Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Gallant Fraternity

I mentioned Outlaws of the Marsh last week. It's a three volume collection of stories based on folk tales and historical accounts that detail the adventures of a large band of Chinese criminals, disgraced officials, and banished monks who gather into a mighty tribe of bandits operating out of a swamp fortress. Along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and A Dream of Red Mansions, it's one of the top four works of Chinese literature—and by-the-by a great source for campaign and adventure ideas. Really jam-packed. 

One of the captivating aspects of the work is that its heroes and villains are of the adventuring class—mighty warriors, wandering clerics, wily merchants, crafty sages, and bold thieves all going about their business in the mountain passes, teaming cities, and broad, silty rivers of the Middle Kingdom. All in all, it features 787 detailed characters, more than any other novel in the world.

And no matter how honorable or infamous, all men (and some women) of action are members of the "gallant fraternity". Reputation, skill at arms, and panache seem to count more in the moral reckoning of the stories than considerations of morality, loyalty, or obeying the law. How else to explain how otherwise upright defenders of the weak can greet with every sign of pleasure a husband and wife pair of innkeepers who make dumplings from the flesh of their weaker guests? Rep trumps all.

I am applying this concept of the gallant fraternity to the campaign: all adventurers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are viewed by the native populace in equal measures of awe, distrust, and respect. Sort of how one might imagine in the West a peasant greeting a warrior who is all at once a knight, gypsy, and known cattle thief. The more powerful characters will make a name for themselves, so I suspect I'll be introducing a Reputation mechanic to track reactions to NPCs and the PCs as they advance.

If you have Dragon #54, check out "The Righteous Robbers of Liang Shan P'o" on page 16 for write-ups and AD&D stats for some of the most prominent members of the band ("righteous robbers" is another translation of "gallant fraternity"). And if you're casting about for a new reading project, consider reading the novel for yourself. Pearl Buck published an early translation called All Men are Brothers in the 1920s, but the link above offers a more recent and complete version. DMs, there are enough adventure ideas in these pages to keep a campaign rolling for years, and your players won't have seen the movie beforehand.

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