For those who don't know the background, I recently started making a game inspired by the stories of Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. It encompasses a little more than that, but for now, that is enough of a description. The setting is simply called World of Songling, and it is a little unusual. I play the world a few different ways. In some cases it is simply a dreamworld, in others it is its own special place. Today, I want to talk about one of the more recent approaches I've been using.
I've been playing around with the afterlife in my Strange Tales adventures. Specifically I've been treating it as Chinese Hell, or Diyu. One of the big reasons for this is because I want to fit Strange Tales into my regular gaming schedule and needed to give it a place where it made sense. This works great because whenever a character dies, it can be an opportunity for a slight change of pace as a kind of weekend-in-hell.
For example, say a group of characters are fighting a bunch of wicked masters at a temple, and one of them is killed by a poisoned blade during the battle. The dead PC, wakes up in a misty town with strange geography, and human devouring paper lanterns haunting the sky. He finds himself trapped in this world, a shifting landscape that turns out to be the entrance into hell (Diyu). Within this world, he must find some means of escape over the course of several adventures. It could be a simple crawl from the 10 courts of Diyu, or he may simply hop from location to location, villages, temples, manor houses that all resemble real places. The idea is to provide a conceit for a monster-of-the-week. The other players can make new characters who are also recently arrived dead, or perhaps more interestingly, they storm into hell to rescue their fallen friend.
Again, these are ideas I am still trying out in various forms in playtests. But increasingly this approach of Strange Tales as an escape from hell, is clicking more and more for me. It also frees me up to continue running regular campaigns of Ogre Gate, while occasionally venturing into the World of Songling (which is the ideal place for it to have in my overall campaign schedule).
Another way I've been using it, is as a test before rebirth. This gets a bit thorny and complex but here the idea is if you have a total party kill, you break out Strange Tales and run 10 adventures for them in the afterlife. Their behavior and performance in these adventures would result in higher or lower rebirth (meaning after those ten sessions I resume Ogre Gate and the players who pleased the Hell Kings get more resources, status, etc; while those who displeased would be born with flaws (importantly this also means more character points at character creation, so it isn't all bad). I still have to work out some of the details here. Ideally it should be simple, so I may just give each character a '+' or '-' for each adventure in terms of how they conduct themselves. Then look at the total amount when it is all done and make a decisions about it. But I am also thinking of making more procedural (however I am striving for Strange Tales to be much simpler than Ogre Gate, so I am more inclined towards the former).
I should have more to say on this in the coming weeks. Also, while this really isn't a wuxia topic so much as an account of the strange topic, for categorization purposes, I'm filing all these thoughts under 'wuxia inspiration' to connect it to my blog entries on Ogre Gate.
Here are some of my thoughts on the topic that lead up to this blog entry: