Jade Empire spoilers ahead…
At first I thought it strange that the Water Dragon was in charge of water, and shepherding the dead. That seems sort of odd. It’s like a guy being in charge of Marketing, and driving the forklift. These aren’t jobs you’d expect to overlap. Now I kind of see how the two concepts are related. Or at least similar.
|The Water Dragon. She’s in charge of water. And dead people. Her operations are not running properly due to the very hostile takeover and subsequent downsizing of her department.|
Spirit Monks are given the ability to “bind spirits”. This power is supposed to be used on wayward spirits. Once in a while someone dies and decides to hang around and cause trouble instead of going to the afterlife. Usually this means they died under very unhappy circumstances. Spirit Monks are supposed to use their power to grab these ghosts and help them get where they need to go.
Then the Sun brothers (Emperor Sun Hai, Sun Li, and their youngest brother Sun Kim) show up and pervert the entire process. Sun Hai wants the power of the Water Dragon to end the Great Drought. As a side-effect he also gains her other, more important powers. He supplants her as the deity in charge of the water cycle and the spirit cycle, but he doesn’t continue her work. It’s likely he doesn’t understand or even know about her (now his) role in the spirit realm. All he wanted was the power to save his Empire. He got it, but broke the world in the process. The dead are all stuck and none of them can get to the afterlife. As a result, the world begins to fill up with angry ghosts who are compelled to go somewhere but can’t and who don’t understand what is wrong.
The cycle of spirits is a lot like the water cycle. If you could stop the water cycle (say, allow rain to fall but not evaporate locally) you might halt a drought in the region, but doing this would have a profound impact on other places. Sun Hai stops the spirit cycle – the Great Wheel – and so suddenly life is only going one way. I’m curious what would happen if his reign had continued. Would the world become so full of ghosts that it was uninhabitable? Ghosts had a habit of killing people once they went crazy enough, so once they reached a certain tipping point the population would have begun to drop off sharply. Ghosts would have begun killing people faster than they could reproduce, and eventually only ghosts would remain. Perhaps it would have taken a few more centuries, but this outcome was probably inevitable under his rule.
Sun Li only understands slightly more than his older brother. Once he has control, he speaks of “forcing” the dead to their rest. He’s probably taking about controlling the ghosts and preventing them from interfering with the living, but I doubt he was interested in becoming the shepherd of the dead and guiding them all through the gate, if he even understood it. What would have happened under his rule? The ghosts might not overcome humanity under his rule, but perhaps the lack of souls going to the afterlife would have caused a “drought” of new life. Perhaps mass infertility (or mass stillborn babies) would have been the result of this road.
I don’t usually get into the mythology of gameworlds. The pantheon of Oblivion / Morrowwind gets a big shrug from me. The gods of D&D don’t interest me at all. But I find the Celestial Bureaucracy of Jade Empire to be thought-provoking. It operates according to rules, some of which are explicit and some of which must be inferred, but there are rules. Deities exist to perform jobs, not collect worshipers, which makes interaction with them seem more interesting. I always thought the way some gods were always trying to recruit followers and bribe them into loyalty with miraculous favors made them seem kind of shallow. This makes them great for generating quests, adventures, and campaigns (which is the whole point of them, really) but they just don’t scratch my particular storytelling itch.
I really enjoy the Celestial Bureaucracy and have been playing around in a few of the Jade Empire’s key dialog trees, trying to squeeze out some overlooked insight into how the world of Jade Empire works. Great stuff.
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
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