Today we take a look at the default setting for the Tianxia corebook: Jiangzhou, one of the nine provinces of the empire of Shenzhou, and its capital, the city of Bao Jiang. The book immediately assures the reader that the other provinces will be detailed in further supplements for Tianxia, and begins with a general rundown of the empire of Shenzhou.
The brief overview of the empire is a one page summary of the key regions of Shenzhou, detailing the major settlements and features of the empire, just enough to give a sense of place for the setting, and just where Jianzhou Provice sits in relation to the rest of the empire.
This is followed up with a quick summary of the three major religions in the empire: Legalism, Daoism and Bodhism, along with their philosophies.
There are a few notable sidebars as well, one talking about the religions in Tianxia and how to use them to enrich rather than restrict characters in a game, and one about Genre, Gender, Race and Inclusiveness. The second sidebar was essentially express permission from the writers of Tianxia to allow GMs to tweak elements of the setting to suit a group’s preferences rather than be bound to specific “norms” of a setting or its historical inspirations.
The next section of the book covers Jiangzhou Province, a border region on the western side of Shenzhou. It is one of the wildest of the nine major provinces of the empire, and makes for a good starting area for PCs given the many opportunities for adventure.
Jiangzhou has access to two main trade routes: the Jade Road and the Silk River, which makes it a prime location for bandits and pirates that would take advantage of the traveling merchants that travel along both routes.
One of the interesting parts of how this chapter was presented was it’s focus on several key areas in the province without detailing every square inch of it. This gives the GMs plenty of opportunities to fill in the empty spaces with their own setting elements.
Each of the locations detailed in the chapter provide clear plot hooks for the player characters. The writeups themselves have Aspects related to the location, and often have an accompanying character sheet of the notable NPCs that can be found there.
The NPCs listed in this chapter are all very flavorful, and each has a backstory that allows for opportunities for the PCs to interact with them in more than just combat. Heroes and villains alike all have reasons for being, which makes for more interesting interactions with the PCs.
The City of Bao Jiang is covered in it’s own chapter, though the format is largely similar to the previous one. The focus on a large city is important as it gives opportunities for urban stories that involve more investigation and high society maneuvering than would be possible in the countryside.
Given Jiangzhou’s focus on trade, it’s no surprise that Bao Jiang is considered to be a trade hub. The chapter details key locations in the city, from well known establishments to places like a beggar’s quarter and the Governor’s palace. Again, each of these contain Aspects and the occasional NPC writeup of notable characters that can be found in these locations.
Both chapters offer a great number of excellent set pieces that are relevant to any Wuxia game. The author clearly has a love for the genre and it’s tropes, and is able to put together a vibrant setting open to many adventures without feeling too small. One could conceivably run an entire campaign in the province alone without needing to see the rest of the empire.
A few more sidebars pepper the article, with discussions on crime and punishments, and the presence of Eunuchs in a Tianxia game. I find it interesting that the Eunuchs in Tianxia are a product of magic as opposed to surgery, and that both men and women are capable of becoming Eunuchs.
Overall these two chapters paint a vibrant picture of one of the Jiangzhou province. It’s an elegant work, presenting just enough detail to spark the imagination and NPCs with backstories to provide GMs with the kind of support needed to make them feel “real” in play, while still leaving enough room to breathe for every Tianxia campaign to feel different.
Tomorrow we’ll be checking out the Rules of Tianxia, and how they affect the basic FATE Core ruleset, along with character creation, where I try my hand at putting together a character for Tianxia.
Tianxia is also available in PDF and Print format from Indie Press Revolution