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Tabletop Game / Kara-tur

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Kara-tur is a setting for Dungeons & Dragons characterized by its distinctly Chinese and Japanese aesthetics and cultural stylings. Debuting in 1986 as a sample campaign setting in the sourcebook "Oriental Adventures" for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, it was originally considered to be part of the wider Greyhawk setting, before it was instead finalized as part of the Forgotten Realms in 1987.

It received two sub-settings of its own in the form of The Hordelands (Toril's Mongolia, the land between Kara-tur and Faerun) and Malatra (tropical Indochina filled with dinosaurs).

This setting provides examples of:

  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: This story world has characters know martial arts with much more prevalence than others. For instance, mage characters are able to know a martial art style and fight with more than a simple dagger.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus:
    • The dominant religions of Shou Lung are The Path of Enlightment (Confucianism/Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy) and The Way (Daoism).
    • Chauntea from Forgotten Realms served as Christianity in stories relating to Wa, where such worship was banned as a nod to Tokugawa's persecution of Christians even up to stomping on her image.
  • Cultural Chop Suey: Kara-tur is a rather literal mashup of no less than 10 distinct regions and/or historical eras of Southeast Asia:
    • Shou Lung: Imperial China
      • The provinces themselves have this in trope (Chukei being Northern China with Mongolian vibes, Ma'Yuan being maritime Chinese areas adopting Sushi and Sashimi, Kao Shan being Western Chinese and Tibetans, and Chu'Yuan being mish-mash of Vietnam, Nanman, and Sichuan with Ronin Challenge also adding Indonesian-esque Lidahan and even a Sultan).
    • 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)
    • Kozakura: Japan/Ryukyu Islands (Ashikaga period)
    • Northern Wastes: Historical non-Sinic tribal societies of Manchuria or Northeast China
    • Tabot: Tibet
    • Koryo: Korea
    • The Island Kingdoms: Pre-colonial Hindu-influenced civilizations of Indonesia and the Philippines.
    • The Plain of Horses: Historical Mongolia. 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.
  • Expansion Pack World: It was literally added to the Forgotten Realms to give the Realms their own China and Japan analogues.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The setting doesn't even try to hide it's supposed to be "D&D China/Japan".
  • Far East: As a mishmash of Chinese and Japanese elements (with traces of other Southeast Asian realms), Kara-tur is basically this.
  • Historical Fantasy: One of the settings produced by TSR that more heavily leans on real-world history as a foundation, to the point it is sometimes described as close to a rather fantastical guidebook to historical Japan and China than anything else.
  • Loads and Loads of Races
    • Subverted. Aside from humans, the only playable races associated with Kara-tur are the Spirit Folk, the Korobokuru, and the Hengeyokai.
    • Malatra, ironically, is considerably more diverse; alongside humans, Shu (a hairless local halfling subrace), Katanga (a local Hengeyokai variant), Tam'hi (Spirit Folk) and Korobokuru, there are also aarakocra, bullywugs, butu, lizardfolk, lacerials (humanoid dinosaurs, known elsewhere in the realms as Saurials), Oscray (stranded Scro from Spelljammer), sahuagin, Saru (intelligent gorillas), tabaxi, tasloi, vegepygmies, wemics and yuan-ti.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Kara-tur is home to its own distinct family of dragons; the Lung or "Oriental" Dragons. They begin their lives as Yu Lung, or "Carp Dragons", which look like a giant fish with an Asiatic dragon's head and forequarters, mermaid-style. At the age of 101 years old, the Yu Lung will then transform into one of seven possible adult forms; the Li Lung (Earth Dragon), Lung Wang (Sea Dragon), Pan Lung (Coiled Dragon), Shen Lung (Spirit Dragon), T'ien Lung (Celestial Dragon), Chiang Lung (River Dragon), or the Tun Mi Lung (Typhoon Dragon). These come in forms ranging from variations on the iconic Asiatic Dragon to weirder-looking forms, such as the dragon-headed giant turtle-like Lung Wang or the man-headed winged lion-like Li Lung. Like their more famous Metallic and Chromatic counterparts, they can crossbreed with humans, but their children are spirit folk rather than half-dragons.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Subverted. Korobokuru are rustic, somewhat crude farmers and hunters, more like hairy Asian hobbits than anything in terms of culture... they are outright referred to as "Oriental Dwarves" in some sources, however.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The role of "elf" in Kara-tur is filled by the spirit folk; humans with nature kami or lung dragon ancestry, imbuing them with long lives and mystical abilities based on their precise ancestry. Traditionally, the three spirit folk subraces are Bamboo Spirit Folk, Sea Spirit Folk, and River Spirit Folk, but Thay is home to Mountain Spirit Folk, and logically these would also exist in Kara-tur proper.
  • Our Werebeasts Are Different
    • Hengeyokai are a somewhat clumsy mishmash of the various shapeshifting animal youkai of real life, including kitsunes and tanuki. They begin their lives as normal animals, and then, after a century, awaken to full human intelligence and gain the power to assume half-human and fully human forms as they see fit.
    • Katanga are essentially a more Indochina-flavored offshoot of the hengeyokai, with known subraces including Caiman, Monkey, Pangolin, Snake, Tiger, Hedgehog, Imapala, Ostrich, Frog, Black Leopard, Lion and Hyena.
  • Planet of Hats: The provinces of Shou Lung taking are based on archetypes, especially in accounts of people (such as Chu'Yuan being jungle explorers, Ch'ing Tung being exotic food consumers, Kao Shan being archers, Ma'Yuan and Wa K'an being seaborne adventurers, Ti Erte being shrewd merchants, Shent Ti being entertainers and courtesans, Hungste being chefs and inventors of pot stickers, Wang Kuo being all bureaucrats, and everyone in Tien Lun being treacherous). This is more emphasized with Ancestral Feats, which are also applied to other regions of Kara Tur.