Hello all! Lately I have been working on a QuickStart adventure for Sageuk - Roleplay in Joseon, but I have found myself a little stuck. If you will indulge me, I would like to explore some of the background behind it! Hopefully I will shake something loose or help me find a better way to approach things.
I have shared a little about it before, mostly at the start of this video that I posted to Youtube. It shows the Sageuk character creation system and made a character sheet for Hyo, who is a significant NPC from the Quickstart. If you have watched it, you may already know at least a little bit of what I am going to discuss here.
CW: There will be a brief mention of a child dying from illness, though nothing graphic or specific.
Some Real History
The Quickstart's current title is Crisis in the Jwi-dal of Musin. Musin is a reference to the year 1728 on the sexagenary (64-year) calendar. However, this is a relatively small crisis because in the same year as this adventure, two other crises arose that to challenge the stability of Joseon's current ruler, King Yeongjo.
The first was the Musin Revolt that broke out in the third month of 1728. Several major political factions claimed that King Yeongjo was illegitimate because he had poisoned his older brother, the former King Gyeongjong, who had died from seafood-induced food poisoning in 1724. Suspicion of Yeongjo was high because a different faction had tried to get the sickly Gyeongjong to abdicate in favor of Yeongjo soon after their father King Sukjong had died in 1720. The Musin revolt was short-lived, but involved significant portions of the southern provinces. In these bastions of hardcore support, county offices were stormed, officials killed, and the rebellion rallied large popular forces for a time.
The second Crisis was the death of the the current Crown Prince. Crown Prince Hyojang was about 9 years old when he became ill in late 1728 and passed away in mid November (the 10th month of the lunar calendar). While there was another possible heir, Hyojang's passing was emotionally devastating for King Yeongjo. He would be buried in late January of 1729 at Yeongneung next to two sister queens from the early Joseon buried in the tombs Sulleung and Gongneung. Today they are known as Samneung ("three tombs") in Paju City just south of the DMZ.
The events of this story take place in the Jwi-dal of Munsin (11th month or mid-December of 1728). The government is working to find a permanent location for the Crown Prince's resting place. However, the tomb keeper of the Gongneung & Sulleung tomb complex has gone missing. With major officials and potentially even the King coming to visit the location in the near future, this is a significant problem!
Just to clarify, a tombkeeper was a government official that maintained the tomb site, its buildings, and organized supplies and such for annual memorial rituals or visits of royal family members. They resided on the site in a specifically constructed home that was part of the complex.
In the text for the Quickstart adventure, I describe it like this:
Twin tombs stand on opposing hillsides on either side of the small road that runs up the slow incline between them. Queens reside inside of them, sisters in blood and now sisters in earth. A trickling mountain stream flanks the road, crossed by bridges to connect the paths that lead to the tomb proper. Trees cover much of the hill here, shielding the tombs from view from the villages in the Gongneung Creek valley behind you and from each other. Or at least that would be the case in summer. Right now, most of the trees have shed their cover and occasionally buildings and stonework are visible through the foliage.
Before you reach either of the tombs that you know lay on the hillsides above, you encounter a small walled complex on the left side of the path. This is the tomb-keeper’s home, where the meals for ancestral rites are prepared and where his family stands guard over the resting royals above.
Normally this home would be inhabited by a whole family with servants, but as the first of you arrive a lone girl no more than fourteen is the only person who greets you at the entrance gate.
As you can see, the main plotline is a mystery adventure. The party needs to find out what happened to the tombkeeper and why they disappeared. Without going into spoilers, it will touch on economics & taxes, local versus national power, and class tensions. However, this missing NPC is only half of the mystery. Spiritually active characters like mudang, monks, or others with an untrained talent are likely to realize that there is something strange going on in Paju County that goes beyond the physical.
Structuring a Beginning
An important element to how I structured the Quickstart was deciding that most of the characters likely didn't know each other before it starts. I have so far created four starting scenes to integrate the groups of players depending upon their origins and professions. I originally wrote the scenes with the premade characters from the Quickstart in mind, which you can already find on the Sageuk itch page if you have purchased the game.
"The Calling" to bring in spiritual characters. They are charged by a spirit to investigate some imbalance that threatens the safety of the kingdom. This is how the the mudang Hyeon-hui becomes involved.
"The Investigation" to bring in distant members of the royal family or historically minded characters like the Quickstart character Yi Ji-eun trying to track down an artifact from the beginning of Joseon.
"The Contract" to bring in economic-focused characters. They were contracted to provide resources to the tombkeeper to do some maintenance work, but his disappearance means you don't get paid. This is how Song Go-yoon gets involved.
"The Briefing" to bring in government officials being asked to investigate by the Saheonbu (Internal Investigations Bureau) or other folks who do not fall under the other scenes. These PCs are tasked by the government to investigate the the tombkeeper to find out what happened to them or charge them with for dereliction of duty so new tombkeeper can be appointed. This scene was written for Jo Munsu and Ryu San-hae. Munsu is a prospective Saheonbu officer and San-hae is a former military officer.
These scenes take place between several months to several days before the serendipitous meeting of the player characters with Hyo at the Gongneung & Sulleung tomb complex. They also drop small hints into the mystery that will likely help a full party solve the mystery, but their information can be found out or confirmed in other sites in Paju County.
Thank you for indulging me as I write this little intro to Crisis in the Jwi-dal of Musin. Keep an eye out here because I will certainly let you know if I decided to release anything else about the Quickstart before I hits the itch store!