Monday, February 07, 2011

Role-Playing Games and Laos

Could a Lao role-playing game succeed?

With 230,000+ Lao in the United States, and as millions of role-playing gamers around the world, I think a well-written, FUN game can, and would be worthwhile to try for many reasons, cultural and recreational.

Roleplaying games historically trace their roots back to 1971 and the game Chainmail by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. These rules were originally focused on wargames using tiny, 40mm miniatures of medieval knights, but eventually set the groundwork for the extraordinarily popular Dungeons and Dragons. Over time other games emerged, set in the distant future or in contemporary urban noir horror environments, even cyberpunk and steampunk, the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkein and Michael Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft and many others.

Most of the early settings took place in worlds that resembled Medieval Europe, and drew from the legends of King Arthur and Charlamagne, The Grimm Brother's folk tales and Greek, Roman and Norse mythology. But over time, Dungeons and Dragons introduced a complete set of rules for playing the game based on a primarily Japanese/Chinese setting called Oriental Adventures.

In hindsight, it was really terrible, filled with a lot of cultural inaccuracies, stereotypes and exoticization of Asian societies, even for a fantasy game, but as a young person, it was really groundbreaking.

Today, we see many others written with greater depth and an expanded knowledge of Asian history, philosophy, mythology and culture. Some interesting works are set in history such as Qin: The Warring States:

or The Celestial Empire, which also transports you to life in ancient China:

Others are set in a near-historic, mythic realm such as Legend of the Five Rings, which focuses on a samurai fantasy realm besieged by any number of threats such as the undead horrors of the Shadowland or the uncertain allegiances of the serpentine naga and flesh-eating fiends.

For people who like vampires and horror storytelling games, White Wolf Games for a while had a line called Kindred of the East, which I felt was horribly uneven but filled with potential:

There's even a few movements to play games set in a steampunk world, occasionally termed Victoriental. Which is terribly politically incorrect, but I'm just pointing out that it's out there.

It goes without saying that many of these games are still written with something of a fetish and a tendency to exoticize both individuals and the Asiatic cultures being presented, but I would fault that with the individual writers and companies, and not an inherent flaw in the games in themselves.

Far too many supplements and adventures for these games go for cheesecake shots of submissive geishas with ridiculously improbable, gravity defying outfits and are written like pieces of cardboard furniture. But I would say that at least leaves the field wide open for a Lao American roleplaying game to be written on our own terms.

In upcoming posts, I'll discuss some of the possibilities and challenges that would make both mythic, historic and futuristic Laos an interesting setting for players.

As an addendum to prove my point, here's a Thai MMORPG that demonstrates there's much rich culture and fantasy that could be drawn upon to make a Lao setting of interest:


bigWOWO said...

Found your blog through Kartika.

Man, that Oriental Adventures D&D book brings back memories. I remember when I got that as a gift, and man, was I proud! I didn't think anything about exoticization or anything like that. I just thought how cool it was.

The memories we have locked up in our minds...

Bryan Thao Worra said...

Absolutely. There's a lot of two steps forward one step back in this field.

Moments where I go: Hey, this is really rife with potential and then grab another book and it's OMG-Is-That-What-You-Think-We-Are?

I admit, I played the heck out of that book when it came out. In hindight, the half-ogre ninja was a bit of a stretch but it provided a great counterbalance to a strictly medieval Europe stand-in.