D&D 5E Oriental Adventures 5e: How would you do it?

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QuietBrowser

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In D&D's history, twice now, a sourcebook called Oriental Adventures has been published - the first for AD&D 1st edition, written by none other than Gary Gygax himself, and the second for 3.0. Both times, its basic purpose has been to provide information and mechanics to assist DMs and players who want to run games using a more "Asian" feel. In 1e's day, this was inspired by the chop-sockey kung fu films being imported from China, whilst towards the day of 3e, anime and manga were starting to work their way into "nerd" culture. With 5e's desire to bring back lots of old-school material, and the 2010s being a time in which anime/manga fandom is widespread, it's a perfect era to include yet another take on this classic sourcebook.

But, the thing is... the Oriental Adventures sourcebooks of the past have not been entirely good. Honestly, they've been kind of rubbish. In particular, the races are... pretty awful: Korobokuru are outright called "Oriental Dwarves" (and culture-wise are pretty close to halflings), Spirit Folk are Oriental Elves in almost every way that matters, and Hengeyokai take the fascinating variety of shapeshifting animal yokai of myth and boil them down to one super-bland one-trick race that tries to cover the entire cluster at once. 3e was a little better, with the Nezumi ratfolk and the Indian-based Vanara (who are also excellent choices for making a race out of the Monkeys of the Mountain of Flowers & Fruit - aka, the offspring of the famous Son Wukong/Son Goku).

So, yeah, if you were in charge of making the 5e version of the Oriental Adventures sourcebook, what would you put in it, and why?

Myself? Well...

Reprinting the Honor system from the DMG is unavoidable, as is the Samurai & Kensai subclasses from Xanathar's Guide, on account of the "PHB +1" methodology that 5e crunch books try to adhere to.

Fluff sections on the importance of Family & Honor, as seen in both versions of the OA splat so far, are also important; these are big deals. To this, I would add a discussion on the uniquely Eastern approach to alignment, which is far less black and white than the Western version that D&D's 9-grid so clumsily tries to accommodate. Most importantly: nothing is absolute in Eastern alignment, and balance is more directly accorded to good - even creatures that seem "evil" to Western eyes, those spirits associated with the negative aspects of the world, have an expected place to be and a role to fill. That's why demonic and monstrous protagonists are so common in modern anime/manga.

Given that 5e tries to avoid overly complicated rules systems, I would probably avoid giving new systems for Martial Arts. Maybe make feats for "special techniques", which is what people really want - let players emulate Street Fighter or Wuxia.

The Shaman, Shugenja, Sohei and Wu Jen all have some potential as new subclasses.
* The Shaman is tricky, but I think it could work as an alternative to the Life & Nature Clerics; a lightly armored healer who also focuses on attacking "unnatural creatures" (Constructs, Outsiders, & Undead).
* The Shugenja in 3e is a kind of Elemental Wizard-Priest, using the Sorcerer as its basic chassis. In 5e, I would probably go with making it a Sorcerous Origin that sub-divides its features & powers based on which of the four elements you are devoted to.
* The Sohei is a Monk/Paladin hybrid, combining monk fighting styles with limited spell use and broader weapon talents. I would make this as a new Monk Tradition that grants access to some spells and heightened weapon abilities, playing off of its Ki mastery - sort of a Paladin-esque and competently done version of the 4 Elements Monk.
* The Wu Jen could perhaps work as a new Wizard tradition, although it needs a lot of work to make its 5 Elements Magic focus more viable, especially as the Spell Secrets system of 3e does not work in an edition where metamagic is a Sorcerer thing. Its subclass features could support this elemental theme, or give it some Monkly elements, ala that one version from AD&D.

Races should kick the "sacred cow" of the 1e OA square in the gonads. Oriental Fantasy is filled with all manner of mystical and magical beings living alongside or not too dissimilarly from humans; what does it say about D&D when the sourcebook on Oriental Fantasy actually results in a less fantastic world than most urban fantasy manga! Name of the game is to bring in strong, distinctly Oriental races, which makes for an interesting replacement to the classic Elves & Dwarves & Orcs. Kneejerk contenders for that position?
* Kitsune: Without a doubt the most famous Oriental Fantasy race in the world, hands down. In Pathfinder can make them an interesting PC race, then surely D&D can do better than just hiding them under the piece-of-rubbish that was the Hengeyokai, Fox race option.
* Tanuki: Because if we've got the kitsune, we should try and bring in the Tanuki as well. If Kitsune are the "real" elf-equivalent of Japan, then these are Japan's dwarves. Well, its gnomes, at least.
* Bakeneko: Because the catgirl meme will not die, and bakeneko and all their variants are deeply intertwined with Japanese folk-lore.
* Kappa: Though their monstrous stories are more famous, kappa are also said to be friendly to humans, having taught them the secrets of medicine and wrestling. As a strength-focused amphibious small race, they're certainly more interesting and unique than forest-dwelling rural bumpkin halflings (korobokuru).
* Oni: The orcs of Japanese mythology, whilst Oni are often malevolent, they are also often allied to the gods or find redemption. You telling me you couldn't get an RPG hook out of "you were sent up from Hell to catch a monster/evil spirit that escaped, and you need to buddy up with these mortals so you've actually got the strength to drag its sorry ass back to Hell"?
* Jorogumo: Yeah, I know, these gals are always portrayed as bad guys in the stories, but D&D has a long tradition of offering bad guy races - orcs, goblinoids, gnolls, ogres... hell, we got freaking Yuan-ti purebloods in Volo's Guide, and they're supposed to be emotionless world-conquering cannibalistic sociopaths. Surely D&D can reskin Jorogumo into a femme fatale "edgy" PC race, alongside the tiefling and shadar-kai?
* Vanara: Whether you want to try an Indian-flavored setting or reflavor them as Chinese/Japanese because of a certain monkey god, you can't beat the appeal of benevolent butt-kicking monkey martial artists.
* Naga: Now, these would probably need to either be Rokugan-style "snake-folk with arms", but still, this is a friendly race in Indian mythology and it's certainly an appealing concept. More non-evil, non-primitive reptile folk in D&D, the better.
* Nezumi: I admit I don't know why these are an "oriental" race - I think they were only in OA 3e because it tried to double up as a Rokugan Campaign Setting. But I like ratfolk, and if they're good enough for Rokugan and Kamigawa, they're good enough for me!

There are certainly other possibilities for this list, but my understanding of the fascinating world of Oriental Fantasy races is less than stellar, and mostly centered on Japanese mythology.

That's... all I can think of as necessary for a 5e Oriental Adventures off the top of my head. What about you folks? Any opinions?
 

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Rokugan is the world for Legend of the Five Rings, so you will not be seeing that used in any 5E version. Kara-Tur is the Forgotten Realms Asian-equivalent setting that they would go back to, if they go this route again.
 



S

Sunseeker

Guest
Considering it is an offensive term for Asian cultures I hope they call it something different.

I suspect they are more offended by the fact that mythologies from at least 5 distinct cultures, as well as their hero legends, religions, and general histories have been mashed into one great big "asian" pile of goop. Not that Europeans fared any better, and Europeans are free to be offended by that too, but it's still somewhat different when Westerners mash up Western Culture than when Westerners mash up Eastern Culture. But on that note, I don't want them to pull a Blizzard WoW take and make their "Asian adventures" into "China adventures".

They could probably skip all these problems by coming out with a an official 5E setting that just "happened" to include a generally asian-styled culture, races and variant classes.
But then ya know, they'd have to actually put their finger on a specific setting and run with it. Unless they pulled an Avatar: The Last Airbender type solution and made an entire asian-themed world.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
"Offensive" to whom - the people(s) whose mythology is being portrayed, or somebody who has only outsiders' knowledge of the culture?
Let's not unload a heap of intellectual nonsense where it isn't needed. Or wanted.

Tales of the Celestial Kingdom(s) might best be organized pseudo-IRL. The "standard" mythos would look an awful lot like China. (Including a secular philosophy of The Public Good.)
Regional variants can describe Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Silk Road cultures, Mongols / other steppe nomads, Tibet, and the Siberian tribes - all of whom were influenced to various degrees by Chinese culture, and each of which took what they received and ran with it to various degrees.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
Well, first I'd start by calling it something else (WotC got flack for it in 3e, perhaps they'll learn this time). Call it something like "Kara-Tur Adventurer's Guide", and make like SCAG, and be a gazetteer of Kara-Tur with some player options.

Second, unlike the previous two incarnations, I'd make it so that it wasn't just Japanese stereotypes hammered to death, with a few other Asian culture elements thrown in as an afterthought. You'd think that there would at least more Chinese elements included, given its cultural influence on the surrounding countries.

I would not reinvent the wheel just to give it an Asian name—armor, weapons, and classes I'm looking at you. You don't need a katana when the D&D longsword is a functional equivalent, you don't need a specific samurai armor when it's already covered by scale, banded (oops! 5e got rid of banded, and kept the non-existant splint. smh), and half plate. (And speaking of Japanese armor, let's forget about the o yoroi—it's an early period armor that's functionally equivalent to scale and was supplanted by later designs.) You don't need a yakuza subclass because it's already covered by the thief subclass and the criminal background.

I would not include rules for honor. Roleplay that crap, like you do alignment.

I'd keep Korobokuro as they're based on Ainu legends, but I'd equate them more to halflings than dwarves. I'd also keep hengeyokai, because we don't need a separate race for every shapechanging animal in Asian folklore (and because the abilities of each shapechaning animal don't actually vary much), and I'd give them spells in the same manner as drow and tieflings (I'd go with dancing lights, disguise self, and alter self). I'd include dragonborn options based on the lung dragons. Additionally, I'd try to dredge up some race option from a non-Japanese culture (sorry, Japan, I love you, but we can't have you hog the spotlight like you did the last two iterations). Vanara were a good addition from 3e. I'd reluctantly keep spirit folk because they're already established in FR/Kara-Tur lore. No effing cat girls.

I'd include a shaman subclass for druids that uses the wildshape ability to temporarily summon/banish spirits (in a similar way that the spore druid uses it to power a non-shapeshifting ability), and note that in some countries (like Kozakura and Wa) it's called a "shugenja", and in other countries (like Shou Lung and Tu Lung) it's call a "wu". Also, a wizard subclass that's an homage to Taoist mystics of legend (and no call it a wu-jen, as that's a made up term). No ronin subclass (really, 1e?). We've already got a samurai subclass, so we don't need that (I'd also note that, as a social position, that any class could be a samurai). A paladin subclass that nods at the sohei. Shadow monk and assassin rogue already cover ninja and their equivalents.

Some new/alternate version backgrounds.

Maybe a few new feats. Maybe some quasi-supernatural ones.

New spells. There were plenty of neat spells from both the 1e & 3e OA. Bring 'em back.

Monsters! If the previous OAs shed their Japanese-centricity anywhere, it was in the monster list. So, let's bring back those monsters.

Personal Desire: Get ride of all the Wade-Giles transliterations of Chinese, and go with Pinyin instead.
 


pming

Legend
Hiya!

Well, I'm gonna disagree with the OP on many, many things. If I was to do a 5e version of OE, it would be very true to the 1e version. Every version after that was a pale imitation that failed on many different fronts, from my point of view.

First...the whole anime/manga thing? Yeah...just get that RIGHT out of yer noggin' right now. The 1e OE didn't have any of that feel to it. It felt, to me, more like a baseline of "Samurai and Ninja" movies made by japanese/korean/chinese (Yojimbo, 7 Samurai, Heaven & Earth, etc...oh, except for the SHOGUN mini-series that aired on TV....I freaking LOVE that 'movie'!). Now, toss in some "Kung Fu Theater" for some amusingly over the top stuff and PRESTO! First Edition AD&D Oriental Adventures.

Basically, do that, but with the 5e system. :)

For Martial Arts...definitely would have to have it's own "sub-system". IMHO, just reducing it all to the OPTIONAL (!) Feat system would be whole inadequate. It wouldn't "feel" like I was performing any sort of "martial art awesomeness", and would instead feel like "Oh, yeah. I took that feat so I do d10". Bleeachy! The only thing I'd tweak would be the "effectiveness" of the MA damages vs. weapons/spells. IMHO, if you aren't a Monk, Shoei, Kensai, or Wu Jen...then you shouldn't be doing the same 'deadly 1:1 damage' as some Bushi with a naginanta. Everyone who learns MA (which, lets face it, is about 98% of any OA NPC) would have learned/trained/developed their MA style to beat others. And when I say "others" I mean humans (and 'demihumans'...it is fantasy, after all) style of MA. Some tea house Kung Fu master should wipe the floor against any boisterous drunkard who starts something in his tea house...but when an Oni, Pan Lung, or Bajang pops up? Well, any 'attack' should be much less effective!

I think a couple tweaks to the three OA non-human races (Korobokuru, Hengeyokai, and Spirit Folk) might be in order....stronger/more drawbacks, but stronger/more powerful 'otherworldly stuff'.

Classes? About perfect, really. All of them felt like they had their own niche in the world. With the choices for 'customizing' many of them built in (e.g., Kensai and his chosen weapon, Wu Jen and their '5-Elements' type spells, etc), I think each could have one or two Arch-Types would be more than enough to cover anything a campaign may need.

Now, when they get to the 'Campaign Setting" aspect. THIS is where I'd like to see a bit more effort. Chinese, Japanese and Korean are obviously the focus...but India, Mongolia, Vietnamese, Philippines, etc should have at least a couple pages about how to incorporate some of those cultures/histories/fables. Better still, put out a separate "campaign add-on" book/box that could add more in-depth setting stuff for that. :)

Oh, and one last thing:

Considering it is an offensive term for Asian cultures I hope they call it something different.

Sorry, Chuck, but...no. I do not find it an offensive term. I don't know your lineage, but my last name should give away the majority of mine. I don't speak for "all orientals" (or all swedes, or german, or cherokee...my other 'major bloodlines' in my family), and neither should you. Perhaps "I consider OA a bit of an offensive term, and would welcome a changed name/title" would have been better. 'Nuff said.

Game on!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

The Philippines especially are so full of myths and legends of strange creatures/monsters, I wish they would be added to D&D as official content (in fact, a forum member made a pretty good effort to create a 5th edition version of one of my favorite Filipino monsters, the Aswang, a while back).

By the way, this may be a dumb question, but why is the name Oriental Adventures offensive?
 

It would probably have to be Forgotten Realms - based, since what people are generally after is a fantasy version of real-world culture, and FR is the setting that tends to do that.

However that leads in to the point that people don't just want Kozakura (fantasy Japan). They probably also want Shou Lung (fantasy China) and possibly other area as well. (Does FR have an India analoque?)

Rules-wise, the existing classes cover most concepts, although some reprinting might be needed for the AL situation. "Martial Arts" in the current system is covered by attack and damage rolls but an optional system for those groups wanting to go "full Wuxia" like Monks do could be included, balanced against existing systems for those who want to bring it into more general play.

A run-down of the races unique to the area suitable for PCs would probably be necessary. Some might be reskinned current races, others would probably have to be new.

Probably most importantly, a run-down of the culture of the areas would probably also be the trickiest part of the book. Making an interesting and unique Kara-Turan culture probably won't satisfy those who want 'fantasy Japan', but making 'fantasy Japan' (and kludging together hundreds of years of history and change, probably with a dash of other cultures that they were actively opposed to) is likely to be rather offensive to some.

I wouldn't be entirely unsurprised if WotC left it to the DMsGuild to produce that sort of thing.
 

Really simple

1: Ditch Spirit Folk entirely. Give me a myth where they appear, and I might consider not throwing them to the wayside.
2: Split Hengeyokai into the various races
Kitsune: Powerful master illusionists
Tanuki: Irrelevant pranksters
Nekomata/Bakeneko: Just merge the various types of cat monsters together. Necromancer soul-stealing cats who can turn into anyone they kill. Also can turn into giant cats that can devour pretty much anything. There's yer cat people, have fun. There is no cat girl. There is entirely "Murdering a man and devouring his corpse, and then living his life"
Jurogama: Once again, merge the two types. Give them the more bandit thing of the other spider yokai
Moon Rabbits: Descendants of the rabbits who went to the moon with
Various Underwater Creatures: Honestly, if I was going to group a bunch together and just say "Grab this stat if you want", this is the one I would. You're a shark, a crab, a turtle or an oarfish who can turn into a person and comes from a magical
Namazu: You're a namazu. You're a catfish who can grow arms and legs. No human form for you. Just arms and legs. Let me have this hilarious race. Also click for the actual, canonical voice of all Namazu
Naga: They appear in both Chinese and Indian mythology, so a no-brainer

3: Add eastern dragons/ryu/long/whatever we're calling them today as a race. You get your full powers if you have your dragon pearl, which is being kept by Ryuujin or whatever equivalent FR has so you don't go off and cause chaos and also so it doesn't get stolen
 

QuietBrowser

First Post
1: Ditch Spirit Folk entirely. Give me a myth where they appear, and I might consider not throwing them to the wayside.

I believe they're supposed to represent actual playable kami, with the Bamboo Spirit Folk in particular probably descending from the Tale of Princess Kaguya, just... watered down for being PC-level, sort of like how D&D's elves are technically capable of tracing their lineage to the Sidhe, Seelie and Unseelie.
 

delericho

Legend
1) Don't call it Oriental Adventures

Agreed. Enough people consider the term offensive that they should choose something else.

2) Hire authors who are native to the cultures represented

Again, agreed. At the very least they need to consult very heavily with local experts.

3) Make it an adventure

I don't think I agree with this.

Rather, I'd present the new OA much like the old ones - a full-blown reskinning of the PHB, with region-appropriate races, classes (not subclasses), and spells, and an assumption that you will use these options by default (rather than just transplanting your Elf Fighter to Kara-Tur and calling it good).

I would certainly include an adventure in the book, but I wouldn't make it just an adventure - the topic is big enough to need more than that, IMO.
 

schnee

First Post
Considering it is an offensive term for Asian cultures I hope they call it something different.

"Offensive" to whom - the people(s) whose mythology is being portrayed, or somebody who has only outsiders' knowledge of the culture?
Let's not unload a heap of intellectual nonsense where it isn't needed. Or wanted.

Well, like it or not, language evolves. The term 'The Orient' and it's derivatives like 'oriental' have fallen out of favor to a significant number of people inside and outside of the culture. Regardless whether or not you personally respect the arguments against the term, at best it's tacky and dated, and using the title doesn't fit the way D&D is designed now.

1) Don't call it Oriental Adventures
2) Hire authors who are native to the cultures represented
3) Make it an adventure

Yeah, this. I've read the discussion around Tome of Annihilation, and there are some dumb choices in that book that are a regression from the sensitivity and diversity of core 5E. From the things the most involved critics were saying, they were perceived as mostly inadvertent, and easily addressed.

I'd like to see what skilled game writers/designers with direct cultural experience have to bring in - instead of just retreading the same ground as older editions, we could get some more flavorful and fresh takes that pulls from sources that have been overlooked until now.
 
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Chronos96

Explorer
Honestly, I'd love a Kara-Tur Campaign guide. I love the stories in the realms but I'm so tired of Aber-Toril it would be exciting to explore Kara-Tur and flesh out the continent more.

What's the Underdark like in Kara-Tur? What secrets are there? I'm sure some of this has been addressed but it's called Forgotten Realms for God's sake so why find some of them again.
 

TiwazTyrsfist

Adventurer
How would I do 5e OA?

I wouldn't. The problem with OA and Kara-tur is they try to distill and cram ALL East Asian cultures into a single setting. There is, LITERALLY, no way to bring that up to current that is respectful of the cultures they seek to emulate.

If one wants to create a setting guide for East Asian themed D&D adventures, you would probably need to release a full line with separate books for regions based on each culture. The Fantasy East Asia must be as large and diverse as real East Asia. And frankly they should be written and edited by people from each respective culture.

Fantasy China and Fantasy India each should, honestly, be larger in size and setting material volume than the main Forgotten Realms setting which is, after all, Fantasy Western Europe.

I'm pretty sure that if you find the D&D groups in each region, you'll find that someone has already written most of a setting book for their region anyway.


TLDR: Scrap OA and Kara-Tur, put out a call in Asian countries for setting submissions, compile them into multiple books, don't try to blend all East Asian culture into a single setting.
 


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