Kara-Tur is a fantasy world created by David Cook which first appeared in the Oriental Adventures rulebook for the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game in 1986. Kara-Tur's cultures and peoples are fantasy analogues of medieval regions of East Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, the Ryukyu Islands, Tibet, and others. In 1987, Kara-Tur was placed as a continent on the same fictional world east of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
The fantasy setting known as Kara-Tur was described in the original 1985 Oriental Adventures book. A reviewer for White Dwarf called the long background section of Kara-Tur in the book, a "bonus". Kara-Tur is described in the "Province Book" from the 1986 Swords of the Daimyo module.:108 The 1987 Forgotten Realms Campaign Set left the eastern half of its continent reserved for the future publication of Kara-Tur. According to Jim Bambra, "While primarily drawing on Japan for inspiration, [Kara-Tur] also contains elements of medieval China and Korea."
Originally intended as a western part of the continent of Oerik, the first description of Kara-Tur, in the Oriental Adventures rulebook, made no attempt to link it with another D&D game-world. The first map of Kara-Tur appeared in the adventure module OA1: Swords of the Daimyo, where the setting was still world-neutral. In 1987, when TSR published the first Forgotten Realms boxed set, Kara-Tur was briefly described as the easternmost end of the continent of Faerûn. In 1988, TSR released a boxed set, Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms, describing the region in greater detail, with two 96-page books and maps.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition
In 1989 a printing of Trail Maps for Kara-Tur appeared.
In 1990 the maps were again included in The Forgotten Realms Atlas. Later that year TSR converted the monsters of Kara-Tur to second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules as part of the Monstrous Compendium series.
After 1990, TSR ceased publishing new material related to Kara-Tur. The setting was, however, occasionally referred to by other TSR products such as Spelljammer and Ravenloft.
Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition
After the release of Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast published a completely new version of Oriental Adventures. The default world of this new rulebook was Rokugan, the setting for AEG's Legend of the Five Rings.
The setting of Kara-Tur still exists on Abeir-Toril and is often mentioned in Forgotten Realms supplements. Characters and artifacts from Kara-Tur sometimes show up in Faerûn, but beyond that there is little interaction between the continents. In 2005, AEG dropped the D20 version of Legend of the Five Rings.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition
The 2015 release of Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, a supplement, introduced Kara-Tur to the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. There is a brief description of the land along with references throughout the book to its culture and how certain classes or backgrounds might fit in there.
Ten distinct nations and regions described in the set include:
- Shou Lung: Imperial China
- T'u Lung: Historical dissident states based in South China during eras of political disunity (i.e. Nanzhao and Kingdom of Dali, formerly centred in present-day Yunnan province)
- Wa: Feudal Japan (Edo period):109
- Kozakura: Japan/Ryukyu Islands (Ashikaga period)
- Northern Wastes: Historical non-Sinic tribal societies of Manchuria or Northeast China
- Tabot: Tibet:103
- Koryo: Korea:103
- The Island Kingdoms: Pre-colonial Hindu-influenced civilizations of Indonesia and the Philippines.
- The Plain of Horses: Historical Mongolia.:103 This region is the Kara-Tur portion of the Hordelands, also known as the Endless Wastes.
- The Jungle Lands of Malatra: Pre-colonial civilizations of Indochina (historical versions of the Khmer Empire and Vietnam) as well as the hill tribes inspired by their real-life Southeast Asian counterparts.
The empire was started by a simple peasant known as Nung Fu, who was invested with the Emblems of Authority by the semi-legendary Nine Travelers (although it was his great grandson that was the first Emperor of the Li Dynasty). The Empire of Shou Lung has the longest history in Kara-Tur second only to the Empire of Wa. It has had six dynasties so far starting with Li Dynasty (Dynasty of Might), Ho Dynasty (Dynasty of Peace), Hai Dynasty (Dynasty of the Oceans), Kao Dynasty (The High Dynasty), La Dynasty (Wax Dynasty) and the Kuo Dynasty (Dynasty of the Nation).
The official head of the government is the Emperor, but in practice everyday affairs of state are handled by the Chancellor, who executes the Emperor's decrees, oversees the bureaucracy and controls the information that reaches the emperor's ears. The current Emperor is Kai Tsao Shou Chin. The Wu Jens are the Emperor's official court wizards, who advises the Emperor's policies with divinations and deals with magical threats. The government is composed of eight ministries: State, War, Magic, Faith, Sea, Agriculture, Public Works and State Security. It is a meritocratic system; every year the Civil Service Examination holds examinations to test candidates for government jobs. The Shou have always had a strong trading relation with Faerûn. In fact certain regions in Faerûn make a living solely on the imports from Shou Lung and many merchants, settlers, and diplomats have come to Faerûn in search of new opportunities in the West and set up the Shou Expatriate region. The people of Shou Lung frown upon the slave trade, and anybody found guilty of trafficking in slaves is put to death.
The Shou practice mainly two forms of religion, "The Path of Enlightenment" (analog for Confucianism and to an extent, Theravada Buddhism) and "The Way" (analog for Daoism). The majority of the people in Shou Lung practice the Path of Enlightenment, in which they worship the Celestial Emperor and the Nine Travelers and a whole host of lesser immortals and spirits who make up what is called the Celestial Bureaucracy. Unlike the people of Faerûn, devotion to a single deity is very rare in Shou Lung. The other Shou religion, which is more popular in the southern provinces, is simply called "The Way" and is more of an ethical philosophy than a true religion characterized by divinities, spirits and a fully realized metaphysics. It focuses on the enlightenment of the self through the practice of certain spiritual exercises rather than the worship of particular gods. Kana and her family were practitioners of the Way[original research?].
Lying between Kara-Tur and the Horse-Plains was a Great Wall of Stone, better known as the Dragonwall. According to legend, a wu jen wizard was tasked by the emperor to find a way to keep the Tuigan hordes from raiding Shou Lung's northern provinces. The wu jen stole the Jade Mirror from the sea dragon Pao Hu Jen, whose body was thousands of kilometers long. The wu jen led the dragon on a chase along the border, and at a certain point stopped and held up the Jade Mirror to the dragon's eyes, which instantly turned him to stone. After his petrified body fell to the ground, the emperor had his engineers carve fortifications into it so that it could serve them as a defensive wall.
Jim Bambra likened Kozakura to a fantasy version of feudal Japan, stating that it closely resembles "the war-torn period of Japanese history between the Kamakura and Sengoku periods, when rival daimyos engaged in bloody struggles for power".
The Tabot nation was formed during the "Year of Frost" when the Shou Ho Dynasty decreed that the Path of Enlightenment was to be the official and only religion in Shou Lung. Many monks, temples and religious orders of the Way were persecuted in Shou Lung and they fled to the mountains. The temple militias of sohei and monks that fled there formed an alliance against the Shou and founded the nation of Tabot. The Shou attempted invasions well into the early Kai Dynasty but had little success due to the Crystalline Warriors of Ji that protected Tabot. Centuries later, the nobles of Tabot were overthrown by a six-year-old boy called the High Lord of Oceans, and established Tabot's current theocratic government in which the clergy of the Way holds most political power in the mountainous nation.
The Kingdom of Koryo held power over the entire peninsula of Choson. The kingdom had it origins in the Kingdom of Silla. When the King of Silla attempted to launch an attack on their hated enemies the Kozakurans (who had tried to invade the Choson Peninsula in the past), his fleet was destroyed by a tsunami, which allowed one of his generals, Wanang Sun, to overthrow him. Under Sun, he was able to unite all the factions of Choson and establish the united Koryo Kingdom.
The barbarians of the Horse-Plain has tried countless times to invade their neighbors, the Shou and T'u Lung and have been successful on a few accounts, but their victories were often short lived. Recently though, Tuigan tribes successfully breached the Dragonwall and devastated many of the northwestern provinces of the Shou Empire. During this invasion, many Shou refugees fled to Faerûn and settled in the Thesk region of the Unapproachable East. The Horde tribes were eventually driven out and the Shou and T'u have been focusing most of their military prowess towards defending against further invasions.
Products set in Kara-Tur
- Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms
The Kara-Tur campaign setting inspired the following eight adventure modules (in chronological order):
- OA1, Swords of the Daimyo (1986)
- OA2, Night of the Seven Swords (1986)
- OA3, Ochimo: The Spirit Warrior (1987)
- OA4, Blood of the Yakuza (1987)
- OA5, Mad Monkey vs. the Dragon Claw (1988, zip)
- FROA1, Ninja Wars (1990)
- OA6, Ronin Challenge (1990, zip)
- OA7, Test of the Samurai (1990)
There were three choose your own adventure style books (one was actually released before the original Oriental Adventures book):
- Blade of the Young Samurai - Endless Quest 23 (1984)
- Test of the Ninja - AD&D Adventure Gamebook 5 (1985)
- Warlords - 1 on 1 Book 7 (1986)
One of novels in The Empires Trilogy is set in Shou Lung of Kara-Tur.
- Troy Denning (1990). Dragonwall. Forgotten Realms: The Empires Trilogy, Book 2. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-88038-919-2. Search this book on
- Dragon #315, for information on ancestor feats and martial arts styles specific to the Kara-Tur setting, as well as updated information on the 10 empires and regions of Kara-Tur.
Medievalist Amy S. Kaufman listed Kara-Tur in 2010 as one of the few fantasy worlds based on non-European medieval cultures to date. She remarked that the setting descriptions "reinforce their distance from the "real" Middle Ages", "which suggests that the [non-Western] realms may be outside the imaginative limits of designers, at least for now".
- Kaufmann, Amy S. (2010). "Medieval Unmoored". Studies in Medievalism. 19: 1–11.
- Bornet, Philippe (2011). Religions in play: games, rituals, and virtual worlds. Theologischer Verlag Zürich. p. 286. ISBN 978-3-290-22010-5. Retrieved 4 October 2020. Search this book on
- Hergenrader, Trent (2019). Collaborative Worldbuilding for Writers and Gamers. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-3500-1667-5. Search this book on
- Shepherd, Ashley (February 1986). "Open Box: Dungeon Modules". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (74): 9–10. ISSN 0265-8712.
- Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-653-5. Search this book on
- Rolston, Ken (January 1988). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#129): 84–86.
- Bambra, Jim (June 1988). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#134): 76–77.
- Shepherd, Ashley (August 1986). "Open Box". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (80): 2–4.
- Wizards of the Coast Oriental Adventures art gallery page
- "James Wyatt, Author 3E Oriental Adventures". Archived from the original on February 19, 2003. Retrieved August 2, 2003. Unknown parameter
- Kara-Tur on Spelljammer.org, a fan site for the Spelljammer campaign setting
- TSR Archive Oriental Adventures product list
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