Its been almost eight years since I revealed the Ministry of Thunder on this blog. In fact, back in the 1st edition days. It funded as the second stretch goal of the second edition, and after a few playthroughs, writer’s block it’s now coming to completion.
The overall concept, a short collection of adventures set around the Ministry of Thunder of the title that people can run either as one-shots or as a short campaign, which can be used to an introductory prequel to a longer Journey to the West game (which is the default in campaign-style in the main rulebook).
This bit of text from the introduction sums it up:
“It is a self-contained story arc’, like a mini-series of comics or a series of interconnected short stories, designed to introduce beginning players and narrators to the mythological worlds of Monkey. It’s designed to be straightforward and not depend on the constant player and narrator invention like the standard Journey to the West set up of the default game. Each adventure takes roughly three to four hours to complete, as it befits their origins as convention games. In short, if you want to run a short ‘campaign’ that is as traditional as Monkey gets. to see if you and your players like the game, with it still being a meaningful experience, this is the book you want.”
There’s a reason why I first put the Ministry together during the 1st edition days. I attempted to get people on board who were coming from a more traditional “get the rules, run the prepackaged adventure next” way of doing things. Who perhaps found Monkey’s free-wheeling make things up as you go along method a bit intimidating. In itself, it inspired me to do a second edition of the rules to make them more accessible, based on how I had settled on running the game to complete newcomers at conventions.
Here’s the current line up of adventures that has changed since I first announced it.
- Welcome to the Ministry of Thunder.
- King Tiger.
- The Magical Painter.
- The Ministry Saves the Universe.
Of the original line up, only King Tiger remains. While being fun to run once, the others didn’t hold up to repeat plays and were weak on paper. That’s one thing of spending near on eight years of navel-gazing on this one that I’ve become a stronger adventure writer, and I have a clearer idea of what works for Monkey and what doesn’t.
Jon Hodgson’s cover still holds up.
Dan Barker returns to do the internals. This is a detail from my favourite piece, his take on the Moon Goddess and her friend and companion the Jade Rabbit.
It’s not called the Mega Monkey for nothing, this is the most epic set of adventures that I’ve ever written for the game and it spans across Western Heaven – Earth – and down into the Ten Courts of Hell. 130 pages, 15 pre-made player immortals, full details of the three cities, non-player immortals, dozens of scenario seeds and three long-form adventures.
The Bad News, deadlines have gone flying past again like Monkey making to the edge of the Universe on his cloud. A combination of real-life busyness with day jobs (for my collaborators) and for me the joys of having my children at home for the summer holidays.
The Good News, we’re not pissing on the five pillars (which turn out to be Buddha’s fingers) when we get there. The document undergoing final proof, I’m putting the final touches on the Play Aids pack, Glynn Seal is doing city maps, and Dan Barker is doing stunning work on the art.
I’m cracking the whip and shouting “End of August!!”
So for now, that’s where I’ll leave you with Dan’s charming picture of the co-rulers of the Western Heaven sharing a slightly awkward moment as the more youthful and inexperienced Jade Emperor experiences the displeasure of the Queen Mother of the Western Heaven, who briefly shows her “Queen of Tigers” side.
(and if you want a sneak peek at another piece Dan did the book, pop over to this previous post on the Monkey blog).
I shall update you again in early Sept.
I’m off to Burrito Con at fanboy 3 tomorrow and I shall be running Peaches Falling Fallen From Heaven (which is part of the upcoming Mandate of Heaven adventure book).
Chang’an is the cosmopolitan capital of the great Tang Empire. Here Chinese citizens, brush shoulders with Turkish traders, and Buddhist Monks discuss the finer points of religion with their Taoist counterparts. All while an invisible department of the Celestial Bureaucracy made up of diverse immortals, such as yourselves, ensure the smooth day to day running of the city.
Today is an unhappy day. Peaches of Immortality have fallen from Western Heaven and one has landed in the city. Your department’s initial divinations are not good. They indicate the involvement of Triads, magical secret societies, a high risk of Kung Fu fighting and even Demonic interference! Nervously your boss the City God looks to you to find the missing peach and restore harmony to the city.
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
- 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.
- 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)
- All the immortals where part of the Celestial Bureaucracy that runs the Universe, until their Weakness caused them to be thrown out.
- They are now working as troubleshooters for various immortal patrons, to redeem themselves and regain their place back in Heaven.
- 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
- 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.
- Put the Narrator’s deck down between them and you. Shuffle the pack (or ask one of the players to do it).
- 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.
3. Determine Spotlight and hand out the pre-made characters
- 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.
- 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
- 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.