Book Review: Oriental Adventures (1e)


AD&D 1st Edition received a smattering of different settings. The longest lasting of those were the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance settings. However, a little less memorable one is Kara-Tur, which was born out of the Oriental Adventures sourcebook. While it would later be folded into the Forgotten Realms, on the outset it was very much its own thing.

The setting on its own was meant to create something thematically distinct from the more traditional western fantasy settings of the earlier ones I mentioned. However, as a setting itself, it’s something of, well, an Orientalist mishmash. It’s Chinese martial arts films and Samurai movies lumped haphazardly, generally erring on the side of samurai movies. The book attempts to create analogs of the various AD&D classes with a pseudo-feudal Japanese/Chinese coat of paint (lacquer?).

The setting also (sort of) tries to come up with a bunch of new races that would fit with the setting, which (again) roughly fits in groups with varying degrees of success. Some of the races (water and bamboo spirits) are tied to geographic locations, making them less conductive for adventuring. Others don’t exactly fit in well with general humans. The closest one that works is the transformed Animal race, but that race is (in a few ways) almost broken.

The classes themselves are roughly structured – the barbarian analog cannot adventure with the wizard analog until they hit level 4 (and then their progression is halved until they hit level 8). There are weird limitations on when characters can get access to magic weapons and what magic weapons they can use. Some of the other classes feel like they swing between “Just okay” and “downright useless”. Ultimately, it really requires the GM to take some serious thought in how they’re going to structure their campaign, and once they’ve hashed out the structure, they need to set that up with their party.

When I started reading the book, I’d also started playing Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. I was enjoying the game, and it was inspiring me to want to run an Oriental Adventure style campaign using that setting, and I was wondering if Oriental Adventures 1st edition would work for this concept. It’s clear that isn’t the case. Further, the structure of the classes is just clunky enough that you’d probably be better off either picking up the classes from Oriental Adventures 3rd edition and dropping that into the setting of your choice (instead of Rokugan), using another game, or using some particular Kits or backgrounds to set up an appropriate setting using 2nd or 5th Edition.

If you’re thinking about picking Oriental Adventures up anyway, it’s available from DriveThruRPG (and in May 2018 all the old WotC/TSR material is on sale on the site).

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