Content of the article: "Assassin’s Creed Tibet as a third East Asian Game?"
Tibet is a beautiful region filled with rugged mountains, large plains, and rivers; though long before it was ever a province of China under the Qing or modern CCP, it was a massive Empire that staved off Han Dynasties, Uyghurs, and for a time, even the Mongols. Tibet is often associated with peaceful figures such as the Dali Lama and Buddhists; however the medieval period’s brutality was no exception for Tibet, and today I want to discuss three potential settings in this amazing region that could offer a potential sequel or trilogy to a game in east Asia. That said, please be aware of Valhalla and Dynasty spoilers below.
The Rise of the Tibetan Empire
The exact date of the Tibetan Empire’s formation is unknown, but by all accounts is in the early 7th century, with many historians believing it started around 617ce with the assassination of Namri Songsten, the 32nd King of the Bod Kingdom, a small Kingdom centered around the capital of Lhasa. He came to power likely around 604ce by leading an insurrection against the surrounding Zhangzhung kingdom in a coup planned at Taktse Castle. His son, Songtsen, was crowned King in 618 but was not content with that, instead seeking to put himself on a more global stage, conquering surrounding areas creating the four horns of the Tibetan Empire, and then moving north.
The timeline is very messy here (perfect for Assassin’s Creed), as there are nearly a dozen different dates given for many of the historical people around this time, but it seems like the following may be a decent interpretation for Assassin’s Creed. See, now that Myang Mangpole had helped conquered the Sumpa, he was in charge of tax collecting, and thus owned a castle in the region and gained allies among the people. Songtsen grew suspicious of this, and somehow one of his generals, Kyungpo Pungse Sutse learned of this. He then went to Myang and told him that the emperor suspected him of treason, and he needed to stay in his guarded castle so he wouldn’t be killed. Myang fell for the rouse, immediately retreating and locking himself behind armed guards, which Pungse then brought to the Emperor’s attention, calling it a refusal to do his job and open rebellion against the Emperor. As such, the Songtsen called Myang a traitor. His castle was besieged and torn apart, Myang was captured and executed, and his position of Minister was handed over to Gar Tongtsen Yulsung around 632ce.
Songtsen began looking to the east and west at this point, trying to conquer the rest of Zhangzhung and China. Between 634 and 639 a series of successful campaigns were held against China, most notably the attack on Songzhou, which would eventually bring China to the negotiating table, which resulted in a Chinese princess being married to Songtsen’s son in 640, bringing Buddhism to Tibet. While many of the common people likely did not start to convert, much of the Tibetan court did, and many temples began being built.
At an unknown date, but likely after the marriage, Pungse began to scheme again. Soon after being appointed as Lonchen, he came into conflict with the general Omade Lotsen. Rather than deal with the in-fighting, Songtsen dismissed Pungse where he retired to his castle, there he conspired to assassinate Songtsen, and thus invited the Emperor over, who happily accepted, but asked Gar Tongtsen to move his camp nearby the castle. While camping, Gar and his men were alerted of the plot (maybe by an Assassin?) which was later confirmed by Pungse’s son (thus sparing the rest of the family). Hearing of the plot, Tongtsen immediately snuck out of the camp to alert the Emperor, not unnoticed by Pungse, who fled the castle to attempt suicide (but maybe was assassinated instead? He seems like a fantastic Templar).
In 645, Samakar, the sister of Songtsen was sent to the capital Kyunglung of Zhangzhung, a city built into a mountain. There Samakar was set to marry the king, Lig-myi-rhya who refused to consummate the marriage. As a result, Samakar helped sneak her brother’s army into the city and ravage it from the inside, conquering the last vestiges of Zhangzhung from the inside.
In 649, Songtsen Gamp died, replaced by his grandson in 651, but truly leaving his 9 Lonchen in charge. Gar Tongtsen would continue campaigns for 10 years around what is now Kashmir, India, and moving up to the Azar (border or modern China and Mongolia). During this, Omade Lotsen began plotting against the Chinese, and in 661 attempted to form a coup to assassinate the Chinese Emperor and conquer China. This was found out by the Chinese who captured and executed Omade, forcing Tongtsen back south so he could spend time repairing relations with the Tang Dynasty. This seems like a decent plot for a potential DLC.
The Era of Fragmentation
Despite the strong start to the Empire, it quickly fell into disrepair. In 838, Langdarma may have assassinated the sitting Emperor Ralpacan, and taken the throne for himself. Despite historical disputes on the subject, many believed Langdarma was extremely anti-Buddhist, leading to a traveling monk assassinating him in 841. This was the beginning of the Era of Fragmentation for the Empire.
The untimely death of another emperor led Langdarma’s two sons, Yumten and Osung to enter a bloody civil war, splitting the empire in half. This war, only fractured the empire more, with the kingdom of Qocho appearing in 843 in the north, fighting both other kings. At this point the Tang Dynasty noticed the civil war and began sending troops to the border, leading to more fighting all around Tibet.
This came to a head in Zhang Yichao led a rebellion from within in favor of the Tang Dynasty, in 848. He would spend the next several years conquering parts of Tibet including Gaochang and allowing others like Khotan to become independent. 7 Garrisons would eventually defect from the Empire to the Tang Dynasty and Yichao. By 863 the Qocho Kingdom appears to have been taking orders from Zhang and non-Han soldiers were led to victory in the capturing of the Liang Prefecture. The decades of work led the Tang Emperor to make Zhang a General of the Imperial Guards in 867, though Zhang would die in 872. This era of decades of war and conquering seems almost perfect for an Odyssey-like story due to how open the era is.
The Fragmentation didn’t end there, though. The Empire remained unstable, at war, and fragmented for another 400 years. The Mongols began their invasion in the 1240s but finished it in 1253 under Kublai Khan who promoted the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism via the vice-ruler of Tibet, Drogon Chogyal Phagpa. Ultimately any of the dozens of wars and skirmishes in those 400 years could be used, though.
Unification of Tibet
The Yuan Dynasty disintegrated due to economic hardships and social unrest in China allowing for the rise of the Great Ming in 1368 and the independence of Tibet. The next 250 years were marked by further violent conflict between small Kingdoms rising and falling within the plateau and attempts to maintain peace with the Ming Dynasty. By the 17th century, the kingdom of Tsangpa would dominate the majority of Tibet, only then challenged by a small school of Buddhists.
This is where AC combines sci-fi and religion. Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha, who according to recent Dynasty chapters (the new Chinese Manhua), was “a god” himself. It’s unclear if this means he was a form of a sage, like how Sigurd was considered to be a God by Fulke, or if it means he was an Isu that survived into the 6th century BCE. I think the more reasonable approach (especially for the religion) would be that Buddha is a sage, who attained “Enlightenment”, a recognition of reality and Dharma. Buddha’s teachings on Dharma is the foundation of the many schools of Buddhism. The purpose of monks is to help spread the teachings of Buddha and in some schools. A core idea is that one ought to try to become awakened, and enter nirvana. This may take the place over many lifetimes, as one experiences rebirth (somewhat different from the more mainstream Hindu reincarnation), and eventually, a person can attain Buddhahood and become a Buddha. Those on the path to attain Buddhahood are Bodhisattvas and are believed to attain rebirth several notable times, as Tulkus. A Tulku is a specific lineage of rebirths who are custodians of specific teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, who teach their students that then teach the next in the lineage.
I know that’s a lot to take in and I just threw a lot of weird words around in what probably sounds like a word salad. TL;DR: dudes reincarnate to be like buddha, but some on that path continues specific Buddhist teachings.
You with me? Cool. So there’s this person named Avalokiteśvara. Oh no, did I lose you again? Don’t worry, there’s no test. Anyway, the person named above is a Bodhisattva who is meant to be an embodiment of compassion, likely first appearing in the 9th century. So it’s unclear exactly how AC would handle the reincarnations of the various Bodhisattvas, but it would make sense if they’re a sage of Aita or perhaps another Isu. It seems likely that there could have been an Isu that focused on peaceful resolution, compassion, etc. that would become the basis for Buddhism through sages.
In the mid 16th century there was a growing school of Buddhism known as Gelug, with its main monastery at Ganden in Lhasa, lead by the Ganden Tripa, which at the time was Panchen Sonam Dragpa, taught by Gedun Gyatso, the reincarnation of Gendun Drubpa and first Ganden Tripa of Ganden Monastery. Panchen recognized a young monk as his master’s reincarnation, and as such, he took on the role of Ganden Tripa and the name Sonam Gyatso. By the 1560s multiple outside monasteries recognize Sonam as the true reincarnation and started to amass some political power in the 1570s. This news spread to the Mongols, who were then headed by a de-facto leader, Altan Khan, a descendant of Kublai Khan, but whose rule was seen as illegitimate by many. As a result, in 1577, Altan Khan pledged support to Sonam Gyatso, naming him the Third Dali Lama, meaning in Mongolian “Ocean of Gyatso”. Gyatso, as a result, made the claim that beyond being the third Dali Lama (Gendun Drubpa and Gendun Gyatso being honored as the first and second posthumously), also claimed they were the reincarnations of Avalokiteśvara and Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the vice ruler of Tibet under Kublai Khan who had converted Kublai to Buddhism, and with that, Altan Khan was the reincarnation of Kublai Khan. Altan Khan used this to amass power in Mongolia and became the first Mongolian to cross the Great Wall, invading China in the 1580s (though he was killed in 1582 by Shao Jun according to AC Chronicles China).
Despite the long-winded nature of this setup, it now becomes clear what happens next. The newly formed position of Dali Lama is gaining Buddhist political support and has military support from the Mongols. It wasn’t 1638 when Lobsang Gyatso went through the ordination and was declared the fifth Dali Lama that any of this came to fruition. His first act was to name his close advisor Lobsang Gyaltsen as the first Panchen Lama, a close tie to the Dali Lama. After that, his first regent, Sonam Rapten called on their Mongolian allies lead by Gushi Khan in 1639 to settle clan disputes across Tibet and vanquishing the remnants of the defunct Phagmodrupa Dynasty in 1640. The next year they turned their attention to Tsangpa, conquering it over the next two years, forming the Ganden Phodrang and Khoshut Khanate. The Ganden Phodrang was a centralized theocracy that Gushi Khan recognized the Dali Lama as the leader of in 1642, whereas the Khoshut Khanate acted as a military force that was tied to it, but separate from the Phodrang.
Despite Rapten having disobeyed the Great 5th in order to start the Tibetan Civil War of 1639, it appears they did reconcile, as they had worked together by 1645 to build the Potala Palace, and reestablish Lhasa as the capital of Tibet. The Great Fifth would take the glory of unifying Tibet and would lead Tibet on a spiritual and political level, working with parties across Tibet for reconciliation. Rapten maintained the real power, though, going against his unambitious Dali Lama and working with Gushi Khan to expand the empire via multiple invasions of Bhutan. These repeatedly failed hurting Mongolian morale. Gushi Khan died in 1655, fracturing his khanate among his ten sons who fell into civil war. It was the Dali Lama who sent emissaries and governors that made the Mongolians fall into Tibetan submission between 1656 and 1659.
Despite this, Rapten continued to try to conquer Bhutan, even with the Dali Lama handing out edicts in an attempt to stop him. At one point in the early 1650s, Rapten had attempted to start an occult rite in Bhutan that ended in a local leader’s death but the Bhutanese claimed was used to kill Gushi Khan. I think this could sound like a potential assassination sequence. It seems like Rapten and Gushi Khan would be fantastic leading Templars, going behind the back of Dali Lama and trying to consolidate power for themselves. As an assassin, you may back the Dali Lama but try to secretly remove this threat to him and Tibet, eventually killing Gushi in 1655, and Rapten in 1658.
For a few years following Rapten’s death, Tibet enjoyed relative peace, especially compared to the decades and centuries of civil war that preceded it. A fantastic DLC for this could be the Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War, though. See, after nearly 2 decades of Reptan messing with Bhutan, the Bhutanese weren’t thrilled with Tibet, and as relationships soured, the Dynasty of Ladakh to the west sided with Bhutan. Along with now stepping into the affairs of Bhutan and Tibet, Ladakh began suppressing the Gelug School of Buddhism in Ladakh which was on the rise due to the Great Fifth and his new kingdom. As a result, the Dali Lama overrode his prime minister Desi Sangye Gyatso and sent Galdan Chhewang on an “expedition” into Ladakh, forcing some conflict in 1679. This continued at a stalemate until the Mughal Empire in Kashmir sent in forces to aid Ladakh, and in return, the king of Ladakh may have converted to Islam. In this moment of defeat for Tibet, Lobsang Gyatso, the unifier of Tibet, died. Knowing this would be disastrous for the kingdom, Desi Sangye Gyatso conspired with the Dali Lama’s son to hide the fact that the Dali Lama was dead from the Empire and the rest of the world. This ruse continued until 1696 when the next Dali Lama was appointed! In the meantime, Sangye worked with the Zunghar Khanate to the northwest and used their soldiers aided in ending the war in Ladakh, bringing a decisive victory for Tibet in 1684. A peace treaty was signed and both countries would continue on their way.
Despite more turmoil, Tibet would maintain a level of sovereignty for a while to come. In 1720, the Kingdom was conquered by Qing China, forcing out the Mongols, but the Dali Lamas retained political agency and autonomy over Tibet until 1912 when it was once again made independent. This however did not last, as China underwent a series of cultural revolutions leading to the rise of Mao and the creation of the modern CCP. In 1959, China claimed it had the right to annex Tibet due to having control of it during the Qing Dynasty, and thusly took it by force, with the 14th Dali Lama, Tenzin Gyatso (Avatar fans heads should be exploding now), having lived in exile since.
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