Neural Stimulator I: Nine Tripod Cauldrons

This will (hopefully) be a series of artifacts, scenario ideas, or Really Cool Things That Could Happen that I stumbled across and thought, "Damn, I need to use that in a Feng Shui scenario!" I hope you can forgive my horrible butchering of Chinese pinyin as I attempt to westernize various logograms, and feel free to jump in and correct me, or add your own ideas. First up, we have some legendary artifacts from the dawn of Chinese civilization:

Nine Tripod Cauldrons

These were ancient Chinese ritual cauldrons forged under the direction of Yu the Great to commemorate the founding of the Xia dynasty, using tribute metal collected from the Nine Provinces of ancient China, somewhere around 2200 BCE. In Chinese, I believe they are called "jiu ding" or just "ding", although to Western ears the whole "cauldron" thing probably sounds more mysterious and magical. I mention this mostly because if you're looking for puns or clever catch phrases, "Ding! Ding! Ding!" is more of a goldmine than "cauldron". The tripod cauldrons came to symbolize the power and authority of the ruling dynasty. As in, if you controlled the cauldrons, then you controlled the state. Only they kept getting lost. Several times, in fact.

When Qin Shi Huang (that guy from Hero who got buried in Qin's Tomb) got around to unifying China round 221 BCE, the nine cauldrons were taken from the Zhou royal palace at Haojing and sent to Qin's new capitol at Xianyang. However, they were lost when crossing the Si River. Qin Shi Huang sent a thousand men to search for the cauldrons in the river, but they were never found. This happened reputedly somewhere between 306-250 BCE.

Or they might have been stolen when Marquess of Shen led a group of Quanrong nomads into Haojing, overrunning and sacking the capitol city of the Western Zhou Dynasty in 771 BCE. After the capitol was moved to Chengzhou, perhaps the stolen cauldrons were hidden in a secret cave among the Longmen Grottoes? Were the tripods moved back to Haojing during the Warring States period, or were the tripods lost by Emperor Qin's men in the Si River clever forgeries?

The cauldrons would be repeatedly recast by later emperors, symbolizing their divine control of the state. The most well-known examples are Empress Wu Zetien in 696 CE and Emperor Huizong of Song in 1105 CE.

Yes, I am cribbing all this from wikipedia. Here are some ideas for incorporating the tripods into the Secret War:

  • Eaters of the Lotus would be all over these things, and the cauldrons are likely the lynchpins to their control of the ancient juncture. As each tripod represents one of the nine ancient Chinese provinces, then it stands to reason that the tripods are either a focal point for harvesting the chi energy from each province, or perhaps they even consolidate all of the power of the feng shui sites in that province into one convenient artifact: control the tripod, and you are automatically linked to all of the feng shui sites in that province. So it might be safe to assume the Lotus already have control of the tripods. However, if they lost one, or another faction were to discover the secret location where the originals are stored? That could be catastrophically bad.

  • Ok, the most obvious shout-out to the Secret War is Empress Wu's reforging of the tripods in 696 CE. We can fudge the timeline a bit here and move up the reforging to 690, or maybe it takes a few years to complete the forging, so Empress Wu is literally laying the groundwork for casting the new cauldrons as we speak. However, the Lotus are manipulating things behind the scenes to seize control of the state under the nose of Empress Wu. She may think the cauldrons will give her ultimate control of China, but the spells and ancient rituals the Lotus are weaving into the new cauldrons actually bypass her and give all the chi energy to the Lotus.

  • The ritual to commemorate (and secretly activate) the cauldrons requires an ancient magical scroll that unwittingly gets dropped in the laps of the PCs. Both the Lotus and Empress Wu send sorcerers and supernatural creatures to attack the PCs and steal it back. After a few ass-whuppings, the two sides get down to brass tacks and make offers to purchase the scroll. Empress Wu offers them the pick of any powerful artifact in her treasury. The Lotus offer something even juicier: the soul of a fallen hero, restored to flesh and blood, no strings attached* (* = some strings attached). The PCs have an opportunity to tip the balance of power in the ancient juncture: do they offer the scroll to the Lotus to bring back a fallen comrade, or do they strengthen Empress Wu's grip on ancient China against the Lotus?

  • In the Contemporary Juncture, a Two-Fisted Archaeologist studying ancient shipwrecks in the Si River stumbles onto some big metal cauldrons buried in the mud! Are these the original Nine Tripod Cauldrons, or are they fakes created by the last Zhou emperor to fool Qin Shi Huang? If the original cauldrons can be recovered and re-activated, then the PCs could sweep the rug out from under the Lotus or Empress Wu, re-tuning all the Chinese feng shui sites in the Ancient Juncture to themselves. If the PCs aren't interested, then the Ascended certainly are, as they could finally stamp out the Lotus and eliminate the threat of a Critical Shift in a previous juncture knocking them out of power. Or even worse... if a rival faction got control of the cauldrons in the Contemporary or Past Juncture, they could sweep the Ascended off of the map by stealing all of their mainland feng shui sites out from under them. If the Ascended get their hands on the cauldrons, will they lock them up in the proverbial Warehouse 23, never to see the light of day, or will they attempt to destroy the magical artifacts because "magic = bad!"

  • While consolidating control of the government was one of the more well-known powers of the Nine Tripod Cauldrons, that was not actually their primary purpose: they were originally used to summon demons from hell. Oh, and that ancient forgotten legend about using all nine cauldrons at once to summon the World-Eater? Yeah, that's just a superstitious folk tale... ok, well, yeah, of course in Feng Shui all those old superstitious folk tales are true. Duh! So maybe some Lotus sorcerers found one of the cauldrons and started summoning demons, we totally shut them down and they won't be bothering us again! I mean, it's not like the surviving sorcerers would start to hunt down the remaining eight cauldrons and maybe try and put them together to summon the World-Eater...

  • In the Future Juncture, Battlechimp Potempkin stumbles onto what appears to be one of the original cauldrons. Intrigued by the story behind them, he gets the idea that collecting all the cauldrons could be the key to re-awakening the chi flow for all of the burnt-out feng shui sites in China. He's managed to dig up some records of what may have happened to the remaining eight cauldrons, and reaches out to the PCs to help him track them down. The Big Ape is desperate to atone for his atrocities, and relighting the candles of one-quarter of the world's dead feng shui sites feels like a good step in that direction. For the Simian Liberation Army, this is a fate worse than death... they worked so hard to rid the world of the corrupting influence of chi, and now the PCs want to start the whole stupid thing over again?