Oriental Adventures

IronWolf

blank
Conclusion

(This review is long and meanders into lots of minor places nitpicky places. So the Conclusion is at the beginning. This is what I think, why I think it follows.)

The book is great. Pound for pound it probably has more rules and less filler than any other book around (probably more than the PH, even). You can look around the WotC website for a big list of everything included. The strongest sections are the new character classes and prestige classes, a clan system for feats, the magic section is just the right size and doesn't replicate from Players Handbook. Like it or not (and I don't) the Rokugan setting has some good stuff.

Wyatt did a great job "rebuilding" D&D to get rid of a lot of the western elements and allow DMs to make their own eastern flavored worlds.

In a sense it's a real shame the book is called Oriental Adventures because its really applicable beyond the "Orient". Want a bunch of Knights responsible for keeping out barbarian tribes to the north, or an order of honorable men-at-arms specializing a refined fighting style or a bunch of dastardly dukes from the south who are only as honorable as they have to be? Change a name or two and that's what you've got. Want elemental wizards who can cure as well as throw a fireball but won't unbalance your game? A (correctly organized) Shugenja is for you. Bear worshiping Barbarians? Eunuch wizards visiting your kingdom as representatives from the efreet slavers in the Western Sands? I could go on and on but this game synthesizes a lot of the best parts of the old Oriental Adventures (1st edition) book with 3rd edition. It also provides the first resources to people who want to play games with Indian or South East Asian feels. Finally it has lots of stuff for Rokugan (I don't love it but its different and new and well if you like angst ridden horror then you will probably be doubly happy).

The biggest flaw is that integrating the setting into your D&D world will take quite a bit more effort than your average supplement. Unlike the rest of the core books there is no "core setting" like Greyhawk (or the Forgotten Realms), and much of the stuff presented for Rokugan requires some tweaking to work in a D&D setting.

But the book is designed for picking and choosing and, like the Manuel of the Planes, does a good job of explaining where and how bits and pieces can be taken and put into your world. I -would- have liked more background on Eastern (non-Rokugan) worlds. But I can't really complain that they left the big picture creative stuff to the DM and just gave him/her all the building blocks one could want.

(So that's the synopsis of what I think, go buy the book already.)

The Details

This is a good, though schizophrenic, product. All the usual things true about big releases by WotC handled by one author who was/is very enthused about the product (if you don't believe me see James Wyatt's web page) are true about this one: the ideas are good, the writing is pretty consistent with almost no inconsistencies, some stuff is positively inspired (shaman, eunuch wizard), the rule stuff looks balanced (excluding the Shin Tao Monk) and only modifies stuff in the PH when absolutely necessary and maintains the focus WotC set with 3e: allowing people make stuff for their own campaigns. In particular on the last point the whole book is written in a style similar to the Manuel of the Planes, it seemed to me that just about every time a relatively new concept was introduced it was followed by the different roles the class/prestige class/race/whatever could play in different settings. The game really uses the core books well doing an excellent job of not repeating spells or special abilities. (In other words you still absolutely need the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide to play OA.)

To say the same thing I did above from a negative side the book definitely tries to be everything to every one, without the page count to back it up. WotC avoided inflicting "supplement addiction" where you need to buy three or four books just to run on setting but as a result some things suffered in particular if you're not planning on playing in Rokugan the DM will have to do quite a bit of flesh out a game. To his credit Wyatt makes it clear up front.

WotC does not support Plug and Play

A key, though for most people minor, point: The Rokugan focus of the book is a big deal for D&D players, the Rokugan setting isn't really compatible with a "standard" D&D world. After getting over my irritation with the setting I had to admit that it was ultimately more good than bad but this isn't a book you just slide it onto your shelf with the other D&D books. DMs who want to play without having to make lots of important decisions about the world for themselves will probably not be too happy. (more on the bottom but if you don't like playing White Wolf-style games the drippy nihilistic angst oozing from the parts of the book on that topic kind of detract. BTW Rokugan isn't actually published by White Wolf, but it's isomorphic to one of their games. More below.)
Here's a more in depth rundown of by thoughts on individual parts of the book

Some good points

On a rules/meta level a number of unnecessary structures were broken down. A few examples:

Shaman's allow divine spell casters with a holistic nature who aren't druids.

Shugenja can cast both cure and arcane combat spells; though I want to see more testing the class -does- seem balanced to me. This is nice since Cleric combat spells got so jacked up so much in 3e anyway the limitation continues to look quiet artificial to me.
The eunuch warlock allows a way for magical prestige classes to advance in spell power without giving them the unbalancing +1 spell caster level special ability.

The Samurai class allows someone to carry upgrade a family weapon in a balanced way. In other words you can keep upgrade your weapon as you rise in level. This system would be particularly useful for those players who like having a fighter who uses something other than a longsword but also want access to magical weaponry at higher levels)

The good parts of the old Oriental Adventures have been carried over while Kara-tur itself has been ditched. I was an avid fan of the setting when it came out but it was never a good game world for most people and wasn't terribly popular. Basically because it was just a copy of the real map of East Asia with some creative embellishments and an extra chain of islands.

WotC discovered INDIA! Ok this is another fairly minor thing to your average gamer and its not really a full fledged setting but its nice to get away from the Asia = China and Japan dualism. Admittedly American academia also suffers from this malaise as well, so its hard to be too frustrated with prior treatments but it's nice that the culture which birthed Buddhism. Broadly speaking this tree of thought lead to fruit like the Shaolin Temple in China and the Zen/Samurai ethos in Japan; as well as being a major part of world religions and cultures.

Some stuff I wasn't thrilled with (do bear in mind the book got four stars):

Rokugan gets its own section below.

*A few prestige classes looked a bit imbalanced. In particular the Shintao Monk (available only to LG Monks level 5+ but with very low requirements) is just absurd. All saves are primary progression, bonus feat every other level, and ridiculous special powers on top of it. This is particularly weird given that other Prestige classes are clearly "strongly balanced" (i.e. look a bit weak) like the tattooed Monk (most of the tattoos aren't going to replace the benefits you get from the lost monk levels or are just like having a magical potion around) or the Bear Warrior.

*While the sections on magic are well done, the fighters/monks suffer a bit by comparison. Monks still a bit inflexible at the higher levels; which means that blurring unarmed combat characters with lots of news feats are still tricky. Monks can "turn in" powers at levels 1, 3 and 6 to get another bonus feat (so they have 3 bonus feats at level 6 vs. a fighters 4). After that, however, they are limited to the same acquisition rate as any other character. Adding fighter levels, while appealing, slows the unarmed attack progression bonuses. While OA does include a new, well done, mechanic to allow monks to continue to progress in unarmed combat none of the two non-broken (read: not Shintao Monk) monk prestige classes help much. There are a few more candidates for being turned into feats at later levels(i.e. Leap of the clouds, Diamond Body, Timeless body) without threatening the fighter's supremacy, but the game doesn't give that option…. The martial arts segment (where you get a bonus to something for free if you have all the feats designated for one "martial art") showed some promise but really high requirements, and somewhat insubstantial bonuses suggest that people won't be throwing themselves at this stuff any time soon.

*Prestige classes - after seeing an unending assortment of prestige classes in every single supplement, Dragon magazine article, internet site and message board I was surprised to find that many were still interesting and fun. Unfortunately they are all the same sort of prestige class, running from levels 1-10 often with several levels with redundant or meaningless powers. The redundant powers part is particularly odd because a majority of the classes are really only accessible to characters in one class. A number of prestige classes (Witch Hunter) just have abilities that overlap, if the character has the ability already they gain no benefit for that level. Some of the prestige classes could go from levels 1 to 5. The bear Warrior springs to mind, is a Barbarian or Sohei character really supposed to advance through levels 9 and 10 only to get a "scent" power? PC races like the new Nezumi introduced in the book (and in some game worlds Gnomes) can get it as a feat at 1st level…

Monsters

There are two types of monsters: faithfully done adaptations to the original OA monsters and Rokugan monsters. The OA monsters are based on things appearing in myth and legend which makes for creatures which are rooted in the various cultures involved. Unfortunately it doesn't really lead itself to dungeon building. There are lots of spurned lovers, vengeful spirits of all sorts (mostly from improperly buried corpses), spiritual protectors of lands and vengeful monsters that waylay travelers, steal children and so on. In other words the monsters are kind of inert, unhappy things that people run across and have to deal with. There are no creatures like Drow, Mind Flayers, or Beholders which can capture the imagination and be long term foes with their own belief systems and motivations. In fact there is one empire building races other than humans at all in the book, including the PC races (which are Shinomen Naga from Rokugan). Just about everything else lives off by itself in a small village in a remote local (a few spirits live in big palaces in the middle of nowhere too). Again space is a consideration here but I would have liked to see Wyatt go out on a limb and add something to the mythos. This isn't a fatal flaw, you can tweak hobgoblins (with their own warped honor system and samurai), illithids, and so on to fit nicely into an eastern game. The Rokugan monsters are pretty much super powerful (just about all CR 10+) with the ability to inflict massive nastiness on PCs. Mostly by giving them taint scores either directly or though at will spell-like abilities, scores which can't even be totally removed ever (even by wish spells) which cripple their bodies and minds and force PCs with lower scores pretty quickly into the inescapable grip of darkening madness (and NPC-dom). Sorry, that slipped out, more on my favorite setting below.

Rokugan

To be honest most people who read this review and buy the book will probably be pleasantly surprise to discover that all my carping overdone. To its credit the world is a well fleshed out world with a strong root in cinematic Japan. Lots of people love the setting and the card game and the novels and the collectable plush dolls and whatever else they make for it. Its been praised up and down for its originality and the original game won a bunch of awards (I think). The D&D interpretation is a faithful rendition of the game to the D&D system and I think Wyatt did a really good job of conveying the world in a small chunk of space. Most of the monsters are just gross and could have crawled out of the Book of the Wyrm (an infamous supplement by White Wolf which was so sickening in some parts that I had trouble reading it).

The Good

I'm going to stop and talk about what this part of the book adds to the setting before I finish up the rant. Basically the world of Rokugan doesn't really match the original OA world or the D&D world. As a result there are a lot of good things that come from putting them both together in the same book. The monsters and ethos would fit in well in a less-subtle Ravenloft game, they could probably replace demons or devils on the lower planes if you felt like it. The "clan" mechanic allows control of who takes certain feats (a la regions in the Forgotten realms), limits the Shugenja spells and Samurai feats as well as limiting access to the prestige classes. In other words everybody in your Samurai clan is taught your style of fighting (allowing them to have lots of special bonus feats without competing with fighters), your clan ancestors were a certain kind of people (the kind of people who invented your fighting style). It allows characters of the same classes to be different in a rational kind of way. The Rokugan settling also does a good job of showing the ridged social structures of medieval Japan. Finally the Rokugan world does have some neat stuff which has been translated into some interesting and well thought out prestige classes (both clan based and generally available).

My Opinion

Having said that it's basically the same game as White Wolf's Werewolf but set in feudal Japan, with all the attendant drippy horror, ever present angst and gigantic overwhelming inescapable MEGA-plot. In some ways the giant plot where all the monsters and evil in the world come from one source and its difficult to consider the PCs more than window dressing on the grand stage of the world its also a bit like the DragonLance setting.
You are a member of one of a handful of trib…, I mean clans, who are descended from great ancestors put in place to rule over all the world. Each (ahem) clan gets access to special powers (represented by feats and prestige classes in D&D). They are constantly warring with each other and are also fighting against the monolithic evil of the Shadowlands (WW called it the Wyrm). The Shadowlands is ruled or controlled by different beings at different times but basically its surrounded by a wall manned by one clan (the Crab clan) and a parade of evil things flood out and try to suck the world into darkness. In fact the wall is kind of a ruse because taint is everywhere and just about anyone (the good emperor, PCs, etc) is susceptible corruption and maddening death as a result. All monsters and evil come from this taint and unwary or unlucky PCs can easily wind up dying miserable horrible wasting deaths. As a game mechanic Taint is astoundingly easy it get, a pain in the ass to get rid off, reduces character stats and can -never- (you heard me right) be gotten rid of completely; though the non human races (rat-men and some optional creatures in the monster section) are all immune to getting taint they also have very limited roleplaying options and are all "barbaric".

There are a few low-CR Rokugan monsters floating around but about 70% of them are CR10+ , and the weaker ones are pretty limited use or else shock troops for the armies of darkness. Neither of them make particularly interesting foes. (CRs below 10: ½, 2,2, 3,3,4, a template which adds +2 and one CR6 creature)
However the people who made the game are coming out with a big Rokugan/D&D source book sometime soon; it will have mechanics for both games (though hopefully the D&D mechanics will be a bit better than current mediocre level of 3rd party D&D stuff), probably lots of monsters and more.

Conclusion

(See the top of the page)
 
In summary an excellent work slightly marred by some low-quality artwork in places, some Content-Confusion (it tries to blend Rokugan and non-Rokugan elements while simultaneously grepping 1e Oriental Adventures and adding new material in a Tool-kit format, so things can get a bit confused at times), a few flawed pClasses, and a very stiff stab at Martial Arts in d20.

Oriental shtick or not, it is a grab bag of useful material and classes and DEFINITELY WARRANTS A LOOK EVEN FROM THOSE NOT INTERESTED IN ORIENTAL ADVENTURES.

I would rate it a 4.5, but am rounding to fit the full star limits of the board.

Dragon Magazine 289, Sword and Fist, and the Mahasarpa Web Enhancement for Oriental Adventures (on the official WoTC site) are all useful corollary materials.
_______________________________________
Oriental Adventures will be referred to as OA below this line.
_______________________________________
Ive been looking forward to this product for a while now, and was eager to pick it up despite some trepidations about James Wyatt. I didnt care for Defenders of the Faith at all, and have issues with his treatment of prestige classes in that product and in Dragon Magazine. IMO, it seems that Mr. Wyatt has a tendency to produce pClasses that are either practically useless/ underpowered or ridiculously over advantaged. Also, he seems to have problems making classes that are enterable and useful to multiple classes, and seems to have a predilection towards strict alignment prerequisites (which isnt necessarily a bad thing but can be taken too far).

So, I picked up the book. First impression was positive. The book has a very distinctive and Oriental appearance while still bearing the DnD3e logo well. The book lacks the shiny finish of the other hard backs, which helps further its natural-materials motif. The cover bears a inset illustration, which IMO could have been avoided, if an illo was desired, I would have preferred to see a Chinese-style Dragon, which would have tied in the DnD3e aspect better IMO. Flipping the book over the back is consistent with the front and summarizes the contents concisely. The pricey 34.95 price tag at the bottom is the only unsightly feature to be seen ,)
_______________________________________
Opening the book, I was treated to an extremely attractive/visually pleasing layout. Aside from a bamboo (I think) styled border the pages are a very clean and pristine white that is much easier on the eyes than the dark parchment background used henceforth in DnD3e hardbacks. The font is black and a good size (for my eyes), large enough to read but small enough to pack the information in. The headers are a mildly styled block-style brushwork in a neutral shade of red. The Chapter number and topic appears vertically in the margin in black type on dark orange, and the page number for each page is highly visible and legible in a sort of imprint at the bottom outside corner of each page. The book is extremely easy to look at and navigate.
_______________________________________
Internal illustrations range from excellent to poor, with a lot of sensational color pieces by Wayne Reynolds (my favorite 3e artist). Some of the other artists work however is rather jarring and in some cases detracted from my overall satisfaction with the book (taking a small chunk from the elusive 5th start)
_______________________________________
There is a solid T-o-Contents followed by an intro and a inset on the Legend of the Five Rings. Here I discovered that the setting of the LotFR CCG and RPG is the default setting of OA. This was an interesting and unexpected twist, but not entirely a welcome one. I played the card game briefly when it came out many moons ago, and picked up the main rulebook when it was released. The card game was fun, and the rules seemed interesting (though very much in the pattern of the WW World of Darkness books), but the lack of options for character type (Samurai or Shugenja basically), the simplistic nation of the setting (Rokugan and the Shadowlands) and the inflexibility of the social setting all discouraged me from actually playing the RPG. Splicing it into the larger D20 multiverse and mechanic definitely circumvents my issues with the setting, however many years have passed and any interest I had in playing in Rokugan has mostly faded.
_______________________________________

The book then proceeds thru 12 Chapters followed by a separate Appendix for a Spell List, a Monster Index, and a Pronunciation Guide.

Chapter 1 covers races in an OA campaign. Laid out therein are Humans, Hengeyokai, Nezumi, Korobokuru, Spirit Folk, and Vanara.

For the first time that I am aware of an official product actually makes rule distinctions between different groups of Humans (!), which is something that Vie thought should be done from the get go. In OA this only a minor distinction is made however and is intended for the purposes of integrating Rokugan into the D20 mechanic. Essentially, Humans of certain Clans get a specific skill as a class skill, but have a favored class imposed upon them like a demihuman, thereby removing one of the 3 advantages of a Human character (those being a free Feat, easier multiclassing, and extra skill points).

Hengeyokai are essentially non-lycanthropic lycanthropes ,). The can change shape to a mostly-normal animal, a hybrid form, or a human form. They get some nice bennies in hybrid form, most often a +2 Stat and either a racial bonus on a skill, a movement alteration/addition, or natural armor. In their animal forms, seem pretty weak as they are normal-animal sized (including the Fine-sized Sparrow), but typically have alternate means of movement and are also well disguised. Favored Class is Wu Jen and they are a +1 ECL. I dont know why anyone would want to play one personally (particularly the CARP!?!?!?!), but different strokes for different folks. They are not native to Rokugan.

Korobokuru are basically Small above ground Dwarves. They are Chaotic, with Favored Class Barbarian. They are hardy and resistant, but a bit on the stoopid side. They seem ok to play and not too interesting. They are not native to Rokugan but if included they are looked down upon by the Clans.

Nezumi are skaven, I mean ratlings, and are natives of Rokugan. They are allied to one of the Clans, but looked down upon by the other Clans. Nexumi looks like a good class to play. They have a 40 move, Low Light vision, bonus to Con, penalty to Charisma, resistant to poison, +2 racial bonus to Move Silent and Hide, Immunity to the Taint (a Rokugan concept/mechanic), a 1d4 natural bite or claw attack, and an option to take Scent as a feat. Their favored class is Rogue. No level adjustment. If you can stand looking like a rat, this is not a bad race to play at all.

Spirit Folk are not native to Rokugan, and are basically elf replacements. There are 3 types, 2 of which gain a Swim ability and Water breathing. They all have Low Light vision, and count as both Spirits and Humanoids. Preferred class is Any. The subtypes get a grab bag of save resistances, animal speaking innate abilities and weather prediction. The Bamboo subtype gets Trackless Step and some skill bonuses with Hide and Wilderness Lore. {SHRUG}. Not too exciting IMO.

Vanara. Finally, there are rules to play Cornelius. The Vanara are chimp men, ala Planet of the Apes. Not native to Rokugan, they gain +2 Int and +2 Wis at the expense of -2 Strength. They are phenomenal climbers, and are very good at Balance and are able to Jump very well. They are also stealthy, and have Low-Light vision. Their preferred class is Shaman. Im sure someone somewhere is excited by this class, but if I ever let one into one of my campaigns I dont think Id get over the urge to insert a man from outer space and the upper torso of the Statue of Liberty into the plot.

There follows a 1.5 column treatment for splicing PHB races into OA, which is handled well, extending Favored Classes to include the new OA classes and racial bonuses to include some of the new Monsters where logical. Dwarves in OA can choose either Fighter or Samurai as their favored class, and few things strike me as being cooler than a Dwarven Samurai....
_______________________________________________
Chapter 2 covers Classes. Barbarian, Ranger, and Sorcerer are unchanged (and a shame it is for the Ranger--what a great opportunity to present an alternate Ranger officially), except that the Sorcerer may opt to use either the Sorcerer list or the Wu Jen list at 1st level.

Fighters are essentially unchanged, but with 2 new feats added to their Bonus Feat list.

Rogues are also essentially the same, with only an altered weapon proficiency list.

Monks are essentially the same, but Knowledge Religion is a class skill (to allow Buddhist monks I suppose), have a different weapon proficiency list, may multiclass freely (!!!), And can trade out Stunning Fist, Deflect Arrows, and Improved Trip at the appropriate levels for a Bonus Feat taken from a newly organized Martial Arts Feats list presented under OA Chapter 6 Combat. I dont know why anyone would switch out Stunning Attack, as it is both a good ability and a preReq for many of the new OA Feats, but the other 2 could definitely be candidates for a swap out. My only gripe is that the Bonus Feat Swap wasnt carried far enough up the level chart, leaving high-level monks still indistinguishable from one another. However, with the multiclass restriction removed, high-level monks should become rarer, diminishing the same-same feel by the expedient of reducing numbers.

Samurai are cool, with 2 strong saves (Fort/Will) a d10, 4 skill points/lvl, a better skill list than a fighter, and gain 7 bonus feats over the course of their careers. Further, since they get nothing at 20th level, they are friendly to taking a level of Monk or even Fighter (to be extra cheesy). Their big class ability is their Ancestral Daisho, which is basically a masterwork family sword and short sword combo (katana/wakizashi, jian/kris, tulwar/dagger,etc) that the Samurai may boost up the weapon bonus chart by spending many days of fasting and very expensive sacrifices. One thing I thought amiss: no mention is made of what happens when the weapon is Sundered. Can the Samurai have it repaired? Get a new one and start over? Essentially this is a class ability that is no different from being in a magic-rich campaign where a character could commission or buy a magic weapon, except you cant replace the item and you have to spend a lot of days boosting it. In a magic poor campaign, however, its Tony-the-Tiger GRRRRREAT!!!! until some jacka$$ comes along and Sunders your sword. The big balancing factor of the class is its Lawful Alignment restriction (which if violated stops progression and turns off the magic of the Ancestral Daisho), and the fact that Clan determines the Bonus feats available to a Samurai. In a non-Rokugan campaign this could easily be morphed into Schools of training.

Next up is the Shaman class. This is, IMO, the best all around class presented in this book and will see immediate inclusion in my non-OA campaigns. It is balanced, fair, playable, and interesting. It mixes some Druidic, some Clerical, and some new-in-OA magic for a very creditable but not unbalancing spell list. Unlike the god-worshiping Clerics and Druids, Shaman draw their power from an animistic worship of both spirits. They gain 2 Domains just as a Cleric does at 1st level, and gain a third at 11th level. They have a d6 HD, Intermediate BAB, 1 strong save (Will, of course), 4 skill points/lvl, a rather limited skill list (surprisingly Knowledge nature and Wilderness Lore not included), Bonus Feats every 4th level taken from a Martial Arts Feat-centric list, Unarmed Strike and Animal Companion at 1st, Spirit Sight at 2nd (see ethereal), Turn Undead at 3rd, and the ability to add their Cha bonus to all saving throws. They may default to cure spells as a Cleric does, and the same alignment restrictions apply to their spell choices. Their spell progression is essentially the same as the Clerics. They get all simple weapons, but only Light Armor proficiency. Their spell list is similar to the Clerics but subtly less powerful, lacking a few spells here and there that combine to make it slightly less potent IMO. All in all, a very good class.

Next is the Shugenja. Shugenja cast divine spells like a Sorcerer. They have an elemental bent to their powers and on the surface look intriguing. They have a d6 and 4 skill points, Worst BAB, Strong Will, and more-or-less the same spell progression of a Sorcerer. At first level they get an Elemental Focus and Sense Element ability. All other levels their Spell Progression is their only advancement benefit. The Sense Elements allows the user to do just that except that it is deceptively named, because apparently all living creatures are composed of all 4 elements and may therefore be detected by this ability, which requires concentration and a Spellcraft check. Usable 3/day at 1st +1/5 Shugenja levels this would be a useful ability if not for its very short range of 10+5/Shugenja level after 1st. Elemental Focus sounds good until you read it and realize it is actually more of a limitation than an advantage. Basically, each Shugenja picks one of 4 elements (or in the case of Clan Shugenja have it picked for them), and at least half of all the spells they know per level must come from this element. True to elementalist-form they cant cast spells of their opposing element at all. Fire Shugenja are a bit screwed as the Cure spells belong to the Water Domain, removing one of the primary advantages of playing a Shugenja over a Sorcerer or Wu Jen. However, Shugenja do get Spell Focus for free with their chosen element. Finally, Shugenja get a bonus spell known per spell level determined by their Clans School in a method that is similar to Domains for Clerics, but lacking Domain Abilities or options. In a non-Rokugan campaign, this would need to be tweaked or else the School spell slot would need to be rolled into the general spells known category. One big benefit of using divine magic rather than arcane would be the ability to wear armor without penalty, yet the class is not proficient with armor, and in Rokugan risk death at the hands of an insulted Samurai should they don armor. Huh, whats the point of being a divine caster rather than arcane then? Finally, their spell list is a bit thin IMO, with a diminished range of options as compared to the very similar sorcerer. The one big selling point of this class is that an Earth or Air Shugenja (being able to cast both Fire and Water spells) could be moderately offensive and be able to heal as well in theory, but the strict limitations on spells known by element prevent this. Besides, in 3e the Cleric spell list is quite offensive enough as it is, so this isnt that big of a draw. I think that if the elemental restriction on spells known and the oppositional element restriction are both lifted this becomes a very good class, particularly for multi-classing purposes. Otherwise its not so hot.

Next up is the Sohei, which is sort of a cleric-barbarian cross. They have spell casting very similar to a Paladin (1-4 levels, late progression, protective/enhancement spell list), d10 hit die, 2 skill points, Strong Fort and Will, and a slew of class abilities to make up for their Intermediate BAB. One of their most significant class abilities is called Ki Frenzy, which they gain 1/day at first, and accrue up to 6/day at 19th. Ki Frenzy is very similar to Barbarian Rage mechanically, but grants +2 Str +2 Dex +10 Move and Flurry of Blows, otherwise it is essentially the same. Unlike the Barbarian, the Sohei doesnt get a greater frenzy or the ability to ignore the ensuing fatigue at higher level. The Sohei also gets Damage Reduction at high levels just like a Barbarian, up to 4/- at 20th. At 1st level the Sohei gets a free Weapon Focus, at 3rd Deflect Arrows, at 5th Strength of Mind (immune to Stun and Sleep), Remain Conscious without preReqs, at 7th Defensive Strike (a rather lame new Feat in OA), and at 9th level Mettle (the Fortitude and Will equivalent to Evasion). Thats it. They get all simple, all martial, all armor (no shields), and at 20th level may cast 3 of each of their 4 spell levels (plus bonus spells) per day. Their spell list is neither great nor useless, with several useful spells but no obvious showstoppers and often times disappointingly thin. They get Bulls Strength frex, but not Cats Grace which would have been as useful, or Endurance which would have been great since it would be usable in conjunction with Frenzy to give them all good phys stats for short bursts. All in all a good class, particularly for multiclass purposes. A Monk-Sohei is a great and obvious combination with some overlap, but generally complementary abilities, but a Rogue-Sohei would be very very very cool (particularly a 11/9 or 9/11 level combo), trading the extra +0 BAB at 1st level in the 2nd class for strong saves in all three categories, Evasion and Mettle, Sneak Attack, avg d8 HD (d10+d6/2), avg 5 skill points/level (8+2/2), Ki Frenzy 3x/day, Remain Conscious for those unfortunate end-of your rope days, Uncanny Dodge, immunity to stunning, a few extra feats, and a couple of also-ran spells that might help in a bind. The big problem with Sohei is that they are intended as Temple Guards and have a Lawful Alignment restriction. Generally, OA seems to be godless, Shaman get their spells from spirits, Shugenja from the elements, and the source of a Soheis spells is not stated, religion is not stated to be, but certainly appears to be more Taoist/Buddhist in outlook and thus temples would be places to seek spiritual enlightenment rather than communion with a deity. Personally, I rule-zeroed the Sohei as the Guardian class and changed the alignment restriction to Alignment: Must match patron Deities alignment for inclusion in my non-OA campaign, some of their spells are Law oriented, but this is a very obvious and easy thing to fix for all other alignments save N,NG,NE characters, who can choose the targeted Law/Chaos orientation when preparing the relevant spells.

Finally, the Wu Jen. The Wu Jen is the Wizard equivalent for OA (duh) and looks interesting on the surface, with a progression chart listing Spell Secrets rather than Bonus Feats and something called Sudden Action along with a single Bonus Feat at 1st. The class gets Worst BAB, d4, 2 skill points, strong Will just as a Wizard and not unexpected. Further inspection however raised my eyebrow. First off, there is a category under class features called Elemental Focus, which describes how the Wu Jen spell list is split into the 5 Oriental elements of earth, fire, water, metal, and wood. When a Wu Jen has learned all of the spells of a certain element that he is eligible by level to cast, the Wu Jen gets a +2 on saves vs. spells of that type and effectively has Spell Focus with spells of that type. When the Wu Jen gains access to spells of the next level he looses this benefit until he has learned all the spells of an element at that level. Now this sounds interesting and flavorful if bit odd, but a quick flip to the Wu Jen spell list reveals a strange thing: not all spells are assigned an element. In fact, most arent. Not all spell levels have spells of each element at each level. So, its obvious that this aspect of the Wu Jen is intended as a flavorful add on, not the end-all be-all purpose of the class. Flipping back to the Wu Jen we skip to the Sudden Action ability, 1/day the Wu Jen can opt for a +4 initiative bonus for a combat. Hmm...Okay, skipping the Bonus metamagic Feat at 1st level we arrive at Spell Secret. Heres where the money is. Every 3 levels the Wu Jen picks a spell he knows, and permanently applies one of the following as a free upgrade: Enlarge, Extend, Still, or Silent directly to the spell even if they dont have the relevant feat. Not bad, but further reading reveals that for each spell secret, the Wu Jen must also take a Taboo, as well as a mandatory one at 1st level, which if violated prevent further spell casting for the day. Thats 7 ways that a 18th level Wu Jen can have his spell casting turned off for an entire day. I dont think 6 spell secrets is worth that. If an option was given where a character could CHOOSE to take a Taboo to get a Spell Secret it would be another story, then a high level Wu Jen without Spell Secrets would have but a single Taboo, which is flavorful. 7 Taboos is just neurotic. Finally, the Wu Jen spell list is interesting, but suffers in some respects when compared to the Wizard spell list, for example it seems to lack Mage Armor completely and the all-important Fly is replaced with the inferior Fire Wings. Little things, hard to pin down. However, the Wu Jen do have some very cool spells that would make many a Wizard drool with envy, such as a prevalence towards more damage spells at 2nd level (a damage-spell dry area for Wizards), Magnetism at 3rd, Heart Ripper at 4th, Metal Skin at 5th, Servant Horde (summon 2d6 +1/lvl Unseen Servants, good for yucks if nothing else) at 6th, and Giant Size at 7th. The Wu Jen isnt a bad class, but they are the only class I can think of that labors under specific flaws beyond alignment restrictions or observations of religious dogma.

Following this is 2 columns on NPC Classes (all good in OA), Banned classes (bard, cleric, paladin, druid, wizzo), Multiclassing (as normal, but not as common), and finally Caste and Class in Rokugon.
___________________________________
Chapter 3 brings us to Prestige Classes and a description of how monk-pClasses BAB combine for unarmed BAB and damage. OK, as an aside, I truly dont understand why WoTC decided to make such a mess over monk unarmed attacks, why not just state characters with monk levels calculate unarmed attacks by subtracting 3 from their BAB rather then 5? Thus a Fighter 10/Monk 10 would have armed 17/12/7/2 and unarmed 17/14/11/8/5/2 rather than unarmed 7/4/1. Unarmed damage could then be given as a class ability in pClasses as +1 unarmed damage step with a fancy name like Unarmed Mastery or whatever, then non-monks would gain some benefit from the class, and monks would still get their upped damage relative to how many monk levels they already have.

In my campaign, I rule-0d the unarmed BAB as Full BAB-3 as soon as I sat down to make some Scarlet Brothers and realized that multiclass monks ala PHB get bent over.

Back on the subject of pClasses, there is a good assortment of them to be had, some very interesting, some very impressive, and some rather pointless. As I noted above, my perception of Mr. Wyatts pClasses from previous works is that the majority of them are underpowered and x/day heavy, and others are just too uber, additionally, I think he has trouble making classes that are usable by many classes without redundancy. That tendency is somewhat visible here as well IMO.

First off is the Battle Maiden, which has a Gender preReq as indicative of the class name. It is a Valkarye-esque pClass, stressing mounted combat. I imagine most GMs would lift the Gender requirement and change the name to Battle Rider or some such as it is pointlessly restrictive of a decent pClass. One gripe: the Maidens steed is not an animal at all, but a magical beast, but no explanation of how this came to be is given. The steeds abilities and stats are determined by the Maidens level, looking at the chart I noticed a discrepancy, when going from 6th to 7th the Maidens steeds HD changes from 8d8+32 to 10d8+30, which means that with bad luck the steed could loose hit points, perhaps the steed should have been assigned hit points at 1st level, and then received an xd8 bonus at each level step. Anyway, the steed gets fairly tuff at higher levels. The Maiden herself gets best BAB, strong Fort, d10, and 2 skill points with a lame skill list. Her class abilities revolve around Ride Bonuses, Burst of Speed (like the Cavalier) 1/day at 2nd, Defensive Riding 1/day at 4th, and Heal Mount 1/day at 8th. X/day-itis strikes again. What makes this class nasty is not readily noticeable until you read the Ride Bonus ability and realize that a Maiden adds her ride bonus to Initiative at 3rd level, AC at 5th, and attacks at 7th when on Horseback. This Ride Bonus is +6 at 9th level, so not too shabby. Any Fighter that isnt taking Intelligence penalties can squeak into this pClass at 8th level, the stiff +7 BAB preReq and 10 Ranks in both Ride and Handle Animal the hold up to earlier entry. Other classes might find the 3 riding feats expensive, particularly non-humans. Entry into the class definitely requires a character dedicated to Mounted Combat, they are unlikely to be good at anything else and all of their class abilities are centered around their mount or being mounted. Off the horse, they are pretty useless with only a high BAB going for them, essentially they would be roughly equivalent to a Warrior when dismounted.

The Bear Warrior. With one of the coolest illos in the book (page 37), this class catches the eye. With strong Will and Fort, Best BAB, a d12, 4 skill points, a good Barbarian-esque skill list, and shape changing abilities this class looks pretty appealing. However, its requirements limit it to Barbarians, Sohei, and whatever class gets Fury? and has a somewhat high BAB preReq. On the up side, it has a single Feat preReq, which is a good feat to have regardless (Power Attack), and no skill requirements. Thus, it is very easy to get into for those classes with a rage or frenzy power. Basically the entire class is predicated upon turning into a BEAR while raging 1/day (black), 2/day (brown), and 3/day (dire). Dire Bear is hit at 8th level and is quite impressive, granting a +20 (thats right, TWENTY) Strength (!), +2 Dex, +8 Con, +7 nat armor, claw and bite attack, Large Size, Reach, and Improved Grab. That is some serious SMACKAGE to the poor sap that pissed the Bear Warrior off in the first place. Other than that the class gets Scent at third, and 2 extra rages per day at 5th and 10th. The big flaw with this pClass is that few characters are going to take level 9 and 10 as you dont really get anything for them (other than +2 BAB and +1 on each save). This pClass could probably have been compressed to a 5-level pClass with higher preReqs. Still, it has its merits, its hard to argue with +20 strength, even though it carries some disadvantages (such as your gear is effectively gone for the duration).

Blade Dancer. Now here is a class to warm the heart of any fan of kung fu action theatre or wuxia. With staggeringly eclectic requirements, including +7 BAB, arcane spell casting, 12 ranks of Jump and Tumble, Dodge, Mobility, and Spring Attack, Lawful, and proficiency with any 1 sword this pClass seems made for a Bard (aside from the Lawful bit, which seems like an add-on anyway), but that class is of course barred from OA. Anyhow, this class has best BAB, d8 hd, strong reflex, 2 skill points, ok skill list. Its class abilities are phenomenal and would be a tad overpowered if not for a serious case of 1/day-itis on their primary ability and the fact that all of their abilities other than Enchanted Blade are not usable in med or heavy armor. They have three major themes: 1) Acrobatics +10/20/30 granting bonuses to Balance, Jump, and Tumble and allowing Take 10 under all circumstances. 2) Fast Movement: double at 1st and triple at 10th, increments thereof in the middle. 3) Enchanted Blade: at 2nd, 6th and 10th the Blade Dancer can tack on magic effects from a list for 1 minute/level 1day, the list of available boosts gets better with each increment, not times per day. Additionally they gain air walk 1/day at 4th, Leap of the Clouds (jump not limited by height), and Acrobatic Attack (ala Duelist) at 5th. A very interesting class for a 6th level Fighter with 1 or 2 levels of Monk (for the free Unarmed Attack feat, and the Class skill of Tumble) and 2 or 1 levels of Sorcerer, Wu Jen, Shugenja, or Shaman (to meet the spell casting preReq). Alternately to the Monk level, a level of Rogue taken late (like level 5 on) would totally cover most of the Tumble requirement (throw all 8 skill points right into it) and gain 1d6 sneak attack but the monks strong saves, Unarmed strike and Stunning Attack (both preReqs for many of the new OA feats), and 1d6 unarmed damage weight me towards the Monk. Little things like Wis bonus to AC might come in handy in a pinch as well if the character is Wise.

Eunuch Warlock: Now here is something I never thought I would see in a DnD3e product. The amusing thing is that the entry doesnt explicitly state what a eunuch is, referring vaguely to a procedure ,). Anyway, the class seems interesting, but has a steep requirement in the form of the ability to cast 5th level arcane spells. Ouch. Not much getting around that one. Similar to the Eldritch Master from Dragon magazine, this class doesnt grant +1 spell level raises. Instead they get up to 5 MIGHTY SPELLS, bonus spells known, and 2 new spell levels at 5th and 10th. At 10th level, the Eunuch will have 5 mighty spells, comprised of 3 permanently Empowered spells and 2 permanently maximized spells. At 3rd level they get the leadership feat for free. This class is most compatible with sorcerer, obviously, as bonus spells just save Wu Jen a bit of time and money (to scribe a new spell to their spell book) and a skill roll. With a d6 HD and 4 skill points the pClass gets a bit of pad, but IMO nothing in this class makes up for loosing 10 levels of spell progression to a Wu Jen. A Sorcerer will gain 25 additional bonus spells in this class which is nice, and will advance to 7th level spells by 10th level, but will get only 1 of those thanks to a limitation on how those bonus spells can be allocated (only one to the highest level at a time). So, a very limited benefit for a very high cost (I dont care if it is a fantasy game, you think youd get more for giving up the jewels!).

Henshin Mystic: One of the 3 monk pClasses, and perhaps the most balanced, this class takes a long time to get into with a +7 BAB preReq. Strangely, this pClass minces around whether or not a character is also a monk with a direct statement under the Monk Abilities class ability that reads with as many levels as his mystic level plus his monk levels (if any)., but Purity of Body (the 5th level monk ability) is a preReq. I could be mistaken, but I cant think of any other class that gets Purity of Body, so all characters coming into this pClass must have at least 5 levels of monk unless I am mistaken. {SHRUG} Anyway, the pClass basically just changes the top 10 level abilities for a monk. The Mystic gets a lot of meditative-awareness type abilities, a couple of mystic fire-based abilities, and several of the same abilities that a monk gets but by a different name for no apparent reason other than to make the pClass look more distinct. This looks like a very good class for Monks and is a good way to diminish the same-same boringness of high-level monks. Of the 3 monk classes, this is the best one IMO.

Iaijutsu Master: This class is borderline abusive, but very cool nonetheless. It exploits...I mean takes advantage of a new combat style taken from Rokugan and defined in OA, the Iaijutsu duel, which is the art of drawing a sword and striking an opponent down in one smooth motion. This pClass lets one finesse a Katana, grants Canny Defense ala the Duelist, add ones Charisma modifier to Initiative in addition to Dex, 2 bonus feats taken from a Mobility and Expertise oriented list, Add Charisma bonus to damage when using Iaijutsu, strike twice as a standard action, and finally at 10th level, force a surprise round at the beginning of a combat if the combat begins with you within melee range of an opponent. There is no real downside to the class, it has a d10, best BAB, strong Reflex, 4 skill points, and a really really good skill list. Its very easy for a Samurai and not too hard for a Sohei to get into. A Samurai could take their 7th character level in this class. Only the Canny Defense ceases to function if the Master wears armor. Characters with high Dex, Int, and Cha can really clean up in this class. 1 gripe: the One Strike Two Cuts ability (two attacks as a standard action) doesnt specify if they are two iterative attacks (top attack bonus/attack bonus -5) or two attacks at top attack bonus, or like flurry of blows, it just says 2 attacks as a standard action. Im assuming its iterative, but you can bet most players would interpret it as two top attacks. No arguments, its just better to be an Iaijutsu Master than to be an equal level fighter if you have the stats to really take advantage of the class abilities.

Kishi Charger: Or as I prefer to think of it, Cavalier part 2. This class is not very interesting. The most positive thing I can say about it is that it certainly is not overpowered. It compares poorly to the very similar Battle Maidens. Their one big Mary Jane is that at 6th level they can make a full attack action while mounted even if their horse moved more than 5 feet, but IIRC the Cavalier has something similar to this as well. I would give it a pass as a player, personally. Perhaps if it were condensed into 5 level I might pick it up to flesh out a Fighter or (in a nonOA campaign) aPaladin that was mounted a lot, but 10 levels is too much of an expenditure for not enough return.

Ninja Spy: A tough class to get into for anyone save a rogue, this pClass is impressive in its breadth of abilities. Its tempting to cry OVERPOWERED!!! when merely looking at the block of print in their Special column, and reading thru their abilities is likely to confirm this. One of their primary class advantages is they get a good number of Exotic Weapon Proficiencies over their 10 levels, selectable from a list of ninja weapons. They also get Acrobatics +10/+20, which is the same as the Blade Dancer. They get Leap of the Clouds at 3rd, 3d6 Sneak Attack, Improved Evasion, Poison Use, a couple of once per day abilities like Abundant Step at 10th (Dimension Door), Water Walk at will, Slippery Mind, Immunity to Poison, Alter Self at will, Hide in Plain Sight, and Ki Breath (which is their least useful ability). These guys are the shiznit. They have 3 strong saves, a d6, intermediate BAB, 6 skill points per level, and a very expansive skill list. Other than the cultural stigma, there is no reason to not be a ninja.

Shadow Scout: A Ranger pClass, this class is a good option for a Ranger as it accelerates their Favored Enemy progression, gives them the much needed Fast Movement (without which it is extremely difficult to Track at an acceptable pace), Evasion, the ability to Detect Enemy at will (with concentration), a nice fat bonus to Hide if not moving, Smite Enemy 1/day at 9th, and a fluff ability to remember up to 1 minute exactly. This is a smart move for many Rangers, and even a Scout-type Rouge would benefit. Its not very exciting, but if the player is smart with his Favored Enemies (hint: take enemies that are very tough early, you wont see the benefit immediately, but when you reach higher levels it can make your character a real asset to a party, if you pick weak enemies like goblins early in your career, you are stuck with a massive bonus vs. goblins later on when you are facing much more powerful opponents), this pClass can make them very nasty in the correct circumstances.

Shapeshifter: This is a strange pClass, with a rather bizarre set of preReqs. It seems to be very obviously aimed at Hengeyokai Wu Jen, and is like an uber-class to such. Able to enter at 8th character level, a Wu Jen 8/Shapeshifter 10 would be a 13th level caster with 7th level spell access, Wild Shape 5/day up to elementals, Intermediate BAB, all 3 strong saves, a d8 hit die, count as a Shapechanger rather than a humanoid (actually hengeyokai already do, but there you have it), and be able to alter self at will. A bit much in my humble opinion. Oh yeah, it also as 4 skill points and an OK skill list.

Shintao Monk: One of the 3 monk pClasses, these guys should be called the SHIZNIT Monks. They get it all. Easy for a Monk to get into at 6th character level, this class gives a bonus feat every other level with a very diverse list. With at least one class ability every level (other than the bonus feats), the only thing that stops this class from being the all-time cheese whiz champion is a bad case of 1/day-itis for most of the class abilities. The abilities are numerous and varied, but basically consist of a lot of spell-like abilities, including the 10th level ability to shut down magic users if they cant pass a Will save that will be somewhere in the 20s (10+monk level (10)+Cha mod) and the ability to recover 9 or 10 hit points per hour without rest at 9th level up. Detect Evil at will and Smite Evil 1/day. Immunity to sleep, stun, and slow effects. At will add 1d4+1 to any 1 stat for an hour 1/day. The list goes on (and on). The class is obviously based on the Feats, and if you want to take advantage of the new martial arts styles, 2 levels of Fighter, 8 Levels of Monk, and 10 levels of Shintao is the way to go, yielding potentially 10 (logically 9—only a fool would trade in Stunning Attack for a feat IMO) bonus feats to spread around into developing a style or two, by the official system you would have a 15/10/5 BAB, 13/10/7/4/1 unarmed (flurry for 11/11/8/5/2/-1), d20 unarmed damage, +3 AC and 90 speed. As I said, the only thing that keeps this class under control is the fact that almost all of their other abilities are 1/day never progress flat abilities, and several of them are only useful in certain circumstances. I think the Henshin Mystic is the better balanced of the 2, but the Shintao will allow a player to actually use the ridiculously expensive martial arts styles. A wily DM would keep an eye on a character in this pClass as it has some potential to get out of hand, particularly the Kukan-Do ability (the one that lets you shut down a spellcaster), if you plan to use a powerful spell caster as the primary antagonist, make sure they have a good will save or the Shintao will make quick work of them (quick gripe: The Kukan-Do doesnt have a duration, is it one round, until the Shintao deactivates it, 1 minute per level, what?)

Singh Rager: Well, here we find out what class can Fury (see Bear Warrior above). Fury is a synonym for Rage, functioning exactly the same. The word Rage is even in the class name, so why Mr. Wyatt decided to confuse the issue with a variant name is not clear. Anyway, this class is based heavily on the Ki Shout ability, extending its use beyond once per day to 4/day +Cha modifier with a +4 DC at 1st level and giving Great Ki Shout as a bonus feat, also at 1st level. At 2nd they gain rage 3/day. At 3rd a Singh Rager becomes immune to fear and gains Remain Conscious without preReqs (which is hugely useful to a Rager, for obvious reasons). At 4th they may make a full attack action at the end of a charge. At 5th they may make a Ki shout as a free action in conjunction with a full attack action. At 6th they essentially can duplicate the effects of Boots of Speed by will alone (and as an Extraordinary ability, no less). At 8th they get Greater Rage as a 15th level Barbarian, and at 10th they are no longer winded after a Rage. They dont get damage reduction or uncanny dodge. The smart play here is to play a Barbarian to 7th level, then become lawful to meet this pClasses preReqs and move in to the class at 8th character level, you get back your Rage capability at 9th character level and pick up a strong Will Save, while keeping Uncanny Dodge and Fast Movement, after progressing all 10 levels as a Singh Rager, take your remaining 3 levels as a Sohei to rack up Ki Frenzy 2/day and 2 free feats, as well as cementing an awesome Fortitude and a respectable Will save, shore up your Reflex Save somewhere along the way with Lightning Reflexes and you have a very scary character. This pClass is a bit on the uber side.
Tattooed Monk: One of the kewl bits from Rokugan, the Tattooed monks have all the things that make prepubescent boys drool, mystery, power, martial arts acumen, and tuff-guy tattoos. So you would expect these guys to be pretty buff, yes? Nope. You get 3 strong saves, intermediate BAB, 1d8, 4 skill points, i.e. all the same stuff as a normal monk. For class abilities you get 5, thats right 5 Tattoos, of which the good ones are also restricted to certain levels of Tattooed Monk, so you cant even throw a level in to pick up that one Tattoo that would perfectly mesh with your character for ideal power-gaming excellence. All sarcasm aside, there are almost 2 full pages of Tattoos to choose from, but I really dont think that 5 of them make up for the abilities one might get from the Monk class, the Henshin or Shintao, or even some of the SandF Monk-friendly pClasses.

Void Disciple: A 13 level pClass aimed at Shugenja primarily, but usable by any spellcasting class. They get a rather cool ability to Scry at will at first, the ability to grant a skill or feat to an ally at 4th, True Strike at will 1/day at 7th, let an ally switch a higher ability score into a lower ability score for up to 5 rounds 3/day, and can do the opposite to an enemy as a melee touch attack at 12th level 1/day, and at 13th level can bestow 1d4 negative levels as a melee touch attack with a 13 hour duration 1/day. They gain 8 +1 spellcasting levels over 13 total levels, and have a d6 hit die. I think this class might actually be decently balanced, but not very useful to PCs, all of its class abilities are x/day and their best ability is only useful for scrying, which most adventuring parties are too active/impatient to use effectively.

Weapon Master (Kensai): Unless I am totally mistaken, this is a retread from Sword and Fist. Its ugly, but Id put my money on the Iaijutsu or Singh Rager.

Witch Hunter: An interesting concept, this class is powerful but very focused. The strange thing about this class, is the eclectic nature of their preReqs, ranging from Knowledge Arcana 10 to Track, and the ability to cast Magic Circle against evil. A Shaman/Witch Hunter could really clean up with this pClass. One serious flaw of the class: Power Attack, Cleave, and Great Cleave are doled out as bonus feats, but if you already have them you get nothing. This seems a bit harsh IMO, some benny should have been offered. All around a solid but not exceptional pClass.

Yakuza: This class could have been good, but it isnt. Only really enterable by a Rogue or multiclass Rogue thanks to high preReqs in Gather Info and Bluff, the class is totally useless to a Rogue. The Yakuza dont get sneak attack, and duplicate levels of Uncanny Dodge that a Rogue above 3rd level already has. You do get Improved Evasion 2 levels faster than a Rogue has the opportunity to get it, but thats about it. The only real class ability presented is a grep of Bardic knowledge (called Yakuza knowledge, even). Rogues are stuck still waiting for Song and Silence, I suppose.

Thats it for the pClasses. As a quick aside, out of 17 pClasses, 13 had alignment restrictions, often for no apparent reason. Only 1 had a blurb detailing what effect changing alignment has on class progression (the Shintao monk, which has a LG preReq).

________________________________________________________
Chapter 4 brings us to Skills and Feats. The Skill list is very short with lists for Craft, Knowledge, and Profession skills appropriate to OA, an OA Language chart, an expansion for Sense Motive to detect metagame info about an opponent, and a very important expansion for Tumble which expands the capacity of characters with high ranks in Tumble enormously. One new skill, Iaijutsu Focus, is described. This is basically a Sneak Attack based on a Skill roll, and used on flat-footed opponents. The general idea is to beat the opponents initiative and let em have it. To use this skill correctly a character would almost have to have Improved Initiative and Quickdraw.

Feats is next, and includes a mix of Ancestor Feats that are similar to Regional Feats in FR, and some rather cool new Martial-Arts flavored Feats. Some are reprinted from SandF. My personal favorite is the absolutely crucial Improved Grapple, which finally makes it possible to effectively wrestle. Choke Hold and Earths Embrace extend from Improved Grapple and are both very nasty in the clinch. Freezing the Life Blood is difficult to get, but lets you paralyze opponents rather than Stun them for 1d4+1 rounds. Falling Star Strike is similar but blinds opponents. Superior Expertise is a crucial new feat that lets a character suck off up to all of their BAB into AC on a 1 for 1 basis.
Moving on we come to Chapter Five, Descriptions and Equipment.


Alignment and Honor is sort of handled here. Next, a section I previously missed confirms my deduction that animism is the name of the game over deification in OA. Names and Age charts follow, and finally new weapons are paralleled with PHB Weapons and an entire page is given over to new weapons, many of which are ninja weapons, and lots of chain weapons for those that like that sort of thing.

Armor includes Cord, Brigandine, and Lamellar from Kalamar. Special and Superior Items includes some new alchemical items.
Chapter 6 brings us to Combat.

Leading off the Chapter is a description of Martial Arts styles with several samples. Essentially, you build a style out of a group of feats and possible skills and when you get all of those feats you get a benefit of some sort as a reward. Unfortunately, all of the example styles are so absurdly difficult to attain and the benefits for doing so are so piddly that there is no clear reason to do so. Only Monk-Fighters have any hope of really taking advantage of the listed styles (see Dragon 289 for the Martial Artist Monk-Fighter class combo). The idea is useful, but better guidelines should have been laid out and more accessible styles should have been presented.

Next is Iaijutsu Duels, which takes awhile to explain, but is really pretty strait forward. In summary, unless you have spent a lot of skill points on Iaijutsu Focus and have Quick Draw, dont get into an Iaijutsu duel or you will probably die.

Last is Psychic Duels, which have nothing to do with Psionics, this is basically a stare-down. It seems kind of pointless to me, but here are rules for one.
Chapter 7 is Magic and Spells

It details here that Shugenja are Cha based casters and a few other relevant details that could have been included under Shugenja, but oh well. 10 Pages of Spell Lists follow. The Shaman Domains take up a good chunk of space, with some interesting ones like Celestial (rebuke or command spirits 3 + cha mod/day) and Nature (same thing, but with animals). Travel, like the Clerical Travel Domain, is DA BOMB and sure to be a popular choice.

There are around 100 new spells, mostly interesting or useful. Unfortunately by default they arent available to PHB Classes, which diminishes OAs cross compatibility with DnD3e as a whole. In all, there are 24 pages of spells.
Chapter 8 is Magic Items

A new Items worn limit with Oriental term is given, and a new Random Generation chart including DMG magic items usable in OA, listing both DMG and OA names where different.

15 new weapon abilities are given: Agility (bonus to Ref), Balance (+8 Balance), Blurring (wielder is blurred), Displacement (duh), Flying (3/day fly for 50 minutes), Focus (+4 Iaijutsu Focus—katana only), Furious (bumps Rage bonuses), Honorable (Holy, Lawful---sort of), Initiative (+2 Luck on Initiative), Kuni Crystal (complicated Rokugan stuff), Mighty Smiting (+1 Smite/day, must have Smite), Passage (uh…complicated), Silent Moves (+10 Move Silent), Tainted (sort of like Unholy—more Rokugan stuff), Taint Resistance (more Rokugan stuff). 6 new specific weapons, including Flying Phoenix Sword.

A new category of Magic Items, the Talisman, is introduced via a table to randomly generate them. There are 2 pages of new Wondrous Items, none of which are oh my god quality. Following are rules on Jade and Obsidian weapons and full rules for using the Craft Talisman Feat listed in Chapter 4.
Chapter 9 is Monsters.

I havent had time to laboriously analyze them yet, but at first glance there are a lot of higher CR and not too many lower. There seems to be a very lengthy entry on Oni and Lung dragons. Also, there is a ton of Spirits of one sort or another. The Celestial Shaman looks more and more useful.

The Mamano wins the prize for freakiest looking monster and the Pennaggolan is the sickest-looking. The Wang-Liang is, for some reason, the scariest-looking to me.

Sorry to flake on this, but I havent yet fully analyzed this section.
Chapter 10 is Campaign Design

A short chapter, it is basically a 101 for novice DMs, but it contains very useful info on different cultures, and some teasers of Song and Silence and Masters of the Wild. It also blocks out the Mahasarpa campaign available on the WoTC web site.

Finally it defines the Cosmology of OA.
Chapters 11 and 12 are both Rokugan specific. They contain quite a bit of useful info, including crunchy bits like additional pClasses and new Poisons. However, I am not going to go into it because it is largely outside my interests in using OA. It is good stuff, however, and has sparked some of my old interest in the LotFR.

Thats it. All in all a very good book, around a 4.5. Only some discrepancies in the pClasses, a bit of a mish-mashed feel, and a few bad illos keep it from a straight 5.
 

Ron

Villager
The new Oriental Adventures is a welcome upgrade from its previous edition. The presentation is excellent, in fact superior to the other core books. The cover is pleasant and evocative of oriental style. The internal layout really shines, being clear and better looking than other WotC's D&D selections. Sadly, the campaign map does not keep the same standards. Although the landscape cartography is good, the markers, such as cities, castles, and roads, as well as the fonts are too much western to a product of this kind.

The book is structured in 12 chapters plus three appendixes, supposedly providing enough material to a wide range of oriental oriented adventures. Unlike its predecessor, Oriental Adventures tries to be both a generic supplement and a sourcebook to Rogukan, the setting used by Legends of Five Rings CCG and RPG. All races from the first edition are back as well as a new one from Rogukan. There are 11 main classes plus 25 prestige classes, although many of the former are exclusive to the Rogukan setting. This hefty number of classes covers a remarkable diversity of roles in an oriental society and should suffice to most gamers.

A few new feats are introduced, most of them directly associated with the Rogukan setting, although they might be adapted to other settings with minor tweaking. Surprising, the martial arts chapter is rather small, limiting to explain which combination of feats and skills are characteristic to which school of martial arts.

The equipment chapter is equivalent to its counterpart in the PHB, although it appears to be mainly based in the Japanese culture, in detriment to others. The chapter of magic is also slim, but provides enough information to manage magic in the campaign as well as some new spells.

The remaining chapters are for the DM. An extensive monster chapter updates the previous edition bestiary as well as includes information about Rogukan's critters. A rather small chapter discusses the many possibilities of using Oriental Adventures as guide to different settings. Although being well written, this chapter fails to provide a complete tool kit to customize the rules and, therefore, I consider it the weakest of the book.

The two final chapters detail the Rogukan. This was my first exposure to this setting. Although I found it enjoyable, I did not found it very interesting. Mahasarpa, the Indian inspired setting provided in the web enhancement was more of my taste. Despite this, the Rogukan chapters are very detailed and sufficient to most gamers. Alderac, who have the rights for Rogukan will soon be publishing a more complete supplement to d20 players.

Final comments

The new Oriental Adventures is one of the best products available of the d20 line, especially to those willing to play in the Rogukan setting. However, as a tool kit to homebrew campaigns with oriental flavor, it is still lacking in a few points. The chapter on campaign design informs us the equivalent to Oriental Adventures classes in several eastern cultures such as Japanese, Chinese, and Indian. We are informed that Samurai has no equivalent in China and might be represented as Brahmin in India. But what does a Brahmin is different from a samurai? This is not covered. Also, katanas are very important to samurais. What are their equivalents to Brahmin? I have no idea. The book also lacks information on which races or monsters are appropriated to which cultures. Also, some important cultures from Southeastern Asia are not even mentioned. Obviously, a book of this size cannot possibly cover all Asians culture. However, I would rather take a few pages from Rogukan to improve the world building chapter or at least improve this latter chapter in a web enhancement.
 

Psion

Villager
Oriental Adventures

Fantasy RPGs have long flirted with the fantastical notions associated with the Far East. Samurai and ninja have appeared in a variety of computer and tabletop RPGs, and a few games have been totally based around settings drawn from historical and mythical references in East Asian cultures. FGU presented a fantasy RPG based on ancient Japan called Bushido. TSR came up with its own version of a fantasy East Asian themed setting and rules with the Oriental Adventures book for 1e AD&D, and the subsequent Kara-Tur boxed set. Perhaps the most popular such RPG in this vein is the Rokugan setting for the Legend of the Five Rings CCG and RPG.

Years later, Wizards of the Coast owns the rights to Dungeons & Dragons and to Legends of the Five Rings. When it announced that a new Oriental Adventures would be published, many old fans of previous AD&D material expected a re-appearance of the Kara-Tur setting. Alas, this was not to happen. As WotC owns the rights to Rokugan, it made little sense for it to promote a relatively obscure setting over a well-accepted one. The "sample setting" in the 3e Oriental Adventures is, therefore, Rokugan.

It's not all Rokugan, however. James Wyatt promised us that one of his influences was the Dragonfist game, inspired by Wuxia, fantastical Chinese martial arts epics, as well as the old Oriental Adventures hardbound and other sources.

A First Look

Oriental Adventures is a 256-page hardbound book. The cover is somewhat unconventional for a WotC hardbound, in that it does not match any of the existing cover schemes. For example, the Psionics Handbook had a brown cover in the style of the Player's Handbook, and the Manual of the Planes had a blue cover matching the style of the Dungeon Master's Guide. The Oriental Adventures book, on the other hand, has a cover with the appearance of beige monogrammed paper with a cloth back and a depiction of a samurai-like warrior wielding two swords (and carrying a third), all done in a very classical Asian style.

The interior is illustrated with full-color art--and outstanding full-color art at that. Artists contributing to the book include Wayne Reynolds, Raven Mimura, Arnie Swekel, Matt Cavotta, Larry Dixon, David Martin, Darrell Riche, Richard Sardinha, and Brian Snoddy. The book's borders are made to resemble wood building material. This combines to make this easily the most attractive hardcover for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition that WotC has published to date.

The text density is fairly high, using a font size and spacing similar to other non-core D&D 3e rulebooks. The overall price is a somewhat painful $34.95 US, but this isn't too surprising in contrast with other WotC full-color books.

Characters from the Far East

The Oriental Adventures book is divided into twelve chapters and three appendices. The first five chapters cover character creation. The introduction also sets up a convention that will be used throughout the book: a "Legends of the Five Rings" logo is used to denote parts that will be used in the Rokugan setting. Much of the book is not used in Rokugan. For example, there are no Hengeyokai, Wu Jen, or Sohei in the Rokugan setting.

The first chapter covers character races. It introduces five new PC races:

-Hengeyokai: A race of shapeshifters, each associated with one specific animal type. All hengeyokai have a Wisdom penalty, but their racial bonus and special powers depend on their type. Unlike the version in the original OA, the Hengeyokai here have no alignment restrictions by type. The hengeyokai is the only race in OA with a character level modifier, and the same rules are presented for handling this as in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and the Manual of the Planes.

-Korobokuru: A race of dwarflike humanoids, which also appeared in the old OA. They have many traits in common with standard D&D dwarves, but suffer a penalty to Intelligence instead of Wisdom, are a small race, and have barbarian as a preferred class. They are depicted as somewhat primitive and uncouth.

-Nezumi: A race of ratlike humanoids from the Rokugan setting. Nezumi have a resistance to the "Shadowlands taint." The region that is the Shadowlands was formerly the homeland of the Nezumi.

-Spirit Folk: Another race that also appeared in the original OA. Spirit folk are results of a union between humans and various nature spirits. There are three types of spirit folk: bamboo, river, and sea. They have no racial ability score modifiers, and like humans and half-elves always treat their highest level class as a favored class. They receive low-light vision plus other special abilities based on their spirit folk type.

-Vanara: A race of monkeylike humanoids, drawn from Indian myth. Vanara have intelligence and wisdom bonuses and a strength penalty, as well as climbing movement, low-light vision, and a satchel of skill bonuses.

In addition to the new races, the chapter discusses how to integrate existing core D&D races to an OA-style campaign. In the case of humans in the Rokugan setting, clan determines the character's bonus feat and favored class. The other races have a few notes on how they can be made to fit with the elements in the OA book. For example, elves can pick wu jen instead of wizard as a favored class, and dwarves have their combat bonuses expanded to some creatures in the OA setting and can choose fighter or samurai as a favored class.

The second chapter focuses on core character classes. This includes tweaks and guidelines for using existing D&D 3e classes, as well as five new character classes specifically for an East-Asian themed setting.

Several classes from the PHB are as a default not used in the Rokugan setting: bard, cleric, druid, paladin, and wizard. Of course, in homebrew settings, the GM may have different ideas about what belongs and what doesn't.

Of the existing classes, most of the changes are minor. For example, fighters only add a few new feats introduced in the book to their list of available feats, and most classes revise their list of known weapons to include some of the existing weapons. The biggest change is the monk. In OA, monks add knowledge (religion) to their class skills and may trade some of their virtual feats for other martial arts feats. In addition, the ill-conceived rule that monks may not advance after they multiclass does not apply in OA--which sounds like a good general rule to me.

The new core character classes introduced in OA 3e are:

-Samurai: The samurai is a modified fighter. It has fewer feats available than a fighter, but gets more skill points and a more courtly skill selection, and it has access to the ancestral daisho ability. This ability gives the samurai character a weapon that is part of his heritage. The samurai may sacrifice wealth to "awaken" magical abilities within the weapon.

-Shaman: This divine spellcasting class is basically the Shukenja from OA 1e. It is somewhat similar to a cleric. It has less armor and undead turning capability, a different spell selection, an animal companion, and free martial arts feats. The shaman is not available in the Rokugan setting.

-Shugenja: This class is more or less a conversion of the Shugenja from the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. It is probably the most unusual fit to the D&D 3e system. The shugenja is a divine spellcaster, and must choose a school and an element that will steer its spell selection. They also, however, cast spells like a sorcerer: they have a limited number of known spells but do not need to prepare their spells.

-Sohei: The sohei are warrior-monks and temple guardians. They have a limited spell selection like paladins and have special abilities such as ki frenzy (sort of a minor version of the barbarian's rage), various martial arts feats, and eventually gain abilities like the barbarian's damage reduction and the templar's mettle. Sohei do not appear in the Rokugan setting.

-Wu jen: The wu jen is a sort of elemental wizard. The wu jen spell list is somewhat similar to the wizard spell list, but with a greater focus on the classic Chinese elements: earth, fire, metal, water, and wood. Wu jen gains bonuses if they know every spell of an element available to them. They do not get the free feats a wizard does. They do, though, get spell secrets, which are sort of like focused metamagic feats; yet for each spell secret they adopt, they must also adopt a taboo. Wu jen are not used in the Rokugan setting.

Notably, there is no ninja core class. This may take some of you by surprise. James Wyatt had this to say in an interview about his reasoning:

Different people-- whether they are historians, fantasy authors, filmmakers, or gamers-- have different ideas of what ninja were or should be, and as a result their abilities are difficult to define in the terms of a single class. Are ninja martial artists, magicians, or charlatans? Different sources portray them in different ways.

History and fantasy both suggest that ninja are born into ninja clans and trained from childhood, which might suggest that a base class is appropriate-- but they're trained from childhood to a variety of different tasks. Thus, instead of a single ninja class, Oriental Adventures suggests that members of ninja clans start out in whatever class is most appropriate to their particular role within the clan-- whether that's rogue, monk, fighter, or a spellcasting class like shaman, shugenja, or wu jen. From that point, a ninja can multiclass if he wants to: fighter/rogues, monk/rogues, and monk/spellcasters all make interesting ninja. Then, in order to get the unique and powerful ninja abilities, a character can adopt either the new ninja spy prestige class or the good old-fashioned assassin prestige class from the DMG.


The chapter on prestige classes is loaded with ideas for advanced careers and organizations for an East-Asian themed game. The list is impressive, but there are even more in the Rokugan chapters. Many of them have applicability beyond that of OA games. In brief, the prestige classes are:

-Battle Maiden: Female elite cavalry, based on the Rokugan Utaku school.
-Bear Warrior: A berserker with the ability to actually shift into bear form.
-Blade Dancer: A wuxia-inspired warrior with impressive acrobatic ability. According to James Wyatt, the blade dancer was based on Swordman Yen from A Chinese Ghost Story, but I also see it a variety of other wuxia-type sources.
-Eunuch Warlock: An arcane spellcaster with some boosted spellcasting ability. Depicted as the power behind the throne of a corrupt emperor in some OA settings.
-Henshin Mystic: A monk that attains a variety of supernatural abilities in the quest for divinity.
-Iajutsu Master: A master of the art of Iajutsu, the art of drawing and striking with the weapon in one motion. In Rokugan, Iajutsu dueling is an important form of dueling.
-Kishi Charger: Another elite cavalry type that forms a special bond with its mounts. In Rokugan, they are members of the Unicorn clan trained in the Shinjo school.
-Ninja Spy: The archetypal ninja, the ninja spy has abilities that enhance stealth and mobility.
-Shadow Scout: The shadow scout is a sort of ranger specialized in operating in dangerous territory. In Rokugan, it represents some members of the Crab clan.
-Shapeshifter: The shapeshifter is a prestige class that further develops the ability of a spellcaster or creature with an alter form ability.
-Shintao monk: Like henshin mystics, Shintao monks are a monk prestige class that gains supernatural abilities.
-Singh Rager: The singh rager is an usual twist on a beserker. The singh rager has a rage ability similar to the barbarian's, but singh ragers are more disciplined than bear warriors or barbarians.
-Tatooed monk: Monks that bear tattoos granting them supernatural abilities.
-Void disciple: In Rokugan, there are five elements of magic. The shugenja master one of the four basic elements-- air, fire, water, and earth. Yet in Rokugan, the fifth element is void, the element that connects the other elements. The void disciple seeks to master this element, which gives the void disciple divinatory and fate-influencing powers.
-Weapon Master (Kensei): This is almost identical to the Weapon Master prestige class in the Sword & Fist book. The Weapon Master receives additional abilities while armed with a masterwork weapon that they have chosen as their forte.
-Witch Hunter: Witch Hunters are proficient in both fighting and magic, and are trained in vanquishing ghosts and evil spirits.
-Yakuza: The classic organized crime figure from Japanese history, the yakuza has many rogue-like abilities in addition to knowledge and leadership abilities befitting a senior member of the Yakuza.

The skills sections offers new specialties for skills appropriate to an OA campaign, and new uses for existing skills-- including a very wuxia-esque list of new uses for the Tumble skill. The book also introduces a new skill: iajutsu focus. This skill is useful primarily in an iajutsu duel, in which the duelists attempt to strike each other starting from a position with swords sheathed. If you strike an opponent flatfooted, an iajutsu focus skill roll can result in increased damage to the opponent.

The book also introduces a number of new feats. Most of these are sorted into two categories: ancestor feats and martial arts feats. As you might expect, martial arts feats provide new combat options for characters. Ancestor feats are primarily aimed at the Rokugan setting but can really be used for any Japan-themed campaign. They provide bonuses to the character based on the abilities attributed to a legendary ancestor. For example, if an ancestor was a noted diplomat, the ancestor feat great diplomat gives a bonus to the character's Diplomacy rolls and Leadership score.

The book provides a brief system for honor. Unlike 1e OA, the system for honor is not numeric. A simpler system for honor that divides honor into five ranks is provided. In addition to this system, the suggestion is tendered that you can use honor in the place alignment in your game.

New Goodies

Then next big chunk of the book is the new equipment, spells, and magic items available to characters in OA campaigns. The list is long enough that I won't attempt to enumerate all of the particulars, but instead hit a few high points.

The description and equipment chapter includes a variety of Asian weapons, armor, and other items. As was the case in Sword & Fist, the katana is treated as a masterwork bastard sword. Technically, the katana is smaller than a bastard sword, but the convention works well enough. The way it was wielded resembles the way bastard swords are handled under D&D mechanics, and it is a much better approach than promoting the katana to the "super-weapon" that it was under 1e and 2e.

As you might expect, a few ninja gimmicks like eggshell grenades are available. The ninja-to is treated as an exotic weapon, however, which struck me as a little odd since it is basically a (crappy) short sword.

In the realm of spells, many spell lists are provided for the new classes, and many of the existing spells in the PHB are referenced. Many new spells are also provided. Some of these are simply rearrangements of existing spells. For example, the shugenja have access to the spell protection from taint that operates much like the classic protection from evil.

Many other spells are brand new, though, and very interesting additions to a campaign. One very cool spell is snake darts. This spell requires snake tattoos on the caster's arms as a focus. When the spell is cast, the snakes fly out and strike a target, and bite the target (inflicting poison on the target as well).

For fans of the old 1e OA will recognize many of those spells here in 3e format, such as lightning blade (which was enchanted blade in 1e) and fire shuriken.

Likewise, many magic items were updated from the previous edition. Unfortunately, it appears that the author did not choose the Complete Book of Ninjas as a resource for magic items, a book with some interesting items that would have made good additions.

There are a variety of new weapon enchantments such as honorable and dishonorable weapons, which are sort of a parallel of holy and unholy weapons in the DMG. The major difference you may notice is that many of the enchantments detailed here do not add to the weapon's effective bonus for the purposes of the market price, but rather have a direct price modifier. These enchantments are typically of the sort that does not give a direct combat modifier, but instead gives the user some sort of bonus. For example, a balance weapon gives the user a +8 bonus to Balance checks while carrying the weapon.

A new category of magic weapon is introduced: talismans. Nothing too new to see here – talismans basically operate like potions. Talismans are simply a different method of storing low-level spell abilities.

Finally, new special materials are introduced. Most prominent among these are jade and obsidian, which are useful against Shadowlands creatures if you play a Rokugan (or Rokugan inspired) game.

Combat

The combat chapter focuses on some aspects of combat that are not part of the basic D&D 3e rules, though they do fit well with the existing rules. Three areas are covered: martial arts, iajutsu duels, and psychic combat.

Martial arts is what seems to be on everyone's mind. Basically, the martial arts system builds on the feat system. If your character selects the correct package of martial arts feats, he receives (free of charge) mastery of that style. This gives the character some mechanical benefits. For example, if you have all the feats of the "empty hand mastery" list, your unarmed damage improves by one step.

I have to say that while I think this works after a fashion, I am really not wild about it. It seems like a pale shadow of the old OA martial arts system. 1e OA had a system whereby you could put together unique styles from component maneuvers. The new system offers nowhere near the flavor and variety. I feel it would have been much better springing off from the feat system into the prestige class mechanic (which seems to be widely used in other places in the book for "fighting schools"; I am at a loss as to why this wasn't done here.)

The iajustsu duel rules are largely an outgrowth of Rokugan, where these rules are very important. Basically, if two samurai face off and agree to an iajustu duel, they run a combat using the iajustu duel rules. When the duelists face off, they can try to determine things about each other's capability before the fight begins. If it is obvious that the opponent is superior, a duelist may cede the duel before it begins. Otherwise, the duel proceeds, and each combatant rolls his Iajutsu Focus skill as an initiative roll. The first strike is treated as a surprise round, so both are effectively flat footed and stand to take a lot of damage.

The psychic duel is not anything you would expect to find in the Psionics Handbook. Rather, it is a war of nerves, and rules for this originally appeared in 1e OA. In such a duel, the opponents basically stare each other down, and must make Will saves each round until one of them loses composure. The loser of such a "duel" receives a penalty in combat as if affected by the bane spell.

Monsters! Monsters! Monsters!

This section of the book is probably the most lavishly illustrated. Many new monsters are provided, most of them derived from Japanese myth or from Rokugan. Nonetheless, the creatures are very cool and you may be tempted to use them in your everyday campaign. Some may seem a little strange, like the "hopping vampires" that people seem to love or hate.

Two new type modifiers are introduced for monsters: spirit and shadowlands. Both modifiers' primary effects are for ajudicating magic. For example, certain spells operate specifically against spirits, and certain weapons have deleterious effects against shadowlands creatures. Spirit creatures are not necessarily incorporeal, as many "spirits" in East Asian mythologies were flesh-and-bone. Shadowlands creatures are primarily outsiders from the Shadowlands realm of the Rokugan setting.

Personal favorites in this section are the Oni and the Shadowlands Oni (they are different), as well as the Dokufu. In addition to the menagerie of new creatures presented in this chapter, the campaign chapter also provides guidelines for adapting existing creatures in the Monster Manual and Monsters of Faerun to an OA campaign.

Campaign Design

One chapter is devoted to the topic of campaign design. The chapter ends up being more of a GM's miscellany and musings than rigorous guidelines for making an Oriental Adventures campaign setting. For example, some suggestions are given regarding what sort of fantastical elements would not fit if you were going to do a low-magic campaign based on historical Japan. Unfortunately, I felt that this chapter needed more guidelines on how things should fit together.

The chapter does have a few interesting and useful elements, including a list of alternate names for the largely Japan-influenced class names for campaigns based on Japanese, Chinese, and Indian culture. For example, a shaman might be entitled a so, itako, or kannushi in a Japan-inspired setting; a dang-ki or wu in a Chinese setting; and a Brahmin in an Indian-inspired setting. Of course, if you really want to remain faithful to the source setting, you may have to do your own research to determine how the classes fit into the setting. For example, a brahmin had a role in India that made him more prominent than the warrior caste, which was not true in Japan. I really felt this cultural list should have touched on other regions of Asia, such as Siam or Korea.

Similarly, a weapon equivalent table is provided, which gives the closest approximations of a variety of weapons used in East Asia. Unlike the class table, the weapon table includes entries from a variety of East Asian cultures.

Race options are discussed, along with effective character level (ECL) modifiers for a number of monsters that may be appropriate for an OA campaign. The same system is used for ECL here as was used in FRCS and MotP. The author teases you with the possibility that you can line up the seven clans of Rokugan with the seven basic races of D&D, giving you elf cranes, dwarf crabs, and so forth . . . an idea that I must admit sounds like an interesting spin.

Some time is spent discussing how to incorporate other D&D supplements such as the class books (including some yet-to-be-published ones) and the Psionics Handbook.

A mere one-page discussion is provided discussing how to use the elements in the book, along with an intriguing (but incomplete) discussion of putting together a sample setting.

An entry is provided for the "spirit world" as a plane in the cosmology of an OA setting.

Some maps are provided in the chapter, depicting some possible locations that could play host to a Rokugan or other OA game.

Finally, a brief discussion is provided for departing from the prevailing D&D "treasure" method of rewards that is somewhat inappropriate in an East Asian-themed campaign.

Overall, I felt this chapter needed to be much larger. At least two or three pages devoted to each cultural model would have been justifiable as a baseline for GMs who wish to build their own OA setting.

Into Rokugan (and the Shadowlands)

The final two chapters give an overview and some salient details of Rokugan and the Shadowlands. The Rokugan chapter discusses the history and culture of Rokugan, the seven clans of Rokugan (and the minor clans), and how they theoretically fit into the D&D system. Each clan has a prestige class unique to the clan (but largely adaptable if you are not playing in Rokugan) and adventure hooks.

The Shadowlands chapter likewise contains a section regarding the history of the Shadowlands and mechanics dealing with the Shadowlands. This includes a "taint" mechanic that describes the supernatural corruption associated with the Shadowlands, and two prestige classes that represent those who fall under the sway of the taint: the Maho-Bujin ("blood warrior") and maho-tsukai ("blood sorcerer").

Not being too familiar with the RPG material for L5R, I can't comment too specifically on how good an adaptation this is. The ideas, however, seem neat and potentially useful for adapting to your own campaign, even if you do not plan on using the setting per se.

Conclusions

Visually, this is quite possibly the most stunning 3e supplement by Wizards of the Coast to date, showing a great deal of flare and artistic talent, and being well-organized and readable.

This is primarily a mechanical supplement. If prestige classes and feats do not serve to convey the feeling of a game to you, you may find this book insufficient. That said, this is a strong mechanical supplement, with most of the pieces that you will need to put together an East Asian-themed game. I do feel it needs more support for running those campaigns beyond the mechanics, though.

A case in point . . . in the statement by James Wyatt that I quoted above, he alludes to a discussion of what a ninja clan might look like in the book. If it is in there, I can't find it. The book is very short on implementation notes outside of Rokugan. In addition to spelling out how implementing some common elements of such settings might look like in the 3e rules, it would have been nice to see the book go beyond flagging stuff that belongs in the Rokugan setting and flagging elements that belong in a variety of culturally-inspired settings (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, Siamese, Korean, Indian, etc.)

I have mixed feelings about making Rokugan the default/sample setting of the book. On one hand, Rokugan and the Shadowlands contain a lot of neat ideas, and their mechanical implementations in OA were well done. The Shadowlands, the Taint, Rokugan Shugenja, and the Clans are all interesting elements for a game taken individually or together. In reading through the Rokugan chapter, however, I recognized one of the elements that kept me at arm's distance from L5R in the first place: the metaplot. Everything in the history seems like it is going on out of reach from the characters, and it seems as if everything important has already happened. I understand that Rokugan is a well developed setting, but I wonder if that space would have been better spent turning the book into a universal tool rather than a semi-slave to one setting.

Still, I consider this a strong supplement. It does the hardest work for the GM: the mechanics. If you want to make your own setting, you may have to do some research if you are not already familiar with the culture and folklore of East Asia. I have already heard some complaints that this book is somehow "unbalanced" with respect to the rest of the game. I consider this book to be much better than many WotC books on that score, and these complaints strike me as little more than the same old tired prattle about imbalance.

-Alan D. Kohler
 
A

Akhenaten

Guest
Before I write anything else, I want to make it plain that I love this book. I'm reading it through, cover to cover, something that I didn't even do with the Player's Handbook. I own the first editon OA, and it seems that James Wyatt gave it more than adequate treatment. As a DM of a Japanesque campaign, this is invaluable. The money I paid for it I would gladly have doubled. I would have even bought it if it was bundled with AEG mini-adventures and the original Creature Collection. Probably.

But my surprise with this book is focused on more than its phenomenal writing. I am dumbfounded by the editorial lapses. I wonder, reading this book, if the editor/editors were even looking through the book for mistakes instead of surfing the net. That may be harsh, but any book where a ninja-to has a 19-29 critical is worthy of criticism. I also must question the editorial approval of all of those exotic weapons. Ninja-to as an exotic weapon? Not in my game. Any weapon where its sheath's extra powers makes it more complicated to use in combat confounds me. Some of the prestige classes and feats are overpowered or forgettable, and the monsters, while accurate, are almost entirely useless. The bakemono is far too strong, and far too stupid given their place in the L5R CCG. In fact, the only monsters I'll probably use are the Nagas, the incredibly cool Tsuno, and the Kappa. The Bog Hag is interesting, as are the Gaki, but everything else feels like filler. Many of those monsters deserve to be saved for an adventure, where the encounter is customized to how they appear. There are far too many creatures that either are good and won't even bother evil creatures that don't offend them, or lawful creatures that will hound even the most righteous Sohei for offending the most delicate sensitivity.

The coverage of Rokugan is surprisingly good, however, and the influence of the almighty FRCS (bow before its hugeness) is clearly shown. I don't see exactly why the Shadowlands are presented as a separate chapter, and I resent a little bit the overwhelmingly Rokugani focus of the book, but the information is (gasp!) useful, and better than one would expect. I have never played the AEG L5R RPG, but I played the card game off and on for some time and wouldn't mind playing a game set in Rokugan (if I weren't caught up in all my current games).

One last slight: the focus of the book seems overwhelmingly against the lower classes. This seems odd compared to the standard D&D approach that everyone is equal, regardless of class or background. A rogue can be the king's daugter, and a barbarian can be heir to the throne. But in OA, if you're not of a noble family, you're stuck with just a few options with regard to class, barring highly creative explanations. Of course, it's the DM's game, but the patterns laid out in a book guide the DM's mind. If you want to play a human samurai, you'd better either pick a clan or have to come up with something on the spot. Along with this goes my whole complaint against White Wolf games. Too many clans that dislike/distrust each other based on personal preference, forced to work together. A DM could mandate that all be of the same clan, but players, much like teenagers, usually resent any restriction placed upon them rather than exploring its meaning.

Again, though, this book is amazingly good. The tiny bits I've mentioned here are hairline cracks in the marble monolith that is OA--they're noticeble, but ultimately won't cause any long-term damage. All sections covering standard D&D core material and its equivalent in OA should be awarded. Seriously. If Origins has an award for "Best Presentation of a Good Idea in a Roleplaying Game," OA would win. Bottom line, buy the book, take what you want (it'll be a lot, almost definitely including the "extreme tumbling" section), and leave the tiny bit that's left. Don't complain about the $35 price tag, as you know you've paid much more for crap (or begged to be given such pricey crap) in the past. You won't be dissapointed.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Oriental Adventures continues the trend started in Manual of the Planes by introducing a book that is very a la carte and very customizable. It includes a "featured setting," yet at least half of the mechanics aren't to be used there! As is normal for most Wizards of the Coast books, the presentation is top notch, with a beautiful book full of beautiful illustrations. Also like most WotC books lately, most of those illustrations are done by the very talented Wayne Reynolds.

The book starts by offering a bevvy of races, including humans (with six clan varieties), nezumi, korobokuro, hengeyokai and others, and a number of new classes, all of which add significantly to the flavor of the setting, and are sufficiently different from the standard classes to justify their existence. There is also an incredible collection of prestige classes, I think more than I've seen in any one publication previously. Most of them are not only well-balanced, but interesting in theme.

There are new feats (quite a few, actually), a few new skill uses and skills, new combat mechanics (iaijutsu duels, and martial arts styles built by acquiring certain feat clusters.) The monster section is also very robust, with tons of creatures and a few new creature types.

The last few chapters give a fairly broad view of the "featured setting" of Rokugan, the Legend of the Five Rings setting. I'm not sure exactly what the legal relationship of the intellectual property of Rokugan is relative to Wizards of the Coast and Alderac Entertainment Group, but AEG has published two other d20 Rokugan books following the release of Oriental Adventures.

Overall, Oriental Adventures is one of the best WotC products I own. The book is beautiful, the writing is better than most, the book has a tight focus that many other books lack, it is full of "plug-n-play" options that can be lifted whole-cloth into any other campaign setting, or just borrowed one small mechanic at a time, and is in fact designed to have this flexibility.
 
The OA is a superly layout hardcover tome of inspiration. If you want to play Asian games - this book is for you. If you want more options for yourself and your players - this book is DEFINITELY for you!

Other reviews have already provided an indepth look at this product so I'll limit myself to my personal highlights:

Races: Nezumi (basically Skaven!) and Vanara are refreshingly different player character choices.

Classes: All classes get a good treat but the true highlight is the addition of the Shaman class. It's well-done, it's interesting and it's neither really druid nor cleric! The Sohei are certainly interesting in a setting that lacks paladins. A strange combination of monk, barbarian, fighter and holy warrior - I'm sure some players will find it a nice challenge.
The best part of the chapter is the reworking of the monk class, though. The monk is given greater flexibility with his feat selection which makes it possible for more customisation of the individual monk's combat style.

Prestige Classes: A truly stunning chapter. The prestige classes are generally colourful, interesting and very evocative. Blade Dancer, Iaijutsu Master, Ninja Spy (íf you want the core class - check out Rokugan d20), Shadow Scout, Shapeshifter and Witch Hunter are all favourites of mine and can easily be applied in other settings.

The next few chapters feature a plethora of new feats, one new skill and all the oriental equipment you'll need to kick your game in gear. New feats are always welcome and the introduction of Ancestral Feats (akin to the Regional Feats) is most welcome. A shame WotC didn't make Background Feats a part of the Core Rules in the first place.

Magic and Spells: Hundreds of spells!!! You can virtually drop all of these directly into any campaign and your druid and elementalist-inclined players would love you for it. Good spells include Pain, Posses, Mental Strength, Steam Breath, Water to Poison and Decapitating Scarf and many, many more.

Magic Items: I've already got more magic items than I'll probably ever need - but options are always nice and OA continues to deliver in this chapter. Nice inspirational weapon qualities like Silent moves, Initiative and Displacement are instant favourites and the Orientally flavoured specific items are equally well-done.

And now what all you Killer-DMs out there have been waiting for (yes that is YOU!): MONSTERS. This chapter is dotted with superb illustrations of its generally spirit/undead themed monster selection. You'll also find old favourites like the Lung dragons, Ki-Rin, Pennaggolan (referred to as Penanggalan in the old Fiend Folio), Tasloi and Yeti. Must-haves for any monster-collector. The chapter has a plethora of "Oni" which are basically demons that will convert easily into normal fiends should you so desire. A new type modifier is included: "Spirit". This modifier has little game effect, except for determining whether or not a creature is affected by "spirit"-themed spells. It also nicely shows how many kinds of creatures are perceived as being part of the spirit world in an Oriental campaign...

A bit of info on worldbuilding follows, you should check out the great Web Enhancement for a sample Oriental world with an Indian feel that was created with the info present here.

The rest of the book gives you a fairly thorough introduction to Rokugan and the Shadowlands. If you are really interested in this setting you should buy Rokugan d20 for the additional details.

The finish of this review: Oriental Adventures is a superb product that is receiving continuing support by AEG's Rokugan line (Creatures of Rokugan, Magic of Rokugan and Rokugan d20). If you want an Oriental campaign - you HAVE to buy this product. Even if you are not - this product is still an entertaining and inspirational read that will stand out in your collection.

-Zarrock
 

Advertisement

Top