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Monday, December 31, 2012

Samurai, Shugenja & Sohei

I have been working on a total rebuild of AD&D's Oriental Adventures book for a while now, just to fix the parts I thought were broken. I play-tested the rebuilt classes for the first time with my regular group recently.

First, a little background: my goal was to make the game more compatible with “classic” 1st edition AD&D, and that as I played it back in the day and still play it; which is to say with a lot more OD&D via Holmes Basic and a healthy dose of Moldvay/Cook B/X. I have also spent the better part of a decade tracking down other Asian inspired RPGs and reading through them to see what the best bits were, mining for inspiration you might say. The best were Bushido, Sengoku and Legend of the Five Rings (which already has a D&D conversion, albeit 3e). Clearly then, my OA project (which I should give at least a working title) is mostly inspired by Japan; I have, in fact, removed non-Japanese elements from the game where I found them.

Second, some of the character class design concepts were still in fluctuation in my head right up until the players started rolling up ability scores. I knew I wanted the characters in my OA game to be able to fit into anybody's standard AD&D game and NOT be over-powered compared to their occidental cousins. Ki powers are gone from every class. I also ditched all non-weapon proficiencies; my thinking on that was that any character should pretty much know how to do the stuff that makes sense for his Character Class, Birth Rank and background, failing that a player should be able to come up with a plausible reason why their character might know how to do something with the DM using his judgment as to what constitutes plausible.

On to the Character Classes-

What's gone? The Barbarian, the Wu Jen, the Yakuza and the Ninja. The Barbarian didn't make the cut based on me deciding that I was homogenizing the rules set to Japanese. The Wu Jen mostly got the axe for the same reason, he's just a funky Magic-User named in Chinese. The elemental aspects of Asian magic were rudimentary at best. The Yakuza was just a guild Thief with some annoying and usually hard to play special abilities, they make good NPCs, lousy PCs; I replaced them with the Thief from AD&D. Thieves are universal, they don't all need to be gangster thugs in a feudal Japanese fantasy setting. I'll probably change the name if I ever learn the Japanese word for “Thief”. The Ninja I replaced with my Shinobi, which, now that I have a copy of the AD&D 2nd edition Complete Ninja Handbook is close enough to their Ninja that I want to go back in time and sue TSR.

The Bushi is pretty much a straight port over of the Fighter, I may change this up some for flavor, but no one wanted to play a straight Bushi, so it didn't come up.

The Samurai are about the power level of an AD&D Paladin, only less holy (which is to say not really at all holy) and more combat oriented. Maybe a Ranger? I made them super melee fighters by giving them the 3e feat “Cleave” as a class ability, it seemed pretty Samurai like. They also get to specialize with weapons, yes, I kept weapon specialization from OA/UA. Although now it occurs to me that I may have to create a separate Samurai Archer type class because this class is so melee oriented. Anyway, requires a STR 9 WIS 14 and one other special I'll mention later.

Kensei means “Sword-Saint” or “Sword Master”, so I am tempted to make them solely a sword based class, but discussions with my gaming buddies tell me that it probably would be even less popular a choice for players if I did. I changed their ridiculous XP advancement back down to something reasonable and toned down their powers. A lot of the class abilities require that the player role-play, or at least announce they are practicing whenever possible. While I encourage role-playing, I can't see the stiff penalties for failing to practice, using a magic weapon or using a weapon other than your chosen weapon for instance; they're already the only Fighter Sub-Class that can NOT wear armor. Nobody chose to play a Kensei though, so I guess it's still in flux until someone does. I guess an Archer Kensei would make up for the Samurai's melee focus though. Still not happy about the no armor thing, but I am listing to several arguments for and against, so I am open minded on this point.

Shugenja, this is a big one. I never really liked the Wu Jen or the original Shukenja so I basically started back-porting the 3e OA Shugenja to 1st edition AD&D, essentially making a Cleric/Wizard mix for the game. I realize this is something of a cop-out, but creating something that's pretty much what I want anyway, when it's already been done by somebody else and it works (theoretically) seems like a waste of my time. No one wanted to play one though, so it's unfinished.

Sohei got a major rework from me. I bring them more in line with OD&D or B/X Clerics only without weapon restrictions and give them the d8 Hit Die. So, pretty much an AD&D Cleric with no spell at first level and all weapons available. Waiting until 5th level for spells was BS.

The Monk also saw major reworking. I looked at various edition's versions of the Monk Class and mostly mixed and matched what powers/level I liked while dropping the over-all power level, but increasing lower level survivability. They get d8 Hit Dice and fight as Clerics and can use their Monk special attacks with martial arts weapons. No one wanted to play a Monk though, so it hasn't been tested.

Originally OA had one extra Ability Score- Comeliness, which I hated and ignored. Hidden within the game is another one though. One that I brought out and replaced the loser stat Comeliness with- Birth Rank. I changed it from a roll after you pick your Character Class, with Class based modifiers to a straight 3d6 roll. Now it's a prerequisite for becoming a Samurai (13+) and, when combined with Ancestry and Birth Right rolls can seriously affect your starting money. It will not affect any OA characters leaving their “home” setting, but it strongly affects reaction rolls. I actually don't see why this couldn't be ported over into any OSR game setting, I mean in non-AD&D you roll 3d6 for starting gold, that's pretty much the same thing- a 13+ would indicate your character was a member of the warrior aristocracy (or merchant elite) an 18 would indicate noble birth.

In the end my players chose to be a pair of Samurai, a Thief and a Sohei. I retained the Ancestry, and Family rolls from the original OA book, because they weren't broken (mostly, what is will be fixed soon) and used them to tie the player's characters together much tighter than any standard AD&D party would have been. Because of my liberal AD&D policy of rolling 4d6 arrange as you like, and the fact that the players are all veterans of at least one OA campaign, they all chose to put a decent stat score into Birth Rank, which meant I could make them all really interconnected like the aristocracy of a small province really would be. They are all related to at least one other character by either blood or marriage and one is the Daimyo's sister-in-law. OA, the only flavor of D&D where you might start off married with children.

New Years resolution- Finish this beast of a project.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Contest Update

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but I am going to add Roman Numeral dice to the top three winners. What gamer doesn't love dice? I also have a play report I am behind on, I DMed a party through a Roman themed adventure where all of the characters were members of the Praetorian Guard, but a secret elite unit that hunted supernatural threats to the empire. For fun I set it during the last year of the reign of Caligula. One of the players dubbed the game setting "Ancient Roman Ghost Busters", I can live with that, although I had both Cthulu Invictus and The Walking Dead in mind when I wrote the first adventure.

Anyway, happy holidays to all of you, whatever holidays you celebrate or just a day off from work, if that's your thing. My Saturnalia/Yule/Christmas has been exceptional this year- here are a sampling of the kick-ass miniatures and the game to go with them that I have gotten so far-

I have to say, I was skeptical of hard plastic miniatures, but Warlord has won me over and the rulebook is a work of art.

 The Fanatics groups are both metal miniature sets, and Warlord's metals have always been high quality. I look forward to a marathon painting session over the Christmas break session with the kids and my wife.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Contest Sponsor

Paul Elliot of Zozer Games has kindly offered to sponsor the contest, since the top prizes are copies of his game and, as a bonus he's going to throw in a pdf copy of the Warband supplement to 43 AD to the 1st place winner. 43 AD was nominated for best roleplaying game of 2012 at this year's UK Games Expo.

So, now I am scurrying to find some more prizes with a Roman theme to go with this, but, thus far, the contest prizes are-

1st place pdfs of 43 AD and Warband, an 8"x10" canvas print and a custom character portrait.
2nd and 3rd are the pdf of 43 AD and the custom character portrait.

I'll work on differentiating 2nd and 3rd places a bit, I still have some sponsorship irons in the fire and I'd like to see how they pan out before I commit anything from my collection to the prize haul.

EDIT- just to be helpful Richard LeBlanc of the Save Vs Dragon blog and New Big Dragon Games has already posted something to help inspire everyone for the contest here.

Roman Adventure Contest- Prize Update

A quick update for the contest.

My lovely wife Mona has graciously offered to provide commissioned character portraits for 1st-3rd place winners. Many of you are already familiar with her work, as it has been featured on my blog before and on a couple of other OSR blogs. There is also a link to her Deviantart gallery to the left. So get out there and get busy writing, for the Senate and People of Rome!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Io Saturnalia!

As I celebrate my return to regular blogging, the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia and my recent election as Plebeian Tribune in Nova Roma, I also am here to announce a new themed contest. You can probably guess the theme this time around is “The Might and Glory of Rome”. Rome offers us so much to build off of from their religion and their history for an adventure contest- Legions, Gladiators, Senatorial intrigue, Conquest, Civil Wars and interaction with other ancient cultures. Not to mention distinctive periods within Roman history, me, I am a late republic/early empire kind of a guy, but a lot of people are really into Rome at her height under her best emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.

So, I am not placing too many rules on this contest as far as content length, we've run into issues with that before; what I am looking for is a Roman themed adventure. It can be in One-Page-Dungeon format or it can be a short adventure or a giant hex-crawl; it's up to you, what you want to submit as an entry, each entry will be judged on it's own merit by my veteran panel of judges. Multiple entries are permitted, but remember- you may end up competing against yourself for the top spot! The adventure can take place in a purely historical Roman setting, or it can be a Roman themed fantasy world or something in between, like a Roman empire with magic where the Satyrs and Nymphs are real. Submitting an adventure, unless you specifically state otherwise upon submitting said adventure, is granting permission for me to publish the adventures to the web for free. All adventures should use OSR standard rule types- Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, D&D or AD&D- you know, the one's that are essentially compatible and interchangeable; plus they're the games I play and it's my contest, so I make the rules.

Oh, and just to help everyone out, inspiration-wise and what-not, a few days ago this was posted at the Land of Nod; and he thought it was a useless blog post.

Prizes, thus far, are-
-for each entry one spiffy refrigerator magnet from the Great Khan's blog, probably with a highly decorated envelope, courtesy of my lovely wife Mona.
-1st, 2nd and 3rd place will each receive a pdf copy of 43 AD, the game that I helped edit and playtest.

-1st place will receive an 8”x10” canvas print from

As always I am looking to find more sponsors for the contest, and I'll try and renegotiate my sponsorship deal with Mick Leach from Eastern Front Studios; they just had a successful Kickstarter program for some Gladiator Dwarf miniatures that was partially the inspiration for this contest.

All entries should be emailed to me at williamjdowie AT gmail DOT com and should be received before midnight on the ides of January this contest is officially opened as of NOW.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Slight Break in my OSR Blogging Hiatus

To bring you this dice related announcement-

I spotted these bad boys on Amazon and impulse ordered them, so I thought I'd share. They are slightly larger than standard D6s and I like that. My only real regrets are that I only thought to get two and I didn't shop around; they might have been cheaper on EBay.

They make Roman Numeral D10s and D12s too, so I may grab some of them. I may have a Roman themed D&D game coming up soon and I am all about the props and setting. I usually even theme the food to the setting.