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Monday, October 31, 2011

Lazy Art Post

Still hard at work on OA-T1: The Mura of Hondo; I thought I'd give you guys a ssample of my wife's art. She whipped this up while we were playing last time and I got her to scan it today, it's her Hengeyokai Shugenja Character Misaki, in human form obviously.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Real Life Intercedes...

...And halts my blogging for a bit. Various doctors and dentist appointments have eaten my week pretty much entirely.

But I did get these in the mail the other day and forgot to mention it.

Another "Way of" book this one is about Shadow and is kind of a prequel to 1st edition L5R RPG. It covers 10 years of investigations and adventure hooks associated with them.

This one covers not just merchants, but the rise to prominence of the merchant class and, apparently, their secret society that has been pulling strings and manipulating events inside Rokugani society for over a century.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Magic-User and Cleric Spells

I have very often used a house rule for Clerics that they can NOT memorize the same spell multiple times just to force them to use the entire spell list and pull them out of the "Party Medic" mode where they only ever have Cure Light Wounds spells in their 1st level spell slots. I always justify this in game by saying that the gods don't like granting you the same miracles over and over or something like that. For the record, my Cleric loving wife dislikes this rule for Clerics, unless I replace it with the 3e style trade for heals. To compound my OSR heresy, I usually let her add her level to the die roll when she casts a Cure Light Wounds spell, mainly because she has notoriously bad luck though*.

Actually, when it comes to Clerics and healing magic, various groups I have played with have had different fixes for it over the years. One group decided that Clerics didn't need to choose their spells in advance, they just had so many spells/level/day provided they prayed and were in good standing with their church/deity. That actually worked pretty well for that group. Another group decided, and I stand with them on this, that there should be some Cure (wound level) Wounds spells between Light and Serious, so we filled in the blanks with some Cure (______) Wounds spells at every spell level. I don't recall the particulars now, but it was a pretty wargamer filled group, so we probably hammered out all the math and fixed any problems it may have caused with higher level Cure Wounds spells. Another group went a different way and determined that a wound level should be based on the level of the character being healed, ergo a light wound on a 0-level NPC might be 1 HP, on a 20th level Fighter it might be 15 HP, all based on a percentage of your total HPs. I forget what formula was used for each Cure Wounds spell, but they worked pretty well for that group too, and made Cure Light Wounds NOT a waste of time for the party Cleric when everyone was around 15th level.

I never really thought about doing this to Magic-Users too, but over on the Mule Abides today it was mentioned in the "Joesky Tax" section as a relevant House Rule. I think it would be easier to justify in game than the Cleric rule honestly, the "magic" center in the brain can only store those sigils and formulae once; trying to "write" the same ones twice (or more) would just overwrite the existing copy that's already there. I think I like it, and having multiple spells for the Wu Jen in my OA campaign hasn't come up yet, so I think I can slide it in to see how it works out. Has anyone else done this? Does it force even more creativity out of the party Magic-Users? Should I do this to my son the first time he stretches his RPG muscles and plays a spell caster?

*Seriously, we had to implement what we call the "Mona Rule" when she creates characters, otherwise it takes her forever. The Mona Rule states- If you have created 2 or more "Hopeless Characters" in a row, the rest of the players can each pick up a die and roll stats for you. It was created because of her, and so far it has only ever been invoked on her behalf; but on numerous occasions. Usually she will insist that she get to keep trying, and we let her, until it starts to hold up the game, or she argues that a character whose highest stat is a 9 and has multiple stat penalties would be "fun to try to play". My dice luck is the opposite of hers. My black dice are legendary as the "Dice of Doom", and I have rolled so many characters straight that had no stats below 15 I had to STOP using 4d6 drop the lowest.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pre-Rolling Random Encounters?

I was talking with my wife the other day and she suggested something that seemed like old school heresy to me, that I pre-roll the random encounters for the trip to the mura of Hondo. Now I got to thinking about this, and I know the path they are taking to Hondo. I know what pre-existing possible encounters there are in hexes along the way. The only thing that slowed ME down during the game at all on Sunday was rolling the encounters and setting them up, coming up with plausible explanations for them, giving them their treasure, establishing encounter distance, surprise, etc. So, IF they stick to their plan and follow the path they're already on, I can pretty easily pre-roll all of their daily encounters. So far, they have not deviated from the plan, even a little bit; I guess it helps that the two party leaders are Samurai that are under orders, and most of the rest of the party have similar obligations to proceed directly there too, including the Yakuza. Really only the Shugenja and the Wu Jen are loose cannons here, and they both have compelling reasons for wanting to go.

But is it right to roll random encounters ahead of time?

Oh, and I forgot to mention in my last post that the party was under the effects of a Bless spell from a roadside shrine they ran across and left offerings at when they encountered the Bandits, that really made a difference for them, even though they were unaware of it. It pays to be pious, although my son John was having flashbacks to an old campaign where his character accidentally offended the goddess Epona with an offering at a roadside shrine and was forever cursed with bad luck with horses.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Against the Black Temple: Session 2

Image from the Kara-Tur Monstrous Manual - It's a Goblin Rat.

Spoiler alert- they still haven't made it to the Mura of Hondo, if that's all you were waiting to see you can skip this post.

It should be noted that Paul couldn't make it to the game because he had car trouble, so my son John ran Date Karasu for him, as well as his own character Katsuo the Wu Jen.

When we left off last time they were asking if anyone knew whose head it was they were carrying around, the ramen shop owner told them they should probably ask the Doshin (police) or a Yoriki (investigator/boss cop). Ami then took the head and dropped it near the bathhouse where the fight had taken place and started screaming like she was just some poor peasant girl that had stumbled over a severed head. Roleplayed to the hilt, the cops took her to a nearby tea house and bought her some tea to calm her down.

The Samurai and the rest of the party, except for Aiko the Kensei and Misaki the Shugenja, headed back to the nice section of town to the inn where they were staying. Aiko and Misaki stuck around to make sure that Ami was going to be OK, then joined her for tea after the cops left. Eventually they rejoined the rest of the party at the nice inn and got to meet Karasu's army of servants (12) as well as Masaru's pair of servants. Some time in the night travel permits were left in Masaru's room, by whom he does not know, but he suspects they may be forged. He is more than a little paranoid.

Ami spends the next several days getting under Masaru's skin as they travel down the coastal road, she begins to subvert his authority with the servants. They roleplay off one another pretty well. Misaki, is an intelligent cat that shapeshifts into human form, she is being roleplayed pretty well too, if more than a little strangely. Several days pass pretty much uneventfully, although the party is forced to sleep outside one night when the only inn is fully occupied by vastly more important people than them, and the retainers and staff of those important people. Masaru accepts this stoicly.

The very next day I roll a random encounter that I fear may TPK the party- Goblin Rats. Nasty 3HD buggers, they attack travelers and live near human settlements. I rule that the encounter will take place a couple of miles before they reach the village they plan on sleeping in, OK, fine. I figure they're opportunistic, like bandits, so they'll probably want to attack from ambush. Then I roll to see how many only four, it could have been up to twenty. As I am considering this encounter in my head I think to myself, they probably would have set up to attack travelers from a concealed position near the road, maybe some brush; but this party is pretty big, 7 PCs and 14 non-combatant NPCs. They're already in position, but would 4 of them attack a party that big? I let the dice decide, I roll to see if the Cat Hengeyokai detects the Rat Men hiding just off the side of the road. She does. Misaki goes absolutely ballistic on them. As it turns out Goblin Rats are terrified by felines or cat like creatures- I figure a Cat Hengeyokai probably has to count there, right? All four of them fail their saving throws and start to flee in terror. The party opens up on, and takes down (barely) their leader, the one carrying their only significant treasure- a magic trident. The rest escape, I agonize over whether or not to give them the full XP for this encounter, in the end I do because it could have just as easily gone the other way.

After all the back slapping and happiness is done they decide to award the trident to Ami. They ride into town and get themselves to the nicest rooms in the local inn, well aware that starting the next day the travel is going to get harder over worse roads that are less well traveled, maintained or patrolled. Ami seeks out and finds using her Yakuza skills a place to sell the trident. I feel it was an unwise move, and asked at the time "Are you sure you want to do this?", she was and she did. Ami is now, by far, the wealthiest character in the party. She uses this money to buy stuff for the servants and to throw parties for them. She also kills and prepares as food the guard dog that Masaru bought for her last time we played. Her character is from Koryo. Lee herself is 1/2 Korean and I think just likes messing with all of these pseudo-Japanese dudes. Everyone ate the soup she made. Misaki actually ate the Goblin Rat too, raw. Well, part of him anyway. Everyone just assumes she is a crazy Shugenja.

The next thing of major note that happened was a fierce storm whipped up while they were moving up the mountains that cost them a day of travel and while they were waiting there a bedraggled Ronin wandered into their camp so Masaru (who had been looking to hire some extra muscle all along the way unsuccessfully) offered him a job. The Ronin, now restored to Samurai status, was named Otomo Hikaru and is Masaru's Henchman. They bonded.

After striking camp the next day, they ran into some actual Bandits that did attack them from ambush. They got 9 (out of a possible 20) Bandits for the encounter. A surprise round wounded Masaru and Hikaru fairly badly and killed one of Karasu's servants outright. After that though things didn't go well for the Bandits, they lost initiative and got seriously beat down. I made them check morale and was shocked that they decided to stick around and fight (I use B/X style morale for AD&D, it's just easier). The only PC that didn't get to really kick some ass in this fight was the Wu Jen Katsuo, he had memorized Elemental Burst again and all of the targets were either too close and would cause collateral damage to the party or out of range, he was forced to resort to throwing darts and missed with every single one.

Aside from a small amount of cash, the Bandits just had normal equipment, although their leaders Katana will be nice for Hikaru, and three horses and some supplies, including some odd stuff I threw in just because the party asked me what they had, and I quote from the game's Facebook page-

"3 light war horses, with saddles, saddlebags(large), bit & bridle and stuff; 1 chainmail, 2 do-maru, 6 hara-ate, 1 daikyu, 2 hankyu, 1 katana, 1 yari, 1 naginata, 3 wakizashi, 45 days of ricecake rations, 3 pounds of tea, 5 jars of sake, 15 days grain for horses, 1 jar of pickled ginger, 2 jars of beer, 1 large sack of horseradishes, an iron pot, 3 quivers (24 arrow capacity), 57 arrows (standard), 2 small tents, a tobacco pipe, 5 pounds of tobacco, a hammer, 1 pound of nails, a 2 man timber saw, 3 green bath towels and an 8 pound sledgehammer."

That was in addition to 108 tael in cash. We broke for the evening after the fight, before I gave them the tally of goods, which is why I gave it to them over Facebook I also sent them their XP totals. They are half way to the Mura of Hondo, it doesn't seem like we are getting much done from a mission standpoint, but they are all roleplaying their characters quite well, which is not something I see in every group and honestly is one of the reasons I really love OA, the randomly generated backgrounds create a character for you to jump into and play. The unusual way in which random encounters are handled in OA took a little bit for me to get re-accustomed to, but that's working well too. The travel from Tamanokuni to the Mura of Hondo may actually level the characters up with random encounters, if it doesn't TPK them first, it's possible I should have just done what EGG did and started the characters at the edge of the village, we'll see.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

OA-T1: The Mura of Hondo update

This has been a much more difficult task remaking the village than I would have suspected. The caste system of feudal Japanese society, mirrored in Kozakura, means that there is no way a leatherworker( eta profession) gets to be in the center of town. My research also indicates that the Japanese kept essentially no livestock, so the herdsmen in town are going to need new jobs, I am thinking more farmers and I am making the pasture land into rice paddies. I changed the Church of St. Cuthbert into a Temple of the Path of Enlightenment, I named it Hoen-Ji after the nearest Zen Buddhist center to my house. The Druids are being replaced by the Way of Eight Million Gods. I renamed the Inn of the Welcome Wench to Doi no Aoihana.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christianity in D&D II

I always "got" that the Cleric was a cross between a Knight Templar and Peter Cushing's Van Helsing with spells; OK with a little bit of Archbishop Turpin from the Chanson de Roland and Bishop Odo of Bayeux thrown in too, to add to the medieval flavor. My first D&D had Crosses and Holy Water as items, and mentioned that Crosses were sovereign against Vampires regardless of their previous religious background. Honestly it never really bothered me at the time and it doesn't bother me now, even as a non-Christian in America I am still part of the cultural background and I get the context. I have played Christian characters in D&D and I don't do it as a caricature, I do it respectfully. I have also played Pagan characters the same way. When I roleplay a character I roleplay a whole person and if their faith is an important aspect of their life I respect that.

My last post went off a little half cocked because I had just read 3 or 4 different blogs talking about Christianity and it's compatibility with D&D and why that is either a great idea or a crap idea. I was up late when I wrote it and just wanted to say what I had to say on the subject; I thought I could be quick and to the point. I think it's obvious, although never made explicit, that D&D was designed with a medieval European Christian background in mind and that ultimately TSR removed references to Christianity to protect Christians. The ones that felt uneasy about having their religion portrayed in an explicitly fantasy game. The so called "Satanic Panic" and BADD must have caught them completely unexpectedly since they were trying to do good Christians a favor.

In my experience, the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s was based on a mostly Catholic/Protestant divide, I say mostly because it was only the more fundamentalist denominations that really bought into the whole thing. Catholics were mostly pretty cool with D&D. More mainstream Protestant denominations didn't seem to have a problem with it. I live in the North-East US though, so your mileage may vary. I don't know how Orthodox Christians felt about it then or now. Jews seem to be OK with D&D. I don't know enough Muslims to get an accurate sample. No other religion would be concerned with Satan in the least.

What muddied the waters was the publication of Gods, Demigods and Heroes; superseded in AD&D by Deities & Demigods. I do not own, nor have I read Gods, Demigods and Heroes, but I do own Deities & Demigods (sadly lacking in Cthulu and Elric) and I assume they are pretty similar, designed to give the average American a "fictional" pantheon to play with so as to protect the feelings of Christians that might be uncomfortable with their religion being implied in a fantasy context. EGG goes one better in the pages of The Dragon by offering up entire pantheons of his own devising of entirely fictional deities for Greyhawk, which I am way more cool with.

I understand that in the 1970s and 1980s we didn't have the cultural sensitivity and awareness that we have now, but damn, between Buddhism, Hinduism and Shinto you are coving something like 1/2 of the world's population. Throw in traditional practitioners of Native American religions, Sami Shamanists (a religion closely related to the "Finnish Mythos"), Wiccans, and religious reconstructionists of various types and pretty much the only unworshipped gods in my copy of Deities & Demigods are the "Newhon Mythos" and "Nonhuman Deities". The fact that the powers that be at TSR at the time, presumably EGG and I have no idea who else, sat down and talked it over and felt uneasy enough that they had to remove explicit references to Christianity from the game but give fictional alternatives speaks volumes. The hubris expressed by them in only eliminating references to Abrahamic religions also speaks volumes about our culture at the time.

I can understand seriously minority religions being fodder for the Deities & Demigods book, but Buddhism, Hinduism and Shinto have between them Billions of adherents, just not in the US (although Hawaii has a substantial Buddhist minority, Hawaii usually falls outside the spectrum of consideration for most decisions made concerning the US as a whole); I really think that maybe they could have, even in the caveman 1970s and 80s, considered the implications there.

Now, Deities & Demigods pretty much told you that you HAD to be a Pagan in AD&D, it's one of those things where if they hadn't mentioned it, probably nobody would have thought of it, but since they did it got set in stone. They gave you a nice bunch of pantheons to choose from; although they treated polytheism the way you would expect a bunch of gamers from a monotheistic background to treat it; choose a pantheon, then pick one deity from that pantheon as a patron and worship him or her pretty much monotheisticly. That's totally NOT how polytheism works, just an FYI.

In the wild and woolly days after the release of the Deities & Demigods book pretty much everything in it was fair game, at least in my neck of the woods. So every player would flip through the book and pick a patron god (and check out the goddesses boobs) from whatever pantheon struck his fancy (yes, we were mostly boys then, with a few notable exceptions) and away we'd go.

That said, to be honest, in my longest running AD&D campaign in the 1980s I was a player, and the DM didn't own the Deities & Demigods book, neither did I until about 1985-ish, and religion was never an issue at all in his game. We had a town that was our home base, there was a tavern and a church and some other shops. Implied Christianity. Hell, even the Dwarven Cleric miniature from Grenadier has a Cross, and we used those official gold box Grenadier AD&D Miniatures almost exclusively. What didn't come in boxed sets from Grenadier, the only miniatures you could find in central New York back then, came from toy sets- dinosaurs, animals and stuff like that. I even found in a bargain bin at a local department store a plastic Bulette and a plastic Rust Monster, IDed from their pictures in the Monster Manual. I really wish I knew what happened to them.

Later on responsible DMs like myself set limits on what pantheons you could choose gods from, the favorite in my experience was the Norse pantheon. I assume this is because of a combination of ass-kicking gods, easily pronounced names (for the most part), Thor comics, and cultural familiarity. I have run games using Norse gods, Celtic gods, Roman Gods, Pantheons of my own devising based on pure fantasy, Pantheons of my own devising based on Indo-European commonalities, the Celestial Bureaucracy, Path of Enlightenment and Way of 8 Million gods in Kara-Tur and Greyhawk Gods in the World of Greyhawk. My own Garnia campaign uses a mixture of real world religions and fantasy religions and extrapolated religions based on real world religions that became extinct. I expect that my players are going to be mature enough to be respectful of religion in the context of the game and that they will be respectful of religion outside of the game too.

We have a diversity of religions at my game table that would probably have never happened back in the 1980s. Back in the 1980s in America you had essentially three or four choices of religion; Catholic, Protestant, Agnostic, or Atheist. Yes, I count no religion as a religion here, particularly when some Atheists get really preachy about it. At my game we have at least two different sects of Christianity, an Atheist, an Agnostic or two, and a couple of Heathen Asatruar; and those are just the ones I know the religious preferences of. My house, at game time, is a religious neutral zone. The characters currently are all adherents of various sects of fantasy versions of Shinto or Buddhism because we're playing an Oriental Adventures campaign set in Kozakura. In my last campaign they were all adherents of an extrapolated Celtic pantheon that included heroes that had been deified over the course of my 30+ years of DMing in Garnia. That pantheon also includes Christ.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Christianity in D&D?

I think it's obvious that D&D had Christianity as it's implicit religion and EGG removed references to it to avoid making people uncomfortable about the representation of a real religion in a fantasy game. I am pretty sure the whole "Satanic Panic" caught him completely off guard.

The people that should be pissed about religion in D&D are the Pagans of the world. My copy of the Deities and Demigods book lists American Indian, Central American, Chinese, Indian & Japanese "Mythos", which represent tribal gods of various North American Indian tribes, many of which are still venerated, Chinese Gods that have been adopted into Buddhism, Hinduism and Shinto.

Various "dead" European, middle eastern and north African religions are represented too, although they have adherents through either Wicca or Reconstructionist Paganism and their adherents number in at least the tens of thousands in the US alone. The only fictional religions represented are the Newhon Mythos and the Nonhumans' Deities. So only the big three Abrahamic traditions get a pass in D&D? No Judaism, Christianity or Islam, but it's OK to use Hinduism or Buddhism or Asatru?

Monday, October 17, 2011

An OA Retro-Clone for OSRIC

An OA retro-clone for OSRIC actually is a pretty good idea the more I think about it, but I think it has to be a real clone- not something with my proposed fixes thrown in. I say this because OA needs to be out there for the masses to have again and build up a fan base all over again. I would still be happy to be a part of this team, but I am going to continue to explore my own OA fixes in the mean time.

Sorry for the short post today, I am working on my OA conversion of T1, I call it OA-T1: The Mura of Hondo. I can be a terrible procrastinator and need to get more of it done before we actually get started with the actual module on Sunday. I was just going to name/rename the villagers as needed and wing it with conversions on the fly in the village; now I have some more time, so I am redrawing the map and writing it out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is it time for an Oriental Adventures Retro-clone?

I mean a full on retro-clone, not a few add-on classes for Labyrinth Lord, or a conversion of an earlier version of D&D, like Ruins & Ronin for OD&D/S&W, but an AD&D 1st edition, OSRIC* I guess, Oriental Adventures book. I never bought OSRIC, I just downloaded the free .pdf files because I already own 1st edition AD&D, but I just might to work on this project. Mostly because I hate to read lengthy works on my computer and I like real books. To be clear here, I am not volunteering to retro-clone OA, I am volunteering to be a team member on a retro-clone project. I think that someone with experience doing this sort of thing would be a better team leader than me, and I have already had one major project (B/X WW2) more or less fail, although that was more due to me being more enthusiastic about it than my gaming group.

Since I brought it up, I have to ask, how closely do you have to hew to the original rules in a retro-clone? Can you correct things that turned out to not really work in play? Can you add to the game? I guess I am asking because, despite what EGG intended it to be, I always considered AD&D to be a toolbox like earlier versions of D&D, if non-weapon proficiencies have to be included at all, can we make them optional? Can we make them work like they did in 2nd edition? Can we rename them "Skills"? The OA NWP system kind of made expectation that there would be a certain style of play, involving a lot of time spent in Courts, and that there would be all of these peaceful "contests", but there weren't really any guidelines for how to run an adventure set in a court, so did anyone ever do that? Should we write some guidelines for it? Can we expand the Ancestry and Birthright tables? I know we have to change them and I hate writing random tables, I know there are people out there that love doing them though, so that's another reason I want a team. I am good at coming up with cool random stuff on the fly in the game, not so much at making an entire table of it before hand.

Should an OA retro-clone be even more narrowly focused on Japanese culture and myth? Or should we open it up to more of Asian myth and legend? If that's the case where do we draw the line? I think the obvious intent is EAST Asia, and one of the odd bits of 3e's OA book was incorporating stuff from the Indian subcontinent, even odder considering the clearly Rokugan setting, but they did make the alternate fantasy India-based setting free DLC. Can we incorporate stuff that was published in other TSR materials like modules or boxed sets or 2nd edition stuff? I have almost everything TSR ever made for OA, with the sole exception of the Kara-Tur trail maps, which I assume are just maps, right? I even recently acquired the 2nd edition Ninja book, which, technically isn't an OA book, but might be useful, I don't know I haven't really read through it yet. Hell, I even have the next "connected" part of the Forgotten Realms- The Horde boxed set, and most of the stuff to go with it, because I felt it was supplemental to Kara-Tur and Oriental Adventures; and, of course, because the Mongols are wicked cool. I know we can't use any Kara-Tur material in a retro-clone and would have to create our own mini-Asian setting for it, if we were going to include any setting information at all, but those things all have little tidbits of inspiration and occasional rules clarifications or entirely new rules- usually new monsters or spells as I recall, it's been a while since I read through my OA module/boxed set collection.

There's a lot of old school goodness in OA and I think it is deserving of a real retro-clone, but I don't really know the ground rules of retro-cloning I guess. So, has anyone reading this blog written a retro-clone before? Would you like to be team leader on a new OA retro-clone? Can anyone answer the questions I have? Does anyone else want to be on the team? On the plus side, I am pretty sure I can get it lavishly illustrated at a pretty reasonable rate :) If we can't get a team together I guess I can keep muddling through and subtracting what I think doesn't need to be there, tinkering with stuff and adding in a few bits for my own game, but I think this could be a good community project.

*Although I'd be OK with a full on supplement for Labyrinth Lord AEC too. I am down with both OSRIC and LL; S&W too, but it already has Ruins & Ronin.

These came in the mail the other day, Ashli's birthday actually-

They popped up on my EBay radar because they were listed as Clan War cards. Don't judge me too harshly, I just figured since they were cheap I'd see what all the fuss was about and if the CCG sucks, I can still use the cards as art inspiration for my OA campaign.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oriental Adventures: What's Missing & What Could Go

I was discussing the current OA campaign with my wife today and gaming in general, it's nice to have a wife I can bounce ideas off of, and I got to thinking about all the stuff that is missing from OA and all the stuff that could be cut.

Since I was just complaining about 3e and skill checks and how they evolved from 2nd edition non-weapon proficiencies, which in turn evolved directly from late 1st edition AD&D non-weapon proficiencies which were introduced in my beloved Oriental Adventures book; I thought to myself would it be rank heresy to just cut all of the NWPs out of OA altogether? Just assume that a Samurai is going to know how to do the things that a person of his social class would know how to do, the same thing with a Monk or a Yakuza or a Barbarian. That saves a tremendous amount of time in character creation and you can scale back the number of proficiencies that OA characters get to the level of their occidental brethren. I haven't thought this all the way through, and it may totally screw things up, but I don't ever really recall anyone ever using Tea Ceremony or Flower Arranging all that much anyway. Then we can go back to my standard fall back DMing position of "if you can give me a good reason why your character SHOULD know how to do this, then OK."; what's worse is that in the primitive form they exist in in the OA book, they aren't linked to your stats or your level; meaning they are in dire need of either ditching or an overhaul.

Comeliness is another one, not only does the stat have a cumbersome name, HackMaster Basic changed it to "Looks", "Appearance" might have been a better choice too; but it also has no real affect on play, except to make sure that EGG finally gets his point across that Charisma is more "Force of Will" and "Strength of Personality" than it is a beauty stat. I am not surprised that later editions of AD&D/D&D did away with it. My current group is having fun with it, because one of the Samurai has a 6 Charisma and a 17 Comeliness; so he is being played as haughty but handsome, but I can see just dropping this stat altogether too.

Partial armor has always annoyed me too. There are plenty of armor pieces that can be worn separately in occidental settings too, what made them think that breaking up the armor in OA was a great plan? If your standard AD&D Paladin just went into battle wearing Vambraces, Cuisses and Greaves wielding a two-handed sword we'd think he looked strange and that he was not really armored, but in OA you can have your Samurai charge the enemy with his No-Dachi wearing just Haidate, Sune-Ate, and Kote and he looks OK and his AC doesn't suck. OK, it's not great either, but I think my point is made.

My wife Mona hit the nail right on the head though when she said "What Oriental Adventures really needs is a DM's Guide", to be fair I extrapolated that out to mean "What OA really needs is a set of core books- A PH, DMG and MM"; right now it's all crammed into one book, and you need the three standard AD&D books to play the game along with the OA book*, but I think that a lot of players, and DMs too, missed the stuff that wasn't there and didn't use it. Because the OA book did do such a good job of being self contained and separate from the rest of AD&D we kind of forgot stuff from the rest of AD&D simply because it didn't get mentioned in the OA book.

For instance why is there is no multi-classing in OA. I can't see any good reason why there shouldn't be multi-classing in OA, but there isn't a table that tells you what multi-class combinations are available to which races like there is in the PH. Instead they just tell you that no demi-humans in OA can multi-class and that's it; it really isn't hard to figure out; in standard AD&D if a race can be a Fighter or a Magic-User or a Thief, then they can multi-class into any combination of those; so why not in OA? Korobokuru for instance can be Samurai, Barbarians, Bushi, Wu Jen and Yakuza. Some of the classes are probably exclusive of each other, like common sense dictates that a Samurai/Yakuza multi-class is probably a bad idea for setting/cultural reasons and some are exclusive because of Alignment, so Samurai/Wu Jen is out. Barbarian/Wu Jen is out because Barbarian doesn't play well with anything magic, and as a class Barbarian should probably be exclusive of any other. For that matter I guess I can see both of the Fighter sub-classes Samurai and Kensei being exclusive, Kensei because it is a lifelong devotion to the art of a single weapon and Samurai because it is so much your entire life too. So the only real possible combinations then would be Bushi/Wu Jen or Bushi/Yakuza, and I can see that. So why are they just banned? All OA demi-humans then pretty much suck in comparison to standard AD&D demi-humans because they get level limits but no multi-classing to make up for it. That said Dual classing still works the same way, so OA Humans actually get the much better deal, unlimited progression in any class and the ability to Dual class, which none of the demi-humans has because in standard AD&D they have multi-classing as an option.

The next missing thing is a section on Hirelings and Henchmen, in standard AD&D those are mentioned on the pages right after equipment, in OA they are absent. The AD&D Players Handbook spends the better part of an entire page on it, first describing the typical types of Hirelings to be hired, then how their loyalty works and the differences between them and Henchmen. So players know right away that they should probably start hiring on some help, guys to help carry stuff, guys to carry light sources and guys to help out with the fighting; and that's just the 0-level staff. Most of the page is devoted to Henchmen and even then it says that the DM will have way more information for you, and boy does he; about 10 pages of the DMG and scattered other references therein, types of standard and expert Hirelings, lots of things to know about Henchmen including the crazy morale/loyalty system. All of this could pretty easily be extrapolated into OA, just convert the money, classes, weapons and armor.

The PH has 60 pages devoted to spells, and a lot of them say "See the 2nd level cleric spell of the same name" or something to that effect. Standard AD&D has four spell casting classes- Magic-Users, Illusionists, Clerics & Druids; OA has 40 pages devoted to spells, and some of them are of the "See the 3rd level Shukenja spell of the same name" variety, OA has three spell casting classes Shukenja, Sohei & Wu Jen; why the disparity in numbers of spells? Was OA a rush job? A lot of them are the same as they were in standard AD&D too.

I could keep going on about the sections of the PH that aren't in OA, but needed to have an equivalent section, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg. The DMG is where all the real meat is for DMs and there is almost nothing in OA; not counting monsters, which I'll go into in a minute, there are really just three short sections for an OA DM- Events and Encounters, which has the calendar and and tables and explanations for how to plan out an entire year's plot line in advance, plus random encounter tables; 7 pages. Next is the Treasure and Magic Items section, which is much smaller than the one in the DMG, and essentially tells you to use the DMG, but to "translate" the stuff to OA items, then gives a list of exceptions to that, items that don't really translate to OA well and also a new table of specific OA items and their descriptions, 6 pages. The third DM section, I hesitate to call a DM section, despite it being in the back of the book where players are unlikely to look if they are being good, is the An Overview of Kara-Tur, which is just setting material and probably most players should read this, that said, it's 8 pages if you count the 2 pages of sample floor plans.

Now let's talk about the monsters, standard AD&D got an entire book of it's own to start with, OA got 12 pages and told that a number of previously released monsters were also acceptable, if they were willing to reprint the spells from the PH that were OK for use in OA, why not the monsters from MM, MM2, FF & LL (D&DG)? In all of east Asian myth, legend and folklore that's all we could come up with? Japan alone, from which, let's face it, the bulk of OA is drawn, has got to have more than this.

To sum it up the AD&D PH is 128 pages, the DMG is 238, the MM is 112; OA is 144 pages and has to do the job of all three of them, plus be the setting guide. I think OA is probably the best alternative take on AD&D ever officially produced, but it wasn't perfect; it may well have been a rush job. I know that EGG's French buddy Francois Marcela-Froideval was originally supposed to write it and David "Zeb" Cook got called in to do the job instead, probably because of the politics at TSR at the time, I have heard from a number of sources that's why Kara-Tur got divorced from Greyhawk and ultimately married to the Forgotten Realms.

Actually, if it was a rush job that might explain some of the rough edges like the poor mechanic for non-weapon proficiencies (and the cumbersome name), the lack of so many little things and even some big things, like multi-classing, and stuff that might have been smoothed out in play-testing, like the birth table only having 2 modifiers on it +10 for Samurai and -10 for Yakuza, that means all Yakuza come from crap backgrounds and get screwed over on birthrights and all Samurai come from a minimum upper class and are usually pretty much rich kids, which is OK, I guess, since they can be ordered to adventure by their lord, but every other class gets hosed there. Missed opportunities for classes like Yamabushi or an Elemental based magic system that really works with more and better spells, and opposition elements. I think at the time the only other fantasy Asian RPG out there was Bushido, would it have killed them to look through it and get some ideas? Or maybe hire those guys on as writers for the OA book? They obviously liked RPGs and knew how to write them and knew the subject matter and writing for AD&D isn't rocket science, plus a job writing a book for TSR in 1985 probably would have paid them an order of magnitude more than they ever made from FGU. I wonder if the management at TSR ever even considered it?

You know, now that I think about it, there's a bunch of stuff I'd fix in that book, like why do all Samurai have to specialize with the Katana and the Daikyu? Why can't you choose one or the other? Or both if you want? Or Katana and Wakizashi? Why are they allowed to specialize in more than one weapon anyway? No one else can. Why can't a Kensei use a magical version of his special weapon? It says it's because it wouldn't be a true test of his skill, but wouldn't the same thing be true of a weapon of quality? Or wear armor of any type, that's pretty harsh for a Fighter sub-class, although at least they make up for it by giving them a weird dexterity based AC that no other character class gets; which you'd think the monk would get instead, but their AC just changes by level the same as it always did. I'd probably have made the Yakuza an NPC/Monster type and made some other Thief class, or maybe explained that the Yakuza were "guild" Thieves and not real adventuring Thieves; and a proper Ninja would have been good, instead of the split-class abomination they gave us. I actually did fix that myself back in the day by writing up a Ninja class I called the Shinobi, I based it on the Assassin class from the PH and Orientalized it; sadly it never really got tested because everyone was busy playing Samurai and Kensei, it has now been lost to time, but wouldn't be too hard to recreate.

It's something to think on.

*Actually it is assumed that you will have access to every AD&D book released to date, that's the big three (PH, DMG, MM) plus Legends and Lore (Which I only have copies of as Deities and Demigods, is there any difference?), Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II and Unearthed Arcana.

Friday, October 14, 2011

3e and I: Why We Broke Up

As promised yesterday, the semi-bitter story of my experience with 3rd edition D&D.

At the end of the day, I guess you just can't teach an old dog new tricks. I was the "go-to" DM for a bunch of different small groups here in Oswego county by the time 3e came out. I had been involved in the 2nd edition era with a bunch of my own campaigns and I played in a couple of fairly long running campaigns too*. Mostly my players were older players that I grew up with, or younger players that me or my friends taught how to play, so the weird proficiency checks for everything style of play that became common in the 2nd edition era** was largely absent from gaming in my neck of the woods. When players, usually newer players or rules lawyers, tried to use proficiency checks instead of playing things out I metaphorically slapped them down for it some; at best I'd give you a bonus of some sort. I wouldn't smack you for things that can easily be handled by a die roll, like say, identifying a plant or heraldry, but stuff that SHOULD be role played, like bluffing or pretty much anything that involves talking to NPCs and coming up with a story or an excuse or whatever; just making a proficiency check for that kind of annoyed me.

3e players, even my older players eventually, hated my DMing style in 3e. I couldn't just wing it and come up with a "roll a die and I'll let you know if it works" ruling on the fly, there was already a rule for whatever the PC was trying to do, and if there wasn't one you could assume that he couldn't do it. The skill checks though are what did me in. They drained the life out of the game and made every damned thing a rules mechanics issue. The players started to play the rules system instead of the game. Suddenly I had players planning their character builds out for levels in advance to maximize their potential.

Character creation was a bloody nightmare in and of itself, when the Player's Handbook comes with software for generating characters you know there's going to be a problem. Not that I noticed at first, at first I just noticed that it was pretty cool to have a unified XP chart and that feats were pretty cool for customizing your character and all the stuff that makes players happy with 3e. I kind of liked the simplification of saving throws. Then I started DMing and got the complex stuff. I hated having to remember all of the different effects for various feats that applied here, but not there, et cetera and monster stat blocks and combat rules that made everyone move around the battle board in odd ways to avoid attacks of opportunity and combats that lasted quite a bit longer than before. Oh, and the odd changes just for the sake of change, like Orcs going from Lawful to Chaotic Evil, and I hated the art; not that I was in love with the art of 2nd edition either, I just thought 3e's art really sucked. I also hated the super fast leveling, and I missed real multi-classing.

A quick observation here; when I finally made the switch to 3e D&D I was DMing for two different groups of players. Why two groups? Because each group contained some of my friends, but all of my friends don't play well with each other; there were also some scheduling issues since people my age were 30-ish when 3e came out. Mainly it was the A-Team and the B-Team though, that's how I thought of them at the time anyway. By the way, you should never let that slip either. The A-Team consisted of two guys that I had regularly played 2nd edition AD&D with for most of it's run, we also played wargames regularly for the same period (everything from Titan to ASL); one guy that was the cousin of one of those guys and also a pretty hardcore AD&D player and wargamer; and a married couple the husband had been an old AD&D player in the 1st edition era, a member of my old group actually, and a wargamer from way back then too, but the wife had never played any RPGs. The B-Team consisted of three guys that were in college, but had been playing 2nd edition for a few years; the younger brother of one of those guys that was still in high school, and had played mostly CRPGs; my wife, who has played a lot of D&D over the years, but isn't a "rules" person; and one old buddy of mine that I had been playing D&D and other RPGs and wargames (including the really complex ones like Star Fleet Battles, he was a Romulan lover) with since I was in 7th grade.

Actually, because of all the set up necessary, this observation really wasn't all that quick. My observation was that the wargamer heavy group took to the new rules a lot easier than the more casual group of gamers. All of them really liked the idea of customizing their characters, except maybe my wife, who really customizes her characters through roleplaying them; but it took longer for even the combat monster in the B-Team to start figuring out how to exploit the rules and rape them best to his advantage; that was a sad day for me. He once played a Fighter in 2nd edition game that had aspirations towards being a Bard. In that same campaign my wife played a Cleric that had always wanted to be a Fighter, but was forced by her family and her natural ability into the church. He used to write songs and poems about her character between game sessions or even during them he'd whip off little snippets of poetry. That would never happen in a 3e game. Those games were all business, working out tactical advantages and using every skill and feat to their synergistic best.

But what irked me the most was the damned skill checks. Suddenly the power behind the game was taken from a godlike DM and given to a set of books, and with those books came rules lawyers who would milk every drop of advantage they could out of every possible skill point and feat. Dragon magazine even ran a column for a while in the 3e era teaching you how to build super bad-ass characters by exploiting the rules; that's just not right. Pretty much overnight, after we converted to 3e, without any fanfare and really without anyone noticing, we all just stopped roleplaying all together. I blame the skill checks for that too.

What's worse is that I know it wasn't the players and it wasn't me, it was the game, 3e killed all the roleplaying and turned D&D into pretty much just a fantasy tactical miniatures skirmish game, and a fairly complex one at that; I know because I dumped D&D shortly after the 3.5 conversion, I only ever bought the 3.5 PH and DMed briefly in the 3.5 era before I realized I wasn't having any fun any more; I dumped D&D and bought into HackMaster and we played it and everyone had fun. People roleplayed their characters. We played through combat encounters without the use of miniatures. People once again laughed and had a good time at my table. HackMaster 4th edition was AD&D cranked up to 11.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't 3e, it was me. Pathfinder sales and Paizo's nearly fanatical fan base are clear evidence that 3e was, and still is, a fun game; and I had a lot of fun playing it from time to time. I didn't like the extra workload it placed on me as a DM. I didn't like the power it stole from me as a DM. We just weren't a good fit, irreconcilable differences.

*Although one of them was run by Luddite DM/Old School Prophet Steve S. who ran a 1st edition AD&D game during the 2nd edition era. We all thought it was quaintly eccentric at the time. He said "I already bought this game, these books still work."; whatever, I just liked the break from DMing all the time and he was an engaging and quirky DM. Sadly prone to sudden burn out though, three times his campaigns just ended abruptly.

**Yes, I am well aware, especially since I am running a 1st edition AD&D OA game right now, that non-weapon proficiencies were introduced in 1st edition AD&D, they were kind of a mess there and didn't see much use outside of OA from what I saw. 2nd edition made them pretty much standard issue and made the system work better, separating them out from the weapon proficiencies (if only someone had thought to call them skills, eh? Much less cumbersome than non-weapon proficiencies). Splatbooks proliferated them and made super non-weapon proficiencies and redundancies and I always thought that Player Characters got kind of hosed on the number of NWPs they got based on my own number of skills at the time, I grew up in farm country, next to the woods near a river and Lake Ontario, by the time I was a teen-ager I could swim, sail, fish, hunt, farm, cook and a bunch of other stuff in the PH, not counting the stuff I learned in school, like a foreign language and math and literacy. Now I figure it must have been a game balance issue, but I still give out background skill packages in systems that use skills.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No Real Post Today

Picture simply because Ashli loves original series Star Trek, that's my girl!

Today is Ashli's 19th birthday, we didn't expect she'd be home with us for this one so it's nice to have her here. Her mom and I took her out for lunch today and she got a haircut. Now we're busy with the birthday dinner stuff and presents.

Tomorrow though I have planned a semi-bitter retrospective of my time playing 3e D&D.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Personal Appendix N

Nicol Williamson as Merlin in Excalibur- Still the Standard for Magic-Users in my mind.

My Personal Appendix N-

I have to say I never read most of what was in Appendix N of the DM's Guide. When I was younger I read through all of the Tolkien I could find. I discovered The Hobbit via the Rankin-Bass cartoon on TV when I was about eight years old. I know I had read the book by the time I was ten and had read the entire Lord of the Rings before I was done with the 5th grade. I found the Silmarillion and devoured it a year or two after that. Robert E. Howard's work I knew mostly from Marvel Comic's version of Conan the Barbarian, and I read Marvel's Conan titles as I could get them, living in the country and not getting much in the way of an allowance was a hindrance, but odd jobs helped and I eventually got to read some of the actual stories the way REH intended when they were re-released in the eighties in "novel" format. The only other author listed in the DMG that I really read a lot of was Roger Zelazny. I got his "Nine Princes in Amber" given to me by a friend who got it from one of those free book-mobiles and didn't like it, but thought that I might. He was right. I thought it was awesome, although it took me years to track down the rest of the Chronicles of Amber and get them read, once again, living in the country kind of burned me. I have read some works by other authors listed in Appendix N, and I have really liked some of their work and some of it I have really not cared much for.

I would have to say that I had more important influences fairly early on. Star Trek was the first cool thing I ever discovered. I found it on TV when I got home from school when I was in kindergarten and was pretty much enthralled by it. The adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise in space were hands down the most awesome thing I'd ever seen on TV. I made my friends play Star Trek with me during recess and I am not sure they ever saw the show. I don't know where my nerd gene came from, neither of my parents is particularly nerdy, although my dad is a model railroad enthusiast.

When I was in elementary school there was an illustrated book of Greco-Roman Mythology that was a fairly massive volume, larger than other books like a coffee table book and thick too; I discovered it when I was in maybe 1st or second grade and checked it out several times per year until I was advanced to the middle school. Every myth had one full page illustration at the beginning, a drawing done in pencil, and then the story told completely. When I was in 7th grade I discovered Le Morte D'Arthur and Le Chanson de Roland in my Junior High library. I was already playing D&D by then, but they were certainly adding to my repertoire of influences.

The science fiction, fantasy and sword & sorcery movies that came out in the early days of my D&D playing certainly influenced me too. Star Wars was a huge influence on me, and I am pretty sure, every other guy my age; and lets face it, Star Wars is a space fantasy film, NOT science fiction. Star Wars reinforced all the good versus evil, heroic quest, knights with swords stuff that I already loved. Excaliber came out literally days before I played D&D for the first time, I went and saw it with the guy that I would play D&D with for the first time (my dad took us, and managed to remain calm through the armored sex scene that he had just brought 2 kids into the theater to see, we never spoke of it). Arnold's Conan came out early in my D&D years and that was huge for all of us D&D players at the time, REH purists can argue about that movie all they want and how it isn't really Conan; what it is really is a great D&D film.

What got me to thinking about this is that my wife compared my DMing style to "If Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin had an unholy love-child, but in a good way"; which I thought was kind of strange since I am pretty sure I have not read anything by either author, although I may have read one of Jordan's Conan novels in the 1980's. I used to borrow Conan novels from a friend when I was in junior high and wasn't real picky back then about who the author was. I did watch HBO's "Game of Thrones" and I liked it though. Other people have told me that I have a lot of "Weird Lovecraftian influences" in my games, and I know I have never read any Lovecraft; it's on my to-do list. I guess we can blame the art of Erol Otus and the early D&D modules and Dragon Magazine articles I read as a kid.

Which leads me to this odd point; D&D, AD&D and The Dragon are all part of my "Appendix N", which makes for a kind of weird self-referential game I guess, but at least it's internally consistent, for the most part. The game itself and the writings about the game influenced me on how I play the game. I didn't go into it with decades of wargaming experience. I didn't go into it with decades of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature or pulp Sword & Sorcery tales. I liked Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mythology, History and a bunch of other geeky stuff. I played my first wargame, SPI's Sorcerer, the day after I saw Excalibur in the theater,one week before I played D&D for the first time with my buddy Chris G., who I'd seen the movie with and he thought I'd like the game. We played several games actually, I lost every one. Badly. It would be nice to be a wunderkind at something, but like everything I like doing, I sucked at it at first. The point is I started playing D&D as a kid and I was taught by other kids how to play, then I taught other kids how to play. My dad played too, for a little while, but he never really "got" the point of the game and wasn't real interested in the pseudo-medieval setting, Boot Hill on the other hand, he loved; always turned outlaw though. Mostly it was us kids though and we used the inspiration we had on hand in the late 1970's and early 1980's, Comics, Television, Movies, Books and the game itself.

What's in your Appendix N?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Against The Black Temple- Session 1

This session did not start with a bang. One player, John S., cancelled at the last minute, and another, Lance W, just no-showed.

The players that did show up were Paul K., Dalton C., Lee Ann H. and the normal crew of people that live here, my family, my lovely wife Mona, My daughters Ashli and Ember and my son John.

Paul K. took me up on my challenge to come in OA costume for a 10% XP bonus, which was actually kind of cool. Lee Ann H. brought stuff to make sushi, although she has a different Korean name for it. Character creation took most of the session time we had for the day. 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures character creation can be somewhat time consuming and complex and I was the only one there that was truly well versed in it's magnificent detail. Fortunately, only four of the seven characters created needed or opted to use the Birth Table and only those require to created Families; that sped things up somewhat. I am going to keep looking for more copies of the OA book on EBay though, only having two at the table was a pain when it came time for everyone to buy equipment and take proficiencies. Ultimately, we ended up with the following party composition 2 Samurai (oddly enough both 5th rank nobility, played by Paul K. and Dalton C.), a Kensei (That's right, I spelled it correctly; specializing in the Naginata, played by my daughter Ashli), a Wu Jen (My son John), A Sohei (My daughter Ember), A Yakuza (Lee Ann, a foreigner from Koryo too) and a Cat Hengeyokai Shukenja (My wife Mona).

The 2 Samurai are funny as they have developed a rivalry over which one is the more important, higher status noble. Random tables are fun! Paul's Samurai, Karasu, has an imperial bloodline and an advantageous marriage in his ancestry rolls; Dalton's Samurai, Masaru, has two large castles, and two hereditary titles, plus some farm land, he's also quite wealthy from his birthright rolls, he got two sets of O-Yoroi of quality, which I would have rerolled honestly, but he was delighted with the result. Karasu, is a pauper by comparison. Aiko, the Kensei, is merely upper class, but got some decent ancestry rolls too and came out a wee bit wealthier than Karasu too, and the oldest child of an only child of an only child, so when inheritance time comes that'll pay off pretty well. Ami the Yakuza got really hosed by the random rolls and got to be an outcast, she got nothing for ancestry or birthrights. Natsumi the Sohei, Katsuo the Wu Jen and Misaki the Shukenja were not required to have families or use the birth table and chose not to; while I was happy to save the time, I was a little disappointed for them not being able to get in on the fun of the random ancestry and birth rights.

On to the game itself-

Since we ran so late making characters I gave them the set up, that they were all retainers of the Tsu clan or owed them favors or were working with them towards a common goal, to investigate the possible resurgence of the Black Temple, which had been defeated at great cost by the forces of Good in a great battle about a decade ago. I had them meeting, after randomly rolling on the "Random Ruins & Ronin Scenario Starts Generator", at a bathhouse. I didn't use the whole table, just enough to get me started, since Dalton had spotted it, my original plan had been a Ramen shop, but a Bathhouse actually worked out better for how I wanted to start. I started them in a pretty bad part of town, getting information from an old Yakuza, Ami's Oyabun, as a matter of fact, an old guy missing part of one pinkie that, given the locale, I kept wanting to call "Ice-pick" after the shady mafia guy that was a friend of Rick's on Magnum PI and they always met in a steam room. After he assigned Ami to the group as his liaison for "favors" owed to the Tsu, he left and the group started planning just what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. I let them talk for a while and then gave them an encounter to kick off the campaign with a combat before we had to call it a night.

Five scruffy looking Ronin and a pretty tough, well dressed leader type walked in, the leader pointed towards the Samurai in the group and said "That's them!", I had them roll party initiative with the giant six sider then, and I rolled for my guys. They beat me by a mile. Katsuo, played by my son John, who has never played a spell caster of any sort, cast Elemental Burst on the air while they were bunched together in the entrance, kudos to him, they all failed their saves and were stunned. Ami jumped out of the bath and attacked with Tae Kwon Do, killing one of the stunned Ronin. Everyone else ran to grab a weapon that round. All my guys got to do nothing.

Next round, I win initiative and my Leader type is unstunned- he charges the highest status Samurai, Karasu, hitting him with his Katana, but barely scratching him. The party goes, Ami kills another Ronin with Tae Kwon Do. Masaru kills a Ronin with his Wakizashi (we assumed that Samurai would have kept their Wakizashi nearby even if they politely left their Katana near the entrance). Karasu attacks the leader and wounds him slightly in return for the wound he received. Aiko attacks a Ronin with her Naginata (we assumed that a Kensei would be OCD enough about their weapon to never really leave it behind)but misses. Misaki throws a stone slightly wounding a Ronin. Katsuo then kills him with a dart. Natsumi returns and attacks a Ronin with her Tetsubo, killing him.

Round three, things are looking grim for the party of fully armed men that attacked a party of naked bathers. The Ronin win initiative again. The leader is fully engaged and surrounded, the hireling is near the exit with just Natsumi near him, he turns to flee, I give her a free shot, but she misses. The leader Attacks Karasu again hitting him pretty hard this time, then the party got to go and it was all over for him. They were left with the mystery of why this obviously upper class Samurai had removed all signs of his clan and hired scruffy Ronin to kill them, which they began to pursue, but we had to call it a night. They haven't looked at all of the clues I gave them though, there is a pretty big one that they kept as treasure...

I'd love to give more details, but I know at least three of the players are at least casual readers of this blog. I was also pleased that we played with out miniatures this time, it was a small encounter, and it was easy to visualize because Lee pulled up a Google image of the inside of a Korean bathhouse. I have lots of minis and we won't always be playing without them, but it is nice to know that the game can still be played that way.

Oh, and this came in the mail today-

This is purely a D20/3e OA game supplement, that just happens to be set in the L5R RPG world, that said, it is actually more useful to me right now than all of the other L5R RPG stuff I have been grabbing off of EBay because I could convert the spells for use with 1st edition AD&D probably. This is most likely the last L5R book I'll be buying for a while (unless I see a REALLY sweet deal) because they are no longer relevant to the game I am running and I have enough that I can mine for ideas already.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Quickie Update 10 OCT 2011

We did generate characters and begin play in my new OA campaign on Sunday. It did not end in a TPK! I spent most of today helping my dad build his garage, I'll give a more detailed report, hopefully, tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Art Again

Pictured- Totally my wife's work, and I used it without her permission or knowledge, I expect I may get quite some talking to, and perhaps the poke-eye.

Since my blogger skills have improved and I have a wider readership, I thought I'd show off my wife Mona's art again; this time with an actual piece of her art and a clickable link that will take you to her deviant art gallery. This is just a small sampling of her work, she is a classically trained and educated artist. She majored in Illustration at the Columbus College of Art and Design. I keep bugging her to scan more of her surviving work and upload it to the internet, but she always seems to have other things to do. Much of her older work either belongs to other people or was destroyed in a flood we had several years ago when it was in storage. She does work on commission and can work in a variety of illustrative styles, she also paints.

Mail Call 08 OCT 2011

Just the stuff I got in the mail today- A good Clan War day, courtesy of EBay.

This is cool because it's still shrink wrapped and I didn't have to pay a ton of money for it, I actually haven't opened it yet, but I will. I actually got this for less than the MSRP including the shipping, which is funny to me since I recently ranted about intact shrink wrap vastly inflating the price of Clan War miniatures.

This was just too good a deal to pass on, I always need more bases anyway. These are "Large Infantry Bases", 9 sealed blister packs of them, I think I got them for like five bucks and change plus shipping.

Miyama Province Guide

Image unrelated, except in that it amuses me that apparently WotC has decided that October is going to be Kara-Tur month too. So this is the cover of this month's Dragon "Magazine", used entirely without their permission, but I assume they'll like the free advertising.

This is what I sent my player's yesterday, again most of it comes from module OA1: Swords of the Daimyo by David "Zeb" Cook and a lot of it was already typed up by Fabian from Bladesharp on his OA website Adventures in Kozakura, I just edited it for my campaign and reformatted it a little. I actually kind of wish, just a little, that I was waiting to start my new game until Fabian was done converting all of the Oriental Adventures classes to Labyrinth Lord, but just a little. Thanks for all your help Fabian!


Given the stunning failure of last years participants in my AD&D OA campaign to put an end to the Black Temple's shenanigans, I have created an alternate beginning timeline for the new campaign that includes the last aborted TPK ridden Oriental Adventures sessions. Instead of being stopped before they grew too powerful, the Black Temple grew to be a threat to the entire empire of Kozakura and a huge force of allied good aligned Samurai, Sohei, Shukenja and Wu Jen were forced to gather to put an end to the threat. This allied army battled the Evil army of the Black Temple and it's hordes of undead, humanoid and other planar minions and defeated them in an epic battle forcing them back to the Black Temple itself where they were sealed inside by mighty magical wards, wards that seem to be weakening now...

Now onto the nitty gritty stuff that everyone who lives in or around Miyama would know; I give you all "The Native's Guide to Miyama Province"; enjoy.


In Miyama, as in all of Kozakura, there are two principal religions—the Way of Enlightenment, and the Eight Million Gods. The Way of Enlightenment is divided into several schools while the Eight Million Gods is split into many separate shrines. While different schools (or shrines) may hold essentially similar beliefs, the exact methods of worship, deities, and outward manifestations may be radically different.

Within each school or shrine, there are two groups of worshipers. The first group is more or less devoted to that particular school or shrine. This includes the Priests, Monks, Shukenja, Sohei, and devout worshipers of the group. These people do not entertain or practice the beliefs of other schools or shrines. The second group of worshipers, those who practice the rituals of more than one school or shrine, are far more common. This group includes the majority of the common people. They make offerings to one or more of the Eight Million Gods at planting time, pray for their departed according to the rituals of the Way of Enlightenment, and make donations and offerings to temples of both religions.

Korobokuru deities are all animal spirits. Many of their heroes have been elevated to half-animalistic demi-gods.

Miyama Province- Geography & Politics-

Miyama Province is located in the very center of Kozakura. It is the strategic key to controlling Shinkoku (the main island) and Kozakura as a whole. The province is divided into two main sections—the Northern Plain and the Southern Plain. Running through the middle of the province are the wooded peaks and ridges of the Kurisammyaku (Chestnut Mountains). Twisting through the hills and mountains, fast-rushing streams have cut narrow valleys. Most of these valleys are choked with the forests that carpet the mountain slopes. Some slopes have been cleared for farming.
Like the imperial government, the government of Miyama is a confusing, factional affair. The power struggles at the top between the shikken, shogun, and imperial line are reflected in the official posts and appointments made in Miyama. Each faction has some representative within the province. The top two positions in Miyama are the shugo-daimyo and the kokushu, or provincial governor. The shugo-daimyo is appointed to the province by the shogunal authorities. The kokushu is the imperial representative. Each of these has a number of minor officials under him. In addition, there are the samurai jito of the many estates (shoen) found throughout the province

The Social Order-

The Niwa FamilyAs noted before, the Niwa hold most of the land, the position of shugo-daimyo, and several of the shugodai posts. In addition, a number of the lesser family members hold jito positions on the largest shoen in Miyama. The Niwa family is the most powerfulin Miyama. Its efforts are aimed at retaining that power and perhaps some day conquering their neighbors.

The Hori FamilyThe Hori are a branch of the Niwa family, founded 32 years ago. The Hori hold posts of shugodai and shugo-matadai within Miyama. They control Hori Castle on the Northern Plain. They have less property than the Niwa, but act as jito on many Niwa shoen. Today, all members of the Hori family are distantly related to the Niwa. Thus the Hori are part of the Niwa family council, advising on major family decisions. The fate of the Hori is closely connected to that of the Niwa. The Hori hope to someday acquire control of the Niwa family, either through marriage or might of arms.

The Igi Family
As mokudai, the Igi have managed to gain control over several shoen of public (imperial) land. The Igi have been especially lax in making the payments to the emperor and the distant nobles who hold manager and protector rights. Although these nobles have filed many complaints with the shogun, little action has been taken. The Igi make certain the shogun and the shugo-dai both receive their proper payments, perhaps ensuring their neutrality in the matter of property rights.
The Igi are working hard to convert public land into private shoen, installing their own zussho wherever possible.

The Tsu Family
Once a powerful court family, the Tsu now retain only a limited presence in Miyama. Although they hold the title of kokushu, the Tsu have left most affairs in the hands of the Igi. Once they were
greater and more powerful than the Igi; now the situation is reversed. The Tsu are now considered an ally family of the Igi. They have only a few possessions in Miyama and these are carefully controlled by the Igi.

The Samurai Families
In addition to the four principal families listed above, there are a number of smaller samurai households. Most of these are retainers of one of the four listed above. They are either unrelated to the main family or only very distantly related. Those in the service of one of the main families are listed below.

Niwa-Matsue, Ishii, Naoki, Kishimoto, Sato, Mushakoji, Nogami, Watanabe
Hori- Daidoji, Kadokawa, Fukuda, Ooka, Kuroda, Maeda
Igi- Inoue, Ebisawa, Koda, Nogami
Tsu- Kato, Sakai, Ikeda

The above taken from OA1:Swords of the Daimyo by David "Zeb" Cook (copyright 1986 TSR) used without permission.

Names & Language-

Most characters should all choose as much as possible real world Japanese names; I shall do my best to ensure that NPCs are likewise named. I have printed out a list of Japanese names and their meanings for you to choose from. The 3rd edition D&D Oriental Adventures book has a list of Korobokuru names that should do nicely for them, and I have several lists for Barbarian names available as well. Spirit Folk and Hengeyokai have Human names. Where I use vocabulary and real world descriptive names from Japanese for things, please forgive any inaccuracies in precise usage, as I do not actually speak Japanese and ascribe it to Kara-Tur being a fantasy world!

Available Starting Languages-

Kozakuran (all characters receive this for free instead of Common)
Wa-an (characters can understand this language with about 65% comprehension)
Kao te Shou (spoken in the empire of Shou Lung)
Korobokuru (free to Korobokuru)
Trade Tongue (mostly used by merchants and sailors)
Han (ancient root language of Koryo, Wa-an, and Kozakuran - used by scholars)
T'u Lung (similar to Kao te Shou, but dialects are very different - spoken in the empire of T'u Lung)

Barbarians will also start with the language of their tribe for free.

All of this being said, in my opinion most characters should actually save the proficiency slots, most Kozakurans never learn a second language unless they are scholars or merchants.

Friday, October 7, 2011

OSR Generosity

Jim Pacek of Carjacked Seraphim and Wilderness Alphabet fame saw my missing module T1: The Village of Hommlet dilemma and sent me a copy out of the kindness of his heart. I had been offering an exchange to anyone out there, one of my copies of S1: The Tomb of Horrors for a copy of T1, just to make my conversion to OA easier. He sent it no trade necessary, so now I'll pay it forward- A used but playable copy of S1 for the first person that needs it.

This was probably the coolest mail call I'll ever get, just because it was something real from someone that reads my blog.

I almost hesitate to mention that I also got this item in the mail today-

This is another Clan War scenario book. I got it cheap on Ebay, I pretty much have all the stuff published for that game now, both editions of it. This one was a WotC logo on the back, I never noticed that before on any of them, so that'll make me have to check them all.

Anyway, thanks again Jim. You are an OSR hero.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Welcome to Kara-Tur

This is what I posted to my players today-

Kara-Tur is the assumed setting for the original AD&D Oriental Adventures campaign, in much the same way that Greyhawk is the assumed setting for 1st edition AD&D; it is a fantasy Asia. The politics at TSR when OA was published divorced it from the World of Greyhawk, since E. Gary Gygax was on his way out; eventually they grafted it on to the Forgotten Realms, but in it's originally presented form it's just an exotic fantasy east Asian continent. Presented in the OA book they name only four main empires- Shou Lung and T'u Lung (both analogues to different periods of Chinese history, although I couldn't tell you what periods because I am not all that well versed in Chinese history), Wa (modeled after Tokugawa era Japan) and Kozakura (modeled on Sengoku era Japan); and mention only a handful of other locations in passing. There is no map.

Kozakura, where our campaign is set, is modeled on Japan during the Sengoku Jidai period (Roughly, the last chaotic century of the Ashikaga Shogunate, before the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate; a period of nearly constant civil war, actually a pretty great time for adventure, most Japanese themed RPGs are set during this time period). I actually have the Forgotten Realms Kara-Tur boxed set though, so we can add in all of the other places that are detailed there too for future adventuring, from fantasy Korea (Koryo) to fantasy Tibet (Tabot) to fantasy Mongolia (the Hordelands and the Plain of Horses), you can see that, as was the case with many late 1980's TSR products they didn't spend a lot of time trying to come up with original names, they mostly just changed the vowels added them to the map and were good to go.

Anyway, here is the Native's guide to Kozakura:


Or the "Little Cherry Blossom," is far from a unified state. For several centuries it has been the scene of incessant warfare between powerful Daimyo, all struggling to gain the title of Shogun. The island is divided into fiefs and estates, ruled by the Daimyo. It is a very turbulent place - one where fortunes and might can be achieved by even those with the most humble of origins. As such it is the perfect place for an adventurer seeking fame and fortune.

Kozakura lacks the rigid social structure and laws of its culturally similar neighbor, Wa, and more than once a peasant has risen to become a powerful lord through military skill.

There are two main religions in this country: The Way of Enlightenment (analogous to Buddhism), and the Eight Million Gods (analogous to Shinto). There are many schools, temples and shrines in each. Most Monks come from the powerful temples of the Way, as do Sohei (but by no means all). The Daimyo realize the spiritual and martial strength of these bodies of holy warriors, and do their best to keep on the right side of them.

The majority of the populace are human and dwell upon the 3 great plains of the main island of Shinkoku. Korobokuru and Hengeyokai live in remote valleys, safely away from intruders. Spirit Folk are all the offspring of unions between nature spirits and humans, and thus are from areas of remote natural beauty.


No one knows when the first humans arrived in the islands of Kozakura. The Korobokuru, who had inhabited the islands for ages, keep no written records. Their oral tales are filled with stories of
their heroes battling foreign chiefs and gaining wondrous and rare gifts. The Korobokuru themselves maintain that the humans came from over the sea. Humans have no recorded history of this migration.

According to the chronicles of various temples and monasteries, the islands of Kozakura were the creations of one or more gods, of which Shinkoku was first. There is no agreement on which gods
were responsible, but a general consensus maintains that it was Izanagi "Heavenly Brother" and "Izanami" Heavenly Sister. The Korobokuru believe the world (and thus the islands of Kozakura) were created by one of the Animal Spirits—possibly the Bear God or the Eagle Goddess. All agree that Shinkoku has been the home of the gods for untold millennia.

Gradually, the other islands came into being. Tenmei was created when Heavenly Sister was banished from Shinkoku by Fierce Wind Son. Hinomoto was created when Heavenly Brother declared his retirement and Mikedono was created accidentally in the war between Fire Bright and Fierce Wind Son.

The Korobokuru were the first settlers of the islands and their stories tell how the islands were given to Poinpeyuan, a great hero of their race, as a gift from the gods. The Korobokuru could keep the islands so long as they paid proper reverence to the gods and obeyed special taboos. Later stories tell how the Korobokuru people broke these taboos and the humans came to take the islands away. Recorded human history begins with the accounts of several powerful family tribes. Each tribe controlled a small portion of Shinkoku and constantly struggled with the other tribes and the Korobokuru for more territory. Then, the Akimatsu tribe presented the claim that its tribal chief, Mori, had been chosen by the gods to lead all the peoples of Shinkoku. Several miraculous events occurred that helped substantiate his title as emperor.

This is the "Legendary" history of Kozakura, taken largely from the module OA1: Swords of the Daimyo by David "Zeb" Cook published by TSR in 1986; slightly edited for content and space. Much of this was typed up and I just copy/pasted it from Fabian's OA website- Adventures in Kara-Tur. I altered some of it to suit my campaign and edited it for US English, but other than that the "Guide" is Fabian's & Zeb's work.

Rules stuff-

Most Characters are of Lawful Alignment, some classes are REQUIRED to be lawfully aligned, perversely, some are required to NOT be.

There is no common tongue in OA, the Human language in Kozakura is Kozakuran. I actually like that not all people speak the same language in this version of D&D. There is a "Trade" language though that can be used to get your point across in most international ports or major cities; I suggest that if the campaign ever starts to travel at least one player pick it up.

The OA rules had not differentiated yet between number of proficiency slots given for weapon/non-weapon. I am working on splitting them apart as you read this so that OA characters don't get stupidly high numbers of proficiencies to waste on weapons at the expense of other skills or vice versa.

Now- Here's what I got in the mail today!

Another bunch of Clan War miniatures, but at least I have real purpose behind owning them now. I tried to convince my wife that I bought them for her, in an effort to get her to paint them before Sunday, but that didn't go well. I wish my painting skills were as good as hers. She is temperamental.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1st edition AD&D OA Primer

Here is a quick primer I wrote today for my players. We are up to 9 players now, all of them have D&D experience, most of them have AD&D experience some of them have little to no experience with the baroque glory that is 1st edition AD&D Oriental Adventures, so I wrote this to try and bring them up to speed before we start on Sunday. Let me know if you all think there is anything I should add. I'll be writing a second "setting" document for them too, an introduction to Kara-Tur and Kozakura in particular with an emphasis on Miyama province. The "What everyone who lives here would know" document.

Pictured- Kiku's famous Kappa roast.

Since it is still a D&D game though, the elements are going to be familiar to everyone that has played any D&D at all. The classes are largely the same with the names changed and some different special abilities. There are different "Oriental" demi-human races, each with their own abilities and class restrictions.
There is a different monetary system added entirely for flavor and a couple of bolted on sub-systems that add to the pseudo-Asian setting too: Honor & Family. Some classes track one or the other, most track both or can do so optionally. Oh, yes, and Ki too. All classes get a Ki power associated with them that is usually usable once/day and gets better as you level up with more use/day or alternative/better uses.
Fighter Types:
Samurai are the high prestige fighter class in the game, think Paladin, but with "Bushido" instead of "Lawful Good" as their ethical code. They are also the only class that can specialize in 2 weapons (Katana & Daikyu), in fact they are required to, but I am considering house-ruling that away. They have, in my experience, tended to be the core of OA parties and their leaders.
Kensei are weapon masters. They pick a single weapon and master it's use. They get a bunch of cool abilities as they level up for their devotion, but they suffer a few drawbacks too.
Bushi are essentially straight fighters. They get a few "Hero of the common man" benefits over time and have the best end game for fighter types, since they are the ones that get to become Daimyo, but get kind of screwed over mostly in the setting's assumed caste system in favor of the Samurai until then.
Barbarians are always outsiders to the system and don't track honor, other than that they are some pretty hard core bad-asses. They have their own sub-set of skills (non-weapon proficiencies, which were introduced to AD&D in the OA book) and essentially have 3 sub-types, Steppe, Forest or Jungle. I think Steppe has the best set of advantages and Jungle the worst, but your mileage may vary. They are also the physically toughest fighters in the game using a d12 for hit points.
Cleric Types:
Shukenja are priests first and foremost, they deal with the spirit realm and get lots of bonuses for fighting against spirits and helping people. They get penalized for harming people or other living things. They are physically weaker than standard AD&D Clerics and only get a D6 for hit points and they don't have great weapon or armor selection, however they are the only Cleric types to get spells at first level.
Sohei are like warrior monks, pretty much exactly the same as Original edition D&D clerics, they are basically fighters until they reach second level and start to get some god mojo going for them. Good selection of weapons and armor, make for good divine casters and fighters as they level up, but are essentially back up fighters at first level.
Monks I hesitate to put in the Cleric section since they aren't spell casters, but they are religious devotees, so I'll put them here. They get a somewhat more complex martial arts system in OA than they had in AD&D, but are still mostly just Kung-Fu Shao-Lin style Monks. They still get all the cool mystical stuff going for them as they level up, they are still hard to qualify for as a class and weak as hell at low level.
Magic-User Types:
Wu Jen is it. They are tougher than standard AD&D Magic-Users and get a better selection of weapons at the cost of some roleplaying penalties and harder stat based admission into the class. They have a pretty cool spell list though, it's all based on elemental magic.
Thief Types:
Yakuza is it. They are pretty much just standard AD&D Thieves with some additional abilities (mostly revolving around information gathering).
Special Class Types:
Ninja. You knew they had to be here somewhere. They are an odd split-class thing that you add to another class (Bushi, Wu Jen or Yakuza) and track their experience and level completely differently and separately from the primary class. I don't really like the way they were presented or anything and I recently tracked down and purchased a copy, but have not yet read, the Complete Ninja's Handbook from 2nd edition AD&D; I may scrap this split-class abomination altogether and use that if I like it, or I may just write up something of my own to replace it if someone HAS to play a Ninja. This has never actually happened in my experience because OA parties get too much benefit from having Samurai in them and the setting makes Samurai and Ninja mutually exclusive within a party.
Oriental Adventures Races-
Korobokuru- OA Dwarves. They live in the woods and on snowy mountains and in jungles and other places where humans don't like to live in tiny primitive villages. They are less advanced than humans technologically. They are hairy and bow-legged and the men have sparse beards, other than the cosmetic and tech level differences they have pretty much the same advantages as Dwarves in AD&D with the exception of the underground/stoneworking stuff.
Spirit Folk- It would be easy to call the Spirit Folk OA Elves, but they aren't really. They have a similar appearance, but are attached to certain natural features depending on their type and they have special powers associated with their type too. There are three types of Spirit Folk- Bamboo, who are attached to a specific grove of bamboo kind of like a Dryad and her tree, except that they can actually leave the area; River, who are attached to a specific river and Sea, the most common type, who are attached to the ocean.  Each type of Spirit Folk has special powers associated with the type of spirit they are and special penalties too. Choose carefully.
Hengeyokai- Hengeyokai are intelligent animals that can shapeshift into human form, there are lots of different types, each animal has it's advantages and disadvantages. Hengeyokai can speak with animals of their own type when in animal form. Hengeyokai have alignment restrictions based on type. I know one of Mona's favorite D&D characters of all time was a cat Hengeyokai named Kiku.