The Chinese pantheon consists of literally hundreds of Gods, plus thousands of lesser immortals and countless minor spirits. Relatively few of the Gods possess sufficient Legend to breed potent Scions. These Gods still number in the dozens, though, so only a selection of the most notable (or notorious) can be described here.
True to its name, the Celestial Bureaucracy organizes all its Gods and spirits into departments that oversee both mortal life and universal concepts. Originally, the Bureaucracy had just eight ministries. Over the millennia, other ministries were added as they became necessary, or through the vagaries of bureaucratic infighting. The Ministry of Thunder and Storms, for instance, monitors the weather, while the Ministry of Fire governs all manifestations of that element. The Ministry of Epidemics watches the spread of diseases; the separate Ministry of Smallpox was recently abolished and its personnel reassigned. The Ministry of Exorcisms acts as the Celestial Bureaucracy’s internal affairs division, policing the demons who form the pantheon’s least reliable agents and chastising lesser immortals who step out of line. The large and powerful Ministry of Hell governs the Chinese Underworld and sees to the punishment and reincarnation of sinners.
Chang’e AKA: Heng-O,many
Chang’e has been up and down the three Worlds, from deity to mortal and back again. Through a complicated series of events, she ended up living on the Moon and becoming its presiding deity. Her marriage to the solar deity Houyi is complicated, but neither God seems ready to end it. While Chang’e is one of the younger Gods, she is also immensely popular among the Chinese people, who eat round “moon cakes” during her festival and ask her to make their offspring beautiful. The People’s Republic of China named its first lunar probe for her, which she found immensely flattering.
Chang’e enjoys visiting the World incognito. She has run an ice cream stand and a beauty parlor, been a fashion model and a jewel thief. While she attracts admirers and likes being around people, she always seems a little distant. Her Scions likewise tend to be attractive and socially adept, but disinclined to show their own feelings or get deeply involved in mortal lives. Deep down, they know they belong in a different World.
Long, long ago, Fuxi found humanity living like animals. He taught them to clothe themselves and to cook their food, to domesticate beasts and to craft musical instruments. Fuxi invented the first calendar and laid down the first laws, including the laws of marriage. He saw the mystic trigrams of the I Ching on the back of a dragon-horse and so discovered divination. For these and many other achievements, the Chinese call him the First Sovereign, and he remains widely worshipped to this day. Ancient pictures show Fuxi holding the sun or a knotted rope and carpenter’s square. He now lets the younger God Houyi act as solar deity, however.
When his duty to the Celestial Bureaucracy permits, Fuxi works to advance human welfare and culture. Fuxi no longer simply hands new arts and sciences to humanity; instead, he slips suggestions to scientists, artists, legislators and other people who can do the work themselves. China remains the focus of his attention, but he also visits arts festivals, UN conferences and other international gatherings.
While Fuxi’s ancient form was that of a serpentine dragon with a human head, he now prefers the form of an elderly Chinese man of gentle and scholarly mien. In Heaven, he wears silk robes embroidered with dragons, clouds and the Sun. On Earth, he chooses contemporary garb appropriate to his surroundings.
Fuxi’s Scions take after their real or adoptive father in their wide-ranging interests and intellectual prowess. They often become known among fellow experts as skilled administrators, insightful scholars and wise advisors – near the centers of power, but guiding the rulers rather than ruling themselves.
Guanyin AKA: Observer of the Cries of the World, Bodhisattva of Compassion
Guanyin is probably the most popular Goddess in all China, and people in Japan, Korea and southeast Asia worship her as well. She is also the Celestial Bureaucracy’s leading exponent of Buddhism. Guanyin was born a princess, but sought only to become a nun. Family troubles led to adventures that form the core of her legend. Guanyin’s relentless compassion eventually triumphed over her father’s wrath and elevated her to full divinity. Her countless kind deeds repeatedly draw her into danger, but her penetrating insight and help from other shen always get her out again. Just about everyone in the pantheon loves Guanyin, including most of the demons. She has many admirers in other pantheons, too. Guanyin’s enemies are the cruel manipulators, brutal thugs and pitiless avengers among the Gods – and these Gods hate her, giving her an unusually long list of rivals. (Her fellow shen Houyi and Xiwangmu merely think the Goddess of Mercy is annoyingly nave.)
Guanyin frequently visits the World to help suffering mortals. Recent guises include a hospital nurse, the director of an orphanage, a UNICEF assistant director and a Red Cross volunteer. Indeed, every major charity or humanitarian aid group in the World knows her under one alias or another. Guanyin prefers to use her divine powers sparingly, allowing mortals help themselves, but the death tolls from many natural disasters, famines and brush wars would be much higher without the Goddess of Mercy subtly facilitating international aid.
Scions of Guanyin tend to follow their mother’s interests and methods. They are not great warriors, but are often superb persuaders. Whether as the relief worker facing down a warlord, a diplomat demanding to see political prisoners or the doctor who runs a clinic in a brutal slum, Scions of Guanyin show quiet courage in facing humanity at its worst. They bring the same quiet courage to the Overworld War. While other Scions have slain titanspawn without number, a few Scions of Guanyin have convinced servants of the Titans to switch sides.
Yi the Archer saved the World, and he expects to get a little respect for it. Like his wife Chang’e, he’s both been exiled to the World and allowed back in Heaven, but not allowed into the pantheon’s centers of power. While Houyi does possess some talent for leadership, he became a tyrant when for a time he ruled part of ancient China. Houyi does not apologize for this and remains the pantheon’s leading advocate for Legalism. The pantheon values Houyi for his ability to take swift, direct action – but Houyi needs cajoling. He insists on having things done his way and he no longer agrees to help others until he has a solid contract for repayment.
This last attitude serves Houyi well in the modern World. While he sometimes exercises his hunting prowess as a safari leader, Houyi has also been a high-priced archery instructor, a mercenary, an assassin for hire, a millionaire architect (one of his less well known talents), a bounty hunter and a venture capitalist in solar energy.
Various spy movies in the 60s entranced Houyi with laser weaponry’s potential, so he backs this technology as well. In every identity, Houyi looks like a hard-bitten Asian man with the unnerving, thousand-yard stare of an experienced sniper. His Scions likewise tend to be hard cases who do the dirty work for other people – but expect their due reward.
The Yellow Emperor still involves himself in war and politics, in both Heaven and the mortal world. Although Huang Di no longer rules the shen, he cannot resist advising the Jade Emperor (whether that officeholder wants it or not) as Heaven’s most visible policy fanatic. Currently, Huang Di debates strategies for fighting the Titans. The Jade Emperor also sends him on regular diplomatic missions to other pantheons. The Yellow Emperor believes that China has the right and duty to dominate the world – all three Worlds – but he knows better than to express such sentiments around barbarians.
Huang Di is too busy and restless to keep mortal identities for long. Instead, he uses his Epic Manipulation to mingle with mortal movers and shakers without anyone realizing that they don’t actually know him. He regularly visits the Chinese Congress of People’s Deputies as a nameless (but highly respected) Party official or retired general, though he also visits and advises the government of Taiwan. Huang Di takes guises ranging from an international security consultant to the great-uncle you never heard of before.
Scions of the Yellow Emperor show the same restless intellectual energy. Like their father, they tend to take over by sheer force of personality, and by presenting coherent plans while everyone else wonders what they should do. Huang Di actively steers his Scions toward positions where they can shape world events and public opinions, in occupations ranging from the military to the media.
As a rising demigod, the Scion Nezha became so arrogant and troublesome that the Jade Emperor commanded his suicide. Nezha had a Fated role to play in the Investiture War, though, and so his teacher resurrected him. While Nezha became one of the great heroes of that war and one of the great adventurers of the Celestial Bureaucracy, the rest of the pantheon neither forgot nor forgave his past misdeeds until the Handsome Monkey King gave them a new standard of comparison.
Whether as a God or in mortal guise, Nezha looks and acts like a teenager around 16 or 17 – frequently, a smartass teenager. He’s the young soldier whose CO swears he will never become an officer, the brash kung fu student, the fresh-faced collegian, the novice firefighter or the obsessive hang-glider. Flight, fire and combat attract him.
Nezha’s Scions are usually accidental, but he tries to do right by them when he finds out about them. He tends to Visit them in their teens, though, which ensures that they experience youthful adventures just as he did. While Nezha’s Scions tend to be quick studies, they also tend to overestimate their capacities and become impatient with anyone who says they’re too young. Like their true father, they also tend to have issues with their mortal stepfathers and other aged authority figures.
One Chinese legend credits Nuwa with creating humanity from yellow clay, but her most famous deed was to repair the broken sky and restore order to the World. She shares her role as lunar deity with the newcomer Chang’e.
Nuwa still takes great interest in boundaries, travel and management of land and water. Like her husband Fuxi, she once took the form of a human-headed dragon. Nowadays, though, she visits the World as an elderly but vigorous woman, in guises such as a village farm-wife, a tour guide, a civil engineer specializing in flood control or an old lady selling fish from a sampan. Nuwa prefers to take socially invisible roles as she watches for the Titans’ influence in the World. When she finds it, she appoints lesser immortals or Scions to deal with the problem.
The lesser immortals of the Three Gorges region hold Nuwa responsible for the great dam that is drowning their homes and will change the balance of natural forces throughout China. Nwa did not devise the Three Gorges Dam, but she blocks every petition for the Celestial Bureaucracy to act against it. Nuwa takes a great interest in all flood control projects; she wants the Celestial Bureaucracy to take covert control of New Orleans dike repairs and similar projects around the world, to make sure they’re done right.
Scions of Nuwa often become builders, nurturers or (all too often now) cleaners of other people’s messes. They tend to be good at finding things out and designing innovative solutions to problems, whether as sewage-treatment engineers, psychiatrists, computer hackers or high-tech assassins.
As the second of China’s three mythic sovereigns, Shennong invented medicine by finding every plant in the world, eating it and identifying what it did to his body. He also invented agriculture. His favored mortal identities include ethnopharmacologist and agronomist, though Shennong has also appeared as a medical researcher, an agribusiness tycoon, a fertilizer dealer and a hermit in the mountains.
Some Gods don’t like the amount of time Shennong spends on projects to improve mortal agriculture and health care, especially outside China. They believe he should confine his efforts to the Middle Kingdom. The Divine Farmer brushes aside such criticism by saying that what’s good for the wider World is good for China, too.
Like their divine father, Shennong’s Scions tend to speak bluntly and do things themselves. They also naturally gravitate to the same occupations that interest the Divine Farmer himself. While Shennong does not order his Scions about, he encourages them to help the World through direct action, particularly in the Third World: Shennong has Scions in a variety of non-governmental organizations devoted to improving agriculture, public health and education. Operating on the ground, close to the people, they sometimes spot malign forces that escape the notice of other Gods. Then, Shennong expects his Scions to deal with the problem on the spot. This does not endear them, or their father, to shen who insist on acting through proper channels – and Shennong doesn’t care if he or his Scions trespass on the turf of other pantheons.
Sun Wukong AKA: Handsome Monkey King, Great Sage Equal to Heaven
The Handsome Monkey King hatched from a stone egg, and his adventures became the subject of the famous Journey to the West. Sun Wukong is trouble, especially because the shen believe Hundun created him. His passage from titanspawn to God was turbulent, to say the least, but the shen learned to accept him. Usually. On good days. Indeed, more shen enjoy seeing the Great Sage Equal to Heaven flout the pantheon’s famous decorum than would care to admit it. An equal number of Gods want to strangle him, but Monkey is one of the most unkillable entities in Heaven – the Celestial Bureaucracy has tried. Now they’re just glad he’s on their side.
Monkey is vain and impulsive. Though clever, he is not half as clever as he thinks. Hard lessons somewhat reduced his kleptomania and gluttony. He learned manners, though he sometimes forgets them. He’s also one of the pantheon’s greatest fighters, with an awesome talent for driving his enemies mad with sheer irritation. The Handsome Monkey King often visits his simian subjects in the World. Now and then he takes human form, usually to go to a party. He never maintains a mortal entity for long (usually just for one day or night). He is the boisterous guy, immune to put-downs and rejections, who seems incredibly funny and charming if you’ve had enough to drink. Sun Wukong never checks to see if a dalliance results in a Scion, but he always Visits his Scions if another God discovers them and calls them to his attention – and then he says he planned it all along.
Sun Wukong’s Scions can be born into any social stratum. They take after their father in their combat prowess and their ability to get in trouble. Whether pickpockets or playboys, they collect arrests and slapped faces, but laugh it off and dive into the next adventure. They show great loyalty to their friends, though, especially when standing up for a friend means a good scrap.
Associated Powers: Epic Dexterity, Epic Stamina, Epic Strength, Animal (monkeys), Chaos, Taiyi, War
Abilities: Athletics, Brawl, Fortitude, Larceny, Melee, Survival
Rivals: Guan Yu, Huang Di, Nezha; Hermes, Kalfu, Loki, and all other tricksters. Plus, all the more humorless Gods loathe him.
Xiwangmu AKA: Hsi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the West, Wang mu Niangniang
Few Gods in the Celestial Bureaucracy changed so much over the millennia as the Queen Mother of the West. Long ago, Xiwangmu was a deity of cataclysm and divine vengeance, a woman with tiger’s teeth and panther’s tail. At the same time, she grew the peaches of immortality. Later, she adopted gracious manners, elegant gowns and a gift for extemporized poetry. Xiwangmu became the chatelaine of Mount Kunlun and queen of the Daoist sages who achieved immortality. As such, she remains one of the most important members of the Celestial Bureaucracy, whose authority extends as far as she wishes it to go. When the Gods desire a subtle yet savage Fate for an enemy, they hand the job to Xiwangmu, and bid her show her teeth.
Acting in the mortal World, Xiwangmu has been a secret agent, a lion tamer in a circus, a fortune-teller and the mistress of a Triad leader. Wherever she goes, people tend to receive amazing good fortune or horrible deaths, depending on how the Queen Mother judges their merits. Her Scions tend to be similarly subtle and ruthless, particularly in their benevolence. Whether the World knows them as a secretary in Shanghai, a martial arts sifu in Hong Kong or an exorcist in Taiwan, Xiwangmu bids her Scions to see that mortals receive the consequences of their actions. Thus does the Queen Mother uphold the harmony of the World.
The Celestial Bureaucracy’s second great exponent of Buddhist compassion became overseer of Di Yu – the Chinese Hell- so that he might help the dead to expiate their sins instead of being weighed down by them for lifetime after lifetime.
Every few centuries, the Celestial Bureaucracy demotes Yanluo for excessive kindness to his charges and letting them reincarnate too soon. However, no other God of Yanluo’s Legend wants the job, and the other nine Yama Kings of Di Yu lack Yanluo’s power. Eventually, the Bureaucracy gives Yanluo his old job back.
The Chinese Diaspora extends Yanluo’s interests beyond traditional Chinese territory. He advocates increased involvement of the shen in world politics (all three Worlds). He treats with other death-Gods and meddles in mortal affairs far more than the Jade Emperor authorizes. In mortal guise, Yanluo has been an undertaker, a Buddhist monk, a grief counselor, a homicide detective and a prison psychologist. His Scions likewise feel attracted to occupations that deal with death, spirituality, captivity or reform, from priest to forensic pathologist. Spiritual pride is a frequent character flaw: Convinced that they act for the best, they neglect to ask mere mortals if they want to be enlightened or improved.