Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good Days for Oriental Fantasy Gaming

Tuesday's post on a Japanese fantasy novel has me looking back and east at the same time.  In 1988, I made a friend who resparked my interest in D&D during my freshman year of college.  I let the only member of my childhood D&D group that I was still in touch with know that I was looking to reacquire books, as I had let mine go, and he helped me with reacquisition.  One of the books I replaced was the one pictured above -- a book I had read and day-dreamed with, but never gotten to use at the table.  It was a neglected bottle of soy sauce on a the banquet table of Western fantasy gaming.

These are rich days for role-playing gamers who want a fantasy setting in an Asian analogue.  I'll recommend four RPGs and one board game, but first with a historical caveat.

I confess to being largely ignorant of what's going on with the Legend of the Five Rings, which crossed my path thanks to the fact that the temporary relationship between its owner Alderac and Wizards of the Coast meant that a d20 version of the RPG was supported when D&D's Oriental Adventures was reset in L5R's setting called Rokugan.  I will say that Rokugan seems a highly developed, intricate setting,* but I know nothing about how the d10 or Roll-and-Keep system works and plays.  As far as the game's place in the wider RPG community, I also confess ignorance.  Does the RPG reach beyond the fans of the card game into the role-playing game community?  I suppose it does, since the game has gone into a fourth edition.  It has also spawned board games and a miniatures skirmish game that is apparently returning to production.

Cover Illustration to Kaidan 1: The Gift

Third era, d20 gamers are not limited to the out-of-print OA/L5R/Rokugan materials.  Thanks to the Open Gaming License and the Paizo success story, there is a trove of new materials coming out for the Pathfinder RPG.  Among these new materials,** I recommend both Paizo's Jade Regent Adventure Path (and the various materials coming out to support that AP) for more of an Asian analogue setting in D&Desque world and Rite Publishing's Kaidan for the PFRPG for those who want a more authentically Japanese feeling in regards to religious (planar), cultural, and the tradition of Japanese ghost stories.  I only have the original version of part I, before Rite got hold of it, but I was impressed by the setup of the adventure and the extent to which Shinto, Zen, and Kaidan had been digested and expressed in the first volume.  I am confident that any rough edges were refined under the direction of Rite and look forward to getting hold of the complete trilogy.

Cover Illustration to Kaidan 2: Dim Spirit

Old school gamers may mine the above materials for some great gaming, but desire a much simpler set of rules and mechanics for play at their tables.  Ruins & Ronin has covered this need by re-skinning OD&D/Swords & Wizardry for oriental fantasy gaming.  Print copies are available from Lulu.

Finally, for gamers looking for a different role-playing experience aimed at objectives that are very different from those traditionally emphasized by D&D-type gaming, take a look at the indie RPG Kagematsu.  I've been curious about this game ever since Rone Barton and Ed Healy interviewed the creator on the Atomic Array, and would love to hear from anyone who has played it.

All of this talk makes me miss one of the other games that I played in college: Milton Bradley's Shogun board game!  This game may come in second behind D&D for hours played in those golden years.  While I couldn't get folks interested in Oriental Adventures until many years later when my daughter started gaming, I could easily get a group excited about playing Shogun.  The game is a blast, and with Hasbro's re-release of it as Ikusa, you can now play the game again without months of searching and dropping an arm and a leg. 

*  And, as a fan of films (such as Kurosawa's) set in medieval Japan and of the Shogun board game, the emphasis on clan character and conflict is appealing.
** I am also curious to see if the Heroes of the Jade Oath, Rite Publishing and Frank Carr's Oriental Adventures for Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, gets more than piecemeal conversions for Pathfinder.  There are several of these on Paizo, but they are not easy to find --  I hope the Paizo web store will soon group them all together.


  1. My favorite Asian flavored (or at least feudal Japan flavored) rpg was Sengoku. Very well researched and full of nice historical detail.

  2. Regarding Kaidan, Rite Publishing has the imprint, but I still own it, as creator, cartographer, art director - I do some design, as well. The Kaidan - Curse of the Golden Spear trilogy is fully released, along with 3 Kaidan race supplements, and our first faction book - Way of the Yakuza coming soon. And on Thursday, Oct 20th, as a Halloween promo, we are releasing a One-shot adventure in Kaidan as a free PDF download.