Archive for the 'Nine Suns Must Fall' Category

Ghost Opera Layout Sketch

April 28, 2010

Apparently John tricked me into combining Nine Suns Must Fall with Ghost Opera and the Avatar game and some things I learned from Apocalypse World, all to make a quickstart dungeony game for kids and people who like stuff aimed at kids, illustrated with actual artwork from the Shang Dynasty.

Awesome. Can’t wait to playtest this. Which means I need to write it down.

Tang & the Alter of Xia

March 9, 2009

More great quotes from Sima Qian’s wikisource text

汤既胜夏 Once Tang was victorious over the State of Xia
欲迁其社 He desired to remove their alter
不可 But he was not able
作夏社 So he made it into the Alter to Xia

I love that the text doesn’t say why Tang wasn’t able to remove the alter; just that he couldn’t do it. And also, that Tang responded by turning it into an alter to his vanquished foes and their ancestors, just in case anyone was upset by what he’d done. Awesome.

Tang in the Vineyard

March 9, 2009

予畏上帝 I fear the High God
不敢不正 [and thus] must rectify the world (lit. “not dare not rectify”).
今夏多罪 Currently the State of Xia has many sins;
天命殛之 Heaven’s will is that it be destroyed.

— Tang, 15th King of the State of Shang (c. 1500 BC) and conquerer of Xia, according to Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian (c. 100 BC)

Pre-Zhou Kings

March 8, 2009

Found these illustrations by Japanese mangaka Natsuki Sumeragi of the Yellow Emperor (legendary), Yu the Great (legendary), King Jie of Xia & King Tang of Shang (historical but not archeologically verified), and King Zhou of Shang (historical and verified) with the concubine frequently blamed for the Shang downfall, Daji. It’s too bad Natsuki skipped King Wu Ding of Shang, the most honored and verified of the Shang Kings, and his warrior-priestess-wife Fu Hao, but these images are great nevertheless.

I think it’s really neat how Asian artists depict the early Chinese rulers in more tribal or ethnic-looking costumes, but still have them resemble later royal or upper class clothing. Some artists go the half-nobles, half-cavemen route, showing early figures wearing leopard skins and the like, but Natsuki takes a more dignified approach here.





Broodier Version

January 20, 2009

Now with more atmosphere.


Nine Suns Cover Sketch

January 20, 2009


Nine Falling Suns & Nine Dragon Sons

January 16, 2009

What happens when a sun falls?

And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. (Rev 8:10-11, KJB).

Sounds like a massive natural disaster to me, devastating an entire region of the kingdom. I should probably reference Bruce R. Cordell’s When the Sky Falls, even though I can’t quote anything directly from it, due to the current GSL restrictions, but it is definitely inspirational in several regards.

Also, I need to do something really different with dragonborn and tieflings (especially; I need to do something with almost all the player races), considering the way I want to portray dragons and demons. Right now I’m pondering dragonborn being based on the “nine offspring of the dragon” (qilin, pixiu, taotie, etc.) and basically embodying the will of the earth (compatible but not entirely the same as the will of heaven). However, over time, associating with mortals — who do not normally intuitively understand the will of earth and heaven — causes their racial traits to shift from being more-or-less dragonborn to being more-or-less tieflings. Physically, their transformation could resemble how people lose their feathers and beaks as they grow older. Perhaps they gradually lose their scales and horns, looking more and more human and less like dragons. Maybe they trade one of their dragonborn traits for a tiefling trait each time they gain a level? Something like that. Of course, I probably can’t call them dragonborn if they’re mechanically different from WOTC’s dragonborn, because of the GSL, but that shouldn’t be a problem. The dragon children should probably have some sort of fae step-like teleport power, to indicate them disappearing into the natural world (probably not usable in urban areas, but I’m not sure how urban you can get in the post-neolithic, early bronze age).

I also want to figure out a way to make the “X-origin” traits really important. If humans in this setting are all part-crow, to varying degrees, there’s probably interesting stuff to be done there. Likewise with dragonborn. I’m thinking about having the human / half-elf / elf / eladrin range of racial traits all describe the “standard” part-crow people that compose the setting, with a few other new crow-oriented racial traits thrown in. Building a character, involves a bit of mix-and-match from that pool of traits, based on how crow-like they are and such. Some traits may be reserved for nobles or royal family members. Not sure.

Dragon Creation

January 14, 2009

Inspired by town creation from Dogs in the Vineyard, the nature of monsters in Zelda, the Shinto influences in Miyazaki movies, the colossi from Shadow of the Colossus, and a short game Shreyas once wrote called “In Darkness He Is Waiting.”

The natural world operates in accord with the will of heaven. They are not exactly the same thing, theologically speaking, but mirror each other in a complementary fashion. Therefore, if something is at sixes and sevens (or, as they say in Chinese, a real ‘chaotic seven-eight mess’), if the dragons are acting up and causing disastrous calamities, such troubles necessarily have a mortal origin. The player characters are called upon to combat the symptoms of disasters — floods, fires, famines, eruptions of ghosts and monsters — but appeasing the wrath of the dragons ultimately involves determining how mortals are angering the natural world and/or spirit world.

Consequently, in this campaign setting, dragons are not monsters to be slain (though there will doubtlessly be hosts of other monsters that need stabbing). Dragons are effectively big, moving, dangerous puzzles to be found, explored, endured, and unraveled, if you are lucky. If you’re unlucky, they just eat you.

How to Perturb the Dragons

Here’s a table of mortal behaviors and their consequences in the earthly and spiritual realms. The GM uses this table, plus the NPCs that you’ve collaboratively created, to create disasters or other strange events that the PCs are sent to investigate.

improper hearts weather animals
improper behaviors storms ghosts
improper family relations crop failure monsters
improper village relations destruction dragonborn
improper conduct of a region disasters dragons
improper rule of a kingdom omens suns die

Your characters’ job, as agents of the Mulberry Throne, is ultimately to prevent the Ten Suns from falling from the sky, which means you have to stop problems from developing to that point. Of course, the difficulty is that many problems don’t become evident until the dragons awake and natural disasters begin occurring.

Shang Fantasy Oracle

January 14, 2009

A first attempt, based on Simon Carryer’s generation method, which also inspired Hard Boiled Cultures (currently #2 on RPGnow!).

NOTE: Edited a bit.

Social Hierarchies

Every character of any importance — PC or NPC — is going to be in some sort of tension with the expected social hierarchies, including the king himself and members of the royal family. While Confucianism and its emphasis on the “five relationships” is still several hundred years off, there is already an emphasis on ritual and propriety when it comes to social relationships. However, the overlapping nature of the various hierarchies makes is easy to adhere to most of them but nearly impossible to adhere to all of them at the same time. For example, if a character is a female shaman, she would be considered to have less authority than a man, but more authority than any non-shaman. Woohoo, social tension! The hierarchical social expectations that characters struggle with include:

• heaven (a.k.a. the natural order of all things) before earthly concerns,
• ancestors before the living,
• old before young,
• men before women,
• royalty before nobles (adopted royalty),
• nobles before the common people,
• masters before their servants;
• creditors before debtors;
• guests before hosts;
• shamans before non-shamans,
• warriors before non-warriors, and
• people before animals and non-people (including crow-people and eunuchs).

Using the Oracle

Draw 3-5 playing cards from a deck with the jokers removed for each PC or major NPC character you want in your game. I suggest starting with twice as many major characters as you have players, creating character concepts through the oracle process before players pick which characters they want to play. Use the cards drawn to brainstorm character concepts in the following fashion:

♥ Hearts: The character embodies this norm.
♠ Spades: The character twists this norm.
♦ Diamonds: The character has been changed by this norm.
♣ Clubs: The character has broken with this norm.

The Oracle Entries

2. Some of our ancestors are crows, consequently, we all share crow-like features and traits. Children are generally born with feathers and, sometimes, beaks, but these generally fall off as they grow to become youth.

3. Those that are too crow-like to function in society are driven away, up into the mountains or towards the sea.

4. Nobles — including all officials and military officers — must be of royal blood or ritually adopted into the royal family.

5. The only non-nobles allowed to touch or share objects handled by the royal family are eunuchs and virgin handmaidens. These special servants, because their sexual nature has been suppressed, grow more crow-like as they age, becoming more irritable and hoarding shiny objects.

6. Divination is the highest shamanic art, both seeing the future and seeing the true connections between heaven, earth, and mortal-kind. The sacred script, the only form of true writing that exists, is restricted to the diviners who serve the royal household and the royal family members who are required to participate in divination.

7. We all honor and seek aid from heaven, the Lord on High, the Consummate God-King (our shared, semi-divine ancestor), his consort the Crow-Mother, their children the Ten Suns, a variety of local agricultural, weather, and reproductive spirits, and our own familial ancestors. The royal family, of course, pays respect to the royal ancestors.

8. The royal family demonstrates heaven’s approval and the righteousness of their rule by predicting and competently handling natural disasters and other calamities that befall the people.

9. There is no slavery in the kingdom, though some obligations take a long time to fulfill.

10. Jade and tortoise shells are sacred materials important to political and spiritual authority. All jade belongs to the royal family. It can be loaned to specific nobles or noble houses, but never to non-nobles. Tortoise shells, if they are to be useful in divination, cannot be touched by non-noble hands.

J. Neighboring kingdoms accept the dominance of the Mulberry Throne and regularly send envoys bearing tribute.

Q. Grave robbers, horse thieves, and those who selfishly betray their lords are plagued by ghosts and despised by heaven and earth.

K. Dragons are the irritable and dangerous lords of the natural world. They do not easily tolerate mortal blundering but — as the embodiments of heaven’s will — cannot be killed, merely appeased. Everyone fears the dragons — and the common people regularly make offerings to them — but no one actively seeks their involvement in mortal affairs.

Some of Our Ancestors Are Crows

January 14, 2009

Some notes on primordial Chinese sovereigns. All of this is directly from the historical record.

The Shang/Yin people honored the God-King Jun as their primordial ancestor. We know this from oracle bones that mention his name.

Jun descended from heaven to rule the people, marrying Xihe and fathering the 10 Golden Crows — three-legged birds that are, in fact, suns, taking turns traveling across the sky each day. Xihe and the suns live in the land of Fusang (often associated with Japan) in the Eastern Sea. We know this from the Classic of Mountains and Seas, the oldest collections of Chinese myths still in existence.

The Shang kings traced their mortal ancestry back to a chieftain named Yi Lu. We know this from oracle bones in which the sovereigns called upon their ancestors.

Yi Lu’s wife, Jiandi, swallowed a crow’s egg and became pregnant with Xie, whose descendants included the Shang royal line. Again, this part is from the Classic of Mountains and Seas.

Some scholars now believe that the Shang/Yin mythology gradually lost prominence during the rise of the Western Zhou and the diversity of the Warring States period. Instead, later mythologies focus on the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors narratives not on the mythological rulers that the Shang honored as their ancestors.

Nine Suns: Tragic Co-Op Board Game?

September 3, 2008

Someone commented over on Secret Wars, asking if I’d given up on finishing Nine Suns Must Fall (a.k.a. the Shang Dynasty divination and disasters game). Honestly, this is the best way to make me work on some set-aside project: ask about it. On the subway ride home from work, my brain imagined this, showing a board game partially begun:

The brownish squares represent Shang communities. The two communities with glyphs on them are Shang, the first capitol, and Yin, the second one established under Wu Ding.

Through divination — poking holes in pieces of paper marked with turtle shell pictures and then ripping them to create random patterns — the players figure out how much rain happens in a given season. If there’s not enough rain, the players may have to dissolve one of their communities. If there’s too much rain, “flood” tokens (the blue squares) are placed on the map, touching the rivers. Based on the number of communities that choose to cooperate in flood-fighting, the players may also earn the ability to remove one or more flood tokens after they’ve been placed.

If too many flood tokens or other minor problems begin to accumulate, one of the nine suns must fall. On the left side of the board, the cards for the nine suns are placed face down. If a sun falls, flip over the appropriate card (two suns have fallen, according to this board) and place the resulting disaster somewhere on the board. The disasters currently on the board are a wildfire and a major flood (the latter of which has to connect to existing flood tokens). If you place a disaster far away from your communities, it’s less likely to destroy them, but it’s also more difficult for the communities to cooperate in fighting the disaster.

There’s also something about the week getting shorter because there are fewer suns, since the Shang had a day of the week for each sun. Currently, according to this board, we’re on the 9th day of a 10-day week, but two suns have already fallen, making it an 8-day week. Not sure how this works mechanically yet, but I think it should cause the disasters to appear faster and faster, with fewer opportunities to fight and remove them.

The game ends when the current capitol is destroyed, ending the Shang royal line. There should be some mechanics for moving the capitol from Shang, where it initially starts, to Yin, during the course of play.

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.

– 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