Retro: Nine Suns Must Fall

February 19, 2007

On the Forge Birthday Forum in 2004, Ben Lehman said, “I want an Asian fantasy / history game that isn’t reheated D&D and SamuraiNinjaKewl. And, of course, Mr. Walton writes it.” So I started work on something that was originally known as The Shang Dynasty Game.

This project was tangentially related to a few earlier thoughts (not really an actual project, as such) that anachronistically combined the Warring States period with Chinese rock musicians circa the 1980s. As I described it then:

    The Qin Emperor, in a effort to pacify the nations he has conquered, has issued a edict outlawing rock ‘n’ roll. Now, the rocker heroes of Zhao and Chu have raised the devil sign of rebellion, strapped their amps to their horses, slung a eight-string over their shoulders, and are staging the biggest rock show that All Under Heaven has ever seen… in the heart of the Imperial Palace at Xi’an. Do you RAWK or give up the axe? You RAWK, of course!”

Of course, the project that Ben convinced me to work on was dramatically different than this. Rich Forest provided me with a truly inspiring core concept: “Shang Dynasty China meets Disaster Movie!” The idea was that you would play the court diviners of one of the last Shang kings, rulers who were known for being arbitrary, ruthless, and incompetent, at least in comparison with their honored predecessors. Natural disasters are plaguing the land and the diviners, using their rituals and peering into the future, have opportunities to prevent or mitigate these diasters, if only they can convince the ruler to allow them to take action in time. Ultimately, the game was to be a tragedy, but one in which the diviners could succeed at making a difference, saving large numbers of people or even preparing for the next dynasty to come.

Progress in the game is measured in suns. The Shang believed in ten suns that each took turns ruling over one day or a ten-day week. However, the Zhou kings, who eventually defeated the Shang, believed only in a single sun and spread the story of the great archer Hou Yi who shot down nine suns from the sky. So every time a disaster is not circumvented or the Shang king grossly mismanages the affairs of state, a sun plummets from the heavens (maybe that could be what actually causes the flood or famine or whatever?) and the Shang Dynasty moves closer to collapse. Interestingly, it would have been a game that could be played in 10-session arcs, with each session representing a single disaster.

The system of the game never really came together in any meaningful way. There were some discussions of Shang period divination techniques in the thread and how to go about recreating those, but mostly it was just an amazing premise and game structure that never developed the basic rules that would have allowed it to be playtested.

Sources:
– 2004 Apr 04: Concept Originally Suggested on “Wishlist” Thread
– 2004 Apr 08: Shang Dynasty Game Thread on the Forge
– 2005 May 19: Livejournal Post with New Description

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