Magic in Oriental Adventures

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Dragonhelm
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Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Dragonhelm » Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:19 am

One of my favorite aspects of Oriental Adventures, most notably in the 3e version, is the use of elemental magic.

The wu jen (OA wizard variant) has magic based on the Chinese elements: fire, water, earth, wood, and metal. Note that air is missing.

The shugenja are "divine spellcasters who cast spells by attuning themselves to the elements around them and focusing the power of the
elements through their bodies to produce magical effects." In Rokugan, they attune themselves to elemental kami spirits. They focus on the Japanese elements of earth, air, fire, water, and void.

Both class models have good flavor. However, I have to wonder about why there would be this dichotomy in a fantasy world. In Rokugan, there are no wu jen, so no big deal. However, the wu jen and shugenja are both available in any setting with an Oriental Adventures theme.

This brings up some questions.
  1. Why the difference?
  2. How would wu jen and shugenja relate in the same setting?
  3. Should they be combined into a single class?
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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Dragonhelm » Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:19 am

Tangent: For some interesting reading on the elements in various real-world cultures, check out this article. It also has a fantasy version combining the Japanese and Chinese elements into one system.
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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by sycarion » Thu Nov 07, 2019 6:00 pm

I've used the seven-element system from that site with some success. I wasn't able to reassociate the spells in a satisfactory way, but simply redefining the elemental planes through a curve to my players.

Although I don't know why two systems were used, I appreciate the differences they provide. If both systems used the same elementals, the two classes would feel too similar.

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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Ashtagon » Thu Nov 07, 2019 8:21 pm

The two magic systems exist because the game designers kitchen-sinked the setting. The wu jen of course don't exist in Rokugan. I suspect the shaman class presented in OA 3e was intended to take on the role of the shukenja class from OA 1e, with the 3e shugenja class being unique to Rokugan. Of course, things never play out that way.

The wu jen as noted uses Chinese elemental philosophy; this was embedded into the class design from AD&D 1st edition. Note that this class name is written in Chinese (Wade-Giles, not pinyin)

AD&D 1st edition shugenja ("shukenja") did not use elemental philosophy in the class design; that was added in 3rd edition, in order to tie it in to Rokugan's setting better. The 1st edition class seems to be strongly inspired by the character Tripitarka from the old TV series Monkey Magic. This class name is written in Japanese.
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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by thorr-kan » Thu Nov 07, 2019 9:57 pm

If you're using both in the same setting, how about this?

Shugenja are divine spellcasters based on divine elemental spirits. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are how the Celestial Bureaucracy divvy up the elements for divine purposes.

Wu jen are arcane spellcasters based on the Prime Material. Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, and Metal are how elements are divvied up down here with us mortals.

No, they don't match, but arcane and divine magic are *different.*

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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Cthulhudrew » Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:20 pm

As Ash points out, the big issue is that the 3E OA book, while ostensibly built to support the Rokugan setting as a default, also tried to be compatible with pre-3E AD&D Oriental Adventures games, which featured the Wu Jen and Shukenja, and other 1E takes on Asian fantasy, not all of which is terribly consistent with what western society now knows and understands about Asian mythology and history. (Gary and, notably, Zeb Cook kind of made some of it up).
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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Dragonhelm » Sat Nov 09, 2019 1:49 am

Interestingly enough, the wu jen subclass for the mystic (psionic playtest class) for 5e has the following disciplines:
Wu Jen Disciplines
Mastery of Air
Mastery of Fire
Mastery of Force
Mastery of Ice
Mastery of Light and Darkness
Mastery of Water
Mastery of Weather
Mastery of Wood and Earth
So that list includes earth, air, fire, and water, and has wood in the same category as earth. Weather includes lightning and thunder. While metal isn't listed, some of the powers of Wood and Earth include things that affect metal (i.e. weapons and armor).

What are your thoughts of this presentation?
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Re: Magic in Oriental Adventures

Post by Big Mac » Sat Nov 09, 2019 4:01 pm

Dragonhelm wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:19 am
One of my favorite aspects of Oriental Adventures, most notably in the 3e version, is the use of elemental magic.

The wu jen (OA wizard variant) has magic based on the Chinese elements: fire, water, earth, wood, and metal. Note that air is missing.

The shugenja are "divine spellcasters who cast spells by attuning themselves to the elements around them and focusing the power of the
elements through their bodies to produce magical effects." In Rokugan, they attune themselves to elemental kami spirits. They focus on the Japanese elements of earth, air, fire, water, and void.

Both class models have good flavor. However, I have to wonder about why there would be this dichotomy in a fantasy world. In Rokugan, there are no wu jen, so no big deal. However, the wu jen and shugenja are both available in any setting with an Oriental Adventures theme.
A long time ago, in a D&D forum far far away, I used to grumble about the new Oriental Adventures swapping out Kara-Tur for Rokugan.

Then I turned back to the "Light Side of the Forum" and looked at the 3e Oriental Adventures product line, from the point-of-view of people who would like it (mostly because I realised that spacefarers from Kara-Tur needed other Asian themed worlds to visit (like Rokugan and Mahusarpa).

So after looking at it again (and comparing OA to the 3rd Edition Rokugan Campaign Setting book) I realised that you are not supposed to use everything in OA in Rokugan. I believe that the 3e OA book has stuff for both Rokugan and Kara-Tur and that you are supposed to use the stuff that matches the setting you prefer.
Dragonhelm wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 5:19 am
This brings up some questions.
  1. Why the difference?
  2. How would wu jen and shugenja relate in the same setting?
  3. Should they be combined into a single class?
I would say:
  • To try to get both Legend of the Five Rings fans and Kara-Tur fans to migrate to 3rd Edition D&D :twisted:
  • I don't think they are meant to be used together, but they could meet in something like a Spelljammer game or a Planescape game
  • I suppose you could try to merge the two classes, it would be a bit like having optional lists of Elements (like 2e had Spheres of Influence for Priests and 3e had Domains for Clerics or Dragonlance had different moons to power different wizards
If wu jen and shugenja met in a Spelljammer or Planescape setting, they could use similar powers to compete with each other. It might be fun. To outsiders it might seem like the same power, but to the wu jen and shugenja themselves, they would feel very different.
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