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Saturday 3 September 2016

Classic Rant: Putting Even More India Into Arrows of Indra

I’ve heard a lot of praise for Arrows of Indra, very little unreasonable criticism, and a few notes of reasonable criticisms too, and its one of the latter that I’d like to talk about today.

One thing people have commented on alongside all the praise for the game, for the detail of its setting, etc., is that one thing they weren’t totally impressed by is how the classes are largely an attempt to port the standard AD&D classes directly over to the Epic India setting.

This is a valid criticism to make, because it was an intentional decision on my part: I suspect that for a lot of gamers, that’s what they’ll be most comfortable with. Now, keep in mind they’re not exactly identical by any means. I mean, a fighter or a thief is largely the same in D&D as in AoI, but the change in the magic system makes both Priests and Siddhis quite different from Clerics and Magic-Users in D&D. Likewise, in the case of subclasses, its true that the Shaman-priest is more druidic but he’s not a druid (closer to a modified version of the Priest); the Scout is only “ranger-like” in the sense that he’s a wilderness guy (but for example, he has no magic, unlike his D&D-equivalent); the Thugee is pretty close to an assassin mechanically speaking but the rules and restrictions for him are very different; and likewise you can say the same about the Virakshatriya (holy warrior) and the paladin. Yogis are certainly monk-like, but they’re more Indian and less Chinese. So in all the cases of the sub-classes there definitely was an effort to adapt them to the setting. 

At the same time, its fair to say that this is what they were: an adaptation of classes to fit the setting rather than trying to do something radically different.

The big problem as I see it isn’t that I chose to make the classes familiar rather than picking something really weird and wonderful; I don’t think there would be a lot of completely new classes that would have made a lot of sense in the Epic India context. The real place where you could make a legitimate complaint is just that some of these classes, while representing things that would definitely exist in the Epic India world, would make no sense as “adventuring” classes. Of course, you can say the same thing about D&D vis a vis European Fantasy; I mean generally speaking priests didn’t go around bashing other people’s heads in and exploring dungeons, and there were no Shaolin monks that I know of in 13th century western Europe.

But in the spirit of trying to help those who would like their AoI campaign to be a little bit closer to the Epic India feel, here’s what I would suggest:

1. Priests are NPC-only classes. The Priests are who you go see before or after an adventure, or sometimes during; they’re not the adventurers themselves. Because AoI Priests are neither undead-turners nor the-only-healers of the game, you don’t actually “need” them (in the sense that some might argue you “need” a D&D cleric); so keep the class off-limits to PCs. 
You could, alternately, allow Priest class but only for barbarians (priest-shamans) and non-humans; making them a highly exotic class.

2. Get rid of Thugees. At first glance, this seems like a strange choice, but in fact the Kali-worshiping assassin cult is completely anachronistic to the Epic India period; Kali wasn’t even a very important goddess at the time (in fact, she may not even have existed as a separate deity yet, from an historical point of view). 

3. Get rid of Yogis. Again, there are yogis, but these would be Siddhi ascetics who have vowed a life of isolation and inaction, and would not be going around adventuring. There were Yogis who were physical masters like the yogi class in AoI, but these were not really martial-arts focused so much as capable of incredible and extreme physical feats; in the Epic India context, they were also more about making prophecies, cursing people, bearing messages from the gods, or being who you went off to find when you needed some kind of really powerful divine-intervention-type help. So again, Yogis would just be NPCs.

There’s an optional 4th point too, which would be to get rid of most non-human PC races, or take some measure to limit their availability. Yakshas and Gandharvas would be super super rare in any civilized area, as would Vanara anywhere north of the Riksha mountains. You could theoretically keep Rakshasas and Bhils (human barbarians) but these would be difficult to integrate into any group that had high-caste or Holy individuals. As a GM you could either just ban them altogether or put some kind of barrier to access; one suggestion might be that when people roll for Caste, a “dalit” result should be substituted with the option of playing one of these rarer non-humans (since Dalits really probably shouldn’t be going around with non-dalits in an adventuring party anyways, if authenticity is your goal).

Now, I don’t think you really NEED to do any of these things to have an exciting and interesting campaign of AoI that is still More Than Authentic Enough. But if you really want to get just a little bit closer to the Epic India context, that’s probably what I’d do.


(Originally Posted March 26, 2013)

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