I went through a level 20 ninja phase back in the 80s. It seems unthinkable today, but every neighborhood flea market sold Rambo knives and ninja stars. A little kid would hand a weird flea market guy a one dollar bill and he’d give them a sharp-as-heck ninja throwing star. You’d then run home and practice throwing them at trees.
Of course, any time I’d actually get one of my throwing stars to stick into a tree from any distance whatsoever, I’d let out a gleeful hoot and holler, which would immediately give away my covert ninja location. Realizing I wasn’t destined for the Way of the Samurai, my ninja phase faded.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures
Then the AD&D Oriental Adventures book was released in 1992 and I was briefly sucked back into Dungeons & Dragons, running a couple great campaigns with my friends. Sadly, I think my mom threw out my old ninja stars. Either that, or she is currently using them for her own covert assassination missions. It’s a coin flip.
I’m finally getting to my point, which is this: I have mad knowledge of throwing ninja stars. Second, most of that knowledge came by devouring the AD&D Oriental Adventures book, so let’s use that as an opportunity to get a little nostalgic.
What is the AD&D Oriental Adventures Book?
It’s traditional to think of Dungeons and Dragons as being set in medieval Europe, but the AD&D Oriental Adventures book provided rules for adapting D&D for use in campaign settings based on the Far East. While D&D has long been played as rogues and paladins, Oriental Adventures gave roleplayers samurais and ninjas. And my goodness, was it glorious!
The book – written by Gary Gygax and Zeb Cook – drew on the history of China, Korea, and Japan. Included, of course, were detailed rules for karate and other martial arts styles. The 144-page book also gave players new classes, new races, and page after page of ninja slicing weapons and gear like kantana swords, which I still have an itch to buy if I’d ever run across it at a flea market or my local Scheels.
New classes included the ninja, kensai, wu-jen, and shukenja, clerics that were penalized if they killed enemies too freely. Other classes introduced in the book were the sohei, the peasant warrior bushi, the samurai, the yakuza, and, of course, the ninja. Ninja characters would take one of the other classes in addition to the ninja class. In keeping with their secret ninja nature, they would use their normal class as a cover identity, just as I might secretly be using a cover identity now.
The original AD&D Oriental Adventures book also introduced a major innovation to the AD&D system: It included an honor system, in which honor points were lost when a character failed to behave in a correct fashion or uphold the family name. This went as far as the character sheet being simply thrown away, if such behavior continued. Honor was reflected in a character’s family, influencing family background, status with ancestors, and provisions of their birthrights.
Set in Kara-Tur of the Forgotten Realms, Oriental Adventures was a HUGE hit and an expanded version of the book – written by James Wyatt and released in 2011 – earned awards for best campaign setting.
Oriental Adventures in D&D 5e
Alas, we never got robust modern rules for throwing ninja stars in our D&D 5E campaigns.
Rather than explore regions and cultures like Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim, Moonshae Isles, or Maztica, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) mostly avoided publications that might draw inspiration from real-world cultures and instead opted to produce 5E books that leveraged popular streaming fandoms like the Acquisitions Incorporated and Critical Role: Call of the Netherdeep books, or the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica or Strixhaven books, which leveraged WotC’s Magic the Gathering IP.
So, no adventuring in the land of Kara-Tur in D&D 5E and that is terribly boring if you ask me, but I’m on record as having a youthful passion for throwing shuriken into trees.
Far Eastern Adventuring in Pathfinder 2E
But today’s shuriken enthusiasts have a wonderful upcoming opportunity to play a ninja if they want to. Paizo Publishing – creators of Pathfinder, a d20-based system like D&D – have announced not one, but two books that focus on Far Eastern characters, plus an adventure path that will provide instant adventuring.
These adventure will be set in Paizo’s world of Golarion, which is overall quite similar to D&D’s Forgotten Realms in that it’s a “kitchen sink” setting that offers a variety of cultures and broad appeal to the largest cross-section of players. The difference I feel is Golarion is even better than the Forgotten Realms in a couple of ways, one being that it offers an even greater diversity of races and cultures than the Forgotten Realms and two, Paizo isn’t afraid to let their freak flag fly a little more and that serves to dial up the overall fun of gaming in Golarion by a good 20%.
Called the Seasons of Ghosts, the horror-themed adventure path is set in the haunted land of Shenmen and begins just after the small town of Willowshore celebrates the Season of Ghosts—a local festival to appease Shenmen’s many evil ghosts and spirits and ensure safety for the coming year. Yet something has gone wrong, and the PCs wake to find their hometown of Willowshore has fallen under a sinister curse and been invaded by monsters.
The Lost Omens Tian Xia World Guide will cover the many diverse nations and cultures that inhabit Tian Xia – Golarion’s analog to the Forgotten Realms’ Kara-Tur, where Oriental Adventures was set.
Finally, The Lost Omens Tian Xia Character Guide will introduce new rules options to bring characters to life. The book will contain brand-new ancestries and numerous backgrounds to provide the seeds for new PCs, as well as expanded heritages and feats for existing ancestries that might be more common in Tian Xia than in other areas of Golarion.
Ninja stars sold separately.