Monday, December 15, 2008

Lineage in Chinese Martial Arts

Baguazhang (八卦掌) master Cheng Tinghua (程廷華) was known for his friendliness and openness, and eventually taught baguazhang to many people, including Li Cunyi (李存義), Zhang Zhaodong (張兆東), Cheng Youlong (程有龍), Liu Bin (劉斌), and others. However, while Cheng Youlong (his eldest son) and Liu Bin are considered disciples of Cheng Tinghua, Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong are considered disciples of Cheng Tinghua's master Dong Haichuan (董海川); in addition, Guo Zhushan (郭鑄山), who learned from Cheng Youlong, and Liu Zhenzong (劉振宗), who learned from Liu Bin, are considered disciples of Cheng Tinghua as well. Furthermore, Cheng Tinghua's second son Cheng Youxin (程有信), who was very young when Cheng Tinghua passed away, is also considered a disciple of his father, although he likely learned very little from him. What is going on?

Lineage has always been a characteristic feature of Chinese martial arts that remains important today as a partial method of determining a practitioner's authenticity; thus, it is useful to understand this somewhat complex idea. Basically, lineage consists of the following principles:
  • Lineage, at its most basic, is a formal teacher-student relationship similar to a father-son relationship
  • Lineage also acts as an "entry point" to a formal school (or family)
  • Lineage also preserves Confucian hierarchy, as per generations, as an extension of the father-son relationship that it emulates; a corollary of this rule is that actual parent-child relationships are automatically also equal to master-disciple relationships
  • Lineage is principally singular; one can have only one master (i.e., one cannot have more than one lineage)

Participation in a special baishi (拝師) ceremony, the details of which differ greatly by lineage and by master, differentiates simple teacher-student relationships from the master-disciple relationship. Once a disciple is formally inducted into a particular lineage, the disciple has permission to learn from the master (or learn more than other students from the master), as well as having implicit permission to learn from other students of the same lineage.

In some cases, a disciple may not learn from his master at all, or may have never even met him; these special cases are in general a result of an effort to preserve Confucian senior-junior hierarchy. It may be useful to label special types of discipleship to simplify discourse, as elucidated below.

Honorary Disciple:

Sometimes, teacher and student are of similar age, and in such a situation, a normal master-disciple relationship is not possible. In this case, the teacher asks his own master to make the student a disciple.

Similarly, if the student is already a lineaged disciple of another art, the generation relationships must be preserved - for example, if a 2nd generation baguazhang teacher wants to teach a 2nd generation xingyiquan teacher, the teacher cannot become the student's master, because they would be of the same generation.

Some examples of this kind of disciple include Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong, who were originally of the xingyiquan (形意拳) school. Although they learned from Cheng Tinghua, since the three were of the same generation (and sworn blood brothers), Cheng could not have made Li and Zhang his disciples; thus, Li Cunyi and Zhang Zhaodong are considered disciples of Dong Haichuan, although they most likely did not learn anything from Dong. Another example is that of Guo Zhushan - Cheng Tinghua's son Cheng Youlong taught Guo Zhushan, but Guo Zhushan was already a xingyiquan disciple of Li Cunyi, making them both the same generation (as Cheng Tinghua and Li Cunyi were sworn brothers). As a result, Cheng Youlong taught Guo Zhushan in his father's name, making him Guo a disciple of Cheng Tinghua.

Posthumous Disciple:

When a teacher wishes to make his student a disciple of his own master but his master has already passed away, the teacher can hold a special ceremony anyway, officially making the student an official member of the lineage.

One example of this kind of disciple is Liu Zhenzong, who was good friends with and learned baguazhang primarily from Liu Bin. As Cheng Tinghua had already passed away when Liu Bin wanted to make Liu Zhenzong an official member of the baguazhang lineage, he had Liu Zhenzong made into a disciple of Cheng Tinghua. Another example is Si Gentiao (司根條), who was a good friend of Dong's disciple Liang Zhenpu (梁振蒲). Although Liang had intended to ask Dong to take Si as his disciple, by the time Si reached Beijing, Dong had already passed away; as a result, Liang took Si to Dong's grave and held the ceremony to make Si a disciple of Dong, although his baguazhang came from Liang.

Familial Disciple:

In most cases, a parent-child relationship is also considered a master-disciple relationship as the Confucian master-disciple relationship is modeled after the father-son familiar relationship already. In some cases, even if the child in actuality principally learned from others (not the parent), they are still considered disciples of the parent.

Some examples of this kind of disciple include Cheng Youxin, who was the second son of Cheng Tinghua (Cheng Tinghua died when Cheng Youxin was but a child) and Yin Yuzhang, who was the fourth son of Yin Fu (Yin Fu died when Yin Yuzhang was young as well).

In some cases, a parent gives his child to another lineage member of the same generation to become the master of his child. This is one of the few cases in which a person may thus in a way hold more than one lineage.

An examples of this kind of disciple include Liu Xinghan (劉興漢), who was the son of Liu Zhenzong, but Liu Zhenzong asked Liu Bin to be his son's master, after teaching him as a child.

Although the special types of disciples are detailed above, it is in general silently acknowledged that the latter types of discipleship are inferior to the "standard" type of discipleship (of which the best would be the first disciple), as disciples of the latter types are often not well-known or not mentioned. In addition, much confusion occurs as certain disciples are said to be lineaged to a certain master, or another (for example, Zhang Zhaodong may be said to be Dong Haichuan's disciple or Cheng Tinghua's disciple). It is thus important to realize that lineage is not a simple question of "who taught who."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The City

Well, I didn't submit my module in time for the Contest! Various problems hindered my progress and I thus did not get very far (yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses)... but maybe next time!

In the meantime, there is a new collaboration probject of sort - The City! Basically, several people have gotten together to build the City of Cities, dividing it in wards for each person to administer himself. So far there are 5 participants, including me!

I have thus started working on some new backgrounds and walls, although drawing such takes time for me... At the least I will have to fix up some of the unfinished walls I have sitting around (cave walls, trees, etc.) so that I can use them. Of course, I am also considering just using walls and backgrounds that others have made already, which makes sense since the rest of the city might be using them! At this point, there aren't that many walls in there, though...

In terms of ideas, right now I am fiddling with the following:
  • Five sectors (northwest, northeast, southeast, southwest, and central)
  • A fully aquatic sector (sort of like an aquarium!) - the perfect place to use all my aquatic-themed art
  • A primarily human sector
  • A primarily elven sector
  • A primarily "reject" sector (dwarves, gnomes, and worse!)
  • A spooky (?) sector inhabited by...
  • An extra futuristic level in the sky, the "City in the Sky" inhabited by robots and...
  • Magical gates for travel between parts of the ward (and maybe out!)
  • An extra extradimensional level (or two)

The picture above is a little experiment on making new backgrounds for this new project. Hmm - doing complex things like grassy ground is rather fussy. Will have to redo that part later!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Li Shao'an (1888-1977)

Li Mengrui (李夢瑞), whose style name was Shao'an (少庵), was a native of Nancaiyuan Village, Haiyang County, Shandong Province (山東省海陽縣南才苑村). When he was young, he moved to Beijing to study and work at Shandong Restaurant (山東飯館). At the age of 20, he became a disciple of 2nd generation baguazhang exponent Liang Zhenpu (梁振蒲). He later became sworn brothers with Li Wenbiao (李文彪) (Cheng Tinghua's (程廷華) disciple), Liu Dongchen (劉棟臣) (Yin Fu's (尹福) disciple), and Big Broadsword Wang Wu (大刀王五) (i.e. Wang Zhengyi (王正誼), Six Combinations Boxing disciple of Li Fengyan (李鳳崗)); of these, unfortunately, both Li Wenbiao and Wang Zhengyi were killed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Like his teacher Liang Zhenpu, Li Shao'an was good at Daishou (a special technique of the bagua school), so people called him Iron Arm Li #4 (鉄胳膞李四). In 1948 he returned to his hometown and worked as a farmer. Unfortunately, Li Shao'an never took disciples, although he sometimes taught others in the bagua school.

Li Shao'an, Guo Gumin (郭古民), and Li Ziming (李子鳴) were the most famous of Liang Zhenpu's disciples, and the three often trained and studied baguazhang together.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Spearplay in Baguazhang

The spear methods of baguazhang passed down from Dong Haichuan (董海川) are distinct and extraordinary. Although there are many spear methods within the art, many lineages of baguazhang have only preserved the spear skills partially; few are the lines that have kept them all.

Fighting Body Spear (戰身槍) - this spear set, passed down in various forms through the many baguazhang lineages, is a spear set utilizing a single-headed spear. Although each substyle of baguazhang seems to have a different version of this set, all are generally linear spear sets utilizing both right-handed and left-handed methods.

Double-headed Snake Spear (雙頭蛇) - this special spear has two spear heads and is characteristic to the baguazhang method. In general, methods using this spear are practiced while walking on the circle.

The spear methods of Yin Yang Bapanzhang (陰陽八盤掌) (which is said by some to be the baguazhang lineage of Liu Baozhen (劉寶珍), who learned from Dong) is also of the two-headed type, but there are only five techniques total, according to Ren Zhicheng (任志誠):
  • Five Tigers Penetrating the Forest Spear (五虎穿林槍)
  • Tiger Sitting Posture (虎坐式)
  • Tiger Catching Posture (虎捕式)
  • Azure Dragon Swings Head Posture (青龍擺頭式)
  • Azure Dragon Twists Tail Posture (青龍絞尾式)

Liang style has many spear methods intact, with a version of Fighting Body Spear, Double-headed Snake Spear, Eight Spear (basic techniques), two-person sets, and so on.

The movements of the Double-Headed Snake Turning Spear set are given as a rather interesting poem, which is as follows:

Double-Headed Snake Turning Spear (雙頭蛇轉槍)

雙頭槍使世無雙 - Wielder of Double-headed Spear, Unequalled in this World
鳳凰展翅欲朝陽 - Phoenix Spreads Wings, Desiring to Face the Sun
左右鳳凰雙展翅 - Left Right Phoenix, Doubly Spreading Wings
青龍出水進下槍 - Azure Dragon Surfaces from Water, Advancing Low Spear
青龍翻身先掛下 - Azure Dragon Overturns Body, Initially Hangs Down
二郎擔山趕太陽 - Erlang Carries a Mountain, Pursuing the Great Sun
夜叉探海三環棒 - Night Devil Searches for Sea, Three Ringed Club
雙頭再翻劈砸槍 - Double-headed Again Overturns, Chopping Smashing Spear
左右勾開絆馬索 - Left Right Hook Open, Reined Horse's Ropes
老僧擔柴歸四方 - Old Monk Carries Firewood, Returns in Four Directions
太公釣魚陰陽手 - Great Duke Fishes, Yin Yang Hands
蒼龍歸海鎖口槍 - Blue Dragon Returns to Sea, Chained Mouth Spear
仙人指路三方進 - Immortal Points the Way, Three Directions Advancing
烏龍擺尾蓋下槍 - Black Dragon Swings Tail, Covering Low Spear
青龍抖甲左劈勢 - Azure Dragon Shakes Shell, Left Chopping Force
鐵扇閉門左右防 - Iron Fan Closes the Door, Left and Right Defending
偷步擺拿裏外進 - Stealing Step Swinging Clutching, Inside and Outside Advancing
雙蛇吐信不易防 - Double Snake Spits Tongue, Difficult to Defend
撩槍就使急進步 - Raising Spear Utilized Immediately, Hurrying Advancing Step
退步連環掛打強 - Retreating Step Continuous Rings, Hanging Hit Fiercly
要練手眼身法步 - Must Train Hands, Eyes, Body, Method, Steps
八卦第一雙頭槍 - Bagua Number One, Double Headed Spear

Another lineage of baguazhang still retaining the double-headed spear is the Cheng style line of Liu Bin (劉斌) in Beijing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ran (Urusei Yatsura)

Ran (ラン) is Lum's best friend since childhood (Lum, Ran, Benten (弁天), and Oyuki (おユキ) all grew up together), but she is also a bit crazy. Although she was a genuinely sweet little girl when she was young, even enduring the many times Lum accidentally dropped her from a tree, or left her to hit a large object, and so on, the final straw was when an older Lum became engaged to Rei (レイ), Ran's true love! At this point, something broke, and Ran gained two personalities - her sweet personality and her crazy personality. With the latter, she does her utmost to try to break Lum and Ataru apart, seduce Ataru (which is very simple to do), or otherwise cause havok.

Of course, in actuality her two personalities are two facets of the same personality, and eventually Ran mends her relationship with Lum little by little, as Rei and Ran start to spend a little time with each other (Lum no longer has any interest in the empty-headed Rei, although he still seems to want a relationship with her) .

For sure, Ran always had it hard, as the weakest of all her alien friends (Lum can fly and shoot lightning bolts, Benten is extremely tough and a powerful fighter, and Oyuki can control cold and ice at will) - Ran's only power is the ability to cause another to age by kissing them (and willing it). Although an alien herself, her only alien feature is pointed ears (which she often hides behind her hair when in her Earthling guise of Ran (蘭)). Although she sometimes tries to make up for her lack of strength by using alien machinery or artillery, her much stronger friends easily overpower her (after which she quickly apologizes, or flees!).

In the end, though, Ran is one of my favorite characters for some reason!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

THAC0 Table Inflation

Through the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions of AD&D and then D&D, PC THAC0s experienced a sort of inflation, making their lives much easier in their quests for XP and treasure (and making DMs' quests to destroy them a bit more difficult (but not that much)).

In 1st edition, THAC0 advancement was irregular and ultimately limited (i.e. there was a value "cap"). PCs in general improved their THAC0s in increments of more than 1, but not at every level (i.e., fighters went from THAC0 20 to 18 at level 3), to balance similar gains of other classes (for example, clerics went from THAC0 20 to 18 at level 4). In general, fighters, rangers, and paladins were the best at combat, while clerics, druids, and monks were good as well; thieves and wizards were on the low end, but at higher levels, they received larger-than-normal THAC0 improvements (i.e. magic-users went from THAC0 19 to 16 at level 11, while thieves got the same at level 9). On the other hand, monsters had quite good THAC0s at lower HD (a 2 HD monster had a THAC0 of 16), but slowed in advancement as they got stronger, with a maximum THAC0 of 7 (at 16 HD).

In 2nd edition, THAC0 advancement was smoothed out and made regular; in addition, THAC0 limits were removed (except for monsters). Warriors thus now could look forward to a better THAC0 (by 1) at each level advancement, allowing them to be an edge (and some) ahead of their non-warrior peers. Thieves' low-level THAC0 improved a good deal as well, but at advanced levels they reached a similar level to their 1st edition counterparts; wizards THAC0s were similarly improved at low levels, but at higher levels, they became worse. Weak monsters had worse THAC0 as well, while stronger monster had slightly better THAC0, with a new maximum THAC0 of 5 (at 15 HD) (although PCs were no longer restricted by maximum THAC0s, monsters still were).

In 3rd edition, the regularity of 2nd edition was retained, expanding to include monsters as well, who simply used the same table as fighters (or other classes). Fighters started out with a better THAC0 by 1 at 1st level (until now, they started out with THAC0 20 like everyone else), while the other classes received boosts of their own. Priests and rogues (the new name for thieves) now were vastly improved in combat (thieves in particular - now they became equal to priests on the battlefield), while wizards became much better at combat as well - roughly about the level of thieves in 2nd edition.

Actual THAC0 figures to view and compare are as follows (values are for level 1, 2, 3, etc.):

1e: 20 20 18 18 16 16 14 14 12 12 10 10 8 8 6 6 4* 4 4 4
2e: 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
3e: 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

1e: 20 20 20 18 18 18 16 16 16 14 14 14 12 12 12 10 10 10 9* 9
2e: 20 20 20 18 18 18 16 16 16 14 14 14 12 12 12 10 10 10 8 8
3e: 20 19 18 17 17 16 15 14 14 13 12 11 11 10 9 8 8 7 6 5

Thief (Rogue):
1e: 20 20 20 20 19 19 19 19 16 16 16 16 14 14 14 14 12 12 12 12 10*
2e: 20 20 19 19 18 18 17 17 16 16 15 15 14 14 13 13 12 12 11 11 10
3e: 20 19 18 17 17 16 15 14 14 13 12 11 11 10 9 8 8 7 6 5

Magic-user (Wizard):
1e: 20 20 20 20 20 19 19 19 19 19 16 16 16 16 16 13 13 13 13 13 11*
2e: 20 20 20 19 19 19 18 18 18 17 17 17 16 16 16 15 15 15 14 14
3e: 20 19 19 18 18 17 17 16 16 15 15 14 14 13 13 12 12 11 11 10

1e: 19 16 16 15 15 13 13 12 12 10 10 9 9 8 8 7* 7 7 7 7
2e: 19 19 17 17 15 15 13 13 11 11 9 9 7 7 5* 5 5 5 5 5
3e: 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

*Maximum values

In general, 1st edition was the hardest to remember but the most interesting and the most balanced. In 1st edition, low-level humans and demi-humans were no match for grubby goblins, orcs, or lizard men; however, at high levels, humans and demi-humans were heroes, quite a bit more skilled than the monsters they came to dominate. Our 1st edition PCs also had epiphanies - usually at "name level." Maximum THAC0s also helped to retain game balance, with the idea that there is a limit to possible skill.

2nd edition was clearly easier to remember, but game balance was a bit worse and at high levels, PCs had it too easy. At least, clerics and druids should have been given incremental increases as well (i.e., 20 20 19 18 instead of 20 20 20 18) so that they did not have to be useless for so long.

3rd edition was even easier to remember (although multi-classing made things complicated anyway), but it seems that the non-combat classes became too good at combat.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Introduction to Baguazhang

Baguazhang (八卦掌), or "eight trigram palm," is a famous "internal" martial art centered in Beijing. Like the other internal martial arts of taijiquan and xingyiquan, baguazhang trains intrinsic energy, or "qi" (氣), and thus can be used effectively even in old age. Baguazhang is notable for several reasons:

  • Baguazhang is a Daoist martial art with unclear origins. Dong Haichuan (董海川), the expert who first made the style famous in Beijing, never made clear who or where he learned his skills from. Later historians have, however, pointed to likely influences such as the Longmen (Dragon Gate) branch of Quanzhen (Complete Reality) Daoism (道教全真龍門派), whose headquarters was the White Cloud Temple (白雲觀) in Beijing; one practice in particular, called Turning Heaven Veneration (轉天尊), has striking similarities to baguazhang's own circle walking practice.

  • Philosophically, baguazhang is based on the "Eight Trigrams" (八卦) of the Book of Changes (易經), an ancient book of divination, philosophy, and cosmology. As such, each technique is related to one of the 8 trigrams or one of the 64 hexagrams; techniques most often come in groups of 8. The Eight Trigrams consist of a combination of three lines that can be either Yin (broken) or Yang (unbroken); the set of eight shown here are displayed in the Fu Xi (伏羲) post-heaven (後天) order, i.e. Qian (乾), Kan (坎), Gen (艮), Zhen (震), Xun (巽), Li (離), Kun (坤), Dui (兌). These specify various divisions of reality, such as in nature (heaven, water, mountains, thunder, wind, fire, earth, marshes) or directions (NW, N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W) (note that ancient Chinese drew compasses with south at top).

  • Two (or three) generations of baguazhang experts, starting from Dong Haichuan in 1864, were employed by Prince Su (肅親王) as guards and teachers at Prince Su's mansion (肅王府) and eventually the Forbidden City (紫禁城) itself. In particular, Dong's first disciple Yin Fu (尹福) taught the Guangxu Emperor (光緒帝) his art, as well as using his art to escort and protect the Empress Dowager Cixi (慈安皇太后) during the Boxer Rebellion (義和團).

Technically, baguazhang is known for its ability to move quickly, using spiral power (螺旋勁) to attack with palms and hidden legs, and defeating multiple opponents at the same time. The repertoire of baguazhang is extensive, including strikes, throws, locks, 72 kicks, and a great arsenal of weaponry as well. Baguazhang weapons tend to be either oversized (such as huge swords) or extremely weird (such as strange, multi-pronged, multi-bladed weapons). Although baguazhang includes a great variety of methods and skills, its main training method is the enigmatic practice of walking in circles (走圏).

In pop culture, baguazhang has been referenced by popular cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender (airbending is based on baguazhang) and Naruto (The Hyuga (日向) family's style of Juken (柔拳) is obviously based on baguazhang), as well as unpopular non-cartoon TV shows like Black Sash (whose main character (played by Russel Wong) practiced and taught baguazhang). Real-life baguazhang, of course, is quite different from its pop culture derivations; one of the best examples is demonstrated here by Ma Chuanxu (馬傳旭), 4th generation inheritor of Liang style baguazhang (梁派八卦掌).

The Mixed Bag of Deities of the Forgotten Realms

Although Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and many other campaign settings have rather robust pantheons of original deities, the Forgotten Realms pantheon (even ignoring culture-specific regions such as Mulhorand for now) is an interesting mixed bag including several gods from historical pantheons, as well as many original deities as well.

From the Celtic mythos, we have the greater gods Silvanus and Oghma; from the Finnish mythos we have the goddesses Mielikki, Loviatar, and Ilmater (the last who apparently had a sex change and is now a god); finally, from the Norse mythos we have the one-handed god Tyr. Less obviously, there is also the goddess Tyche from the Greek pantheon, who was split into the goddesses of Tymora and Beshaba, as well as the goddess Bast of the Egyptian pantheon combined with Felidae and Zandilar the Dancer to become Sharess; finally, there is of course Tiamat, whose Realms variant borrows simultaneously from the Babylonian pantheon and the original AD&D five-headed dragon.

Besides historical sources, the Forgotten Realms pantheon has also borrowed heavily from (and expanded upon) the "standard" Greyhawk pantheon, including the four elemental lords of Akadi, Grumbar, Istishia, and Kossuth, but also nearly the entirety of the demihuman pantheons, with some modifications - some of the more notable additions include the drow goddess of good Eilistraee, the psionic duergar goddess Deep Duerra, and the triumvirate elven goddess of Angharradh (who is the Realms "combined" form of Sehanine Moonbow, Aerdrie Faenya, and Hanali Celanil). The Realms-only jungle dwarves have been given their own god as well (Thard Harr), but other races have been left deity-less (the arctic dwarves). Nearly all monster deities have been mentioned in Forgotten Realms sources as well, although almost none have been given a full treatment.

Although the Realms pantheon is in many ways a strange amalgam of different sources, it is very well-detailed with long, official writeups on the various churches, priesthoods, and rituals of each god. The specialty priest classes are in particular very attractive (and probably over-powered, but that is another story), making the various priest classes a lot more fun to play.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More on Oriental Adventures (1st Edition)

One of the weird things about Oriental Adventures is that a lot of its supplements feature random Chinese characters as part of the art - that is not so weird by itself, but almost all of the (random) characters say "fu" (foo). So, it basically says, "fu fu fu fu fu fu fu fu fu fu," in various ways, with the various meanings that "fu" can have (float, rot, abundant, etc.), depending on which character it is. But why did they choose "fu?"

Another characteristic of Oriental Adventures was the addition of a new ability score, i.e. Comeliness. Originally, the Charisma score basically handled both personal charisma and physical appearance, but this new mechanic basically split these two apart. Further complicating things, high Charisma affected Comeliness positively, while low Charisma affected Comeliness negatively, so that one could have extremely high (or low) Comeliness scores if one was very lucky (or unlucky).

In practice, however, it is quite difficult to roll up an extraordinary Comeliness score due to the very low possibility of ever rolling both a high Charisma and high Comeliness; thus, most PCs end up with rather mundane looks at best (I created a Javascript Oriental Adventures PC roller here so you can try and see for yourself here), if scores are rolled in the traditional 3d6 x 6 method.

Separating Charisma into Charisma and Comeliness enabled players to be able to have ugly yet nice, or beautiful yet prissy PCs, where in the past these two features were averaged together in a single ability score (Charisma). In 2nd Edition AD&D later on, Charisma seemed to be relegated to personality only, with looks being decided by the player on his or her own; however, Forgotten Realms campaigns continued to use Charisma in its old double meaning.

Regarding character classes, Oriental Adventures offered a bunch of new classes, as well as a few old ones. I enjoyed the kensai (which should be "kensei") and sohei most; the bushi was redundant (a fighter who could pickpocket), the samurai was too powerful (why should a samurai be any better than a bushi?), the shukenja (which should be "shugenja") was too weak, and the yakuza was kind of silly. The kensai was pretty cool - a warrior who put his whole life into the perfection of a single weapon; the sohei was also interesting, as a temple warrior with some priestly powers. The wu-jen was a sort of strong wizard-type, as he had 1d4+1 hp/level (as opposed to just 1d4); with martial arts, you could have a fairly strong wu-jen with naturally high AC, fair hp, and good melee damage as well. (I played a crane hengeyokai wu-jen online for a while at DND Online Games, until the (somewhat flaky) DM quit! Ah well, it was fun while it lasted!)

The monk, mostly the same as its Player's Handbook incarnation was mostly still the Kwai Chiang Kain-esque barehand martial arts master - which is, of course, strange, since Chinese martial monks were known for using various weapons, including iron-shod staves and sickle-bladed spades, but also scimitars, swords, double hook swords, and so on. Of course, they were still quite powerful without any weapons, but the addition of weapons obviously made them even more formidable in battle. (Shaolin monks, for example, were famous for their staff techniques, while Wudang ascetics were known for their sword skills.) The monk class, while potentially quite deadly at higher levels, was exceedingly weak at lower levels, and so it probably would have been better to at least give them access to some of the more powerful weapons.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Gorbel (Fiend Folio)

The gorbel is one of those "weird" monsters in the Fiend Folio (along with other weirdies, like the flumph). Although non-evil, it is mischievous, fickle, irritable, and quick, and is thus still very likely to attack parties of PCs, without reason, of course. DMs of a strange mood or character will enjoy using gorbels to wreak havoc on their players (who have little chance to avoid gorbels through diplomacy or even escape).

The globular, six-eyed gorbel attacks by leaping on its opponent's back (for 1d4 damage). If it successfully hits, it has grabbed its opponent with its claws and cannot be removed (lowering its own AC to 10); every round thereafter, it slashes its opponent automatically (for 1d6 points of damage) until it is destroyed.

If the poor PC party is equipped with only blunt weapons, the gorbel is invincible; otherwise, a successful hit with a good pointy or edged weapon will cause the gorbel to explode, doing 1d4 points of damage to all in a 5' radius.

Gorbel Statistics

Frequency: Uncommon
No. Appearing: 1-20
Armor Class: 3 (10 - see below)
Move: 18"
Hit Dice: See below
% in Lair: Nil
Treasure Type: Nil
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 1-4 or 1-6
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Non-
Alignment: Neutral with chaotic tendencies
Size: S (3' diameter)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defence Modes: Nil/Nil
Level/X.P. Value: II/32 + 2/hp

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lum (Urusei Yatsura)

Lum (ラム) is the heroine of Urusei Yatsura (うる星やつら). Originally from the planet Uru, she followed her dad to Earth when he decided to conquer the planet, but by a twist of fate, Moroboshi Ataru (諸星あたる) managed to save the planet AND propose to her in a single stroke (she accepted!).

Although everyone else seems to be in love with the skimpy-clad oni (鬼) alien, Ataru cannot stop hitting on other girls (in fact, it seems that the reason he does not show feelings for Lum is because Lum shows feelings for him!), causing much mayhem, as although Lum is loving and loyal, she can have quite a temper when her love isn't reciprocated! But of course Ataru really loves Lum inside - he just can't make himself show it. This of course results in a lot of electrifying situations (lucky for Ataru, he has really quick feet!)...

Lum's alien race all suspiciously look like a more humanlike version of the mythical Japanese "oni" (sort of like a Japanese ogre). Green-haired, pointy-eared, and horned (one or two), they typically wear tiger-striped clothing. Besides being able to fly (although it does seem to require some practice), they often have some kind of other power, such as Lum's control of electricity, Ten's (テン) ability to breathe fire, and Rei's (レイ) ability to shapechange into a weird bovine creature.

Lum's race of alien oni is the most common alien race (in Urusei Yatsura), but the aliens seem to get along for the most part; Lum herself grew up with three other alien friends: Ran (ラン), Benten (弁天), and Oyuki (おユキ).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Oriental Adventures (1st Edition)

Oriental Adventures is something of an anachronism now, especially since the word "oriental" is sort of taboo these days. Still, this classic work was the first to officially extend the AD&D universe to non-Occidental cultures, and may have been the first of many, except that TSR decided to go in other (non-Gary) directions.

It introduced, among other things, a whole slew of new classes, races, spells, monsters, and rules - of course the new classes were the most exciting part for most players! These new classes had powerful abilities but very high ability requirements as well - basically, rolling up a samurai was as hard as (or harder than) rolling up a monk or paladin. The new races, such as the korobokuru or the hengeyokai, had equally high ability requirements as well.

Unfortunately, Oriental Adventures probably should have been renamed "Japanese Adventures" since the work seemed to concentrate on only the Japan part ofthe Orient - note that of the 8 brand-new classes, only 1 was not from obviously Japanese sources (the Wu-Jen). Most of the new races, weapons, and so forth were also taken from Japanese sources - Chinese sources were rare, while other Asian sources were even rarer (if even existent).

In my opinion, Oriental Adventures should be revised and made more Chinese foremost - after all, China was the "center" of the Asian world, even if the Western world had been in rapture of ninjas and samurais for a while in the '70s and '80s. China also has a huge repository of mythology that could be a great resource for a revised Oriental Adventures - not to mention a great variety of weapons and armor that would be interesting to have in a campaign as well, from exploding bamboo tubes to mountain pattern armor to strange multi-bladed martial arts weapons. It seems that the author also weakened Chinese weapons (the three-piece rod does less damage than a Occidental quarterstaff, for example) while elevating Japanese weapons (such as the katana compared to a long sword).

One difficulty of a Chinese campaign is that the heroes of Chinese myth tend to have ALL powers in one - i.e., the combative skills of a warrior, the mystical skills of an ascetic, and the magical skills of a sage. Oriental Adventures did introduce a system of adding martial arts to AD&D, whereby a PC could use 1 proficiency slot to gain an improved AC and higher barehand damage; extra proficiency slots could then be used to learn special martial arts maneuvers as well, from flying kicks to distance death to levitation, in a way achieving the "sage-warrior" idea from old Chinese stories.

In any case, there were some transliteration mistakes that I will mention here:

"Korobokuru" should be "koropokkur" (Ainu language) or perhaps "koropokkuru" (コロポックル)

"Kensai" should be "kensei" (劍聖)
"Shukenja" should be "shugenja" (修驗者)

Also, although not wrong exactly, all of the Chinese transliterations are in Wade-Giles Romanization; today, I would write it all in pinyin. (Some of the Chinese words in the book are so illegible that I can barely see where the author got them, though!)

One final gripe I had with the book was that the four "Common Martial Arts Styles" that were described were... Karate, Kung-Fu, Tae Kwon Do, and Jujutsu. Foremost, this list looks like the listings that one may find in a phonebook today when looking for martial arts classes (not exactly good medieval fantasy material here). Second, taekwondo does NOT belong in a medieval Asian campaign, since it only existed since April 11, 1955 when General Choi Hong-Hi (崔泓熙) named it! I suppose karate and jujutsu could be inserted into an Oriental Adventures campaign (noting that in the old days, karate was indigenous to the Ryukyu Kingdom (琉球國)), but "karate" and "jujutsu" are actually generic names for families of martial arts. (Also note that "karate" as a word is new itself; in the old days in Ryukyu, it was known as "toudi;" "karate" was a later adaptation to Japan's language and (anti-China) culture.)

The worst, of course, is "Kung Fu" - "kung fu" (in the incorrect English sense) is but an all-encompassing category containing all of the many thousands of styles of fighting that were and are practiced in China long ago and today. The differences between each style are tremendous, far surpassing the differences in karate styles or jujutsu styles. The kung fu styles are also great material for Oriental Adventures campaigns; for example, dog style specializes in prone fighting, while eagle claw specializes in grabbing and gripping techniques. New styles for role-playing are also easily devised; taken from myths and legends, there is a lot of good material to use out there!

So, in any case, in time, I will reorganize the Martial Arts Special Maneuvers section and post it (or a link to it) here!

But anyway... Yes, I have heard about the 3rd Edition reincarnation of Oriental Adventures (that apparently is getting hard to find now). Some things I liked about what I heard: the vanara race (based on Indian mythology) and fixes for some terminology (including those I mentioned above). Some things I didn't like that much: the "nezumi" race and the leaving of terms like "wu jen" in Wade-Giles Romanization.

2nd Edition didn't have its own Oriental Adventures supplement (although they did have a Monstrous Compendium Appendix for Kara-Tur), but they did have a free supplement called "Dragon Fist." I know I downloaded that years ago - but where did I save it?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Champions of Krynn (Gold Box Game)

Champions of Krynn was perhaps my first CRPG ever - I still have fond memories of waiting 60 minutes for the game to load (reading Time of the Twins while waiting and switching 5.25" floppy disks when prompted) at the beginning, and then waiting 30 minutes for the game to load at every battle (a great chance to read more of Time of the Twins)... Not only that, my computer was equipped with only CGA graphics, so I was treated to the game screens you see here in only 4 colors (white, cyan, magenta, and black).

Still, I had just finished reading the original Dragonlance trilogy (Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning), and so I of course jumped at the possibility of playing in the world of Krynn myself. Although I had most of the 2nd edition AD&D books and some of the 1st edition ones, I didn't own Dragonlance Adventures (I only saw it on sale once, and then I never saw it in stores again!) and so could not appreciate the work SSI went into in emulating these rules (for example, the different cleric classes based on alignment - good clerics begin with 2d8 hp, neutral clerics begin with 1d8 hp, and so forth). Still, it was great fun - I spent hours just reading the manuals alone (as my mother did not let me stay on the computer for long periods of time).

For some reason, I remember Champions of Krynn as having been a REALLY HARD GAME - needless to say, I never beat it! I did get to the end of the game, or pretty close to it, but I was basically overwhelmed by that point - the low level limits (8 or so, even lower for those darned Solamnic knights) combined with the endless hordes of draconians and dragons at the end of the game were just too much for me, and that was it! In retrospect, I think that the 60 minute loading time basically prevented me from saving and reloading before training my PCs (to make sure I got maximum hp at each level) - more hp surely would have helped a lot, I think!

Playing the game again after years is quite nostalgic, but I now remember a few irks about the game as well - foremost is the stupid journal (having to refer to it for storylines, as well as whenever you load up the game); the moons (at the top of each game screen) were also somewhat annoying (if beneficial), as you had to make sure that Solinari and Lunitari (the white and red moons) were both full so that your magic-users could memorize the maximum number of spells before heading into a dungeon (as it helped THAT much). I remember being annoyed at having to switch floppy disks so often, too. But in the end, Champions of Krynn was a great game, and I enjoyed playing it!

(At present, both Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures and Dungeon Craft do not support Dragonlance campaigns - it would be nice, though!)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dungeon Craft Design Contest

There is a Dungeon Craft Design Contest going on - and there are only three weeks left! (Original information can be found here: My own wondrous design is maybe 2% finished, so it is highly unlikely that I will have something to "hand in" by then, but... I can still try to have something playable by then.

Dungeon Craft (similarly to Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures) requires various graphics such as backgrounds, wallsets, and doors (for the 3D-esque viewport) as well as combat sets and icons (for the miniature wargaming-like combat view). Besides, it is nice to have small pictures, sprites, and big pictures for events (such as encounters), but... this is of course all a lot of work, and I have much more to do before I have enough art (I want to make ALL the art for my game, if possible!).

At this point, I have lots of icons, a some small pictures (for encounters), and a few walls and backgrounds (most unfinished). I have no sprites at all, as I have decided not to use them! If I make one sprite, I will have to make sprites for all my icons, so no sprites for now.

So - a list of things to do (in terms of graphics):

- Wallsets: brick wall (10% done), rock wall (10% done), tree walls (50% done), straw/mud hut wall
- Doors: rock wall entrance (1% done), brick wall door, straw/mud hut wall
- Overlays: some overlays would be nice!
- Small pictures: a few more level II and level III monsters (maybe gnoll, huge spider, bugbear?)
- Portraits: need a few more for PCs - maybe a male halfling, human fighter, and some others.
- Icons: more PC icons (human fighter, etc.), maybe a few more monsters (bugbear?)
- Title screen: some kind of title screen (huge at 640 x 480)
- Other graphics: borders, cursors, unconscious icon, etc.

Wow, that is a lot of stuff to do - we'll see how far I get... If I don't finish in time, that is okay, I will just continue working until I have a module of some sort that is playable someday...

In general, this adventure module will (eventually) have a rich array of random encounters (good, neutral, and evil) as well as some kind of story - but no set order to do things. If you want to be a hero - don't go and kill everyone you meet...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monodrone (Base Modron) (Monster Manual II)

The monodrone is the weakest and simplest of the modrons, the inhabitants of Nirvana, plane of absolute order and law. Resultingly, the monodrone is single-minded, single-functioned, and completely lawful, utterly following orders from their superiors (usually the duodrones), referring to them when their orders are not sufficient to understand what to do in a certain situation.

As utterly lawful creatures, modrons are not affected by spells that affect the mind (including illusions) or emotions; they are also immune to spells making use of positive or negative material energy. They are also resistant to fire, cold, and acid (save +1, damage -1/die). Death is also not a big problem for modrons, who will simply reform in 9 days as modrons in the energy pool of Nirvana.

Monodrones usually act in groups of 12, led by duodrones or tridrones; 1 in 12 of monodrones lack the spindly arms and have fan-like wings sprouting from a single point instead. These latter monodrones are messengers and can relay messages of up to 48 words perfectly. All monodrones have infravision up to 30'.

Rarely, a monodrone (or higher level modron, but never higher than quarton) for some reason becomes defective (due to age or exposure to chaotic forces) and stops obeying the laws. These rogues are typically hunted down by the pentadrone police force.

Modrons were changed to a strange clockwork race in 2nd edition, and then mostly ignored in 3rd edition, but I like them just fine as they were introduced in 1st edition; they are fully organic, yet fully lawful creature of order and hierarchy - quite interesting as a counterpart to the demons, devils, and devas of the other planes of existence.

Monodrone (Base Modron) Statistics

Frequency: Common
No. Appearing: 12-144
Armor Class: 7
Move: 6"//6" or 6"/18" (MC:D)
Hit Dice: 1+1 or 1-1
% in Lair: Nil
Treasure Type: Nil
No. of Attacks: 1 or Nil
Damage/Attacks: 1-4 or by weapon type
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defenses: Immune to illusion and mind control
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Semi-
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Size: S (3' - 6")
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil/Nil
Level/X.P. Value: II/28 + 2/hp

Nupperibo (Least Devil) (Monster Manual II)

The lowly nupperibo is the lowest of devils (renamed "baatezu" in 2nd edition AD&D) and the result of a more-or-less lawful evil existence on the Prime Material Plane (truly lawful evil become lemures instead). Spawning in the Nine Hells, they are blind and deaf and fated to be usually reborn as nupperibos again if destroyed.

Although members of the diabolic race of devils, they are so weak as to be fair game for even a party of 1st-level adventurers; the only special power of nupperibos is their ability to regenerate, but only in areas of particular evil or else the Nine Hells themselves. As devils, they can freely move through Gehenna, Acheron, Hades, and the Astral Plane at will, but are repulsed and harmed by holy objects and water (they cannot regenerate this damage) and may be turned as special undead by clerics.

It is little-known that the humble nupperibo is actually of Japanese origins - thus it would be perfect in an Oriental Adventures campaign as well. (Strangely, many depictions of the nupperibo these days look more like a child monk with a blank face, though.)

Nupperibo (Least Devil) Statistics

Frequency: Common
No. Appearing: 10-100
Armor Class: 9
Move: 6"
Hit Dice: 1
% in Lair: Nil
Treasure Type: Nil
No. of Attacks: 1 or 2
Damage/Attack: 1-2/1-2 or by weapon type
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defenses: Regenerate 1 point/round
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Special (unratable for spell effects)
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Size: M
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil/Nil
Level/X.P. Value: I/18 + 1/hp

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Xvart (Fiend Folio)

The xvart is one of those sad creatures from the original Fiend Folio that tends to be for the most part ignored - and so in a humble gesture I have decided to include it in my own Dungeon Craft adventure module. I think I may be only the third or fourth person in the whole world who has actually attempted to draw a xvart! So here he is in all his glory. Basically, xvarts are diminutive (3' tall), short sword-wielding humanoids that are slightly stronger than kobolds and slightly weaker than goblins. Leaders (8-11 hp, attack as 2 HD monster) are from 3½' to 4½' tall and use other weapons like hand axes, morningstars, flails, or maces. Shamans (up to 7th level) and witch doctors (up to 4th level) exist as well; most are followers of Raxivort, Lord of Xvartkind, Packmaster of Rats, and Night Flutterer. Xvarts often keep giant rats or consort with wererats. They are also known for sometimes using nets in combat.

Xvart Statistics

Frequency: Uncommon
No. Appearing: 40-400
Armor Class: 7
Move: 6"
Hit Dice: 1-1
% in Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: K
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 2-5 (short sword) or by weapon type
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defences: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: S (3' high)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil/Nil
Level/X.P. Value: I/5 + 1/hp
Leaders: I/20+2/hp

Quick Introduction to Dungeon Craft

So, now for a quick introduction to Dungeon Craft (and my adventure module in-progress!).

Dungeon Craft emulates the old Gold Box games by SSI, such as Secret of the Silver Blades (one of the only games I beat as a child) and of course Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures, which allowed players to create their own games. Thus, it is an old-school AD&D game engine that features PC creation, 3D-esque dungeon exploring, and turn-based grid combat (a la old wargaming with miniatures) for cool strategy.

Unlike the aforementioned classic SSI games, Dungeon Craft has the benefit of being able to display any amount of colors and much higher resolutions (you can pick from 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, and 1280 x 1024, but I have chosen 640 x 480, if only because it is hard enough to create art for this resolution as it is!), allowing you to create beautiful, colorful graphics if you only put in the time and effort! (I still remember my first SSI game, Champions of Krynn, which I played on my first computer, which was equipped with a CGA card (a whopping 4 colors, including black). (Another problem I had was that loading the game took about an hour (with disk-switching), and loading each combat took about half an hour!) Another benefit of Dungeon Craft is the ability to use combat icons of any size, so you can have huge dragons, gargantuan squid, or colossal sharks as part of your combat scenes!

When playing the game, you wander through areas from a 3D-esque viewpoint (you can also use overland maps). Once you trigger some kind of event (including random events), you are treated to a view of the monster or creature you have encountered, and then you may opt to enter battle!

Once you are in battle, you are treated to a grid-like scene where your PCs face off against whatever creatures you are fighting with. Positioning is important in these battles, especially since you should consider the range of your weapons and spells, as well as area effects!

That basically wraps up the quick introduction to Dungeon Craft (and my half-baked adventure module, two screens of which you can see here!).

Welcome to Advanced Dantians & Dragons

Advanced Dantians and Dragons (AD&D for short) is a punny name that encompasses two of my main interests - old school role-playing (in particular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition but also 2nd edition)) and Chinese mysticism/martial arts. Related interests include mythology, languages, and of course computer gaming (especially gaming related to the other interests above!).

This blog will focus on the following:

1. My efforts to revive 1st and 2nd edition AD&D (as 3rd edition has nearly wiped it out from the earth) through encouragement of the the open source CRPG maker Dungeon Craft ( Dungeon Craft emulates the old Gold Box games by SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.), in particular Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures, which allowed gamers to create their own Gold Box series game. Unfortunately, Dungeon Craft does not receive the attention that it deserves, partially because it is still under development, but also because of a lack of art and adventure modules. My own efforts strive to assuage the second problem; I have a lot of art already (, but I still need to make more before I can create my future adventure module! As a part of Dungeon Craft's development I will also provide some AD&D rule specifics as needed.

2. My goal to become successful as a freelance pixel artist. 99% of the art I create for #1 is of the art field known as "pixel art" (although I have done this for years before I even knew what people called it); basically it is art as created in Microsoft Paint (or similar simple art programs). It is nice to make extra money, especially doing something that one enjoys, so sometimes I do pixel art that is not related to Dungeon Craft for my portfolio (or gasp, even a job!).

3. My research and experiences regarding Chinese martial arts and qigong. As a current practitioner of the arts of baguazhang (八卦掌) and xingyiquan (形意拳) (and to a lesser extent, yiquan (意拳) and taijiquan (太極拳)), I am very interested in history, technique, weapons, etc. of the Chinese martial arts, as well as related subjects such as Chinese thought (Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism), ancient Chinese military strategy, ancient Chinese weapons, and so on. (To a lesser extent, I am interested in Japanese and Korean martial arts as well.)

4. Commentary on culture and language. Language is of course the foremost culture of any group; besides English, I have varying ability in Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean, and many interesting comparisons can be seen once one gains some fluency in these three languages. Culture comparisons are also very interesting and I may write about that as well.

5. Introductions to characters of somewhat obscure Japanese comic books (i.e. anime/manga) that I am a fan of.

6. Anything else I feel like writing about, such as animals (especially weird critters), paranormal phenomena, or even cooking. :)

Looking forward to blogging here, stay tuned!