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 🙂

Fiendish Friday: Zarth Wars!

A small idea for a Convention game next year at the Seven Hills Convention (in Sheffield weekend after Easter weekend) which has a Sci-Fi RPG gaming theme. Here’s how I blend Planetary Romance, Spell Jammer with the magnificent evil that is Crypts and Things:

Few of those who crawl in the dust of ancient empires that litters the dying World of Zarth even suspect of the mayhem that rages in the skies above their heads. Of the wars fought between the evil Uzil and the insane Yikirk. The clashes between the Space Gypsy Skyships and the foul luminous floating discs of Olz. The insane gravity of the Topaz moon or the ominous silence of the Dark Star.
But the Grand Astronomer of the Crystal Moon summons you the appointed heroes from your Zarth bound life, to rise up into space to rescue the Princess Zarisula from the clutches of the Fiend who would be Emperor of known space.

So grab your flame lance, don your crystal armour, prime your needle gun and set sail on Rocket Ship Zargaz to the Obos, the moon of Infinite Doom!

Planetary Romance meets Swords & Sorcery using the OSR D&D rules of Crypts of Things.

Crucible of Dragons – An OpenQuest/D100 Sandbox setting

Bit of shameless self-promotion here about the upcoming “Crucible of Dragons” setting/adventure book (or “A Manual of Exploration of the Island of Pherae” as I’m calling it). If I don’t do it no one else will (OQ2 reviews anyone 😉 ) and its a product that I’m damn excited about getting finished and out to the gaming masses.

“Sandbox” gaming is a hip term in Old School Renaissance circles, almost a holy grail in fact. Amongst D100/RQ fans you mention the term and I will guarantee they will shoot back “Griffin Mountain“. This is the classic RuneQuest2 setting were you wandered around a bleak wilderness inhabited by stone age hunters, dinosaurs and chaos monsters and took your rest in one of three citadels riddled with intrigue. I’ve played it briefly in its Games Workshop published hardcover of the watered down Avalon Hill version which was moved to an island called “Griffin Island”, and as a 40+ player freeform at Tentacles 2006  written and run by Simon Bray (one of the Co-authors of HBD). Its on my list of things to run again before I die. Its a classic go check out its Moon Design reprint.

Now Crucible of Dragons, pulls from the creative well that is Griffin Mtn but brings its own take.

The basic concept of the book is “Fantasy Pseudo-Hellenic Greeks on a monster infested island” or if you are more culture hip “Clark Ashton Smith meets Ray Harryhausen” 🙂

Its incredibly detailed and rich setting. It has a full Gazetteer, a complete city guide, details both VIP and everyday NPCs, sixteen new cults, ten organisations/factions.  The game’s page on D101games.com gives a run down of all the content.

One of the things that really impressed me when the first draft hit my inbox, its not your typical “Elves n Orcs” fantasy. In fact there isn’t an Elf or Orc on the island. Dwarfs are there , for secret reasons I won’t go into here, but are re-skinned to a large degree to fit in with the culture and habitat of the island.

A race of evil reptilians know as the Dracorians fill the niche of orcs/goblins in a fearsome manner. Simon Bray has done a fine job here creating a truly nasty group of monsters.

Demons are also common in the Ancient and deserted ruins of civilisations prior to the current one. If you are looking for a comprehensive set of rules for demon creation for OpenQuest, Here be Dragons has them.

The humans on the island definitely have a culture that is loosely based on Hellenic Greek, but they are ruled by a great Dragon called “Flames of Purity”. You see the island’s creation myth has it being created from the skull of the Great World Dragon and Flames of Purity is its daughter, and after she defeated the Iron Colossus of the previous rulers of the capital city of Draxa (as depicted on the cover, see below) no one is arguing with her 😉

Its scalable and there’s enough going on to occupy Dirtcrawling starting characters looking for a gold piece or two, intrigue for wannabe movers and shakers and enough BIG challenges such as removing Flames of Purity from her throne to occupy characters who have grown to Epic status. A good 40 pages of the book is dedicated to full set piece adventures, detailed adventure locations and a campaign outline. This is the final piece of the puzzle that introduces new players and Games Masters to the setting and gets you up and running with the island as a Sandbox. Far too many supplements that say they are Sandbox, miss out this bit, and leave you scratching your head looking for an obvious starting point.

Overall its Densely packed book full of MGF (MEGA GAMING FUN!) that will give you years of enjoyment. If I had unlimited time and resources I’d do it as a big boxed game. Instead the authors have done a dam fine job of keeping the book within a manageable 140-150 page limit that I set them.

Its in it final stages of layout and I’m looking year end/beginning of Jan to get this one released.

Here’s Jon Hodgson’s fine cover if your imagination isn’t already flowing on this one:

Crucible of Dragons cover by Jon Hodgson

Crucible of Dragons cover by Jon Hodgson