Over a day and a half, while I was researching for the Mandate of Heaven (which I co-ran with +John Ruddy and +Lynn Yin at Furnace in Sheffield last weekend), I’ve learnt what an absolutely fucked place/concept the Chinese 10 Courts of Hell are.
A place of torment where a system of Judges assigns you a very specific chamber of hell to be burnt/cut/pulverised in. And where after serving your sentence you drink the soup of forgetfulness and get reincarnated according to the rules of Karma into your next life. So a basic mix of extreme bureaucracy, the tales of red tape gone wrong are amazing, and demonic fury.
But what really gets me is the little touches. Such as the City of Innocents, where souls of those murdered, raped, etc get to live out their time watching the punishment of their tormentors in life!
Its all meat for the grinder, but I wonder how I’m going to keep Monkey’s usual light comedic tone, without it all going Carry on Hellraiser!
Especially with player characters like The Horse That Rots, picture by +Daniel Barker
The Horse that Rots, by Dan Barker
Furnace this weekend coming, so here’s the information about the three tables that the Mandate of Heaven runs across.
Information for players
You will need to sign up for a ‘table’. This means we’ve got table allocation done before the game starts and we can get down to playing as quickly as possible.Have a read of the intro for the adventure being run on the table, the type of player characters (or immortals as we call them in Monkey) and the Style. The last bit is important. When we sat down to discuss the game, and who was running which table it became clear that not only the tone of each table would be different due to the setting/city, but the style of each Narrator would be different. Therefore we’ve tried to sum up this up in as Style. Please bear this in mind when you sign up.
Note none of this changes the tags that I provided Elaine with initially: Comedy, Humourous, Hyper Asian Action, Chatty, Mythic, Rules LIte.
Even the 10 Courts of Hell, still broadly fits these tags, despite its darker tone.
If you have pre-booked, please let me know (email@example.com) which table before the convention.
Table 1: The Western Heaven
Trouble in the Peach Garden
Narrator: Lynn Yin
Someone has been stealing the peaches of immortality from the Queen Mother of the West’s garden. You’ve been summoned to her court for an audience. While her two tame(ish) Tigers prowl in front of her, she explains that with the Peach Party to which all the august immortals of the Western Heaven are invited to coming up this is not a good thing. She remembers the last time when ‘you-know-who’ stole peaches and spoilt the party for everyone. She clenches her fists and fiercely proclaims that this is not to happen again! Therefore, she is dispatching your small group of investigators from the Ministry of Thunder to the Peach Garden to find out what is going on.
Who are the player immortals?
Members of the Ministry of Thunder, who are responsible for investigating and supernatural crimes in both the Western Heaven and on Earth. They report to the monstrous bat-winged and crow-headed Lei-Gong, the God of Thunder.
Where is the table?
The Celestial City. This is the capital city of Western Heaven floating in the clouds above the holy mountain of Kunlun. Its buildings are made of Jade and precious metals. From its public fountains, flowing liquid silver and gold. It is a top-down city where the palaces of the Jade Emperor and the Queen Mother of the West, sit at the top. Then you descend through the palaces of the greater immortals, then the administrative hub of Ministries, private gardens and public parks and finally the residences of lesser immortals, such as the player immortal.
Schemeing political intrigue, smart social intrigue, punctuated by Kung Fu takedowns.
Table 2: Earth, Chang ‘an capital of Tang China
Peaches! Peaches! Who will buy my Peaches!
Narrator: John Ruddy
You stand In the back room of the City God’s Temple. A ragtag group of civic immortals, responsible for the smooth running of the great cosmopolitan city of Chang’an the capital of the great Tang Empire. Your boss, Little Wing the City God is notably agitated. Normally he’s engrossed in the city’s vibrant culture, it’s beautiful fashions and good food from the Empire and beyond. But today he’s worried by reports that Peaches of Immortality have been going missing from the Queen Mother of the West’s garden up in the Western Heaven. The fact that one of the local Triads has been trying to sell “Peach Treasures” to local dignitaries and underworld figures is an unhappy coincidence that he can’t ignore. They are doing it openly in the Great Market! Without a license! What if a demon was ever to eat one!
Poor dear is practically in tears, guess who is going to be assigned the job of catching the villains and squaring it with them upstairs in Western Heaven?
Where are you?
Chang’an the cosmopolitan and peaceful capital city of the Tang Empire. Where Chinese citizens, rub shoulders with Turkish merchants and other foreigners from beyond China’s borders, which are at the highest during this dynasty. This is a walled city, made up of districts whose inhabitants maintain mudbrick walls, and keep the businesses and purpose strictly contained. Visit the Temple Districts, where Taoist and Buddhist temples co-exist peacefully. The Administrative and Pleasure Districts sit side by side, and the walled Imperial city of the Emperor’s court dominates the Northern Part of the city.
Who are the player immortals?
The staff of the City God, Little Wing, who is responsible for maintaining balance and Harmony within the Imperial Capital, unseen and unnoticed by the mortal populace.
The sign hung on the wall above the City God’s desk, does it not say?
“FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE. DON’T SCARE THE MORTALS!!!”
Humorous and to the point investigation, mixed with fast-paced Kung Fu action.
Table 3: You Do, The City of Darkness
Something is just too Nice here
Narrator: Newt Newport
The Twelve Hells aren’t meant to be soft on the damned. They are supposed to be places of pain and suffering where evildoers are punished for their crimes on earth, in a hell particular to their crime, for a set amount of time, until finally they drink the potion of forgetfulness and are reincarnated into a new life.
Its ruler, King Yama, is furious. Something is not right in the Twelve Hells. Recently It’s not all screaming and eternal torture. There seem to be outbreaks of harmony and order. There are even tell-tale signs of sweetly perfumed flowers blossoming in the usually despairing dingy soot infused atmosphere. He can smell the faint whiff of Hope.
The absolute ruler of the Ten Courts wants you to investigate this…’niceness’ and put a stop to it.
Where are you?
You Do, literally the City of Darkness. Similar in structure to the Chinese Cities on Earth above, it is surrounded by perpetual and total darkness. Within its walls are the Ten Courts where the dead are judged by the Judges of Hell and then sent to one of the Twelve Hells specific to their crime. Beneath the city is the is the Incessant Hell, a vast cube buried in the dark earth where criminals whose crimes put them beyond redemption are held for all eternity.
Who are the Immortals?
You are Demons of the Ten Courts of Hell. Responsible for punishing the evil doers, guarding the damned, and capturing escapees. You report to one of the Ten Judges of Hell.
Dark Comedy, Sinister Black Humour, Bone Crunching Action.
This following fragment is from the Narrator’s advice chapter, where I talk briefly about the tricky issue of presenting the setting information. For many role playing games, setting information is portrayed as an unassailable beacon of truth. For many reasons, this isn’t the case in Monkey. If you want to learn why and how the game deals with this, read on:
The biggest mistake I made in presenting the first version of this game was that I expected everyone to have read the novel and be on the same page with their appreciation. I believed, wrongly, that there was a homogeneous presentation of Monkey King, mainly because I had only been exposed to a very limited selection of the adaptations of the tale (mainly the 80s Japanese TV Series and the Arthur Whaley translation Monkey). This assumption was a mistake since the Monkey King is a Chinese culture hero, in the same way as Robin Hood is to the English, and there are numerous TV series, films, comics and translations of the novel. Some of them stick faithfully to the book, and some are the creator’s take on the tale. The sources that I give in the Bibliography section of the game are the sources I pulled on when putting together this second incarnation of the game. It’s a much broader selection of media, which has had an enormous impact on how the game is written, from the narrative frameworks, the assumptions surrounding the non-player immortals, to the game mechanics themselves. It’s still just a drop in the ocean of the massive body of work that’s been worked on and reinvented over hundreds of years. Thousands if you take into consideration that the Journey to the West incorporates earlier folk tales that have blended with the historical journey of the real life ‘Tripitaka’ who travelled the Silk Road to India to collect the lost scrolls of Buddhism.
Your experience with the Tale of the Monkey King may be different than mine. It might be more detailed, or this may be that this is the first time you have come across him. The important thing is that you don’t let your level of knowledge put you off. Read the book, follow the rules and guidelines and play the game. Between you and your players co-creating the story of your little band of Pilgrims as they go to Inidia to collect the lost scrolls.
Tripitaka contemplates the illusionary nature of reality by Dan Barker.
Gosh, it’s been a while ( summer holidays and all that), but work continues getting the core rule book together.
One of the new pieces I’ve written for the second version of the game is a section that allows you to create your version of the Tang Monk, Tripitaka in the book/film/tv series, who the player Immortals are responsible for escorting safely to India.
This process is a much shorter version of player immortal creation, which produces a character whose weakness and abilities can be called upon by the players during play as well as being a Narrator controlled character who can berate them for their moral shortcomings and keep the more boisterous in line.
The following is an extract, the unedited Step 1 which determines the monk’s origin story.
Step 1. Origin Story
Like the player immortals the monk has an origin story
Here are some examples, with card randomiser. Like the player Immortal creation system, players may modify the following examples or come up with their own. The examples are meant to inspire not restrict.
(Club) They had a profession before they entered the Monastery. A war weary solider or a Mandarin sick of the politics of the outside world. They have the skill associated with that past profession, e.g. Solider or Mandarin , at Rank 5 but are loathe to use it. Players may use it once per session, but the next session the Monk will politely decline and it is unavailable for use.
(Spade) Bon to poor peasants they were left at the Monastery’s gates and raised as a monk from childhood. They have a Buddhist 5. Instead of Buddhist 4.
(Diamond) The monk is a Fox Spirit, whose parents thought it would be a fun prank to see how the child from such a colourful background coped with the austere upbringing of the Monastery. The monk may be completely oblivious to their supernatural nature. Under Magic put Shape change (Fox to Human) and Trickster spells. The monk will be unwilling to use their magic abilities and will only use them in a situation where harm may befall someone as a result. Even when they use them, like monks with a prior profession, they will refuse to use them next gaming session.
(Heart) They are an advanced Buddhist soul reincarnated in the monk’s body. The monk in addition to any other attitude they gain in step 2 below automatically have the attitude Kindness, which is both Yin and Yang! This is because this advanced soul understands how to be gently kind, soothing another’s pain with soft words, as well as showing tough love and doing things for the recipient of their kindness that they may not immediately appreciate. Write it down as Kindness (Yin and Yang) on the Monk’s record.
(Jack) The monk is being sent to India to atone for being disruptive to monastery life. They are young and inexperienced and their Abbott is convinced that the trails they will face on the road will straighten the out. In addition to the Weakness generated in Step 3 write down “Young and Naïve”.
(Queen) The monk is a female nun.
(King) The monk was the Abbot of their Monastery. They have the Skill Mandarin at a rank of three, which shows their skill in administration.
(Joker) The monk is a Demon, who initially attempts to tries to sabotage the mission to collect the missing scrolls. Initially their attempts are subtle and covert, but become increasingly obvious. When the player immortals confront it and successfully overcome it, it repents and swears and oath to successfully complete the mission. The Demon Monk, has the magical abilities Shapechange and Invoke Fear and the skill of Demon and the Weakness “Prone to resolving problems with violence”.
I’m trying very hard not to make Monkey a dissertation on Eastern Religion/Philosophy (even on a personal level) since that would completely defeat the purpose of it being a game. Every now and again I’m having to dip into the more intense explanations to explain some of the ideas that the game rests on. For example this morning I’ve written a brief paragraph or two about Buddist and Taoist takes on Sin/Virtue which is are very very very different to western views.
Overall I’d rather people dip their toes in the deeper context of the novel, but have a good time.:)
One site that goes deeply into the Philosophical and Alchemical nature of the book, and discusses, for example, the symbolism of the main characters, is “Inner Journey to the West”.