Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Kindred of the East


Surprise, surprise! I’m going to be running a Kindred of the East chronicle!
There was an abrupt demand for a modern and/or horror game on the roundtable for our RPG group, so the 5e D&D game was suddenly cancelled and I was voluntold that I should run a KotE game. I was a bit frustrated with the D&D game (as I have recorded elsewhere) and I’ve always wanted to run Kindred of the East, so I’m not exactly unhappy with this development.
(On the other hand, I really, really like 5e. Are there any players in the San Antonio, TX area looking for a DM interested more in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser-style adventuring and less in Dragonlance-style world-saving?)
For those who don’t know, Kindred of the East was the flagship product of White Wolf’s 1998 “Year of the Lotus” series of supplements for the original World of Darkness. It presented alternate rules for running vampires in Asia – rules that varied so greatly from the basic rules for western vampires that eastern vampires are practically a completely different type of monster – and  developed the Asian half of the setting in greater detail. The line was expanded into a series of companions and splat books developing the equivalent of the clans for KotE and Asian-themed alternates for the other OWoD product lines.
Kindred of the East is also an infamous mess. The Asian vampires or kuei-jin (a portmanteau of the Chinese word for “demon” and the Japanese suffix for “people”) have what is probably the messiest, most complicated character sheet in the entire Storyteller System. They have three separate mana pools (Demon Chi, Yang Chi, and Yin Chi) to track, plus hero points (Willpower), a feng shui-inspired Direction, and two separate personality tracks (Hun Soul and P’o Soul). They can learn Disciplines like vampires, learn Rites and buy magical artifacts and spirit mentors like werewolves, and one of their souls is trying to kill the other like wraiths. On top of that, the fluff of the system is an Orientalist mélange of Chinese and Japanese concepts with a seasoning of other Asian cultures just to confuse matters.
(The mish-mash of cultures intrigued me when I bought these books in the first few years after they came out. Seventeen years later, I suspect I actually know more now about Chinese and Japanese folklore than the writers of this product line did then, and it kind of bugs me. It’s not necessarily the writers’ fault – a lot more Asian pop culture has made its way stateside since then – but it still feels kind of insensitive.)
If I was wise, I’d adapt the material to some streamlined, modern game system like Savage Worlds. Doing so would make the game much easier to run and easier to improvise within. I am not wise, so I’m going to try to run the chronicle using the original, horrible rules. In my defense, several of my players own the rules as well and are already building characters using those rules. Changing systems on those players would actually make it harder for them to contribute. However, I am going to go way out of my way to avoid making up any new NPCs or monsters; the pre-generated characters in the various supplements are going to see a lot of renaming and reuse.
Thankfully, there’s still some fan resources on the interwebs for this weird, 17 year-old unpopular game. There’s an excellent character creation walkthrough site that I can point my players at and some intriguing fan-generated content. MrGone’s Character Sheets still has oodles of sheets for KotE. And I’ve just discovered an awesome takedown of the game’s cultural insensitivities by “Mors Rattus.” Hee-hee-hee!
That last site will help me temper my expectation. Given that I’ve waited over a decade and a half to play this game, I have unrealistic hopes of a truly epic campaign. Ideally, the new chronicle will be very grotesque and horrific, very much in the vein of anime such as Ninja Scroll and Wicked City that inspired KotE’s creation. I expect that in practice, though, I’ll wind up veering more into action-humor like Inuyasha or Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. At worst, it might turn into Hozuki’s Coolheadedness. (Honestly, any and all of the above would be entertaining to me, but my players’ mileage may vary.)
I’d love to start the characters in the Kamakura shogunate setting of Blood & Silk, the Dark Ages supplement for Kindred of the East, and then jump them forward into the Bakumatsu (as seen in Sunset Empires) and finally into the modern age. Character advancement is so slow and weird in OWoD games that it really drives me nuts. Being able to really explore characters’ advancement in their Dharmas while the world sinks into the Fifth Age would be much more entertaining to me than just watching a bunch of running monkeys flail about. Heck, I’ve got a copy of Time of Judgment I could put to use if we did the centuries-spanning chronicle (and maybe we could work in some flashbacks to Exalted, too!).  
*Sigh*
Actually, I know we’ll all get fidgety long before we slay the Demon Emperor, so I should just prepare myself for a raucous ruckus of monsters being horrible to each other. The grotesquery of Kindred of the East makes it hard to take seriously for too long anyway. I mean, Ninja Scroll is one of its influences; I don’t think you’re actually meant to take it too seriously.
 

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