In the days before history, through which only myths serve as guideposts, there were demons in the world. Wherever they went, disease, war and anarchy spread uncontrolled, like fire in grass. The people who lived in this time cried out to the heavens to save them, and the heavens chose from among the people some who would be those saviors.
The heroes defeated the demons, and closed the doorways into hell through which they'd come. Locks were placed on those doorways, and they were given into the keeping of a powerful lord of heaven, who watched over the hells to ensure that their prisoners would not escape once more.
Time passed, and the people no longer looked to the heavens for guidance. There were no more heroes, and the war against the demons faded past myth and was lost entirely.
Two years ago, an unknown person opened one of the locked doorways into hell. Its locks crumbled easily from age, neglect, or willful nihilism.
Last year, one escaped demon infected three people with its corrupt power. Disasters, diseases, war and chaos spread from these three people like ripples in a pond; where they intersected, massacres and mass graves marked their confluence. Before they were brought down by their own evil, these three people destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives. Before they were brought down, they opened the rest of the doors to the hells.
By the end of this year, the escaped demons will have infected hundreds of people.
The heavens once again act to save the people, and choose from among them some who would be saviors.
In Book of Changes, you play one of the Empowered, a normal person granted extraordinary powers by some cosmic force. The world, you discover, is filled with mystical threats, from spirits causing mischief to ancient demons plotting the complete destruction of the world. You were Empowered by the heavens to defend the world against these threats. The heavens don't create heroes lightly, or often; even as you manage the lesser dangers of hauntings, possession, and spiritual destruction, you're searching for an answer to a greater question: what world-spanning threat are you expected to defeat?
It seems highly unlikely that anyone reading this doesn't know what roleplaying is. If, by some chance, you need an explanation: go to a bookstore, choose a roleplaying game that has an attractive cover, and open it to the first page of text. You should see a section titled 'What Is Roleplaying?' which will answer any questions you might have.
Awakening to your power is abrupt, terrifying, and exhilirating. It feels like an electric current being run through your entire body; it feels like drinking an entire cold mountain stream. For just a moment, you are the entire reason for the universe's existence, and the sole focus of every celestial being of the heavens.
They reach inside you, and your true Nature is revealed. You become one of the Empowered; you become a hero.
Before you're a hero, though, you're just an ordinary person living an ordinary life. As your first step, figure out who you were before the heavens chose you. Your GM may be of some assistance here; she may have plans for beginning the game in a certain way, which will constrain your choices. Perhaps you and your fellow players are all college students at the same school; perhaps you're all the people who happened to be in a particular diner in Wichita at 3:41 PM on August 11th.
Even mortals have some power to command. This power is described by five Aspects, each corresponding to a classical element. Everyone, from the smallest child to the most powerful Empowered warrior, can be defined in terms of these five Aspects. Now that you know who you were, it's time to decide how effective you are even without the additional strength of Empowerment.
Each Aspect governs a different realm of endeavor, described briefly below. For each Aspect, a person is rated from one to five; a rating of one means that the person is incompetent in the realm of that Aspect, while a rating of five means that the person is among the luminaries of all humanity in the realm of that Aspect.
Metal: The Aspect of physical might, martial skill, and endurance. A warrior has a high rating in Metal. Metal is the Aspect used when you're trying to hit someone with an attack, and is the aspect used to determine how much physical punishment you can take before falling over.
Water: The Aspect of grace, agility and dexterity. A dancer or an athlete has a high rating in Water. Water is the Aspect that determines how hard you are to strike in battle, and is used for almost all Tests of movement and athleticism.
Fire: The Aspect of charm, presence, and force of personality. An actor or a politician has a high rating in Fire. Fire is the Aspect used when you're trying to convince someone of something, make someone like you, or tell when someone's lying to you.
Wood: The Aspect of intelligence, intuition, and knowledge. A scientist has a high rating in Wood. Wood is used extensively to invoke Powers, and is also the Aspect used when you're trying to notice something, or put clues together into a larger picture.
Earth: The Aspect of spirituality. Any character might have a high (or low) rating in Earth. Earth determines your available Chi power, which in turn determines how often you can use Powers and how many Spirits you can bind. Earth is also used extensively to resist the effects of Powers used against you by your enemies.
Each of these Aspects has a rating from 1 to 5. With a rating of 1, a character is at the bottom end of human potential. At Metal 1, a character is physically weak; at Wood 1, a character is below-average intelligence and perception. Most normal people have a rating of 2 in their Aspects; some extraordinary people may have a rating of 3 or 4 in one of their Aspects.
You have 15 points to assign to your Aspects. No aspect can be less than 1 or more than 5. Also, think carefully about giving any Aspect a rating of 1, as it will represent a significant weakness. In particular, you should not have less than a 2 in the Aspect of Earth unless you have a very clear idea of what you intend to do to counteract this weakness.
You're already ahead of the game; your starting Aspects will be fairly high relative to the vast majority of people. The average person has a total of 10 to 12 points worth of Aspects. The heavens choose the exceptional to Empower, so that their champions will be strong enough to survive.
When the heavens reached inside you and Empowered you, they did not grant you new power. Instead, they simply awakened the power that already lay dormant within you. This innate power is called your Nature, and it defines how you interact with both the mortal and spiritual world.
There are eight Natures, which correspond to eight parts of the world, eight personality types, eight innermost secret selves. The whole of human experience, every person who has ever lived, can be described in subtle shadings of the eight basic Natures.
The heavens are powerful, but cannot change the nature of a thing. If they could, demons would not be allowed to exist -- but demons must exist because a balance of good and evil is the nature of the world. In the same way, the heavens cannot give you spiritual powers you do not already have. All they can do is Empower the Nature you had all along.
Decide which of the eight Natures best describes the person you were before Empowerment, or just the character you'd like to play. Your choice will determine which Powers you will be able to use, so you may want to read through the available Powers before deciding.
Generally, two player characters should not have the same Nature, to ensure that the group has access to as many different Powers as possible. Discuss your preferences with the rest of the group and divide up the available Natures accordingly.
Special Attack: Every Nature modifies your basic Attack action in some way. This effect is always on; if you make a normal Attack, without using a Power, your Nature provides extra benefit to that attack. You cannot choose to make an Attack without invoking your Nature's Special Attack property.
Special Defense: Your Nature also provides you with an always-active defensive effect. This is not a Defense, in the sense of a Power that provides a Defense; it's just a persistent spiritual property you have. Your Special Defense explains when and how it is activated.
Limit: Your Limit Power is a special type of Attack you can make when your Limit meter is full. This counts as an Attack action for the purposes of any special rules dealing with Attacks. Limit Powers are usually devastatingly powerful and effective.
You have a proud soul. Your nature is aloof, forceful, creative and dominant.
You have an open soul. Your nature is peaceful and tranquil, and focused on joy and happiness.
You have a radiant soul. Your nature is clinging, and you are able to adapt quickly to maintain your focus.
You have an agitated soul. Your nature is mobile and aggressive, and you are quick to take the initiative.
You have a gentle soul. Your nature is soft but you are able to penetrate barriers and slip behind defenses.
You have a dangerous soul. You conceal hidden depths and darkness, and trap others with your influence.
You have a still soul. You cannot be swayed from your path, and will see a task through to completion.
You have a yielding soul. You bend before an irresistable force, and when it has passed, you are unbroken.
All Empowered also share some characteristics in common, regardless of Nature.
Destiny: You aren't destined to get hit by a bus, or eaten by a shark, or die in any of the countless ways to which ordinary humans are vulnerable. Ordinary injuries are nothing to you, and even severe injury from an ordinary source is little more than an inconvenience.
Practically, this means that unless you're being attacked by a spirit or other supernatural entity, you do not mark off Wounds. You may still suffer other effects of the attack -- for instance, if a building falls on top of you, you're still going to need to dig yourself out from under it. If the attack would cause knockdown or stun, you still suffer those effects. A soldier with a gun can't kill you, but he can certainly keep you pinned down.
Catastrophic damage is a bit more inconvenient. If you suffer some massive injury -- leaping off a skyscraper, or falling into a vat of molten steel -- you're still going to suffer that injury, even if technically it doesn't mark off any of your Wounds. In the case of the skyscraper, you're going to shatter most of the bones in your body; in the molten steel case, you're going to be seared down to a twisted lump of flesh. And it's going to hurt. Note that in both these cases, you're still suffering far less injury than a normal person -- your Empowerment keeps you intact and alive, though just barely.
Your time to recover from catastrophic damage varies depending on how severely ruined you are, and your Metal Aspect. There's no precise number, though the fastest recovery should be no less than a week, and the slowest should be no more than a month. And, of course, the process can't start until you're no longer taking catastrophic damage, so if you're trapped inside an active volcano, you'll need to get out of the magma before you can start healing.
Spirit Sight: You can see the spiritual nature of things around you. This has a few different effects.
First, you can see the Empowered, and with a Wood test, you can tell their Nature. The Empowered look like flames burning inside the chest of the person's mortal body. The intensity of the flame reveals the person's Earth Aspect; low Earth might be no more than a single candle, while high Earth might be a blazing torch.
Second, you can see spirits, whether Bonded or not. Bonded spirits are usually near their partners, with pulsing silvery lines of energy tethering them together. Unbonded spirits appear in whatever form they are most comfortable. Some powerful spirits are able to alter their appearance as they choose, but you can always still recognize them as spirits. Spirits are often animals, less frequently human-like, and occasionally monstrous.
Third, you can see the spiritual state of the world around you. Many things are exactly what they appear to be; a house appears to be a house, whether seen through normal eyes or Spirit Sight. Spirits cannot affect the real world directly (thus why they seek out Bonds), but they can affect the spiritual state of the real world. A spirit might fell a tree, or destroy a house, and in doing so what they'd really be doing is severing the link between the real thing -- the tree or house -- and its spiritual nature. Over time, reality changes to conform to the spiritual world. A house destroyed in spirit will, regardless of the best efforts of any owners or caretakers, come to destruction in reality. Perhaps it will just grow shabby and run-down; perhaps it will suffer a fire; perhaps it will be bulldozed to make room for a new building.
The human spirit is exceptionally resilient, so only truly mighty spirits can use this property of the spirit world to effect the death of a human. A spirit could ruin a person, though, by destroying the spirit natures of, for instance, her car, her house, her place of work. This kind of damage can usually be seen by the Empowered as darkness swirling on the surface of a person like oil on water. The dark stains on the person's soul are always a clear indication of spirit hostility.
Spiritual Awareness: Your soul is deeply connected to the world around you, and you can 'feel' changes to the world as spiritual 'vibrations' in the fabric of reality. What this means, practically, is that you can use your Chi to avoid attacks. See 'Defending', in the Combat section, for more details.
Aside from your Aspects and your Nature, a handful of other values are used to describe your character's abilities. These are calculated from your Aspect ratings.
Chi: You have a number of points of Chi equal to 10 plus your Earth aspect times 4. The more Chi you have available, the more spirits you can Bond, and the more frequently you can use your Powers.
Limit: Your Limit meter's size is equal to your Fire Aspect subtracted from 8. The lower your Limit meter, the more quickly you'll reach a breaking point where you'll unleash your full powers.
Minor and Major Wounds: Your Minor Wound track has a number of boxes equal to your Metal Aspect. Your Major Wound track has a number of boxes equal to half your Metal Aspect, rounded up. Each box on your Wound track represents a severity of damage you can take; when you've taken a Mortal Wound, you fall down, incapacitated.
Defense: Your Defense Score is equal to the sum of your Water and Wood Aspects. The higher your Defense, the harder you are to hit in combat, and the easier it is for you to spend Chi to avoid attacks entirely.
The world is filled with spirits of various types, from minor animal spirits to celestial beings cast out from Heaven. All spirits see the material world only as a dim, immaterial reflection, and desperately crave direct contact with reality. They manage this by forming Bonds with the Empowered, offering their powers in exchange for the Chi energy of their partners.
By forming a Bond with a spirit, an Empowered character gains access to Powers. Almost every spirit corresponds to one or more of the eight Natures, and by combining the spirit's Nature with your own Nature, you are able to create a complex magical effect.
Once a spirit has offered its services in the form of a Bond, and given the Empowered character its name, the Empowered can call on the spirit at any time to re-forge the Bond. This allows an Empowered character to build a 'library' of spirit names that can be called on to tailor the character's available Powers to the current situation.
Simple spirits may happily form Bonds with no more negotiation than a simple 'Yes, please!'. More complex spirits, especially fallen celestial beings, will want to ensure that their Bonded partner's goals and even personality align with their own. Negotiating for a Bond with a powerful or difficult spirit can require quite a bit of discussion and compromise.
The basic cost for bonding a spirit is the sacrifice of 3 points of Chi. Chi sacrifices are deducted from your maximum Chi value; for as long as the spirit remains Bonded, your maximum Chi is lowered by 3. Some powerful spirits may require more Chi, or more elaborate sacrifices, but at a minimum at least 3 Chi will always be demanded. This sacrifice provides an upper limit on the number of spirits that can be Bonded; at Earth 3, a character has 22 points of Chi available, which allows 7 Bonded spirits with just a single point of Chi remaining for use in activating Powers and defending in battle.
Bonding a spirit takes time. It is, at a minimum, a Ritual action; however, releasing and re-bonding spirits should generally only be allowed in downtime between scenes. As a rule, unless the GM has a specific reason to allow otherwise, a character's Bonded spirits should remain the same for an entire scene.
Releasing a bonded spirit is a free action. However, Chi committed to the Bond isn't restored immediately; it is expended, and has to regenerate in the same way as any other expended Chi. Similarly, even if your maximum Chi allows you to Bond a spirit, you can't form the Bond without enough current Chi to meet the cost.
Example: Daria has an Earth Aspect of 4, giving her 26 points of Chi. She has three Bonded spirits, each with a cost of 3 Chi, leaving her with a current maximum of 17 Chi for use in combat and to activate her Powers. After a very difficult battle, in which she and her allies were nearly defeated, Daria has only 2 Chi remaining. She would like to summon a spirit she knows that can help them recover, but the cost to Bond that spirit is 3 Chi. Even though, when fully rested, Daria has plenty of Chi for that Bond, right now she's too spiritually drained to manage another spirit.
Once you've Bonded a spirit, you may use any of your Powers that have one of the spirit's Natures as a keyword. For instance, if your Nature is Wind, and you Bond a Heaven spirit, you become able to use the Coupling Power.
Some spirits may offer an increase to one of your secondary characteristics, or even to your Aspects. These increases take effect immediately upon Bonding the spirit. However, note that any increase to your Aspects from a Bond cannot take an Aspect above 5. Any exceptions to this rule will be noted in the spirit's description.
More than one person cannot Bond a spirit at a time, and a spirit will generally accept only one partner. This means that if a spirit offers its services to your group, you will almost always have to decide which of your allies will learn the spirit's secret name.
When creating your character, you may select one of the following spirits; you begin the game knowing its secret name. Some GMs may wish to introduce your spirit companions as part of the early gameplay, so check with your GM before choosing a spirit.
See the Spirits section of the Bestiary, below, for more examples.
There are three possible kinds of actions you can take: Trivial actions, Simple actions, and Contested actions.
Trivial actions are resolved by simply declaring it to be so. You don't need to make a Test at all to drive to the grocery, or to read the Wikipedia page on vampires.
Simple actions require a Test. To make a Test, you must first decide what Aspect the test falls under. See the description of Aspects, above, for some guidelines. If you're not sure, the GM can make a final determination.
Take two dice and roll them. Then choose the two highest values to add together, selecting from the numbers you rolled on the dice as well as your rating in the appropriate Aspect. For instance, if you are climbing a wall, using your Water rating of 4, and you roll a 3 and a 5, the two highest results are your roll of 5 and your rating of 4: your total is 9. If instead you'd rolled a 5 and a 6, you wouldn't include your Water rating of 4; it's lower than both the values on the dice, so your total would be 11.
Your total is then compared to a target number. This value is set by the GM, and reflects the difficulty of the task. In most cases, the target number is 7; this represents a task of moderate difficulty, at which you can reasonably expect to succeed most of the time. Harder tasks may have target numbers that are much higher; the highest target number a normal person can ever achieve is a 12. Any target of 10 or higher is a very difficult challenge, requiring a fair bit of luck as well as innate skill. Lower target numbers exist as well, though any target of less than 5 is so easy that the GM should probably consider declaring the action Trivial and not requiring a roll.
If your total is equal to or greater than the target number, your action succeeds. If you exceed the target by at least 3 points, you've achieved a Heroic Success. Generally, this means you'll do even better than you'd intended. It might mean you gain additional information, or you're able to climb a wall with alarming speed, or you've made the person you're sweet-talking fall madly in love with you.
If, on the other hand, your total is 3, you've Critically Failed. This means that in addition to failure, you also make a problem worse, cause more trouble for yourself, break a tool you were using, and so forth. Notice that with an Aspect rated at least 3, it's not possible to suffer a critical failure.
Supernatural entites such as the Empowered are capable of superhuman feats, generating totals well in excess of normal human capacity. If your roll of two dice come up doubles, and the number on each die is the same as your Aspect's rating, you sum all three values, rather than just two. In addition, you roll another die, and add it to the total. If that die also results in the same value as your Aspect's rating, you roll yet another die; you keep rolling additional dice and adding them to the total until you roll something other than your Aspect's rating.
It isn't possible to have an Aspect rated at 6, but if you roll double sixes, you always get to sum all three values and roll another die. To keep rolling after that, the added die must also show a six.
Some powerful entites may have Aspects rated above 5. This is represented by giving two values for their Aspect's rating, such as '5 + 1'. An entity with a rating of 5 + 1 will add 6 to its total, and will receive doubles on a roll of either double 5 or double 1. The second value can never exceed the first, so '5 + 4' is followed by '5 + 4 + 1', rather than '5 + 5'. The highest possible rating for any Aspect, then, is '5 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 1', which indicates cosmic, godlike power.
Player characters don't ever get a rating over 5, unless some supernatural force or extraordinary power grants it temporarily.
Rather than a static target number, Contested Actions use the results of someone else's roll as their target numbers. The classic example of a contested action is an arm-wrestling match. To resolve a contested action, both parties make a Test, which is not always based on the same Aspect. The character with the higher total is the winner; if she exceeds her opponent by more than 3 points, she gets a Heroic Success.
It's important to note that unlike Simple Actions, the target number is actually one higher; if the two participants tie, there's no clear winner, and they'll have to contest again. That means that the target number for a heroic success is one higher, as well: if your opponent gets a total of 7, you succeed on an 8, and get a heroic success on an 11 (rather than the 7 and 10 that you'd need against a static, simple action target).
Some common Contested actions include trying to charm someone into helping you (Fire vs. Wood), wrestling someone into immobility (Metal vs. Metal), and sneaking past a guard (Water vs. Wood).
In combat, the most common Contested Action is the Resistance test, in which you attempt to overcome a target's spiritual resilience with a Power. This is almost always Wood vs. Earth.
When the players encounter enemies, and a fight breaks out, combat is broken down into rounds. A round is an unspecified amount of time, generally around six to ten seconds, during which a character can move and act.
Battles take place on simple 'zone maps' which roughly indicate the terrain of the combat. A 'zone' corresponds to a logical division of the environment. For instance, a fight taking place in someone's house might have a zone for the kitchen, a zone for the living room, and so forth. A fight taking place on an open field might have four zones for the periphery and one zone for the center. Zones don't measure a specific distance or area, and should map easily to logical divisions in the environment. If there's a low wall running through a field, that wall probably marks a zone edge.
Each side takes a turn acting, with all characters on that side given the opportunity to move and take an action. When everyone on a side has acted, the other side may then take their actions. Initiative determines which side gets to take their turn first. The rules for initiative are as follows:
Characters can take several kinds of actions in a round.
Movement: A character can move from one zone to an adjacent zone in a round. Movement that doesn't change which zone the character is in is free, and doesn't count as an action; otherwise, the character spends the round moving.
Standard Action: A character can take a 'standard' action in a round. Nearly all actions that have an impact on the combat are 'standard'. If an action is cosmetic or doesn't involve a Test, it probably doesn't count as a standard action, and is free. You can yell at your allies, for instance, or threaten your enemies, or look around and take note of likely escape routes for free, without using your action. Attacking an enemy, invoking a Power, kicking down a door, climbing into a car: all these count as standard actions.
Active Defense: If it's the enemy's turn, and you are attacked, you can still do something about it. By giving up your next action, you can invoke a Power that's tagged with the Defensive keyword. (You can also use a chi defense, which doesn't cost your action; see below for more information.)
Extended Action: You might have something to do that will take more than one round to complete. Some Powers may require more than one round, or you might be desperately trying to build a ladder out of shoelaces and chewing gum. Extended actions require you to do nothing else for the round, while you work on them. If you have to stop, the GM will let you know if you can pick up where you left off, or if you have to start over. Piling up stones, you can probably return to. Blowing the world's largest soap bubble, you've probably got to start over.
Hold Action: You can choose not to act on your side's turn. If you do this, you have to specify the condition under which your action will be triggered, and what you intend to do. For instance, you could say that 'if I'm attacked, I want to use the Withdrawing Power to defend'. You could also say 'If Andrea is attacked, I want to attack the enemy that's attacking her first.' Held actions happen after their triggering conditions complete, so Andrea would still get attacked. If multiple held actions trigger at the same time, and it's important for some reason to determine the order of their execution, use the various acting characters' Water Aspects to sort them out.
In Book of Changes, there's no real system by which one normal person can punch another and knock him out. If this comes up, it can be represented by a simple Metal vs. Metal opposed test. All the mechanics that follow assume that the participants in the fight are either Empowered or are supernatural entities. A normal person punching one of the Empowered inflicts no actual Wound damage, though other consequences may apply (see Destiny, above).
Any time you choose to attack a target, you're invoking your Empowered Nature. The precise form of this invocation is up to you. If you have the Fire Nature, you might summon a blade of fire, or your fist might burst into flames, or there might be no special description at all -- just the power of the heavens flowing through your muscles. (However, regardless of the attack description you choose, without a Power that says otherwise, you're still limited to attacking at Close range. You can hurl a boulder, but not outside your current zone.)
To make an attack, you make a standard Test using your Metal Aspect. Your target number for the test is your opponent's Defense (the sum of his Water and Wood Aspects). If you achieve a Success, you inflict one Minor Wound. If you achieve a Heroic Success, you inflict one Major Wound.
If you're attacked, you have options.
The easiest thing you can do is spend points of Chi to cause the attack to miss. You can spend 1 point of Chi to increase your Defense by one, and you can do this after the attack has been rolled. This allows you to reduce a Major Wound to a Minor Wound, or a Minor Wound to a miss. This defense works against one attack only, so if you're attacked again in the same round, you'll have to spend more Chi to negate that attack as well.
You can also trigger a Power that has the Defensive keyword. This will cost Chi, and will use up your next action. (If you're triggering the Power with a Held Action, as described above, you don't use up your next action -- but you still spend Chi.) The specific effects of doing this are described in the Power.
You can also just take the injury. When you suffer an injury, mark off the appropriate Wound on your character sheet. If you're all out of Wounds of that severity, mark off a box of the next higher severity. If you have to mark off your Mortal Wound box, you are out of action (see Mortal Wounds, below).
However, taking wounds isn't entirely bad. When you're injured, you generate Limit points for yourself and, potentially, your allies. When you take a Minor Wound, you gain 1 Limit point. When you take a Major Wound, you gain 1 Limit point, and so does one of your allies; choose one ally to whom you'd like to give the point. When you take a Mortal Wound, you and all your allies gain 1 Limit point.
Any time you roll a Heroic Success in an attack against a target, he is knocked down; this is true whether or not the target actually takes damage from the attack.
The knocked down status expires at the start of the target's turn; no action is required to stand up, recover, or shake off the knockdown.
If you roll a Heroic Success in an attack against a knocked down target, he becomes stunned. While stunned, a character cannot spend Chi to avoid attacks, or trigger defensive Powers.
The stunned status requires that the character spend an action on his turn to remove it. He can take no other action besides clearing the stun.
Please note that while the Mountain Special Defense, Still Mountain, prevents the stunned status, the Thunder and Fire Special Defenses prevent neither knocked down nor stunned.
While you're injured, you suffer penalties to your actions. With a Minor Wound, your rolls are all reduced by one. With a Major Wound, your rolls are all reduced by two. With a Mortal Wound, you cannot act at all. If something allows you to act while you have a Mortal Wound, you suffer the penalties of a Major Wound, and do not roll extra dice on doubles.
These penalties aren't cumulative; if you have one Minor Wound and one Major Wound, you only have a penalty of 2, not 3; if you have two Minor Wounds, your penalty is 1, not 2.
There are two ways to heal your wounds. You can wait and let them heal naturally; this doesn't take very long, because you are Empowered. You completely recover from all Minor Wounds at the end of a battle, and you recover from Major Wounds after a night's rest. Mortal Wounds take two night's rests; after one night, the Mortal Wound becomes a single Major Wound, and that Major Wound is healed by the next night.
You can also be healed by a Power, such as Repairing or Pervading. The mechanism of this type of healing varies by the Power being used, but is generally instantaneous.
Mortal Wounds are injuries that would kill a normal person -- a blade through the heart, for instance. When you take a Mortal Wound, you are unable to act in the battle. After the battle, you are able to move around, slowly, and can't take serious physical actions. You automatically fail any Metal or Water tests you're required to make while Mortally Wounded.
However, there is a benefit to being Mortally Wounded. While you're down and incapacitated, you cause all your allies to gain another point of Limit each round. This increase happens at the end of each of your side's turns, after everyone has acted (and you've failed to act). Additionally, you (but not your allies) also gain one point of Chi at the end of each round.
You can use your Chi to ignore the effects of Wounds. The cost to do this depends on the severity of the Wounds you're ignoring. Ignoring the penalty from your Minor Wounds costs 1 point of Chi. Major Wounds cost 3 points of Chi. Standing up and acting normally even though you're Mortally Wounded costs 5 points of Chi. You have to spend this Chi cost each round in which you act without penalty. Also note that you and your allies gain no benefit from your Mortal Wound in any round where you use Chi to stand up and act.
When you spend Chi to ignore Wounds, you only pay for the most severe Wound you have. This single Chi expenditure removes the penalties from all your Wounds. So, if you have a Major and Minor Wound, you pay 3 Chi and have no penalties for the round from either the Major or the Minor Wound.
Limit represents the inner strength and resolve gained from perserverance through dire circumstances. When your Limit fills up, you can unleash tremendous powers through your Nature. Limit power is by its nature unsubtle; it has no effect on Powers.
Your Limit capacity is based on your Fire Aspect. Subtract your Fire Aspect rating from 8; this is the number of Limit points you have to accumulate before you can unleash a Limit power. As you gain Limit, mark off the boxes on your character sheet. Once you've marked them all off, you can use your Limit power any time thereafter. You don't have to use it immediately, but you don't accumulate any more Limit points until you do.
Once you use a Limit power, your Limit points return to zero. Also, after the end of a battle, your Limit points return to zero.
For details on what Limit powers actually do, see the section on your Nature.
Some attacks and defenses may have the Perfect keyword. Perfect attacks cannot be blocked, except by Perfect defenses; Perfect defenses cannot be breached by any attack.
Perfect Attacks do not allow Chi to be spent against them. They always score at least a normal success, regardless of the results of the Test. Regardless of any Defense used, a Perfect attack always inflicts damage. Other effects of a Defense used against a Perfect attack may still happen, however; for instance, the Companionship defensive Power will still allow Wounds to be absorbed by an ally, even if those Wounds are caused by a Perfect attack. Other effects of an attack besides Wounds are not guaranteed by the Perfect keyword; a Power that prevents knockdowns will prevent knockdowns from a Perfect attack, as well. Perfect attacks don't circumvent effects that prevent the user from attacking; if you can't act, you can't use a Perfect attack. Perfect Defenses always trump Perfect Attacks.
Perfect Defenses cannot be breached by any attack, or by a Power with the Attack keyword. An attack or power that meets a Perfect Defense automatically fails any Test, and if the attack or power would inflict damage or any other negative status even with a failed Test, the damage or status is not applied. Perfect Defenses only apply to attacks, and have no effect on, for instance, Powers that apply negative status but require no attack. Perfect Defenses don't cancel existing negative status effects; if you already have been attacked, and received a Curse effect, a Perfect Defense in the next round won't remove that Curse. Perfect Defenses always prevent knockdown and stun caused by an attack.
Note that if a Perfect Defense would be invalidated because of one of its other Keywords (aside from Perfect and Defense), it is invalidated. Specifically, even if a Defense is Perfect, if it has the Corrupt or Earth keywords, the Heaven Special Attack 'Heaven's Purpose' still bypasses it.
Your Empowerment provides you with substantial power, but the raw expression of that power often lacks subtlety. By combining your Nature with that of a Spirit, you can create more complex effects. These effects are known as Powers.
Your Nature has 8 potential Powers available; which Powers you have depends on which Spirits you've bonded to yourself. Each bonded spirit requires that you commit some of your Chi to maintaining the link between the two of you, so there's a practical limit to how many Powers you can have available to you.
Tags: The tags of a Power are keywords that other game effects may reference. At a minimum, the tags include all the Natures from which the Power is derived.
Test: Powers generally require a Test to activate. Most use a Simple Wood test, which has the standard target number of 7. If the Test is Contested, the target of the Power makes the second roll. If the Power applies to multiple targets, the user of the Power makes just one roll, and each target rolls against that single roll.
Cost: The amount of Chi that the Power costs to invoke. If the Duration of the Power is 'maintain', this cost is paid at the start of each of your turns. If the cost includes a multiplier (such as '1 per ally'), you can't choose to affect fewer targets to reduce the cost. Some Powers may explicitly allow this, however, and include rules in their descriptions for how to choose who's affected.
Duration: There are four different possible duration values, as follows. A Power may have a duration not among these four; if so, the Power's duration will be explained in its description.
Power descriptions will occasionally refer to 'allies' and 'enemies'. Generally, everyone fighting alongside you in a battle is an 'ally', and everyone fighting against you is an 'enemy'. This isn't entirely accurate, but for almost all circumstances, it will suffice.
A more strict definition that will rarely come up: An 'ally' is any entity that knows your current goals and is openly attempting to help you achieve them in the current scene. An 'enemy' is any entity that is openly attempting to prevent you from achieving whatever it believes your goals to be in the current scene. Entities unaware of your current goals who happen to be assisting you do not count as allies, and entities who would oppose your goals if they knew them, but aren't yet aware of them, do not count as enemies.
Example 1: Sara and Theo, both Empowered PCs, are trying to get inside a biotech company's secret research center and destroy a dangerous cloned monstrosity. They call their friend Robert, a hacker, and bring him along to help them get through the loading dock doors by cracking the keypad lock. Robert is an unempowered NPC, but for the duration of the scene, he's an ally.
Example 2: In order to get inside the electrified, barbed-wire fence, the PCs need someone to open a gate. Thankfully, a delivery truck arrives as they hide nearby, and as the gate opens to let it in, they slip through. The truck's driver is unaware of them, so even though he's helping them, he's not an ally.
Example 3: The trio are intercepted by a guard on patrol, who's looking around carefully because he thinks he heard a noise. He's attempting to prevent the PCs from accomplishing their goals (get to the door and hack its electronic lock) but he isn't aware of that, or them. He's not an enemy. If he makes his contested Wood vs. Water test to spot them crouched in the bushes nearby, though, he will become an enemy.
Example 4: Before the PCs have the opportunity to make an enemy out of the guard, the clone monster (having broken free of its holding cell a few hours previous, while the PCs were still dithering about how to get inside) bursts out the loading dock door, shredding it to pieces. The monster smells their Empowered souls and attacks in a fury -- it's actually an emotion spirit bound to a mountain of cloned flesh. The monster is an enemy.
Example 5: The security guard pulls out his gun and starts shouting for backup as he fires at the hulking pile of meat. He's technically assisting the PCs in their goals, but he doesn't know that -- he's busy fighting for his life. He's not an ally or an enemy at this point.
As a rule, anyone who's intentionally helping you is potentially an ally. Anyone who's helping you incidentally is not an ally. Anyone who's opposing you intentionally is an enemy; anyone who's opposing you incidentally is not an enemy. And finally, anyone who's pretending to be on your side but is secretly working for your enemies is considered an 'ally'; you can't use Ally/Enemy targeting to root out traitors in your midst.
There are millions of spirits that inhabit the world, in thousands of different varieties. The most common of these are the animal spirits, which are generally no more intelligent than the mortal animals from which they arise. Sometimes an animal spirit will become older and more powerful, and begin to reason and even speak like a human.
Humans can produce spirits, as well, in two different broad categories. Ghosts are spirits of specific people that linger on after death. In almost every case, this is simply so that the ghost can watch its family, or watch over some important project. Ghosts with benevolent motivations are generally an unseen benefit to their charges, chasing away smaller and more mischevious spirits. Other ghosts may instead be angry, filled with hate, seeking vengeance or a sense of completion. These ghosts are more troubling, but most are not powerful enough to do more than give mortals occasional bad luck. When angry ghosts become powerful enough to start actively damaging the spirit world, they can become active threats to mortals -- the kind of 'hauntings' that populate horror fiction.
The other type of human-created spirit is born from intense emotion. These spirits are dangerous, rare, and devastatingly powerful. A place can acquire a kind of spiritual residue, emotional toxic waste that can, very occasionally, become aware and animate. Spirits of rage, despair, hopelessness, fear and lust can pull themselves out of the sludge of spent emotions and wander free, acting according to their own dark natures. Such spirits are not born often, and generally only survive a short time. At first, they are nearly mindless, wreaking havoc with no sense of self-preservation -- and almost all other kinds of spirit will attack them on sight, even sacrificing themselves to destroy the newborn. Emotion spirits that survive long enough to become cunning are terrible and deadly. An emotion spirit that managed to survive through decades or even centuries would be a nearly unstoppable enemy.
The Celestials claim that the heavens are highly organized, filled with thousands and thousands of spirits, minor and major deities, dragons, and the Emperor himself, ruling over all with wisdom and strength. It is unclear how much of this tale is true, and how much of it is myth-making by the celestials themselves, eager to secure some kind of rank in the spiritual world.
Celestials are fallen spirits, exiled from the heavens by choice or by force. Some are benevolent, clever, and peaceful; often they will adopt a shrine, church, or even something as simple as a pretty clearing in a forest. They're content to tend to their focal place, protecting it and those who revere it, and show no real interest in the world outside of their sanctuary. When they interact with other spirits, they generally adopt the form of a Chinese dragon, or a Chinese person in ancient garb. Some few wander the world, but they too will adopt something as their sanctuary, generally something large or abstract, like the color of dawn or the railway lines of the United States.
Other Celestials are not so benevolent. The machinations of the heavens are complex, and not all within it are peaceful deities choosing a life among mortals. Some were cast out for crimes, the nature of which are incomprehensible to even very spiritual mortals. Others left as part of some larger plot to seize power or destroy a rival. These celestials may appear friendly and peaceful, but they are the most dangerous type of spirit in existence. They are ancient, cunning, powerful beyond measure, and have generally had centuries or millenia in which to lay complex plans and traps for their foes.
It is thought by those spirits who care to hold a conversation with the Empowered that the heavens respond to times of great crisis and danger by selecting mortals as their agents on Earth. Mortals, unlike spirits, can wield raw power in the realm of the physical. Mortals can change the world as well as be changed by it, and mortals can act in unexpected ways. For all the deviousness of a Celestial, all must ultimately act according to their design. A Celestial of love will not hate, and a Celestial of war cannot make peace.
Spirits of the modern age believe that there have been three great crises in the past, and each time, the heavens created heroes to protect the world from destruction. The nature of these crises is no longer known; the Celestials old enough to remember even the most recent of them are millenia old, and while their wisdom is great, their minds are clouded with years.
The process by which a mortal becomes Empowered is mysterious, as no spirit of the heavens has ever been seen carrying it out. It can strike at any moment; you could be washing dishes, or reading a book, or hiking in the woods. It seems to only happen when one is alone, though. No Empowered can adequately describe the moment at which it happens, the sensation of heaven's power coursing through her. It seems that the languages of humanity are insufficient to encompass the experience. No words are needed when talking to another of the Empowered.
Humans keep their souls trapped inside the confines of their bodies, caged ghosts that animate them, give rise to consciousness and desire, and ultimately leave them an empty shell to rot. Empowerment unlocks the cage of the body. The spirit, formerly trapped by simple mortality, can escape. The particular magic of human souls is that they're inexhaustible. Like a hole dug in a beach, some great ocean keeps filling the well of the human soul from within.
The heavens are ordered, and work best within systems, bureaucracies, categories and structures. Thus all human souls, in their infinite variety, are Empowered in one of eight ways: the eight Spirit Natures into which every other spirit in the world is grouped. Humanity is complex, but the heavens like simple, easy-to-comprehend heroes.
It's not known how many of the Empowered there are. It's a small enough number that rumors of their existence have not spread into mortal knowledge. Mortals are, in any case, very good at ignoring the spiritual; their caged souls aid them in doing so. Some spirits claim that eventually all mortals will be Empowered; others claim that only a few will ever be Empowered, because of the risk of placing so much power in such unreliable hands.
Spirits, regardless of their age or power, all fear the Empowered somewhat. The heavens are distant and unknown; even the Celestials, with their pretense of wisdom, don't truly remember the heavens, as such knowledge leaves them when they go into exile. To see a direct manifestation of what is, otherwise, a half-remembered mythology, is unsettling to spirits. Weaker spirits will flee from an Empowered, or grovel; more powerful ones may try to adhere themselves to the Empowered, eager for some share in the heavens' power.
The malevolent emotion spirits want nothing more than to destroy the Empowered, of course; it is the ultimate act of nihilistic spiritual vandalism. Cunning Celestials want to control the Empowered, seeing them as a stepping stone back into the heavens.
The term 'demon' is misleading, as it doesn't describe a specific taxonomy of spiritual creature. Instead, 'demon' refers to any hostile spirit that's achieved a kind of nirvana of hate, a desire to destroy the world and bring the heavens crashing down into ruin. Generally, demons are fallen Celestials, but powerful emotion spirits, and even maddened animal spirits and ghosts of particularly powerful humans can end up as demons.
Demons cannot help but let their hatred ooze out of their forms. Even clever celestials will miss some detail, leaving some sign of their malevolence. It might be some out-of-place feature -- an extra finger, a missing nose. It is often a smell, sulfurous and vile. Sometimes it's a cloud of darkness that seems to leak from the demon. Inky smoke oozing from the tear-ducts is a common sign among the evil celestials. These outer signs mark an inner force, known as Corruption.
Corruption arises spontaneously within a spirit that desires the destruction of the world and the heavens. It isn't a sentient force, or something with which one bargains. It's simply the spiritual presence of a being that has rejected the heavens utterly, much like the smell of sulfur arises spontaneously when eggs rot. However 'natural' Corruption might be, it has profound effects on the spiritual world, and thus by extension on the physical world.
When a Corrupt entity damages something in the spirit world, the Corruption infects that thing, spreading like cancer through it, until the thing is entirely rotted through with Corruption. This might simply result in the physical destruction of the thing -- a Corrupted building might collapse -- but more often the thing becomes a twisted version of itself. A Corrupted house offers no security or peace of mind, and those within fall to bickering, hate and ultimately murder. A Corrupted bank squanders the money of its customers on foolish investments, until all are ruined. A Corrupted courthouse leads the judges, lawyers and jurors to unjust verdicts, and the innocent are punished while the guilty are rewarded.
Corruption can be seen in the spirit world; it's scabrous, black, misshapen and clustered all over with rotten tumors and pus-filled boils. Something that has become Corrupt must be destroyed; there is no way to heal Corruption.
Spirits, thankfully, cannot become Corrupted in this way. Any loyalty whatsoever to the heavens is sufficient to completely immunize an animate spirit from Corruption. Only the most self-destructive spirits can ever forsake the heavens enough to become Corrupt, and they create their own Corruption, needing no 'infection' to give birth to it within themselves.
A demon can sometimes be reasoned with, often bargained with, and even intimidated or forced to swear allegiance. However, nothing can actually cure a demon of its Corruption, and it cannot do good; it will always be twisted back towards destruction and evil. Like a rattlesnake, it will inevitably bite: that is its nature. Only destruction can cleanse a demon's Corruption.
The Empowered make Bonds with spirits from a kind of equal footing. There is a mutual exchange that is born of respect and shared goals. However, the Empowered are not the only ones with whom spirits will make alliances. Mortals can Bond to spirits as well; the result is called a Hollow.
Hollows are no longer people, in the sense that they are no longer a full soul, experiencing life, fully conscious. A mortal's soul isn't able to adapt to the needs of a Bonded spirit. It tries to reject the alien intruder, and is gradually consumed by it. Not all Hollows are bad, and many are not even Corrupted, but all are wounded, damaged souls, unable to be fully human.
The path to becoming a Hollow begins with a great need. A human, simply curious about the supernatural, will not be able to offer the kind of emotional enticement needed to attract the attention of a spirit. It takes an extremity of desire, a vast unslakable thirst, to make a spirit notice. Someone must have already delved deep into their own soul looking for answers, and scraped the bottom of the vessel of their soul, leaving nothing but need. Hollows thus often arise from the dying, the hopeless, the weak and the wounded.
At first, the Bonded spirit seems the answer to the person's deepest wishes. With a Bonded spirit, the Hollow comes alive once more, filled with the spiritual energy to solve their problems, to free themselves from despair. Acquaintances may remark that they seem to have really turned their lives around, solved their problems, found a spine, and so forth. This early period leads the Hollow to see their Bond as an entirely positive force in their lives.
Little changes are already taking place, of course, but the Hollow doesn't notice them at first. The smell of a particular flower vanishes from their mind, for instance, leaving an emptiness: the Hollow can no longer smell that flower. This is a bit of the human's soul being eaten away by the spirit's presence. It seems a small sacrifice for all the spirit has given.
As these holes in the soul become larger, the Hollow's behavior starts to change. One day, he might discover that all food tastes like ash, or that he can no longer tell day from night. The exercise of the spirit's powers becomes erratic, as well, because the spirit is decaying just as the human's soul is decaying.
Some Hollows may hold on for many years, their force of will strong enough to maintain a semblance of normality. The fate of all Hollows is the same, though. Eventually, his soul whittled down to nothing more than autonomous functions of breath and blood, the human is destroyed. What's left is a maddened spirit, damaged and broken by the Bond, lurching about in its best attempt at pretending to be human. Sooner or later, the Hollow dies, the spirit no longer able to maintain even the simplest of the body's needs.
Once a Hollow is created, this process is inevitable and irreversible. The Bond can't be broken, and both human and spirit are doomed. Still, for a human whose need is great, the few months of glory and power may be worth the terrible price.
Outside the boundaries of the world and the heavens are other places. They might be forgotten remnants of creation, or something from before creation entirely. These places, called Hells, are strange and alien. Most are small: a few rooms, an empty field, a single building. Some are much larger. Celestial spirits assert that there are one hundred thousand Hells in all, but the actual number is unknown.
Hells exist in their own bubbles of space and time. They might lie parallel to the world -- a Hell that precisely mirrors a house, occupying the same space as the house, and entered through the house's front door. Others are orthogonal to the world, just a bizarre place entered through an arbitrary door. Inside a Hell, the world's rules of place and distance no longer apply. You might travel for weeks inside a Hell, covering hundreds of miles, step through a door back into the world, and discover you'd only crossed the room.
The Hells would be a curiosity except for two important features. First, spirits in a Hell are physical. They can affect and interact with the world of the Hell as though they were mortals in the real world. This lets them experience mortal sensation, both pleasure and pain. This property also means that there is no 'spirit world' in the Hells; they are the spirit world made physical, and within their confines the spiritual and physical are one and the same. Corruption, in the Hells, is visible and physical, an infection of reality itself.
Second, Hells are the only place where Hellstones can be found. A Hellstone is pure Chi energy, in physical, portable form. Most appear to be no larger than a glass marble, and pulse with their own inner light. They form spontaneously in large enough Hells, like condensation on the walls, and are carefully gathered by the spirits that live there, and hoarded by the powerful spirits that rule the Hells. They are a precious and powerful commodity, sought after by spirits and demons alike.
These two features define the nature of the Hells: they are places of horror and torment, where powerful spirits cruelly rule over weak spirits, and where demons freely travel and Corruption is rampant.
Because desperate spirits crowd into the Hells in search of mortal sensation, there is always a vast, teeming underclass of the weak, eager to be exploited by the powerful in exchange for scraps of desire. Because hellstones can be used to invigorate and empower a spirit, and they are few and rare, there is a currency with which weak spirits can be bought and sold. Because Heaven has no power within the Hells, it is easy for spirits to become Corrupted, and the only law is the most primal law: the strong survive and rule over the weak.
There's nothing inherently corrupt or evil about Hellstones, despite their ominous name. A Hellstone is simply Chi given physical form, a process that can only happen in the Hells, because of the unique way in which the spiritual becomes the physical there.
A Hellstone is always aligned with one of the eight Natures, and the color within the stone is indicative of its alignment. The color of each Nature is given in the table below.
Hellstones have a number of uses. An unbound spirit can use the stored Chi inside a Hellstone to increase any of its Aspects; the spirit gains one additional point of Aspect per point of Chi consumed from the Hellstone. This function only works if the Hellstone's Nature is the same as the spirit's Nature. A Thunder spirit must use a Thunder Hellstone. The improvement lasts for one scene.
Spirits can also draw sustenance from a Hellstone. This has no immediate mechanical effect, but is like a drug to unbound spirits; once they've tasted raw Chi from a Hellstone, they forever crave it. Spirits that consume Hellstones are more vibrant, vigorous, energetic, and capable. Once the effect fades, they become dull, pale, and listless.
Hellstones can be used by the Empowered for additional Chi. Any time an Empowered would spend Chi, she can instead spend it from a Hellstone in her possession. If the Chi expenditure is for a Power, the Power must have a keyword that's the same as the Hellstone's Nature. For any other use, the Nature of the Hellstone is not relevant. (Note that Hellstone Chi can't be used to bind spirits. Binding a spirit is only possible with your own personal Chi.)
A Hellstone is rated as to its power, generally from 1 to 5. Power 1 Hellstones are no bigger than a glass marble, and are the most common variety. Power 5 Hellstones could be as large as a man's fist, and are extremely rare, found only in places in the Hells where few spirits visit; they can take centuries to form. More powerful Hellstones might exist, but if so, they are rare beyond all the treasures of the world.
A Hellstone contains an amount of Chi equal to five times its Power. Thus a Power 1 Hellstone can supply 5 points of Chi before it is expended; a Power 3 Hellstone can give its user 15 points of Chi. When spirits directly consume Chi from a Hellstone, they draw off a point at a time, which invigorates them for a full day before expiring.
When Chi is consumed from a Hellstone, it is permanently expended; the Hellstone shrinks, and when the last of its Chi is consumed, it vanishes.
Some Celestial spirits claim that Hellstones also form in Heaven and fall to Earth. These would rightly be called Heavenstones; the Celestials claim that spirits that use these Heavenstones do not become addicted, and that Heavenstone Chi can be used to purify Corruption from a spirit. No reliable report exists of this ever taking place, nor is there any evidence that 'Heavenstones' exist.
While there are countless Hells, tiny pockets of alternate reality here and there, ten Hells are well-known to the Celestial spirits.
Within the endless halls of the Palace of Mirrors, every surface is reflective. It is the ultimate mirror funhouse, in which direction and distance are quickly lost to complete disorientation. The things that stalk the Palace are blind, following victims by scent and sound. For those who can see, the Palace of Mirrors is nightmarish. Every reflection is clear and perfect, and yet none seem to actually reflect the viewer accurately. Minor changes and distortions that can't quite be identified lead the viewer to anxiety and paranoia. The deeper one goes, the more these distortions accumulate, until in the deepest parts of the palace, the intruder is treated to horrifying visions of herself as a monster, and yet still completely recognizable.
Inside the Palace, there is no 'outside'; the mirrored halls and chambers go on forever. Spirits trapped within the Palace have their own legends of a highest point in the Palace where glass forms a window, rather than a mirror; they believe that this window looks out onto the heavens, and those that retain some scrap of sanity spend their days questing for this legendary pinnacle.
The Lake of Ice lies between high mountain peaks, a long, twisting body of water that snakes between the cliffs and rocky beaches with seemingly no end. The far shore is visible, just a few miles away, though it is sometimes obscured by the rising steam off the water. The water is crystal clear, and smeared shapes are visible, unmoving, in its depths. Those shapes, and the far shore, are deadly to investigate, however. The lake is not freezing; it is far, far colder than freezing. Those touching its surface are afflicted by frostbite, their flesh searing and shattering. Total immersion will instantly freeze one solid.
The peaks of the surrounding mountains thrust miles into the sky, well past the atmosphere, and are impassable; what, if anything, lies beyond the peaks is unknown. Clinging to the lower and middle slopes are stone fortresses, with only narrow and treacherous paths winding up to them. The spirits within each fortress despise the inhabitants of all the other fortresses, and would make war on them if they could. Instead, they use catapults and cannons to fling rotting corpses and other pestilent horrors at each other, generally missing. The detritus of these attacks litter the lake's shores near the ascent to each fortress, and seethe with carrion-eating insects and worms.
The Inverted Castle hangs inside of a vast cavern, many hundreds of miles across, and apparently bottomless. The castle is built of black stone, its foundations sunk deeply into the roof of the cavern, and its dark spires spiking down from the ceiling towards the abyss below. Within the castle, the rooms and corridors are reversed as well, with floors above and ceiling vaults below.
The most powerful spirits live within the reversed halls of the castle, fighting one another for the chambers and dungeons furthest up into the ceiling. Spirits of low status are relegated to the towers and spires, or even out on the exterior walls, where they are forced to make nests of chains and rope, or hack niches in the walls and rocky slopes.
The reason for this stratificiation is in part the howling, endless winds that circle the castle, tearing and grabbing at anyone caught outside its walls, hurling them down into the dark pit below. It is also due to the vicious talons and fangs of the shadowy night-bats that circle with the wind, mindless and starving, seeking prey among those too weak to hold a room or hall inside the castle.
Within, the powerful spirits muster armies of desperate warriors to battle each other over a gallery, or a corridor, or a store-room. The wars continue indefinitely with no real result, and every victory is always matched by a later defeat.
A half-mile wide beach of black sand stretches off to eternity, at the foot of an impossibly high black cliff from which scrawny, bone-white trees grow, their roots twined deep into the rocky outcrops and ragged ledges. Lapping at this dark shore is the Blood Sea, thick and viscous and clotted with scabs, hair, bits of bone, and mangled flesh. Waves across the Blood Sea are slow-moving and small, as there is almost no wind or movement of air at all. The stench is impossible, choking and vile.
Vast networks of wooden walkways spread out from the shore, leading in and around the floating buildings of the Blood Sea's sole city. The wood slowly rots in the foul muck, and scabs grow up and over the walkways, so desperate spirits are constantly repairing the bridges and paths with wood scaveneged from the cliffs. This is a dangerous task, as skeletal vultures nest in eyries in the cliff sides, and if they catch a spirit, they fly it over the Sea and drop it in.
None who enter the actual Blood Sea are seen again. The noisome blood-muck drags them under in moments. Some spirits claim the bottom of the sea is made up of a thousand thousand grinding gnashing teeth in pulsing orifices, tearing apart those thrown in and grinding them up into more material for the Sea. Others say there is only one great Mouth, slowly consuming the contents of the Blood Sea, and that this Mouth will one day drain the Sea entirely.
Within the Chambers is a complete documentary record of every secret thought, every ugly and corrupted idea, every bit of evil intent and evil deed from every mortal and spirit in the world. This archive is very, very large; the halls of the Chambers spread out in a spiral pattern from its core for miles and miles, further than any spirit has ever traveled.
The halls are tall and narrow, with high vaulted ceilings and dark iron chandeliers a score of feet overhead; the walls are crowded with shelves crammed full of crates of parchment, scrolls, books, scraps of notepaper, photographs, and recordings.
The spirits that live in the Chambers are engaged in a constant war to organize and sort the contents of the archive. Near the core of the Chambers, they have been somewhat successful; the hallways are always clear enough to walk down, at least, and the rooms of the Chambers are cleared enough to allow some spirits to claim a few feet of ground to live on. Further out the spiral of halls, the shelves are less and less organized; the paths through the drifts of paper become less certain, and the dust lies thick on everything. In the most distant explored portions of the Chambers, shelves are toppled, boxes are shattered, and strange noises drift down the hallways. It's said that terrible creatures lair in the darkness of the most distant halls, and beyond their lairs, the halls become completely blocked with paper, from floor to ceiling.
The core of the Chambers is a vast gallery, a mile high, quarter-mile diameter round room with balconies circling around its circumference and stacked one atop the other. Between the balconies, crude bridges of braided rope allow passage through the gallery's chamber. Periodically, from far overhead, a bundle of books and scrolls breaks loose from some tether, and papers drift down like snow for an hour.
The Iron Spire stretches up and down forever, into dark mists in both directions. Filthy water runs down the sides of the spire, pooling in places where the riveted iron plates have bent away from the tower. The column of iron is nearly a half-mile across, with openings in its sides both intended and accidental -- torn pieces of metal with ragged knife-sharp edges open into dark passages and black rooms.
Both outside and inside, the spire is festooned with spikes of metal. Walls, ceilings, sometimes even floors are dangerously encrusted with spikes of all sizes. They seem to grow organically; when broken off by resident spirits for use as weapons, they gradually grow back. In places, entire rarely-used passages are choked closed by bristling needles of iron.
While pale light from the damp exterior filters in through the occasional high, narrow window along the outside of the spire, the interior is stygian black. The spirits that live within the depths have learned to navigate by touch, or have powers that let them see in the darkness. Lights within the center of the spire gutter and flicker, and expire more quickly than expected. Between the spikes and the incomprehensible layout of the Spire's halls and rooms, moving around without a guide is a dangerous proposition.
The Spire is never silent. It echoes endlessly with chittering and the scrabble of tiny claws on metal. The spire is home to countless rats, ruled by bloated rat queens that live deep within the interior. The rat swarms are intelligent and malevolent, existing in uneasy truce with the more powerful spirits that call the Spire home. The walls are riddled with vents, openings, narrow crawlspaces, and pipe openings that the rats use to move unseen to wherever in the Spire they choose.
The Spire is corroded with rust, a patina that covers nearly every surface near the exterior openings. The rust has, in places, eaten right through the walls and the floors; floors will occasionally collapse out from under a spirit, sometimes plunging her many levels down, in pitch darkness, onto whatever rusty spikes might lie below. The rust stains everything within the Spire eventually; the rats are reddish-brown where they are not black with grease, and the spirits are stained and smudged with orange-brown rust. Drifts of rust flakes accumulate in corners, forming a kind of metallic mud. Deep inside the spire, though, surfaces are coated with a viscous grease that protects the iron from corrosion.
Somewhere far below in the Spire are mechanisms that can be heard humming, clanging, or pistoning. These mechanisms have never been found, or seen. Their purpose is unknown.
Most enemies the players will face are Standard enemies, which can be described by a single number, Level. Level is used in the following ways:
Example: A Guardian Snake Spirit with a Level of 3 tries to spit poison at Emily. Her Defense score is 7 (Water 4 and Wood 3). The spirit uses Metal to attack; because it's a standard enemy, its Metal score is equal to its Level, or 3. It rolls a 2 and a 5, discards the 2, and gets a total of 8. Emily decides she doesn't feel like being poisoned today, and spends 2 Chi to raise her Defense to 9, causing the snake to miss.
Heroic enemies have five Aspects, just like player characters. However, their secondary attributes are calculated differently:
Heroic enemies represent significant, powerful challenges that the player characters cannot trivially overcome. They will generally have Powers of their own to use, and may also have Special Attacks, Special Defenses and Limits based on their Natures.
Rat (water) Ox (water) Tiger (wood) Rabbit (wood) Dragon (wood) Snake (fire) Horse (fire) Goat (fire) Monkey (metal) Rooster (metal) Dog (metal) Pig (water) Poison Bird Fox Spirit
Reanimated Corpse (Hopping Vampire) Drowned Ghost Hungry Ghost
Rage Spirit Lust Spirit Greed Spirit Envy Spirit Despair Spirit
Azure Dragon Black Tortoise White Tiger Vermillion Bird (Suzaku) Guardian Lion
Beast-heads Nian (annual child-eating subterranean lion) Winged Monkeys Hydra Rangda (plague witch)
The Empowered are already among the most powerful entites in all of Creation. As one of them, you will not become substantially more powerful over time, in the traditional sense of 'leveling up' in a roleplaying game. You may acquire new Powers as you make Bonds with new spirits, and the spirits with whom you form Bonds may offer you additional benefits -- improvement to your Aspects while the spirit is Bonded, for instance -- but otherwise your Nature and your Aspects define the scope and extent of your capability.
However, your inner strength can continue to grow as you find your place in the world, and learn what purpose Heaven has set for you. At her discretion, the GM may award you an additional point of Chi after completing a major story or resolving an important conflict. This Chi reward increases your maximum Chi, and may therefore allow you to form Bonds with additional spirits, or use more effective Powers.