Dungeon Masters and players: prepare yourselves to enter a whole new world-the world of Oriental Adventures!
The material in this book will enable you to play the AD&D game as you've never played it before. In the lands of Oriental Adventures, characters are not judged solely on their prowess with sword and spell. Oriental characters' social skills and personal honor are just as important as their combat abilities. When was the last time politeness and proper manners really mattered in your campaign? How can characters associate with nobility if they know nothing of courts or court etiquette? How many AD&D characters worry about how their actions reflect upon their families and comrades? These and many other intricacies of social interactions and responsibilities are brought to light in this volume. Don't get the idea that Oriental Adventures characters don't fight. Pages and pages of Oriental weapons and armor are described and illustrated here. From the favored weapons of the ninja to thin pieces of cloth that actually stop arrows, the arms and defenses of the Orient are yours in the lands of Kara-Tur. Have a favorite monster from Japanese films? Find it under Gargantua in the Monsters section! Want to learn a martial arts style or create a new style? You can do it in the new worlds opened up to you in Oriental Adventures!
Oriental Adventures (1985), by David "Zeb" Cook, is TSR's eighth hardcover for the AD&D game. It was released in October 1985. This marked the first time ever that TSR released two hardcover books in a single year, following from Unearthed Arcana (1985). They’d keep up the two-a-year rate through 1987.
Disputed Origins. Gary Gygax says that he started thinking about an Asian-influenced supplement for AD&D as early as 1980, shortly after the original AD&D game (1977-1979) was completed. He first mentioned in it Dragon #90 (October 1984) when he announced that Francois Marcela-Froideval was working on rules "for including Oriental characters in the game", possibly as part of a "second volume of [the] Players Handbook".
By 1985, TSR was in severe financial straits, and so Gary Gygax suggested that a half-dozen new books be published under his name, one of which was Fracois Marcela-Froideval's Oriental Adventures. This increased the importance of the project and required it to hit its deadline; it's also where the book's history comes into some dispute.
David "Zeb" Cook was consulting on the project because of his interest in Japanese history and culture. As a result, when Marcela-Froideval turned in a manuscript for the book that was just 30-60 double-spaced pages, it landed in Cook's lap. Gygax then wrote Cook a contract to prepare the book on his own, with just 4-5 months to go on the deadline.
Everyone agrees that the resulting manuscript is 100% Cook's own, perhaps inspired by some of the ideas suggested by Gygax and in Marcela-Froideval's notes. However in much later years Gygax would claim that Cook "ramrodded" his book through TSR, with the intent to "sink Francois' material", and that he did so by taking advantage of the fact that Gygax was "engrossed in the business affairs of TSR".
Both Cook and the book's main editor, Mike Breault, disagree with this interpretation of events. Cook points toward his contract and says that Gygax was fully informed on how the book was being prepared.
Whatever the specifics, the book’s accepted origins are: Gygax came up with the idea; Marcela-Froideval wrote a manuscript that wasn’t published; and then Cook wrote a manuscript that was.
Some suggest that Gygax’s animosity toward Cook came about not because of Oriental Adventures, but instead what came afterward: reportedly, Gary Gygax asked Cook to join his new company, New Infinities, around 1986. Cook instead opted to remain at TSR where he continued to work with Gygax's arch-nemesis, Lorraine Williams, and where he eventually authored AD&D 2e (1989), which replaced Gygax's iteration of the game. It seems quite possible that this was the actual source of the dispute and might have colored the principles’ views of Oriental Adventures.
Disputed Bylines. Though Breault, Cook, and Gygax all agree that the text of Oriental Adventures was entirely written by Cook, the book was still released with the name "Gary Gygax" on the cover. This matched TSR’s trends for 1985, which also saw the release of the D&D Masters Rules (1985) and T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), each with Gygax receiving prime billing despite the fact that he probably didn't do any of the new work on either book. The intent was probably to put Gygax's name first and forefront in as many projects as it was possible, as good marketing that was intended to help save TSR from its financial hardships.
Though the cover of Oriental Adventures says "Gary Gygax", it doesn't actually say "by Gary Gygax" — a distinction that might or might not have been intentional. Greyhawk Adventures (1988) similarly lists James M. Ward's name on the cover without a "by". The inside credits of Oriental Adventures offer a more accurate depiction of how the book was created saying that "Original Oriental Adventures Concept" was by Gary Gygax with Francois Marcela-Froideval while "Oriental Adventures Design" was by David "Zeb" Cook.
Disputed Intellectual Property. Editor Mike Breault reports that there was one other legal oddity having to do with Oriental Adventures: when Breault got the book back from typesetting he discovered that the book's indicia had been changed to claim that Gary Gygax was the owner of the copyright to AD&D. Breault reported the problem to TSR Legal who reportedly had a confrontation with Gygax that resulted in the indicia being returned to its original form.
Continuing the AD&D Hardcovers. Earlier in 1985, TSR had introduced a new sort of AD&D hardcover: Unearthed Arcana (1985) was a pure rules supplement that added new classes, races, spells, and other mechanics to the Players Handbook (1978). Oriental Adventures was the same but more-so. It was an entire alternate Players Handbook, complete with a full set of classes, races, and spells, plus new rules for families, honor, and martial arts. It could entirely replace the classic Players Handbook for games set in Asian-influenced lands.
This made Oriental Adventures an important part of what's now called the 1.5e release of AD&D. This was a fairly dramatic revamp of the rules to AD&D that added lots of classes and some important new rules. It's generally understood to included Unearthed Arcana, Oriental Adventures, Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986), and Wilderness Survival Guide (1986).
Some also see Oriental Adventures as the first of AD&D’s setting-heavy hardcovers — a series that also included Dragonlance Adventures (1987), Greyhawk Adventures (1988), Forgotten Realms Adventures (1990), and to a lesser extent Manual of the Planes (1987). Though Oriental Adventures originated the "Adventures" nomenclature, it’s quite different from the later books because it largely evokes setting through its classes, races, and other rules; the land of Kara-Tur is given just 6 pages of description near the end of the book.
About the Orient. Though Oriental Adventures marked TSR's entry to the world of Asian-influenced fantasy, it wasn't the first look at the topic in a FRPG. In fact, there were already two complete Asian-influenced FRPGs: FGU's Land of the Rising Sun (1980), and Phoenix Games' Bushido (1980), which was picked up by FGU for a second edition (1981). Despite being late to the party, Oriental Adventures did very well — probably out-selling the two earlier games in short order.
By adapting Asian fantasy elements, Oriental Adventures also introduced a lot of new mechanics to the AD&D game, among them many new classes. Characters like the ninja and the samurai were well-known — and in fact The Dragon had published a samurai class in issue #3 (October 1976); the shukenja, the wu jen and others were probably newer to most readers. However, the book's most interesting addition might have been a new version of the monk; the monk had always been the odd-man out in the traditional AD&D game, but now he was allowed to flourish in what Gygax considered to be his native environment.
About Skills. Oriental Adventures' most important additional to the future of the AD&D game was its inclusion of "non-weapon proficiencies" — which is to say skills. They were already a central part of many RPGs: GDW's Traveller (1977) introduced the idea, while Chaosium's RuneQuest (1978) moved them to the fantasy realm and turned them into something that could be improved. By the early '80s, many other influential games such as The Fantasy Trip (1977, 1980) and Rolemaster (1980, 1982) also included skills. In other words, AD&D was again playing catch up.
Cook's first iteration of skills didn't tie them to AD&D’s attributes. This was revamped by Douglas Niles in the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, which also adapted Cook’s non-weapon proficiencies to a western setting. Cook himself returned to the topic of skills when he wrote AD&D 2e. He made them an official (but optional) rule set — but almost all 2e groups used them. Since D&D 3e (2000), skills have become a totally standard part of the D&D rules — but it took 15 years to get there!
The 2e Connection. Gygax apparently liked Oriental Adventures enough that he said in Dragon #103 (November 1985) that the Players Handbook for the second edition of AD&D would include material from both Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures. At a minimum, he intended to replace the classic monk class with its Oriental Adventures brethren.
Gygax's plans for 2e never came about due to his being forced out of the company shortly afterward. Instead, it was Zeb Cook who wrote 2e, and ironically he left the Asian-influenced character classes out of the new game. Despite that, the 1e Oriental Adventures sourcebook kept being referenced for years after the release of 2e — showing that edition lines weren't as hard and fast then as they are now.
Expanding Greyhawk. In Francois Marcela-Froideval's original design, Oriental Adventures was supposed to be set in the world of Greyhawk. His Asian-influenced lands were going to lie past the west coast of Oerik. Since either Frank Mentzer or Len Lakofka was working on an eastern continent, this along with a southern continent would have completed the world of Greyhawk as a globe. This idea was still being touted in Dragon #102 (October 1985), just before Oriental Adventures' publication, but it was abandoned shortly thereafter.
Expanding the Realms. Instead, the world of Oriental Adventures was added to the Forgotten Realms with the publication of Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988). However, Zeb Cook's massive Asian-influenced land ended up being a little too big for the Realms, so it was shrunk down for future iterations of the setting.
Future History. Oriental Adventures was very popular and ended up being the best-seller for TSR in 1985, despite many other popular publications appearing that year. It subsequently spawned eleven direct spinoffs. Most of them were adventure supplements. OA1: "Swords of the Daimyo" (1986) also added considerable detail on the world of Kara-Tur. The series then ran through OA7: "Test of the Samurai" (1990) and was afterward restarted with a Forgotten Realms prefix for FROA1: “Ninja Wars” (1990) — but that was the final Oriental Adventures release. The other Oriental Adventures supplements were the "Warlords" 1-on-1 gamebook (1985), the aforementioned Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988) boxed set, and MC6: "Monstrous Compendium Kara-Tur Appendix" (1990).
Oriental Adventures also was the source of two spin-off settings for the Forgotten Realms. The first was The Horde (1990), which depicts the lands west of Kara-Tur; it was presented as a bridge book between Western and Eastern culture. The second was Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures (1992) which was pitched at TSR as a sequel to Oriental Adventures, showing how popular the setting remained almost a decade after its release. (The released version of Al-Qadim doesn’t actually reference Oriental Adventures, which may have been out-of-print by that time.)
Wizards of the Coast reused the name more recently to produce Oriental Adventures (2001), but this 3e book depicts the Legend of the Five Rings (1997) world of Rokugan rather than the classic land of Kara-Tur.
About the Creators. Cook got his start with D&D with A1: "Slave Pits of the Undercity" (1980), but he was better known for his Basic D&D work prior to 1985. Following the publication of Oriental Adventures, Cook contributed to several Asian-influenced supplements at TSR, including three of the "OA" adventure books, The Horde (1990), and the related Horselands (1990) novel. He even returned to the topic in the d20 era, contributing to Green Ronin's Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts (2001), a book of Asian monsters.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.