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.
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.
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.
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.
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.