Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fighters of Qi

In China, a new concept grew up to explain how warriors could become greater and more powerful. Taking from the Taosist and Buddhist concepts, such warrior build up their qi, or life force, and that qi residing help perfect their inner alchemy, and so give them great powers. Although, like the proverbial fish, those powers always seemed to get a lot bigger in retelling. (Following the Taoist and Buddhist concepts individually would be quite interesting, but they are so intertwined after so many centuries that  that this task would be far beyond my own knowledge.)

These stories of amazing warriors are famously told in the Monkey King. In that story, the Monkey King decides to learn great powers. He studies at a monastery, learning much esoteric wisdom, and learns how to change shape. He learns how to leap across the world in just a few bounds at astonishing speed. He gets a job in the Celestial Court, but only makes a mess of things, and while he’s at it, gorges on powerful foods (where just one bite is filled with awesome power) and gobbles down powerful medicines (where just one pill will make you immortal.) Monkey winds up being so much trouble that a buddha drops a mountain on him, then demons feed him red-hot iron pellets for 500 years. The punch line? That’s the beginning of the story.

Over the course of the tale, you see martial techniques that generate great winds, loud sounds, and all other sorts of effects that we in the D&D world associate with spellcasters. In the east, the division between magic and martial is non-existent. All great martial prowess is magical, for the basis of all magic is secrets. If you can learn and perfect the right secrets, you can do amazing things. Secrets hold hidden truth about the world, and by exploiting those secrets, anybody can do amazing things.

Who can learn the secrets? Anybody. There is no special talent behind magic. There is no birthright. Your specialness all depends on your ability to learn, practice, perfect, and most of all, stay loyal to your master util that master should teach you the most secret techniques.

In D&D, these types of warriors are called gishes (for some reason that I’m too lazy to relate). Gishes combine magic and martial prowess. The swordmage and the psychic warrior are two examples of gishes. They can both be used to simulate Chinese style heroes. Likewise, monks can simulate Chinese style warriors, although they do a poor job of it. Monks never develop the outrageous abilities that their mythical brethren take for granted.

How do these stories influence the fighter of D&D? They don’t. Chinese stories do not apply to the fighter class. Even the much vaunted samurai doesn’t get such power. (In 3.x, the samurai succeeds in actually being weaker than the fighter.) There are some feats that hint at these amazing abilities, but they don’t actually amount to much in practice. Strangely enough, even monks, who are supposed to be full of qi, don’t act anything like the monks in the Chinese stories.