5th Edition D&D: Dragonblade! High Concept

Image credit: Mirror with coiling dragon, Tang Dynasty, Cleveland Museum of Art

We recently finished our third session (two sessions after character creation and a system intro) of Dragonblade!, and so far I think it is going well. If nothing else, as DM, I’m having a blast. We have a half-oni warlock who has pacted with the Elder Gods who dwell in the darkness behind the stars, another half-oni barbarian who worships the Arbiter of Souls in a world the gods have abandoned, a vanara monk who is good-hearted and only slightly more intelligent than an Ochre Jelly, and a nezumi sorceress who enjoys biting people so much she sometimes forgets she even has spells.

Beyond the fun of playing is the necessary, for D&D, fun of planning and hacking my way through 5th Edition to make this homebrew setting. And this is what I’m going to be going through in these blog posts that probably no one reads. This blog is 10 years old – I started it back when blogging was a thing, and before WordPress was a thing. But I like throwing gaming-related stuff on here.

Dragonblade’s High Concept

The high-level idea I had for Dragonblade came out of, as I’ve mentioned, my re-reading of the Dragonlance Chronicles and my thinking over what those storylines, so tied to AD&D, would look like if re-envisioned through the lens of 5th Edition, not to mention the last 30 years of game design. I thought about how Krynn, like many AD&D settings, was its own flavor of fantasy European mash-up. In contrast to the 500 million European fantasy mash-up settings, there are few East Asian ones, and most of them are Oriental fetishism, usually specifically Japanese fetishism. How many times have I had to sit through two caucasian fans of L5R argue about what “real” magic-wielding samurais would be like? Too many times. In addition, I’m all too aware of the history of cultural appropriation and Orientalism that periodically pervades Western culture. The “exotic East” and all that.

And there is so much more to East Asian mythology than the Euro-American view of feudal Japan, including religion, folklore and fantasy of every kind. In the same way that authors have turned to not only Celtic and Anglo-Saxon mythologies but Teutonic, Scandinavian, Russian and Mediterranean, what would it look like if a setting took into account Mongolian, northern and southern Chinese, Thai, Aryan and Dravidic cultures and lore, and took them on their own terms, as much as possible for an outsider who is not a scholar in any of these things? And rather than try to recreate a colonial view of these cultures, mash them up into a fun fantasy setting for D&D?

Then I dropped the idea of Dragonlance and went with Dragonblade, because it sounds awesome. (There are still “dragon-lances”, which is actually one name used in medieval China for pole weapons that spat gunpowder and projectiles).

Having said all that, I still had to generalize and mash cultures together into big vague groups – the world is infinitely complicated, but this is D&D, and still a hobby after all. I decided there would be five main cultural groups: the Han (fantasy China), the Yamata (fantasy Japan and some Korea), the Lao (fantasy Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), the Agama (fantasy northern India) and the Maluku Islands (fantasy Indonesia, Malaysia). I also have a few fringe regions with their own broad cultures: the Dry Lands (fantasy Australia and New Zealand), the Barrier Wastes (fantasy Mongolia, Syria and Silk Road cultures), and the North (fantasy tundra peoples, Siberians, etc.) which I don’t have a cool name for yet. Boreal Realm? I’ll think of something.

Of course a lot of this is stealing, drawing heavily on my dusty old Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies, and a lot of mixing and matching and mashing. One of the things I’m learning over again is how much interchange in culture and mythology there was between all of these cultures. Not surprising, just cool to find these connections.

Coming in future posts, I’m going to talk about: playable species, animals, monsters, the forgotten gods, philosophies (I’m focusing on Vedaism, Confucianism and Daoism, especially at first), the interaction of the elements (translating the five Daoist elements to D&D terms was a fun challenge), and the multiverse (a mix of Tibetan six-realm metaphysics, Confucian and Daoist beliefs). Also, of course, dragons and blades.

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