log in or register to remove this ad

 

1E About the Asian contributors to Oriental Adventures, or Who even were these guys?

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Panda-s1 - I'm not positive, but you seem to be in some doubt about whether I think there are some harmful stereotypes in OA. Of course there are. Is it dated? Of course it is, the book is 35 years old. You'll get no argument from me on either count.

My judgement of the bibliography was solely based on it's date and provenance. OA came out in 85, which means it was probably being worked on, conservatively, from at least 82 or 83, although Gary Gygax alludes to a longer process in his intro. Using a resource from 1951 isn't really that odd in that context. Survey books of that sort have a longer academic shelf life than more specific works, generally speaking. I agree that a source from 1951 from our perspective in 2020 would obviously seem ripe to contain some objectionable material, but it's a perfectly reasonable source to be using to write an RPG book in 1985.

As to the authorship of the survey works, I suspect that this is a product of what was available in 1985, not any kind of selection bias towards western authors on the part of the OA design team. The skew toward Japanese material is also perfectly understandable based on the actual material in OA. which is, as you say, primarily Japanese. Hypothetically, If I were considering a reboot, I would definitely aim for just Japan of course, rather than the clumsy pastiche of OA, but that's a 2020 design decision, isn't? You start to see the two very different lenses at work here.

It's possible for OA to both contain harmful stereotypes and also be a pretty respectful and well-researched product for it's time. I don't think you need to go deep looking for objectionable material either - it's all pretty out in the open by 2020 standards. Those are two very different interpretive lenses. Judging OA as a historical artifact is one thing, while judging it as a current gaming resource by 2020 standards of acceptability is something else entirely. It's obviously the latter lens that's the current issue, but I've noticed that a lot of verbiage from non-asian commentators seems to focus on the former by way of apology. Conflating those interpretive lenses is, IMO, pretty dishonest.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Mirtek

Adventurer
Because today we expect good writing?
which doesn't require an understanding of the spawning culture. I'd rather have a beer and pretzels game based on 300 than one based on setting build with a deep respect and understanding of the Illiad and ancient greek infantry tactics.
Having a depth of understanding of a culture and its myths dramatically improves the depth of writing, because you can add the nuances a shallow understanding would miss
do those nuances lead to anything that makes the monster more interesting in during it's expected lifespan of 5 combat rounds?

And did the ancienct myth have to foresight to spell out it's interaction with the creature from a myth of that other culture from 400 years later on the other side of the World?

Because the kitchen sink setting has their habitats overlap.
 

Voadam

Hero
I don't have sourcing for it right now, but IIRC-

1. Cook had to write this on a very short time frame, all things considered. He was given a manuscript from Gygax's friend Francois Marcela-Froideval, but none of it was used.

2. Playtesting wasn't really a thing back then, and Cook was the one who advocated (and got) the play-testing/consulting by these individuals, which was on short notice given the timeframe.

Again, I'm not sure that's the gospel truth, I am going off of memory and I haven't had coffee.

From the added history context on the drivethru entry:

Disputed Origins. Gary Gygax says that he started thinking about an Asian-influenced supplement for AD&D as early as 1980, shortly after the original AD&D game (1977-1979) was completed. He first mentioned in it Dragon #90 (October 1984) when he announced that Francois Marcela-Froideval was working on rules "for including Oriental characters in the game", possibly as part of a "second volume of [the] Players Handbook".


By 1985, TSR was in severe financial straits, and so Gary Gygax suggested that a half-dozen new books be published under his name, one of which was Fracois Marcela-Froideval's Oriental Adventures. This increased the importance of the project and required it to hit its deadline; it's also where the book's history comes into some dispute.


David "Zeb" Cook was consulting on the project because of his interest in Japanese history and culture. As a result, when Marcela-Froideval turned in a manuscript for the book that was just 30-60 double-spaced pages, it landed in Cook's lap. Gygax then wrote Cook a contract to prepare the book on his own, with just 4-5 months to go on the deadline.


Everyone agrees that the resulting manuscript is 100% Cook's own, perhaps inspired by some of the ideas suggested by Gygax and in Marcela-Froideval's notes. However in much later years Gygax would claim that Cook "ramrodded" his book through TSR, with the intent to "sink Francois' material", and that he did so by taking advantage of the fact that Gygax was "engrossed in the business affairs of TSR".


Both Cook and the book's main editor, Mike Breault, disagree with this interpretation of events. Cook points toward his contract and says that Gygax was fully informed on how the book was being prepared.


Whatever the specifics, the book’s accepted origins are: Gygax came up with the idea; Marcela-Froideval wrote a manuscript that wasn’t published; and then Cook wrote a manuscript that was.


Some suggest that Gygax’s animosity toward Cook came about not because of Oriental Adventures, but instead what came afterward: reportedly, Gary Gygax asked Cook to join his new company, New Infinities, around 1986. Cook instead opted to remain at TSR where he continued to work with Gygax's arch-nemesis, Lorraine Williams, and where he eventually authored AD&D 2e (1989), which replaced Gygax's iteration of the game. It seems quite possible that this was the actual source of the dispute and might have colored the principles’ views of Oriental Adventures.


Disputed Bylines. Though Breault, Cook, and Gygax all agree that the text of Oriental Adventures was entirely written by Cook, the book was still released with the name "Gary Gygax" on the cover. This matched TSR’s trends for 1985, which also saw the release of the D&D Masters Rules (1985) and T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), each with Gygax receiving prime billing despite the fact that he probably didn't do any of the new work on either book. The intent was probably to put Gygax's name first and forefront in as many projects as it was possible, as good marketing that was intended to help save TSR from its financial hardships.


Though the cover of Oriental Adventures says "Gary Gygax", it doesn't actually say "by Gary Gygax" — a distinction that might or might not have been intentional. Greyhawk Adventures (1988) similarly lists James M. Ward's name on the cover without a "by". The inside credits of Oriental Adventures offer a more accurate depiction of how the book was created saying that "Original Oriental Adventures Concept" was by Gary Gygax with Francois Marcela-Froideval while "Oriental Adventures Design" was by David "Zeb" Cook.
 


jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
it's like really? some of the only Asian people to receive credit in an English language D&D product were just players? not even contributing any content or subject expertise, just "critiquing and improving the manuscript"?
Isn't that what a "sensitivity reader" (to use the current term) is supposed to do?
 

ChaosOS

Hero
Supporter
which doesn't require an understanding of the spawning culture. I'd rather have a beer and pretzels game based on 300 than one based on setting build with a deep respect and understanding of the Illiad and ancient greek infantry tactics.
do those nuances lead to anything that makes the monster more interesting in during it's expected lifespan of 5 combat rounds?

And did the ancienct myth have to foresight to spell out it's interaction with the creature from a myth of that other culture from 400 years later on the other side of the World?

Because the kitchen sink setting has their habitats overlap.

At this point all I can say is you and I have fundamentally incompatible views on what an RPG sourcebook should provide - if I'm paying for a sourcebook I want it to provide depth and show care for its work, not something sloppily put together made up of half baked ideas. You can do all of that while still functioning within a fantasy kitchen sink!

As a point of comparison, I have the exact same problem with how some pop culture handles greek mythology. Hades getting cast as Satan is the same issue. It's lazy writing and entirely misses the opportunity to tell new stories that are different from the same stuff you've been churning out. It's the same criticism I have of certain romance authors - they just rewrite the same story and change out a few names to call it done.
 

@Panda-s1 - I'm not positive, but you seem to be in some doubt about whether I think there are some harmful stereotypes in OA. Of course there are. Is it dated? Of course it is, the book is 35 years old. You'll get no argument from me on either count.

My judgement of the bibliography was solely based on it's date and provenance. OA came out in 85, which means it was probably being worked on, conservatively, from at least 82 or 83, although Gary Gygax alludes to a longer process in his intro. Using a resource from 1951 isn't really that odd in that context. Survey books of that sort have a longer academic shelf life than more specific works, generally speaking. I agree that a source from 1951 from our perspective in 2020 would obviously seem ripe to contain some objectionable material, but it's a perfectly reasonable source to be using to write an RPG book in 1985.

As to the authorship of the survey works, I suspect that this is a product of what was available in 1985, not any kind of selection bias towards western authors on the part of the OA design team. The skew toward Japanese material is also perfectly understandable based on the actual material in OA. which is, as you say, primarily Japanese. Hypothetically, If I were considering a reboot, I would definitely aim for just Japan of course, rather than the clumsy pastiche of OA, but that's a 2020 design decision, isn't? You start to see the two very different lenses at work here.
Also, when discussing the research that was in 1e OA, the context that this was long before the internet needs to be taken into account.

Nowadays people can jump online and find a wealth of information from around the world in moments, but in the early 1980's it's quite plausible that a researcher in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin might be a lot more limited in what he could find, and a book on the region from 1951 would be pretty plausible as what could be found in a local library at the time (recalling what it was like trying to do research as a kid pre-internet in the library of the small, rural town where I was growing up and most of the references on ANYTHING you wanted to find seemed to be 20 to 30 years old at best).

Indeed they probably felt that having at least a few actually Asian people at least consult and review on the work on some level was a nod towards making said book with input from the culture involved.

. . .and the fact that OA was written first and foremost as a gaming reference, not a detailed cultural study. It was written to provide enough information to let a gaming group run a D&D game with an East-Asian fantasy flavor. It wasn't meant to be a detailed textbook on Asian cultures or mythologies any more than Greyhawk was meant meant to be a textbook on medieval Europe or the Monster Manual was meant to be an adaptation of medieval bestiaries. For a typical gaming group whose ideas about the region (and expectations for the book) were probably drawn largely from 1970's Kung Fu films, Kurosawa's samurai movies, and the various media of the 1980's ninja craze, it would seem to be a wealth of information and sufficed quite well for its design goal.

Spending a lot more time and effort on detailed research and consultants on this book to make it a somewhat more nuanced, diverse look at the region would have probably been a lot more expensive and not done a lot for the success of the book at the time. If done, it would have ultimately just gone down as yet another example of wasteful spending at TSR in the 1980's, alongside TSR's needlepoint distributorship.

I see a LOT of this strife over 1e OA as people trying to judge a book published in 1985, that was probably written in the early 1980's, as if it was fresh off the press. If it was a brand new book, then it would be pretty weak. . .but for its time it was pretty decently researched and well liked and generally stood pretty well for quite a while.

Frankly, the part that's aged the poorest has been the name. The term "Oriental" is pretty archaic, and seems to act like a lightning-rod for complaints. I wonder how much of this controversy wouldn't even exist if the book was released under another name.
 

MGibster

Legend
Because today we expect good writing? Having a depth of understanding of a culture and its myths dramatically improves the depth of writing, because you can add the nuances a shallow understanding would miss.

Oriental Adventures was well received with Ashley Shepherd praising it for being a whole new way to play AD&D (I pulled that from the Wiki article). We expected good writing in 1985 as well, but of course standards have changed since then. Barring any problematic elements, if OA was released today we'd laugh at the font, the art, the layout, etc., etc. because the standards for production are so much greater than they were in the 80s. And you're looking for depth of understanding of other cultures and nuance? I think you have much higher expectations than most of the audience in 1985 had for their pretend elf game.



Furthermore, we still today see issues where non-western sourcebooks and adventures are written from the perspective of a tourist - just look at ToA! What people want is to feel like their voices are heard and their culture is presented as a viable option for play.

I think most of the Forgotten Realms books I have were written from the perspective of a tourist. His name was Volo.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Spending a lot more time and effort on detailed research and consultants on this book to make it a somewhat more nuanced, diverse look at the region would have probably been a lot more expensive and not done a lot for the success of the book at the time. If done, it would have ultimately just gone down as yet another example of wasteful spending at TSR in the 1980's, alongside TSR's needlepoint distributorship.

You're not wrong, but looking at the circumstances the book was written under, it was an issue of time as much as it was money. From the Oriental Adventures product history (note my use of an affiliate link here), emphasis mine:

By 1985, TSR was in severe financial straits, and so Gary Gygax suggested that a half-dozen new books be published under his name, one of which was Fracois Marcela-Froideval's Oriental Adventures. This increased the importance of the project and required it to hit its deadline; it's also where the book's history comes into some dispute.

David "Zeb" Cook was consulting on the project because of his interest in Japanese history and culture. As a result, when Marcela-Froideval turned in a manuscript for the book that was just 30-60 double-spaced pages, it landed in Cook's lap. Gygax then wrote Cook a contract to prepare the book on his own, with just 4-5 months to go on the deadline.

Now take into account what you said about the likely availability of resources, and we have a clearer picture of the constraints the book was produced under.
 

Satine Phoenix is Filipino-American. But as far as the olden days, someone said that Jim Holloway had some Asian ancestry, but haven't found any confirmation on that. There was a Sylvia Li that wrote an article in Dragon magazine #151.

It's not D&D, but Tunnels & Trolls had a fairly strong presence in Japan, with some products created there and eventually translated into English.

Addendum: I do want to ask in this separate thread: who are the other Asian contributors to D&D? are there any? it's not like there's a lack of players like me either, and I want to believe even in the early days there were at least a few Asian American players rolling up elves and fighting-men. the now much maligned Daniel Kwan is very much into RPGs, and even wrote unofficial material for 5e, and makes an actual play podcast about a 5e game, though I guess he's dropped that system (and hell I can't blame him). point being there are Asian people who are into D&D enough to write and sell their own original material. hell I remember in a thread a few weeks back someone brought up the thriving gaming scene in Malaysia and Indonesia, and this of course includes playing D&D.
 

And, by the way, just for general information (ie, I'm not directing this personally at you, Panda-s1), 5e was released in Japan about 2 years ago (PH at the end of 2017) and the other books are being translated and released (Baldur's Gate:Avernus was just released so they are close to catching up). I've never lived in a big city here and have never directly met a Japanese person who plays but somebody is buying the books.

Have they caught up with all the adventure books now? Last time I was in a game store there looking just the core 3 were out. The guy behind the counter told me that they are a steady seller but that Sword World sells a lot more books. The older Japanese gamers I talked to all said they started with AD&D (a ton of that material was translated I think) but slowly others gained popularity locally with Sword World being one. I find it amusing that Sword World does not have Japanese character classes even though the art is obviously Japanese.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Cautiously raises hand

Does writing a couple of Class Acts articles for Dragon magazine count?
bruh. I brought up the idea of Japanese players giving material to a Japanese magazine and having it translated for English release, of course that counts, put your hand down, jesus.
Just curious, but why do you think that only one of them has a name you might call "typical" in Japanese? I live in Japan and I have met/known Japanese guys with every one of these first names and surnames (not in the same combination, though, and of course I don't actually know any of the actual listed contributors themselves). My point is, they are all pretty typical Japanese names.
that's fair, maybe "common" might have been a better way of saying it. case in point, if you google Akira Saito ("Akira" being the common name here) you get a wikipedia article (ironically with no Japanese translation) that even has a disambiguation page because there was an actress with the same name. all the other names don't get that, just those databases I mentioned and pages that coincidentally happen to have both parts of their name on them.
And, by the way, just for general information (ie, I'm not directing this personally at you, Panda-s1), 5e was released in Japan about 2 years ago (PH at the end of 2017) and the other books are being translated and released (Baldur's Gate:Avernus was just released so they are close to catching up). I've never lived in a big city here and have never directly met a Japanese person who plays but somebody is buying the books.
I do have an American friend working in Japan who brought up playing D&D a few times, but it wasn't clear if she was playing the Japanese version of D&D or just playing the English version with her English speaking friends. probably the latter. I do know a lot RPGs have spawned out of Japan in the meantime, some of which look really cool and I'm sad some of them still don't have official English translations.
Also, maybe it's neither here nor there, but the company that financed my car loan is one of the biggest consumer credit companies in Japan, its official name is "Orient Corporation" based in Osaka with a Japanese CEO and all Japanese board. I'm guessing Japanese people living in Japan might possibly have no problem with the "Oriental Adventures" name.
and the company that owns Tokyo Disneyland is The Oriental Land Company. believe me, I know, a lot of people do. but you said it yourself, Japanese people in Japan don't care. most (not all) people in Japan never have to deal with some sort of systemic discrimination. more to the point, "Oriental" comes from English and unless they live and interact in a western society they might not understand how and why this term was used in the West and why we really don't use it anymore. I'd imagine there are consultants for companies who want to name something with English (despite what I'm sure is evidence to the contrary), and I'm sure they'd tell people today to steer clear of "Oriental".
Isn't that what a "sensitivity reader" (to use the current term) is supposed to do?
isn't that what an editor is supposed to do? isn't that what a script polisher supposed to do? isn't that what a playtester is supposed to do?
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
@Panda-s1 - I'm not positive, but you seem to be in some doubt about whether I think there are some harmful stereotypes in OA. Of course there are. Is it dated? Of course it is, the book is 35 years old. You'll get no argument from me on either count.

My judgement of the bibliography was solely based on it's date and provenance. OA came out in 85, which means it was probably being worked on, conservatively, from at least 82 or 83, although Gary Gygax alludes to a longer process in his intro. Using a resource from 1951 isn't really that odd in that context. Survey books of that sort have a longer academic shelf life than more specific works, generally speaking. I agree that a source from 1951 from our perspective in 2020 would obviously seem ripe to contain some objectionable material, but it's a perfectly reasonable source to be using to write an RPG book in 1985.
I hope you understand that up until relatively recently a lot of western academics had.... interesting views on Asian subjects, and if that's the viewpoint the writers were going by it could very well skew this book a certain way.

less personally I look up the book and it's from...1951. yeah I'm not exactly expecting any sort of fair or unproblematic views if I'm honest

As to the authorship of the survey works, I suspect that this is a product of what was available in 1985, not any kind of selection bias towards western authors on the part of the OA design team. The skew toward Japanese material is also perfectly understandable based on the actual material in OA. which is, as you say, primarily Japanese. Hypothetically, If I were considering a reboot, I would definitely aim for just Japan of course, rather than the clumsy pastiche of OA, but that's a 2020 design decision, isn't? You start to see the two very different lenses at work here.
and yeah, I realize that might very well be the only source they had, but that's part of the problem here. today I don't even need to leave my home if I want to find resources on Korean culture, but that wasn't the case back then and yet they still made an entry about it.


It's possible for OA to both contain harmful stereotypes and also be a pretty respectful and well-researched product for it's time. I don't think you need to go deep looking for objectionable material either - it's all pretty out in the open by 2020 standards. Those are two very different interpretive lenses. Judging OA as a historical artifact is one thing, while judging it as a current gaming resource by 2020 standards of acceptability is something else entirely. It's obviously the latter lens that's the current issue, but I've noticed that a lot of verbiage from non-asian commentators seems to focus on the former by way of apology. Conflating those interpretive lenses is, IMO, pretty dishonest.
I hope you understand why this book might be seen as dated and potentially harmful, especially now that I know the haphazard nature of its creation. if this book was just "Japanese Adventures!" I doubt we'd be talking about it the same way we are now, but that's not the case. the book skews heavily Japanese but they still called it "Oriental Adventures", and they're serving real world cultures as exotic and mysterious settings under the thin veneer of fictionalized countries, especially at a time when academic resources may have been less than stellar.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
isn't that what an editor is supposed to do? isn't that what a script polisher supposed to do? isn't that what a playtester is supposed to do?
Depends--were they reading the manuscript specifically to critique and improve the cultural elements? I assumed that was the reason why they were specifically consulted, because they could provide feedback that an editor in Wisconsin couldn't.
 

Considering the nearby major universities and the annual GenCon, there is a good chance these guys were just a group they found locally who played the game together and had them read through the manuscript, or maybe playtest it a little bit before publication. They may not have even been a gaming group together, but maybe TSR just put notices up on the bulletin boards at the universities looking to recruit free help to test the material. But whoever they were, I highly doubt they were professionals in the field, current or professional, or there would be something else out there with their names attached to it.

And a side note to all this, Gygax was not even in Wisconsin while this book was being put together and published. He was busy in Hollywood running TSR Entertainment and trying to get D&D into movies and tv.
 
Last edited:

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Panda-s1 - Replying to my post with your previous post seems very circular. You do you though. There are obvious issues with OA that need to be remedied, there is no question about that, and I'm not denying it. You know what isn't helpful though? Going deep into the rabbit hole speculating about the whys and wherefores from 1985. The moral relativism necessary is unhelpful. Sure, you can read the worst of intents into Gygax and co, you can assume all manner of things about why they chose source X, or whatever, but it's all speculation. It doesn't change what it is right now.

I'm not in a position to speak with authority about what should be done about OA, only to agree that something should be done. You know what I am in a position to speak authoritatively about though? Sourcing for research papers. If you don't like my professional opinion that's fine, but if you expect anyone to take you seriously when you say "this is mine to speak about" I would think you'd be very careful to extend that same respect and courtesy to others.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
Depends--were they reading the manuscript specifically to critique and improve the cultural elements? I assumed that was the reason why they were specifically consulted, because they could provide feedback that an editor in Wisconsin couldn't.
we don't really know that, and that's the problem.

personally, given how the book is and the fact they did provide a bibliography, I'm inclined to believe if they were hired to do such a thing then their credit would have said something like
To the Japanese players—Masataka Ohta, Akira Saito, Hiroyasu Kurose, Takafumi Sakurai, and Yuka Tate-ishi—for critiquing the manuscript with their valuable cultural insight on short notice.

instead.

this also doesn't address the fact they're still just a Japanese group of players. as everyone has said before "Asian people aren't a monolith!". I know it sounds cynical, but while this group may have had a decent to surprisingly amazing level of expertise on Japanese history I don't expect the same level of expertise for other Asian cultures.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
we don't really know that, and that's the problem.
I just can't picture the folks at TSR going out of their way to mail a manuscript to Japan in the pre-internet days unless they were looking for cultural insight. If all they wanted was playtesters or editors, surely there were plenty of those available without the expense and hassle of sending international packages.
 

MGibster

Legend
I know it sounds cynical, but while this group may have had a decent to surprisingly amazing level of expertise on Japanese history I don't expect the same level of expertise for other Asian cultures.

They probably didn't have the same level of expertise for other Asian cultures, in fact, being Japanese is no guarantee that they were even experts on Japanese history or culture any more than your average American is an expert on their history and culture. Oriental Adventures was produced for entertainment purposes and wasn't designed to stand up to any sort of academic rigor.

So why does it matter whether or not they were experts? And what is the minimum standard to be considered an expert in this context?
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I know it sounds cynical, but while this group may have had a decent to surprisingly amazing level of expertise on Japanese history I don't expect the same level of expertise for other Asian cultures.

Cook's forward to OA does a bit to address why so much of the focus was on Japan, and why some others didn't get as much. In part it was the sources available apparently, and in part it was how interesting he could make them seem for a game given the sources. (The intro by Gygax also seemed interesting.) WotC - Dungeons & Dragons Fans Seek Removal of Oriental Adventures From Online Marketplace

In a pre-internet age, for a company the size of TSR, it doesn't feel reasonable to me to expect them to have gathered a bunch of expert opinions on all of the different cultures. Maybe other game publishers were doing far more in the early 1980s, but it feels like they did quite a bit more than would have been expected as far as being aware and sensitive about the issues for the time.

Of course, even if true, having done more at the time than expected doesn't make a book useful or appropriate by today's standards.
 
Last edited:

COMING SOON! Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top