Monday, June 13, 2016

Jeffro Reacts to Oriental Adventures and I React to Jeffro. Welcome to the Internet.

 Jeffro, he of the Hugo Nominations, has been looking at the old Oriental Adventures book for 1e and has written a second blog entry about it. I am going to talk about me and then about Jeffro's article.

  As some of you may know, my oldest 4 sons (ages 13 to 19) and my wife are my primary group. About 6 months ago, just before Christmas, #4 pulled down my original copy, first printing, very worn Oriental Adventures so he could memorize that, too. Next day he was sharing the book with his brothers and they were all admiring how fun, weird, and compelling it is.
  Christmas is a busy time for us, so we were doing a ton of other things until the end of the Christmas season in February. Second weekend in February? They all made characters for OA, and the wife did, too:

Wife- Shukenja
#1- Wu-jen
#2- Yakuza
#3- Bushi
#4- Kensai (as a spirit folk of bamboo the only non-human)

  I spent a few sessions doing a Seven Samurai - they protected a remote village from bandits in return for food and shelter and ended up leveling (as designed) and getting used to the new rules. They then moved to the town of the local daimyo looking for better positions, learned of a plot by a ninja clan to trigger a war between the local daimyo and his closest neighbor. Using a variety of stratagems they got received minor positions at the local castle or got 'close enough', eliminated the low-level ninja, and stopped a surprise assault on the outer gate, giving defenders times to react and proving the real threat was a third party. The players had to use guile, contacts, and deceit as much as spells or combat to succeed.
  They loved the non-standard monsters (I created 4 more from Japanese mythology), the different yet same cultural cues, and the unusual class abilities. I explicitly had everything set in my Seaward campaign (I have been using OA in my 1e campaign since the book came out) so they hope to have future crossovers.

  #1 in particular liked the wu-jen, although he found the differences in how they use their "chance to know" very different than standard AD&D spell acquisition for mages. He also liked the 'six hours to learn all spells, regardless of level or number' fun and different - he roleplayed out his character meditating, chanting, burning incense, and bargaining with unseen spirits to get back spells. His 'spellbook' was just the required chants to ask the right spirits for the correct spells.

  #2 loved teh mix of sneak, fight, and know people of the Yakuza and his ability to use contacts to answer questions was a key element of the main adventure.
  #3 played his bushi with gusto, emphasizing his lower-class origins and his outlook on his profession as a way to get paid while drinking, fighting, and impressing farm girls.
  #4was a little down at first; all through the village saving he rolled lousy and rarely hit anything. but at the key fights in the castle he was  Can't Miss Man, cutting down tough foes by himself more than once

  A key figure, though, was my wife. While she is Irish/Polish by ancestry one of her dual majors was Japanese and she went on to study Chinese and Chinese Literature. Since we were in my Japanland, she was in her element. She enjoyed the book and the 'Asian, yet generic' information in the main rules. She most appreciated giving the entire 'inscrutable Oriental' stereotype a total miss.

So, now that our very recent trip to Asialand is covered, let me address a few points that Jeffro brings up in his second post, linked above.
  Jeffro asks,
  "...shouldn’t oriental style magic be a bit more exotic?"
  More exotic than spending hours studying abstract symbols so that you have 5 dimensional constructs stored in your mind, eager to be released, such that when you do release them you summon or create energies from beyond the walls of reality?More exotic than that?
  More importantly, while I understand he is vexed by the fact that the description of how much time it takes a wu-jen to relearn spells is a touch ambiguous he seems to miss a simple fact - either reading is radically different from standard memorization procedures. OA states specifically that spells come from spirits, rather than from mentors or libraries. Sure, if you encounter a scroll you can learn from it, but the implication is these scrolls come from spirits, first- or second-hand. And with the rigid times, rather than the fluid level-based times of the DMG, it smacks of exactly how my son played it - you don't memorize spells, they are slapped into your mind by spirits as part of a ritual where your 'scrolls' are a lot more like a sutra to be chanted, like this;

  So you meditate for a few hours, then burn incense and perform small rituals to summon the spirits, then appease them with offerings (and by confirming that you have, indeed, obeyed all the odd taboos that wu-jen must follow!), then then you fisnish with 2 hours of chanting the sutras from your "spellbook" and at the end, breathe deeply of the smoke from the last of the incense. If you obeyed your taboos and performed your chanting properly you also inhale your spells.

  Rather different than reading a book for 15 minutes per level of the spell for each spell, right?
  As a matter of fact, this would make the reading 'six hours per spell' pretty hardcore. You have to summon and appease a different spirit for each spell! Every spell in your memory is much more precious because of the time needed to recover it....

  "Wait a minute," you say, "I didn't read any of that in the OA!"
  Sure you did. I mean, it wasn't forbidden, was it? And even if it was....
  The classes and mechanics of classes in OA are pretty different and the spells, elemental bonuses, ki powers, taboos, and how spells are memorized by wu-jen are pretty different than standard!

 The Jeffro writes,
  "The bottom line here is that to get a game off the ground, I either have to do the design work involved in creating these sorts of tables myself. OR I have to use the tables from the Dungeon Masters Guide and then manually retheme the results to something feels a little more “eastern”... … the former is simply not going to happen. (With the number of functional, completed game designs on the market, why would I ever do that?! Bah!)..."
Which functional, completed game designs? It was 1985. It was this, Bushido (Which I played a lot and enjoyed, but made AD&D look like a stripped-down version of S&W) or Land of the Rising Sun which was based on Chivalry & Sorcery but much more complex and difficult to play and one reviewer stated 'just play Bushido, it is easier to learn'.
  And as for 'making all sorts of tables myself'.... Yeah. It was '85. That's what you did.
  Look, when the MMII came out with its lists of monsters by occurance my friend Sean uttered a prayer in French because he usually did that by hand so he could make custom encounter lists. My Seaward stuff includes a set of manila folders which hold my custom encounter tables for each region of the campaign area. Almost everyone I knew did that.

  That is just for the Lower Briars and calls a bunch of sub-tables, too. The first draft for this thing is on the basement closet, longhan, in fading Bic ballpoint from lunchtime in 5th grade.

  Of, since Jeffro is really looking at OA for the first time now, almost 1/3rd of a century later, when there are tons of pre-made things all over the place, sure! Get it from somewhere else! But then?

  And this leads me to the end of his post. He writes,
  "Y’all got handed a half baked book that looked good on the shelf and that’s it. It was not in the interests of the company that sold it to you to ACTUALLY SOLVE THE GAME DESIGN PROBLEMS THEY WERE PUSHING ONTO YOUR DUNGEON MASTER. That poor sod either had to be so good that he didn’t need the supplement in the first place or else he had to shell out cash for modules that would only complete the design process on an adventure-by-adventure basis."
  Sorry, Jeffro. I like you, and I like your writing, but this is simply wrong.
  "Not having pre-made encounter charts" is not a 'game design problem'. More importantly, you, yourself, name this book for what it is -a supplement. In 1985 you might have to go to a university library to get access to things like 'monsters of Japanese folklore' or 'legends of China'. Having a list of monsters and classes was a huge help to guys that didn't have access to that sort of resource. A bunch of new, unusual classes, rules for making custom martial arts, tons of new spells - that was all pure gold.

  One of the most interesting things Jeffro wrote is this,
  "[the DM] either had to be so good that he didn’t need the supplement in the first place..."
  One of the things I noticed in the first minute of picking up the D&D 3e PHB was a change in assumption about the players and DM, and I miss it. The biggest, most profound, change was the loss of the presumptions of competence, creativity, and confidence.
  Gygax and crew didn't make modules at first because they assumed that anyone running the game was not just capable of creating their own adventures, but that they would far prefer their own stuff. The same folks hesitated to publish settings because they assumed anyone who wanted to build a campaign world could and if they did so it would not just be good enough, they would prefer it.
  I bought OA when it came out. I never saw a module in anyone's hands. Heck, I didn't remember there had been modules until a few weeks ago. And the only time I saw Kara-Tur was on the shelf of a buddy who is a completist. By the Fall of '85 when I was at DLI I know of at least 3 OA games there: one set in Japan, one in Korea (with all new monsters and a mix of OA and PHB classes), and the third in a fun Thai/Philippines/China setting, also full of unique creatures, spells, and a class or two.
  I also really enjoyed meeting a magic-user in 1986 that was PHB with martial arts as his only weapon. He was from Lyonesse, but was orphaned and raised in a monastery for a decade until an uncle retrieved him and taught him magic. Tons of fun.

  Here's the bottom line. Jeffro has every right to be upset about anything he wants to be upset about. And it can be really hard to 'get' that OA was not meant to replace anything ever, just be stuff to add to your game and, with effort, make a more Asian Asialand. But I had never encountered the same pains Jeffro did with this book.

  Thanks for the original work, Jeffro!