Supplement Organization – An Informal Poll

I’ve written before about what I perceive to be the failings of the AD&D 1E Oriental Adventures book. Specifically, although it was marketed as being broadly descriptive of “oriental” culture, it was really focused on feudal Japan, with a few bits and pieces from Yuan/Ming China thrown in.

Now, it’s no secret that I’ve been working on a Wuxia/fantasy China supplement, but as I’ve been working on it, it occurred to me how the content might be integrated into a more pan-Asian product. Just for the sake of argument, let us presume that we have a rules supplement with sections covering China, Japan, and India. For each, we have races, classes, spells, magic items, monsters, and miscellany.

The question becomes, how should such a thing be organized? I see several possibilities.

  1. Group things by culture. So there would be a China section, a Japan section, and an India section. Within each, there would be a section on races, classes, monsters, etc.
  2. Group things by game section. So there would be a section on races, a section on classes, a section on monsters, etc. For each section, all of the specific items would be identified as to which culture it belongs to, but they would not otherwise be divvied up, so you’d see Shaolin-like monks, ninjas, samurai, wu, etc.
  3. Group things by game section and then by culture. Like option #2, but within each section things are grouped by culture. So within the section on classes all the Chinese classes would come first, then all the Japanese classes, then all the Indian classes, etc. Then in the section on spells there would be all of the Chinese spells, then Japanese spells, etc. And so on.
It is also possible that there are other options I’ve not considered.
So my question is, which organizational method would you prefer to see in such a supplement? Or, if there’s some other schema I’ve not considered, what would it be? Please sound off in the comments.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

43 thoughts on “Supplement Organization – An Informal Poll

  1. I'd prefer it with no cultural divisions, as if it were all one massive culture. Cultural inspirations could be then be designated in indexes and gazetteers.

  2. I propose a reversal of three (more simply, a combination of 1 and 2) – meaning organize the book in a way that mirrors the organization in the Players Handbook (or whatever) and within each section, break it down by culture.
    Though I expect doing layout for that would be a small nightmare.

  3. I would rather see the Culture get the top billing. That way, if I want to run a campaign based on Japanese culture I don't have to flip through every section to find what I need. Kind of like how 2nd Edition Legends & Lore is set up. The same info in the same order for each culture, but each Culture is its own Section.

  4. By culture. While a "cross-over" game would be cool. there's more than enough there to run entire campaigns focused solely in one given Cultural group. And enough differences that an Indian character should be the "exotic other" in a China-based campaign.

  5. By game section, with a notation regarding culture. I'm almost totally agnostic about real-world cultures in my game, so breaking things up by culture serves no purpose for me and just makes the supplement a hassle.

    Put an index in the back that lists classes/races/items/spells/whatever by culture.

  6. In something like this Culture is the best. Give people something to grasp onto. The problem I had with OA is I only knew enough of China and Japan at the time to be completely confused. Yes. I grew up in the 80s and avoided the whole infatuation with all things Japanese.

    Now if I were doing something I knew more about I might seperate it by "ages". Good examples would be Egypt or one closer to my heart Ireland.

    In the end, whatever works the best for reader and the player/gm that wants to flip to a section and have enough to go.

  7. If I were to do a pan-Asian themed fantasy game/supplement, I'd probably just decide on the most general of tropes, give the classes English names, and in the class description/flavor section mention that in a Chinese-themed game do this, in a Japanese-themed game do that, and in an Indian-themed game do something else.

    The PHB doesn't break classes/races down by Scandinavian/Mediterranean/Western/Eastern European influence. For an "unholy goulash" of Asian tropes would work just as well for those who don't know the source material. For those of us who do, we can sort them out if we want to run a game based on one specific historical/legendary cultural setting.

  8. I'm somewhat inclined to say by culture. That way if I have the PDF I can print out a packet that is "Section 1 – Japan" and just give that part to the PCs.

    Failing that, I'd prefer option #3.

  9. I think that option 3 would be the most useful, but I'm not sure that you need to separate them any more than you separate, say, bards and druids from clerics just because clerics are clearly Christian-influenced and bards and druids are derived largely from pre-Christian Celtic cultures.

  10. Well, I'm not looking to make any socio-historical statements, Faoladh.

    In modern parlance, gamers have a certain distinction between Europe and Asia, and they're not likely to make the same distinction between pre-Christian Europe and post-Christian Europe.

  11. I suppose, but why make a distinction between "Xia", "Samurai", and "Hwarang" (and, if you're going all the way over to India, "Kshatriya") when you don't make a differentiation between "Ritter", "Knight", "Chevalier", and "Equites"? Fighters is fighters, and Cavaliers is Cavaliers, no matter what culture you're looking at. In Asia, perhaps it would be better stated as Bushi or whatever and Samurai or whatever, but a footsoldier is still a footsoldier and a horseman is still a horseman.

    It gets slightly more complicated when dealing with types of magicians and priests (and the blurred lines between those), but if you can have Druids alongside Clerics, and both next to Mages (don't get me started), then you've already got a jumble of cultures going on so why be particularly more fastidious with the Asian ones? This is especially so if you are trying to present a toolkit for anyone's campaign, as opposed to something directed at your specific House Setting.

    1. As it sounds like he is using real cultures, they aren't interchangeable as you claim. D&D doesn't use real cultures, thus no distinctions between a ritter and a knight are needed.

  12. Well, I don't want to get bogged down in details, but ritters, knights, and chavaliers all derive ultimately from the same Chivalric Romance tradition and thus don't deserve separate treatment. They are quite literally different names in different languages for the same thing.

    Equites I would probably break out into their own class if I were doing a Classical supplement. And I would break out hoplites into their own class as well.

    You're correct that a footsoldier is a footsoldier, and I would keep a fighter as a fighter across all cultures, with only changes to the weapons and armor they had available.

  13. While I did the "goulash" approach to combining Chinese and Japanese cultures for my own setting, that was only because I knew enough about both that I wasn't going be able to do them justice individually.

    If you're more comfortable with the research, I think it would be better to separate them, but keep them compatible. Don't forget about Tibet and Mongolia. They are culturally distinct and interesting Asian settings too.

    I briefly entertained a thought about doing an Indian setting because my enjoyment of the Mahabharata and Vikram and the Vampire. Even a small amount of research on that idea was enough to frighten me off. You are quite brave.

  14. Xia and Samurai weren't even close to the same thing. If nothing else, Samurai's were the ultimate embodiment of societal rules, Xia were total individualists.

    But, definite good idea Faoladh, mentioning Korea, which always gets forgotten. They have a very strong cultural identity too.

    It is those cultural differences that make up these kind of settings that are the most important part of them. Otherwise, it's just variations of generic Medieval warriors.

  15. "The PHB doesn't break classes/races down by Scandinavian/Mediterranean/Western/Eastern European influence. For an "unholy goulash" of Asian tropes would work just as well for those who don't know the source material. For those of us who do, we can sort them out if we want to run a game based on one specific historical/legendary cultural setting."

    I agree with this, and agree with others who speak in favor of option #3. Note that Arabian Adventures for 2nd Edition didn't make a powerful distinction between Persian, Turk, Arab, Armenian, Egyptian, etc. It's not getting overly concerned about cultural/historical correctness so much as what's going to be most gameable.

    If one was to do so, I would see the tools available to have for every culture to use and then maybe a section that's a resource for people that want to run a monocultural campaign and a resource for people who want to mix it up and go further into an Asian fantasy. Asia itself is absolutely a very mixed system of cultures and from a wide variety of places: the spread of Buddhism was also a spread of *Indianness* throughout East Asia, Confucianism for the Chinese, trade and imperial legacies throughout. And that mix goes further: Greek gods in Japanese art, Central Asian Buddhas inspired by Hellenic statuary, the mix of native Filipino with Spanish culture, Vietnam – France, through to the present day.

    A character that can jump really high and do amazing feats of fighting and swordplay isn't exclusive to the Chinese. Tons of Japanese shows and movies had ninjas, samurai, and others doing the same amazing feats.

  16. If you do an Indian themed "culture section," I can't recommend enough using Arrows of Indra for inspiration. There's a lot packed in there, as you know from your review last March.

    While I like OA in spite of its weaknesses (and probably because I played it a lot back in the day), some other approaches might be to take some ideas from non or "less" old school sources (gasp!)…like kits applied to the same core classes from 2e or even the notion of "alternates" as Pathfinder does it (e.g. take a Ranger and change things like racial enemy into a guide ability to make a Piao Shih or take a Cavalier and alter it to make a Samurai).

  17. By Culture if there is enough material to warrant that approach; I like how that would more campaign oriented. Otherwise, go with option #3.

  18. I would leave India out of this supplement. India is different enough to deserve it's own supplement. I would add the Mongols into the Asian supplement, as their interaction with and conquering of and later assimilation into Chinese culture is pretty large part of medieval Chinese history. And the Mongols did attempt invasion of Japan twice as well.

    But otherwise, I vote for Option 1, keep the cultures as separate sections.

    Looking forward to whatever you put out, in any case. Your work is great!

  19. Option 1 would allow me to go straight to the relevant section, whereas the others mean jumping around and skimming pages to find what I need.

  20. Matt: I am not certain, of course, but I don't think that Joe intends to present an historically accurate, culture-focused supplement (with added magic), but instead, as I understand it, he intends to present a fantasy role-playing adventure game supplement that is rooted in Asian cultures and mythology in the same way that "standard" D&D is rooted in medieval Europe.

    1. Okay then, I guess I was thinking more like Bushido where it's basically Japan except mythology and magic are real. That would be awesome for India, China, etc. Know of any games like that?

  21. Option #3

    Best solution AFAIC, maybe something about how each culture see the others as a whole …

    Cue "Shut up and take my money" .JPG

  22. option 2.
    make classes generic enough to support multiple cultural archetypes. Use Feat trees to provide cultural flavor. And supply an extensive 'appendix n' for each culture.

    break out armor, weaponry, and supplies by culture and era.

  23. Matt: For China, there was Outlaws of the Water Margin. That's gone from the regular internet, but can be found on the site here.

    For India, there is Arrows of Indra.

    For Africa, both sub-Saharan and northern, there is Spears of the Dawn, though that may not be as culturally-focused as you were looking for. It's more an African-influenced setting in the way that D&D is a European-influenced one.

  24. I think I'd go for option one., primarily because I prefer having everything I need in one volume or one part of a book. I see myself using this like the 2nd edition supplements, a design for specific game world or area, rather than a mixture of everything oriental. I would want it a bit more themed, just as I'd prefer Egyptians and Romans separated from medieval knights, even if the arms can do for both.

    Then if it is a cross over, I can always flip to the other part of the book. (Might I suggest margin "tabs" to make the different monsters, magic, etc.. sections easy to find?)

    I'd also suggest a SE Asia/Malaysia/Indonesia section and a Mongol/Tibet section for the nomads around the edges. If the above average art museum bothers to divide these traditions out, I think that it is a good indicator you should as well.

  25. Yeah, I've seen a few reviews but I'd like to actually look at the product. There are so many games I'm curious about but the buy-in is prohibitive: if these things were in book/toy/hobby stores like they used to be, I'd probably own a lot more new stuff than I do. With my limited budget, I dread buyer's remorse.

  26. Faoladh: The guys at Bedrock and Sin Nomine ought to give you a commission. I'm pretty sure I am going to take the plunge on both Arrows of Indra and Spears of the Dawn.

    Got any suggestions for pre-Columbian Mesoamerican/South American or Arabian/Persian games? Also pre-Columbian American Indian would be pretty cool.

    I like different settings rather than the usual Northern European melange fantasy worlds.

  27. Matt: In both of those cases, I am only aware of the ones done by TSR, or in TSR publications. 2E AD&D had the Maztica boxed set, which, if you ignore the Forgotten Realms "conquistador" metaplot, could be useful. D&D had the Sons of Azca gazetteer for Hollow World. Finally, there was an adventure titled "Mechica" in Dragon magazine (I forget the issue number, but it was in the first hundred, as I recall).

    For Arabian/Persian, I am only aware of the Al Qadim setting.

    Outside of D&D-type games, there are GURPS supplements for each (GURPS Aztecs and GURPS Arabian Nights).

    I realize that all of these are out of print (though they are all either available in PDF or probably will be), but I don't recall any in-print games that cover those settings. It's somewhat odd that there isn't an Arabian Nights setting out there, since it's so conducive to adventuring. I'd like to see a Mesoamerican one, myself.

    1. GURPS Aztecs is really good, but covers solely Aztecs. No real info on Toltecs, Maya, Inca, what have you.

      GURPS Arabian Nights is also very good. It's one of te resources I will use if I ever get my druthers and play a Harryhausen Sinbad campaign.

  28. The OA suppliment is focused on Japan but does give some slight hints if you want to construct something for a Chinese setting.

    I was thinking about this topic recently.

    Looking at the overview of Kara-Tur section at the back of the book it mentions Shou Lung (imperial China) and Tú Lung (warring states China). From that point on you'd have to wing it.

    Consulting the OA modules would probably help a great deal. I seem to recall at least one of them being set in the Shou Lung – Tú Lung region. I'm sure there are examples of how they handled the OA rules in relation to China.

    Without the modules the composition of NPCs, including their armour and weapons, at this point would be left to independent research and imagination.

    One can recall things from films, documentaries and archaeology. I would certainly go for having stock standard soldiers (fighters) who use Chinese style halberds and heavy leather armour, or some kind of splint mail.

    The OA lists a type of heavy hide armour with an AC of 6.

    I'm at a loss for creating new PC classes apart from including a standard fighter kit type soldier and perhaps an alternative version of the Kensai using a flat Chinese sword or poleweapon.

    In terms of weapons I'd check the 2e Complete Ninja's Handbook. I'm sure it has an expanded weapon list.

    The closest Chinese characters you have that can be taken directly from OA seem to be the Wu Jen (wizard), the Bushi (fighter) and Monk. Plus perhaps a modified Kensai.

    The biggest part of the problem seems to be the Japanese styling for a lot of the material. With an expanded armour (with pics) and weapon menu the tone could be shifted to better support a China setting.

    I was thinking of writing a Chinese adventure featuring soldiers dressed in heavy hide (leather) armour who used polearms.

    At my webpage/blog [THACO DRAGON] I've created 2e versions of the 1e OA characters that still retained their Japan centric nature.

    The link to the 2e OA characters is here:

    I also created an adventure set on Kozakura:

    By the way, you have a really great blog here !


  29. Note Ad&D lumped greek and celtic and babylonian together and nobody cared. I would blend them all and then have some kind of encounters tables in the back for Japanese themed campaign and for Chinese themed campaign, etc.

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