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Voyages of Discovery

You are part of the crew of the largest fleet of ships in the world, the Chinese Treasure Fleet, led by Zheng He (Admiral and advisor to Emperor Zhu Di). This fleet consists of almost two hundred ships, ranging from small junks all the way up to the Treasure Ships, which are immense: 200-400ft long, housing up to 500 people, with 6-9 masts and 4 decks. The purpose of the fleet is to trade and collect tribute from other nations, exchange ambassadors, and to demonstrate the power of the Chinese Empire. The crew and passengers have been assembled from all of the nations visited on the first three voyages, so they are made of all kinds of people, not just Chinese.


The known world is not unlike our own, comprising an area similar to Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands. The first three voyages explored much of what we now know as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and SE Asia. (The DM reserves the right to change geography as he sees fit to keep the players on their toes!)

To get an idea of the setting, you may wish to read about the historical voyages of Zheng He:
Wikipedia article on Zheng He


The technology level is roughly equal to 15th century China. The ships have cannon and basic firearms are available (such as arquebuses), the south-pointing compass is in wide use by the Chinese, and fairly complex metallurgy and machinery are available for the right price (and amount of time). While it is easy to find latitude, timepieces are still not accurate enough nor adapted to seafaring, so it is difficult to measure longitude without being in sight of land.


Magic and technology are often at odds with each other in this world. Some cultures shun most magic as work of the devil or as a dangerous pagan influence (Christians and Muslims), some see it as an integral part of their beliefs (Animist/Polytheistic nations like Hindus) and some peoples (including the Chinese) have a more balanced approach. Magic is in general a force of chaos, change, and decay – it is very difficult to permanently enchant items because the magic will consume them over time, so magic use usually falls into two categories: temporary enhancements or spectacular releases of power.

Character Building

Your character can come from anywhere in the Pacific Islands, India, SE Asia, East Africa, or Oceania (Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, etc) There are no non-human races available to PCs.

Try to get an idea of who your character is and why they are on this fantastic voyage. You can pick pretty much any reason and background you want — I’ll adapt my ideas and setting to the characters you want to play, and fill in any obvious weak spots with “guest characters” if needed. So feel free to have a group of all rogues or all wizards if you want. You don’t need to have an extremely detailed history, just enough to be able to explain yourself. We can fill in the details later as the game develops.

Characters start at first level.

Also, do not assign your character an Alignment. Just play your character as you want to and we’ll find out whether you are good or evil soon enough. Note that there are no alignment-specific spells or abilities in this game.

Since there will be few permanent magic items in this world, all PCs start with 32 points to spend on ability scores, as outlined in the Player’s Handbook.

Online Point Buy Calculator

Suggested professions available to characters:
Cook, Navigator, Sailor, Priest/Monk (any religion), Soldier, Scientist/Wizard/Alchemist/Doctor, Noble/Civil Servant (of Chinese or other origin)

It’s more important to have an idea of who your character is where he/she comes from, and what his or her ambitions are than to know exact ability scores, feats, etc.

Classes available in this campaign:

All Player’s Handbook classes except Paladin, others, subject to book availability and my approval. Class variants can be used if desired (see web site below):

Variant Classes

I’m not too picky about Prestige Classes. If you want to qualify for a class that you didn’t plan for, switching feats and skill point assignments is possible if it makes sense in game.

Weapons/Armor available:

  • Anything in Player’s Handbook except Spiked Chain (I can’t see how one can wield this weapon without killing himself in the process)
  • Anything in Oriental Adventures
  • Primitive personal firearms are available, but rare…mostly flintlock arquebuses. See link below for details.

If you want heavy armor, it’s probably a good idea to have another set of light armor for shipboard combat. You don’t want to go overboard in Heavy Armor!

(Keep in mind that starting equipment may be limited by your country of origin and profession. Cooks are unlikely to be sporting an arquebus!)

Skills and Feats:

  • Skills not on your skill list cost the same as skills on your skill list. However, the maximum ranks rule still applies, so at first level, you could only have 2 ranks in a skill not on your list. The exception to this rule is languages (see below for details)
  • You begin able to speak two languages. You can add up to your Intelligence bonus in additional starting languages, or you can add literacy in a language instead of adding a new language (this option is not available for Barbarians at 1st level). Additional languages cost 1 skill point to speak and 1 skill point for literacy. Bards can learn to read/write a language for 1 skill point each. Below is a list of available languages (Simplified into regional groups):
    • Cantonese Chinese (equivalent to Common)
    • Mandarin Chinese
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • Malay (Malaysia and Indonesia)
    • Javanese (Indonesia)
    • Tagalog (Philippines)
    • Arabic
    • Hindi (North India)
    • Siamese
    • Mon-Khmer (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia)
  • All characters get a +2 skill bonus (not additional ranks) to one skill of their choosing based on their place of origin from the list below. If you can provide a good explanation, you can substitute a skill of your choosing in place of my suggestions.
    • Chinese: Diplomacy, Knowledge: Astronomy, Craft: Calligraphy, Craft: Alchemy
    • Indonesia, Malaysia, and Oceania: Rope Use, Swim, Knowledge: Geography, Profession: Sailor, Survival, Craft: small seacraft
    • India: Knowledge: Religion, Concentration, Craft: Weaver, Profession: Farmer
    • Middle East: Ride, Knowledge: Mathematics, Appraise, Profession: Merchant
    • Horn of Africa: Ride, Profession: Merchant, Appraise, Survival
  • The Toughness feat gives +1 hp/level, not +3 HP.

Magic and Spells:

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Voyages of Discovery TsuDhoNimh