Friday, 1 August 2014

Blue East, Black North, White West, Red South

The ancient Chinese had their own system of organising the stars, which revolved around, amongst other things, grouping 28 phases of the moon into 4 sets of 7 according to the compass points. Each set had a symbol - the Azure Dragon of the East, the Black Tortoise of the North, the White Tiger of the West, and the Vermilion Bird of the South.

I don't know much about this, or about ancient Chinese history or culture, but I do think having the points of the compass associated with symbolic beings really fucking cool.

It gets me thinking about a recent conversation on G+ on how dice can communicate four different things - position, number, number of sides, and colour. Roll a fistful of different dice and you get four different variables, or five even if you include how a d8 can 'point' in a direction. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a set of dice of four different colours, each symbolising, say, one of the elements - or, respectively, the blue dragon of the East, the black tortoise of the North, the white tiger of the West, and the red bird of the South?

The way I envisage this working is, there are literally four gargantuan beings in the world, each at an extreme point of the compass. (The world being a big flat disc - duh.) And they each influence the world in different ways. Let's say, for the sake of argument, the blue dragon of the east represents warfare and conflict, the black tortoise of the north represents protection and survival, the white tiger of the west represents trickery and cunning, and the red bird of the south represents beauty and passion.

Any time any player needs to roll a dice, they can pick a colour and explain why it is relevant. Most obviously, if you were rolling to-hit in combat, you'd probably want a blue dice - but you might want a white one if you were backstabbing or ambushing. If you were trying to charm a princess you'd use red - unless you were impressing her with a display of toughness, when you might use black.

Then, if you succeed on the roll, you get a bonus of some kind from the influence of the mighty being. Because as any fool knows, the mighty beings govern everything within the purview that happens here on earth. And they will directly intervene if invoked. But their interventions are capricious; if you fail on the roll, you fail badly.

So, in combat, you roll a blue dice to-hit...and if you hit you do extra damage because the blue dragon of the East guides your blow. But if you miss, you slip or drop your sword because the blue dragon of the East spurns you. If you manage to charm the princess using the red dice you are extremely charming, because the red bird gives you its blessing...but if you fail she not only isn't impressed; she wants you destroyed, because the red bird takes against your hubris. Etc.

If the player in question doesn't want to invoke one of the compass point mighty beings, he just picks a neutral dice. Green or yellow or whatever. And the result stands as it stands.

A half-formed and exhausted thought for a Thursday. What were you expecting - something useful?


  1. That's a neat idea.

    Basically seems to be a form of optional criticals.

    It's nice an evocative of a certain type of world, and it gives you a little bit of world building that the players will definitely remember.

    You could also build your worlds cultures around the four directions a little two. Which actually somewhat works for Europe:

    The warlike mongols of the East.
    The hardy and durable Northmen.
    The cunning English. (The English have a bit of a reputation for being good at "ungentlemanly warfare")
    The passionate Italians and Spanish.

    The vikings are the biggest stretch for that, but you can somewhat interpret the stereotype as "hardy and durable" instead of "violent and warlike".

  2. It's weird, inexplicable, and creative, I like it.

  3. I think think if i were going to go this route i might give positive effects for succeeding with a "tribute" die, and negative results for failing with a neutral die if they fumble the roll (by not dedicating your efforts to the greater power you have angered them) but only allow them to roll one of each tribute die per session or some other limitation.

    1. That's a cool idea. "Thou hast offended me, mortal!"

  4. Seems pretty cool to me, and extensible as well. One possible alternate version: having clerics use a "god die" for some of their rolls, especially in a system like GURPS or WoD that rolls multiple dice at a time. Successful "god dice" explode (reroll and add, in a high-is-good system) or critical-hit or whatever. Unsuccessful "god dice" indicate divine displeasure and lead to critical failures or, in case of success, a price to pay.

    Potential drawback/difficulty: a thorough four-direction-gods system seems like it would demand at least five different-colored dice of each shape, which not everybody may have or be willing to assemble (especially people who've sprung for a fancy themed set).

  5. No offense, but I've been reading up on several years of your post in one sitting, and I've noticed it's always a little offputting and distracting whenever you write an F-bomb or two.

    It's not that you should censor yourself, but most of your writing has a more thoughtful and careful tone, so the cusswords seem non sequiturs: they clash with the tone and level of thought of the rest of your blog posts.

    In all honesty, every time it looks as though you wrote a good blog, suddenly thought to yourself that no one would read it because it looks too intelligent for the internet, went back, and stapled on a few cuss words to camoflauge the level of thought to the writing. But it doesn't fool anyone, just confuses them because the use of the F-bombs looks feigned.

    1. I'm British. We're comfortable with the use of Anglo-Saxon expressions.