13th Dynasty: A 13th Age campaign

Having moved in with housemates, we’ve just started a house campaign of Pelgrane Press’s 13th Age role-playing game. Edmund is running his own re-skin, called “13th Dynasty.” It takes surprisingly little to turn the Dragon Empire, the default setting of 13th Age, into a Chinese-inspired campaign.


Artist: Amelie Hutt. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Zhi Yu, played by Vlad, is a human monk who was raised along with his twin sister to be necromancers under the Undying Emperor (Lich King)’s tutelage during the War. There was an ill-advise spell interrupted by a terrible accident, and Zhi Yu’s twin Zhi Hao was killed in the explosion, leaving only charred bones. Zhi Yu barely survived, badly scarred and maintained only through necromantic arts. He soon discovered that his sister’s soul was still bound to him and could, with effort, also inhabit his body. (This is his One Unique Thing.)

Having rethought his career choices, he escaped the Undying Emperor’s grasp and, carrying Zhi Hao’s bones with him, he hid in a monastery where he became a monk, learning a new path. Many years have passed (he is much older than one would think) and he has felt the pull of destiny calling him back.

Zhi Yu has a conflicted (1) relationship with the Undying Emperor, a positive (1) one with the Great Golden Dragon (Great Gold Wyrm), and through his sister, a positive (1) one with the Monkey King (Prince of Shadows).

Artist: ziseviolet. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Jumping Carp, played by me, is a Gnome rogue, a public entertainer, pickpocket, and con artist. (She is based on Kitsune, a character from the comic book Usagi Yojimbo.) She juggles, tells stories, and play tricks to entertain crowds, making spinning tops dance on the edge of her fan.

Her one unique thing is a beautiful music box ornamented with a dragon motif, which used to belong to the Great Golden Dragon… As a result, she has a complicated (1) relationship with this Icon, as well as a positive (2) one with the Monkey King, her role model.

On occasion, we’ve also been joined by Lu Bu, an Elven Chaos mage played by Jason. Lu Bu one unique thing is that he is the tallest known Elf. He is also a disguise artist, a collector of teeth stolen from dead bodies, and dedicated to creating mischief wherever he goes. He has a negative relationship with the King of the North (Dwarf King) and a positive one with, you guessed it, the Monkey King.

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Writing Projects

WoA cover mockupI’m so happy about my current writing projects, I want to share what’s going on.

First, the layout of War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is in its later stages and looks so darn good! Dale Horstman is doing a fantastic job. If you think this cover looks nice—and it does!—just wait until you see the whole thing.


Second, I’m under contract for more writing for Evil Hat Productions: a Fate World called Sisiutl’s Children. I feel tremulous because writing about other cultures is fraught with danger, but I’m going to give it my best shot and ask for cultural review by knowledgeable people of these cultures. Here is the blurb:

“If you will stare fear in the face, I will be at your back. Together, we will stand up to the Devourers.”

The great spirit Sisiutl has taken it upon himself to help humankind grow in wisdom and strength. He sees light and dark in each soul, and coaxes out the light or punishes evil. Those he finds worthy become heroes — protectors of the Coastal People and mediators with the Spirit World. Bonded with the great water dragons that are Sisiutl’s progeny, they will fight monsters, arbitrate disputes, harvest knowledge, and face the darkness in their own souls.

Sisiutl’s Children is a Pacific Northwest fantasy setting based on the coastal Native cultures — Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth and others — mixed with the dragon-riding tales of Naomi Novik and Anne McCaffrey, where the heroes battle supernatural threats to protect their clan. Will you ride the dragon into battle or will you be the dragon?

And thirdly, I’ve also lined up an assignment for Vigilance Press, an as-yet unannounced project in their Tianxia line. This is all so exciting!

Credits: War of Ashes cover mockup: art © 2015 ZombieSmith, layout by Dale Horsten, coming out soon from Evil Hat Productions. Sisiutl mask photo licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia—carving by Oscar Matilpi.

Kicking Off 2015: The Taking of Tiger Mountain

The Taking of Tiger Mountain U.S. posterHappy New Year, peeps! On the 1st of the year we had a wonderful Japanese-style dinner with our friends, on the 2nd I worked, on the 3rd we played board games with another friend visiting from Seattle. But today—today we kicked off the movie year! We went to see Tsui Hark’s new movie, The Taking of Tiger Mountain.

TL;DR: It’s awesome.

This sounded like a somewhat improbable endeavour: it’s based on a piece of Cultural Revolution-era propaganda. First a book by novelist Qu Bo (a.k.a. Chu Po), Tracks in the Snowy Forest (1957), itself based on a real 1946 incident, which became the basis for a sanctioned Peking opera, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, that became one of the Cultural Revolution’s eight model plays.

I don’t know about you, but Maoist propaganda does not usually rise to the top of my list of things I want to watch, so I was a little wary, but hey—Tsui Hark deserves being given a chance, right? So we went to a matinee show in; we’re lucky that the Daly City Century 20 theatre shows international blockbusters, not just American ones.

The plot: in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, a small reconnaissance force of the People’s Liberation Army (communist) fights a local gang of bandits in the northern mountains and protects the local villagers; one scout poses as a bandit to infiltrate Lord Hawk’s gang and set up the final fight.

Tsui Hark does a wonderful job of meshing the Chinese tropes of action films, traditional storytelling, and communist propaganda. There are homages and send-offs, adaptations and transpositions, and excitement throughout. The acting, photography, fight choreography, sets, and special effects are impeccable. The music combines swelling suspense movie music with corny-as-all-hell but rousing patriotic anthems.

There is not only ample bullet time but knife time, grenade time, mortar shell time, etc… So yeah, this is a violent movie and you don’t want to bring kids there. But it’s stylish violence, if you see what I mean. And the heroes are good, merciful, dutiful, and brave; there are lots of interesting support characters to follow. The villains are classic wuxia villains, over-the-top and all very distinctive.

Some reviewers have expressed surprise that Hark was doing propaganda, but I see it differently; it’s classic Hark, where duty is more important than authority, and the heroes actually fight for one another and for the people.

In case you can’t tell because I’m being too demure: I loved this movie.