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”.
First off a quick catch up of where I’m upto.with Monkey.
In short I’ve been of the day job for good month now with a serious illness. This meant I missed 7 Hills and didn’t get to run Mandate of Heaven 🙁 I took a couple of weeks to get over the illness, during which time I worked on a couple of D101 things which were at final layout stage (OpenQuest Refreshed and Life and Death for Crypts and Things). After working week in week out on Monkey since before Chirstmas I took a break from it for a good three weeks. Once the brain fog lifted as a my illness subsided and I felt like doing something a bit more mentally demanding my Monkey Mojo returned quite quickly.
The Quick Start Rules + adventure is done and just needs proofing+ layout before it hopefully makes its debut as a cute 60-page book at UK Games Expo and as a free pdf worldwide 🙂 We also have demo space on the stall this year, so feel free to rock up go “ook! ook!” and demand a quick demo of the game (about 30 mins to an hour) or a longer 3 hour game in the afternoon.
The main book is almost done too, with the stretch goals of The Defenders of the Dragon Empire Chapter and the solo adventure yet to be done. The former is how to run Wuxia heroes in the world of Monkey, defending their home city against the Demons. These two pictures show the in game city creation system, where you draw six cards and each card represents a city district. This models the ancient Chinese system were cities were built on a grid with square districts each having a different function (residential, administration, religious, entertainment etc). The second picture shows the city under demon attack. This is basically an in game adventure generator. Draw a card for each district. If the value of the attacking card is greater than the district it succumbs to the attack (which I’ve marked here with a glass bead) and will see its value decrease unless the Player Characters intervene and drive the demons off. Each suite of card is a different type of attack – corruption, physical, deception etc.
Defenders of the Dragon Empire, City Creation
Defenders of the Dragon Empire, City under attack by Demons
The Mandate of Heaven is coming together nicely in anticipation of its first playtest this weekend. I’ve already got the Western Heaven in draft and Chang’an the capital of Tang Dynasty China in draft. Today I focus on the Chinese Hell.
One of the nice things about doing the Mandate of Heaven is that I’ve been researching the wider world of Chinese Folk Religon out side of the Journey to the West and learning lots of interesting fun stuff. For Hell I already knew about the Ten Courts, King Yama and his fellow Judges, and the specific ordered system of hells that wrong doers are assigned to before drinking the draught of forgetfullness and being reincarnated on Earth. But what I didn’t know was the ten courts of Hell exist in a city called You Du (or “Dark City”) which is an analog of Chang’an surrounded by darkness. Also beyond that is Avinci – described as “a cube buried deep in the divine earth” were those who are damned for eternity are held.
Today I work out who (or What) is being held in this maximum security Hell, and what plots exist to get them out 🙂
Well the good news is that The Mandate of Heaven successfully funded. Big thanks to those of you who backed it. It went all the way not only funding the main book but the the pdf play aid pack. This means that there will be A3 location maps, player counters, a quick Whos Who of Immortals and printable Hell Money, to buy you or another character out of the Ten Courts of Hell if you get imprisoned there.
It was a bit intense cramming the campaign into a week, as per Kickstarter’s All in One promotion which they invited me to take part in after the success of the Monkey campaign. It was a bit of a risk for me. Would it detract from getting Monkey out the door (answer no, I was working on Monkey as I was promoting Mandate)? If it failed to fund would it mean that the Mandate and any other planed supplements I have for Monkey, beyond the ones funded by the Monkey KS, fall flat on their face? Well I need not have worried since it steadily funded as the week went on 🙂 This means that Monkey has a future outside of the main rulebook. The audience was predominately returning backers from the Monkey Kickstarter, but although they only made up 10% of the numbers new backers made up 50% of the funding.
If you are worried that The Mandate Of Heaven/Dragons Ascending to Heaven will detract from me delivering Monkey, don’t I’ve firmly set the deadline for Mandate to be December this year. If anything Monkey will be benefit from me having to work on the full write up of the Mandate because the extra depth of research I’ve gone into. The Queen Mother of the West certainly has a much more interesting background than I was previously aware of, which Dan Barker’s illustration/cover incorporates symbolically (this is worth a post on its own in the future).
The campaign also brought up the self-contained adventure/game Dragons Ascending to Heaven, a Wuxia Tale of revenge and redemption:
A complete mini-game of revenge and redemption using a modified version Monkey RPG rules. Set the Tang capital of Chang ‘an during the reign of Emperor Wu, a group of Wuxia Heroes attempt seek revenge for the massacre of their clan. A standalone book complete with rules and adventure. The adventure can be set up to be different every time and the rules can be used as a basis for similar Wuxia tales.
During the campaign, both artists Dan Barker and Peter Frain submitted pieces that I shared as part of the campaign, which you may not have seen.
Dan Barker’s Queen Mother of the West, wip cover for the Mandate of Heaven
The Birth of Monkey by Peter Frain
Monkey Victorious by Peter Frain
Now back that all that excitement back onto finishing Monkey and specifically the Quickstart rules 🙂