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

Libertad

Adventurer
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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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Libertad

Adventurer
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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

Hero
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

Adventurer
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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!
 



Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 5, Part 3: Noonnara

The northernmost realm of Jeosung, Noonnara contains some of its most inhospitable terrain. Cold year-round, the Infinite Forest is the furthest-explored area before the land gives way to the uncharted territories of the goliaths, and the charted territories are decentralized and self-governing. Every community in Noonnara has learned to stand on its own, knowing that outside help in the event of disaster is far from guaranteed.

Kwanbuk Is the southernmost region of Noonnara, where the snow is omnipresent yet more readily traversable. Goliath warships from their far-off kingdom sail south, but most of them end up destroyed by unknown circumstances. Locals attribute this to a protective spirit by the name of Zud. The major settlement of note is Yangdong, home to a renowned training center for shamans that sees lots of traffic from Mudangguk. Their training regiments are harsh, where they live communally on subsistence agriculture and hunting, which has a track record of forming trusted bonds of friendship among the trainees which lasts long after they leave to walk their own paths. Shaman Paengteon, the leader of the town, has an honorary seat on Mudangguk’s Council of Twelve, and tension has arisen given how useful his community is for training the latter country’s shamans. He’s not afraid to use this as political leverage.

Also present in the region is the Shrine of Zud, where shamans help upkeep it to ensure peace and respect from the spirit, and the Banggeoson Watchtowers dating back to the Second Age (Age of the Dragon Kings) contain soldiers from Michuhol and Yodongseong to keep alert for foreign invasion. A lack of any significant foes and the harsh weather mean that most of them are in poor condition, with most soldiers reluctant to keep vigil outside for very long. The Yalu River has been the site of many battles, attracting souls of the dead, and a cursed pier known as the Crossing of the Dark Souls is unused due to having been built by monsters during the Winds of Darkness. It was also used by the Dark King himself to harvest soul-slaves, but this is the only time we see mention of such a character in this book. I’m unsure if they’re a mortal monster leader or a powerful spirit. Finally there is Ulchi Mundok’s Mansion, Jeosung’s sole community of goliaths living in the middle of an island lake. Their people are descendants of an exiled king and his entourage, and their martial reputation made them favored by various people as guardians for rare items and treasure. The mansion is a fortress capable of withstanding prolonged sieges, and the current goliath king keeps meticulous notes of the stored precious items and their owners in a secret journal.

Dornod is home to the Infinite Forest, an artificially-created woodland by the Noonsalam to act as a natural barrier against northern invaders. Pine trees, rainforest vines, and other plants that can’t grow in the same climate can be found here, and the large amount of spiritual energy needed to maintain the biosphere has turned the place into a magic-sapping area deadly to unprepared spellcasters and spirits. Native wildlife has twisted into strange abominations from exposure to all the energy flowing into the forest. The Plains of Dornod are an equally-dangerous desolate realm, but the frequent blizzards prevent any landmarks besides the frozen rivers from aiding navigation. And some of those rivers are camouflaged by a thick layer of snow, and the wrong step can plunge travelers to an icy doom. The only reason people would come here besides to feed the Infinite Forest is to visit the Shrine of Yong, a building which is partially integrated into a giant spiral dragon sculpture whose body digs deep into the ground. It is said within a hidden set of stairs in the dragon’s body there lies a hidden temple of unknown origin and content.

Cheonsanju is also known as the Land of Heavenly Mountain for housing Jeosung’s tallest peaks and the believed birthplace of the world’s first civilization. Lore states that this region was home to the last fortress of the Heavenly People before its inevitable demise, and the Followers of Hwanggung built their holiest temple somewhere deep within the mountain range. Said temple is accessible through the Ten Thousand Stairs as the first test of faith, and there are always pilgrims here using the quiet sereness to reflect on life and self-improvement. The other settlement here is Kuklak, a Noonsalam cliffside village of caverns warmed, lit, and gardened by magic which makes it a rather pleasant place to live.

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Dongnoonnara is home to the largest number of settlements in Noonnara. The Temple of the Midnight Oil is a watchtower with an everburning flame that acts as a guiding light to lost travelers, and a single monk keeps the flame alive and administers to the physical and mental needs of travelers. The Kingdom of the Fat Toad attracts travelers of a more selfish disposition, a kind of Fantasy Las Vegas founded by gnome thieves who nabbed a big score and built by dwarven engineers from Hwangmoon. All kinds of games of chance and skill are held here, particularly the famous Cave Games which is a part obstacle course, part gladiator arena where contestants have a chance at winning rare magic items and gold. A community of goblins with secret magical techniques live relatively unseen by the rest of the Kingdom by making a deal with the gnomes: the goblins are in charge of maintaining the ambient magic and build magic items for the Cave Games, and the gnomes receive 100% of the profits. The goblins don’t seem to mind.

Other communities are similarly rough and tumble, or well-ordered but martial in Hwangmoon’s case. Gungnae is practically a single cramped street (and many multi-level structures) running through a chasm where the Palm and the Eyes of Käl clash over territory. Hwangmoon is a dwarven community who control a vast network of underground tunnels they let travelers and merchants use for a fee. Although the environs are claustrophobic and require regular sweeps of air magic to keep breathable, many find it preferable to traveling on the snowy surface. Hwangmoon amassed a lot of money from this network and also deep mining, so they have a very strong militia and security to ward off thieves and organized crime syndicates in the other towns. In lieu of a typical prison, those convicted of major crimes are exiled to the “Jail of Hwangmoon” which is basically one giant dungeon crawl of monster-filled natural tunnels which may empty out to daylight in Noonnara’s southern coast.

The town of Yezo is the headquarters of the Eyes of Käl. While once a settlement of hope and happiness, it is now a chaotic community where everyone fends for themselves. Illegal substances are bought and sold openly, newcomers who look like easy marks are accosted by thugs, and members of the Eyes regularly get high and dance in public, sometimes engaging in orgies until they pass out from exhaustion. Omnipresent fire pits throughout the town are powered by vapors which increase sexual arousal, and the heat causes people to sweat all the time and…

...and I think this section of the book was written one-handed.

Tong-In is a hidden settlement of the Gomnaru Port Authorities. It is disguised as a simple fisher village, but the higher than usual presence of armed bands is a dead giveaway that something’s afoot. After some business disagreements with the government of Daewanguk, Gomnaru sought to resettle part of their navy in a realm less burdened by red tape. The Eyes of Käl sought to form an alliance, as they too had a bone to pick with the long arm of the law. Although there was mutual distrust and misgivings at first, the two came to an agreement: the Eyes would work with the Port Authorities in “port disruption missions” (aka piracy) and the gangsters could keep whatever look they could carry. So far this plan’s working great for both parties, although neither side believes that this alliance will last forever.

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Our GM Tips for sessions in Noonnara suggest emphasizing the deadly nature and tight sense of community. The land is a danger all its own, but the people of the north can recognize the value of talented adventurers. Magic-using communities creating spots of warmth among the endless white, wayside shrines home to people from many lands, and nomadic groups saving people from blizzards can help show that there’s still a land worth fighting for even at the edge of civilization.

There’s far fewer NPC descriptions than in Mudangguk. We have only one major character and 15 minor ones, with the former being Lord Nahri of Hwangmoon. His in-character text has him presiding over a criminal before having him dragged off to the Jail of Hwangmoon.

As for sample adventure board notices, we have 6. Four tie into the locations proper, such as stealing the goliath king’s Treasure Log, finding what the Shrine of Yong contains for research purposes, conducting an ethnographic expedition on Noonsalam culture, and disrupting the “pirates” operating out of Tong-In. But one is generic and involves rescuing a yangban family’s son from bandits. Another involves tracking down and killing a party of adventurers sentenced to death by Koryo Hall, which definitely sounds like a moral dilemma particularly if they were people the PCs socialized with at the Hall. But the quest is marked for “Heroes,” which seems...tonally inappropriate and more of a Scoundrel thing to do.

Thoughts So Far: Noonnara is less varied than Mudangguk in terms of themes: the harshness of the elements and far flung outposts of civilization is omnipresent, but there is some variety in the potential adventure locations and communities. Ulchi Mundok’s Mansion and Hwangmoon’s treasure vaults practically scream “heist mission,” and the adventure hooks for the Kingdom of the Fat Toad write themselves. Unfortunately some locations don’t work well on their own, having no hook beyond what the GM puts into them. The watchtowers’ poor maintenance seem like a great opportunity for invading goliaths, although said groups aren’t really given much material in the setting other than the fact that they exist, and their crashed sailing vessels indicate that the natural world alone is doing a good enough job at repelling them. The Infinite Forest sounds like a cool place to explore, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from D&D campaigns, nothing screams “forlorn place of death to avoid at all costs” than an entire region that’s an effective anti-magic field. Or one where magic becomes unpredictable and ineffective. Such concepts aren’t bad in and of themselves, and can be useful for world-building.* But given how strongly magic is tied into most classes of Pathfinder, 5th Edition, and OSR games, it requires some care in using.

*Final Fantasy 9 did a good job of this with Oeilvert, but it worked for the game on account that 1.) the party was blackmailed into venturing there and 2.) half the party members function just fine without magic.

Join us next time as we travel the expansive kingdom of Daewanguk, aka Game of Thrones Korean Style!
 
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Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 5, Part 4: Daewanguk

Covering the entire eastern peninsula of the Jeosung region, the kingdom known as Daewanguk has its origins in being rebuilt by Käl after the Winds of Darkness. Looking back at older kingdoms for inspiration, the yangban system was reinstated to ensure a revival of Second Age culture. The once-fractured lands united under a single king supported by levels of yangban families descended from those who performed acts of heroism in the Retaking of the Lands. The most powerful families were those both skilled and lucky enough to invest in entrepreneurial enterprises. The exaltation of education, especially among the upper class, helped save many old forms of art and lore from being forgotten to the mists of time, and its economic power instilled a sense of pride.

Yet such a system came at a cost. Käl was a great war-time ruler, but he had little expertise in peacetime. Various factions jockeyed for his ear, with the Shadows of the North feeling that the yangban were perverting their founder’s dream. Eventually they broke off, renaming themselves the Eyes of Käl and acting against the ruling throne in acts of terror and sabotage. As of Daewanguk today, it is unified on the surface, but the once-lofty ideals of scholarship and wisdom have been perverted into the jockeying of power. The rich seek to ascend the exams and thus their place in society by knocking others down, and many commoners stop at nothing for their progeny to be elevated to a higher social standing. The government traditionally had a nomination system where the most powerful yangban families formed the Hwabaek Council. Traditionally said council used to vote on who among their number should be king, but the former King Sinmun moved to a new one where familial blood of the current king determines the nation’s ruler. Needless to say, this has earned his family and the current King Songdok no small number of enemies.

As for magic and schooling, the system used for educating the populace in cantrips is legal, although many yangban are doing their best to prevent commoners from learning too much. The government maintains the illusion of “anyone can be someone” by operating special schools which are theoretically open to anyone, but only ever elevate a few successful test-takers to be granted cushy administrative positions. As for religious practices, Purism is highly favored by the ruling class and temples and monks of such practices receive generous support. Shamanism is present, most often in a form of divination known as Saju reading favored by people who for various reasons find Purism to not be giving them the answers they seek. Shamans are discouraged from displaying their powers too openly, so the Soengsucheong Agency doesn’t have much official representation barring the southernmost city of Saro.

Imjeong Province is the northernmost region of Daewanguk, its proximity to Noonnara giving it a frontier feel. The city of Tanchön was built around the remnants of a fortified castle, and is now home to a thriving black market known as the Backyard and a hidden cursed temple that is the headquarters for the Sect of Changjo. This shrine of wickedness is warded by spiritual energy, capable of removing the memories of intruders in addition to more mundane defenses such as pit traps and treacherous cliff pathways.

The other major feature of Imjeong is Hugak Swamp, home to many bands of dokkaebis as well as a hidden village of evil mages known as Kapeunsoom. They are more than eager to kill and enslave anyone coming through unannounced or disappeared without consequence, and there’s a rumor that an evil counterpart to the Koryo Hall of Adventures is being built here.

Hwanghai Province centers around the Muji Forest, sprawling bamboo woodlands home to various bandit gangs fighting each other over territory and harassing passing travelers. Towns on both the northern and southern ends of the forest see heavy traffic on the Scholars’ Road, where many students travel to the city of Gomnaru and are always in need of adventurers for safe escorts. The bandits themselves have some rather gimmicky themes, such as “gentlemen thieves” of unflappable dispositions, wood elves who claim that they’re saving up purloined funds to build ships to sail back to their homeland, and rejects from other gangs who aren’t too bright but make up for it with brutal straightforwardness.

Other interesting locations include the Kusäng military camp which recently cut off all contact with the rest of Daewanguk, causing many to fear the takeover of a hostile group such as the Eyes of Käl; the besieged town of Kyochä whose heavy traffic on the Scholar’s Road is counterbalanced by the stress and paranoia from the nearby villainous groups previously mentioned; the town of Sakju whose lord is little more than a heavy-handed tyrant who squeezes every bit of coin from an oppressed populace; the surprisingly undisciplined military base/town of Sukchön whose position on the Endless Sea was for guarding against seaborne enemies from prior eras; and Gamsija Island, a set of ruins dating from the Winds of Darkness which give off an eerie green glow and has resisted all attempts at being retaken.

Donggyeong Province is the central crossroads of Daewanguk. The port city of Huju is a diverse place which is paradoxically discriminatory of outside influence. It is also notable for being the headquarters of the Gomnaru Port Authorities instead of Gomnaru city proper due to said organization wanting to move further out of the crown’s influence. You’d think that they’d rename themselves then. Huju’s other major attraction is the Hwangak College of Magic, and its storied halls have a tradition of churning out Daewanguk’s best court mages and supernatural advisors.

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Gomnaru is the capital city of Daewanguk, sitting on the peninsula’s central-eastern shores. Its urban planning is shaped like a drawn-back bow, with the “arrow” being a long road that runs from the ocean-side ports to the river-linked Inner Port. The city is huge, being separated into districts, and various functions of state are overseen by members of the Hwabaek Council. The seaside districts see the most travel from realms beyond Jeosung, most often coming as traders with unique goods. Such outsiders are forced to trade in a single well-guarded port area, not entirely trusted by the government, which has given rise to no small amount of hidden smugglers’ caches to get around such restrictions.

Gomnaru is also home to a unique martial art known as Ssireum, a grappling and throw-focused fighting style that arose as one-on-one dueling between tribal leaders to avoid larger-scale bloody wars. Nowadays it is mostly done for entertainment, although its practitioners still take it seriously and pay homage to a primordial bear spirit to impart upon them strength and skill in matches.

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Other interesting places in Donggyeong include the Ruins of Palgeun Milae, a moss-ridden ruined military camp and temple to the old gods whose latest round of investigators and delvers have met various deaths; Dr. Lee Jaema’s Provincial Clinic, a former court physician who sought to dedicate his craft to treating more esoteric diseases; the Shrine of Infinite Emptiness, whose original purpose and faith is of unknown origin but agents of the Sect of Changjo seek to study it; the seven-story Dudanjeol Shrine which is home to the Sect of Yoggu Haneul, its trials of enlightenment ruses by its leader to enchant and blackmail Jeosung’s rich and powerful; the large and prestigious Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which has been compromised to act as a propaganda distribution center for the king; and Pyeonghwa Peak, a mountain range dotted by many small and isolated shrines and whose entire region has a seemingly supernatural phenomena where travelers and inhabitants feel an aura of peace. This even affects unintelligent and supernaturally evil creatures, causing some to theorize that the mountains were home to the first communities of Heavenly Beings. There’s also the Shrine of Ondal, home to a magically-petrified soldier who is the center of a local legend. In life he was overlooked by female suitors who sought richer and more handsome husbands, but is now immortalized for saving his unit by taking the blow from an enemy commander’s petrifying sword by keeping the blade within his body as he turned to stone.

The southern Eondok Province is filled with beautiful forests and rolling hills, a land favored by artists and other pursuers of the creative spirit. Gaeul forest is magically stuck in a state of eternal autumn, and its origins are unknown yet still being studied. Jangseung* with dragonborn features can be found throughout, and the local dragonborn who live here are xenophobic and take pains to go unnoticed. The fertile farmlands of Ssalbada are the breadbasket, or rather rice basket, of Daewanguk. They were well-defended due to their vital necessity for the kingdom, although its soldier protectors of the Ssalbada Rice Farmer’s Guild are less concerned about the welfare of the farmers than the crops they grow. The town of Ilsijeok is the largest community in the area, a settlement seemingly made entirely out of bamboo scaffolding, staircases, and structures that somehow keep from falling. A fast-growing fishing village of Buldotäng seems all too strange, and its inhabitants are believed to either be ruled over by dokkaebis or are actually such monsters in disguise. In a more isolated region of the province is another village fallen on supernatural hard times: Hongju has been taken over by a traveling monk who brutally slain the local lord that graciously offered him hospitality, and a heavy fog and supernatural silence has hung over the community ever since. Another place stricken by evil magic are the Cursed Plains of Kyeoltuji, expanses of empty grassland whose trees grow no leaves and the bodies of fallen soldiers from a long-ago battle are preserved by supernatural means.

*term for special totems erected at the edges of villages to ward off evil spirits.

Wow, it seems like Eondok has been dealt a bad hand! But its last two locations are seeing brighter days. The Tree of Exaltation has a shrine built around it by Daewanguk’s only registered shamanic organization. Hundreds of smaller intertwining trees link up with the larger tree, bent into shapes resembling the bodies of dancing shamans. The community exists as a support group for shamans who are unable to find formal training and mentorship in their hometowns. The town of Saro is the southernmost community of Daewanguk, a sort of artist’s retreat where buildings are built to allow for the flow of comfortable breezes through them, and its urban planning is deliberately designed to encourage the proximity and interaction between social classes. A large park-like field is reserved for people to practice painting, music, reading, and other such pursuits, and is notable for being the only community where the Seongsucheong Agency operates an office openly.

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The GM Tips section advises making use of the reputation system provided within this book. Even if the PCs are commoners, Daewanguk in general is much more regimented than the more freefaring realms of Mudangguk and Noonnara, and their actions can bar them from even meeting with and visiting certain NPCs and locations. This cuts both ways, as the competitive politicking often means that altruistic deeds for one group inevitably raise the ire of another.

There are 10 sample Deed adventure hooks, and barring 2 exceptions they are all gated off based on Reputation for Heroes or Scoundrels only. The only ones open to both are working as security during a festival in Gomnaru due to reports of Eyes of Käl activity, and a Desperate Measure in saving the people of Hongju. The hero deeds are the standard variety for fantasy adventurers: escorting a scholar to Gomnaru, investigating the strange happenings at the Kusäng military base, investigating a malfunctioning Chilseong gate, defending a village from bandits, and locating a missing person and a traveling group of yangbans is suspected. The scoundrel deeds include an assassination attempt on a target who is only disclosed by a contact in person, infiltrating a military camp to learn of its weaknesses, and a third assassination attemp of a competing yangban. Some of the hero deeds feel like they don’t need sufficient morality to do, but having two-thirds of scoundrel deeds being assassination missions is rather unimaginative.

But as for the NPCs, we got a lot of entries: 1 major and 34 minor! The major character is Naemul Minsu, the non-binary elven ruler of Saro teaching daily music lessons with an apprentice. The minor entries are numerous, covering a wide amount of who’s who in Daewanguk. They range from the head shaman of the Sect of Changjo who views herself as a chosen prophet but must be carried by a litter due to failing health, King Songdok whose increasing paranoia is sending him into a self-defeating spiral, and the Saju reader Doha who is well-known for the accuracy of her readings but is suspected of putting contracts on those who compete with or criticize her.

Another notable thing about this entry is a large amount of non-binary NPCs. Although a CTRL F search reveals around 13 such characters, 9 of them are in Daewanguk (2 each in the previous realm entries). The book denotes their entries as “androgyn,” and makes use of Spivak pronouns for them (e/eir/em).

Thoughts So Far: In comparison to the previous realms Daewanguk doesn’t really jump out at me. I’ll admit that this is mostly due to being so used to feudal aristocracies in fantasy gaming that it feels like a return to form after the entries on Mudangguk and Noonnara. But such countries are more the exception than the norm, and I can understand having a more classically familiar society to contrast against the more novel entries. In spite of being the most “civilized” realm of Jeosung, there’s still an awful lot of wilderness dungeon-crawl areas to have adventures in, which is a plus in my book. While there’s plenty of greedy and oppressive nobles to oppose, there’s a relative lack of yangban family dynasties and relationship trees that I’d expect in such a realm. There are a lot of NPCs, but most of the conflict seems to stem more from pre-determined organizations such as the Sect of Changjo or more local troubles. Daewanguk is perfectly serviceable as a realm for wandering adventurers with a backdrop of scheming nobility rather than the scheming being a central plot. This isn’t objectively good or bad, but more a subjective taste that I still feel is worth pointing out to readers. I wished that we got more text on the “evil adventuring academy” in Hugak Swamp; sounds like a great excuse to pit rival adventuring parties against the PCs.

Join us next time as we visit the final realm of Jeosung, the authoritarian Hermit Kingdom of Haenamguk!
 

jayoungr

Legend
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.
It will be well worth the wait. I got a hardback as a Kickstarter backer, and it's really beautiful, with good-quality glossy paper.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 5, Part 5: Haenamguk

Our final region in Jeosung, Haenamguk is an island nation off the southern peninsular coasts. The terrain fared far worse during the Winds of Darkness than other regions, and the devastation wrought by Yun Sepyeong’s fall and the monsters that spilled out into the world turned much of the land into a burning ruin. But the realm of Haenamguk managed to recover, and its people are proud of how they managed to build a nation out of what seemed to be unlivable conditions.

Ever since the Retaking of the Lands, Haenamguk has been a military dictatorship. Like Daewanguk it is a single nation with a centralized government employing the Yangban system. Unlike Daewanguk and the other kingdoms of Jeosung, the primary hierarchy is between civilian and soldier, not nobleman and peasant. Haenamguk officially defines itself as a civilian Directorship with armed forces, and the two branches of government have their own roles and functions in theory. In reality, the military government has legal authority to overturn any actions undertaken by the Directorship. In practice, the army doesn’t invoke this right frequently save during times of crisis or when an example needs to be made, as much of the bureaucratic minutia is better handled by civic administrators than warriors. As a result, the Directorship plays a careful balancing act, prizing what autonomy they can take and doing their part not to antagonize the power behind the throne too much. The military isn’t just for show; while not omnipresent there are various Open Wounds scattered about the country, from which demons and other foul monsters climb out to menace the countryside. A constant military presence is required to keep them in check, and many criminals are conscripted for the front lines here. By Haenamguk’s reasoning, they’re given a chance to make up for themselves by defending the country from danger. And for naval defenses, legions of heavily-armed dragonships are a constant presence around and between Haenamguk’s major island and smaller chains.

Beyond these power structures, there are other notable groups. Haenamguk is home to the Hwasanyong dragonborn and the Hwasan dwarves, who for generations have been racial enemies. During the Winds of Darkness they united in common cause against the dokkaebis and other forces of evil, and now the dragonborn serve as soldiers while the dwarves devote their lives to engineering and construction projects. There’s still simmering resentment between the groups, although the dictatorship does its best to put a clamp on things from evolving into all-out war. There are also three prominent families of Haenamguk: the Chloe clan, made up of bureaucrats related to the current Director; the Kim clan, a prosperous farming and fishing family who fastened a strong economy by opening up economic ties with foreign lands, especially with the Gaya Confederacy and Gomnaru Port Authorities; and the Yi clan, a family of wizards and information brokers who run the Chenju College of Wizardry. Many of the Yi’s members secretly belong to the Sect of Changjo in hopes that the return of the gods would usher in a new world order with them as rulers.

Chaandö and Haemadö comprise the northermost island chains off Haenamguk’s coast. It is here most foreigners make entry into the kingdom, where they must register with a local government office and be within the presence of a guide at all times. Said guide is actually a soldier in civilian clothes in charge of keeping tabs on visitors, ensuring that they don’t wander into restricted areas. Nobody needs to register in Haemadö, but the major population centers are crawling with plainclothes police. The town of Haemasijang is the primary port foreigners come to, and from which goods from the rest of Jeosung are imported. It’s also the least orderly place in Haenamguk, filled with petty thieves, rival schools of Shamanist and Purist monks jockeying for followers and coin, occasional brawls between buyers and merchants of magic items of questionable quality, the nearby community of Eastend which has the biggest black market in Jeosung and also an open Sect of Changjo temple that most people stay away from due to the creepy black-cloaked figures keeping tabs on passersby.

Sodihodö is home to a shrine of the same name, containing tombs of thousands of soldiers of those who fell during the Wars between the Dragon Kings of the Second Age. There are no records of this one’s construction, leading many to debate its origins, but people still visit during the local Festival of the Hidden Path to honor the fallen with jesa.

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Komundö is home to the capital city of Sejong, a relatively new metropolis whose foundations are built from grey volcanic rock but whose architecture is graceful and aesthetically pleasing. Neighborhoods are segregated into living quarters for civilians and the military, and the bureaucracy is obsessed with ensuring that the capital remains as perfect-looking and orderly as possible. Civil servants regularly visit shops and residences to ensure that everything is up to par and nobody is engaging in immoral behavior. Administrative buildings, offices, and halls are built to impress, from miniature constructions of the kingdom’s most famous inventions to a main thoroughfare full of candle-lit statues of famous scholars and soldiers who made their mark in Haenamguk’s history.

The Broken Cliffs of Chimultoji are the fabled birthplace of the chollima, a species of legendary yet sadly extinct winged horse. The sheer cliffs are unnatural, with formations indicative of being ripped apart by a sudden massive force, causing some to theorize that the gods once fought here.

Ulyongdö is home to two interesting features. The first is a floating island hovering high above Lake Boseok, containing ruins of unknown origin but all attempts at magical flight have been mysteriously dispelled. The second is the city of Chenju, stronghold of the Yi clan and home to a famed magical academy. The settlement’s entire economy revolves around aiding magical research, and the populace have to endure indignities such as sudden changes in weather and food ruined by ambient magic. Although open to foreigners, most outsiders give up, either due to the lack of privacy from military inspectors or weird vibes from the college’s values. Many mages have a feeling that every aspect of education is subtle propaganda for being groomed to “take part in a world-shattering event.” The Yi clan’s family estate is notable for having shrines and statues of the gods Ylryeo and Mago, which have brought increased scrutiny on them from the other families and Haenamguk’s factions.

Sajidö is home to Asan, a farming town which recruits outside labor to supplement its fieldwork. It’s rather multicultural as a result, and surprisingly there’s little conflict between citizens and foreigners. The island also houses Kilsangsa Temple, a multiple-purpose Purist temple and brothel designed to cater to both physical and spiritual needs. The kilseang* and monks operate more or less independently of one another, with the building’s layout designed so that there’s little overlap between the two.

*a special type of performer and entertainer who may also do sex work.

Imjadö houses the largest number of soldiers in Haenamguk thanks to the military training center of Hatong Gundabae. All those wishing to join the army must go here for basic training, and facilities and communities are built to aid and help in this endeavor. It’s also home to magical training centers where civilians learn from a list of authorized cantrips. The teaching of cantrips is still universal in Haenamguk, although only a pre-approved list of spells are taught. Predictably, damaging cantrips are not on the approved list, and only light, mage hand, mending, and spare the dying are taught to civilians.

Udö is an island containing a secret base where major military research projects are undertaken. It’s much more heavily guarded than usual, and the dragonships are prone to attack and sink any unidentified ships that so much as get a little bit close to the coast.

Gamangsupdö is our last detailed island before hitting the mainland. Its only notable feature is the Shrine of Kae, portraying a giant sculpture of a dog that towers over the forest. The whole island is woodlands, and the military’s attempts at scouting the place ended in failure: ships sunk for no reasons, while the trees were impervious to being cut or burned down. There are rumors that the island is guarded by dokkaebis and suhosins,* and strange flashes of blue spiritual energy rise from the forest every so often.

*The rarest race in Jeosung, direct descendents of the Heavenly People who live in their own private demiplanes.

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Chhilsandö is the name of Haenamguk’s main landmass and home to most of its population. There are many interesting places to explore, such as the giant Donuimum Gate that marks the major passing of ships to the mainland amid ruined fortifications of prior eras; the town of Kapsang which is home to the Fisher’s Guild headquarters and the Kim family’s private estate; Shipwrecked Ruins of unknown origin whose technology indicates it once possessed flying capabilities and is now watched over by the military; the town of Chungwha, which decided to placate the monsters coming out of the nearby Open Wound by sacrificing criminals to the monsters as food; Camp 13, a secret prison deep in a bamboo forest whose prisoners are subject to experiments turning them into warbeast abominations; and the Great Forges, a network of factories built into the Hwasan Volcano, taking advantage of geothermal energy to craft Hwasan weapons, specially-inscribed magical tools of war with a seal marking its origin (화산); and the village of Dongji, a cluster of simple druids and shamans who manage to live free of Haenamguk’s government due to natural magical defenses. Dongji houses a Chilseong Gate that has so far been kept secret from the Directorship. If its existence was found out, the military very well may invade again.

The GM Tips section predictably emphasizes the authoritarian nature of Haenamguk. Even if the PCs manage to infiltrate and/or shake off their guide-handler, the ever-present nature of the military dictatorship is a constant reminder, from regular check-points along the roads to army barracks in every city. There’s hardly an opportunity to let one's guard down, as outsiders are looked askance if they don’t have a guide present and local soldiers and officials need no excuse to stop people they deem suspicious.

There’s surprisingly few sample deeds for a section this size, with only 6 quest hooks. One deed for heroes involves investigating the Sangincheong Agency of Haemasijang, which is suspected of making forbidden magic items. Two deeds for scoundrels involve stealing a Hwasan sword out of the country and stealing military secrets from Udö. Ones for those of all moralities include mercenary work fighting monsters emerging from Open Wounds, a Desperate Measure involving exorcising spirits disrupting Asan’s harvests, and catching mulyong* fish for the Chenju College of Wizardry. I have noticed that every Desperate Measure sample mission involved hostile spirits menacing communities, often putting their local economy under threat. While not bad hooks per se, it is a bit monotonous.

*A species of horned flying fish whose scales and organs are valued for magical research.

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For notable NPCs, we have 3 major characters and 24 minor ones. Interestingly the Director of Haenamguk is but a minor character, a passionate scholar who resents the fact that any decision she makes can be overturned by the military. The three major character descriptions include the Head of the Fisher’s Guild retiring for some delicious soup after a hard day’s work, a dwarven soldier in charge of keeping illegal and counterfeit weapons from being smuggled out of the county by catching a thief in the act, and the head of the Sangincheong agency in an argument with her aging father’s smoking habit.

Thoughts So Far: It would be easy to label Haenamguk as the “evil country” of Koryo Hall of Adventures. And in several cases this would be right; the dictatorship is harsher than its needs to be and is up to a lot of unethical things. However, there are many people in the nation who merely seek to get by and live lives similar to that of others in Jeosung. Beyond aligning with the Gaya Confederacy and a potential civil war in Mudangguk that would come from that, Haewanguk isn’t interested in invading and taking over the rest of the setting, meaning that it’s mostly a threat to those within their borders more than anything. The most obvious “bad guy faction,” the Yi clan who venerates the Sect of Changjo, aren’t universally beloved for this decision, and there is still tension and dissension behind the scenes of the otherwise unified front that Daewanguk’s propaganda espouses.

Although Daewanguk does have adventuring potential, I feel that risks becoming a bit one-note. “Confounding the military dictatorship” may get a bit old as an adventure style, and quite a few of the locales don’t have much variety in terms of adventure material, with some exceptions like the Open Wounds and the northern ‘gateway’ islands being the more rough and tumble places. There’s still interesting ruins, untouched wilderness, and fortresses and estates whose inhabitants are up to no good, although the low number of sample deeds reinforces the feeling of being less adventurer-friendly than prior sections of the worldbook chapter.

Join us next time as we cover the rules-based sections of the book in 5th Edition Options...along with Pathfinder and OSR Conversions!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 6: 5th Edition (& Pathfinder, OSR) Options

Note: Some of you reading ahead may see that I haven’t covered the Mudang class in this post. This is intentional; Koryo’s Cleric replacement is more complicated than the subclasses here. Since it also has a chapter of its own for the various spirits it gains spells from, it’s best covered in a post of its own.

So far the bulk of material for Koryo Hall of Adventures has been system-neutral setting stuff. As of now the rest of the book is pure mechanics. The main sourcebook has rules for 5th Edition D&D, but rules for Pathfinder 1e and OSR are available as separately-purchased conversion documents. This is unfortunate as fans of those systems have to pay more, but as yours truly has both of those documents I’m going to review them as well!

Backgrounds cover aspects of one’s character before they became an adventurer. In 5th Edition they are new Backgrounds specific to the setting culture, in Pathfinder they are Traits, and in the OSR they don’t exist. For the most part they are the same concept albeit with different rules, although the Pathfinder version has 2 more not included in the 5e version. The 7 shared ones include Hamaeng Hosa, Daewanguk’s secret police) who get some sneaky/investigative perks; Hanisa, physicians practiced in a variety of medicines and good bedside manners) who get healing and gaming set-related boons; Hero of the Hall, notable characters of Koryo Hall who get some social skill proficiencies and minor discounts from the Hall’s services (can only be selected in 5e if starting at 5th level or higher); Hwarang, Haenamguk’s propaganda youth wing, who gain 2 bonus weapon proficiencies of their choice among Athletics/Religion in 5e and +1 to 3 ‘neighborly’ skills in PF (Diplomacy, Know-Local, Sense Motive); Kisaeng, performers and courtesans, get various entertainment-related proficiencies and a bonus language. In 5e their Feature allows them to access a tit-for-tat information network to learn various secrets about yangbans, and in PF that’s their primary benefit. Moving on, Tea Masters are experts at the various intricacies of brewing tea and get bonuses on Insight/Sense Motive checks in general and higher bonuses on said skill when performing a tea ceremony. Finally the Yangban are the nobility of Daewanguk and Haenamguk, and get various ‘high class’ proficiencies and a boatload of starting cash (250 gp) in 5e. In Pathfinder, they get an amount of “liquid assets” that are the equivalent of 100 gold to be spent on services and non-material goods which replenishes every week but cannot be “hoarded” over time. The book gives several examples, but calls out paying for spellcasting services as a viable option. In core PF, spellcasting services equal Caster level × spell level × 10 gp, so you can easily gain access to spells from cantrips up to 2nd level this way.

The two Pathfinder-exclusive background traits are as follows: Trader, which is exactly what it sounds like and lets you buy/sell items at 5% in your favor along with Appraise as a class skill, and Wonwha who are veterans of Daewanguk’s various “gifted children programs” and once per day can roll a trained only skill as if they were trained.

The backgrounds overall don’t really stand out, save for the Yangban’s purchasing power. I am glad that we have a generic “doctor” background for 5e that isn’t a wilderness hermit or monastery dweller. In 5th Edition money isn’t as necessary as it is in 3rd Edition, while in PF the liquid assets are mostly useful at low levels, so the background doesn’t stand heads and shoulders above the others. But it is still a very attractive option.

Races of Jeosung is a Pathfinder-specific entry, detailing the major dragonborn subraces. Called “dragonkin” in the document, this is an effective Pathfinder conversion of the 5e race, albeit with some changes here and there. Each subrace is built from 20 Racial Points and is treated as a race unto their own for game mechanics. They are all Medium size and have the Dragon type, along with Darkvision, low-light vision, typical dragon immunities (magical sleep and paralysis), and a 1/day breath weapon that is a 1d6 damaging cone. Unlike 5e’s dragonborn, this damage doesn’t increase with level and a successful reflex save avoids damage entirely unlike most AoE stuff, making it very underpowered. Hwasanyong are the most martial subrace, gaining +1 natural AC, +2 on melee attack rolls and AC when below half HP or fighting away from any ally, and gain fast healing 2 for 1 round whenever they take fire damage. Nokyong are spiritual forest-dwellers who gain +2 AC and +4 Stealth when in a specific type of favored terrain chosen at character creation, along with bonuses to Diplomacy and Knowledge (History, Local) checks for gathering information about local areas. Yulaeyong are the winged dragonborns of Noonnara, gaining +1 natural AC, a climb speed, +2 bonus on Sense Motive and Survival, and wings which don’t grant flight but can let them glide and fall at a safe descent.

We have 3 new feats for Dragonkin: Ascended Draconic Breath makes their breath weapon’s damage dice increase by 1d6 for every 2 levels after 1st, Dragon King’s Breath increases the breath weapon’s size and gives an additional daily use, and Dragon King’s Fury grants an additional daily use and the breath weapon deals half damage on a failed save.

The dragonborn subraces get a variety of useful traits, although the most iconic feature (the breath weapon) is a bit underwhelming unless it gets some feat taxes to make it suck less. And even after getting the feats, it still doesn’t measure up to a lot of damaging spells out there.

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Jaein: the Bards of Jeosung gives us a new subclass for 5e and PF, and a new class for the OSR. Jaein are entertainers of Jeosung, trained in a broad variety of skills but tend to specialize in acrobatics, acting, or music. The College of Gwangdae (5e) teaches that a Jaein must be well-rounded in all 3. At their initial 3rd level upon entry they gain proficiency in Acrobatics, Performance, Disguise Kits, and a single Musical Instrument, and if already proficient in one or both of the former skills can trade it out for another. Also at 3rd level they can cave a special mask to take on a common fictional persona (Elder, Soldier, Scholar, etc) which grants them some kind of special feature, usually the expenditure of Bardic Inspiration in adding to a skill check or the casting of a 1st-level spell. At higher levels they can make a mask which can embody multiple personas at once. At 6th level they become better at feats of agility and grace, reducing balance-based Acrobatics check DCs by 10 and learn Feather Fall as a spell cand can cast it an additional number of times per day equal to their Charisma modifier. At 14th level they gain a very powerful AoE where they conjure a spectral stage, forcing those within to take certain actions on a failed saving throw and those within cannot leave the area of effect without the Bard’s permission or if they become unconscious.

The PF version more or less is a faithful conversion minus the bonus proficiencies, the Bard adds either half their level or their Charisma modifier in lieu of the Mask’s Bardic Inspiration die boons. However, Pathfinder subclasses have to trade out class features to gain the new abilities, and in this case the Jaein must give up their Bardic Performance. Which is a bit of a loss, especially considering the fact that the subclass’ most powerful feature doesn’t kick in until 16th level and its masks and acrobatics are more situational and personal-use.

The Jaein OSR class is kind of like a “support Thief.” Its Prime Requisite is Charisma, has a d6 Hit Dice, and has XP/Attack/starting resources as a Thief, although they have the Saving Throws of a Halfling (which are pretty good). Their weapon proficiencies aren’t as versatile, focusing on lighter graceful weapons and some heavier bludgeoning ones (flail, quarterstaff). They can wear any armor, but anything heavier than “light armor” restricts their use of Performance Abilities. Their class table makes mention of “spell songs” which can be composed and prepared, along with casting time of said spell songs by level (2 rounds at 1st level, 1 round at 8th, instantaneous at 14th). But as there’s no mention of what this means or what spells they do learn, this class feature is more or less useless. Their Mask Magic is much like the 5e/PF versions, but the bonuses range from 1d4 to the Jaein’s level.

The class’ Performance Skills are separated into Styles and Arts, the former which are ranked Novice to Master and the latter Lesser and Greater. The Jaein has some freedom of choice in choosing which ones to learn as they level up, but once taken the “increases” for Styles at certain levels are locked in. Acrobatic Style grants them the ability to cast various acrobatics-related spells (Spider Climb, Feather Fall, Haste, etc) and gains static percentile bonuses on various rolls and Thief skills for actions related to agility; Impressionist Style lets them mimic the sound of a limited number of animal species and can imitate and disguise themselves as specific individuals; Musician Style makes them cast spell songs faster, can use music to erase hostility in targets, and can grant listeners the benefit of Cure Light Wounds before a night’s rest.

Jaein Arts are taken individually; once you learn an Art, you know it, but Greater Arts only kick in at 5th level and the Jaein learns them later over the course of a 20 level career. Lesser Arts include things like being able to automatically succeed on balance-related checks out of combat (and in combat albeit suffering certain penalties), gaining bonuses to speed and AC, gaining bonuses to Thief spells involving sleight of hand and and can cast Phantasmal Force/Light/Wall of Fog once per day via stage magic, and can grant bonuses on morale checks and 1d4+1 to an ally’s die roll via oratory skills. Greater Arts include better AC vs missile attacks and can catch missed ranged attacks and throw them back automatically, performing a puppet show which lets them subtly use various Styles, Arts, and Spell Songs and not be detected as such by observers, can 1/day automatically succeed in telling a lie or faking a wound or their own death, and elicit sharp words which can force an NPC to make a Morale check, ventriloquism that can confuse targets, disrupt spellcasting, communicate secretly with allies, or impose penalties on rolls.

Existing Class Comparisons: in 5th Edition and Pathfinder the subclasses feel a bit lacking. The Masks may be the most versatile, but only being able to use a few at once and on themselves make them very much a situational jack of all trades. Their capstone ability is pretty powerful, but kicks in too late to be of use in most campaigns.

As a new OSR class, the Jaein has a good amount of options and some of which can be quite powerful. Unfortunately it feels incomplete due to the lack of Spell Song descriptions, and some of the Arts and Styles are broader than others. Still, the class as it is can make for a good “social rogue” type.

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Sunim: the Monks of Jeosung discuss the role Monks play in the setting. While many of the class’ fantasy tropes are still intact, there’s more flavor text which specifically grounds their ideologies beyond “enlightenment through meditation.” Almost all Monks are Purists of some sort, who view the current state of mortalkind as flawed and seek to achieve the status once held by the Heavenly Beings. Their monasteries were built during times of war and strife, when people sought to isolate themselves from the world so as to better find ways of ascension and to distance themselves from danger. They weren’t pacifists, however, teaching themselves martial arts known as sunmudo that calls upon their own spiritual energy in the event that others bring violence upon them. In-universe monks are called Sunim in the Spiritual Lexicon, while those who are Purists but don’t follow the monastic life are known as Followers of Hwanggung.

Purism has five major tenets, each linked to one of the four classical elements and mind, which have their own linguistic terms.

Tang (earth). Do not let yourself be bound to earthly desires. As such, renounce intimate relationships, marriage, and the consumption of meat.

Būl (fire).While you may have to fight to defend yourself and the oppressed, you may never be the first one to strike.

Mūl (water). Be the hand that helps and nurtures. Show compassion to those in need, support your teachers and elevate your students. Never ignore injustice.

Gongi (air). Your words show your true nature. Do not lie, and use your knowledge to help elevate those around you.

Maheum (mind). Keep a clear mind at all times; do not drink alcohol or use mind altering substances.

Via these tenets, Purists believe that they can alter their natures to be closer to the Heavenly Beings of old, and meditations are done for the purpose of emptying one’s mind of earthly desires and to detach oneself from past mistakes and suffering.

We have two new monk subclasses for 5e and Pathfinder. For the latter system, they are archetypes for the Unchained version of the monk.

The Sunmudo Monastic Tradition for 5th Edition grants bonus proficiencies in Insight and a musical instrument, the former swapped for another skill of choice if already proficient. Additionally they can prepare a number of stances equal to their Wisdom every short rest, corresponding to the 5 tenets: Tang grants resistance to all non-psychic damage if the monk doesn’t move during their turn, Būl adds +1d4 fire damage per attack with Flurry of Blows, Gongi grants temporary fly speed equal to movement with Step of the Wind, Mūl grants +2 AC when using Patient Defense, and Maheum allows the monk once per short rest to spend a Ki point to regain 1 HP whenever they drop to 0 HP. At level 6 they learn a meditation rite which after 15 minutes heals them a number of hit points equal to their monk level and counts as meditation for regaining Ki points. At 11th level they can spend 2 Ki Points as an AoE effect centered on them, imposing disadvantage on attack rolls against the monk and their allies on a failed Charisma save. At 17th level they can draw in spiritual energy from elsewhere once per long rest, gaining 2 Ki points per round for 1 minute or until they fall unconscious.

The Pathfinder version is more or less a faithful conversion, although the meditation ritual doesn’t restore ki points and restores 1d8 + monk level in HP, the AoE is specifically the Calm Emotions spell, and the damage resistance is merely their monk level rather than halved damage. As an archetype they must give up Style Strike, their 6th and 12th level Ki powers, and Timeless Body. As Timeless Body’s benefits don’t come up in most campaigns and the Unchained Monk has plenty of Ki powers to choose from as they level up, they don’t give up that much for this rather nifty and versatile archetype.

The Taekwondo Monastic Tradition for 5th Edition was developed by soldiers of Haenamguk who emphasize quick powerful strikes and kicks at the expense of stability. The fighting style has become immensely popular, spreading throughout Jeosung in various academies. Members of this tradition can treat quarterstaffs and nunchaku (game stats as clubs) as monk weapons, and in addition can treat them as Versatile weapons and use their Dexterity rather than Strength score when performing the Shove action with them. At 3rd level the monk learns a variety of special kick attacks which augment their ki-based abilities, such as +1d4 damage with Flurry of Blows, triple jump distance with Step of the Wind and can knock creatures prone with a kick that deals damage one die type higher (d6 to d8, d8 to d10, etc), and can make an unarmed attack as a reaction when using Patient Defense and struck targets have disadvantage on any attack rolls made against the monk. At 6th level they add their proficiency bonus to initiative as well as Performance and Intimidation checks where they show off their martial prowess, and at 11th level once per short rest can unleash a war cry that restores 3 Ki points and imposes the frightened condition on nearby creatures that fail a Wisdom save. At 17th level they can unleash a special tornado kick attack that crits on a 19-20 and can deal 1, 3, or 6 extra dice of damage if 1-3 Ki points are spent. Creatures who suffer a critical hit become stunned for 1 round on a failed Wisdom save.

The Pathfinder conversion is faithful, although the 3rd level feature separates the special kick attacks by level (3rd, 7th, 10th), the 7th level kick can trip a creature, the disadvantage is a mere -2 penalty, the reaction-based attack is an attack of opportunity, and a ki point can be spent to make an additional unarmed strike as a swift action with flurry of blows. Wisdom is added to initiative instead of proficiency bonus, the way cry is a multi-target Intimidation demoralize, and the bonus die for the tornado kick is 1d4-3d4 bonus damage. As for what the archetype gives up, they trade in their 6th, 12th, and 16th level ki powers.

Just like the Bard, the OSR document has a whole new class. The Monk/Sunim is the default, with Sunmudo and Taekwondo as one of two chosen traditions. Overall the class is a bit of a glass cannon: their Prime Requisite is Wisdom, they have a d6 Hit Die, and their only weapons beyond unarmed strikes are the quarterstaff, club, dart, and flail. They cannot use any form of armor or shield, and Attack as a Fighter and Save as a Cleric. They gain a base Unarmed Damage Die and inherent bonus to their base AC, both of which improve as they level (1d4 to 1d12+5 for the former, +3 to +11 for the latter). As they level up they can treat their unarmed attacks as having the silver and magical properties at 3rd and 5th level, and at 9th level they deal 1d6 bonus damage to creatures related to an element that they learned* as a Bangsaek Gift. Furthermore, they don’t suffer negative effects from touching/striking creatures with an innate defense such as poisonous skin or a damaging aura. Like the Bard they have a versatile set of choices in Bangsaek Gifts and Monastic Tradition Disciplines. Bangsaek Gifts correspond to the 5 elements and there are a total of 10, mostly either static perks (bonus to saves, movement speeds, communicate in all languages, etc) or activated abilities, a few of which are once per day (move up and intercept an attack meant for an ally, end a personal physical affliction, deflect and catch missile weapons, etc). A Monk cannot use every Gift available to them, and must prepare which ones they have access to per day like a spellcaster.

*DM’s discretion, but the OSR document basically says that everything has an affinity for various elements to greater and lesser extents. Aquatic creatures with water, birds with air, etc.

The two Monastic Traditions teach Disciplines based on rank and also give +1 to an ability score (Wisdom for Sunmudo, Dexterity for Taekwondo). Both traditions are more or less faithful conversions of the 5e/PF subclasses, substituting proper effects: morale checks for the frightened condition, can use Bangsaek Gifts an additional time per day instead of restoring ki points, etc. Finally at 20th level the Monk can choose one of their Bangsaek Gifts to be ‘permanently’ known and thus automatically have it when choosing which ones they have access to per day.

Existing Class Comparisons: The 5e Taekwondo subclass is a great option for those who want to maximize their damage potential, although it’s rather lacking in the utility department in favor of pure offense and combat prowess. The bonus to initiative is pretty nice, too. The PF version feels a bit less impressive, if only due to the fact that the minor bonuses and penalties by themselves are meant to stack with a multitude of other features in the system as is the case for most character-building. Wisdom bonus to initiative is very good, however, and the mere d4 bonus dice is mitigated by the fact that Pathfinder contains many, many ways to gain bonus attacks in a round, particularly for Monks.

For the OSR class, most retroclones are rather monk-phobic save for Swords & Wizardry, so we’re going to use that RPG’s class as a comparison point. In contrasting the two, Koryo’s monk class is more tightly focused. The player has more freedom to choose what abilities to learn, but they correspond more closely to elements and fighting styles rather than being a hodgepodge assortment of spell-like abilities and features that have little synergy with each other. Koryo’s weaponless damage has a lower cap and its AC bonus has a better initial bonus at lower levels, but the AC progression becomes equivalent at higher levels. The XP chart for Koryo’s monk is much faster than S&W’s monk, topping out at 1.5 million XP at 20th level vs the latter’s 4.2 million, so overall Koryo’s has a much more noticeable feeling of progression over the course of a campaign. And also quite importantly, Koryo’s monk won’t be screwed when fighting an enemy which has immunity to non-magical weapon attacks, which can become quite common at the higher levels.

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Equipment & Magic Items is relatively short, covering a short list of common goods and services along with new culture-specific adventuring kits: a Hanisa/acupuncture kit for medicine, a Shaman’s Pack for the Mudang, and a Tea Master’s Kit. Duri’s Amazing Items is the name of a local shop at the Koryo Hall of Adventures. It has a list of gimmicky magic items and their gold piece prices, providing short descriptions or referring to the new Magic Items section for more complicated abilities. At the lower end you have a belt that conjures a set of illusory pants and a dagger that heals 1d4+Wisdom modifier in damage of creatures it stabs,* while at the more expensive end you have a tiger skull helmet that adds double proficiency in Survival when tracking animals and masks which add either +1 to Intimidation or Performance checks depending on whether they are meant to evoke entertainment or fear.

*the stabbing still deals damage so using it is a gamble.

For new non-gimmicky magic items we have 10 new entries and more generic Mudang Charms. For the former we have an assortment of options, such as a Flute of Invisibility that turns the performer invisible but they must still audibly play it to remain in such a state, a Chalice of Dragonfire that grants 3 charges of the fire breath weapon,* a Four Corners Gem where each section can be broken off to perform a certain effect (produce a small amount of gold coins, rations, let a dying creature stabilize, or kill a dying creature), a Fan of Folly which can confuse a creature the user waves the fan at, and Saljaebi Flowers made of old scroll papers of good luck which if smashed against a target (as bonus or immediate action) grant +2 AC for 1 round. Perhaps most interesting is the Orb of Time Reset, which records all phenomena within a 30 foot radius at a certain point in time and can reverse everything to that point when the orb is broken. The orb has some nasty side effects: creatures who aren’t present within the specific AoE when activated die as they are torn from the timeline, with no possibility of resurrection.

*In 5th Edition the item doesn’t specify if it’s like a dragon’s breath weapon and what age category, but Pathfinder specifies it has the effects of the Fire Breath spell. In the OSR it is a 30 foot range 6d8 damaging attack, but every 10 HP inflicted has a 1% chance of granting the user a draconic feature like fangs, tail, and scales. Some of which can grant new features like natural weapons.

We also have a list of Jesa and prices divided into elements and rarity for said elements. For example, Būl spirits prefer the burning of various plants, crops, and herbs, while Gongi prefer seasonal flowers which either smell nice or who scatter their spores via the wind like dandelions.

Mudang Charms are magic items corresponding to the new class. Shamanic Charms are consumable parchments which turn to ash after activation and grant a +1 or +2 to skill checks related to an ability score for 1 hour. Bujeoks are amulets representative of an animal renowned for a certain physical or mental prowess and grant +1 to an appropriate ability score when worn. Finally there are five Mudang Rare Magic Items which correspond to a certain element, granting +1 bonus to spell attack rolls and saving throw DCs of that particular affinity. They also grant a bonus special ability while attuned: for example, the +1 Folding Fan can let the wielder once per short rest float 6 inches off the ground and can Dash, Dodge, or Disengage as a bonus action for 1 round, while the +1 Incense Burner once per short rest blinds creatures within 10 feet of the wielder on a failed Constitution save. The Charms and Bujeoks have costs in gold pieces, although the Rare Magic Items do not.

The bonuses for Pathfinder are more or less carried over, but the OSR version has a lot of specific new material. Not only are there rules for PCs crafting said charms themselves, the Bujeoks can even have randomly-determined variable effects rolled on a 2d6 table ranging from the positive to the negative. The Bear (Strength) charm for example can force a penalty on enemy Morale due to the wearer’s frightful bear-roars. But another effect makes them ravenously hungry after the effect expires, forcing them to eat a days’ worth of food or starve.

Spells include not just the spells included in the default book (of which there are few), but also magic from the Homebrew Spells Lists which are available as Pay What You Want PDFs on Drive-Thru RPG. The OSRified spells are already included in the default paid-for conversion document, so while the 5e/PF versions are free the scattered nature makes it a bit inconvenient for cross-referencing.

We have 18 new spells, 4 of which are Evil spells developed by Yun Sepyeong. Being caught using the latter spells makes the caster a killable target for Koryo Hall’s adventurers, not to mention any number of governmental bodies. Their use also marks the caster as an enemy of all spirit-kind, meaning that no spirits will aid the caster voluntarily.

Let’s cover the non-evil spells first. The Calculate cantrip suspends an object in a floating cube of water, imparting mathematical dimensions and economic value to the caster. Flame Spear is a fire damage cantrip that can lodge itself in the target, dealing initial damage and 1d8 further when it ignites if the target attacks the caster. Heavy Gong is a cantrip that creates a shell of earth that deals bludgeoning damage in melee, while Muck Bang is a ranged cantrip that hurls damaging mud that also creates an area of difficult terrain for 1 round. Campfire creates a magical fire that in addition to dealing damage has minor healing properties of those who take a short rest by it. Slippery Space imposes disadvantage on Sleight of Hand and Stealth in its long-lasting AoE, while Fissure creates a long line in the earth that can deal damage to those who fall in via a failed Dexterity save. Sinking Sand is similar in damage-dealing to those caught within the AoE, but is a radius rather than a line and reduces the speed of those within to 0 until they free themselves with a Strength check. Heighten Emotion is an enchantment that imposes disadvantage on future charmed and frightened conditions, while Unleash is a buff that instills fighting spirit in a target (even an unconscious one) by gifting them temporary hit points, an immediate Action to use after the spell’s casting, and deals +1d8 fire damage on melee weapon attacks. Promare can ignite the flames of life in a target, allowing the spellcaster to spend their own Hit Dice to restore the target’s points; it can even be used on a deceased target provided that they were dead for up to 1 hour or less. Targets healed in such a way shed blue light and have resistance to all damage for 1 minute. Raise Platoon and Raise Army summon swarms of Spectral Soldiers who have their own stat block. Raise Army is the higher-level version, which summons 3 Swarms instead of 1 and has a longer duration and range (8 hours and 120 feet vs 1 hour and 60 feet). A Spectral Soldier Swarm is a CR 4 Gargantuan undead creature, which can attack 1-2 targets in the swarm’s space, is incorporeal, treats all of its attacks as magical, and has a host of damage resistances and condition immunities.

For the major OSR and Pathfinder differences, the cantrips become 1st level spells in the OSR, while in Pathfinder the cantrips don’t increase in damage by level as cantrips do by default in 5e. The resistance/advantage/etc spells give more minor bonuses and minuses in other systems, and Pomare has a mere Damage Reduction 5/- in Pathfinder. Pathfinder’s Fissure is a lot less damaging (only 2d6 from falling), and the OSR’s Mukbang can immobilize a target on a failed save or halve their movement on a successful one. Promare in Pathfinder and OSR (called Spark of Life in the latter) forces the target to give up their own Hit Points to heal the target, which makes it a much less appealing option to use.

Now let’s cover the EVIL Spells! Why are they evil? Well they all involve the destruction and/or enslavement of spirits, which is a danger to the connection between the mortal and spirit realms and screws around with the natural order and the flow of magic into the world. They are uniformly very high level, with Spiritual Cage 8th and Consume Spirit 9th level, with Ender of the Gods 10th level in 5e or 9th level in PF. Oddly, the OSR document has no conversion of such spells.

Spiritual Cage takes over a spirit’s mind, forcing it to do anything the caster commands of it. It has a 1 hour duration, but if cast continuously over the course of 8 hours* then the duration jumps to permanent. A diamond is needed to hold the spirit’s material form, and its destruction frees the spirit from the caster’s control. Consume Spirit has the caster swallow the diamond, literally eating the spirit and gaining their powers in the form of one of the spirit’s Kutt spells* and can be cast via the expenditure of an appropriate spell slot. This isn’t permanent, as spell slots gained in such a way are not restored after a long rest. And in case you’re wondering, any diamonds eaten pass through the caster’s digestive tract, allowing them to be reused for enslaving other spirits.

*I presume that this is an 8 hour casting time, as this would otherwise involve the expenditure of 480 spell slots.

Finally, Ender of the Gods is a totally ridiculous spell. First off it requires 1,000 spell slots of 6th level and higher accumulated via the Consume Spirit spell to be cast. Once that is met as well as the 10 minute casting time, the caster transforms into a golden spear of light that has a 10,000 foot range and 60 feet width. All those within the AoE take 40d20 force damage or half on a successful save, while divine creatures (including all spirits) take double damage. After the casting, the caster’s body is paralyzed until a Greater Restoration is cast upon them.

*pseudo-cleric domain style spells associated with particular spirits.

Pathfinder has a 9th level Greater Spiritual Cage spell, which allows the caster to affect any spirit regardless of rank. In 5e, the base Spiritual Cage can do the same via casting it with a 9th-level slot. Pathfinder’s Ender of the Gods has a more down to earth damage value of 20 force damage per caster level.

Thoughts So Far: The rules-centric section for player-facing material is all over the place. There’s quite a bit of usable material, but said options vary in usability and quality. Interestingly the OSR gets the most, with two new classes that can emulate bards and monks beyond the Jeosung-centric specialties. The Pathfinder version has some new material that isn’t present in the others for some reason, such as the dragonborn subraces and 2 backgrounds. Ironically the Pathfinder versions feel lacking in comparison to 5e. In the OSR modifiers are few and far between, while in 5e Bounded Accuracy, advantage/disadvantage, and resistance/vulnerability options make the various modifiers a lot more meaningful. Compare this to the minor bonuses handed out in Pathfinder, which on their own aren’t so hot but need to be stacked with a bunch of other spells/feats/etc to be significant.

I do appreciate that a lot of the new magic items have listed gold piece prices in reflection of Jeosung’s higher-magic nature, and I did enjoy the new monk subclasses. The magical items were flavorful as well.

Overall, the spells are a good mixture of nifty abilities, although they vary in balance. Two of the damaging cantrips have some nice debuffs, while the water-calculation one is good for ascertaining the value of recovered treasure. Promare in 5e is very powerful in the granting of damage resistance, although it consumes a 300 gp diamond in all versions, which prevents it from becoming too OP in 5e but makes it a bit too gimmicky to be a sure option in Pathfinder/OSR.

The Evil Spells are too high-level and situational to be of use in most campaigns. They’re the kind of thing you’d give to a bad guy NPC spellcaster, and the downsides of PCs using it outweigh the good. Their most practical use is to gain the service and spells of spirits, the latter of which is a temporary casting vs the permanent destruction of an enslaved spirit. Ender of the Gods will not be cast in any real campaign unless the GM handwaves months of downtime for the PC caster. “Okay, no need to roll initiative hundreds of times, let’s say that you enslave 400 spell slots worth of spirits.” And on top of that, it has way too long of a casting time to be usable in combat, its intended primary purpose.

Join us next time as we learn the secrets of shamanism with the new Mudang Class and Spirit List!
 

jayoungr

Legend
The two Pathfinder-exclusive background traits are as follows: Trader, which is exactly what it sounds like and lets you buy/sell items at 5% in your favor along with Appraise as a class skill, and Wonwha who are veterans of Daewanguk’s various “gifted children programs” and once per day can roll a trained only skill as if they were trained.
I wonder why those weren't included in the 5E version. I suppose Trader could be replaced with the existing Guild Merchant background, but it seems like Wonhwa could be adapted to 5E, and maybe should.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Chapter 6, Part 2: the Mudang Class

Also known as shamans, mudang are mortals whose souls bond with spirits. This decision is rarely made by the mortal, and as such most mudang ‘come into’ their powers rather than through study or training. The bonding process opens up the shaman to the spirit realms, making them better able to better draw upon their power. The spirit-bonding process is a very painful experience, and a lot of mudang are impacted by some form of trauma. But spirits rarely choose a mortal vessel without long consideration, and go out of their way to find those whose personality and goals align with their own.

As a 5th Edition class, mudang are sort of like warlocks albeit they aren’t entirely spontaneous casters and “prepare” their spells via convening with spirit types. They have a d8 Hit Die, are close to wizards in weapon and armor proficiency, are proficient in Wisdom and Charisma saves, and choose 2 skills from a list of knowledgeable/insightful options. At 1st level they have an unarmoured AC equal to 10 their Charisma modifier (but no Dexterity). They can use shields to add to this value, but they don’t start with shield proficiency by default. Also at first level they can cast spells with the ritual tag as rituals.

Mudang use Charisma as their spellcasting ability, and every long rest they can select a number of common and/or uncommon spirits to prepare. Said spirits are themed around particular elements and concepts, allowing the mudang to spontaneously cast their listed spells via Kutt* Slots. Like warlocks they have a maximum slot level of 5th, but there are greater spirits (Daeshin and Daegam) who can grant access to 6+ level spells at 11th and 17th levels respectively. A Daeshin can also be summoned to command Common Spirits, and Daegam can be summoned to Command Uncommon Spirits. Both choices can either grant the ability to multicast 3 common/uncommon spirit spells as part of the same action, or take command of up to 3 of said spirits who are treated as charmed towards the mudang and their allies.

*term for a spell cast through a spirit.

A mudang can prepare 2 types of Spirits at 1st level, and prepare more as they level up, all the way up to 9 spirits at 20th level. They have 2-12 spell slots to cast kutt from Common spirits (1st-2nd level spells) depending on their level, and starting at 5th they gain 2 Uncommon spirit kutt slots (3rd-5th level spells) which are tracked separately, and can gain up to 5 of those slots at 11th level. At 11th to 15th level they can summon a Daeshin 1-3 times per long rest for a spell and/or service, and at 17th and 19th level they can summon a Daegim 1-2 times. As Common and Uncommon spirits grant access to 3-4 spells each on average, mudang are akin to very versatile warlocks. They must draw upon tightly-themed magic, but as they gain levels they have a generous list of choices as to what spells they can cast from said themes.

At 2nd level the Mudang adds double their proficiency bonus on Insight and Persuasion checks when interacting with spirits. Also at this level they gain access to a subclass reflective of the initial spirit who bonded with their soul. They have one of the five elements to choose from as a subclass, and they can spend a kutt slot to gain a Momju’s* Blessing which grants a specific effect based on the element. If the Blessing matches their elemental affinity the mudang can cast it for as many slots as they have but non-affiliated choices are limited by long rests. At 3rd level they can pass this Blessing on to their allies once per short or long rest. The Blessings are Tang (gain temporary HP and more temp HP whenever an effect grants it), Būl (AC boost or minimum AC value), Mūl (restore HP and increase HP maximum), Gongi (increase speed), and Maheum (allow touched ally to “take 10-13” on a d20 roll). The values of said Blessings increase with level. At 18th level the mudang always benefits from their affiliated elemental blessing, and at 20th level they can use other affinities an infinite number of times on themselves and their allies.

*term for spirit.

Beyond the Blessings, Spiritual Affinities grant more abilities both initial and at later levels. Each one grants the choice of two themed cantrips (+2 more at higher levels) and a unique cantrip spell the mudang always has access to, among other options. Tang is all about the enduring bounty of the earth, granting proficiency in simple melee weapons, shields, a single set of artisan’s tools, and its unique cantrip allows the mudang to mold and shape conjured earth, gain temporary HP, and deal bonus bludgeoning damage equal to their remaining temporary HP. At 6th level they can create large and sustainable domes and pillars of earth, at 10th they gain advantage on all checks to avoid being forcefully moved and can treat themselves as 3,000 pounds heavier, and at 14th level they gain 5 temporary HP whenever they have 0 temporary HP.

Būl represents the beautiful yet deadly power of fire, and grants proficiency in light and medium armor as well as all simple weapons along with some martial ones. Its unique cantrip envelops the caster in a fiery aura that adds additional fire damage to their next weapon or fire-based damaging attacks and can also deal burn enemies as a reaction. At 6th level they grant a touched target advantage on attack rolls and end the frightened condition, at 10th they gain resistance to fire damage and automatically deal damage to creatures grappling and touching them, and can raise their body temperature to 100 degrees Celsius. No game stats for this last part, though. At 14th level they can create an even more powerful aura that gives similar boons of the prior class features to allies, but at higher values.

Mūl symbolifies water and is favored by healers and traders. Its unique cantrip summons magical waters to swirl around a target, which can alternately empower healing magic to heal more damage, deal cold damage, or move light unattended objects. At 6th level they can impose a debuff via a touch by soothing a target’s emotions, which in combat applies disadvantage on relevant actions and out of combat increases the target’s impression of the caster (hostile to neutral, neutral to charmed). At 10th level the caster can take the Disengage action as a bonus action, can treat occupied hostile squares as difficult terrain while doing so, and can lower their internal body temperature to 0 degrees Celsius. At 14th level they can create an aura of cold that creates difficult terrain, grants resistance to cold damage, and can choose alternatively to prevent targets from healing damage or healing damage to a target as a reaction.

Gongi is favored by travelers who go wherever the winds take them, and is also favored by exorcists due to said element’s association with transitioning beyond the mortal coil. Their unique cantrip summons up winds which allow for short-term flight and the Disengage action as well as imposing magical slashing damage on a reaction. At 6th level they can generate a 10 foot radius of updrafts which can make creatures and objects hover in the air. At 10th level they can take the Dash action as a bonus action, at 0 hit points they can still move while unconscious as their bonded spirit possesses them, and can choose to weigh only 1 pound and take reduced fall damage when in such a state. At 14th level they can spend a reaction to treat a 0 HP creature as conscious and hold off their need to make death saving throws. Damage taken in this state forces such a save rather than auto-failing it.

Maehum is strongly associated with divination, and its practitioners often adopt fatalist attitudes and have a fondness for the Dallaenuen mushrooms. Their unique cantrip chooses two creatures for its effects: whenever one either makes an opposed roll or damages the other, the caster can have the roll/damage increased or reduced by a small yet noticeable amount as a reaction on the part of the mudang. At 6th level they can blow magical smoke onto a nearby creature, suppressing one condition for 1 minute. And a wide variety to choose from, ranging from blind to charm to incapacitated to 1 level of exhaustion! At 10th level they can roll initiative twice and choose the better result, and can shapeshift to appear anywhere from an adolescent to an elder version of themselves. At 14th level the mudang can touch a creature, connecting the two souls via an immaterial red string. Neither can drop unconscious or roll death saving throws due to being at 0 HP unless both are, but any extra damage dealt to one of the affected parties carries over to the other. They also share the same results of death saving throws, where collectively reaching 3 successes or failures results in stabilization/death.

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Our section ends with 6 new mudang-related feats. One of them, Kutt Initiate, teaches the character a unique subclass spell and a single common spirit’s kutt spells cast at their lowest level. The rest of the feats key to one of the elemental Blessings, adding higher results as well as unique boons: Tang allows an ally to gain the AC bonus, Maheum forces a hostile opponent to replace a d20 roll with a 10-7, etc.

The Pathfinder version for the class is similar, although they have a good Fortitude and poor Reflex and Will saves, a notable departure from the 5e’s mind over matter. The conversions make some changes in places, like the class adding their Charisma bonus to their AC and a value from 0 to 5 based on level or the Tang subclass’ tool proficiency treating one Craft skill as a class skill. This may sound useless, but the Mudang is unique in that it doesn’t have Craft as a class skill.* The class casts in a similar manner, preparing particular spirits but casting spontaneously from the spirit’s spells.

*This is rather peculiar, as it’s industry standard for Craft to be a class skill for every class in official Pathfinder material. Same for Profession, with Barbarians being the odd class out in not getting it.

The OSR version is similar, although it is proficient in a shield right off the bat rather than getting it through a subclass, and its Prime Requisite is Charisma and either Dexterity (Būl) or Wisdom (other affinities). They attack as Magic-users but save and progress experience-wise as Clerics, and their method of spellcasting employs the similar “prepare spirits, cast your choice of spells through them” method which makes them rather spontaneous in their fields of expertise. They add their Charisma modifier as an AC bonus, which can be problematic as said score in OSR games doesn’t have a modifier by default but has modifiers for things such as NPC Reactions. Maybe that’s what was meant, but it’s not clear. Their elemental blessings are a bit lower-powered, such as Tang giving a flat +2 on saves vs spells and Gongi +10 feet to their movement rate.

There’s also something interesting that OSR Mudangs can do and the other systems can’t: When calling upon a Daeshin or Daegam spirit, they can capture a fragment of a Common or Uncommon spirit’s essence, adding them to the Mudang’s roster of bound spirits above and beyond the limitations of their class level. This still has the “GM’s Discretion” clause to it, indicating it’s not something that can be done regularly.

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Chapter 8: Spirit List

Note: For those curious, Chapter 7 was Equipment and Magic Items, covered in my previous post.

As much as I’d like to make a judgment now, we can’t really touch upon the Mudang’s true power without covering this section. The spirits are something akin to cleric deity domains. Spirits are grouped into the five elemental categories, and further split between Common and Uncommon. Every element has 5 Common and 6 Uncommon spirits, which cover a broad variety of phenomena but aren’t meant to be an end-all be-all exhaustive list. Each spirit has an alignment and 2-4 themed spells* which the mudang can call upon. Generally speaking, Common spirits’ spells are 1st and 2nd level, while the spells of Uncommon spirits range from 3rd to 5th.

*a spirit with 2 is rare, and most have 3 to 4.

Preferred Jesa is also listed, which is good for making negotiations with newly-encountered spirits and when the mudang wishes to call upon one they recently discovered. When mudang wish to ‘trade out’ their prepared spirits for new ones on a long rest, it is customary to offer jesa in making a good first impression.

The Tang (earth) spirits cover a wide range of non-evil alignments, and their spells tend to hew closely to the utility side of things, with some earth and plant/nature-themed spells. Their phenomena ranges from the already mentioned nature stuff to household ancestral spirits and protectors of gates and homes. Būl (fire) hew closely to Chaotic Neutral options, with only one being Lawful (Neutral). Their spells are more offensive, covering fire as well as more general destruction, and some light/vision-based offense and utility spells. Their phenomena ranges from various aspects of fire and heat, soldiers, and revealers of the unseen. Mūl (water) spirits are overwhelmingly good-aligned in line with their common personalities as empathetic healers. Their spells tend towards protection, healing, and buffs, as well as some water and cold-based magic. Their phenomena range from food, healing, seafaring, commerce, and all kinds of bodies of water. Gongi spirits are the most widespread, reflecting the ever-moving nature of air, and are closely associated as messengers between the mortal and spirit worlds. They are mostly Chaotic with 2 Lawful spirits, and their spells range from air, mobility and illusion-based spells, with a few outliers such as Hideous Laughter and Confusion. Their phenomena range from free-spiritedness, wind and storms, spirits of deceased shamans who communicate through dreams, jet streams, and guardians of the dead. Finally, Maheum (mind) spirits tend to be eccentric beings who are attracted to libraries, drug-users and brewers, and others who seek to alter their minds in various ways. Their alignment ranges are rather broad, and their spells heavily favor utility magic with a few mental buffs and debuffs. Their phenomena are diverse, ranging from judgment, social manipulation, departed souls, suffering, and purifiers of sacred grounds among other things.

There is mention of spirit Sightings as special sidebars in the sections of the four major regions of previous Chapters, in some cases giving a list of powers and spells for that particular spirit. The idea is that while traveling a Mudang PC can gain access to unique spirits in one region but typically cannot call upon their service when traveling elsewhere. Mudangguk has Chaotic Good Cheonmando Protector Spirits who have water and healing-related kutt spells; Noonnara has the stony and playful Chaotic Good Golybosü spirit, who has two water-themed and Dominate Beast as kutt spells; and Daewanguk has the Lawful Neutral forest spirit Poongchun who has divination and summoning-related kutt spells.

Daeshin and Daegam Affinities are their own special cases. They cover phenomena and concepts which are wide-ranging and enduring over the course of time. Daeshin are much like Common and Uncommon spirits in that they are grouped by their elemental affinity, have alignments, and 3 kutt spells albeit ranging from 6th to 8th level. For example, Tang Daeshin can represent large topographic features, the beauty of nature, and protectors of city gates and palaces, while Maheum Daeshin cover exceptional knowledge of world-changing events to the reapers of dead souls.

Daegam are the most powerful known spirits. Unlike the previous kinds they are not grouped by element or have generic names: each one is a specific named individual holding dominion over a 9th level spell and a universal concept. There are ten of them, and their alignments are a bit skewed: 3 are Chaotic Evil, 2 are Lawful Neutral, 2 Chaotic Neutral, and 1 each remaining of Lawful Good, True Neutral, and Neutral Evil. I won’t cover them all, but some of the more interesting ones include Jaenan (incarnation of all anger, casts Storm of Vengeance), Yokgu (sum of all desires and dreams, casts Wish), Bari (the first shaman who is now a guide of the dead in the Underworld, casts Astral Projection), and Janggun (the patron of all warriors and whose visage is omnipresent in Haenamguk, casts Raise Army).

The Pathfinder equivalents more or less have the same standard, albeit with some swapped spells that don’t exist in 5e replacing one or more options. The OSR version dispenses with the spirit lists, instead giving us a very in-depth guide for Converting/Generating Mudang Spirits. This last one has a generous helping of charts and tables any OSR veteran has grown to know and love. The reason for this is that there’s a lot less spells to choose from in this system than in 5th Edition or Pathfinder, so for assigning spells there are guidelines for selecting and reskinning spells, along with slight alterations in line with the spirit’s element.

Existing Class Comparisons & Thoughts So Far: The mudang class differs greatly depending on the system in question for terms of comparison. And given that it is outright replacing one of the core classes, comparing it to said class is inevitable.

For 5th Edition the mudang is a pseudo-Warlock but less overtly offensive barring the right subclass and spirit choices. Unlike the Cleric it doesn’t have great weapon/armor proficiency unless you take a certain subclass, which pushes it more into the squishy caster role. More than anything they are closest to wizards; they have a wide assortment of potential spells to draw upon, but in between long rests they are limited to some themed choices.

As for whether they are a satisfactory replacement for the cleric...the problem with a replacement class is that they’re not just competing with the core class, they’re also competing with every piece of new material made for said class. This is even more egregious in the case of Pathfinder, who over its decade-plus history has made so many spells, class archetypes, feats, and other things for the Cleric that the Mudang as a replacement cannot help but come up short. This isn’t as egregious with 5th Edition, although there’s still a notable amount of released material. In comparison to the OSR Cleric, it is likely on more even footing, perhaps stronger, on account of being more free-form for spells due to the pseudo-spontaneous casting method. But all 3 editions at 11+ level have a pretty sweet ability to multicast spells, which opens the class up to some pretty powerful combos.

And as to whether the mudang can feel new and unique...its pick and choose nature for various spirits feels more free-form than being stuck with one deity like the standard cleric. Alignments are still listed and some options are weighted such that certain elements have a moral bias, but much like in basic 5e the alignments and the role-play of petitioning spirits are more a guideline than hard-and-fast rules restrictions.

In short, the Mudang looks like a serviceable class with a lot of options that tie in well to the setting. Its greatest weakness is the competition with the Cleric’s multitude of options, and the possibility that some gaming groups would find it lacking when wanting to play a priest-type character in Jeosung.

Join us next time as we complete this review with a Bestiary and Appendice!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
Chapter 9: Beast Compendium

Jeosung is home to a lot of typical fantasy monsters, but a few new creatures are particularly numerous and/or prominent to merit mention. This chapter gives us 11 new types and 23 stat blocks, a fair amount for a non-bestiary sourcebook. Additionally each creature also has a listed elemental affinity. This doesn’t have any specific game statistics beyond showcasing the universality of the five elements in the setting’s cosmology, although it does have greater mechanical relevance in the OSR version.

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Agma Bagjwis (CR ½) are giant bat-like monsters which lair in the Open Wounds of Haenamguk, flying out in droves to kidnap and feed on prey. The creature focuses on strength in numbers, mobility, stealth, and can communicate telepathically.

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Bulgarsari (CR 5) are scaly elephant-like beings who were once valiant defenders of all that was good and right, but now they devolved into animal-like intelligence and serve none but their gullets. They are physically strong specimens who can shoot scalding steam from their trunks.

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Dokkaebis (CR ¼ to 5) are the major servants and masterminds behind the Winds of Darkness. They mostly live underground in Jihaguk and plot the day to take over the world of Iseung once again, engaging in hit and run raids on the surface as well as other wicked plots. We have stat blocks for three different ranks of Dokkaebis; all of them are shapechangers who can take the forms of humanoids and have minor innate spellcasting (usually focusing on enchantment and hexes), but their true forms are humanoids with claws and sharp quills emerging from their bodies. Basic Dokkaebis are humanoid cannon fodder akin to goblins and orcs, while Dokkaebi Infiltrators are tougher creatures who have more powerful spellcasting and Arcane Trickster-like abilities. Dokkaebi Elite are the dread lords of their kind, and in addition to being the strongest of them all they have spellcasting that focuses on weakening and sickening their enemies.

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Dragons (CR ½ to 17) are one of the most famed descendents of the Heavenly Beings and made their mark in history in significant ways. Much like traditional dragons they grow in size and power with age, but that isn’t solely a biological process. Dragons who seek a more powerful form undergo a meditation-like hibernation where they perform countless mental tests after closing their minds to the outside world. Those unable to complete such tests become Kkangcheoli, decaying rotting dragons driven to madness and evil. Those who succeed may eventually achieve the lofty heights of the Yong dragon, the most powerful variety that hasn’t been seen in the world since the Age of the Dragon Kings.

The least powerful dragons are merely Giant Serpents of animal intellect with venomous bites, although Imugi are the next step up and gain the ability to spit fire as well as sentience. Kkangcheoli lose the ability to spit fire and instead gain superheated melee attacks, can violently explode upon their deaths, and Legendary actions. Yong Dragons are physical powerhouses with a true breath weapon and also possess innate spellcasting, with a variety of restorative and utility magic along with Legendary Actions.

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Foxes (CR 0 to 7) can evolve into higher states of being much like dragons. The mundane fox can eventually turn into a bulyeonwoo, a shapeshifter who can take on humanoid form. Being better able to pass in humanoid society allows them to learn more about the world, causing a disproportionate amount to involve themselves in academic professions. Bulyeonwoo have minor spellcasting focusing on illusion and enchantment, and in humanoid form they are skilled martial artists, capable of making Chimsul strikes that can rob a target of their ability to take reactions. The Gumiho are the oldest and most powerful foxes, notable for their 9 tails. They have the abilities of bulyeonwoos but are more powerful with more spells, can shapechange into a variety of animals, possess prehensile tails, a Chimsul strike that can incapacitate foes for 1 round, advantage on saves vs Illusion and Enchantment spells, and Legendary Actions.

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Gwishin (CR ½ to 4) are ghosts, a kind of spirit trapped in Iseung and unable to move on to their final resting place. Such a tragedy is incredibly distressing, causing gwishin to react angrily to their surroundings. Common Gwishin are incorporeal beings with a chilling touch that can temporarily prevent a target from recovering from damage along with some minor spellcasting and a rechargeable ability that forces a target to reroll a d20 result. Bulgwishin are spirits of those who burned to death and emanate a dangerous aura of supernatural heat. Dalgyalgwishin are faceless ghosts who hunt and stalk lone targets near graveywards, having a multiattack claw attack, limited short-range teleportation, and can Sneak Attack like a Rogue. Mulgwishin are those who drowned to death and have an aura which can darken nearby light sources, cold-based magical attacks, and when standing in water can grapple and start to drown targets.

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Kyeryong (CR ¼) are a local breed of cockatrice who are hunted for their meat and magical properties. There are various kinds out there, such as the fire kyeryong who can breath fire which exhausts them, mountain keryongs who possess the ability to glide, and snow kyeryongs whose magical sleep breath and ability to camouflage themselves in snow makes them the most elusive kind.

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Mulyong (CR ½) are an evolutionary offshoot of dragons, appearing as human-sized fish with dragon heads. They are capable of ramming small vessels and their tails can propel them at great speed underwater.

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Samjokgu (CR 0) are three-legged dogs with a third blue-colored eye on their foreheads. Through this eye they have short-range truesight, making them prized animals for ferreting out shapeshifters and illusions.

Suhosins (CR 5, no picture) are direct descendents of the Heavenly People, so rare as to be thought mythical. They live in pocket demiplanes of their own creation, and only come to the Material Plane when in need of some person or object they cannot get in their self-created paradise. They appear as tall athletic humanoids, although they emit a subjective illusion that makes them appear different in the eyes of each viewer. In terms of stats they are multi-talented, being proficient in a variety of mental skills, have superb Strength and Charisma (20) and add the latter score to their AC, possess a wide variety of innate spells, and have powerful unarmed and throwing attacks in melee along with Legendary Actions.

Sushosin are ordinarily non-violent, but when they are pushed to anger their tempers are nearly unstoppable, only coming to regret their actions when the battle stops and they regain self-awareness.

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The Unseen (CR 5) is actually a single entity of unfathomable size who can project clawed extensions of itself into the Material Plane. Not much is known about the being save that it manifests in the forest of Giljobeun in Mudangguk and can create illusions to attract and misdirect prey. A manifestation of its fangs are represented as a single monster, naturally invisible save when it makes an attack or grapple. It can also generate a damaging psychic Scan where they learn of a target’s deepest desires, and such targets can be further subject to a Lure which charms them. Beyond these abilities the Unseen can grapple and drain targets of their life energy, and hide/retract as a bonus action or reaction respectively (latter is rechargeable) to become invisible again.

These monsters also have stats in Pathfinder and the OSR. Overall they are faithful conversions, and in Pathfinder’s case their CR values are more or less the same. However, Pathfinder has some new things. For one, Dokkaebi are of the Goblinoid subtype and speak Goblin and Common (in 5e they spoke Common and the Spiritual Lexicon), and the Suhosin are outsiders with the (angel) subtype. A few monsters also have limited class features such as the Bulgwishin casting sorcerer spells with the Elemental (fire) bloodline.

The OSR bestiary is more or less similar to the base 5e, although there are some new things. For example, the poison of Dragons has a 2d6 table of random negative effects, the Gumiho has a mini-system for grappling for OSR rulesets that would lack it (1d20 + Strength bonus for contested rolls, save vs Paralysis to break free), we have listed GP values for kyeryong captured to be domesticated or poached for meat and eggs, and there’s a sub-table for opposing elemental affinities in regards to certain elemental spells and the Monk/Sunim’s bonus unarmed strike damage.

But the OSR bestiary gives us one more entry in neither the 5e or PF versions: stats for Wild Spirits, which is less a predetermined stat block and more a monster template for generating stats of spirits based on their rank. It’s pretty comprehensive, and includes guidelines for recommended special abilities and references the earlier tables for a mudang’s patron spirit generation in determining known spells.

Appendix

Our final section of Koryo Hall of Adventures discusses two rules that couldn’t easily fit into prior chapters: the Team Leader and Reputation systems. The first is a simplified means of determining the effectiveness of hirelings, recruited NPCs, and mobs. This is meant more for when PCs recruit allies to their party as opposed to foes they face, and the rules focus on this side of things. In short, a PC can declare themselves a Team Leader of a group of NPCs. Said NPCs determine initiative and actions collectively as one, and the team leader can give one order per round for them to perform an action. The exception is in regards to attacks, where depending on the enemy size a number of NPCs in a team make individual attacks all at once.

For NPC groups taking damage there are two suggestions: keeping track of each NPC’s HP individually (not recommended by the book) or determining a Hit Threshold via averaging the group HP and multiplying it by the number of NPCs. Lowering of Hit Threshold determines overall morale and fighting spirit, and as the more they suffer the harder it is for the team leader to get them to follow orders. In such cases a Charisma check is required, whose DC is determined by the percentage of HT remaining and the overall martial training of the NPCs (untrained, well-trained, elite).

The second system, Reputation, reflects the overall level of fame and notoriety of the PCs’ status, both as adventurers in the Koryo Hall and in broader society. Basically for every Deed (quest) they complete which is particularly good or evil, they mark one check (good) or one X (evil). Every time 3 of those boxes are filled they gain +1 or -1 Reputation for good or evil Deeds respectively. This modifier also occurs when the PC levels up and if they have more checks or Xs.

The Reputation system doesn’t account for minor acts of charity, opportunism, and selfishness. At least, not beyond the lower levels. As the PCs’ Reputations increase, only obviously selfless acts of good and utterly selfish evil can further modify their scores.

The Reputation score is relevant in certain social situations, where one’s honorable nature or infamy may be particularly advantageous or not. Instead of a universal value the book proposes two modifiers: a Reputation modifier for situations where having a good reputation is relevant, and an Infamy modifier where having a bad reputation is advantageous.

The Reputation System exists as-is in the Pathfinder version, although the Team Leader rules exist only in 5e. Many OSR systems already have dedicated hireling/follower sub-systems, and I presume the lack of a Reputation System is in line with the OSR’s minimalist nature.

Thoughts So Far: The new monsters are interesting and have some variety. There isn’t much talk on existing monsters and how they can be adapted to the setting, which I feel is a bit of a negative. My favorite entries are the foxes, who have an interesting spin on the East Asian “trickster fox spirit” archetype by making them eager to integrate into humanoid society as pursuers of knowledge. The Unseen is another neat monster as well. The Dokkaebi felt a bit too close to the role of orcs and goblins, which I didn’t like as much. While I can understand having cannon fodder of an evil nation as a fantasy trope, there wasn’t much novel done with them beyond their deceptive magic. I also wish the Wild Spirit creation rules in the OSR version were adopted to 5th Edition and Pathfinder, although if I had to guess its inclusion into that system was to make up for old-school retroclones having comparatively smaller bestiaries.

I’ve seen quite a bit of minion/follower systems for 5th Edition, and Koryo Hall’s doesn’t really resonate with me. While it’s intended to be a simplification, the use of totalling Hit Point averages and individual attacks for ‘ganging up’ still necessitates the separation of individual NPC stats, which is counterintuitive. The Reputation system is good in concept in representing PCs making names for themselves in the guild, but tying it to “is this good or evil?” morality can easily spawn arguments similar to Alignment debates that are the dread of countless gaming groups.

Final Thoughts: The Koryo Hall of Adventures is hard to sum up, as I have conflicting feelings. On the plus side, a lot of work has gone into it; the base setting paints a good picture for immersing oneself in the world and is full of interesting lands with great adventuring potential. Beyond the write-up of a little-known culture in fantasy gaming from an author who has lived in and researched it, the book has a few interesting departures from typical D&D tropes to make the world stand out. For example, the dearth of true gods, the different systems of government beyond base feudalism which make the regions feel sufficiently distinct, and a detailed write-up of the new Mudang class which provides an interesting “pick and choose” system for supernatural patron spirits. And while it would’ve been easy to just make the system for the most popular tabletop system and call it a day, the author put in extra effort for conversions to other popular D&D-style RPGs.

But even with all that said, there are many small things in Koryo Hall of Adventures which add up, and still leave the book feeling unfinished. In some cases it’s the fluff text not being descriptive, like the actual function of Chilseong gates or what role the non-Mudang spellcasting classes have to play in the setting’s cosmological framework. In other places it’s missing material that should be included or are instead scattered throughout the conversion documents, such as no 5th Edition or OSR write-ups for the new dragonborn subraces. This is not to say that the book is unable to be played right out of the box; individually such things are small in the grand scheme of things, but they’re numerous enough that one cannot help but notice.

But in spite of these doubts, I am overall impressed with the work that Aurélien Lainé and the various proofreaders/editors/illustrators/etc put into this. I’m eager to see the lands of Jeosung further developed, and await the day more material is released for it!

For my next Let’s Read, I’m going to focus on another well-researched fantasy counterpart setting of another notable peninsula. Join us next time as we visit the rough-and-tumble Italian-inspired world of Brancalonia!

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Libertad

Adventurer
I also forgot to include a Bibliography (and Artist/Writer Portfolios). I'll include it in this post for further reading by interested parties.

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