Tuesday, March 08, 2011

World Building: A Japanese Analog...

Good Morning, All:

Today is my birthday, and I'm turning 42. Yay! I woke up this morning to find a barrage of "Happy Birthday To You" messages from the various gaming-related forums I'm on. This evening after work, I'll be meeting some of my gaming buddies for a little get-together up here in Northwest Austin, which should be a lot of fun.

In regards to gaming, here's a tidbit I've been working on in regards to a Warrior culture for my campaign. The current version is fairly generic, and as such, I thought it would be of use to others in their own world-building. I'm sure you'll note the Asian influences underlying the piece, even though I've worked hard to coach it in terms of pseudo-European fantasy. This was inspired by elements of the Dray Prescot series by Ken Bulmer, which was penned under the pseudonym of Alan Burt Akers.

The Legacy of Krang
Across the great waters, beyond the setting sun, lies the ancient and mysterious land of Rokim. Once united under the stern rule of the Demon-Emperor Krang, the Sorcerers of Krang rose in their infamy as cruel yet talented masters of magic and wizardry. Upon the emperor's death, however, the land was sundered into the Seven Kingdoms as Krang's children divided the region among themselves. The land was torn apart by civil war, and only the strongest emerged in the aftermath, each claiming to be the true heir to the power and prestige of ancient Rokim. Cumulatively, these surviving lands became known as the Legacy of Krang, and their Sorcerers became the true heirs, trading on their knowledge of ancient ways and lost lore to maintain their reputation as the greatest and most feared of the world's arcanists.

Off the coast of the Rokim mainland lies the small island chain known as the Isles of Zai, where a descendant of Krang still rules as Sorcerous Sovereign over the people. In actuality, however, the Sorcerous Sovereign, an inherited title passed down from generation to generation, rules only in name. The true power of the Isles of Zai lies in the hands of warlords that fight among themselves for supremacy, paying lip service to the Sorcerous Sovereign who is dependent on tradition and the good will of the more powerful warlords for his continued existence and any true power behind his largely ceremonial position.

I'm still searching for the right words to describe the role of samurai, I mean knights, in the Isles of Zai, and following that, I intend to cover the elements that led to the development of unarmed combat and thus martial arts among the serfs of the Isles. Once this is completed, and then smoothed over a bit, I'll have the background necessary to support the existence of monks and martial artists in a pseudo-European campaign setting.

My reasons for developing such a background element are twofold. First, the monk is a popular class among D&D gamers, and it's nice to have a way to fit them into a campaign that makes sense and gives them continuity. Second, I enjoy certain elements of Japanese culture, and seek a way to integrate them into a fantasy campaign without having to import the entire Oriental Adventures concept into my settings and overshadow the more classic fantasy elements I've already introduced. There's a third reason, too, in that I'm paying homage in a way to Ken Bulmer's works, particularly the inspiration of the background of Turko the Shield, a great Khamarro (master martial artist) and companion to Dray Prescot.

Anyway, I hope you find the concept interesting, and I look forward to your thoughts on the subject. How have you integrated non-European concepts and cultures into your campaigns? Do you file off the serial numbers and create a pseudo-European analog in your world? Do you bring them in essentially whole-cloth into your setting? Do these lands only exist off-camera, as it were, and are never truly encountered save for the occasional specialized character class (monk) or culturally-influenced monster encounter?

With Regards,


Rob Conley said...

Happy Birthday!

They way I handle it is look at how the culture developed. Why Samurai became the way they did. Then I look at the circumstances of my campaign and see what I can tweak for the region to replicate them.

However there will be differences as you are not starting with a set of island off of mainland china but another set of cultures. So some elements will be familiar and other will be different.

In the case of samurai a simplistic explanation is that they are the result of the Japanese importing the Chinese system of bureaucracy. The Japanese established a social class that in exchange for military service they are granted exemptions and privileges.

Then for various reasons after this the emperor authority declined allowing the power of regional warlords to rise. This give the new warrior class continued "employment" so to speak.

Then a "fad" in the form of a philosophy and code of honor (i.e. Bushido) spread among this social class. Proved lasting and gave this social class a distinct identity.

While simplistic and gloss over much of what really happened I think these three points distill the causes of the samurai into a form usable by referees.

From your post looks you got the importing of the bureaucracy down already with the culture behind the Sorcerers of Krang.

Now all you need is why the authority of the Sorcerous Supreme declined. And something about the equivalent of Bushido spreading. Add in a century or two, add in the elements of historical samurai that you think works, and then finally add the elements that result from your unique history

You will then have your world's version of the samurai

Matt said...

Hope you have a happy birthday and get in some great gaming!

Arkhein said...

Hey - Happy Birthday!

- Ark

migellito said...

Happy birthday!

Here's an example of one way I inserted martial arts into an old campaign.

The elves in this area had become very philosophical due to their exceptionally long lifespans. They felt deadly force should only be used as a last resort, so they began taking unarmed combat to the next level. Their centuries long lives allowed them ample opportunity for study and practice, resulting in a complex and advanced system of martial arts.

They still learned the sword and other traditional weapons, of course, since the presence of such things as orcs demanded it. However, in all things they stressed their assets, focusing on speed and accuracy rather than force.

The end result was a formal hierarchy of lightly armored, literate, philosopher-warriors armed with rapiers and slim daggers, and complementing their fighting with martial arts that resembled dancing and the quick movements of forest animals.