The Koryo Hall of Adventures: Reputable one-shots

by Joseph Brady

A couple of weeks ago, I was casually going over Forgotten Realms lore, as one does, and discovered that there was a Koryo (the old name for Korea) on Faerûn. I have been living in Korea for over ten years now, so I got rather overly excited and began dreaming up a big project to fill in the lore for a campaign setting based in Koryo.

Then, just last week, I discovered that another expat in Korea by the name of Aurelién Lainé had already done everything I had dreamt up and, as it appears, much, much more. With a finished manuscript for his Koryo-inspired campaign setting and a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign just around the corner, Lainé is sadly the clear winner: I have to hang up my gloves on this one.

So, with my dreams dismally dismissed, even feeling a bit put out, I decided to do the next best thing: check out Aurelién’s setting and review it. :)

Which Koryo?

I started this on a bit of a confusing point; Lainé’s campaign setting is not the Koryo of Faerun, which is what I had assumed at first. This is based on a soon to be released unique setting, which includes a mercenary’s guild location in it called The Koryo Hall of Adventures that functions as a recurring plot hook. It is set in Jeosung; a completely contained, immersive world unto itself.

Lainé has made Jeosung a fantastic representation of real world Korean history, mythology, and culture. In my opinion, adding settings from other cultures can make the game more accessible and allows us to step away from the Tolken-esque settings and stories we might be getting a bit too accustomed to.

Could Lainé’s Jeosung be adapted to be used as the Koryo of Faerun? Yes, I think so. However, there is at least one important distinction that makes this setting a bit tricky to shove into another: there are no gods in Jeosung and, therefore, no clerics! Before you get too excited or disappointed however, there are spirits—a LOT of them—with whom shamans can commune. This new shaman class is different from traditional clerics in distinct ways, but we may have to wait for the sourcebook to come out to find out exactly how.

The lowdown

So, what do we know as of now? Well, a fair amount, actually. Lainé has put up some basic information on his website, and he explained a bit more in a recent guest-spot on Erik Tenkar’s Tavern Chat podcast. There’s also this review by The Kind GM.

And there’s also an adventure book available for free on his website called Koryo Hall of Adventures: One-Shots Adventure Book. This 66-page tome contains five one-shots all set in Jeosung, with a number of details about the setting craftily alluded to within the prose. As it is the primary information source for Jeosung available thus far, I will focus on the content of the One-Shots Adventure Book for the remainder of this review.

Within Jeosung, there are four kingdoms. Most of the one-shots in this book are set in Haguiliesta with the exception of The Cave, which is set in Noonnara. The former kingdom is a heavily wooded land protected by great guardian spirits. As a result, shamanic beliefs are an important part of life in this realm. Noonnara, in this supplement, is a cavernous area, while in the full setting, it will have a greater variety of locales in the actual setting. (i.e., It’s not just another Underdark.) What’s even more fun is that Noonnara is called “The Kingdom of the Fat Unicorn.” There is a complicated explanation for this.

The reputation system is back!

Anyone who played AD&D 2nd edition or any of the Baldur’s Gate series of games will be familiar with the old reputation system. The 2nd edition system simply ranked the party’s reputation from 1 to 20, most groups starting around a 10, based on alignment. (Boo! Alignment!) The problem with this setup was that it became a bit too easy to max it out. Either the DM had to keep upping the difficulty subjectively for each rank, or doing ten nice things would make you some sort of medieval fantasy equivalent of the Hollywood elite. Both options had obvious downsides, which is probably why the mechanic was dropped.

In any system made to encompass the complex Confucian social structure in Korean culture, reputation is something that must be taken into consideration. In my experience, one’s reputation is paramount in Korea. This is something I see as an accurate representation of the culture expressed within the game mechanics. And the good news is that this reputation system works quite a bit differently from the 2nd edition mechanics.

It uses an experience point-based positive/negative scale to measure the reputation of the party. Reputation points (RP) are handed out with Experience Points at a ratio of 1 RP per 100 XP, but there are also extra RP you can gain through roleplay. Doing something good and completing your assigned task bags you some positive reputation points. Going above and beyond gives you a pile of reputation points!

Doing something wrong, evil, or even too far outside the parameters of your mission may lead to you losing reputation points and even going into negative numbers. For particularly evil deeds, the GM can hand out “Tags” which seem to function like a strike in baseball. If the party receives three Tags they may face the wrath of the Hall. The exact nature of the punishment is up to the DM, but sending another adventurer group to hunt down and kill the PCs is on the table. (More on the reputation system can be read in one of Laine’s recent blog posts.)

This adds potentially interesting in-game options and allows for more flexibility in rewards. PCs can meet expectations, surpass them or completely fail as well. This reinforces that the way any given situation is handled is the most important thing. Most scenarios won’t be simple success or failure jobs, and staying honorable may not always be the easiest thing to do. If the PCs want to act evilly, have at it—the consequences are there at the outset. I think we’ve all had a few parties that would benefit from this, one way or the other.

One critique I have is that the players may not need to know the exact reputation value they have at a given time. It might be pointless to track experience points and reputation points separately for every single character. But then again, I imagine the reputation mechanics will be more fleshed out in the final campaign sourcebook.

Also, an idea: not telling the players what their reputation score is may afford a lot more in-game interactions with NPCs. You want to get an idea of where you stand after the last game? Go talk to an NPC and see what kind of impact you made on them.

Adventurers League tie-ins

The reputation system also includes DM rewards for all you Adventurers League folks! This will allow the DM to show what types of reputation experience will be given for the game, essentially telling the player what kind of game you are planning to run. If there is a greater amount of positive reputation points, you should be playing a good party. If it’s a negative reputation adventure, the story is likely to be dark.

The idea is to give convention players a good yardstick with which to measure both what the DM expects to take place in-game and how players are expected to act during the game session. Is it a positive RP adventure? You shouldn’t go around committing evil acts. Is it a negative RP job? Players who aren’t comfortable with others at the table acting evil should join a different game session. This should really go a long way toward keeping everybody on the same page.

The adventures

There are two main rules to writing a one-shot: 1. keep it simple, stupid and 2. add a reasonably unforeseeable twist...stupid. Both get check marks here! The adventures have good setups that draw players quickly into the action without resorting to hammy old tricks. Most importantly, they actually appear to be one shots you could complete in one session.

These quests don’t allow themselves to fall into the dreaded fetch quest pattern. Each one-shot has a real story, a main issue that needs to be explored, and an opportunity to do something good or mess it all up. Tactically, these start fairly easy, providing plot hooks with just enough substance for newer players to cut their teeth on and veterans to lunge into the action. There is clearly laid out advice on how to adjust the encounters and the enemies’ objectives may not be to attack the party per se.

There is also space for the DM to add their own elements. Want a few tie-ins for your characters’ backgrounds? Well, a villager or two might have something they need to hear. Have an enigmatic clue they don’t expect to find? Maybe a villager stumbles upon it in a significant locale. Simple quests are easier to fit into your campaign as a side quest.

My take

I definitely do want to run this with some of the bad players I have had over the years, as it may be the only way I would play with them again. Having a reason to hunt down your cocky PCs is something every long-time DM has dreamt of at one time or another. Every. Single. One. I think having clear set boundaries would be helpful for new players as well, and would alleviate a lot of the strain beginning players may feel.

With the new setting coming out soon, I think this adventure book is well worth looking into. The missions are well written, well thought out, and easily adaptable to your game and your style of play. Furthermore, I think it’s a much more unique setting than players and DMs have been offered in the past. Dragonlance, Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms are actually quite similar in most ways. Even Ravenloft is really just the same idea with a darker twist. The question is, do you want to try out a different style of setting than what you may be accustomed to? Stepping out of your comfort zone can be tricky, but I believe it will make for much more interesting games.