Emperor’s Hand – A Design Story (& Print+Play)

Comple 0.8asmall

Emperor’s Hand is a young game, born this very year. Speaking as someone who’s been working on the same (unreleased) game for over half a decade, that’s a very quick turnaround.

The game is in some ways finished, but in other ways not. The deepest problem with it is that it only truly works in the 3-5 player range, a rather

So, here’s a run-through of how the game came to be. You may want to take a look at the print and play to fully understand the details described.

The Spark of Inspiration

The simple answer to “what inspired this game?” is this contest on TheGameCrafter (which we didn’t enter due to the unfinished state of the game’s artwork) and its linked video on Trick-Taking mechanics, but without context that doesn’t really give the right idea of what happened.

To me, inspiration is about a spark that starts a fire burning inside my mind, illuminating a new idea – It’s a single moment of thought that grows into something more – but it is nothing without fuel.

In this case the fuel was something I’d been pondering for a while – the Wu Xing and the way it connects the five elements in a pair of cycles, perfect for tie-breaking or creating a set of mystical relationships.

That interest came partly from looking at the number of clones of Magic, including some that cloned it all the way down to the colour pie. But that’s another story.

So, the spark landed in potent fuel – what about using the asymmetric relationships to make a trick-taking game where the trump was neither constant nor changing, but was found in the relationship between the suits?

Designing the Game

The inspiration in place, the game was still somewhat empty – it was a simple rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock scenario, a single mechanic, along with a strong theme.

So I started to delve a little deeper into the theme – yes, every element can be said to trump two of the others (the one that creates it, and the one it destroys) but those two relationships are fundamentally different, and a good game could reflect that fact.

That’s where the idea of having positive and negative elemental modifiers on each card came into play. The first thought that followed this was that it could, potentially, be used so that every card had a unique combination of modifiers (from +5/-0 to +0/-5) ensuring that no card was always superior to any other card – but this resulted in the modifiers having an overwhelming impact, so we decided to go with the simplified +3/-0 to +0/-3 that the cards now have – accepting that a few cards would be strictly superior to their neighbours.

With that in place we had a playable, and somewhat fun, game simply by going round the table playing cards in turns. But it wasn’t great – it was mediocre. So we started looking for ways to improve it, making it both more tactical and (vitally) more fun.

The quickest way to find new tricks for a game is to look at old designs, whether your own or others, and draw from them. If possible, looking for solutions that were both:

1) Aimed at the same problem; &

2) Successful in solving it.

In the case of Emperor’s Hand the most immediate problem was Kingmaking – the last person to play in each hand was the most likely to win, but they always knew whether or not they would win, and if they couldn’t (due to not having the right card) they weren’t just throwing away a worthless card – the modifiers from their card could well tip the balance between the other players, deciding who won. Not a fun situation to be in.

This was a new problem for us – but it belonged to a broader category of problems: People who play later knowing too much. That broader category has a common solution that can almost always be applied in card games – simultaneous (face-down) play – so we applied that solution…

We didn’t even need to playtest the face-down play to realise that it caused a big problem in turn; it removed all the information, meaning that every round the starting environment was identical, with nothing to inform the choice. We needed something to differentiate one round from the next, an element in play before the face-down stage, and there were two elegant ways to do that:

1) Reveal and discard the top card of the deck each round, counting that card’s element as being in play; or

2) Have one of the players play face up, and then the rest play face down – so there’s a first player but no last player.

We’d used the first option before, and it worked, but it didn’t feel quite right for this game, so I decided to try option 2 and, in order to kill two birds with one stone, I made the player who played face up be the player who won the previous hand – thereby making it less likely to have overwhelming victories, even when there’s a significant skill gap.

The last decision we made purely in what I think of as the design phase was creating the dragons. The dragons were a way to add further variety to the game, without significantly increasing the complexity – and they are effectively free in terms of printing costs. 1)A Note on Numbers

Throughout the design process, we often looked at the possibility of using an 88 card deck, due to the positive associations of that number in Chinese culture. It may seem odd, therefore, that we eventually settled on a 54 card deck, as 4 is an unlucky number connected with death. While in part this number of cards was a sacrifice to practicality (88 would be more apt, but it required complicating the game) we did take a look at the aesthetic meanings – while 4 itself is unlucky, 54 isn’t, because 5 has a connection with “no”, making 54 “no death” – not always a good thing, but rarely a bad one

The design on the dragons took a few steps – we had four cards to work with, so using the four cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) seemed obvious, and they correspond neatly to Up, Down, Right and Left. Up and down were trivial – doubling the bonuses and penalties from the elements makes for a significant departure of tactics while accentuating (rather than damaging) the core gameplay.

Right and Left also had immediate connections – the player’s to your right and left – but those were less easily applied. We started with the principle that the cards should never cancel out, so the two had to interact with your neighbours in different ways. Passing cards wasn’t a huge leap, though the first draft passed the cards whole hand – which proved to be somewhat meaningless, so we switched to passing a single card. Playing for another player on the other hand was something unusual, but it’s a trick that often works – making players play to lose is often a fun twist.

DragonEast DragonWest

There’s much more to the game – and still more changes to come before the final version – but these are the elements that I’d count as the original design. I’ll talk about the changes since then later.

Next week, however, will be talking about Jigsaw Fantasy

Until then, Be Well

-Ste

Comments

References   [ + ]

1. A Note on Numbers

Throughout the design process, we often looked at the possibility of using an 88 card deck, due to the positive associations of that number in Chinese culture. It may seem odd, therefore, that we eventually settled on a 54 card deck, as 4 is an unlucky number connected with death. While in part this number of cards was a sacrifice to practicality (88 would be more apt, but it required complicating the game) we did take a look at the aesthetic meanings – while 4 itself is unlucky, 54 isn’t, because 5 has a connection with “no”, making 54 “no death” – not always a good thing, but rarely a bad one

Jigsaw Fantasy – With Freebies

Monstrous Mondays has had its first month, and I hope you enjoyed it, but to avoid burnout April’s going to have a somewhat different focus – each Monday we’ll be talking about a different one of our ongoing or upcoming projects, plans and/or products.

This week it’s Jigsaw Fantasy that’s on the agenda

jigsaw logo colour transp bearowl

What is Jigsaw Fantasy?

Jigsaw Fantasy is our monthly series of RPG setting elements on Patreon, a stream of releases aimed at middling to experienced GMs lacking either the time or the energy to create every aspect of the world they’re running – or who simply want a little extra inspiration to help them on their way.

Each release is between 18 and 22 pages long and details a region, set of characters, or organisation in sufficient detail to provide fodder for at least half a dozen game sessions.

Why is it Unique?

There are a lot of RPG setting pieces out there, but Jigsaw Fantasy takes its name from its unique trick – Jigsaw Links.

Each Jigsaw Piece includes a set of footnotes explaining how to link it in to other pieces of writing, including established settings, mythology, and our other creations – making it easier for a GM to fit it into their own world by providing context on how things can be clicked together.

Take a Look

In addition to the Patreon you can learn more by checking out the two free releases of Jigsaw Fantasy – The Wandering Tavern and our April Fools release “My Little Yeti Ranch

Next week we’ll be looking at Emperor’s Hand – a card game that has been brought home for redevelopment to expand its player range from 3-6 to 2-8.

Comments

What is a Monster – Monstrous Mondays

Ed Note: This was meant to go up on the first week of March, but I, umm, forgot…

What Is A Monster

They are the creatures of your deepest, darkest nightmare, and yet we use them to tell stories, to protect, to explain the things we do not understand – or do not wish to – and so much more.

We need them for all these reasons but most of all, we need them because they cause fear, a powerful feeling. It is a feeling that we need to protect us from things like fire and to help us understand the world – but it also can be used against us. This is why we need to understand fear, which monsters help us to do, they create a context to which other fears can be compared.

Monsters can come in many forms – legendary creatures, illness, mutations of man and animals. Over the centuries we have learned to fight, understand and explain these monsters but we still use them to tell our stories. Sometimes those stories twist the original myths almost unrecognisably – but the core is always drawn from something that came before.

What I find most interesting about monsters is the history, stories, and what caused these stories to begin – what the monster could actually be and their physiology.

So I will be giving a write up of a monsters each week, from Z-A to help you with your game and stories.

Comments

X is for Xiezhi – Monstrous Mondays

HK Wan Chai China Resources Building animal statue 01 Xiezhi Oct-2012

This is a new one to me, chosen because… well there aren’t many monsters beginning with “x” other than Xenomorphs from the alien moves.

History

The Xiezhi is a goat like creature from Han Dynasty (206 BCE) of China, it was said it could find wrongdoers and see evil and injustice better than any man.

Over the centuries many stories have been told all over china about how it used its horn to point out who had started a fight or argument. It horn would glow and it would point at whoever was at fault in the argument and, if the fault was sufficiently severe it would charge, ramming at them with its horn, gouging holes in them. If the wrongdoer tried to escape the Xiezhi would kill and eat them.

The stories tell of how the emperor would use one as judge of crimes and criminals, and that he trusted its word so much that he declared it the only thing which could judge the emperor himself.

Because of this unique power over the emperor, it was the ultimate symbol for law and justice – and it remains so even to this day, it can be seen in buildings of law and order like the law schools, police stations, courthouses, and some police uniforms even feature them.

Over the centuries as this creature fell into myths its shape has shifted and changed, to a point where the statues of it look vastly different from one location to another. Some show a simple goat with one horn other have features of dragons or lions as well as some form of horn.

Physiology

From horn to tail.

  • It has a long horn on it head which can find evil and wrong doer.
  • The head is sometime that of a goat, but more often that of a lion or dragon.
  • It stands on all fours and has a stocky body which can be depicted in scales, fur, or a mixture of the two.
  • It can have hooves or clawed feet.
  • Lastly it has short stubby tail like a goat’s.

Questions

  • Why does it change its form?
    • Perhaps its a sign of age, or perhaps it has one form for battle and another for peace.
  • Is the horn useful magically?
    • If so, how do you get the horn? Can the Xiezhi be killed and the horn cut out, or does it have to be freely given – or does it lose its horn/antlers and grow (a) new one(s), like a deer, so you just have to wait for it to fall out – although the dead antlers may be less potent in their effects.
  • What allows it to see who is a wrongdoer? Is it the horn or eyes or brain or is it some other part of the body? 
  • Do the scales or hide have any powers?
    • Perhaps a cloak made from Xiezhi skin would hide signs of evil from all magical senses
  • Could it be used to hunt people down over long distances?
  • Can it be wrong? And if so what are the causes (and consequences) of this?
  • What other powers do they have?
  • Can they hurt demons since they can sense evil?

 

Story ideas

  • If you’re in a fantasy setting it could be some kind of god or a steed of one.
  • Since its form shifts maybe it is a shapeshifter – in D&D it could be a form taken by Gold Dragons.
  • A wild west story where a Xiezhi help a Sheriff find criminals.

 

References

http://chinese-unicorn.com/ch01/

http://traditionscustoms.com/folk-beliefs/xiezhi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiezhi

http://artatrunnymede.com/magna-carta-xiezhi/

http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/25Arts1424.html

http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2013-11/26/content_30711101.htm

Comments

Y is for Yeti – Monstrous Mondays

ED: This post is mislabelled – it was written by Amy Coffey, but posted from the wrong wordpress account.

Yeti by Philippe Semeria

If I say “yeti” you likely think of a white, hairy, apeman – but there’s more to this monster than that.

History

Yeti – also known as the Abominable Snowman – is a monster that is rooted deeply in native Himalayan beliefs, as the monster that will take you away if you go out onto the mountains alone.

Over the centuries there have been story told by the Sherpas the people of Nepal, Bhutan,and Tibet. Of a 8ft tall man-bear or wild-man with unthinkable strength and endurance, which lives in the deepest reaches of the himalayan mountains and if you come across them, they will take your innocence, drain your strength and consume youth.

Interest in them didn’t start in the west until the mid 20th century when Eric Shipton was searching for a route to scale Mount Everest from Nepal, where he and his sherpas saw footprints in the snow and they said they were made by a yeti. Many theories have been made over the years as to what had made those large footprints and what in fact a yeti is. Some say it is the missing link between man and ape, other say it is a form of ape, or a large species of bear, or even a god of the hunt of a long forgotten religion.

Many people believe it to be a very large species of bear that has not been identified, or a crossbreed of a grizzly and polar bear, both seem feasible and make sense since the name “Yeti” itself may come from either “Ya-Dred”, meaning “Rock Bear” or “Yeh-Teh” meaning “Little Man”.

Cryptozoologists apply a semi-scientific approach, and tend to support the idea that it is more ape like and maybe even a type of neanderthal, a missing link that we have not found – rather than anything either supernatural, mundane or mythological.

Across the world there several forms of this creature that all live in remote place and look like an ape-man-bear thing – there’s the yeti in Nepal, the Sasquatch in USA, The Almasty in Russia, the Orang Pendek in Indonesia and the oddest I’ve found reference to is the Yowie from the Australian wilderness, this is odd since there are no bears or apes in this part of the world the largest mammals are man and kangaroo. It interesting that a very similar myth existed in so many different parts of the world, parts that have no relation to each other.

 

Physiology

From head to foot.

  • They appear human or ape like, they have flat – snoutless – faces, usually with small eyes, a big flat nose and a pronounced jaw like a gorillas but with sharp teeth.
  • Broad shoulders and a strong muscular chest.
  • Strong, long arms.
  • Sharp nails on leathery human-like hands.
  • Most have large muscular legs which bring them up to 8ft tall if not more – but the Orang Pendek only stand at about 3ft.
  • Huge, leathery feet.
  • Have hair all over which can be any of white, grey, brown or red and sasquatch can be black as well.
  • They’re stronger than any man.

Behaviour and Habitat

  • They are usually territorial and often hostile but smart, often killing both animals and people.
  • They tend to be found in mountainous areas, thick forests and other forms of harsh wilderness.
  • The stories suggest they have some kind of life draining power.

Ideas for stories

  • How do work when you cross breed them with other humanoids like elves.
  • A breeding ranch.
  • If they are smart they may have magic users among them
  • Yeti are stealing young girls, why and how do you go about saving them.
  • You could have a quest to collect yeti hides to create clothing that can give strength.

 

Comments

Z is for Zombies – Introducing Monstrous Mondays

 

For the duration of March, Mondays will play host to monstrous beasts and beings. While we intend to eventually complete a full alphabet for these too, Mam Bach was getting burnout from 6 months of Mythic Mondays, so we’ll be doing it one month at a time.

Zombies

Zombies are everywhere today – books, movie and games, both tabletop and computer – so it might be hard to work out how to give this monster a new and interesting twist in your game and stories. Sometimes the easiest way to make something new is to look to the old:

History

Zombies are in some ways a very new monster, since the version in a lot of people’s’ minds has only been around since the 1960s – but their origins are older than that, with the first written description being from 1816 Brazil.

The term “zombie” has its roots in Voodoo1)Or Vodou, Vodoun or whichever spelling is chosen – it was not originally a written religion, and thus spellings are varied., which is practised mostly in Haiti though it derives from a mixture of African religions crossing with Christianity. In Voodoo a zombie is a dead person who has been revived by a bokor, a Voodoo sorcerer – that person is then under control of the bokor.

Many stories suggest that darker bokor use a somewhat alchemical ritual to make living people into zombies. It usually involves a specially prepared mix of earth, roots and tetrodotoxin (which comes from a pufferfish or related species). If done correctly it can leave someone alive but not in control of their own body.

There is also an astral zombie, a person’s soul that has captured by a bokor to use for magical purposes, this suggests that making someone into a zombie may split their body and soul which may be why the zombie has no free will.

Priestly bokor are rarely said to deal in the physical zombies, but may interact with the astral form, using their aid to heal the wounded and infirm.

So far these zombie are far away from the zombie we know and love today. Indeed, modern zombies are more akin to other forms of undead than to the Voodoo zombie. Many forms of media have been involved in the journey to the zombies we know today.

The earliest zombie apocalypse story might well be “The Day of The Triffids” – a book where sentient plants, which move around in herds, slowly hunt down humans to eat – making a rattling noise to communicate with each other when they find fortified prey. The similarities to modern zombies notably include the requirement that they be decapitated in order to kill them.

The next notable development is in another book “I Am Legend”, they still seem to move around in herds but were only active by night because they were essentially a form of apocalyptic vampires but the main character treats them like they were zombies, thinking them mindless beasts.

Cementing the zombie into popular culture was “Night of The Living Dead”2)Aided by the fact it became public domain upon release where the creatures have almost all of the archetypical qualities or the modern zombie, though they are called ghouls by a character within the films, with the term zombie coming from the fans and the John Russo series of sequel films – which also introduced the famous hunger for brains.

These are not all the examples but they are major parts of how the myth became what it is today.

History in your Games and Stories

One way you could use the ideas from the Voodoo zombie in your games and stories is the person could be saveable, if their soul (the astral zombie) could be recombined with the physical zombie – which means killing them may become a dilemma for your protagonists, especially if the victim is known to them.

There could also be a cure for the zombie-creating alchemy, needing rare ingredients that the players must quest for. Or there could be a great sorcerer who knows how to reverse the ritual and bring the friend back from the dead but of course you have to go and find this sorcerer first or you may have to do something immoral for the sorcerer to get your friends back.

Drawing instead from “I Am Legend” you could instead choose to have a zombie infection that behaves differently in the living and the dead – with those already dead upon infection being animated as mindless ghouls, but those who were alive remaining somewhat aware and possibly even being able to recover their faculties while remaining zombified.

Physiology

Zombies are usually only humans, though some games and films, such as resident evil have zombie beasts – most often dogs. Still these are rare enough that I’ll be mostly ignoring them for this section.

Zombie are often dead even though they can walk and make noise, but there are many examples where this is not the case, often with a more “scientific” approach to zombies.

One modern example where a living human has been mystically zombified by tetrodotoxin is done well in the TV series Grimm: though the zombified individuals lose willpower they are not innately dangerous – unless something goes wrong.

They’re usually mindless beasts, all they know is the need to feed – often specifically on living humans, like in Walking Dead, but there are examples of such zombies being capable of thought or even smart in stories such as iZombie and zNation.

Occasionally instead of hunger they have an irrational need to kill – such as in 28 Days Later – with the eating of their victims being an afterthought or even an irrelevance.

They tend not to be able to see well in the dark and are attracted by light, sounds and some can smell fresh of blood so sometime hiding is better than fighting, you may even be walk among them by covering yourself in rotting fresh and old blood, like they do in The Walking Dead.

They are usually hard to kill, and tougher than the average human in a fight – usually a head shot will kill them but as always there are examples that go again this rule, such as Braindead with has the zombies animated by magic and has any part which is dead come to life, with only way to end it being to understand and break the curse.

Their skin can be anywhere from slightly grubby to green, thin and rotting with skin missing and bone visible – sometimes both extremes can even coexist, based on the age of the zombified corpse.

If the zombie are reanimated from old buried bodied they can often be boney with hard, yellow nails which can be claw like.

They are not usually ambush killer, they tend to make groaning noises which let their prey know that they are coming but also let other zombies know where food can be found, giving them a strong pack mentality, all of these things are clearly seen in Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and George Romero’s films.

Being a zombie is often seen as contagious disease that is spread by being bitten or scratched by them or a mixing of the blood like in 28 Days Later – but this is not always the case, it’s common that everyone who dies is reanimated, and being bitten or scratched simply accelerates the process.

Using Their Physiology in Your Games and Stories

Firstly it’s important to consider how you can mix any of the possibilities together – it may seem hard to work out how you can be a living zombie with rotting skin but a fungus or a rare bacteria that released tetrodotoxin and ate away your skin would make you mindless and allow the skin to rot even before death.

Then think what setting your story is in. In science fiction you’d likely want some sort of virus or nanite infection – but you’d also have alien zombies which could still have many of the abilities of the alien, for instance they could have telepathy and have a full on hivemind like the borg. Or perhaps you have a species without a mouth, that eats in some other way, like through their skin, and they just need to touch you to infect you.

In a superheroes setting your zombies might keep mutant powers like super strength, this means they could rips legs and arms away. Or what if your zombies virus can mutate – how does the virus change the physiology of the people that are infected.

Comments

References   [ + ]

1. Or Vodou, Vodoun or whichever spelling is chosen – it was not originally a written religion, and thus spellings are varied.
2. Aided by the fact it became public domain upon release

Talk About Timing – The Upcoming Emperor’s Hand

In fitting with the theme of this week’s post, it’s coming out a few hours late.

Why? Well, this week I want to talk to you about our schedule. First things first:

Emperor’s Hand is Coming to Kickstarter
March 9th to April 2nd

With that said, one thing might stick out – it’s a week shorter than most kickstarters. There are a number of reasons for that, and I’d like to go through them:

1) A shorter Kickstarter means less slowdown in the middle.
Our previous kickstarters have had less than 20% of their funding happen in the middle two weeks, with only ~5% or so in the middle 7 days. Missing out on that 5% isn’t great, but there’s no guarantee that we will. In fact, by having only 3 weeks the starting rush and the ending jump may run together – as some kickstarter’s have found in the past – and create more hype.

2) Running a Kickstarter is a lot of work and stress.
We already have a lot to do, and marketing etc. for a Kickstarter eat into that time, along with the stress of every day where the backing drops below the prior, and never knowing how much it’ll pick back up in the end. Dropping the middle week cuts that stress significantly – by at least 1/4, but likely closer to 1/3.

3) We want its profit in this tax year. (By April 5th)
We’ve been converting some stock into cash this year by trading at conventions, but we have made very little net profit. For various reasons we’re optimistic of much more income next tax year, and having nothing this year and all of it next is suboptimal, so we want to end this tax year.
Given that we’re not ready to launch this week, a three week Kickstarter is the longest we can fit in.

And last, but certainly not least

4) We have big things planned for later this year.
Clash of Blades, the game I’ve been working on for the last 6 years, is finally ready to launch, with no more nits to pick. But I don’t feel ready to send it out to crowdfunding right now. In all our previous kickstarters something has gone wrong, and we’ve delivered slightly behind schedule. While our Patreon has shown that we can stick to a monthly schedule, we want to do something bigger, with more moving parts and some physical fulfilment, to prove (both to our backers and to ourselves) that we are ready for all the trials involved.
But we also want to launch Clash by the middle of this year – and that means that we have to have the precursor project done and dusted by that point.

Comments

Help Us Choose a Name

In the next week or two we’re going to launch a Kickstarter campaign for our new game. The campaign will fund production costs and artwork. As you can see from the images attached to this post the cards are functional but not spectacular, and we would really like the game to be beautiful.
8 of Trees

Wish us luck with the growth of this game

We also need a name. That’s where you can help right now. We have four names we are considering:

  • Elemental Dynasty
  • Emperor’s Hand
  • Hand of the Five Elements
  • Pentelemental

It’s a fun, elegant card game themed around the five Chinese elements: Fire, Metal, Earth, Tree1) Sometimes called Wood, and Water. Each card represents one element, and is numbered from one to ten. As the elements have a complex interplay of creation and destruction, each card also gains a bonus from each card in play that represents the element that feeds it, and a penalty from those that harm it. Lower numbers gain bigger bonuses and smaller penalties, and vice versa.

The Elemental Pentad has many interactions

The Elemental Pentad has many interactions

Each round, The Emperor plays a card face up, then everyone else plays one face down. When all the cards are revealed, whoever has the highest number, after taking into account bonuses and penalties from other cards, wins the round and becomes emperor. Players can try to second guess each other to gain bonuses and avoid penalties. There are a few optional rules, such as the Dragons of the Four Seas, that mix things up a little and increase replayability, but that’s the core of the game.

So, from those four names, which is your favourite?

 

Comments

References   [ + ]

1.  Sometimes called Wood

Alphabetically Binge Collected Deities – Easily

Mythic Mondays has just ended, so we’re taking a short break.

For this week I’ve decided to put out something simple but useful – an index of the various gods in Mythic Mondays in alphabetical order.

Artemis

Balder

Chulyen/Crow

Dionysus

Ereshkagel

Frigg/Freya

Gwydion Gwyn

Hades

Isis

Juno

Kronos

Loki

Morrigan

Neptune

Osiris

Phoebus Apollo

Quetzalcoatl

Raijin

Sedna

Tiamat

Uenuku

Vulcan

Woden

Xerces

Yoruba

Zhang

And of course, the two special members of the sequence:

October 31st is for Samhain – Mythic Mondays

&

Clashing with the Naga Demon

Soon we will be beginning another weekly run – this time of Monstrous Mondays, and just as with Mythic Mondays we’ll be looking at a mix of the well-known and the obscure, from many different cultures. That run may not be uninterrupted – we have plans for a Kickstarter in the midst of it, and may well switch authors – but we’ll eventually have a full alphabet of those two.

Let us know what you think so far, and we’ll see you next week with something else a little different.

P.S. if you’re enjoying this content, consider backing our Patreon as a $1 philanthropist – this series may have been a labour of love on Mam Bach’s part, but we can only afford to work on such things when funds allow – for less than a cup of coffee a month you can help keep that possible. – Ste

Comments

Z is for Zhang – Mythic Mondays

A woodcut of Zhang Guo

A woodcut of Zhang Guo

One might expect to struggle to find a Z, but if one heads to the Orient, one finds a plethora of deities which we transliterate with a Z.

The Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy has a thousand servants – many of whom are deified humans – so their names resemble those of mortals. From General Zhao Yun, to Emperor Zi Ying, to Philosopher Zheng Xuan  – anyone of sufficient greatness can claim a place in the Jade Court of Heaven.

This proliferation does lead to over specialisation – many new deities are the Tut-ti, whose realm is small – particular villages, streets, or even individual houses. Greater souls (particularly those of Emperors) can govern larger realms – Yu the great, founder of the Xia dynasty is a water deity, and protector of ships at sea.

I’ve chosen a story from the most eccentric of the Eight Immortals of the Taoist pantheon. As usual, I’ve switched about details to read better, and here I’ve introduced an element from a different story.

Story of the Soul

Zhang was a an alchemist experimenter, and a maker of wines.One day, after drinking a little too much of his own stock, he took a walk into the mountains, where he found a delicious looking mushroom. It was as big as his own head, and Zhang took it and ate it all up, licking all the the tasty juices.from his fingers

Now, wandering in mountains whilst drunk is dangerous, and sure enough, Zhang fell. He tumbled down the mountain. He should have died from such a fall, and when he landed at the bottom, he realised he had consumed one of the Mushrooms of Immortality.

With more time to think about everything, Zhang left his experiments. He took to wandering the countryside on a paper donkey, which he had animated by magic. This donkey could take him a thousand miles a day, and needed no food, At the end of the day, Zhang folded his donkey neatly into his pocket

The Emperor, on hearing of the wise teachings of this philosopher, summoned him to Luoyang, to be the chief of the Imperial Academy. The necromancer Ye Fashan, whose opinion was valued at court, came to the Emperor and warned against the appointment.

“Why, who is this Zhang Guolao, that I should not reward his wisdom”

“If I were to reveal the truth to Your Majesty, I would drop down dead of the malice of him” said the cunning necromancer.

“I command you to tell me!” said the Emperor

So the necromancer proclaimed Zhang to be a white bat, spun out of Chaos. And as he had said, such a truth was not for mortal lips, and he fell down dead. The Emperor, being not quite mortal himself, knew that this meant that Zhang was a member of the Celestial Bureaucracy. So the Emperor went to Zhang and begged forgiveness for Ye. And Zhang came to the court, and poured water over Ye’s corpse, which rose to life again.

Soon after, Zhang fell ill and returned to his home on Zhongtiao Mountain. He remained still for three days, and his followers built a tomb for him. But on the anniversary of his seeming death, his tomb was opened for the people to pay homage to him, but the body had gone. No one knows where he went, but there have ever since been stories in that area, of folk who met the great philosopher, and benefited from his wisdom.

In your Games and Stories.

The Jade Court is intensely political, and an ideal backdrop for stories where quid-pro-quo is the order of the day.The various small goods, philosophers and courtiers are all trying to progress through the Hierarchy, and might well trade favours with protagonists. Or antagonists, for that matter.

Because of the profusion of small gods in the Bureaucracy, Zhang is marked as “patron of the elderly”. This tells us something about Chinese society – that they consider the aged to be worth protecting. One has to wonder what other specialists the Jade Court harbours – and what counterparts wander the Thousand Hells.

Zhang isn’t terribly powerful on his own, and is unlikely to feature in shrines or temples. His tomb might be intriguing to explore – how did he pull off the vanishing trick? – but would be unlikely to be full of easily looted treasure. Likewise, as a spell-granter, Zhang is likely to need to borrow from other bureaucrats – so would likely favour a spell of trade. Best example is Empire LRP’s Scales of Ephisis – Put something in the box, receive something of equal value, for a given idea of value.

Outro

So that’s twenty-six gods, and a festival. If your clerical character can’t find someone to follow, you’re just going to have to write your own god. Or pantheon. And a world for them to inhabit. We’re hoping to write a book, with just such world-building help – with a bit more anthropological viewpoint, where here we’ve concentration on story-building.

I’ve enjoyed sharing the stories of these gods with you, but now I’m going to hand off the blog to Amy, who plans to provide you with more monsters than you could shake a really big stick at. Do we make monster-shaking sticks, Boss?

Unfortunately not. We do have a nice selection of other items however, along with an ongoing series of worldbuilding works by the name of Jigsaw Fantasy.

Comments