NOTE: This is an excerpt from the book Oriental Adventures by Gary Gygax (1985), a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons that covers new rules and background for the fantasy land of "Kara-Tur" that is loosely based on East Asia. The following is the explanation of the culture, from pages 138 to 141.

The world of Kara-Tur and the real lands that provide its inspiration are not necessarily those familiar to most DMs and players. There are many differences in dress, food, customs, and behavior -- differences that are small in themselves, but when added together make a culture and style of life foreign to most players. This section of Oriental Adventures describes some of those differences, aiding the DM and players in capturing the feel and color of the world. DMs especially should note that this section does not and cannot describe all of the variety and richness of a land so different from those of the west. It is strongly suggested that further reading be done. The bibliography at the back of the book lists many titles that give more information and detail. The DM is strongly encouraged to read one or more of these titles.

The customs and ways of life described in this section are not absolutes. Just because it is stated here does not mean this is the only choice. The Orient covers a vast number of different types of cultures, even more so when the different time periods are considered. What may be true in one part of the Orient may be entirely different in another part. Also, since this is a fantasy world, the DM should freely change or alter aspects of the world as he wishes.

For convenience, this section is divided into general sections dealing with different parts of daily life. Covered here are dress, food, buildings, religion, justice, manners, and names. Each section describes some (but not all) of the tastes, customs, and habits particular to the Orient.


In Kara-Tur, as in nearly all lands, men and women wear clothing. For the most part this is a matter of practicality, a necessary device to keep warm and dry. Clothing also provides a second and almost as important service -- identifying the rank or status of the wearer. Nearly all clothing is decorated in dyed patterns or embroidery, bu the type of clothing, the quality of the decoration, and the materials used all indicate status.

The most common materials used in making clothing are cotton and silk. However, other materials are also used, generally confined to a specific region and to the lower classes. These materials include pounded tree bark, flax, wool, woven horse-hair, furs, paper, and hemp. Heavy leathers would be used for durability, while soft leathers like deerskin would be used for items requiring flexibility or lavish decoration. Primitive tribesmen and poor commoners would use the cheapest and most available material for their clothing. White is typically the color of mourning, so nearly all cloth is dyed. Common colors are browns, ochres, yellows, grays, and blues. The brighter colors of greens, pinks, and reds are rarer and are commonly worn by those of higher station. Dyes are made from flowers, nuts, barks, wood, and certain minerals.

The main articles of clothing vary from land to land and climate to climate. Most common is a set of short trousers, normally made of cotton. These wrap around the waist and tie with strings. They can be left loose at the bottom or tied to fit snugly around the leg. The are normally loose-fitting so that they can be pulled up for wading through rice paddies or streams. They are often dyed in stripes or other patterns. Such pants are typically worn by peasants of both sexes. Commoners normally wear a short robe over the trousers, tied with a belt. Wealthier and more important persons often omit the trousers, wearing one or more long robes instead. Among the nobility, wearing layers of robes is standard. Each layer is a different color and peeks through at the ends of the sleeves and around the collar. Arranging the color and order of the layers is an art for many of the ladies of a noble's court. Robes have wide, open sleeves, both for artistic and practical effect. In cold weather, the sleeves serve as muffs, since gloves are not normally worn. They are also used as pockets where a handkerchief or string of cash can be kept safely tucked away. Robes are often lavishly decorated with dyes, brocade, and embroidery and may be quite valuable. During colder seasons, warmth is achieved by adding more and heavier layers of robes. An outer coat of quilted cotton is worn to protect from cold winds. As the day grows warmer, layers are removed to maintain comfort. In rain, peasants wear a simple raincoat made from layers of straw (mino).

The choice of footwear also depends on the land and the climate. The simplest and most common is a sandal of woven straw. These ar cheap, durable, and easy to make. Sandals made of woven straw or wooden blocks are worn throughout Kozakura. In Shou Lung and T'u Lung, slippers of soft leather or cloth are worn by refined people while soldiers normally wear a short soft-leather boot. Sandals are worn by the common people, who cannot afford to ruin good shoes in muddy fields. In the cold north lands, the common shoe is a leather boot wrapped in fur leggings to protect from snow and ice.

Hats are a clear sign of a person's status. Nearly everyone has or wears a hat. Peasant hats are practical -- round and broad-rimmed of woven straw or bamboo. These keep the sun off the fieldhand and double as baskets when needed. Wandering shukenja and monks may wear hats like these or ones that are baskets that cover the entire head. Hats of nobles are often small, the style indicating the position of the wearer. Huge rimmed hats of horsehair are worn by gentlemen in some parts of Kara-Tur. A simple scarf or piece of cloth can be used to provide protection from the rain.

Personal beauty is different in Kara-Tur, too. Men, especially those of rank, pride themselves on their grace and beauty. A pale complexion is considered best and some men have even been known to pluck their eyebrows. It is common to use perfumes and fragrances and those of worth are often quite skilled at mixing these. However, the majority of men fall short of this ideal, being hardened by the weather and the accidents of life. For women, personal beauty is also quite different. Indeed a pearly white smile is considered an unfortunate flaw, not the attractive feature of the west. In addition, women pluck their eyebrows and then repaint them in a delicate thin line. Again a pale complexion is most attractive and many women powder their faces to give the best and palest color possible.

Hair is an important feature for both sexes. It can show both age and status. Men of rank draw their hair back and fix it in a topknot, holding it in place with carved pins or a cord. This is a privilege generally reserved only for nobles, warriors, and those of the ruling class. Indeed, in some parts of Kara-Tur, particularly Kozakura, cutting off a man's topknot is a special punishmen reserved for minor offenses. It is a sign the man has shamed himself before his lord. The age of a person also effects the hairstyle. Small children are often shaved bald except for a single lock -- on the crown for boys and over the ear for girls. As they grow older, this practice is stopped and the child grows a full head of hair. Young warriors tie this in the topknot described above. Upon coming of age, the samurai youth has the top of his forehead shaved to show his status as a man. Peasant men normally wear their hair loose or tied back in a long queue.

Women let their hair grow long and flowing, possibly gathering it up into elaborate headdresses. The length and luxury of a woman's hair is a measure of her beauty and her station. In periods of mourning, grief, or upon becoming a nun, a woman will cut her hair short to show her new status. Men entering the priesthood shave their heads as a sign of their new calling.


Rice is the one constant throughout the civilized lands of Kara-Tur. Everyone eats rice and rice, in one form or another, is served with virtually every meal. In Shou Lung and T'u Lung, people do not greet each other with the friendly "Hello" of the west, but instead saying, "Have you eaten rice today?" The intention is the same, but the importance of rice in daily life is clear. Rice is used in a multitude of ways. It is boiled and served as a main course. It is cooked into a paste-like gruel. Leftover rice is mixed with meat and vegetables. It is vinegared, shaped, and served cold. It is pounded and crushed and made into rice-cakes. It is ground into flour and formed into buns or noodles. It is mashed, fermented, and made into sake, a strong drink. Like wheat in the west, rice is the stuff of life in Kara-Tur.

When rice is not available or too valuable to serve at the common table, yellow millet, sorghum, or barley is often substituted. This is the poor man's food. These are normally pounded into cakes or cooked into a thick gruel. Beans of various sizes, shapes, and colors are also used in addition to or in place of rice. Soybeans, red beans, black beans, and brown beans may all be stewed or mashed into a paste. This paste may be fermented, flavored, dried, or sweetened. It is used as a dip, stuffed into buns, formed into candies, or used as a sauce. From soybeans comes the unusual prepared foods soy sauce and tofu. Tofu is prepared from the juice or "milk" of mashed soybeans. This is curdled and pressed into semi-soft cakes. It may be stewed, dried, deep-friend, or prepared in a variety of other ways. Soy sauce is prepared through a complicated process of mashing, fermenting, soaking, and rinsing. The end result is a thin, salty sauce used as a flavoring for nearly anything.

Next to rice in importance come vegetables of many different types and flavors. These, grown in family garden plots, are stewed, fried, pickled, and steamed. They are almost never eaten raw, except as garnishes. Along with the huge variety of vegetables are an assortment of fruits, nuts, grasses, and flowers. Plant products that are eaten include the shoots of bamboo plants, the roots of water chestnuts, melons, giant radishes, mushrooms in great variety, bean sprouts, pumpkins, squash, chestnuts, potatoes, cucumbers, turnips, cabbage, onions, leeks, peaches, pears, persimmons, sweet potatoes, carrots, walnuts, almonds, lychees, lotus root, plums, cherries, bananas, peanuts, and many, many others. Some of the more unusual preparations include pickled greens or radishes (often with chilies), pickled plums (indeed virtually anything will be pickled), dried flower buds, dried chestnuts, and pastes.

Also important to the Oriental diet are the products of the water. Obviously, only those living near the sea, a river, or lake consume these things. Hundreds of varieties of fish are eaten, taken from the water, ranging from the commonplace to the exotic. A few of the desired delicacies include the pufferfish (which is deadly poisonous if incorrectly prepared), sea cucumber, jellyfish, octopus, eels, shrimp, and fish maw. Various types of kelp are harvested from the ocean to be dried and used in soups and as flavorings. Virtually anything that comes from the sea is used in some way.

Fish is the main source of meat; however, other meats are eaten too. Chicken and pork are the most common. These are prepared in a variety of ways. Game is also eaten when available. Beef is seldom eaten as cattle are very rare and are specially regarded. Barbarians are known to eat mutton and horsemeat, especially at feasts.

Tea is clearly the most common drink. It comes in many different varieties. The majority of people drink it plain. Among the nomads, however, it is mixed with milk and sugar and even served as a soup. In addition to tea, rice wines (sake and the like) are also drunk. These are served heated in small cups. Beers are also made and drunk with meals. The people of the steppes make a drink of fermented mare's milk, which they claim is a refreshing tonic. On special occaisions this is mixed with mare's blood, especially for warriors before or after a battle. While the steppes warriors drink and use a great deal of milk, it is rare elsewhere.

A typical day's meals for a group of adventurers might be something like this: In a town, the morning meal might be steamed buns, dumplings, rice or rice gruel, and several types of pickles. The mid-day meal is likely to be the largest with rice, vegetables, maybe fish or chicken, more pickles, and tea. Late in the day, the characters may indulge in some tea and rice candies or sweet buns. Finally, in the evening, a light meal is served of rice and a few simple delicacies. When traveling, the meals will be somewhat different. The morning meal, before breaking camp, may be rice gruel, plain boiled rice, millet, or barley. At mid-day, there may or may not be time for a meal. If there is a meal, it is likely to be ricecake, cold rice, or a packet of rice, fish, nuts, and dried seaweed or pickles wrapped and tied in banana leaves. If available, fruit will round out the lunch. In the evening dinner will be more rice and dried fish and vegetables, fresh or dried. If the day's hunting has gone well, fresh game may be eaten instead of fish.


There are three main building types in Kara-Tur -- the homes of commoners, the palaces of the wealthy and powerful, and temples. Each has distinctive methods and materials used in building. Several floorplans are provided in this section for the DM to use in designing his adventures and to provide him with some idea of the typical arrangement of buildings.

The peasant homes are customarily built of wood or clay brick. In its simplest form, the wood house is a single large room with a bare-earth floor and an open framework of rafters overhead. The roof is made of a thick layer of thatch and is steeply angled to shed snow and water. The roof has broad eaves that extend well over the sides of the house, shading from the hot summer sun and winter snow. Several windows are built into the walls for light, covered with a simple wood lattice, removable shutters, bamboo shades, or glazed paper. Surrounding the outer walls of the hosue is a small veranda -- a raised deck as wide as the eaves and often covered with woven straw mats. Inside the house, the central room is dominated by an earthen hearth, normally a stone-lined pit dug into the floor. Above this is a hook used for hanging cooking pots when preparing meals, especially rice. The smoke from the fire escapes through a smoke hole in the roof. Since there is no type of central heating or fireplaces for warmth, much of the family life centers around this hearth, especially in the winter.

Not all houses consist of a single room. Sometimes the house is divided into separate sections by raised platforms. The central area of the house is still the earth-floored hearth area, but adjoining it are raised wooden platforms. These are used for sleeping and other activities. They are separated from the main room by removable screens of paper or permanent wooden walls. Storage spaces are built into the walls and under the platforms. Sometimes an attic is built and used as a storage area and sleeping space for the younger family members. The attic is reached by a broad-stepped ladder.

The thatched roof of such a house requires regular care and repair. In wealthier homes this thatch is replaced by layers of glazed tile. Although more expensive, these have the advantage of durability and have quickly become a sign of the status of the homeowner. In addition, the ridge of the roof and the edges of the eaves are often decorated with wooden forms and carvings.

In the cities and large towns, such houses would be built tightly packed together on narrow twisting streets. Since thatch is not readily available, most of the houses are tile-roofed and a thatched roof is the sign of a truly poor man. Most of the shops and businesses are in the same building as the family home. During the day, large front shutters are opened to form a table for holding goods offered for sale. Behind the row of houses may be a common courtyard with a well for use by all the families in that block. Larger and wealthier homes are set off from the street by walled gardens or form a square around a central courtyard. Houses are seldom more than one story high.

In addition to the main building providing the family living quarters, there may be other buildings owned by the family -- workshops, stables, and granaries. Most of these are built in a similar style to the main house. Granaries, however, are almost always built of plaster and stone. This is due to the great risk of fire. While the family home can be rebuilt, should the granary burn down, the loss of wealth in the form of rice could never be replaced.

Obviously, buildings making such great use of wood, thatch, and paper are very susceptible to fire. Building fires are greatly feared, especially in large cities. In such densely packed areas, winds quickly carry sparks from a blaze to nearby buildings, touching off devastating fires that sweep through entire sections of the city. Every ward of the city has organized teams of fire-fighters (normally under the control of a noble). Practices are primitive, consisting of bucket gangs and pulling down nearby buildings to halt the spread of the blaze.

The other type of peasant home is made from pressed clay brick. This is commonly used in areas where good building wood is scarce. Such buildings are normally two stories tall. They are often built around a central courtyard or have a walled garden attached. The cooking is done in a kitchen area which is dominated by a clay or brick stove. Like other houses, there is no central heating or fireplaces for warmth. Charcoal braziers are placed in rooms when the weather is cold. The roofs are often flat, used as decks, or slightly canted and covered with glazed tile. Windows are built into nearly all the rooms and are covered with wooden lattices or heavy, removable shutters. The houses are often decorated with red-painted ornaments (red being considered a lucky color). Such houses, being mostly plaster, clay, and stone, are far less susceptible to fire.

The houses of nobles and the wealthy are in many ways identical to their peasant counterparts, except larger and more lavish. Nearly all include extensive garden grounds and large numbers of rooms. These are necessary to maintain the proper image of wealth and status and to house the retainers, servants, and wives of the lord. The garden grounds are carefully landscaped and often include a man-made pond or stream. Such homes are always surrounded by walls. These ensure privacy and, from a more practical side, protection from wars and revolts. All have solid wooden floors and chambers divided by movable screens.

Temple buildings are quite lavish in their construction. Generally, a group of buildings are organized within a single walled compound. The most common building material is wood, although magnificent towers (pagodas) are often built of stone. The temple usually rests on a raised foundation and is surrounded by terraces of stone. Around the outside of the building, under the broad-tiled eaves, is a broad veranda. The inside has a large main hall dominated by a statue or artifacts of the deity, quite imposing in size. Attached to the main hall are several smaller chambers for the use of the priests of the temple. The grounds of the compound are normally landscaped and planted with different types of flowering and decorative trees.

In addition to the main types of architecture, there is the special class of military buildings -- castles, watchtowers, and the like. Although the styles of architecture are different, these castles have many similarities to those of the west. The castle is usually located on the most commanding or strategic point of ground. The compound centers around the main building -- many stories tall -- the equivalent of the donjon or keep of the western world. Like the keep, this building forms the last point of defense. The foundation is made of heavy blocks of stone rising higher than a man. The entrance to this tower is reached by a series of ramps and staircases. Attached to and surrounding this tower are a series of lesser towers and walls. These have only a few gates that lead to narrow winding avenues. The walls are pierced with loopholes and openings, allowing the defenders to fire upon the attackers as they advance. Surrounding the castle is a series of ditches or moats, smaller walls, and more towers. Sieging a castle is a formidable undertaking!


The average man of Kara-Tur does not attend a church or temple on a regular basis, indeed the concept of a church as a separate entity clearly identified from all others is somewhat strange to him. For him, religion organized on such a scale does not exist. However, this does not mean the average man is not pious and respectful of religion, nor that the temples and monasteries are in total anarchy. It is just that the attitude toward religion is vastly different.

There are several different religions in Kara-Tur, each with its own set of beliefs and practices -- The Way, The Path of Enlightenment, The Eight Million Godsd, ancestor worship, the cult of the state, and more. Each is distinct, teaching enlightenment, perfection, and salvation according to its own methods. Each believes it is the correct path. However, in practice, few common people follow the beliefs of strictly one religion. Instead, they take no chances, not wishing to offend one deity or another. As a result, commoners make offerings, listen to sermons, celebrate holy days, and pray at temples of many different religions. Nor is this considered unusual or incorrect.

The various religions, when compared with those of the west, are extremely tolerant of one another. Several religions will be practiced in the same area, their temples often side by side. It is not unknown for a sect to adopt some of the practices or outward forms of another religion. These adoptions are re-explained according to the beliefs of the religion. Thus minor gods may be adopted and identified as different forms of a deity already worshipped by the religion. The clergy are faithful to their particular religion, not practicing any other. Although they would like the peasants to follow only their teachings and strive for this, they know that the common folk follow many different beliefs at once.

In addition, religions are often divided into sects. The various sects of a religion all have the same overall goal and beliefs, but disagree as to what is the best method to pursue those beliefs. Some may hold to chanting a phrase over and over again, another thinking a different phrase is required, and a third foregoing chanting for breathing and physical exercises. Each believes its methods are the correct way. Often fierce rivalries develop between different sects, leading to feuds and violent clashes. Indeed, sects of the same religion are often more hostile to each other than they are to entirely different religions.

Law and Justice

Most of the lands of Kara-Tur are quite civilized and organized. Law and order is an important part of this civilizing influence and a great deal of effort is devoted to maintaining order and harmony throughout the land of Kara-Tur. Therefore, regular systems of laws, courts and punishments exist. Although the exact laws and punishments may vary from country to country, the machinery of justice is remarkably the same throughout Kara-Tur.

The center of the legal system is the law court. These courts are found throughout the land, generally one to every province and major city. The head of the court is the magistrate, who has broad powers. He may be a scholar who earned his poost by passing the examinations, a noble appointed to the position by the emperor, the daimyo of the province, a learned sage, or the village headman. His official assistants are the bailiff and the constables. These in turn may hire outcasts as assistants. In addition, the magistrate may have one or more secretaries to assist in his work.


When the case first comes to the attention of the court, it is the responsibility of the bailiff and constables to gather the evidence required. Physical evidence is brought to the court and held until the trial. Witnesses and those involved in the case can be arrested and held by the constables or ordered to appear at the time of the trial. There is no protection from arrest, save the possible displeasure of the magistrate or higher authorities. Obviously, this can make it very difficult to arrest important or powerful people. Once all the evidence and witnesses have been gathered, the trial date is set, usually with little delay.

At the trial, the accused and the accuser are each allowed to state their case. There are no lawyers and the magistrate asks all necessary questions. If the accused or accuser is reluctant to speak, the magistrate can order the person beaten or tortured to aid their memory. Similar punishments await them if they are out of order. Witnesses are also ...



The people of Kara-Tur, it is noticed by gajin, are extraordinarily polite as a rule. They often go to meticulous pain to behave in the correct manner. Indeed, among the higher classes, incorrect or poor manners is virtually as great a crime as murder and severe punishments can be levied upon those who knowingly or unknowingly commit some social faux pas. Correct manners mark clearly the differences between various social classes and, perhaps more importantly, help prevent the possibility of embarrassing oneself in public. This latter is of great importance, since there is perhaps no greater sin than to be laughed at by others.

The bow is the most obvious expression of manners. It is not just a way of saying "Hello." It measures the respect one has for the person bowed to. Those of lower status bow lower to their superiors than their superiors do to them. Indeed, a high ranking official may barely nod to those under him. The greatest deference one can make is to kowtow -- kneel and touch one's head to the floor. This is normally done only in the presence of emperors and extremely powerful lords, but is sometimes necessary when apologizing to or begging forgivenes from another. Except in the presence of a powerful lord, kowtowing is an extreme act, since it represents the debasement and surrender of the person to another.

Manners also extend to what one says to another person. Statements, even when spoken in jest, can be insulting and offensive. Comments about another person's honor, courage, dislikes, fears, family, dress, behavior, friends, and even his possessions can be cause for insult. Insults are seldom taken lightly. Truly generous people might be able to ignore one or two words spoken in jest, but even they would surely not be able to abide more. Therefore, to prevent insults, conversations are often stilted or phrased in extremely polite terms to avoid offence.

It is the great concern over insults to honor and the risk of public ridicule that prompts so much of the politeness. Thus, the DM is allowed to cause player characters to lose honor when they do things that would bring them ridicule or make them look foolish. Player characters cannot be cavalier in their attitude, they must be careful of all they do and say.


In the western world, once a man is given a name, it stays with him for the rest of his life. He may acquire nicknames and aliases, but he can always be identified by his given name. Indeed, the process of changing a name could be a complicated legal matter, since it implies a change of family and identity. However, in the Oriental world, the situation is much different. Throughout the life of an Oriental character, he can expect to use at least two different names, quite often more. Each name would be valid for the person, depending on his age and situation. To further add to the confusion, aliases would also be used when the person wished to keep his identity secret.

The different types of names and their uses are listed below. Players need not have names for all these instances and many names are dropped (such as a childhood name) when a new name is given.

A secret name given at birth which is never revealed, but is supposedly known only to the gods. Superstition holds that learning the secret name of a person give magical power over that person.

A childhood name given the person at birth that is used in daily life. Childhood names are distinctly different from adult names making it easy to tell if a person has come of age.

An adult name given at coming of age that shows the person is now considered a full adult with all the inherent rights and responsibilities. Once the adult name is given, the childhood name is seldom, if ever, used.

A hereditary family name used in conjunction with the person's personal name. These are by no means universal, generally reserved for the upper classes and nobles. For the lower classes to attach a family name to the personal name is considered insulting and above their station.

A clan or tribe name used to identify the person by the group he belongs to. These are used by barbarian groups where tribal affiliation is extremely important.

A place name that acts in many ways like a hereditary family name. These are common among the common people and identify the village, district, province, or etc. the person is from.

A nickname used for much the same reasons as in the west -- to tell two people with the same name apart, as an honor, or to ridicule them.

A substitute name for people of quality, craftsmen, or those working at unseemly or improper occupations. This is the closest name to an alias. However, it does not disguise the identity of the person (everyone knows who he is and what his station is). It only protects the true name of the person from connection with the undesired activity.

A substitute name chosen by an artist (writer, craftsman, etc.) either because it would be improper to use one's real name since it might have associations to some powerful person or family, or to create a poetic allusion about the artist (a poet choosing a name that is derived from that of a great poet of the past).

A substitute name chose by an artist, craftsman, or warrior that shows his connection to some school or master.

A religious name taken upon entering the ranks of the priesthood. This name shows the person has severed his ties with his past life and become a new person. Religious names normally have some special significance in the religion.

Event names, chosen by the person or given by another, to tell of that person's deeds and exploits. Such names can come and go, depending on the whims and deeds of the person.

A posthumous name, given shortly after burial, to protect and assist the departed person from evil influences.