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”.
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
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 🙂
The Queen of the West by Dan Barker
Yes I’m taking Monkey back to Kickstarter next week with the Mandate of Heaven Kickstarter, which opens on Monday 13th March and closes on Sunday 19th of March.
After the sucess of the Monkey Kickstarter, Kickstarter contacted me about running a one week kickstarter as part of thier All in One promotion. So under the rules of this promotion my kickstarter has to run for one week and have one stretch goal. So on a roll from the Monkey Kickstarter and busy writting up the Mandate of Heaven adventure to run at 7 Hills gaming convention (which would have been the next stretch goal to fund), I thought hey lets give it a go.
So the main goal will be the Mandate of Heaven this large adventure details three mythic locations within the Monkey Universe. The Western Heaven, Chang‘an the capital of the Tang Empire and the Ten Courts of Hell. There numerous plots play out and evil demons try usurp the harmony between Heaven and Earth.
It’s the most epic Monkey experience I’ve ever written for the game, and it’s ideal for if you just want to run a memorable one shot or start your Journey to the West with a bang. At 7 Hills I’ll be running it with two tables of four players and a co-Narrator who will run one of the tables while I run the other. Each table represents either the Earthly captial of the Chinese Empire or the Western Heaven, with a third table being used when the immortals visit the Ten courts of Hell.
I’ve written in more detail about the adventure during the 23 Days of Monkey….Day 19 The Mega Monkey.
Of course if you are running it at home you can run it with just your home group round your gaming table, taking your own time to run it as a multi-session experience. A drawn out TV serries rather than a Cinematic Film like the convention game is.
Physcially It’s going to be a standalone A5 or 6″ by 9″ book, that will detail dozens of locations. characters and events, as well as explaining how to run this ‘wandering toybox’ adventure within a framework that gives the players and entertaining and satisfying experience. Art will be by Peter Frain and Dan Barker who will be already running hot from illustrating Monkey. To the right is Dan’s take on the Queen of the West, the co-ruler of the Western Heaven.
I’ve currently firming up what the single Stretch Goal will be. At the moment a collection of specially designed play-aids – like A3 location maps, player markers and player handouts – comes to immeadiatly to mind.
If you missed out on the Monkey Kickstarter earlier this year there will be a backer levels for you to get the main rule book and stretch goals as if you had backed the orginal.
So today’s update is Monday Monkey instead of a Monkey Morning, because hey I was busy this morning 🙂
Nearly half-way point, and let me remind you we’re we are up to.
The Main Rule Book has funded – and will include art like this:
Tripitaka contemplates the illusionary nature of reality by Dan Barker.
Stretch Goal 1: If you See Buddha on the Road , has funded. So we’ll have an extra introductory adventure in the rulebook + a Quick start rule book with that as the basis of the booklet.
Here’s the very rough sketch of the illustration Dan Barker is currently working on:
Stretch goal 3 Defenders of the Dragon Empire has been funded, which sees a chapter dealing with mortal wuxia inspired characters added to the main rule book.
Taoist Priest by Peter Frain
We’re nearly at Stretch Goal 3 The Ministry of Thunder, about 23 average backers away in fact. this is where all backers get a copy of a book of five adventures based around the Celestial Burocracy of the title.
Oh and if you are looking for a good overview of the game, I did an interview with Dan Davenport of RPG.net Chat last week that summed it up nicely:
So if you are sitting on the fence about funding Monkey, please get off it because the quicker we fund Stretch goals the more content and fun stuff we can provide.
If you’ve already funded us, please please tell your friends. Share the campaign on social media because this does get new backers in! We had some shares over the weeeknd and this kept things going.