Thursday, April 23, 2009

it's a family affair

The last page of the original Oriental Adventures rulebook contains the following chart:

Players of most OA classes are expected to fill one of these babies out. The basic deal is that you identify the head of the clan and 0-7 siblings and then figure out which one of these people is your PC's grandfather. You then identify your father and 0-7 uncles/aunts. After that you name 0-7 siblings. There's a spot for recording other bits of family info that you can dice up in chargen, such as properties owned by the family. A completed form looks something like this:

All the names were rolled up on the charts from the Dragon article "Whaddya mean, Jack the Samurai?" (issue #121, I think). That article consists of 400 random family names and 400 given names for Japanese characters, split into eight percentile charts.

Anyway, look at all the neat potential trouble lurking in that clan chart. The PC's father and grandfather control all the clan holdings. Does that rankle Great Uncle Sorai or Great Uncle Ikku or any of their children or grandchildren? And are they willing to do anything about it? And what's up with Aunt Izuka? She's childless and apparently not married off to another clan. Is she a widow, her husband and/or children slain by Clan Kadono's traditional enemies? Or maybe she's an independant woman, a samurai in her own right or a sorceress or something like that. Or maybe she was married at one time but fled her husband's household for some reason. Either way, there's possibilities here that didn't exist prior to the dice hitting the table.

But the most interesting thing in the OA family rules (and the thing that may most distinguish Oriental Adventures from baseline D&D) is the fact that everyone on the bottom line of the chart has d8-2 children. That's the PC's generation and the implication is that 75% of all PC samurai, kensai, barbarian, bushi, ninja and yakuza start play as parents. That fact strongly implies that many starting PCs are married as well.

Adventurers with a wife and kids back home is a big conceptual leap from the (oft unstated) default position that PCs are unattached. I'm pretty sure even Pendragon, a game where establishing a dynasty is crucial, waits for play to begin before PCs get married and start families of their own. I'm not sure what all these spouses and kids mean for my still-in-development Saikaido sandbox. My assumption up until this point is that all the starting PCs enter the wilderness map from the more civilized regions off map to the northeast. Maybe I should change that so that PCs who desire to travel home can do so without leaving the campaign area.

One neat thing about the OA family rules is that integrating replacement PCs becomes easy. If Kadono Rikyu dies in battle, his little brother Yabe can show up to avenge him.


  1. Yes, part of play in Pendragon is the pursuit of a wife, so it's rare (perhaps impossible, I'm not sure) to begin play with a family already established.

  2. I remember that family cart. I loved it. But we never got that far to play any serious oriental campaign... I think I will roll up a family these days, when I find some spare time...

    Speaking of family, I hope your wife is getting better.

  3. Ah, so you are going to run an OA sandbox game!

    Make sure to keep up posted, inquiring minds are always wanting to know about the game developments of the "Blogger Made of Solid Awesome". ;)

  4. I'm with edsan. This was the first you have mentioned an actual sandbox game of OA, please keep us updated.

    Will you use OA for this?

    I have not included any of the traditional OA stuff into Ruins & Ronin - no honor rules, no family development, etc. My game is vanilla D&D for a Japanese flavor.

  5. Anonymous9:15 AM

    This chart and the honor system in OA were what I liked most about it. (Well, and the non-weapons proficiencies but I've soured on those over the years.)

    Though I used some elements of OA in standard games from time to time, we never went full OA. I did roll up a lot of characters, though. That "Jack the Samurai" article was a godsend at the time. Now you can just look stuff up online.

  6. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Mike D: I noticed no family or honor in R&R. Is that something you're thinking of adding at a later date or for the Core version or something? Or should I cook up my own if I feel the urge?

  7. Lord Kilgore,: There might be some supplements put out to add those if people want to add it to their games, but I don't plan to include it in the initial rules.

    We have worked on some honor rules (well, Edsan has) that are pretty cool.

  8. I really like this idea, particularly the random generation aspect. I may snag it and draw up some tables for nobles in my Traveller game. I've got the idea that family/clan is a big deal to them, but so far it hasn't been a really big issue, partly because I haven't pushed the guy playing a noble to come up with much beyond his immediate family. This would help crank up the intrigue.

    And I might do something similar for my dwarf in Trollsmyth's game . . .

  9. Oh yes...R&R material. I really must get off my ass and polish the honor rules, and complete all the monsters I've been promissing, and the duelling rules.

    My damn job has been draining me too much, I haven't felt inspired lately but gosh darn it, I'll try!

  10. Anonymous1:24 PM

    "I may snag it and draw up some tables for nobles in my Traveller game."That's genius.

  11. One of the things that struck me most in the second Baldur's Gate computer game is the subplot about a Paladin suffering marital problems because of the strain imposed on his marriage by an adventuring lifestyle. The first interesting thing was that this subplot existed at all. The second interesting thing is that it was genuinely non-linear, and as the party of potential "bad influences" on his life, you ended up having the power to nudge him toward misery, bliss, or at least a couple of tense states in-between (and, conversely, the power to keep him around more often or lose him for stretches of time, or entirely, from the party ... and he was a very useful Paladin).

    In terms of pen-and-paper gaming, Baldur's 2 came along years after I'd already been-there-and-done that in other RPGs ... I'd played family-man characters in space-opera games, in military games, in Cthulhu games, in wild-west games, in Star Trek games, in pulpy-adventurey games, and even in straight-up trad fantasy games using RuneQuest and GURPS. And of course, because it's a genre cliche, I'd played them in superhero RPGs and gotten points back for how often the family would be kidnapped or threatened. I'd played them in games where they were a distant deal and I'd played them in games where the whole family were either PCs or always-along NPCs.

    But ... I'd never played a family man in D&D ... and for whatever reason it struck me as astonishing that anyone would think to, or that it would be implemented so well in a computer game. It's one of the things that made Baldur's Gate 2 feel, not just like D&D, but like better-than-average D&D.

    I also enjoy the process you're doing here, where you learn about how the game-world works just by looking at the rules and structure provided. It's kind of like that magic moment during chargen in Mekton where you realize the life-table paths make it equally likely for any given character to have a boyfriend or a girlfriend in his life (or in his past), or multiple examples of each, implying mechanically that a large percentage of anime mecha-pilots are (or have been) bisexual.

    And then the moment, half a second later, where you pick your jaw back up, quietly nod, and roll the dice, because yeah. They're anime mecha pilots. Makes perfect sense :)

  12. Pukako6:56 AM

    Dragon 121's charts are nice, but a bit random - you can end up with a character named Tofu, which is surely going to be embarrassing.

    Still, the idea of any PC taking a bit of time to fill out their immediate family tree (or the interesting bits) is great for character development, and, as with everything, a table to fill in makes it easier and more focussed. Thanks for highlighting this little (transferable) gem.

  13. And I might do something similar for my dwarf in Trollsmyth's game . . .Feel free. Now that we've got a rough outline of clan and family structure it shouldn't be so difficult to work out, and cross-clan/family politics based on female roles could really mix things up. (Is Mom more loyal to the family/clan she married into or the one she was born in? What about her old friendships, or sisters/aunts/bffs who are now in other clans/families?)

    But only after you get your papers finished. ;)