Settings From Different Cultures

Wow, what a weekend! For some it was Origins, for others it was the online Let Us Game Convention (L.U.G.Con) on Google+ Hangouts and for others (I am sure) there was more gaming as usual. I do wish that I had been going to Origins, and I am putting it on my wishlist for next year, but living in Australia may make this a little bit of an expensive trip! So it was L.U.G.Con for me and I hit L.U.G.Con with a force this weekend.

haiku_horrorI ran four games at L.U.G.Con over the weekend, two of them were Pathfinder games set in the Land of Kaidan, the Oriental (Japanese style) contribution from Rite Publishing for Pathfinder. I have to say that the quality of roleplaying that the game promoted was excellent. Both of the games were the same (except for the players) and were based on the recent module added to the setting called Haiku of Horror. The module is a short (perfect for a con or side adventure) module set in a Japanese style bath house.

To use the module I expanded it out with 12th level pregenerated characters, most of them Samurai taken from the Way of the Samurai sourcebook from the same setting. This book gives an excellent write up of different archetypes of samurai branching off not only the Samurai class from Ultimate Combat but from the Ranger, Paladin and Wizard as well. This sourcebook gave me a real education about samurai and it was a great read with character classes being a treat to make. There was such a great variety of Samurai to choose from. To give you an idea I will include the blurb that I gave the players to help them choose their Samurai for the game.

The following all belong to the Samurai caste in Kaiden but may not be variants of the Samurai class (that will be explained in game if it confuses)

Yamabushi is a Paladin offshoot. A divine warrior monk who draws his power from the Yomi (Realm of the Dead). They generally serve as spiritual advisors to the clan head. Their powers come from a combination of inner strength and spiritual enlightenment.

Bugyo is a Prestige Class. They are a Samurai who has been given a great deal of authority. They are often magistrates, tax collectors but officials of the Daimyo who gave them their title.

Tajiya is a Samurai archetype. Champions of the natural world they seek to eradicate the blight of unnatural creatures. They stand against all supernatural foes and generally do not sign on with a Lord to avoid conflicts so they are considered Ronin.

Kuge is a Samurai archetype. They are Samurai born into a life of wealth and privilege. They start training later in life than most Samurai and spend a good deal of their training focussing on refined culture than others. They are often the ranking officers in Samurai outfits.

Onmyoji is a Wizard archetype. Respected and feared, these magicians are the court wizards of the Samurai. Their magic is delivered in the form of origami spells that when cast burst into flames as the magical energies consume them.

Yojimbo is a Ranger archetype. The Yojimbo literally translates as bodyguard. Generally serves the lord as a trouble solver travelling to areas and “fixing” problems that the lord foresees.

Mosa is a prestige class. These are the warriors that stand their ground to the last. Firmly planting their feet on the ground they draw on an inner strength to fight beyond the ken of normal man.

Nitojutsu Sensei is a Samurai archetype. These are Ronin Samurai who dedicate their entire life to the study of fighting with the Katana and Wakazashi. Fearsome warriors they are champions that need to be coerced to join a cause.

So you can see that there is a pretty comprehensive selection in the sourcebook, and that was not even all the archetypes included!

samuri_pictureEnough about Kaidan (though I strongly recommend looking at it) and more about the game. This is my first ever attempt at running an oriental setting game. Sure I have run futuristic games with Yakuza etc. but never a fantasy setting rich with spiritual lore and the focus on oriental styled play. So I did not know what to expect but I tried to oriental it up. I fired up a Japanese random name generator, watched Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift (note: not a great help), set up Roll20 and then made the characters. Sounds easy? Wipe about a full two days off the calendar…

But the game surprised me! A lot. It has made me excited about my decision to run my own Land of Kaidan campaign after my current Adventure Path from Paizo is complete. The players in this game took to the Samurai wholeheartedly with the idea of honor and caste, really focusing on how they should authentically act in character. Plus, the module is really geared toward an investigative mode style of play. In both games there was opportunity for two or more combats but in each game the players chose diplomacy first so each game ended up with only one combat. The combat in both cases was swift and led the players on to more investigation as it created more questions than it answered.

I would suggest that if you have a tendency toward running more traditional Western fantasy that you branch out. In my two forays in different culture (Kaidan and Serpent Skull adventure path has a lot of African mythology connections but is still largely Western styled) I have had a great time and experienced some great role playing from my players. Just the fact of trying something new will have everyone nervous and excited and guaranteed to get some great responses to a new styled game.

For me, I have a respect for Japan and its heritage but little actual understanding of its real social structure. This has been changing recently as I have been gaming with some players that are in Japan so I am beginning to understand the culture and mindset of the country a little more. This is what initially attracted me to running an oriental styled game. Plus the third edition addition to Earthdawn of the Cathay setting which I so dearly want to run. Ah if only I could clone myself and find a group that still loves Earthdawn…

So, that is my suggestion, nay challenge to all of you this fine Monday. Think of an unusual setting to put your next games in. It might even be based on a traditional “Western” setting but from the cultural history and folklore of its people rather than populating it with trolls and ogres populate it with Bunyips and Rainbow Serpents (Aboriginal mythology from Australia) and think of some innovative archetypes that will bring out the best in your players as they explore something new. Do it as a one off to inject some relief into a long campaign, or build a campaign from the ground up. But please, if you have the opportunity, give it a try!

Mark Knights is  39 year old guy living in a small rural town called Elliott in Tasmania, Australia.  I have been role playing since I was 11 years old playing the original versions of Dungeons and Dragons, MERP, Elric, Dragon Warriors and the like amongst other genre games.  I played D&D 2nd Edition through the 90′s but I ran Earthdawn for my fantasy setting and loved it as a GM.  When 3rd Edition came out for D&D I tried it but found it too heavy on rules.  I ignored the 3.5 edition of DnD in favour of Earthdawn (big mistake) as I thought it was just a money spinner.  When 4th Edition DnD came on my players and I gave it a red hot go but hated what it had dumbed the game down to be.  On a trip to Melbourne to buy some 4E stuff from a hobby store an old mate of mine pointed me at Pathfinder and in a Fantasy setting I have never looked back.