NPC: the monk Jiànzhēn

Dhamma Musings is a non-gaming blog I have been following for quite a long time. Its latest post is about the famous Táng Chinese monk Jiànzhēn (鑒真, 688–763), who travelled far and wide in East Asia, and who eventually settled in Japan where he founded a still-existing temple (Tōshōdai-ji 唐招提寺) and a still-active sect (Risshū 律宗).

The following are excerpts from the post:

Living during the Táng Dynasty, Jiànzhēn could properly be called a Renaissance man. He was born in what is now Jiāngsū province. In 688, he became a monk while young. Jiànzhēn studied Buddhism in the Chinese capital for six years, his main field of study being vinaya [monastic rules]. In the succeeding years, he mastered many arts including medicine, horticulture and even architecture. His two great achievements during this time were to found a hospital and to organise the copying out of 33,000 scrolls of the scriptures to be distributed to various monasteries.
click to enlarge
In 742, a delegation from Japan arrived in China and invited Jiànzhēn to visit their country to re-establish the correct ordination procedure for monks and nuns. Despite the protests of his disciples and supporters, Jiànzhēn accepted the invitation and the next year set out for Japan by ship. Bad navigation and unruly weather forced his ship back to China. Three more times he tried to get to Japan and failed. During the fifth attempt, his ship was blown off-course as far as Hǎinán Island and, in the three years it took him to return home, the rigours of the journey were such that he developed an eye infection and lost his sight. Undeterred by his earlier failures, and despite being blind, he tried to reach Japan yet again and finally succeeded in 753.

He arrived in Nara (奈良), the Japanese capital, and was greeted by the emperor who put him in charge of the great Tōdai-ji Temple (東大寺). Over the next two years, Jiànzhēn trained some 400 monks and then ordained them in the proper manner. After this, Jiànzhēn built a temple for himself where he was to reside and teach until his death in 763. In designing and constructing this temple he introduced to the Japanese architectural techniques unknown to them until that time. He also introduced the art of bonsai (盆栽) and the technique for making soybean curd.
But Jiànzhēn’s greatest gift to the Japanese was pharmacology and medicine. Despite his blindness, he could identify numerous herbs by smell alone, and he was highly skilled in classifying and storing medicines so as to retain their potency. He also corrected the many mistakes in the earlier translations of Chinese medical texts.

I can see immense gaming potential in the above. The player characters could be bodyguards, ambassadors, or fellow monks travelling to Japan with Jiànzhēn. Given the length of the voyages, this scenario seed could evolve into a quasi-sandbox game with minimal railroading, the only constraint being that the PCs must stay with Jiànzhēn at all times.

Jiànzhēn is a serene and soft-spoken monk, able to attract large followings even though he looks unassuming. Having spent his formative years in study, Jiànzhēn is rather slight of build. He's always wearing the simple accoutrements of a Buddhist monk, even when travelling, and irrespective of the weather.

STR 11 CON 12 SIZ 8 INT 16 POW 18 DEX 14 APP 13 EDU 18
Hit Points 10 Major Wound 5 18 Age 55 (first voyage) to 65 (last voyage)

Buddhism 90, Confucianism 10, Daoism 2

Home Region: Lower Yángzi
Profession: Buddhist Monk
Status: 50% in China, 80% in Japan

Damage Bonus: none
Weapons: Unarmed 25%, damage 1D3
Armour: none
Skills: Appraise 15%, Etiquette 30%, Knowledge (Geography: China proper) 50%, Knowledge (Geography: East China Sea) 25%, Knowledge (History: China) 65%, Knowledge (Religion: Buddhism) 95%, Insight 35%, Language (Chinese) 90%, Language (Japanese) 15%, Language (Sanskrit) 70%, Literacy (Classical Chinese) 115%, Literacy (South Asian alphabets) 80%, Meditation 75%, Mêlée Weapon (Staff) 10%, Perform (Recite sūtra) 75%, Perform (Sing) 50%, Persuade 65%, Science (Alchemy) 30%, Science (Architecture) 60%, Science (Natural History) 85%, Sense 80%.


  1. Parece evidente, desde la perspectiva de un juego de rol con elementos fantásticos, que alguna fuerza trataba activamente de impedir la arrivada de Jiànzhen a Japón. Sería interesante desarrollar eso.

    1. This is an interesting idea! The Japanese kami may have wanted to hinder the arrival of a Buddhist proselytiser to Japan. The Live-Lively from an earlier post (October 2013) might be their agents.