Friday, February 20, 2015

Putting a Pin in a Weird Idea

For all its faults, the classic AD&D 1st Edition Oriental Adventures was an honest attempt to take Asian fable and fantasy and fold them into Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Kara-Tur – the setting developed out of Oriental Adventures – was a pretty straightforward expy of Asia (with two Chinas and two Japans). It’s actually a much more authentic Asian setting than Legend of the Five Rings.
What if someone (like me) created a D&D setting that did the reverse? What if – instead of fitting an Asian fantasy setting into the D&D rules – you just fit D&D-style fantasy into an Asian setting?

What if such a setting just had elves instead of kitsune? Tieflings instead of oni? Halflings tending rice paddies and gnomes building karakuri? What if the imperial family were dragonborn descended from godlike ancient dragons?

What if “samurai” was just a spin on the noble background, and “onmyoji” was just a spin on sages? What if “ninja” was a background that any class could take?

What if this setting just embraced the assumptions of D&D instead of wrestling with them? What if there were dungeons just like normal, with the usual assumptions of an ancient world and previous civilizations? What if “kami” was just a word used to describe celestials, elementals, feys, and fiends? What if murderhobory was still the lifestyle of choice for desperate peasants eager to stop tilling the soil? (It wouldn’t be so much different from the life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.)

One of the pseudo-Japans in Oriental Adventures is called “Kozakura,” which translates into “Little Cherry Blossom.” That always struck me as a weird name. Wouldn’t a nation rather be known as “the land of ten thousand cherry blossoms?”

Wouldn’t “Senbonzakura” be an awesome name for a setting like this?


  1. I did something just like this for Adventures Dark and Deep a few years ago. Just a five or six page summary along the lines of "samurai are just like cavaliers, with a new code of honor and different weapon proficiencies", and "ninjas are like thief-acrobats, except they start their careers as assassins and then move into the acrobat class". That sort of thing.

    I abandoned it in favor of a more traditional book with new classes, spells, monsters, races, etc. based on Chinese folklore. Still messing around with it and actually running a playtest set in Greyhawk's Celestial Imperium.

    1. Neat! Good luck with that. It's always cool when old-school roleplaying leads the way in innovation and diversity.

  2. This is a great idea. In particular, I like your idea for dragonborn.

    1. What would be hilarious would be keeping the dragonborn nobles as aloof and effete as the Heian-era Japanese nobility. All of these +2 Strength, breath weapon-wielding dragonborn sitting around reciting poetry at each other...

    2. Okay, this needs to happen in my next game.

  3. These are some interesting ideas. I think there may be some mental gears that need shifting on the part of players, but it's probably a good thing to try to recontextualize D&D tropes so that not all halflings are white, etc.


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