Monday, October 1, 2012

Rule of Law: Importing Eastern Ideas

Translating ideas from one culture to another can be difficult. Things don't match exactly, whether you're talking about words or institutions. But I think this can be done, and its one of my goals for the Rule of Law setting. To that end, I've been thinking about how a number of institutions from East Asian (mostly Japanese) culture could be imported into a western setting. I'm not looking to just add Samurai into a western setting, or to say that a game that uses Samurai and Ninja classes is bad. The goal of the Chinese Rome ideal is to translate concepts from a game I'm interested in playing into a language and milieu that some of my friends would be willing to do.

These are a few of the ideas that I think could fit:

Swords are restricted

One interesting and rather iconic era of Japanese history had strict arms control. That is, swords and other weapons were restricted to the higher casts. This would be an interesting import, as only citizens of the Empire or certain races might be allowed to use "real" weapons. Swords are restricted to nobles and warrior-caste types. Or, perhaps put otherwise, some races are banned from using swords: Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Goblins, Orcs, etc. Dwarves might use axes and picks because they are their tools. Halflings would use sickles and staves because they're practical.  This restriction saw the rise of all types of non-weapon implements used as weapons in Japan. We don't need to import non-western weapons though. Rope weapons, sickles, scythes, flails... there are plenty of options in D&D without needing to borrow heavily from iconic eastern weapons.


I've mentioned druids before, but I still see this as an interesting concept. The druid is more concerned with keeping balance and placating the powers than worshipping them per se. This might fit as shinto, taoist, or even zen priests. Its not just about harmony with nature though, the Empire is seen as a reflection of heaven's order.

Priests are sacred

By imperial decree, anyone who harms a priest loses his arm. I read this in Journey to the West and thought it seemed great at the time.

Syncratic Religion with Sects

Competing religions, competing sects. This is actually a huge departure from traditional fantasy worlds. Instead of distinct gods, there are different sects of the same religion. This is, I think, one of the harder things for people to wrap their brains around in Fading Suns, but I like the idea. Its actually more Eastern/Byzantine than Roman. The Church of the Wisdom Kings works with other religions, not to stamp them out but because they believe that all religions are part of the same whole. Likewise, they don't deny the shamans or philosophers their place, since its all part of the same religion. Feuds are between competing sects, not who one venerates per se.


Rather than using Chinese characters, I think adapting the Sumerian ones provides a western counterpart. So Cuneiform script will be the 'old style' of writing, while alphabetic writing is used for the modern common tongue. There are a few other Hieroglyphic writing systems that could be used, but Cuneiform is nice and stylized without really being pictures. Egyptian is too iconic, Luwian or Linear B might be useful but are still fairly "pictographic". A rune-script could be interesting though too. "Runes" are really just a script that looks angular and foreign. Cuneiform, at least, is represented in Unicode and would be easy to incorporate.

Crime Families

Pathfinder Paladin
Both the ideas of the yakuza (mafia) and ninjas fit as organized crime gangs and a specific type of "thieves' guild" from western fantasy. Surely the yakuza and ninja can fit somehow into a rogue, assassin, and/or thief class.

Honor and Nobility

Western fantasy has downplayed some aspects of honor that are at the heart of the old Arthurian tradition. There's no reason why paladins and cavaliers (and characters of noble birth) wouldn't have an honor system with relatively specific rules for dealing with its violations. Really, why should there be a samurai class in the game if the Paladin and/or Cavalier do that? Is a samurai much different than a knight? The idea of the Ronin even might help capture those cavaliers who lose their honor or have no master to serve, just like the Blackguard is a fallen or anti-paladin.
Pathfinder Samurai

Caste System

This isn't just an India thing. A lot of cultures contrast noble/elite classes versus common classes. Feudal Japan clearly does this with the samurai. I think in a fantasy world, that race can help do this quite nicely. Some races are clearly on top, while others are on the bottom. I've toyed with going so far as to say things like "elves are a priestly caste", "dwarves are a worker caste", etc. That seems to go a little too far though. But the idea that some races are ill-suited for ruling or war or basic labor could easily be found. Some races might be "untouchable" and unclean at the most fundamental societal level in the Empire.

Pathfinder Cavalier
Each of these institutions or concepts would be very appropriate in Oriental Adventures, Bushido, Legend of the Five Rings, or Sengoku. But when you look closely, they're also completely possible in a western setting as well. Many aren't even really "eastern" concepts per se, they just combine to give some of the distinct flavor of those settings. What might I skip? Ki and Karma come to mind. Besides being generally misunderstood, these two concepts might be difficult to translate in the way that people often do.


Ki, as your spell points, would be fine and its already penciled in. Ki as something that everyone has to power special class abilities... well, that's somewhat like action points. It just seems like it would be a mechanically extra thing, though I do see the benefit of giving everyone a set of magic points.


Karma is a particular real-world religious notion. It isn't something you build up and store per se, that's merit. Though the Jain notion of particles that weigh down your soul is kind of interesting. Karma is really just a doctrine that says actions have consequences. Its less of a "what goes around, comes around" than what most people imagine. I think Karma might work as it relates to priests and piety, I'm not sure that it needs to be a universal system. Especially since I want some mystery still in the game, meaning effects that reach beyond the realm of the living have to be carefully considered.
I'm sure that ki and karma could find a place. But my goal is to have a compelling setting, not to cram all of (East) Asia into Rome.

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