This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.
NOTICE: Some online security services are reporting that information for a limited number of users from this site is for sale on the "dark web." As of right now, there is no direct evidence of this, but change your password just to be safe.

Author Topic: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme  (Read 933 times)

SHARK

  • Great White Hope
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3526
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #60 on: January 20, 2022, 06:49:31 PM »
Greetings!

Very interesting, Hzilong! How many players were in your group? What kind of characters did they play? How long did this awesome Asian-themed campaign endure?

It sounds like you did an excellent job! Alas, much of a DM's labour often goes unknown, and sadly, entirely unappreciated by the players.

As you mentioned, though, our culture does absolutely nothing to familiarize our society with Asian culture in any meaningful way. I've said for years that we get "Ninjas, Samurai, and Geishas". It can be such a struggle where you essentially have to educate the players to get them up to speed. So many nuances and elements of choices--why person A does X, but not Y, is because of *culture* Players have zero understanding of the culture, so they have zero understanding of appropriate or inappropriate choices, or *why*--and further understand the pros and cons of such different choices. Even their choices that they might make are like throwing darts while blindfolded. It's probably why all of these wonderful, foreign, "Diverse" campaigns have been absolute commercial failures through the years. No, the market as a whole does not want anything radically different. They want North-Western Medieval Europe, heaped on with vanilla pudding, and nuked, again, and again. Sometimes drizzled with chocolate sauce. ;D

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK

So I'm curious SHARK, what might be a solution, if there needs to be one? Cause this is something I've pondered/thought on. The sjdubs want to censor the 1e Oriental Adventures because it wasn't inclusive of all of Asia (is my understanding).

But honestly, unless you're from the culture or have delved deeply into the history you won't know those nuanced things.

We all have our finite time and what we want to spend it on. When I want to 'play dnd' what I know is that European/Western world view.

Idk, I'm rambling.

Greetings!

Hello, there, my friend! Good question!

Well, I would say, as beginning principles, for both the players and the DM, is to be open-minded, patient, curious, and willing to learn. And also flexible.

Next, ask yourself, (And each other) is this campaign in Quasi-Asia--(Or wherever)--is it to be a beer and pretzels game? If it is, then the culture, history, lore, none of that really matters. Just roll dice and stomp everything, just like in the Forgotten Realms or something.

If the campaign is not a "Beer and Pretzels Game"--but something more historical, even if fantasy, presumably everyone is on board to experience something different. Even as the DM, I, too, want to always learn new things, and experience different cultures, eras, and so on. So, that requires some extra effort, and slowing the pace of the game down--at least sometimes--in order to soak in the new knowledge, and highlight the new experiences.

Encourage individual players to read some of the books on the culture and history. (People in this hobby used to pride themselves on being well-read!--and always eager to read new things!)

Keep "Lore Segments" brief, but fairly frequent and continuous. Part of this is to help immerse the players in a new culture.

The DM needs to account for a generous table or random mechanic in helping the players make choices as play develops. Alternatively, or in addition, have numerous NPC friends, family members, mentors, available, to frequently interact with the player characters, advise them, and have discussions in-character on culture, values, morality, the family's goals, why this, why that, politics, whatever.

I have an extensive soundtrack collection, as well as playing culture-themed music as appropriate during every session.

I often encourage meals at every game session which feature Greek, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Thai, or Turkish cuisine. Good, yummy, culture food does wonders for setting the mood!

I have books--the internet can also be used--for floor plans, vivid pictures, of buildings, natural locations, lakes, mountains, jungles, forests, beaches, fortresses, clothing styles, animals, and of course, PEOPLE. Also pictures of food, jewelry, artwork, cosmetics, formal and casually dressed people. Have these resources ready and available before the session starts, and give the players about 15 minutes to look over them, and absorb them, immerse themselves in the pictures, in the environments shown.

Create and pass out a fairly concise Player Campaign Guide, with key terms, glossary, definitions, and cultural notes. The players are not expected to read it all at once--but gradually, over time, and to frequently consult it and reference it as play develops.

As desired or able, every fourth or fifth week, add a culture-appropriate film to the night's activities. Or have the plyers watch on their own time at home, but it is often best done as a group, together, so that they can also ask the DM questions and engage in discussion.

As the DM, make cultural knowledge important, and be sure to reward players that are both curious, and put in effort to learn more. Most players usually catch on, and get into it. It can also help to have some highlighted skills available, feats, and such, for players to mechanically get a handle on different aspects of the culture.

I think it is important to make learning *FUN* and highlight several senses on an ongoing basis. (Incense, music, food, books, discussion) each session. After about 6 to 8 weeks, things tend to start flowing together well. Of course, this is all predicated on the participants being reasonably curious, open-minded, fun, and at least somewhat intellectual. I hate to say it, but if these traits are not found in the current crop of players, then one should continue searching to recruit new players that do have these traits.

I think all of these efforts can make the cultural campaign fun, interesting, and enlightening, each and every game session, and provide a top-shelf, rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
« Last Edit: January 20, 2022, 06:58:50 PM by SHARK »
"It is the Marine Corps that will strip away the façade so easily confused with self. It is the Corps that will offer the pain needed to buy the truth. And at last, each will own the privilege of looking inside himself  to discover what truly resides there. Comfort is an illusion. A false security bred from familiar things and familiar ways. It narrows the mind. Weakens the body. And robs the soul of spirit and determination. Comfort is neither welcome nor tolerated here."

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but is doing what you have to, in spite of the fear."
"Let Death and Fire Be Their Portion!"
"Delenda Est Parthia!"

jhkim

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 9625
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #61 on: January 20, 2022, 07:03:47 PM »
So, to share my related experience, I recently-ish finished a campaign set in a world where definitely-not-just-China-renamed was the dominant human culture. Most of the campaign had heavy Asian influences in the monster selection and naming. This included Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, etc. references. One of the big things I realized is that, for most western players, they cannot for the life of them keep up with anything other than the most basic of Asian names. Pretty mush the only significant cultural touchstones for Asianess were Avatar and pop culture samurai depictions. Basically, delving into the nuances of Asian mythology and culture were appreciated to some extent, but bogged the game down as I had to explain the context.

As you mentioned, though, our culture does absolutely nothing to familiarize our society with Asian culture in any meaningful way. I've said for years that we get "Ninjas, Samurai, and Geishas". It can be such a struggle where you essentially have to educate the players to get them up to speed. So many nuances and elements of choices--why person A does X, but not Y, is because of *culture* Players have zero understanding of the culture, so they have zero understanding of appropriate or inappropriate choices, or *why*--and further understand the pros and cons of such different choices.

So I'm curious SHARK, what might be a solution, if there needs to be one? Cause this is something I've pondered/thought on. The sjdubs want to censor the 1e Oriental Adventures because it wasn't inclusive of all of Asia (is my understanding).

But honestly, unless you're from the culture or have delved deeply into the history you won't know those nuanced things.

We all have our finite time and what we want to spend it on. When I want to 'play dnd' what I know is that European/Western world view.

There's no "solution" in the sense of an absolute fix, but I find I'm more comfortable if I do a few things:

(1) Draw on some well-known stereotypes, but also
(2) Dispel some common false assumptions, while
(3) Mix in atypical genre tropes

So, for example, I ran a FATE campaign set in 1860s Korea in the universe of Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series -- basically 19th century with domesticated dragons. I did this as over-the-top pulp fiction -- complete with strong-jawed heroes, fiendish traps, and rooftop fights. It was clearly not historically accurate given dragons and pulp, but it did also pull in a lot of historical detail that isn't commonly known -- like the unique culture of Jeju Island (where the PCs were based), peasant rebellions, Catholics, and Japanese pirates.

To speak more to China -- I've been running a yearly Amber Diceless game for over a decade that re-imagines the fantasy universe of Amber along Chinese lines. It uses all the standard Amber mechanics and a lot of the cosmology (with Pattern and Chaos and such), but it does draw on some less common sources. As a very high-power game, I've recommended that the players particularly watch "Red Cliff" - which is a popular film adaptation of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I find that having a clear break from history and an alternate genre helps make things fun, while still allowing for pulling in a lot of less well-known historical detail.

Thorn Drumheller

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 225
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #62 on: January 20, 2022, 07:11:29 PM »
Greetings!

Hello, there, my friend! Good question!

Well, I would say, as beginning principles, for both the players and the DM, is to be open-minded, patient, curious, and willing to learn. And also flexible.

Next, ask yourself, (And each other) is this campaign in Quasi-Asia--(Or wherever)--is it to be a beer and pretzels game? If it is, then the culture, history, lore, none of that really matters. Just roll dice and stomp everything, just like in the Forgotten Realms or something.

If the campaign is not a "Beer and Pretzels Game"--but something more historical, even if fantasy, presumably everyone is on board to experience something different. Even as the DM, I, too, want to always learn new things, and experience different cultures, eras, and so on. So, that requires some extra effort, and slowing the pace of the game down--at least sometimes--in order to soak in the new knowledge, and highlight the new experiences.

Encourage individual players to read some of the books on the culture and history. (People in this hobby used to pride themselves on being well-read!--and always eager to read new things!)

Keep "Lore Segments" brief, but fairly frequent and continuous. Part of this is to help immerse the players in a new culture.

The DM needs to account for a generous table or random mechanic in helping the players make choices as play develops. Alternatively, or in addition, have numerous NPC friends, family members, mentors, available, to frequently interact with the player characters, advise them, and have discussions in-character on culture, values, morality, the family's goals, why this, why that, politics, whatever.

I have an extensive soundtrack collection, as well as playing culture-themed music as appropriate during every session.

I often encourage meals at every game session which feature Greek, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Thai, or Turkish cuisine. Good, yummy, culture food does wonders for setting the mood!

I have books--the internet can also be used--for floor plans, vivid pictures, of buildings, natural locations, lakes, mountains, jungles, forests, beaches, fortresses, clothing styles, animals, and of course, PEOPLE. Also pictures of food, jewelry, artwork, cosmetics, formal and casually dressed people. Have these resources ready and available before the session starts, and give the players about 15 minutes to look over them, and absorb them, immerse themselves in the pictures, in the environments shown.

Create and pass out a fairly concise Player Campaign Guide, with key terms, glossary, definitions, and cultural notes. The players are not expected to read it all at once--but gradually, over time, and to frequently consult it and reference it as play develops.

As desired or able, every fourth or fifth week, add a culture-appropriate film to the night's activities. Or have the plyers watch on their own time at home, but it is often best done as a group, together, so that they can also ask the DM questions and engage in discussion.

As the DM, make cultural knowledge important, and be sure to reward players that are both curious, and put in effort to learn more. Most players usually catch on, and get into it. It can also help to have some highlighted skills available, feats, and such, for players to mechanically get a handle on different aspects of the culture.

I think it is important to make learning *FUN* and highlight several senses on an ongoing basis. (Incense, music, food, books, discussion) each session. After about 6 to 8 weeks, things tend to start flowing together well. Of course, this is all predicated on the participants being reasonably curious, open-minded, fun, and at least somewhat intellectual. I hate to say it, but if these traits are not found in the current crop of players, then one should continue searching to recruit new players that do have these traits.

I think all of these efforts can make the cultural campaign fun, interesting, and enlightening, each and every game session, and provide a top-shelf, rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK

Thanks for the reply, SHARK. I appreciate you taking the time. Some good stuff to think about.
Member in good standing of COSM.

Thorn Drumheller

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 225
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #63 on: January 20, 2022, 07:15:53 PM »
There's no "solution" in the sense of an absolute fix, but I find I'm more comfortable if I do a few things:

(1) Draw on some well-known stereotypes, but also
(2) Dispel some common false assumptions, while
(3) Mix in atypical genre tropes

So, for example, I ran a FATE campaign set in 1860s Korea in the universe of Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series -- basically 19th century with domesticated dragons. I did this as over-the-top pulp fiction -- complete with strong-jawed heroes, fiendish traps, and rooftop fights. It was clearly not historically accurate given dragons and pulp, but it did also pull in a lot of historical detail that isn't commonly known -- like the unique culture of Jeju Island (where the PCs were based), peasant rebellions, Catholics, and Japanese pirates.

To speak more to China -- I've been running a yearly Amber Diceless game for over a decade that re-imagines the fantasy universe of Amber along Chinese lines. It uses all the standard Amber mechanics and a lot of the cosmology (with Pattern and Chaos and such), but it does draw on some less common sources. As a very high-power game, I've recommended that the players particularly watch "Red Cliff" - which is a popular film adaptation of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I find that having a clear break from history and an alternate genre helps make things fun, while still allowing for pulling in a lot of less well-known historical detail.

Hi jhkim. I appreciate the response.

This is good advice I think. And points out that stereotypes are okay in some instances. Plus I'm don't care what the sjdubs think. I mean when I have a 'heavily influenced' central America, or 'heavily influenced' middle east, I don't care if I don't 'treat' the culture historically accurate enough for some sjdub. It boggles my mind that they seem incapable of knowing that I'm in a fantasy world.

As I really don't follow the critical role game anymore I still know there were tons of people who were pre-pissed off that the new campaign was going was being set in a "middle-east" influenced region. And these sjdubs just knew the players weren't going to do it justice. Despite it being the whole creation of Matt Mercer.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2022, 07:18:04 PM by Thorn Drumheller »
Member in good standing of COSM.

Hzilong

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 25
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #64 on: January 20, 2022, 09:05:17 PM »
There’s probably not much to say about my game. Most of what I did was reskinning names and realigning the cosmology to reflect the idea of the Celestial Court that you find In Taoist teachings. I think the most obviously “Asian flavored” adventure we did was a trip to the underworld and seeing the Taoist view of the afterlife and nearly getting judged by King Yama, the judge of the dead.

Also, lots of Avatar and mystical/xiaolin monk references since we had a four elements water genasi monk.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2022, 09:08:43 PM by Hzilong »
Resident lurking Chinaman

Brigman

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 50
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #65 on: January 20, 2022, 09:47:05 PM »
Shark, you might enjoy this novel as a source for your campaign:

https://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Birds-Ancient-Chronicles-Master/dp/0345321383

I greatly enjoyed it.
PEACE!
- Brigs

RebelSky

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • R
  • Posts: 82
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #66 on: January 21, 2022, 02:44:15 AM »
I would like to hear more. What system would you use? One problem I always have with running a Chinese-inspired game is martial arts. I was never satisfied with how AD&D or D&D 3 did their martial arts systems.

Greetings!

Cheers, World Warrior! System-wise, I use D&D 5E.

As for Martial Arts, with the way that Hit Points, AC, and damage work in D&D, it is fairly simple to create a few Martial Arts Feats (Traditions) which increase unarmed combat damage, initiative, an individual's AC, and be done with it. Weapons are, at the end of the day, of primary importance.

I have developed three large empires and kingdoms in my China-like area, with a dozen neighboring kingdoms or territories. There are 6 major religions, and about 25 prominent human languages. Besides the larger human kingdoms, there are also many human Pagan tribes that live throughout the rugged wilderness. Along the coasts, there are several large groups of islands, featuring powerful pirate states. There are 6 distinctive Monastic Traditions, and many philosophies.

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK

That sounds awesome. The one thing that 5E did right was giving more with the Feats, instead of chaining long sequences of Feats together to get what you wanted. I could easily see entire kung fu stances and even some secret techniques being done as Feats.

I have thought about how Pundit does his magic system in Lion and Dragon, and have considered eventually doing a martial arts system that takes the framework of the OA system, but instead of the basic moves, replacing with more Wuxia-style techniques. Unlike a Proficiency system (OA), Feats (3E), or Vancian-type Maneuver system (Dragon Fist), I'd just have characters have the ability to train to learn new techniques at each level (probably a DC check or something) but can also learn extra techniques by deciphering ancient manuals or learning from crazed kung fu hermits, etc. Less balance and more engagement from players.

But that's how I would do it.

The Feat system for 5E would absolutely work for that system.

One thing to think about is stealing how Lore Sheets work from Weapons of the Gods. Lore Sheets are an underutilized system in rpgs.

Rhymer88

  • Newbie
  • *
  • R
  • Posts: 29
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #67 on: January 21, 2022, 04:07:37 AM »
Although this doesn't specifically have anything to do with China: But has anyone ever made a setting based on Buddhist cosmology? It has intrigued me for decades, due to the concept of many parallel worlds and a plethora of heavens and hells. It seems to be an ideal setting for fantasy rpgs. I was thinking of starting the players off on the southern continent of Jambudivpa, which would be loosely based on ancient India/SE Asia.

Hzilong

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 25
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #68 on: January 21, 2022, 06:15:02 AM »
Although this doesn't specifically have anything to do with China: But has anyone ever made a setting based on Buddhist cosmology? It has intrigued me for decades, due to the concept of many parallel worlds and a plethora of heavens and hells. It seems to be an ideal setting for fantasy rpgs. I was thinking of starting the players off on the southern continent of Jambudivpa, which would be loosely based on ancient India/SE Asia.

Funny enough, I think a few tweaks to the Planescape setting could emulate this pretty easily (depending on how well researched you already are). I have thought about trying it, but haven’t dedicated much effort to it as it’s a bit of a niche concept and might need a higher than average player buy in. As I’m writing this I’m reminded of an older anime that sort of played on this idea. I think it was called Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2022, 06:16:43 AM by Hzilong »
Resident lurking Chinaman

Wulfhelm

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 44
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #69 on: January 21, 2022, 04:13:17 PM »
Hello!
Are you familiar with Paul Mason's "Outlaws of the Water Margin" RPG? It is set in the Song period, or to be precise, against the background of the "Water Margin" novel . Neat, clean 2d6-based system, a (to my semi quarter barely-informed eyes) deep understanding of the time period, the mythology and the culture, and some short but juicy background information presented in an RPG-friendly way.

It used to be available free on the Internet, but Paul's website seems to have disappeared. It can still be reached through archive.org, though:
https://web.archive.org/web/20051216223040/http://www.tcp-ip.or.jp/~panurge/outdown.htm

I also have a more current and more expansive version as PDF files stored somewhere, but I'd a.) have to look for them and b.) have to check it's okay to distribute. Drop me a PM if you're interested.

Greetings!

That sounds interesting, Wulfhelm! Did you ever play that game?

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK

Unfortunately, no. I drew some inspiration from it for my own homebrews, but at that time my group of players was quite reluctant to stray from standard fantasy fare.

What surprised me is that Paul, after some >20 years, seems to be back at working on the game ("Sleepyscholar" being him obviously):
https://www.rpgpub.com/threads/outlaws-of-the-water-margin.4318/page-10

You might want to get in touch with him directly on that site if you're interested.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2022, 04:15:26 PM by Wulfhelm »

jhkim

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 9625
Re: Contemplating Medieval China Campaign Theme
« Reply #70 on: January 21, 2022, 04:27:44 PM »
This is good advice I think. And points out that stereotypes are okay in some instances. Plus I'm don't care what the sjdubs think. I mean when I have a 'heavily influenced' central America, or 'heavily influenced' middle east, I don't care if I don't 'treat' the culture historically accurate enough for some sjdub. It boggles my mind that they seem incapable of knowing that I'm in a fantasy world.

I figure I'll always be potentially pissing someone off. For example, a lot of posters here were pissed off by the "Coyote & Crow" game. I run my games to have fun for myself and my friends. not to avoid offending others.

Also, I think always be dealing in some stereotypes regardless of what I do. That's inherent in how these games work. But I can pay attention to what stereotypes I'm using. For a Chinese game, I'll draw more from Chinese films and books for their stereotypes, and I'll also pull in general American stereotypes that are wider than culture. Like in my 1860s Korea pulp game, I used a bunch of pulp stereotypes - like the strong-jawed hero or the gentle giant, but I didn't draw from pulp stereotypes of Asians like Fu Manchu.

For the Korea campaign, we watched the film "Blood Rain" as inspiration before the campaign started.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462684/

It's got a lot of great pulp action and works pretty well - and fit with it's island setting and period.