Sorry if the elaborate title misled you; this is just a collection of loose thoughts that have been on the back of my head since I returned to martial arts practice a year or so ago, and got the opportunity to delve a bit into Chinese, Japanese and Ryukyuu history and culture.
Since I’m a lazy bum when it comes to gaming, I intend to do very little conversion work. I’d use the Assassin for ninja, Cleric for yamabushi (warlike monks of Shugendo, a syncretic Buddhist/Shinto belief system, infamous for donning arms and armor and fighting alongside samurai), Fighter for samurai, Mage for Taoist sorcerers, Mystic for sohei (Buddhist warrior monks), Shaman for Shinto priests, Thief for yakuza and common crooks… and pretty much call it a day. Between the class writeups and the ample choice of proficiencies, I feel they do a fantastic job of covering the Japanese- and Chinese-inspired fantasy archetypes I think my PCs would enjoy playing.
Oh, and don’t get me started on weapons. To quote one of my favorite posters from another site, “a katana is just a longsword, you assholes!”
Setting-wise, the “points of light” approach that’s so competently executed with the Auran Empire gains an East Asian mirror. The Auran Empire stand-in, the fallen empire that predates the campaign’s action by a few generations, takes after China; but the actual, immediate setting is a fantasy take on historical, mythical and literary Japan.
Much like D&D all too often implies a milieu that takes after the Dark Ages, with ruins and fallen empires, and dresses it in late Medieval garb with full plate armor and Zweihanders, our ersatz-Japan has a lot in common, politically, with the Heian era of the bloody Genpei Wars (one such major conflict may be brewing very close to the surface as the campaign starts), but wears the familiar trappings of Tokugawa Japan, the backdrop of so many of the period epics commonly referred to as chanbara or jidaigeki. Samurais wear lacquered armor and carry the daisho (katana and wakizashi), swear fealty to a daimyo, commit seppuku before dishonor, etc.
Daimyos rule the land backed by samurai and war amongst themselves, the Emperor a distant figurehead, but a clever Shogun (a “field marshal” of sorts) may yet rise from these warring ranks and rule the Empire in all but name. So depending on the PCs’ actions, our Japan stand-in could stay in the Heian era and experience its own catastrophic civil war (threat of invasion by Mongols optional), or skip straight ahead to the prosperous Tokugawa shogunate.
What do y’all think?