The Middle Kingdom, as a setting, is loosely based on ancient China. It is a large area of the world, occupying (to the thought of its inhabitants) the center of the world’s affairs. It is a world of artistry, at least for those who can afford it. It is a world where even non-magical weapons are crafted so finely that they could be called works of art; a world of philosophy and reason. It is a world where technology is often indistinguishable from magic, and where magic is sometimes treated as technology.
Martial artists are the exemplars of the Middle Kingdom, living proof of what can be accomplished through human effort.
These are the adventurers of the world. This is their story.
Codes of Honor: Alignment in The Middle Kingdom
The biggest questions of alignment in the Middle Kingdom have little to do with good and evil. Good and evil are concerns, but the majority of adventuring parties are made up of good (or at worst self interested) people. A more interesting split is called for, and will be touched on briefly here.
In theory, Jade Empire‘s morality system is excellent, and so I’ll give it a look here.
There are two basic competing schools of thought among martial artists. They are the Way of the Open Palm, and the Way of the Closed Fist.
Generally, followers of The Way of the Open Palm believe that the key to maintaining the universe is by being in harmony with nature, one’s surroundings, and one’s station in life. As an effect of being in tune with nature and with one’s surroundings, one is expected to actively assist in lessening the chaos in the area, through the assistance of lessening burdens. While this seems “Peaceful”, the Way of the Open Palm is strict in another form: one should not act outside their station and purpose in life.
According to the “Way of the Closed Fist,” on the other hand, the purpose of life is to follow the ways of serving oneself — to face one’s challenges head on, challenge one’s station in life, and work to become self-reliant. The emphasis of the Way of the Closed Fist is combat, turmoil, and constantly challenging oneself, which is why many of those who are evil tend to be considered to follow the Way of the Closed Fist, in that they bring about chaos in the universe.
Much about these philosophies demands context to interpret them correctly. A follower of the open palm, for instance, might see a peasant who is attacked by a thug and step in, reasoning that it is the right thing to do. A follower of the closed fist might help as well, if they felt the fight was unfair- that the peasant was too far below the skill or strength of their attacker for the fight to be a legitimate test of their strength. Encouraging others to be self reliant is not strictly an evil trait, for instance, though the implementation in Jade Empire often makes it seem as if we’re still looking at “Lawful Saint/Chaotic Stupid.”
Another consideration might be something like Honor versus Expediency.
Or one could simply utilize the standard Lawful Good – Good – Neutral – Evil – Chaotic Evil spread. It all depends on what you want.
A Few Words On Flavor, and Things to Come
When dealing with D&D 4th Edition, I have a general policy: Changing game mechanics is considered a last resort.
That isn’t to suggest that I won’t do it. In fact, one of the benefits of 4th Edition in my experience is how much you can change the nuts and bolts around without breaking anything. But I prefer to avoid saying things like, “for a Wuxia style game, give everyone double class features and three times the action points,” without having a very good reason. I encountered quite a bit of this sort of advice when I first started reading on this subject, and I don’t see a purpose in repeating it.
Let’s start with the fluff instead. As the DMG suggests, climb checks might allow characters to fairly fly up walls or bounce from tree to tree. A teleport or shift power might instead be a high-flying leap. Names of powers might be altered to make them more evocative, and though I generally discourage using power names regularly at the table in this instance it might be genre appropriate for characters to call out their attack names in addition to describing them.
That said, I would recommend the following optional rules be used:
- Inherent Bonuses
Though I suppose Themes aren’t really optional anymore, are they? 🙂
And since lightly-armored characters are such a genre convention, I WILL be giving defender types an incentive to forgo the heavy plate armors without losing out.
I would also suggest the following classes be considered the, “core.” Other classes may still be allowed, of course. A number of these will be receiving new fluff (or possibly optional rule applications) in later articles, while several others can be used as-is with only minor changes. I also reserve the right to expand this list as new thoughts occur to me.
More to come. Stay tuned!