Oriental Adventures Capsule Review by Elton Robb on 07/10/01
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
The new Oriental Adventures is bigger and better, than the original Oriental Adventures for First Edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. And fellow Rokugani, guess what . . .
Product: Oriental Adventures
Author: James Wyatt
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Line: D20 Fantasy Game System/Legend of the Five Rings
Cost: $34.95 (CA $48.95)
Page count: 246 pages
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Elton Robb on 07/10/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Asian/Far East
Ah, the Orient. Land of spices, magic, Samurai, Shugenja, the Crab, the Crane, the Dragon, the Lion, the Phoenix, the Scorpion,and the Unicorn clans; and the Toturi and Hantei bloodlines. What, you think I am talking about Rokugan? I am. Why not Kara-Tur? I'm getting to that. But first, a little history.
Ten years ago, TSR introduced AD&D players to the mythical orient in their new book Oriental Adventures written by A. Gary Gygax. To this day, I can really trace my beginning interest in Roleplaying Games, and Mythology in general, to that book. Which I still have a copy today. It described not a land of Occidental culture with wizards and such, but a land of true wonder.
Then several other companies released oriental rpg flavored products: Boshido, Oriental Companion, GURPS: Japan, China, and India, and Rifts: Japan. All served a small audience for Fantasy Asia. Until one collectable card game became the Coup de Grace for all.
This collectable card game was revolutionary in Fantasy Asian gaming. It described a world where Samurai and Shugenja defended an Empire. An Emerald Empire ruled by Descendants of the Shinto Sun Goddess, Ameterasu.
An Emerald Empire that had Seven Great Clans. And in the end, was nearly destroyed by Fu Leng if it wasn't for the Seven Thunders. That Collectable Card Game was based on Miramoto Mushashi's book The Five Rings. And it was, and still is, a hit card game.
If you didn't know already, I am describing The Legend of the Five Rings, and it is the default Setting of the new Oriental Adventures book produced by Wizards of the Coast.
Yes, Virginia, Rokugan is now a D20 world. But what did I expect out of Oriental Adventures?
Everything that was in the original Oriental Adventures, and Rokugan as well. I wanted Wu-Jen, they are described here. I wanted Shugenja, they are there. I wanted Ninja, they are there too.
Sohei, Monks, Rangers, Fighters, Shamans, Sorcerers, and Samurai. And I have Rokugan as well, too. What more could I want? However, for all it's strengths, the new Oriental Adventures has some flaws. And I will come to them later.
Before all of my fellow Rokugani gasp and say, "What have they done to my Rokugan! Those gaijin!" the base system of Oriental Adventures is the D20 Fantasy Game System. This means that you must own the Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide before you can play. Thus, if you are used to playing the Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying game, don't bother buying it. But, I got it so that my players won't have to learn a new system.
Let us go over a basic overview of the new Oriental Adventures.
I wouldn't mention the introduction, except for one important point that all Rokugani, all new Rokugani, and all Kara-Turi should bear in mind. James Wyatt said this: You need not feel bound by our decrees of what is and is not allowable in Rokugan, however: Like any other campaign setting, Rokugan is yours once you adopt it for your game --- if you want to allow Koroboku wu jen alongside Dragon clan tatooed monks in your Rokugan, don't let us hold you back.
The point: Don't let any of the players dictate the World to you! Then comes the basics: which are 0. Check with your Dungeon Master, and the rest.
Chapter One: Races
The races are: Human, Hengeyokai (which have an Effective Character Level), which are a race of shapechangers; Nezumi, the ratling race; Korobokuru, which are the dwarves of the orient; Spirit Folk (Elves anyone?), and Vanara.
There is one major rule change, however. The Humans do have Favored Classes, but they are Favored by what particular Great Clan you belong to, not as a whole. If you are playing in the L5R setting.
Of course, a liberal dungeon master might include Occidental races such as Elves, Dwarves, Half-Orcs, Halflings, Half-Elves, and *shudder* Gnomes.
Chapter 2: Classes
There are some new classes of note that are specific to a Fantasy Asian world system that are listed here. They include the Mighty Samurai, the mystic Shaman, the powerfully divine Shugenja, the physical Sohei, the mysterious Sorcerer, and the arcane Wu Jen.
Each new class has a picture associated with it, and in the case of the Samurai and Shugenja classes, you have representatives of the Seven Great Clans of Rokugan all showing you what a samurai and a shugenja from each of those clans might look like.
Of course, you have some classes that have become retooled for the Oriental Environment. The barbarian, the fighter, the ranger, and the rogue have all been given a facelift for the Orient. The monk class, however, did not need such a facelift.
In fact, the Monk comes into it's own with the addition of some special and world specific prestige classes which are introduced below:
Chapter 3: Prestige Classes
I was somewhat disappointed with the prestige classes given here. But here they are as an overview: you have the Otaku Battle Maiden, the bear warrior, Blade Dancer, Eunuch Warlock, Henshin Mystic, Iaijutsu Master, Kishi Charger, Ninja Spy (I was very disappointed with this particular treatment!), Shadow Scout, Shapeshifter, Shintao Monk, Singh Rager, Tattooed Monk (describes both ize zumi and kikage zumi monks), the Void Disciple, the Kensei (Weapon Master), the Kuni Witch Hunter, and of course, yakuza.
As I said, I was very disappointed with the treatment of the Ninja Spy as a prestige class. In most Fantasy Asian Campaigns, someone is raised a ninja, you don't join them like the marines.
But I liked the Otaku Battle Maiden, the Void Disciple, and the Shintao Monk prestige classes, these three were nicely done.
Chapter Four: Skills and Feats
While the skill area was very lax, the Feats section really shined. You have a new class of feats, Ancestor Feats, that go along with each of the ancestors of the Seven Great Clans, such as Lady Doji, Bayushi, or Isawa Akuma.
Ancestor feats are feats keyed to an ancestor of a particular clan. They can also only be selected at character generation. For instance, the Iaijutsu Master feat is keyed to Kakita and mostly available to Cranes. While Karmic Twin is keyed to Bayushi, and mostly available to Scorpions.
And there are new general feats that are supported in Oriental adventures. These include karmic strike, superior expertise, improved unarmed strike, and Ki shout. Also, two new item creation feats allow you to make unusual nemurani. They are craft crystal weapon (a good psionic creation feat as well), and craft talisman.
Chapter 5: Description and Equipment
In this section, a little bit of Oriental Culture is described, particularly Honor. In the old Oriental Adventures, Honor had a game mechanic. But, in the new version, the honor game mechanic is done away with. It's pure roleplaying in the new version. Well, almost.
In the new version, Honor works like alignment, as a tool that helps you develop your character's identity. So you choose between five "ranks" of honor (of course, it's better to purely roleplay. honor may go up or down): Honorless, Untrustworthy, Honorable Action, Honorable Thought, and Honorable Soul.
However, in Religion, we see a mistake. According to the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game (at least the version I have), Lady Sun is called Ameterasu. In Oriental Adventures, Lady Sun is Yakamo. I'll leave it up to you to decide which is correct, but I think it is a mistake.
Later on in the section, you have a listing of Oriental Weapons. Most of these weapons have occidental counterparts, so are treated as such --- for instance, the Bo staff is handled like a Quarterstaff, and the No-Dachi is handled like the Greatsword. So you need the Player's Handbook to refer to the damage wrought by some of these weapons. What WotC should have done is reprinted the game statistics for these weapons, so you do not need to refer to the Player's Handbook as much.
Equipping your character also has a mistake. The standard is assumed to be the gold piece. But in Rokugan, it's koku, or a certain ammount of rice.
Also, Armor is listed. There are Armor statistics for all the oriental armor, but Samurai armor comes in two flavors: Great Armor and partial armor.
Chapter 6: Combat
Again, we have a problem with how Martial Arts are handled in D20. Fortunately, in the new incarnation of the Dungeons and Dragons game, Martial Arts are handled as a collection of feats. It's a vast improvement over how martial arts was handled previously.
Still, I think the rules in Ninjas and Superspies by Palladium Books is one of the best treatments for Martial Arts in a roleplaying game. And the Palladium RPG System is already "D20." However, its a shame that Palladium Books has decided to bide their time before they do any true D20 conversions of their games.
At the time of this writing, Atlas Games had announced that they are releasing a product that merges D20 with Feng Shui under their Corilois
Now, on to one of the best parts in the new game.
Chapter Seven: Magic and Spells
In this chapter, we enter Rokugan's magical side. In the original L5R Roleplaying game, each Great Clan has a school of magic for their Shugenja. In D20, Shugenja must choose an element to be attuned to, and then a school. For instance, Crane Shugenja often choose the Asahina school from which to learn divine magic, and attune themselves to Air. Unicorn Shugenja choose the Iuchi school of magic and usually attune themselves to Water. Isawa Shugenja of the Phoenix may choose any element to attune themselves to, and usually learn from the Isawa school of magic. And only Void Disciples come from the Isawa school of magic in Rokugan.
Besides that, Shamans may choose a spirit or two that grant a domain (like a cleric from Occidental cultures). And the mighty wu jen cast arcane spells that draw from all the elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Metal, and Wood.
All of the spells from the original Oriental Adventures have been updated and coverted to the D20 System. So you can have Wu Jen slinging fire shuriken, Shamans calling spirits from the spirit world back to their bodies, and sorcerers using dancing lights.
Also, the spells found in the L5R roleplaying game and the Way of the Clan series are also included for Shugenja to cast. Thus, your Isawa Shugenja can cast Tomb of Jade, or Dispel Taint, or even Yakamo's (Amaterasu's) Anger. And, in case your wondering, a Shugenja may not guide the dead back to life.
Sadly, do to space constraints, none of the spells referenced to the Player's Handbook are reprinted in the new version of Oriental Adventures. So, again you have to flip through the Player's Handbook to get the references on that Burning Hands spell that your Dragon Shugenja wants to cast on that Bakemono that is threatening to kill him.
Chapter 8: Magic Items
This chapter gives you the low down on all the special items and Nemuranai that you, the DM, can make available in Rokugan, Kara-Tur, or some other Fantasy Asian world you want to dream up. From magical armor and shields, to Kakita's blade, to powerful ofudas (scrolls) that detail both Shugenja and Wu Jen spells, this chapter has the tables for the DM to roll and place as treasure in various Adventure sites.
And, players, don't despair. Your Asahina Shugenja will be able to craft powerful nemuranai, since the recipes are provided. For instance, to make flaming shuriken an Asahina Shugenja will need to use Burning Hands, while a Wu Jen may use Fire Shuriken to empower the flaming shuriken.
Chapter 9: Monsters
This chapter details an Oriental Bestiary. And it is greatly expanded from the original Oriental Adventures. Just like a Monstrous Manual entry, each monster has a picture associated with it. From Bakemono to the Spirit Centipede, to the great Oriental Dragons (Lung Dragons), to ghosts, to the Ki-Rin, to Kappas, to Nagas, to Oni, to the Yuki-On-Na.
More than enough for most campaigns. But if you want more, Green Ronin Publishing released a soft cover also detailing more Oriental nasties.
Chapter 10: Campaign Design
Here is the true meat of the new version of Oriental Adventures, World Building. Here you get suggestions on how to make Rokugan yours, or how to make your own Fantasy Asia. Or for Kara-Turi, how to return to that fabled land and make it yours even more. It even suggests a hypothetical campaign based on Rokugan where Occidental Races makes up the great clans (Elves as Cranes, Halfling Scorpions, Human Lions, Dwarven Crabs, and Half-Orc Unicorns et al.).
And for those with the Manual of the Planes the Spirit World replaces the Astral Plane.
Chapter Eleven: the Empire of Rokugan Instead of starting before the Scorpion Coup, like the L5R RPG did, we may begin our D20 Rokugani campaigns after the events of described in The Time of the Void L5R supplement, in fact, it begins after Toturi I was murdered by an Oni and all his children are now vying for the Chrysanthium Throne.
Each of the Clans are given a little detail and some adventure hooks, including one Prestige Class representing the clans. But if you want more, I suggest you get The Way of the Clan series for each of the Seven Great Clans. Although the series details the Clans for the L5R RPG, nobody will get angry if you mine those books for character ideas. For they fully detail each great clan.
Then we get to the chapter you are all waiting for . . .
Chapter 12: The Shadowlands
This details the Shadowlands of Rokugan, the Dark Side of the world of the Legend of the Five Rings. From rules handling the taint to the Maho-Tsukai, to Iuchiban's Bloodspeakers, the Shadowlands is detailed in this chapter. Even adventure hooks is provided.
To recap, with the original material converted to D20 and using Rokugan as the default Oriental Adventures campaign, the new 3rd Edition's version of Oriental Adventures is much better than the Original. Although not perfect in design, and there is always room for improvement.
This is the D20 supplement on Fantasy Asia that I have been waiting for. It meets all my expectations excellently, and should give players the chance to adventure as Samurai or Shugenja in Rokugan under the D20 RPG Rules set for a long time. Or in Kara-Tur. Or in a Fantasy Asian campaign that is purely of your own design. And with AEG and Dungeon Adventures providing support for both versions of L5R (AEG is doing both the L5R RPG and D20 adventure supplements) and other Fantasy Asia campaigns, there will be no end to the fun.
I give it a 5 for Style, and a 5 for Substance.