D&D 5E [Let's Read] The Koryo Hall of Adventures

Libertad

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The intertwining of Dungeons & Dragons, and role-playing games in general, with East Asia is a long one. Western tabletop designers inspired Japanese video game designers with series such as Lodoss War, and also the first Final Fantasy which then eclipsed tabletop as a household name. On the Chinese front, the advent of wuxia and martial arts films gave rise to the D&D monk class, which became almost as iconic as the Fighter and Mage in countless fantasy games. And when it comes to monsters, RPGs are more than happy to borrow from all sorts of folklore.

But when it comes to Korea there’s not as many obvious influences. Aurélien Lainé is a Frenchman who lived in Seoul for over ten years, and immersed himself heavily in the culture from learning the language to taking classes and making 2 documentaries. Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop roleplaying were growing progressively popular in South Korea, which was one of the reasons for inspiration in the creation of Koryo Hall of Adventures. Seeking to make a campaign setting inspired by Korean history and legends, Aurélien sought to provide such an option for players in the country while also showing an international audience a broader lens for a culture that is relatively untouched in western fantasy.

Although the product of a successful KickStarter and with mini-supplements under its belt, Koryo Hall of Adventures still remains rather obscure. Although it was sold for a while on the official WordPress site, it is now on DriveThruRPG! The game itself uses the 5th Edition ruleset, but there are separate conversion manuals for Pathfinder and the OSR, which I’ll also be covering. The bulk of the book is rather rules-neutral, with most mechanical content being in the last third.

One more thing: I hate to say it, but the first thing I notice while perusing this book is the lack of bookmarks. There is an index, but as I need to keep referring to the table of contents to find appropriate entries it is inconvenient for a PDF. Additionally, while the chapters are numbered in their respective sections the Table of Contents does not list chapters by number: they’re bolded instead. This is another point against it for easy maneuverability.

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Chapter 1: Jeosung’s Mythology And Early History

The land of Jeosung is a pair of peninsulas and a southern island chain, one land out of an unknown many in the material plane world of Iseung. But what is known are the many tales of the world’s creation; in the times before time itself there was but only primordial chaos known as the Infinite Night. Two deities known as Yulryeo and Mago came into existence. The first couldn’t bear living in such a dreadful sea of nothingness and died of despair, and to avoid loneliness Mago gave birth to two Heavenly Men and two Heavenly Women who were perfect paragons of what would later serve as the framework for mortals. They were gifted with the ability to procreate, and in harnessing spiritual energy they brought Yulryeo back to life by reincarnating him as the four elements and thus the world of Iseung. Mag transformed into seasons, colors, and the weather, and the Heavenly Beings sought to build a civilization in the honor of their creators.

For a time things were good, but there was not enough Jiyu, or spiritual energy, to sustain the Heavenly Beings’ growing numbers. One of them grew to know hunger, and ended up eating fruit found in the wilderness. This began the fall of the Heavenly Beings, who soon discovered the weaknesses of mortality, such was the price to pay for consuming other living beings. Many transformed into the animals known today as well as dragons, and were exiled for their impure status. Such resentment led to war, with the exiled people invading their homeland only to discover that the Jiyu had utterly dried out. In such desperate times order was needed, so a figure by the name of Hwanggung prayed to Mago and learned of ways to help the fallen retain their pure status, even if it took untold eras to reverse the damage. Mago gave him Four Heavenly Heirlooms, artifacts of supernatural might, representing each of the four elements. These Heirlooms helped teach people agriculture and other tools of living, and with them the first kingdoms were forged under Hwanggung’s guidance.

The Age of Heaven ended as Hwanggung’s bloodline died out. Not all sought to follow the founder’s example, the dragons and dragonborn seeking to forge a new path of their own and turned to the gods for inspiration.* They hated the Heavenly People and warred upon them. These Dragon Kings raised armies, and over time the Heavenly People became but mere humans. Wizards developed all manner of research during the war effort, including delving into subjects best left forgotten...

*It’s not said initially, but there are other gods besides those of the two creator deities. It sounds odd as one would think that the Heavenly Beings are also devout, what with Hwanggung praying to Mago. Perhaps the Heavenly Beings felt themselves unworthy to be faithful later on or something.

Yun Sepyeong is the most famous wizard in history, but for all of the wrong reasons. He violated the sacred oaths that the mortal and spiritual worlds would not enslave the other by inventing the Spiritual Cage spell. Such dread magic creates an illusory reality over the mind of a spirit, making them but dolls to be played with by the caster. Under the shelter of a remote tower far from worldly affairs, Yun Sepyeong used his research to raise an army with the intention of achieving godhood. He angered the gods with his hubris, and when denied immortality Yun Sepyeong retaliated with the mass murder of mortals and spirits alike. The Dragon Kings declared war on the wizard’s forces as the world itself was rent with weather of divine retribution, and Sepyeong died after casting one final cataclysmic spell which killed off all of the gods. The wizard’s reign of terror ended, but at the price of the death of the Dragon Kings and huge sections of their army.

The Age of the Dragon Kings ended, and thus began the Winds of Darkness.

The downfall of the Dragon Kings brought political chaos, but the death/disappearance of the gods, the unnatural weather, and Yun Sepyeong’s foul works also brought supernatural chaos. Monsters of all kinds rampaged across the land, including some which were once stories of myth. The Dokkaebis* rose to positions of prominence and led armies of other monsters. The entire continent was claimed, and what few texts remain of this time speak only of terror. When all hope seemed lost, people found old records of Hwanggung’s teachings, and soon a covert organization of Followers dedicated to his name plotted in secret to free the land. Three great heroes all performed tireless works to this goal: Käl the dragonborn used guerilla warfare. Li Yongjeon the engineer escaped the continent and made contact with a foreign elven kingdom who offered to help his cause, in exchange for blueprints of warship plans purloined from Jeosung. Yül made contact with a mighty entity known as the Seven Stars Spirit, who helped reignite the teachings of shamanism. By coordinating efforts, the three heroes led the Followers of Hwanggung to besiege the monstrous legions with the aid of elven warships. The Retaking of the Lands ended the Winds of Darkness, and soon people began to rebuild.

*Jeosung’s pseudo-orc equivalents, but more diverse in appearance.

The 200 years afterwards covers Jeosung’s modern age, and the four nations arose due to the examples of the three heroes. Yül established a group of shamans known as the Council of Five who acted as intermediaries between the mortal and spirit worlds and became the major authority figures of Mudangguk. Käl created the kingdom of Daewangguk, using old texts of past societies to resurrect the philosopher-king system of the Yangban. Admiral Yeonjo found the shattered southern islands to be the worst off, and created a closed-off militaristic society known as Haenamguk which resisted contact with the rest of the world. The fourth land, Noonnara, is a northern realm of deadly cold and wilderness whose existence is owed to the Council of Five pushing the winter seasons farther north to help create more arable land.

And as for faith and religion, the gods never spoke to the people again. Perhaps Yun Sepyeong did indeed kill them all, or maybe they left of their own volition. With their silence people turned to other faiths, either that of shamanism which sought the patron of spirits suffusing everything, or the doctrine of Purism which sought the ultimate goal of restoring mortals to their former Heavenly status. Things are much better than they were during the Winds of Darkness, but monstrous remnants and the follies of humanoid nature are still real and present dangers. So where conventional armies and village militias could not (or would not) help restore order, independent groups of specialists were sought. This gave rise to a new class of people, adventurers, whose most famous order is the Koryo Hall of Adventures.

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Chapter 2: the People of Jeosung

This covers Jeosung in broad strokes, with more specific details in their respective chapters. Jeosung is quite linguistically homogeneous; this was not originally the case, but genocides during the Winds of Darkness destroyed many cultures and ethnic groups to the point that their tongues are no longer spoken in regular conversation. The two major languages are the Common tongue, which arose as a sort of pidgin language during the Age of the Dragon Kings from increased trade, while the Spiritual Lexicon is the language of spirits, the Heavenly People, and the Gods. The various races also have their own tongues (Draconic, Elven, etc) but they are rare and not typically taught to outsiders.

Jeosung is a class-based society, although it differs in some respects from feudalism and there are some exceptions in the four major kingdoms. The Yangban are the traditional aristocracy, whose formation is based on an old philosopher-king ideal where the most educated people in society are judged best able to rule and administer affairs. Although supposedly a meritocratic system, the tests and exams determining social ascension are rigorous to the point that the average peasant cannot devote enough labor and resources to the program when dawn to dusk fieldwork is needed in sustaining society. As a result, the best-educated people are almost always from families of wealth. The system is solid enough that the Yangban are for all intents and purposes hereditary rulers, but fluid enough that the ranking system encourages elitism and intrigue just as much as hard work.

Below the Yangbans are the Joongins, the non-noble officials and administrators who do the majority of labor in the bureaucracy, and as such have a broad range of occupations from educated occupations from calligraphers to engineers. Quite a few Joongin are actually Yangban born from illegitimate affairs as well as those who scored poorly on exams. They still have financial support from their parents, but are clearly inferior in the eyes of the rest of the nobility.

The Sangmin are the commoners of Jeosung and comprise 75% of the population. They include farmers and laborers, but also people of means such as merchants. Said merchants score better on the national exams, and as such there was a rising “new noble” class in Daewangguk from them. The old money naturally panicked, and laws were passed that merchants could only ever be Sangmin. The justification was that rulers should only come from backgrounds who dedicated their entire lives to “studies and labor for the betterment of the realm.” Haenamguk followed suit, whereas the realms of Mudangguk and Noonnara are too isolated, decentralized, or actively against the formation of a class system for any such laws (much less Yangban) to come into being.

The final two social classes are disenfranchised groups. The Cheonmin are those whose occupations are considered unclean by the Yangban on both a hygienic and moral level. Butchers, gravekeepers, shoemakers, criminals, mercenaries, sex workers, and necromancers are considered part of this class. The Nobi only exist in Haemanguk and are indentured servants: they can own land of their own, marry, and raise families of their own volition, but their ‘employment’ can be traded and given to others. They are usually domestic servants or farmers, and can earn their freedom by working off their debt or via military service.

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There are separate entries on the Foundations of Magic, Spirits in Jeosung, and Religion, but they’re inter-related enough that I’m covering them together. All forms of magic originate from spiritual energy which is present in all things, even in the mortal world of Iseung. During the Winds of Darkness when the gods were gone and the spirits fled, access to magic was lost, only coming back after Yül and her followers found a means of reconnecting with them. Spiritual energy leaks into the material plane whenever spirits interact with said world, and these leaks create invisible phenomena known as Sparks which can be shaped into spells. Traditional spellcasters aren’t the only ones who care about this; various rituals from burning incense, prayers, gifts at shrines, and festivals help the flow of spiritual energy which fuels the growth of magic. Such actions are known as Jesa, or the exchange of honoring spirits in ways that please and nourish them in exchange for the continued creation of Sparks and thus magic.

Spirits themselves are a diverse assortment of entities. There exist spirits for just about every creature, object, and concept out there, and those who die become ancestral spirits. Spirits are free-willed entities, even if many times their behavior is closely tied to their affiliate concepts and people. They have a hierarchical society where one’s placement represents their overall level of power and popularity. Shin are common spirits, mostly those of people and beasts as well as smaller dwellings and geographic locales. Daeshin are ‘officers’ of the spirit world who gained the respect of their peers and are thus elevated to a more powerful status. Daegam are powerful entities who hold sway over incredibly broad phenomena, such as a spirit holding purview over all doors, entrances, and portals. Gods are technically the greatest spirits of all, but not even their lower-ranking peers know of their ultimate fate.

This foundation of the world strongly influences religious beliefs in Jeosung. There are two major belief systems in the realm, although both are decentralized, don’t have official organizations, and adhering to one doesn’t preclude being faithful in the other. Shamanism is the more popular faith, which prioritizes the relationship between Iseung and the world of spirits. The other religion is Purism, which arose during the Age of the Dragon Kings emphasizing the teachings of Hwanggung and the elevation of mortal nature to former Heavenly status via meditation and self-improvement. Purism teachings helped create the Yangban system, and while they also acknowledge the existence of the spirits, various Purists have differing views of Shamanism. Some view the reliance on spirits as weakness and the Shamans as competition, while others view the two faiths as compatible and incorporate both of their teachings into daily life.

Jeosung is a high-magic setting, but not like the industrialized nature of Eberron nor the archmage-riddled cities of Faerûn. The emphasis on education is such that even isolated and autonomous villages possess exams which can teach people minor spells, and most people know 3 wizard cantrips. Members of the Wizard class get 3 more, while casters of other traditions add those cantrips to their list of known ones. But the kind of magic which Jeosung lacks is the magic of Clerics. Although the gods created the world, they don’t answer prayers, that is, if they’re even still alive. Filling the role are Mudangs, or shamans who make treaties with spirits in exchange for magic. They are their own new class detailed in the rules section of the book. As for Purists, those skilled enough to be represented in class format are typically Monks of the new Sunim Monastic Tradition.

Unfortunately Koryo Hall of Adventures doesn’t really talk about how the spellcasting classes are further differentiated beyond these points. Although there’s a universal power source for magic via spirits and Sparks, is there any particular reason why some classes manifest differently? Are Druids merely Mudang who exclusively traffic with nature spirits? Are warlocks mages who signed exclusivity contracts with powerful Daegam? Are sorcerers people descended from the union of spirit-mortal dalliances? Do paladins get their spells from spirits of ideologies? The book doesn’t say.

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Races of Jeosung details the major playable fantasy species of the setting. Like just about every other published one out there it’s human-centric, although the other Player’s Handbook races have a part to play along with one new one. Humans were once in a position of irrelevancy, being weaker than the dragonborn and unable to survive against monstrous beings without their help. But seemingly out of nowhere during the Second Age their communities rapidly developed into city-states, then confederations, then kingdoms. Their rise to prominence engenders a sense of pride in comparison to other races, and they display this in the creation of their art and the maintenance of their pseudo-meritocratic aristocracy.

They want to be the big dog in town, as if most of their existence prior to emerging as a dominant race was built on a need for recognition that would ensure their survival. It is fair to say that the entire human race at this point in time is in a constant fight with its own insecurities by showing off its manufactured relevance in any way possible.

Dragonborns are the other indigenous race to Jeosung, descendants of primordial beasts and Dragons. Dragonborn are just as likely to have old noble families as humans, and have their own new subraces. Hwasanyong are Haenamguk’s military caste and tend to be what people think of when associating the race with martial prowess. The Nokyong live mostly in Mudangguk and keep to the forests, helping guide travelers through the woodlands. They’re normally quite chill, but they have contempt for the Hwasanyong. Yulaeyong are the most isolated of the subraces, having grown wings which they use to glide among the Cheonsanju mountain range in icy Noonnara. They mostly keep to themselves and are slow to act, preferring to get as much information as possible about a situation or dilemma before committing to a task.

Of the PHB races, Dwarves are also native to the region and used to have nations of their own during the Age of the Dragon Kings. Their two major cultural groups include the Hwangmoon and Hwasan. The Hwangmoon live under the Cheonsanju mountains and are famed for gems and subterranean treasure. The Hwasan primarily live in the volcano of the same name and are the reason Haenamguk has such a famed heavy industry. The latter have a rocky history with the Hwasanyong dragonborn, of mutual wars and enslavement of both sides which is today kept to a resentful simmer under the current military dictatorship. Halflings are the third native race, and much like their Tolkien inspiration they mostly are content with simple rural lives. Their two subraces are Forest Halflings who live a hidden subsistence lifestyle in treetop villages, and the Plains Halflings who settled the Pyeojngji Flatlands of Haenamguk and provide said nation with an agricultural bounty.

Elves came from unknown realms across the sea. Although their traders were present during the Age of the Dragon Kings, they showed up in far greater numbers during the Winds of Darkness and those who stayed after the war helped rebuild society. The only known subraces living in Jeosung are the High Elves and Wood Elves. Gnomes also came via Elven merchant vessels, and are obsessed with the accumulation of wealth. They have a land of their own in Noonnara known as the Kingdom of the Fat Toad. Goliaths are rare in Jeosung, mostly coming from warlike kingdoms to the north of Noonnara. Said realms made unsuccessful invasion attempts of Jeosung during the Age of the Dragon Kings, and the few who settled south live mostly in Noonnara and forsworn violence in order to better integrate into society. Half-elves are described pretty poorly by the book, as “self-centered opportunists often in positions of power that they don’t deserve.” They came from intermarriages between humans and elves during and after the Winds of Darkness, considered to possess the best of both cultures and often appointed to leadership positions for possessing aesthetic qualities prized by both races. Such favoritism engenders an entitlement complex in most half-elves, who prefer to rely upon nepotism and shortcuts over hard work which creates resentment from others.

Noonsalam are Jeosung’s new race. Also known as the Snow People, they came from lands north of Noonnara to hide from the goliaths. They are best known for growing the Infinite Forest that separates Jeosung from the unknown north, but don’t really interact with the rest of the realms. Noonsalam live as self-sufficient villagers and hunter-gatherers who like to build magic items in their spare time, which are prized by traders who give them goods to help them better survive in exchange. Noonsalam society has little need for coins. Strangely they do not have stats as a playable race, much less a Bestiary entry in this book or the Pathfinder/OSR conversion documents. On that note, there aren’t any entries for the new subraces either. The only exception is that the Pathfinder conversion document has write-ups for the Dragonborn subraces.

Thoughts So Far: Jeosung’s first impression is one that hews closely to classic fantasy RPG tropes: you’ve got the gods creating the world, a Golden Age and a fall from grace, kingdoms with mystical artifacts, and an evil monster-demon army overthrown by legendary heroes. I enjoyed the write-ups on spirits and how intertwined they are with daily life, magic, and religion, which gives spellcasting a specific grounding and origin. I also liked how the aristocracy was a system founded on lofty ideals only to become just like so many other aristocracies. The omnipresence of cantrips among the general populace is an interesting touch, and the use of a world with no active gods is another novel idea. Although I was a bit surprised to see no real discussion on how the character classes, particularly the magical ones, fit into Jeosung’s society. Even if magic has a universal origin, it still begs the question of why spellcasters other than Mudang exist and why their particular magic manifests in a different way.

Join us next time as we cover Chapters 3 & 4, where we learn about the power players in Agencies and Factions and get ample illustrations and descriptions of homes, food, instruments, and more in Visualizing Jeosung!
 

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Chapter 3: Agencies & Factions

Note: This chapter had no heading image, so I used the one for the Koryo Hall of Adventures proper in Chapter 5 given it is the most relevant.

This section covers the major institutions of Jeosung. These tend to be ‘big picture,’ covering organizations that have an effect on the national or international level.

Agencies are institutions dedicated to serving a larger interest beyond just one kingdom. Geumyongcheung is an agency in charge of keeping records of yangban families as well as those who were stripped of their status and why. Their records aren’t available to the public, and it’s a closed circle for the aristocracy. Gomnaru Port Authorities are a maritime merchant consortium which has its own private army and in some port cities is the de facto government. Jaeichcheong is an agency for entertainers of all stripes, but is currently suffering an internal rift between practitioners of Jongak music (preferred by high-class formal types) and Minsogak music (working class traveling musicians). Sangincheong is an agency for traders which provides various financial services and networking for members. Seongsucheong is a guild for shamans which keeps a registry of all known shamans in Jeosung and whose records provide details on rituals and spells. They have offices in every single village in Mudangguk, and in spite of their proclaimed political neutrality having a member sitting on said nation’s Council of Five. This has caused increased scrutiny of their order in Daewanguk and Haenamguk.

Criminal Factions represent those few crime syndicates that got powerful and lucky enough to have agents all over Jeosung. The Brethren of Bulkutt specialize in stealing magical items to sell on the black market, with their base of operations in the city Huju. As to why, the town has a magical academy and also a network of secret tunnels and passageways which is effective for their trade. The Eyes of Käl broke off from the Shadows of the North due to anger at the reinstatement of old aristocracies, and specialize in committing terrorist actions against the government of Daewanguk. The Palm is a more traditional crime syndicate and specializes in theft of all kinds, but also oversees other illegal activity which can turn a profit.

Farmer & Fisher Guilds are predictably the most mundane of the groups save for aspects of political intrigue and conflict growing to dominate their affairs. The Fishers’ Guild of Nakshi Yeonan provides most seafood for Haenamguk, and its brisk trade with other nations means that many spies seeking to penetrate the country’s authoritarian curtain often disguise themselves as guild members. The Rice Farmers’ Guild of Ssalbada (located in Daewanguk) are a tremendously powerful organization given their control over the canal which feeds countless rice paddies. This is causing discontent among farmers unable to afford guild dues, and the appearance of soldiers making sure that farmers are meeting their quotas is only making matters worse. The Tea Farmers’ Guild of Boseong has a tidy relationship with Mudangguk’s Council of Five, but as the town where their HQ is located joined the Gaya Confederacy this may hurt their coffers no matter which side they choose or don’t choose.

Political Factions detailed here are those dedicated more to an ideology rather than a specific government. The Gaya Confederacy is headquartered in the city of Saenam of Mudangguk. Unsatisfied with the decisions of the Council of Five, the city government and allied families seek to use their regional power in the timber and iron trade to gain legitimacy from Daewanguk and Haenamuk in their goal of becoming an autonomous nation. The Saenam Separatist movement has similar grievances, although they want the creation of a yangban system and all the privileges that come with it, pointing to the actions of their ancestors during the Winds of Darkness as claims that their families deserve more for their aid in rebuilding society. The Shadows of the North were founded by Käl as a post-war peacekeeping force to hunt down and guard against monstrous remnants. Over time they became more self-interested, which caused disillusioned members to break away into the Eyes of Käl.


Religious Factions cover more specific institutions beyond the broad animism/purism belief systems. The Sect of Changjo pay fealty to neither religion, instead wishing for a return of the gods of old. However, they believe that the gods view mortals in their current state as unworthy of their love and thus seek violent revolution against the system and eradication of non-believers. As such they’re a villainous group who also devote time and resources into finding and stealing magical artifacts, particularly any rumored to be the Heavenly Heirlooms of old which disappeared long ago. The Sect of Yoggu Haneul, meanwhile, is a purist group who believes that the best way to overcome worldly attachments and desires is to overconsume on such desires until the body and mind are sick of them. This ideology was quickly taken advantage of by predators who turned the Sect into sex trafficking ring patronized and supported by wealthy yangbans.

Overall, the organizations strike positive for me. A few make logical sense in the context of the world but provide less adventure fodder than others. The Gaya Confederacy and Saenam Separatist Movement feel that they could be one organization instead. I was impressed that the otherwise mundane-sounding Farmers’ & Fishers’ Guilds had grist for conflict instead of being a dry economic treatise, and the rival musician groups of the Jaeichcheong are an interesting bit of cultural world-building that can also provide excuses for PC hijinks.

There’s quite a bit of antagonistic factions here beyond the typical criminal groups. The Sect of Changjo is cool, although the Sect of Yoggu Haneul will take careful consideration to use in most gaming groups given some triggering themes.

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Chapter 4: Visualizing Jeosung

This illustration-heavy chapter goes over material to better immerse players in the world of Jeosung, drawing heavily from pre-modern Korea.

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Houses tend to use the placement of kitchens as a heating system and as such said room is often lower than the rest of the house. The foundations are made of thick stones covered by a wooden floor to create a sort of floor heating, and during the summer months it is typical to cook outside instead. The construction of buildings differs depending on social class and wealth, although only larger buildings have corridors; most houses prefer roof-covered walkways connecting buildings.

Regarding common social services, agencies have local offices in just about every town within their domains of influence, with only very small and isolated villages lacking them. Daedonghae are local authority figures representing the interests of a community, and their appointment differs based on the political system. Options range from being democratically voted, appointed by a lord, being part of a council rather than an individual, and so on. Inns are uncommon, and most travelers rely upon local hospitality and empty rented rooms in houses for cheap accommodations. Public baths are free and appear in larger cities, with more elaborate ones providing special rooms with herbal and heated baths.

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Jeosung culture is full of versatile cuisine and shiktangs are restaurants that appear just about everywhere. There are no indoor bars and taverns in Jeosung; instead, sooljibs are outdoor drinking places with tables. Just about every village has some local specialty in which they take pride, and travelers are fond of keeping foodie journals of such specialties which they share with others on the road. We also have a list of the most common crops farmed and the kingdoms known for certain staples, along with common meals, food, and drinks from local households to restaurants.

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When people die it is customary to bury the dead. Mounds, graves, and mausoleums are popular based upon available physical space and wealth. It is also a universal practice to build Jangseungs, totems representing spirits and famous figures which can manifest spiritual energy to protect an area from evil spirits. The totems also bear markings of more mundane matters, such as directions to nearby settlements and their distance. Shrines are also important, used by animists and purists alike to perform religious ceremonies. They can be small simple affairs, such as a tree with colorful decorations and stones stacked upon each other, or huge buildings with their own rooms.

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Jeosung uses a “common currency” which was created after the Winds of Darkness to help facilitate inter-kingdom trade and cooperation for rebuilding. The copper/silver/gold coin standard endemic to D&D is the most common, although they bear holes in the center so that they can be easily strung together. Older forms of currency exist, such as jade coins and copper/silver/golden knives used by the Dragon Kings of old, and are prized for their historical value. The most recent kind of currency is paper money, favored by merchants of Sangincheong who make use of blood to identify one’s soul as a sort of magical banking ID system for easy transfer of liquid assets.

Overall I’m a big fan of this chapter: visual inspiration goes a long way to immersing players in a world, particularly in a culture which isn’t that well-covered in tabletop gaming.

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Chapter 5: Jimyeongsajeon, the Gazetteer of Jeosung, Part 1: the Koryo Hall of Adventures

This chapter is by far the largest in the book, spanning 141 pages out of the book’s 275. It covers the Koryo Hall of Adventures as its own entry along with the four kingdoms of note: the forested pseudo-egalitarian realm of Mudangguk, the icy frontier that is Noonnara, the regimented and formal aristocracy of Daewanguk, and the militaristic Hermit Kingdom of Haenamguk. For obvious reasons I’m going to handle them all as their own entries rather than doing them all at once.

We start out with a discussion of the realms of reality. There are two known planes of existence: first is Iseung, the material plane and home of mortals. Then there is Shinseung, also known as the spiritual plane but what foreigners would recognize as the Ethereal Plane. Shinseung is only accessible by spirits, the dead, and mages with the right spells. Most spirits have the ability to go back and forth between Iseung and Shinseung. Jeosung observes a lunar calendar that has an annual total of 240 days. The four seasons are recognized, and each season (and quarter of a season) are associated with one of the four elements: Spring and first quarter with Earth, Summer and second quarter with Fire, Autumn and third quarter with Water, and Winter and the fourth quarter with Air. Jeosung also has a monsoon period which strikes annually at the beginning of summer, lasting three to six weeks.

The Koryo Hall of Adventures was created by Yül after the Winds of Darkness as an international group of soldiers, mercenaries, shamans, and other specialists who’d protect people and places in need of them during the chaotic period of rebuilding society. She chose the Sanshinamü, the headquarters she used to summon the great spirit to return magic to the lands, as a center of operations for building the Hall. Although originally a volunteer organization, the growth in numbers and rising prosperity of the realms who felt less need for them turned the Koryo Hall of Adventures into a for-profit business.

The Hall is a self-sufficient fortress reached via a mountain pass in Mudangguk, with its own shops, restaurant, scholarly archives, and training centers for a variety of skills. People in need of members’ services post notes on a public board with details on the job and rewards, and there’s a sample map, list of shops and services, and locations of note within the complex. Adventurers who are members can stay for free up to 2 nights per visit between Jobs, and also have free access to the practice grounds for improving their skills and can conduct research in the Study for free. They cannot take out manuscripts for any reason, as they’re often old, fragile, and/or rare.

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This sidebar is but one of many examples of others of their kind within the book. The following sections of Chapter 5 provide sample hooks relevant to locations of note, which is a pretty good way of inspiring GMs for adventures.

Following the details of the Hall as a location are the various rules and regulations. Newtime adventurers register for membership when picking their first job, getting 40% cut of the profits and the Hall uses the 60% portion to help process registration. Afterwards, members take 90% of the profits for every job. Beyond this, the Koryo Hall of Adventures has some broad terms for conduct of behavior:* they don’t take responsibility for what types of jobs are posted, although acts of genocide, those which put the balance of the material/spiritual worlds in jeopardy, and actions which can have repercussions across the realms are refused on principle.** Members cannot steal, kill, or do general trouble-making while within the Hall’s premises, must respect fellow members, and once they accept a job must finish it or die trying. All sorts of jobs are posted, although the Hall splits some jobs as being “for Heroes” or “for Scoundrels” based on the ideal morality for job-takers. And yes, this setting does have a bean-counting morality system determining one’s Heroic/Scoundrel nature.

*although only those relevant to gaming sessions are detailed.

**this last one may be hard to enforce.

Those who post jobs are known as Requesters, and must pay the reward in advance in order for the job to be completed. To ensure that the Hall is not seen as usurers, they send additional teams to complete a failed job at no extra cost, and a full refund if the job is time-sensitive. Desperate Measures are rare exceptions where a requester is short on funds and the trouble is significant. The method of authenticating a completed job is laid out in the job description, and adventurers collect their payment back at the Hall after showing their proof. Adventurers who fail a job suffer punishment depending on the circumstances and expense: unpaid labor at the hall for a period of time, a fine, and doing missions for free are common, although those who make a habit of sloppiness or engage in forbidden activity become targets of the Hall who send out hit squads to kill them. The terms of punishment are detailed in the Appendix, so the GM is not left to gut feelings and fiat.

The last part detailing the Hall has write-ups for 9 NPCs. Each entry shows a scene entirely in-character with them interacting with someone as a means of showing their personality. No stats are provided beyond their race and gender, and in one case noting that they possess shamanic magic.

Thoughts So Far: The concept of the Koryo Hall of Adventures is a strong appeal to the adventurer’s guild concept as seen in many video game RPGs, up to and including a notice board of quests. This is more an aesthetic thing, but the artificial nature of the Hero/Scoundrel system rubs me the wrong way; even though the Hall is an isolated fortress it makes me imagine that “scoundrel jobs” effectively advertising the Requester’s evil plans to an audience of any passersby who cares to read the notice board.

Furthermore, the Koryo Hall’s location in Mudangguk’s mountain range is a bit problematic. The necessity of going to the Hall and back with every completed Job sounds rather onerous, particularly for quests located in Daewanguk and Haenamguk. A way around it would be if the Hall had localized branches much like agencies, although if this is the case the text does not imply this. That being said, the core concept of an organization of adventurers for the PCs and base of operations is a great way of providing plot hooks and replacement characters for those who get killed in action.

Join us next time as we cover the nation of Mudangguk, a near-classless society of arboreal beauty and omnipresent spirits!
 
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Davies

Legend
The Sect of Yoggu Haneul, meanwhile, is a purist group who believes that the best way to overcome worldly attachments and desires is to overconsume on such desires until the body and mind are sick of them.
I wonder if this is inspired by something that actually happened in Korea's history, and how I'd go about learning about it.
 

I've been trying to buy this setting in hardcopy for a while. It looks really interesting and I do like having pretty print hardbacks to page through. Unfortunately print sales have been postponed due to the pandemic with no indication as to when they'll be restored.
 

Libertad

Hero
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Chapter 5, Part 2: Mudangguk

Occupying the western peninsula of Jeosung, Mudangguk is peculiar for being a mostly-forested region, the home of the Koryo Hall of Adventures, and its large emphasis on spirits in politics and daily life. Although every major land counts shamanists among its number, Mudangguk’s founding by Yül led to various events resulting in a much more decentralized and pseudo-classless society. In lieu of the yangban system, Mudangguk’s communities do not have noblemen or aristocrats, instead making use of appointed people known as Guardians and Heads when larger-scale coordination is needed. There’s still division of labor and specialized occupations, but there are policies in place that mandate mutual aid and universal access to resources in the assurance of a minimum standard of living. In spite of this, there are still concentrations of wealth building up both locally, such as the Koryo Hall of Adventures and the Gaya Confederacy, which is a bit of a sore talking point among many.

Shamans have a distinctive role in the acting of intermediaries between the mortal and spirit realms, but as they are chosen by spirits and not mortal institutions their appointment is rather informal. For education, shamans and wizards travel between towns to ensure that citizens learn cantrips, and every five years a census is taken to see which communities are lagging behind for them to focus on more. Festivals and the concentration of jesa is more frequent, and everyone knows at least a few rituals to invoke when performing regular labor. In fact, Yül’s teachings of the common folk of the ways of spirits helped rapidly rebuild the realm and obviated the need for a professional soldier class to ensure defense and rulership. Effectively, the spirits of Mudangguk are a rather hands-off nobility, where jesa are the taxes to ensure mortals’ continued welfare.

For government at the national level, five shamans with proven track records for good skill and behavior are appointed to the Council of Five in five-year terms, while the Council of Twelve is made up of influential people across Mudangguk who don’t have to be shamans. In theory both groups have checks and balances to counteract each other’s power, but the Council of Five declared that all empty seats during the meetings are considered votes in their favor. Two members of the Council of Twelve are too far away to reliably visit every congress, but the honorific seat kept open for Yül (who rarely leaves her island fortress) effectively guarantees three votes for the shamans. This has gotten quite a few people upset, especially the Gaya Confederacy which is using this as an excuse to break away from Mudangguk. For relationships with other realms, they’re horrified at Haenamguk’s use of slavery to the point that trade sanctions have been threatened. This will hit the Gaya capital city of Saenam the hardest, and its guardian and self-declared King is hoping to gain Haenamguk’s favor and protection if the sanctions come to pass.

What follows, and is the standard for each of the four realm entries, are various sub-regions with major settlements and locations of note. Another recurring feature are Deed sidebar handouts acting as potential adventure hooks in the form of notice board entries pinned at the Koryo Hall of Adventures. They are scattered throughout the chapter and tied to the most immediate locations being discussed, and Mudangguk has 9 of them. Some of the jobs sample jobs include spying on the Gomnaru Port Authority, exorcising a ghost harassing a local community of farmers, intercepting and destroy a cargo ship containing a poison that kills tea plants, and disrupting trade deals between Hwando arms merchants and the dokkaebis of Jihaguk.

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Kwan Province is home to the port town of Yonggu-Myeon as well as the head of the region’s Gomnaru Port Authority who are seen by many locals as unwanted foreign interlopers. Samjhok Chilseongmun is a collection of shaman communities overseeing a major gate for traffic.* Mudangguk’s capital city of Michuhol is home to a beautiful Tree of Souls whose roots run through the river bed, and the various buildings make use of existing natural terrain so as not to disrupt the local spirits too much. It’s mostly a crime-free city, but a major festival that occurs once every 25 years when Yül makes a pilgrimage to the Tree of Souls sees a lot of outside visitors. The city hires adventurers to keep a lookout for petty thieves and other opportunists of ill intent.

*It’s known as a Chilseong gate, which is referenced several times in the book but whose properties are unknown. Apparently it’s a magical gate of some kind.

Yodong State covers the surrounding lands of the Yodongseong city-state, with roads connecting it to smaller communities for trade. The southern lands are used for tea farming, but the forested and coastal west are filled with evil creatures and watchtowers safeguarding society from such monsters. Increasing frequency of pirate attacks has threatened the fishing industry of Chungju village, and there’s some evidence pointing to false flag raids by the Gomnaru Port Authority using them as an excuse to make inroads “for maritime security.” Gwayang is a walled city that entered into a defense pact with Haenamguk to keep the surrounding seas safe, but behind the walls the Palm has a growing underworld presence. The city-state of Yodongseong is unique in being contained within a single massive tower with outer circles of earthen mounds for defense. The place served as a battleground during the Winds of Darkness, and the cantrips favored by its population are offensive in nature and its local council of Key Holders each bear one key that can open up a vault containing scrolls and tomes of great power to be used during a time of need. The community’s current Guardian is growing in age and has seen decades of short-sightedness and poor judgment in others that make him distrustful of training any successors. This in turn has impacted his ability to attend to his duties on the Council of Twelve, and there’s already bitter debates arising from the Key Holders and populace over his judgment. Michuhol and the Gaya Confederacy are hoping to sweep in if events get chaotic to provide security...and also cynically to expand their power base against the other, who would surely do the same.

Namkaebi Province is a region blessed with soil ideal for tea farming. Sadly such fertile land has brought no end of grief, for various clans and the Gaya Confederacy have sought to get a heavier hand in the local economy. The headquarters of the Tea Farmer’s Guild tries to keep above it all, and their town of Goseong hosts their House of Happenings which is one of the best-defended buildings in Jeosung due to holding the secrets of preparing its famed tea. There’s also Hamheung, an impoverished town by the mudflats whose economy is supplemented by addictive drugs,* harvested body parts of protected creatures, and other illegal goods. Two such illegal drugs are Dallaeneum mushrooms and Gaeulsoop leaves. Gaeulsoop leaves are briefly mentioned but not elaborated on in the text proper, but Dallaeneun (there’s 8 instances in the book ended in an ‘n,’ 3 in an ‘m’) mushrooms have their own sidebar. They are harvested from an ooze-like substance emitted by said mushrooms, containing mild hallucinogenic properties. They are often used in shamanic rituals, but can also be used recreationally or distilled into alcohol. Improper use of them among many shamans caused fatal overdoses which resulted in their ban.

Taeyang and Sooptap are small arboreal communities of Nokyong dragonborn and halflings; the former still believe that the olds gods are alive and will return someday, and have great skill with wizardry. The latter build treetop houses and hanging bridges well above forest level, being semi-nomadic due to generations of hiding from monsters during the Winds of Darkness. They know where the best batches of Dallaeneum mushrooms grow, and trade them to people in exchange for food.

Hamgyöng Province dominates Mudangguk’s southwest coast. Limestone caverns and rainforests are common here, and a unique breed of feather-winged goblins known as the Mulgashi live here in secret. They are neither hostile nor friendly to other humanoids, being uninterested in trade or interaction with other communities. Most of them live in Urigashi, a self-sustaining town protected by a magical shield. More open non-goblin communities include Inju whose warm beaches are a tourist hot spot, Yangyang which stands at the frontier between civilization and the dangers of Jobeuntang province, the capital of Saenam which is the center for the Gaya Confederacy and growing separatist movement, and a mostly-deforested region known as the Edge whose tree cutters have been attacked by unknown figures believed to be either Nokyong dragonborn and/or shamans. The Confederacy’s leader, King Suro, cares little for the contemporary culture of Mudangguk and pours money into ever-extravagant construction projects to celebrate mortal achievements both past and current. The pseudo-nation derives much of its wealth from timber and iron deposits, doing heavy trade with Haenamguk whose island lacks much in the way of forests and thus the accompanying woodcraft.

Wünu Mountains & Jobeuntang Province are the least civilized regions of Mudangguk. The Wünu Mountains have a storied presence in Jeosung history, from the legend of the Five Sisters who raised the earth from the ground to form impassable mountains between two warring states to many historic strongholds of Yül’s shamans during the Winds of Darkness. There are some small communities of shamans who opt to live in the lower elevations, seeking out lives of spiritual retreat to bring one closer to nature.

There is also the dreaded land of Jihaguk, a subterranean network of unknown size filled with cities of dokkaebis and other fell monsters. It is from here the monstrous forces of the Winds of Darkness emerged to take over Jeosung, and the resentful surviving forces retreated here to lick their wounds. Some amoral merchants have even begun selling the monsters weapons in exchange for unique artifacts. There’s a worrisome rumor of a portal that links directly to Gamangnara, the darkest realm of the afterlife, to which the monsters have access. Finally there is the Giljobeun forest, a cursed place home to ghostly beings known as the Unseen who ambush and trap travelers by creating illusions out of their hearts’ desire.

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There are only two settlements of note here. The first is Hwando, where the aforementioned merchants of questionable loyalties gather, and the bulk of the town is a haphazard collection of broken parts repurposed from crashed ships of prior ages. One of the few bright points in this broken realm is the Bulkyeryong restaurant, whose owner is rumored to be a retired pirate who discovered a love for cooking that changed his priorities in life. The second settlement is Wangonseong, a snowy mountain town home to an eroded shrine of the Followers of Hwanggung.

Yuldö is a small island at the peninsula’s southern tip. Home to the legendary shaman Yül, its grounds are barred to all but her and those who earned her trust. She lives here year-round save during the Great Visit every twenty-five years.

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Rounding out our chapter is a gallery of stat-free NPCs. We have 3 major characters each described in one page long in-character descriptions along with artwork, and 26 minor characters who have a paragraph or two worth of description along with their notable traits and adventure hooks. Our big three include the proud headmaster of the Saenam Naval Academy giving a rousing speech to the newest graduates, the Head of the Tea Farmer’s Guild who’s taking a hands-on approach in tracking down a would-be burglar of the House of Happenings, and a letter from the Guardian of Yodongseong reminiscing about happier times.

A sidebar offering GM Tips for sessions set in Mudangguk suggests playing up the “romantic mysticism” of the lands’ natural beauty and the ever-present influence of spirits. Some may even manifest in the mortal realm to ask the party for favors or act as obstacles in their adventures.

Thoughts So Far: Mudangguk is a strong first entry for the realms of Jeosung. In spite of striving for classless ideals, there are still societal imperfections and the folly of greed corrupting many a mortal. It’s neither a tyranny by majority dystopia bound to fail, nor is it an uncritical portrayal like Eclipse Phase’s anarchist habitats. Most of the provinces have some kind of local conflict or danger ideal for adventurers to handle, and while there’s more of a “natural harmony” theme there’s a good division between wilderness and urban locales for such adventure opportunities.

There are some weak points I wish were expanded or touched upon. The presence of Jihaguk as the Evil Monster Nation feels like it could’ve used more word count, given the great emphasis on the Winds of Darkness. Some of the locales merely seem like interesting places to explore but have little beyond that, such as the winged goblins who more or less just wish to be left alone and don’t seem to be threatened by any dangerous forces in need of interloping adventurers.

Join us next time as we cover Noonnara, Jeosung’s frost-ridden final frontier!
 



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