an “oriental” adventure

I’m using “oriental” in scare quotes because my partner is Chinese and keeps rolling her eyes when she sees that word.  But y’all know what I’m talking about.  Last night, with very little prep, I ran a kinda dumb scenario based on OA1: Swords of Daimyo for half of our Pendragon crew (Skidoo, stop looking after your family and come back!)  Alas, while it did feature ninjas wearing Spider-Man costumes, there were no giant robots or love-smitten beetle-accessories.

a nice day for a . . . white wedding

The unstoppable forces of TANAKA Toru (poetry-loving samurai lord of Bingo Village, notorious for its unbelievable hidden treasure caches) and WATANABE Yuki (financially ruined Bushi and master to the strange hairy gibberish-speaking forest gnome Konando) combined to thwart a wedding!

A wedding of eeeeeevil!

Or, at least, a wedding involving a heartbroken suicide returned as a horrible demon of insanity, a clan of ninjas wearing Spider-Man costumes, and more court intrigue than could easily be displayed on a relationship-map. Plus, burning buildings! A pavillion tent with one entrance but three exits! Psychic duels! A display of incredible archery! “Furious” urination! An attempted seppuku! Sake! Sorcery! And a litany of similes as inexhaustible as the ocean’s waves!

Poor Tanaka was driven insane, Watanabe kept encouraging the bridegroom to kill himself, and stout-hearted Konando rang a gong like a gong-ringing monkey-dwarf to wake up a priest who actually did the hard work of banishing the demon to save the day.  But he is only a priest, and everyone knows that glory goes to the warriors.

some half-assed prep

Before I had a scenario in mind, one of my players rolled up a down-on-his-luck Bushi character of very low-class origins.  When the Oriental Adventures Monthly Events table indicated that there was to be a Momentous Wedding . . . well, you gotta get Toshiro Mifune to that one somehow, don’t you?

By complete coincidence, this player had named his Bushi after one of the loyal vassal families of Niwa Hirotada, shugo-daimyo (military governor) of Miyama Province.  So I figured some comical fop had gotten the names confused and would deliver an wedding invitation for this dude.  And since, under the Oriental Adventure rules, he would constantly be smacking into serious negative reaction modifiers when hobnobbing among the aristocracy, hijinks would probably ensue.  And they did!

So, dig it:

  • NIWA Hirotada = military governor, head of Niwa family, more or less decent guy
  • IGI Tajima = civil governor, a sinecure position; mostly collects taxes and gives grief to the rival Niwa family
  • EBISAWA Ryu = head of the Ebisawa family, traditionally loyal retainers of the Igi clan . . . buuuuuut, Niwa Hirotada has offered his niece in marriage to
  • EBISAWA Saberu = son of Ryu; engaged to Niwa Hirotada’s niece; just had a heartbreaking affair with
  • WATANABE Minori = princess of the Watanabe clan which is traditionally loyal to Niwa.  Committed suicide when Saberu called off their elopement.

So what’s going on in political terms is that Niwa Hirotada is peeling off the Ebisawa family’s loyalty to the Igi clan. If anyone had known that Saberu was already having an affair with a girl of the Watanabe family (loyal to the Niwas) it might have accomplished the same result, but nobody knew, it all came to tragedy, and Saberu is kind of a mess.

Minori’s ghost comes back as a Con-Tinh, sort of an evil dryad demon of insanity, haunting the cherry-blossom Shrine of Taro the Poet, where Saberu will be married to Niwa’s niece.  She is supernaturally disappointed in Saberu, and plans to possess the spirit of his bride and have them commit a lover’s suicide.

Meanwhile, someone else has hired a clan of Spider-Man suited ninjas to kill young Saberu.  All signs would seemingly point to the civil governor Igi, who is mad that the Ebisawa clan is breaking up with him, but there are actually several other possibilities based on the political situation in Swords of the Daimyo.  I hadn’t really figured out who is responsible, except that blaming Igi was probably too obvious to be true.

It turns out that a second player arrived, created a Samurai loyal to the Niwas and a friend of the Watanabe clan, so that was handy for the purposes of exposition.

The adventure consisted of mostly improvised social encounters as the players gradually pieced the social and political puzzle together, and fended off various assassination attempts and supernatural events.

Major adversaries included the Con-Tinh ghost of Watanabe Minori, three unnamed 5th level Ninjas (a Ninja/Sohei priest with 10 first-level followers; a Ninja/Wu Jen who impersonated a member of the entourage and attempted to poison Saberu; and a Ninja/Bushi who was going to kill Saberu on his wedding night with a sword he’d stolen from the PC Bushi), a group of drunken Were-Bears who kept breaking into a village’s rice-warehouses looking for sake, sarcastic fop Igi Sanekata, and various other stock-character NPC’s.

what worked

The Yearly, Monthly, and Daily Events charts in Oriental Adventures are good stuff, well worth stealing.  For the last five years, my exposure to D&D has consisted very largely of dungeon-delving per the ethos of the OSR revisionist/purist movement.  The idea of running a D&D wedding scenario struck me as irresistibly ludicrous, and it was.

Swords of the Daimyo has a complicated political situation, but that’s actually pretty good in a court intrigue scenario.  The trick is to present that stuff in bite-sized pieces.  In this case, I took the description of Muroto Village from the gazetteer, figured the political situation there would easily tie into the Marriage Event, and bang, the political stuff fell into place immediately.

The rules for Psychic Duels were used, mainly because I wanted to force it in somehow.

Though this scenario was written up perfectly straight-faced–it’s a bummer, basically–the players brought their usual farce and a good time was had by all.  One player couldn’t stop boasting about his secret treasure caches, while the other was busily trying to pretend to be an aristocrat (or hide from people who recognized him).

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the preposterous Korobokuru barbarian, Konando (originally inserted as a henchman for the Bushi PC), who didn’t speak Fake Japanese and nobody else spoke his dialect, so he mostly communicated in gibberish.  Some interesting facts about Konando emerged during play:

    • If his master is a sleep, Konando will wake him by tugging on the left big toe to signal supernatural danger, or the right big toe to signal ninjas
    • Konando is a skilled woodsman, passable dancer, and terrible cook
    • On formal occasions, Konando wears a big pile of furs, to the point where he looks like Captain Caveman
    • Though Konando cannot understand the content of a haiku, he can count meter very well; furthermore he finds blank verse intolerable
    • The word for “ninja” in the Korobokuru dialect is “Los Banditos Malvados!!

what did not work as well

I’m not great at improv.  If the players had said, “Screw this wedding, let’s just hang out in the city instead,” I did not have anything planned.

I was under an extremely tight time crunch, which is why I did virtually zero prep.  As a result, I defaulted to 2e Wizard spells for the Wu Jen ninja instead of using spells from Oriental Adventures, of which there are many and they are not obvious.  (Quick: what does “drowsy insects” do?  Answer: I thought it made guys like Mothra real tired, but it turns out creates a cloud of mosquitoes who put people to sleep.  Who knew?)  Anyway, even with “standard” spells this guy was a pretty devious assassin.

The Iaijutsu, or fast-draw, rules only give you a +1 bonus to surprising your enemy (on a 1d10 roll), which isn’t enough to be worth a proficiency slot.  (Maybe in OA surprise is done on a d6?  Still, lousy benefit.)

You really do need non-weapon proficiencies, or some way of adjudicating courtly nonsense, when your characters aren’t slogging through a dungeon all day.  The OA/2e proficiency system is kind of a kludge.

in summary

Swords of the Daimyo is quite worthwhile as a gazetteer, as I suspected.  Dungeons & Dragons can be hacked to do Fake Japan, and it was fun, but it’s not a particularly elegant fit.  On a player’s advice I’m reading through Bushido (only $18 for a print copy!) which seems interesting (if not for all the dang early 80’s derived scores nonsense).  Bushido apparently doesn’t come with a local setting (maybe I missed it); you could probably drop Swords of the Daimyo in there and get something quite worthwhile.

9 Responses to “an “oriental” adventure”

  1. March 21, 2013 at 2:49 am

    This thing apparently posted by accident when I embedded the video, and I had to mark it private while I actually added other content.

  2. 2 Sam Curry
    March 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I have dear friend who’s Chinese and not a gamer who took exception to the term “Oriental” as well, but she explained that when referring to people it’s proper to say “Asian” and when referring to objects it’s acceptable to say “Oriental.” Not being Asian, I will leave this alone beyond that; but when I’ve mentioned this to Asian gamers they usually accept the distinction.

    Having said that, OA is predominantly (pseudo) Japanese, really. It’s not south-east Asian, Korean, Chinese or Indian (side note: I just picked up Arrows of Indra and for an OSR-type Indian game, it’s great!).

    If you want to stretch OA to other pseudo Asian cultures, the Kara-Tur boxed set does that nicely, introducing Shou Lung, Tu Lung, Koryo, Wa and other analogs (there’s a Tibetan analog, for instance, too).

    In the old days, we’d run a hybrid of 2E and OA…and it worked quite nicely as it’s own thing. But in the late 90s another game came along that is less “crunchy” but really great: Legend of the Five Rings or “L5R.”

    L5R might have come out of a card game…but it’s a great game. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s based in Japanese culture and then takes a right turn and does it’s own thing. Great system, great feel, great story. Check it out!

    (side note: Seventh Sea is another interesting game that uses the same core mechanic as L5R and is well worth a look for a renaissance / enlightenment spin on a fake Europe, pirates and the like)

  3. 3 Akiyama
    March 21, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    My partner is Japanese and has no problem with the word “Oriental”. But it’s not a word you hear a lot here in the UK in the 21st Century – it feels old-fashioned to the point of being quaint. What she does get upset at is the way the word Asian is used here to mean, almost exclusively, people from the Indian subcontinent (the “ethnic group” tick-boxes that appear on a lot of forms in the UK always have an Asian category with subcategories of Indian, Pakistani, etc. and Other, and, separately from the Asian category (!), a category of “Chinese or Other”. I’m sure this would annoy anyone of Asian origin who is neither South Asian nor Chinese).

    I keep thinking Oriental Adventures sounds like a book I want to own.

    Do you know Lee Gold, of Alarums and Excursions fame, wrote a game set in medieval/fantasy Japan called Land of the Rising Sun, published in 1981 and based on the Chivalry and Sorcery RPG? I would love to see a copy but it’s unfortunately not available in pdf.

  4. 4 Akiyama
    March 21, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I just watched the video you posted. That was really something! :O

  5. March 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    You know, that bit about the UK use of the term is a little strange: here in the United States, “Asian” specifically means what used to be called the “Far East” – China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and many other countries. We don’t seem to have any single word for people from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and so on–I’ve heard “South Asian” used sometimes but it’s not in common parlance.

    “Oriental Adventures” is a weird book; I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s a mid-80’s TSR book, so it’s design aesthetic is a bit like the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide or Unearthed Arcana: over-detailed in some places, under-detailed in others, and it’s not quite clear what you’re supposed to do with the dang thing. These flaws can be overcome with a lot of diligent effort, but it’s a very odd beast.

  6. 6 Sam Curry
    March 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    I respectfully disagree — Oriental Adventures is a great book. Don’t think of it in the context of the rest of 1E…thing of it as it’s own thing and give it a chance, from birth tables and honor system to proficiencies, martial arts, Ki powers and monsters (gotta love Bakemono!)

    It’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea but I think it stands out among the other mid-80s products from TSR as really worthwhile.

  7. March 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    There’s definitely some gold in those hills! I just think it needs some excavation, and you’re spending money, you should set your expectations accordingly.

  8. March 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    I suspect the differing uses of “Asian” have to do with immigration patterns. It’s a wild guess but I’d say we have more people here in Britain who trace their origins back to the Indian subcontinent than anywhere else in Asia other than China. That would have the unfortunate effect of leaving people of Korean, Japanese, Thai and so on descent at the margins.

    My experience of the US is that the opposite applies, more or less.

  9. June 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    By complete coincidence, this player had named his Bushi after one of the loyal vassal families of Niwa Hirotada, shugo-daimyo (military governor) of Miyama Province. So I figured some comical fop had gotten the names confused and would deliver an wedding invitation for this dude. And since, under the Oriental Adventure rules, he would constantly be smacking into serious negative reaction modifiers when hobnobbing among the aristocracy, hijinks would probably ensue. And they did!

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Past Adventures of the Mule

March 2013

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