This box contains everything AD&D game players and DM's need to establish an exciting Oriental Adventures campaign!
Kara-Tur, world of eastern mystery, is on the far side of the planet from the Forgotten Realms Campaign setting, but the two cultures interact only if you want them to! This is the "official" campaign setting for the Oriental Adventures rulebook. Kara-Tur has everything you need: Two 96-page books describe the places, culture, politics, monsters, magic, people, religions, and more, plus advice on running a long-term Oriental Adventures campaign, bringing characters from other worlds into Kara-Tur to other worlds.
Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988) is the third major boxed set for the Forgotten Realms. It was published in October 1988.
Origins (I): Returning to Kara-Tur. The story of Kara-Tur begins with the publication of Zeb Cook's Oriental Adventures (1985), which included a scant five pages overviewing an Asian-influenced land named Kara-TUr. It mentioned four empires: Shou Lung (Imperial China), T'u Lung (warring China), Wa (Tokugawa Japan), and Kozakura (Sengoku Japan), but didn't even include a map of the lands(!). At the time, Kara-Tur wasn't linked to any other campaign world.
Four adventures, OA1-OA4 (1986-1987) then developed this standalone land. OA1: "Swords of the Daimyo" (1986) was the most notable because it included a map showing these four empires as well as some nearby lands, such as the Plain of Horses.
Origins (II): Expanding the Realms. In 1987, TSR debuted a major new setting for AD&D in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987). The new setting soon began accrue existing generic settings, such as Bloodstone Pass from the "H" adventures (1985-1988) and the Desert of Desolation from the "I" adventures (1983, 1987). However, the biggest such expansion of the Realms probably came in 1988 when Zeb Cook coordinated the production of Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (1988), which linked Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms to Zeb Cook's empires of Kara-Tur.
To a certain extent, it was a weird marriage. The Realms was a land filled with demihumans, dragons, and monsters. It had an ancient, mythic history. Conversely, Kara-Tur was human-oriented and didn't enjoy a prehistoric and mythic background.
However, the way the cultures of the two lands had been created was even more different …
Origins (III): A Real-World Correlation. Fans of the Forgotten Realms may be surprised to learn that the world didn't originally use real-world cultures as the inspiration for its countries. One of Ed Greenwood's long-time players says that his setting was inspired by "Cities and farming regions he'd visited, yes, and the 'flavours' of them he wanted to evoke, but real-world countries or peoples or cultures no."
This changed when other authors began adding their own settings to Greenwood's world, because unlike Greenwood they often used real-world cultures as a touchstone. Technically, this practice started with the Celtic-influenced culture of the Moonshae Islands, but Kara-Tur was the first big expansion in this direction. Greenwood also notes that the real-world correlations extend beyond the major additions to the world to also include "recastings of my largely-offstage kingdoms like Unther and Mulhorand to more closely resemble real-world historical (or 'Hollywood historical') settings."
Greenwood disagrees with the results, saying that "the too-close-to-our-real-world additions like Maztica, the Hordelands, and Kara-Tur were a mistake in style". He thought that they "[pulled] gamers out of roleplaying into disputes about historical details, for one thing".
However, even after decades of additions, the core of the Realms remains Greenwood's own. His primordial lands like the Sword Coast, the Heartlands, and the Dalelands have no direct real-world correlations.
Exploring Kara-Tur. Of the four classic Kara-Tur lands, any description of Kozakura is omitted, probably because the Japan-analogue had already received considerable attention in OA1: "Swords of the Daimyo" (1986) and OA2: "Night of the Seven Swords" (1986) — including extensive descriptions of both the Maeshi and Miyama provinces. However, the Kara-Tur box does expand on both the Japanese Wa and the two Chinas: Shou Lung and T'u Lung — building on material on Shou Lung found in OA3: "Ochimo: The Spirit Warrior" (1987) and on Wa found in OA4: "Blood of the Yakuza" (1987).
However, Kara-Tur goes beyond that, revealing that the land is bigger than Cook revealed in Oriental Adventures. That begins with a description of the Plain of Horses, which is essentially historical Mongolia, and would become better known as the Hordelands during the Empire event (1990). In addition, totally new countrires appear. Koryo can now be found just above Kozakura and Wa; it's fantasy Korea. Tabot has been added west of Shou Lung; it's Tibet. Finally, a few more scattered lands appear: the Northern Wastes is eastern Siberia, the Island Kingdoms are Indonesia, and the Jungle Lands are Indochina. (Some of these lands are broken into multiple kingdoms of their own.)
Exploring the Realms. Kara-Tur is placed to the far east of the Forgotten Realms. The map included here doesn't yet connect to the maps of the west; that would await the Empire event. When that connection appeared, The Horde Barbarian Campaign Setting (1990) would reveal another problem: Kara-Tur is just too big when compared to the rest of the Realms. To accommodate this, The Horde would reduce the scale of Kara-Tur's maps by one-third to better link up the west and the east.
Future History. Kara-Tur was followed by OA5: "Mad Monkey vs. the Dragon Claw" (1998), but that was the last hoorah for Eastern Realms for a few years. When the Empire event brought the Horde to the Realms, interest in Kara-Tur also resurged, but that only lasted from 1990-1991, after which Kara-Tur would largely fade from public consciousness. "Ancestor Feats and Martial Arts Styles", an article by James Wyatt for Dragon #315 (January 2004), would revisit some of the themes for D&D 3.5e.
About the Creators. David "Zeb" Cook coordinated the work on Kara-Tur, but the writing was by Jay Batista, Deborah Christian, John Nephew, Mike Pondsmith, and Rick Swan.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.