Fire Down Below teaser

“Your community sits at the mouth of a cave that stretches impossibly far into the unknown depths of the earth. Since time immemorial, your heroes have been guardians of the surface world against the horrors beneath.

“But now an age of the world has ended. A new age is beginning… one in which the sun is dead, and the surface world is dying too without its light and warmth. Your heroes must now venture into the underworld and return with a seed for a new sun: The Fire Down Below.”

This is a new tabletop role-playing game project that I’m cooking up; its roots can be found in this Moana-inspired post. Right now, the broad outline of the campaign/setting/megadungeon looks something like this:

  • Each player controls several heroes from a given family. Each game session sees one member from each participating family descending into the underworld in a single foray as part of their long-term quest to find and retrieve The Fire Down Below; the heroes remaining on the surface can be assigned to a variety of “downtime tasks” while they wait.
  • Available tools, weapons, skills, powers etc. will reflect not the standard late medieval / early Renaissance European pastiche, but something closer to the very dawn of agriculture-based civilization… at least for the humans living on the surface.
  • The mechanical base of play will be grounded in D&D 5th Edition (I know, I know; welcome to the hegemonic umbrella) but house-ruled almost entirely out of recognition because I’m just that punk-rock at heart.
  • The overall “play loop” will be inspired by “Metroidvanias,” with exploration leading to discoveries that allow obstacles to be bypassed, which allows for more extensive exploration.
  • Player creativity, role-playing, and problem-solving should be more important than skill in manipulating the mechanics. To meet this goal I will be trying to decrease the importance of elements such as class and level, and will be stripping away a number of special abilities (especially ones focused on tactical combat) to be replaced with abilities that are less powerful, more flavorful, and most rewarding when used creatively.
  • For example, as discussed in the previous post, magic will be present but will operate entirely through a devotions-and-boons model, with players offering specific observances to specific entities in return for specific benefits.
  • In an attempt to encourage dramatic storytelling and role-playing, lethality will be relatively high, with systems added that encourage heroic action and even sacrifice in the face of danger. The fact that each player controls an entire family is the first of these, of course.

For the next however-long-it-takes, I hope to develop this into something playtestable, if not outright playable, with various major elements forming the material of a new Magic Monday style series of posts.

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Nothing but boss fights


(Hito no furi mite waga furi naose;
Observe the behavior of others; correct your own”)


An admonition to grow and improve by observing those around you. When you see good behavior, you should copy it; when you see bad behavior, you should work to root it out of your own doings.


We begin with the noun 人 (hito). Nominally this means “person,” but in cases such as this, by extension it means “others.” Next we have the verb 振る (furu), literally “to shake [something],” but in this case meaning “to behave [in a certain way].” This verb appears in conjunctive form and acts as a noun, which allows the associative particle の (no) to attach it to the previous noun 人. Next a particle is elided, and then we have the verb 見る (miru) “to look,” “to see.” This is also in conjunctive form, which connects us to the following phrase.

In the second phrase we again see the conjunctive form of 振る acting as a noun, followed (with object marker elided) by the verb 直す (naosu), “to correct,” “to repair,” in imperative form. These are preceded by a little bit of frozen grammar that, hard as it is to believe, we don’t seem to have encountered before on this blog: 我が (wa ga) is the first-person signifier 我 (wa, but note that these days on its own it’s more likely to be pronounced ware) plus particle が (ga), which actually serves the same function as modern の. (In other words, 我が is the same as 私の, but sounds more old-fashioned and poetic.)


See also 他山の石以て玉を攻むべし and 反面教師 for phrases that focus on learning from and avoiding the bad traits of others.

Supposedly this saying comes to us from the Analects of Confucius (Japanese 『論語』= Rongo).

振り survives today as a suffix to other verbs that implies “acting as if ~,” e.g. 知らん振り (shiranpuri), “pretending not to know [something].” What this saying phrases as 振り may show up as 振る舞い (furumai), which somehow preserves the meaning of “behavior” while adding a verb meaning “to dance.” Metaphor and human brains are weird.

Example sentence:


(Hito no furi mite waga furi naose to iu imashime ga chokkan de wakatta no ka, ichiban shita no ko wa kyoudaitachi no suru koto wo yoku miteori, koukou wo sotsugyou suru made wa odoroku hodo otonashikatta sou desu.)

[“As if intuiting that one should learn from one’s fellows, the youngest child watched what the older brothers and sisters did, and it seems that, at least until graduating from high school, was surprisingly well-behaved.”]

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In loco?


Literally: heart – soul – decrease – weak

Alternately: Decreased mental capacity. Having lost the ability to judge right and wrong and act accordingly. This is actually a legal and medical term indicating diminished responsibility: that someone cannot be held fully responsible for their actions because of the effects of drugs, mental disorders, or similar factors. (Note, however, that the proper response to this state is not “give the person even more power”!)

Notes: This is a compound of compounds: 心神 is “mind,” “spirit,” or even “intent”; 耗弱 is a weakened state caused by something being worn down or degraded over time.

In some situations 耗 may be read as mou, but for the purposes of this yojijukugo, only kou is considered valid.


A list of notable cases in which this resulted in a reduced sentence. Source = Mainichi Shinbun.

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The best defense is a good stylin’

(Mayu ni tsuba wo tsukeru; “to rub spit on your eyebrows”)


To be on one’s guard against lies and trickery. A catchphrase meaning that somebody is likely to try to fool or deceive you in some way.


We begin with the noun 眉 (mayu), “eyebrow(s).” This is marked as a target location by the particle に (ni), and the verb targeting the eyebrows is 付ける (tsukeru), a word with a variety of nuanced meanings but generally along the lines of “to attach.” The particle を (wo) marks the direct object to be attached; it is the noun 唾 (tsuba), “saliva.”


This apparently comes from a folk belief that rubbing one’s spit into one’s eyebrows is somehow effective against the trickster powers of foxes and tanuki. (In one explanation, this is because eyebrows anointed with spit appear to be on fire on the spiritual plane, which frightens the trickster away!)

眉 may be expanded to 眉毛 (mayuge), “eyebrow hair.” Alternately, the verb may be replaced with 塗る (nuru), “to paint,” or する (suru), “to do.” The whole phrase may even be contracted to the catchphrase 眉唾 (mayutsuba).

Readers of Japanese may be interested in this 11-year-old comic on somebody’s blog.


Example sentence:


(“Kuruma to ka takai mono wo kau toki wa, koukai suru koto ga nai you ni, shikkari to mayu ni tsuba wo tsukete oita hou ga ii to omou.”)

[“When you’re buying something expensive like a car, I think that you need to make sure to be on your guard against trickery, unless you want to regret it later.”]

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Hot air rises


Literally: mind/heart – spirit – raise – raise

Alternately: In high spirits; triumphant, elated… by extension, boastful; proud unto arrogance; full of oneself. Often used with the ironic or critical nuance that someone’s inflated self-esteem is not actually in keeping with what they deserve.

Notes: This phrase comes to us from our friend, the Records of the Grand Historian (Japanese 『史記』 = Shiki).

As usual, the doubled character may be replaced with a doubling mark, 揚々. Some versions may also use homophone 洋 (again, as either 洋洋 or 洋々) but this character means “ocean” so I wouldn’t recommend it.

A fat blond bully... the universal archetype
A fat blond bully… the universal archetype
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A journey of 10,000 coughs starts with a single sniffle

(Kaze wa manbyou no moto; “A fever is the root of ten thousand diseases”)


Even if a disease seems to be mild (“just a cold”), don’t just brush it off. Things can get bad if complications arise, so be on your guard and protect your health.


We begin with the noun 風邪 (kaze), literally “wind-evil.” Here I’m translating it as “fever.” (See below for a discussion of why.) This noun is marked as the topic of discussion by particle は (wa), and the comment on this topic centers on the noun もと (moto), in this case “origin,” “cause,” “foundation.” The associative particle の (no) specifies it as the cause of number-noun 万病 (manbyou), “ten thousand diseases.”


While 風邪 is commonly translated as “cold” i.e. “the common cold,” it has historically referred to a broad swath of illnesses that involve elevated temperature – including the mild fever that comes with a cold, but also influenza and even the fever brought on by malaria. Consumers of Japanese culture may have at times been puzzled by how a character can be rendered bedridden, or pass out in the middle of a conversation, from “a cold”; this would be why.

However, I’m assured that contemporary usage has developed a distinction, so go ahead and use 風邪 for a cold, インフル(エンザ) for the flu, and マラリア for malaria.

Moto may also be written in kanji as 本, 元, or 因 without any change in meaning or pronunciation. And as is often the case, the meaning of 万 is less its literal rendition than simply “a large number,” so some versions of the saying scale it back to 百 (hyaku), “one hundred,” without any significant change in meaning. Some versions also replace もと with 始まり (hajimari), “beginning.”

This phrase supposedly comes to us from the “Basic questions” section of an ancient Chinese text known as the Huangdi Neijing (Japanese 『黄帝内経素問』, Koutei naikyou somon)

Example sentence:


(“Tada no kaze kamoshirenai kedo, nen no tame, yuukyuu wo ichinichi torasete moratta. Kaze wa manbyou no moto dakara ne.”)

[“It’s probably just a cold, but just in case, I took a day of paid leave. A cold is the root of ten thousand diseases, after all.”]

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Exceeding fines


Literally: fidelity – prize/reward – inevitable – punishment

Alternately: Sure reward and certain punishment. Strict, unfailing, and proper apportionment of just deserts, both boons and banes.

Notes: This phrase comes to us from the Han Feizi (the『韓非子』= Japanese Kanpishi), a Warring States era Chinese text on political philosophy.


Call your reps and tell them to press the “justice” button.

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