Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

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SmootRK
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Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Tue Jul 06, 2010 9:06 pm

I have been toying with the idea of making an Asian inspired setting for BFRPG... a sort of Oriental Adventures mod. Fighters get called Bushi, Clerics become Shukenja, and so on... mostly changes in terms rather than ability.
I never put too much effort into it, but then I started watching these darn Avatar cartoons (followed by the movie). I was really entertained by the story. Mostly I would want to borrow only certain aspects, and not the whole concept... plagiarizing the material is not my intention.

For starters:
No "Avatar" master of all elements - that would be copyright infringe for sure. In addition, the setting would not be a part of a world where normal/traditional game types exist as well. The setting would be apart, mostly because of utilizing a different sort of way of dealing with 'magic/elements' from the standard BFRPG way.

Races would be human-centric, although I could sprinkle in a few races that have Asian influences. For instance, I could deal with some things like Kappa, Kitsune-sorts, and suggestions that others might think good. I would want some way to make sure Humans are the norm though... variant races might need to be penalized in various ways.

Most people are 'normal humans', Bushi (fighters), Thieves, or perhaps some variants (Kensai, Ranger, Assassin).

Ditch the traditional Cleric, although I can see a sort of nature Hermit class (essentially druid). Perhaps a spirit-associated sort of divine class can be constructed.

Remove traditional Magic Users as well, instead mixing various Elemental Powers and Spells into specialized Monk-like classes. Each class having a different "style" also associated with it. I can see (borrowing from the cartoon) Buddhist-like Air Monks, Sumo-like Earth Monks. Need ideas for Fire and Water styled Monks, especially in ways to ensure I don't tread too heavily with Avatar influences (having eskimo water monks and imperial fire lords would be too close as well). I would prefer many powers be constant, 'at will', or 'per round', etc. over x times per day sorts (like standard spells)... but some spell-like abilities might need various limitations including times per day/week/etc. For instance, a Fire Monk would gain fire resistance (increasingly better over the levels).

Then again, perhaps the elemental magic can be sprinkled into any particular base class... while this might be nice, it makes the character creation process more complex (un-BFRPG-like). Will need to weigh this out. Thoughts?

So... thoughts from the gallery. Could this be a way to make an BFRPG OA that has its own flavor, different from both the traditional fantasy game, as well as the previous OA offerings that exist for other games??... or would something that integrates more easily into traditional (European influence?) games be preferred?
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:10 am

Thinking out loud again:

I was not entirely clear but the elemental control powers are (of course) scaled down tremendously (compared to series/movie). There will not be kids (low level folk) moving mountains and such. For instance, the Monk AC bonus (albeit monk is unwritten at this time) will simply be described as associated with each element (earth monks are 'harder'; air monks control the air surrounding themselves, water monks can redirect flow of energy from blows, fire monks (?? explanation to be determined). The unarmed attacks are enhanced with elemental energy (explaining much of the extra damage gained over levels).

To further distance from the inspirational material, each monk/mu will be associated or named differently than directly to the element. For instance, Ash Monks (fire) wear dusty white and black clothes, often with some sort of scarf or mask to keep ash from mouth. Rain Monks (water) typically wear clothing of canvas with broad hats. Wind Monks (air) typically wear billowy robes. The Mountain Monks (earth) wear durable clothing of earthen tones, or sometimes very little at all (very sumo-like).

The Druid class will be more properly the magic man class... mixing in liberal parts of the magic-user spell list, while dropping some 'elemental' powers (so that the Monk/MU classes have more distinction). The class, however, will still be the sort that can draw from all aspects of elements. In this sense, the class will resemble the idea of hermit-like WuJen from standard OA.

Standard Cleric will be recast one who sees and interprets stuff of the 'spirit world'. Changes will be mostly in the descriptive text, as various spirit types grant powers or provide information.

I am welcome to input and/or opinion on this
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Sir Bedivere
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Sun Jul 11, 2010 5:48 pm

I'm all for Asian settings. I was thinking of doing a Japan-inspired campaign at some point.

However, I don't really like the way Oriental Adventures mashed up Chinese and Japanese cultures. They are very distinct and mixing them is like mixing Wild West gunfighters with European knights. One could argue that they're both mounted Western warriors and so they fit together perfectly, and that might be a fun campaign, but they really don't naturally go together at all.

Anyway, if you like it, do it. I'll probably borrow from it when I do my Japan-themed campaign.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Sun Jul 11, 2010 6:41 pm

Hm, now you've got me thinking about it.

If you were willing to keep some separation, I'd be willing to work on the Japan-based side if you wanted to do the Chinese-based side. Avatar is entirely China-based, isn't it?

One thing to make it different from the series would be to use the Five Phase system instead of the four elements. So, instead of earth, water, air, and fire, the game would use earth, wood, metal, water, wind. That would be similar between the two sides, too.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:40 am

I am no expert on Asian cultures. I sorta like the idea of a generic setting that borrows heavily from any/all Asian cultures, yet being different from any real culture. I think I read that the Avatar cartoon is like this, borrowing from many cultures including Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, and more.

That said, I see no reason why there cannot be areas/regions where culture is more closely associated with any one 'real' culture like a series of near Japanese islands, or a Mongol-like Horse Nomad region, Tibetan Inspired mountain peoples, and more. Anyhow, in my mind, most warriors (whether Mongol, Japanese, Chinese) are Fighters with a few specialists possible (such as Noble or Imperial Samurai types, Single Weapon Masters like Kensai, wilderness types like Rangers, etc). Most roguish types are Thieves whether Ninja, Yakuza, Triad, or street urchin in origin... And so on. I think simple classes are still the way to go, and keeps in the BFRPG mode.

That, and I really like the idea of using the more 'Asian' method of elemental division that you suggest. Very Feng shui and totally different than western thinking.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:38 am

I haven't seen any of the Avatar cartoons, though I'll try to watch a couple on Hulu in the next week or so. The following draws on what I know about actual Asian culture, so it should be modified both for the game and to get the Avatar flavor you wanted. You'll have to be the Avatar expert.

There is a lot of philosophical and religious overlap among the Chinese-influenced cultures. Just typing out loud here ...

The ideas of qi/chi (let's call it qi for now) and yin & yang, along with the Five Phases (earth, wood, metal, water, wind), were pretty universal and important for philosophy, medicine, and magical practices. Buddhism and Confucianism were also important across cultures. Buddhism had/has warrior monks and its own form of magic. Confucianism was very influential in cultural morality. As for bushi/samurai, I think a lot of the martial virtues were similar across cultures, though those terms refer to very specific warrior types in Japan. There were of course thieves, assassins, soldiers, gangsters ...

We would probably want to create some game replacement for the Buddhist religion, and likewise for Confucianism. For now I'll say B'ism and C'ism.

B'ist monks: Although of course there were more kinds of B'ist monks, I think the two adventuring types of monk would be a Shao Lin-style fighter w/ combat skills and some kind of qi-focusing ability. This could just be the monk class from D&D, or something else. I never liked the D&D monk much, but it could work well in this setting I guess. What do you think? The second kind would be the B'ist magician who would use special words and gestures to create illusions, see through both magical illusions and non-magical falsehoods & subterfuge, and at higher levels actually shift reality around a bit. Some examples of that would be short-distance teleportation, healing, immunity to the elements (fire, cold, etc.), that sort of thing.

Fighters: I think the fighter class serves admirably. I wouldn't even change the name, myself. Do you think the archer quasi-class would be a good model for a fighter who specializes in a single weapon / style? (BTW, I think the quasi-classes are great!) We could base the samurai-style class on the knight. Right now, I oppose calling it 'samurai' or 'bushi' because those are specific to Japanese culture, but I guess that means I should come up with another name, eh? (Of course, everyone knows 'samurai,' so that's an argument in its favor.) The paladin is very interesting. In some ways, that mix of religious warrior who gains special divine abilities is very much like the shao lin monk. I'm sure there would be ranger-types as well, though I can't think of any off the top of my head. The forest / wilderness don't seem to have the same kind of romance in Asia as they do in the West; plus, isn't the ranger class just Tolkein's Strider in RPG terms? If the Lord of the Rings hadn't ever been written, I doubt the ranger (or halfling, elf, or dwarf) would have made it into D&D.

Magic-user types: I'm at a bit of a loss here. In China there was a kind of Taoist alchemy and magic, but it never caught on in Japan. Japan has another religion, Shinto, and its priests might have druid-like powers. Some magicians focused on spirits and demons - communicating with them, calling them up, making them servants, banishing them, that sort of thing. In the stories they usually go mad or lose control of the spirit, resulting in tragedy, or at least that's what I remember happening in the stories. We could just make some stuff up. I hate to abandon the magic-user altogether, though maybe the B'ist magician above could be substituted. Oh, and Feng Shui might be worked in somehow as well, since you mention it!

Thieves: Maybe have a 'gangster' class that is basically the thief with some kung fu type skills. All the famous ninja, believe it or not, were bushi. The bushi served in armies, and armies need scouts and spies. The same academies that taught bushi how to fight also taught advanced courses in scouting and espionage for bushi who seemed likely candidates. It was very much like modern military snipers. They go through all the normal infantry training, usually have some experience as infantry soldiers, and are selected for sniper school based on their rifle skills, personality, and performance as infantrymen. I don't know how this would be handled in game mechanics.

On the Five Phases, Wikipedia has a reasonable discussion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_phases. One problem I have with it is the claim that they were "chiefly an ancient mnemonic device". They were an integral part of Chinese philosophy and medicine, so I'm not sure that claim has much merit. On the other hand, I'm not a specialist on that, so maybe it's true. Anyway, notice the star-shaped image on the right under Cycles. Each phase generates another phase, and is destroyed by a third phase. So, water generates wood but is overcome by earth. This could be very interesting to play with in a magic system.

Well, those are my ideas this late evening. Sorry I can't really say anything about how to blend this with Avatar.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:42 am

Oh, I completely forgot the Mongols, but you probably know as much or more than I do about them. I'd vote to have them in, if it matters.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:22 am

Since you mention it, I think the quasi-class method might be ideal to achieve several archetypes. For instance, the 1e OA makes Ninja a multi-class only option... so a quasi-class Shadow Warrior (ninja) would be similar... a series of skills/effects layered upon any base class. Likewise, a Noble sort of quasi-class could work to achieve 'Samurai' or Imperial Guard (such as Forbidden City style Elite Guards), or similar sorts. After all, many Samurai sorts were really administrative officials (especially in later periods) without real warrior skills (carrying Katana/Wakizashi as badge of office or sign of their nobility).

Perhaps my idea of Elemental (5 states) magic can be layered on other classes in similar fashion, as Quasi-class options... but this does create a degree of variability that is not very BFRPG at the core. But then, a OA mod is not really core anyhow, but I would want it to be as simple as possible.

Another thing we need are charts of weapon/armor/equipment equivalents. Perhaps this list can be made in columns so that different language/cultural equivalents can be detailed. I would hope that these equipment lists can be very simplistic... Although weapon enthusiasts might differ, but a katana is a sword to me, a wakizashi is a short sword, and so on. I see little reason to over-complicate this sort of material. Making a bunch of minutia special effects and rules for various weapons seems counter-intuitive to the BFRPG style of game play.
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Sir Bedivere
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Tue Jul 13, 2010 6:40 pm

Yeah, Noble Warrior would encompass both samurai and imperial guards, I think. I do like Gangster as a class or quasi-class. It would fit the Yakuza / Triad type characters. I'd have to think out what they could do and how they would be different from normal thieves or assassins.

I completely agree with keeping both the gear and the rules simple.
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Re: Avatar Inspired Asian Setting

Post Wed Jul 14, 2010 10:35 am

A quick note on the 'Five Phases/Elements'

It's true that at first glance they look like the old Greek 4 elements, and early Westerners who studied Chinese philosophy thought they were like the 4 elements. So, there are any number of old books out there that call them the 5 Elements.

However, there are significant differences. The Greeks proposed that the 4 elements made up everything; the human body, for example, was a mixture of all four. However, the Chinese proposed that yin and yang make up everything. Yin and yang are the real Chinese elements. The 5 phases are not elements - they didn't believe the body actually had wood in it, for example. The 5 phases are how Chinese philosophers explained cyclical or systematic change, so the body went through each of the five phases as it grew older (youth, of course, being the fire phase). That's why I call them phases instead of elements.

You can see this in a simple way if you look at the two Chinese characters used to write '5 phases' in the Wikipedia article. The first character is simply the number 5. The second means, 1) to go, to travel, 2) to do, to behave (in a certain way). So a more literal translation from the Chinese is '5 ways of going,' or '5 ways of doing' or '5 ways of behaving' (or maybe '5 behaviors').

I don't know what we should use for the game - 5 phases isn't terribly romantic. But 5 elements I think is misleading. 5 states is good; phases is better for translation because it implies a temporary state, but we want something that sounds good as well, I think. Maybe someone can think up some more poetic name.
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