Thursday, 18 February 2016

[My Game, Let Me Show You It] Ainu Moshir Mood Pieces

I am planning a 5th edition D&D game set in a re-imagined Wa or Kozakura (the pseudo-Japanese bits of Kara-Tur, which is in turn the pseudo-Asia of the Forgotten Realms). The conceit is that this is Wa during a much earlier era period than the sengoku-jidai of samurai and ninja which most people are familiar with and which is pastiched in Kara-Tur. My game is set in is something like the late Nara/early Heian period (around 790 AD), when the Japanese state was only just coming together and the court was beginning to come under the influence of the Chinese and Koreans. In those days a saburahi was another word for a servant of the nobility; and a warrior, a bushi, was more likely to prioritise study of the bow than the sword.

In that era the centre of Japanese civilization was in the Kansai plain, with the capital moving around between modern Nara and Kyoto. Northern Honshu and Hokkaido were for the Japanese a wild, untamed wilderness, populated by a strange hairy people they knew as the Emishi, who are nowadays thought to be related to the Ainu. During the following centuries the Japanese gradually moved into this 'wilderness' and subdued it, slowly but surely fighting their way north until the process was finally completed with the annexation of Hokkaido in the late 19th century. My game is set in a very loose, weird re-imagining of the very earliest points of contact between Japanese and Emishi, in the deeply forested, cold and snowy North of the archipelago.

Here are some pictures.

A bear spirit. The Emishi worship immortal bear demi-gods who live in the forests. Big, dark, embodiments of nature who know only that they are owed respect and fealty.

An Emishi hunter. 

The great forest in winter. The frost itself is alive. It steals in during the night and lays itself on the earth while the people sleep. 

An owl spirit. Other demigods of the forest include the fox, the hare, the wolf, the marsh mussel, the frog, the marsh demon, and the moss spirit. 

An Ainu woman. Women's lips are tattoo'd, and they are the only ones permitted to tell stories. They are the druids of the setting. 

A valley of a moss spirit. Somewhere in its depths the spirit lurks. It never moves when a person is looking. 

An Emishi girl, before coming of age and initiation as a druid. 

Crow spirits are shape-shifters. They sometimes appear as men or women, wearing black. If they bring dung into the home of a man it curses the place forever. 

Crane spirits at dawn, coalescing from the mist which forms on rivers and marshes, and disappearing when the sun melts them away. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Kent, I'll delete this and any further "trying to get a rise out of me" comments.

  2. Sweet idea. This is an era of history I know almost nothing about, so the inspiration for the setting alone is fascinating. I love the idea of sentient forests filled with old spirits that seem to go on forever. Looking forward to reading more!

  3. Seems like an intriguing era to base a game on, and it helpfully is both before the era of Japanese history that most of us know (Meji on) and before the era of Japanese history often used for "fantasy Japan".

  4. I am unintentionally racist when it comes to Asian cultures. They are so far away and exotic that I can't separate them from one another no matter how hard I try, and I do try. Japan is a bit easier for me to understand, I'm not sure why that is, perhaps Americans have embraced Japan more than any other Asian culture, so we unintentionally lump a lot of stuff together.

    I love the images that you invoke with this. It is exotic and appears to be full of laws and customs which are alien to my western mind, which makes for a fantastic and immersive setting.

    One element that I love about Oriental Settings is undead. THAT STUFF IS TERRIFYING! The Ravenloft Monster Compendium III added a ton of oriental monsters, things that are so visually scary that I just show the players the picture half the time, rather than just typically describing it. Descriptions sometimes just don't do creatures justice.

  5. the Emishi are nowadays thought to be related to the Ainu.

    That's one theory. Another one is that they descended from the original inhabitants of the islands, the ones who did not intermarry with those who came from the Asian continent. This is more or less the background of Prince Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke.

  6. This raises an interesting issue for me: use analogs (Kara-tur) or use real history? If you're going to use all the details from real history but just dnd-ify it a bit, why not use the real deal? The spirits, Druids, so on in the setting can just as easily be used, right? Or is something lost or gained by using the analog? I'm planning a 800 AD Europe Lamentations game and this keeps popping up in my head. Also maps.

    On another note, I don't know how long you're planning on running it, but 5E is still super heroes after level 4-5, and that may break the feel you're going for. I know it's the hotness, but you're probably better off with Basic.

    1. Good points, but I'm deliberately setting this in Kara-Tur and using 5th edition because I have a plan to ultimately release an adventure based on this through DM's Guild. It's part of my "let's be innovative with the Forgotten Realms" project:

    2. Makes sense. Have you run any historical dnd games? How did New Troy ever end up? That was a pretty cool set of ideas that I would throw money at you for (like Yoon Suin). Unlike Yoon Suin, I'd probably actually run New Troy, which I call Ilium in my head. :)

    3. New Troy is on the back burner for the time being but hasn't gone away by any means.

  7. Man, between this and your Jupiter project, you keep coming *alarmingly* close to stuff I've been working lately. Get outta my brain!

    Anyway, I'd play this in a second. I hope you'll include an NPC based off Yamato Takeru no Mikoto?