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Chinese Mythology

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Chinese Mythology

Throughout antiquity, Ancient China was one of the most cultivated and powerful empires in the world. Its first semi-legendary dynasty was founded in 2,000 BC, well before ancient Greece rose to power. By 200 BC, the emperors of Ch’in dynasty controlled an area of 500,000 square miles. they had also completed one of the most impressive civil engineering projects ever undertaken, the Great Wall of China, which runs for more than 1,500 miles along the nation’s northern frontier. By the 7th century AD, the Chinese had developed both paper and printing, crucial inventions which were not to reach the west until more than 700 years later. The list of technological advances made by the Chinese goes on and on, but includes the invention of the clock, development of gunpowder, and the spinning of silk.

Considering these impressive achievements and its physical location, it is no wonder that China thought of itself as “Middle Kingdom.” To its inhabitants, the Middle Kingdom was the center of the world and a beacon of civilization in a shadowy world of barbarism. They believed that the people to the north of China were fierce nomads who lived herding sheep, horses, and camels. Those to the south, they considered headhunting savages who fed themselves by slithering about in rice paddies. The kingdoms to the west were jealous, hostile rivals, and to the east lay vast seas populated by the isolated island cultures.

The Middle Kingdom’s great civilization developed in the vast plain of northern China. This plain was a dry prairie covered many yards deep with yellow dust that had been blowing out of Mongolia for thousands of years. Through the middle of this plain wound the Yellow River, a great sluggish river so choked with silt that it frequently overflowed its banks and flooded the farmlands along its length.

This dusty basin might seem an unlikely birthplace for one of the greatest cultures man has witnessed, but it was here that the first Chinese city-states arose, relying upon the waters of the Yellow River to irrigate their fields of millet and barley, and to water their herds of pigs, goats, and oxen. It was also here that Yu the Great, the founder of the legendary Hsia dynasty, established the first Chinese empire.

Although it remains unclear whether Yu the Great was an historical or legendary personage, it is clear that his reign was followed by a long series of vigorous dynasties.

The Age of Philosophy

From about the sixth to third centuries BC, the central power of the empire declined and the feudal city-states enjoyed a great deal of independence. Although this situation, eventually led to a prolonged civil war, it was also during this period that two of China’s most prominent philosophies, Confucianism, and Taoism, were developed. Both were founded by sages who, as was the custom during this period, wandered from petty king to petty king offering their advice and wisdom. Although neither philosopher received much acclaim during their own times, both had an impact on China that is still evident today.

The heart of Confucianism, which was founded by K’ung Fu-tzu, is an ethical and moral system rooted in the venerated traditions of China’s earliest ages. Basically, K’ung Fu-tzu taught that people, especially rulers, should be unselfish, courteous, respectful of the opinions of others, loyal to family and prince, humble, virtuous, and bold in the cause of right or good. Strictly speaking, Confucianism is not a religion, for it is not concerned with the supernatural or spiritual matters. It is more a philosophy that guides men in their everyday lives.

In many ways, Taoism is the opposite of Confucianism. Where Confucianism is concerned with the art of government and social morality, Taoism is concerned with otherworldly mysticism. Taoists believe in a oneness-of-being. To them, life is the same as death and all things are part of the same harmonious state of existence. The only way to achieve knowledge of this mystic state is to enter a trance and merge with the infinite. The Taoists believe that any order imposed on nature is destructive and bound to create unhappiness, so they are generally opposed to law and government.

Needless to say, this did not make Taoism popular with the ruling class, but it did not stop Taoism from becoming the most popular religion of the lower classes. It eventually became organized into a church, complete with a formal hierarchy, rites, festivals, and an escape to the Mystical Garden for the faithful.

Both Taoism and Confucianism were influenced by a concept from another school of philosophy, that of yin-yang. Basically, yin-yang is a dualist view of the cosmos which posits the existence of two opposing forces, yin (female, dark, weak) and yang (male, light, strength). It is through the interaction of these two forces that everything in the universe is created.

Sometime between around 100 AD, another important influence came to China from distant India: Buddhism. This new religion taught that suffering was indistinguishable from life. The only way to reach salvation was to extinguish all sense of self, which would lead to a state of illumination beyond both suffering and existence. Despite these foreign ideas, there were many surface similarities between Taoism and Buddhism, such as its emphasis on meditation as a means of enlightenment. Therefore, Buddhism found a ready reception in China, and it was not long before Buddhist schools peculiar to Chinese culture appeared and flourished.

Because of the influence of these three schools of thought, it is often said that China has three religions: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. This is not to say that a single individual practices all three religions. Rather, it means that there is room in China for followers of all three religions.

As the paragraphs above illustrate, the ancient Chinese were relatively broad-minded and open to new ideas. Imperial China was a land where new concepts received a frank appraisal and, if found deserving, an opportunity to flourish. For priests charged with spreading worship of their deity, it should be an interesting land in which to adventure.
Chinese Social Order

Early in Chinese history, the Emperor ruled the land through a network of noble lords not too terribly different from that of feudal Europe. But as the empire grew and became increasingly concentrated in huge cities (some had more than a million inhabitants), it became necessary to develop an efficient system to administer it. In response to these needs, China developed the world’s first massive bureaucracy

Political power quickly passed from the hands of the nobility to the prefects and governors employed by the Imperial bureaucracy. These civil servants reported to the Emperor through an elaborate chain of command that ensured an efficient delegation of power and responsibility. In theory, any intelligent man could rise to a position of power in this system of government. Bureaucrats were chosen not through heredity or nepotism, but on the basis of scores earned on a rigorous civil service examination which tested the prospective employee’s knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, especially Confucianism and religion. In reality, however, only the children of the well-to-do could afford to invest the time and money necessary to ensure an acceptable examination score.

Despite these flaws, the Chinese bureaucracy worked reasonably well. There were many problems with corruption and betrayal of the public trust, but the system could not have been too seriously flawed, or it would not have survived as long as it did. The last emperor ruled an area of over three million square miles and was not formally deposed until the 20th century.

In addition to China’s efficient bureaucracy, there are many reasons for the longevity of its Imperial government. One of the most important, however, is certainly the Emperor’s special relationship with the deities of his culture.

Chinese Emperors ruled by a Mandate from Heaven. In the earliest times, it was believed that the kings were direct descendants of a heavenly deity. As such, these “Sons of Heaven” were endowed with extraordinary spiritual power which enabled them to establish hereditary lines of sacred Emperors who ruled in the country’s best interest. As the dynasties grew older, this precious spiritual power dissipated until the rulership was passed on to someone devoid of this sacred power. At that time, heaven would bestow its mandate on another hero, who would displace the current Emperor and found a new dynasty.

One of the most important duties of a Son of Heaven was to act as an intermediary between heaven and the entire world, known as “Under Heaven.” The Chinese believed that everything in nature was endowed with a supernatural spiritual force. In the earliest times, it was the king’s duty to use his spiritual power to ensure that these spirits provided for mankind’s needs. Natural disasters, such as drought, flood, famine, etc., were seen as a sign that the emperor had lost his mandate to rule.

The Chinese also practiced ancestor worship. They believed that when a person died, his spirit lived on in the upper regions and influenced the fate of his descendants Under Heaven. To invoke the blessings of these ancestors, and to sustain them so they would not become evil spirits, every citizen from the lowest to highest offered his ancestors food and wine.

In return, the ancestors were expected to provide and look out after the welfare of his descendants. The earliest kings had questions written down on pieces of polished bones (later called “dragon bones”). These bones, which contained questions about nearly every aspect of ruling a society, were held over a fire until they cracked. The answer to the question was divined from the pattern of the cracks.

These primitive beliefs did not fade away as Chinese society advanced and as the pantheon grew more complicated. Instead, the old beliefs and the new became parallel religions that complemented each other. The duty of appeasing the nature spirits passed into peasant hands, while the duty of worshipping the new, more powerful gods (and his own divine ancestors) became the province of the Emperor.

The pantheon of these new gods was similar to the organization of the empire. At the head of the bureaucratic order was Yu-Huang-Shang-Ti, the supreme emperor of Heaven and Under Heaven. He ruled from a splendid palace, and had a full set of courtiers, family, army, and civil servants at his disposal. These subordinates were charged with certain duties and responsibilities, and had to report to Shang-Ti once a year. If the supreme emperor was not pleased, as was a the case, they could be removed and replaced by another who would do a better job.

Although the deities of the Chinese pantheon inhabit many different planes, they may be found together at least once a year at Shang-ti’s palace in the Seventh, or Illuminated, Heaven. Normally, only lawful good beings are admitted into this plane, but any Chinese deity may come and go here through Shang-ti’s power.

The Afterlife

Like all Chinese mythology, the concept of the afterlife is mixture of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian thought. Basically, the ancient Chinese believed that after death, a person’s soul goes to the first of ten supernatural law courts. Here, the judge investigates the person’s deeds during his past life and passes judgment on what is to come.

Depending on the nature of their morality, the souls of the virtuous met one of three fates. They could be sent back the earth to be reincarnated immediately. In cases where the individual’s morality was subject to question, he might be incarnated in an animal’s body as a minor punishment. The souls of the very honorable might be sent to the K’un-lun Mountain, dwelling place of the Immortals, or to the Land of Extreme Felicity in the West. Both paradises were lands of eternal delight which only the most virtuous souls could hope to attain.

The souls judged to be wicked passed through nine more courts of law. In the first eight of these courts, the soul is judged for crimes against the jurisdiction of that particular court. For instance, in the second court, the individual might be found guilty of being a dishonest intermediary or an ignorant doctor. In the third, he might be judged a backbiter or forger, and in the fourth a miser, cheat, or blasphemer. As the individual receives his judgment, he is passed to one of two bells attached to each court, where he receives a punishment appropriate to the crime. For instance, a miser might be compelled to swallow molten gold, a liar might have his tongue cut out, a murderer might be cut into pieces, etc.

After receiving the appropriate punishment in each court, the soul reaches the house of Lady Meng, just inside the exit to this terrible after-world. Here, the Lady Meng serves them the Broth of Oblivion, which robs the souls of memory of their former lives and their ordeal in the afterlife. After drinking the broth, the souls pass through the exit and climb onto the Wheel of Transmigration and are cast back to earth to be reincarnated in a new body.
Priests in China

Ancient Chinese clerics were responsible for worshipping the entire pantheon of gods, and performed a wide variety of tasks related to the heavens as a whole. In the AD&D© game, however, priests often dedicate themselves to a particular deity. Their spells and powers are granted as favors from that deity in return for the cleric’s service.

When running a campaign with the Chinese mythos as a backdrop, you can handle this difficulty in one of two ways: you can run clerics as basic priests who are granted their powers from the Celestial Bureau of Priestly Powers. In such a case, you should assign the Priest’s spells to him in accordance with the needs of the Celestial Bureaucracy and without regard to the character’s own wishes (reflecting the inflexible nature of bureaucratic administration). Under no circumstances will such priests receive granted powers or any other benefits normally reserved for priests using the specific mythos option.

On the other hand, if you wish to use the wider range of options available in the specific mythos rules, you may do so. Simply allow the priest to dedicate himself especially to a particular deity. While he is still bound to show the normal reverence to all gods, he can earn the special favors available in the mythos rules by showing extraordinary dedication to a particular deity.

New Spells

Ancestral Blessing (Necromancy)

2nd Level Priest

Sphere: Necromancy

Range: Touch

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 1 question or 1 day per level of caster

Casting Time: 1 round

Area of Effect: 1 person or house

Saving Throw: none
This spell can be used by a character of any class who is at least 3rd level or higher and the head of his or her household.

The caster of this spell calls upon the spirits of his ancestors for advice or protection. Providing the caster maintains an altar to his ancestors in his home and sacrifices food to them each day, the spirit of one of the individual’s ancestors will answer the summons.

The ancestor spirit will either answer one question (with 75% accuracy), or bestow a blessing on one character of the caster’s choice. This blessing takes the form of a +1 modifier to the character’s saving throws that lasts for the duration of the spell.

Alternatively, the caster can ask the spirit to guard his home. In this case, the spirit acts as an infallible alarm against all non-magical intrusions for the duration of the spell. The spirit will not protect the home, it will simply alert the caster to an intrusion (no matter where he happens to be at the moment).

The material components of this spell are a dozen grains of any cereal or grain and a thimble filled with wine.
New Magic items

Canon of Changes

This book allows the reader to draw on the mystic Oneness of the universe to change the nature of matter to fulfill his own desires. Essentially, he can convert any non-living object weighing up to 500 gp into any other, non- living, non-magical object of similar mass.

If used in conjunction with the analects of magic (see below), this conversion can be done with up to 5,000 gp of mass. In addition, the object may be converted into a magical weapon, armor, or shield with a bonus of up to +5, with one power based on any wizard or priest spell of up to fifth level. Alternatively, the object could be converted into any monster of up to 10 HD.

Only a being of at least 18 Constitution and 18 Wisdom can read this book. Even for beings powerful enough to employ the tome, it requires 72 hours of constant reading before he can execute the change, and he forgets everything he has learned from the book after the transformation is completed. A being may read the book as many times as he wishes, but he loses one point of Constitution each time he uses the knowledge gained from it.

Any being who attempts to use this book while lacking the proper Constitution or Wisdom permanently loses 1d6 points of Constitution. This book may not be used to alter living beings, attribute scores, or to create magic items except as described above.
Analects of Magic

This book allows a wizard (or wu-jen, if you are using the Oriental Adventures supplement) to memorize any spell, no matter what his level. Reading the analects of magic requires 72 hours of uninterrupted study, and after using the ability gained from it, the reader forgets everything he read. Only 1 wizard (or wu-jen) of 18 Constitution and 18 Intelligence may read this tome and they must lose one point of Constitution when they do so.

Any being who attempts to use this book while lacking the proper Constitution or Intelligence loses 1d6 points of Constitution .

When used in conjunction with the canon of changes (see above) this book has other special powers.

Jade Scepter of Defending

This huge scepter is made of white jade and constantly glows as if a continual light spell had been placed on it. It can be used like a mace +3 which inflicts 1d6 points of damage (plus its magic bonus). It never needs to make a saving throw against any destructive force short of that delivered by a god. The scepter’s most useful property, however, is that it will: prevent any non-magical weapon from striking the holder for as long as he concentrates on not being hit. The holder may do nothing else while concentrating on his defense, and the jade scepter will not defend the holder from any attack inflicted by magic or magic weapons.

A Charisma of at least 18 is required to wield the jade scepter. Any being with a Charisma below 18 who tries to lift the scepter loses a point of Constitution.
Dancing Sword of Bronze

At first glance, this ancient weapon appears to be a tarnished sword of bronze. If wielded by a being with a Strength of at least 18, however, its true nature becomes apparent. It no longer looks corroded, and performs as a sword of dancing +1 as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. In addition, when held by its owner, the dancing sword of bronze also has the ability to shoot a 30 hit point lightning bolt once per round. If its owner is ever killed, or moves more than thirty feet away from it, the sword vanishes, only to reappear in its corroded form years later in some farmer’s field.

In the hand of any being with a Strength of less than 18, the sword appears to be nothing more than a corroded, weapon of bronze.
Shang-ti (greater god)

Shang-ti, also known as Yu-Huang-Shang-Ti, is the Supreme Ruler of the universe. He is the giver of life, the vitalizing power of the earth, the bestower of the Mandate of Heaven, the supreme judge, forgiver, savior of mankind, and the personification of heaven itself. As the head of the Celestial Bureaucracy, all other deities rule through his grace and authority. His word is law among all gods and goddesses, and he is the final arbitrator in any dispute among them. In his true form, Shang-ti is an ethereal, aged man with a bald head and a long white beard.

Role-playing Notes: Shang-ti runs the Celestial Bureaucracy with the welfare of the Chinese Empire at heart. He never gets angry, but will replace any subordinate god who fails to perform his duty correctly. In cases of corruption, Shang-ti has returned even the most powerful gods to mortal form and sent them to the After-world to be punished for their misdeeds.

Omens come from Shang-ti only when the Emperor has lost his Mandate from Heaven. In such times, the Empire is besieged by natural disasters such as plagues, floods, and earthquakes.

Statistics: AL lg; WAL any lawful; AoC creation, social order; SY jade dragon.
Shang-ti’s Avatar (fighter 16, priest 18)

In his avatar form, Shang-ti appears as a wizened old man. The avatar has access to spells in any sphere.

Str 18/95 Dex 18 Con 18

Int 19 Wis 19 Cha 17

MV 18 SZ 6’ MR 50%

AC -4 HD 18 HP 144

#AT 2 THAC0 3 Dmg ld8 +2/1d8 + 2 (staff) +5
Special Att/Def: Shang-ti’s avatar carries a staff of thunder and lightning as described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. All missile attacks directed at him through the air turn around and strike the sender.
Duties of the Priesthood

Only the Emperor may worship Shang-ti, although lower nobility and peasants are allowed to make offerings to him once a year. The Emperor’s sole duty consists of administering the earthly bureaucracy as efficiently as possible and with the welfare of the Chinese Empire at heart.

Requirements: AB standard, but at least 17 Intelligence; AL any lawful; WP any; AR e; SP any; PW 5) Charisma of 19 and innate ability to detect lies; TU turn.
Kuan-ti (intermediate god)

Kuan-ti, also known as Huan-ti, is the god of fortune telling and war. Instead of making war, however, he tries to prevent it whenever possible. He is a great scholar and protector of the people, though he can be merciless and unforgiving in the pursuit of his duties. When war is unavoidable between two powers, it is his task to adjudicate the dispute and determine who is deserving of victory.

Occasionally, he enjoys using his intellectual prowess to predict the future, which accounts for his position as the god of fortune-telling. In his true form, he appears as a large muscular man with green armor and red skin.

Role-playing Notes: Although he is the god of war, Kuan-ti is not very warlike. Whenever possible, he prefers to see political differences settled by diplomatic rather than military means. When a war does erupt, he prefers to remain involved until he has determined which side is more valorous, for experience has taught him that warriors fighting for just causes tend to be more brave than those fighting on behalf of evil.

Statistics: AL ng; WAL any good; AoC war, fortune telling, protection; SY black-winged chariot.
Kuan-ti’s Avatar (fighter 18)

Kuan-ti’s avatar takes the form of a huge man with red and green armor.

Str 20 Dex 18 Con 18

Int 19 Wis 19 Cha 16

MV 18 SZ 7’ MR 35%

AC -4 HD 18 HP 144

#AT 2 THAC0 3 Dmg 1d10 +3/1d10 +3 (sword) +8
Special Att/Def: Kuan-ti’s avatar wears special magical armor that helps defend him against magical attacks. All such attacks must make attack rolls (as if they were missile weapons for ranged spells and as melee weapons for touch spells). He fights with a magic two-handed sword +3.
Duties of the Priesthood

Clerics devoted to Kuan-ti must be competent fighters, but cannot be quarrelsome or pugnacious. They must always be ready to defend the weak or the empire, but can never lift their weapons for personal gain.

All priests of Kuan-ti are multi-classed fighter/priests and must meet the standard requirements for both classes. The normal prohibition against human characters being multi-classed is waived in the case of Kuan-ti’s followers.

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