posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The book actually begins well enough, by talking not about how Asia is different (for one, Mage had Asian wizards in from the start) but about how it needs more detail since they kind of forgot a lot of Asia existed. It talks about how you need to understand the (mundane) history of the area to get their magical traditions, and that they're more than martial arts or Confucian sages. Okay, that's pretty reasonable, let's see how well we live up to it. The book even goes so far as to say that generalizing about "Asia" is as useless as generalizing about Europe - there's too many individual, very different cultures involved. However, it also talks about how utterly different they are, even though the Akashic Brotherhood is one of the Traditions and the Five MEtal Dragons are part of the Technocracy; both groups are, apparently, of a rather different mindset than the other Traditions/Technocrats.

We learn that in Asia, mages are known variously as Ch'in Ta, Lighting People or Dragons of the East. I have no idea what Ch'in Ta means.

Chapter One is actually about Asian history, not wizards. There's been a very long continuity of it, and the book suggests that the West is culturally colonizing via McDonald's or Baywatch...but also that not all Western things are bad. However, the culture of Asia is deep-rooted, and Asian mages draw on it in a way that is neither Tradition nor Technocrat. Asian mages tend to very aware of their history, though some reject it in favor of modernization, as a note. We also get a sidebar on how 'Far East' is a problematic term, based on a European view of the world. Orient, likewise, is now a somewhat racist term. China would never consider itself 'Eastern' - it is Zhongguo, the Middle Kingdom, the center of the world. (Other Asian nations disagree.) They are a very diverse set. India, in the World of Darkness, is basically where East and West mix the most, though.


Certainly, supernaturals in the Middle Kingdom present a more unified front than their Western counterparts. The Celestial Bureaucracy is a potent idea that has spread throughout the mundane and spirit worlds. On the other hand, a mutual duty doesn't imply understanding. Even if the will of Heaven dictates that Chinese and Korean mages must work together, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're later going to see eye to eye over tea.

So, let's talk about India. India contains a full sixth of the world's human population, and has received visitors from all over the world over the past 5000 years. We'll begin in 3000 BC, with the rise of the cities Harrapa and Mohenjodaro. Their civilization spread through India and traveled even as far as Persia. The Harrapans had a class system based on occupation, with different houses supported by different gods and cities designed to keep the classes apart. Little is known about their religion, save that almost every house had a statue of the Earth Mother. In 1700 BC, they began to decline, with climate change flooding their settlements or desertifying their farms. Legend has it that in 1500 BC, light-skinned invaders also came in, via the Khyber Pass.

These were the Aryans, who rapidly colonized northwest India. They soon defeated the Dravidian natives, thanks to their horses, and began farming. They split into four castes: brahmans (priest), kshatriyas (warrior), vaishyas (farmer) and shudras (worker). Originally, they were flexible divisions of labor, but the castes became rigid and complex, becoming assigned at birth and dividing into many occupations within each jati, or caste. At first, the ARyans also lacked a written language, but had a great oral tradition which produced the Vedas, epic poems that would be the basis of Hinduism, which the brahmans memorized. The first three Vedas, the Rig, Sama and Yajur, have hymns to the gods and rituals in them, while the Atharva Veda contains magical andm edical knowledge, including charms to harm enemies and explanations of the properties of herbs. Between 1000 and 800 BC, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana joined the Vedic canon. The Aryan tongue, Sanskrit, gained a written form, but it would be centuries before the canon was recorded in written form.

By 600 BC, Hinduism had branched into many sects, with some even questioning the foundations of belief. Jainism came from the teachings of the ascetic guru Mahavira, who preached austerity and nonviolence, with the most dedicated Jains becoming ascetics who forswore all belongings - sometimes even clothes. In the meantime, Siddhartha Gautama proclaimed the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

Around 300 BC, India was mostly united by Chandragupta Maurya, and science flourished under his rule. His grandson, Ashoka, became a Buddhist and forswore conquest. Instead, he merely drove out the Greek-speaking rulers of the northwest, eliminating the last vestige of Alexander the Great's conquests in India. Despite being popular and prosperous, his empire did not outlast him and divided on his death into many smaller kingdoms until around 300 AD, when the Gupta dynasty came to power. The Guptas were Hindu, and under them, Buddhism declined to the point that Buddha was recognized as an avatar of Vishnu.

In 710 AD, the Guptas were weakened by Islamic invasion, and destroyed by 1000. The south remained peaceful, but then orth was full of war. By 1206, Qutb-ud-din had established the "Slave" Dynasty, beginning a massive campaign to convert the Hindus, burning temples to build mosques and slaughtering brahmins and ascetics. Many holy men sought to bridge Hindu and Islamic teachings, including Nanak in 1499, the founder of the Sikhs. He hailed Allah as an expression of Om, the universal vibration of spiritual harmony. Tamerlane massacred the Hindus of Delhi in the 14th century, but by the 16th, the Mughals who were his descendants encouraged religious tolerance. The third Mughal ruler, Akbar, founded Din-e-Elahi, a religion combining Hinduism and Islam. The Mughals accepted Hindu nobility and built them a special hall, Ibadhat Khana, in which to debate religious affairs. The Mughal empire stretched throughout India, then declined. The Shah of Persia took Delhi in 1769, and the best known legacy of the Mughals remains the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jaham, the fifth Mughal ruler, for his wife's tomb.

Several European nations came to India in this time, such as Portugal, which used its Goa colony as a pirate haven and way of getting at Indian spice. The British East India company, however, was the most prominent European group. Originally, they directly controlled India, forcing farmers to grow indigo, tea and other commercial goods. This and a brutal tax led to massive famines. Constant rebellion, which included a movement to reinstant the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, forced the British East India company to turn rule over to the Crown in 1858. The British raj couldn't rule without local cooperation, so they fostered a Western-educated elite to help them This elite, educated about both India and the West, taught the common people about colonialism and democracy. The Freedom Movement used both Western and Indian values to question the raj. Mohandas Gandhi was the inheritor of the movement, a lawyer who was imprisoned for efforts to aid the southern Indian community. He returned to India to struggle against Britain, embracing traditional culture and religious tolerance. He invented a new form of nonviolent resistance he called satyagraha, or moral domination.

Gandhi was eventually titled Mahatma for his work. In 1930, he and his followers walked 200 miles in the Salt March to prepare salt for the coastal town of Dandi, using the outlawed traditional methods. British morale and resources were strained, and eventually a breaking point was reached when public support for them vanished after they attacked the peaceful and unarmed. Finally, in 1947, the British withdrew, and India split into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Today, India is a nuclear power, with their tests quickly followed by Pakistan's in 1998. Ideological and border disputes between the two nations has made for a tense relationship.

Next time: China!


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

China, of course, is extremely influential on everywhere nearby. Its civilization is at least 5000 years old, dating back to a time when myth and written history tend to mingle. The Xia Dynasty, said to begin in 2100 BC, was thought a myth until archaeologists of the 60s and 70s found evidence of Bronze Age cities right where Chinese history said they were. From 1766 to 1112 BC, the Shang Dynasty left the first evidence of written language - divination tools in the form of tortoise shells and flat cattle bones. They believed in a form of Celestial Bureaucracy ruled by a Shang-ti, or Lord-on-High, who ruled over nature deities like the sun and moon. Their king was called the Son of Heaven, the intermediary between god and man. Ancient records say that the last Shang ruler was a despot overthrown by the Chou tribe, who established a capital at Huo, near Chang'an, and spread Shang culture through much of China. The Chou were quasi-feudal lords who ruled a decentralized collection of city-states. They introduced the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, which asserted that they could only overthrow the Shang because they were supported by the will of Heaven, and they ruled by divine right. However, in 771 BC, barbarians allied to rebel lords sacked their capital. It was moved to Luoyang and the kingdom fell into decline.

This next period, called the Spring and Autumn period, was technically part of Chou rule, but there was little authority. However, despite that, it was a flourishing of culture, with the rise of Confucius, Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu. Competing warlords sponsored poets, philosophers and swordmasters to prove themselves the greatest of rulers. Five-element theory and the concepts of Yin and Yang come from this period, too. By 475 BC, Chinese culture was both ruthless and sophisticated. Thus, the stage was set for Qin Shihuang. He was the first to unify China in 221 BC, ruling as a brutal Legalist who treated his subjects as enemies to be pacified. He burned many books, destroying all knowledge that could weaken his authority - especially Confucian works, which implied that the common people could seize the Mandate of Heaven. However, Qin's military ambition and cruel taxes fueled much public works, including the Great Wall. He became obsessed with immortality, and the architects of his tomb were buried with him, along with the terracotta soldiers.

After four years of civil war following his death, the Han Dynasty took over, reviving Confucianism and adopting it. Civil exams allowed any educated man to receive an imperial appointment. Paper and porcelain were invented, and the Silk Road was established. By the collapse of the Han in 220 AD, the structure of Chinese civilization had been set for the next 1700 years. The Han became synonymous with Chinese culture, and even today, non-Han ethnicities are often marginalized. After the Han fell, China fragmented into the rival states of Wei, Shu and Wu. This period is remembered as one of heroism and romance. Gunpowder was invented, but largely used for fireworks, and astronomy and medicine were huge.

The Jin (265-420 AD) and the Wu (581-617) briefly united China, both rivalling the Qin in their ruthlessness. Buddhism became popular, adapting to Chinese culture, and Bodhidharma founded Zen Buddhism in the reign of Emperor Wu Ti, who exempted monasteries from tax and military service. In 618, the Tang Dynasty took over. They were a high point for Chinese culture, and in this period block printing was invented. The Tang sought an ideal man, who mixed martial, academic and poetic skill. They perfected the civil exams, replacing hereditary nobles with scholar-officials. Their successors, the Song, oversaw a growing middle class of wealthy merchants and craftsmen. Neo-Confucianism began to grow increasingly rigid in this time, focusing on duty. In 1279, the Song fell to the Mongols led by Genghis Khan's grandson, Kublai.

Kublai's dynasty, the Yuan, retained Confucian exams but introduced freedom of religion, allowing shamanism, Islam and Nestorian Christianity to mix with traditional Chinese beliefs. Marco Polo visited the court of Kublai Khan, and other Western visitors brought new music and crops, returning home with new medical knowledge, printing techniques and playing cards. The capital was moved to Beijing. After the death of Kublai, peasant revolts and internal squabbling ended the Yuan Dynasty, and the Han Chinese reasserted themselves as rulers with the Ming in 1368.

The Ming (or Brilliant) Dynasty was founded by a Buddhist monk and peasant general, and it kept the Confucian bureaucracy. At first, the Ming sponsored naval exploration, sailing as far as Africa, but in 1433, they stopped it completely. The Ming grew insular and agrarian, giving up control of the Indian Ocean and just collecting tribute from nearby nations such as Annam (modern Vietnam) rather than expanding. The Ming believed themselves the most advanced society possible, with nothing to gain from conquering inferiors. Finally, weakened by war with the Mongols and corruption, it was invaded by the Manchu Qing in 1644. The Qing met heavy resistance, especially as the Manchu hairstyles, dress and language set them apart from the Han Chinese. They exacerbated this by forbidding Han/Manchu intermarriage and instituting a dual bureaucracy with the Manchu on top.

The Manchu continued their conquests, capturing all the territory of modern China as well as establishing the protectorate of Tibet. By the 19th century, 300 million people lived in China. Farmland was scarce, and banditry rife. The Triads, White Lotus Society and local warlords fought Qing authority, and so China was not well prepared for the West to arrive. At first, China tried to negotiate with Portugal, Britain and France as it would any tributary the British brought in opium against Imperial decree. When the Chinese burned it, Britain invaded in the Opium War of 1839. The Treat of Nankin in 1842 ceded Hong King to British control (and, by 1898, outright ownership) and gave up humiliating concessions. The Taiping and Boxer Rebellions of 1851 and 1900 further weakened China, and its nickname in Europe was 'the Weak Man of Asia'.

Sidebar: The Triads claim to have been refugees from the Shaolin Temple who organized resistance to the Qing. Yes, from the start, they ran protection rackets, but they also supported their communities and, sometimes, still do. They also support martial arts schools. As such, we are told, people tend to view them ambivalently. Triad initiations are a mix of Confucian and Buddhist rites involving a traditional collar-less costume and a blue lantern, as well as oaths of secrecy and vows to overthrow foreign domination, then blessings from a Buddhist priest. The new member is called a sidai, or younger brother, and familial titles such as sihing (elder brother) or sifu (father) are common. The exceptions are the snakeheads and dragonheads, who lead local and international initiatives, and the red poles, the enforcers. Some Triads tattoo themselves on the neck and shoulder, but it's not as ornate or common as among Yakuza. Triads today are famous for drug and arms trafficking and influence in the Hong Kong film industry. Many Triads still train in martial arts, usually more from tradition than actual pragmatic use, though you occasionally get headlines about Triad hits involving swords.

Anyway, Sun Yat-sen led the final rebellion against the Qing. By 1911, most provinces had seceded from the empire, and by 1912, the Chinese Republic was founded under Yuan Shikai, and the last Emperor, Puyi, abdicated. Yuan revised the constitution, making himself a dictator and assassinating those who opposed his party, the Kuomintang. He was formally elected via intimidation and eventually declared himself president-for-life in the hopes of becoming emperor. When he died in 1916, even his closest allies had deserted him. Japan ruled inner Mongolia and Manchuria, and China was divided between Sun Yat-sen's southern Kuomintang nationalists and northern warlords. After Sun's death in 1925, the Kuomintang's communist ties split the party into right and left wing factions. The communists supported armed rebellion against both the warlords and nationalists, and in 1934, Mao Zedong led 100 thousand people over 7500 miles in the Long March to flee the Kuomintang, cementing him as a leader.

In 1931, hostilities between the communists and nationalists ceased to fight the Japanese invasion. The Red Army became popular because, unlike the Kuomintang, they paid for everything they took. When the alliance broke down in 1938, the communists had the upper hand. By 1949, their popular support allowed them to expel the Kuomintang from the mainland and send them to Taiwan, while they founded the People's Republic of China. Mao's Great LEap Forward, an attempt to collectivize industry and strengthen the economy, failed disastrously and destroyed Mao's reputation. In 1965, he began the Cultural Revolution to regain power, teaching the Red Guard to revere his thoughts and depose his foes. After his death in 1976, dissidents like Deng Xiaoping became new leaders, grudgingly promoting a free market, in preparation for the return of Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 2000. However, that doesn't mean freedom. When a million people gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government killed hundreds or even thousands of them when the Red Army stormed the Forbidden City. In the 21st century, China is poised to be the next world superpower, despite its poor human rights record, but it is notorious for disregarding copyright laws and fostering digital piracy. China's population is on the rise, but so is unemployment, and resources are dwindling. Away from the big cities, few benefit from the new capitalism.

On to Tibet! Tradition holds it is the land of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In the form of an ape, the Lord of Compassion mated with a rock demon, who was an emanation of the goddess Tara, bringing forth the people of Tibet. LEgend has it the first king was Indian, Rupati. Twelve Bon priests enthroned Rupati and named him Nyatari Tsenpo. The first kings, it is said, had a cord that connected them to Heaven, but later kings severed it via waging war. Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet, was a shamanistic faith that emphasized guidance of the souls of the dead. It traces its mythic origins to Shambhala, a divine kingdom in the mountains, and several early kings sought it. One, Gesar of Ling, is said to have found it. To the Chinese, Tibet was Jian or Xizang, a nation of goatherds and warriors who occasionally threatened China. Xizang's influence spread as far as the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty, and only long, bitter wars in the Tang period won the trade route back.

In 174 AD, Buddhism became the state religion of Tibet. EArly conflict between Bon and Buddhism was verbal, not physical and over time the two faiths mixed, with teachers like Padmasambvaha and Milarepa teaching the principles of Vajrayana Buddhism. It emphasized Tibetan gods and magic, merging it with what was said to be secret Buddhist teachings. These evolved into the four schools of Buddhist thought called Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug (to which the Dalai Lama belongs). When the Mongols came to China, the Buddhist priests became very powerful, and Kublai Khan considered Tibet to be the temple of his empire. He gave control to the lamas, promoting Tibetan Buddhism. By 1578, the Gelug sect dominated the nation, and a nearby Mongol ruler named the head of the sect the Dalai Lama, or the Ocean of Wisdom. He was considered an emanation of Avalokitesvara himself, becoming the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet.

In the 15th century, the fifth Dalai Lama founded the Tibetan theocracy, ruling in concert with the Karmapa and Panchen lamas. The nobles formed an advisory assembly, the Keshag, with both secular and religious officials at each post. The Dalai Lama's most unusual advisor was Nechung. Nechung, the guardian deity of Tibet, was said to manifest in via a kuten, or medium. Nechung has a monastery and is considered the manifestation of a buddha, as opposed to worldly spirits of Bon belief. The Ming were happy to accept Tibetan tribute, but the Qing conquered it outright, giving modern China an excuse to invade in the 20th century. Revolts against the Qing and the decline of the empire returned control to the Dalai Lama, who became isolationist. The capital, Lhasa, was forbidden to foreigners.

From 1911 to 1951, Tibet had little contact with anywhere else. After the Communist revolution, however, China sent officials to decry the theocratic, feudal rule, and in 1950 the Red Army invaded and crushed Tibet's primitive, 5000-man army. Religious statues were melted down and monasteries destroyed. Monks were imprisoned, tortured and killed. The 14th Dalai Lama fled the country in 1959 along a route chosen by Nechung, establishing a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. Since them, Buddhism has been strictly controlled in Tibet by China. When the Panchen Lama was recognized by the Dalai Lama, the child was put under house arrest and a state-approved replacement chosen. The Karmapa Lama, the only Lama who may recognize a new Dalai Lama (which is a big deal, since he's an old, old man) fled Tibet for Dharmasala in January, 2000. Relations between China and the Tibetan government-in-exile have improved, but the fundamental claim of the Dalai Lama's supporters, that Tibet is not Chinese, is still rejected by Beijing.

Next time: Southeast Asia.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Vietnam began, tradition holds, as the ancient kingdom of Van Lang, ruled for millenia by semi-divine kings. The descendants of the people of Van Lang are said to have founded Au Lac, the first historical kingdom in the Red River Delta of Vietnam. They may well have been the first farmers in East Asia, and by the first century BC they were a sophisticated bronze-working people. In 111 BC, however, the Han Empire conquered Au LAc, bringing Confucian and Chinese tradition. In 39 AD, the Trung sisters led a rebellion that created an independent kingdom led by Trung Trac until 43 AD, when China conquered it again.

For a thousand years, Vietnam struggled against Chinese rule. In 939 AD, Ngo Quyen defeated the Tang armies, but his nation did not outlive him. In 1010, the Ly dynasty finally reunited Vietnam, though their government was heavily shaped by Chinese tradition even as they revered the Trang sisters as cultural heroes. In the 13th century, Kublai Khan tried to conquer them again, but was defeated. For 200 years, Vietnam expanded into Champa and Khmer territory, but it began to fragment. After a brief conquest by the Ming, the Ly dynasty split into Trinh and Nguyen clans. The Trinh were the more powerful, but the Nguyen had a fiefdom in the south, splitting the country.

Legend, sidebar tells us, is that southeast Asian royalty was descended from the Naga, mystic serpent people and keepers of secrets. Cambodian myth speaks of a marriage between a Brahmin priest and a Naga queen, and the Naga were said to advise the kings of Angkor Wat. Their tracks were said to be the riverbeds of the Mekong Delta. The weresnakes called Nagah still hang around India and Southeast Asia, and many wizards assume they were the Naga of legend. Those that remember the ancient pacts between men and Naga have sought them out, trading their bodies for secrets. Those few who return tend to be amnesiac or mad...or given knowledge that rarely seems to be worth the terrible price they pay, given the haunted expressions they tend to have.

Anyway, in 1802, French missionaries helped Nguyen Anh seize power from the weak Tay Son peasant government. However, the Emperor was suspicious of their motives and in the 1830s he persecuted the French and the Catholics. From 1858 to 1882, the French responded with force until, at last, the government agreed to French colonial rule. In 1940, Japan occupied Vietnam, essentially removing French authority. Ho Chi Minh led the communist Vietminh independence movement, establishing a capital in Hanoi in 1945. The French refused to recognize independence, supporting the Nguyen monarchy of the south. When the Vietminh defeated them at Dien Ben Phu in 1954, the French agreed to a treaty dividing Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The Vietminh abided by this until 1959, when President Ngo Dimh Diemh's government, which was despotic and plagued by Catholic chauvinism, gave them an excuse to invade. In 1963, Diemh's generals killed him in a US-backed coup.

In 1965, the US sent troops and bombers to fight the communists. The Tet Offensive failed disastrously in 1968, and the US sued for peace. In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords temporarily ended the war in preparation for elections, but negotiations collapsed and in 1975, North Vietnamese troops took Saigon, renaming it Ho Chi Minh City. The People's Republic of Vietnam sent troops to Laos and Cambodia, and warred with China. Since 1990, Vietnam has been trying to improve relations with the US and liberalize its economy. However, the war is a clear memory for many Vietnamese, and ruined buildings and war machines litter the country.

Speaking of Laos: by the first century AD, the Ban Chiang civilization of Laos had organized itself into city-states called mandalas, centers of political power built according to Hindu and Buddhist mystic designs. One mandala, Muang Sua, was a nexus of political power for the Laotians. By 689 AD, it was tempting enough for the Thai to try and conquer it. The Khmer, Thai and Vietnamese empires fought over Muang Sua until 1286, when Laotions under the command of Panya Lang seized the city. However, by the 13th century, the Yuan had conquered the city with their Thai allies. The Thai and Mongol rule was not very oppressive, and the Lao soon helped them fight in Vietnam. However, Vajrayana Buddhism that was used by the new rulers proved very, very unpopular, and the Lao rulers of the kingdom of Lang Xang ended their alliance with the Mongols in 1398.

Lang Xang fell in 1690, and the Thai claimed the remnants. By the 19th century, the French excursions in the area threatened the sovereignty of Siam, and in 1893, the French gunboats forced Siam to hand over their territories, creating a colony that reunited the old kingdom of Lang Xang. This helped support the French due to nationalism until 1940, when De Gaulle's government trained Laotian guerillas to harass the Japanese in Vietnam. By 1944, the Vietminh movement gained a counterpart in Laos - the Pather Lao. Originally nonpartisan, it was encouraged by the Vietminh to become communist, and by the 1950s, communists dictated Pather Lao policy. In 1958, the Vietminh influence escalated into full occupation, and during the Vietnam War, the Ho Chi Minh Trail cut through Laos to supply the front. The CIA recruited a hill tribe, the Hmong, to fight as guerillas, supplying them with airdrops and fighting the Laotians with indiscriminate bombings, which destroyed many ancient temples and farms. After Saigon fell in 1975, the Pather Lao began a purge of moderates and political opponents, forming "seminar camps" that mixed forced labor and indoctrination. At Camp 01, political enemies and the last of the nobles were beaten to death or starved. Buddhism was placed under state control, with prerecorded and vetted sermons.

Now, Cambodia! The Khmer of Cambodia were heavily influenced by Indian culture, adopting Hindu gods, mandala cities and a language evolved from Sanskrit. Ruled from the city-state of Funan, the Khmer empire stretched all the way from Burma to the South China Sea. The Angkor period, from the 9th to 12th centuries, brought in enough tribute to build the largest temple in the world, Angkor Wat. However, Siamese and Vietnamese pressures as well as French missionaries weakened Khmer rule until, like Laos and Vietnam, the French could take it over in 1863. After the Japanese humiliated the French rulers in World War 2, Cambodia fought for independence until 1953, when the colonial state ended and King Norodom Sihanouk became head of state. However, in 1970, Sihanouk was ousted by his general, Lon Nol, who ruled briefly until 1975.

That was when the Khmer Rouge toppled the military government, advocating agrarian communism. They emptied every major city and population center to fuel concentration camp "farms," and they placed King Sihanouk under house arrest in the deserted capital. Two million died over the next four years, as Pol Pot claimed Khmer Rouge infallibility and rejected heavy industry, modern medicine and personal freedoms. Overwork and starvation ran rampant, killing those who could not work, while the rest were tortured and executed for crimes like 'having wealthy parents' or 'speaking a foreign language.' In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, with troops remaining until 1989 when the Cambodian government asked the UN for help fighting Khmer Rouge guerillas. In 1993 and 1998, the UN helped supervise elections, and King Sihanouk returned to the head of a constitutional monarchy.

Off to Thailand! In 1239, two Thai chieftains rebelled against the Khmer empire, establishing the first independant Thai state, Sukhotai, or the Dawn of Happiness. Thai culture blossomed with the invention of a Thai writing system and native schools of painting and sculpture. Like the Khmer, the Thai were influenced heavily by India. The greatest Sukhotai king, Ram Kamhaeng, introduced Theravada Buddhism to the nation, and in emulation of the Indian king Ashoka, he heavily supported the clergy and rejected expansionism. Ram Kamhaeng's rule was not emulated after his death, however, with a series of weak kings making concessions to the neighboring Ayutthaya, which absorbed the Sukhotai in 1438. They rejected the idea of the ruler-subject relationship being like a parent-child one, considering the Thai their property. The Ayutthaya were a strong, centralized and expansionist state that eradicated the final pockets of Khmer resistance, unifying Siam.

Siam continued as a strong monarchy, but suffered intermittent Western influence. In 1516, Siam and Portugal signed a treaty trading guns for trade goods, but the new weapons proved not enough to stop the Burmese, who conquered Siam in 1569. However, Burma's use of the royal family as puppets proved to be a bad idea in 1584, when Crown Prince Naresuan used his soldiers to fight for independence, emerging victorious in 1593 when Naresuan killed the Burmese prince in an elephant-mounted duel. Over the next century, the Spanish, Dutch and English signed treaties with Siam, and sporadic conflict with the British East India Company and the Dutch were balanced by friendly relations with the French, who sent missionaries in 1662. However, the real surprise was a Greek adventurer named Constantine Phaulkon, who rose rapidly among the nobles as an advocate against the British and an ally of the French. The Siamese nationalists hated him, and seized the throne and had him beheaded in 1688. The new government routed the French in Bangkok and expelled most foreigners.

In the 19th century, the Rama dynasty reformed Siamese law and expanded its borders, conquering Chiang Mai and Cambodia. Treaties with the US and Britain broke down when the Western powers demanded special priveleges that they receieved in China, and a British blockade forced concessions. By the 1900s, Siam was forced to cede territory to France, who occupied Vietname, in order to retain independence. In 1932, a revolution allowed the People's Party of Thailand to form a new government minimizing the role of the monarchy. A series of revolts and counterrevolts caused King Rama VII to voluntarily seek exile in England, though his successor, Rama VIII, used France's weakness to regain control of the ceded territories in 1940. The pro-Japanese regime declared war on the Allies, but their envoy refused to actually deliver the declaration to England. In 1946, the declaration of war was nullified by the Thai government and US State Department, who recognized Thailand as a neutral party in the War. Modern Thailand's government has been run by the military ever since. Theravada Buddhism remains a powerful influence, with some monks achieving political power and celebrity comparable to Western rock stars. Bangkok has become rich and infamous, both for use by Hong Kong filmmakers and the sex tourism trade.

Next time: Japan.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Japan's human habitation dates back to around 8000 BC, but little is known of the Jomon people of that time, or whether they're the predecessors of the modern Japanese, the native Ainu or some other group. In 300 BC, the Yayoi appear in Chinese writings about the Japanese archipelago. It was said that Japan was ruled by tribal queens who spoke to ghosts and spirits on behalf of their people. It was rice and iron that allowed the Japanese to band together behind chieftains and landowners rather than being purely tribal, and by 400 AD, the Yamato dynasty had united central Japan. (The first Yamato emperor, Jimmu Tenno, is said to have been born in 660 BC.) Of course, the powerful Soga clan limited Imperial power to Shinto rituals. Chinese writing, political philosophies and Buddhism were all introduced to Japan in the 6th century AD.

In 710 AD, the first permanent Japanese capital was settled at Nara, and Chinese influence remained strong. Buddhism and the Imperial government adapted to Japanese needs and literature flourished with the invention of Kana syllables. In 794 AD, the capital was moved to Kyoto, where it remained for a millenium. However, the Imperial regime imposed severe taxes, and land ownership passed to a wealthy elite who undermined the imperial power. One of these landowning clans, the Fujiwara, intermarried with the imperial line and dominated state affairs. In response, the other clans and fiefdoms gathered warriors to serve their goals against the Fujiwara and each other: the samurai, who quickly went from farmer militia to professional soldiers.

Sidebar: Early Japanese history is very hard to pin down because of politics. A lot of evidence suggests the Japanese migrated from Korea, but the Japanese much prefer to trace descent from the Jomon, and Shinto myth (and popular sentiments) link the Japanese to the land from its creation. This and the lingering animosity between Japan and Korea make them tend to dismiss any common ancestry. Further confusing things are the Ainu, the native people who now inhabit the northernmost isle of Hokkaido but once were all over Japan. The Ainu are matriarchal and shamanistic, very different ethnically than the Japanese, and many scholars believe they are the descendants of the Jomon, citing similarities between the Ainu and the shaman-queens of Chinese record.

In 1068, the Emperor Go-Sanjo, who wanted to rule himself, thwarted the Fujiwara. In 1086, he abdicated but continued to rule from behind the scenes. This system of "retired" rulers controlling Japan (called Insei) remained until the 12th century. Meanwhile, two great clans, the Minamoto (or Genji) and the Taira (or Heike) clans, begin to grow stronger. The Taira replaced the Fujiwara in Imperial politics, while the Minamoto conquered Honshu in a brutal campaign. In 1156, Taira Kiyamori's armies defeated the Minamoto, whose survivors fled to the mountains or left Japan. Legend has it that Minamoto Yoshitsune learned magical and martial skills from the Tengu while in exile, which served him well in the Gempei War of 1180-1185, when the Minamoto regrouped and destroyed the Taira. The last Heike, a single boy, died at sea, and it is said that his retainers live on as crabs whose shells bear the scowling faces of samurai.

In 1192, the Emperor gave Minamoto Yoritomo the title of shogun ("barbarian-suppressing general"). In 1274, an emissary of Kublai Khan demanded Japan surrender unconditionally to the Mongols; he was executed, and Japan fought off two invasions. In the second, in 1281, the kamikaze ("divine wind"), a massive tidal wave, annihilated 4/5 of the invasion fleet. The military government of Japan lasted until 1333. In 1334, Emperor Go-Daigo overthrew the Kamakura government, but was turned on by his general, Ashikaga Takauji, who captured Kyoto and installed a puppet emperor. Go-Daigo fled south to Yoshino, and by the end of the war, the Ashikaga Shogunate had lost control of the outer provinces. As the Ashikaga authority dwindled over the 14th and 15th centuries, local rulers called ji-samurai and daimyo governed over a feudal system with little regard for the imperial court or bakufu. Strife between the daimyo grew into the sengoku jidai, the time of civil war.

In the 16th century, European trade was introduced, with guns and Jesuits coming to Japan. Christianity, despite Buddhist persecution, became popular, and one convert, Oda Nobunaga, used his baptism to gain access to firearms and Portuguese tacticians. Oda cut through Japan with his superior arms, cutting down samurai with peasant gunmen, until his assassination by ninja at the Honnoji Temple in 1582. The head of the plot, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, continued Nobunaga's unification, but was unable to become shogun. He seized the weapons of the clergy and commoners in the Sword Hunt to prevent rebellion. He'd planned for his son Hideyori to inherit the nation, but by 1600, war began again. The daimyo Tokugawa Ieyasu turned against the Toyotomi, and the massed warlords of Japan met him in the Battle of Sekigahara. Tokugawa's Eastern Army was smaller, but he was brilliant and had bribed several key generals. Toyotomi's Western Army was defeated, and in 1603, Tokugawa became shogun.

Tokugawa moved the capital to Edo, where he forced the nobles to live, using them as hostages to discourage rebellion. He destroyed the remnants of the Toyotomi and persecuted Christians for treason, killing them by crucifixion. The third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, destroyed the Christian rebels at Shimabara in 1637, ending Japanese Christianity for the Tokugawa period. Under the Tokugawa, traditional culture flourished, with tea ceremony, flower arranging and poetry rising to the level of expected art rather than hobby. Guns were banned, and without the threat of war, martial arts developed from warrior skills. One of the earliest of the "shugyosha", the student-warriors, was Miyamoto Musashi, famous for his "two heavens" technique. He rejected honor and artistry as silly, but was both poetic and pragmatic in analysing combat. Even today, martial artists and executives study the Book of Five Rings that he wrote.

Many samurai became teachers simply because there was nothing for them to do. If their masters died, they became ronin, who were a serious social problem - many became bandits, drunkards or gamblers, inspiring techniques solely designed to restrain swordsmen. The samurai skills flourished, and the samurai developed their own subculture, which worshipped their warrior origins despite having no wars to fight, while those who could not adapt to becoming nobles became robbers and bandits. Neo-Confucianism made the Tokugawa culture rigid and stratified, and commoners were forbidden to carry weapons or wear certain clothes. Women who had been warriors in the sengoku jidai had daughters forbidden to leave their homes. Merchants were despised for producing nothing and protecting nothing, with edicts passed to limit their influence, though they failed. Even ninja were incorporated into the Tokugawa, in the form of the Koga clan who became the Onmitsu, the shogun's spy network. Western trade ceased, and foreigners were forbidden to enter Japan. Even the few Dutch on the islands were forbidden to leave the island set aside for them. New technologies were ignored, and as the government owned all guns, it made no attempt to improve their design. Tokugawa society remained stable and static for 250 years.

In 1852, COmmodore Matthew Perry arrived on a US trade mission, forcing his way into Tokyo with cannon and ironclads. The trade agreements reached were very unfavorable to Japan. Two clans, Satsuma and Choshu, supported the emperor, Meiji, to regain control of the country. The pro-imperial movement became hugely popular in protest against the Tokugawa mismanagement of Western trade. The Satsuma and Choshu used modern weapons to conquer Japan for the Emperor, and by 1867, the Imperial forces occupied Kyoto and returned the Emperor to power. The Meiji Restoration radically Westernized Japan, abolishing samurai and illegalizing the carrying of the two swords and wearing of the topknot. Western clothing became fashionable, as did the style of Western monarchies. Even martial arts were Westernized, as Gichin Funakoshi and Jigoro Kano revised karate-jitsu and jujutsu to conform to Western education styles, making karate-do and judo. Kendo was also standardized, and all three arts taught alongside Western gymnastics. Briefly, power shifted from the Emperor to the new Parliament, but victories against China in 1895 and Russia in 1905 strengthened the military and with the occupation of Korea in 1910, the army began to dictate policy. A global economic downturn and the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 gave them much chance to step into the chaos and run Japan. With the help of propaganda, assassination and censorship, the military seized power by 1930.

Japan began aggressive expansion, occupying Manchuria in 1931 and starting the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The Rape of Nanking would go down in history as one of the worst atrocities of JApanese imperialism. By 1940, Japan had organized its puppet states into the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Since many were Western colonies, the British and American governments put an embargo on oil. The Japanese decided to expand, attacking Dutch Indonesia to prevent a fuel crisis even at risk of war with the Allied Powers. On December 6, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and on the following day, they took much of the PAcific all the way to India. However, at the Battle of Midway in 1942, the Japanese Army was beaten back and eventually confined to its national borders. By 1944, the islands were being bombed, and in 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bomb. (In fact, some Hiroshima survivors had fled to Nagasaki under the impression that the Americans would not bomb a Christian city.) By August 14, Emperor Hirohito surrendered unconditionally.

Sidebar: Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu islands, was originally made of three kingdoms: Naha, Shuri and Tomari, each tributary states of China. Minamoto refugees and the Thirty-six Families of China influenced Okinawan culture, from which came the martial arts of tode-jutsu, Ryukyu kobujutsu and tegumi, the forerunners of today's karate. An aji (king) and noro (shaman-priestess) ruled each kingdom, with the aji handling day-to-day affairs and the noro deciding when to go to war. The pechin, a class similar to the samurai, functioned as police and officials, and the sai was their badge of office. Okinawan society has always been peace-loving. After uniting the country, the Sho Dynasty banned personal weapons, and Okinawa became famous as a port for ships as far off as India. Ryugakusei, or exchange students, traveled to China to learn science and Confucian thought. In 1609 AD, the Satsuma samurai clan invaded, beginning 270 years of Japanese military rule of Okinawa. Martial traditions were practiced in secret to use items like the nunchaku (rice flail) and eku (oar). Sporadic uprisings gave way to peaceful exchange, however. When the Meiji Restoration threatened to destroy Okinawan traditions, a few teachers began to openly teach their secret arts. In World War 2, Okinawa was devastated, and after the war, the US claimed it and settled it with military bases. Today, some Okinawans support independence from Japan and the expulsion of the US armed forces. More moderate Okinawans are concerned with preservation of their Hogen dialect, traditional religion and pacifist values.

Anyway. The allies dismantled the Japanese imperial cult and imposed a constitution that left Hirohito a mere figurehead. Conventional bombing had ruined many cities as well, and the rebuilding required severe rationing, but within 20 years, the nation of Japan had regained its heavy industries. However, in the 1960s, Tokyo was one of the most polluted cities in the world. In the 1980s, Japanese corporations began aggressive expansion into the US markets, and while they were at first met with protectionism and racism, the world market did adapt. The "sarariman", the book tells us, is slang for a loyal lifetime employee and was emblematic of that period. In 1998, however, the collapse of Asian currencies followed by revelation of state and bank corruption threw Japan into a recession, and today, Japan is reconsidering its place in the world.

Next time: Korea.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Legend has it that Korea was founded by the god Hwang Ung. When a tiger and a bear demanded to become human, Hwang Ung ordered them to purify themselves in a cave for 100 days, eating only the sacred herbs of garlic and mugwort. At the end, only the bear remained, and she bore Hwang Ung a son, Dan Gun Wang Gum. Legend holds that Dan Gun founded the first Korean kingdom, Choson ('the Land of the Morning Calm') in 2333 BC. Archaeologists have found that the tribes of the Korean peninsula began to unite under pressure from Chinese states, and by the 4th century BC, these alliances led to the kingdoms of Puyo and Koguryo, which kept Korea safe from invasion by the Chinese and Manchurians. Eventually, Puyo fell and the survivors founded Pakche in the west. In the east, the kingdom of Silla rose.

At which point the book becomes incomprehensible, because a section from the end has replaced a paragraph of text. Oops!

Back in readability, the Koreans adapted the Tang bureaucracy, but soon devolved to their old borders. In 1200, the Mongol conquerors of China and Manchuria swept in, and the Koryo royal family fled to the island of Kanghwa, becoming replaced by puppet kings. Kublai Khan even used Korea to launch two doomed fleets for Japan. And then we get more replaced text.

Sidebar: Korea has several warrior traditions, including the knighthood of Silla, the hwarang, who mixed Buddhist ethics and absolute loyalty to the crown. Like samurai, the hwarang wielded swords, called gum, which each hwarang personally forged and customized for their own styles. The sulsa, a subset of hwarang, were spies and assassins, said to have supernatural powers taught by Buddhist monks, including telepathy, invisibility and darkvision. Unlike ninja, however, the sulsa were respected members of the warrior class. Lastly, sword dancers used the gum in intricate movements, serving both as entertainers for nobles and discreet bodyguards. Legend has it that a sword dancer once killed an assassin with such grace that no one watching realized it was a duel until the killing blow.

Anyway, in 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi of Japan invaded Choson. The Chinese allies and peasant guerillas harassed the Japanese forces, while Choson's navy dominated the sea due to the brilliance of ADmiral Yi Sun-shin. Three years later, Choson repelled another invasion, this time without Chinese aid, and the Tokugawa shogunate established peaceful trade instead. After the Qing dynasty turned Choson into a tributary state, Korea sealed its borders, refusing to be a battleground. However, tribute missions to Beijing introduced them to Western culture, and Catholicism was actually introduced by native scholars rather than missionaries.

An American expedition to Korea was repelled, but Meiji Japan forced Chinese influence out and toppled the Yi government. By 1910, Japan controlled Korea, with many Koreans fleeing to Russia or China, or joining resistance movements. At the end of World War 2, Russian and American occupation arbitrarily divided the country along the 38th parallel, with the northern Choson People's DEmocratic Republic following the Russian communist model and the southern Republic of Korea electing President Lee Seung Man in 1948. In 1950, North Korea invaded the south, and Chinese, Soviet and US armed forces moved to intervene in the war. By the end of the Korean War in 1953, both governments were on the verge of collapse. In 1961, a military coup toppled the elected South Korean government, and after the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979, reformers led to a proliferation of regional parties and a democratic parliament.

In the 90s, tensions rose when North Korea claimed to have tested over 100 nuclear weapons and conducted numerous ballistic tests in South Korean airspace. Meanwhile, South Korea was in the midst of an economic boom rivalling Japan...and as severe a slump when the Asian currencies collapsed. South Korea's economy is now fueled by electronics and automotives, while North Korea remains isolated from the world.

Now, our next chapter! You'd assume it was about wizards, right? Well, no, not really. Chapter two is about religion. See, the spiritual legacy of Asia can be a mage's best friend or worst enemy. Each religion tends to acknowledge the rest, and they can mix very well despite all being complete faiths. Of course, that doesn't mean it's always rose and sunshine - there's been religious conflict, just like everywhere else. Unlike the West, where philosophy and religion are often separate, Asian faiths tend to mix mythology with rigorous examination of the world. While both sorcery and technology stray from orthodox doctrine of any faith, the mages tend to view the beliefs as very useful indeed. On the other hand, the arrogance of mages can often offend the faithful, and True Faith in Asian religions is just as dangerous to a mage as a Christian True Faith.

So, Hinduism! Hinduism comes from India, and its holy books are the Vedas, though Hindus do not view them the same way Christians or Jews might view the Bible or Torah - they are stories and illustrations of the universe, not books to be quoted for rules. Other works, such as the Mahabharata or Upanishads, are also important. Hinduism has spread to Southeast Asia and even the Americas and Europe, but Hindus do not proselytize, so it has few non-Asian adherents. Karma and dharma are the fundamental concerns of Hindu life. Your dharma is your path or duty, which leads to ethical acts and wisdom. An act done out of dharma rather than personal interest is a virtuous deed, though a dharma may contradict wider ethical principles. (For example: the hero Arjuna is reluctant to go to war because it may kill his kin, but the god Krishna assures him that he must fight, for it is his dharma.) Karma, on the other hand, is the consequences for following (or not following) your dharma. When dharma is followed with virtue and diligence, you are assured of rebirth to a higher life. If neglected, you might be reborn in a worse life or even an animal...or even in one of the Hells. Good karma is essential spiritual growth, but it can also be an obstacle to the highest growth, as it distracts you with material concerns. Since many mages have noticed that Avatars come only to humans, study of karma is a popular pastime. Ultimately, the goal of Hinduism is to supercede karma, attaining Moksa (or liberation), freedom from the cycle of birth and death, as the atman (read: self, or soul) achieves unity with God, or the Supreme Truth, or the Brahman, or the world-soul.

Sidebar: Theosophy is a Western tradition that exploited Hindu beliefs. Founded by H. P. Blavatsky and James Olcott in 1875 after they allegedly spent years in Tibet under guidance of "mahatmas", Blavatsky combined European alchemy, Hindu belief and Egyptian snake worship to form a "universal wisdom tradition." Theosophy was a major influence on Western occultism, and in 1878, it moved its headquarters to Madras, India. After Olcott's death, his successor, Annie Besant, groomed Jiddu Krishnamurti to be a messiah, though he eventually renounced the claim and founded his own school. Theosophy draws many of its teachings from Vedanta Hinduism, but distorted and highly prejudicial. Even so, it did inspire the earliest Western scholarship on Hinduism and Buddhism. Supernatural beliefs are important to Theosophy, and Blavatsky was famous in Spiritualist circles as a medium.

There are many gods in Hinduism, but some are more popular than others. Gods are also not discrete - a village god may be an avatar of one or more gods, and the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are often represented as one being with three heads. The Brahmin jati attend to the rituals that honor each god. The Trimurti are most important - Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, through whom all things pass. Brahma is rarely worshipped directly, and is not to be confused with the world-soul Brahman. Vishnu the Preserver guides Hindus to serve dharma and intercedes to save humanity from flood, wars and falsehood. In this aeon, he has appeared nine times to do so and will appear for a tenth and final time at the end of the world. His incarnations have included the fish that saved Manu, the first man, the hero Rama, the god Krishna and the Buddha. He appears with his consort, Sri, Goddess of Good Fortune, and is seated on the nine-headed serpant Anata (or Infinity). Shiva, the Destroyer, is an ambivalent sort of god, both benevolent and dangerous. He is the passion that can create or destroy, the patron of ascetics and also manifest in Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, and he figures greatly into Tantric rituals. He appears with four arms, one with a drum to create the universe, one a flame to destroy it, one to protect the world and one pointing at his feet, which destroy falsehood. His symbol is the lingam, a symbolic penis. The Trimurti are often shown as one god, covering the Supreme Truth of Liberation, and symbolizing that each is an aspect of the other two. Shiva also creates, Vishnu destroys that which is evil or against the dharma. All three are said to be manifestations of the one supreme God. Forehead markings can show devotion to a particular member of the Trimurti, such as horizontal lines of ash marking a follower of Shiva.

Also important is the Goddess, known by many names and natures. She is Parvati, who tempers Shiva's rage. She is Sakti, the power of Shiva personified. She is Durga, slayer of demons, and Kali, mother who kills her children. Even in her most dread forms, however, the Goddess is respected. Durga is always seen in garlands to celebrate her victory over the buffalo-demon Mahisa, and Kali is honored as that which destroys the weak and flawed. And, well...


Up until the end of the 18th century, Kali was venerated with ritual strangulation and dismemberment by the Thug cult, but this was as much a form of banditry as true devotion, as many Thugs grew rich off the looted bodies of victims.

Anyway, while Western scholars often treat them as distinct, most Hindus recognize all these as avatars of one Goddess. Lakshmi, Goddess of Learning, is a notable exception who is often worshipped alone and venerated as the inventor of writing. Other gods include elephant-headed Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, who is called on before any major task is begun, or Hanuman the Monkey King, who protects common people. Each community also has its own deity, often identified with a larger god such as Vishnu or Devi, and older Vedic deities like Agni, god of fire, are still respected and worshipped. The book also talks about Hindu yoga, a mental and physical discipline meant to achieve union with a god or the Brahman. In the West, Hatha Yoga (which focuses on perfecting the body) has become very popular. However, 'Yoga' is used to refer to any method to achieve liberation, including Karma Yoga (working to generate good karma in everyday life) and Bhakti Yoga (liberation via religious devotion). Of those methods that require a guru, Jnana and Raja Yoga (disciplines of wisdom and concentration) are also well known but less practiced than Hatha Yoga. Advanced yogin are said to gain supernatural powers, or siddhi, including clairvoyance, knowledge of past lives and colocation. Advanced yoga practitioners are also known to control their autonomic functions, like heart rate and the breathing reflex. Yoga is very popular, almost required, for Hindu mages. Modified forms of Hatha, Jnana or Raja Yoga are common, while the humbler Karma and Bhakti Yoga are often neglected. Siddhi, it is said, are often considered coincidental for yoga wizards.

Sidebar: Hindus and Buddhists both believe that the world has been made and destroyed many times, and each "day" or kalpa, as Brahma reckons it, lasts about 4.3 billion years. After one hundred "years" of kalpas, the world is consumed by Vishnu or Shiva to be made again. Each of the fourteen "hours" (or manavantaras) in a kalpa is divided into 71 maha-yugas, each of which contains four yugas - a golden age, two ages of decline and at last the Kali Yuga, the Age of IRon, when humans have turned away from the dharma and looks to the end of the manavantara, when they are annihilated and remade. Hindu reckoning holds that the Kali Yuga began in 3120 BC. However, Hindus also speak of the final return of Vishnu, and Buddhists of the Maitreya, the next Buddha, who will both reintroduce the dharma in the next age. As the Sixth Age comes, mages are reminded to keep these things in mind.

Next time: Buddhism.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Buddhism! In around 500 BC, the Hindu concepts of the soul, karma and dharma were radically reexamined by Siddhartha Gautama. He was a part of the Sakya clan of kshatriya, a prince in a happy, contented marriage. However, he encountered suffering, old age and death among the royalty, and he abandoned his life for one of yogic discipline and extreme asceticism. However, despite reaching the highest echelons of asceticism, he was not satisfied. He fasted until he was essentially a skeleton, then sought the Middle Way of discipline and care for the body, resting under a fig tree. There, he was tempted by Mara, the Evil One, who sent his daughters, the personifications of worldly desire, to distract him. Siddhartha ignored them, then banished the demon Mara and recalled all of his past lives, learning the true nature of karma and dharma and realizing the Four Noble Truths. He became the Buddha, the Awakened One.

For a time, the Buddha considered keeping his enlightenment secret, but his compassion forced him to share it. His first disciples were companions of his ascetic days, and they became arhats, enlightened hermits. Buddhists also say that the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni ('sage of the Sakya clan'), was only one of many Buddhas of the past and future, who have and will guide humanity to enlightenment. Potential Buddhas, called bodhisattvas, compassionately guide all people with a perfect knowledge of dharma. Buddhism is done throughout Asia, spread via nonviolent proselytizing and willingness to incorporate local traditions. Bitter feuds, of course, and even outright war in Japan have happened between rival sects, but modern Buddhism is very ecumenical. Ironically, Buddhism is fairly rare in its birthplace of India.

Sidebar: Early Buddhism was ambivalent about whether gods existed, and Buddha preached salvation without reliance on faith. Buddhas and bodhisattvas are not gods, just enlightened beings to be emulated, but the Hindu gods were always honored, and Buddhism has also adopted local gods wherever it spread. Buddhist clergy rarely perform weddings or coming of age ceremonies, which fall under local gods most of the time, but do perform funerals, as they are an important step on the road to nirvana. Vajrayana Buddhists use the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to guide the dead towards Buddha nature, or at least a good human birth. Buddhists differentiate between worldly spirits and emanations of the Buddha. Spirits are gods, ghosts or nature spirits who have power but lack wisdom, while Buddha's emanations are those spirits or gods that represent the Buddha in different cultures. Japanese Buddhists often revere the kami as buddhas, while others revere the Buddhas as kami. Worldly spirits are often converted to Buddhism and guard Buddhist temples. And, of course, there's not always an obvious line. The current Dalai Lama has forbidden worship of the spirit Dorje Shugden, but Shugden's advocates claim it is a manifestation of a bodhisattva, while the Dalai Lama maintains it is a mere worldly spirit that has tried to harm his past incarnations. This has led to a split between the Gelgupa school and Shugden's followers, which has occasionally become violent.

Buddhists revere the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha is revered for setting an example of how to live a good and holy life - both his final life and his past lives show how to be righteous and how to save others. The Dharma has a different meaning in Buddhism, referring to a definitive truth about the cosmos. At its core are the Four Noble Truths. First, suffering (dhukkha) is inevitable, and everyone will experience it. Second, the origin of suffering is desire (tanha). People desire what they do not have or are disappointed when they achieve it or lose it. Tanha is about unrealistic desire for a permanent self, immune to the changes of the world. Third, suffering can be cured if desire is defeated. This is not done by ascetic discipline, but by following the Middle Way, which rejects extremes of desire and self-denial. Fourth, the cure to suffering is the Eightfold Path of right view, right thought, right effort, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right mindfulness and right meditation. By practicing all of these, desire and suffering are conquered and you set on the road to Nirvana.

Part of the dharma is about the nature of reality. Sunyata is the condition of impermanence - all things are dynamic, changing processes, not static entities. What is one moment will be different or gone the next. Thus, nothing has intrinsic existence. Anatta explains how things can exist despite this - the doctrine of no-self. There is no core to who you are, just a set of functional states, skhandas, which provide the illusion of self. By realizing there is no self or soul to be concerned with, you learn that selfishness is a lie, for the self does not exist. Karma and rebirth are modified - Buddhist karma refers only to mental events that cause pleasure, pain and attachment. Rebirth is the duplication of an old personality in a new body.

The Sangha is the Buddhist monastic order, or more loosely the Buddhist community. Ultimately, it is divided into four partS: those who have begun to practice, those who are sufficiently advanced to be reborn only once, those on their last life before Nirvana and those who have become arhats. Monks and nuns (or bhiksu and bhiksunis) have different vows based on sect and region. A Sri Lankan Theravadan monk is in theory celibate, vegetarian and owns only three robes, while a Japanese Zen monk can marry and eat meat. All Buddhists, however, try to follow the Five Precepts: no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying or intoxication.

The Theravada ("School of the Elders") tradition was formalized to heal early schisms in Buddhism, with the monks Ananda and Upali reciting the Buddha's words, making a common canon called the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets. It laid the groundwork for a set of common teachings emphasizing monastic poverty and nonviolence. Theravada is a conservative tradition that holds the arhat as the supreme example of Buddhist virtue. The arhat has no material desires or attachments, completing the journey to nirvana. Theravadan Buddhism is quite strict, maintaining vows of poverty, vegetarianism, nonviolence and other similar requirements. It is dominant in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

Sidebar: Both Vajrayana Buddhism and Hinduism have Tantric traditions. Tantra uses sexual desire to induce spiritual awakening. It is a form of yoga in which the practitioners see themselves as divine figures whose union transcends lust, conquering it as an attachment. Hindu Tantra is designed to raise SAkti, the power of the Goddess. The Kundalini "serpent" of Sakti rises through the spine, activating the chakras and granting ecstatic awakening. Buddhist Tantra initiates disciples into a holy family, with sexual union representing the merging of male wisdom and female compassion. There is right hand Tantra, with symbolic sex, and left hand Tantra, with actual sex. Many practitioners of the left hand Tantra consciously break taboos (such as eating meat or drinking alcohol), reasoning that such barriers form a material attachment as much as indulging them would. As a religion, most Tantra is right-hand at present. Vajrayana is sometimes called Tantric Buddhism, but Tantra is now normally used to refer to a specific practice, not a sect. Most Tantra and especially left hand Tantra is an esoteric practice, and while many books exist on the subject, few people actually belong to any of the older Tantric lines.

In the fourth century AD, several Buddhist schools began to emphasize the bodhisattva as a role model. Since bodhisattvas forgo Nirvana until all people are enlightened, they have the power to relieve mortals of their karmic stains, allowing them to be reborn in paradise. By following their example and taking the Bodhisattva Vow, these Mahayana Buddhists ("Great Vehicle") can join them. An offshoot, Pure Land, venerates the Buddha Amitabha (or in Japanese, Amida) whose vow is that anyone who sincerely calls on him will be reborn in his Western Paradise, regardless of karma. Zen, a Japanese Mahayana sect, traces its roots to the Shaolin Temple of China, where the Indian patriarch Bodhidharma taught that all people were potential Buddhas that had only to recall their innermost nature. This Ch'an ('meditation') teaching was imported to Japan, where the sudden path to enlightenment was emphasized. Koans, poetry and even violence are tools used by the Zen roshi, masters, to shock students into their original buddha-selves.

Vajrayana ('Diamond Thunderbolt Vehicle') is a magical form of Buddhism, and has contributed more than any other to the paradigm of Asian magic. It is called the Third Turning of the Wheel, and sees itself as the pinnacle of Buddhist practice. After studying both Theravada and Mahayana, a chela ('disciple') is expected to learn meditation, mantras, mudras and mandalas, as well as invocation of spirits and gods. Vajrayana's knowledge is often taught in secret, with texts being deliberately incomplete or misleading, to preserve the oral tradition of guru and chela. Vajrayana was practiced throughout the Buddhist world, and ruined temples in the shape of sacred mandalas can still be seen in parts of Southeast Asia. In modern times, Japan, China and Tibet have active Vajrayana Sangha, and Tibet's traditions are most well-known today, particular the Gelgupa School of the Dalai Lama. To his followers, he is a bodhisattva undergoing constant mortal rebirth to aid his people.

Confucianism! K'ung-fu Tzu, a minor advisor in one of the states of Lu, described a theory of ethical conduct and harmonious social behavior. His teachings emphasized a return to ancestral rites, reciprocal kindness and respect for hierarchy and authority. He advised people to follow the will of Heaven, not with empty ritual but with sincere effort. Known as Confucianism in the West, as his LAtinized name was Confucius, it is usually called the Scholar's Doctrine in Asia. The essential texts are the Analects, Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, as well as the Book of Mencius (or Meng-tzu), the greatest Confucian scholar after Master K'ung himself. The Master regarded the I Ching and the Annals of the Spring and Autumn Period as the guides for tradition and ritual. However, the origin and content of the earlier works are unknown, and the Book of Music was lost in the Burning of Books by Qin Shihuang. Still, much remains for Confucian scholars to study. Confucianism created much of the social structure in China, Japan and Korea, and has had influence in all of Asia. The values of family harmony and scholarship are strong, even in modern China, which has actively tried to eradicate it.

Jen and Li are two of Confucianism's most important principles. The Analects state that you must never do to others what you would not want done to you. This is the essence of Jen, the natural state of human beings, who wish to help others. Li is formal kindness and politeness, essentially a noblesse oblige by which superior people must display it to others to put them at ease. They possess Li, performing ceremonies with correct form and meaning. Formerly, Li was believed beyond the grasp of common people, but COnfucianism asserts that Li can be cultivated by anyone. Jen and Li must be administrated properly to promote peace and wise leadership. The Five Relationships (ruler/minster, father/son, husband/wife, elder brother/younger brother and friend/friend) direct the virtuesa, and ultimately the ideal is derived from the patriarchal family, so a minister's duty to a ruler is similar to a son's duty to a father. The father is head of the family as the king is head of the state, with each responsible for rituals to ensure the success of their charges. An effective ruler begins with his own family, exercising Jen and Li in his household. He treats the state like a family to be compassionately governed, but still assumes the role of subject or child in rituals to honor the ancestors or gods. To truly act as a child of Heaven is important, as rulers are subject to the Mandate of Heaven, just as subjects are to ministers' decrees. Mencius warns that foolish or despotic ruler loses the Mandate, and the common people gain a right to rebel against them.

Sidebar: Moism! Mo-tzu was a Confucian who came to oppose his teacher. He promoted the idea of Heaven as Supreme Being, with many ghostly or spiritual servants. He was a militant pacifist, going as far as to learn military strategy in order to prevent wars. He garrisoned the state of Sung with his followers to force invaders from Ch'u to abandon their plans. He spoke at odds with tradition, favoring universal equal love to patriachal Jen. His doctrine was eventually overtaken by Confucianism, largely because his zeal and unorthodoxy earned him few favors, especially as he scandalized his contemporaries by rejecting ritual when it interfered with equal love. His disciples were perhaps his greatest legacy - wandering soldiers of peace. Moism is generally viewed as a dead faith, but is followed by the Li-Hai of the Akashic Brotherhood, who combine magic with formidable fighting skills, intervening at times to disarm both sides of a conflict and ordering them to stop fighting. Usually this only works when both sides team up to destroy the Moists, ut occasionally a wizard is both clever and powerful enough to make it actually work.

The Book of Rites lays out instructions for how to venerate the gods and ancestors in Confucianism. While they existed before Master K'ung, he considered them an important part of a good and ordered life. They maintain the principles of filial piety and acknowledge wise leadership, as when an honest magistrate, wise scholar or brave hero is offered sacrifices at a temple. An offering should be given to the ancestors at a marriage, funeral or important household decision. Among Asian wizards, ancestor worship is basically second nature. A Wu Lung mage might not even distinguish between magical and ceremonial offerings. Few Asian mages ignore their ancestors - even the Stone People know that Heaven watches them intently and will punish them for impiety. However, one of the few exceptions to this ritual focus is Confucianism's rejection of human sacrifice, including the burial of living or even symbolic concubines and servants. Such practices, Master K'ung said, were wrong because they violated Jen.

Confucian belief claims humans have a dual soul. The lower, or animal soul is called P'o, and descends to the earth with the body, becoming kuei (a ghost), while the intellectual half of the soul, Hun, rises to heaven and becomes a celestial spirit, shien. These beliefs are very popular with Chinese Chi'n Ta. Rituals contacting heavenly and ancestral shen exist, but must be done with proper piety, or they are worse than useless. Neo-Confucians later applied the Master's principles of social harmony to self-cultivation. The T'ai Chi, or Absolute, is the highest state of Li, humanity's natural state, but exposure to worldly Chi and the processes of Yin, Yang and the Taoist elements degrades that nature. Thus, human beings need self-discipline and commitment to justice and orthodoxy to reattain it. The metaphysics of Neo-Confucianism added a rigidity and strict hierarchy to Confucianism that was not originally a feature but suited societies like feudal Japan, where it enforced distinctions between, say, samurai and peasant or man and woman.

Sidebar: Legalism is the exception to Asian beliefs straddling philosophy and religion. It has no religious claims at all and is more Machiavelli than Confucius. The basic precept is that the ruler's ambitions are above all ethical concerns. Laws exist merely to exercise power and must be created, used and abused to serve that power. The ruler should have no friends, even among family - they are all potential enemies. REwards and punishments determine loyalty, and disobedience must be punished harshly for even minor infractions to deter rebellion. Legalist works are usually guidebooks to leadership, most famously one by Prince Han Fei Tzu from around 200 BC, which says a ruler must not let private affairs interfere with statecraft. All agreements, even between close friends, should be formalized under law. An ideal prince has no desires beyond preservation and exercise of raw power. Lust, vanity and friendship are weaknesses to be exploited. One sect of the Akashic Brotherhood, the Shi-Ren, combines Legalist doctrine with the Brotherhood's tenets, preaching a duty that applies to both spirits and wizards. LEgalism's materialism and despotism also make it common among the Wu Lung and the Five MEtal Dragons. The Dragon Emperor Wizard has banned the magical use of Legalist doctrine, but many Wu Lung study it to better understand both their foes and superiors.

Yeah, eventually this book is gonna talk about the motherfucking Dragon Emperor Wizard .

Next time: Not that.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Let's talk Taoism. Little is actually known about Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism. He left the Tao Te Ching with a border guard and headed west on the back of an ox, never to be seen again. The Tao Te Ching has two sections. The first talks about the idea of the Tao, the unchanging and ultimate principle of the universe, which is the source of all things. Its guiding principle is wu-wei, non-action, which means to act with just enough energy or passivity to allow the Tao to manifest without any problems. The second section is devoted to Te, the way the Tao is wielded in human affairs. The Tao Te Ching recommends rejecting tradition when it is burdensome and favors a decentralized government in which the sage-king of a state applies the principle of wu-wei to local affairs, preventing too much or too little ambition from causing problems. Eventually, the ideas of the Tao Te Ching split into philosophical and religious divisions. Lao-tzu and Chaung-tzu's writings were central inspirations for philosophical Taoism, and religious Taoism mixes Chinese folk religion and Taoist mysticism into a complex whole that is concerned with immortality and the Way of Heaven.

Chaung-tzu laid the groundwork for philosophical Taoism. He was a mystic thinker who emphasized unity with the Tao. By letting go of tradition and prejudice, a disciple could attain freedom from emotional turmoil and bondage to the cycle of life and death. They mystic rejects all distinctions between things and people, opening themself to the Tao. Philosophical Taoism became a protest against Confucian values, and in the middle of the 3rd century, a group called the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove oppoesed the intellectual establishment and lived hedonistic, eccentric lives. Similar to the 1960s counterculture, they practiced enjoyment for its own sake, with much drinking, singing and poetry. Juan Chi shared wine with his pigs, and when people asking Liu Ling why he wore no clothes, he said since Heaven and earth were roof and floor enough, his house would be his clothing. (And then he asked them to leave his pants.) Taoist philosophy encourages spontaneity, and philosophical Taoists influenced Chinese poetry heavily. Their appreciation for simple yet startling manifestations of nature also influenced Chinese art and Japanese Zen gardens.

Sidebar: Religious Taoism makes very little distinction between priests and sorcerers. Both do similar rituals in similar costumes and may even work together some times. A priest is, in some sense, a general practitioner, and a sorcerer is a specialist. Much of this is due to the origin or religious Taoism under the Han, which was heavily infiltrated (even, some might say, controlled) by the Wu Lung. Yin, Yang and the five elements were rigorously used in their magic and proto-science, and they wanted their discoveries to be accepted by the people. Taoism, a perfect blend of rational and mystical, was an ideal addition to their paradigm. They took pains to de-emphasize the second part of the Tao Te Ching, of course, which called for political and social change - peasants could hardly manage their own affairs, after all. And so they felt they had the faith well in hand. As a result, they were utterly confounded by the first Celestial Master, Chang Tao-ling, whose followers included several powerful wizards. He was untouchable by magic, and many Wu Lung felt his stated mission of destruction of demons was a veiled reference to, well, them. After many failed attempts, the Wu Lung gave up on the Celestial Masters and just quietly accepted Taoist sorcerers. The Taoist practices have left a huge influence on them. The Akashic Brotherhood has also enlisted Taoist wizards and beliefs, though they tend to focus on philosophical Taoism. However, they do maintain ancient ties to monastic sorcerers from the Perfect Truth and Pole Star sects, who practice Taoist asceticism and martial skill similar to the Akashics. Most Awakened Taoists, however, are Taoists first and last. Taoism accepts magical practice and gives a structured path to mastery. There's no need for a religious Taoist to deal with the politics and doctrinal compromises of the Asian Mages if they don't want to. Instead, they mostly belong to small sectarian groups.

Religious Taoism began with mystics and alchemists who mixed reverence for the Yellow Emperor and Lao-tzu into one deified figure, Hung-Lao. The cult combined traditional Chinese belief in the Celestial Bureaucracy with emerging theories of Ying and Yang as well as Five Element theory. The first Taoist religious institution , the Celestial Masters, began in Szechwan, in southern China, when Lao-tzu allegedly appeared to Chang Tao-ling in a cave in the 2nd century AD. After complaining of demonic influence and disrespect leading the world away from the Tao, LAo-tzu made Chang the first Celestial Master, charged with casting out demons and returning people to wisdom. The Celestial Masters opposed animal sacrifice, replacing them with vegetable offerings to the dead. They cared for the sick and practiced confession as a cure for illness. Prayers were offered to Heaven, Earth and the rivers. Today, the Celestial Masters are based in Taiwan and are popular throughout southern China. Priests are married, and both men and women can be priests. It is often hereditary. Priests receive licenses for certain rituals, and a group of priests may cover all of a community's needed rites. In the north, the Perfect Truth sect practices fasting, internal alchemy and meditation.

The Taoist canon is very large - over 1000 volumes. Few can master every part of it. Training may include sword routines, acrobatics, chi-kung, the use of mudras, or practices like the Five Thunders, in which a priest learns to emit Chi to affect others. The best-known rituals involve the Lunar New Year and include the lion dance and use of firecrackers to frighten demons away. On the winter solstice, the Rite of Cosmic Renewal is done to symbolize the sun's rebirth and return to the world. All Taoist rituals, the book says, include use of incense and the burning of sacred writings along with prayer by the faithful.

The head of the Taoist pantheon is a trinity: the Jade Emperor, Lord Tao and Lord Lao. The Jade Emperor is the supreme being, creator and ruler of the past. Lord Tao, the Precious Celestial One, rules the present and is the personified Tao. Lord Lao, the divine Lao-tzu, rules over the future. Beneath this trinity is the CElestial Bureaucracy of folk religion, with the Stove God, Earth God and City God watching over people. The Eight Immortals are people who have enough merit to live forever. Similar to Catholic saints, they are called on in times of crisis and each serves a particular group or trade. Li of the iron crutch is the patron of pharmacists, General Tsao is the patron ofactors, Chung-li Chuan of the peace and feather fan aids silversmiths, and Lu Tung-ping, the leader, was a famous alchemist who gave magical silver to those in need. The rest are similar. Taoism also has a Messianic figure. In the Classic of Great PEace, it is prophesied that Heaven will give the words of a divine book to the Chen-Jen, or true man. The Chen-Jen will give this text to a virtuous ruler, who will take the Tao in his heart and rule by it, granting authority to both ministers and common folk. The Tao will maintain harmony, and the prince will rarely punish or coerce his people.

One of the major goals of Taoism is immortality. By achieving a balance of Yin and Yang, a Taoist can become hsien, immortal. The human body is a microcosm of the Taoist trinity: Chi, the breath, Jing, the vital essence and Shen, the spirit. Both internal and external alchemy attempt to bring those three in harmony with the macrocosmic Tao. Alchemists rid themselves of emotional and physical excesses such as wild passion, celibacy, extreme sadness or overeating, and experiment with elixirs of immortality. Classical elixirs use cinnabar (mercufy sulfide) and...well, were lethal poison, but Taoist alchemists were pioneers of chemistry, pharmacology and physiology. Mercury was found to be a great preservative for corpses and was often to taken to preserve the body after death. Internal alchemy, however, uses your own body to manufacture the "golden elixir" of immortality. Taoist yoga, chi-kung and internal martial arts like tai chi chuan harmonize the energy of the body. The head, chest and abdomen serve as "cinnabar fields," each ruled by a member of the Taoist trinity and inhabited by several gods. Through meditation, the alchemist may call on those gods to drive out physical or spiritual toxins and link their personal Chi to the macrocosm.

Among Mages, external alchemy is practiced largely by the Wu Lung and internal alchemy by the Akashic Brotherhood. Taoist ideas have inspired several magical innovations. For example, the Wu Lung may retain the metal energies of mercury but render it non-toxic for their potions. More feared is the ability said to be possessed by some Akashic Brothers to manufacture poison within their own bodies, giving them lethal tears, blood or spit. Both groups study Taoist methods of immortality, and some Asian Mages who are old beyond mortal years find it safest to live in heavily Taoist areas.

Sidebar: Chinese popular religion is found in Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, and it combines influences as old as Shang divination and incorporates every major development in Chinese history. Each of China's three major faiths has influenced and been influenced by it. Indeed, Confucianism and Taoism can't even be seperated from it. The STove God, at the bottom of the celestial hierarchy, lives in his portrait in the kitchen. On the Lunar New Year, that portrait is burned, sending him to Heaven to report. This is why he is always fed delicious rice cakes just before the journey - the sticky cakes shut him up, literally, and delay bad reports. The local Earth God patrols for wandering ghosts and helps guide the dead to the Underworld. He is also consulted by mediums, especially for feng shui, as new buildings are in his jurisdiction. He usually has a modest shrine or an altar beside the Stove God. Sacrifices are offered, but when disaster comes, he may be dismissed as incompetent and replaced. City Gods or shih ('scholars') are responsible for an entire district of Stove and Earth Gods. Unlike the other two, each is a specific individual, a deified role model of the past. These gods are tradionally dead scholars, officials or generals. Their temples are built like traditional houses, and in addition to sacrifices may receive new furnishings or performances...including TVs, in the modern age. The Jade Emperor heads the Bureaucracy, but is too distant to petition for most things - that was, in the past, the Emperor's job. Other figures also persist, like the Earth Mother, who has recently received revived interest, and is credited with creating humanity and sending the Buddha and Lao-tzu. The Sage Kings are remembered also, for bringing the arts to humanity. They include Fu-hsi ('Animal Tamer') and Sui-jen ('Fire Maker'), and most famously the Yellow Emperor, who invented the compass needle, had a wife who discovered silk and a chief minister who invented writing. He is also credited with the Classic of Internal MEdicine, which lays out acupuncture locations and pressure points. China's three official faiths have also influenced popular faith - everyone appreciates the Eight Immortals, and Kuan-Yin, goddess of mercy, was originally a bodhisattva (and a male). Maitreya, the future Buddha, has become Malo, a fat, generous monk who wanders the world with a bag of presents. He is often compared to Santa Claus, another popular figure in Asia.

Now, Shinto! Shinto has no founder or central text. It is basically the faith of the Japanese people. It is not a universal religion and doesn't seek to convert foreigners. It states that the Japanese are children of the kami and do not need to declare allegiance to what is their heritage. It has no moral code - instead, its followers seek to purify themselves before the kami. Impurity can take on many forms - having blood on you, being ugly, being dirty, having shameful thoughts. Impurity attracts maho-tsukai, evil spirits of the Darkness World. Purification, called misogi, can be done via sexual abstinence, bathing, meditation or the creation of beautiful art, among other things. The main focus of Shinto is the worship of the kami. All sorts of things can be considered kami - heroic ancestors, gods, dragons, the Buddhas, holy figures of other religions...but mostly, the kami are nature spirits or animistic spirits. Mountains, especially, are revered. Mt. Fuji is the best-known and holiest mountain. Kami are everywhere, but major land features bring their presence closer. A freestanding gateway called a torii marks larger shrines, but the kami can be acknowledged even by something as simple as a piece of straw tied to a rock.

Sidebar: Industrialization, cultural cynicism and the atomic bombs have wounded the kami. The kuei-jin claim the kami have fled forever, but they're wrong. Most kami have, instead, moved from the Yang World to Taka-ma-gahara, the Plain of Heaven. This suits modern times, when most consider the kami concepts rather than natural entities. Since most shen have little access to Heaven, many believe the kami destroyed, and some have been arrogant enough to take their place. Since many shrines are powerful places for Chi, some sorcerers have begun to drain them for power. The kami are getting mad, especially at the kuei-jin who are defiling shrines with blood. Soon, they may act. Shinto priests also have resources, many having True Faith enough to drive off vampires and other maho-tsukai. Torii divide the mortal realm from that of the kami, and a ritually pure priest can draw on their power to destroy a Chi'n Ta who is foolish enough to drain their shrine. The impurity of doing so, you see, draws on the Yomi-no-kuni and can rot the wizard from the inside out. On the other hand, a Chi'n Ta who performs misogi and enters with a pure heart may be granted Chi with a natural Resonance, which can give many minor benefits such as luck in the wilderness or a lucky encounter with an animal or spirit.

Shinto myth claims that in the beginning, the world was one mass, but the impure parts of it descended to the earth, while the pure parts rose to heaven. Between them rose the Pillar of the Land. After six generations, the Pillar brought forth Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who made Japan. Unfortunately, because Izanami spoke first, their first child was a leech, which they set adrift. Their second union created the Japanese Archipelago, the kami of the land and the spirit-ancestors of the Japanese. Izanami died, burned by the birth of the fire god, and Izanagi went to Yomi-no-kuni, the Darkness World where the most impure elements of the primordial mass went. There, he found maggots, decay and filth, and he went to cleanse himself. As he washed his left eye, he made the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, and his right eye produced the Moon God, Tsukiyoki. His nostrils made Susano-o, the trickster god of the Summer Wind. Susano-o pranks Amaterasu, ruining her crops and throwing feces at her throne. Disgusted, she hides in the CAve of Heaven and bars the door, leaving the world sunless. Fortunately, the kami ancestors of two clans decorated a sakaki tree with a mirror, jewels and ribbons, luring Amaterasu out. Then, they bound her with rope to keep her from hiding again. She went on to give birth to the imperial line of Japan, and all JApanese emperors have enacted a ritual symbolically allowing them to be reborn from the womb of the Sun Goddess.

Modern Japan has three types of Shinto. Shrine Shinto is most common, centered on the thousands of shrines in Japan. They are usually under the care of a specific family that has tended them for generations, though World War 2 interrupted this, often. Sect Shinto revolves around the 13 organizations that devote themselves to particular forms of worship, like the cult of Mount Fuji or sects that combine Shinto and Confucianism. Folk Shinto includes shamanism, divination and worship of household gods, and is often merged with Buddhist or Taoist practices. Originally, there was a fourth sect, State Shinto, which asserted imperial divinity as he returned to power at the start of the 20th century. It tied worship to nationalism and put all shrines under a central authority despite protests from the shrine families. At the end of World War 2, it was disbanded as part of the Japanese surrender.

Shinto worship is tied to everyday life. A kami-dama is a household shrine, where offerings, candles and tablets from other shrines are placed. At larger shrines, the worshiper begins by washing the hands and mouth, then placing a coin in the offering box and clapping twice to get the kami's attention before praying. Before leaving, an offering of food, money, drink or something symbolic is made to the priest. The priest performs rituals in classical Japanese, often with the aid of a mirror, jewels and the branch of a sakaki tree. There are also shamans, called miko, who serve as direct channels for the kami. Miko are usually blind and women, who naturally attract the kami. They are consulted in times of crisis, like wars or earthquakes, or to approve marriages and other decisions. They are most common in rural areas, where people remain superstitious. Japanese Chi'n Ta tend to deal with Shinto beliefs as part of their magic, even if it's by consciously denying them. Mage life tends to follow normal life that way, with Shinto teachings either woven into the magical style as routine or explicitly left absent.

Shugendo, 'the way of mastering power through asceticism', has roots in both Shinto and Buddhist tradition. Its followers practice extreme misogi - fasting, standing under waterfalls, hanging from cliffs. These yamabushi, mountain warriors, harden themselves with discipline and then return to the world as exorcists, healers and miracle workers. Yamabushi practice Vajrayana Buddhist rituals, generally from the Tendai and Shingon sects. In the past, this was persecuted and led to war, with one yamabushi being infamous for boiling the heads of his foes while they still lived. Many martial arts schools claim to be founded by yamabushi, and many tales connect them to the ninja, who supposedly had similar rituals and lifestyles. Among mages, the Akashic Brotherhood has had a long association with Shugendo. Wilderness hermitages allow free use of magic, after all, and Akashic yamabushi can survive things no normal human could.

Sidebar: What about Western faiths? Well, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all in Asia. Chinese Jews are very elusive - they date back to the Silk Road, and are one of the most obscure, smallest communities in China. They don't proselytize, so that probably won't change. Islam has been in Asia for centuries, especially in places like India, Pakistan or Indonesia. Muslims also have distinct communities in China, where they showed up via trade and the religious freedom of the Yuan Dynasty. As industrial Asia strengthens ties with the Middle East, the number of Muslims is growing. Christianity has had a troubled history. Tokugawa Japan banned it, crucifying followers, and Communist China only recently allowed open practice of Christian faith. South Korea and Japan have seen a very recent surge of conversions, and Korean Christianity began in the hands of Korean scholars, not Western missionaries. They're pretty secure there. Christian weddings are also quite popular in Japan, regardless of the faith of the bride and groom. Both Christianity and Islam preach exclusivity - you can't be a good Muslim or Christian and also honor the local gods or Tao. That's foreign to most Asians, and a barrier to conversion. Further, Hinduism and Shinto are so tied to daily life in their nations that being a Christian or Muslim might alienate the convert from their culture.

Sidebar: Most people in Asia follow multiple faiths at once. These syncretic practices can produce new faiths, and it's a very old tradition, dating back to religious Taoism, as well as newer beliefs combining Shinto, Christianity and pop psychology. Syncretic movements often form things that are part personality cult, part mystical discipline, and they can be good or bad depending on the leader and the sort of followers. Aum Shinrikyo combined Hindu and Shinto beliefs and committed mass murder with sarin gas to prepare for the apocalypse. The Venerable Earth Mother movement in Taiwan, on the other hand, has revived the idea of a Creator Goddess and claim that her religious wisdom will end suffering. Omoto-kyo, a Japanese syncretic faith, was founded by Deguchi Nao, who was driven to despair by her daughter's madness in 1892 and claimed to receive a vision from Tenchi-kane-no-kami, the Great God of the Universe. In that vision, she saw a world cleansed for a coming messiah. In 1898, she met an ascetic who she proclaimed the messiah, changing his name to Deguchi Onisaburo. He claimed his soul had left his body and learned the secrets of the universe in a mountain cave. Omoto-kyo claimed that Susano-o and Kunikotachi-no-Mikoto were the rightful rulers of heaven, driven out by evil spirits, and Deguchi Onisaburo was the rightful emperor of Japan, the true Dalai Lama and the Maitreya Buddha. He was arrested several times for his claims. One major follower of the sect was Ueshiba Morihei, founder of Aikido, and there are many stories of Ueshiba throwing people without touching them, turning invisible and teleporting, including once to escape a firing squad. Most of these are from his students, however, so they're questionable. Syncretism is, however, very popular with wizards, since...well, it's already fairly similar to what Mages do already by borrowing from many sources for their paradigms. Second, most of these religions emphasize supernatural occurrences, so it gives the Mages some people it's safe to do magic around. This, plus the benefits of bodyguards and minions mean that some wizards go so far as to play messiah themselves.

Next time: The actual wizards.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Wizards, finally! They have many names in Asia: Namebreakers, Lightning People, Chi'n Ta. To the shen, they are wise but their wisdom hides danger to crush the unwary. Until recently, though, the four primary magical societies of Asia kept in a rough harmony. The Akashic Brotherhood ceaselessly promoted its philosophies, the Wu Lung fought them to keep Chinese culture dominant in Asia, the Wu-Keng appeased the Yama Kings with secret rites and personal sacrifice, and the Five Metal Dragons preserved science and helped the Sleepers. Now, however, the balance is lost. The Metal Dragons run rampant in a broken world, the Akashic Brotherhood struggles merely to survive, and the Wu Lung are forced to seek aid from their ancient foes thanks to the maiming of the Wall. In Hong Kong, war between shamanic sects is imminent, and the Wu-Keng seem to be on top...or about to be destroyed. But still, there is hope. Peasant sorcerers are reclaiming the past, not for war of ideologies, but to enforce a spiritual peace.

Wizard history begins in the First Age. To Hindu mystics, it was when existence merged with Brahman and Shiva waited for the world to come forth from his navel. To the Chinese, it was Pangu, whsoe body is the cosmos. Cosmic eggs, primordial chaos and ancestral sacrifice are common images for the First Age. A few sorcerers even speak of a time before it, when a previous world healed its wounds to return to the infinite. The Akashic Brotherhood claim to come from that realm, and Hindu and Buddhist sages speak of the time before this cycle, and of the Iron Age yet to come, when creation will suffer harm that can only be healed by returning to the infinite.

The Second Age came about when the perfect unity of the First Age split into Yin and Yang. From their opposition, change, creation and destruction began. It was then that Tiger, Phoenix and Dragon appeared, the Three Ministers. To regulate the world, they took up the duties of creation, preservation and destruction, creating the Five Elements by their interplay, and from the Five Elements the Ten Thousand Things. Unfortunately, some of these spirits turned against the world itself, devouring Chi and corrupting the spirit realms. The greatest of these were the Yama Kings, who made hells in the far corners of the Tapestry. In response, the hengeyokai, hsien and Wan Xian were created to guard the world against them.

It is then that the Awakened came into the world. They brought humanity the secrets of life and death, to provide where Heaven had failed. Sui-Jen, the Fire Bringer, Na Kua, who repaired the heavens and Fu Hsi, the Animal Tamer, all put divine power into mortal hands. These where the Sheng, the first sages, who heard Heaven's wisdom but showed discretion in sharing it.

Tiger, Dragon and Phoenix are part of the common paradigm of Asia, though they're not always given the titles used for them by the Wu Lung and Akashics. The hengeyokai, Kuei-jin and hsien have their own names; for example, the Kuei-jin refer to the Yang principle as the Scarlet Queen. Still, this Metaphysical Trinity also represents internal qualities that must be harmonized. A strong Yin influence, called Jhor by some Indian or Middle Eastern mages, can draw a mage to murder and corruption, and even the Wu Lung recognize that excessive Legalism can place you under the thrall of Phoenix. The Akashics call these forces the Sam Chien, or threefold battle, while the Wu Lung know them as the Three Ministers or Three Warring Kingdoms. The Wu-Keng are content merely to name them as they appear, but they know of the power of the three as well.

Tiger, AKA Snow Leopard or Pearly Tiger, is the Minister of Yang, of creation and chaos. Many hengeyokai bear the legacy of Tiger, full of Yang Chi and untamed life. It is said that Tiger punished the Wan Xian by denying them his pure essence, forcing these vampires to consume Yang Chi that was regulated and tainted by Phoenix. Whatever the case, the hengeyokai often war with the Kuei-jin for their spiritual corruption. Phoenix, AKA the Scarlet Queen or Garuda, brings order to the world, conveying Heaven's will and preserving Tiger's creations while regulating the destruction of Dragon. Dragon, called the Ebon Dragon by Kuei-jin, is the Minister of Destruction and Yin. He is the judge of creation, known as Yama or Hun Dun, and he purges flaws from the world so that the Great Wheel may turn unimpeded.

In the Second Age, Dragon's ministers turned against him, forsaking their cleansing duty and using their power to consume Chi rather than the imperfections of Chi. The corruption of these Yama Kings caused Phoenix to harry Dragon and bind him with Heaven's commands. Now, the Dragon of Balance is called the Wyrm or the Centipede, representing the defling forces of the world, the essence of Yomi. Some mystics argue that Dragon has gone mad and seeks to corrupt the world, but the Akashics and Wu Lung say that his servants are evil because Phoenix has bound him too tightly to act, and that were he allowed to resume his duties, he would correct them. Some Akashics even claim the evil of the Yama Kings is due to their longing for the permanence of Phoenix, and that their theft of Chi is an attempt to gain the substance that their nature and destructive power never gave them.

Sidebar: Kaja is similar to the Enochian tongue, a divine language of the Asian mages. Sorcerers struggle to learn its characters in order to gain the respect of the shen and barter with Heaven. Many mystics prefer Sanskrit or Chinese, but some of the most ancient texts on magic are in Kaja, including the Akashics' Stone Sutra and the most revered text of the Wu Lung. The Wu Lung claim that the Yellow Emperor learned Kaja from the Celestial Ministers, and because he knew its danger, he allowed his First Minister to adapt the script to a more primitive form which became the basis for written language. Others claim that Kaja is a manifestation of the Vedas' vibrations or merely an ancient language that the gods respect. Mages lack the knowledge to speak Kaja as a living language; only the Kuei-jin remember that. Instead, they use key phrases whose mystical meanings are memorized by rote. Kaja calligraphy, however, is considered mandatory for dealing with spirits or invoking Heaven's greatest powers. The gods frown on artless requests, after all.

In any case, the Sheng divided into shamans and philosophers as the Third Age began. The shamans became protectors of the people, while the philosophers became rulers modelled after the August Personage of Jade. The greatest of these was the Yellow Emperor, who learned the secret of writing. His legendary descendants turned Awakened scholars into the Wu Lung. The Five Emperors shared the arts of civilization with the people, and when primal sorcery mixed with these new philosophies, it gave the Yama Kings new tools to corrupt with. The peasant wu defended the people from the chaos of the spirit worlds, but the Wan Xian and Yama Kings tested their resolve, and dark spirits twisted the love they held for the gods.

In the Fourth Age, the vampires and shapeshifters were struck by Heaven's curse, and the Wall was raised to protect the world from spiritual interference. The peasant wu and the scholar-sorcerers became jealous of each other, and their struggles tore apart the civilization of the Five Emperors. The Yama Kings took advantage, seeding Asia with their minions. The Akashic Brotherhood, meanwhile, arose in Tibet, India and China. Native mages held them at bay for a time, but their methods of internal power became widely accepted by a people tired of godly whims. In 900 BC, the Akashayana encountered the ancestors of the Euthanatoi, and for the next five centuries, the Himalayan Wars transformed them from ascetics to warriors. During the Shang Dynasty, the combined influence of Akashics and Wu Lung left the peasant wu with few resources to fight the Yama Kings. While the noble and monastic wizards refused to acknowledge the threat, demons ravaged the people. In desperation, the most potent wu sacrificed themselves to the Yama King Ku of the Thousand Tears, turning the demons' greed away from Asia and onto themselves.

By the time of the Chou Dynasty, the Wu-Keng had fully turned from Heaven to Hell. Their powers were still used to help the people, but they no longer held any obligation to protect them from supernatural threats. In 496 BC, the Searing Wind sect of the Wan Xian attempted to seize Mount Kailas, said to be the physical remnant of Mount Meru on Earth. When the Akashic Brotherhood rose to protect their spiritual homeland, the Searing Wind made a deal with Yi Han, a Yomi-corrupted Wu Lung. This escalated the conflict into the Dragon River War. In 480 AD, Yi Han and his Wan Kuei allies made a mighty enchantment that set ten suns burning in the sky, destroying their enemies' armies with drought. In the burning, short nights, Wu-Keng sacrificial pits were filled with the bodies of both sides.

In that year, a warrior-sage named Yi appeared. He combined ancient Sheng sorcery with martial skill until then only seen in the greatest Akashics. With nine arrows, he destroyed Yi Han's magic and scattered the warriors with the aid of primal magic and a great dragon. Both the Wu Lung and Akashic Brotherhood tried to recruit Yi, but instead, he created an army of followers and trained them to fight supernatural evil. These Shih still wander Asia, and despite their origins, they treat wicked mages as mercilessly as any evildoer. Though Yi's Celestial ARmy purged the Chou of magical influence, it also weakened the dynasty, for no sorcery could protect the Chou from invasion and subversion. In the years of drought that followed, many Wu Lung abandoned the Chou to use their knowledge for others. Soon, these people, the Dolou'laoshi, quarreled with the Wu-Keng, whose peasant magic they hated. Others also grew suspicious of their motives, machines and potions.

Sidebar: From day one, the Shaolin Temple was infested with vampires and ghosts who fed on the monks' energies while seeking a very unorthodox enlightenment. Shaolin monks were noted for their poor health due to these vampiric "bodhisattvas." All this changed in 521 AD with Bodhidharma, who caused even the most enlightened of the vampires to suffer by his mere presence. They fled, overcome with shame, and he taught the monks special exercises to fight the spiritual and physical wasting they suffered. This attracted the Akashic Brotherhood, who sent several disciples to study under Bodhidharma. After he picked a successor, a flood of Akashic monks came to study in the Shaolin Temple alongside the Sleepers. Inspired by Mahayana teachings, these Kannagara vowed to accept any sentient being into the monastery. This idealistic but ultimately doomed decree allowed the Shaolin Temple to, briefly, unite the shen in a peace never before seen and never seen since.

After the fall of the Chou, the Warring States period proved a great place for new ideas. Divination, fencing and great engines of war were used on the battlefield by mages in service to feudal lords. The Akashic Brotherhood found the first Shi-Ren and converted them as well as welcoming Li-Hai, who was persecuted by the Confucian Wu Lung. The Wu Lung were split into a thousand cabals, each trying to unite China under their own ruler. In 221 BC, the Dragon Wizard Fu Xia won, using the young ruler of Qin and allies in the Dalou'laoshi to create the Qin empire, uniting the Wu Lung into a magical bureaucracy. The Burning of Books consolidated knowledge in their hands and weakened their foes. EVen the Dalou'laoshi were hard-pressed to oppose the Dragon Emperor when their primitive science was destroyed by fire.

Under the control of the Wu Lung, the following Han Dynasty became a difficult regime for others. In 190 BC, the Dalou'laoshi negotiated the Silk Accord, growing wealthy and strong by trading with the like-minded Daedaleans of Rome, and when the Akashics led by the Vajrapani Fan Fu, the Smoke Tiger, seized the Silk Road to force territorial settlement from the Wu Lung, the Stone People gave them advisors and war machines to face the Tiger Lord's armies. In 120 AD, the Infernalist Tau-tse summoned a demonic army to harry all sides and escalate the conflict. The Stone People lost face before their Western counterparts, who'd expected them to keep their end of the Silk Road secure, and after the Shi-Ren Te Kwan and Zhen Ba banished the demons, the Dalou'laoshi moved in, kicking out the Akashayana and offering tribute from Rome to the Wu Lung. This set the pattern of relationships for the three for over a thousand years.

Next time: More wizard history.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Over the next six centuries, the Akashics used their ties to Buddhism and Taoism to form monasteries throughout Asia. They were not aware that the Wu-Keng were helping them, for the Wu-Keng wanted a group strong enough to contest the Wu Lung. In 529 AD, the Akashics occupied the Shaolin Temple, and declared that any and all who sincerely sought enlightenment would be welcome, regardless of what they were. From 590 on, the Akashics grew stronger via monasteries, with the aid of the Wu-Keng, and they became like powerful landowners for many peasant vassals. When the Wu Lung regained control of the Emperor in 618, they sacked the Shaolin Temple, inspiring many martial arts legends due to fights between Vajrapani temple guards and Tiger School warriors. Further attacks by the Wu Lung and Stone People destroyed the Shaolin Temple many times. To guard against loss of tradition, the Akashics settled Japan, far from the conflict, where they remained isolated even from the local shaman-queens and Shinto mystics.

From 907 and the fall of the Tang Dynasty to the 13th century, the Asian mages had a fragile peace due to weak emperors providing little chance for dominance by any side. In 1279, the Mongols invaded, with the aid of shamans skilled in overcoming magical resistance. In desperation, Yu Lung ('Jade Dragon') of the Akashics turned to the Yama Kings, learning dark alchemy and using it to infect the invaders with a terrible plague. When he sacrificed his brothers to the disease, his betrayal was revealed, and the Warring Fist helped the Mongol shamans find a cure, driving Yu Lung into exile. In gratitude, the Mongols promoted Vajrayana Buddhism and allowed the Akashics more freedom than either the Wu Lung or Stone People. From 1274 to 1281, Mongol invasions of Japan were thwarted by Japanese Akashics, straining their relations with the mainland Akashics. However, the event that gives the Kamikaze War its name was not caused by any mage, but apparently the kami themselves. The Divine Wind inspired both native and Akashic mystics to band together out of love for Japan.

In 1325, the Stone People attended the Convention of the White Tower, joined by several Legalist scholars of the Wu Lung, looking for allies against the Mongols. The two societies were strained, of course, as the Wu Lung despised the idea of asking for "barbarian" help. Afterward, the Dalou'laoshi migrated to coastal cities and overland trade routes, to better receive western aid from the Artificers. Those that remained helped the Wu Lung take revenge on the Akashic Brotherhood. Enraged by their complicity with the Mongols, the Wu Lung and Stone People used rockets, flying machines and elemental magic to strike at the Warring Fists. This Screaming Ghost Purge would have wiped out the Akashics were it not for the Wu-Keng. A number of peasant rebellions defied Mongol rule, uncontrolled by either the Dragon Wizards or STone People. Only the Akashics were permitted to form ties with groups like the Red Turbans. Thus, when the first Ming emperor took the throne in 1368, he was supported by Shi-Ren aristocrats and Vajrapani guards.

When the Western Traditions came to China, it appeared as though the Akashic Brotherhood was all-powerful, and much to the annoyance of the Wu Lung, the Akashics were the first invited to the Grand Convocation. It just reaffirmed their ideas that the Westerners were fools, especially as all was not as it appeared. The Akashic grip on power was, in fact, a failure nearly as soon as it began. The Wu Lung had surrounded the Emperor with corrupt ministers, and they sent their best to Manchuria to assist the invasion of the Manchu. In 1644, the weak, corrupt and insular Ming fell to Manchurian and Wu Lung troops. The Dragon Wizards had at last taken their vengeance on the Akashics, accompanying the Qing invasion of Tibet to destroy some of the Akashics' oldest strongholds. At last, in 1735, the Shaolin Temple was levelled by the Wu Lung, assisted by shen monks who believed that the Akashics had betrayed their vows.

Sidebar: the Golden Dragon Society. When the Shaolin Temple was destroyed, 18 monks fled to Shi-Ren safehouses. Many formed secret societies to overthrow the Qing and end Western influence. One of the survivors, a Vajrapani monk named Sataghni ('battering ram') fled to Japan. In 1755, he and his host, the Shi-Ren named Kunio Ashida, founded the Golden Dragon Society. As a mage, he gave the group greater purpose than mere nationalism, directing them to fight the Five Metal Dragons "by making their strengths our own". After the Boxer Rebellion and Meiji Restoration, the Golden Dragons used magic and blackmail to control native merchants who dealt with the West. During WW2, they resisted the national divisions that plagued the Akashics, and afterwards, their Japanese and Hong Kong investments gave them control of a bank and several film studios in both West and East. Originally, they planned to use these for propaganda, but they rationalized leveraging them for further acquisitions by arguing that any business they owned was out of Syndicate control. They seized other assets from the Technocrats, and their roots included criminals and revolutionaries. From there, they grew to control a major Triad, two Yakuza gumi and more. In the early 1990s, the Golden Dragons found that the Syndicate had special arrangements with Pentex, discovering that Pentex was a front for a hitherto-unknown magical society which did not fit the Technocratic paradigm. On the eve of their strike against these "followers of the Centipede", the Asian currencies collapsed, striking the Golden Dragons a terrible blow. The home of their dragonheads, Doissetep, was destroyed. In 1998, they jettisoned their remaining corporate holdings and reorganized, focusing on their old standby: organized crime. Today, Shi-Ren and Vajrapani make the backbone of the Golden Dragons, though mages outside those sects or the Akashayana as a whole are sometimes recruited. Even weakened as they are, they remain one of the largest criminal organizations in the world, and few outsiders understand how completely entrenched they are in the Asian underworld. Many Kannagara, Jnani and Li-Hai would be quite distressed if they found out.

Thus began the Fifth Age. With the help of the Stone People, the Qing made some of their predecessors mistakes. The Stone People hid the realities of colonial trade from the court, and instead of the expected tribute, the Qing received gunfire and opium. During the Boxer Rebellion, the Wu Lung and Akashics agreed to a truce to face their common foe. While the British guns were bad enough, the Dalou'laoshi reorganized into the Five Metal Dragons, bringing the might of the global Technocracy into their midst. In Japan, the Metal Dragons brought guns and revolution after Commodore Perry's expedition, and colonialism tightened the Technocracy's hold. The Wu-Keng merely noted the changes and ensured that things would be favorable for them. As Hong Kong was handed to the British and the Christian Taiping Rebellion was suppressed, the Wu-Keng felt things were going well. While the Japanese stormed Manchuria and Allied bombs struck Wu Lung strongholds in Asia, they prepared to take China. When World War 2 pitted Japanese and Chinese Akashics against each other, the Wu-Keng prepared to enter the vacuum they left and bring back the old ways. They gathered a force to eliminate the Wu Lung once and for all...and that's when something unexpected showed up: Communism.

Technocratic elements in the Communists destroyed the army of Zhen Di, and the Wu Lung fled to safety. The ancient ways were repressed, but so were the Technocracy's favorites, as the educated were sent to factories and fields. Wars with the communists in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia allowed the Five MEtal Dragons to test new technologies, but they did nothing to assist either side. After setting events in motion, they just watched and waited. Now, many believe the Sixth Age has come, though few can agree on an exact date for the Turning of the Wheel. Rapid economic development has sent the Five MEtal Dragons to supremacy unequalled by Tradition or Technocrat. The Chi'n Ta have been broken. The Akashics backed a failed quest called the Ascension War. The Wall has become a barrier of screaming souls, separating the Wu Lung from their Emperor, leaving a child and a troubled general to lead in his place. The Wu-Keng face final damnation as they try to drown the one remaining hope. Each faction has learned to go without the influence they once wielded so freely, and younger mages concern themselves only with their immediate situations, trying to apply the ideals of the past to mere life, not conquest. Without conspiracies, that's all that's left.

Now, specifics! The Akashic Brotherhood have long been misunderstood and stereotyped by the Nine Traditions and other Chi'n Ta. They can be anything from modern samurai to pacifist monks, giving the impression that they hold together only for convenience. Nothing could be less true. Change is rocking the Brotherhood. The destruction of Concordia has left the Shi-Ren and Vajrapani without their powerful leaders and resources, while the Wu Lung prepares to join them - filling a gap, but leaving the Akashics wary of their old foes. Balance may not come without change, but the Brotherhood still struggles with the new realities after the end of the Ascension War. Few understand or agree with their ideals, but all respect their power. Whether it is their mastery of martial arts or their ability to reshape minds, their secrets come at the price of total dedication with little guidance. Enlightenment opens in the heart, and the masters of the Brotherhood do not like to meddle with it for fear of harming their students. The price is great. Some Brothers mistake emptiness for corruption and take the path of Yu Lung, while others quit or go rogue. The self-reliant who remain gain personal power or understanding with a dedication few can match.

Like many, the Akashics claim to be the oldest magical society. Each sect has their own distinct rites, but the Akashayana are more than an alliance of convenience. They preserve secrets that may even predate the First Age. In the last world, they claim, an entire people performed a mass Ascension. When the world was destroyed, they were preserved at the summit of Meru, the world mountain, and vague memories of this perfect village are the basis of legends of Shangri-La and Shambhala. Unfortunately, Meru's bliss was ended when material desires tempted the shen from their duties. The Wan Xian hoarded Chi and the hengeyokai slaughtered the innocent, and even the enlightened became enamored with the Five Elements. Some worshipped shen, or others talked of a Jade Mother or Lord of Heaven who had secrets worth ripping from the stars. The pleasures of earth made them fear liberation, and they began to talk of eternal souls that could sustain pleasure forever. Blindness and greed took them, and they forgot how to summon fire or grow rice. The Meru'ai felt compassion for these masses, taking the Bodhisattva Vow and delaying their final liberation until all could be saved. This could not be reversed, and the Wall arose to seperate mortal illusion from divine truth, allowing the Awakened to return to samsara.

The Brotherhood's teachings influenced mortal sages, but other mages were resentful of their antimaterialism, for they used the lie of self to gain great power. In India, the Akashayana found priest-kings who engineered the karma of their subjects. The Akashayana were horrified, for under this system, a slave in one life was a slave in all lives. The Himalayan Wars that followed saw their foes become the Euthanatoi, while the Brotherhood, seeking the purge the karmic stains of the violence, embraced many teachings. The original sects of Vajrapani, Kannagara and Jnani were joined by Shi-Ren, Li-Hai and others.

After Bodhidharma expelled the vampires from the Shaolin Temple, the Kannagara made it their headquarters. They believed in the Bodhisattva Vow, and they opened the temple to all beings that sought enlightenment. Despite Wu Lung attacks on it, the Brotherhood prospered, and when the Mongols invaded, the Jnani made peace with them and undermined efforts to invade Japan. By the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, the Akashics were the most potent magical society in the East, and thus first to be invited to the Grand Convocation. However, the Brotherhood-supported Ming were soon undermined, as we know, and the Vajrapani and Shi-Ren used the Shaolin Temple as a rebel stronghold. Warring Fist 'monks' battled the Qing and Wu Lung, but were eventually defeated by the betrayal of the Temple's shen, who felt the Akashayana betrayed their trust by using the Temple for worldly gain. The Shi-Ren formed secret societies and the Vajrapani went to Okinawa.

By 1900, the Technocratic threat put an end to open war between Akashic and Wu Lung, as both sides supported the Boxer REbellion. Unfortunately, the Five Metal Dragons existed, and neither the Brotherhood nor the Dragon Wizards were ready for their betrayal of their own people. They found that their magic failed against the rifles of their foes, and the paradigm had changed. Later wars nearly tore the Brotherhood apart, as the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan arms of the society were divided against each other. In 1950, the Kannagara Jou Shan ('Gentle Mountain') came out of his seclusion and united the Akashayana with the goal of spreading their teachigns in the West. Today, the Akashics struggle with their new allies, the Wu Lung, as well as increasing rivalry between the monastic and secular arms of the group. The politicians and samurai chafe under a priesthood they feel is increasingly irrelevant to modern life. The Wu Lung, with no love for the monks, are aggravating things.

The Akashayana hold that materialism and selfishness bind humans to Samsara, their conception of the consensus. This creates suffering and disharmony. By practicing Do, living in balance with Akashakarma and acting in accord with the Drahma, the Brotherhood can free themselves from Samsara's chains and transcend the self. Drahma is the Yang principle, a contraction of Draladharma, a Tibetan or Sanskrit term that means 'the law of transcending the enemy.' Doing Drahma means acting with best moral intention without pitting force against force. Ideally, an Akashic practicing Drahma has no enemies, for she never prevents the foe from acting. Instead, their aggression earns karmic penalty without causing harm to her. Similarly, every problem has an efficient, ethical answer, provided you act without selfishness and let yourself become one with the task.

And...I'm sorry, they literally call it Drahma, that's ridiculous.

Do is the application of Drahma ( ) to the mind and body. While the martial applications of Do are great, it is meant for any activity engaging thought, emotions and actions. The student becomes sensitive to Yin and Yang and their diffusion into the elements, adapting their actions to complement the world. By losing yourself in action and becoming part of the Tapestry, your actions gain immense power, becoming a manifestation of the Wheel itself. This doesn't mean they're always gentle, of course. In combat, the Warring Fists "naturally" strike their foes' openings with great power. The Brotherhood takes few outside students of Do, who must show impeccable discipline and character. Further, they must be able to incorporate the Akashic paradigm into both mundane and magical action.

The Akashayana learn to read the impressions of thoughts and actions on the Tapestry. This is called Akashakarma , and it guides the Tapestry as riverbeds guide rivers. An Akashic can most easily sense traces of Sangha, though a potent Resonance of any source can sometimes be stronger. The Record can be sensed by an Akashic who empties themselves of egotistical concerns, and in this way they share the thoughts of other Akashayana, learning to yield and redirect the forces around them. This manifests as intuitive leaps, bursts of knowledge and, rarely, potent visions from past lives of other Akashics. By chanting mantras and sutras, reading sacred texts and writing in Kaja, you break the barrier between your thoughts and the Tapestry. Combining these with meditation to empty the conscious mind opens impressions of Akashakarma to you. Communion with the Akashic Record is the simplest application of this, and with greater enlightenment you can even reach beyond Sangha, sensing all minds and deeds.

Sidebar: The Tao Shih, the practitioners of Do, use their skills for more than magic or combat. They learn to incorporate metaphysical forces into everyday life. Optionally, they may spend 1 Willpower to roll Do to add success to another Ability they have, so long as it's one of Athletics, Awareness, Dodge, Enigmas, Etiquette, Intuition, Leadership, Medicine, Meditation, Melee, Stealth or Survival. The difficulty is the same as normal, but you can't spend another Willpower for an automatic success. The ST may add other Abilities to the list, but they can't ever involve high technology like guns, though the ST can bend this rule if you really, really want to play an enlightened motorcycle repairman. Yes, they call that out specifically.

Next time: Akashic sects and magic.

More Akashics

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Akashics attempt to emulate the Meru'ai in all ways, and in the past, entire villages followed their practices. Now, though, with the Technocratic paradigm on top, each sect has adopted a particular societal role in their belief system, providing a balance to the order. The Kannagara focus on the impermanence of self to counter the influence of Phoenix, the Vajrapani use the Dragon's destruction to aid the world and the Jnani take the Tiger's chaos into themselves to discipline it. The Li-Hai balance the rest, and their patron, Kai-lin or Lung-ta depending on what name you prefer, lives in dreams or perhaps the furthest reaches of Heaven.

The Kannagara are the monastic leadership of the Akashics, who study the Great Cycle under the guidance of Phoenix. They swear to poverty and celibacy in order to loosen their ties to the world to open themselves to the Akasha. All Akashayana are monks for some period of time, and some join the Kannagara late in life after retiring from their original sect. This is especially popular with Japanese Vajrapani. They are also known as the Phoenix Robes, and they track Akashics through their incarnations, leading efforts to bring the unaware back into the fold. They search for Samadhi via self-annihilation and asceticism, and are the face of the Brotherhood that the West is most familiar with, both as popular stereotypes and as representatives of the Tradition. As Shaolin monks, they promoted Do as a path to discipline and martial skill. Away from the eyes of the West, their decisions are often questioned, especially by the Vajrapani or Shi-Ren, who feel the monks do not deal with practical things, or the Li-Hai, who question everything. Their acceptance of the Wu Lung as allies has made some feel it's just a matter of time until they are toppled by the Dragon Wizards or outraged Akashics.

Sidebar: All you need is Mind 2, Spirit 1 to access the Sangha via the Akashic Records. It's not true telepathy, though - you receive all the impressions about an event after it happens, in form of an urge or intuitive flash. Finding a specific person or clear impression takes 4+ successes. Looking for specific info about another Akashic is considered rude without permission, and most Akashayana are good at hiding their thoughts anyway.

The Vajrapani are the warriors of the Akashic Brotherhood, the instigators of the events that caused the Himalayan Wars and the fall of the Shaolin Temple. They are known as the Warring Fists, and they are not apologetic about trying to meddle in Sleeper affairs at all. Their 36 families, the Banners or Scales of the Dragon, have adapted a life out of different cultures, from Japanese samurai clans to Macau vice lords. Vajrapani are taught within their family, with a grueling apprenticeship under many aunts and uncles in both armed and unarmed combat, magic, business strategy, larceny and military strategy. They also aggressively adopt Orphans in areas they control. The Vajrapani focus power through martial use of Do, oaths of service and purification rites. By focusing on duty, they diminish the importance of self, and purification via symbolic washing, fasting or other rites removes karmic stains from their minds and bodies.

The Jnani or Wu Shan are hermits and shamans, representatives of the Brotherhood to other supernatural beings. They are known as the Mountain Wizards, practitioners of internal alchemy and astrology, and they are very focused on the Dragon Nests of Asia. They typically observe potential apprentices from afar before taking them on, accepting them only if they can both find the reclusive Jnani and survive in the wilderness. When called on, they use their knowledge of the supernatural world to aid the Brotherhood in encounters with Kuei-jin, hengeyokai or others. They are often derided as poor cousins to the Dreamspeakers, but there are vast differences in their Spirit Arts. The Jnani hold that each person is a microcosm of the Tapestry. By understanding the self, they understand the universe. Their patron, Tiger or Snow Leopard, ties the microcosm of self to the macrocosm of the Yang World. The Jnani are well-established throughout Asia, and recently they have been moving from their mountain hermitages to the cities. Younger members say that the cities have a natural order all their own, and are now so large that a hermit could lose themselves in the masses as easily as the wilderness. These Jnani can be found wandering cities or begging on the streets.

The Li-Hai are similar to Orphan iconoclasts in theory, but they are committed to the basics of Akashic principle, even though their means of honoring those principles are wildly divergent from other Akashics. Li-Hai masters might tell a Western student to wear a three piece suit for rituals, not a robe, or mix boxing or baseball into Do training. They care for function, not form. They are also infamous for "aggressive pacifism." The Li-Hai hate violence, but do not practice passive resistance. Rather, they use their unorthodox Do and spirit-binding power to stop fights rather than win them.

The Shi-Ren, or Benevolent Aristocrats, descend from the Hundred Schools of Chinese history. The Akashayana converted the sect, mixing the pragmatism of Legalist thought with ethical duty and mystic experience. Shi-Ren doctrine states that all beings act out of desire or fear. A Shi-Ren uses these motivations to command humans, gods and nature itself. The Shi-Ren greatly value tradition. By keeping to traditional cosmology, they can determine the ties that bind beings together and manipulate them with ancient rites. It is profoundly embarrassing for them that many of their number have abandoned tradition, using Legalist thought in service to the Five Metal Dragons.

The Akashayana were vital to the understanding of the Metaphysics of Magic as understood by the Traditions. Inspired by Buddhist philosophy, they posited a subjective reality, Samsara, while the Order of Hermes insisted that the four Greek elements and Platonic forms were the base nature of the universe. Akashics rarely got involved in debates about the nature of reality, Paradox or...anything, really, which led some to believe that they were cowed by the Western mages. However, the fact remains that they were one of the chief architects of a "universal" theory of magic. Further, they are famous for their faith in the truth of Ascension, as well as their skill with violence. The Akashics claim that Samsara exists because sentient life clings to unbalanced, materialistic lives. The desire to grasp the turning of the Wheel holds it in place, trapping the Bodhicitta, the Enlightened Self, in a web of habit, need and suffering. By training the mind to reject identity and greed and disciplining the body as well as living in harmony with nature, the superior Akashic understands their transience and learns to act with the force of the entire Tapestry. The specialty sphere of Sangha is Mind, simply because sentient beings' thoughts generate karma, which can be imprinted on the Akasha to guide Yin, Yang and Heaven to create Samsara. Most people, however, have undisciplined minds and desires, which manifest in twisted and exaggerated fashion, perpetuating the world of illusion and suffering.

The best-known Akashic focus is Do, which can be used for many things, from steel-tearing blows to symbolic Kaja to repel supernatural beings. An act can be said to be Do if it engages mind, body and spirit as one tool. Prearranged motions do more than perfect a movement via repetition; they describe a mandala with each gesture. Some actions enhance body awareness and direct concentration, allowing the Tao Shih to gather Chi, sense minds or visit spirit realms. Other foci are used as expressions of Do or are symbols for the self's tie to the cosmos. Akashic tools encourage discipline and turn the mind from petty thoughts. Weapons, especially swords and spears, are favored, though the Kannagara often use weapons far too complex to use in actual combat. Sacred hand and finger mudras are used as mystical sign language, and portions of sutras and mantras are often chanted for Mind effects or to access the Akashakarma. Chanting, drumming and clapping can rouse spirits and clear minds, and some sounds are said to have destructive powers over the body. The creation of mandalas, or sacred diagrams, is also common, with silk, gardens or even buildings. Do can be said to be a mandala of motion, and spirit travel or manipulation of joss often involves mandalas. Kaja calligraphy is used to call on gods and spirits, and poems can be imbued with special powers. The Akashic Record is an example of this principle. Massage, acupuncture and other bodywork also get used, primarily for healing magic or revealing weaknesses. It is rumored that the Shi-Ren have mastered acupuncture-based mind control techniques.

Skipping over the example rotes, we get a sidebar on the Five Elements, but you guys have seen that shit in other games, like LEgends of the Wulin. It's explained better elsewhere and I don't have to go over it again.

Next time: The Dragon Emperor Wizard.

The Wu Lung

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Wu Lung are the magical empire of China, recently allied with their old enemies the Akashic Brotherhood in order to break out of the prison of the Five Metal Dragons. Known as the Dragon Wizards, they are now being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century and reforms that might allow them to survive. They are a 4000-year-old magical Tradition, and have battled both peasants and monks for control of the soul of China. Mostly, they've won, becoming critical advisors to emperors. However, colonialism, revolution and their enemies have driven them to the shadows of Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai, where foreign influence is strong. In the past, they were very conservative and uncompromising in their magical style even in the face of the dangers of Ch'ung Tu (or Paradox) and the lack of Sleeper sympathies. This is because their Awakening involves revered ancestors taking the place of their Avatars, interceding with Heaven to change reality. While it's given them traditions that equal those of the Order of Hermes in the West, it has also made them insular and kept them from recognizing potential allies as anything but fools. While they have allies now, their opinions have not changed. Still, the Akashics will be useful tools.

The Wu Lung claim a very venerable history. They claim the first Wu Lung was the legendary Yellow Emperor himself, and the Five Emperors dynasty laid the foundations for Wu Lung magic by codifying the secrets of the primal sorcerers like Fu Hsi, Na Kua and Sui-jen, putting them in accord with the Celestial Bureaucracy. Thus, the Wu Lung lay claim to the invention of written language, silk and agriculture. During the Shang and Chou dynasties, China had rapid technological and social change. While the peasant sorcerers cared about making the crops come in on time and protecting the people from slavery, the Wu Lung were astrologers, inventors and strategists. Despite their best efforts, however, both kingdoms collapsed to peasant revolts, leading to the Warring States period. The Wu Lung also used the period to experiment with technology like flying thrones held aloft by rockets or earthquake machines.

Sidebar: Dragons are a big fucking deal to the Wu Lung, and to Asia in general. Their dragons are neither monsters nor wholly of this world. Greater dragons exist in almost every natural feature, and feng shui can identify the dragons in mountains and hills. The bones of dragons can be seen beneath the earth. (The Asian mages and werelizards find the concept of 'fossils' and 'dinosaurs' kind of funny and also kind of enraging.) The Dragon King of the Sea has lieutenants that flow through the waves, and the Chang Lung, the river dragons, flow across China. Metal and fire dragons are more rarely seen, due to both the dangers and the difficulty of recognizing them when they sleep. A dragon is more than something living in a place - it is the place. Dragon lines are, in fact, the spiritual bodies of dragons. When they are moved with geomancy, the dragon can be sickened or injured as the Chi twists its body. A sick dragon is bad for everyone in the area. The dragons have used their deep ties to the Tapestry for both good and bad. When the August Personage of JAde decreed that drought should engulf China, the dragons took pity and brought rain. They were punished by being pinned under four great mountains, but they escaped by becoming rivers, again feeding the crops. However, the Black Dragon River also attempted to flood China until stopped by Na Kua. While most dragons remain melded with nature, smaller and younger dragons sometimes reveal themselves in serpentine forms. The Wu Lung say that nine dragons took on human form in the Third Age. Called the Zhong Lung, they were charged with telling humans the secrets of Heaven, and granted memories that stretched back to the First Age itself. When humanity turned from the August Personage of Jade, the Zhong Lung were reassigned to punish the unworthy, and only the ancestors of the Wu Lung were spared by these Middle Dragons, for they inherited the Mandate of Heaven and became legitimate rulers and judges of man. Whatever the truth of this legend, it is well known that Fu Xia called himself T'ien Lung, the representative of the Middle Dragons. During the Han and Yuan Dynasties, Dragon Emperor Fu Xia ruled China, indirectly or in disguise, and perhaps he was more than he appeared. Certainly no Wu Lung has ever approached him in power, either magical or temporal. His retirement and disappearence just before the strengthening of the Wall and the rise of Chung T'o makes a few Wu Lung wonder if there is a dragon watching them. Those who share blood ties to Fu Xia, as a note, are kinfolk to the Zhong Lung shapeshifters and able to learn some of their Gifts as per the Shapechanger Kin merit (assuming they take it).

Anyway, the turmoil brought about the rise of Confucius, Lao-tzu and Sun-tzu. Early Taoism and its apparently antisocial tenets did not interest the Wu Lung, but Conficus and Sun-tzu did. They acted as mercenary scholars, advisors who trained the ambitious in war and statecraft. The Wu Lung of this time were very fractious, with each attempting to have their candidate crush the others, but all Wu Lung discouraged peasant magic. During this period, the Akashic missionaries managed to convert some of the Wu Lung by mixing Legalism and ethics, and these Shi-Ren became popular with their subjects but hated by the Wu Lung, who desired an aggressive nobility to allow someone to conquer China (with them at the side of the winner, of course). To this day, the Wu Lung despise the lack of ambition displayed by the Akashics, at least for temporal power.

At last, a Wu Lung named Fu Xia managed to unite the others behind Cheng, a bloodthirsty young man with great ambition. Cheng, with their support, conqured China and crowned himself Qin Shihuang. With Wu Lung aid, this self-claimed Second Yellow Emperor destroyed most scholarly efforts of the past, as the Wu Lung had no desire to share the techniques they used to bring him to power. As he aged, he realized his empire would not survive him, and he looked to the Wu Lung for immortality. After using his ambition as reason to torment the Wu-Keng, they enthroned him as the Emperor of the Yellow Springs, ruler of the Underworld. Fu Xia became the First Emperor of the Wu Lung. The Han, which the Wu Lung had intentionally ended the Qin to accomodate, served as the mouthpiece for Fu Xia for 400 years. The rise of educated officials allowed the Wu Lung to utterly dominate Chinese society. They also came into contact with Western magi, but unfortunately most came from primitive feudal societies or practiced a form of magic that was completely unintelligible to the Wu Lung. Only the Order of Reason, with its parallel technologies and like-minded desire to perfect the state, held any appeal. When the Mongols took over, a desperate delegation of scholars and inventors joined with the Dalou'laoshi to visit the Convention of the Ivory Tower in 1325.

The Traditions also made efforts to bring the Wu Lung into their fold, but they made the blunder of first inviting the Akashics, as the rise of Buddhism had allowed the Akashics to topple Wu Lung direct rule. However, even though the Wu Lung were forced to accept the Buddhist, peasant-founded Ming, they were able to retaliate by surrounding the Emperor with corruption. This weakened the Ming while the Manchu were groomed to replace them, and when the Manchu Qing seized power, the Tiger Lord used them as a tool to eliminate the remaining Akashayana resistance. Unfortunately, their obsession with China allowed the Technocracy to gain strength before the Wu Lung reacted. By 1900, the Five Metal Dragons had paved the way for the Technocracy to subvert China. When the colonial powers invaded, Wu Lung magic could not stop their rifles. Humiliating concessions like Hong Kong or Macau undermined the Emperor's authority, and in the revolutions that followed, the Wu Lung were helpless to defend their paradigm. Manchuria, where their most venerable wizards were kept, was abused by the Japanese rule, and the emperor became nothing more than a figurehead and a parody.

Ironically, the Wu Lung were forced to turn to the nations that undermined them in order to regain strength. Chinese communities abroad became a save haven for them from the Cultural Revolution when it went after Wu Lung institutions. In these communities, the Dragon Wizards learned tolerance. Forced to share space with Akashics in both Chinatowns and places like Hong Kong or Shanghai, they cooperated on a number of joint ventures against the Technocracy. Finally, in 2000, they agreed to an alliance to defeat the Technocrats and preserve their remaining strongholds in China and Tibet. The new alliance has been cemented by the decision to arrange marriages between family-oriented Akashics like the Vajrapani and Dragon Wizards in service to the Thousand-Tiger Lord. While both sides would hate to admit it, a future generation may will integrate them as a single Tradition.

The Wu Lung philosophy is simple: they are humanity's voice to Heaven. Anyone can ask their ancestors to bring the favor of the Celestial Bureaucracy, sure, but only the Dragon Wizards have enough merit in Heaven's eyes to expect answers from the gods. Every petition has a correct form and intent, and if the standards were relaxed, then every urge would be obeyed and the world would be demolished. The Dragon Emperor Wizard, Phoenix Empress Wizard and Tiger Lord General serve as the chief adminstrators of the balance, each mastering a particular aspect of the Great Cycle and dispensing its properties with justice and pragmatism. The Magical Bureaucracy, they say, has a special place in the Chinese spiritual hierarchy. As humans, they are between Heaven and earth, but as sorcerers, they are officials of the Celestial Bureaucracy, with the right and duty to deal with ancestors and gods. The Wu Lung consider themselves shih, living sages of rank equal to the deified scholars that become city gods. Like a god, a Dragon Wizard's Hun is transformed into shen, spirit. Their Heavenly nature allows them to directly communicate with a true shih, their ancestor. A Wu Lung's shih Avatar guides them along the path of Li, righteousness. The superior Wu Lung hones both political and spiritual might until they are subsumed into the T'ai Chi, the Absolute that the Traditions call Ascension. Li possesses the limitless power of the T'ai Chi, but is naturally constrained by Chi, the energy that generates worldly things.

The ultimate goal of the Wu Lung is to refine crude Chi into Li through the practice of Ching, reverence. They see scholarship, alchemy, martial arts and the dispensing of justice as all being acts that promote Ching by linking the Wu Lung to tradition, using it to improve themselves and the world. Rigorous tests determine what practices specifically will help a Nan Wu, or member of the Wu Lung who has graduated to full membership, increase in both power and wisdom.

Next time: The Magical Bureaucracy!

Magical Bureaucracy

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Magical Bureaucracy is organized on Confucian and Legalist lines, supposedly paralleling the Heavenly Kingdom of Jade. At the top, naturally, is the T'ien Kung to Huang Ti Wu Lung, the Heavenly Emperor of the Dragon Wizards, also called the Dragon Emperor Wizard. It is his duty to perform the rituals which appease the August Personage of Jade and also to act as his judge on earth, just as the Dragon is the judge of Heaven. If the last Dragon Emperor still lives, he is now well over a thousand years old. He is referred to solely by title, never by name. The true Dragon Emperor is lost in the Umbra, so the role is currently filled temporarily by Bai Beishi. His counterpart is the Feng Huan Huo Wo, the Phoenix Empress Wizard. She, also, has no name, just a title. She serves as the representative of Phoenix, Heaven's messenger, and she brings mercy to the Dragon's justice. She has reincarnated as her own daughter over 300 times, and her mastery of nature's cycles is shown in the skill of the Phoenix School. She is currently trapped in the body of an eight year old girl, and is temporarily replaced by Xi Zhuanji, a skilled Life sorceress and shapeshifter.

Next is the Hu Kuei Tsu Wu, the Tiger Lord Wizard. He is the Bureaucracy's general and lord of the Office of War. The current Tiger Lord, Choujingha Yuguo, is the heir of the Dragon Emperor. Despite the loss of Kun Lun, however, he refuses to claim the title, though he does hold a loose regency over the Wu Lung. The Tiger Lord is head of the Kuei Tsu, nine lords who oversee the Bureaucracy. The other eight Kuei Tsu manage the Offices of Education, Tradition, Treasure, Law, Records, Provisions, Intelligence and Religion. Each may use their sorcerers and possessions as they see fit to fulfill the duties of office. Currently, six are of the Dragon School and two are of the Tiger School. Below them are the nine Pu Chang, each a specialist in a field of magic that assesses lesser Dragon Wizards for promotion to the Chu Jen. Currently, the Phoenix wizard Moonflower is the only Phoenix School among the Pu Chang, who are otherwise split between Dragon and Tiger Schools.

The Chu Jen are the masters who control all Wu Lung within a city, regulating contact with the spirits there. Because of their duties, all Chu Jen must master Spirit magic as well as their specialty. They are also the trainers of the Sheng Shou. Chu Jen are sometimes called Sifu, but that's an honorific that can be used to describe any master teacher. Lesser tutors are called Sihing ('older brother'). Above the Bureaucracy as a whole are the Sigung, 'grandfathers', who wander the Tapestry as Archmages mastering the perfect magic. While the Pu Chang and their superiors hold great power, it is said that the Sigung have no equals in wisdom. Sadly, most seem to have vanished from the world.

Below the Chu Jen are the Nan Wu, full members of the Wu Lung who take care of day-to-day business. Each is assigned to a Kuei Tsu and progresses through nine ranks within that office. Usually, members of any school can belong to any office, but some, like the Office of War, favor their own schools. (In that case, the Tiger School.) Below them are the Ch'uang Shih, senior students of rough equivalence to Hermetic Disciples in power (or most starting PCs). Each is assigned a Sifu, but they have the right to direct their own studies and may freely learn from any loyal and skilled Wu Lung. The Ch'uang Shih are divided into nine offices and nine ranks as well, and belong to the office of their Sifu. To become Nan Wu, they must pass a Magical Service Exam that tests their ability to serve the office they apply for. Most Ch'uang Shih enter the same office as their Sifu, but it's not unheard of to choose a different path. Until becoming Chu Jen, a Wu Lung must pass a tedious exam to rise in each rank. After that, position is by appointment and intrigue.

At the bottom of the hierarchy are the Sheng Shou, the junior students who lead lives of constant study and service. Each belongs to a "chair" of the same office as their Sifu, since they are not considered officially competent enough to belong to the office directly. After a few years of unquestioning obedience and practice, a Sheng Shou is tested by their Sifu to see if they are worthy of becoming Ch'uang Shih. As an aside, while each office may require certain magical talents, the Wu Lung study magic according to the division set out by their leaders and the will of Heaven. The Magical Service Exams taken to become Nan Wu direct each Dragon Wizard to a School, which is both political and philosophical. Each acknowledges it's only part of the whole, but most Wu Lung use their offices to promote the interests of their School.

The first School is the Dragon School, Heaven's Judges. Those who excel at the exams are invited to join the Dragons, who lead the Wu Lung and act as liaisons between the Celestial Bureaucracy and China. From the lowest Sheng Shou to the Dragon Emperor himself, each forges a close tie to the spirit world. Skill in the Spirit art is honed by learning about the divine ministers. At first, a Dragon Wizard merely gives offerings to them, but superior Wu Lung eventually advise the gods themselves. In this manner, they gain power in the celestial offices. The Dragon School also handles the justice of the Bureaucracy. Just as Dragon is Heaven's Destroyer, so too does the Dragon School purge that which is corrupt from the order and from magical China in general. The Legalists of the Wu Lung naturally gravitate to that role. It is an eternal shame to the Dragon SChool that many of their number left the Wu Lung to join the Five Metal Dragons, and today, the most conservative Wu Lung make up the bulk of the Dragon School, plotting vengeance. All Dragons are men.

Second is the Tiger School, the Divine Generals. They are practical wizards, more for applied than theoretical magic. That doesn't mean they are not wise, just that they concern themselves with action. The Tiger School teaches its students to find the Tao in righteous action. Etiquette, strategy and swordsmanship are requires study in order to practice Ching in service to the Bureaucracy as a whole. Unlike Akashics, they do not learn physical skills to hone the self; rather, it generates the bravery necessary to serve. Their skill with the destructive power of the Five Elements is famous. They are the intellectual heirs of Sun-tzu, willing to do things that many would find brutal or immoral, but not without cause. In fact, the current Tiger Lord is famous for his arguments with the Emperor. The Tiger School commits itself wholly to the Wu Lung, but not for foolish or inefficient plans. It is said that the Tiger Lord supported the Phoenix School of women from its inception. Recently, the Tigers have allowed women into their own ranks as well. The alliance with the Akashics was also handled by the practical Tigers, who care more for the benefits than the philosophical divide. How long the Dragons will tolerate their eccentricities is unknown, but they seem to be dealing with it for now.

The Phoenix School, the Merciful Sorceresses, is last. Until the 1800s, only one woman belong to the Wu Lung: the Phoenix Empress Wizard, the immortal consort of the Dragon Emperor who reincarnates as her own daughter every 108 years. In the early 17th century, however, she shared her knowledge of the secrets of Life magic with a small group of female students, who became the Phoenix School. Today, they hold positions in every level of the Bureaucracy. They reward where the Dragons judge. They are skilled healers who use their talents for both Sleepers and the Wu Lung, manipulating fate by petitions to the Stove and Earth Gods that support mortal affairs. While many Wu Lung disdain these lesser deities, the Phoenixes prefer subtle magic to the powers given by the greatest gods.

The magic of the Dragon Wizards is guided by Li. Every magical spell begins by honoring the ancestors, particularly the ancestral shih. The shih is your link to Heaven and ultimately the one who decides the propriety of a magical work. After appeasing the shih, a Wu Lung often prays to the god whose portfolio contains the power they wish to use, which can be as simple as a quick promise to a city god when you want to make a door to escape through or as elaborate as a huge meal and gifts to persuade a Minister of Heaven to grant thunderbolts, flight or the secrets of life and death. Wu Lung often pay special devotions to a specific god as part of every ritual. For example, the Tigers venerate Kwan Yu, the scholar-general, and the Phoenixes worship Kwan Yin, the goddess of healing. Even the Yama Queen Tou Mu is given some respect; it's said that her horrors are a test of Li.

Wu Lung magic also uses traditional Chinese metaphysics. Before the Technocracy downgraded it to psuedoscience, they used these beliefs to describe physical and spiritual phenomena with scientific rigor. They say the T'ai Chi was perfect in the First Age, and as the world evolved, it divided and recombined. After the Three Ministers sprang from primal Yin and Yang, they set the universe into motion, which gave rise to the Five Elements, the eight trigrams and infinite variation. Writing and divination are both signs of the continuous reweaving of the Tapestry by these powers. As crude matter or irresponsible thought, Li manifests itself as Chi, a rough metaphysical force that may be tamed. Alchemy, feng shui and exercise attune the Wu Lung to imbalance and provide the tools to correct it. Similarly, the soul is made of two opposites, the Hun which is the part that remembers the Cycle and its place in it, which becomeS Shen when enlightened, and the P'o, the part that relishes the division of the T'ai Chi and seeks to fracture it further. It is not evil, per se, and having a P'o is absolutely necessary to understanding the world, but it does tend to ignorance and destruction.

After death, the Wu Lung say, the P'o can drag the Hun down to the Dark Kingdom of Jade, and the dual souls become Kuei, a ghost that must await reincarnation. If a P'o gained enough power in life, it devours the Hun and becomes a screaming spirit adrift in Hell. A very few are caught between these extremes and return to the world as one of the noxious Wan Kuei, or Demon People. Similarly, the Wu Lung differentiate between the fallen shen such as hengeyokai and hsien and the true shen who hold the ear of the August Personage of Jade. The Dragon Wizard's ancestral avatar, the shih, is obviously one of the latter.

Wu Lung magic ultimately comes from Li, but few Wu Lung would appease the ancestors without ritual foci. They can improvise, preparing charms ahead of time or carrying an assortment of coin, grain and papers for emergencies. Gunpowder, lead oxide and mercury are more exotic tools kept on hand by alchemists or others using Chinese metaphysics. The practice of Kuei Lung Chuan martial arts often serves as a focus for more spectacular Tiger School magic, like the ability to leap a hundred feet into the air or catch an arrow in their teeth. Fu, small paper charms brushed with Chinese characters and pictures, are often used to invoke Forces, affect spirits and alter joss. Portraits depicting gods or ancestors can call on their power and are often used as sacrifices. Genealogical tablets serve similar purposes, and every Wu Lung keeps them in their Sanctum to use in important works. Food and drink are also popular sacrifices, especially for Spirit magic. Writing itself is also a powerful tool to serve as a symbolic act of creation, as is use of the I Ching. Swords make for good tools to direct Yang energies, and the Wu Lung expertise in alchemy is matched only by the Order of Hermes' Solificati. By invoking the gods over concoctions, the Wu Lung may make longevity potions, healing potions or even mind control powders or explosive that work on spiritual realms.

By the way, the Wu Lung possess a Correspondence 4 rote, Tsuiho - the Fires of Heaven, which opens a portal to the sun's photosphere. The problems? Well, it's always vulgar, no matter what, and it takes a ton of successes, and it takes several hours and perfect chanting to do because of the Wu Lung paradigm, and also you need to ritually sacrifice your own life to the August Personage of Jade to do it. Sure, some Wu Lung might not believe they have to, but they don't get taught the rote. Yeah. Oh, and the Tiger School have their own special martial art, Kuei Lung Chuan or Dragon Spirit Kung Fu. It uses the jian and spear, and favors acrobatics and large kicks. They never teach it to outsiders, and it follows rules from the Kuei-jin sourcebook.

Next time: Crossdressing infernalist wizards.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Wu-Keng section is inexplicably written in first person. It is one of those incredibly annoying White Wolf sections that is all first person, all the time. I will do my best to summarize it for you. The narrator is Shiu-Chung, a young woman in the Wu-Keng. She wasn't always a woman, though. See, the Wu-Keng exclusively recruit boys. Always boys. Young children. All of the Wu-Keng are biologically male. However, they are trained, as Shiu-Chung was, to not be men and to become girls, mentally and spiritually...and, to some extent, physically. They don't get operations or anything, but they practice footbinding and so on. Once upon a time, they used to be the guides of the Shang Dynasty, bringing writing and teaching them the ways of the gods.

However, the Chou rejected the Wu-Keng, siding instead with the scholars and Legalists who focused on books and scholarly virtue. The Wu-Keng and their oracular practices and peasant magic were rejected. Only the princes of Feng-tu came to their aid, the rulers of the underworld. Three thousand years ago, the Wu-Keng petitioned Lord Ku of the Thousand Tears for help. However, Ku needed proof of their loyalty, and one of the Chou yan, the ancient Wu-Keng shamans, sword to love him forever. She promised that every year, she would kidnap a boy and raise him as a shaman for Ku, honoring him with the Juk Ak, the Wu-Keng Avatar. Lord Ku gave the prophecy of the Sam Chin Ak. For a thousand years, there would be secrecy, and the Wu-Keng would hide from the world. For another thousand years, there would be silence, when the shamans served the will of Feng-tu. Finally, the Age of Motion would prepare the Wu-Keng to control Asia. Lord Ku forbade the Wu-Keng from binding spirits or changing the passage of time, so they might not cheat his desire or the pact he made with them.

When the Chou fell, the Wu-Keng did all that Ku would permit them to to protect the people. They even turned to the scholar-wizards for help, learning of the newly formed Wu Lung, who placed Qin Shihuang on the throne. The Wu Lung were jealous of Wu-Keng youth granted by Feng-tu, and so they boiled one Wu-Keng alive each day they refused to give up the secrets of immortality. At last, they claimed a Wu-Keng in the shape of a cricket gave them the secrets, and ordered the death of all Wu-Keng. Feng-tu, in that realm's wisdom, disguised all the Wu-Keng as women and brought them to freedom.

The Juk Ak then declared that from then on, all Wu-Keng would live as women and bind their feet for the pleasure of the Juk Ak, to remind the Wu-Keng of their imperfection. They obeyed, settling in the south. At last, the Age of Motion came, when the West invaded and the Japanese conquered, as the Wu-Keng encouraged them both. The great Chou yan named Zhen Di, one of the last surviving ancient Wu-Keng, led an army to massacre the Wu Lung, though the communists killed her before she could succeed.

The Wu-Keng initiate their new members at the same place every time - the tomb of the Yellow Emperor, where they call forth the Juk Ak and ritually marry it, taking on a jade bracelet as a sign of the pact. They suffer great pain, in the hopes of preventing it in others. They learn the arts of the oracle bones and sacrifices. They obey the will of the Juk Ak, no matter what horrible act or thing they are requested. And in return, they get great power. However, some of the Wu-Keng are unhappy. The oldest know the nature of the deal they made, and know that in the year 2000, it is meant to end. Their service to the Juk Ak should be over then. A few are secretly training shamans in the use of the Spirit arts and the pure, ancient ways they once followed.

You see, the truth is, the Wu-Keng are infernalists. Most of them don't know it, but Feng-tu is a Yomi realm, not the underworld. Ku is a Yama King. The Juk Ak are demons. The shamans taught by the ancient Chou yan know the truth, carrying one the true spirit of the peasant shamans. When Ku learned of this duplicity, he used it to justify a new age of service, until the renegades are destroyed. The Chou yan are some of the most potent wizards alive, so they managed to protect the shamans and hurl Feng-tu into disarray until Ku devoured their Juk Ak and the demons holding their Avatars, condemning them to nonexistence. The new shamans have multiplied to the point that they rival the Wu-Keng in number, but not power. The Wu-Keng beg for Ku to allow more initiations, but Ku is holding to his bargain: one a year, no more. If his slaves become strong too soon, after all, he'll be denied their suffering.

Before they made a pact with the Princes of the Slain, the Wu-Keng described their relation with the spirits in familial or romantic terms. Ancient songs describe the gods as lovers and the shaman as companion. If a child died at birth, they acted as Khay ma or Khay kong, a symbolic parent. The initiation of modern Wu-Keng is a perversion of that bond. The demons twisted its love into bondage and servitude. The jade bracelets and Avatars that linked the shamans to Heaven were twisted to the Juk Ak, the yokes of the Yama Kings. A Juk Ak demon treats the shaman as a slave, lover and victim. Magic comes from flattering it. However, the Juk Ak is not watching every second of every day. The Wu-Keng's belief in their servitude grants the power, and the power can be used without the approval of the Juk Ak. Of course, all who ever tried were caught and now lie in the Thousand Hells for the pleasure of their masters.

Wu-Keng magic was born of shamans and herbalists, and they usually received it after some form of trauma, like a difficult birth, a lost family member or some other terrible loss. Those who were born shamans had Divine Bones, 36 joints that connected their souls to Heaven. In most, the Bones are broken at birth, but these shamans never lost them. Pain and loss allowed them to find the Divine Road that runs through the spirit world. An Awakened shaman bound themselves to the Bones and the Road, sending their soul to the Heavenly Flower Garden. There, they courted the gods until accepted as divine agents. If they'd lost lovers or children, those became spirits of the shaman, to gain the merit needed for an auspicious rebirth. Magic was an art of divine romance and guardianship of the dead. Under the Chou, however, they turned to Feng-tu and were bound to only one lover: the Juk Ak. They were forbidden to contact their children beyond the Wall, and Heaven rejected them. Their magic is a perversion of the old ways, compelling them to love the very demons who twisted them.

The shamans believed that the gods literally existed, but that the Celestial Bureaucracy was new, a device of the gods to try and reach out to an overly intellectual people. In the Heavenly Flower Garden, the gods cultivate the souls of the next generation. While the Infernalist Wu-Keng can no longer go there, they do believe that when the Sam Chin Ak is lifted, all the souls in the Juk Ak will return to the Garden, where virtuous births await. The gods, the shamans said, must be flattered and flirted with. The Wu-Keng mirror this with their devilish marriage, gaining access to demonic gifts. Affairs between gods and mortals were ultimately doomed and one-sided, but command of poetry and oracles allowed the shamans to end them without danger. The Wu-Keng still use sacrifices and poems to get power from their patrons. As the old shamans used the dead as divine advocates and guardians, the Wu-Keng sometimes are granted petty demons that abuse them but serve at the same time. The shamans have retaken the name Khay ma, with their leader being the Man Sang Phax, or Venerable Lady, to distinguish themselves from the Infernalist leader, the A-ji. With the loss of the Chou yan, neither side has any real advantage. The shamans grow in number, and each side fears that a war will soon begin between them.

Both the shamans and the Wu-Keng use oracle bones to influence fate or reveal the future, carved block clappers to alter minds, and pits to contact either dead spirits or the Juk Ak. They often go into trances to either speak to the spirits and dead or the Juk Ak. Songs and poetry are excellent tools to gain spiritual favor, as is the reenactment of significant historical events. Written charms are also common to send messages or bend minds by invoking the power of money.

The two groups use similar rotes, but the Wu-Keng receive demonic investments as well, with access to a number of listed Investments, or any of the powers in Infernalism, Freak Legion or The Thousand Hells. Which, yes, can make them very powerful even though they aren't allowed to use either Spirit or Time magic. And, yes, the Wu-Keng are generally ignorant of their masters' true nature. They believe that their shame and suffering is entirely deserved, as is the shame and suffering they cause. They are unwitting tools of evil, but they don't feel a lot of regret for what they do. They accept their lot but await the day their bargain will be ended. They believe the Juk Ak are benevolent spirits who demand harsh proofs of loyalty. They are biologically male but mentally and spiritually female, though instilled with shame in their identities because such shame pleases the Yama Kings.

Next time: Other wizards!


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

So, how are the Traditions doing in Asia? Well, the Celestial Chorus has actually been there, despite common belief otherwise. The Messianic Voices came with the Nestorian Christians and the later missionaries, and for a time they were even fairly successful in China, friendly with both the Akashics and Wu Lung. However, with the 18th and 19th centuries, there was tremendous backlash against them due to imperialism. Today, they have only two real strongholds: Bali, in Indonesia, which has nearly three million Hindus, as well as the shrines of the native Gunung Kawi religion, which hold a very old Chorister Chantry. The second is the Philippines, one of the only predominantly Christian nations in Asia, and where the more 'Eurocentric' Asian Choristers hang out. Outside that, most conservative Chi'n Ta don't much like them, thanks to the Taiping Rebellion and Boxer Uprising, and Chinese Choristers tend to be shunned. Even Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Choristers don't get on well with others, though now that the Avatar Storm has locked away so many elder mages, that may be changing, since the younger ones don't really give a shit about the 19th century any more.

Sidebar: In Myanmar (or Burma) for the past 12 years, there's been near-constant civil war, as the military junta tries to enforce its rule over the ethnic minorities. One of those minorities is the Karen, many of whom became Baptists during the 19th century. Three years ago, the Karen National Union was nearly destroyed, but a pair of twin boys stepped forward to lead them. These two, Johnny and Luther Htoo, claimed to hear the voices of God, forming God's Army. They are something of a cross between prophets and folk heroes, attracting over 200 fighters to their banner and forming a Christian fundamentalist guerilla army. God's Army believes they have supernatural powers, including telepathy and invisibility. Recently, the Burmese and Thai joint forces were able to destroy their main camp, and the two twins went missing. Their whereabouts remain unknown. It is left as an exercise to the GM whether they are Awakened, members of the Celestial Chorus or just two guys.

Asia is home to two Ecstatic sects. First and largest are the K'an Lu of China, a Taoist group that combine martial arts, meditation, diet and tantric sex. By the standards of the Western Cult of Ecstasy, they're quite tame and reserved, but by the standards of the local Akashics and Wu Lung they are hedonists. The past decade hasn't been good to them; government crackdowns have sent them into hiding, and more than a few of their Masters were trapped in the Umbra by the Avatar Storm. Many of them now seek closer ties to the Akashics, while others look to the Hsien, the Beast Courts or even the Wan Kuei for allies. The other sect are the Tibetan Ka'a, and they've had it even worse. They are all female, a sect of tantric mystics who traditionally use astral projection to visit unsuspecting men as 'dream lovers', draining them of energy. The Avatar Storm has made astral journeys very dangerous, and at least one trio of Ka'a Masters were lobotomized by it. Worse, since the summer of 98, when nerve gas was accidentally released and killed three villages and a regiment of Chinese soldiers, Tibet has been stalked by darkness in dreamscapes. The reamining Ka'a are divided, with some fleeing to India to seek refuge with the tantric Vratyas sect, and others heading to the USA. Still, many refuse to abandon Tibet.

Sidebar: For a decade, the Ecstatics serving Marianna of Balador have been hunting an Infernalist cult of child abuse and rape. Proof of the cult remains elusive, but the horrible actions they're accused of are not. Marianna is believed dead, but her agents continue the fight. Other Mages call it the Children's Crusade, perhaps because they have no fucking idea what the original Children's Crusade was and why this is not an appropriate use of the name. Anyway, most of them are Ecstatics, some are Choristers, Euthanatoi or others, and they work to help abused and exploited kids via many methods. They've found an unexpected ally in the Technocracy, which has many sympathetic agents who turn a blind eye to their activities. In Asia, the Crusade concentrates on Bangkok and Manila, but have few resources and fewer agents. They recruit heavily, and hope that the new age of Mages who do not need to fight the old wars will have more time to help them.

People often forget that Dreamspeakers exist outside Australian aborigines, African natives and Native Americans. The Ainu of Japan, the Mongols, the Koreans and the Hmong and Mien hill tribes of Laos as well as the Wektu Telu of Indonesia and tribal Filipinos all had shamans long before the Council of Nine even formed. However, just like the Lapp shamans in Scandinavia, these native shamans have been largely ignored by the "civilized" European Traditions. They have even been marginalized and persecuted. Only now do the Akashics and others begin to talk of peace and alliance with these Dreamspeakers.

Ever since the Himalayan Wars of 900-300 BC, the Euthanatoi have been unwelcome in Asia. Even after the Council of Nine formed, the Akashics have had those unwilling to forget the past. Rather than force the issue, the Euthanaoti have just avoided east Asia, focusing on India, Africa and other regions. Younger Euthanatoi are beginning to question this approach, asking how much longer things like the Cultural Revolution or Khmer Rouge can go unpunished by the Golden Chalice if not by mundane authority. Of course, some of the Madzimbahwe sect would have sharp answers to that, but a good number of idealistic young Euthanatoi have come to Asia now, seeking justice.

The Order of Hermes has never been welcome in Asia. They are seen as barbarian upstarts with delusions of grandeur, especially by the Wu Lung. The local paradigms are very hostile to them, too, as they were unwilling to lower themselves to register with the Ministry of Works, and so their magic was always vulgar. (More on that later.) Ironically, it was the Technocrats who cleared a path for them. During the 19th century, the Hermetics came as colonists, merchants and military officers, setting up Chantries in places like Hong Kong, Macao or French Indochina. Often, they were disguised as wealthy clubs. However, the 20th century has not been kind to their interests. Revolution and war destroyed many clubs; the Japanese one remains active, but is under Technocratic surveillence, and those in Hong Kong and Macau are debating their post-handover fates. A group is trying to rebuild the Chantry in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, while another is planning to retake the Bangkok Chantry from the Kuei-jin who seized it during World War II.

Sidebar: The Hong Kong Chantry has been trying for the past few decades to integrate traditional Chinese practices of the I Ching, feng shui, Taoist alchemy and tzu wei into Hermetic practices. In 1992, nine Asian Hermetics petitioned to be recognized under House Ex Miscellanea as House Hong Lei, the House of Crimson Thunder. Over the past 8 years, they've doubled their membership, but the the handovers of Hong Kong and Macau have forced several of them to relocate to London, San Francisco, New York and Sydney. Only time will tell if distance will destroy them.

When the Meiji Restoration began, the Electrodyne Engineers were the first Technocrats to enter Japan. Eager to teach their new allies the wonders of Enlightened Science, they began all sorts of research and experiments, including, it is rumored, a forty-foot-tall steam-powered robot made of wood and steel. Disagreements in methodology and philosophy drove the Engineers from the Technocracy, but not Japan. Much as the German Sons of Ether helped the Nazis, so too did the Japanese Sons of Ether perform all kinds of horrible experiments for the Emperor throughout the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. While many of these Awakened war criminals were purged either by the Technocrats or Traditions, more than a few are believed to have escaped to the Soviet Union, beyond the Wall or to strange places. Today, the best place to find Sons of Ether in Asia is the Academy of Advanced Technology and PRogressive Science in Osaka. It was founded in 1965 by Professor Bo Buro-su and has been the primary recruiting grounds and training center of Etherites in Japan. The Japanese Technocrats traditionally turn a blind eye to the rogue technomancers there, letting them do what they please and then coopting any successful developments.

When the Verbena came together as a Tradition in the 15th century, it was formed with a core group of Celtic, Norse, German and Slavic mages. The two founders, Nightshade of Harrowgate and William Groth of Baerwald, then set out, one going west and one going east to find more to join the Verbena. Groth went east, to Asia, and never returned. At least once a generation, Verbena strike out for Asia to try and rediscover his path and perhaps learn how he died. Most return empty-handed. Some do not return. Over time, this has become known as Groth's Pilgrimage, and those who complete are respected for their courage and dedication. The most recent batch of pilgrims has another goal: recruit Asian mages into the Verbena where Groth could not. While a few Korean and Chinese peasant wizards have joined, success has been very limited. However, the recent Akashic recruitment of the Wu Lung has buoyed their hopes and given them a new plan: recruit the Wu-Keng. Many believe this is what Groth tried to do. So far, the Wu-Keng women have proven elusive, but they're still searching. When asked about the rumors of Wu-Keng Infernalism, the Verbena dismiss the stories as nothing more than slander such as that the European witches and pagans had to endure.

The Virtual Adepts are the youngest Tradition and have very little history in Asia. The early Difference Engineers saw Asia as too primitive for their Enlightened Science. Even after the Meiji Restoration, most Engineers found the militaristic society too constraining. However, in the past few decades, the Adepts have started to take an interest in Asia. Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore get the most attention, as Adepts try to involve themselves in the future of communications technology. Gradually, the Asian Adepts have come into contact with local technomancer cells focusing on bleeding-edge tech and even homemade cybernetics. The Virtual Adepts hope to recruit these independents, the Five Rings Gama, the Thunder Cranes Society, the Gon Lo and others, but for now those groups are wary of giving up their independence.

Next time: Secret societies!


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

Okay, you know the ninja stereotype? Black pajamas, honorless dogs with magical powers? Never existed. That was not a thing. Until recently, anyway - the Go Kamisori Gama are trying to change it. On July 4, 1864, the imperial army of Japan fought against the shogitai, the samurai loyal to the shogun, on Ueno Hill in what is now Tokyo. The battle took a full day, but the shogitai's loss was a foregone conclusion - the imperial army had guns. Most of the shogitai fought to the death, and those who didn't committed sepuku after. Only three chose another way. These three men, from the families of Uchida, Satoh and Ishida, put side their code of honor as irrelevant when guns were used instead of swords and foreigners had access to the Emperor. Refusing to commit suicide, they became ronin...and ninja. Their families lost much honor with their refusal, but retained their ancestral lands. With that support, the three men came together as a clan, the Go Kamisori Gama, and began to train in the art of budo taijutsu, the fighting style of bandits.

They had only moderate success, as it takes a lot to reject a lifetime's training. Their skills were enough to survive, though, and their children started training with a clean slate. Their descendants have mixed fighting, stealth and new technology, taking the lesson of Ueno Hill to heart. At first, that meant guns. Now, it includes cutting-edge cybernetics, computers, plastic explosives and sniper rifles. But even these tools are not the sole weapons of the Go Kamisori Gama. Budo taijutsu also encourages mental focus and internal harmony, focusing mental energies via hand signs, called kuji-in, taken from early Buddhist meditation postures. The families learned the kuji-in, of course, but it was not until one of the Satoh granddaughters unlocked their true power via religious fasting and prayer that the clan realized their magical potential. They adapted their training to focus on balance and harmony of mind, body and universe, but some warriors had a knack for the kuji-in, while others did not.

The Go Kamisori Gama have taken the title 'ninja' - it's the simplest way to describe what they do to those with the money to hire them. They are assassins, corporate spies, security consultants, hackers, thieves or bodyguards. They can even do gardening and housecleaning, should you be willing to pay their exorbitant fees. Their clients have ranged from government ministers and military figures to movie stars. They have subcontracted for the Yakuza, and remain on good terms with them. All of the Go Kamisori Gama are no longer lineal descendants of the original three - blood and marriage are no longer needed to be in the clan. There's enough work for twice their number, so they accept talented outsiders. It's rare for a family member to leave, though. They no longer force all members into the same training, and have broad enough interests that practically any talent can be used.

The status of ninja in pop culture gives a great cover for recruiting. Most metropolitan areas have at least one ninjitsu or taijitsu club or dojo. Go Kamisori Gama ninjas attend these as observers, heading even to NEw York or Belgium if needed. They buy customer lists from those magazines that sell inja-to swords and black pajamas, then cross-reference them to medical records, library loans and criminal records. Hell if I know how they get your library records. Those who stand out are stalked by trainees to evaluate them and test the trainee. The clan prefers young recruits, but not exclusively. Experts in unique fields like cybernetics are bought, blackmailed or both. These consultants never learn the true nature of the clan, however, until they are so deep in they can't get out. Many of them commit suicide.

The Go Kamisori Gama hires out its members on short and long-term contracts, referring to them as 'consultants.' Older or heavily wounded members take on the jobs of vice presidents and executive vice presidents, assisting in administration. The current "President" of the clan is Ishida Jiro, a man in his late forties. He still does field ops and is quite good. He is the uncontested leader of the clan, and he lets the vice presidents handle repeat clients and their entertainment. All new prospects, however, he meets personally to ensure their needs are met. He is unworried about maintaining the clan's position; rather, he worries more about their secrecy.

Budo taijitsu teaches grappling and nerve strikes in addition to standard blows. The ninjas also learn staves and swords. The shuriken has largely been traded out for the hand grenade, which is rather more reliable at ending pursuit. Most other traditional ninja weapons have been discarded as too unusual and attention-drawing. The Go Kamisori Gama have access to cybernetics as a result of the Zaibatsu via blackmail and bribes...thought doubtless the Five Metal Dragons know more than the ninjas would like. Typical mods for a ninja are implanted weapons, enhanced vision or boosted strength or speed. The cyberware isn't easy to use properly, and is never given to novices. As for the kuji-in, well, they can do magic. They're the only foci the ninja use, as they hate the idea of being caught without tools. As of now, the ninjas know of 81 symbols, the most potent of which strengthen the mind and body, mask the presence, provide balance, heal, endure extreme environments, read minds, channel power through the voice or hands, or provide momentary enlightenment.

Sidebar: Did actual real ninjas exist? Because of the heroic samurai figure, most Japanese historical accounts are considered biased. The legends of the ninja probably come from lower-class survivors who lost their livelihoods during the Civil War period. They were not assassins but revolutionaries. Entire families were killed and landholders driven out, forced to flee into the woods. Driven by revenge or desperation, they turned to farm tools for weapons and resorted to banditry for money. Some might have been desperate enough to go after local nobles. Due to their lower status, they'd be ignored in most places, as anyone of their status would be. Thus, they could come and go unnoticed, perhaps even killing their target and stealing some money. Nobody paid attention to the peasants and butchers - the assassin, then, must have been someone who could walk through walls! Desperate men fight dirty, using rusty caltrops (whose tetanus-causing powers led to legends of poison), traps to catch food which might occasionally catch an unwary person and add to the legend, using guerilla tactics and so on. Mix in a few Chinese myths about forest demons and the stories of the wandering yamabushi and bam, instant mystical assassin. If there are real ninja, not just the image-focused Go Kamisori Gama, they are today focused on surviving, as always. There were no ninja clans passing down family techniques, probably. Odds are, there is no truth to any of it. But hey, it's fun, right?

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge ruled a desperate nation. From 75 to 79, the secretive Angkar ('The Organization') pulled the strings of power, commanding their puppets and destroying many Cambodian lives. The infamous Tuol Sleng prison, referred to as S-21, housed and executed suspected traitors. Of more than 14000 sent there, only seven survived. When Vietnam claimed the capital, Phnom Penh, between 11 and 20 percent of Cambodia had been killed. It's no real surprise to learn that among the Angkar lurked the Toc Faan, the secret Infernalist cannibals of Cambodia. But really, the Toc Faan are not so odd or simple as they first sound. Their founders may have been demon-worshipping maneaters, but today, they have a rather complex situation.

Those who would become Toc Faan were the Devaraja cults of the ninth century, devoted to the divinity of the Khmer kings. The men guarded the lingam that contained the divine nature of the king, performed human sacrifice and laid the dead kings to rest. The women guarded the kings themselves, training for years with weapons to serve as their personal guard. For 400 years, the Devaraja cults used blood magic with full endorsement of the Khmer Empire. Hinayana Buddhism from Tibet stole away the hearts of the people, and eventually the king as well...perhaps unsurprising, as the Buddhists focused on the people while the old ways benefited only the priests and king. As the Khmer declined, the Devaraja cultists withdrew.

Centuries later, their descendants made a terrible choice: they devoted themselves to the Yama King Malaveyovo, He of the Insatiable Maw, in exchange for power. Their rituals were reduced to grotesque mockeries. These new Toc Faan devoured their victims. They only needed the liver to please the Yama King, but the truly faithful devoured entire corpses. Autocannibalism was highly regarded, if limited. The Toc Faan used their regained power in solitude for a time, only in the company of their victims, until they became involved in the Angkar in the 1970s. The few (but memorable) exceptions came when Euthanatoi or Akashics rooted out isolated cult cells. Their lurid skirmishes led to the current reputation of the Toc Faan as demon-loving cannibals among mages. Behind that, however, the Toc Faan have long known something was very wrong...or perhaps right. The founders, certainly, were evil people. Certainly, while they didn't keep notes, it can be surmised that their original deal with the Yama King entailed the ritual murder and devouring of innocents, and possibly any Devaraja who did not approve. The ritual propitiation of Malaveyovo involved annual slaughter and consumption of human flesh, and more need for power meant more dead. Yet some of the Toc Faan, in the midst of this depravity, began to gain a conscience. As things went from bad to worse, since Yama Kings really don't take 'no' for an answer, they found they suffered a curse: every human eaten by a Toc Faan left a tiny piece of good karma in their souls. The karmic accumulation was continuing to uplift their souls, until their rituals seemed repugnant and murder was an ordeal.

This was not, of course, intended by the Yama King...probably. Certainly not intended by the Toc Faan. Perhaps Malaveyovo tricked them for the perverse joy of cannibalism under duress, or perhaps an outside force intervened in the hope of improving the Toc Faan. Some worried they were a scheme on the part of Yomi to damage the karmic cycle by collecting goodness and then carrying it to hell when they died. To this day, the Toc Faan do not understand the cause of their curse, despite their great knowledge of Infernalism, demonic pacts and the Yama Kings. There is much disagreement over what is to be done when the true nature is found. Some want to free themselves of both curse and pact, ending the need for atrocity. Some fear removal of the curse and pact, which might return them to their previous morality...which, given the people they tend to be when they join, would mean a return to evil. Some refuse to consider options until they know the cause of the curse, devoting themselves far more to that than to eating human livers. In the meantime, they continue eating human meat - dead wizards or those dragged to Yomi cannot free themselves at all.

The Toc Faan and their involvement with the Angkar and Khmer Rouge in exile is a point of puzzlement for those few in thek now about the cult. Perhaps they made the alliance so they could consume the Angkar's victims rather than causing even more death. PErhaps they sought to make Pol Pot a new god-king and focus for their power, thus cheating Maleveyovo. Maybe the Yama King forced the alliance. Whatever the case, the Toc Faan certainly did aid the Khmer Rouge in return for access to the victims. Any benefit gained was short-lived; Pol Pot's paranoia and purges caught several of them. Decimated by their own allies, the Toc Faan fled to the mountains and forests of the northwest, where the remaining Khmer Rouge hides today.

The Toc Faan continue to appoint a High Priest from their ranks, who has the unwelcome duty of treating with the Yama King's minions, the Kura Sau or the akuma Kuei-jin...or even the Yama King himself. Due to intense scrutiny from their nominal ruler, the High Priest selected is usually powerful but very uninformed - a promising initiate whisked to the top of the ladder without ever seeing the tense spiritual situation of his fellow cultists. The true knowledge and power of the group is in those who select the High Priest, the elders. Only the eldest are trusted to have gained both the necessary distaste for Infernalism and mental fortitude needed to keep the cult's secrets safe. Ironically, many have gone beyond the human lifespan thanks to the Yama King's gifts. When one dies, the next eldest cultist joins the council. Khmer Rouge purges claimed several of these lives. While the Council has refilled, they are unsure, even decades later, how trustworthy the new members are. They recruit from the dregs of society, for entirely pragmatic reasons: only the deranged and sadistic have the stomach for cannibal rites, and they sorely need the reform the Toc Faan curse grants. However, that's not all an acolyte needs - they must also be smart and careful, or they will be killed and eaten. Those who are too strong-wileld and cunning, though, are very dangerous until the curse takes hold. Even today, the Toc Faan prefer to recruit only among the Khmer; sadly, there's no shortage, as the constant strife of Cambodia can make life very hard and killing very easy. Many of the current cult were once child guards at Tuol Sleng and other horrible atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

Most of the power of the Toc Faan comes from Maleveyovo, typically Forces powers such as calling forth fire or ice, or Spirit effects which twist or corrupt the soul. Male Toc Faan typically use Life and Entropy due to their traditional powers of life and death, while female Toc Faan use Life and Mind to hone their bodies and skills. Artifacts of the Khmer empire are common foci, whether portable or not. Small vials of bodily fluids are used as foci by the male priests, and the female warriors use lances and shields. The greatest focus they have, the god-king, is unavailable, for no new god-king may be anointed while they are under the Yama King's thumb, and perhaps none remember how the ritual is done anyway.

Next time: Others.

Tai Ho Li

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Tai Ho Li date back to the same era as the rejuvenated Toc Faan, born out of the Cu Chi tunnels of Vietnam. They have few members, but three decades have been enough to give them great power. The tunnels were dug in the early 50s during the revolt against the French government, and extended dramatically during the Vietnam War. They cover over 150 miles of tunnel, undermined the US 25th Infantry Division's base, went all the way to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and even cross the Cambodian border. The tunnels allowed the National Liberation Front (AKA the Viet Cong) to distribute supplies and weapons as well as conduct lightning raids on the US forces, popping out of nowhere to shoot at patrols. It also gave fleeing villagers and NLF troops somewhere to live. All sorts of facilities, including weapon factories, hospitals and a propaganda cinema could be found in the Cu Chi tunnels.

In 1973, the US forces left Vietnam, though the Second Indochina War dragged on for two more years, when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Vietnam now welcomes tourism and shows visitors the Cu Chi tunnels.


See if you can fit through this claustrophobically small passage scraped through Vietnamese dirt! (You can't,) See if you can cross this field without setting off clever Viet Cong booby traps! (You can't.) Pay five American dollars to empty the clip of this vintage M-16! (Almost anyone can.)

Only a fraction of the tunnels are open to the public, though. That's good, because the Tai Ho Li don't like sharing their space. They're friendly enough to the handful of outsiders who met them, but they say nothing about how they live. Their founder is an anonymous Vietnamese man who is only known to have been a peasant farmer in Cu Chi who had been blind from birth. Because of that, he had no wife or children and had to work on his parents' farm. When fighting got close, the locals would go into the tunnels, where his blindness didn't matter and his other senses were keen. He helped them avoid troops and pitfalls, until disaster struck: they were caught between US tunnel rats and NLF fighters with nowhere to run. Many villagers died, and most survivors fled with the NLF and joined up. The remaining few huddled with the blind man, waiting for him to recover enough to lead them out. He did lead them, but into the deepest tunnels, where they still live.

That is all the information the Tai Ho Li will tell. More troubling is the inability to pry more from them - all of them, even the lowest acolyte, has a mental barrier of impressive strength, even if they lack any magical abilities. Their living area, four stories below the surface, is warded similarly against clairvoyance. The amount of raw power needed for such shields leads many to believe the Tai Ho Li have tapped some external power source. Etherites talk about tunnels full of gleaming machinery, while Verbena talk about tunneling deep enough to hit magma and glean the potent tass from the magma pools. Others mention the possibilities of demonic influence. Only one outsider has ever seen the Tai Ho Li cavern, and his memories are unclear, due to the speed of his escape, but he reports that the Tai Ho Li are digging still. Going deeper.

So far as anyone knows, the Tai Ho Li have no formal organization. They're all in one place, so they don't need one. They are only found outside when they go hunting for food or supplies, and the ones who do that make full use of their tunnels, getting supplies from throughout the Cu Chi district. The young blind man is still the leader and, apparently, the object of some veneration. He is referred to as Tai Hoi, meaning 'to return', which has caused a great deal of speculation. Perhaps, some say, Tai Hoi believes he died in the fighting and his name means a return to life. Perhaps he feels he's a god reborn. Maybe his name is a prophecy of some kind, a return of some great entity. Hell, it's even possible that he did die and come back. However, most thought is devoted to the prophecy option - that the Tai Ho Li are paving the way for the return of some otherworldly being locked deep in the earth. Neither libraries nor spies have produced answers so far.

Tai Ho Li membership is diverse, from what those watching can see. Most are Vietnamese, but some are Khmer, Thai or Hmong. American and European tourists and journalists sometimes vanish in the Cu Chi tunnels, and at least one of those journalists has been later spotted in the company of Tai Ho Li. Most of the group appears normal, if pale, but some members have taken up the practice of gouging out their own eyes to better emulate Tai Hoi. The scars and open sockets show that it's done by hand, very likely by the person themself, without anesthetic or antibiotics. Such self-mutilated members do not go to the surface, but can be found nearly anywhere in the tunnels. They've been down here for 30 years, and some of 'em have had kids. It should be reassuring, but it isn't. The children are almost all unnaturally pale and white-haired, as well as often deformed. Almost all of them are blind. Some have sightless eyes, while others only have white skin where eye sockets should be. Even when grown, they never leave the tunnels, and the youngest are never seen by outsiders.

It's pretty obvious that the Tai Ho Li have magic of some kind. It's less clear if they have mages or sorcerers or are just a channel for something else's power. Their wards indicate a great deal of expertise in what the Traditions would call Correspondence magic. Some believe Tai Hoi to have been an Awakened Orphan before the incident in the tunnels. The mental shielding also suggests powerful Mind magic. The tunnel-dwellers have very little in the way of possessions, so what they do carry might be foci. Some of them make a point of carrying things from the war, such as dog tags or necklaces of spent shells, collections of eyeglasses, wedding rings or French, Viet Cong or US rank insignia. The devout Tai Ho Li who remove their own eyes have also been seen to carry the dried husks of their eyes in small pouches. Any Tai Ho Li mages would focus on Correspondence, Entropy and Mind. Some Tai Ho Li might use remnants of the war to get a sense of their position, and some say that the Tai Ho Li speak in sibilant whispers while doing so, as if invoking an intervention of some kind.

Sidebar: So how the fuck do you play a Tai Ho Li? Well, it's hard! They're meant as enemies or a mystery to be solved. What they're actually doing is left to the ST to decide, so anyone wanting to play a Tai Ho Li should work closely with the ST. There are a lot of questions left deliberately unanswered, after all. Remember, though: they're not caricatures. There are other types of Vietnamese wizard, and the Tai Ho Li still have personal motives, despite their insular, cultish nature.

Moving on...remember the Song Dynasty? Mongols attacking China? Well, Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan had Awakened shamans, though they themselves were no mages. Of course, their rule couldn't last, and China ended the Yuan Dynasty. Later, the Qing gained the loyalty of the Khalka Mongols. However, that was when Buddhism came to the steppe, and traditional Mongol shamanism began to vanish even as Mongolia became a semi-autonomous client state of China. As Russia and China became Communist, so did Mongolia, and all religious beliefs went underground. The Sons of Tengri, a small shamanistic group, became the only Awakened practitioners of the Mongol shamanic tradition, relentlessly pursued by Technocratic forces of both Asia and the West. They're somewhat unique in facing danger both from the Zaibatsu in China and the Technocrats of Russia, and most who know of them don't expect them to survive long. On the other hand, they've lasted longer than anyone expected already, and they think they've got an ace in the hole.

Until the Buddhists came in the 16th century, the Sons of Tengri were at best an informal group, and they didn't call themselves that back then. They were just the Awakened shamans of Mongolia. When Buddhism came and supplanted their traditional animism, though, the importance of the old ways faded for most Mongols. The shamans struggled with the Akashics for the hearts and minds of their people. The Akashics weren't missionaries, of course - they just came following the Buddhists. However, the conversions were a clear point of contention, and the loss of one too many shamans led the Mongol mages to attack the Akashics. Since the first few times were ambushes, they went quite well, but the rest of the conflict did not. The Akashics, even then, were numerous and powerful in combat. The Sons of Tengri called on nature spirits and ghosts to fight, but in the end, they lost and went underground. Young shamans continued to Awaken into their paradigm, and they took those shamans in and trained them.

The next few centuries were pretty quiet - occasional conflict with Siberian shapeshifters or the half-mad monsters of the Gobi, but predictable lives. The Sons of Tengri quietly watched over their people, unnoticed by both the Akashics and Technocrats. This lasted until the 20th century and the fall of the Qing as well as the rise of Communism. Mongolia became communist in 1924, and the Technocrats used their totalitarian rule to bring the local Traditions down, using Mongolia for "experiments." After all, the place is empty enough not to have them endanger too many people. The first step, of course, was to eradicate any native mages. The Sons of Tengri were deeply wounded - their population was dwindling already, and they had to hide even deeper. In 1982, a Technocrat strike force destroyed most of their elders at a meeting in Altay, and the younger members continue to mourn. Eighteen years later, though, the worst is over and the Sons of Tengri may be able to come out of their exile. They are suspicious of the Council of Nine due to their conflict with the Akashics, and for now, they choose neutrality.

The last decade has been relatively good to the Sons of Tengri. Democracy in Mongolia, something they're happy to take credit for despite the flaws of the claim, has reduced the intensity of the Technocratic pogrom. For the most part, they're still organized on conspiratorial lines, much as they were in 1924. A cell is usually 3-6 people, all of whom live within a hundred or so miles of each other. (That's close, by Mongolian standards.) Individuals do whatever job they like, or work together for coordinated goals. There's between ten and twenty cells, no two alike, but all cell members watch out for each other. One or two in each cell know the name of a contact in another cell, and they pass on messages that way without the dangers of centralized structure. Typically, they use trusted spirits to carry the messages, but physical means like phones also get used.

The Sons of Tengri strictly forbid two or more Masters from being in the same building at once. That lapsed in the early 80s, and that led to the death of many Masters in the Altay Massacre. Now, nearly 20 years later, with the opening of Mongolian society, many younger Sons (who can be male or female; they don't mind Daughters at all) push to move to a less paranoid organization. The shamans revere the sky god, Tengri (literally 'Heaven') and the Earth Mother, Itugen. They speak to the nature spirits, especially those of the high places or running water. All objects and places are said to have a natural spirit, but in these mechanized days, many spirits have been crushed or hollowed out. The Sons also traditionally commune with the dead - in the old days, the Mongolian Empire's afterlife was really busy, and ghosts kept them active all the time. In the more modern days, ghosts are more reticent, speaking of enslavement and great storms in the Underworld.

Unlike the Dreamspeakers, the Sons of Tengri do not have personal totems. Instead, they care for a group of people or a piece of land, tending to both physical and spiritual needs. They venerate the spirits of running water, and often cursed Communist settlements that ignored the health of the water. They alone know of many dormant Nodes in the steppe, and at least a dozen of them have gone untapped and unused. Any mage with decent Prime could detect them if nearby, but the Sons have no idea who sealed them or why. Surely the Five Metal Dragons would have tapped and used them if they knew. The Sons are sure their predecessors knew of and used the Nodes, but the pogrom was so intense that their secrets were passed on only verbally, and the Altay Massacre killed the masters before they could pass on their secrets. The Sons are also trying to figure out the recent changes to the Gauntlet, though they've never been the sorts to cross without good reason. Sure, they can still cross the Gauntlet (or Wall, as they call it) in a pinch, but it's very painful and damaging to do, and that's best avoided. The end of Soviet control, at least, has allowed the Mongolian people to rediscover their heritage and travel once more. They've been encouraged to study their history and culture, much to the joy of the Sons, and to reclaim national heroes like Genghis Khan. The Sons have begun to reach out to the youth in the midst of all this, inviting them to learn more in the hopes of a magical rebirth. Like many shamanistic mages, they use Spirit more than any other magic. Common foci include places like stream banks or promontories, the traditional wood-and-felt ger (or yurt), and fire or drumming. Physical talismans of bone or herb also get used.

Next time: Monsters.

The Shen

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

So, time to talk about the shen, the other supernaturals. They have a vague approximation of peace in Asia, but it's really more a cold war. Go the wrong place, say the wrong thing, they will kill you as fast as any Westerner. They still tell stories about Li Fong, a diplomat who spent 206 days being tortured alive by Kuei-jin before they sent his body back to the Wu Lung. Speaking of Kuei-jin, Mages tend to prefer the slightly more cromulent name 'Wan Kuei' for them. They don't get on very well, of course. The Wan Kuei are ruthless, cunning and dangerous, and tend to be very frustrated with wizards. After all, wizards get enlightenment in decades when Wan Kuei spend centuries seeking it. Also both groups are really, really, really arrogant. So, for the most part, they actively avoid each other. Traditionally, the largest Chantries tend to keep someone with experience diplomatically handling the Wan Kuei around, though, just in case. The Vajrapani Akashics are also noted for hunting Wan Kuei sometimes, though such demon hunters tend to die young and messy.

The Wu Lung believe that even the Wan Kuei have a place in the Celestial Bureaucracy, though what that place is is up for debate. Still, traditional animosity between Chinese Wan Kuei and the Wu Lung has led to fierce rivalry over the centuries, especially in the Imperial court, when it existed. Their intrigues play out over years and centuries. Some Wu Lung believe the rise of Communism was a Wan Kuei plot, while others dismiss that as paranoia. Still, the fact remains that in the 40s and 50s, the Wan Kuei were willing to hide Wu Lung in exchange for "favors to be named later."

Sidebar: The Chinese Kuei-jin have been expanding lately, usually at the expense of Western vampires. For the most part, mages are not involved in this. Most who are even aware of this 'Great Leap Outward' tend to think the Kuei-jin should fix their own problems before trying to conquer. Of course, the Asian Technocracy gladly shares any information it has on vampires with the American Technocrats, and though the Technocracy puts a low priority on them, an all-out war will probably attract attention. A few Akashics have also followed the Wan Kuei out, often to settle personal grudges. The Wu Lung are most directly affected - some of those favors from 50 years ago are being called in.

The Japanese Kuei-jin, the Gaki, are known to divide themselves up into clans called 'uji'. Since the Meiji Restoration, two uji have dominated, the traditional Bishamon and the modernist Genji. Other uji exist, and mages tend to find them confusing. Originally, most mages favored the Bishamon when dealing with gaki, but the continuing evolution of the Chi'n Ta and the reality of modern Japan has led to changes. Now, mages deal with whichever gaki suits their purposes. The Genji seem to have some kind of deal with the Zaibatsu, or at least the two groups don't bother each other. The Japanese supernaturals like to speculate about possible relationships between the Go Kamisori Gama and the Koga and Iga ujis. Members of these "ninja clans" have learned to just smile and nod.

The Korean kuei-jin are famous as negotiators, thanks to being stuck between the Chinese Wan Kuei and the gaki. Also they seem obsessed with necromancy. Mages of Spirit can often find vampires to talk philosophy with there. It makes the Korean vampires interesting...though it's a bad idea to mistake them for "friendly." The southeast Asian kuei-jin, well, Mages tend to listen to the Wan Kuei on this and dismiss them as barbarians. In truth, they're a diverse group of vampire courts, each with their own customs, and the wise mage keeps in mind that each nation has different vampiric customs.

Sidebar: On very rare occasions, it is said that the Kuei-jin can father children. These half-living creatures are called dhampyrs. They tend to serve the Kuei-jin as intermediaries or ambassadors, and in the past it was not unheard of for a mage to take a renegade or outcast dhampyr as a bodyguard or servant. They cannot become Mages.

The Hengeyokai, known as the Xiong Ren in China, have always had a guarded relationship with Mages. The Hengeyokai believe that the Chi'n Ta stole the names of Heaven, becoming Namebreakers who abuse that power. Some mages, they say, are worthwhile, though. The werewolves are known as Langren or Ookami Senshi ('wolf people' or 'wolf soldiers'), and they're rather diverse. The Japanese and Korean Hakken clans follow samurai tradition, and have been rather pragmatic about Mages - they're either useful or dangerous. Both can be respected; neither can be trusted. The Gonren is a derogatory name the Wu Lung use for werewolf bandits and peasant heroes, meaning "dog people." Such werewolves are typically found leading tongs or bandit gangs, but more and more have been getting into Hong Kong corporate culture. Generally, they ignore mages, except the Wu Lung, whom they enjoy annoying. The Xingguan are the Tibetan werewolves, who have been...not allies of the Akashics, but debate partners. Sadly, time has not been kind to the Xingguan, and the heart of their sect, the Shigalu Monastery, has been destroyed.

The Khan, also known as the Tora-no-Kodomo ('Children of the Tiger') and Huren ('Tiger People') are both honorable and vengeful. They're also dying. Mages have added to their kinfolk problem by killing tigers for alchemical parts and other foci. The Khan hate mages. Really, really hate mages.

The Kitsune, also called Fox-spirits or Nine-Tails, have long been an annoyance of Mages. They've interacted in all kinds of ways over history. The truth is, Mages frustrate the Kitsune. Their magic is the one kind of human magic that the foxes cannot steal, despite centuries of trying. Unlike other hengeyokai, the Kitsune have no set purpose, and some believe that mastering Awakened magic will finally make them the best at something , which they're kind of annoyed about. One small sect of their doshi (sorcerers), the Midori-Okaasama no Meibo Roshi ('the Namekeepers of the Emerald Mother') are kind of obsessed with this. They'll even kidnap and torture mages to learn their secrets.

The Nezumi are also called the Shubei ('ratlike scoundrels') or Shukuei ('rat demons'), the Horde and the Thuggee. Most Nezumi dislike Mages, but they can easily toss that dislike aside given their mercenary natures. If the price is right, a Nezumi will use their great assassin and terrorist skills for a Mage. There's no loyalty there - they follow the contract and nothing more. Only the most insane would think a Nezumi was an ally.

The Tengu are a double-edged sword. They're gossips and snoops, and will share their information for a price...but they have a dark sense of humor, and love to prank people who they dislike, often lethally. Legend has it they're swordmasters, and some swordsmen have sought them out to learn, though no mage has yet discovered if the rumors are true.

Sidebar: A small group of Tengu, the Gray Clouds Temple, have abducted young humans over the years to train as "goblin slayers." It's brutal, occasionally lethal training in swordsmanship, martial arts, the lore of the Asian supernaturals (except Hengeyokai weaknesses) and stealth, as well as magic if they have any skill at it. They then send the goblin hunters out to kill bakemono, Kuei-jin and Chi'n Ta who offend the ways of Heaven with vulgar magic. Exactly how the goblin slayers do it is their own business. Many, lacking a normal education, becoming drifting day laborers, while others join temples...but more than a few have become bandits or gang members.

The Zhong Lung are dragons, and dragons hold a place of honor. The Wu Lung especially tend to venerate them, and sometimes the Zhong Lung will share their knowledge with those who show proper respect. However, if not shown that respect, they become very angry. The Wu Lung may or may not have a line of Zhong Lung kinfolk among them, in fact. Or maybe they don't. Who can say?

No living mage has ever seen a Nagah.

The Kumo, called Goblin Spiders, are renowned for their cruelty, their cunning and their patience. No sane person would ever count one as an ally or seek one as an enemy. They are servants of the Yama Kings, and the wise mage does not underestimate their adaptability. They can show up anywhere. The Kumo don't care much about mages, though - they're just humans. Tools, dupes or food.

Next time: More others.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

There are plenty of necromancers in Asia, so plenty of people who deal with ghosts. While the virtuous can expect to reincarnate, take up heavenly posts or escape the Wheel of Existence, those who deserve punishment or who are chosen to further the Bureaucracy of Hell are sent to the Yellow Springs, ruled by Yu Huang, a terrible tyrant. At least to some ghosts. For mages, how you think of Yu Huang depends on where you're from. Are you from China? If so, Yu Huang has rightfully asserted Chinese dominance over the Yin World just as China must over Asia. If not, well, your ancestors are tormented by the wicked devil Yu Huang who conquered the Shadowlands centuries ago. Even the Akashics have been split on regional lines over whether this was okay, especially with the arrival of the (heavily Yu Huang-loving) Wu Lung. However, after Yu Huang's failed invasion of the West, his army is weak, and many rebellions now rage against him in the lands of the dead, even in his native China.

The Wu Lung are very close to Yu Huang (or, as he was called in life, Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor), both others have contacts among the dead, too. The Avatar Storm has made things harder for everyone - not communicationwise, but the storms are bringing chaos. Some even speak of the dead returning to their bodies like Wan Kuei. Ghosts outside China are little more than slaves to Yu Huang, which is distressing for many mages. However, many rebel groups exist and often seek out their Awakened descendants for aid.

Sidebar: It's not uncommon for wraiths to be born consumed by their P'o. In the West, these are known as mortwights, vengeful spirits of rage. The Jade Empire of the Dead may have tamed the mortwights of the Taiping Rebellion, the Rape of Nanking and the Cultural Revolution, but not the ones of Cambodia or East Timor. Indeed, renegades in CAmbodia's underworld have turned the mortwights on Yu Huang's forces. However, finding your ancestors are insane rage ghosts can be distressing, so perhaps a PC will learn how to return such ghosts to the ways of righteousness.

Mages actually get on relatively well with the Hsien. Of course, the hsien are also not quiet about telling mages how they were the ones to teach them how to use magic so long ago. Their formal association, however, doesn't mean they understand each other. Not at all. The hsien know very little about mages, and vice versa. Historians among the Awakened know that they were once the messengers, scholars and ministers of the Celestial Courts, but were somehow stripped of glory and trapped in borrowed human bodies. No one knows why. The hsien divide themselves into kamuii (nobles) and hirayanu (commonerS), and will typically make clear which one they are. There's one race of each for each of the five Chinese elements, which is relatively easy to figure out. They also have some animal form that each one favors - again, relatively easy to learn.

However, the hsien also divide themselves on political lines that are only sometimes geographical and have little relation to the modern world's boundaries. Other groups are philosophical and some are purely convenient. The mages know almost nothing of them and cannot easily generalize. It's best to deal with hsien on an individual basis. They seem to have some talent for elemental magic, but it's utterly unlike Awakened magic, apparently deriving from the belief of those they protect. It is known as the Five Alchemies, but apparently there may be a mysterious Sixth Alchemy which hsien do not speak of. The Five Metal Dragons and Zaibatsu view them as relics of an ancient past, perhaps remembered fondly, but never returned to. At best, they are ignored. At worst, they are hunted down and killed, then their lands destroyed by progress. The hsien fight the Technocrats as best they can, but their ties to the land make them vulnerable, and their retaliation makes the Zaibatsu angry.

The Wu-Keng maintain friendly contact with the dark Kura Sau, the corrupt hsien who pledged themselves to the Yama Kings, for they practice the same magic, the warped Hac Tao. Of course, any knowledge comes at a price, for the Kura Sau are favored servants of the Yama Kings, and very valuable. The Wu-Keng often summon them with rituals of murder and mutilation, for the Kura Sau need the bodies of victims to manifest in the physical world.

Skimming over some monsters (kirin have vanished for the last century, even in the Umbra, fu lions are becoming increasingly depressed, dragons are mega rare and kappa hang out in sewers). Then we move on to notable Yama Kings, the demons who grew corrupt and rebelled against their role in punishing the wicked, choosing instead to try and take over the universe. Mikaboshi, Lord of the Wicked City, used to be a human Infernalist of the Dalou'laoshi who became one of the weaker Yama Kings. However, when the Meiji Restoration happened, he rapidly adapted to the new technologies and is now one of the most powerful Yama Kings, whose mortal servants (both mundane and Awakened) serve in places of power in corporations and crime syndicates, often with cybernetics that rival Iteration X.

Rangda, the Queen of Pestilence, is strong with the current age, thanks to disease across Asia. Japanese biological warfare and now the southeast Asian HIV epidemic have grown her empire, and her servants work to spread disease wherever they can, whether by preventing health education, encouraging unregulated prostitution or researching nuclear and chemical weapons. She especially prizes corrupted Progenitors and Etherites. Hana no Fukami, the Empress of Pearls, is charged with punishing crimes against the ocean, as well as crimes involving fire or water. Unlike most Yama Kings, she has not rebelled against this purpose. While she can draw power from the suffering of her realm as other Yama Kings do, she gets most of it from the elemental strength of the oceans and volcanoes in the South Pacific. Sorcerers and even some Micronesian Dreamspeakers honor her and gain benefit from her patronage. (Despite Wu Lung and Akashic rhetoric, they are no more Infernalist than Verbena Odin cults or Euthanatos Kali worshippers.)

Moving on, we get stats for Mikaboshis Demons of Iron and Violence (read: evil cyborgs), Rangda's Plague Zombies (exactly what they sound like) and generic Bakemono. A Bakemono is a human (or, rarely, an animal) that is a minion of a Yama King, warped physically and mentally. Traditionally, they're made by demon summoning, Infernalist pacts or random chance, but they showed up at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, too, and rumor persists that use of Agent Orange in Vietnam has led to isolated village clans of bakemono. One Iron Triangle Triad is led by a willing servant of a Yama King and is said to sell opium that can make bakemono with psychic powers, and some Japanese mages claim there are tainted manga out there that can make tentacled monsters. Asian Nephandi are known to use the Bakemono as bodyguards and servants, and several Triads and Yakuza clans are said to have them, wittingly or not, as assassins and enforcers. Some more monstrous Kumo and Kuei-jin keep them as pets.

Hunters! There's the Ministry of Public Security, China's police force. They have to deal with the fallout of supernatural wars, so they send in Office 21. Like their counterparts in the FBI-SAD, they specialize in paranormal crime. Isolated incidents usually get investigated, filed away and ignored unless a pattern seems to show up, but if the supernaturals in question threaten Chinese national security, Office 21 uses all force available between themselves and the paramilitary Special Rapid Reaction Force. Regardless of outcome, they always cover up paranormal events. Mages can come under their scrutiny if they appear to be "subversive" - ie, leading cults, attempting reforms, stealing cultural artifacts or spying. Tradition mages often believe Office 21 is a front for the NWO, but in truth, it happened entirely on its own. (The NWO are just happy to lend a hand as needed.)

The Arcanum first took an interest in Asia in the 1960s. Since then, they've established chapter houses in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore, with colony houses and lodges in other major cities. They investigate supernatural events and traditions, and some mages have been watched them - often hopelessly naive hunters, or scarily astute ones. Over the past year, a chapter house in Seoul was burned down and all four members killed. So far, two lodges are investigating, and neither has been heard from in months. The Tokyo chancellor fears the worst.

Strike Force Zero has existed secretly under the Japanese government for ten years now. They are a corporate-sponsored band of monster hunters, drawn from many backgrounds. They have advanced cybernetics and high tech weapons, and they're a problem. Their intelligence on mages is sketchy at best, and they tend to believe magic is just a form of psychic ability, often focused via props or rituals. Their parapsychologist, Dr. Burukkusu Deidera, has made a classification system for "Psionically Active Humanoids" based on types of power and level, including biokinesis, psychokinesis aqnd clairsentience, from Class 1 (weak powers) to Class 3 (extremely dangerous). At present, Strike Force Zero has only ever seen two Class 3s. One is Hei Yugou, leader of the Black Demon Tong, a biokinetic said to have turned at least two agents inside out while leaving them alive and aware. The other is Ravil Ashimin, a Kazakhstan expat and ex-KGB agent turned corporate spy. Of the five men sent to arrest him, two committed suicide and a third appeared months later as the leader of a doomsday cult among the homeless people of Kobe. The other two are missing. Dr. Burukkusu has theorized about the existence of Class 4s, but the team prefers not to think about that.

The Shih...well, the Shih are travellers, solitary warriors whose sole duty is to protect humans from supernatural beings. Their goal is timeless and they favor traditional methods. They move constantly to avoid being caught by monsters and to avoid attachments to others that monsters could use to hurt them. Their only attachments are to their students, the survivors of attacks who have enough drive to survive the 15-20 years of brutal training the Shih undergo. They are vengeful, but not indiscriminate. Everything has a purpose, and it is only when a Kuei-jin goes too far, slaughtering innocents, that they act. Only when a hengeyokai butchers the families of those involved in harming nature, not just the criminals themselves. The Shih exist to enforce the implicit rules of supernatural society. Of course, mages are more human than most monsters, so they tend not to be targets as often - they remember what it's like to be human and don't often overstep. That doesn't protect them if they harm the innocent, though, or are willfully negligent. The Shih have also occasionally intervened against the Five Metal Dragons pogrom - not to save Mages, but the common people caught in the crossfire. They tend to be very uncharitable about vulgar use of magic, and they are staunch foes of Nephandi and Marauders. They're especially effective against Marauders, since they don't suffer amplified Paradox (or Paradox at all), and they're immune to the temptations of the Nephandi. They often die, but they die well.

The mystic powers of the Shih are a mystery. They work sensically, with rituals and foci, but the source is unclear. They don't focus power through an Avatar - it seems to come from within them. They draw on their own life energy as a weapon, and it is always painful and damaging. This is perhaps why they prefer martial arts when possible. Mages never quite get why the Shih don't look for another source of power or Awaken. The Shih don't speculate, and none wish to become one of the monsters they hunt. They shun the ways of the Awakened and focus instead on internal skill and power, lacking the desire to enforce their will on the world. Many scholars may claim that Yi the Excellent Archer, the first of the Shih, was Awakened, but never to a Shih's face. (Incidentally: neither the Shih nor Strike Force Zero count as witnesses for the purposes of most vulgar magic, thanks to their familiarity with monsters and supertech.)

Next time: The Five Metal Dragons.

Elemental Dragons

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

One thing you may have noticed about Dragons of the East: there's very little out of character talk about how Asians are superior. Sure, the Wu Lung are completely self-centered, but that's just, you know, being Mages. We're about to get into the Elemental Dragons, and that's all about to end.

See, the Elemental Dragons, the secret power behind the Five Metal Dragons, has been hidden for centuries, even from the Technocrats! Many have passed themselves off as devoted TEchnocrats, and Iteration X and the NWO truly believe they're in control...but they're not! The Elemental Dragons have leaked information on Technocrat agents from time to time to the shen, to keep them occupied and their own work undisturbed. They can blame any options on the Metal Dragons, the Technocrats, while directing the chaotic shen at people they don't like. This is, in fact, their official policy, keeping technology from overrunning Asia and order in place. The Elemental Dragons keep secret in part because, as Asians, they hate to show sensitive matters openly.

I did mention the good part was over, right?

The secrecy began to fall a bit in the 20th century, when the Zaibatsu declared itself as a seperate group openly, but even then, they're thought of as just the Japanese Technocrats, perhaps a mix of NWO and Iteration X funded by the Syndicate. Sure, occasional agents have broken the silence. In the late 70s, a few Taiping Tianguo agents admitted to "assisting" North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War, but they immediately claimed after that they did it on Syndicate orders. In the 90s, 4 NWO agents left China for no clear reason they could give. But those are the few, and most of the Miao Guan actions remain secret due to their mental powers. See, a sidebar tells us that the Elemental Dragons have heavily infiltrated the Technocrats but would never think of themselves solely as Technocrats. Their mental conditioning is so good that they're never detected.


To the Elemental Dragons, the Five Metal Dragons are upstarts who have fostered technologies that they don't completely understand and destructive social constructs, but their techniques might be turned to useful results - barbarians with potent toys, if you will.

The Elemental Dragons have only now begun to reveal themselves as truly seperate, though not all of them are revealing it. They were the first in Asia to explode agriculture, learning to sense the energies around them. These people named themselves Dragons, with each Dragon feeling the call of an element, until each guarded a seperate place and element, all working in harmony. In truth, the Dragons did push Asian civilization and order, and this who would become Zi Guang did notice that rice was good food that should be grown in certain ways, while the ancestors of the Zaibatsu did tame fire, and those who would be Saensaeng learned to make clay and buildings, but they were trying to force order, not guide it. Their imperfect order was surrounded by chaos and war, which they largely ignored, feeling it provided a needed balance.

The fall of the Khmer Empire in the 14th century proved that the balance was not being kept. A new threat came - the gweilo, the gaijin. In the 16th century, they descended on Asia, introducing new technology without care for consequences and spreading dissension. The Elemental Dragons were horrified - some of these outsiders even said the individual was more important than the group! The Japanese Dragons sealed their doors to all outsiders except in Nagasaki, and the other Dragons sought other solutions. Some hunted the shen, blaming them, while others blamed "two previously unimportant groups", the Akashics and Wu Lung, who were now keeping humanity stagnant and adding to chaos.

Unfortunately, the Dragons proved unable to drive out those mages, so they welcomed the aid of the Order of Reason. They can't be blamed for not foreseeing the result. In their quest for money, they deliberately allowed the Chinese to become addicted to opium, using it to fund ever greater technology, pushing the Elemental Dragons out of power in Southeast Asia as they set up their trade networks. The Dragons became desperate to modernize. In Japan, they caused the Meiji Restoration, and they enjoyed some success in keeping the Technocrats out of China. World War 2, however, set them against each other. After the bombs were dropped, they met up again and agreed to return to their ancient beliefs in order, rejecting their old courts and names for new ones. The Court of the Chrysanthemum became the Saensaeng of Japan and Korea. The Zaibatsu took open control of Japan from them. The Taiping Tianguo retreated to Taiwan and Hong Kong, while the Miao Guan and Zi Guang struggled to bring peace to China. They even united briefly to eradicate every Western Progenitor or Iteration X agent in China, as a response to the Rape of Nanking. (Both groups deny responsibility in that, of course, but the Elemental Dragons don't believe it.) Sure, Iteration X claims to control China, but really they have only a handful of agents there. Some say that Iteration X holds to the claim due to Miao Guan mind control.

The Taiping Tianguo, Saensaeng and Zaibatsu all built formidable financial empires, much as the Syndicate, NWO and Iteration X did in Southeast Asia. The Elemental Dragons now care mostly about China, where peace has finally come. All five Elemental Dragons and three of the Five Metal Dragons all have a Chinese presence now. Their success has had one unexpected side effect: a massive upswelling of Chi that is hard to control. The Zaibatsu and Taiping Tianguo have made control of Chi rather than order their top priority. A secondary side effect may also be the growing strength of the shen. Also, their economic growth is recently struggling for no clear reason.

The Elemental Dragons hold strongly that the best thing is to combine old and new, mixing the best of the ancient world with the newest tech. Thus, they build offices according to feng shui rules and maintain their title of Dragons. In theory, they work alongside the Technocracy and each other perfectly, but theory and practice are not the same. The Zaibatsu and Saensaeng, for example, hate each other, and the Zaibatsu blame the Aum Shinrikyo attacks on the Saensaeng, while the Saensaeng hate that the Zaibatsu seem to embrace the West. The Miao Guan distrust technological advances and suspect the Taiping Tianguo of working with chaos forces. Only the Zi Guang are truly friendly with the rest. Still, they are united in distrust of the shen and their desire to rid Southeast Asia of the Technocrats, whom they see as inferior and honorless. Still, no one can deny that they've done good things and helped bring order to some places. (Side note: The Elemental Dragons? Sexist. Women are not expected to do as well, despite the fact that ladies in the Technocracy do just fine.)

The Elemental Dragons have five organizations. First are what were once the Temple of the Eternal Mountain, the Wood Dragons or Zi Guang. They started rice farming and care about the people. They want to slow the growth of Chi by discouraging population growth and using inner Chi to improve the body. They carefully harvest excess Chi from the un-Awakened and use it to power projects. Next are the Temple of Heavenly Peace, AKA the Water Dragons or Taiping Tianguo, who believe that Chi should be allowed to keep increasing. The energy can be used to solve world problems, though they have had trouble finding tech that can control it, largely due to lack of funds. So they're trying to make money enough to find either solutions or paths to solutions. Third is the Court of Chrysanthemums, AKA EArth Dragons or Saensaeng, who guide South Korea and attempt to keep Asian traditions alive. Only by maintaining societal order can Chi be controlled, they say, and the JApanese Saensaeng hope to use conservative politicians to overtake the Zaibatsu and halt their campaign of change.

The Court of Plum Blossoms, AKA the Fire Dragons or Zaibatsu, are in Japan, disguised as the Mikoshi conglomerate and other companies. They develop high technology, hoping to find a way to control Chi with it. The Temple of Eternal Harmonies, AKA the Spirit Dragons or Miao Guan, are the last. They prefer to study the effects of the new elsewhere before allowing it into their borders, and have deliberately kept Chinese technology at a low level, though that's starting to change thanks to the Taiping Tianguo. They are very good at order and community, though. There is no group for the Chinese element of metal. Some say that the Wu Lung were the Metal Dragons, and others say that was once the Miao Guan, while still others point to the Technocrats, who after all are called the Five Metal Dragons.

All of the Elemental Dragons care about controlling Chi and maintaining order above all. In a changing world, they maintain balance, for too swift change brings chaos and so they maintain tradition. It's too much for one group, so they split the duties. Saensaeng maintain tradition, Miao Guan maintain peace at any cost, the Zaibatsu make Chi-controlling technologies, the Taiping Tianguo fund it all and the Zi Guang use Chi to make superior beings. No one is entirely sure what the actual Technocrats are planning to do with the rising flood of Chi (or, as they call it, Quintessence).

Next time: More Elemental Dragons.

Dragon Fronts

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

So, what do these guys look like from the inside? The Zaibatsu and Taiping Tianguo are basically corporate, complete with board, CEO, etc. Both groups employ un-Awakened agents and workers, all of whom willingly accept post-hypnotic conditioning to avoid loss of company secrets. Technically, in fact, the companies owned by the two groups are openly traded, but of course they have agents monitoring the trades at all times and controlling all corporate developments. The Zi Guang, on the other hand, are a pyramid structure with one (always male) leader at the top, three beneath him, nine beneath them, then twenty-seven and so on. You rise only when someone else is no longer holding the post. The Saensaeng use military ranks, with four general leading them. The Miao Guan are divided into cells of 3-10 agents, guided by a main cell in Beijing. Individual achievement isn't promoted - group achievement and good group skills are. Rogue and independent agents tend to be terminated, often lethally.

Everything the Elemental Dragons do takes energy, but they're very good and finding energy sources. The Water Dragons find most of them, in land, water and, recently, atomic projects. They work to make machines to harness Chi and increase Chi energy, which powers technological machines. Chi can also be found in human bodies, and the Zi Guang routinely harvest Chi from the Asian population to keep fluctuations from harming them. The shen also produce Chi, and the Zaibatsu fund Strike Force Zero in an attempt to harvest it as well as root out shen. The Miao Guan have never revealed their Chi source, but most believe they, like the Saensaeng, harvest it from the earth or, like the Zi Guang, from human bodies. Unfortunately, the greatest Chi source in Asia goes uncontrolled: Tibet. The Zi Guang and Miao Guan are trying to understand the energies in Tibet, but in July 1999, the explosion of several neutron bombs in India and the Chi fluctuations they caused were a reminder to everyone that it's not safe work.

The Elemental Dragons also have one of the world's best financial networks. Naturally. It is "conducted Asian style" and apparently that means complete obedience and respect for superiors, and with negotiations done indirectly over long periods and out of view. The preferred method is called nemawashi, the ability to get projects approved before formal approval is given. In nemawashi, an executive approaches inferiors to see their opinions on a project. Any negative opinion dooms it, but indifference or positive opinion on all parts means the executive can then go to their superiors, who must informally approve the project before any formal proposal is made. If the nemawashi goes poorly, the proposal is rejected, and failure in nemawashi kills promotion chances. Projects done with outsiders are done via xuanxi, or connections. (Read: networking and bribes. Lots of them.)

So, what problems do the Dragons have? Well, let's see...the Sokkaiya, often mistransliterated as Yakuza, control all Japanese crime, but that's not necessarily bad. After all, they forbid any crime lower than a major felony on profitability grounds, so Japan is fairly free of muggers. The Sokkaiya is not, strictly, Technocratic, but the top members are aware of the Zaibatsu and assist them in keeping gaijin out. In response, the NWO (which owns and controls the Japan Sun newspaper) has told reporters to seek out and publish all evidence of Sokkaiya corruption, and the extent of it has shocked even the NWO. Some Japanese have grown suspicious of the Sun, saying not even the Sokkaiya could be that bad, which may be why the Sokkaiya lets them continue. The Chinese Tongs, on the other hand, are little more than brutal street gangs who, rumor has it, are controlled by the Syndicate, or at least given money by them. Of course, the Syndicate claims it isn't and that would be counterproductive, since the Tongs are not organized at all. They also deny involvement with the more organized Triads. The Tongs and Triads both room Asia freely, despite the Dragons' plans to remove the Tongs from existence. Such plans have made the local shen happy, usually, though those shen who use the Tongs often get upset when the Elemental Dragons come in to try and kill off some of them.

More problems? Well, a depression is hitting Asia - a big one. The Technocrats and Elemental Dragons seem to have slowed it or stopped it for now, but Indonesia's still in trouble. No one has an explanation for why it's happening, though some blame the Syndicate, since Singapore is still basically okay. However, the Syndicate's being affected, too, so their denials seem genuine. Chaos is also becoming more rampant, especially as Chi flow increases, and Chi is spiralling out of control. The Dragons believe this may be the cause of many of their problems. Further, younger agents are becoming less controlled by the older generation, and are even questioning the mind techniques of the Miao Guan, especially those used to control crowds. A few Taiping Tianguo have even begun defending the existence of some shen, alarming the Zaibatsu...and rumors persist, despite all efforts to end them, of two Saensaeng youth jumping ship for the Void Engineers. Some Elemental Dragons blame American movies and TV and are trying to create their own replacements, as well as trying to get the NWO to change the trend of American movies. So far, the NWO has ignored this. Other Dragons say such ideas are stupid and believe that more inward discipline and training will fix the problem, instilling more Confucian respect for hierarchy. Even so, modern pressure is eroding their structure, and agents continue to travel abroad and return with strange ideas, accepting the idea of a scientific worldview rather than a Chi-centered one and a hierarchy of merit, not tradition.

Oh, and then there's the insanity problem. Sleepers seem to be going nuts at random. Some argue they can be controlled and directed, in the same way Chi has been used to harness natural disasters in the past. Others say they're too dangerous and must be minimized. Some agents have even claimed that the Marauders of the West have infiltrated the Taiping Tianguo, though no one is sure how that could have happened. The Dragons believe that Marauders are caused by damaged Chi flows and improper balance, and that Marauders might be curable with technology and a proper Chi environment. So far, no one has proof, of course.

And what about the shen? The Dragons would prefer to exterminate them all as soon as possible, since they cause chaos. They lack the manpower, however, to do it. Thus, they tend to avoid confrontation and instead dispatch the un-Awakened to deal with shen threats, such as Strike Force Zero, the Korean Anyonghi Ka, Singapore's Agency 99 or the Red Fingers of China, who are all well-armed by both the Dragons and Technocrats. Still, some threats are beyond them, and in those cases, the Elemental Dragons will step in personally, with heavily armed strike forces...and even so, they hesitate. Agents are just too valuable. Tradition mages who show up as tourists are largely ignored by both the Dragons and Technocrats. The Akashics would be ignored if their insistence on control of Chi by mind and body alone weren't so dangerous, and the Virtual Adepts have disrupted critical operations with their pranks on the Digital Web, given the increasing reliance on internet trade. Steps are being taken to stop them. The Elemental Dragons know nothing of the Wu-Keng (but wouldn't see them as a threat if they did), but do closely watch the Wu Lung, whose rituals are dangerous. Fortunately, few Wu Lung exist and they have had their power broken anyway. Other mages are just not a problem, hiding in the wilderness, though some agents do go out to try and kill them as potential threats. These ops are not officially sanctioned and count as vacation time.

Stereotypes posted:

Traditions: People who try to control Chi solely with their minds and dangerous rituals endanger themselves more than they endanger us. Interfere with them only if they interfere with you.
The Five Metal Dragons: Watch. Learn. Surpass.
Marauders: Must be destroyed at all costs.
Nephandi: While we understand that good and evil are but two sides of the same coin, a coin with only one face buys little in any market. Remember, our goal is to increase not only the coins, but also the buying power for all people.
Wu Lung: Fools. Traditions should be followed, not worshipped.
Wu-Keng: Of whom do you speak?
Others: Who knows what is up in the steppes? Will it help you make a faster computer?

Famine has been striking Asia for years, despite the efforts of the Zaibatsu and Taiping Tianguo, and the Dragons spend a lot of time watching financial trends, weather, food supplies, politics and so on. Agents also spend a lot of time fixing the damage the shen and Mages do, and so it's no wonder that a lot of stuff gets past their radar, especially given their obsessive secrecy. They're also working to bring literacy to Asia with mandatory education systems and testing to identify potential Dragons...though only graduates of MBA or PhD programs are fully recruited. New agents are given training devised by the Miao Guan to increase mental and physical abilities, and most choose to undergo mindwiping to cut family and personal ties to better focus on the job. The Miao Guan run the main one, but the Saensaeng and Zaibatsu have each developed their own programs to prevent Miao Guan infiltrators. Every ten years, all Dragons are required to enter a new academic program or work on a group research project, and most Dragons have multiple postgraduate degrees. Asian Technocrats tend to do the same every 20 years.

The Elemental Dragons have no real desire to explore space. Or claim to, anyway, though the Technocrats fear the Zaibatsu might be up to something. They're more focused on controlling China, and fast - dark chi has been bubbling up lately, which is troubling. They would also like the Void Engineers to leave China. They have no real interest in North Korea, though rumor has it that a branch of the Zi Guang runs the place as a way to siphon off the nation's Chi (and life force). Japan has been a problem as of late, especially with the cultural hybrid they have going on. Taiwan is being ignored by and large, which may make it a good place for anti-Dragon sentiment. They are trying to conquer the mages of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, and have recently been having a lot of trouble in Thailand. They use Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as training grounds and places to field-test weapons on shen.

Moving Imagine anime, wuxia and sci fi slammed into each other hard enough to give concussions. This is one area where the Elemental Dragons are kind of really, really dumb, though the game tries hard not to admit it. They use, for example, the DoCo, a skin-grafted watch with an internet connection which can connect to the Digital Web or give out credit cards. They're very useful and they kill you if you remove them because of massive Chi fluctuation . Also they won't work for anyone but the first to use them. No Technocrat is ever allowed to use one.

You want dumber? The Imperial Tigers are the major guards of the Taiping Tianguo. They are tigers made of organic, liquid metal. No, really. They disguise themselves as metal objects and watch people, then attack. They are controlled by jade supercomputers that give them AI slightly dumber than most people. The Zaibatsu claim a few have gone rogue for no apparent reason, which the Taiping Tianguo deny. The Zaibatsu are right: these things are Paradox-generators without parallel. They just are too dumb. Too paradigm-breaking. The world is not ready for liquid metal tigers. They go insane with Paradox and tend to attack people for Quintessence. Great idea, guys . Oh yeah: and literally no one in the Elemental Dragons has figured out that this is a problem. No one.

Next time: Rules shit.


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

oMage: Dragons of the East

The Elemental Dragon paradigm is essentially mysticism via technology , so they can't just use mystical rituals. They focus magic through technology, they just accept magic is a thing. The Zi Guang try to achieve biological perfection, personal harmony and social equality. They tend to be good diplomats, and focus on the Life sphere using agriculture, biotech, medicine, herbs and animal body parts. The Saesaeng are honorable warriors who adore the concept of war-as-art, culture, and glory. Their sphere is Forces, and they use swords, poetry, tea ceremonies and other cultural exhibitions to focus it.

The Miao Guan dislike technology, focusing instead on mental mastery and control of the minds of others. They are often viewed as psychics, and their focus is on how people are motivated and controlled. They focus the Mind sphere via sutras, books, math, torture devices, meditation and body language. The Taiping Tianguo are the most modern of the Dragons, reckless and daring. They love the modern world and everything in it, embracing the new Asia and understanding the nature of vice and how to bring order to chaos. They specialize in Entropy via gambling, daredevil tricks, weapons and various destructive tools. The Zaibatsu, well, they make machines. They seek to excise the strange because it is dangerous and to control the normal. They are a very corporate group, and they like to wipe out anything that doesn't fit their vision. They are masters of Matter via all kinds of high-tech gadgets.

Anyway, now we just get magic items like the Bangles of Infinite Acceptance, which make other people think that no matter what you do, you're still likable. We also get a list of Chantries like the Shaolin Temple, but frankly as I go through all this I realize it is actually not very interesting or funny. So, instead, we're just cutting it short here.

The End!

Next up, I plan to go through Ars Magica, though not in the detail I usually do. I'll be giving overviews of cool shit and character options, to hopefuly get more of you to want to play Ars Magica. I have a plan.