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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!


  1. Cool. I've got a samurai/ninja modification of my Flying Swordsmen RPG rolling around in my head right now.

    BTW, Japanese for Thief = Dorobo

  2. Thanks for the Japanese translation, much appreciated! I will certainly alter the class name to match. I am actually considering dropping the monk completely too, it's more in the Shaolin tradition than any Japanese monastic type. I am also considering the Yamabushi.

  3. You're welcome. I'm looking forward to see what comes of this idea of yours.