The Chinese pantheon was among those hit hard by the Purity Crusade. Unlike several others, they didn’t ask for help from Beleth... the same reason Uriel was particularly peeved at them made assistance from Hell an impossibility. The Chinese had a habit of “deifying” particularly meritorious worshipers, by spreading legends about the lives of dreamshades of note that had arrived at Penglai Mountain. The dreamshades were given positions of authority in the Bureaucracy in which they could skillfully function, and the additional Essence generated by belief in the deified humans went to the pantheon. The humans were treated as well as the Marches could manage, and often after they left (to reincarnation, usually) an ethereal Image cropped up to take their place. During their tenure, a human who could pass the examinations and trials had every chance of advancing in rank, just as any Ethereal. (The formalized system of examinations for rank in the Chinese pantheon kept Assumption combats to a minimum, although the nonlethal nature of the combats themselves may have encouraged attempts.)
This system of merits got one of its biggest shocks with the entrance of General Guan Yu shortly after 200 CE. Possibly the greatest general in Chinese history to date, considered by many humans nearly a deity already after his exploits on Earth, he rapidly took over the leadership of the pantheon’s defenses. The pantheon did well off of Guan worship, and the dreamshade stayed until the Purity Crusade.
Ranking human spirits posed a challenge for the attacking angels, who regarded the Chinese with contempt generally reserved for those who use innocent bystanders as human shields. Uriel’s tacticians carried the day, however, and the Yellow Emperor was killed outright while Shangti was wounded, likely killed, and certainly missing, with no serious Image contenders appearing since. Many of the more powerful gods of the pantheon were also destroyed. Guan Yu, highest-ranking remaining member of the government, grouped his forces and retreated from the now-masterless Domain into the Marches at large. Uriel set a force to harrying them and turned the bulk of his attention to more entrenched pantheons. The Chinese saw their forces and numbers dwindle for years until the Purity Crusade was called off.
Penglai Mountain had been destroyed, but not kept from reforming. Within a few years, Guan Yu had brought the remaining fraction of the pantheon back to the much-diminished new version of the Domain that had coalesced from worship. Like most pantheons, the Chinese would never fully recover – Buddhism and Daoism, divine religions, had been draining Essence for some time, and were much more firmly established now. New ethereals simply did not have the merit of the old. Guan Yu found it possible to retain command of the pantheon, even after assigning mastery of the new Penglai to Tu Di Gong, a widely worshipped but theoretically low-ranking earth god that answered commoners’ prayers.
The present-day position of pantheon is unique. Guan Yu remains an active student of technology, strategy, and tactics, not only guns and bombs but psyops, intelligence-gathering and commissariat. While he may not have experience applying these tactics to Earthly armies, it is generally agreed that he is second to none in the application of these principles in the Marches, and the defenses of Penglai Mountain are considered rock-solid.
The system of examinations was retained at full strength, and the upper ranks of the pantheon remain open. Not led by a mjaor god, it does not have all the supernatural resources available to more established old pantheons: attunements and Rites that can be handed out by the minor gods are not all that powerful. More humans now fill posts in the Bureaucracy, challenging relations with all sides. While the Tsayadim continue to harass the lower-ranking ethereals involved, the leaders can only be encouraged to move on. (Indeed, the “encouragements” provided during the Purity Crusade are sometimes propounded as one of the reasons for Uriel’s recall.) The biggest threat the Chinese face is from Hell, since despite Guan Yu’s excellent defenses, Beleth’s forces could, if determined, raze the Domain and decimate its inhabitants. Guan Yu knows this, and is careful to buy off Beleth with as little tribute as he can manage – Essence and enchanted items mostly, though Hell-bound souls that the pantheon claims are quickly sent packing. Hell gladly takes them, and Guan Yu is just as happy to keep his population and staff relatively trustworthy.
Outsiders who come to Penglai will find the Domain orderly and well- tended, if rather small for one that claims the worship of such a large population. Its border is a caul in the form of a well-guarded wall reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, and obvious outsiders will frequently be subject to search and requests for passage papers. Angels who seek to deal with the Ethereals there will also have to face whatever their ethics recommend concerning dreamshades perfectly well aware of their state and taking full advantage of it; demons will have to either risk offending their hosts by throwing their weight around, or swallow their bile and treat a human like an authority figure. The Domain is ultimately run by Guan Yu, an expert general and experienced leader whose personal fighting skills have not decayed. His second is Hung Shing, a deceased government official currently worshiped in Hong Kong for the protection of fishermen and sea traders. Third-ranking, and the highest-ranking ethereal, is Tu Di Gong, ethereal god of earth and wealth, a grandfatherly peasant type, Master of the Domain and capable of investing Ethereals in positions there as well as all the other abilities of a Domain master, along with a few personal Attunements.
The curious sometimes ask: yes, the post of Ruler of the Celestial Bureaucracy may be applied for, like any other. Kui Xing, the god of examinations (both minor and in the image of a dwarf, but quite clever and with a sharp sense of humor) will even show the exam to querents. It consists of the following:
1.) Are you the August Emperor of Jade, Ruler of the Celestial Bureaucracy? (Hint: yes.)
The “Name:” line will need to be signed employing the Seal of the Jade Emperor, which will be provided. Applicants killed by the Seal in attempting to wield it will be disqualified. The qualification threshold to take the examination is “retrieve the lost Wind and Fire Wheel and return it to the Celestial Bureaucracy.” A new Wind and Fire Wheel verifiably equivalent in power to the old, created by the applicant, will suffice.
Do not piss on the Buddha’s hand.
Sun Wukong has learned many lessons in his long life. This one, he assures questioners, is one of the most important. It’s not so much that Buddha will get mad at you. He doesn’t do that.
The Universe gets mad at you.
Sun Wukong was perfectly happy in the Chinese pantheon. Sure, there were other monkey gods out there, trickster gods mostly, that was fine, monkeys were like that. Hanuman, the Hindu, swell guy. Those little fellows from that other continent group, charming lot. And if he played a few pranks every now and then, that was part of the Image, right? So one night he hears a missionary in his kingdom preaching about how life is struggle and the material world isn’t all that great, and all are one and the cycle of reincarnation can be transcended, and generally spouting the propaganda of that monotheist prick over in the Egypt area, and he decides to rob the guy blind and send him home naked for a lesson to his people not to sell that line around China.
First night, he takes the guy’s scriptures, but apparently he has them memorized and he keeps preaching. Next night he takes the guy’s walking staff, but he doesn’t need it all that much. Next night, he takes the guy’s begging bowl, and he just starts begging for food. Next night, he takes the guy’s shoes, and he’s still kind of proud of that one since the dude was wearing them at the time. Next night, he’s about to take the guy’s robe, and he could have done it too, when a bit of strangled Disturbance sounds and there’s this higher-up sitting next to the fellow, sound asleep. Must have been a god or an archangel or something. Sun Wukong never got a clear look at him in the night shadows, despite the conversation they had. Well, conversation of a sort. There were words, mostly about how a pantheon that couldn’t get past one god must not be very imaginative, and Sun Wukong could dance circles around him and steal all his stuff too, when his conversation partner laughs the most disturbing laugh and said that no matter how far he jumped he wasn’t going to be dancing around the borders of his god’s realm. Sun Wukong, who was a few miles from one of his own Tethers at the time, asked if they were standing on the fellow’s god’s soil right now, and he replied, yes, they were.
Sun Wukong unbuttoned and let the guy know what he thought of his god’s dominions. He made sure to splash.
The fellow flicked a few drops off of his hand, smiled, and said it was an eloquent rebuttal and would doubtless make an amusing story. Sun Wukong agreed, took the preacher’s robe a bit less elegantly than he’d intended, and ascended back home. He did get a few laughs out of retelling it.
Funny thing was, the story got retold. And it grew, as such things do. Not that he minded at first. Another legend always helped the Essence flow. But one day he noticed that there was rather a lot of Essence flowing his way through this story, which was odd because it wasn’t exactly central to his myths, and when he traced back he realized that it was coming from Buddhists, because he was part of a Buddha legend now. That wasn’t in the plan, because Buddhism didn’t do Ethereals, and Ethereals that went Buddhist turned into Heaven-chow, or something. Sun Wukong had no intention of vanishing in a puff of monotheism. He took the stuff he had stolen from the missionary and went looking for him. He found a priest – Chinese, the little traitor – who was, indeed, looking for the guy’s fairly valuable scriptures, and demanded that the man’s gods rectify his impending disbandment for their return.
You know the one about not making deals with Hell? Lesson the second. Heaven’s aren’t any easier.
Sun Wukong got his wish. He doesn’t know how, but a few rituals later he found himself projected to the top of a Heavenly Tether. There was a god of lightning, a god of books (who took the scriptures back), and a stunningly gorgeous goddess who he is entirely willing to believe was in fact Guanyin, the Buddha of compassion, and with that admission he was about to fade permanently into Buddhism and enjoy the trip, when the lightning god gave the priest some sort of headband that he put on Sun Wukong’s Vessel. It wormed its way into his Force-configuration, and it stuck. And it hurt. And if Sun Wukong ever takes it off, he knows he’s going to vanish like a match flame in a hurricane, because he’s the only Ethereal that ever became divine and survived the trip to tell about it.
So he’s not part of the Chinese pantheon exactly. He used to be, but now he’s a little Buddhist, and maybe a little Hindu, but mostly he was able to sit out the Purity Crusade – and afterwards, since even the Tsayadim have decided he’s to be left alone – in safe neutrality. Also, in possession of his full Forces, his Riyu Jingu Bang, his cloud-walking boots, his chain mail and his phoenix-feather cap. He doesn’t get the Essence he used to – he doesn’t get any Essence, actually, except his daily personal regeneration, but somehow he doesn’t fade either. This leaves him remarkably powerful as the old gods go, with enough Forces and personal relics to take on even some pretty strong demons. Being decently safe and entirely without need of worshipers, he’s pretty much at loose ends to amuse himself as the world turns. He’s recently taken to a Role as a Chinese primatologist studying New World monkeys in Peru, but he’s been a lot of things over the years. Heaven does seem to be able to find him whenever they need him, or at least his relics. Which, he has to admit, are pretty nice. And apparently part of his Image now, so he comes with them. That means he’s on the front lines against Hell every so often, which he simply has to deal with.
Sun Wukong is extremely powerful as Ethereals go: old, in possession of several mighty relics which can be temporarily loaned, high in Forces and quite intelligent and dextrous. He loves to play pranks and practical jokes, and can be found almost anywhere in the world. He has few personal needs but can be persuaded to join a mission he thinks will be interesting, or to handle something that threatens a personal project or a human he currently cares about. He has fond memories of Raphael, even if he only saw her for a moment, and is willing to assist ex-Knowledge angels or something that might further their goals. He can also be lashed into service by an angel who knows the Angelic phrase that causes his now-invisible headband to cause him suffering, but this is, naturally a last resort in case he becomes a threat. (Short of a more complex command set that causes the headband to cease functioning, dropping the barriers between him and absorption into Heaven’s Essence flow.)
The canon light is neither on nor off. Any “canon light” is nothing more than a matter of your perceptions, perceptions which are so much putty in my hands...
The Insidious Dr. Fang is an incompletely understood entity. The Host’s best guess is that he is an Ethereal spirit formed from popular fiction concerning the “Yellow Menace,” possibly the James Bond “Dr. No” character. However, reports concerning Dr. Fang’s abilities are dubious, since his reliably known abilities definitely include heavy memory alterations.
Forces: Ethereal, 6; Celestial, some; may or may not have Corporeal Forces
Elements: Information, Senses, Emotion are all good possibilities
Affinities: Psionics (primal), strong affinity for Deception, probably various Emotions, possibly Glamour
Primal spirit of psionics: This is an estimated ability, since psionics as a strand or affinity is relatively new and few primal spirits – if any – are known. Dr. Fang appears to be able to substitute his Ethereal Forces for the Essence spent in calculations of the effects of a sotto voce Song with which the Affinity is affiliated. This allows him to use several Songs sotto voce at range, or that normally have no effect sotto voce. It would be a horribly powerful ability if it were not that it seems to be necessarily intertwined with his Dread, described below. Beings that receive this or a similar ability as an Attunement appear to express a Dread, Discord, or pseudo-Discord of level equal to recipient’s Ethereal Forces.
Dread/6: expending Essence. Dr. Fang has not been reliably reported to have ever expended Essence on a non-sotto voce performance of a Song... or any other ability. (That doesn’t mean he hasn’t – encountering one’s Dread is survivable, merely intensely unpleasant for Ethereals.) While he may have a Vessel cache, this dread would explain an inability to use it, and hence his intense interest in the alchemical and sorcerous creation of constructs, which can be used to produce temporary Vessels for Ethereals. Dr. Fang does not appear to know the Ethereal Song of Exchange.
Songs: Almost any Ethereal Song that can be performed sotto voce has been unreliably reported to have been used by Dr. Fang. Reliable reports of regular usage are known for Ethereal Tongues, Empathy, Spirit Speech, and Opening. A few that normally cannot be, such as Ethereal Entropy, have also been reported, suggesting the affinity described above. All listed Songs are Ethereal and affiliated with Dr. Fang’s “Psionics” affinity, unless otherwise noted: Attraction, Dreams, Empathy (all), Entropy, Forbidding, Harmony, Healing, Nemesis, Opening, Shields, Tongues, Spirit Speech (all). The levels are uncertain, since Dr. Fang almost always employs his Meditation skill to enhance the target numbers before using a Song.
Skills: Chinese (several modern dialects)/native, Proto-Sino-Tibetan/3**, English/1 (thick accent), Alchemy/?, Enchantment/?, Meditation/6, Knowledge (Chinese history and culture, including the history of the War in China/6, Biology/5, Chemistry/5), Medicine/3, and several versions of the “persuasion” skills. Dr. Fang has not been reported to have gotten his hands dirty in personal combat.
** Dr. Fang’s verbal facility with this language, which had mutated into nonexistence by 500 BCE, is at odds with the theory that he is a young pop culture spirit. He may have absorbed it from a race-image strand or learned it from an old ethereal or celestial, though why he would bother is unclear.
Equipment: Dr. Fang has been seen employing talismans on occasion as knowledge repositories for this or that odd specialty in which he is not an expert. However, he seems to regard Song relics as crutches for beings with lesser mental powers.
Dr. Fang is Master of a Domain which manifests as a (cinematographically) traditional volcanic-island compound, in which spirits research various lines of inquiry into the nature of reality. The Domain is not an automatic translator, and the primary language spoken is Mandarin Chinese. It is Hidden, but can be found by a determined seeker in the vicinity of the Topaz Gates. It suffers some temporal bleed-off from that landmark, its time rate altering unpredictably and sometimes blinking it forward in time, causing it to seem to vanish completely from an outside point of view. Dr. Fang seems to be fully aware of impending alterations in the local time flow. It has the Intrusive Domain Feature, and can grant residents a limited version of Dr. Fang’s Primal Affinity as an Attunement – the recipient must be a virtuoso with the Song to begin with, and can take a virtuoso’s penalty to target number to increase the effective Essence of a sotto voce effect from 0. However, only if they accept Dread or Discord at a level equal to their Ethereal Forces will Dr. Fang seal the ability. He appears to regard the concept of “Essence” as a misunderstanding of the true nature of the cosmos, and will not give power to anyone who has not bought in to the same worldview he has.
Through intermediaries, The Insidious Dr. Fang appears to have control of a number of compounds in remote Asian wildernesses and privately owned islands in the South Pacific. Some are labs which make legitimate money in pharmaceutical and materials research. Several are private estates where prying eyes can be kept away and he might be able to manifest briefly. With some delay to contact his agents to move funds, he is effectively quite rich. The labs employ a number of alchemists and mundane scientists, some of whom are not even aware of their ultimate employer, in researching the creation of construct Vessels for the use of Ethereals. He would like to be able to reliably produce such Vessels – for which numerous Ethereals would pay him handsome sums – and upgrade the known abilities of such Vessels, especially allowing them to last longer. His people experiment with weird chimeric designs both for the convenience of the odder sorts of Ethereals and in attempts to pack more features in to human-appearing Vessels. They also research streamlining the construction process. He is known to bid well for Primordial Clay whenever sellers make a useful quantity available for purchase. A second priority in the research labs is the study of manna (produced by Corporeal Succor) for its nutritive and medical properties, with an eye toward figuring out how to preserve the notoriously decay-prone material.
Naturally, the Host has no intention of allowing Vessel factories for Ethereals on the corporeal plane, so there have been a number of raids on island fastnesses, resulting in the freeing of experimental animals, the killing of vicious chimeras, wholesale herbiciding of bizarre crops, and safely isolated dramatic explosions of vats of arcane chemical concoctions. Dr. Fang doesn’t even appear to mind, as long as he still has operations elsewhere; he blusters, but the entire affair seems to be quite satisfying to his Image.
Interestingly, it’s angels of Creation that command and staff most of these raids. Something about the chimeras seems... off... to Eliites. Primordial Clay is also a substance that seems to fall under Creation’s responsibility, and several quantities have been safely recovered from these labs. Those labs and compounds that have it seem to be using it in some unusual ways, too, not least of which is a reference to the collection process: “The prices are exorbitant,” a typical note would indicate, “but the stuff appears frequently enough in the local auxiliary dimensions that our operations should be able to harvest Primordial Clay profitably for export.” Auxiliary dimensions could refer to Limbo, one of the few known if irregular sources of Primordial Clay. Awkward wording, but the humans can hardly be expected to understand the matter fully. But export to where? The Marches? Tribute to Hell? A popular theory is that Dr. Fang has an orbital platform somewhere – reliably preserved manna would make supplying humans on such a station much easier. This would not at all be out of character but is fairly wild speculation. Still, the connotations don’t seem quite right. It could all be misdirection, of course; Dr. Fang is very good at that. But... hmm.
The material presented here is the creation of William Keith, and is intended for use with the In Nomine system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.
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