Game: Oriental Adventures
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Series: Dungeons and Dragons
Review Dated: 24th, December 2001
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 122
Average Score: 5.81
Rarely has there been a supplement that had such a burden of expectation on it. I was not surprised when the introduction to this new edition of Oriental Adventures made heavy reference on its predecessor. The new edition merges the old setting of Kala-Tur with the Rokugan world created and populated by the card game Legend of the Five Rings . To be honest, the game handles this melding extremely well, there is an easy to spot Five Rings symbol that is used to highlight especially suitable material for the Rokugan setting. However, as someone who is not especially familiar with Oriental settings I did find the wash of information somewhat intimidating. The book is gorgeous though, lovely colours, some quality illustrations (some not so good) and high quality paper all helped to convince me to keep turning the pages. I was soon drawn into the world of Oriental Adventures.
You do need the trio of core Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks in order to use Oriental Adventures but you would be forgiven for wondering why as you start to flick through the book and discover entire chapters given over to race, then class, prestige classes, skills, feats, trappings, spells, monsters and even advice on how to put it all together as well has information on the Shadowlands and the Empire of Rokugan.
There is more information in the book than you need, some of races and classes and…oh, I won’t run through the list again, are not applicable to all of the settings, some are more historically accurate than others and if you ask me, some of the monsters are just plain scary. One of the triumphs of the book is that you can use it to fuel any sort of Oriental style adventure or campaign. If you really want to use the traditional races from the Dungeons and Dragons (dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc) then you can. The book even manages to find space in its wonderfully formatted pages to suggest how.
There are six feature races that book presents in the first chapter, although as is the norm throughout the book you don’t have to use them all. There are always humans and the Hengeyokai, Nezumi, Korobukuru, Spirit Folk and Vanara are the added extra. The humans, if you want, can be further divided in to their clans for a bit of diversity. The Hengeyokai, as a notably more powerful PC in terms of basic racial ability, have an additional experience point requirement and this is presented in an easy to read table. The book is full of tables, flicking through it you can find entire pages of tables. I was very much reminded of the second edition of D&D – in the good way. It can only be a tribute to the book that it probably boasts the best ratio of meaty information to number of pages than any other Wizards of the Coast product that I can think of.
The Class section, I felt, made the best attempt at introducing the uniquely Asian culture into the supplement. It certainly did a very good job at explaining why and where individual class fits in with the world setting. The difference between a “Player’s Guide” Ranger and an Oriental Adventure Ranger is defined in no uncertain terms. This is further expanded on in the chapter given over entirely to Prestige Classes. The book came out before the craze of producing Prestige Classes as a great way to get extra powers without any real consequences hit the internet, I say that because many of the Prestige Classes really do open up a whole new range of extra abilities at very little draw back to the characters. Mind you, I suppose that’s the whole point of this sort of Prestige Class. Becoming a Bear Warrior, Blade Dancer, Ninja Scout or Tattooed Monk should be something that many heroes (and villains) in the game aspire to.
I appreciated the way that the Feats were clearly marked as being one of General, Ancestor or Item Creator. The idea behind the Ancestral feats is that they are an inherited benefit of being descended one of the great spirits (the Rokugan clan basis) and therefore can only be purchased at character creation. I think the idea that a player character is particularly wonderful at something because of some spiritual connection to something far more powerful makes more sense than a vague “oh, the warriors from the north are really strong” and it certainly makes more sense than allowing characters to mysteriously develop strange powers and superhuman strength along the way. There are also enough new skills and feats in the book to keep you happy up until the point were you engage in a long and high-powered campaign.
The feats are appropriate to the setting as well. You want martial art action? You’ll get most of your kung-fu delights from the feats, although there is plenty more still to come in the equipment and combat sections. The spells and magics are just as suited to the Asian setting as well and not just poorly camouflaged re-write of the core spells. Despite my reluctance to admit it I shall say that my favourite chapter was the monster section. I know, I know, that makes me sound like a teenager who has just discovered roleplaying and thinks it is all about interesting ways to defeat interesting beasts. The argument in defence will be particularly hard to put across since it seems almost impossible to do justice to the simple yet masterful elegance of the presentation and artwork of the chapter. It could so easily have become a clutter of yet more tables. I think the Oriental Beasts have a special advantage to, one that’s certainly true for those of us without any trace of Far East Fatigue, in that the creatures in this section of the book are new and innovative. Whereas I might find myself complaining, “Gnolls, yeah, they’re new” or “Rogbal, you say? That wouldn’t be a balrog in disguise, would it?” creatures like Tsuno and Pennaggolan are genuinely new to me and reading their summary text is much more likely to inspire me in ways that reading yet another take on goblins would.
I could ooze sycophantic praise over every aspect of the book. I do just want to single out the Campaign Design section and appendixes as especially helpful and intelligently conceived.