Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oriental Accents -- Three Kingdoms

This will hopefully become a semi-regular feature of my blog. Seems like lots of people are interested in the Asian gaming scene, but there's not much to tell. But if you're interested in adding some Asian-themed stuff (using OA or a GURPs sourcebook or whatever) to your game, you might want a little additional advice on where to turn for themes, tropes, and setting ideas. So we'll start with the book that has probably been the biggest influence in East Asia ever, Three Kingdoms (also known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms).

This is a work of historical fiction, relating the fall of the Han Dynasty around 200AD and the rise of three rival kingdoms in its place, and their eventual reunification into the next dynasty. If you're interested in the history, Wikipedia isn't a bad place to start.

Now, for the novel. It's primarily the story of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei--three men who swear an oath to battle some bandits or die trying. They get involved with various warlords and generals due to their success against the bandits, and come to command their own forces. Others, such as primary antagonist Cao Cao (pronounced something like 'tsow tsow' not like a bovine) who is an up and coming aristocrat general, also harbor ambitions of taking the throne as the power of the Han emperors comes crashing down due to constant insurrection, machinations of palace eunuchs, and usurping 'counselors' such as the villainous Dong Zhuo.

There are lots of battles, politics, and adventure early on. Later, once the three kingdoms of Wei (ruled by Cao), Shu (ruled by Liu) and Wu (ruled by Sun) have been established de facto, there's a bit less swashbuckling adventure style, and more military/political drama. Advisor, inventor and master strategist Zhuge "Kongming" Liang becomes the main character towards the end of the book, as most of the battles revolve around him trying to prevent the Shu kingdom from being swallowed up.

There are hundreds of characters in this book, including all kinds of guys who can inspire cool Fighter types, and a few who could inspire spell-caster types or rogue types. If you're into playing a non-samurai OA Fighter, this is a great book for you to read. If you're running an OA game, it's a great source of ideas and inspiration for adventures or NPCs.

Why should you read this book?
Pretty much anyone you meet in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam or Mongolia will at least have a passing familiarity with the major characters and themes of this work, and a large number have read it. It's similar to the Arthurian legends in Western culture in its impact.

Anyone who's been into video games is likely familiar with the matter as well. The Romance of the Three Kingdom strategy games, and the Dynasty Warriors beat-em-up games are based on the characters and battles of the book, and they're pretty popular.

Despite its length (3000 pages), it's a good read and an engaging narrative. I've actually read it three times and the initial volume (my edition is the same Moss Roberts translation as my link to Amazon above, but in 3 volumes instead of 4) a fourth time.

There's not a lot of fantasy, but there's all sorts of action. And it's the sort of action that to me at least makes the setting different from your bog-standard S&S/Middle-Earth/Arthurian D&D setting. Xiahou Dun swallowing his eye, the Peach Garden Oath, Kongming "borrowing" Cao Cao's arrows, the empty city ruse--read it and you'll see what I mean.

If you like Fighters, this book has some real badasses. Guan Yu, Lu Bu, Zhao Zilong. It's also good fodder for any sort of military campaign, even if the milieu isn't Asian.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Lord Gwydion. Great breakdown of the story. I've used it as the basis for my novel so I have a google search for Romance of the Three Kingdoms. That's how I found you. :)

    Anyone interested in history, tactics/strategy or sheer courage should enjoy the novel. The movie, Red Cliffs, is based off more of the historical data around the events and is a great flick if you see the full version.

    Hate to admit it, but I'm not much of a gamer. Any time I let myself get addicted to playing, it takes time from writing. That said, I love the graphics to the ROTK games.