A set of Guidelines for running mysteries in the style of
Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” stories using the Trail of Cthulhu rules
The Judge Dee stories are a series of mystery novels and short stories written in the 1950’s and 1960’s by Dutch diplomat and Sinophile Robert van Gulik. Based on traditional Chinese stories of clever magistrates (the officials tasked with investigating crimes in ancient China), Gulik’s stories are nominally set during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) but, like the Chinese originals they are based on, they are rife with anachronisms. Judge Dee himself was a historic figure who started his career in government as a district magistrate (or Judge), but went on to become a well-respected minister at the Tang Imperial court.
In a Judge Dee based game, the player characters will represent the Magistrate’s assistants or lieutenants. Traditionally, magistrates were assigned to small districts (usually a small city and its’ surroundings) for a period of 3 years. They brought along a personal retinue of assistants to help in their investigations, and were also aided by the staff of the local tribunal, usually permanent residents of the area. Along with solving crimes and maintaining public order, the magistrate was also responsible for mundane governmental operations within his district, such as taxation, land disputes, registering births, deaths, and marriages, licensing, etc. The district magistrate reported to a higher authority, the prefect of the prefecture in which their district was located, who in turn reported to the provincial governor, who then reported to the central authorities in the capital.
Some basic information about the Chinese judicial system is provided in the postscripts of some of the novels, and a wealth of small details can be gleaned from reading the stories themselves. The magistrate was referred to as the “Father and Mother Official”, because he was responsible for every aspect of the well-being of the people in his district. The magistrate operates from his headquarters at the tribunal, a large government compound found in the center of most Chinese cities. The tribunal itself usually consists of a large main building that contains a courtroom, the judge’s private office, offices for other personnel, prison cells, and storerooms for official archives. A high wall surrounds the main hall, creating two large courtyards, one in front of the hall and one behind. The main gate of the Tribunal opens into the front courtyard, and there is a large brass gong hanging by the gate which citizens can bang to announce that they have business with the tribunal, or that a crime has been committed. The rear courtyard usually contains three free standing buildings arranged around the edges of the area. The two buildings perpendicular to the main hall contain rooms for any personnel that live at the tribunal (including the PCs), more offices and storerooms, and the armory and lounge for the constables. The third building, at the rear of the compound, is the personal residence of the magistrate and his family. This building may have its own walled garden.
The main function of the magistrate in terms of this game is to investigate crimes. For our purposes, the magistrate himself will be a somewhat passive participant in the process, while his assistants (the PCs) do all of the interesting legwork. Once clues are gathered and suspects identified, the magistrate is technically only supposed to question individuals at one of the three public sessions of the tribunal each day (morning, noon, and afternoon). These sessions are an opportunity for the public to bring up issues that need to be dealt with, report crimes, or air other grievances. They are also court sessions during which trials are conducted.
The courtroom itself is set up with a wide table or bench on a raised platform at one end where the magistrate sits. The bench is covered by a large red brocade cloth, and on it sit writing materials, the official seal of the tribunal, a cylindrical container with small bamboo splints used to indicate how many blows a prisoner was to receive, and a large wooden block or gavel called “the wood that frightens the hall”. On the wall behind the judge hangs a tapestry with a qilin or Chinese unicorn (the symbol of perspicacity) embroidered on it in gold. There is no jury or lawyers involved in the trial, and the magistrate makes all decisions of guilt or innocence. Two tables are set perpendicular to the main table at the sides of the room where scribes and clerks record the proceedings and write out warrants, etc. Arrayed in front of the clerks stand the constables, rough looking customers brandishing instruments of torture. These torture devices serve not just to intimidate the crowd, but are also used in questioning suspects. A judgment may not be rendered without a confession, and judicial torture is often used to get that confession. On the other hand, if a suspect died or was permanently maimed during torture, the magistrate and tribunal personnel were held responsible and severely punished, so the application of torture was carefully considered.
One of the aspects of the Chinese system that differs most from Western ideas of justice is the focus on community harmony. The main function of justice is not to guarantee individual rights, but to restore the community to a state of harmony and tranquility. During the course of a trial, both sides may be asked by the magistrate to present evidence or give testimony. The magistrate may call upon expert testimony of specialists such as doctors or craftsmen. Everyone involved is expected to show the utmost respect to the magistrate as representative of the Emperor, and all persons approaching the bench should go to their knees and knock their foreheads to the floor three times (called “kowtowing”) and only speak after they are spoken to by the magistrate. The proper way to refer to oneself during the trial is “this insignificant person”.
Once the magistrate decides who the guilty party is, he determines what punishment is to be inflicted. There are standard guidelines for appropriate punishments for various crimes written into the Tang law codes, and any capital punishment must be ratified by the ministry of justice at the Imperial court before being carried out. Sentences range from fines or light corporal punishment (beating with a whip or cane) for minor offences up to the death penalty in various gradations of severity from simple strangulation or beheading to drawing and quartering (being pulled apart by having your limbs tied to four horses), culminating in the most heinous of punishments, the “death of a thousand cuts” (being slowly dismembered – a lenient judge can order that the final cut – that across the throat – be administered first).
A word about the standard structure of a Judge Dee novel is in order here. The Chinese detective tales that van Gulik used as inspiration were quite different from western mystery novels. The criminal was usually identified very near the beginning of the story, and the entertainment of the tale was derived not from the reader/listener attempting to work out the solution of the crime themselves, but from observing the clever stratagems the judge used to solve the case. Often, these tales were full of supernatural elements, and one technique available to the judge was to bring in a consulting necromancer to raise the shade of the victim and simply ask them who had killed them! Van Gulik opted to write his stories more in line with the style of traditional mysteries his Western readers would be more familiar with. One element he did retain from the Chinese originals was to have each novel focus on multiple cases that the judge worked on simultaneously. Usually this took the form of three case, and often 2 or more of these cases would eventually be revealed to be intertwined. For a role-playing scenario, three intertwined cases can be a bit convoluted, but the Gumshoe system ensures that the players will have aces to all of the clues, and alleviates some of the problems inherent in a complicated plot.
If the players are not familiar with the Judge Dee stories, one simple way to create a plot is to lift it directly from one of the novels. While reading the novel, take careful notes about the relationships between all of the characters involved in the cases (besides the judge and his assistants). Make a list of the character’s (NPC’s) names, professions, and brief notes about appearance, personality and behavior. Create a ‘relationship map” that shows graphically how each character relates to the others. Once you have finished the novel, use Judge Dee’s summation of the cases to create a timeline of events. Work out a list of scenes and assign core clues and additional information to be gained by spends, just as you would do for any Trail scenario. Voila, instant (almost) scenario!
As mentioned above, the supernatural was a common element of traditional Chinese detective stories. Van Gulik retains this to some extent by having his characters believe in all manner of supernatural beings and events (ghosts, fox-spirits, hauntings, demons, etc.). However, in the Dee stories most supernatural elements are eventually shown to have a rational explanation. You should decide before your game (or better yet, discuss with your group) whether you want to have objectively “real” supernatural elements or deal with this as van Gulik does in the novels. If you want to include actual supernatural elements, Trail offers plenty of support. If you opt to include supernatural elements I would suggest also using psychic powers as presented in Fear Itself. I have included a new ability (Exorcism) below which would be appropriate for characters with the Clergy occupation (if you plan to include actual supernatural elements in your game, you may want to include Exorcism in the Occupational abilities list for the Clergy occupation).
Exorcism (Psychic Power or General)
Whether through innate supernatural power or esoteric training, you have the ability to lay unquiet spirits to rest and banish otherworldly beings back whence they came. Depending on which spiritual tradition you follow, this ability will make use of various techniques and trappings such as chanting/songs/spells, dancing, incense, ritual vestments, mirrors, bells, wooden swords, or placing scraps of paper bearing Buddhist sutras on the creatures’ forehead. In game terms, treat this ability like a General ability, and make a roll to exorcise the creature with a base difficulty of 4. The Keeper should adjust the difficulty based on the circumstances and power of the spirit. A table of possible modifiers is provided below. A success means the creature is (at least temporarily) driven out. Failure will probably serve only to anger the creature…
|Location: Creature’s “home”||+2|
|Location: Holy Ground||-1|
|Especially effective equipment||-1|
|Special knowledge of the creature (true name, astronomical divination, etc.)||-1|
The rest of this article consists of new Occupations for your Dee characters to have followed before becoming assistants to the magistrate (as in Trail, some characters may be able to continue their occupation during the game), a new Ability list, and explanations of new abilities introduced in this adaptation.
The glorious Chinese empire has existed in one form or another for centuries, and Chinese culture is millennia old. Throughout the centuries, artisans and artists have produced beautiful and functional objects in many forms. You are a lover of these objects, whether for their intrinsic aesthetic value or their historic context. You may be an independently wealthy collector, or may support your collecting habit by buying and selling antiques in a shop.
Occupational Abilities: Architecture, Art History, Bargain, Connoisseur, History, Languages, Library Use, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 3-5
Special Ability: “I have one of those back at the shop!” – Once per session, you can come up with a vital antique object from your shop or collection, subject to keeper approval.
You are a pharmacist, well-versed in the vast corpus of Chinese pharmacological knowledge. You are able to do basic diagnosis and prescribe and concoct medicines compounded from plant, animal, and mineral components. You are also very familiar with toxins and their effects on the human body, and are often called in to help determine the cause of death in suspicious circumstances.
Occupational Abilities: Bargain, Folklore, Natural Lore, Oral History, Pharmacy, Reassurance, +2 Investigative as personal specialties.
Status Band: 3-5
Special Ability: Autopsy – Once per session you may perform an autopsy on a corpse to determine the cause of death.
You have a gift for producing representations of reality or conveying meaning and emotion through a particular medium. Your particular artistic gift may take the form of painting, sculpture, lacquerware, poetry, etc., and you may excel in more than one field. The vagaries of taste are fickle, and you may be struggling in unrecognized poverty or be the toast of Imperial society, depending on the public’s reception of your work.
Occupational Abilities: Architecture, Art, Art History, Bargain, Connoisseur, Craft, Flattery, +2 Academic or Interpersonal as personal specialties.
Status Band: 1-4
Special Ability: You may refresh your chosen art pool with 1 hour of downtime, four times per session.
You are a member of another ethnic group, not the dominant Han Chinese population. You may hail from the southern coastal regions, the desert West, or the vast steppes beyond the Great Wall. Your native language is not Chinese, and the “civilized” Chinese tend to see you as a stereotype, an uncouth primitive with barbaric customs. Sometimes, this mistaken view can work to your advantage.
Occupational Abilities: Boating OR Riding, Craft, Intimidation, Languages, Missile Weapons, Outdoorsman, Scuffling, Weapons, +1 General as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: “Ignorant Barbarian” – Once per session you may be ignored by Chinese individuals by “playing dumb”. Their assumption that you are simple and/or do not speak Chinese may allow you to overhear conversations, linger in sensitive areas, etc.
You are a student of the martial arts (or Chinese Boxing), trained in using your body as a weapon. You may have received your training from a temple, an academy, the military, or by apprenticing to a knowledgeable master. Your particular style of fighting is often accompanied by a particular philosophy of life. Through constant practice and discipline you maintain your body in peak physical condition and hone your fighting skills.
Occupational Abilities: Acrobatics, Athletics, Folklore, Intimidation, Meditation, Scuffling, Theology, Weapons, +1 Interpersonal as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: You have access to the Wu-lin, or world of “lakes and rivers”, the underworld of outlaws and martial artists. Your unarmed attacks (punches and kicks) do +0 damage (rather than the standard -2).
You are a small but vital cog in the great machine of the Chinese Imperial bureaucracy. The various ministries and government agencies that oversee the smooth functioning of this vast political entity are staffed by bureaucrats who are, for the most part, dedicated and capable. The work of the bureaucrat is often far from exciting or glamorous, but it is essential. Whether you are still working or have left the life of the office behind, you are very familiar with the inner workings of large organizations and hierarchies.
Occupational Abilities: Accounting, Authority of the Tribunal, Bargain, Bureaucracy, Calligraphy, Flattery, Law, Library Use, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 2-4
Special Ability: “Cut through red tape” – Once per session you can get an official or bureaucrat to bend the rules in your favor.
You are a spiritual guide and leader, whatever belief system you follow. The Tang Empire contains followers of numerous religions, including traditional Chinese polytheism, Confucian philosophy, Taoism, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity, and Islam. The official state religion is a combination of traditional polytheism and Confucian philosophy. Buddhism has gained in popularity among the Chinese people in recent centuries, but the religions’ fortunes wax and wane with its popularity at the Imperial court.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Folklore, History, Library Use, Meditation, Occult, Reassurance, Theology, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 2-5
Special Ability: Once per session you may refresh one Interpersonal pool by meditating or praying for one hour.
You were a “Guest of the lakes and rivers”, an individual who lives outside the bounds of normal society. However you rationalize your behavior, you used your wits to gain your means of support by convincing others to give you some or all of their money, possessions, or services for nothing in return. You used clever double-talk, disguise, and knowledge of human nature and foibles to convince others that it was in their own best interest to hand over their valuables to you. For whatever reason, you have given up that life, but your unique skill set is still of great use to the magistrate.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Carousing, Disguise, Filch, Flattery, Fleeing, Reassurance, Streetwise, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 1-4
Special Ability: Sincerity – Once per session you can tell a bald-faced lie, and get someone to believe it.
You are an agent of the Tribunal, more often involved in the less cerebral aspects of law enforcement. You are responsible for physically apprehending criminals, using various instruments of torture and physical intimidation to question and get confessions out of suspects, and patrolling your district. Constables don’t normally investigate crimes, but for whatever reason, the magistrate has seen fit to include you among his lieutenants.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Authority of the Tribunal, Evidence Collection, Intimidation, Interrogation, Law, Scuffling, Streetwise, Weapons.
Status Band: 2-3
Special Ability: Arrest – Once per session you can arrest a suspect and haul them off to the Tribunal. You have access to the Tribunal records, resources, personnel, etc.
You are a professional companion, paid not necessarily for your sexual favors but for your skills in conversation, music, dance, etc. Courtesans, unlike simple prostitutes, can choose whether to have sex with their clients, and their favors are often highly sought after by wealthy and powerful men. Courtesans are paid to attend parties and entertain the male party goers. Courtesans must be attractive, but must also be able to enhance the gathering by their wit, conversation, or art.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Art, Calligraphy, Carousing, Connoisseur, Disguise, Flattery, Reassurance, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 2-5
Special Ability: Feminine Wiles – Once per session you can convince a male NPC to help you, motivated by lust or chivalry.
You were someone who broke the laws of the land to make your living. You may have been a stealthy cat burglar, a burly robber, a clever pickpocket, or some other variety of miscreant. You are familiar with the seedy underworld that exists in the empire’s cities, and have used this knowledge to find safe houses, fences to buy your stolen goods, or low class dives where you could plan your next job. For whatever reason, you have turned over a new leaf and have left the criminal life behind. Perhaps you were inspired by an honest magistrate, or chose service to the tribunal over a prison term or being drafted into the army. Whatever the circumstances, your specialized knowledge is of great value to the magistrate.
Occupational Abilities: Athletics, Carousing, Conceal, Filch, Intimidation, Scuffling, Shadowing, Stealth, Streetwise, Weapons
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: Access to the underworld, Spend 2 for 1 after a roll to Conceal, Filch, Stealth or Shadowing rolls.
You are independently wealthy, whether this wealth is inherited or earned. Your great wealth and/or status allow you to spend your time pursuing your interests rather than toiling to earn your daily rice. You tend to travel in the upper echelons of Imperial society, but may have a wide acquaintance that spans all classes. You may be an old friend or relative of the Magistrate, or have developed an interest in crime or the criminal mind, which has led you to be involved with the tribunal.
Occupational Abilities: Connoisseur, Status, Flattery, +5 Choice as personal specialties.
Status Band: 3+
Special Ability: Connections (see Trail)
You are a medical man (or woman!). You may be a respected member of your community, or an itinerant quack peddling cures to simple country folk. Through long study you have come to understand the flow of breath or energy throughout the body, and how this flow impacts health and healing. You can diagnose disease, and use acupuncture, medicines, and other techniques to cure sickness and treat injuries and wounds.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, First Aid, Medicine, Natural Lore, Reassurance, +2 Academic or Interpersonal as personal specialties.
Status Band: 3-5
Special Ability: Access to health care personnel and records. You heal 3 points of health rather than 2 (2 points on yourself rather than 1).
You are a “brother of the green woods”, a highway robber used to living rough and taking wealth from travelers by force. You may have been wrongly accused of a crime, had your land stolen by a corrupt official, been driven to a life of crime due to natural disaster, or be a military deserter. Whatever led you to take up a life of crime, you have seen the error of your ways now, and have begun to work for the tribunal.
Occupational Abilities: Carousing, Intimidation, Missile Weapons, Outdoorsman, Riding, Scuffling, Stealth, Streetwise, Weapons.
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: Access to the Wu-Lin, the world of lakes and rivers inhabited by those of no fixed abode, as well as the criminal underworld of the cities. Once per session, you can use Dead Reckoning to find your way in the outdoors.
You are a member of the merchant class of the empire. You may be an itinerant peddler selling simple household goods from village to village or a wealthy and powerful magnate controlling a vast mercantile operation of fleets and caravans carrying goods to the far-flung corners of the Empire and beyond. More likely you are something in between, a small shop owner with a storefront from which you sell goods produced by others. Regardless of your wealth level, you are a solid citizen, one of the “good people” of the Empire. Your knowledge of trade and finances can be of great use to the magistrate, as many crimes have an economic component.
Occupational Abilities: Accounting, Assess Honesty, Bargain, Bureaucracy, Craft, Flattery, Languages, Reassurance, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 2-5
Special Ability: Resources – you have access to a servant, house, place of business, goods, etc.
You are an entertainer, an acrobat, actor, dancer, etc. You live a nomadic lifestyle, traveling around the Empire to put on performances for audiences rich and poor. Your life is outside the experiences of most citizens, and you are often seen as an untrustworthy outsider. You straddle the worlds of the solid citizen and the criminal, the world of the open road and the town. This broad experience gives you a unique perspective and skill set that can be very useful to the tribunal.
Occupational Abilities: Acrobatics, Art, Athletics, Assess Honesty, Carousing, Folklore, Flattery, Weapons, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 1-2
Special Ability: Distraction – Once per session you can use a performance ability to cause a distraction and draw attention away from someone or something.
You are a learned man or woman, well-versed in many fields of study but usually specializing in one or two in depth. You have studied the classic texts of the great philosophers, and can carry on educated discourse about these and other topics. Learning is greatly valued in Chinese culture, and your education earns you a high level of respect from most individuals. You may have led an isolated existence in an “ivory tower” which may make you somewhat naïve about the realities of daily life, but your great knowledge of many subjects can be a valuable resource for the tribunal.
Occupational Abilities: Art History, Calligraphy, Classics, Connoisseur, History, Languages, Law, Library Use, +1 Investigative as a personal specialty.
Status Band: 3-5
Special Ability: Access to archives, schools, etc. Respect – Once per session, you may demand to be treated with respect by someone.
You are a personal servant of a wealthy and/or powerful individual. Whether obsequiously courteous or quietly capable, you ensure that your master’s existence runs smoothly. You provide care, but may also be called upon to provide advice. Your work requires you to interact with individuals of all social classes on a regular basis, and you are at ease in any social situation.
Occupational Abilities: Assess Honesty, Bargain, Craft, Folklore, Flattery, Fleeing, Preparedness, Reassurance, Sense Trouble, +1 Choice as personal specialties.
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: Fade into the Background – Once per session you can slip unobtrusively into a building or compound, or remain unnoticed in a social situation.
The Tang Empire is massive, and controls vast tracts of territory. That vast territory was conquered and is protected by a massive military. Whether an infantryman, cavalryman, sailor, or officer, you have been trained in the basics of combat and military life. You may have mustered out at the end of your enlistment, been let go at the end of a specific campaign, or be a deserter. In any case, your skill with weapons can be of great use to the magistrate in dealing with violent criminals.
Occupational Abilities: Athletics, Carousing, First Aid, Intimidation, Outdoorsman, Scuffling, Weapons, + the following:
Infantry = Missile Weapons, Stealth
Cavalry = Preparedness, Riding
Navy = Boating, Languages
Officer = Bureaucracy, Reassurance
Status Band: 1-3 (1-5 for officers)
Special Ability: Access to Military installations, Withstand wounds better (see Trail)
You are a young man, studying (in most cases) to take the Civil Service exams to enter the Imperial bureaucracy. While a student, you have more free time than many people. You may spend this time wisely in further study of the writings of the great philosophers, or squander it in dissolute pursuits among low company. Your activities with the tribunal may be a sort of “internship”, in which you are expected to gain experience with the workings of the government which will serve you well in your later career.
Occupational Abilities: Art History, Calligraphy, Carousing, Classics, History, Languages, Library Use, +2 Choice as personal specialties.
Status Band: 1-3
Special Ability: Access to sleazy wine bars and student hang-outs. Resilience – Once per session you can stay up all night or carouse without any unpleasant side-effects.
Occupation Summary Table
|Antiquarian||3-5||Architecture, Art History, Bargain, Connoisseur, History, Languages, Library Use, +1 Investigative||“I have one of those back at the shop!” once per session|
|Apothecary||3-5||Bargain, Folklore, Natural Lore, Oral History, Pharmacy, Reassurance, +2 Investigative||Autopsy – you may perform autopsies on corpses, and are very knowledgeable about poisons|
|Artist||1-4||Architecture, Art, Art History, Bargain, Connoisseur, Craft, Flattery, +2 Academic or Interpersonal||Refresh your chosen Art pool with 1 hour downtime, 4 times per session|
|Barbarian/Nomad||1-3||Boating OR Riding, Craft, Intimidation, Languages, Missile Weapons, Outdoorsman, Scuffling, Weapons, +1 General||“Ignorant Barbarian”, once per session, get ignored by “playing dumb”|
|Boxer||1-3||Acrobatics, Athletics, Folklore, Intimidation, Meditation, Scuffling, Theology, Weapons, +1 Interpersonal||Access to the Wu-Lin, the martial arts world, unarmed damage = +0|
|Bureaucrat||2-4||Accounting, Authority of the Tribunal, Bargain, Bureaucracy, Calligraphy, Flattery, Law, Library Use , +1 Investigative||“Cut through red tape”, once per session you can get an official to bend the rules|
|Clergy (Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, etc.)||2-5||Assess Honesty, Folklore, History, Library Use, Meditation, Occult, Reassurance, Theology, +1 Investigative||Once per session refresh one interpersonal pool by spending 1 hour in prayer or meditation|
|Con-Man||1-4||Assess Honesty, Carousing, Disguise, Filch, Flattery, Fleeing, Reassurance, Streetwise, +1 Investigative||Sincerity – Once per adventure you can tell a bald-faced lie and get someone to believe it.|
|Constable||2-3||Assess Honesty, Authority of the Tribunal, Evidence Collection, Intimidation, Interrogation, Law, Scuffling, Streetwise, Weapons||Access to the tribunal. Arrest – once per session you can haul a suspect off to the Tribunal.|
|Courtesan||2-5||Assess Honesty, Art, Calligraphy, Carousing, Connoisseur, Disguise, Flattery, Reassurance, +1 Investigative||Feminine Wiles – once per session you can convince a male to help you|
|Criminal||1-3||Athletics, Carousing, Conceal, Filch, Intimidation, Scuffling, Shadowing, Stealth, Streetwise, Weapons||Access to the criminal underworld, spend 2 for 1 after roll for conceal, filch, stealth, shadowing|
|Dilettante||3+||Connoisseur, Status, Flattery, +5 Choice||Connections|
|Doctor||3-5||Assess Honesty, First Aid, Medicine, Natural Lore, Reassurance, +2 Academic or Interpersonal||Access to medical records, personnel.
Heal 3 points (2 self).
|Highwayman||1-3||Carousing, Intimidation, Missile Weapons, Outdoorsman, Riding, Scuffling, Stealth, Streetwise, Weapons||Access to the Wu-lin and criminal underworld, dead reckoning|
|Merchant||2-5||Accounting, Assess Honesty, Bargain, Bureaucracy, Craft, Flattery, Languages, Reassurance, +1 Investigative||Resources – you have access to a servant, house, place of business, goods, etc.|
|Performer||1-2||Acrobatics, Art, Athletics, Assess Honesty, Carousing, Folklore, Flattery, Weapons, +1 Investigative||Distraction – once per session you can use an ability to cause a distraction|
|Scholar||3-5||Art History, Calligraphy, Classics, Connoisseur, History, Languages, Law, Library Use, +1 Investigative||Access to archives, schools, Respect – once per session be treated with respect|
|Servant||1-3||Assess Honesty, Bargain, Craft, Folklore, Flattery, Fleeing, Preparedness, Reassurance, Sense Trouble, +1 Choice||Fade into the Background, once per session you can slip unobtrusively into a building or remain unnoticed|
|Soldier||1-3(1-5)||Athletics, Carousing, First Aid, Intimidation, Outdoorsman, Scuffling, Weapons, + the following:
Infantry = Missile Weapons, Stealth
Cavalry = Preparedness, Riding
Navy = Boating, Languages
Officer = Bureaucracy, Reassurance
|Access to military installations, withstand wounds better (see Trail)|
|Student||1-3||Art History, Calligraphy, Carousing, Classics, History, Languages, Library Use, +2 Choice||Access to sleazy wine bars and student hang-outs, Resilience – once per session stay up all night or carouse without unpleasant side effects|
|Academic Abilities||Technical Abilities|
|Library Use||General Abilities|
|Interpersonal Abilities||Disguise (i)|
|Assess Honesty||First Aid|
|Authority of the Tribunal||Fleeing|
|Oral History||Sense Trouble|
*May not be chosen as an Occupational Ability
(i) = may be used as an Investigative ability
You can tumble, roll, flip, and balance with ease. You can perform jumps and contortions that seem to exceed normal human abilities. Usually used as a performing art, acrobatics can also be used to leap to the top of walls, reduce the damage from falls, or surprise opponents in combat.
Authority of the Tribunal (Interpersonal)
Use like “Cop Talk” from Trail. May also be used to get citizens to assist you or intimidate criminals or lower class people.
You can operate watercraft, from small rowboats to acting as a crewman on larger sailing vessels. You are familiar with basic operations, navigation, etc.
You are a master of writing the complicated Chinese characters, and may produce art-quality samples of writing. You are familiar with different writing styles (including ancient forms of the characters), and may analyze samples of handwriting to identify the individual who produced the sample or gain insights into their character or psychology.
For lower class individuals, this represents your ability to get chummy with others while drinking cheap wine and singing ribald songs while avoiding fights. For more refined individuals, this represents the ability to be a good party guest but remain tactful and sober enough to observe subtle interactions and cues despite drinking quantities of wine.
Chinese thought, learning, and governance are based on the “Five Classics”, ancient works by Confucius and other philosophers. The ability to write cogent synopses and analyses of these texts is the core of the Civil Service exams which you must pass to enter a career in the government. All educated and cultured individuals are expected to at least be familiar with these texts.
You are an amateur “expert” on one or more topics. Like the Art ability, for each point in this ability, you are knowledgeable about one topic (antiques, art, courtesans, food, literature, music, poetry, tea, wine, etc.)
You are familiar with the stories, legends, and beliefs of the common people. You can recall relevant tales, recognize the signs of supernatural activity, and know pertinent local legends.
By spending one hour in a quiet location you can spend Meditation points at 2 for 1 to refresh any other pool besides Status or Health.
Missile Weapons (General)
Replaces the “Firearms” ability from Trail. You are familiar with and can shoot bows, crossbows, etc.
Natural Lore (Academic)
You have an understanding of the natural world, the behavior, life cycle, and functioning of plants, animals, weather, etc. Basically, a pre-scientific version of Biology, Zoology, Botany, and Climatology.
Status is simply a renaming of Credit Rating (to fit the Judge Dee setting better). Status acts in all ways just like Credit Rating in the Trail rules, and all rules that apply to CR apply to Status.
Obviously, the best place to start is the Judge Dee books themselves. Van Gulik published his stories “out of sequence” in terms of the Judge’s life. The list below is in chronological order for Judge Dee’s life and career, but the original publication dates are included.
The Chinese Gold Murders (1959)
The Lacquer Screen (1964)
“Five Auspicious Clouds” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
“The Red Tape Murders” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
“He Came with the Rain” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
The Chinese Lake Murders (1960)
“The Morning of the Monkey” in The Monkey and the Tiger (1965)
“The Murder on the Lotus Pond’ in Judge De at Work (1966)
The Haunted Monastery (1961)
The Chinese Bell Murders (1958)
“The Two Beggars” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
“The Wrong Sword” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
The Red Pavilion (1964)
The Emperor’s Pearl (1963)
Poets and Murder (1968)
Necklace and Calabash (1967)
The Chinese Maze Murders (1957)
The Phantom of the Temple (1966)
“The Coffins of the Emperor” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
“Murder on New Year’s Eve” in Judge Dee at Work (1966)
The Chinese Nail Murders (1961)
“The Night of the Tiger” in The Monkey and the Tiger (1965)
The Willow Pattern (1965)
Murder in Canton (1966)
Benn, Charles China’s Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty
Great resource for understanding daily life in the time period ostensibly portrayed in the Dee books.
Chin, Yin-Lien C., Yetta S. Center, and Mildred Ross The “Stone Lion” and other Chinese detective stories: The Wisdom of Lord Bau
More folklore than mysteries, these stories may inspire you to include supernatural elements in your adventures.
Spence, Robert The Death of Woman Wang
History of an actual 17th century murder case in rural China, based on period primary sources. Spence “livens up” the story by using contemporary fiction to inform his portrayal of the inner life of the victim and other characters.