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Author Topic: The Way to Zhang Zhung: core mechanic & flavour  (Read 3039 times)

Posts: 45

« on: January 05, 2006, 05:10:54 AM »

The Way to Zhang Zhung


Zhang Zhung is said to be the historical name of mystical kingdom situated in the northwestern Himalayas, upon which the legends of Shangri-li, Dzambuling and Gayaganj are based. Utopian pre-buddhist, shamanic Asian societies which not only reached the peak of mystical development but also that of material prosperity, before disappearing mysteriously. The Way to Zhang Zhung is based in and around this legendary society. Characters form part of these fantasy Asian lands population which coexists, hidden my magical means in the Himalayan mountains, alongside the “modern” world of the 1930’s shortly before WWII. Perhaps PC’s are guardians, agents or go betweens from Zhang Zhung – but its imperative the secret of the way to Zhang Zhung must stay hidden! Worse yet the Thule society, the occult league of the Third Reich have found out that Zhang Zhung exists– and they want to find it. So basically its a pulpy wuxia flavoured fantasy RPG.

System comments:

I wanted Asian mysticism to inform the core mechanic and started looking at mechanics that feature the Yin and Yang mechanism, such as Wushu and Feng Shui. I wanted a means for it to truly be the central core of the systems resolution mechanic and character development, and although Wushu and to some extent Feng Shui seems to have that it seems more as colour.

Also I wanted cinematic player driven narrative action, but without the burn out factor of Wushu's “must do a 100 cool stunts now!” thing. So although player description is important I don’t want the core mechanic to rely on it solely (My players get irritable when forced to be creative on moment to moment basis). What I have come up with is heavily inspired by Dogs in the Vineyard and to some extent Wushu. Its not there yet, but I feel it shows promise and I would like to know what you think the central resolution mechanic needs to be more integrated into theYin and Yang dynamic, and if it seems plausible in general.

Traits, PC creation:

Six sided dice are used. Point based PC creation. Traits could be any appropriate player created concepts, but lets call them the ubiquitous Body, Mind and Heart for simplicity. Each trait has an overall trait aptitude score (1-6), it also as a Yin rating and a Yang rating which would drastically modify the style of the given trait. In game terms Yin and Yang govern specific modes of play, and dice pool balance. Yang is aggressive, offensive and invasive. Yin being reactive, responsive and subtle. And in the most basic sense the two polarities guide what style of action is taken during a conflict, and how effective it is.

However, in relation to specific events or traits it can be a lot more subtle. For instance a player with Body: aptitude (4) [Yin (2) Yang (5)] in order to generate a die to add to his conflict pool would have roll 4 or under (Trait aptitude) using 2Yin dice(red) and 5Yang(black). However because he has high Yang in his “body” Trait he would be strong, fast and energetic and have less Yin qualities of dexterity, grace and precision. In the Mind trait that would mean a more logical, analytical (Yang) but less perceptive, intuitive (Yin) etc. The total Yin and Yang value of the Traits would remains constant, only the distribution would change, and the aptitude level.

Subsidiary characteristics:

Subsidiary characteristic are additional character elements that key into a specific trait. These can be anything from specific skills, powers, relationships or equipment, magical artefacts etc. These have only one score which translates in Dual dice, ideally a different colour to Polarity dice (Yin and Yang), and are added to a conflict pool if those characteristic are going to be used in play, they utilise the key trait’s aptitude score when rolling to determine the conflict pool. Sub characteristics can be improved or additional characteristics added as the PC develops. Dual dice can be used as either Yin or Yang moves.


When a conflict arises Yin and Yang dice from the appropriate Trait are taken up, as are Subsidiary characteristic dice which are relevant.

For instance Silent Zhao has entered a conflict, she has a Body aptitude of 4, and Yin 5, Yang 3 for body. She also has Sub Characteristic called “Wrestled with her brothers behind the temple”  of 2. She takes up 10 total dice. Yin (red) + 3Yang (black)+ 2 Dual dice for the sub. The GM does the same for the opponent. Silent Zhao rolls and gets Yin:2,5,3,4,1 Yang:4,4,4 Dual 4,6. She discards the Yin5 and Dual 6 and keeps the rest.

Silent Zhao has 4 base Yin, 3 Yang and 1 dual. She may act out using her Yang to perform actions that cant be ignored by her opponent. She puts forward a Yang die and may describe a course of action in which she acts out, say an attack. Her opponent must respond with Yin equal to her Yang, to avoid or block or she may describe her Yang move to its conclusion, which will result in a combat strike in this instance. He may then act out with Yang and she may respond with Yin. Dual dice can become either a Yin or a Yang move as needed, or may be added to an existing move to increase its force. More than one Yang or Yin my be used for one move, to improve its force and the opponent must match or suffer the consequenses as narrated, however resources need to managed tactically.


If Yin dice of double the number of offensive Yang dice are used to appose an action, this is a reversal and the defender may describe a reversal of some kind, which does not physical harm but disadvantages the “attacker” in someway. She may also take theYang dice used in the his "offensive" move and add them to her own conflict pool.

Descriptive multiplier:

A x2 multiplier is applied to a Yin/Yang move if its description is cinematic, cool, pulpy or clever – this is only possible once per move (but often as needed during a conflict), and does not need only apply to cool in game narrative but also to player ingenuity in general. This means that a defender still has the opportunity to succesfully defend, using narrative even though they might not have enough Yin. Similarly and offensive move can become much more powerful. For instance 2 die Yang move will become a 4 Yang move if its interestingly played. GM and players get to veto if they object to an embelishment as in Wushu

Overall Polarity of Conflict:

Any conflict may be resolved in this manner, whether its combat or manipulation, or carefully sneaking into a monastery. However the Polarity of moves used from the conflict pool to act out or react will depend on the Polarity of a conflict. So doing emphasising the polarities of Traits used.
Combat for instance, will have the overall polarity of Yang and so Yang is used to act out and Yin to respond. However if it’s a Yin conflict it will be more subtle and require Yin energy, lets say subterfuge or deception, then Yin dice will be used to act out and Yang will be used to appose. The GM determines the Conflict Polarity; the Yin and Yang value and a difficulty threshold (aptitude) if the conflict is an abstracted non NPC challenge, such climbing a wall. This could be resolved as a narrative move by move fashion if players want to boost their odds with descriptive play, or a single roll which is apposed by the players relevant Yin or Yang.

Ending the conflict:

I am unclear about this. Perhaps when all the dice run out the side with the greatest total successful “attacks” narrates the resolution of the scene as their victory. Or perhaps when dice run out there can be bidding process of some kind to see if conflictcontinues with another conflict roll or becomes resolved by the victor...Any suggestions?


I have used Body as a Trait example, but would like to see something like "Yeti metamorph warrior" (3) [Yang (5) Yin (4)] or "Dragon trapped in Human form" with a subsidiary characteristic such as "transforms when terrified" +2 , or "kranky"+1


Posts: 45

« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2006, 08:34:52 AM »

It occurs to me this should  been added above first:

1.  What is the game really about:

 It's about heroes protecting the biggest secret ever. Its about exotic Asian high fantasy world juxtaposed with a bleak 1930s world on the brink of war. Its about the occult politics of the Third Reich, and the naive, but good hearted citizens of Zhang Zhung who are in denial that their secret is on the verge of being exposed and their destroying their utopian world forever.

2.  What do the characters do:

They are wardens of the secret. They are warriors and secret agents . Perhaps they are noble and gentle Yeti warriors, or wise and reluctant Mystics who would rather be in deep meditation, or Dragons who are bound by oath to assume human form in order to protect the Kingdoms and desire release from the prison of Flesh.

They must reconcile the outright Nazi evil of the outside, with the foolish politics of denial on the inside of Zhang Zhung. They are powerful martial artists and mystics whom seek to balance the forces inside themselves, but the Thule Society is a creeping evil which seems unstoppable.

Hope this clarifies the creative agenda somewhat- thanks in advance for any responses!


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