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 🙂
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 🙂