Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chigan: Geomancy

Geomancers in Chigan are specialists in locating and arranging spaces conducive to good luck and positive spiritual properties. Where astrologers find lucky times, geomancers find and to some extent arrange lucky places. Geomancers take the Hidden Lore (Geomancy) skill.

Geomancy has two significant uses. One is to find and arrange auspicious places at which to begin a new activity (for example, a birth, a marriage, or negotiate a treaty). “Arranging” involves modest changes to the location, such as clearing interfering shrubbery, moving furniture around, erecting temporary barriers, or painting or putting up banners or tapestries in suitable colors. An attempt takes one week and a roll against Geomancy skill using the standard Geomancy modifiers (see below). If the roll succeeds, participants in the venture present on site at the beginning (for example, a child being born, a newlywed couple, or negotiating diplomats, but not assistants or spectators) get one reroll as per Luck during that venture. On a critical success, the participants get one reroll per year, should the venture last that long. Failure by more than three results in one failed roll in the course of the venture per Unlucky, or one per year on a critical failure.

The other use is to construct fortunate and healthful buildings in which to live and work. This requires both finding the site and participating in the design of the building. The roll takes the standard Geomancy penalties and takes one month of work. Effects depend on the degree of success or failure:

Failure by 10+: -1 to HT rolls and 1 failed roll, as per Unlucky, per year.
Failure by 6-9: -1 to HT rolls to recover from injury and resist the effects of age and disease.
Failure by 1-5: no special effect.
Success by 0-4: +1 to HT rolls to recover from injury and resist the effects of age and disease.
Success by 5-8: +1 bonus to HT roll and 1 reroll as per Luck every year.
Success by 9-12: +2 to HT rolls to recover from injury and resist the effects of age and disease and 1 reroll per luck every year.
Success by 13+: +2 bonus to HT roll and 1 reroll per Luck every month.

A Geomancy roll is unmodified if the geomancer has complete freedom to pick a site within an area of 100 square miles or more. However, restrictions on available space (if, for example, other buildings are already in place or land owners prevent access to the land) can impose significant penalties in built-up areas. The roll is at -1 for every 10 square miles less the geomancer has to work with; the roll is essentially at -10 if the geomancer can only rearrange a given site. Because there are cosmic influences involved, Astrology can be used as a complimentary skill. Architecture may be used as a complementary skill for constructing buildings.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chigan: Trade, Travel, and Striding Pavilions

Because of the difficulty of transport by water in Chigan, most travel happens over land. Roadways are cut across steep hillsides, switching back and forth in order to reduce impossible ascents to merely difficult ones; a journey can easily be five to ten times the straight-line distance between start and destination. The roads rise to passes to adjacent valleys, some of which are closed seasonally by bad weather, while just about all passes and the roads below are subject to temporary closing because of avalanches and storm runoff. A patchwork of bridges stitches up the gaps caused by less negotiable dips and depressions, as well as cobblestone paving and retaining walls to shore up fragile roadways, but most roads are unpaved, muddy in the wetter seasons and strewn with jagged rubble when dry.

Travel is complicated by a lack of good beasts of burden. With a lack of good pasture, large animals don’t thrive in Chigan. In addition to the water buffalo kept for agricultural use, some horses and camels and even a few elephants are kept by the wealthy and long-distance merchants. But none travel particularly well on the rugged high mountain roads. Hardy goats are sometimes pressed into service as pack beasts by semi-nomadic herdsmen, though they can’t carry enough to make them worth using for serious trade and transport.

Most shipping within Chigan is done by the striding pavilions. Striding pavilions defy easy categorization beyond “miraculous.” They combine aspects of plant, animal, architecture, and mechanism. Pavilions start as a wild plant growth, appearing randomly and infrequently in uncultivated areas of the lowlands. They grow ten to twenty years; longer-growing pavilions are larger and stronger, but marginally slower. They start as a dense, woody shrub, but grow into the shape of a covered octagonal pavilion. As the main trunk grows up, roots grow out to cover the surface of the ground like a wooden floor. A canopy of branches extends from the upper part of the trunk and drops long shoots from its edges to the ground; these turn into subsidiary trunks around the edges of the root floor. By the time it reaches full growth, it becomes a partly enclosed space, with roof, floor, and usually partially screened walls of tangled creepers and branches around the edges. The top sports a domed cupola, big enough for a person to sit comfortably.

At that point, the pavilion becomes markedly more animal-like. Using thick bundles of roots as legs (a pavilion can easily have eight to twenty such “legs” up to three feet long), the pavilion tears itself from the ground and begins to move around. A pavilion which has become ambulatory acts like an exceptionally docile if fairly stupid and senseless beast. It ambles across the countryside, sometimes bumping into solid objects, changing direction and wandering away if it does so.

It is at this stage of its life that the pavilion becomes useful. Long ago, the people of Chigan discovered that drumming on the pavilion in the vicinity of the top cupola causes the pavilion to move. A driver sitting in the cupola can, with a set of sticks, steer the pavilion like a vehicle or riding animal, making it go faster or slower or turning it in a desired direction by modulating speed and points of impact. Once the drumming stops, so does the pavilion.

Beyond that, however, pavilions seem more machine-like. They are all but immune to any other kind of stimulation. They clearly feel no pain, do not react to sound, and give no sign of reacting to heat, cold, light, or darkness. A “wild” pavilion is sensitive enough to the feel of the ground beneath its feet that it is highly unlikely to walk off of one of Chigan’s many cliffs, but a mad or just unwary driver could easily send it over one. Pavilions do not appear to tire, but their drivers do, and at any rate travel on the precarious mountain roads at night is exceptionally dangerous.

Ownership of a pavilion varies from valley kingdom to valley kingdom. In some places, any new-grown pavilion becomes the property of the ruler or temple in charge. In others, it’s the property of the very lucky landowner, who may sell the new-found shrub for a modest but tidy sum or a full-grown pavilion for a great deal more.

Though expensive and difficult to obtain, striding pavilions are a prized form of transportation, having a much greater capacity and being much cheaper to keep and easier to work with than beasts of burden. They are their owners’ most prized possession, so much so that there’s a considerable industry in decorating them. Pavilions are elaborately painted, fitted with decorative carved panels, and bedecked with elaborate lanterns, banners, icons, and other bits of d├ęcor to show off the owner’s wealth and good fortune.

Ironically, much of that decoration isn’t visible during transit. Pavilions are typically loaded as heavily as possible, and since they can carry loads which overflow their internal volume, bundles are piled on top of the roof and hung over the sides. Drivers may accept some passengers as well, but they must ride on top, finding places among the cargo and sitting in the open air. The journey ranges from uncomfortable to downright unpleasant depending on delays and the weather, but it’s preferable to walking.

Striding Pavilion Stats

9' pavilion
12' pavilion
15' pavilion
18' pavilion
21' pavilion

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chigan: Supernatural Abilities

The supernatural is quite demonstrably real in Chigan, though out of reach of most people. The most common skills dealing with the supernatural are those which require some learning but no particular special talent. Astrology and geomancy are respectable professions through the region. Astrologers are consulted frequently by all but the poorest members of society on matters of business and family. Geomancers are consulted somewhat less often, but their skills can provide excellent long-term benefits. Alchemists produce remarkable potions, but they are rare and expensive. People also petition the gods through prayer and offerings, though the effects are unclear.

More definite supernatural effects are available to particularly gifted individuals. Through study and virtue-accruing activities, holy men and mystical scholars may learn to perform magic, and dedicated fighting men may also acquire remarkable abilities.
Alchemy and astrology from GURPS Fantasy-Tech 1 are in use and may be purchased without Unusual Background or other limitations, though their adventuring use is limited. Cinematic martial arts abilities are available, but characters must learn a style which includes them. Characters may take the Magery advantage and learn spells as per usual, but they must also take a Pact limitation approved by the GM to reflect physical and mental disciplines. Powers-based abilities will be considered on a case-by-case basis as necessary.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chigan: Architecture

Land for construction is often at a premium. Lowland real estate is needed for farming, and slopes are difficult to build large structures on. Therefore, buildings in Chigan are relatively tall and narrow, with three or four stories being very common. In the lowlands, a typical household consists of several narrow towers at the corners of a walled courtyard. Stories within a tower typically consist of a single room; any necessary divisions are created by portable wooden or fabric screens. Small windows on all sides, often decorated with elaborately carved lattices, provide cross-ventilation without letting in too much light, while the courtyard provides shaded but open work space. Particularly wealthy homes are a complex of towers and small courtyards and sometimes contain a large central tower or high-ceilinged hall; temple and monastery architecture is similar. Poorer people live in compounds where they may occupy a tower (or just one floor of a tower) but share a courtyard with neighbors. Ladders are usually used instead of space-gobbling stairs; spiral staircases are a common sign of an up-and-coming household. Higher stories, and particularly the inward-facing sides, may have balconies.

At higher altitudes, a household may have a single, large tower with very thick, insulating walls. The interior is likely to be divided into rooms with walls rather than portable screens. Though such buildings typically have a walled courtyard, the walls are much lower than a town building, and work is only done there in calm weather. Typically, animals are kept on the ground floor, and people live upstairs.

In any event, most buildings are made of earthen materials. The hills are rich in broken stone, so most structures are rubble packed together with earth, with wooden floors and ceilings. The very poor may live in structures constructed mainly from bamboo, possibly with facings of mud and straw. Buildings are typically colored differently than their surroundings. Buildings of the moderately wealthy are whitewashed and have contrasting colors of paint around doors, windows, and any visible structural members, but even the poorest have at least a facing of clay which contrasts with the nearby earth. Inside, elaborately carved wooden panels and tapestry wall hangings are common decorations.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chigan: Society

Chigan is a large and extensively subdivided region, so despite a number of shared ideas and practices, individual realms host a great deal of cultural diversity. Chigan societies are relatively “flat” with regard to social classes. Though people range from street beggars to royalty, and some families command greater wealth and power or better reputation than others, there are no formal, much less inheritable, class or caste differences. The ruling classes hold their position on the strength of their wealth and collective personal influence, not by holding titles. So while it may be difficult, it is certainly possible for one to start out destitute and become fabulously powerful. To put it another way, there is status, but status is not by itself inheritable and the range of status levels is fairly small.

There are a few exceptions connected to particular offices and professions. In some of the more stable monarchies, the ruler is regarded as semi-divine and must be protected from the profane and impure. This usually means that the ruler, despite having considerable theoretical authority, is a semi-prisoner in a royal palace and must rule through a palace bureaucracy which holds the real power.

The sexes can’t be called equal, strictly speaking, but they do have some kind of parity. Many Chigan societies are matrilineal and matrilocal. That is, one reckons descent through a line of mothers and grandmothers, and when a couple marries, the man usually moves in with his wife’s family. When a family outgrows its residential compound and some members of the household must move into a new dwelling (typically sisters in younger generations along with their spouses and children), it is generally thought of as the house of the most senior woman in the group. Professions may be reserved for one sex or another, or at least exhibit a strong gender bias. For example, in one valley, men are expected to be farmers while women are merchants or craft professionals, while in another women control banking but men control trade, and in yet another doctors are male while scholars are female, and so on. The specifics, though, vary widely from realm to realm. Foreigners violating those norms are regarded as odd or a little crazy, but are excused on the grounds of being ignorant barbarians who don’t know any better, and widows and widowers are accounted free of any such restrictions. Most warriors are male, but there is an active tradition of woman warriors as well. A monarch is as likely to be a king as a queen; in the vicious game of Chigan politics, winning is what matters most. Monasteries are usually single-sex and the few which aren’t have strictly segregated facilities. However, men and women are equally likely to become monks, and both will have no trouble finding a monastery to take them.

Chigan societies recognize a complex scheme of life stages, ascribing proper activities and relationships to each. Generally speaking, infants are treated very indulgently, but those old enough to walk and speak become subject to strict discipline and, often, demanding education. By mid-adolescence, young people should be marriage prospects, though most spend four or five years “on the market” before marriages are arranged for them. Adolescents and younger adults take on more responsibilities within the family and whatever enterprises it carries on (and young adults are expected to start having children as soon as they’re married), but only when they approach middle age do they generally take on oversight of the family and its business. At an advanced age, people are expected to go into partial retirement, spending more time in virtue-building activities and advising people of late middle age or younger.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chigan: Religion

Chigan’s native religion acknowledges an indefinite but very large number of gods. Mountains, winds, classes of plants and animals, stages of life, strong emotions, and just about any other aspect of life and the natural world has at least one god. There is some dispute over whether the god of, say, the southeast wind as he is worshiped in one place is the same as the god of the southeast wind in another but under a different name, a physically separate aspect of a primal god of southeast winds (who is in turn an aspect of an even more fundamental god of the winds), or an entirely separate entity. However, the debate is largely scholarly, with most people worshiping the gods they grew up with.

Practical aspects of religion concern the accumulation of what is loosely called “benefit” or more commonly “virtue.” Virtue, in this context, comprises a variety of good and selfless acts, physical and emotional suffering, and esoteric meditation and practices. Different acts can provide different kinds of virtue, which in turn are believed to grant different kinds of moral and physical power, but there is significant overlap. For example, many believe that, say, giving a bowl of rice to a poor person provides a certain moral virtue, but giving up that rice from one’s own meal instead of eating it provides a physical virtue as well (mere starvation because of poverty is insufficient; self-denial must be a deliberate act).

When a soul acquires enough virtue, it ascends to a different and eternal plane; there are several different such planes corresponding to different types of virtue: scholarly, familial, martial, and so on. The quantity of virtue necessary to do this, though, is vastly greater than most people can accumulate in a single lifetime, so souls are reincarnated several times before they can do so. Souls approaching transcendence are believed to inhabit people in a position to accumulate more of the virtue they already have. Monks and priests, for example, are often seen as reincarnated souls which have accumulated “prayerful” virtues, while having a large family is seen as both a cause and result of accumulated familial virtue.

As a consequence of the doctrine of accumulated virtue, practice of the local religion is less focused on influencing the gods (though cultivating their favor or at least not angering them is universally regarded as a good idea) and more on exercises to acquire whatever types of virtue the individual desires. Just about any action, if undertaken with a spiritual mindset, might be regarded as suitable to gaining virtue. Many roadways, for example, are maintained by the labor of volunteers seeking to better their spiritual position. For those who can afford teachers, martial arts training is a popular method of accumulating virtue, and many tiny highland monasteries offer the opportunity to acquire both prayerful and martial virtue.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chigan: Politics

Most realms are either straightforward monarchies ruled by a leading military clan or theocracies governed by a high priest or a monastery. A minority is some sort of republic, typically a merchant oligarchy, or divided into small “feudal” domains build around fortified family strongholds. Both tend to collapse into a more centralized authoritarian regime after a few generations.

Though there are no authorities over the region as a whole, either in legal fiction or actual fact (there has never been a “Chigan empire”), there are some cultural traditions which at least give Chigan a framework for interacting with one another. Many of Chigan’s more powerful families are connected by marriages arranged to create alliances between them. However, since new marriages are arranged to facilitate a constantly shifting set of alliances, actual loyalties are quite muddled. Instead of a family in valley A being allied with one in valley B but not valley C, it’s more often the case that A has lines of communication with B and C (to say nothing of D, E, and F), and will actively cooperate with the one which gives it the most advantage.

Valley realms are not known for their warm relationships with one another. Cross-border raiding is common, but larger actions are rare. Even ignoring the problems of marching an army up one steep hillside and down another, it’s very easy to fortify the few viable passes into a realm. Small guerrilla forces of expert climbers can make more difficult trips across unguarded areas and disrupt a neighboring realm, but invasions in force are vastly more difficult. Where open warfare is practiced, it is usually preceded by softening up the enemy by some combination of supporting internal discord (sponsoring a revolt is very common), targeted raiding, and blockades, usually in cooperation with neighboring allies. However, the realms are generally, though grudgingly, at peace with one another, and so a certain amount of trade can go on between them.