Chinese Elements for RPG Characters (2/2)

This post picks up where last fortnight’s gaming post left off. Last time, I outlined using the Chinese elements of earth, wood, fire, water and metal to create a varied bunch of roleplaying (convention) characters. This post will dive even more deeply into the well of over-thought and overblown theoretical wankiness to show how to create a player character group dynamic.

The Chinese elements are different to the familiar scheme of the four Greek elements of fire, earth, air and water. Whereas the Greek elements are used solely to categories the natural world, the Chinese elements are used to show natural processes. We can hijack the traditional interactions between the elements to create a webs of tension and alliances within the roleplaying group.

Generation Cycle

Chinese Elements - Generation CycleThe generation cycle shows how one element supports or enables another. This idea can be used to create alliances within the group where one character always (or usually) agrees with or goes along with another.

For example:

  • Wood generates (feeds) Fire
  • Fire generates (reduces stuff to ash) Earth
  • Earth generates (when refined) Metal
  • Metal generates (enhances? They’re a bit vague on this one, those ancient Chinese philosophers) Water
  • Water generates (nourishes) Wood

Imaging a party of messed up teenage vampire hunters struggling with the twins demands of saving the world from blood sucking fiends and surviving the social battlefields of high school:

  • Ann Arbour, the bespectacled student librarian (Wood), provides perspective and a shoulder to cry on for Blaze Harrington, the cheerleader (Fire), allowing her to have real confidence in herself and her abilities rather than the aura of assurance she fakes at parties.
  • Blaze always recognises when Rock McCarthy, the childhood friend of all and voice of reason for the group (Earth), is losing faith in his ability to hold his friends together and flirts with him to make him feel worthwhile once more.
  • Rock, who never made it as football star despite his size, has the perspective to cut through the irrelevant glitter and glamour that surrounds Jeff Irons, the high school quarterback (Metal), and provide him with the focus he requires to achieve the goal.
  • Irons, without realising it, provides the perfect example to Damian Brooks, the Goth plotting revenge for the thousand wrongs done him daily (Water), that action is not always the right course and that the situation is never black and white.
  • Brooks argues continually with Ann trying to convince her that she’s better than the rest of these yokels always with the outcome of increasing her determination to save them from themselves, regardless of whether they see the dangers they face.

Destruction Cycle

Chinese elements - Destruction CycleThe destruction cycle is the logical opposite of the generation cycle. Each element here controls, dominates or otherwise weakens another. This is how tensions within the group can be established.

For example:

  • Wood destroys (digs or plows) Earth
  • Earth destroys (dams or soaks up) Water
  • Water destroys (quenches) Fire
  • Fire destroys (melts) Metal
  • Metal destroys (chops or carves) Wood

Continuing with the group of high-school vampire hunters:

  • Ann can’t understand why Rock falls every time for Blaze’s tricks and berates him for being stupid, an academic, sporting and social failure.
  • Rock beats up on Brooks every chance he gets, finding him annoying, divisive and always trying to hit on Ann by reading Byron to her.
  • Brooks enjoys nothing more in life than playing mind games with Blaze with the aim of one day destroying her with the realisation of her true shallowness.
  • Blaze bestows or withholds her approval from Irons to make him do whatever she wants – cheerleaders’ control of the jocks is simply a social fact of high school.
  • Irons argues with Ann trying to convince her the the little people she’s so intent on saving aren’t worth the effort. He’s the force which undermines all her efforts.

In an earlier post, I presented a method for creating a tension/support group dynamic using deep dark player character secrets which, if made public, would destroy the character. This was in essence another way of implementing the generation and destruction cycles outlined above.