Friday, August 27, 2021


 Yesterday, Nathan Irving posted that he'd done a bit of simple research on dokkaebi because of my post, and made some interesting suggestions on how to modify the class. 

This morning, I randomly found one of my son's books of Korean folklore about a dokkaebi on the floor (along with a few other books). So, even though my Korean isn't great, I read it to him and he translated a couple of points I didn't understand (Korean is very easy to read, even if you don't know what you're reading). 

The story is about two brothers. The older is lazy, the younger one hard working. The older brother sends the younger to the mountain to collect sticks and bring back some food. Younger brother (no names given) finds some sesame nuts and collects them along with the sticks. But he gets lost, it gets dark, he finds a run-down old house to spend the night. But he hears a ruckus outside, and hides in a cupboard just before a group of dokkaebi enter. They smash their spiked clubs (bangmangi) on the ground and both food and treasure appear. They begin to feast. The brother is hungry, so cracks a sesame nut. The cracking sound is so loud, the dokkaebi think it's the roof cracking and about to fall in, so they run away. Brother takes the treasure and one of the bangmangi that was dropped, and heads home in the morning. 

The dokkaebi feast
Older brother hears this and decides to get off his lazy butt and copy his little brother's good luck. He doesn't collect wood, just sesame nuts, then hides in the shack. The dokkaebi come back, looking for the missing bangmangi. Older brother starts cracking sesame nuts to scare them away, but they realize it's just a human hiding, pull him out, and beat him up for stealing the club. He comes home, having learned his lesson, and the brothers use the treasure to buy a new, bigger home. And older brother becomes hard working. 

It's a fairly typical instructive folktale for children. And the dokkaebi in it are rowdy party dudes, but also perform the function of teaching the lazy older brother his lesson. 

One of the most famous Korean folk tales is that of brothers Heungbu and Nolbu (I mentioned this in my reply to Nathan). Heungbu is kind and hard working, but poor. Nolbu is fat and lazy, but rich. Nolbu is so stingy he won't even share any rice with his younger brother's family. 

Heungbu sees a swallow with a broken leg and nurses it back to health. The swallow may or may not be a spirit creature, but anyway it returns and blesses his house by laying magical eggs. When Heungbu opens the eggs, treasure spills out. 

Nolbu hears about this and decides he wants some free money, too. He dresses like a snake to scare a swallow into falling and breaking its leg. Then throwing off the disguise, he nurses the swallow just like Heungbu did. But the bird is not fooled. It does return and lays eggs. But when Nolbu opens them, dokkaebi appear and start trashing his house. Then another egg breaks and floods the house with shit. Nolbu learns his lesson when Heungbu gives up some of his treasure to help Nolbu rebuild. 

The flood of poop, and dokkaebi

Again, a folk tale meant as instructive for children. And who doesn't love the idea of the rich, greedy, lazy guy getting his stuff ruined by a flood of diarrhea? Anyway, this is where my conception of dokkaebi as dispensers of divine justice comes from. 

I just found a third book (my wife, like many Korean women, buys these sets of books from publishers, and most kids never really read all of them) with another dokkaebi story. I should read it a bit more closely (or with my son so he can fill in the gaps), but it seems like a spirit of a mountain is bothered by a bunch of rowdy dokkaebi, and chases them off. Then at the end of the book he gets taught a lesson by a witch (or group of witches? She seems to duplicate in the pictures). Here's a picture from the beginning of the story. 

I've made a quick revision of my dokkaebi class. Now they're a bit more trickster-ish, although still primarily a Fighter-type class. And they have some small ability to create items (but not treasure, obviously) when needed, a few times per day. Also some stealth (Halfling hide ability transfers nicely to them to mimic the invisibility caps of folklore). And I kept two "clerical" abilities from before. One is the ability to detect evil at will (which they had before), but only on a 1-2/d6 roll. The other is the ability to summon a spirit companion (Nate makes good use of the Channel Spirit spell to have Finn, his Dokkaebi Mudang (shaman) PC, summon Fang, his "brother" to help fight).

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

More Demi-Human Thoughts

 I've spent my free time this week working up Dokkaebi (Korean goblin), Koropokuru (Ainu dwarf), Shenseng (Pan-Asian spirit folk) and Vanara (Indian monkey-men) as classes for TSR-East. 

Mostly I'm satisfied. The koropokuru is mostly a fighter variant, but has a few special abilities, similar to the way the dwarf and halfling classes do in normal Classic D&D. Shenseng are spellcasters, but may be clerical or magical depending on spirit type (forest, mountain, river, or desert). Vanara are just a variant of my new (Flying Swordsmen inspired) Martial Artist class, with some unique martial arts abilities. I think these are all playable and fill niches in the game. 

The dokkaebi class, however, I'm not so keen on. I started out making it another fighter variant, but since Nate is playing a dokkaebi shaman, and in legends they have magical powers, I gave them spell-like abilities instead of most Fighter abilities. While this may fill a niche (slightly better at fighting than a Cleric...but not a lot, and able to fill some Cleric duties but not a lot), the Forest and River Shenseng also fill this niche, although a bit more clerical than fightery. 

Since the dokkaebi is the class with redundant purpose and novel mechanics that haven't been tried before (by me), I'm thinking to revise or scrap it. 

I could go with just three demi-humans. But I would like something definitely Korean in origin. I've been living here 13 years, am going to be living here a lot longer, might as well give Korean legends and myths some love. The problem is, Korea doesn't have a lot of original mythical creatures, and most of the ones it has probably aren't appropriate for PCs in an RPG of dungeon delving and treasure accumulation. 

So, make the dokkaebi class more like the Fighter? Or find something that might fill in a pseudo Thief slot? The koropokuru class has a bit of Rangery ability, with better surprise, hearing, dwarf-style trap detection, and infravision, so they can make good scouts in dungeons or wilderness. 

If I want a more thief/ninja type demi-human, though, there aren't a lot of good candidates with Korean flavor. Bears and tigers are important in Korean mythology, but anthropomorphized bears and tigers seem like variant fighters to me, so I might as well stick with the Dokkaebi. Or maybe I should stop thinking about Nate's character (I won't be switching my West Marches game to these rules) and make the Dokkaebi more of a bruiser and less of a support caster type.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Demi-Humans In Race-as-Class TSR East

 I'm still not 100% sure that I want to go back to demi-human classes, at least not for my main West Marches game (I and the players are pretty happy with separate race and class there), but if I ever wrap up West Marches and start East Marches (or start running it as a side campaign), I am leaning toward that, as discussed in my previous post on classes for a pseudo-combined Flying Swordsmen/Chanbara type game. 

The problem I'm having is that I need to pare down the list of demi-humans. Sticking to core rule books, not supplements, BX/BECMI has just three. AD&D has six. AD&D OA has three, but one of them is really a dozen different types, and another has three subtypes. 3E OA has an additional two or three races added on to AD&D's OA races. 5E has the AD&D races plus two more. But AD&D, both versions of OA, and 5E all have separate race and class. So the precedent is for only a few demi-humans in a race-as-class set-up. Sure, I could have more, but then if there are more demi-human classes than human only classes, will it really be a humanocentric campaign? Probably not. 

So, my options, from 1E OA, 3E OA, Chanbara, and my TSR-East rules are: 

Dokkaebi (Korean version of Japanese oni, more or less), big scary looking guys who are sometimes mischievous goblins and sometimes punishers of the wicked. 6-7' tall. Red, blue or yellow skin. Wild hair. Tusks and horns. [TSR-East]

Gumiho (Korean fox fairies, also spelled kumiho, equivalent to Japanese kitsune), tricky creatures with lots of magical powers, who most often are after human souls in the legends, but occasionally are helpful. 4' tall. Red or white fur, but able to transform into human form. Nine tails at full power (more tails = more magic in the legends, and the name is literally "nine tailed fox" as just regular fox is "yeou"). [Chanbara, TSR-East]

Hengeyokai (Japanese for transforming spirit/fairy), animal shapeshifters in OA, but in Japanese legend could be anything from a rock to an animal to a household tool! Gumiho and Tanuki would actually fall under this race if I added them in. OA has the forms they transform into as one of a dozen animal options (mammals, birds, fish), a human form, and a hybrid form. If I add them in, then I'd probably limit the number of forms to animal and hybrid only, and have fewer options for animal type. [1E OA, 3E OA, TSR-East]

Kappa (Japanese water imps), small water creatures resembling a cross between a turtle, frog, and monkey. They like wrestling, cucumbers, and sucking the souls of drowning humans from their buttholes in the legends. 3-4' tall. Green skin. Shells on their backs. The tops of their skulls are concave, and hold magical water that gives them strength in the legends. [Chanbara]

Koropokuru (Ainu fair folk), dwarves. 1E OA has them as gruff barbarians, legends have them as similar to primitive but pastoral gnomes or brownies. 3' tall. Typically tanned skin. Generally good hearted but suspicious. [1E OA, 3E OA, TSR-East]

Naga (Hindu snake-spirits), which are the same name as a monster type, but also pretty much just like yuan-ti. From 3E OA's Rokugan/L5R material, I have no desire to add these guys, but put them on the list for completeness. 10-15' long. Humanoid torso, snake the rest of the way down. [3E OA]

Nezumi (rat-men made up for Rokugan/L5R as far as I can tell), which again I don't feel the need to include these guys, but they appear in one of the sources for this list so here they are. 4' tall. Furry. Stinky. Long tails. Kinda like wererats who can't transform or infect people and not immune to normal weapons. [3E OA]

Shenseng, or Spirit Born (or Spirit Folk in the OA books), which in my estimation should be based on Japanese tales of spirit foundlings like Momotaro, Kaguya-hime, and Kintaro, but are basically half-spirit/half-human "elves" in the OA books. OA has them as bamboo, river, and ocean subtypes. 5-6' tall. Human-like, but prettier. Get benefits from being in the environment of their subtype in OA. Get benefits to interaction/followers in TSR-East.  [1E OA, 3E OA, TSR-East]

Tanuki (Japanese raccoon-dog fairies), are again sometimes tricksters and sometimes protectors/benefactors to humans, depending on the story. Some legends give magical powers to their oversized scrotums, others say they can transform into human form. 3' tall. Raccoon-like fur, dog-like faces (hence the English name). [Chanbara]

Tengu (Japanese crow-men), usually depicted as wild mountain goblins and tricksters in legends, but occasionally legends tell of them training swordsmanship to humans they take a liking to. Kotengu (small tengu) have crow or kite heads and wings, while daitengu (great tengu) have humanoid heads, usually red skinned, with very long noses. 3-4' tall. Feathered bodies with wings and bird heads (or red-skinned and long nosed winged humanoids). [Chanbara, TSR-East]

Vanara (Indian humanoid monkeys), although in myths they are usually described as beast-like, not necessarily monkeys, the most famous mythical vanara is Hanuman, who is always described/depicted as a humanoid monkey. Probably also the inspiration for Son Wukong (Son Goku - yes, this name may be familiar to some of you), the Monkey King of Chinese legendary novel Journey to the West. 4-5' tall. Brown to grayish fur. Prehensile tails. Curious and friendly (at least according to 3E OA). [3E OA, TSR-East]


So obviously 11 races in addition to humans is too many, especially when there are only 5 human classes (although with subclasses there are really 16). I already mentioned I'll not be considering the Rokugan races of Nezumi and Naga because they just don't thrill me. So that's down to 9 options unless people in the comments really convince me to keep one or both of these. Also, if I use hengeyokai, again as mentioned above, gumiho and tanuki are already included there so that takes it down to 7. If I don't use hengeyokai, 8 options remain. 

TSR-East already has the Dokkaebi, Gumiho, Koropokuru, Spirit Born, Tengu and Vanara with stats for separate race and class, so it wouldn't be hard to manipulate those into classes, but it's still a few too many options. 

At the playground with my son yesterday, I jotted down an idea to cut it down to Dokkaebi, Koropokuru, Shenseng (spirit born), and Vanara. That's easily doable, but while I don't want to overdo the demi-humans, I also feel like I'm leaving out some cool options. 

So, I'd like to ask you readers what you think. Which of the races listed above would you consider the top three "must haves" for an Asian fantasy inspired campaign? Or should I just stick to humans only, as in Flying Swordsmen or Chanbara minus the last page?

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Five

I haven't blogged about this yet, but I actually finished it up over a week ago. I went back to my old TSR-East file, and using some stuff from my condensed TSR version (Euro and Asian archetypes together, and the current rules for creating characters in my West Marches game), cobbled together something that's a little bit Chanbara, a little bit Flying Swordsmen, and a bit of its own thing. 

There are five base character classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Martial Artist. 

In the combined TSR, each of the four main classes has a martial arts style subclass. I took all of them and made the Martial Artist class from them, along with a bit of Flying Swordsmen to fill in some gaps and even things out. 

For the standard four classes, I removed, added, or combined some subclasses from Chanbara, and revised some of the existing ones from the combined TSR document. Since only a few people reading this blog have seen these documents, I suppose I'd better go into a bit of detail. 

The Cleric

As you'd expect, a bit of fighting, some healing/utility magic, and turning undead. Subclasses are now:

Exorcist (Onmyoji), similar to the Chanbara Mahotsukai Onmyoji subclass, but with some improved Turn Undead ability.

Shaman (Mudang), similar to the Chanbara Soryo or Flying Swordsmen Shaman minus the martial arts. They get a small boost to spell casting, and some once per day rituals. 

Warrior-Monk (Sohei), similar to the Chanbara Bushi Sohei subclass or the OA class, but with normal clerical spell casting. They have a slightly different spell list.

The Fighter

Again, as you expect - the best combat progression, hit points, and access to weapons/armor [for most subclasses]. They have special abilities from my TSR combined rules (Parry similar to "shields shall be splintered," Sweep as in AD&D, Smash from BECMI Companion, multiple attacks at high level). Subclasses are now:

Knight (Hwarang or Samurai), which is basically the Cavalier from TSR combined edition, and a bit like the Bushi Samurai in Chanbara. 

Vagabond (Ronin), which is a bit like the Chanbara Bushi Abarenbo, and a bit like the Bushi in OA, with a bit of Flying Swordsmen Thief Vagabond in there as well. 

Weapon Master (Kensei), which is of course the OA Kensai, Flying Swordsman Weapon Master, and Chanbara Bushi Kensei class you'd expect. 

The Magic-User

Spells -- lots of spells, and instead of the Holmes edition's scroll scribing ability, they get a Craft Charm ability which is really just a refluffing of the scroll ability. Subclasses are now:

Geomancer (Wu Jen or Shugenja), which is a little bit OA Wu Jen, a little bit Chanbara Mahotsukai Yamabushi, and have casting a la Flying Swordsmen's Wizard (know X number of spells per level, instead of having a spellbook, but still need to prepare from those spells known), and Taboos a la the Wu Jen. 

Scholar (Wushi), pretty much the standard Magic-User, but get bonus spells for high Int. 

Soothsayer (Suan Ming), which is brand new (but very much ripped off from the 5E Diviner specialization for Wizards). They have a slightly different spell list.

The Thief

Pretty old school, with % Thief skills instead of the d20 + mods of Flying Swordsmen or the 2d6 system of Chanbara. Backstabbing, language deciphering, scroll reading, it's all there. Subclasses are now: 

Gangster (Yakuza), which is a little bit like the OA Yakuza, but with magical tattoos that they get every third level. Pretty much straight from my original TSR-East (and combined TSR) with little modification. They get improved pickpocketing and a bribery skill (like in Flying Swordsmen).

Infiltrator (Ninja or Shinobi), which is of course similar to the Chanbara Ninja Shinobi subclass, or the 2E Complete Ninja Handbook ninja. They get improved backstab and stealth. 

Outlaw, which is based on the Flying Swordsmen Thief Outlaw subclass. They have improved trap busting and lock picking, and a ranged "backstab", plus tracking. Still haven't decided if I want to use a Chinese or Korean name for these guys. 

The Martial Artist

Like the various Monk classes or BECMI Mystic, or any class in Flying Swordsmen, these guys fight mostly bare handed, and sans armor. Instead of basing the AC on Dex scores as in Chanbara and combined TSR martial arts subclasses, or special abilities as in Flying Swordsmen, I gave them a set AC at each level, modified by Dex and magic as usual. They get a Hard or Soft fighting style, Light Step (for wuxia action), empowered strikes to damage the "magic only" monsters, and secret techniques for each subclass. Subclasses are:

Acrobat, which is a bit like the Chanbara Ninja Taijutsuka subclass. They get some thief skills, and secrets that give them expanded mobility and/or defense. 

Iron Fist, which is pretty much just the Fighter (sweep, smash, extra attack) but mostly unarmed, and with a bit of self-healing and resistance to breath weapons at high level. 

Monk, which can cast cleric spells at 1/2 level progression, and gets the "mental" abilities of other Monk classes, and poison/disease immunity at high level. 

Mystic, which can cast magic-user spells at 1/2 level progression, damage reduction a la the Flying Swordsmen Wizard Taoist subclass, and the good old "death touch" ability at high level.


Demi Humans? 

My TSR-East rules assumes human PCs, but I did make some optional demi-human races like I did for Chanbara, but not exactly the same ones. 

Dokkaebi (Korean version of oni), Koropokuru (dwarves from Ainu legend like in OA), Kumiho (fox fairies, Korean name just because, but the same as kitsune in Chanbara), Spirit Born (sort of like OA Spirit Folk, but more like Japanese legends of adopted spirit children), Tengu (crow-headed humanoids from Japanese myth, also in Chanbara), and Vanara (monkey-men from Indian myths and 3E OA).

I've revised the classes allowed and maximum levels allowed for them, but this morning I was thinking that maybe I should go back to race-as-class for this rule set, to keep the demi-humans rare. I have these demi-humans in my TSR combined rule set, and they've been more popular than humans. Of course, so far only two players have tried TSR-East options, but they've been a Koropokuru Yakuza and a Dokkaebi Shaman. 

If I go race-as-class, I probably won't include all of these. And I might bring back the Kappa or Tanuki in Flying Swordsmen if I feel like it. We'll see. Basically, it's a pain in the ass trying to decide which archetypes each demi-human could fit with all these classes/subclasses to deal with. So a single class for each race might be best. Give them as an option, but keep them rare.