Oriental Adventures the one that got away

I remember getting this purple tome when it came out with great glee. For you see the martial artists of Japan had exploded across my teenage brain, with an invasion of Japanese films and TV (Monkey & Water Margin stand out, ironically both Chinese in origin) and me taking part in a Shotokan Karate class at the time.  The idea of Fantasy FRP with Oriental elements had been firmly thrust into my mind by the fantastic Talisman of Death Fighting Fantasy game book. Upon reading I was excited but some what befuddled at the same time. The non-weapons proficiency system (a skill system by another name) was a cool concept, “Now my fighter can do other things!”, but a bit of a let down when those things were paper making and arrow fletching 🙁  The classes were cool though; a bizarre assortment of warrior-monks, religious soldiers, Buddhist priests, sorcerers, sword specialists, Yakuza as well as the familiar (and expected) Samurai and Ninja. But they were firmly rooted in the design philosophy of Unearthed Arcana, in fact the Barbarian class given a oriental coat of paint appears in OA, which in my opinion was over powered and illogical (I feel a post entitled “How Unearthed Arcana broke my game”brewing). There is a whole raft of new races, based mainly on the idea of animal spirits taking human form, which desperately could have done with some illustration as a frame of reference. This is a problem with the whole book. I know the old AD&D 1st ed books aren’t exactly overflowing with art, but I can easily someone being tight with the budget on this one. It feels like there is only 5 bits of art in the whole book. A complete let down when there are so many unfamiliar elements in the setting.  However the text is golden and doesn’t feel like a wall. Instead its a like a gate to a whole new world. As well as the new classes, and a host of tweaked and new spells, there’s a raft of new rules that emphases that we are no longer in Oerth any more. My favourites are the Family/Clan generator, the Honour system and the Events generator. The first two systems gives some real reason for the players to roleplay their characters and the latter system really lends itself to improvisational/sandbox play, since it gives meaningful Yearly/Monthly and Daily events to inflict upon the players. I had a grand time playing with it solo to create mini-time lines for Campaigns that I never run. Why? Well this is were the gorgeousness of OA fell down. It was a hard sell to 15 year old players who were obsessed with the get rich quick/powergaming ethos of 15 year old D&D (another subject I should post “Why its ok to play D&D now, we’re not 15 anymore”). The sheer alien detail was enough to shake them When I explained the new subsystem of Honour, they worked out that their characters would be having to commit sepeku very quickly ( the fate of characters who are reduced to 0 Hon through a series of dishonourable behaviour ) due to their ‘naughty’ style of play ( combination of shoot first ask questions later, and steal it if it isn’t nailed down ) and vetoed the idea.

I held out for another release, the box set of the offical TSR setting Kara-Tur.

The first book of this had the Chinese influenced land of Shou-Lung which introduced to me the excitement of Chinese Kung Fu and mythology, which appeals more to me than the Land of the Rising Sun.  My pedantic teenage mind then nailed the final nail in the coffin that was actually playing the game, because I realised as much as wanted to run a game in Shou Lung I didn’t want to do it with the so obviously Japanese character classes. Doh!

However this was one of the lead ins to me reading Journey to the West (aka Monkey) and finally writing my rpg Monkey 🙂

More information

Shameless plug
If you have ever been curious about Monkey: The Storytelling Game of the Journey to the West, its part of the current Bundle of Holding, which contains a fine selection of Asian themed RPGs at a low pay what you want price 🙂

Back this Kickstarter: AD&D sheets just like they used to make them.

Based off the sheets Games Workshop made in the late 70s that where still knocking about in Toy shops like Beatties, when the young Newt picked up on D&D in the 80s. In fact the creator, Peter Regan, comes from Leicester which is just down the road from Loughborough were I was when I bought my first batches of D&D stuff. Small world eh 😉

I actually got a couple when I rebought Ad&D 1st edition, but I’m down to get a pad or two 😉

One caveat ignore the bleepy music (apparently its a tie in to Computer Games of the era), substitute it in your mind for some Sabbath or Judas Preist \m/

Thanks to Gordon Richards for pointing this out 🙂

Appendix \m/

As much as Crypts & Things rooted in the dark D&D gaming of my 80s teenage years, it is inevitable that some of the music I was into at the time spills like warm blood into the work….

Celtic Frost “Circle of the Tyrants”

Motorhead “Iron Fist”

Venom “Welcome to Hell”

Kreator “Pleasure to Kill”

and of course…

Slayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyerr!

This is my Swords & Sorcery RPG!

I’ve spent alot of time recently reading the old school renaissance blogsphere and seeing the explosion of Sword and Sorcery/Weird stories/Barbarians vs Evil Sorcerers/Lovecraft meets D&D/”What ever the heck you want to call it” that is currently going on. Its all fun stuff, but I still find the Sword & Sorcery genre confusing at times, because when I was a lad it was either Tolkien (and inspired rip offs) or later on Micheal Moorcock and his Eternal Champion books (Elric/Corum/Hawkmoon/Oswald Bastable etc).  Like wise our D&D games were more Tolkien inspired with a large dollop of pseudo-medievalism, rather than Conan and company.   That was until Games Workshop put out their printing of Chaosium’s Stormbringer RPG.

Stormbringer 3rd Edition (Games Workshop Printing) cover

If I remember correctly I encountered the novel of the same name first. It was my late teens, angst was firmly taking hold and I was tiring of Books/Films/Comics where the good guys were the focus of the story, I wanted a book/film where the hero was a villain or at least various shades of grey. In film I quickly encountered the “Man with No Name” Leone/Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. In book form this desire took shape and was fully fulfilled in Stormbringer. The main character, Elric, was a bad guy, the last Emperor of an Evil Empire of weird sociopathic sub-humans. Everybody else he meet was either equally villainous, or Good and  dead in short time. There was buckets of blood and sex, and by the end of the book everyone was dead and the world was destroyed. I loved it (and still do secretly).

The Games Workshop edition of Stormbringer, often called 3rd Edition, was a fab book. It is a fantastic example of a one-book rpg, where truly all you need is within its pages. It had copious and relevant art, and as well as the core-rules it contained the Companion which brought the adventure count up to 7 (including a solo adventure!). It was powered by the Basic Roleplaying System, a variant more deadly and straight forward than RuneQuest. Major highlights for me was a character generation system were your nation (most Stormbringer characters were Humans or sub-human species) mattered and gave you firm identity both in narrative and rules terms, the sharp and deadly combat system (which was a firm influence on the world of pain that is OpenQuest’s Combat system) and the magic system – which was available only to the a select number of depraved sorcerers and was a highly flexible system of summoning demons.

The Demon Magic system allows Sorcerers to summon and bind into their service Demons of Protection (armour), Weapons,  Assassin/Bodyguards, Knowledge and Transport (either teleportation or more traditional beast of burden). Combined with the elemental pacts system its vastly over powered and breathlessly deadly. To my 16 year self whose highest D&D level was 5th it was a real eye opener.

Kinda in keeping with the novel’s premise (which Moorcock deliberately made the mirror image of Conan), but also because the munchkin players will want to be either a Sorcerer or a Warrior (who is being provided with armour/weapons by the sorcerer), the players  are definitely not the “Good Guys”. At best they are “Man with No Name” style anti-heroes at worst they are one step away from the deepest parts of Hell. Which is probably why I’ve not played it as much as I should have done over the years; it requires a great sense of maturity from its co-players. Without it descends into a parody of itself, where rules lawyers exploit the ambiguities of the rules and some decidedly unpleasant sides of your fellow gamer comes out in the roleplaying

Its a game that you would have to prise out of my cold dead hands, except it notoriously falls apart , the pages being the prime offender here. I’m currently borrowing my mate John Ossoway’s copy, mine long disintegrated into nothing 😉