Scarlet Heroes

Scarlet Heroes, by Kevin Crawford, is a little gem of an old school FRP that I have already very briefly mentioned here at the time of its crowdfunding campaign via a Kickstarter.

The coolest thing with Scarlet Heroes is that it is really three products in one, and three that could have very well been sold separately.

The first 'product' is the setting itself: the Sunset Isles, a slightly Kara-Tur-like vanilla Oriental setting with a few original twists, like:

1- The Red Tide, a mysterious wall of demon-haunted mists that is slowly infecting the Sunset Isles.
2- The Shou, the savage aborigines that are being displaced by the more civilised races.
3- Non-'Asian' exiles that have fled their lands and invaded the Sunset Isles: the European-like Eirengarders and the Persian-like Eshkanti.
4- Spells that are different from the usual Old School D&D-ish spells.

The setting also has a slightly more south-east Asian feeling to it than your vanilla Oriental setting. Because of all the previously-discussed aspects, I think the Sunset Isles would actually work great in conjunction with Kenneth Hite's Qelong setting: I am pretty sure Aakom could be linked to the Red Tide, and the Varangians are an obvious match to the Eirengarders.

The second 'product' is a game system centred on one-to-one play, that is a referee with a single player. As a result, the single PC is a larger-than-life hero that can easily fell several opponents in a single round via the fray die mechanism.

The third 'product' is a very Old School (i.e., lots of tables!) system that enables you to play in solo mode. But this is no pre-written Tunnels & Trolls solo scenario or Choose Your Own Adventure book: this is a set of gaming aids that allow you to improvise as you go. Basically a solo narrative game but with Old School mechanics. Quite impressive.


Bavarian State Library's Collection of Digitised East Asian Books Available On-Line

Well, the information is in the tile :-)

The Bavarian State Library has a huge collection of 'Sinica' (i.e., China-themed) books, and apparently they have finished scanning them and making them available on-line. My German is rusty but apparently the collection contains 230,000 printed books and 3,000 manuscripts. At the moment they have digitised more than 1,000,000 pages... quite impressive!

Here is the link: Digitale Sammlungen Ostasien

There is a nifty search tool that accepts Asian characters, and I have already started looking for cool editions of the Water Margin [水滸傳]. Have fun!


Random Prefecture Generator

Judge and Retainers
Whenever I have been GM'ing using The Celestial Empire or Oriental Monsters & Magic, I have found that character parties built around a judge accompanied by retainers, bodyguards, etc. have worked really well in a Chinese context.

In a highly civilised society such as China, with little personal freedom, little motivation to transgress the boundaries of what one is restricted to, and especially in a society that frowns upon the use of violence, the only possibility for the kind of anti-social behaviour that RPGers enjoy is law enforcement.

Well, a judge in China was assigned a city where he would work as a magistrate, carrying out sentences and settling disputes, but also collecting tax, repairing broken bridges, repressing banditry, and suppressing unorthodox cults.

So the first thing to draw up for your judge PC and his fellow PCs is the prefectural seat he's going to spend the next three years in! For that purpose, I have developed a hack of Éric Nieudan's own more generic classic fantasy random wilderness generator.

What you need:
 - A standard 52-card deck with French suits (♠♥♦♣); remove the jokers and the 2's.
 - Dice.

1. Draw cards to make a 7×7 grid; leave centre of grid empty. The centre is your city:

2. Terrain the remaining 48 areas according to card suit; face cards mean there is a steading. See tables below:

  plains or steppe
 ♣ woods or swamp 
  hills or desert
 ♠ mountains or canyons 

 Jack: village, hamlet or camp 
 Queen: temple, shrine, other holy place 
 King: manor or mansion
 Ace: town or harbour

Choose or draw another card for subtypes, e.g.:

 Second Card Drawn   Village Sub-Type   Temple Sub-Type   Manor Sub-Type 
   Hàn Chinese  Confucian  Retired Mandarin 
 ♣  Hàn Chinese  Buddhist  Guildhouse
   Hàn Chinese  Daoist  Head of Local Lineage 
 ♠  Ethnic Minority   Folk Religion  Wealthy Landowner 

 Third Card Drawn   Buddhist Sub-Type   Daoist Sub-Type 
   Pure Land  Complete Orthodoxy (Zhèngyi) 
 ♣  Chán  Quánzhēn
   Tantric  Xié
 ♠  other  other

3. Encounters and events. Now, whenever the judge and his companions are travelling throughout the prefecture, random encounters may happen! For each card, roll d20 and compare to card value (Jack = 11, Queen = 12,  King = 13, Ace = 14). If the die roll is ≤ card value, look at the encounter on the table below.

Variant: Use a d10 in the light grey area.

 Die   Civilised Encounters
Die roll < card value 
Die roll = card value 
 1   Farmers travelling ♣foraging poaching ♠fleeing 
 2   Fishermen working ♣mending nets famished ♠building a dam 
 3   Merchants caravan ♣lost being robbed ♠loaded with silver  Ambush or trap 
 4   Monks preaching ♣looking for help begging ♠on a pilgrimage   Impromptu market 
 5   Soldiers labourers ♣conscripts militia ♠press-gang   Freak weather 
 6   Ethnic minority mercenaries ♣traders confidence artists ♠clan   Blocked roads 
 7   Nomads Steppe ♣Forest Desert ♠Mountain  Fire 
 8   Adventurers bruised & beaten ♣hostile friendly ♠richly equipped   Flood 
 9   Indigenous people warband ♣migrating raiding ♠hiding  Battle 
 10   Koreans merchants ♣ambassadors prisoners ♠seamen   Ghosts 
 11   Bandits river raiders ♣on the run hiding ♠carrying plunder   Country fair 
 12   Thieves street thugs ♣running from the law spies ♠burglars   Bandit Lair 
 13   Vietnamese merchants ♣ambassadors prisoners ♠pilgrims   Siege 
 14   Plague 

Feedback and suggestions welcome.


The Celestial Empire No Longer Available

Unfortunately, for reasons way beyond my control, The Celestial Empire won't be available from Alephtar Games any more, as they can no longer offer items with a Chaosium trademark on them.

On the other hand, Chaosium can still sell the Alephtar Games books and PDFs. However, it seems they have disappeared from Chaosium's catalogue on their web shop.

Bottom line: if you're interested in TCE and see the book in a shop or on a web-site, do purchase it! It will become impossible once the current stock has been sold out.

Also, given the amount of work that it would involve, I have currently no plans whatsoever to re-write the book to make it compatible with another set of D100-based rules. I'm also way too busy with writing and playtesting Oriental Monsters & Magic.


Big Sale at Chaosium!

Chaosium have just announced a big sale through their web-site. With the change in management, they have decided to concentrate on their in-house core lines and are thus selling their non-Chaosium stock.

The Celestial Empire and Wind on the Steppes are amongst the books on sale, so make sure you grab your copy— here!
(NB: the 50% reduction is applied to the cart upon checking out)


Poye Polomi!

I absolutely adore A Chinese Ghost Story. It's the very first wire-fu film I've ever seen, and I have very fond memories of it. I think it was this film that started my insatiable appetite for everything Chinese, which would end up with my writing The Celestial Empire because of my dissatisfaction with all the other 'Oriental' rule systems I'd tried.

Anyway, one of the recurring funny scenes of A Chinese Ghost Story is when the mad Daoist magician casts offensive spells at the demons and blasts them whilst chanting the mysterious POYE POLOMI mantra.

I have been wondering for years if 'Poye Polomi' was some kind of crazy invention by Tsui Hark or some Cantonese mumbo jumbo. Well at last I know what it is: it turns out that it is the Cantonese pronunciation of the five first syllables of the phrase 般若波羅蜜多 (bōrě bōluómìduō), which is the Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit word prajñā-pāramitā, which appears in the Heart Sūtra.


The Seven Causes For Repudiation

In Imperial China, according to the Táng Code, married men had seven criteria whereby they could repudiate their wife, called the Seven Outs (qīchū 七出):
1- barrenness (not giving birth to children)
2- lasciviousness
3- disobedience to her husband's parents
4- indulgence in gossip
5- thievish propensities
6- jealousy
7- a disfiguring illness

The Míng code added that a woman who hadn't any living relatives, however, could not be repudiated [that would have made her free of any male dominance, which is contrary to Confucian orthodox thought]. Neither could be repudiated a wife who had mourned three years for her husband's parents. Husbandly repudiation was also forbidden in the case of a husband who had become rich having been poor previous to and at the time of the marriage.

Needless to say, repudiation only worked one way: a woman could never require the marital relation be dissolved, no matter how miserable her life. Miserable women would routinely commit suicide instead, thereby shaming their husband who would lose face.

A man who had repudiated his wife without her falling in one of the seven criteria would have had to take her back, and he would have been punished by 80 strokes of beating with the heavy stick.

A woman who ran away from her home would be sold by the State if caught. If she had been married during her absence, she was sentenced to death by strangulation.

The laws were either identical or extremely similar in the other countries of the East Asian cultural sphere: Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Under the Qīng, the Code added the possibility of a mutual divorce. Here again, the asymmetry of the male and female positions in society was apparent by the fact that a divorced man could remarry, whereas a divorced woman could not. Another kind of divorce, and then under all dynasties, was the state-mandated annulment of marriage; it would be pronounced by a magistrate if either spouse had committed any of the following offences:
- murder
- adultery
- assault and battery upon an in-law


The Ten Yāma Kings

The Ten Yāma Kings are well-known and respected personages in the pantheon of Chinese Folk Religion (they are also widely present in Korean and Japanese myths and beliefs). In Chinese, they are known as the 十殿閻王 (shí diàn Yánwáng, the Ten Yāma Kings) or as the 十代冥王 (shí Dàimíng Wáng, the Ten Lords of Hades). They are represented as grave-looking magistrates, which is in line with the Chinese view of the Underworld as a well-ordered and stern place under the jurisdiction of the Jade Emperor; a concept very far from the Western view of Hell as a disorderly place ruled by horrid devils wreathed in flames. The Ten Yāma Kings are not monsters, they are honourable magistrates!

In The Celestial Empire, I briefly mentioned them in the section about Chinese Myths and Beliefs (p34-35). In particular, I have written the following on p35:

Evil whitesouls are brought to the ten infernal tribunals, ruled by the ten Yāma Kings (閻王 Yánwáng), the judges of the Nether Region, who decide the kind of punishment to be undergone in the City of Ghosts (Fēngdū 酆都).

The scope of this blog entry is to give some more detail about the Ten Yāma Kings and their halls, should your foolish players travel to the Underworld!

Here is the roster:
1 - the King of Qínguǎng (秦廣王蔣). He rules the very first hall and is responsible for a preliminary review of the deeds from the whitesoul's lifetime. The actual punishment is then carried out in one of the nine other halls.
2 - the King of Chǔjiāng (楚江王歷). He rules the court reserved for thieves and murderers, and his hell is ice cold.
3 - King Sòngdì (宋帝王余). He rules Black Rope Hell.
4 - King Wǔguān (五官王呂). He rules Blood Pool Hell.
5 - King Yāma (閻羅王包). He rules the Iron City and oversees the nine other Yāma Kings.
6 - King Impartial (平等王陸). He is in charge of discriminating between ghosts according to their behaviour, and deciding affairs such as grades and transmigration.
7 - the King of Mount Tài (泰山王董). He rules the Black City of Shadowy Fiends. He is No.2 in the hierarchy of the Yāma Kings.
8 - the Metropolitan King (都市王黃). He rules the Suffocation Hell and the City of the Dead-by-Accident.
9 - the King of Biànchéng (卞城王畢). He rules the City of Innocent Deaths.
10 - the King of the Ever-Turning Wheel (轉輪王薛). He rules the tenth and last hall and is responsible for meting out retribution. Like in the first hall, there is no place of torment here. The Terrace of Oblivion is part of the tenth hall.

Note that depending on the sources, the order of the judges between 6 and 9 is not always the same.


Quick 'n Easy Tibet-Flavoured Setting

I have serendipitously found, on the Santicore blog, a small gem of a rather Old School-ish Tibetan-flavoured setting for fantasy role-playing games. It's called The Roof of the World and it's here; enjoy!

Fantasy Tibet

Given the overall D&D-ish flavour, this setting would probably work best with my upcoming Oriental Monsters & Magic rules rather than with The Celestial Empire, but I think that with little work from the GM it should also work with the latter.


Wind on the Steppes – Preview

A seven-page preview of Wind on the Steppes is available on Alephtar Games' web-site. I suggest you pay particular attention to the bit about shamans, which are one of the key aspects of nomad life.


Mellified Man (蜜人)

from a suggestion on G+ by Joshua Bearden; text from Wikipedia

Mellified man, or human mummy confection, was a legendary medicinal substance created by steeping a human cadaver in honey. The concoction is mentioned only in Chinese sources, most significantly the Běncǎo Gāngmù (本草綱目) of the 16th-century Chinese pharmacologist Lǐ Shízhēn (李時珍, 1518-1593). Relying on a second-hand account, Lǐ reports a story that some elderly men, nearing the end of their lives, would submit themselves to a process of mummification in honey to create a healing confection.

This process differed from a simple body donation because of the aspect of self-sacrifice; the mellification process would ideally start before death. The donor would stop eating any food other than honey, going as far as to bathe in the substance. Shortly, his faeces (and even his sweat, according to legend) would consist of honey. When this diet finally proved fatal, the donor's body would be placed in a stone coffin filled with honey.

After a century or so, the contents would have turned into a sort of confection reputedly capable of healing broken limbs and other ailments. This confection would then be carefully sold in street markets as a hard to find item with a hefty price.


Leprosy (lài 癩)

Leprosy in East Asia is believed to be caused by (a) bad geomancy or (b) bad karma. People with leprosy are marginalised and discriminated against. Lepers are restricted to living in leper colonies, remote villages isolated from the rest of the population, or even secluded on islands (esp. in Korea). Lepers are deprived of their inheritance rights.

Because of fear, stigma, and revulsion toward lepers, the latter may travel quite unhinderedly— constables or guards, for instance, will refuse to search their body and belongings. On the other hand, what explanation can they provide for not being restricted to their colony?

If you're using The Celestial Empire, the Status skill of a leper is limited to 20%. If you're using Monsters & Magic, the Status attribute of a leper is limited to 4.