The Ten-Minute Set-Up for Monkey

Recently Lloyd, UK Games Expo’s Games on Demand extraordinaire, pointed out that my usual 40 minutes to one-hour explanation of the game’s setting doesn’t hack it as a quick and fast intro to a table full of expectant players. To avoid Lloyd’s displeasure in the future, and provide a smoother introduction for my players in the future I came up with this introduction. Its already been used to great success during my convention games at Continuum 2018.

This quick intro while tailor-made for Convention games (which last 3-4 or even less) or quick 1hour demos, can also serve you well as the introduction with your home group to quick one-shots or even an introduction for a full multi-session game of Monkey.

These checklists are presented as bullet points which you should be able to move through quickly.

1. Give a Quick Explanation of the Game Setting

  1. The game world is a heady mix of Chinese religion and mythology, set in the reign of the 2nd Emperor of the Tang Dynasty in 8th century China.
  2. The player characters are immortals. In Chinese Folk Religion this could mean that your character is a Celestial Deity up in Western Heaven, an earthly animal spirit, a deity responsible for the day to day running of some aspect of Earth, a Transcended Master or even a Demon (one of the ‘good’ ones from the Ten Courts of Hell). (see Origin)
  3. All the immortals where part of the Celestial Bureaucracy that runs the Universe, until their Weakness caused them to be thrown out.
  4. They are now working as troubleshooters for various immortal patrons, to redeem themselves and regain their place back in Heaven.
  5. The source of many of these troubles is wicked Demons, who prey upon innocent humans and want to eat holy people.

2.Set up the Table

  1. Take one set of playing cards for the players and place them on the table near them. Ask one of the players to shuffle the deck, take out any spare cards and make sure there is only one joker.
  2. Put the Narrator’s deck down between them and you. Shuffle the pack (or ask one of the players to do it).
  3. Explain that when the outcome is less than clear, you will call for an Action, and the players involved will draw cards from the player’s deck, while you do the same for the opposition. You will play your highest card first so that the players can see what they need to beat.

See page 227 of Monkey for an example table set up.

Lucky Money Cat Says its your go

3. Determine Spotlight and hand out the pre-made characters

  1. Determine who starts with the spotlight (see Monkey page 119). Give them an item that clearly shows they have the spotlight. I’ve used a Chinese Fortune Cat statue, a small box of my business cards, an oversized D20 and when I remember a lovely knitted Monkey that my friend and fellow Monkey Narrator Gwen made for me, as my table’s Spotlight Marker.
  2. Pass out the pre-made characters. I usually give them a brief one sentence summing up of each immortal. The person with the spotlight gets to choose first, with the player next getting
  3. Run through the Immortal sheet, to show the elements that player Immortals are made out of:
  • A Name. This takes the form of a nickname in English.
  • Origin. How they became immortal.
  • Two Attitudes. One the more active forceful Yang force, and one for the more reactive subtle Yin force.
  • Weakness. That gets them into trouble and what got them chucked out of Western Heaven.
  • Three Skills. These are the character’s broad skill sets. The number is the base number of cards they draw from the deck when performing an action.
  • A set of Magical Powers.
  • A Magical Weapon or Tool.

Details to Leave Out During the Set-Up

These elements of the game I’ve found really drag out the introduction. You can cover them if the players ask, but really you should take a “show not tell” attitude and deeper explanation should come out in play when needed.

  • Detailed setting information. Such as the precise set up of Western Heaven, the hierarchy of the Jade Emperor and Queen Mother of the West, through the Ministries. Likewise how the Celestial Bureaucracy works on Earth, and how the Ten Courts of Hell infernal workings.
  • Using the Journey to the West as an example. It’s tempting to use Monkey and the rest of the Pilgrims’ adventures as a set of ready-made What I’ve found is that that there is a range of player knowledge of the Novel (some don’t know anything, some have seen one of the TV series, and some are in-depth scholars), so as well as the temptation to over explain myself I have to fill in the gaps based upon the table’s collective knowledge. So it’s not as straightforward as I think it should be.
  • An overly complicated explanation of Yin/Yang. Keep it deliberately simple, and let explanation come out in game.
  • A detailed explanation of the game system, beyond what is quickly explained during the run-through of the character sheet.

A weekend of Monkey Magic!

A couple of weekends ago it was time for the biannual Continuum gaming convention at Leicester University in their lovely leafy student village in Oadby.

Friday

Arrived safe and sound just after lunch after a faultless drive down from the North of England, with driver Lynn avoiding the traffic jam as long-distance commuters return to the south for the weekend. Quickly unloaded the car and set up the Magic Stall, which was selling our games all weekend, upstairs in Room D101 where we were running games for the entire weekend. A quick chat to a few folk and then it was time for the first of my Monkey games.

Bamboo Woods

This game is going to be in the Monkey Companion. It’s a short game, designed to run in 2-3 hours. If you are familiar with the Quickstart adventure If you see Buddha on the Road, it’s a similar sort of length.

In this adventure the Pilgrims were deep a vast Bamboo forest in the wilderness, travelling towards India. The players dealt with an isolated village of scared villagers, a group of falsely accused forest spirits and the fire-starting demons who were behind the destruction of the bamboo. Giant firebreathing Demons were bested and sent to the 10 Courts of Hell for judgement by King Yama (there was a suggestion that they would find gainful employment there punishing the wicket).  Triumphant, the Pilgrims, continued with their Journey to the West.

After the game, one of the players Lloyd challenged me to reduce the hour-long monologue I currently use to introduce the game to a blindingly fast ten minutes. I was thinking along these lines, and I regularly introduce the nuts and bolts of the game online in concise terms, so challenge accepted!

Journeying West (again) seminar

Unfortunately, there had been a bit of a mix-up, and I thought I was doing this Making of Monkey 2 talk on Saturday night. So I had to think fast, change track ( I thought I was running Monkey at the table again) and present this talk, to a small but attentive crowd. Despite going off on one and telling one of my favourite Kung Fu stories I managed to keep it within the hour time limit, with time for questions at the end!

View the talk’s presentation in Google Slide

Also of note, Dan Barker ran a Monkey-Glorantha crossover, “Monkey ruins – Everything” which he’s writing up for a future issue of Hearts in Glorantha. Apparently, there was much fun Monkey-Business 😊

Saturday

After a much-needed breakfast at the venue and a walk to stretch the legs and quieten the mind, I was ready for the morning session of Monkey.

Hopping Vampire Mayhem

I opened up with the new improved and to the point 10-minute pitch to the game, which I’ll share as a download when I’ve written it up (check back next Monday). Not only did it save my voice, but it got the players hot and ready to go!

This is another adventure that is going in the Monkey Companion later this year, and it’s another 2-3 hour standalone. A dusty town and with a plague of one-legged undead was what greeted the foot store pilgrims. After rescuing a small girl from her undead granny, the party had a quick chat with the assist mortician who advised them to find his master, a Taoist Sorcerer, who had gone into the forest surrounding the town in the direction of the mountains to the west. Despite blundering about the Pilgrims found the Sorcerer, who promptly told them the source of the dead was an old tomb of a local king which had been disturbed by his ex-wife, who he had foolishly taught the magic arts to before she promptly ran off to do evil acts for personal gain. The ex-wife was guarding the entrance to the King’s tomb, sitting atop a magic mountain made of coffins. Supercharged with magical energy, pulled up from the Earth using the art of Feng-Shui, the Sorcerer told the Pilgrims that if they wanted her out of the way, they needed to gather up wood from the surrounding forest so that the Sorcerer could build a taller magic mountain than his ex-wife’s. A quick scrabbling for wood by the characters and minutes later a quick build by the Sorcerer and he had indeed a more prominent Magic Mountain which blew his ex-wife into bits! The Pilgrims then ran into the tomb, where hopping corpses assaulted them and after brushing them aside dealt with the Chief Vampire and his guards. Clemency was called for, as the Pilgrims sensed correctly that the villainous Ex-Wife had raised the King and his attendants, and the adventure ended with the tormented spirits peacefully being released into Heaven.

A quick lunch of Veggie Burger and Chips from the main dining hall, which was adequate to put hunger at bay, and then it was time for…

The Mega Monkey!

This afternoon game was our second time out with the three table version of the MM running the Mandate of Heaven. Except we only ran Heaven (Lynn) and Hell (myself) because John who was due to run Earth was not feeling well and retired for a well needed afternoon nap.  A longer more involved game, with both tables running the full four hours, than the two sessions I ran before it. It was also uncomfortably hot. I usually schedule comfort breaks every forty-five minutes, but here it was every 15-20 minutes, to ensure people didn’t pass out from the heat! We got through the game, and it was to the player’s credit that they were enjoying themselves enough to soldier on through the heat.  Both tables had fun, with loud roars of laughter coming from Lynn’s Heaven table at regular intervals and the report that the players were keen to play on the other tables at some point.

For tea, I and regular d101 helper Guy Milner had a walk up to Oadby town centre to go to a local curry house and have a well-earned break from the con. Then an evening socialising and staying up waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too late.

Sunday

Was a quieter day since I wasn’t running Monkey. I got to play in Guy’s Blade In the Dark game, which was ace. There was Monkey being run, If you see Buddha on the Road run by Gwen Mott in the afternoon and by the big smiling faces I encountered later as I came up after it had finished to tear down the D101 Magic stall it went well. I was busy chilling out, catching up with old friends and making sure the last of the modest pile of Monkey that I brought with me found their homes.

Then it was the Closing Ceremony and quick drive home up the M1 to Oldham, just in time to put my children to bed.

Overall Continuum was brilliant. I’ve not been for a good six years due to the family commitments, but this year I wanted to do it to celebrate Monkey’s release in a big way. I feel I this did in a big way, and with 7 Hills back in April and Furnace last year, where we ran the Mega Monkey for the first time, I feel that Monkey is back in a big way. It’s an easy fun game I can run at the drop of a hat, yet also supports more complex games like the Mandate of Heaven, and all I see is happy players in its aftermath.

The Mandate of Heaven at Furnace

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 (newt@d101games.com) which table before the convention.

Table 1: The Western Heaven

Trouble in the Peach Garden

Narrator: Lynn Yin

Game Description

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.

Style

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

Game Description

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!!!”

Style

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

Game Description

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.

Style

Dark Comedy, Sinister Black Humour, Bone Crunching Action.

 

23 Days of Monkey, Day 19 The Mega Monkey

The Jade Emperor, co-ruler of the Western Heaven.

Today I’m going to talk about the most ambitious game of Monkey I’ve ever written – The Mega Monkey.

I’m planning to run the whole thing at 7 Hills convention in April, after play-testing it with my home group. I’ll also run it again at UK Games Expo, but I’ve yet to organise this.

If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, The Mega Monkey will be one of the Stretch Goals available to backers. You can either run it as an event, with two to three tables, as I plan to do at 7 Hills or run it with a single group (as I plan to run it at home during my playtesting) or simply break it down into pieces and use the events and plots as Adventure seeds and expand them into full sessions of play.

The Mega Monkey in its full form is made up of three gaming tables. Each table is one of the locations from that features prominently in the Journey to the West.

First off is the Western Heaven, ruled by the Jade Emperor and the Queen Mother of the Western Heaven, who represent the forces of Yang (masculine/active) and Yin (feminine/passive) respectively. Their palaces are at the top of the Heaven, a city made of Jade and other precious gems and metals which floats on clouds above the holy mountain of Kunlun. Below them are the Ministries of Heaven that run various affairs, such as the Ministry of Thunder led by the Bat Winged Lei-Gong Lord of Thunder whose job is to bring to justice criminals that the mortal authorities cannot. The Western Heaven is also home to many deities such as Lao Tzu the Grandfather of Taoism, the Planet Venus and General Le commander of the heavenly hosts and his son the demon Hunter Prince Natha. As well as the Ministries and the palaces of the various Immortals are places like Lao Tzu’s Forge and the Peach Gardens of the Queen Mother.   The player immortals who start on this table are Mandarins, Guards and Magistrates of Celestial origin who were born to serve one of the Great Immortals directly or one of the Ministries.

The Wild Goose Pagoda from Chang’an (modern day Xi’an)

The second table linked to its heavenly counterpart is the capital city of the Tang Empire Chang’an. Here the Tang Emperor rules the teaming masses of urban Chinese. The city is made up of a grid of city streets and divided into districts, some residential, commercial (which houses the city’s great market), some dedicated to entertainment (with theaters and brothels) and of course the temple district that houses the wooden temples of Buddhism and Taoism. The Player Immortals are made up of Earthly Immortals who report to the local City God and are responsible for Earthly affairs, such as the smooth flow of the local rivers or the fertility of the local rice fields.

The finally the last table is the Ten Courts of Hell, were King Yama oversees the judgement and punishment of sinful mortals. This is a dark, dangerous place, with its own order and rules were the Player Immortals are Demon Guards and Judges responsible for keeping the sinners within its boundaries until their allotted time is up and it is time for them to drink the waters of forgetfulness and be return to earth in their next mortal incarnation.

Each table has its own collection of locations, events and characters, which are involved in various sub plots. The player immortals may start on the table of their origin, with all the responsibilities and relationships that that implies, for example all Celestial Immortals of the Western Heaven are subjects of the Jade Emperor by default, but at various locations and during certain events they can travel to the other locations, with the permission of the Narrators of the two tables involved. For example, the Palace of the Western Queen of Heaven has a magical Cosmic Pillar were not only communications between heaven and earth are possible but also transportation.

While very sandbox in nature, the wanderings of the Player Immortals and their interactions with the various plot lines, build up to a story of a demonic threat to the order of Heaven and Earth.  Of course this being Monkey this is all very light hearted with moments of high comedy and intense action.

Day 19 of 23 Days of  Monkey, Kickstarter opens on January 8th in four days time.

23 Days of Monkey, Day 9 If you see Buddha on the Road

This an introductory scenario for Monkey, that I’ll be including in the main rulebook if he Kickstarter funds as one of the Stretch Goals. The following is the pitch I gave when i ran it Furnace 2015 a UK convention in Sheffield held during October.

If you see Buddha on the Road

Five pilgrims on their way to India to pick up the lost scrolls of Buddhist cannon to bring enlightenment to a China beset by social ills, find their way blocked by a mountain range. Their only way through is a mountain pass which goes through a huge statue of Buddha himself! A winding stair leads up from a village nestled by Buddha’s feet, through temples and chambers carved out the rock in Buddha’s Lungs and heart, all the way up to the deity’s brow where the road continues onwards to India.

The pilgrims stop and gaze up at the giant statue:

  • Tripitaka, the Priest who leads the expedition wants to pay his respects at the many temples that line the winding stairs to Buddha’s brow.
  • Monkey is restless and after a long boring journey looks for opportunities for mischief.
  • Sandy is worried that all is not what it seems and despite the smiling local people and happy monks.
  • Pigsy hungry and thirsty after the trek through the desert just wants to gorge himself on food, wine and introduce himself to the pretty local women who live in the village built at Buddha’s feet.
  • Horse, being a shapeshifted Dragon Prince transformed into a stead for Tripitaka by the Goddess Kuan Yin momentarily wishes that he could transform back into a dragon and fly over the mountain, but is quietly resigned to plodding up all those stairs.

Come play a quick story inspired by the Chinese classic “Journey to the West”, using the four main characters from the book. Knowledge of the system, a straightforward fun set of rules using a deck of playing cards, or setting not required. Help celebrate 10 years of games of Monkey at Furnace, which saw the first convention game in its inaugural year!

Tags: Monkey Magic!, Comedy, Kung-Fu Action, MGF!

Sandy is right to be worried that all is not what it seems, since the village at the base of the Buddha and the three chambers within the buddha (corresponding to the three energy centers in the body or the 3 dantians) have been over run by Demons who have taken the villagers captive. Its up to the player immortals to rescue the villagers and cleanse the Buddha before continuing on to India.

The scenario can be played either as a standalone one off, using Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka who all have write ups for the scenario, or as a chapter in your own home campaign. Its designed not only to be a rip roaring action scenario but also a gentle induction to some of the concepts of Chinese Religion and Philosophy.

Day 9 of 23 Days of Monkey, Monkey 2nd Incarnation Kickstarter opens 8th January 2017.

Monkey Goes to HateCon One

Daniel Barker, long time fan and convention Games Master, took the current Play Test Draft of Monkey 2nd Incarnation out for a run at London’s HateCon One on Saturday.  Sounds like he had a good time 🙂

OK, I ran it twice. Both went well. I liked the new mooks/goon mechanic. It meant players often got overwhelmed by mooks. in the first play through soldiers over ran Pigsy and tried to steal him off. In the second game Pigsy (again) got caught by bandits and was barbecued with honey but the “lovely ladies” saved him.

Play is much smoother, though people tended to stack a lot (trying to find ways to use every single ability at once). Monkey in both play throughs wanted to use his staff AND cloud all at once while using Kung Fu mischievously.[Newt: This is an area that needs tightening up in the current draft].

Some players didn’t get that being in “combat”  didn’t mean that they needed combat skills.[Newt: The final draft will give more examples of this] That said Tripitaka being 2 strikes down against a lustful demon only to deny the world of maya as she tried to strip him of his skin was pretty awesome. The second Triptaka was the epitome of party poopers, constantly giving sermons on right thought/action, and often bored parties of goons into submission
everyone seemed to enjoy, and one player, Lloyd was eager to see what the new rules were like. He liked the changes muchly, and told me tell you to pull your finger out 😉

All said and done, I’d run this version in a heart beat.