Sheflek is a large, round island of a little over a thousand miles in diameter, with a central lake of considerable size at about 1.5 miles altitude; there are several islands in the lake, the largest being the seat of government and another holding the Collegium, and trading cities around the rim (since the dirigibles backed by local concerns allowed to travel over the country find that a fine altitude at which to land). (The whole island resembles a large, rather flat volcano, with a number of subsidiary peaks. It has a very irregular border, sometimes having a hundred miles of ocean before it reaches the chaos sea, and at other times having promontories out into Chaos.) Rivers coming down from the central lake pause in large reservoirs and irrigate considerable cropland that has been terraced out from the slowly descending slopes over at least a millennium, often with elemental magics. An extensive network of canals and locks makes it easy to travel over water through most of the empire. The place is metal-poor (though not impoverished— they have enough metal for weapons but not much armor), but makes advanced ceramics. There are some very dangerous and magical swamps near the boundary of the chaos-ocean.
The territories include:
The majority of locals have the golden skin, black hair, and brown eyes (with epicanthic folds) common to the Oriental folk of our own world; as in historic China, sideburns or a goatee are a sign of virility, and popular in the military. There is a distinct catran minority, usually running to housecat-style breeds. (Catran with many generations of lineage on Sheflek have had a certain amount of selective adapation toward being comfortable with more rice and less meat in their diets than their foreign cousins, and are a somewhat more settled folk— many fulfill their wanderlust in travelling professions such as courier, boatman, merchant, or guard, while others simply repress it.) Pale-skinned, round-eyed foreigners do not stand out much in a trading city, but are always worthy of gossip when they travel out into the farmlands. (Sheflek has been trading with other islands for long enough that most people over the age of twenty have probably seen one before; a certain number like the place and settle right in.)
Everyone (save for folks living alongside foreigners in the prominent cities) follows the Pyramid pantheon; sage historians agree that the missionaries who brought the Pyramid to Sheflek arrived from the Land of a Thousand Rivers. This does not stop people from honoring their ancestors and the local deities as well; they simply don’t get bothered about formal definitions and precedences and so on. The pyramid deities show no sign of objecting to this practice. The local deities include local powers of nature who are under the jurisdiction of a celestial bureaucracy that has been known to ordain how much rain is to fall in a given place.
Pyramid priests and monks vary in their garb. The ones who aren’t in martial disciplines tend to wear robes reflecting the color of their side of the pyramid, while followers of war gods are usually in more practical fighting garb. Those who believe they need to cast aside ego to be better servants (often in Light and Shade) tend to shave their heads; there are those who argue that all ego is vanishingly small compared to the gods, and wear their hair as they like it (usually Color, though also war gods), and those who believe the gods don’t care about such niceties (usually Darkness).
The island is pretty much one big bureaucratic empire, with occasional exceptions over in the swamps and crags and the volcano in the northeast. The Emperor is fairly powerful, but a serious split between the Emperor and the bureaucracy that runs the empire would leave both in severely reduced states. Eunuchs have a natural advantage in the civil service because they are unable to found dynasties, and the highest-level bureaucrats are always eunuchs; many have sorcerous talents. (Yes, I’m definitely ripping off the Lotus from vanilla Feng Shui, but this lot aren’t obviously evil...) Younger sons of middle-class families are often castrated as a way to get them a natural advantage in the ranks of the civil service.
The science of feng shui is highly developed on Sheflek, and the Imperial geomancers and mathematicians have worked out a fractal pattern that should bring the entire island under a regime of excellent feng shui, bringing prosperity to all the provinces and channeling a great deal of energy up to the Imperial Palace. Slowly and steadily, the Imperial Geomancy Corps is converting the island to its Grand Architectural Design of Wind and Water; many peasants are not happy about having to move homes in which they have lived for generations, and some are turning to banditry rather than allowing their villages to be uprooted for this promised prosperity.
The effect of the Grand Architectural Design of Wind and Water is that the urban planning of each village provides picturesque, meandering pathways broken up by homes with meticulously tended gardens, completely unlike the grid plans common in Élas’ planned cities and the hodgepodges of the ones that accreted.
Training in the martial arts is relatively common (about half the men and a third of the women in any random village), but the majority of those trained only know the equivalent of doing t'ai chi for health and clock in around AV 5. (This is the long-lasting result of a recruitment drive that occurred about a thousand years ago, trying to find all the people with strong internal energy to conquer outlying regions of the island.) The martial arts clans are influential in society, but each one only runs to the hundreds of people. Check out Chinese and Japanese weapons for equipping characters.
Sorcery is a rare and respected or reviled profession, depending on the sorcerer. Wizards are only to be found in cities or hermitages. (Sheflek-style wizardry has a great deal to do with the writing system— an extension of the ideas of Japanese shodou. Sorcery usually involves a brush and ink, though blood and a fingertip will do in a pinch as long as the wizard is willing to do five points of damage to themselves to get a wound that will bleed freely enough. Some wizards have enchanted fingernail sheaths that allow them to sketch their sigils in the air.) Priests operate more by chanting and making hand gestures (usually mudras held directly in front of them, rather than the hand-waving common on Élas), though they make paper talismans like wizards do. The wizards tend to excel in Illusion, Summoning, and Divination; elemental magicks are rare.
Slavery is handled as “indentured servitude” and is largely restricted to personal and domestic service to households in middle class and above; slavery itself is generally on the wane due to the ready supply of workers who do not consider the possiblity of changing their trades in life. Slaves are usually minor-league criminals such as thieves and debtors and their descendents, and are only a minor layer of distinction from the meanest serfs.
The calendar is primarily lunar, with 9 to 10 day weeks, though there is also a solar division of the year into 24 divisions:
|li-ch’un||spring begins||li hsia||summer begins||li ch’iu||autumn begins||li-tung||winter begins|
|yü-shui||rain water||hsiao-man||grain fills||ch’u-shu||limit of heat||hsiao-hsüeh||slight snow|
|ching-chih||excited insects||mang-chung||grain in ear||pai-lu||white dew||ta-hsüeh||great snow|
|ch’un-fên||vernal equinox||hsia-chih||summer solstice||ch’iu-fên||autumnal equinox||tung-chih||winter solstice|
|ch’ing-ming||clear and bright||hsiao-shu||slight heat||han-lu||cold dew||hsiao-han||slight cold|
|ku-yü||grain rains||ta-shu||great heat||shuang-chiang||hoar frost descends||ta-han||great cold|
The “eight epochs” of the year are the first days of spring, summer, autumn, and winter; the two equinoxes, and the two solstices.
The years are on a sexagenary cycle, with the ten “heavenly stems”, which have a correlation to the five elements, and the 12 “earthly branches”, which correlate to the zodiac. The branch for a given year in the 60-year cycle is obtained by the modulus of the year by 12; the stem is the modulus by 10. Thus year 1 is wood/rat, year 10 is water/chicken, year 11 is wood/dog, year 13 is fire/rat, and so on up to year 60 at water/pig. The animal cycle is also used to chart the hours of the day.
|Stem||jia (Wood)||yi (Wood)||bing (Fire)||ding (Fire)||wu (Earth)||ji (Earth)||geng (Metal)||xin (Metal)||ren (Water)||gui (Water)|
|Branch||Rat (Tzu)||Ox (Ch’ou)||Tiger (Yin)||Rabbit, Hare (Mao)||Dragon (Ch’ên)||Snake, Serpent (Ssu)||Horse (Wu)||Sheep, Goat (Wei)||Monkey (Shên)||Chicken, Cockerel (Yu)||Dog (Hsü)||Pig, Boar (Hai)|
The night is divided into five watches, with the first watch being at the hour of the Dog (7 PM) and the fifth being at the hour of the Tiger (3 AM).
Houses in the cities run together, three to five stories tall, commonly with upturned edges on their roofs. The houses of the nobility often have interior courtyards. All residents of cities have their names written over or beside the doors to aid in the census. Visitors from Élas to the big cities of Sheflek discover a wonder and a marvel: restaurants, inns specialized in nothing but dining, sometimes with as many as a hundred sixty dishes on the menu.
Each duchy contains provinces, which contain prefectures, which contain districts (which are about the size of counties in other lands). The duke is a hereditary noble who is a landowner with his own army— while the Imperial Army is tied in to the bureaucratic government, nobles are permitted to maintain their own forces—, but matters of justice and bureaucratic administration have been turned over to the premier of the duchy. Each province has an intendant who is a pure bureaucrat, overseeing the prefects who administer the prefectures and the magistrates who are assigned one to each district. Each district also has a sheriff and two constables to enforce the law administered by the magistrate— a cavalry constable has 20 mounted archers and 20 foot soldiers at his command, while an infantry constable has 20 pikemen and 20 foot soldiers. Villages generally rely on the local sheriff for protection, while towns and cities tend to have their own guard forces. Sheriffs and constables are sometimes named, but seldom have exceptional AVs. Bureaucrats can also call upon the private forces of the nobility for aid when imperial forces aren’t sufficient for a given task.
The civil service system gives each official a titular rank that is independent of their position, which allows people to be moved to positions that are out of harm’s way without demoting them, giving someone a titular promotion along with an insignificant assignment, or to test a low-ranking person with talent with a crucial job. Normally, no man is allowed to serve in his home district, and officials are rotated in their jobs every three years; being favored by the right people can get you assigned to the more lucrative cities. The examination system has three levels: the hsiu-ts'ai or “cultivated talent”, which is examined at the prefectural level and corresponds to a bachelor’s degree; the chü-jen or “recommended man”, held at the ducal capital level, and the “presented scholar”, held at the imperial capital. The emperor still has absolute authority, when he chooses to exercise it— for instance, he can proclaim a general amnesty that reduces all outstanding crimes in the land by one degree, should he choose to do so as part of a celebration (such as naming his heir). Senior bureaucrats have enough power that they can block an officer from getting decent promotions in the army.
Punishment for crimes can include flogging with bamboo canes, facial tattoos, and exile, as well as wearing heavy wooden stocks around the neck that make it impossible to eat without assistance. (These are also used in prisoner transport.) It’s common for a family to send food to anyone in prison (which usually gets shared with the guards, or sometimes eaten by them entirely if they don’t worry about ill will from the prisoner) and monetary tips to the guards.
The local language is written down in ideographic notation, and is tonal. Foreigners from locations that do not use tonal languages or ideographic scripts are one level down on the time chart to learn the local language by immersion unless they have regular tutoring from someone who speaks it at level 5.
The techniques of creation of silk and paper are currently jealously kept trade secrets. Apprentice wizards are employed to blast away all psychometric impressions of silks and paper that have a chance of being sold off the island.
Herding out on the western steppes, farming to the south and in the east, orchards in the north, fishing in the lakes and ocean...
Currency: usually bronze, brass, or copper coins (often of varying metallic makeup), round with a square hole in the center, called “cash”. A “string of cash” usually refers to 100 coins on a string, but sometimes to 1000 coins (called “official strings”), which I’m kind of arbitrarily associating with taels. These coins are the usual currency for small purchases. Old treasure hoards contain individually worked silver sycees (usually decorated ingots worth 10 or 50 taels).
1 gold yi = 20 silver taels (or tong) = 200 copper dou = 2000 bronze sheng = 20000 tin cash
It turns out that allowing for exchange rate differences and GM laziness, 1 Sheflekian yi is equivalent to one Élassian crown, so 1 Sheflekian tael is 1 shilling and it takes a little over 20 brass cash to match a tin farthing from Élas. (Classically, taels could be bronze, but this is fantasy here and what is fantasy without shiny gold and silver coins? I’m taking enough liberties here with the sheng/dou/tael thing anyway... 15 grams make half (ban) of a tael [ounce]...)
(Japanese coinage: 1 15-gram gold ryo (also called koban) = 4 gold bu (also ichibukin) = 16 gold shu = 32 shuchu = 64 itome = 128 koitome = 256 koitomechu, 1 yen = 10 rin = 100 sen, with the gold and silver denominations being oval. There was a huge gold oval oban worth 10 ryo and used primarily for rewards and gifts. Memeitagin were small pendant pieces of silver, and chogin were hammered, thin rounded rectangular bars of silver.)
Exports: silk, ceramics, rice and plum wines, indigo, pepper, pipe-weed
Imports: metals, mercenaries
Internal goods: rice, millet, yams, sweet potatoes, eggplants, ginseng, cabbage, camphor, tallow, watermelon, sugarcane, cotton, hemp, dates, mulberries, oranges, lemons, persimmons, lichi, pomegranates, pineapples, figs, bananas, bamboo, cattle, sheep, goats
The top twelve martial arts clans range from esoteric mystics to practical warriors. (Twelve, sixty, and 360 are popular numbers on Sheflek, where the powers of Order are strong— they can be easily divided into many different equal sizes of groups. Those aligned with the powers of Chaos don’t bother with numerology as much, but often like seven and eleven and thirteen just to mess with numerologists’ heads. One of the more popular symbols of Order is the perfect sphere or circle, though they also like dodecahedrons and other regular figures, and the Moorcockian single arrow pointing in the one true direction. Chaos symbols include the irregular seven-rayed star and the eight equal arrows pointing out to cover all eight traditional directions.) Many martial arts clans are also associated with wizard or priest schools.
Metaphysically, the ideas of yin and yang are fairly common, with an added twist that yang is associated with Order and yin with Chaos.
A group of esoteric mystics who believe that the proper way to deal with Chaos and warping in general is to flow with it, seeking to change in interesting and useful ways rather than clinging to your original form. They are the only known practitioners of the Path of the Three-Fisted Drinker. They are tricksters who prize lateral thinking and often recruit from bands of thieves. Brothers and Sisters of the Rainbow Flow are recognizable (when not incognito) by their brilliantly tie-dyed robes, if their warpings are not immediately visible.
The Brotherhood (literally “siblinghood” if translated from the Sheflekian) has no titles, but their effective “masters” are well on their way to becoming their very own variety of supernatural creature; the Brotherhood may have only one Fu path, but their more powerful members have more than enough Creature Powers to make up for it.
They are often lay members and sometimes even priests of deities of Color and some aspects of Shade. Niska, the god of Transformation, and Tran, god of Freedom, are the most popular in this group.
The Brotherhood are usually itinerant, seldom staying in any one place for long; the only places that can hold their attention are bastions of flow and change, such as turbulent metropolitan areas. (They also get run out of town by angry locals on a regular basis.)
The philosophy of the Brotherhood centers around the notion of Flow, the virtue associated with Imlas, God of Nature. Flow is about the way that events lead from one to another, how the universe fits together in a dynamic way. The Flow can be stagnant or moving, turbulent or calm, choppy or quiet. Flow can bring things together and tear them apart, and the Brotherhood are keen students of how it moves. Knowing when to let go and when to cling, when to interfere and when to watch— these the things a Master of Flow understands well. They are particularly interested in the phenomenon they call the Nexus, the point where the flow can suddenly change direction and open up a whole new world of possibilities. Their philosophy says nothing more about what to do once they find a nexus than to go there and be true to themselves; it advocates no plans, plots, or schemes. This is as close as the Brotherhood come to consulting oracles and studying signs and portents— they don’t want to know the future, they want to set it free.
The closest thing to a headquarters for the Brotherhood of the Rainbow Flow, the Flowing Ale Brewery, lies thirteen days away from the Imperial City and near the Unconquerable Dragon King river. Not accessible by road or water— requires a lot of work to get there. Fortunately, vooshith doesn’t seem bothered by agitation as it travels.
Tricksters, confidence men, and moneylenders second only to the Brotherhood of the Rainbow Flow on the shit lists of the orderly-minded on the continent. If they weren’t so good at finding ways to make money that didn’t violate the letter of the law, they might have been banned already. Masters of the Path of the Clever Eye, the Path of the Leaping Monkey (BotV), and sometimes even the Path of the Eight-Armed Ape. The founder of the order was rumored to know an amazing array of utterly devastating techniques— some say even the Great Solar Stance, the Bone-Dissolved Soft Palm, and Golden Bell Protection!— but his lazy students were more interested in sleeping in in the morning, drinking, and hoodwinking incautious travellers. They indulge in wild parties and gambling, and are partially tolerated because they keep the Brotherhood of the Rainbow Flow busy as they try to steal the secrets of drunken kung fu. Some say they took their name as punishment for their inattention, some say they revel in their infamy, and a few believe that the dissolute behavior is merely a façade and that they do indeed command highly dangerous techniques. They are often devotees of Lapri and Serrien, but seldom priests and never wizards. Some are itinerant wanderers, while others run taverns or brothels that also function as dojos, or take part in the world of organized crime.
They do have an impressive distillery at their main site in the Imperial City, the Not Before Noon Headquarters. Rumor has it that the Not Before Noon Headquarters connects to a number of tunnels under the city.
Some of the most talented intriguers on the continent, rumored to be experts on poisons as well as negotiation. Masters of the Path of the Sharpened Scales and the Path of the Tightening Coils. Its members are highly active in politics, and the Society would be quite dangerous if they weren’ regularly working against each other to prove supremacy. (Historically, a sufficiently large outside threat can force them to place their cards on the table with each other and work together, but it takes immense pressure. Insufficiently large outside threats have sometimes appeared to be sufficiently large until someone revealed their hidden cards...) They can often be found in temples to Mnissilir, as priests or visiting wizards. They are usually politicians or businessmen, but very seldom criminal; they consider it a challenge to accomplish their intrigues within the letter of the law.
The Unsleeping Dragon Mansion in the most expensive residential districts of the Imperial City is the closest thing the Subtle Fangs have to a headquarters— it belongs to the family of one of their most powerful founders and is usually used as a gathering place and a means of keeping in contact with each other. (Messages left for each other there are ostensibly private, but no one who studies with the Subtle Fangs would consider it different from posting your message to a bulletin board for all to see.)
A guild of bodyguards and assassins, masters of the Path of the Shadow’s Companion and the Path of Flying Steel (BotV). They maintain acceptability by killing all other assassins and keeping strict rules about the jobs they will accept. There are regular problems with growth and purging of renegades among them who turn to crime. Their honor is for sale, but they never break a contract, once accepted. (They usually have escape clauses so they are not required to persist against apparently impossible targets.) The are frequent worshippers and sometimes priests of Agijur; they occasionally admit sorcerers to their ranks.
Their headquarters, the imposing Shadow Walker Guild House, is slightly closer to the Shade temple complex than the Darkness temple complex in the Imperial City.
A clan of female martial artists, healers, and herbalists, usually numbering about 250. (They’re called the Clan of the White Witches behind their backs at times. Well, literally it would be “Hundred Cooperating Flower Clan” and “Hundred Conspiring Witches Clan”...) Their wines and healing salves are sold all over Sheflek and some are even exported to other islands. They do enough farming to support their needs for food, and have a fair amount of land devoted to herb and spice gardens. A third are representatives out in the world making deals and delivery of goods. Men are not accepted in the clan; women usually join quite young, as unwanted girl-children. Women who wish to marry must leave the clan. (Most of those women settle in nearby villages.) They are known for their mastery of the Path of the Healthy Tiger and the Path of the Hands of Light. (The healers tend to master the healing side of the Tiger path, the workers the combat side, and the merchants the Hands of Light path, though they all study martial arts for health.) Commonly followers of Lapri, Jas, Mirkas, and Umbolor.
Their main complex is in White Lily Vale, several day’ travel to the east-southeast from the Imperial Lake. Their valley was carved out by river action ages ago, and actually lies on the canal system; there are many valleys nearby that ship their goods to White Lily Vale to send them on.
The masters of the Path of the Leaping Storm and the Path of the Thunderous Storm. The first few schticks from the Path of the Leaping Storm are known widely across Sheflek, but the techniques of the Torrent of Fury, the Flying Sword, and the Flying Windmill Kick are secrets of this school alone. The Path of the Thunderous Storm is less prominent in their teachings. These folk tend to work as scouts and couriers, delighting in overcoming insurmountable obstacles and striking boldly against their enemies. They are widespread and often itinerant, though many serve various lords around the island. Kessel and Tran are two of their favored deities, and the priests they train are second to only to dragons in their command of weather magicks.
The Storm Wind School’s headquarters is on Storm Mountain, eight days’ journey to the southwest of the Imperial City.
Martial artists that run to the big, strong, and hot-tempered. Masters of the Path of the Living Weapon, who live in the volcanic northeast of Sheflek, their first chosen power is always fire. They often have enthusiastic followers of Garon and Agijur, and their more focused members often train as elementalist combat mages who then teach the pure martial artists new Blast schticks.
Their home fortress, at the northern end of the mountain range dividing the Duchy of the Rising Sun from the rest of Sheflek, is expanded from one that was buried in a lava flow, and varies from old stonework to lava tubes.
Esoterics who make a study of the powers of nature, followers and often priests of Tran and Imlas. They prefer to remain aloof from politics and citified matters, though they happily consult with people seeking to improve their harmony with nature (usually farmers with crop problems, though many lords and wealthy merchants have commissioned microecology gardens from them). They are the experts in the Path of the Weeping Willow and the Path of the Walk of Clouds. The few who enter cities are usually excellent herbalists and healers.
The Hidden Glade itself is rumored to be tucked away in a valley somewhere in the northwest; people wishing to contact them usually just spend time improving or meditating in the park surrounding the temple of Imlas in the Imperial City and wait to be contacted.
Seers who specialize in seeking mystic insight, developing their abilities through art and music. Masters of the Path of the Third Eye and the Path of the Dragon’s Veins. Devotees of Nervon and Shemlas, often priests with a specialty in divination. They prefer “demonstrations” to competition.
They maintain a small school in the Imperial City, but their main school is two weeks’ journey to the south, on Fragrant Breeze Plateau in the middle of a bamboo forest. The site is elegantly terraced, with many buildings nestled among trees and bamboo, ponds feeding streams with waterfalls, brilliantly colored koi, stone lanterns, arched bridges over streams, and winding pathways. Statues are placed in the middle of ponds and at turnings of paths to offer sudden spectacles for people immersed in walking meditation. There are many awnings in places for people to sit in inclement weather while meditating.
Philosophers who have strong theories about good government and put them into practice. Some of them bring needed order to chaos, and others add excessive order to an already balanced situation. Masters of the Path of the Master’s Word and the Path of the Dragon’s Tail. Followers and sometimes priests of Tish, Oblon, Kharsh, and Theblis, though some followers don’t always admit their affiliation when their deity isn’t popular. (There is a Japanese term, intoku, for good deeds done in secret. Many Darkness deities praise dark deeds done in secret...) These folk are very good at black-and-white decisions, justice without mercy.
Their headquarters, the Tower of Purity, is on an island in the Imperial Lake.
A dignified, diplomatic group. Masters of the Path of the Passive Wings and the Path of the Praying Mantis (BotV). Honorable, and as much of a mainstay of the government as the Order of Eternal Harmony; they take an attitude of showing personal responsibility and encouraging it in others. Often solicited as competent administrators. Devotees of Tyroc, Jas, and Umbolor, though seldom spellcasters.
The Long Arm School is within sight of the Collegium in the Imperial City.
A group of esoteric mystics who believe that it is possible to deal with Chaos and warping in general by bending briefly and snapping back. They practice the Path of the Immutable Clay and the Path of the Storm Turtle. They are serious, calm individuals; many leading citizens of Sheflek send their children to the Order of Eternal Harmony for education. They are often lay members and sometimes even priests of deities of Light and some aspects of Shade, favoring Nervon, Oblon, and Jas. They wear simple robes with a gradation of greys and whites according to rank; the masters are in pure white, novices in pure grey, and the intermediate steps have different panels and trim. Different students specialize in different parts of the Path of the Storm Turtle and train together to present a unified show of strength.
The Order tend to be a settled folk, maintaining monasteries with beautifully tended gardens, with occasional jewel snails moving among the raked sands and bonsai. Their headquarters is in Rice Bowl Valley, an unusual valley with a precise circular topology; the very center houses the monastery that is the headquarters of the Order of Eternal Harmony. Five days to the east of the Imperial Capital (100 miles). Surrounded by nicely cultivated farms, elegant rock gardens, well-trimmed trees.
A group of wizards— mostly illusionists— who travel around the country in a magical tower made out of clouds and solid illusions. (It’s of particular note that the creator managed to enchant the solid illusion itself, which is an impressive feat. The origins of the tower are lost in legend.) The tower can’t quite fly, but it can cruise along its personal bank of fog at a healthy clip and perch on any arbitrary surface less than vertical. The wizards are rabid academicians, with strong Color interests and some Shade.
The tower itself is an enigma under constant study. Its basic nature is that of a roughly tower-shaped cloud, but it can be affected by an individual of both power and passion. Such a person exerting their will upon the tower or a part of it can shape it for hours to days, depending on their will. Each resident is charged with shaping their own quarters and doing maintenance on the public areas, so they are constantly looking for new inspirations that will let them make the tower more interesting. (Over a millennium ago, the tower was used as a siege weapon: they loaded it up with troops and had a team of powerful illusionists march it straight through a city wall using unreality. This has since been lost to most of the dusty history books and the Sages themselves keep it very, very quiet to avoid being seized as a military target.)
The canal system connects central Sheflek together; it stops at the mountain passes leading the the further reaches of the Duchy of the North Wind and to almost all of the Duchy of the Rising Sun; peters out in the flatlands of the Duchy of the Sunset Steppes; and gives up in the marshes of central Duchy of Whispering Bamboo. It has an excellent system of locks and sluice gateways, run by toll collectors working for the Imperial bureaucracy, and the canals themselves are wide enough to fit four barges in most places. (The locks aren’t always that big.) The slow current in the canals leads away from the Imperial Lake; teams of oxen or mules pull barges in the other direction, and are then ferried back down again on other barges. An Imperial Traveller’s Clearance— usually used by couriers and the military— can get traffic moved out of your way quite quickly.
The canal system crosses some interesting rivers, and whole cities have sprung up where it crosses Unconquerable Dragon King River and Blessed Imperial Gold River. The Unconquerable Dragon King River, leading southeast, is full of rapids and waterfalls and is too dangerous for most travellers; the canal system parallels it along much of its length, and despite all of the water diverted from the river, it is still highly dangerous. The Blessed Imperial Gold river, heading west, is much more amenable to human travel.
The northernmost trade city on Sheflek, in the Duchy of the North Wind. Two days south is an orchard-farming village called Shaded Paths, where they have only one inn and have a potent local brew made by freeze distilling fermented mash made from their fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots). Three more days south is a town called Eight Treasures, named after the secret recipes at the inn that the town grew around. Two days further south is a mountain pass, and two more days on is the city of Brilliant Ice.
The northernmost terminus of Sheflek’s canal network, nine days’ travel by ox-cart from North Wind’s Rest. (A courier can make it in four days.) From here it’s six days upstream to the Northern Capital (though only four days back, due to the current they keep running in the canals). A fairly good trading center, and the biggest chunk of civilization this side of the Northern Capital.
Fourteen days upstream (280 miles) to the Imperial City, ten days back due to the current. A big, bustling place, dominated by the two edifices of the Ducal Citadel and the Administrative Complex. Contains an important junction on the canal system.
Three hundred forty miles to the Imperial City through a 2000’ pass in the Himalaya-class mountains separating the Duchy of the Rising Sun from the rest of Sheflek.
An impressive, sprawling city along the shores of the Imperial Lake, which is fifteen miles in diameter; sprawl has caused the original set of trading cities established at the rim of the lake to spread around until they have connected. A sequence of bridges connect a set of heavily fortified islands, with the one furthest into the lake (at a mile offshore) being the Imperial Palace and the surrounding ones housing the cream of the bureaucracy and hereditary quarters for visiting dukes.
The Collegium is a few miles away, with a regular ferry service going to the mainland; it concentrates on the study of the classics and preparing people for the civil service examinations, but there are professors there who have mastered many obscure branches of knowledge in addition to the usual classics, and are always on the lookout for students who can be interested in something beyond getting a cushy bureaucratic job.
The city contains huge Pyramid temples, far larger than any on Élas; each one is a huge pyramid with a surrounding complex of outbuildings. One of the two main bridges that leads to the Imperial Palace heads a broad avenue that travels several miles and ends at the open point of the large hexagonal plaza that has the city’s great Light temples at its points; they plaza is used to hold massive festivals and rituals; the temples’ pure white marble walls and gold-covered capstones make them so bright that they make your eyes water on a sunny day. (From the left: Nervon, Mirkas, Oblon, Garon, Tish.) The other main bridge ends at a similar avenue that leads to the circular plaza around which are distributed the five great Shade temples, made of polished grey granite with platinum-covered capstones. (From the left: Shemlas, Umbolor, Tyroc, Jas, Lapri.) Equidistant from Light and Shade and somewhat further from the Palace are the five Darkness temples, made of gleaming obsidian with shining red capstones (made of an alloy of copper and gold), laid out close together at the sides and center of a square so it’s difficult to see all five at once; rituals are conducted inside the temples, not in some open plaza where everyone can see you. (Center: Gatekh. Toward the palace: Theblis. Away from the palace: Mnissilir. Toward Light: Agijur. Toward Shade: Kharsh.) The five Color temples, huge constructions of swirling agate with crystalline capstones fracturing sunlight into rainbows, are scattered throughout the city. (Serrien: near the Collegium, surrounded by taverns, libraries, and booksellers. Kessel: on a hilltop with much open space for sparring and a challenging Gauntlet for honing the skills of warriors. Niska: on an island connected to the mainland by a zigzagging bridge with a series of prayer gateways along its length and platforms at the end of each bridge where the faithful contemplate the progress of life and the Wheel of Change. Tran: in the heart of urban downtown. Imlas: at the center of a huge urban garden.)
Airships are permitted to land only near the trading cities, on prepared fields or the Lake itself; any straying too close to the Imperial Palace are brought down by ballistas and magic as a matter of course.
The lake is at the heart of Sheflek’s canal system, and has numerous locations that lead to the locks and sluice gates that begin the canals. One island, across the lake from the Imperial Palace, houses the Bazaar, where vast opportunities for buying, selling, and being robbed await travellers and merchants.
For Élas, I’ve just been making up vaguely Greco-Roman sounding names, but I’m not so good at Oriental ones yet. Here are some Chinese and Japanese names.
The Chinese ones are copied from Outlaws of the Water Margin. 70% of the names come from the first part of the list; those marked with a (number) are more common, with (1) being in the top ten. You can find more good information at Rachel’s Pages.
|Cai (3)||Cao (3)||Chen (1)||Cheng (3)||Cui (3)||Deng (2)||Du (4)||Feng (4)|
|Gao (2)||Guo (2)||Han (3)||He (3)||Hu (2)||Huang (1)||Li (1)||Liang (3)|
|Lin (2)||Liu (1)||Lu (4)||Lu (4)||Luo (3)||Ma (2)||Pan (4)||Peng (4)|
|Qian (4)||Shen (3)||Song (3)||Sun (2)||Tang (4)||Wang (4)||Wang (1)||Wu (1)|
|Xiao (2)||Xie (3)||Xü (2)||Xü (3)||Yang (1)||Yuan (4)||Zhang (1)||Zhao (1)|
|Zheng (2)||Zhou (1)||Zhu (2)|
Members of the gentry have a “generational name”, a sort of middle name shared by all the members of the same generation of a family. The order goes family name, generational name, given name. (M) indicates a name more appropriate for men, (F) for women.
|Given and Generational Names|
|A||Ai (F)||An (M)||Ang (M)||Ba||Bai||Ban (M)||Bang (M)|
|Cao (M)||Ce (M)||Ceng||Chan (F)||Chang||Chao||Chen||Cheng|
|Chi (M)||Chong||Chu||Chuan||Chun||Chuo||Ci (F)||Cong|
|E (F)||En||Er||Fa (M)||Fan||Fang||Fei||Fen|
|Lian||Liang||Liao||Lie (M)||Lin||Ling||Liu||Long (M)|
|Nian||Ning||Nong||Nuan||Pa (F)||Pan (M)||Pang (M)||Pei|
|Peng||Pi (F)||Pian (F)||Pin||Ping||Pu||Qi||Qian|
|Qiang (M)||Qiao||Qin||Qing||Qiong (F)||Qiu||Qu||Quan|
|Run||Ruo||Sai||Se (F)||Sen||Sha (F)||Shan||Shang|
|Tao||Te||Teng (M)||Ti||Tian||Tie (M)||Ting||Tong|
For Japanese-style names, the sci.lang.japan FAQ has some useful notes:
Peasants and merchants didn’t have family names in classical Japan, but during the Meiji Restoration the government decreed that everyone needed one, so family names like Abe, Arai, Arakaki, Chiba, Endo, Fujii, Fujiwara, Fukazawa, Goto, Hayashi, Hidaka, Higa, Inoue, Ito, Kai, Kawano, Kobayashi, Kikuchi, Kimura, Kinjo, Koga, Kondo, Kudo, Kuroki, Maeda, Maruyama, Matsumoto, Miyagi, Mochizuki, Mori, Nakamura, Narita, Ochi, Ono, Oshiro, Saito, Sasaki, Sato, Shimizu, Sugiyama, Suzuki, Takahashi, Tanaka, Watanabe, Yamada, Yamaguchi, Yamamoto (“near the mountain”), Yamane, and Yoshida became quite common. Others are Kitamura (“north village”), Iwamoto (“near the rock”), Maekawa (“in front of the river”).
Common components include fuka- (deep), asa- (shallow), mae- (front), yoko- (side), nishi- (west), kita- (north), higashi- (east), minami- (south), ao- (blue), aka- (red), kuro- (black), kiyo- (pure), iwa- (rock), ishi- (stone), matsu- (pine wood), sugi- (cedar), take- (bamboo), -ki- (tree), -ita- (board), yone- (rice), -hayashi-/-bayashi (woods), -ue/-kami (upper), -shita/-shimo (lower), -hashi-/-bashi- (bridge), -mori- (forest), -tsuka- (ballow), -mizu- (water) -moto- (near), -naka- (in),-uchi- (in), -yama- (mountain), -oka- (hill), -saka- (slope), -no- (plain), -ike- (pond), -kawa- (river), -tani- (valley), -sawa-/-zawa (creek), -numa (marsh), -hata-/-bata (cropfield), -ta-/-da (ricefield), -shima-/-jima (island), -mura- (village), -saki-/-zaki (cape/edge)
For a high ranking bushi or official, such as a Shogun or Daimyo, two kanji characters with noble images were combined and used to create personal names. Choose two from this list and combine them: sane- -yoshi- -tada- -ie- -tsuna- -yasu- -yori- mochi- -taka- -kane- -tomo- -nobu- -naga- -katsu- -toki- -masa- -mitsu- -hisa- -hide- -toshi- -sada- -kuni- -aki- -shige- -nori- -mune- -uji- -mori- -tsugu-. e.g. Yorihisa, Kanemori, Sanetoki.
Family names for bushi included Kaga, Date, Maeda, Kuki, Asai, Shibata, Kato, Takeda, Saito, Honda, Ii, Tanuma, Ooka, Miyamoto, Suwa, Hattori, Chosokabe, Ukita, Mori, Ishida, Fukushima, Oda, Kuroda, Hachisuka, Okubo, Watanabe, Takigawa, Murakami.
Family names for nobles included Konoe, Takashi, Kujo, Ichijo and Gojo (the Gosetsuke), followed by Hirohata, Daigo, Kuga, Oimikado, Saionji, Sanjo, Imaidegawa, Tokudaiji, and Kaoin, followed by Masachika, Shigenoi, Anenokoji, Shimizudani, Kawashi, Nakayama, Nanba, Asukai, Nomiya, Konjo, Matsuki, Jimyoin, Shijo, Yamashina, Aburakoji, Washio, Minase, Reizei, Kajuji, Karasuma, Inokuma and Rokujochigusa.
There was a wide variety for a low ranked bushi, such as Ichiro (first son), Jiro (second son), Saburo (third son), etc... Adding these to the list of names above works too; -emon, -ji, -zo, -suke, -be, as in Kuemon, Hikozaemon, Goemon, Heiji, Heizo, Kinnosuke, Kanbe, Hyobe, Denbe. So if -ichi and -kazu are used to name the first son, so Eichi, Gen-ichi, Jun-ichi, Ju-ichi, Ken-ichi, Koichi, Kyoichi, Ryoichi, Ryuichi, Seiichi, Sen-ichi, Shin-ichi, Shoichi, Shuichi, Shun-ichi, Yoichi, Yu-ichi, Akikazu, Hidekazu, Hirokazu, Masakazu, Nobukazu, Shigekazu, Takakazu, Tomokazu, Toshikazu, Yasukazu, Yoshikazu name the first son. The -ji suffix is the second (as in Eiji, Shunji), -zo the third (as in Ryozo, Senzo). -ro is a general suffix for a son, so Ichiro, Jiro, Saburo, Shiro, and Goro would be the first through fifth sons, and combinations like Eichiro, Kojiro, Yushiro, Yugoro.
More male names include: Akihiko, Akihiro, Akihito, Akio, Akira, Fumio, Fumihiko, Hideaki, Hidekazu, Hirofumi, Hirohisa, Hiroshi, Hisashi, Hitoshi, Jotaro, Katsuhiko, Katsumi, Kazuhiko, Kazuki, Kazunori, Kazuo, Kazushi, Kei, Ken, Kensaku, Kosaku, Kotaro, Mamoru, Manabu, Masafumi, Masaharu, Masahiko, Masahiro, Masaki, Masami, Masao, Masashi, Masayoshi, Masayoshi, Michihiro, Michio, Naoki, Noboru, Nobuhisa, Nobuo, Nobuyoshi, Noriaki, Norihide, Norihisa, Norio, Osamu, Rintaro, Ryosei, Ryutaro, Satoru, Satoshi, Shigeaki, Shigeki, Shintaro, Sumio, Tasayuki, Tadao, Tadashi, Takaaki, Takafumi, Takahiro, Takao, Takashi, Takayuki, Takeshi, Takuya, Taro, Teruo, Tetsuhiko, Tetsunori, Tetsuo, Tetsuya, Tetsuyuki, Tomohiko, Tomoyuki, Toru, Toshiharu, Toshio, Toshiyuki, Tsutomu, Yoshifumi, Yoshimitsu, Yoshiyuki, Yukio, Yutaka
Female names include Sei, Shizuka, Tomoe, Masakoe, Ichi, Yodo, Kasuga, Nene, Koi, Tsukiyama, Matsu, Tama, Tara, Man, Sen, Yoshi. The word hime means princess, so a woman named Koi could be called Koihime if she was noble and not married yet. The suffix gozen was used for a wife of a bushi, such as Shizuka-gozen. In is the suffix for a nun. When a bushi died, his widow usualy became an ama (nun) in an amadera (convent). Such a widow renamed herself and put the suffix to her new name.
Female names commonly end in -ko (meaning child), such as Aiko, Akiko, Asako, Atsuko, Ayako, Chikako, Emiko, Eriko, Etsuko, Fujiko, Fumiko, Haruko, Ikuko, Junko, Katsuko, Kazuko, Keiko, Kimiko, Kumiko, Kyoko, Machiko, Maiko, Makiko, Mamiko, Mariko, Masako, Mayako, Mayuko, Mayoko, Michiko, Mihoko, Minako, Misako, Mitsuko, Miyoko, Momoko, Mutsuko, Nahoko, Namiko, Nanako, Naoko, Natsuko, Nayoko, Noriko, Reiko, Rieko, Rikako, Rinako, Risako, Ritsuko, Rumiko, Ryoko, Sachiko, Saeko, Sakiko, Sakuko, Sakurako, Sanako, Satoko, Sayoko, Shoko, Seiko, Tadako, Takako, Tamiko, Tokiko, Tomiko, Tomiko, Yoko, Yoshiko, Yukako, Yukiko, Yumako, Yumiko, Yuriko, Yutsuko. They also often end in -mi (meaning beauty), like Ami, Asami, Emi, Harumi, Honami, Kazumi, Kumi, Manami, Mami, Masami, Masumi, Mayumi, Mutsumi, Nami, Nanami, Naomi, Narumi, Natsumi, Nomi, Remi, Romi, Satomi, Yumi
Other female names: Ai (love), Akane, Aki, Arisa, Ayame (sweet flag flower), Chiaki, Chika, Chisato, Ema, Eri, Fumi, Fumie, Fumiyo, Hatsue, Hatsuyo, Hitomi (eye), Ikue, Isako, Izumi (fountain), Jun (pure), Katsue, Kazue, Machi, Madoka, Mai (dance), Maki, Mari, Maya, Mayu, Mayo, Megumi (charity), Miho, Mina, Mio, Misa, Misato, Miya, Mizuki, Naho, Namie, Namiyo, Nana, Nao, Narumi, Natsumi, Nozomi (hope), Rie, Rina, Risa, Rui, Sachi, Sae, Saki, Sakura (cherry), Saya, Sayuri, Sayo, Shinobu (perseverance), Shiori, Tamiyo, Tokie, Tokiyo, Yayoi (March), Yu, Yui, Yuka, Yukari, Yuki, Yuma, Yuri (lily), Wazuka
Names from the “gallant fraternity” (aka chivalrous brotherhood, fraternity of bold men), in Outlaws of the Marsh: Zhang the Divine Teacher, aka Pure Serenity (Taoist master); Gao “the Ball” Qiu (rose to the rank of Marshal by being good at football and schmoozing); Nine Dragons Shi Jin (nine blue dragons tattooed on upper body, staff, three-pointed double-edged sword with four holes and eight rings); Miraculous Strategist Chu Wu (bandit leader, two swords); Gorge-Leaping Tiger Chen Da (bandit leader, steel-tipped spear, 18’ steel-tipped lance); White-Spotted Snake Yang Chun (bandit leader, halberd); Li Zhong the Tiger-Fighting General (dismissed from the service and reduced to being a medicine peddler giving weapons demonstrations); Lu Da aka Sagacious Lu the Tattooed Monk (crude, impulsive, violent, chivalrous Big Bruiser monk with a 5’ long solid steel staff, name given by a hopeful abbot, tattoos on his back); Zhou Tung the Little King (bandit leader on Peach Blossom Mountain); Accomplished Cui the Cast Iron Buddha (former monk); Second Son Qiu the Flying Messenger from Hell (Taoist priest); Rat Crossing the Street Zhang the Third (gang leader near Sour Date Gate) shares 30 minions with Snake in the Grass Li the Fourth (other gang leader); Wang Lun the White-Clad Scholar (failed civil service exams and turned bandit leader); Skyscraper Du Qian (bandit leader); Song Wan, Guardian of the Clouds; Lord Chai Jin the Small Whirlwind (benevolent noble, a descendant of the previous imperial dynasty, whose family traded the potential for taking the throne for a Wrought Iron Pledge from the first emperor of the current dynasty that none would interfere with them); Zhu Gui the Dry-Land Crocodile (wine seller and bandit spy); Lin Chong the Panther Head (exiled arms instructor); Yang Zhi the Blue-Faced Beast (large blue birthmark, passed military exam and joined army, lost a cargo of decorative stones and decided not to wait around for punishment, sword and halberd); Niu Er the Hairless Tiger (bully); Li Cheng the King of the Skies (general); Wen Da the Mighty Sword; Zhu Tong the Beautiful Beard (chivalrous, generous constable); Lei Heng the Winged Tiger (prodigious leap, chivalrous but miserly, former blacksmith); Wu Yong the Wizard, aka the Pedant, Taoist name Master Increasing Light (respectable fellow, strategist, wizard, teacher); Ruan family: Second Brother Ferocious Giant, Fifth Brother Recklessly Rash, Seventh Brother the Devil Incarnate (bold peasants, no education but loyal to their friends), short names like Ruan the Fifth; Gentleman Gongsung Sheng the Dragon in the Clouds, Taoist name Single Purity (flying warrior mage); Bai Sheng the Daylight Rat (idler, gambler, source of information); Cao Zheng the Demon Carver (from a long line of excellent butchers), Deng Long the Golden-Eyed Tiger (bandit leader on Two-Dragon Mountain); Zhang Qing the Vegetable Gardener and his wife Sun the Witch (both considerate and bold); Dark Song Jiang the Filial and Gallant Dark Third Master (swarthy, filial, chivalrous, generous) called the Timely Rain for his generosity as a clerk, his brother Song Jin the Iron Fan, and their father the Venerable Song; Squire Kong on White Tiger Mountain has sons Kong Ming the Comet and Kong Liang the Flaming Star; female names like Golden Lotus and Jade Lotus and Jade Orchid; Wu Song the Golden-Eyed Tiger Cub (spear and staff, hung around gallant fraternity from childhood, killed a man-eating tiger with his bare hands while drunk); Jiang the Gate Guard Giant; Wang Ying the Stumpy Tiger (lecherous bandit); Zheng Tianshou the Fair-Faced Gentleman (elegant bandit with moustache and goatee, spear and staff); Li Jun the Turbulent River Dragon (good swimmer) and his brother Hell’s Summoner Li Li (smuggler); Tong Wei Dragon from the Cave and his brother Tong Meng the River Churning Clam (good swimmers and sailors); Xue Yong the Sick Tiger (family earns money with arms demonstrations and selling medicines); Dog-Faced Master Zhang Heng the Boat Flame (smuggler who runs a ferry service and robs overly-wealthy folk in the middle of the river and dumps the bodies) and his younger brother Zhang Shun the White Streak in the Waves (pale complexion, excellent swimmer); Mu Hong the Unrestrained and his younger brother Mu Chun the Slightly Restrained (gang bosses); Li Kui the Black Whirlwind (dark-complected Big Bruiser, complete lack of manners, aka the Iron Ox, wields two battleaxes and is also good with fists and cudgel); Dai Zong the Marvelous Traveller (knows magic to travel 500 li in a single day);
Crude language from Outlaws of the Marsh: “dirty beast”, “mother-raping”, “prick”, “friggin”, “wretch”. Exclamations: Aiyaya! Village names: Seven Treasures, Stone Tablet, Happy Grove. Cool tricks: bandits travelling under the banner Official Bandit Capturing Force. Contests: wrap weapon points in felt and dip in lime, so you wind up with white spots where you’re hit.
A bunch of goodies I found while reading Journey to the West.
Mani-pearls are spherical jewels that sparkle like diamonds; they are referred to as “the king of jewels” and send out hundreds of rays of colored light. They come from clams in highly magical places and reputedly take centuries to form.
Night-luminescent pearls glow of their own light, a soft jade green.
A saint’s-ash relic orb is an interesting phenomenon, where the ashes of a cremated saint form an object like a pearl or an egg, which have great mystic power in the right hands.
“Springtime in Jade Bottles”— excellent liqueur.
Red steel, in Chinese tales, comes from the legendary mountain kun-wu, and can “slice through jade as if it were mud.” My reference cites the Lieh Tzu.
Mermaid silk (chiao-hsiao), raw silk spun and sold by mermaids.