Carpe Blogiem: The Middle Kingdom Primer – Setting Assumptions

As I have discussed before the first thing I do when I start to build a campaign setting is decide what the setting assumptions are. That is, what is true, what is false (if needed), and what is thought to be true. This is an intensely important part of campaign building and I can take weeks just thinking about what should be done, can be done, or should not be done with a given setting.

So here we go – the assumptions:

Major Assumption: The Myths of China, Korea, Japan, etc. Are Real/Correct

This is a big one because I’m essentially leaving off more than half of the world’s myths, but it’s a required one. Lots of wuxia movies make this assumption even going so far as to ignore other mythologies entirely or adapt them in some way. I’m going to take the first route and simply ignore them. Sure, they exist, but they are not what the “camera” is focused on. I might sprinkle bits here and there to change up the pass, but overall I’ll ignore them.

Major Assumption: Wuxia Abilities and Magic exist

The ability to fly through the air a jump or break through a wall with just your fists is very wuxia and while GURPS does have chi skills that cover this sort of thing I decided I’d need to use advantage-based builds instead of skills to provide equal footing for those who want to create abilities that are unique or things they’d discovered on their own. Magic, witchcraft, and sorcery also play an important part in many kung fu flicks – sometimes blurring the line between “I know this ability because I studied kung fu” and “I know this ability because of magic.” At first, I thought blurring the line between the two might be good and thus considered magic using GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery as the magic system. But after a few weeks of thinking on it I decided to use GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic instead. (Yeah, I know, most of my campaign use RPM, but it’s very versatile and takes well to modification – two things I find attractive in a magic system.)

Moreover, Taoist alchemy/sorcery is very interesting to my mind and something I’ve not had the chance to use much. I decided that I’d need to create multiple traditions or modify the paths somehow since they don’t match Asian magical thought precisely.

Minor Assumption: The Duology of Worlds

Putting the wainscot in wainscot fantasy can be difficult. I decided on two levels. The first is the “Hidden World” of those who possess supernatural abilities and those who don’t. This takes place in the “real world” aka “The Middle Kingdom.” The second level is between the Inner Kingdom (a mythical version of China) and the Middle Kingdom (i.e., the real world). Such duologies are common to wainscot fantasy as well as some movies and/or pop culture (The Forbidden Kingdom and Inuyasha come to mind).

Minor Assumption: Might Doesn’t Make Right But Might Can Make It Right

Wuxia is all about doing the right thing – sometimes at the cost of “losing”. Another common theme is that power doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want, oppress whoever you want, and so on. Eventually, someone will make a stand against such tyrants and most of the time it’s someone who can lay down some hurt. Doesn’t matter how many men the bad guy has to do his bidding, what powers he possess, or what his social standing is – eventually the bad guy gets his. And that is something that’s highly potent as a roleplaying tool in my opinion.

Picking Over the Bones

And there are the setting assumptions! Next up is the setting history.


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