Wednesday, January 26, 2022


All's quiet on the blogging front. Or it has been anyway. 

It's got nothing to do with the fact that Prince of Nothing took issue with my previous post critiquing his anti-artpunk manifesto. More of that series will be coming sooner or later. 

I've been working on work stuff, plus I gave my TSR-East Marches rules a thorough simplification. I had everything all sorted the way I wanted it. The four big classes with three subclasses each, two martial arts classes (with and without spellcasting) for wuxia types, plus four demi-human race-as-class classes. I had even called the draft "TSR East Marches Character Rules - Final" with art and everything in place so I could distribute it (which means I still could...)

But something about it was bugging me. It was just too bulky, and I knew without playtesting that one of the demi-human classes and the with spells martial arts class were wonky. 

So, I thought about the essential archetypes of Asian fantasy and fiction. And I thought about the classes of D&D. If an archetype could be done just through styling a Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User or Thief that way (many can!) I don't need a class for that. And the ones that didn't quite fit (or didn't fit at all) needed their own class.

I also went back to separate race and class. Funny, but that's actually simpler than trying to balance the demi-human classes since only ONE of them was a Fighter analogue. Also, the races have more broad archetypes that they could easily fulfill. 

Oh, and I found out about a type of Korean monster I'd not heard of before, the Yeongno. It comes from local (Gyeongsang-Namdo, Busan and surrounding areas) traditional masked dance/ceremonies. Depending on region, they can be a goblin-like humanoid similar to dokkaebi (but less djinni-like), a lion-creature, or a dragon-like creature. Obviously, I am using the humanoid depiction, and replaced the dokkaebi race with the yeongno (pronounced like the English words 'young no').

Humanoid-type Yeongno. Punish corrupt rich people.

My rules now look like this: 

Races: Human, Koropokuru (dwarves), Shenmin (spirit folk), Vanara (monkey-folk), Yeongno (oni/goblinoids)

Classes: Cleric, Fighter, Kensei, Magic-User, Sohei, Thief, Xia, Yakuza

As I mentioned, most of the classes can cover quite a few archeytpes, and some overlap. Any of them could be a wandering hero of Wulin type (Dragon Gate Inn, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, etc.), for example. That's basically just an adventurer. Each class description includes a short list of possible takes on the class. For example, a Fighter could be a samurai/ronin, hwarang, wandering do-gooder, military official, mercenary, and so on. 

Kensei, as you would guess, are weapon masters. They share Fighter and Xia abilities. This version actually came out closer to the 1E AD&D version than I had originally designed them.

Sohei are warrior-monks, and share Fighter and Cleric abilities. Also fairly similar to 1E OA, but I give them spells from level 2 (old school Cleric style).

Xia are martial artists, and are pretty much just a different version of the AD&D Monk/BECMI Mystic. Unarmed fighting, mystical self-improvement, snatching pebbles from palms, etc.

Yakuza are a bit different from in 1E OA. They are more social, and get a "call in a favor" ability, plus a limited selection of thief skills and magical tattoos.

All classes go to 15th level. Demi-humans get a small number of classes (all can be a Fighter), and level limits between 6 and 10. 

After I had the new class & race setup done, I edited the spell lists a bit, and slapped it all together. I still need to add art, but the whole thing is now 40 pages including cover (useful charts and tables on back of cover page) and 2-page character sheet at the end. It had been 48 pages in the previous version. 

I'm happy with this. Simple, slim, fewer choices to confound new players. 

Now I need to make a few revisions to the TSR-East Marches Bestiary & Treasury to match the new class/race setup. Once that's done, I'll finally be ready to start designing the adventure locations of the East Marches module I'd like to produce.


  1. Huh, interesting. A couple questions:

    Do you feel you need to "double-up" on some of these classes? Cleric-Sohei, Thief-Yakuza, etc.? If you want to play a game with Eastern flavor, why not simply say "This is how clerics work here (everyone's a sohei)," for example. I can definitely see (non-adventuring) priest-types (or social-oriented thieves) being confined to the realm of NPCs.

    Just curious...I can see the other way, too. The need for a non-warrior priest class that an adventuresome shenmin might take as an occupation (for example). Just want to make sure the end result (player choice) is going to match your vision (as DM of the setting).

    Anyhoo, it sounds rather groovy. Also preposterous (in a good way) as far as the motley assortment of PCs such a system will tend to generate. This may end up looking very "Mystic Asia" a Studio Ghibli film...where normal folks accept the presence of the strange and supernatural as if it were No Big Deal.

    Very different from the normal paradigm of D&D (where the non-human is monstrous and needs to be destroyed and looted). You might be creating a kinder, gentler D&D where "adventure" is the object, rather than gold and glory.

    I find it fascinating.

    1. Good questions. For the cleric-sohei, I see it as similar to the cleric-paladin in AD&D. And if I were to simplify this a bit more, yes, I could probably get rid of the sohei. But as I have them now, they get some fighter-ish ability that clerics don't get.

      Books like Outlaws of the Marsh contain a lot of characters with religious backgrounds who turn adventurer/martial artists, and anime and Japanese historical dramas also contain figures like that which don't fit the sohei mold. But yes, with a couple of tweaks, I could drop sohei and just make them another example of a possible "cleric" character like Onmyoji and Mudang shamans.

      The Yakuza also could be a type of Thief, except that I've drawn inspiration from 3E OA's Tattooed Monk prestige class. My yakuza class has access to magical tattoos instead of some thief skills. So there is a definite mechanical distinction in the classes. Again, AD&D doesn't really need the Assassin class when it already has the Thief (or 2E's Thief & Bard).

      So I feel fairly good about this class setup. I did consider folding the Kensei into the Xia class as well (no armor martial artist, using fists or using a signature weapon). I could drop down to 5 classes, but I think each of the 8 I have now cover a strong niche thematically as well as mechanically. Where there's thematic overlap, the mechanics seem a bit off (cleric vs sohei) and where there is mechanical overlap thematics are a bit off (xia vs kensei vs fighter).

      Oh, and I love the Studio Ghibli "Mystic Asia" idea. It wasn't exactly where I was planning to take East Marches, but I think I may tack a bit more in that direction now. There's still going to be plenty of monsters to slay out there with treasures to loot, though... It is D&D after all.

    2. And now you've got me thinking. I don't really need the sohei class after all. I'll fold it into Cleric (give this version of cleric access to all weapons and we're good to go). Sohei don't really give off a vibe of "turning undead" but oh well.

      Also, magical tattoos can just be something that are available in the setting, if you're part of the right group. No need for a separate yakuza class. Folding them into the thief.

      Kensei I will think about a little more.

    3. Ha! Wasn’t trying to edit you so hard!
      : )

      There are thieves and then there are thieves. Chinese and Korean (and Vietnamese and Thai etc.) archetypes aren’t all that well known to me, but I’ve got a fairly good handle on the Japanese. And while “ninja” and “yakuza” both tick the thief box for me, they do so in very different ways…even leaving all the supernatural stuff behind.

      Though…I suppose…they could just represent two different types of guild (“clan” or whatever), with different operating procedures and by-laws.

      Folding kensei into xia works (of course) but I was thinking more of doing away with the fighter completely. Unless you WANT a character that wears armor (because…D&D?) you could just as well say, ‘well all the soldier dudes are off fighting wars or guarding palaces and this is a game about OTHER guys…” In which case the kensei replaces the fighter.

      (if it’s an armor class thing, I’d suggest taking a look at a system like Saga (D20) Star Wars…PCs armor class is based on level (half level?) added to a base 10 in order to get the difficulty number for enemies to hit…that might work better for a wuxia-inspired adventure game where everyone’s wearing cloth and defending with king fu and what not)

      Just an idea. I understand you’re trying to simplify. But world building is important too…don’t feel you need to streamline just for the sake of streamlining. Better to have a game …and system!…that you want to run.

      Good luck!

  2. RE Sohei/Clerics

    Just make the undead turning thing a trade-off. “You can use all weapons OR you can turn undead with a limited selection of gear…choose!” That’s pretty easy.
    ; )

    1. This is actually a section of optional rules I'm about to write! Let your cleric be a sohei by doing this. Let your xia be a kensei by doing that. With DM approval, of course! Maybe some multiclassing options as well...

  3. Armor is pretty important in a lot of Asian historical/light fantasy media. In Three Kingdoms (one of the 4 great Chinese novels), 99% of the characters would be Fighters in D&D, and almost all wear armor. Most samurai would wear armor as well.

    TV jidai-geki in Japan often had the unarmored samurai who can deflect or dodge every attack...for budget reasons. Even fake armor is expensive.

    Of course, wuxia movies rarely feature armor, except for soldiers (often the enemy). But I've already done that with Flying Swordsmen. Even in Chanbara, I have the option to use Dex score as AC when not wearing armor (if it's above the baseline).

    Fighters are definitely here to stay. :D

    And I'm good with cutting all the extra classes besides the Xia. The archetypes they represent can be pulled off with the base classes. And it will be a bit more like how my friends and I played in the old days. No dozens of classes to choose from. No feats and skills to customize. My Fighter was a knight. My friend's Fighter was a barbarian. Another friend's Fighter was a sketchy mercenary (3 Charisma, and he role played that up to 11!).

    1. That totally makes sense. I dig it.

      Also...yeah, I was completely neglecting samurai/ronin types when I wrote that last bit. Plus a vanara or yeongno in armor would be super cool.
      ; )