Lions in the Snow Mountains

March 27, 2008

This is a hack of Dogs in the Vineyard for exploring the contemporary unrest in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and surrounding areas. All the players play Tibetans and the majority should be young people under 30 but old enough to willfully commit violence in full knowledge (otherwise the game lacks a moral “fruitful void” to explore). One player can be a monk or nun, if they like, and one player can choose to have a position in the Party (including the Youth League), government, or military, but the rest should have non-clerical, non-state jobs or be students.

Each character should have an “I am Tibetan” trait instead of the standard “I am a Dog” trait. This can take many different forms, as usual. Consider how different is to say “I am a Tibetan nun” or “I’m secretly working for the Tibetan Youth Congress” or “I am a Muslim Tibetan” or “I am a Tibetan cadre” or “I am a Tibetan security officer.”

Instead of a coat, you have a traditional Tibetan knife. This starts as a standard d6 object, but you can describe it however you like and give it dice accordingly for being high quality or big or crappy or whatever. Yes, you can totally roll your knife dice in conflicts.

You cannot escalate to gunfighting without a gun and live ammunition. None of the Tibetan characters start out with loaded guns, not even soldiers or security officers. It’s possible that soldiers and security officers have guns that are issued to them, but they cannot check out live ammo to use with them unless authorized by the appropriate authorities. In most situations, they will not even be allowed to carry guns, as the Chinese government is decidedly uninterested in arming Tibetans. The GM’s NPCs, however, can certainly have loaded guns, especially if they are Chinese soldiers or security forces.

Characters can feel however they want to about the situation of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, the “Middle Way” (the non-violent approach of the Tibetan exile government), the Chinese state, the Communist Party, etc. Like Dogs in the Vineyard, this game isn’t pushing a particular agenda or point of view. That’s the fruitful void. Instead, the game is about personal choices related to the use of violence and the consequences of those choices.

As such, the GM’s role is to keep escalating things, both inside and outside conflicts, exploring under what conditions the players will, for example, choose to draw their knife and use it, because, even for people committed to non-violence, violent action always seems to be an attractive and effective option. Once violence has been committed, by one side or another, the GM is then tasked with following the consequences of that violence, guided by Fallout. The GM’s other role is to continue to complicate black-and-white situations and ask the players to reconsider previously accepted truths. “All Chinese are bad? What about this poor shop owner from Henan who’s just trying to feed his family? Okay, not him? What if he distrusts Tibetans? Now he’s bad? What if he’s Buddhist, just like you? What happens when you have to choose between saving him or yourself?” Etc.

The goal of the players, as in any game of Dogs is to try to fix things, drawing on their limited resources. Unlike in Dogs, the characters aren’t free to move to the next town. This is where they live. Characters can leave the game, temporarily or permanently, by leaving for college or a job in the eastern provinces, going abroad somehow, going to prison, or being killed. Or the game can simply end when you reach a suitable point.

I suggest reading up a bit about the recent violence if you’re planning on actually running it. A good source is China Digital Times.

6 Responses to “Lions in the Snow Mountains”

  1. Brand Robins Says:

    We need town creation rules.

    Maybe nationalism/tribalism replaces pride as the root of all ills?

  2. Jmstar Says:

    What’s demonic influence? Do I even need to ask?


  3. I knew I forgot something. I think I’d say that discontent replaces pride, discontent with the current order of things or the official plan for “Western Development” or the non-violent, Hollywood focus of the government in exile.

    You could pretty much follow the standard rules for developing towns. For example: False Priesthoods would be secret organizations taking matters into their own hands, whether Chinese, Tibetan, Muslim, international, or mixed organizations. Discontent works like pride in that it motivates people to think that the existing social norms (in this case, often imposed upon people) don’t apply to them and that they should do something else instead.

    You might also think about making multiple things wrong in different sub-communities, to complicate the situation, especially since you won’t be moving anywhere. Like, create some dissent in the local monastery, in the school system where they’re forced to teach “official histories,” among the local officials, among local businessmen, among different ethnic groups, etc. Dissent levels could vary between different sub-communities and, optionally, fester further between sessions based on character or NPC actions.

    Demonic influence could be The West, I think. It shouldn’t be at the base of all dissent, but it definitely rolls big dice when its influence is felt. Nationalism / splitism is another possibility.

  4. Brand Robins Says:

    I also think, with discontent, that you could make it so that it isn’t “wrong” to have it, but that it leads to violence and suffering.

    The question then becomes not “were people right to be discontent” but “did the way they chose to deal with their discontent help or hurt.”

    Dogs has a moralistic stance about right/wrong and sin that works for it, but that I don’t know we need to bring here. I think we can get enough drama without sin and evil. Instead we just have a bunch of unhappy, pressured people making decisions — and those decisions lead to riots, murder, and military action.

    So like, discontent leads to injustice, injustice leads to hmm… we need something that is like “sin” but without “sin” and that leads to protest, secret societies/covert operations, leads to riots, leads to military intervention.

    I also think demonic influence could be replaced with something less moralistic. Nationalism/Splitism works… but even though I suggested it, I don’t know if I like it best. Maybe Instability? Like, just call it what it is — demons in Dogs represent a break down in social cohesion and social mores. So just call it that: Social Break Down, Instability, whatever. The dice come into play anytime someone is trying to do something that will make the violence, the escalation, the rebellion, the repression… whatever… worse.

  5. Brand Robins Says:

    Oh, also, it’d be cool to have some watchtowers along the way — things to be sure that you remember to put in the normal sex and money and stuff along with the idealism.

    Because man, idealism motivates and drives, but behind every idealist is someone mad about money, about sex or the lack of sex, about pride and position and all the rest.

    Just tossing it in as a note, cause I found myself thinking up situations, and was finding them all full of politically motivated people who didn’t feel quite real because they didn’t have personal motivations to go along with the political.


  6. Yeah, you’re reading me on discontent right. It’s not that it’s bad; it just causes trouble in a pseudo-authoritarian society.

    Also, like I said in chat, I like demonic influence as Da Luan (chaos), since that’s what the Chinese state is trying to avoid by promoting Wen Ding (stability) and Hexie Shehui (Harmonious Society) and the like.

    Yeah, it is important that discontent isn’t all related to political issues. Maybe someone hates their job. Maybe the girl they have a massive crush on won’t give them the time of day… unless they’re on the news fighting for Tibet’s freedom or earn a commendation for squelching the riots. All sorts of good fodder there that can make people more human.


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