Review: Rite Publishing – Heroes of the Jade Oath (BETA)


Product Name: Heroes of the Jade Oath
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Author: Frank Carr
System: OGL
Setting: Arcana Evolved, Lands of the Jade Oath
Series:
Theme: Asian Epic Fantasy
Type: Core
Link: http://themysticalthrone.com/?p=17847

Rite Publishing recently sent me a free copy of their Heroes of the Jade Oath BETA edition for Arcana Evolved. What I thought might be fantasy adventuring in Asian lands turned out to be much more grand and dynamic. Heroes of the Jade Oath is much more than adventures in Asian lands, it is a fully-involved setting, built from the ground up using Asian influences and themes that create an entire Asian-inspired place where everyone and everything is a part of the landscape. Rite Publishing took many of the standard Epic Fantasy races and classes and molded them so that they look and feel as though they properly belong within the Asian-inspired setting. In addition to races and classes, new religions have been created using Asian inspiration, such as Buddhism and Shinto, along with mechanics that correspond to the different types of philosophies found in Asian lands, such as Confucianism and Taoism.

Heroes of the Jade Oath could be considered as more than just a new setting. It is more like a re-tooling of the standard (or typical) Epic Fantasy system and conforming it to different methodologies and mechanics. Through these efforts, a truly rich and flavorful Asian Fantasy setting has been created, placing the lands of the Jade Oath within their own world separate from the many Epic Fantasy settings that have been around for years. It should be noted that the version I was sent is the BETA version and not the final OMEGA version. Rite Publishing has informed me that the OMEGA version will incorporate updates from playtesting, another round of editing, an overhaul to the equipment section, additional artwork and a Pathfinder version. This review will take these into consideration and they will not be considered when determining the ratings.

SETTING

Heroes of the Jade Oath opens up with a detailed look at the entire setting. The applicable land is divided into five territories (Center, West, North, East and South) with each territory being fully detailed. These details includes the physical location (in relation to other areas), pertinent regions (similar to kingdoms), major cities, landmarks, societies and notes about the different races and creatures residing within these territories. Each territory includes details on environment, terrain, typical architecture, clothing styles, agriculture and a look at how the people live.

The illustration to the left is one of the new pieces of artwork being incorporated into the OMEGA edition and depicts one of the societies “seals” by artist James “Devin Night” Haveless. The different societies include details on which races and classes are commonly a part of those societies. While all of this is important to the DM, players can use it to create a character’s background and help in determining what parts of society they are directly involved in. I did find that, at times, some of this content was a bit excessive and possibly unnecessary. While its easy to breeze over the content you don’t intend to use, it makes for a lot of reading. Wrapping up this chapter is a look at the different religions and religious factions. Each one is well-described and includes fairly obvious Asian influences.

RACES

There are many typical races found within the lands of the Jade Oath, plus a few new ones. However, these races do not look and feel like their standard Epic Fantasy counterparts. Each one is taken and altered so that they become an integral part of the setting in every possible way. This not only includes their backgrounds, religions, descriptions and languages, but also incorporates alterations of their names (the name of the race, not the just the name of the character being created) to coincide with the Asian experience. To coincide with its use for Arcana Evolved, the races also contain Evolved mechanics. New races also include full details on racial skills and abilities. The illustration to the right is one of the new pieces of artwork being incorporated into the OMEGA edition, depicting the “Giant” race (known as Dahren), by artist John Wigley.

Some of the other “variant” races include sanesaram (dwarfs), qahngol (half-orcs), yueyangren (light elves) and yueyingrin (dark elves). One of the truly unique races available in the lands of the Jade Oath are the shenxue, the coming together of the mortal races and the spirits. There is a ton of options available for creating these different spiritual mortals by using different aspects. These spiritual aspects are similar to the Shinto religion where every object in the known world and otherworldly objects have an inherent spirit or deity that encompasses them. By using different aspects, characters gain different abilities and/or penalties that correspond to their “design”. I’m not going to go into the details of these aspects because there are a lot of them. Once again, a wealth of options for creating very unique characters.

CLASSES

The classes within the lands of the Jade Oath are truly amazing. Some of these classes take the typical Epic Fantasy descriptions and alter them in extraordinary ways. The other classes are new and once again encompass the look and feel of the entire setting. Each one is fully detailed and includes all the standard mechanics for using the class including a table for level-advancing. The illustration to the left is another new piece of artwork being incorporated into the OMEGA edition by artist Giordano Pranzoni. These classes contain different specialization “trees” that allow for further unique characters to be created. For instance, the Demon Hunter class chooses from a list of traditions to signify the hunting techniques they have learned. Enlightened Scholars have knowledge tress to signify the different focuses of their studies.

Much of these classes revolve around martial arts or similar samurai styles. Not only are these brought out by the specialization trees, but also with the incorporation of Ch’i, Chakra and other philosophies or worshiping methods. The beauty of this is that religion is not simply tied to a god, good or evil. These specializations are tied to many levels of philosophy, spiritual worship, knowledge and focused training. These mechanics help to encompass the different philosophies found throughout the Asian culture dating back over 2000 years. One thing that is very different is the witch class. Instead of creating multiple arcane classes, there is one class with multiple specializations. This allows one to create a dragon witch, five element witch, ghost witch and more. It should be noted that standard classes from Arcana Evolved are allowed within the setting, but they don’t really encompass how the setting is supposed to feel during game-play.

MECHANICS

Lots of game-play mechanics are presented. This includes skill modifications, new skills (such as Feng Shui), feat modifications, a whole lot of new feats (using Ch’i, Chakra and those Unbound), ceremonial feats, new combat rites (combat maneuvers) and my favorite the zodiac signs. These zodiac signs correspond to different Asian calendar years, the five elements and the yin and yang. Each one carries bonuses and penalties bringing the background of a character full-circle with the setting’s Asian influences.

EQUIPMENT AND MAGIC

The equipment list is very large and contains a lot of samurai and ninja weapons and armor in various shapes and sizes. Along with the “standard” equipment table, each item is also fully described in words too fully understand its appearance and use.

A new line of magic is detailed in Heroes of the Jade Oath called Sutra Magic. From its description: “Sutras are sacred stories, prayers, or other lessons and expressions of the universe.” It’s quite obvious that philosophy and spiritual religion carries a heavy influence within the setting, as opposed to simple god or deity worship. To represent this, Frank Carr has created a new type of magic source that coincides with the concepts of philosophy, self-cultivation (the process of educating yourself), inner-spiritual balance (including purification rituals) and negative and positive energy. This is a much different approach than the standard arcane or divine methods of magical manifestations. This is a great way of tying magic to these philosophies and religious methods.

OVERALL

Heroes of the Jade Oath is a great setting. It contains a wealth of background content and each area within the lands are fully detailed. The races and classes have (primarily) all been altered with Asian influences in a way that truly makes them a part of the setting instead of foreign adventurers in an Asian land. The religions really come to life along with the Asian philosophies and even zodiac signs. The equipment listing is filled with samurai and ninja-inspired weapons and armor round out the experience, bringing it to life.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 7 out of 10
Don’t fear the length of the publication. While it is a 340-page PDF (including the cover and contents), it utilizes a fairly large font that makes reading quicker than other publications of the same size using a smaller font. Plus the content is filled with class and race-specific mechanics that only need to be utilized when choosing those classes and races. However, there are chapters that contain a lot of content that are a bit excessive. Some of the details may not be necessary, although they do provide the user with many ideas on how to flesh out their character descriptions. The presentation is very lateral within the different chapters and pin-pointing specific details requires a bit of thorough reading. There’s (currently) no index which could make referencing these details much quicker and easier. All the illustrations are wonderful and the posted glimpses at additional artwork only enhances the visual appeal of the publication. The cover itself is enough to draw you in to the content and the interior art does not let down. It should be noted that some of these may be resolved with the OMEGA edition.

Mechanics: 10 out of 10
All the new mechanics within Heroes of the Jade Oath are where the setting truly shines and comes to life. From the races and classes to the religions and magic, everything is Asian-influenced or inspired and players are sure to become truly involved in a setting that is unique in every aspect. Some of the biggest mechanics to be highlighted are the incorporation of Ch’i and Taoism (the Yin and Yang).

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
If anyone desires to play in a true Asian Epic Fantasy setting, Heroes of the Jade Oath is exactly what you need. The only thing that player’s may stumble on is the sheer number of options for the different classes. While it’s great to have a lot of options, sometimes too many causes frustrations. On the other hand, these number of options allow players and DMs create a multitude of characters that are all unique in their own way.

Overall: 9 out of 10
Heroes of the Jade Oath is a fantastic setting that could be considered a whole new system of its own (minus the core mechanics from Arcana Evolved). Everything about it has been designed and developed from the ground up using Asian themes and influences. It’s rich, dynamic and filled with dimension. Above all, it’s completely unique in every single way, giving players and DMs a new experience with lots of possibilities and great adventures to be had.

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One Comment

  1. Rite Publishing says:

    Thank you for taking the time to do a review of our product.

    Steve Russell
    Rite Publishing