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[The Celestial Empire] Dragon Bones


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The "dragon bones" are very interesting. Several years ago, I was in the Shanghai Museum, and I was really surprised at how small the scapula and plastrons were. It's hard to see from pictures the small scale of these objects.

With a historical fantasy setting, I like the idea of using the magic and myths the way the people of the time would have thought they worked. So I would make "pyromancy," or whatever term you want to use of divination with the scapula and plastrons, actually work. Because of the nature of the system, you can't ask open-ended questions, like "what should we do?" Rather you should make the players chose a yes-no question, like "should we attack soon" or "is Li Bu's illness caused because he was impious"? Or they can choose a sort of "multiple-choice" question like "is the traitor in the court (a) Cao Cao, (B) Liu Bei, or © Xiao Bing?" This sort of limit should keep the use of divination within reason and not let the players use it as a substitute for actually investigating things.

As far as how to decide whether the answer given is "correct," I think you would need to have the diviner make a skill check to see if he set the whole thing up correctly, and then have a separate determination of whether the god or ancestor that you wanted an answer from is going to be helpful. At a minimum this would depend on the piety of the character needing the information -- if you forgot to leave food at the ancestor's grave this year, you should be out of luck when it comes to getting helpful information. This may also help to "force" players to role-play the culture. The Chinese venerated certain ancestors and gods in the expectation that help would come back to them here on earth.

As far as using the remnants of the divination as "dragon bones" in medicine or magic, I would think the easiest thing to do would be to assume that the divination process, in which an ancestor or god works through the bone or plastron, would leave some level of latent power, either in POW or magic points or whatever is appropriate. Then you could use the "dragon bones" as ingredients in a potion, healing spell, and so forth. That is, rather than giving them a particular magic effect, you could just have them be a potent magical ingredient that would be part of a larger formula for a potion or whatever needs to be made up.

My avatar is the personal glyph of Siyaj K'ak' a.k.a. "Smoking Frog."

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