Quian Kun: The Legendary Beast

Legend speaks of a Great Beast that once graced this land, a creature more perfect in form than a lotus, and more powerful than a hundred-year storm. Where it went, so too did great blessings of change and growth. We called it Quian Kun, for there was nothing else like it within Heaven or Earth.

During the thousand-year reign of the Dragon Lords, Quian Kun appeared to us in many forms -- dog and monkey, tiger, ox and many others -- sometimes disappearing for decades at a time before resurfacing. Whatever form it chose, the entire species grew strong and vibrant with its blessing. You have no doubt heard tales of the fabulous horse once owned by the Emperor? That was Quian Kun, in one of its many guises. Its offspring are still the swiftest, most beautiful steeds in the known world.

It is perhaps understandable that we eventually grew to crave its blessing for ourselves. What if Quian Kun were to be born human, just once?

Origin of the Wu Xing Beasts: The Sundering of Quian Kun

This world was just one of countless millions blessed with the twin Sparks of Life and Decay. Ife and Eath, the fundamental creative and destructive forces of the Universe, had split themselves into motes of raw energy and scattered themselves across the Universe to foster growth, evolution and sentience.

At the beginning of our story, the Sparks were joined within a great fish that was eventually discovered by a poor fisherman of the Dragon Empire. This fish was placed in the personal pond of one of the Great Lords, and carefully tended to as an object of reverence. Eventually, when the fish was nearing the end of its natural lifespan, the Lord decided that it would be proper for his young son to be the next receptacle of the Quian Kun.

Fuxi, a powerful geomancer and the Lord's personal advisor, was given the task. As the direct descendant of a legendary hero, he had already built a reputation for doing the impossible. Drawing upon years of study in magical theory, he designed an incredibly complex formation spell in the Way of Fengshui. The outer seal was a Later Heavenly Bagua of incredible power, attended to by eight of the strongest geomancers of that era. Inside the Bagua, he constructed an inner seal of the five elements, and placed the child and Quian Kun within. The Lord's son had a strong natural affinity for the Earth element, and Fuxi believed that the calming, receiving energy of Earth would provide an attractive place for Quian Kun to escape the swirling chaos of the disruptive Bagua.

Unfortunately, Fuxi miscalculated. Quian Kun was not a single entity, but two separate beings with their own sentience and goals. When the formation was activated, the Sparks of Life and Decay were forcibly separated by the disruptive energy of the powerful Bagua. Quian Kun split into two fish -- one black and one white -- before dissolving into two great clouds of smoke that swirled within the confinement of the spell. Within the Baqua they could not rejoin, and so could not seek shelter within the waiting child. Fuxi could not prematurely end the spell without risking a cataclysmic backfire that could kill all eight geomancers and the Lord's son. Everything was at a stalemate.

The child eventually grew tired and fell asleep. This disrupted the spell enough that the Sparks were able to act. The only living host within range was the child, and they could not share him within the confines of the Bagua, so they were forced into the elements themselves. Eath became FIRE and Ife, WATER. The cyclic energies of the Bagua, then forced them to join with a second element in a clockwise fashion - WATER with WOOD, FIRE with METAL.

Having breached that barrier, the Sparks sought an escape. Eath found a weak point in a female geomancer channeling Earth, and burst from the formation as a glowing butterfly, killing the mage where she stood. Ife, meanwhile, escaped at the exact same instant through the male geomancer channeling Heaven. He took to the skies as a great goose with a watery body, covered with reeds and flowers. Quian Kun was no more.


Ke Eath appears to be in constant pain. She moves from one form to the next as one element consumes the other, tearing her current body apart in the process. Because she is the very antithesis of creation (the Yin), she must be exposed to the next element in the cycle before she can continue it. For that reason, her corpse may lie dormant for a long time when she is in between forms.

The destructive energy of the Spark of Decay is mostly bound up in fueling this cycle, but creatures who come near her age more quickly, and plants wither. Sighting any of her forms is considered the worst misfortune, and people are encouraged to stay far away from her.

Ke Eath cannot be killed, but she can be restrained or diminished if the proper elements are applied.

Elemental Notes:

The dominant element of each of these animals is the one doing the 'destroying' (the second listed). Ke Eath's lifecycle can be disrupted by adding more of the submissive element (e.g. adding too much METAL for the FIRE to overcome); this is known as the insulting cycle in traditional Wu Xing). Ke Eath can be forced to remain in one form for a very long time if this is done carefully.

Alternatively, her power can be diminished by applying the next element in the cycle (FIRE may melt metal, but WATER will extinguish fire). Be warned that this has the potential to kick her into the next form, if most of the first element has already been consumed. All other elements are neutral.

Pào, the Butterfly: METAL/FIRE

Fire melts metal.

Physical Description: A large, metallic butterfly with foil-thin wings. Its entire body glows and changes color, as the fire within heats it up to extreme temperatures. From yellow to brown, purple to blue, red orange and finally a blinding white.

Lifecycle: Created when the metal corpse of Pi, the Quail is exposed to high heat. Can take years, depending on conditions, but a particularly hot day on bare rock will do it. Direct exposure to fire will jump-start the process. The metal quickly softens, flattening out into the shape of a butterfly. Pao dies when the metal has reached the highest temperature it can possibly sustain (reaching a blinding white for iron-based cores). At this point the metal is actually burned away by the Spark of Decay, leaving a pure nugget of ever-burning Orriflame. During the burning phase, Pao will attempt to seek out a body of water with which to end its suffering.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: FIRE
  • Submissive: METAL
  • Diminishing: WATER

Special Properties: Besides being capable of burning most things with a touch, Pao has an intensely adverse affect on magnetism and will disrupt all Heaven or Lake based spells (metal/gravity based spells for other systems). In addition, Pao will disrupt the bonds between people and make breathing a difficult task. Apply penalties to willpower and possibly constitution (depending on the system) when engaging this form.

Zuan, the Crab: FIRE/WATER

Water extinguishes fire.

Physical Description: A crab-like creature composed of bubbling, super-heated water with a brightly burning core of blue flame. She creates a cloud of scalding steam when threatened.

Lifecycle: When water touches the flaming corpse of Pao, the Butterfly, the Seed of Decay immediately leeches into the water, sustaining it and keeping it from vaporizing at the touch of the super-heated flame. Instead, the water persists, and is eventually joined by more from the atmosphere (rain, condensation, dew, etc). When there is finally enough water to fully encase the flame, Zuan is born. At the beginning of her life, Zuan is very hot and scuttles very quickly over the ground. As she accumulates more and more water, however, her movements slow and her heat diminishes. Zuan dies when her flame is finally overcome.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: WATER
  • Submissive: FIRE
  • Diminishing: EARTH

Special Properties: Zuan seems to suck the life and heat out of creatures that come near her. She will weaken all fire-based spells she comes in contact with (though she may be vulnerable to other sources of flame). Additionally, Zuan affect the function of the heart, and can cause heart attacks or worsen other heart-based conditions if she gets too close.

Héng, the Squid: WATER/EARTH

Earth dams water.

Physical Description: An amorphous blob of muddy water that quivers if approached. It moves by extending tentacles to drag itself across the earth. In water, it can jet away from any pursuers.

Lifecycle: Born when the watery corpse of Zuan, the Crab comes in contact with earth, mud, clay, or even dust. The corpse slowly collects these bits of earth, eventually forming a physical body with which to move. It can shape the earth into bones, tentacles, or any other needed structure. Eventually, Heng will collect so much earth that her watery core will be overwhelmed. Her body will transition from a puddle-like consistency to syrup, then from syrup to molasses, and finally to thick oozing mud. When she can no longer move and find shelter from the elements, Heng either dries up (on land) or sinks to the bottom of a body of water.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: EARTH
  • Submissive: WATER
  • Diminishing: WOOD

Special Properties: Heng is the form most often associated with disease. It is possible to contract numerous blood-born illnesses by simply touching her, and grappling with her is likely to weaken one's bones and marrow as well. She will weaken or disrupt all water-based spells. Apply penalties to dexterity during encounters with this form.

Beng, the Horse: EARTH/WOOD

Wood parts earth.

Of the Earth

Physical Description: Beng is a large, quadrupedal mass of writhing roots and branches that most closely resembles a horse or llama. Its body is composed of earth and mud, its 'mane' and 'fur' from waving grasses.

Lifecycle: This form of Ke Eath is born when seeds begin to sprout in the corpse of the Heng, the Squid. The roots and stems from these seedlings extend throughout the body, forming tendons, bones and sinew. As Beng ages, these stems become tough and woody, and the Horse's movements become slow and arthritic. Beng dies when the roots eventually consume all the earth within her body.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: WOOD
  • Submissive: EARTH
  • Diminishing: METAL

Special Properties: Shoots harvested from Beng are extremely poisonous, and will cause permanent infertility if ingested (at the very least). She also releases spores that cause vomiting and fog the brain. Earth-based spells will fail if cast in her vicinity (healing spells in other systems), and penalties to wisdom and/or intelligence may apply.

Pi, the Quail: WOOD/METAL

Metal chops wood.

Physical Description: A delicate wooden bird, quivering as if in great pain. You can hear the rhythmic sound of chopping coming from within its breast, and it shudders in time to its own heartbeat. Its pained song is both beautiful and heart-wrenching.

Lifecycle: Pi is born when the corpse of Beng, the Horse is exposed to metal -- perhaps by a villager attempting to harvest the mass of branches/roots left over for firewood (or an errant adventurer, poking at it with a sword). The metal becomes lodged in the wood and is quickly absorbed into its body, becoming the beating heart of the now-living creature. With every heartbeat, Pi is torn up from the inside, her wooden body splintering around her. Pi dies when her metal heart has hollowed her out from the inside, leaving a lump of misshapen metal amid a small pile of splinters and wood shavings.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: METAL
  • Submissive: WOOD
  • Diminishing: FIRE

Special Properties: Facing Pi is maddening. Her song causes most who hear it to fall into a deep melancholy, while the chopping sound of her beating heart causes anxiety or panic attacks. Wind and Thunder-based spells are disrupted in her presence, and penalties to sanity and/or courage apply.

CREATIVE CYCLE - Sheng Ife (Male)

Sheng Ife embodies Yang, the essential creative force of the universe. Unlike the destructive creatures, each of Sheng Ife's forms actively seeks out the next stage of its evolution, embracing it with joy. They do not need to be exposed to the next element; instead they spontaneously create it from the corpse of the last form.

Life energy is enhanced in proximity to the Spark of Life -- wounds are healed, plants are invigorated, and life is sustained even on the brink of death. The forms of Sheng Ife are a welcome sight, believed to bring fortune and health to all who behold him. Some villages even set out food (which he doesn't need) or other offerings in an attempt to lure the Spark of Life into staying for awhile.

Like Ke Eath, Sheng Ife cannot be completely killed. He can be captured, restrained, hurt even -- but the Spark of Life makes him functionally immortal.

Elemental Notes:

The dominant element in each of Sheng Ife's forms is the element that is doing the creating. Adding more of this element can disrupt Sheng Ife's lifecycle (adding too much WATER inhibits WOOD's growth). This is known as the 'overacting' cycle in traditional Wu Xing.

His power can be diminished by destroying the dominant element (WATER creates WOOD, but WATER is also clogged by EARTH). This won't kill Sheng Ife, but may force him into the next form. Expect him to flee if attacked. All other elements are neutral.

Yu, the Goose: WATER/WOOD

Water nourishes wood.

Physical Description: A great goose covered in plant-life -- the reeds, flowers and leaves serving as feathers.

Lifecycle: When the thin metal carcass of Shang, the Whale is pierced, the waters rush in and are infused with the Seed of Life. This living water rushes forth from its prison and bursts to the surface as the great goose, Yu. Yu cannot yet live on land, and must wait until plants begin to sprout within his breast. Nourished by Ife, the plants slowly begin to cover his body -- much like a young goose sprouts feathers. Once the process is complete, Yu will spread his wings and take to the air, soaring inland in search of a suitable tree. When he has found the 'right' tree, Yu will swallow one of its cones or seeds and settle down to roost in its branches. Several weeks later, the living waters are completely consumed by the seedling, and Yu dies.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: WATER
  • Submissive: WOOD
  • Diminishing: EARTH

Special Properties: Yu has a powerful bolstering effect on willpower and courage; merely hearing his cry in the distance is enough to change the course of a battle. Within his presence the sense of hearing is also greatly enhanced, and he is able to cure any ailment of the digestive system. Wind and Thunder spells (which are based on WOOD) are strengthened in his presence.

Jué, the Cat: WOOD/FIRE

Wood feeds fire.


Physical Description: A wooden feline, burning with green flame at the tips of its tail and ears. A small pair of wooden antlers adorn its head, sprouting with leaves and berries. Its whole body may burst into flame if surprised or frightened.

Lifecycle: Jue is born when the seedling that was nourished by the corpse of Yu, the Goose, eventually brings forth a massive green flower. When the flower blooms Jue emerges, the Seed of Life which burning in his core. When it is time for the Seed to move on, Jue will let the fires consume the rest of his body in a single burst, burning himself out in a flash of green flame that eventually transitions to a brilliant orange-red.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: WOOD
  • Submissive: FIRE
  • Diminishing: METAL

Special Properties: Jue encourages feelings of kindness and friendship in those who behold him, while also greatly enhancing the sense of sight. Apply bonuses to perception and charisma/friendliness when close to him. All fire-based and healing spells are enhanced in his presence.

Zhi, the Rooster: FIRE/EARTH

Fire creates earth (ash).

Physical Description: A flaming rooster with magnificent plumage. Hot ashes and the smell of burning incense trail in its wake.

Lifecycle: This is the form that the elemental flame takes when the wooden body of the Jue is fully consumed. In some ways, it is the purest form of the Seed of Ife - a living flame that can burn anything, but restrains itself from doing so. Some say that this is where the legends of the phoenix originate. Eventually, Zhi will build itself a nest of flammable material, making it as large as possible, before burning itself to death on its own funeral pyre.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: FIRE
  • Submissive: EARTH
  • Diminishing: WATER

Special Properties: Zhi encourages feelings of joy and love, while simultaneously enhancing the sense of touch. Words also flow more eloquently within his presence, so bonuses may be applied to charisma & seduction. Zhi's living fire is capable of both burning and healing; touching him will cure most heart conditions and burn away toxins in the bloodstream. All earth-based spells are empowered when cast near him.

Gong, the Silkworm: EARTH/METAL

Earth bears metal.

Physical Description: An ash-colored caterpillar that is hot to the touch, revealed when the cooling ashes of Zhi's funeral pyre are blown away. Can be quite large, depending on the size of the pyre.

Lifecycle: Born from the ashes of its previous incarnation, Gong tends to live in dry caves (where he is often found by miners or other people seeking shelter from the weather). He leaves a trail of metal nuggets wherever he goes, and is often kept by lords and emperors for this steady supply of gold and silver. When ready to transition, Gong spins a cocoon of pure metal around himself and becomes completely dormant.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: EARTH
  • Submissive: METAL
  • Diminishing: WOOD

Special Properties: Gong is associated with reflection and empathy, and will enhance a character's intelligence and/or wisdom (depending on the system). Heaven and Lake spells are strengthened in his presence (metal/gravity based spells in other systems), as is the sense of taste. In fact, feasts are often held in his honor.

Shang, the Whale: METAL/WATER

Metal enriches water, and provides a surface for condensation.

Physical Description: A whale composed of pure metal around a buoyant core of air, gliding through the water like a living submarine. Ranges in size from a very small dolphin to a rather large orca. His tail stretches out for yards behind it, serving as rudder and stabilizer.

Lifecycle: Shang will not emerge from his cocoon until entirely submerged in water. For this reason, cocoons are usually spun near a large body of water, but sometimes this means waiting for a hundred-year flood. Shang must stretch and warp his metal body to empty and fill a set of ballasts, and his hide becomes a little thinner each time he does. Eventually, his hide is so thin that it can be punctured with a sharp stick.

Elemental Notes:

  • Dominant: METAL
  • Submissive: WATER
  • Diminishing: FIRE

Special Properties: Shang fosters hope within all who see him, and is able to cure the most crushing depression. He also subtly enhances the sense of smell, and empowers all water-based spells cast in his vicinity.

Plot Hooks and Complications

Plot Hooks:

1) Capturing Sheng Ife:

One of the forms of Sheng Ife has been spotted on the outskirts of a remote village. The Lord of that region is hiring adventurers to track down the beast and coax it into returning with them to the Capital.


  • The beast has already been captured by a rival group, or by another town, and they don't want to give it up.
  • Sheng Ife has other plans, and will not be persuaded with gifts or bribes. Instead, it requires a favor from the party.
  • The rumors were false, manufactured by the residents of the village in order to bring trade/attention to their town.

2) Ending the Plague:

A mysterious illness is spreading like wildfire throughout the capital, and normal clerical magic is ineffective against it.


  • Ke Eath has been captured and is being held within the city by a dissident group (death cult, revolutionaries, etc).
  • Ke Eath has come to the city for her own inscrutable purposes, and must be persuaded to leave. May involve a quest on her behalf.
  • Whatever the source, the illness is a blood-borne toxin that can certainly be cured with the help of Zhi, the Rooster (who is rumored to have made an appearance several months ago). Can the party find him before he builds his funeral pyre?

3) Resurrecting the Great Beast:

For the past thousand years, the Dragon Empire has been locked in stasis. New ideas, concepts, traditions and values wither and die in the infertile minds of its populace. Animals and plants are also slow to evolve. Life has stagnated.

One group, the ridiculed and marginalized Cult of Quian Kun believes that reuniting Sheng Ife and Ke Eath is the only way to restore the Empire's former glory, and prepare it to face increasing hostility from without. The party must track down both Ke Eath and Sheng Ife on behalf of the Cult, and lure them back to a central location. Things become a bit more complicated after that . . .


  • The Baqua probably needs to be cast at a particular time of year, placing a strict time limit on the hunt for the Beasts.

  • The Wu Xing Beasts will not willingly come within a quarter mile of each other -- it causes them too much pain. They will have to be trapped or restrained somehow.
  • The Earlier Heaven Bagua will require eight powerful geomancers to cast, each with an affinity to a different symbol. These must be tracked down separately and convinced to risk their lives.
  • The inner elemental circle requires powerful sources for each element. These could be legendary artifacts, and should be difficult to attain.
  • A living host must be found for the reunited Quian Kun. Not so difficult if the party plans on using a young animal, but perhaps morally questionable if a human host has been selected. After all, the host should ideally be an infant or young child, and the Bagua has a chance of backfiring.
  • What happens if the chosen host is unacceptable for political reasons? What if one of the party wants to take his/her place?
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My original idea was to create a set of dual-elemental dragons. Fire/Ice, Metal/Poison and the like. But something about that wasn't quite right, so the idea lay dormant in the back of my mind. Then Moonlake published her Magic System Based on Fengshui, and I was presented with a set of 5 cycling elements that seemed perfect for the concept. If I combined them in pairs according to the Creative/Destructive cycles, I was left with 10 pairings that piqued my interest.

Next came the seed idea for the beasts. I looked for a set of 10 pre-existing mythical creatures to start with and found this. To my surprise (and delight) they were also Chinese in origin. I discarded their original names, appearances and stories and was left with a list of 10 common animals to use.

The third and final piece came when my mind connected Elbin's Planted Madness and his Seeds of Life and Decay with the concepts of Yin and Yang. Suddenly, I had two cycling creatures instead of 10 separate ones, connected by destiny. The rest of the sub sort of wrote itself from there.

The first graphic is a mashup of images from here and here. The picture for the EARTH/WOOD horse was created by Horsecricket over at deviantart, and the WOOD/FIRE cat was originally drawn for a webcomic called 'Romantically Apocalyptic' (the artist is also found as alexiuss, also at deviantart).

Additional information on the Bagua formations and Wu Xing cycles was mostly pulled from here: here and here, though additional sources were used.