View Full Version : Twilight of Heaven - A Game of Martial Arts and Magic in a Mournful World of Myth

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 05:05 PM
The lonely xia stood on one knee, partly supported by the jade blade she stabbed into the ground to avoid being blown by the explosion. The land around her was like ash, the sky was raining blood and the scent of sulfur was all over her. She glanced at the wood corpses around her - this had doubtlessly been once a lush forest before the Cataclysm. Now, it was nothing but charred and dead. She removed the sword from the ground and cut into one of the remnants of a tree, bleeding what little life sap remained within the trunk.

"Come now, bastard. I will not die so easily."

The beast ponderously walked through the trees, his movement belying his natural grace and speed the xia observed before. It appeared to be what was a bear-ape before the Cataclysm, but was highly mutated by the Lux. It no longer sported any of the luxurious fur the beasts were purportedly famous for, but instead had a thick, scaly carapace covering its skin. Its claws were of adamant infernal bone and its spines were as diamond. Unlike its non-mutated form, the mutated beast had adapted to walk on its hind-limbs, although it was not smart enough to use tools. The carapace had covered the eyes of the hellish monster, yet it could feel its enemies through smell.

Now, however, its nose could no longer locate the small human it was hunting. Instead, there was an acrid stink of corrupted shadowoak sap, rising from the ground up to several yards above. Overwhelmed by the stench, the bear-ape reflexively shut its nostrils, having to rely on the sound its prey would inevitably make. There, without sight and without smell, the beast waited for several minutes. There was not the slightest sound except for its own claws crushing the ground and the blood rain - not even the wind would dare enter this hell-forsaken wasteland.

The xia made the leap from the tree branch she was perched on onto the beast, carving the air with great force behind the jade and striking the carapace. Most things would shatter with the weight applied at the moment of striking, but the shell did not even crack in the slightest. Now aware of the location of the prey, the bear-ape turned swiftly to bring its massive claws to bear. They arced through the air, scattering the blood drops in the air all over the xia's face. The stinging taste of iron in her mouth quickened her reflexes, allowing the warrior to drop and tumble away from the blow at the last moment.

It should have at least scratched the shell, dammit!

The beast let out a thundering scream, cracking several of the trees around it and breaking some of them in half, and it followed the scream with a barrage of claws. The xia parried the claws with the blade, yet could feel herself losing strength and balance with each parry. Finally, she was backed down to a tree. The bear-ape fell on all fours, snarling with fury. She also fell on her bottom, hardly able to lift the blade. She couldn't die. Not like this. She spent hours trying to bring the beast down; she couldn't fail now. The beast opened its jaw and moved in to bite the xia in half.

The report of the xia's pistol could be heard for miles in the silent hell.

The beast did not have any carapace inside of his mouth, which the xia discovered at the last moment. Drawing the pistol, she quickly moved her hand into the mouth and shot the beast in the brain. The ball pierced the brain, made a "thunk" sound at the carapace, and stopped, killing the beast almost instantly.

She was breathing heavily now. She could relax for a moment - nothing could stalk her without her awareness for now. She started ripping apart the carapace and taking all the useful parts she could find. The heart alone could prove to be a healthy dinner in some parts. Yet the xia was not so ignorant as to merely eat the bear-ape. She cut her way to the lungs and sliced them open. She quickly shielded her eyes from the brilliance and slowly opened them to look at the newfound treasure.

Ah, yes. The Moon Master is going to be pleased at this bounty.

For the first time in days, the xia laughed. The pain, the panic, the scars - it was all worth it now.

She had found the Silver Willow Mournful's blade.

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 05:07 PM

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 05:10 PM
(reserved 2)

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 05:13 PM
(reserved too)

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 06:08 PM
I think that's enough reserved posts.

Basically, I'm trying to come up with a setting (possibly even its own ruleset, but let's not get ahead of ourselves) that combines my favorite genres into a glorious (or retarded) whole. The Twilight of Heaven takes place in the world of the Middle Kingdom. Once, the world was glorious under the laws set forth by the One and Seven Divinities of Transcendent Perfection, and it reached a level of prosperity comparable to most utopic fictional settings.

Then the demons came.

The demons had existed outside the Celestial Bureaucracy for a long time, but they usually were content to be Nowhere, with the occasional foray into the Middle Kingdom. This time, however, they came with armies the likes of which had never been seen before. The forces of Heaven promptly responded, and for several centuries, the Middle Kingdom was the battlefield of the Celestial Armies and the Infernal Hordes. The forces of the Void and the Light battling in full power decimated the mortal realm.

Something, however, stopped the war.

No living man remembers what this something is, but the monsters of Light returned to their non-realm and the soldiers of the Void could not fight within the Middle Kingdom anymore. Regardless, the mortals that remained breathed lightly once more. Their world was almost annihilated, but they still lived, and they could build again.

They never could.

The world of the Middle Kingdom is not thriving. It is not rising anew from the ashes. It is slowly dying. Many technologies were lost after the Cataclysm, and even the Sapphire Rose of Sorcery is but a shadow of its former self. The knowledge of "how" is retained - by all means, there is no reason why the mortals of the fallen world could not restore the Middle Kingdom to its former glory, but they still fail. It is no longer a matter of "how", but a matter of "why".

Into this mournful world, however, heroes are born.

The five stations set by the Divinities resonate more strongly than ever in the current age. The Xia, warriors of Fire, defend the Middle Kingdom from the remnants of the Great War. The Priests, leaders of Earth, strengthen the relationships between humans and the Celestial forces that are left behind. The Courtiers, bureaucrats of Metal, keep the mortal realm running as best as it can. The Sages, lorekeepers of Water, teach men the secrets of the old so the new might one day restore the glorious world. The Shadows, assassins of Wood, keep an eye on the unseen threats of the world and eliminate them when they arise.

Could these heroes of the Five Elements save the world from death? Or are they simply the last, brilliant dying act of a realm beyond salvation?

That should be up to you.

The point is, I need help with creating the world. I am usually an idea guy, and not so good at the execution, so I need other people to rise up to the challenge where I fail. If you're interested, just pitch in with ideas and questions and we'll see what we can come up with.

((Those avid viewers out there might notice the similarities between Twilight of Heaven and other wuxia RPGs such as Weapons of the Gods and Exalted. This is, while not intentional, to be expected. Especially since this is originally conceived as an alternate setting for the latter. Also, there are certain themes in Chinese philosophy and wuxia fiction that would be difficult to avoid. Most of them will find their way in this as well. You may try to fight it, but it might be difficult.

Then again, it is to see what different things we can accomplish together, so do your best.))

2009-09-29, 06:59 PM
Are all survivors members of the 5 stations, or only the PC-grade heroes (not just PCs, but PCs plus those who are a hero or villian the equal of a PC)?

I find the idea of a setting where the missing ingrediate is not Peace, not Resources, not Knowledge, but simply MOTIVATION. A world dying of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, although none of its diseases or injuries should quite be lethal. That is a nice twist.

Perhaps to underline that, "Hope" should be an attribute in the system? Something that is linked to what a character cares about, and which rises when the character accomplishes something, and falls whenever they have a major set-back, or one of their anchors is damaged? I am thinking looking at how "fetters" from the World of Darkness installment that deals with ghosts might be good (or it might not, I have never played it). Perhaps at 0 (or some other value) Hope you retire to the safety of a villiage, sell most of your adventuring equipment, and live off the proceeds as best you can... or maybe take up a mundane trade. At some lower value (call it -10) you commit suicide... and based on my knowledge or real world psychology, at a LOWER value than that, you just sit around and do nothing, not even caring for yourself (suicide requires enough positive thinking to be able to conceive of a way out, which is why the time AFTER the Holidays (which can be very depressing for people who have unhappy lives) is the time of the year when suicides peak, rather than DURING them).

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-29, 07:10 PM
According to My Ideas So Far:

Most mortals in the world are stationless. They do not have enough affinity with the traits of an element, therefore they fall short of a heroic calling. According to the heroes, they are simply "commoners".

Note that commoner is a metaphysical distinction rather than social. Even mighty kings can be designated as commoners in the annals of Heaven, and their names will be forgotten. Heroes, however, will always be remembered by the spirits who have business remembering such things.

2009-09-29, 09:30 PM
it seems to me then, that the distinction between stations is pretty much something that the PCs would take for granted: that is, the ability to grow in a PC class. (and one of their own choosing, no less)

I'm somewhat ambivalent about this since the setting seems to be somewhat focused on the over-arching cataclysm and supernatural epic events. However, in the case of most Wuxia stuff I've read, the struggle is usually based not on the epic demons invading the world or some kind of cataclysm but rather on the struggle of the people who might bring about these things. That is, the struggles are usually fundamentally one that is intentionally human in nature. Even the demons that DO run around with their own free will often try their best to mimic humanity.

Keep in mind, it can work, it's just not a combination I'm too familiar with. But let's give it a go.

First of all, you need a way to distinguish between the five elements. From what you've written, it seems that the five elements are really five character archetypes, and if you really want to, you can almost map the character's "element" directly onto a class.

2009-09-29, 10:25 PM
I'm somewhat ambivalent about this since the setting seems to be somewhat focused on the over-arching cataclysm and supernatural epic events. However, in the case of most Wuxia stuff I've read, the struggle is usually based not on the epic demons invading the world or some kind of cataclysm but rather on the struggle of the people who might bring about these things. That is, the struggles are usually fundamentally one that is intentionally human in nature. Even the demons that DO run around with their own free will often try their best to mimic humanity.

See, the world isn't in danger from some outside source, it is despair that is the threat. Despair is a VERY internal thing, and thus may be closer to the standard architype than I think you think. (Of course, understanding what other people are thinking is hardly a strong-point for me).

2009-09-29, 10:54 PM
well, as per his writing of current events, your assessment would be indeed, correct. the struggle would be mostly a spiritual one and if the campaign setting can handle that with ease, more power to him.

But the fact that the big event that goes boom came from these foreign threats means that at some point, it is a matter of time before elements from those foreign threats are re-visited again or at least pulled out for usage.

If he doesn't want his campaign setting devolve into another "fight the demons from another world" type situation, I would almost be tempted to tell him to not make a stat block for the demons of light and the soldiers of the void, simply because the the lure to use them is just too great.

2009-09-30, 12:06 AM
A valid point. I concur.

The below questions are for elliot20 and The Rose Dragon first, but also for anyone else who reads the thread.
But do you think that "Hope" is a good attribute to give PCs, or would they automatically have such a high level (save perhaps if they took a specific flaw) that it would always be maxed out. Is the concept of an NPC-only stat viable? If we use it, how much should real world psychology (particularly the study of depression) inform the mechanics of it?

2009-09-30, 01:19 AM
I personally don't think that something like hope can really done as a PC stat. After all, from the sound of things, the hope stat will actually serves to limit and even take control of the PCs actions at times, which to me, sounds a bit problematic.

If, however, we make this stat a "modifying" stat where said stat at a certain level will effect certain actions (i.e. you have "hope" points, where you can expend them to re-invigorate your character or give your character a positive modifier) then the hope attribute can make sense.

The core of all of this depends on what kind of effect do you want "hope" to have. Here are some ideas from my perspective: (Keep in mind, these are not mutually exclusive from each other necessarily)

"Hope" is the lifeblood of an adventurer
In this scenario, you NEED to have hope or else you simply STOP being an adventurer, dead or alive. In this case, "hope" now functions more or less like a SAN score in Call of Cthulu. The subject of keeping your hope as high as possible is of paramount importance. It also means that "hope" can be damaged, hurt, and healed. When you're "hope" is high, you are someone who is spiritually healthy and this could even confer a bit of bonuses in your actions. However, damaging hope can be quite easy too.

In this scenario, hope is something that you either gain or lose through the events of the game. At the beginning of the game, you can increase this number by having certain high stats (Wis and Cha comes to mind), having a certain class, or be from a certain area of the campaign.

"Hope" as a resource and power that drives us
In this scenario, hope are points you hold in cache, and you can spend hope in those dire moments to invigorate yourself and keep yourself going. That is, "hope" could be like the Crusader's power to put off death by sheer will power. Whenever you are facing impossible odds or daunting tasks, or simply are just at the end of your rope, you can burn your hope to keep yourself moving.

"hope" is precarious thing to maintain, but often burns brightest in the darkest hour

"hope" as we know it is a human emotion that can be very fragile and yet humanities greatest strength all rolled into one. The idea I have here is that when your "hope" is high, it is also easier to damage, but when it is lower, it is easier to lift. I'm not sure algorithmic how it'd all work out, but generally, people who do nothing special to maintain their faith in humanity and the world will have their hope pegged at a certain level, given natural occurrences of events.

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-30, 03:21 AM
I would like to note that almost everything I write is subject to change, except for two things:

1) The world is dying. Whether it is ultimately preventable or not, you can argue on, but the world was thriving once and now it's dying.

2) The cosmology is roughly based on the ancient Asian philosophies and myths, such as Shinto, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Hindu Philosophy.

Anything and everything else is simply a rough sketch of how I think things should work and can be altered by your input.

2009-09-30, 04:00 AM
well, it depends entirely upon what kind of flavor you're shooting for.

a Journey to the West style world will still be about the cosmology, the magical nature of the world, and the almost sad insignificance of humanities might compared to that of a supernatural creature.

if you're shooting for Jing Yong style Wuxia, you're talking about an ostensibly human ruled world, where the question of honor, love, and loyalty are central themes to the setting. In this case, the supernatural portions of the setting will be downplayed, if not outright suppressed by the human infrastructures that have risen in it's place.

Though, I must admit, trying to copy either of those would end up just have you aping the literary work.

I think the first thing we need to nail down are what are the core values of this setting that you're expressing.

Let's start with the two concepts you have laid down.

the dying world

from this I can think of the following dichotomies:
the cycle of life: of the world, of an individual creature, of humanity, a civilization, etc. Is it that the world as WE know it is dying but really it's simply going through a natural cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth?)

revitalization vs. decay: the world is dying, and once it does, there is nothing to undo it. Unless humanity can find it's own to revitalize itself, it will die a slow, painful death through old age and eventual decay. How does the world restore itself then?

The Doomsday Clock: a cataclysmic event is coming, so the prophesy goes, unless something is done about it. You don't need an ACTUAL cataclysm for this to work, just the impending notion and anxiety that the world is ending soon, and probably in a very violent manner.

Asiatic cosmology (or the divine bureaucracy)

Involved Gods: The gods pretty much have an active hand in mortal affairs. Needless to say, they too are concerned about the dying world... or perhaps... the world is dying because THEY are dying. (whether the world really needs them or not to move on is a whole different issue) If we go with that idea, you can almost write a story where the players literally are trying to ask the gods "Why do bad things happen to good people?" That is, are the Gods powerless to lift their own spirits from the abyss that it dwells?

Not involved gods: Gods are around, they just don't care. Maybe that is the problem right there.

The Rose Dragon
2009-09-30, 09:09 AM
the cycle of life: of the world, of an individual creature, of humanity, a civilization, etc. Is it that the world as WE know it is dying but really it's simply going through a natural cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth?)

Reminds me of Ouroboros. Could work, but needs to be worked on. Either it will remove all the despair of a post-apocalyptic setting ("oh, the world will get better eventually, whether we do anything or not") or all the hope ("whatever we do, it is the natural course of things for the world to die, so let's just give up"). An important thing would be to create the right balance between the two.

2009-09-30, 09:26 PM
well, you can have conflicting ideologies at work here.

There are those who have read the signs and felt the world is ending, but it is all the natural order of things. In the worst interpretations, you'll get people believing that life is basically meaningless due to the inevitable demise of the world. And then there are those who have, perhaps by some accident, found evidence of things that have outlasted several cataclysms and lived through each one. That is, in these people's cases, a strict reading would have them feel that humanity itself will survive, in one form or another.

And then there are those who have read the signs and dispute whether or not the world is ending at all, that really, whether anything is done or not.

And then you add to the pile people who believe that the world is ending, but only if we do nothing. The PCs can come from any one of these schools of thought.

to add more depth to it, you'll have varying schools of thought as to the "how" of each one. Some will believe that the world is ending via violent destruction, some will believe the world is ending through pollution and depletion of resources, and people from each side will seek to find evidence to refute the other. From there, you can almost start an age of scholars who all argue one philosophical subject over another, and try to infer the nature of man through the nature of the world.

and then you have those who seek to use these schools of thought to their own ends.