What happens if Wu Zetian learns about the Netherworld?

My PCs have been tooling around in the Ancient Juncture. They uncovered and disrupted a Lotus plot in Wu Zetian's court, and gained two audiences with Her Majesty. In that second meeting, they filled her in on the Chi War, Feng Shui sites, the Netherworld, etc. In another session or two they'll be heading back to the Modern Juncture.

Wu Zetian probably has the resources and ambitions to seize a lot of Feng Shui Sites now that she knows how important they are.

I'd like it to be a Critical Shift, but only if I can figure out ways to make it fun and different enough to be worth the bother. Any suggestions on how the world might be different when they arrive? How would the world transform in and alternate timeline where the Zhou Dynasty had more staying power? How might reality be shaped by Wu Zetian not only purging the conspirators from her court, but also learning the big secrets that make the world run? Please help me brainstorm an interesting new world.

One of the PCs is the rebellious son of an important Ascended lieutenant with mafia connections, so ideas that inconvenience The Lodge and mommy dearest would be extra-appropriate.

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Further development: In tonight's session, there was a point where Wu Zetian was left alone in a room with her personal physician, who had been bitten by a Jiangshi in the previous session. So the idea of an immortal vampire Emperor is potentially on the table, as well.

I mean, I expect my PCs will save her from that fate next session, but we won't be playing again until January because of the holidays, so it's at least remotely possible the PCs will lose focus and forget to rescue her.

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From the material in the core book I assumed she was already in the know. Her many construction projects and commissioning of statuary are highlighted and seem to suggest that she is. As does her success in expanding the borders of her empire. Maybe it was in some of the material surrounding the release of the core book, I don't have it to hand.

However, in your game you've decided that this is news to her so what can we do with it?

The Wikipedia article about her describes her as "strong, charismatic, vengeful, ambitious and well-educated" which should certainly help with characterisation but might also suggest what her rule was like.

Certainly she doesn't seem to have been above having her political rivals killed or killed them herself.

The article suggests that she was responsible for conquering a lot of neighbouring countries so with chi behind her maybe the whole world (or large parts of it) are part of China now. Maybe there are pagoda skyscrapers in New York?

She developed a large spy network so maybe the critically shifted present is full of espionage and skullduggery.

However she was also a great reformer of the civil service, bringing in aptitude exams so people achieved office through talent rather than family connection. Maybe the present is a world of competence.

Obviously for drama we need conflict so maybe the shifted present is a gleaming high tech world of pagoda skyscrapers and competent governance under whose surface writhes an iron-fisted security apparatus. Dissenters being ruthlessly and summarily executed.

Alternatively, if you want her to be a more sympathetic figure maybe her foray into the secret war induced massive reprisals from the incumbent factions who organised the world powers against her and her country.

In this present China is a shadow of itself with neighbouring countries much larger and probably the odd new country which broke away from the empire.

Maybe in this world India is a major world player, even more than it actually is. Maybe Korea is a much larger country with more swagger on the world stage. And of course there's always Japan ready to annex bits of China as they did during the second world war.

Lots of opportunity.


Thank you for the excellent ideas.

Funny thing: I could have sworn that there's a line in the rulebook that says that if Wu Zetian learns about the Chi War it will have far-sweeping ramifications for history, but when I asked my computer to find that sentence in my PDF, it instead found a sentence on page 14 that says: "Clearly aware of the power of chi, the Empress pursues a ferocious building plan, constructing palaces and monuments throughout her realm."

I could argue that being "aware of the power of chi" isn't the same thing as being aware of the chi war, the Netherworld and time travel, the various Factions and Junctures, or that by controlling the majority of Feng Shui sites you can control the flow of history... but I clearly underestimated Wu Zetian, like many before me. There will be consequences.

I have updated the subject line of the original post to match my new understanding of the default situation.


If she was aware of the power of Chi, but not of the Netherworld, letting her know about the latter would now make her another major faction, so there would be a chance to encounter time-travelling Imperial Guard and her spies in any other juncture. It might also have some interesting knock-on effects with the Four Monarchs - one or more of them might like the option to start again, but earlier ... and we know how much they also like dubious alliances ...

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Not that it matters, but I found where in the official materials I got the impression that Wu Zetian specifically doesn't know about the Chi War and that the world might change if she learned. It's in "Secrets of the Chi War":

"Meanwhile, a heretical member of the Guiding Hand seeks to travel to 690 and inform Empress Wu Zetian of the secrets of the Chi War. Though it means protecting the Lotus Eater’s home juncture, if he’s not stopped, the Zhou dynasty could use their military might to alter their destiny and change future junctures in undesirable ways for many chi warriors."

So I wasn't just imagining it.


Definitely a plot hook - if Wu Zetian does learn then agents would be sent to the 1850 Juncture and Contemporaries to learn about amending history. The Guiding Hand would be in conflict with the Eaters of the Lotus, The Ascended would work in the shadows to destabilse the plot and may even work with (or more likely con) The Dragons.

Perhaps, if she does learn then she could make plans to hide in the Netherworld to escape her enemies leaving a double on the throne.


Did a Critical Shift today. The Blood of Nine Cauldrons (referencing the Nine Tripod Cauldrons that are the symbol of state power in Ancient China) is the new faction led by the half-vampiric daughter of Wu Zetian, who served as Emperor for over a thousand years.

The PCs put things in motion that started the change, but then it realized into a Critical Shift while they were at a wedding in the Contemporary Juncture. I, for one, welcome our new benevolent quasi-undead overlords. Hong Kong's night life will never be the same.

Emperor Wu had been bitten in a Jiangshi attack when the PCs were working for/with her in the Ancient Juncture. The PCs treated the Emperor's vampirism with the usual sticky rice, but the Royal Physician had died in the attack.

Earlier in that storyline, there had been several implications that Wu was either pregnant or trying to become pregnant while the PCs were there, and the party's Supernatural Creature had given her a fertility blessing to assist in that regards. It's a long story, but in a nutshell: this particular Supernatural Creature PC is styled after the Creature From The Black Lagoon, and in Chinese Symbology, Fish are associated with Fertility. We had played this up for comedic relief several times, and it was just too tempting to make it matter once the PCs headed home.