The Chinese Empire is huge, and, alas!, the Son of Heaven cannot guarantee the safety of his subjects in each corner of this vast expanse.
This is particularly true for travellers: the various troops and militias are stationed in the yámen of the major cities of the Empire, in the garrisons at the barbarian frontiers, and wherever enemy raids are expected. This leaves out huge swaths of land, amongst which the mountains — which the Chinese strongly dislike anyway.
Mountains are where banditry is rife. Any right-minded traveller will stay on the roads of the Empire and give the mountains a wide berth. However, for various reasons, most notably when they are in a hurry and want to try out a shortcut, some travellers do cross the mountains. And, unavoidably, they also cross the path of the bandits living therein.
This is when this small table comes in handy.
D30 | Local bandits are... 01 | ...bloodthirsty maniacs. No discussion, no quarter. They will even pursue fleeing travellers. 02 | ...rapists. They will concentrate their efforts on kidnapping any young and/or good-looking female traveller to bring back to their mountain den to be used as a sex slave. 03 | ...from an ethnic minority that has been displaced by Hàn colonists. They hate the Hàn and will concentrate their attack on Hàn travellers. 04 | ...bored local ne'er-do-wells. If their opponents resist their attack, they will leave them alone. 05 | ...Rivers-and-Lakes (Jiānghú 江湖, see p9 of The Celestial Empire) types looking for a challenge. They will boast about their nickname/their preferred weapon/their fighting style, and expect their victims to fight, not necessarily to the death. 06 | ...army deserters. They are looking for clothes and food. 07 | ...a group of bandits posing as an extended family travelling together. Roll 1D6 for the leader (1: the so-called wife of the family head, 2-3: the faux family head, 4: one of the unassuming travellers, 5: the one who looks like the elder son, 6: the one who is looking after the cart). 08 | ...fellow travellers down on their luck. They have resorted to robbing because they are famished. 09 | ...travelling entertainers supplementing their meagre earnings with armed robbery. They have excellent Dexterity and acrobatics-related skills. 10 | ...assassin-retainers setting up a trap for another group of travellers. They don't want any witnesses and will hence kill the party to the last man. 11 | ...defrocked monks. They will act as #06 or #08 above, but will fall to their knees and start crying if there is a monk or a priest of the same Allegiance as theirs in the party. 12 | ...a party of knights-errant who mistakenly assume that the party are bandits! 13 | ...professional robbers. They will clearly state their name and profession, hoping to scare their victims into fleeing after having left their valuables behind, but will fiercely fight if necessary. They are of average strength (skills in the 35% range); the leader is in the 50% range. 14 | ...professional robbers. They will clearly state their name and profession, hoping to scare their victims into fleeing after having left their valuables behind, but will fiercely fight if necessary. They are of above-average strength (skills in the 50% range); the leader is in the 65% range. 15 | ...professional robbers. They will clearly state their name and profession, hoping to scare their victims into fleeing after having left their valuables behind, but will fiercely fight if necessary. They are quite strong (skills in the 65% range); the leader is in the 80% range. 16 | ...clever planners. They have been observing the party for hours through their spies in the mountain, and know most of their strengths and weaknesses. Allow bonuses as appropriate, depending on how the PCs react. 17 | ...very astute planners. They have been observing the party for days via their agents in the inns in the region, and know all of their strengths and weaknesses. Allow bonuses as appropriate, depending on how the PCs react. 18 | ...of a quasi-military kind of organisation (à la Water Margin). Unless composed of high-level PCs (skills in the 90% range), the party don't stand a chance. They will be captured by the bandits and will be held for ransom. 19 | ...the agents of an evil Daoist sorcerer, looking for special components for a heterodox ritual (e.g., "the liver of a virgin", or "the blood of a monster-hunter"). 20 | ...a party of merchants down on their luck. They have been robbed themselves of their wares, and have resorted to robbing to recoup their losses. They are clumsy fighters. 21 | ...hardened outlaws, who will readily assess the situation, and understand where valuables are hidden (if any). 22 | ...scholars at odds with authority. They don't wear any armour, and don't look like fighting men, but they are actually well versed in the art of war, taking full advantage of the features of the terrain, and possessing above-average fighting skills. 23 | ...the bored offspring of the local dignitaries. They are weak fighters, and will drop their weapons and flee as soon as they realise that their opponents are way above their level. However, they will run to the local magistrate and pretend they have been attacked by the PCs; the latter will hence be in serious trouble with the local authorities. 24 | ...the bored offspring of the local dignitaries. They are capable fighters. Should any of them be killed by the PCs, the latter will be in serious trouble with the local authorities. 25 | ...vixen spirits (see p112 of TCE) with glamour-like magic. The bandit party is composed of the charmed former victims of the yāohú, ordered to act like vicious bandits. The vixen spirits, who look like damsels in distress, expect the PCs to 'save' them from the 'bandits'. Once they've been 'saved', they will take advantage of the journey to try and charm the party, and the story will repeat itself... 26 | ...bànyāo serving a mìngmó (p112 and p117 of TCE). The mìngmó lives above a yīn ley line (see p85 of TCE), and needs the PCs for some nefarious purpose. This particular encounter is more like a mini-adventure and needs extra preparation work from the GM. 27 | ...chīmèi (p113 of TCE). They look for magic items, spell books, etc. Riches do not interest them. 28 | ...wǎngliǎng (p115 of TCE). They are fanatically anti-Buddhist, and will first and foremost target Buddhist PCs. 29 | ...yaksha (p126 of TCE) posing as human travellers. They are looking for yet more riches to add to their treasure, hidden in a deep cave in the mountain. If the PCs look poor, they will ignore them. If the PCs look rich, the yaksha will wait for the best opportunity to steal their riches. Yaksha are not particularly hostile, and will prefer ruse to brute force. However, they are extremely greedy, and will stubbornly hang on to their plan if they PCs are indeed wealthy. 30 | ...a party of monster-hunters who mistakenly assume that the party are really monsters posing as human travellers.
There have been a few posts in the gaming blogosphere about describing your setting in 25 words, e.g. here.
This post will provide a means to randomly fill in those 25 words. It will also double as a random Celestial Empire campaign game generator.
The setting is a [1st keyword][2nd keyword] set in [3rd keyword] dynasty [4th keyword]. The player characters are pitted against [5th keyword] set to [6th keyword]. Most of their foes are [7th keyword].
Table No.4, keyword: region
1: Inner Asia
3-5: North China
6-7: Lower Yángzi
10-11: South China
12: islands and seas
Table No.5, keyword: foes
2-3: Members of the (Roll 1D6) 1-4: eunuch faction, 5-6: anti-eunuch faction
4-5: Members of the (Roll 1D6) 1-2: military, 3-4: secret police, 5-6: bureaucracy
9: Members of a shètuán (TCE p100)
10: Members of an ethnic minority
11: Members of a sect
Table No.6, keyword: aim
1-2: Amass power
3: Amass wealth
4-5: Further their agenda
6-7: Travel (Roll 1D6) 1-2: through China proper, 3-4: through the frontier provinces, 5-6: abroad
8-9: Fight against their opposite faction— or a GM-devised one if no opposite faction exists
Table No.7, keyword: allegiance
Use the Religion availability table appropriate to the dynasty rolled in Table No.3 above, see p48 of TCE.
More campaign game ideas are available in The Celestial Empire on p18-20 and on p40-41.
Introductory text adapted from the Wikipedia entry Chén Dì (陳第, 1541-1617) was a Chinese philologist, strategist, and traveller of the Míng Dynasty. A native of Fújiàn [South China], he was versed in both pen and sword. As a strategist, he served under Qī Jìguāng and others for many years before retiring to occupy himself with studies and travel. As a traveller, in his 1603 Dōngfānjì (東番記, Record of the Eastern Aborigines), he provides the first description of the island of Formosa and of its indigenous inhabitants. As a philologist, he was the first to demonstrate that Classical Chinese had its own phonological system [different from the contemporary spoken language].
CHÉN DÌ - Celestial Empire version STR 17 CON 15 SIZ 13 INT 11 POW 11 DEX 9 APP 11 EDU 15 Hit Points 14 Major Wound 7 Qì 11 Age 62
Confucianism 38, Daoism 4
Home Region: South China Profession: Soldier Status: 65%
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 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 Qì 18 Age 55 (first voyage) to 65 (last voyage)
China is an immense empire. Although it is an empire, it lacks feudality: there aren't any local rulers below the emperor.
China is a centralised empire: the emperor sends out magistrates to rule the various provinces in his name. The magistrate is a lonely person who must perform day-to-day governance, mete out justice, oversee tax collection, road repairs, and churn out reports for the bureaucracy in the capital, and who changes location every three years to avoid becoming enmeshed in local politics.
These magistrates are hence quite lonely individuals. Some of them are over zealous, some others spend their time reading poetry whilst ignoring the local bumpkins. Some of them are incorruptible, some others amass bribes...
So whenever your PCs arrive in a new city, you may want to roll on this table to have quick and fast ideas for the behaviour of the local magistrate. This is especially useful if the PCs have ran afoul of the laws of the Empire.
D30 | Local magistrate is... 01 | ...a very thorough investigator. He explores all paths, interrogates all witnesses irrespective of their social class, and keeps all suspects in gaol during the investigations. 02 | ...incorruptible. 03 | ...exaggeratedly social and friendly. 04 | ...a bookworm obsessed with antiquity. For each case, he'll try and find a similar case in the annals of the district, and try and align his verdict on the earlier one(s). 05 | ...obsessed with the chivalric stories from the Rivers and Lakes. Should the PCs behave in a chivalrous way, the magistrate will highly respect their opinion. 06 | ...disgusted with having been assigned to this backward district. He keeps complaining about the weather/the food/the local dialect. 07 | ...a womaniser. Should the party include a female PC, the magistrate will try and sleep with her. 08 | ...gay and openly interested in the most handsome male PC. 09 | ...crazy about alchemy. His private quarters within the yámen are full of dangerous substances. 10 | ...convinced that murderers do not act by their own volition but because they are under the spell of evil spirits. In case of a murder, he will do his utmost to find an exorcist. 11 | ...only interested in complex cases and bored by straightforward ones. 12 | ...extremely wealthy and uses his wealth to further his peculiar interest or obsession (roll a second time to determine it). 13 | ...fascinated by yìqi and by the world of the Jiānghú (see p9 of The Celestial Empire). If the PCs are Rivers-and-Lakes types, he'll constantly be pestering them to hear their stories from the Rivers and Lakes. 14 | ...mostly interested in the mastery of the four pastimes. Anything else bores him. Should one of the player characters show interest in any of the four pastimes, the magistrate will become very friendly to him. 15 | ...a bigoted Buddhist. 16 | ...a good practitioner of wǔshù. Should one of the player characters be well versed in martial arts, the magistrate will try and challenge him to a fight. 17 | ...a superstitious Daoist. 18 | ...an austere Confucianist. He'll make the life of any religious PC miserable. 19 | ...a gambler. 20 | ...formerly from the Green Forest (see p9 of TCE) and lives in the terror of being exposed. 21 | ...a glutton. 22 | ...extremely distrustful of the world of the Jiānghú. If the PCs are Rivers-and-Lakes types, he'll make their life in his district miserable. 23 | ...extremely poor and always saving money on everything. 24 | ...from an ethnic minority. It's almost impossible to understand what he says. 25 | ...involved in local politics, being allied with a local clan against another local family, and always trying to take advantage of his position to hurt the interests of the latter. 26 | ...very distrustful of adventuring types. He'll try to indict the PCs. 27 | ...an active, young judge, carrying out the investigations by himself. 28 | ...stern and aloof. 29 | ...ever expecting to collect bribes. 30 | ...eager to get rid of the case. As soon as he gets someone who seems to be the culprit, he closes the case.