Last week we journeyed to Yomi, the Japanese land of the dead mentioned in the ancient myths and legends of Japan. Let’s explore further so that you can use Yomi to inspire your own campaign setting, or as a campaign setting all on its own.
Journeys in Yomi
There are two ways to enter Yomi. For most, death brings them to the threshold of the Gray Gate, beyond which lies the narrow, winding stone stairway that leads to Yomi. A few brave—or foolhardy—folk have journeyed to the physical location of the gate, which is hidden beside a rural temple in the town of Higashiizumo, Shimane Prefecture, Japan. These travelers, though they go of their own free will, experience the same things as those who are brought here by death: a compelling draw to descend the steps and discover what lies in the mists below.
The descent is not dangerous or horrifying, as one might expect. Rather, the path cuts down a mountain path at a gentle angle, passing grasses and trees given a regal aspect in the grey light of twilight. No birds or beasts stir, but the hollow knocking of bamboo wood chimes and the shakuhachi flute sounds, somewhere in the growing mists. It is a calming sound, complimented by the rustle of leaves blown on a gentle breeze, or the cascade of a small mountain spring, somewhere off the path.
Each step down the path brings new, muted joys, and most feel no compulsion to turn back. For those who do, leaving the stair or turning back to ascend it is a feat frustrated by the strange physics of the Land of the Dead. A tree, reached just off the path, might hide more of the stair or a dead end behind its knobbed trunk. What looked like a short climb off the path quickly turns steeper than expected, and what seemed like solid footing is instead slippery mud. While the climb down is easy, the return journey is always tiring, and it becomes agonizingly more difficult to make progress back up the stair.
For most, the descent is inevitable. As they near their destination and their path grows darker, the faint glow of the moon seems to diffuse, casting less light but giving an eerie cast to the sky. It is then that the traveler finds the threshold of Yomi.
Running the Descent
Players shouldn’t be forced to make saves as they travel the stairway to Yomi — a description of the effects on their character should be enough for them to realize that reaching the bottom is inevitable. This is not to say you need to force them down the path either. Inventive ideas might allow the party to make significant progress back up the stair, or even escape Yomi altogether.
With this in mind, any adventure set in Yomi needs to include an enticing hook to entice the players on this dangerous journey, and some hope of returning to the world of the living too.
The Lands Beyond
Travelers wandering through Yomi navigate by landmarks rather than distances. While two places might be considered “close” to each other, their true distance is in constant flux. The same journey might take a day or a month, and a traveler that strays from their course is doomed to wander aimlessly until they discover a landmark they know.
If you enjoyed our take on Yomi, be sure to grab your copy of the Grimdark Pamphlet, which will be updated with a full description of Yomi in the coming weeks. Also, be sure to check out Beyond the Horizon Games and their blog, as they’re hosting the RPG Blog Carnival this month. The theme is “world building”, go take a look.
Journey Below the Waves
If you enjoyed our little look at Yomi, then you’ll likely enjoy our Undersea Sourcebook series for D&D. Three of the six books are out, covering everything a player needs to explore the world below the waves or take to the seas as a pirate.
The Race & Class Guide includes races and classes for ocean-themed characters.
Mutants & Mariners provides additional options, specifically for mutants and pirates.
Feats & Equipment expands player options with firearms, pirate weapons, and a host of new feats. It looks like feats will be more important than ever going into the next edition of D&D, so start collecting.
Water Magic gives you new spells and magical items.
Till next time, may you have great adventures
Hi there, I’m Rodney.
Writer, Game Designer, Editor, Kitbasher, Skateboarder, and Ork ‘Ed Banga. But Nothing Without Christ!