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Piao Shih Character Class

This character class has been culled from a back issue of Dragon(tm) Magazine and details a character classes for use in a 1st Edition AD&D game.

Piao Shih

In real-world China, from antiquity through the 19th century, the vast distances that merchants and officials had to cross required the existence of professional caravan guards who were martial artists worthy of comparison with any Shaolin priest. Such a guard was called a piao shih, which meant literally 'dartmaster;' for these escort warriors tended to be experts in throwing heavy darts at bandits. Many Chinese-language adventure movies have been made about piao shih.

The inclusion of piao shih in an AD&D® Oriental Adventures game can serve several purposes. First, travel scenarios may be enlivened for the players if there is a new character type to be encountered specifically in connection with the journey. Second, the very existence of highway escorts, implying the whole situation of a hard-to-police expanse of territory, will remind those concerned of how big KaraTur is supposed to be. Third, if characters of non-Oriental classes are visiting Kara-Tur or any equivalent thereof, the DM can provide the visitors with a hireling or ally qualified to shepherd the uninitiated.

Only humans and spirit folk can become piao shih, each with unlimited advancement. The piao shih is a mixture of bushi and monk, with a dash of ranger mixed in. He cannot have any ability score lower than 12, and he must have at least one score of 15 or better in strength or dexterity, plus at least one score of 15 or better in wisdom or charisma. No bonus in earned experience is gained. Most piao shih are lawful neutral, but they may be of any lawful or good alignment. Lawful-evil piao shih exist only under an evil government; piao shih can never be chaotic (except chaotic good), because a tendency to betray or abuse clients would ruin their reputations, turn away future business, and prevent them from advancing further in this profession.

Piao shih have eight-sided hit dice. They can use any sort of armor or shield but generally choose leather, studded leather, or padded armor. Piao shih use the combat and saving-throw tables of fighters, making as many attacks per round as bushi. Each starts with four character proficiencies, gaining one every two levels thereafter and applying a nonproficiency penalty of -2 to weapons used. Proficiencies may be chosen from the artisan, barbarian, common, and court tables. Any sort of magical items permitted to all classes and those permitted to fighter types may be used by them, as well as any magical weapons or armor. Oil may be used in combat, but only lawful-evil piao shih use poison. Piao shih start with a base honor of 20 and have 1-4 ch'ien and 1-10 tael (ch'ao). Treat piao shih as bushi for determining their birth rank and family status. Henchmen and hirelings are permitted, and additional followers will be gained as the piao shih rises in level (as explained later).

Every piao shih possesses the following special abilities:

Advancing rank brings other benefits, some fixed in nature and others involving choices between special interest areas.

The following benefits are the same for every piao shih:

On reaching 4th level, a piao shih gains a marked ability to negotiate with robbers or intelligent monsters whose total hit dice and/or levels is no more than twice and no less than half the hit dice/level total for the piao shih's party. That such negotiations as per the AD&D 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, page 63 (“Encounter Reactions”); however, for every point of combined wisdom and charisma possessed by the piao shih, grant a 1% greater chance of an outcome favorable to the piao shih and his clients (though this may involve paying a modest tribute to the other side). At repeated encounters with any potential enemy with whom a piao shih has successfully bargained for safe passage before, there is a further 5% chance for a peaceful settlement-provided that, in the time since their last meeting, nothing has happened to cause irreconcilable enmity between them. (This, more than competition with other piao shih, is why a piao shih team stakes out one route or territory for its business and sticks to that.) Of course, the higher a piao shih rises in rank and the more colleagues he accumulates, the less any bandit dares to demand from him.

At 5th level, the piao shih's superiors consider him competent to recruit and train one zero-level youth to be a piao shih. If the 5th-level piao shih ever rises high enough to start his own organization, this first pupil will be allowed to come along as second in command of the new group (though stealing large numbers of personnel from the parent group would be dishonorable). Also, at this level, a piao shih is usually allowed, by his organization and by escorted clients, to assume more authority over the party he guards than is the case for lower-level piao shih. The piao shih is considered to be equal to the highest social class present in the party, with regards to decisions that affect the course of the journey. At 9th level, a piao shih has the right, when assuming r esponsibility for any sort of caravan, to exercise complete control over any “servant” non-piao shih in the party (e.g., a bushi who is the long-time bodyguard of a nobleman being escorted by the piao shih, or even a monk who has been teaching martial arts to the nobleman's son). It is also usually at this rank that the piao shih can gain a permanently organized troop of piao shih under his command. (This troop typically contains two lieutenants of 4th-6th level, and 10-12 more piao shih of 1st or 2nd level.)

At 10th level, the piao shih is allowed to command a force of three or more piao shih (and these may even be from different organizations, if the organizations are friendly), so as to protect major caravans several miles in length. Also, at this level, he acquires an ability to sense approaching danger once per day, as if he had the psionic talent of precognition (page 113, 1st Edition PHB). This ability is unconscious, allowing the piao shih to sense danger when normal methods (scouting, etc.) fail. Also, this ability functions only in wilderness areas the piao shih travels regularly.'

At 11th level, Master of Escorts, the piao shih is entitled to found an independent escort business, provided he can find a reasonably open territory or can take the leadership, if vacant, of his present organization. The new organization will usually attract 4-16 zero-level men-at-arms of compatible alignment. Half of these will be qualified to become true piao shih; the rest will be retained to guard the new organization's headquarters. The new Master of Escorts should promptly have a banner designed for his group, usually bearing some slogan like “Our darts bring lightning from the clouds;' or “All serpents are crushed beneath our horses' hooves.” If a piao shih makes it to 15th level without having suffered a humiliating defeat (in the DM's judgment), his banner becomes an object of profound respect. Any hostile beings (short of outer-planes beings) who see and recognize that banner, so long as it is borne by some person or group that looks capable of defending itself, must check morale before coming within 100 yards of the bearer. Members of the Master's own piao shih organization, or of any piao shih friendly to that Master, gain +10% on morale when seeing that banner in friendly hands. If the banner is visible to a person attempting a psychic duel with the piao shih, this antagonist is treated as being two levels lower than his actual experience level. Any piao shih of 17th level or above can be sure of carrying at least as much weight as a minor nobleman in his national government's decisions affecting travel and commerce. He essentially enters nobility at this point. In addition to the above talents, each piao shih, in the course of his career, can select four specialties-two tactical and two strategic-as indicated in the level-advancement chart. Improvements in these specialties are counted from the time of acquisition, rather than by the character's current experience level. Thus, if a 3rd-level piao shih takes up the Ground Fighting specialty, while another character adopts this specialty for the first time at 7th-level, both use this specialty skill at the same level of expertise.

Tactical specialties

Base Defense: This specialty benefits a piao shih who must defend a fixed location against possible attack (such as an inn at which the piao shih's party is staying, or the headquarters of the piao shih's organization). The skill is usable in any building or dwelling more complex than a small tent or unfurnished hut. At the DM's option, it may also be applicable in certain outdoor settings, such as a graveyard or an elaborate palace garden. The specialty works as follows: Before any threat arises, the piao shih must study the location to be guarded, much as a blind person learns to “navigate” at home-getting a feel for such details as the positions of furniture, the distance across a room, and the width of doorways. If combat occurs in the memorized area, the piao shih gains a + 2 defensive bonus to armor class and saving throws against any form of attack that can - hindered by material barriers, for he is prepared to dive behind furniture, duck around corners, etc., more quickly and skillfully than would normally be possible. He also gains a +1 bonus to his to-hit rolls against the enemy by keeping them off balance with such moves as yanking rugs out from under their feet or slamming doors in their faces. These benefits are doubled if the area is in total darkness, unless the attackers are able to offset the darkness by infravision or similar powers. At the DM's discretion, this talent should lessen the chances of the piao shih hitting any of his own allies while fighting in the dark by a to-hit modifier of -2.

Upon first taking up this specialty, a piao shih must spend at least 24 hours in a dwelling or other base (more for arger places-e.g., complete castles) before being able to enjoy the above advantages. Only one location can be so used at a time; settling into a new base drives out the tactical memories of the place previously defended. When the piao shih has gained a level after acquiring this specialty, the area-memorizing time is cut in half; when a second subsequent level has been gained, the piao shih need only spent 1-4 hours in a place in order to have the layout sufficiently memorized. At the third subsequent level, he can keep two area layouts freshly in mind at once (one will usually be his permanent headquarters). At the fourth subsequent level, if the character has an intelligence of 16 or better, he can add another simultaneous “base memory” for each point of his intelligence above 16. This could be used to create a string of emergency refuges along the piao shih's customary route-though the bandits might get wise and burn the places down in the character's absence!

If the piao shih having this specialty also has the map Construction specialty, combining the two skills in defense of the same spot will have this result: Thieves, assassins, or hostile monks entering the defended area will have a -35% modifier to their chances of detecting the traps the piao shih has placed inside the area, while they are engaged in melee combat. This occurs because the piao shih is often able to maneuver his opponents into triggering the devices upon themselves. Whenever succeeding in this, the piao shih gets to make an extra melee attack upon his unfortunate enemy at a +1 bonus to his attack roll.

Combat Horsemanship: All piao shih are assumed to be able to travel and fight on horseback. But with this specialty, the character can coax a +1 bonus in movement speed out of any horse he rides without causing an increase in fatigue. Moreover, when the piao shih has gained a level of experience after acquiring this specialty, he can prevent a mount from panicking at any ordinary cause of fear (and the animal saves at a +2 against all magical fear effects). When the piao shih has gained two levels after acquiring this specialty, the character gains a +1 bonus on his armor class when fighting from horseback, due to an ability to hang alongside the horse or make other evasive changes of position. When the piao shih has gained three levels after acquiring this specialty, he gains a +2 bonus on armor class from horseback. (The DM can treat this bonus as cumulative with regular dexterity bonuses to defense, but it will not add to die rolls for monkish missile-dodging.)

Ground Fighting: This specialty allows the piao shih to fight efficiently while crouching, prone, or otherwise low to the ground. This amounts to an advantage in all situations where combatants have difficulty standing upright (e.g., in caves, on ice, or at night on ground covered with obstacles). When fighting in such conditions against foes lacking this ability, the piao shih gains a +1 on armor class. He never takes more than half-damage from being tossed or hrown down, and for every level gained after this specialty is acquired, he gains a 5% chance to escape all trampling damage in situations like being caught in a stampede of horses. When gaining two levels after acquiring this proficiency, the character gains a +1 defense bonus against the first attack by any flying creature diving from above (unless there was complete surprise).

Scaling: While a piao shih can climb sheer cliffs and walls as a monk of equivalent level, this specialty enables him to help other characters make such climbs. The piao shih must have climbing equipment to lend to the person or persons he helps; having this, he can get one client to the top with the same chance of success that the piao shih enjoys. When the piao shih has gained a level after the one at which this specialty was gained, the piao shih can help two clients scale at the piao shih's odds for success. When three additional levels are gained, the piao shih can efficiently help one client scale even when no special gear is used by either of them. For the piao shih's own benefit, if he has a constitution of 14 or better and has been active in high-altitude regions, he can function normally at altitudes where others faint from lack of oxygen.

Water Skill: Choice of this specialty means that the character initially gains these benefits: the ability to swim 50% faster than would otherwise be possible; the ability to hold his breath underwater 50% longer than would otherwise be possible; and the ability to handle any small boat of a type to be found in the character's home region. At the level following the one at which this specialty was gained, he adds the ability to fight on a wildly swaying ship's deck without losing his footing. At the next additional level, if he falls into water while wearing a normally fatal weight of armor or similar encumbrance, he can (unless unconscious) get free of the encumbrance in time to escape drowning. At the third additional level, he can perform expertly all the tasks of crewing a large seagoing vessel (if possessing intelligence of 14 or better, he can also become a navigator). At the fourth additional level, he can swim or paddle a boat in perfect silence, enhancing odds of surprising enemies.

Weapon Mastery: This specialty gives the piao shih superior skill with one weapon (not counting darts, with which all piao shih already have an edge). To have this specialty, the piao shih must be trained either by a senior piao shih specializing in the same weapon, or by a kensai who uses that weapon. No attack bonus is gained, but the piao shih enjoys a +1 bonus on his armor class against opponents using the same weapon type. And, for every level the piao shih gains after acquiring this specialty, the character has a 1% chance of instantly killing any man-size or smaller foe he strikes with his specialty weapon, up to a maximum chance of 10%. No instant kills are possible against giant-class beings anyway. Weapon types should be narrowly defined for purposes of this specialty, but more narrowly for purposes of the offensive benefit than for the defensive benefit. For instance, a one piao shih chooses to specialize in the great bow (daikyu). This bow is drawn with the thumb in a fashion very different from Western long bows; consequently, he would not gain the instant-kill chance if he used an unfamiliar Western bow. But he would enjoy his armor-class bonus equally against all arrows fired at him. If the specialty weapon is of the blunt sort (staff, mace, etc.), the piao shih can change the instant kill to nonlethal subdual if desired. A piao shih with a dexterity of 16 or better can make both of his tactical specialties Weapon Mastery, thus enjoying advantages with two weapons in addition to his darts.

Strategic specialties

Crowd Control: This specialty does not apply to combat-morale situations except that, if the piao shih's party is fleeing from overwhelming odds, this skill will serve to maintain some order in a retreat that might otherwise become a panicked rout. The main purpose of this specialty is to prevent quarrels, accidents, and panic (in dangerous situations other than bandit or monster attacks) among the non-piao shih in a caravan. The piao shih having this skill can influence any caravan member whose experience level does not exceed the piao shih's own. The number of persons who can be so influenced equals the piao shih's charisma score, plus two more for every level gained after acquiring Crowd Control. This ability can be called upon in many situations, as when caravan members wish to explore an area that the piao shih knows to be dangerous, or when the caravan's food supply is short and requires rationing.

This specialty is not magical; thus, any characters being protected by the piao shih retain their free will regardless of this persuasion. (By the same token, if PCs voluntarily obey their piao shih, their cooperation is treated as an addition to the piao shih's extent of influence as described above.) If two or more piao shih having this specialty work together, their influence will be cumulative as to number of persons “controlled;' provided that they give no contradictory orders. At the DMG discretion, actions done in obedience to a piao shih for the safety of the caravan can be exempt from loss of honor they could otherwise entail.

Environment Augury: This skill is like the druidic spell predict weather, only it includes an ability to predict earthquakes and avalanches. The base chance for success is 30%, adding 5% for every level gained after acquiring this specialty.

Graphology: In real-world China, martial artists of any sort (unless they were also priests) were never highly regarded socially, even if the nation benefitted by their deeds; accordingly, they often lacked opportunities for nonmartial education. To reflect this, every piao shih below Master's rank should be considered to be illiterate, unless he has a 16 or better intelligence or has had some special stroke of luck (e.g., the piao shih saves a scribe's life, getting reading and writing lessons as a reward). If a piao shih is literate, he can choose Graphology as a specialty. This allows him to comprehend unfamiliar written languages at a success probability of 1% per point of intelligence, adding 2% at every subsequent proficiency level. Also, if there is any person whose handwriting the piao shih frequently sees (merchant, official, etc.), he will be able to spot forgeries of that person's writing. At the level after the one at which this specialty was obtained, the character has a 5% chance (adding 5% at each subsequent level) to detect invisible ink or other hidden forms of writing. Four levels after gaining this specialty, he becomes able to create a limited private vocabulary of marks and symbols that he can teach to colleagues for secret-message purposes.

Pass Without Trace: This ability works like the druidic spell of the same name. The character has a 90% success probability if traveling on foot, or 60% if riding a horse or similar-size mount; this assumes that the piao shih is not under direct observation at the start of using this specialty. Success indicates that normal beings will not be able to follow the piao shih's trail; rangers and others with special tracking skills treat the use of this talent as if they were tracking the piao shih through the next-worst terrain type (as per the appropriate terrain modifiers tables). Piao shih are also able to cover the tracks of others accompanying them. Every person on foot accompanying the piao shih (unless also having this skill) subtracts 2% from the chance for successful trail concealment; each horse or similar animal subtracts 6%; and wagons, or very large animals, make things hopeless unless the caravan is crossing terrain that makes trail erasing easy, such as open fields covered with snow. Four levels after gaining this specialty, the piao shih can boost the success probability by taking one movement turn to plant a false trail for pursuers. For every level gained from this point on, this maneuver adds 5% to the chance of disguising the party's true direction; at any level, the chance of deceiving a tracker is enhanced another 10% if an animal from the caravan is sent running in the false trail's direction. (Note, however, that magical methods of tracking can still defeat all these tricks.)

Poison Warding: To acquire this specialty, a piao shih must have access to an alchemist or other character who knows and will teach the piao shih how to detect and remedy poisons. For every level gained after taking this specialty, the character has a 6% chance to detect the presence of poison in food and drink, on weapons, etc. (reduce the chance to 3% per level if the poison is of the sophisticated “split components” variety-e.g., one component in the wine, another in the meat). Also, from the start, the character learns to concoct preventive medicines that cure 2 hp of poisoning damage, with an additional 2 hp damage cured per level after that at which this specialty was gained. Each antidote must be specific to a particular poison (an antidote good against scorpion stings is useless against snake venom or poisonous mushrooms).

Recruitment: This specialty helps a piao shih in two noncombatant activities: recruiting low-level persons as piao shih trainees, and persuading merchants, officials, and others to do business with the piao shih's organization. For these purposes, the piao shih's charisma is treated as three points higher than normal, even if this means going above 18. (If the piao shih uses his superior persuasiveness to defraud people in any way, he may become a target for revenge, both by the victims and by scandalized piao shih.) If new piao shih are trained by a character who has gained two or more levels after gaining this specialty, they will enjoy a 10% bonus on earned experience throughout their careers, provided that their choices of tactical and strategic specialties do not greatly differ from those of the character who trained them. Finally, at whatever time a piao shih having this talent first begins his own organization, 8-32 new recruits will be attracted, plus any compatibly aligned piao shih whose own original captains have been slain.

Sensitivity to Scrutiny: This specialty cannot be acquired unless the character has a 15 or better in wisdom and has had some contact with beings possessing some type of psionic or magical means of information gathering. Such a character has a bonus of +20% to his chances to detect magical scrying, using the information in the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, page 141. The piao shih's base chance to detect scrying is 4%, so a piao shih just gaining this specialty has a 24% chance to detect scrying, with bonus points for his intelligence and level of experience. Trap Construction: This specialty allows the piao shih to install traps around a campsite, at the entrance of rooms his party may use at an inn, and on chests or other portable containers. Each character having this specialty will develop a specific repertoire of traps from among the many possible types (snares, pitfalls, poisoned needles, fixed crossbows, etc.); certain traps may become “signatures” for a particular piao shih organization. The number of trap types that a character can produce (not counting the rudimentary covered pit trap that anybody ought to be able to make!) equals the number of points of intelligence he has above 10, plus one for each level gained after this specialty is acquired. The character is not allowed to use poison or acid in a trap unless he is evil. Four levels after acquiring this specialty, the piao shih will have become so expert at trap-setting as to increase the difficulty in disarming them; for every level gained afterward, a thief has a 5% penalty on the chance to disarm this character's traps.

Rules and restrictions

The piao shih class may seem powerful and complex. The complexity, however, is chiefly felt by the DM; the players' experience of piao shih skills should be easy enough to take in, while providing a feel for the kind of talents Oriental characters possess. As for being powerful, the piao shih operate under balancing restrictions, much as paladins do.

Piao shih gain their experience points primarily by the safe delivery of the people, merchandise, and treasure they undertake to protect; this is calculated on the same basis as experience credit for any other sort of characters if they were to kill or capture the people and goods being convoyed (subject to a DM's adjustments). If a piao shih team does not have to cope with any kind of danger, its members gain only one-quarter experience credit for the people and goods delivered. The safety of the caravan counts more than killing enemies; thus, piao shih get experience for enemies killed or captured only if such actions are directly in the line of duty. Otherwise, only half the usual experience points are gained. For every person under their care who dies or is lost or kidnapped, all piao shih above 1st level in the party involved lose experience points equal to the experience-point value of the casualty, and the leading piao shih loses double that amount. This loss never causes a piao shih to lose a level, but it can certainly delay his attainment of the next level. Loss of extremely valuable items belonging to clients is treated similarly, unless it was necessary to sacrifice the treasure to ensure the safety of the clients themselves. (Only non-good piao shih ever value cargo above lives.)

The abilities of the piao shih put very little emphasis on secrecy and stealth, as opposed to spotting the tricks of others. Piao shih, while not soldiers in the usual sense, identify with the established order in their land and operate mostly in an aboveboard way. All piao shih are forbidden to tell lies or do anything deceitful, unless this is necessary for the safety of fellow piao shih, clients, or the piao shih's own loved ones, in that order of priority (piao shih organizations of non-good alignment make no allowance for loved ones). Piao shih can be expelled from their organization for getting drunk on duty, as well as for mistreating clients or for disobeying superior piao shih. Any piao shih who willingly helps bandits or actually joins them is subject to a death sentence accompanied by the most frightful available tortures; he also gains no further experience points.

Negotiating with bandits and monsters for a caravan's safe passage is not counted as treachery (unless the piao shih is secretly enriching himself by “kickback” deals that cost the client excessive amounts of treasure). Similarly, under some circumstances it may be permissible for piao shih (whose element is the open road) to exchange information and favors with yakuza (whose element is city). Piao shih do not consider it their duty to rid their world of criminals altogether; they only protect, by realistic and pragmatic means, the people under their guidance. In certain cases of strong provocation, the piao shih will take aggressive measures against bandits or monsters. If assassins try to kill a piao shih Master, and the Master learns that they were hired by a robber chieftain with whom he had always negotiated in good faith, the Master can rally not only his own organization but all compatibly aligned piao shih organizations with which he has any contact, for an expedition to slay the offending chieftain. This potential for intergroup cooperation is dependent on piao shih groups respecting each other's rights. As a general rule, a new escort organization is forbidden to work on a trade route already handled by another organization, unless the entrenched organization gives its consent. This rule will be enforced not only by the piao shih subculture but by local governments, merchants' organization, and possibly even by thieves' guilds that fear increased trouble from the newcomers. A formal duel between escort captains might settle a dispute over territorial rights. Any piao shih leader who uses treachery to take over another's route is liable to the same penalty as one who turns to banditry (and, unless he is an evil-aligned character displacing a good-aligned one, may be deserted by his own followers as an expression of their disgust at their unworthy leader).

Piao Shih Level Advancement Table
LevelLevel title8-sided dice for accum. hit points Additional abilitiesExperience points
3Outrider3First tactical specialty4,001-8,000
4Escort4Special negotiating ability8,001-16,000
5Senior Escort5First strategic specialty16,001-32,000
7Banditslayer7Second tactical specialty64,001-128,000
9Troopleader9Second strategic specialty250,001-500,000
10Marchleader10Precognition of danger500,001-750,000
11Captain of Escorts11Create own organization750,001-1,000,000
12Master of Escorts11+2-1,000,001-1,250,000
13Master of Escorts11+4-1,250,001-1,500,000
14Master of Escorts11+6-1,500,001-1,750,000
15Master of Escorts11+8Banner morale effects1,750,001-2,000,000
16Master of Escorts11+10-2,000,001-2,250,000
17Master of Escorts11+12Acceptance into aristocracy2,250,001-2,500,000
250,000 XP are required for each level beyond 17th. Piao shih gain 2 hp per level beyond 17th. A piao shih with a dexterity of 18 can acquire tactical specialties one level sooner than indicated in this chart; one with a wisdom of 18 can acquire strategic special ties one level sooner.

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This page and its contents are presented solely for the purpose of the RPG game events conducted by a private group. Any references to people or places is explicitly within the context of these RPG games and has no connection to any other similarly named source.

Bob Senkewicz / Howell, New Jersey / senk@optonline.net