What is Cultivation?

In Cortex, Development, Mechanics by Req

The Sands of Destiny Role Playing Game is inspired by Chinese Cultivation Novels, but what the hell is Cultivation? I’ve been asked this a few times already.

Cultivation is essentially a system of progression found within some chinese fantasy literature. In Xianxia, my favorite genre, its akin to a magic system of sorts. Cultivators meditate, train, collect resources and build their own power towards rising through the various tiers of power towards immortality and becoming a god-like being. That’s the simplest explanation. In Xianxia novels, the systems are greatly influences by Daoism and Daoist Alchemy. In fact, a lot of the time cultivation is referred to as internal alchemy.

I’m not going to go too in depth with the philosophical elements of Daoism here as Sands of Destiny is merely inspired by Xianxia fiction and uses a Cultivation system loosely based on those within those novels. Its my own personal take on the genre and I’m not trying to build a 1 to 1 conversion here, after all. Sands of Destiny is my own personal fantasy fiction and pays homage to the things I love about various fantasy genres.

So what is Cultivation in The Sands of Destiny RPG? Its a very core principle in both the mechanics and the fiction. The characters in the game are Immortals on the road towards evolving their personal power towards greater heights and can eventually transcend the current world into the greater mysteries of the Cosmos. A lot of the character’s capbilities are tied to their Cultivation Base, or current Cultivation power.

A character’s Cultivation Base is the foundation of their power and is divided into Realms and Stages. These tiers are both mechanical and narrative. What’s that mean exactly? Well, your Realm and Stage will provide you with dice for your Tests, Conflicts and Contests. They are also used in character by both the PCs and NPCs as they are a codified system “in-character” within the fiction setting as well. For instance a Genesis Realm character would get to add a d8 to their dice pools when their Cultivation Base is used and a lower Realm NPC would fear them saying “I had no intention of offending a Genesis Disciple, please forgive me, senior brother”

The Five Realms
Below is a description of the Realms that will be found within the Sands of Destiny RPG Cultivation system. Wait, there are Six Realms listed here? Mortal is technically a Realm as well, however, it is below the Five Realms, which are collectively considered the Immortal Realms in the setting. There are even Realms beyond the Five Realms, but those are beyond the scope of the game at this time. The first Sands of Destiny Book will not be the only one, I do intend to support the game after its eventual release.
Mechanically, each of the Realms past Origin is s attached to a die type. The Realm die usually only comes into play when there is a difference of Realm between two sides of a Contest or Challenge, a Discipline or Technique is used, or a cultivator expends Aura to do so.

The Mortal Realm
The majority of beings in the world are considered to be within the Mortal Realm. They do not have a Primordial Breath, which is the spark of divinity that opens up the path to cultivate the higher realms. Humans are actually the descendant of a large swath of ancient immortals that were stripped of their Primordial Breath, eons ago.

The Mortal Realm grants no benefits past being alive. Mortals are like ants to those of the higher Realms and most Immortals simple ignore those in the Mortal Realm.

The Awakened Realm
The first Realm on the Path of Immortal is that of the Awakened When the Cultivator is able start generating a Primordial Breath, whether intentionally or accidentally they awaken their ancestral immortality and step into the Awakened Realm. This Realm represents the reconnection with the origin of sentient life and is a very prolific moment in the life of a Cultivator.

The benefits of this Realm are substantial to a mortal. As the Primordial Breath starts to cycle through the meridians, the body of an Awakened Realm cultivator begins to refine itself. Their physical body grows stronger and more resistant, impurities are expelled and it starts to generate an aura. In addition, the third eye of the cultivator opens allowing them to sense the world around them with a mystical sixth sense.

The Stratum Realm (d6)
The Second Immortal Realm is that of the Stratum. Once the cultivator as fully developed their connection with the origin and thus their Primordial Breath is fully coalesced, they start to build the foundation for their Dao (Path or Way).

The benefits of this Realm is the evolution of their physique further with the additional of greater mystical potential. At this Realm, they also start to defy the natural laws of the cosmos, allowing them to start to ignore gravity as they develop the Weightless Step.

The Genesis Realm (d8)
The Third Immortal Realm is one of transformation. The body of the cultivator becomes a crucible at this point and they form their immortal core. This is the stage where the Immortal truly starts to feel the power of their Dao.

At this Realm, the longevity of the cultivator is increased exponentially. All aspects of the Cultivator evolve to greater heights. The cultivator also develops the first manifestation of their Dao, the Auric Contruct: a unique asset specific to the cultivator.

The Eccentric Realm (d10)
The Forth Immortal Realm is an evolution of the Cultivator’s Dao as it starts forming an Immortal Soul within the Core of the Cultivator.

At this Realm, their physical and mystical capabilities evolve even further and their longevity is increased astronomically. In addition, the start their Immortal Soul grants them control over an Auric Domain specific to their Dao. They are able to exert their influence over the this domain.

The Paragon Realm (d12)
The Fifth Immortal Realm is the pinnacle of the Immortal Realms. At this Realm, the cultivator becomes a True Immortal.

The power of the Cultivator increases, their longevity is extended pretty much indefinitely and at peak stage they are able to ascend from the world if they choose to do so. In addition, the Dao of the Cultivator can manifest within an Avatar.

The Stages
Within each of the Realms, there are stages of cultivation. These can be seen as a sub-tier of power differentiating cultivators within the same Realm. Each Stage is represented by a Die type and is added to your pool anytime your Cultivation Base is used in a Challenge, Contest or Test.

The Early Stage (d6)
The Early stage is the beginning of a Realm. The Cultivator is just coming into the Realm and hasn’t quite acclimated to their newly developed power.

The Mid Stage (d8)
The Mid Stage Cultivator has become familiar with their new Realm and started to adapt to its power.

The Late Stage (d10)
The Late Stage Cultivator has become an expert in the Realm. The lower stages look up to them as a senior and/or mentor.

The Peak Stage (d12)
The Peak Stage Cultivator is a Master of their Realm. They are the most powerful of a given Realm and both feared and respected.

There is also a pseudo-stage called Half-Step. This stage doesn’t have any mechanics and is more of a narrative element. Its meant to depict a Peak Stage Cultivator that is a half-step away from transitioning to the next Realm.