their taboo?
  1. Must not eat cereals
  2. Will not bow in front of authority
  3. If you meet their eyes, you will learn one of their secrets
  4. They must wash skin that sunlight touches
  5. Dead cultists must be buried in the cemetery of the leader's home village
  6. Must not start a fire
  7. Sexual abstinence
  8. Will eat nothing cooked
  9. Must not lie
  10. Must always have a clear mind; no intoxicants

㊅ TABLE VI: What is their secret power?
  1. Start and control fires — use the Flames of the Sun spell (see p131 of BRP) at half cost
  2. Corpses speak to cultists — use the Necromancy skill (see p63 of TCE)
  3. Discipline of the body — a random wǔshù power (see p66 of TCE)
  4. Preserve corpses indefinitely, à la Kim Jong-il
  5. None, though they believe they can summon demons
  6. Rust metal by touch
  7. Detect Truth at will (see p77 of TCE)
  8. Fertile — crops tended yield 2 to 3 times normal bounty
  9. Access to uncommon Battle Magic spells (see p76 of TCE)
  10. Wire fu! — use the Sorcerer's Leap spell (see p134 of BRP) at half cost
㊆ TABLE VII: What is their ritual garb?
  1. Saffron robes
  2. Bronze armour with ornate helm
  3. Official magistrates — they actually run the place!
  4. Crazy Daoist garb, à la Chinese Ghost Story (they believe they are puissant Daoist sorcerers)
  5. Finely scented loin cloth
  6. White tunic and sandals
  7. Masquerade masks
  8. Loose hair, no hat
  9. Aboriginal clothing
  10. Shape-shifters — vixen spirits or other, ritual 'garb' is their non-human form

㊇ TABLE VIII: What do their nameless rituals entail?
  1. Eating live animals (roll on the animal table)
  2. Recitation of apocryphal sūtra
  3. Silent meditation
  4. Ritual combat
  5. Human sacrifice
  6. Animal sacrifice (roll on the animal table)
  7. Burning the sacred texts of rival cults
  8. Riddles
  9. Summoning
  10. Believer suicides
㊈ TABLE IX: Where do they hold their nameless rituals?
  1. Theatre
  2. Sacred cave
  3. Sacred mountain top
  4. Ancient unearthed vessel
  5. Yámén — they run the place!
  6. Ancestral hall of a ritually slain clan
  7. Ancestral hall of the leader's clan
  8. A natural glade under an overcast sky
  9. By a yáng lóngmài to protect from hostile spirits
  10. A rival cult's holy place
㊉ TABLE X: How old is the sect?
  1. Just founded last week
  2. Since before the Shāng
  3. Was loosed on the world by something let out of an adventure by the PCs
  4. During the founding of the current dynasty
  5. The previous dynasty (cult is all that remains)
  6. Cult is a cyclical plague unleashed to punish decadent societies
  7. Originally founded by a mythical ancestor in ancient times
  8. Older than written history (all cult records are oral)
  9. It was born with the leader and will die with the leader
  10. Founded based on some past innocuous PC action

APPENDIX: Animal table
  1. Mantis
  2. Turtle
  3. Goat
  4. Wasp
  5. Ox
  6. Rat
  7. Worm
  8. Monkey
  9. Snake
  10. Centipede


Chinese Age Reckoning

The traditional Chinese way of reckoning a person's age is completely different from the Western one. In the West, we are born at age '0', and we age 1 year at our birthday. In Imperial China, newborn start at 1 year-old, and they add 1 year on the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Hence a baby born on the 30th day of the 12th month is already 1-year old at birth. He or she ages 1 year on the first day of the Chinese New Year, i.e., the 2nd day of his or her life. So when the baby is two days old, his or her age is actually "2 years"!

As a consequence, there will always be a 1- or even 2-year difference between the Chinese age and the Western age of your characters, the former being the larger one. GMs may or may not want to take this into account for the rules about character generation etc.


Quick Tables to Generate Chinese Province Names

I have received very positive feedback on my post about the creation of on-the-fly Chinese town and city names. Therefore I am now providing a post on how to create Chinese-sounding province names.

Chinese provinces haven't always had the same name (and area) as today. For GMs who like their games to be historically accurate, it is easy to look up the right names of the provinces for a given dynasty in a history atlas or on Wikipedia. For GMs who like to play in a generic fantasy China à la Dragon Lines, I believe this post should come in handy.

Much like Chinese towns and cities, Chinese provinces usually have a two-syllable name. The first syllable is either a proper noun (often the name of a river or of a salient place name from the province itself) or an epithet for the second syllable, which itself is more often than not a common noun.

The following tables will create realistically-sounding names for your Chinese provinces. First roll a D20 for the first syllable from Table 1, then roll a D12 for the second syllable from Table 2. Voilà, you have a fairly nicely sounding name for your Chinese province.

Table 1 (D20)
  1. Ān (peaceful)
  2. Fèng (respectful)
  3. Fú (happy)
  4. Guān (frontier pass)
  5. Guǎng (expanse)
  6. Hé (river)
  7. Hú (lake)
  8. Jiāng (river)
  9. Jīng (bramble)
  10. Lì (merit)
  11. Lín (descend)
  12. Lǐng (mountain ridge)
  13. Níng (peaceful)
  14. Shān (mountain range)
  15. Shǎn (mountain pass)
  16. Tóng (lofty)
  17. Xián (united)
  18. Xīn (new)
  19. Yǒng (eternal)
  20. Yún (misty [mountains])

Table 2 (D12)
  1. běi (north)
  2. chuān (circuit)
  3. dōng (east)
  4. jī (domain)
  5. jiàn (establishment)
  6. jiāng (疆, frontier)
  7. jiāng (江, river)
  8. nán (south)
  9. nèi (inside)
  10. xī (west)
  11. yòu (west)
  12. yuán (plain)


Quick Guidelines & Tables to Generate Chinese Town & City Names

Chinese town and city names are usually made up of two syllables. The first syllable would usually be an adjective or a proper noun, and the second syllable a common noun, most frequently a proper noun such as "prefecture", "capital city", etc.

Some examples from actual Chinese place names:

Capital cities: ending in -jīng:
Běijīng = Northern (běi) + capital city (jīng)
Dōngjīng = Eastern (dōng) + capital city (jīng)
Nánjīng = Southern (nán) + capital city (jīng)
Shèngjīng = flourishing (shèng) + capital city (jīng)

Prefectural seats: ending in -zhōu:
Guǎngzhōu = Guǎng (name of the province) + prefecture (zhōu)
Hángzhōu = Háng (proper noun) + prefecture (zhōu)
Lánzhōu = orchid (lán) + prefecture (zhōu)
Quánzhōu = source (quán) + prefecture (zhōu)
Sūzhōu = Sū (proper noun) + prefecture (zhōu)
Zhèngzhōu = Zhèng (name of an ancient state) + prefecture (zhōu)

Medium-sized cities: ending in -chéng or in -dū
Áodū = Áo (proper noun) + city (dū)
Běidū = Northern (běi) + city (dū)
Chéngdū = Chéng (proper noun) + city (dū)
Dàdū = large (dà) + city (dū)
Guīchéng = turtle (guī) + city (chéng)
Jǐnchéng = brocade (jǐn) + city (chéng)
Róngchéng = hibiscus (róng) + city (chéng)

River-name-based city names:
Hànkǒu = Hàn (name of the river that flows through the city) + river mouth (kǒu)
Hànyáng = Hàn (name of the river that flows through the city) + river bank (yáng)
Luòyáng = Luò (name of the river that flows through the city) + river bank (yáng)
Shěnyáng = Shěn (name of the river that flows through the city) + river bank (yáng)

Miscellaneous names:
Bǎo'ān = precious (bǎo) + peace (ān)
Cháng'ān = long (cháng) + peace (ān)
Chóngqìng = double (chóng) + celebration (qìng)
Fóshān = Buddha (Fó) + mountain (shān)
Guìlín = olive tree (guì) + forest (lín)
Lín'ān = descending (lín) + peace (ān)
Níngbō = tranquil (níng) + waves (bō) [Níngbō is a port city]
Qīngdǎo = azure (qīng) + island (dǎo)
Qìngyáng = celebration (qìng) + river bank (yáng)
Rìzhào = sun (rì) + shine (zhào)
Shàoxīng = continue (shào) + thrive (xīng)
Tiānjīn = sky (tiān) + ferry (jīn) [Tiānjīn is a port city]
Xī'ān = Western (xī) + peace (ān)

The above examples should enable you to create on-the-fly city names when needed. Here are some more guidelines:

For a large city, the easiest is <a syllable>+zhōu. The first syllable being quite often a proper name, you may use the sample surnames from p8 of the rule book, or alternatively one of the following:
  • Bái: white
  • Běi: Northern
  • Dōng: Eastern
  • Hēi: black
  • Hóng: red
  • Huáng: yellow
  • Nán: Southern
  • Níng: tranquil
  • Qīng: azure
  • Xī: Western
  • Zhōng: central

For a medium-sized city, roll 2D10 and refer to the following table:
die roll – 1st syllable – 2nd syllable
1 – Běi – 'ān
2 – Xī – dǎo
3 – Hé – mén
4 – Jiāng – chéng
5 – Zhōng – chuān
6 – Hú – dū
7 – Qīng – lín
8 – Dōng – shān
9 – Nán – yáng
0 – <use a syllable from the table of surnames> – zhuāng

Smaller settlements can simply be named “<surname> family village”, <surname> being the most common surname in the area, or the surname of the foremost local clan, e.g., the notorious Zhù Family Village in the Water Margin.


The Money Tree (摇钱树)

The Money Tree (摇钱树 yáoqiánshù) is a nature spirit embodied in an ancient tree. It is hard to tell whether it moves about and appears to its victims, or if it is incorporeal and only materialises before them. Whatever the actual truth, the yáoqiánshù usually only appears before lone travellers. The GM may use the Money Tree when the PCs are lost in a forest and have lost track of each other, when they are fleeing a group of bandits in the mountains and are scattered, etc. The important element is that the victim must be alone.

The yáoqiánshù will choose to appear in the vicinity of the PC whose total Daoism + Heterodoxy allegiance score is the lowest. A slight breeze will ensure that the victim will clearly hear the tintinnabulation of the golden cash-like fruits of the Money Tree. The latter will present itself as a large specimen of whatever tree is most common in the area, its branches heavy with large, cash-like fruits made of the purest gold. The victim will be able to collect enough gold to go up one Wealth level. The large coins will be in imitation of whatever currency was official 1d8×100 years before present (this time span is actually the age of the yáoqiánshù). If the coins happen to correspond to cash that was in circulation during an earlier dynasty, and if the PC figures out he should sell them to a collector, then the Wealth of the PC will go up two levels!

This wealth, however, is cursed. At some later time, the GM should devise an unfortunate event that will cause the PC to lose all the accumulated wealth and to suffer misfortune, e.g., some local nouveau riche challenges the PC to a display of wealth through building an exaggerated mansion, which will then collapse upon the PC. Or a local cash-broken magistrate will request the PC build a bridge, or a temple, or whatever, which will cost him all the accumulated wealth plus some more. Or a travelling member of the imperial court will have heard about the wealth of the PC and will ask the PC to offer him some costly present, which he won't even like; this incident will make a bitter enemy of said member of the court... You get the idea.