[Let's Read] Oriental Adventures (1e)

Bupp

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I was a big fan of this book when it came out but never had a chance to run or play it. I still used parts of it in my games, though.
 

BlackHat_Matt

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There is in actuality absolutely nothing wrong with the term 'Oriental'. It is not offensive in any way except to someone looking to be offended. It describes a geographical area, nothing more, nothing less. The PC culture in the modern world is really winning the battle when we're afraid to use simple benign terminology. It is no different than saying 'South American' or 'African'.
Don't tell people what they're allowed to be offended by. Seeing the term "Oriental" as racist is not remotely without precedent, and if folks want to point that you, cope.
 

MacBalance

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I don't think there's an acceptable term for the region, anymore. "Oriental" was never a good choice, because it was basically used to describe all the peoples and nations along the eastern trade routes from Europe (especially the Silk Road), so it never precisely identified the region covered by the book, anyway. "Asian", while more acceptable, is even less exact because it not only includes Arabia and India and China, but Micronesia and Russia. OA is really about the "Far East", though that's another term that's fallen out of favor. I don't know of an acceptable replacement term, other than awkwardly mentioning all the countries involved every time (i.e. OA covers Japan and China, with a touch of other lands like Korea).
I'm leaning towards 'Far East' as the best bet. Although that's for the times when it's going for a sort of generic feel: I'm hoping a lot of the setting will feel more specific to a small handful of nations.

Yeah, this volume has 'Zeb' Cook's fingerprints all over it. A huge fan of Japanese monster movies, he made sure they got an entry!
My assumption, based on Designers & Dragons is it's essentially Zeb Cook's work, with Gygax's name on top for reasons that probably made sense at the time.

On the other hand, I imagine this as a major step towards the near-mythical Gygax Second Edition. I wonder if (for example) the Fighter would be more like one of the classes here, with more 'interesting' powers gained in the leveling process as opposed to the kind of boring 1e fighter.

A long time ago back in the 1980s, I played in a couple of 1E campaigns, which eventually merged into one. To kick things off, there was a battle royal between the two PC parties, but one side had a player that had taken a kensai warrior from OA that really abused the rules. During the battle royal, this 2nd level kensai killed another player's 5th or 6th level fighter in two or three rounds of combat. For years and years afterward, the two players of those characters would hang out with the DM who allowed the kensai build. Anytime that game was brought up, the fighter player would get annoyed and punch the DM in the shoulder.
I got something along that line (sort of):

Back in the late 80's, when I was in the Marine Corps and serving in Okinawa, I ran an Oriental Adventures campaign for about 8-10 other jarheads. Well, our unit - and some others, of course - went to the big island for some maneuvers at the Mt. Fuji basecamp. Long story short: we got snowed in for a few days, my group grew to about 20 (about half of which never gamed before) and had a hoot doing my best at choreographing the fights, handing out pluses and minuses depending upon what the players came up with for martial-arts maneuvers. The connection: one player quit playing RPGs altogether because I said he fumbled when he rolled a one on an attack, which caused him to drop his weapon and fall down. Sure, this was a long time ago and I was fairly new to GMing so I probably made the fumble worse than it needed to be. But to quite completely because of a single bad die roll, sheesh.
I feel like there's a bit of what the wargaming community would call 'power creep' with these rules. It's balanced somewhat by the Honor rules and social requirements, but if you're a Samurai on the Sword Coast, you're probably ignoring that to a greater or lesser extent.

I think you should fomat all your posts to a sans-serif font with no line breaks to properly catch the spirit of the book.... ;)
I would, but I don't hate the readers. :) I feel like it might be more legible than the core trilogy that proceeded it (which is Futura?) but it's a bit rough. One thing I notice in looking at the font again is some of the tables were done poorly or easily changed. Maybe signs of a late layout change. Hard to think of a time when doing 'tables' were expensive.

Side note: "Oriental" is not considered derogatory here in the UK. It's pretty old-fashioned, though.
There is in actuality absolutely nothing wrong with the term 'Oriental'. It is not offensive in any way except to someone looking to be offended. It describes a geographical area, nothing more, nothing less. The PC culture in the modern world is really winning the battle when we're afraid to use simple benign terminology. It is no different than saying 'South American' or 'African'.
It's at least borderline here, I feel. I think that's because it's a somewhat old-fashioned as a word choice, which leads to the assumption it's from a more racist era. On the scale of such things there's many worse terms (which we won't go into) but it definitely sounds a bit unenlightened. It's one of those terms that is probably used in the appropriate context in hundreds of places, but most of those date back decades.

I remember this book as one that helped spark my imagination about the wonders of D&D. My buddy who introduced me to D&D had this one on his shelf, and we used it for inspiration for our characters and adventures. Mind you, we were playing 2e, but it was still good content worthy of use.

Edit- I fully agree with Leonaru - it is certainly an old-fashioned term.
I remember it as the book the local munchkin that no one wanted to play with had. Which might have explained a lot... I feel like a proper 2e version would have been interesting.

I also wonder if this was initially the outline for what became Greyhawk Adventures, Dragonlance Adventures, and Forgotten Realms Adventures. I feel like in an alternate world somewhere these were either similarly arranged 'AD&D 1.5e' books with the same basic format (a basic outline of the setting and very setting-specific races/classes) instead of the books we got. This book duplicates a lot of material that is in the regular Player's Handbook.

(The books we got for the * Adventures miniseries are interesting as they straddled the 1e/2e line. They don't have the 'core rules' though: you'll need the PHB for that.)
 

Miss Atomic Bomb

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There is in actuality absolutely nothing wrong with the term 'Oriental'. It is not offensive in any way except to someone looking to be offended. It describes a geographical area, nothing more, nothing less. The PC culture in the modern world is really winning the battle when we're afraid to use simple benign terminology. It is no different than saying 'South American' or 'African'.

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I remember this book as one that helped spark my imagination about the wonders of D&D. My buddy who introduced me to D&D had this one on his shelf, and we used it for inspiration for our characters and adventures. Mind you, we were playing 2e, but it was still good content worthy of use.

Edit- I fully agree with Leonaru - it is certainly an old-fashioned term.
You have a prior permanent ban.
 

Leonaru

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I think this can be used a PHB replacement if you are generally familiar with the PGB stuff. If you have never read the 1e PHB, maybe not.

Talking about this, does this book reprint the PHB spells?
 

Dave R.

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I've been playing with the martial arts system a lot lately, so this should be interesting.
Go on... :) It's the most interesting subsystem I know of that I've never gotten to use.

I think this can be used a PHB replacement if you are generally familiar with the PGB stuff. If you have never read the 1e PHB, maybe not.
I was thinking of an OA-only game once, but it never got past a hypothetical. Getting input on on Dragonsfoot, even from fans of it, I came to the conclusion I'd need to do too much work fixing classes to be happy with it.
 

Leonaru

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I was thinking of an OA-only game once, but it never got past a hypothetical. Getting input on on Dragonsfoot, even from fans of it, I came to the conclusion I'd need to do too much work fixing classes to be happy with it.
The question is whether the OA classes are really needed. The fighter can be turned into a bushi with no change. Make the thief a ninja and maybe give him fighter THAC0 so he sucks less. The monk is the monk. For the samurai, take the 2e samurai kit. Cleric becomes the sohai. The wizard becomes the wu jen with the spells from OA. I'm not a big fan of the barbarian, and I don't remember how (im)balanced the kensai is.
 

Sleeper

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Go on... :) It's the most interesting subsystem I know of that I've never gotten to use.
It's definitely one of the most interesting subsystems in old school D&D, along with Blackmoor psionics, BECMI weapon mastery, and 2e's unarmed combat. There's a tradeoff with more powerful abilities having more severe consequences on a failure, it ranks and groups abilities, and it's built into the proficiency system. I'd like to generalize and expand it, and turn it into a generic combat style system that can cover everything from gladiatorial fighting, to knightly swordplay, and iaijutsu. You wouldn't learn "rapier" or even "fencing", you'd learn the specific style taught by a specific master who knows a specific set of maneuvers and weapons, and finding and choosing masters would be like finding magical items, i.e. varying from character to character and game to game (serendipitous; no "builds"). I'd also like to use the basic concept to replace specialists, schools, and spheres and even Vancian casting with magical styles passed down from master to student, as well.
 
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MacBalance

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The question is whether the OA classes are really needed. The fighter can be turned into a bushi with no change. Make the thief a ninja and maybe give him fighter THAC0 so he sucks less. The monk is the monk. For the samurai, take the 2e samurai kit. Cleric becomes the sohai. The wizard becomes the wu jen with the spells from OA. I'm not a big fan of the barbarian, and I don't remember how (im)balanced the kensai is.
I think they could've been crossed over with 2e kits. The big 'hook' is the honor/social rules which are probably not something many gamers would defend as 'essential' or particularly advanced. We'll get to them in time, but I feel they're a bit arbitrary at times and are kind of reminiscent of 'sanity' from Call Of Cthulhu in that it's a simple 'hit point' resource for a complex issue.

It's definitely one of the most interesting subsystems in old school D&D, along with Blackmoor psionics, BECMI weapon mastery, and 2e's unarmed combat. There's a tradeoff with more powerful abilities having more severe consequences on a failure, it ranks and groups abilities, and it's built into the proficiency system. I'd like to generalize and expand it, and turn it into a generic combat style system that can cover everything from gladiatorial fighting, to knightly swordplay, and iaijutsu. You wouldn't learn "rapier" or even "fencing", you'd learn the specific style taught by a specific master who knows a specific set of maneuvers and weapons, and finding and choosing masters would be like finding magical items, i.e. varying from character to character and game to game (serendipitous; no "builds"). I'd also like to use the basic concept to replace specialists, schools, and spheres and even Vancian casting with magical styles passed down from master to student, as well.
From memory, I think the rules confused me. I do feel like generalizing them would make sense for a certain kind of D&D game. Certainly not every game, but a definite option for certain campaigns. I feel like as-implemented it's a little weird because the Martial Arts character and the standard Fighter (or local equivalent) has a very different level of abstraction.

Thanks to the Mods for stepping in. I'm hoping that's the big hump of questionable material, and I think the rest will be easier as long as the mantra of "this is a fictional mix of different cultures intended to be positive" is considered.

So continuing, we get two opening notes. The first is a Preface from Gary Gygax, the second Introductions from David "Zeb" Cook and Mike Breault.

The Preface is a slightly rambling overview of D&D's development to date. It discussed how CHAINMAIL (Note: this preface renders product names in all-caps) was based around "European and Near Eastern history" and, of course, informed Dungeons & Dragons as it developed. The Monk is 'blamed' on Brian Blume and a book series known as The Destroyer (Formatting note: The Destroyer is in italics,a s is a later name-drop of Oriental Adventures.)

(The Destroyer got a brief elevation to a more knowledgable tier of pop culture with a 1985 release (the same year as this book was released) of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins which is a perfectly acceptable entry into the 'US co-opting of martial arts movies' genre that was big in the 80s.)

However, back to the Preface which discusses how the Monk was removed from D&D (where it was a pamphlet release) at the same time it was added to AD&D (Core PHB class). Gygax supports this change: apparently he was firmly on the side of the long gamer argument that wonders why the Monk is in D&D anyway. On the other hand, I'm pretty certain he had near-absolute editorial control for 1e AD&D core books, so... Anyway, his opinion seems to be that the monk is a bad fit for 'standard' D&D (or AD&D) because they're firmly 'Occidental' (another term that seems very dated). Here's an important quote:

What's this? Is the creator of this whole system about to state that Oriental character-types are unsuitable adventurers? Never! The fact of the matter is that the admixture of Occident and Orient was an unsuitable combination.
So the monk is horriblebadwrongfun... Unless you have this book, with its special version. The preface recommends removing the PHB Monk in 'normal' campaigns if you're running other campaigns with this book.

Moving on, we get some brief history: The idea of Oriental Adventures dates to earlier than 1980. I feel like the brief coverage of how the book came to be suggests that perhaps Gygax handed over a big pile of notes and such to David "Zeb" Cook and Francois Marcela-Froideval who actually wrote it, but I certainly wasn't there and can't speak for anyone involved.

As a final note, the book is described as a sort of resource to build a 'Far East' equivalent for your campaign world. There's a definite suggestion of running a all-OA campaign or two, then opening up options for play crossing from the 'Western' campaign to this 'Eastern' campaign and vice versa.

The Preface is typical Gygax. Very optimistic, perhaps a bit self-promoting, but definitely pro-gaming and enthusiastic.

Moving on, we get Introductions from David "Zeb" Cook and Mike Breault. Cook's continues the optimistic feel: I get a clear feeling he had a definite interest in Asian cultures, and appreciated this opportunity to share a bit of his interest with a large audience. He savors the chance to read or reread a great deal of history and lore for the regions he was drawing inspiration from and is totally apologetic for the result borrowing from many sources. he does even mention what would alter be termed kaiju movies...

There's also a brief early reference here to the default OA setting of Kara-Tur. He mentions something I've heard before, which is that some of the Kara-Tur nations cover not just various Far East nations, but sometimes specific eras. It would be like a 'default' D&D setting having a nation that is specifically Renaissance Italy adjacent and coexisting with Medieval France, which is a little awkward unless you explain it somehow, but is pretty popular in fantasy, I feel.

Mike Breault's intro is slightly shorter. He comes off here as perhaps the more 'rules' focused of the two, with a specific focus on the social rules as well as the new combat stuff.

He does mention that this book was tough on TSR's Graphic Arts Services department. It's also interesting that there's a mention of the book being sent to the printer in pieces. My hope is that was just the cover: I can't see individual signatures (printing term: Often the book is printed on large sheets of paper allowing 8, 16 or more pages to be printed at one time, then folded and trimmed down) being sent off, but perhaps the cover.

Looking through the book, it's a pretty dense book. Just the introductory pages and first chapter go about two dozen pages before there's even some incidental art. Lots of diagrams, though.

Table count: Oriental Adventures has a helpful list of tables, which puts the count at 86 tables in the book. The PHB has a list, but sadly they're not numbered. I cut it at 76, dropping the hierarchical table headers because that seems to make sense. So, yeah, more tables in Oriental Adventures than the Player's Handbook.

The Table of Contents covers 2 pages of two-column text with the aforementioned listing of tables. We'll get into Chapter 1: Creating The Player Character soon.
 
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