Friday, June 26, 2009

White Mountain, Black River: The Land of Yanzhou Province

Working on my Wushu campaign and just finished the material on the geography of the region they'll be assigned to. I drew a map which is of fairly decent size. When I figure out where to post that (maybe on one of the wiki's) I'll put a link here. I borrowing and melding a lot of of concepts together here, so you may see some things you'll recognize if you know the genre or the rpg games.

A CONSIDERATION OF YANZHOU PROVINCE

Part One: The Land Itself

To begin with, let us consider the geography of the province of Yanzhou. It seems fairly likely that you will have to travel across the area in pursuit of your duties, so I've provided some recent maps from the Office of Imperial Destinations and Certainties. You will memorize those maps and then return them to me. An additional set of scrolls and materials detailing survey and other information will be provided to you in the Magistrates code.

You will forgive, I hope, an old man his meandering description of the area. We begin first by describing the outline of the body, of the region. Those natural elements and barriers which surround Yanzhou. They set the shape and the limits of the province.

Yanzhou itself lies mostly between three mountain ranges, to the West, the great Fox Mountains form a border with Tengzhou, a province currently outside of the Empire. Crossing this range is difficult, especially in winter when the snows close most travel. However, Broken Leopard's pass serves as a major route for trade-- annoyingly the pass is wide enough that while most of the traffic can be monitored, various paths and trails hidden in the high points can be used by those wishing to smuggle persons or goods into Yanzhou. Since beyond Tengzhou lies our rival, the Kingdom of Zhang, you can expect evil and mischief to certainly come from this direction.

Adding to the complication is the state of the city which lies on the Yanzhou side of the pass, Only Six Devils. Only Six Devils provides trade in exotic goods, and a refuge for my travelers wishing to skirt the eyes of the law. The city is overseen by the Wenyi family, and in particular the reclusive Shadowed Saber. Several notable organizations and sects have their home there-- all of whom have only a passing degree of alliance and sympathy to the Emperor and to the Provincial Governor. Shadowed Saber, the lord of the city is a powerful man, and turning him out from there has remained out of the question. When pressed the about controlling lawlessness there, the Governor asks for specifics and turns to the agreement which brought Yanzhou into the Empire, making such matters the Emperor's responsibility. I despair of such legalisms-- but know that the situation there is unsettled.

I should also stop and mention that the pass there lies in the shadow of White Mountain, one of the the three sacred Mountains located in Yanzhou: White Mountain, Holy Mountain, and Seven Waters Mountain. Of these White Mountain has the most accursed reputation. It has been the site and refuge for rebels in the past, and in particular for cults practicing strange and dark occult ways. There have been rumors of late of another group having set up there, but so far no agent who has investigated the matter has returned.

Where was I....yes, the two other ranges of mountains. In the northeast, the trailing end of the Songshan Mountain Range reaches into Yanzhou. There lies Seven Waters Mountain, a site of many pilgrimages. Some believe the Water Dragon itself lives beneath the mountain there, providing the rich series of rivers, springs and water falls which dot the area. One of the richest deep forests of the land runs along the western side of that mountain range, the Emerald Cloud Forest. While the southern end of those woods been settled, the northern portion of it is dense and mazelike-- a home to bandits, spirits and some accursed places. If you travel there, you will need to employ a trustworthy local to help you navigate those depths-- otherwise you will likely never return.

The Songshan Range splits apart desolate areas-- on the western side lies the southern edge of the Vengeance Wastes, a forbidding and desolate area, with a single large mountain known at the Prophetic Master's Peak overlooking it. The desperate, the exiled and the barbaric make this land their home. Beyond that lies wilder lands, homes to tribesmen who war among themselves and on occasional gather enough strength to raid the Empire. That being said, some trade does originate from here-- skilled merchants can obtain rare spices, the occasional relic, and powerful horse lines from the barbarians. As well, some of the more obscure forms of Lotus originate from among these people, a problem potentially worse than the Black Lotus trade in Yanzhou-- but I get ahead of myself.

On the other side, east of the Songshan Range range lies the Copper Sands. It is a rough desert, sporadically dotted with rocky plateaus and a few oases. The sands there have a deep coppery hue and wear down anything standing there for long. Beyond the Copper Sands lies the Kingdom of Wei, another realm which has stayed outside of the Empire. Wei is small, but said to have many clever and capable scholars. Some trade comes across the Copper Sands from caravans hugging the line of the mountains, but more goes along other routes to different provinces of the Empire. Those routes are, however, heavily monitored and watched which means that Wei smugglers and agents rely on the Copper Sands route to move goods without the Emperor's approval.

The Copper Sands, despite a forbidding nature, also serves an important role in the economy of the region and the empire. Several rich silver mines exist there. Caravans from the mines to the capitol provide a rich target for banditry, hence an Imperial Garrison stationed at the fortress of Unthinkable Noose. They escort the caravans on an irregular schedule and help ensure the proper tribute and distribution comes to the Emperor of Tian.

I should mention as well, before one even reaches the Copper sands, from the Yanzhou side, one must cross the Twin Brothers Gorge or else take a more northerly route. The canyon is said to have resulted from a struggle between heroes in the days of the First Dynasty-- when The Brothers Eng stood against the Beastblooded and kept them from encroaching into the newly founded Empire. When they sacrificed themselves and their Divine Weapons a rift opened in the earth, swallowing the invading army. Today the Gorge serves as a refuge for outlaws and wandering hermits, a dangerous places likely to swallow those who venture there unprepared.

South of the Gorge lies the Eighteen Prayers Mountains. Less treacherous than the other ranges it runs from here eastward before trailing south. At one time the mountains housed a number of Daoist Temples. However persecution in the earliest days of the previous dynasty forced many away. Some say a few sects remain there, quiet and sequestered away from the world. The mountains are rumored to also host a large population of Wukong, a unclean monkey race. Some claim the Wukong have been the source of theft and misfortune in the area, but investigations have turned up little factual evidence.

Lastly One Spider Forest serves as another natural border for the province. This area lies south of the Eighteen Prayer Mountains. The name comes from the breed of spiders particular to the woods, all the deepest blue with identical and elaborate red markings on their backs. Legend says the woods holds only one spider and all of the little ones seen are actually fragments of that original great glass spider, shattered by a hero even before the First Dynasty. One can find several small villages along the outskirts of the forest, populated by families who have cut wood there for centuries.

With the body of the province thus outlined, let us consider the flow of blood through it. The Black River provides that nourishment-- running through the center and connecting the various areas. The Black River begins in the far north, at Prophetic Master's Peak and continues through Yanzhou, fed by smaller rivers coming from the surrounding mountains. Many small tributaries exist, meaning that the river and the plains themselves are well-watered-- particularly in the resource rich north. The Black River is massive in many places and holds an unusual feature. When the river reaches the center of Yanzhou it turns back north and then reverses itself, heading back towards the south. River tradesmen, depending on the weather, must choose whether to follow the course of move good overland at that point. The provincial capital of Yanshan lies along the river in the center of this formation, serving as a trade and exchange hub.

Three tributaries are of significant size to be noted on your map. The first is Dai River which descends from Seven Waters Mountain. This river is said to be plentiful wish fish and blessed by the gods themselves. The second is the Middle River which comes from Fallen Starlight Lake. Locals use this river to transport wood, fish and other goods. The third is Crying Daughters River which comes from the Crimson Marsh. That river constantly shows its violence, flooding frequently and wrecking unwary vessels with jagged rocks and fallen trees. The marsh itself came into being after a tragic battle nearly a hundred years ago, involving sorcerers and a portion of the Many Venoms Cult. A good number of the former the royal family of Yanzhou died in the battle and the summer and winter capitals combined at Yanshan. The ruins of the old capital remain there, part of the renamed city of Drowned Gate.

Some suggest that disaster, and the eventual extermination of the line of Yan, caused the imbalance of harmony which still affects Yanzhou. Until that time, both north and south prospered equally well, but afterwards, changes in the weather and quality of the harvests forced many to the north which had prospered. Indeed the weather in Yanzhou has a reputation for strangeness. The region receives both a strong winter, with snows coming down from the mountains, as well as a significant portion of the Monsoon weather which funnels up the valley. However, in the north these seasons bear more temperance-- and nourish the land, whereas in the south they can be devastating for those trying to survive.

If the natural borders form the skin the rivers form the circulatory system, then the farmlands form the muscles of an area. Those muscles are stronger in the north than the south. Other features then also serve as the organs of the region, notably the cities. I've mentioned the capital, called Yanshan or Waiting Sage's City, as well as Drowned Gate and Only Six Devils. In the far north lies Eight Walled Grace, the border city which organizes trade and wealth for the area-- moving those goods downriver to the capital. Eight-Walled has a diverse population, including barbarians who have decided to take up and urban life. It maintains communication with the border fort and trade post at Binyan's Rest, lying even further north along the river.

While many villages exist, three other major towns help keep sustain the health of the area. Three Wisdoms lies in the Emerald Cloud Forest, close by the Seven Rivers Mountain. This is General Guan Cang's demesne. His family has held influence in this area for generations. It generates great wealth for himself and for the province. Guan Cang maintains a large standing force there-- ostensibly to protect the area from bandits and to ensure that the Imperial Silver shipments reach their intended destination.

Further south lies the town of Nine Tiger's Watch along Fallen Starlight Lake. Pang Yuwei is master of this city. He's said to be an independently minded man. That has won him no favors from Governor Qui Cheng. Still they maintain cordial relations. Pang's family maintains the Pilgrim's Ox Escort Bureau. This serves as both a wushu order, teaching his own Harmony Saber style, as well as providing private guards for persons and caravans. Pang Yuwei handles the affairs of the various lake villages in the area as well.

Finally, the last city before one leaves Yanzhou to the south is Rooted Serenity. This city is overseen by Flawless Ning, an administrator hand-picked by Governor Qui Cheng from among the notable Heaven's Hand Brotherhood. The Heaven's Hand have been a righteous clan in the past but disquieting rumors have reached imperial ears of their engaging in less noble practices. Flawless Ning himself doesn't stand out as a particularly noble man. He's strongly tied his affairs to those of the governor, clearly hoping for greater influence and the elevation of his family further.