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

MacBalance

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BTW, the last couple OA adventures are available as PDFs now. I had previously mentioned an intent to do mini-reviews of those when the main book is done.

So, thoughts:

  1. Do everything, including the Kara-Tur box set, here?
  2. Open a new thread for the add-ons?
  3. Opena new thread for the K-T box set and adventures produced after it was released?
  4. Stop posting at all?
 

Gemini476

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Posting a new thread would get people who aren't just interested in Oriental Adventures to look at the thread as well, I suppose.

On the other hand, keeping it in this thread would make it easier to reread and generally keep things more compact.

I'm not entirely sure, to be honest.
 

Sleeper

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New threads, just link them both ways.

And you're correct, that map is from the box set. The political map is the big overview of the setting, and on the other side (it's a two-sided map) is the same map, but focused on geography instead of political boundaries. There are also three other maps (all two-sided) showing regions in more detail -- stuff like all the weird little islands, or the cities and roads in Kozakura. Collectively, they're actually pretty impressive.

Though if there was a map in the hardback, it would probably be very different. The box set added a lot of new regions that don't appear in OA's summary.

The whole section on Kara-Turn feels more like the mini-settings you sometimes see in the back of general books like GURPS Fantasy or True 20. It's not the main course, it's just some brainstorming on what you could do with the rest of the book.
 

MacBalance

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New thread it shall be, then.

Population

The map I linked earlier seems to be "close enough" to what is described here. The main thing is that Kara-Tur certainly went from a sort of sample section to something more firmly given form as it was developed. The lack of a map here in Oriental Adventures is frustrating, but makes some sense.

So the Population section identifies the Three River Basin as the primary concentration of people in the setting. I believe this is what the later map shows as Shou Lung, which is a local version of China with an impressive population and hierarchical government. The basin itself is heavily worked to feed everyone . There's tribes at the fringes and a possible snake-people civilization in the southern jungles. Note that the snake creatures are just "possibly yuan-ti" in case there's other snakes the DM wants to use... maybe a dragon-cult, perhaps?

(I like yuan-ti, though, and might steal the incarnation from the Icewind Dale cRPG if I had a chance.)

Shou Lung
Slightly odd organizational choice: The major nations are given overviews as children of the Population header. Anyway, I feel safe saying that Shou Lung is the local version of fantasy China. It's the oldest nation-state (over 1,200 years... Which seems like a lot but might be interesting if this was unchanged for the later placement in Kara-Tur where that's only a few Elven generations) and ruled by an emperor, albeit an occasionally suffering periods of civil war. Government positions are by exam, which gives the possibility that any commoner could rise in the government if they study hard. (Realistically, I'm guessing this system breaks down when government employees realize they can collude to kep their families in effective power by making sure education and exams favor the government worker's economic situations.

Shou Lung has 14 provinces ruled by a governor. Each province has multiple districts with rulers referred to only as "officials" who manage the courts, the police, and other functions. There's a great deal of public works, including roads, dams, and an Imperial messenger system. The latter seems like it may be reserved for government traffic. Currency includes paper-based, something unknown in most D&D settings (with the exception of rare letters of credit and such).

T'u Lung
Three hundred years ago this nation split from Shou Lung and formed a rival empire south of the massive Shou Lung. Several wars followed, but there is currently peace between the two. The main difference, as described, is that T'u Lung is an empire where the nobles have much more pull over the Emperor, drastically changing the balance of power from the Shou bureaucracy. Six provinces similar to those of Shou Lung, although the post of governor is hereditary. Many positions are granted due to family connections or bribery and in general, T'u Lung comes off as the 'evil' version of Shou Lung, embracing vices and corruption. Shou Lung looks like a much better place to live based on this material.

Wa

Wa is an island state. I feel it's one of the setting's analogs to Japan. The island nation has an emperor, but the shogun is apparently the real power. Shoguns always come from the Hidetomi family. If T'u Lung felt feudal, this continues here, as the shogun hands out fiefs to daimyos, who maintain samurai to enforce their will. There's a strong social class ladder favoring warriors, then peasants, then craftsmen, then merchants. This seems a bit backwards in my thinking, but that's the text. Samurai are granted special privileges (avenging insults, with the implication that duels to the death are acceptable). This nation comes off as strictly controlling, with mention of travel restrictions and border security to prevent rebellions.

Kozakura

It's another Japan, and one I think got developed in OA1. The name translates as "Little Cherry Blossom" and is essentially Wa in chaos/rebellion mode. Daimyos war for power, this realm is noted as great for adventurers. The laws are much less rigid, allowing for advancement of peasants.

These are the "big 4" nations of the setting as of this book. One thing that I believe was fixed in later material was showing some of the smaller, but still interesting states: The Korea, Vietnam, and similar that would be an essential part of a setting as described.

There's one more section to this chapter, though:
 
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MacBalance

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Gaijin

We get a bit under a column to discuss bringing our dirty, uncultured Fighters, Wizards, etc. into Kara-Tur. This has as much to say about the people of Kara-Tur as it does traditional PHB characters, though. There's a note that trade is infrequent and controlled, and the cultures as developed tend not to be overly curious about the land beyond their borders. Barbarians, or gaijin, are thought to be rude and hostile inferiors with little to offer.

Gaijin in the setting get several advantages and disadvantages. Here's a brief summary as I interpret it:

Advantages:
  • All abilities are retained.
  • No expectations to gain or maintain honor. Grab those Ninja weapons, boys!

Disadvantages:
  • Many skills must be relearned. Languages are one, but an interesting and realistic idea is that just dressing oneself in local garments may be difficult, especially dressing for a special occasion.
  • Avoiding social blunders is going to be difficult.

Mixed Bags:
  • Outside the Social order. May be given "honorary" status if they convince people of an equivalent social class. I think the intent here is that a knight might be treated as nearly but not quite a Samurai.
  • Character is a novelty.
  • Non-humans from the PHB-land will be treated as extremely exotic and may even be thought to be spirits.

That's about it, really. By the way, that's it for the initial overview. Coming soon we'll get a few more pages describing daily life in Kara-Tur, but we get two pages covering the setting, and much of that is covering four nations and characters from other books. It's amazingly sparse compared to other 'world books' but I feel like TSR was still learning that aspect of setting-building.
 

Gemini476

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Do note that World of Greyhawk was out five years earlier - it's just that Oriental Adventures is, well, meant to be more of a general sourcebook. Greyhawk was specifically just Gygax campaign world, after all. The DMG and whatnot are filled with the assumption that you'll be making your own setting and adapting the rules to fit.
 

MacBalance

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Do note that World of Greyhawk was out five years earlier - it's just that Oriental Adventures is, well, meant to be more of a general sourcebook. Greyhawk was specifically just Gygax campaign world, after all. The DMG and whatnot are filled with the assumption that you'll be making your own setting and adapting the rules to fit.
Fair enough. World of Greyhawk is not a book I'm overly familiar with. (More specifically, I've never seen it.) I do think the idea was that Kara-Tur would be an example, but it's tough to make a setting-free book without what I've called an "implied setting" in the past. I feel like (to mention my own previous Let's Reads the Castle Guide implied a sort of generic Medieval Fantasy setting that didn't find it necessary to adapt much for dragons, other flyers, and the demonstrable power of magic in the D&D mechanics. This book trues to build up a special weapons list, martial arts rules, and classes with strong ties to a setting while at the same time keeping that setting optional.

I'm personally fine with this: I'd love for the next big storyline for 5e D&D to be a trip to Kara-Tur and a neat adventure set there. It needs to be done sensitively, but I think it can without much trouble: Kara-Tur has become part of the Forgotten Realms, even showing up in other material occasionally: the Baldur's Gate games added Katana and a few other exotics to the weapon list as well as a character from somewhere in Kara-Tur and a few other references. (Of course, the BG games also made vague references to Spelljammer, Planescape, and even Dragonlance!)

So, since I'm waiting for a process to finish:

Daily Life in Kara-Tur

The intro basically states the assumption that most readers are unfamiliar with the basics of life in both Kara-Tur and the lands that inspire the setting. A fair enough guess in most cases, although it does make me wonder if this book was ever translated for the Japanese market. I'm sure it was worth a few laughs when imported there, no matter the language.

So the goal here is basic literacy. This is actually kind of a neat segue from the previous section (Gaijin) in that the assumption is the readers will have similar gaps in knowledge of customs, technology, etc.

We start with a section on Dress. Clothing is noted for practicality, but that the use to show rank and status is important as well. Dyed patterns and embroidery is common and the base materials are cotton and silk, with other materials often found in specific regions. These "other materials" are noted as generally being something used by the lower class and could include bark, paper, and nearly any part of an animal you can name. White is the color of morning, which is the reason given for most cloth being dyed. Rarer colors are higher class.

Types of clothing are discussed as well. Short cotton trousers tied with string are common for both sexes. Robes may be worn over these, and the wealthy may wear multiple robes instead of trousers. Artfully layering robes is a skill practiced by the ladies of a noble's court. Layering is sued to deal with large swings in temperature. Peasants may use a mino, or straw cloak.

Footwaer is covered in basic detail. Woven straw sandals are common as are sandals amde from wooden blocks. Leather shoes are used by the wealthy or those needing more protection.

Hats are a big deal and worn by nearly everyone. Straw and bamboo wide-brimmed hats are common among peasants and wandering Shukenja and Monks. Nobles may wear smaller hats with decorations to denote rank.

We also go beyond simple clothing and into other things people of Kara-Tur may do to their appearance. Pale complexions and plucked eyebrows are common both sexes, as are fragrances. Women often blacken their teeth with white teeth considered a failing. Hair can be important as well. Topknots are common and in some areas a topknot might be ritually cut off to show disgrace. Long hair is desirable for women. Hair is generally cut when entering a nunnery or monastery.

Next up is a favorite topic of mine, Food. Surprise: It's rice-based. Apparently, "Have you eaten rice today?" is a common greeting in Shou Lung and the corrupt T'u Lung. Rice is flexible, which was probably news to some in the mid 80s when American readers were probably used to relatively simple white rice dishes in much of the country. It might be my imagination, but I feel like the 70s ushered in brown rice as a 'health food' and the 80s saw Sushi become much more mainstream in the US. Anyway, in short rice can be sued for almost anything.

Past rice, there's other grains including "yellow millet, sorghum, or barley" as well as various beans including soybeans. The latter can be used for soy sauce and tofu,

After this there's vegetable which are served prepared in various ways. There's a long list of possible vegetables: On the one hand, I feel like this is padding, but it does help the DM keep to stuff that makes sense. A clever DM could also get appropriate food in for a session using this book...

Seafood is briefly discussed. It's only available to those living near water (no refrigeration) and the list does include a few things that are uncommon on Western tables like jellyfish and sea cucumber. There's a brief reference to what I assume is meant to be Fugu: pufferfish that is poisonous if prepared incorrectly. (The Simpsons made this mainstream around 1991.)

Fish is noted as the most common meat, followed by chicken and pork. Game is next most common, with beef uncommon due to rarity. Barbarians might eat mutton and horse, too. This last bit shows the difficulty of summing up the dietary habits of an entire continent in limited word count.

Tea is common and normally consumed plain. Nomads add milk and sugar and may even consume tea as a soup. After that is rice wine (sake) and beer. Another barbarian reference (a topic TSR would explore later as not-Mongols came into the setting) is a mention of fermented mare's milk, possibly mixed with mare's blood.

A useful final paragraph notes an adventurer's likely diet in town and traveling. In town, the adventurer starts with buns, dumplings, rice, and pickles. Lunch is the big meal consisting of rice, vegetables, meat if available, pickles, and tea. An afternoon snack is tea and rice candies or sweet buns. A final meal of rice and some unspecified "simple delicacies" ends the day.

The traveling meal is a bit simpler. Rice gruel, plain rice, and other grains for breakfast. Rice cakes, cold rice, and various cold items wrapped in banana leaves serves as lunch if anything is served at all. Rice, dried fish, and vegetables form dinner, possibly with fresh game from the day's travels.

I like including this information. The food a culture consumes can tell you a lot about it. The only real issue here is an attempt to combine a massive area into a few short paragraphs.
 

AbdulAlhazred

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Validated User
Fair enough. World of Greyhawk is not a book I'm overly familiar with. (More specifically, I've never seen it.) I do think the idea was that Kara-Tur would be an example, but it's tough to make a setting-free book without what I've called an "implied setting" in the past. I feel like (to mention my own previous Let's Reads the Castle Guide implied a sort of generic Medieval Fantasy setting that didn't find it necessary to adapt much for dragons, other flyers, and the demonstrable power of magic in the D&D mechanics. This book trues to build up a special weapons list, martial arts rules, and classes with strong ties to a setting while at the same time keeping that setting optional.

I'm personally fine with this: I'd love for the next big storyline for 5e D&D to be a trip to Kara-Tur and a neat adventure set there. It needs to be done sensitively, but I think it can without much trouble: Kara-Tur has become part of the Forgotten Realms, even showing up in other material occasionally: the Baldur's Gate games added Katana and a few other exotics to the weapon list as well as a character from somewhere in Kara-Tur and a few other references. (Of course, the BG games also made vague references to Spelljammer, Planescape, and even Dragonlance!)

So, since I'm waiting for a process to finish:

Daily Life in Kara-Tur

The intro basically states the assumption that most readers are unfamiliar with the basics of life in both Kara-Tur and the lands that inspire the setting. A fair enough guess in most cases, although it does make me wonder if this book was ever translated for the Japanese market. I'm sure it was worth a few laughs when imported there, no matter the language.

So the goal here is basic literacy. This is actually kind of a neat segue from the previous section (Gaijin) in that the assumption is the readers will have similar gaps in knowledge of customs, technology, etc.

We start with a section on Dress. Clothing is noted for practicality, but that the use to show rank and status is important as well. Dyed patterns and embroidery is common and the base materials are cotton and silk, with other materials often found in specific regions. These "other materials" are noted as generally being something used by the lower class and could include bark, paper, and nearly any part of an animal you can name. White is the color of morning, which is the reason given for most cloth being dyed. Rarer colors are higher class.

Types of clothing are discussed as well. Short cotton trousers tied with string are common for both sexes. Robes may be worn over these, and the wealthy may wear multiple robes instead of trousers. Artfully layering robes is a skill practiced by the ladies of a noble's court. Layering is sued to deal with large swings in temperature. Peasants may use a mino, or straw cloak.

Footwaer is covered in basic detail. Woven straw sandals are common as are sandals amde from wooden blocks. Leather shoes are used by the wealthy or those needing more protection.

Hats are a big deal and worn by nearly everyone. Straw and bamboo wide-brimmed hats are common among peasants and wandering Shukenja and Monks. Nobles may wear smaller hats with decorations to denote rank.

We also go beyond simple clothing and into other things people of Kara-Tur may do to their appearance. Pale complexions and plucked eyebrows are common both sexes, as are fragrances. Women often blacken their teeth with white teeth considered a failing. Hair can be important as well. Topknots are common and in some areas a topknot might be ritually cut off to show disgrace. Long hair is desirable for women. Hair is generally cut when entering a nunnery or monastery.

Next up is a favorite topic of mine, Food. Surprise: It's rice-based. Apparently, "Have you eaten rice today?" is a common greeting in Shou Lung and the corrupt T'u Lung. Rice is flexible, which was probably news to some in the mid 80s when American readers were probably used to relatively simple white rice dishes in much of the country. It might be my imagination, but I feel like the 70s ushered in brown rice as a 'health food' and the 80s saw Sushi become much more mainstream in the US. Anyway, in short rice can be sued for almost anything.

Past rice, there's other grains including "yellow millet, sorghum, or barley" as well as various beans including soybeans. The latter can be used for soy sauce and tofu,

After this there's vegetable which are served prepared in various ways. There's a long list of possible vegetables: On the one hand, I feel like this is padding, but it does help the DM keep to stuff that makes sense. A clever DM could also get appropriate food in for a session using this book...

Seafood is briefly discussed. It's only available to those living near water (no refrigeration) and the list does include a few things that are uncommon on Western tables like jellyfish and sea cucumber. There's a brief reference to what I assume is meant to be Fugu: pufferfish that is poisonous if prepared incorrectly. (The Simpsons made this mainstream around 1991.)

Fish is noted as the most common meat, followed by chicken and pork. Game is next most common, with beef uncommon due to rarity. Barbarians might eat mutton and horse, too. This last bit shows the difficulty of summing up the dietary habits of an entire continent in limited word count.

Tea is common and normally consumed plain. Nomads add milk and sugar and may even consume tea as a soup. After that is rice wine (sake) and beer. Another barbarian reference (a topic TSR would explore later as not-Mongols came into the setting) is a mention of fermented mare's milk, possibly mixed with mare's blood.

A useful final paragraph notes an adventurer's likely diet in town and traveling. In town, the adventurer starts with buns, dumplings, rice, and pickles. Lunch is the big meal consisting of rice, vegetables, meat if available, pickles, and tea. An afternoon snack is tea and rice candies or sweet buns. A final meal of rice and some unspecified "simple delicacies" ends the day.

The traveling meal is a bit simpler. Rice gruel, plain rice, and other grains for breakfast. Rice cakes, cold rice, and various cold items wrapped in banana leaves serves as lunch if anything is served at all. Rice, dried fish, and vegetables form dinner, possibly with fresh game from the day's travels.

I like including this information. The food a culture consumes can tell you a lot about it. The only real issue here is an attempt to combine a massive area into a few short paragraphs.
Well, like with other settings that are basically 'not-Europe' its not just a matter of compressing a lot of geographical variety into a small word count, its also TIME. China has a 4000 year history, and it has evolved just as much in that period as the West. The customs of Nan Yue in the 1st Century BC would be utterly different from the same region (Guang Dong in modern China) in say 1650 (when Guang Zhou was being mistakenly called 'Canton' by the Portuguese, Dutch, etc). Japan likewise has a history of over 1500 years. Samurai didn't even EXIST during most of that period, being a specific caste only starting in the later medieval period. Early Japan had no Daimyo or Shogun, and every kind of law, custom and social organization evolved vastly over that 1.5 millennia.

Shou Lung seems like it might be modeled roughly on something like T'ang or Song China, Wa and Kozakura, along with pretty much everyone's ideas of Japan even today, seem largely based on Tokugawa era Japan, with some later period social ideas thrown in.
 

Archer

Just This Guy
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Validated User
There's a strong social class ladder favoring warriors, then peasants, then craftsmen, then merchants. This seems a bit backwards in my thinking, but that's the text.
Actually, as I understand it the traditional Confucian theoretical social order was scholars/administrators>farmers>craftsmen>merchants, based on their perceived usefulness to society. Farmers rank above craftsmen because without the farmers the craftsmen starve, and merchants rank at the bottom because they don't actually produce anything.
 
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