Dragonblade is part Avatar, part Kung-Fu Panda, and part Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is an East Asian mash-up the way that most fantasy settings are a European mash-up. I’m drawing primarily from Chinese, Japanese and Indian mythology and folklore.
Key to how the setting is built, even in D&D terms, is the Daoist concept of the five elements.
Intro to the Setting
New Harmony is a small, out-of-the-way town at the edge of the Middle Kingdom where the player-characters once lived. New Harmony, or to some simply Harmony, was founded generations ago by a priest of the forgotten gods. It came to be a sanctuary for people who wished to be left to themselves, or who did not fit so well in the wider society. Because of the diversity of its inhabitants, New Harmony has long been relatively self-sufficient. There is a road that goes through town, and travelers come and go, but it is not a major trade route. Recently, New Harmony fell under the control of the
Yellow Dragon Emperor’s forces, led by Commander Toda.
It’s tempting sometimes to get bogged down in what we think of as historical East Asian etiquette, especially in the case of Japan. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be a Charisma check when in doubt, and if you insult someone or profane something, it’ll piss people off no matter where you go.
The Riverlands are like pre-Mughal northern India, and this realm is home to Dandaka Forest, the homeland of the garuda. At the center of the Forest is Mount Sumeru, a huge high mountain once thought to be sacred to the gods.
The Lao is a term for the people living in the hill country, jungles and rainforests to the southeast of the Middle Kingdom. Though there are innumerable cultures, the Lao language is known to many inhabitants.
The Maluku Islands lie farther to the southeast of the Middle Kingdom, a long journey even from the Lao lands. They are a vast island chain, including perhaps a thousand individual islands or more, inhabited by various tropical, seafaring cultures.
The Dry Lands are a vast realm far to the south of the Maluku Islands, a desiccated land that is home to alien creatures and peoples.
The World’s Edge is thought to lie at the farthest edges of the sea to the east and south. Some say that if one sailed far enough, one would come around to the other side of the world, but no one has ever done so.
The Barrier Wastes lie far to the north and the west. In the north, a gruelling tundra that is home to enormous shaggy beasts, and to the west, a twisting harsh desert that is said to go on forever, or at least farther than travelers have gone.
The Old Gods
Sources for the Setting
A big influence on the setting is Broadly speaking, this includes honoring one’s ancestors and elders, loyalty to family, upright and virtuous behavior, and knowing one’s place in society.
Broadly speaking, a profusion of deities of all kinds who incarnate in human form, a complex philosophy of interconnectedness, and millions of words of folklore and mythical stories, none of which need to agree on details.
Daoism (The Changing Way)
The over-arching view of the cosmos and the supernatural (in this fictional setting) tends to be derived from Daoism. There are five elements: earth, water, fire, wood and metal, and they represent a cycle that occurs in dynasties, seasons, and individual lives. Geomancers consult on building construction and mark dragon lines. Qi (chi) is seen as a fundamental animating force in all of nature, powering everything from magical spells to the life in one’s breath.
We will create and/or finalize characters together during the first gaming session. Characters have to be connected to each other in some way at creation. There are no clerics or paladins to start, but otherwise classes are different in color only. Races are all unique to this setting, with the exception of humans, or “ren.”
Alignment is divided into benevolence and selfishness on the one hand, and legalism and freedom on the other.
Equipment includes unique weapons, armor, vehicles and mounts
Languages for at character creation include one regional language and, if applicable, one species language.
Treasure includes magic items, coinage and precious materials.
I’m running vanilla D&D 5E with a few house rules that I think will work well with the system.
Medicine Doesn’t Suck: as written, Wisdom (Medicine) is really only good for stabilizing characters and diagnosing diseases. First off, it can also diagnose poinson, conditions and so on. Second, I think that a DC 15 check after a fight to render first aid will let a character roll a hit die to recover, as if they had a short rest. To balance this out, if someone not trained in Medicine fails, the patient loses 1 hit point. I’d also consider a DC 20 check to remove a condition after a battle (like poisoned or a level of fatigue). For now, let’s say a character can only benefit from first aid in this way once per long rest.
Let It Ride: taken from Burning Wheel and subsequent games, Let It Ride essentially says that once you roll for something, you don’t keep re-rolling. This prevents players from rolling over again and again to attempt something difficult, and prevents the DM from calling for multiple rolls until the PC fails and danger ensues.
Open Initiative: At the beginning of combat, players roll initiative as usual. The players themselves, however, decide who goes in which initiative slot, allowing them to make more tactical decisions on when to use which abilities.
Succeed With A Cost: An option implied by the DMG but not spelled out, players always have the option of their character succeeding with a cost. What this means depends on the circumstances, but essentially, the character succeeds, but at the same time, something bad happens. This could be hit point damage, a level of exhaustion, damaged or lost equipment, disadvantage on their next roll, etc. The player decides whether she wants to succeed with a cost before she knows what the cost will be.
Choose Your Crit. Not from the DMG, but I like to have some options for the results of a critical hit, and I prefer those options not to be randomized. If someone wants random, that’s easy enough to work out. Options:
1. Roll double weapon dice, add double modifier (don’t double bonus dice like sneak attack)
2. Deal maximum damage (including bonus dice like sneak attack)
3. Knock your target prone and deal normal damage
4. Cripple your target temporarily: halved movement and cannot run until a short rest; plus normal damage
5. Disarm your opponent; their weapon falls in an adjacent square; deal normal damage
6. Stun your opponent; Constitution save DC 10 to end after 1 round; deal normal damage
7. Drive your opponent 10 feet back, and follow them if you choose; deal normal damage
8. Draw your opponent 10 feet forward; normal damage
9. Shove your opponent 5 feet to either side, take a 5 foot move if you choose; normal damage
10. Grapple your opponent; normal damage
NPC and enemy critical hits always deal max damage.
Players Roll All the Dice. I just like this one, and it doesn’t require a ton of changes. Armor class is reduced by 10 and becomes a modifier to a d20 roll against a difficulty of 10 + NPC’s attack bonus. If enemy has advantage, you have disadvantage on the roll. So, for example, invisibility gives you advantage on attack and defense rolls. Monsters will deal average damage with their attack, or maximum damage if the player rolls a 1 on their defense (a NPC crit). Maybe the player can reduce the damage dealt by taking a consequence, like being stunned, knocked prone, etc.
Legendary Magic Items
Astras (Weapons of the Gods)
Agneyastra, fire arrow of the gods
Manavastra, not even sure what this is yet
Varunastra, an arrow that releases torrent of water
Chakkri, a thrown spinning disk; bane of demons and weapon of ancient Lao kings
Compliant Rod, the gold-banded iron staff of the Monkey King
Gan Jiang and Mo Ye, male and female swords forged through self-sacrifice Grass-Cutting Sword, legendary sword that can control the winds; AKA Kusanagi (Imperial Sword), the sword of the Daimyo
Green Destiny, legendary sword of Li Mu Bai
Green Dragon Crescent Blade, an enormously heavy halberd
Heavenly Jeweled Spear, used to first raise the land out of the sea
Honjo Masamune, the greatest sword made by the greatest swordmaker
Shower-of-Arrows, an arrow that splits into multiple arrows in flight
Three Infallible Arrows, given by the gods, three arrows that cannot miss
Thunderbolt Diamond (Vajra), a mace that is both a thunderbolt and a diamond
Vijaya Dhanush (Bow of Karna), bow of the great war-hero Karna