Not one but two Monkey inspired films!

A big part of my ‘research’ for Monkey the 2nd Incarnation is catching up on all the TV and Film versions directly inspired by the book. In many ways they are useful for finding ideas, especially from a visual context,  on how to bring Monkey to the gaming table.

First of Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West Conquering Demons. Chow is firmly in directing chair, unlike Kung Fu Hustle/Shaolin Soccer which was also the lead actor, but it has the same brightly coloured Road Runner style of his other films. It’s comedic all the way, with occasional glimpses into a more profound themes that he is playing on. This is Chow’s take on the ‘origin’ story of Monkey and Co and the beginning of the Journey to the West. Instead of focusing on Monkey, the star of the show is Tripitaka the Hairy Monk who sports a large Robert Smith/Side Show Bob hair do and is the demon hunting disciple of a fat buddhist priest (who suspiciously looks like Bodai, the familiar fat or Laughing Buddha ). This is a major change from the canonical version of the Priest, who in the book is a middle-aged High Priest of the Tang Empire, and one that in context of the film works very well. Without giving too much away Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are in their Demon forms, and Tripitaka must overcome them. Problem is he’s a young , soft and gentle but with an arrogant streak – obsessed with chasing the Demons as an expression of “Higher Love” and quite frankly incompetent at his job. He’s the comic fool/hero a reversal of his normal role as Straight man to Monkey’s shenanigans. It’s a great retelling of the origin tale, and makes it more dynamic as befits a kung-fu action film, without losing the essence of the reason why Monkey and Co are on their epic quest.  It all falls into place by the end of the movie and you are ready to embark on the Journey to the West proper. The sequel is apparently coming in 2017.

Surprise! On first glance seems to be cut from the same cloth, a brightly coloured comedic alternative take on the Monkey story. But where Conquering Demons rewrites the Monkey story, while staying true to its spirit, Surprise! writes a new chapter of the story starting with the familiar characters and then adds twists and turns all over. While not up to the sheer cinematic genius of Conquering Demons, it’s an engaging joyous film and worth watching for any Monkey fan.

Join the Monkey Army!


So UK Games Expo has been and gone, summer is here and no sign of the Kickstarter or even a low-key release of the Monkey 2nd Incarnation.  Mainly to be fair because I’m still finishing of the behemoth of Old School Gaming that is Crypts and Things Remastered (which should see the pdf in backers hands in July).

Progress has been made. After two or so years of playtesting at cons the central conflict resolution mechanic has been polished and streamlined, character generation as first session of play has been playtested at my home game and many other bits and bobs have been done. It all just needs that chunk of time for me to write it up and ease it into the existing text.

My home game is on hiatus, because two members are actually in China at the moment, one of whom, the indomitable Lynn, not returning until September.

I’m keen not to loose momentum despite this. I’m also conscious that there’s a small core of Monkey fans who are impatient for me to release the game. So help me help you by joining the “Monkey Army”. This will give you access to the playtest rules , pre-generated characters of the Four Pilgrims (Monkey, Sandy, Pigsy, Tripitaka) as well as a chance to feedback what you think of the new rules and results of your own playtesting. As the text develops I will send updates out to Monkey Army members and if you actively help me you’ll get a free complementary copy of the game in print and pdf.   The only thing I ask is that you have your own copy of the current rules (available in print/pdf via or directly in print/pdf from me £10 free postage in the UK) that you keep what I send you to yourself (you can blog about it, but no posting the text on the internet). No time wasters or jokers need apply 😉

Drop me a line at with the subject line “Join me up to the Monkey Army”

One man who was hammering down the door to join up and contribute was Dan Barker ,who long time Glorantha fans will remember for his covers and internal art for Tales of the Reaching Moon. Well I’m pleased that Dan will be joining Peter Frain in the Art Department for Monkey the 2nd Incarnation.

Here’s the piece that he did to secure the gig

Monkey riding his cloud by Dan Barker

Monkey riding his cloud by Dan Barker


2nd Incarnation Rules Changes

One of the big drivers for doing the 2nd Incarnation of Monkey was a clean up and streamline the rules. Not that the rules were by any means awful, but there was certain areas where they could do better. Also they where very much of the early 2000s School of Narratist gaming and by now even the games that where part of that movement (HeroQuest, FATE spring to mind) have undergone changes to make them more accessible and easy to play. Just look at FATE Core or HeroQuest Glorantha and you’ll see where I’m coming from here.

The main changes are:

  1. Play one Card. If you want to upgrade to Monkey 2 the quickest change you make is you now only play one card out of all the cards you draw from various sources. This makes the game much more manageable, no more large spreads of Action Hands cluttering up the table and no more fiddly maths adding up the totals of cards.
  2. Fortune and Virtue are now gone and have been replaced by Te. This is a chinese term that  represents Personal Power and Virtue, This allows more experienced characters to draw extra cards and take control of the narrative via Stealing the Scene, like fortune did before, and is a measure of how in tune with the Universe they are.
  3. More supportive frameworks for creating Scenes and Non-Player Characters, so that the Narrator can improvise and fill in the gaps in their adventure plan at a moments notice without breaking a beat.
  4. Mook rules! Take down hordes of nameless demon extras with a round house kick or get overwhelmed as they mob you!!


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.

Monkey Monday: Happy Year of the Monkey!

As we enter the Chinese Year of the Fire Monkey, the 2nd Incarnation of Monkey is imminent.

Probably not as imminent as Monkey would like (he is an impatient chap you know) but rapidly approaching all the same.

The plan is to kickstart the book, mainly to pay for production costs, but also to give it the full glow of publicity that it deserves and fund a few other things (such as the Ministry of Thunder Scenario pack and a chapter about Mortal Heroes – which will let you play Wuxia adventures inside and outside of the Journey to the West setting).

As well completely replacing all the internal art the game itself is getting a makeover. Rules are being simplified and honed so not only do they better match the quick-fire gameplay, but they also guide you through the story of the Journey of the West without falling victim railroading or hand waving. My write up of the new character generation process is a good example of this. There will be more posted on the blog in the run up to the Kickstarter.

But I can’t kickstart Monkey 2nd Incarnation until I’ve shipped Crypts and Things Remastered, which I’m currently looking at doing in March.

So as long as C&T goes to plan, I’m looking at the very appropriate April 1st 2016

The Pilgrims by Peter Frain

The Pilgrims by Peter Frain

Monkey Monday: Using the new character generation system

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 Proffesions, 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 ofstage. 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

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!

First Profession: Monkey Kung Fu (Mixed Style)
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 travelling 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.

Second Profession: Taoist Sage (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. Thewise planet suggested that he visit the Dragon King of the ???? 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 ???? 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.

Step 4 Monkey gets expelled 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 responsiblity 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.

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.

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

Monkey’s 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 profession 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.