|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 overview of the land, from pages 136 to 137.|
Kara-tur is the name of a vast continental area, encompassing within it a tremendous range of climates, terrains, governments, societies, cultures, and beliefs. Indeed, such is its variety that to detail the continent completely would require another work the size of this, devoted exclusively to the campaign information required. Presented here is a general overview of the principal lands -- their geographies, governments, and societies. It is given to provide the DM with the very beginning basis for an Oriental campaign.
Within Kara-Tur are four main empires -- Shou Lung, T'u Lung, Koza-kura, and Wa. Surrounding these are a host of other political units -- uncivilized tribes, tribal confederations, warlord domains, petty kingdoms, and trading outposts. Many of these form convenient alliances with their more powerful neighbors while others, feisty and rebellious, maintain their independence as best they can. In addition to these settled lands, tracts of unsettled and inhospitable wilderness are found throughout Kara-Tur, inhabited only by a few hardy settlers, bandits, dangerous head-hunters, non-human societies, and monsters.
Within the boudns of Kara-Tur is virtually every type of terrain commonly found in our world. In the far northern reaches is the Land of Snow Demons, a vast expanse of permafrost tundra, unbroken except for a few stunted trees and unheavals of rock. The winters here are long and extremely harsh and the summers are cool and short. As one travels southward out of the permafrost, the land becomes thickly-wooded and swampy. These woods, mostly pine with a thick undergrowth of thorny berries, mosses, and ferns, are rich in wildlife -- deer, moose, elk, bear, fox, rabbit, etc. The land gradually rises to the south until it reaches the Koryaz Mountains, a series of low mountain ranges. Waters flow from the north and south into this basin, forming a network of streams, lakes, and swamps feeding the Ama River which drains into the northern end of the Celestial Sea. During the spring months the Ama turns into a raging torrent, swollen with the runoff of melting snow.
At the southwestern end of the Ama Basin are a series of rugged foothills that separate the basin from the drier steppes beyond. These steppes, extending for thousands of square miles, are relatively flat and featureless, only occaisionally broken by rocky outcroppings. The area is known variously as the Desert of Horses or the Beastlands. To the northeast of the Ama Basin, the continent curves around the northern end of the Celestial Sea, extending a mountainous peninsula southwards. Breaking off from the tip of this peninsula are a series of rugged islands, including the islands of Wa and Kozakura. Warm southern ocean currents bring these islands a mild temperate climate.
South of the Koryaz mountains is a high plain forming the northern provinces of Chukei and Pyint'sien of the Shou Lung Empire. This area was once a fertile meadow region, but changing weather patterns and poor land management have reduced it to a dusty, cold, wind-swept plateau. To the west, the Koryaz Mountains arc to the south and gradually decline into a range of foothills, forming a barrier between the Chukei Plateau and the Desert of Horses. To the east the plateau drops in an abrupt series of escarpments to the coast of the Celestial Sea.
Still further south, the plateau gently slopes away into the rolling hills, and descends into the main river basin of Kara-Tur. To the east are the fertile floodplains, well-watered and loamy. Extending to the west, three major rivers, the Ch'ing Tung, the Hungsete, and the Fenghsintzu, tumble out of the mountains and descend through the rolling hills to the Celestial Sea. The weather is warm and temperate, becoming sub-tropical along the southern side of the basin. To the west and southwest the Peerless Mountains (Wu Pi Te Shan Mo), gradually reach towering heights. The lower slopes are warm and humid, covered with lush growth, while the peaks are jagged and frozen. South of the Three-River Basin, the ground again rises in a ruggedly rolling countryside. The sub-tropical weather makes everything lush and green, fed by the monsoons that sweep through each year. The coast swings out to the southeast, marking the lower end of the Celestial Sea. The ranges of hills extend to the south and southeast, gradually rising into a volcanic chain. The climate becomes fully tropical, with thick verdant jungles filled with all manner of strange and fanciful creatures. Feathery peninsulas reach into the Eastern Ocean and island chains dot its waters.
In Kara-Tur the majority of the population is concentrated within the Three-River Basin, its surrounding foothills, and on the islands of Wa and Kozakura. Centered in the Three-River Basin and extending to the west and north is the Shou Lung Empire. To support its massive population, nearly all arable land of the basin is used for farming, while herding and some small agriculture is done on the Chukei Plateau. The Peerless and Koryaz mountains are mined for valuable ores that are sent downstream or overland. Along the southern and southwestern side of the Three-River Basin is the Empire of T'u Lung. Here again farming is practiced, primarily along the banks of the Fenghsintzu while farming and lumbering are common in the southern hills. To the north, in the Ama Basin, live tribes of nomadic hunters who practice little farming but raise herds of elk and reindeer. The few human tribes that live in the Land of Snow Demons survive by hunting seal, bear, and reindeer. To the west in the Desert of Horses live several tribes of nomadic horsemen, joined together in a loose confederation. A strong leader has recently appeared among them and is gradually welding them into a fierce warrior-nation.
On the lower end of the peninsula to the northeast of the Ama Basin are several petty kingdoms, tributary states of the Shou Lung Empire. One the islands between the peninsula and the islands of Wa and Kozakura are several tribes of primitive fishermen and hunters. Wa and Kozakura are populated by a people different from those found on the mainland, most likely an offshoot branch that settled the islands in ancient times.
South of the Three-River Basin, the human population gradually thins out until there are isolated tribes living in the jungles. Those along the coast trade extensively with the more civilized north and have formed several small states that pay tribute to T'u Lung or Shou Lung. Deep in the jungle are the remnants of an ancient empire that once held sway over all the southern lands. Ruled by a race of evil snake creatures (possibly yuan-ti), this empire corrupted and transformed several of the human groups it came in contact with.
Shou Lung (or "Receiver of the Dragon") is the largest and most powerful empire of Kara-Tur. It is also the oldest state of Kara-Tur and has been in existence for over 1,200 years in one form or another. It has been ruled by an emperor for all its history, except for a few periods of turmoil. The head and center of the state is the current emperor Chin ofthe Kuo Dynasty, the eighth dynasty to rule the land. The bureaucracy he heads is manned by thousands of officials, major and minor, chosen by a system of examinations given throughout the land. Thus, within Shou Lung it is possible for even the poorest commoner to rise to an influential position, provided he is talented enough and studies hard.
Shou Lung is divided into 14 provinces, each headed by a governor. The provinces are in turn divided into districts, also with its own official. At each level the officials are responsible for the management of those beneath them, the hearing of court cases, keeping the peace, collection of taxes, and the construction of public works.
The provinces are connected by a well-maintained network of roads and bridges, creating a regular flow of trade between different provinces. There is also an extensive network of Imperial Messengers stationed at depots throughout the land to carry news to and from the capital city, T'ien Shih. Extensive areas of dikes and dams have been built along major rivers to reduce the risk of flooding. Regular coinage and paper money are minted and honored throughout the land.
T'u Lung ("Earth Dragon") was part of Shou Lung until a dispute over Imperial succession 300 years ago. Claiming its own emperor, T'u Lung set up a separate imperial court. After many wars between the two states, the situation has stabilized. No love is lost between the two empires. In the wars of succession, the Emperor of T'u Lung was supported by powerful officials and nobles of the rebelling provinces. This led to their acquiring great power and strength. Although the government is modeled after that of Shou Lung, the Emperor of T'u Lung (of the Lui Dynasty) has never been able to break the power of his nobles. Thus they control the examination system and have arranged for various offices to become hereditary. Furthermore, their power has allowed them to exempt their estates from most imperial edicts (including taxation). Now the Emperor can only enforce his edicts with the consent of the majority of nobles. Commoners have little chance to rise in the government and corruption of official posts is common.
T'u Lung is divided into six provinces, each administered by a hereditary governor. The provinces are divided into districts and official positions are assigned on the basis of family and graft. Although T'u Lung inherited the public works of Shou Lung, these are poorly maintained and new projects are seldom undertaken. The people are easily oppressed, having no recourse to law. The prime activity in the capital, Chia Wan Ch'uan, is political plotting. Many of the nobles of T'u Lung are leaders of secret societies pledged to overthrow the Emperor.
The island of Wa is a unified military state. Although there is an emperor, the title is honorary and real power rests in the hands of the shogun or "barbarian-suppressing general". The shogun is always a member of the Hidetomi family. The island is divided into fiefs, granted by the shogun, and ruled individually by daimyos. Each daimyo has total control over his lands, provided he obeys and enacts the orders of the shogun. Indeed, the court of the shogun only involves itself in threats against its power and in cases between different fiefs. However, the shogun does retain the power to confiscate lands or resettle a daimyo to a different fief, a power that helps his family retain control. In return for his fief, the daimyo is expected to provide military service and administer his lands.
Within Wa the status of the warrior, particularly the samurai, has been raised above all others. Each daimyo maintains a household of samurai, payeing them a stipend of rice in return for their service. These samurai are expected to give absolute and loyal service to their daimyo. Under the warriors come the peasants, then the craftsmen, and finally the merchants. Rigid laws have been enacted to keep each social class separate. Cities are customarily divided into walled wards. Those living in a ward must pass through armed gates to visit other parts of the cityand must return to their own ward at night. Samurai are gigven special priveleges, particularly those of vendetta and the right to avenge insults, as befits their military upbringing. Travel is strictly controlled and leaving or entering the island is difficult. THe intent of these laws and regulations is to prevent any possibility of rebellion or civil war against the shogun.
Kozakura ("Little Cherry Blossom") is inhabited by the same race of people as found on Wa and shares virtually the same customs and traditions. However, Kozakura is far from a unified state. For several centuries it has been the scene of incessant warfare between powerful daimyos, all struggling to gain the title of shogun. The island is divided into fiefs and estates, ruled by the daimyos. It is a very turbulent place -- one where fortunes and might can be achieved by those of even the most common upbringing. As such, it is the perfect place for the adventurer seeking fame and fortune.
Currently, a struggle is raging between several powerful daimyos who support the emperor in his bid to regain his long-lost political power and the remains of the bakufu, or shogunal government. Each side is attempting to ally the remaining families on the island. Of these families, some are joining out of loyalty and others see the chance to amass more power themselves. Some families are even arranging to be allied to both sides so they cannot lose! Although the warrior is the most respected and powerful class, Kozakura lacks the rigid laws of Wa and more than once a humble peasant has risen to powerful lord through his military skill.
Players who already have the AD&D game rules may want to introduce character classes from these worlds into the land of Oriental Adventures. However, these lands are very different from those of the standard classes of fighter, magic user, cleric, and thief. The lands described in this book are insular and closed -- they avoid contact with the outside world when possible. True, trade exists with the outside world, but it is infrequent and carefully controlled. Furthermore, many ply the sea lanes and caravan routes with gold and treasures only to disappear at the hands of bandits or other, more cruel, dangers.
The result of this separation has left the inhabitants of the Oriental Adventures lands with two peculiar traits. The first is a lack of curiousity about the rest of the world. To most people of the Oriental lands, the outside world is filled with rude and hostile barbarians (known as gajin). As such they are not dealt with, having nothing of value to offer. This leads to the second of their traits -- the belief that they are superior to the gajin, that all gajin are below the level of culture and refinement of their lands.
Therefore, when other character classes enter Oriental lands -- perhaps by a long sea journey or arduous overland trip -- they will discover that their level and character class has little meaning to the Oriental population. Instead, they are gajin, uncivilized outsiders.
As gajin, the characters have several disadvantages and advantages. First, gajin are outside the social order of the Oriental lands. The inhabitants of the land do not know exactly where to place them in the caste system. If a character can show some equivalent rank to a class that exists in the Oriental lands, he will be treated as if he were a member of that class, though always with a slight edge of contempt. Thus, if a fighter can show that he serves a great lord in his land, he would be treated as if he were a samurai -- although he would never receive the full recognition a normal samurai would. Gajin are also without family or clan and can never gain the benefits of belonging to one, as Oriental Adventures characters do. Finally, the gajin must relearn a great many basic skills. The common language of his land is not the trade language used here. This must be learned in order to communicate. Clothing is different and proper styles and patterns of dress must be relearned. Armor is also different and the gajin must receive instruction before using it. Indeed, the very fabric of society is different and the gajin on his own must constantly be careful to avoid innumerable social blunders and outrages while living among the Oriental people.
There are, however, advantages. Firstly, a change of location does nothing to affect the abilities of the character. Those powers a character possessed in one land still apply here. Secondly, being an outsider, the character is not affected by honor. This does not mean the character has no honor, rather that the particular code of honor used in Oriental Adventures has no bearing on the gajin character. Gajin characters do not use the honor system presented in this rulebook. Thirdly, the gajin character is a novelty. If he behaves in a civilized and proper manner, he will find himself the honored guest of one or many lords, who gain great honor by sponsoring the gajin. In this position, he will be closer to those in power than his normal caste would allow.
The various non-humans foudn in the other AD&D works are even more unusual to the people of Oriental Adventures. Whereas the other gajin are at least human, these are totally unknown. They are often mistaken for hairy men or spirit folk or spirits roaming the earth. On rare occaisions they will be attacked by those who mistake them for dangerous and evil creatures. In all cases, they are a novelty.