The world of Once Upon A Time In China is similar to our own, but it is a world in which magic works and fantastic events are reality. The campaign is set in a 16th century China where there was no true reunification of the country after the fall of the Tang dynasty. A myriad of kingdoms struggle for survival in the shadow of the Ming Empire to the north, their existence as ephemeral as the changing of the seasons. It is a second Spring and Autumn period, when scholars travel the land from court to court seeking patronage with a master who will implement their philosophies for successful government. It is a time of great exploration, as rulers inspired by the armadas of Zheng He, send forth fleets of ships in search of the floating isles of the immortals, but instead rediscover the land of Fusang. It is a time when adventurers seek their fortune through their wits and martial prowess in the world of the River-lake...

Character Generation

Personal Data


    The most important aspect of the character's name is his surname (xing). When a person is asked his name, he states his surname first. It is by this, that his family, his clan, and his lineal descent are known to others. I won't make a list of romanized names, since I feel that the character for the name is more significant. While the Chinese have used surnames since 2700 B.C. it was only during the reign of the Yellow Emperor that this custom became widespread among tribes that maintained close association with the imperial house. The Yellow Emperor's own surname was Gongsun. It is told that he had 25 sons, and of these, 14 received surnames. Four of these names have survived to the present day (Qi, Teng, Ren and Xun). By the time of his great-great-grandson, Yao, the ruling tribes were known as "the hundred surnames" (bai jia xing). It was during this time, that surnames and lands were granted to all those who "professed a foremost love of virtue and would not act in any way contradictory to imperial action." In the Zhou dynasty, nobles were given two surnames. A xing based on descent, and a shi based on fief. Families with such surnames are now very rare, as entire lines were exterminated in struggles for the imperial throne. It is estimated that there are now about 500 common surnames (although in reality, the 20 most common surnames probably make up 80% of the population, so all other surnames could be considered relatively uncommon), and probably somewhat under 2000 surnames all together. Among these are about 30 double-character surnames. Last to come is the given name (ming). We English speakers would typically call these "descriptive", but this is mainly due to the peculiarities of the Chinese language that make a person much more aware of the actual meaning of his name. In many families (typically upper class), there will also be a generational name that is given to all children of the same generation. Commonly, family and close childhood friends would refer to a person by a "milk name". The milk name is often preceded by the honorific Xiao in the North, or Ah in the South. Growing out of childhood, the person would be referred to by a "style" or "great name" (zi). To aquaintances however, he might be referred to by a second style or hao. Additional names by which the person was known to different segments of society could also be aquired. Scholars would typically adopt a "studio name" (bie hao), while those in government service would take on an "official name" (guan ming). Common people of course would be referred to by nicknames. Follow this link for more on Chinese Surnames, and this link to create a Chinese Name.


    During the Xia dynasty, China was divided into nine regions. Although the boundaries of China have now expanded beyond that of the Xia, the nation can still be divided into these nine regions. Roll on the following table to determine from which region your character originates:


Homeland Region

Culture Group


Yu Zhou

Beifang, Nanfang


Xu Zhou

Nanfang, Beifang


Yang Zhou



Qing Zhou

Beifang, Nanfang


Yan Zhou



Jing Zhou



Liang Zhou

Beifang, Nanfang


Other (roll 1D6 1-3 = Ji Zhou, 4-6 = Yong Zhou)


    Within each of the regions, is the character's homeland. I will elaborate more eventually, but in reference to China's modern provinces, Yu Zhou would correspond (roughly) to Henan, the Henan-Hubei borderland, the southwest corner of the Henan-Shandong borderland, and the northwest corner of Anhui; Xu Zhou to Jiangsu and Anhui north of the Huai River, and the Jiangsu-Shandong borderland; Yang Zhou to Anhui and Jiangsu south of the Huai River, a large area of the Hebei-Anhui-Jiangxi borderlands, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian, Hainan and Taiwan; Qing Zhou to Shandong; Yan Zhou to northwest Shandong, coastal Hebei, and the northeastern corner of Henan; Jing Zhou to Hubei, Hunan, large tracts of the Hunan-Jiangxi border region, and Guangxi; Liang Zhou to large regions of the Gansu-Sichuan and Shaanxi-Sichuan borderlands, a section of Hubei where it borders Sichuan and Hunan, Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan; Ji Zhou to Shanxi, Hebei, the Henan-Shanxi borderland, Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning; Yong Zhou to Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Xinjiang, and Qinghai.

The Lands

























    Characters will typically be of the Han culture, which can be divided into Northern (Beifang or Huabei) and Southern (Nanfang or Huanan) culture groups. Beifang people originate from north of the Yellow River, while Nanfang people are from south of the Yangzi River. Occasionally, this demarcation is said to be further north, making anyone from south of the Yellow River a Nanfang-ren.
    Northerners are stereotyped as tall, rugged and arrogant. They are stoic, and tend to be conservative, straightforward, and honest. Often these characteristics make them appear naive. Northerners can be stubborn, and their passive-aggressive truculence has lead them to be characterized as slothful and mentally dull by Southerners. Nanfang-ren also see Beifang-ren (aka "Steamed Bread") as large, clumsy, and ponderous.
    The North also includes Dongbei (Northeast) and Xibei (Northwest) sub-regions. Dongbei includes the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. This is the traditional land of the Manchu, and has been settled by Chinese from Shandong and surrounding provinces. Xibei includes northern Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu. The people of these regions are characterized as being inured to hardship and conservative, so that even the prosperous retain simple tastes.
Zhao Wei as Xiao Yanzi
Northern Girl
Xu Qi (Hsu Chi)
Southern Girl
    Southerners are stereotyped as short, shrewd, crafty, and cunning. They are also known to be industrious and hard-working. Nanfang-ren have a reputation for being aggressive in business, and volatile in temper. They also have conflicting reputations for either being too vulgar, or overly effete and cultured. However, there is common consensus that the gentle maidens of the South are the most beautiful under heaven. Northerners see Nanfang-ren (aka "Southern Monkeys") as devious little pipsqueaks because of their quick wits and small stature.

The Peoples
















Give yourself earnestly to the duties due to men; render reverence to spiritual beings, but keep aloof from them -- this may be called Wisdom.
-- The Analects

The Chinese philosophy regarding religion has been for the gods, and men to follow their own ways. The duty of mankind is to develop sound and proper relations among each other. To have integrity and loyalty, and show due respect without bothering the gods with ceaseless entreaties. In return, the gods grant blessings (e.g. bountiful harvests), and cause no harm to man (e.g. floods, drought). They only ask that the people requite them with fitting sacrifices.

In fact, the word associated with religion in Chinese, is jiao, which actually means teachings. This is because in Chinese belief, all such philosophies have the common aim of teaching men to be good, even though their outward appearances may differ. Thus, proselyting religion is seen as meddling in the affairs of Heaven, and has always been associated with fostering superstition, divisiveness, and the breakdown of morals.

All characters regard themselves as Confucian, though they may also believe in other philosophies or religions.

Religious Virtues Table



Confucian (Kongjiao)

Generous, Honest, Just, Merciful, Modest

Buddhist (Fojiao)

Chaste, Merciful, Modest, Temperate, Pious

Taoist (Daojiao)

Lazy, Prudent, Cowardly, Modest, Selfish

Religious Bonus Table


Religious Bonus


Good Fortune +/-3 on one Family roll and one Experience Check roll in Winter Phase


Illumination +/-3 on Passion or Trait rolls


Immortality +/-3 on Aging Table

Chinese Cosmology

Father's Name

Refer to the section on Name

Father's Occupation

Character's receive the following modifiers depending upon their father's profession. Occupations are listed by order of social status (more or less).

Father's Occupation Tables

Son/Daughter Number

Roll 1D6. For families where the father has two wives, roll 1D8; for three wives, 1D12; for four wives, 1D20; if your father was the Emperor, roll 1D100 ^_^ (I wonder if this was really the case) .

Liege Lord

Feudalism as we know it pretty much died out by the Han dynasty, so characters will have no liege lord (well, except in the form of their Emperor). However, characters may swear loyalty to a lord or sifu as they see fit.


A character's occupation determines the initial skills which are possessed. Most characters will follow in the footsteps of their parents, but often parents aspire for their children become scholars with the hopes of their entering the ranks of officialdom. The four basic occupations are: woodcutter, farmer, scholar, and fisherman. It was believed that without people performing these tasks, merchants and officials would not be able to justify their existence.

List of Occupations

Current Class

Unlike in Pendragon, characters will not necessarily be of the ruling class. In the world of the River-lake, parentage and social status are of secondary importance when compared to the strength of your gong-fu, or your personal honor. For normal people however, class is largely dependant upon occupation. In the olden days of the Zhou dynasty, the four traditional classes were: the scholar-official or warrior-aristocrat at the top, followed by the farmer, then the artisan, and lastly the merchant. During the later periods the sanjiao jiuliu social classification system was followed.

Sanjiao Jiuliu Table

Current Home

Life in the River-lake means that you have no home. You are a wanderer, and take pride in it.


Because the Chinese use a lunar calendar, the length of a year is not as long as what we are used to. In addition, a person is considered one year old when he is born (because he was in the womb for nine months). Also, everyone is considered one year older after the New Year, and not after the day on which he was born. Characters can either start play at age 15, or roll 2D6+15 to benefit from previous experience.

Birthdate Table

Personality Traits and Passions

Personality Traits

There are certain ideals that are held in high esteem within the River-lake. Some of these are described in The Chinese Knight Errant as follow:

1) Altruism (Generous, Merciful)
2) Justice (Just, Vengeful)
3) Personal Loyalty (Honest, Valorous)
4) Disregard for Wealth (Pious, Indulgent)
5) Fame (Proud, Reckless)
Characters who exhibit a total of 80 points or more in the sum of one trait from each category receive the +3 Armor of Virtue bonus.

Cultural Modifiers

Astrological Modifiers


All characters will start out with Honor and Love of Family. River-lakers will have Loyalty to sworn brothers, school of martial arts, and/or secret society. Starting values of Passions are 15.


The basic statistics are as follows, with each statistic divided into external and internal categories (corresponding loosely, but not always, to yang and yin/hard and soft):








ability to resist

ability to recover





speed and power

agility and dexterity





external skill

internal skill





formal education

life experience

Thus a character will actually have 15 statistics (SIZ does not have a second dimension). I will add a more detailed description later. I will not make any distinction between the two for the time being, as it would only confuse matters.

Derived statistics are the same except as follows:

Replace Damage with Damage Bonus from Runequest.

Cultural Modifiers Table

Culture and Gender


Beifang Male

+2 APP +1 STR

Beifang Female

+1 STR +2 CON

Nanfang Male

-1 APP -1 SIZ +3 DEX +2 CON

Nanfang Female

+3 APP -1 SIZ +1 DEX

Astrological Modifiers

Family Characteristics Table

Replace 18 with the following:
Natural affection for writing (+10 Art (Calligraphy))

Luck Benefits Table

Replace denarii with silver yuan, and libra with gold yuan; in addition, replace the following numbers the accompanying descriptions:

08 Family Heirloom: sacred relic. Roll 1D6 (1=scroll, 2=pi-disk, 3-4=holy rice, 5=oracle bone, 6=tripod cauldron).
10 Family Heirloom: magic spear. Add +1 modifier to spear skill when using this spear until it breaks. Value 25 silver yuan.
14 Family Heirloom: valuable cloak worth 1 gold yuan from: (roll 1D6 1-2= Persia, 3=Japan, 4-5=Tibet, 6=India).


Eliminate the skills Faerie Lore, Heraldry, and Tourney.
Replace Chiurgery with Medicine.

Add the following skills to the list:

Accounting (see Call of Cthulhu)
Acrobatics (see Tumble from Stormbringer)
Act (see Art from Call of Cthulhu)
Alchemy (a combination of chemistry and pharmacy; see Potions from Elric!)
Art (see Call of Cthulhu; includes Calligraphy, Literature, Painting, Poetry)
Astronomy (see Call of Cthulhu)
Bargain (see Call of Cthulhu)
Burglary (see Pick Lock from Call of Cthulhu)
Climb (see Runequest)
Divination (knowledge of the I Ching)
Farming (the skill of tilling the land and growing crops)
Herding (the skill of animal husbandry)
History (see Call of Cthulhu)
Jump (see Runequest)
Law (see Call of Cthulhu)
Meditation (the skill of clearing one's thoughts through contemplation)
Navigation (see Call of Cthulhu)
Occult (see Call of Cthulhu)
Philosophy (knowledge of the classical teaching of Confucius, Lao Tzu, etc.)
Puppetry (the skill of manipulating puppets; see Art from Call of Cthulhu)
Shiphandling (see Call of Cthulhu)
Stealth (a combination of Hide and Sneak skills from Runequest)
Thievery (a combination of Conceal and Sleight from Runequest and Pick Pocket from Call of Cthulhu)
Throw (see Runequest)


The sequence of combat is as follows:

1) Declare actions
2) Allocate, then roll dice for martial art technique
3) Determine initiative (highest DEX goes first)
3) Movement and missile attacks (missile attacks use the "Base Range" system from Call of Cthulhu)
4) Determine attack roll (based on skill)
5) Modify attack roll with opponent's defense modifier
6) Opponent uses defense skill
7) Roll hit location and determine damage

Critical Hits
A critical results from a roll of 10% or less than the required percentage to hit. Round down all fractions. A character succeeding in a critical can choose to inflict double maximum damage, or ignore his foe's armor for purposes of damage (except for in certain instances).

Special Hits
A special results from a roll of 20% or less than the required percentage to hit. Round down all fractions. A character succeeding in a special may either inflict double damage, or direct a blow to the hit location of his choice.

Damage and Hit Locations
Damage is divided into two major categories as follows:

Minor Wound
A minor wound is caused any time a character suffers more than 25% of his hit points in damage in a single blow. Two minor wounds is equivalent to a major wound.

Major Wound
A major wound is inflicted any time a character suffers more than 50% of his hit points in damage in a single blow. A character suffering a major wound is considered to be incapacitated, but can continue action by making a successful roll against CON each round. Double the minor damage wound effects for any character who does so.

The effect of each type of wound depends upon the location where the character is hit. Use the hit locations table from Runequest to determine where a character is hit.

Wound Effects Table

Hit Location

Minor Wound

Major Wound












lose use of arm




Weapon Tables

New Combat Skills
Dodge (see Call of Cthulhu; reduces initiative by -5 on the following round)
Parry (see Call of Cthulhu. However, note that the attack and defense skills for each weapon is not split into two different skills)
Feint (reduces initiative by -5, but increases attack by +5)
Riposte (see Stormbringer; a character can perform one riposte for every 10 initiative)
Passing Attack (See Runequest; the character may either attack or defend against each foe that he passes. The foe is unable to react if the attacker's initiative is greater more than 10 points. However, for each foe attacked, reduce initiative by three points.)

Martial Arts
This skill allows the character to double his damage for all the weapon systems used in his martial art, and to triple damage for specials and criticals. It also allows the character to double the amount of damage he blocks with a successful parry. In addition, each martial art has a number of techniques that the practitioner can use in combat. Each technique is represented as a sequence of four numbers allocated to each of the following categories: initiative, movement, attack, and defense. The marvel category of CAoRP is not represented because of the mechanic of special and critical successes.

Each character is assigned a particular number of bonus dice depending upon POW. Dice are used to fill each mandatory allocation point of the technique to be used. A character who does not have enough dice to meet the minimum  for a technique can still use the technique, but for each die short, the chance for fumble increases 5% and skill rolls suffer a -3 penalty per die short.

Bonus Points for Martial Arts Techniques



less than 10










Each die allocated to initiative gives the character one additional action. Each die allocated to movement increases MR by one. For attack, each die allocated from POW bonus increases damage by one, while each die from POW bonus increases the chance for a special or critical by 5%. For defense, each die allocated from POW bonus increases AP by one, while each die from POW bonus increases the chance for a special or critical by 5%.
The maximum number of dice that can be used to increase one of the four categories is 5 plus the mandatory.

The sum of the die rolls are used for increasing DEX for the purpose of determining initiative for initiative,  reducing the chance of the character to be hit by the enemy for movement, or increasing the chance to hit or defend for attack and defense respectively.
If a character rolls a six on any die, he may reroll that die, and add the new value rolled to the original total. This can be done for as many times as sixes are rolled.
Initiative Movement Attack
+1 action/die
+5% critical or special/die
+5% critical or special/die
+1 action/die
+1 damage/die
+1 AP/die
+1 initiative/point
-1 to be hit/point
+1 to hit/point
+1 to defend/point

Chi Skills
Chi is used to perform Chi skills and is similar to Runequest's magic points. Chi is recovered by making a successful Meditation or Martial Arts roll at a rate of 1D3 for each 10 minutes spent in meditation or practicing forms.

Chi skills are primarily an extension of a character's pre-existing skills, and require minimum scores in both the skill, and POW to perform. In certain instances, a sufficiently skilled adept can perform chi skills with no expenditure of Chi.

Examples of Chi Skills

Chronological Timelines

The first timeline is almost entirely fictional, being based on mythology, apocrypha, fiction and imagination. The other timelines reflect historical fact and Chinese pseudo-history as I have interpreted it for the game.

Once Upon A Time In China
Wuxia Fiction
Martial Arts

Wuxia Fiction

Return | Top