23 Days of Monkey, Day 16 Audio Delights

A short post here about some audio delights I’ve found for Monkey.

First off is a Audio book of the Arthur Waley translation ( an abridged version featuring only 30 chapters of the 100) that is commonly available in book form via the Penguin Classics serries (this is how I first came across the book, although I use the far more indepth Antony Yu Four Volume Translation now), read by the late great Kenneth Williams (yes of Carry On fame 🙂 ) . This is the first three chapters but the remaining chapters are available in CD format or audio download from Amazon. In fact I picked it up as a late Christmas present for my self 🙂

Second I’d firmly recommend the soundtrack to Kung Fu Hustle. Not only is this a rousing soundtrack of traditional Chinese music, it features many pieces that have featured in old classic Shaw Brothers films of the 1940s.

Finally there’s Damon Albarn’s (of Blur fame) take on the Journey to the West, which was a sound track to a stage production called Monkey Journey to the West, that premiered in Manchester International Festival in 2007 (which I missed even though I work in Manchester because it sold out quickly doh!) .

There’s an album available of it, and Jamie Hewlett the comic artist who did the designs for the show did a live action video for the first single.

Day 16 of 23 Days of Monkey, Kickstarter opens in 7 days on 8th January 2017.

23 Days of Monkey, Day 15 Creating Immortals

Monkey by Peter Frain

Monkey by Peter Frain

Today we look at player Immortal creation.

This character generation example follows the new character generation method of five story steps.

Each step is played out one to one with the player, and you go round the table doing each step with each player before moving on to the next step. As you go through each step you build up the story of the character, and for new players you explain the basics of the setting as you are playing the story. No more half and hour monologues from the Narrator explaining the ins and outs of the Western Heaven 🙂

At the end of each story Step, you assign game objects to the character. Game Objects are their Attitudes, their Professions, which tell you broadly what skills they have, and Magical Powers/Tools.

Finally you play out an Action, in the form of a challenge to the characters. Cards may or may not be pulled to resolve the Action, but if you do you use the Game Objects which are already written down.  Other players sit back and listen, but what we found useful in so far to explain why the group was together was for other players to mention their relationships to the others characters offstage. For example after the first character told their story of what they did in heaven, the other players mentioned that first character in their stories.

Step 1 Origins

Monkey’s player decides that he starts his story in early primordial Earth, and is a product of that magical forces acting on a magical stone.

The four elements acted upon a stone egg, and from it a Stone Monkey was born!
He joined a tribe of Monkeys who he meets shortly after.

Origin: Animal Spirit

Monkey’s first Challenge

One day the tribe came across a huge waterfall cascading down a mountain. They were curious. The cheeky stone Monkey, suggested that whoever could jump up to the top of the mountain and see what was there would become king of the tribe. Several large apes tried, but only the Stone Monkey succeeded and became their king!

The player decides that Monkey’s raw physical agility and cheek is what drives him to step forward and try to jump up. This gives him his first Profession and Attitude. A Simple Action (see Day 13 the Rules) is performed Cards are drawn for both Monkey ( a basic draw of 2 plus an additional card for the Cheeky Attitude) versus 3 cards for the resistance of the Mountain, the highest cards of each hand are compared and Monkey’s player is Victorious!

The following is added to Monkey’s character sheet.

First Profession: Monkey Kung Fu (Mixed Style) 2
Attitude: Cheeky(Yin)

Step 2 Going to Heaven

After a while Monkey realised that like all mortals he would grow old and die. This made him sad.One of the Elder Apes seeing the normally exuberant Monkey depressed asked him what was wrong and after Monkey admitted his troubles he suggested that Monkey find a wise Taoist Sage to teach him the arts of immortality. Therefore after traveling the world of mortals he meets the Patriarch who taught him the Taoist magical arts. Monkey gained his religious name “Sage aware of Vacuity”. Predictably the cheeky monkey got in trouble with the Patriarch, and Up in heaven the wise Planet Venus, advisor of Celestial Jade Emperor, took notice of the rise of power of Monkey on Earth and decided it would be a good idea to invite him up to heaven to keep a closer eye on him. Once in heaven The Great Sage of Vacuity was given the position of looking after the Jade Emperor’s horses. There he is given the name “Great Sage Equal to Heaven”.

Monkey’s 2nd Challenge: Keeping his position in Heaven

Eventually Monkey realised that he had been given a position of little importance and run amok in heaven as a result. The Jade Emperor sent his heavenly armies, led by the demon hunter General Li,the Pagoda Throwing General, and his son Prince Natha to subdue the rebellious Monkey. But alas they were soundly defeated and Monkey was only calmed when the Planet Venus offered him the position of guarding the Peaches of Immortality in the Queen Mother of the Western Heaven’s garden.

This time the player picks the second Profession based upon Monkey’s studying with the Patriarch and an Attitude of Rebellious for his disrespect for Heavenly authority.  Another Simple Action is performed to see if Monkey is victorious against the massed armies of Heaven and the result is a tie. This means although Monkey is on the surface victorious, there is a compromise/complication which in this case is his pacification with a new post in Heaven which brings him back under their authority.

Second Profession: Taoist Sage 2 (from his studies with the Patriarch, although I could quite have easily picked Rogue for his lazing about in Heaven).
Second Attitude: Rebellious (Yang)

Patron: Planet Venus
Enemies: Prince Natha and General Li the Pagadoa Throwing General

Step 3 Monkey’s Magical Weapon

One day while lazing around the Peach Garden, Monkey casually remarked to the Planet Venus that a guard such as he should have a great weapon to perform his duties. The wise planet suggested that he visit the Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean, who had a great store of magical weapons. Once there the Dragon King eventually showed Monkey the Great Iron Staff of the Pole Star, which could shrink down to the size of a needle or expand to vast size, and being made of star metal was very heavy. Monkey successfully lifted the staff as if it was weightless, and despite protests from the Dragon King took it as his own.

Magical weapon: The Iron Staff of the Pole Star stolen from the Dragon King of the Eastern Ocean.

Monkey’s 3rd Challenge keeping hold of the new magical weapon

Eventually the Dragon King arrived in Heaven to protest the theft of the Iron Staff, and Monkey was sent to King Yama’s realm, the 12 Hells where the dead go, as a punishment. Monkey managed to trick his way out by sneaking out of the Hells and erasing his name from King Yama’s book of the dead, which holds the name of everyone who is dead and the time and manner of their death. Just for the fun of it, Monkey also erased the names of several elder monkeys from Water Cave Mountain.

Monkey’s player comes up with the above and between them and the Narrator they decide not to run a Simple Action, since its such a cool story that leads nicely into …….

Step 4 Monkey gets expelled from Heaven

The player determines Monkey’s Weakness first by drawing a card from the deck and consulting the list of Weaknesses:

Weakness: Undisciplined: You were promoted to the ranks of the celestial Immortals, yet at every opportunity you were rude and unruly. Eventually, the Jade Emperor expelled you from the Western Heaven, and ordered you to learn humility and manners on Earth.

This leads to the following bit of the story, detailing Monkey’s expulsion from Heaven:

Eventually Monkey got in trouble again, this time for eating the Peaches of Immortality just as they had finished their thousand-year ripening and were expected at Queen of Western Heaven’s party. Once again rather than take responsibility he runs amok in heaven. This time he is subdued by Buddha who hears the sounds of mayhem from the Eastern (Buddhist) Heaven and decides to come over and help his friends in the Western Heaven. He tricks the egotistical Monkey into racing to the end of the Universe,where Monkey graffiti on four pillars, and Back, when in fact he never left Buddha’s hand, as proven by the graffiti on Buddha’s four fingers. Buddha then imprisons him under a mountain, saying that he will stay there until a Buddhist Monk comes along who needs his help and who will redeem him.

Step 5 Monkey is imprisoned on Earth

Monkey spends four hundred years imprisoned under the mountain. He is eventually freed when Tripitaka arrives, and recruits him as the first of his pilgrim helpers on his Journey to the West

In this step Monkey’s player picks his final Profession: Rogue, despite Monkey not doing a great deal while trapped under the mountain (Prisoner) would be a dull choice, so for his final skill we are going to choose one that is in keeping with his actions that got him there.

Monkey’s final character sheet looks like this:


Origin: Animal Spirit
Yin Cheeky
Yang Rebellious*

*Being of Animal origin Monkey relies a bit more on his natural instincts, which means his Professions below have slightly lower values, but to compensate has a dominant attitude which gives double the card bonus during Actions.

Monkey Kung Fu (Mixed Style) 2
Taoist Alchemist 1
Rogue 2
Weakness: Undisciplined

Magical Weapon: Iron Staff of the Pole Star
Powers: Flight, Shape changing.
Monkey also wears a Golden head band that was placed there by the Goddess Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, so that Tripitaka can use to force him to behave by invoking the Headache Sutra, which causes the headband to painfully constrict. Technically this is Tripitaka’s Magic Item, but is noted here so Monkey’s player is painfully aware of it.

Day 15 of 23 Days of Monkey, Kickstarter starts in 8 Days on 8 January 2017.

23 Days of Monkey, Day 14 Playing the Journey to the West

One of the persistent misconceptions about the first edition was that it was only suitable for one shot play. Partly this was because I assumed that everyone was familiar with the story of The Journey to the West, which is turns out not to be the case. Most players and potential referees had a passing familiarity from TV and Film versions, and wanted to find out more about the book from playing the game first. Which is fair enough, I followed a similar route when I first played Call of Cthulhu in the 1980s. Despite the game’s author, Sandy Petersen, recommendation that one went away and read some of Lovecraft’s works first I dived straight into the game. So in the new edition I present a frame work of game in four stages of play, each covered in four chapters, that models the stages the book goes through. This way players and narrators can pick up the game and have an experience that is pretty authentic to the book without having to read 1000+ pages first.


This part of the game is all about working out the background story and the abilities of the player Immortals and the Monk they are accompanying to India.

Rather than being a dry series of calculations and choices, the Origins chapter throws the players straight into the game as they take turns in playing out the origin stories of their Immortals.   After the player Immortals are created, the Monk is collaboratively created in a similar fashion.

The Journey Begins!

Every good story has a beginning, and for the Journey to the West that beginning details how the player Immortals and the Monk all meet up, and the first challenge that they face together as a team. As well as establishing the relationships between the Immortals, this part of the game teaches the players and the Narrator many of the rules that they will use in earnest once they progress into the next part of the game.

Most of the examples assume that the game that is going to be played is the familiar Journey to the West, were the player immortals escort a mortal Monk to Buddha’s Temple in India to collect the lost scrolls of Buddhism, that are missing from the Chinese Cannon of Buddhism. This section gives some alternatives to this and guidance on how the players with the Narrator’s help set up different stories.

This stage of the game is usually, time permitting, played straight after the Origins stage in the first gaming session.

The Road to India

This phase of the game may take many game sessions as the players and Narrator desire. If you take each chapter of the book to be a game session The Journey to the West took 100 game sessions to complete, which is roughly 300-400 hours of game time. Now I understand that you and your friends don’t have 300-400 hours, so the first thing this chapter of the rules explains is how to plan your sessions so each of the player immortals gets a chance to tell and move their story to a satisfactory resolution.

How to begin a game session with a roundup of the “Story so far”, where the players summarise what their Immortals got up to in the previous session, is covered in this chapter.

It also has the rules for Quick, Simple and Dramatic Actions in detail, with some helpful charts so you know exactly what you are doing.

This chapter also has some handy tools for things like Bickering between the characters. Monkey and company do this all the time, and I’ve seen players reproduce this with their in-character chat, so I came up with a very simple ruling that allows players to peacefully resolve their Immortals differences in a game of one up man ship, which gives the winner a bonus to their next Action and makes the other Immortals follow their plan.

Wrapping up the game session and how to record any consequences of the Immortals actions is the last thing to be dealt with in this chapter.

The Pilgrims Reach India

This is the resolution of the Game. In the book it’s when Monkey and the rest of the pilgrims reach Buddha’s temple in India, collect the lost scrolls of Buddhist Cannon, return them to the Tang Emperor in China and then are judged by the Bodhisattva Guan Yin, to see if each Immortal is worthy of being readmitted into Heaven.

Your game ending may be different. You might have chosen to play a shorter game that revolved around aiding the troubled mortals of a Chinese city on Earth for example.

This chapter shows you how to finish the game, give each of the player Immortals the spot light and highlight their achievements.

Day 14 of 23 days of Monkey, Kickstarter opens in 9 days on 8th January 2017.

23 Days of Monkey, Day 13 The Rules

Today I will quickly show you how the game’s rules work.

Most actions that the player Immortals attempt can be resolved using common sense; there isn’t any need to use the rules in this book. Simply by talking it through between players, the action will be resolved. When the outcome of an Immortal’s action is uncertain, the Narrator may ask for an Action. The players share a deck of playing cards, which is used in this situation. Numbered cards are the value on their face, Jesters are 11, Queens are 12, Kings are 13, Aces are 14, and Jokers are 20, which mean that when drawn usually means an automatic and resounding success.

The Narrator can call for one of three types of Action:

A Quick Action is called when how well the Immortal does is significant in terms of how it’s described, as either something they can do without any difficulty or something they struggle with and causes them great hardship before they get there in the end. No cards are drawn, but the Narrator asks the player which Skill they are using to overcome the obstacle put in their way, and then narrates the level of success depending on the Skill Rank. For example the Pilgrims (Monkey, Tripitaka, Sandy and Pigsy) are crossing a fast flowing river, which really needs skilled swimmers to cross it. Sandy (who is a Water Demon and an expert swimmer) cross the river with ease, and sings a merry tune.  Monkey uses his magic staff and Monkey Kung Fu to somersault over in style. Tripitaka is riding the Horse, a transformed Dragon who has no problem traversing the river. Pigsy who is a poor swimmer struggles against the current and eventually gets across wet, cold and ill of temper.

A Simple Action is called when a Narrator wishes quickly to resolve a conflict in the story the outcome of which is significant on the course of the adventure, such as climbing a mountain or checking to see if they can hear the rustling of the ghostly breeze behind them. The player randomly draws a number of cards equal to the skill he is using. He gains an additional card for using an appropriate Attitude, such as drawing on his Very Determined in scaling the mountain. The opposing Immortal or force, in this case the Mountain, draws a number of cards equal to the skill or resistance they are using, with a bonus card for appropriate Attitudes or environmental conditions. For example, the Mountain pulls an extra card because of the weather: it has been raining heavily. The player and the narrator look at their hand of  cards and play the highest card, with victory going to the higher score.

A Dramatic Action is resolved in exactly the same way by pulling cards. However, Dramatic Actions are called when a Narrator wishes to focus the game session on an important and lengthy scene in the story, such as a long, tough fight against a River Dragon. The Action is not resolved in one draw of the cards, but through a series of linked Simple Actions.  For each lost Action, a participant gains a Strike and when they have three Strikes against them, they are knocked out of the Action. The eventual winner(s) are the characters who have knocked all their opponents out of the Action.

Adding Yin and Yang Forces to Actions
Chinese philosophy sees the Universe being made up of two opposing forces: Yin and Yang. To add colour and significance to the card draw, Red cards are Active or Yang in nature and Black Cards are Passive or Yin in nature. When the player draws the cards from their Skill, they pick the highest card from that draw and see if it is Yang (Red) or Yin (Black).  If they then want to draw a card to play due an Attitude their character possesses it  must match the colour. If the card draw matches the colour of the initial high card drawn due to the Skill then you add the score on the card drawn because of the Attitude to the Highest card.

For example Manju (see below: the Demon Hunter from Day 3 ) attacks a Town Guard with his Kung Fu of 3, draws three cards the highest is the Ten of Clubs (a black/Yin card). This means to draw a bonus card for his Attitude they have to pick Manju’s Yin Lazy Attitude. So they draw an 5 of Spades and since it matches the colour of the first card drawn it gets added, for a total of 15. If the card had been a red card (Yang in nature) it would have been discarded immediately.  As well effecting the rules outcome, it colours the narrative, since Manju’s player now has compose their narrative to explain how Manju lazily moves up to the Town Guard and strikes them using their Kung Fu technique. This is in comparison to a more straight forward and bold Yang (active attack) where the Player could easily describe how Manju runs up to the Town Guard shouts and strikes them directly in the gut.

This system applies to all actions from physical fights, magical duels and philosophical debates.

Day 13 of 23 days of Monkey, Kickstarter opens in 10 days on 8th January 2017.

23 Days of Monkey, Day 12 The Ministry of Thunder

Ministry of Thunder cover by Jon Hodgson

Ministry of Thunder cover by Jon Hodgson

We’ve reached just over the half-way point of our journey to the Kickstarter for Monkey the 2nd Incarnation, which opens in 11 days on 8th January. Time to take a brief look at another stretch goal. The Ministry of Thunder, an adventure book for Monkey:

“Your errant immortals find themselves in trouble with the Heavenly Authorities. Fully expecting to be cast out of Heaven for your crimes, instead you find yourselves drafted into the celestial Ministry of Thunder. Run by the God of Thunder, Lei Gong, it takes on the role of punishing those crimes that mortal law can’t or won’t reach
As deputies of the Ministry of Thunder, led by the stern and terrible Lei-Gong Lord of Thunder, it’s your job to solve crimes and bring to justice those responsible where the mortal authorities won’t or can’t get involved.

This is a collection of five adventures forming a story series playable over many sessions. Take your Immortals from criminal outcasts who reform themselves through service to the Ministry of Thunder. While Monkey the 2nd Incarnation has rules and guidelines for recreating a personalised version of the Journey to the West, this book is for groups who want a more traditional scripted set of adventures and is ideal for groups who just want to try out the game before committing to a longer game. Each of the five adventures are suitable for play within one session, because they were originally run as games at conventions in a three to four hour slot.


King Tiger
In the city of the winds on the very frontier of the Tang Empire, members of the Li Clan are going missing. A particularly worrying prospect since one in four people in that region are called ‘Li’, a region that is charged with the very protection of the Empire. The implications are clear, so go down to Earth straight away

The Magical Painter
The Queen of the Western Heaven’s favourite mortal Painter has gone missing.  Nobody seems to care or know where he has gone. The Queen arrives at the Ministry of Thunder to demand its agents recover him. The Ministry says “you say jump, we say how high” and assigns its best agents to the job.  Yes that’s you scruffy lot, get yourselves down to Earth right away!

Trouble at Temple
The Abbott of the Buddhist Temple of Golden Harmony is found dead in his room. Who is responsible? What foul plot is afoot? What has the carp in the Temple pool got to say for itself?

Whatever the cause, it is up to you and your immortal companions to sort out this mess.

Bad Dragon
A number of Magical items have gone missing from the Treasury of the Dragon King of the Northern Ocean. The Demon of the Black Lagoon is implicated in their theft. As agents of the Ministry of Thunder, it’s your job to investigate. So quickly travel to the undersea court of the Dragon King, then through the Octopus’s Garden to the Black Lagoon to apprehend the miscreant demon.

Freedom or Fire!
Heavens on Fire! The Ministry of Thunder is called in but Minister Lei Gong’s modesty prevents him from dealing with the case in person. That’s where your disgraced immortals come into it. You must go where terrifying giant bat winged, bird headed Gods of Thunder and Lighting refuse to tread. The culprits must be caught and brought to JUSTICE!

Day 12 of 23 Days of Monkey, Kickstarter opens in 11 days on Sunday 8th January.


23 Days of Monkey, Day 11 Defenders of the Dragon Empire

The Pilgrims have started their Journey to the West! They seek the missing scrolls of Buddhist Cannon that will help bring harmony and order to the Dragon Empire. Demons know this and fear this. Not only do they attempt stop the Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy in their mission to India, they run amok in the Empire itself. If they cannot stop the pilgrims they seek to reduce what they aim to save to ashes!

Only the brave men and women of the Dragon Empire’s Martial Arts Circles fight back against the demonic onslaught. Each victory they win they increase the people’s hope of returning the Heavenly Order to the Universe.

I’ve had numerous requests to write a Wuxia version of Monkey, where the focus of the game shifts to mortal martial arts heroes.  Defenders of the Dragon Empire is that game. While Monkey and company head off to India, the mortal heroes and heroines must defend one of the Tang Empire Cities (which is detailed and becomes the focus of this game-type) from the evil army of Demons that have turned up at its gates. Its a Kickstarter stretch goal at two levels. As an Early Stretch Goal where I include a chapter about how to tweak Monkey to run a mortal based game. If the Kickstarter reaches higher levels of funding, I’ll expand and develop Defenders into its own standalone game.

Being mortals they are not innately magical and the emphasis shifts to amazing displays of talents with the occasional special feat being thrown into mix instead of big fights were chi-powers are thrown around casually (often along with nearby scenery) as is the case with Immortals.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate visually nails it for me about were the Kung-Fu element should be.

This scene from Kung Fu Hustle shows three masters mow down hordes of extras.

And as for Taoist Sorcerers, here’s a scene from Spooky Encounters which demonstrates a Sorcerer’s Duel.