Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Now Under Construction

Because I did a Retrospective post on Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms last week, I was reminded of how excited I was by the announcement that the long-awaited Asian expansion to AD&D, Oriental Adventures. OA was a long percolating project about which Gary Gygax had talked for years beforehand, in part because he felt the monk class didn't belong in "standard" AD&D, given its inspiration in the legends of the Far East. Despite this, there didn't seem to be any evidence that such a project was likely to happen anytime soon and I largely put it out of mind.

Then, without warning, in issue #102 of Dragon (October 1985), this advertisement appeared:

Now, we'd finally get official game rules for samurai and ninja and martial arts and everything else we fans of Kurosawa and Kung Fu Theatre had long thought should be brought into AD&D. To say that Oriental Adventures was greatly anticipated, at least among my friends and myself, is something of an understatement and this ad, featuring a washed out, black and white version of Jeff Easley's cover painting, is a big part of the reason why. Though my feelings about OA are now a bit more mixed, I still have many fond memories of it – and the long October I spent waiting for November 1985 to roll around so that I could finally lay my hands on it.


  1. Yeah, totally agree. I no longer remember where I first saw OA for sale, but I snapped it right up and devoured the contents. By that time my gaming group had moved on to Warhammer FRP, Chill, and other delights so we never got to run a game using it. That didn't stop me from rolling up lots of characters!

  2. I was similarly excited. The lack of balance (and apparent lack of play testing) in the classes meant that I needed to put in a lot of work before running it.

    1. I never read OA. From your comment it seems like it followed the pattern of D&D power creep over time. ( i.e. Rangers and Paladins are more powerful than Fighters. Barbarians are more powerful than Paladins and Rangers.)

  3. John Harper BrinegarMay 1, 2024 at 12:29 PM

    Since your earlier post about the Kara-Tur box set, I've been looking back at OA. I find that I'm more positive about it now than I was when it came out (although I was certainly excited to see it at the time). I think I wanted more generalized Oriental fantasy then, and I was disappointed that OA was so focused on specifically Japanese archetypes like samurai, ninja, and yakuza. That's probably also why Kara-Tur struggles as a setting: it tries to present all of East Asia, while the game system is much more focused on Japan. I always found it grating to try imagining China with samurai.

  4. Like Kurosawa I make mad films.
    Okay, I don’t make films.
    But if I did, they’d have a samurai…

  5. Like some others, I am more favorable to the book than I was at the time, but a couple of things don't work for me at all: namely, several of the new classes and the martial arts system. When it first came out, I learned that abusing the Kensai class and the martial arts system was easy to do, especially in concert with each other.

    That said, many of the new spells and monsters, particularly, are excellent additions to the game (the ikiryu, notably, brings an entirely new type of encounter and scenario to the game), some of the classes work pretty well, all things considered, such as the Shukenja, Wu Jen (too bad they weren't aware of Onmyōji at the time, given the otherwise Japanese tenor of the classes), and notably the Ninja (at the time, I wanted a single-class version, but now I think that the approach taken was excellent; there's also a single-class version in an issue of Dragon magazine, which I think can make a useful companion to the main version), and the campaign events system is brilliant and deserves adaptation to any particular setting, whether pseudo-Asian, pseudo-European, or otherwise.