Last week in Episode 3 we talked about the Australian Aboriginal mythology. The core of that episode was how their myths are focused around creation and how things came to be, if you think about the origins of your game world, that might help build your story. In Episode 4 I want to go in a different direction again, let’s take a look at Chinese mythology, and see how that might help your designs.
The most common image that comes to mind when you think of Chinese Mythology is the dragon. I’m going to save the dragons for next episode, and instead focus on the other creatures of Chinese Mythology. Let’s look outside the common place and discover the types of creatures that we might be able to use to influence our characters and enemies. What craziness exists in the myths that date back to 2000 BC, and inside of those myths can I find some creatures that could make my game better or different?
An A to Z of Chinese Characters
Ao-Kuang is the most powerful of the ocean dragon kings, I said I wouldn’t talk about dragons, but they are the only ones that start with the letter A.
Famous for preventing floods and moving water, Da-Yu would carve drainage holes in mountains to divert the excess water and help with creating farm lands at the same time. Stories tell of him changing his shape into a bear when he worked so that he could be more productive.
Dou-mu is similar in look to other gods from other cultures, but not many gods have four heads, with three eyes in each, and eight arms. She is thought to be the protector of her people from war, some other stories have her creating the stars.
Er-Lang may change in appearance, as he is thought to have 27 different disguises to outsmart the demons. He is a guardian and uses his Hounds of Heaven (Tian-gou) to dispel evil spirits.
Fei Lian is the god of wind, he loves to come in and cause trouble with his wind which he carries around in a bag. A very unique looking god; he’s like a winged dragon, with a sparrow’s head, bull horns, a stag’s body and the tail of a snake.
Feng Po-Po is the goddess of the winds, an old woman that rides a tiger on trails of clouds.
Feng-huang is the Chinese version of the phoenix, thought to reign over all other birds. Combined with dragons they make up the Yin and Yang of Chinese lore, and only appear at locations that are peaceful and prosperous. It has the head of a pheasant, the body of a Mandarin duck, and the tail of a peacock.
Jiang Shi/Kuang Shi
Jiang Shi or Kuang Shi are the zombies of Chinese myth. They are the undead, not living and with no actual thoughts. They are brought back to life by magical means, unlike most modern Zombie stories in western culture.
Gong Gong is a Chinese water god, known to be destructive. When he was angered after losing a fight, he smashed his head against a mountain, breaking a pillar that held up the sky, causing the earth to tilt off axis. He is depicted as a snake body with up to 9 heads.
Gui are the spirits of the dead, formed from a person’s soul after death, usually occurring after violent or tragic deaths. The translation of Gui is ghost, spirit, or demon.
Huang Fei-hu is a mountain god, he rules a holy mountain in Eastern China and is the judge of dead souls who come to Tai Shan mountain. His form is a one-eyed bull with the tail of a snake.
Ki-lin is effectively a Chinese version of the unicorn. Recognized as all that is good, and pure, he lives in paradise and visits when a wise philosopher is born. The unicorn is thought to have a deer body covered with the scales of a fish, the tail of an ox, and a single horn.
Lei-gong is the god of thunder. He has the beak, wings, and claws of an owl, but his body has the shape of a human. Always carrying a hammer and drum he is ready to produce thunder at any time.
Pan-gu was a giant who was born as a dwarf from a cosmic egg. The top of the egg formed Heaven (Yang) and the lower part formed Earth (Yin). Pan-gu doubled in size each day until after 13,000 years he burst apart. His eyes became the sun and the moon, his head the four sacred mountains, his blood the seas and the rivers, his hair turned into the grasses and trees, his breath became the wind, his sweat turned into rain, and his voice into thunder. The fleas that had been living on his skin became the ancestors of the human race. 4 Crazy origin mythology.
Shachihoko is a sea monster often created to adorn houses and protect them from spirits. He has a fish body and a tiger head, and stories tell how once he is on land he can become a tiger.
Tian-wang are the 4 Celestial Kings known as the world protectors. Each quarter of the world has its own king. They fight against evil and protect places where goodness is taught. Throughout Chinese and Japanese monasteries you will find images of these kings. The king of the north is green, the king of the east is white, he plays a lute that makes men tranquil. The king of the west is red, and the king of the south is blue, and he uses his sword in battle against dark thoughts.
Xie Zhi is a righteous god, a justice of the peace in mythology, he looks for wrongdoers and will attack or ram the person that starts a fight, or is wrong in an argument. Apparently these beasts were used to settle disputes in legal cases, they would show up to prove that someone was innocent, and took care of the sentencing for those that were guilty (they killed them). Images of the Xie Zhi still appear in court rooms. It’s appearance is a mix of cattle, lion and unicorn.
Yao Guai are know as shape-shifters, they are extremely angry demons that use Taoist techniques to steal your soul. Transforming into everything from seductive women to animal spirits, Chinese folklore has many stories of unsuspecting people tricked into giving up their souls and making a Yao Guai immortal.
Zhi-Songzi is a rain god that lives in the mountains, although you may see the result of his actions, he is never found no matter how hard you look. Since he has never been found, there is no pictures.
So why would I do the A to Z of Chinese Characters? Well, ultimately it is to show the wide variety of unique beasts that are a small part of the Chinese Mythology. We can look at the types of creatures, their abilities, their behaviours and their physical looks. Hopefully we can use this information to inspire us to create new and unique characters for our games, or look to the mythological past and find the perfect creatures or characters for our game concepts. Keep digging, I have only scratched the surface on Chinese Mythology.
Next time, I am going to dig deeper into Dragons, and look at how they have influenced so many different cultures and their Mythologies.
Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS