Monkey started as an idea back in the mid-90s. I was stuck for what to read in Fantasy and asked my mate Keary Birch for a suggestion. He pointed me in the direction of the Journey to the West or “remember that TV series on BBC2 during the 80s”, as he put it.
My next port of call was Monkey – the James Whaley translation and the abridged version published via Penguin Classics. The full version of the book, which I got to just after 1st edition was finalised, is a four-volume series of 100 chapters, with each volume clocking in at 1000 pages. James Whaley’s version is only 40 chapters, missing out much of the repetitive monster-of-the-week type chapters that make up the bulk of the Journey itself and heavily abbreviating the start and end of the Journey. This version is very accessible to English audiences but at the cost of some detail and narrative logic.
I was immediately struck by the fact that this could be a Roleplaying game. There was a party of Adventurers, the Pilgrims: Tripitaka the Monk and his immortal guardians, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy. They have the main goal, go to India to pick up the missing scrolls of Buddhist teaching and return them to China, and be admitted into Chinese Heaven as Immortals. Along the road, a mythic version of the real-life Silk Road, the pilgrims have to battle and drive off villainous demons who are keen to eat the Monk because doing so will gain whoever does so great power. So there’s a goal and conflict right there.
As well as the Whaley translation, I drew from two other sources of inspiration.
- My shakey remembrance of watching the Japanese TV series Monkey, or Monkey Magic, from the early 80s every Thursday Night on BBC 2 as kids.
My young son was also a Monkey fan 🙂
- What I’d learned about Taoism and Buddhism from my own life experiences at the time. For example, the central Yin / Yang card drawing mechanism was drawn from the importance of that concept is not only the martial arts that I had been studying at the time, which were forms of Taoist Internal Alchemy, but also I Ching divination system. The necessity of the characters to be nice and protect mortal characters came from the book’s reflection of Buddhist teachings and the fact that the characters, all through powerful immortals, were being coached by Buddhist gods to mend their wayward ways so they could be readmitted into Chinese Heaven.
I had spent a good fifteen years putting Monkey together when I finally go the first edition out in 2010. Internals were done on the cheap via clip-art.com where I raided their ancient Chinese category. Also of note on this front, the 15th Century woodcuts that illustrate Monkey Subdues the White Bone Demon, which is based on one of the chapters from the full novel. Because they were in the public domain, I could use these fantastic pictures of Monkey and the rest of the pilgrims to do full-page illustrations.
The cover was technically the first of the Jon Hodgson covers I commissioned. I consciously put Monkey to one side while I got more publishing experience putting out Hearts In Glorantha (see D101-03 to 06), OpenQuest (D101-06) and the Savage North (D101-07). It had to wait until July 2010.
Another D101 Games first, was that Paul “The Tweadmeister” Mitchener did proofing/editorial for the game. Neil Gow (publisher/author of Duty and Honour/Beat to the Quarters) was officially the games’ Monkey’s Uncle due to the excellent advice and encouragement that he gave over its rather wobbly development.
The book’s release coincided with Continuum 2010, a sell-out on a small (50 copies) but significant scale.
I was immediately aware of its shortcomings and planned a 2nd edition ( D101-045) which was finally released in 2018. It is available from the D101 Games web store.
Also, it has a blog that has more about the game and its inspirations.