Scholar’s Review #29: RIFTS World Book 24: China 1 – The Yama Kings
Updated: Mar 31
Author: Kevin Siembieda & Erick Wujcik
Release Date: January 2004
This World Book takes us into the mystical and depraved lands of what was once China. Now the domain of the Yama Kings, these greater demons have turned the region into a perpetual landscape of suffering and hardship. No longer the land of fabled history and economic production centre for the world, it has reverted back to its wild, natural setting, with walled cities of humans eking out their existence; those unlucky enough to find themselves in a demon city are forever bound to the predations and sickening whims of the Yama Kings and their demonic lieutenants. The first in a two book series that details the trials and tribulations of the Yama King-ruled lands.
A Land of Mist and Monsters. So, right upfront we are hit flat in the face that China is a realm dominated by “nastiness” of the Yama Kings and their unique Yama Hell as it has been realized here on Rifts Earth. Very much similar to the Warlords of Russia, each operates a slice of the map in conflict with the others. So really, hell on earth. Don’t believe me? How about repeatedly dying to only awake while being skinned alive; or worse? There are few zones not under Yama King control; Dragonlands, Wudan Mountains, Northern Heng Shan, etc.
The Eleven Hells of the Yama Kings. An overview of geography, prominent places, population and significant characters for each of the Eleven Hells, as well as any Sanctuaries:
Henan Province (First Kingdom of Hell). Unbound from the predations of the First King of Hell anymore, 20th Lvl Taoist Immortal now guides this region. So, perhaps an oasis among the black-hearted landscape?
Han Bing Province (Second Kingdom of Hell). The capital is surrounded by a nearly 1 km high metal wall, heated to glowing red. This Yama King seems to be taking a complete laissez-faire approach to ruling, letting underlings plot in-extremis against each other. Includes the Mount Qian Sanctuary.
Zhejiang Province (Third Kingdom of Hell). Forced into subsistence living in conditions replicating 1200 AD. Interesting use of the Qin Kuai story, who now rules this kingdom by manipulating the Ledger of Heavenly Correctness and his Mandate from the Jade Emperor to his needs; so, effectively, a self-serving demon lord turned lawyer with grandiose visions of controlling *all* the kingdoms.
Fujian Province (Fourth Kingdom of Hell). Densely populated, the capital is built according to principles of Feng Shui. Yama Ling rules by the letter of his Mandate from a magic throne of white jade. Has a Lake of Foul Blood and mystical Apricot Forest; so yeah, not a walk in your typical botanical gardens.
Guangdong Province (Fifth Kingdom of Hell). Yama King that rules more like an industrialist than king; the entire province has been either completely industrialized or set aside for farming; no wild lands. Humans have been released to provide productivity and are part of the standing army.
Shandong Province (Sixth Kingdom of Hell). Now in its 80th year of perpetual revolution of socialism (9th or 10th cycle or re-education) under the mind control efforts of their Yama King.
Hubei Province (Seventh Kingdom of Hell). A true hell-on-Earth region run by a Regent-demon who has been wheeling and dealing with other demons for power.
Chuangxi Province (Eighth Kingdom of Hell). Basically a land where the demons have abandoned their posts to pursue personal desires/ambitions while they prop up a demented Yama King.
Guangxi Province (Ninth Kingdom of Hell). A Yama King that has redirected efforts away from tormenting his slaves, he envisions himself as Emperor of Earth one day.
Sichuan Province (Tenth Kingdom of Hell). With no current Yama King, pretty much the Wild West (of Hells).
Shanxi Province (Eleventh Hell of the Terra-Cotta Warriors). Seat of Emperor Huang Di (“just an ordinary Asian-looking guy”), working his humans to death, surrounded by a “great wall” and supported by Terra-Cotta golem-esque warriors.
Demonic Curses. A series of about 20 spell-like curses that can be hexed onto characters.
Chinese Ghost and Demons. Divided into two groups, these are Chinese inspired gribblies. Includes notable Goblin entries like the Chinese vampire, Daemonic Ghosts, Hungry Ghosts, Wicked Ghosts (aka Disease Demon) and Vapours. The Fox Spirit, Goat Goblins, Shadow Goblins, Mountain Goblin, One-Horned Mountain Goblin and the Tall Man Goblin.
Demons. A series of about a dozen Lesser Demons, a dozen Greater Demons, and a couple of Demon Lords. Includes some notes and passages on Elder Gods and Spirits and how to play demons as NPCs.
Life in Rifts China. Something I would have thought should have been placed *much* earlier in the book; it is placed at page 150.
Rural Human. If you haven’t gleaned from the previous sections, lots of demons, lots of "h-e-double-hockey-sticks." Details provided for a "typical" walled city.
Demon Villages and Cities. Less than a full page (one and a half column) of these locales.
Maps. Something I found frustratingly presented in the 11 Hells were the maps. These finally provided me a good sense of what was what and where it was located in relation to the rest.
Current Assessment (6/10). One of several books that, upon initial release, I gave a hard pass. I never had much interest in the Oriental settings, and this along with Japan never made the cut. Over 15 years after the fact, my opinion hasn’t much changed. To be fair, this was a well written book. It presents a setting of abject horror and desperation that could pose significant challenges for any player group. The first couple of sections speak to areas that fall outside of the Yama Kings’ control, yet we never really touch base on them; fully understanding them may well be presented in China 2, a mere mention of this fact would have gone a long way into integrating the two together. Given that this and the following were always advertised as a two-book series, I found it jarring this one did not refer the other. I found the presentation of the Eleven Hells, and then waiting until the very end to start looking at human fortified cities, was an error that messed with the familiar format of dealing with world building first, placing the monsters at the end of the book. The demons and monsters presented are, as would be expected, high MDC, with limited vulnerabilities. The lack of any real clarity or background on the Jade Emperor and details on the concept of the Ledger of Heavenly Correctness was a big miss, in my opinion. We also have mention of the "free lands" of the Dragonlands, Wudan Mountains, Northern Heng Shan and others, but no details to where they are or how to use them. On the artwork itself, there isn’t anything there that I could possibly gripe about – thematic and well rendered. For those keen on running a thematic setting, this may fit the bill; for me, not for the potential of the book and avoidance of overt clichés throughout, this would be a hard pass for me.
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