James Wyatt Interview
OK guys, so this is the surprise I have been talking about. An interview with the mastermind behind Oriental Adventures - Ladies and Gentlemen, clap your hands for James Wyatt.
1. I found it very neat that the new OA has a definite Wuxia factor to it. Do you like the Honk Kong Fantasy Movie Genre? What kind of films do you enjoy in general?
I wouldn't call myself a huge fan of wuxia, though it was a definite goal of mine to include enough of that in the book to make the fans happy. Dragon Fist was a big inspiration to me, of course. Since my son was born (almost 6 years ago), my trips to the movie theater have become few and far between, though I make it out for things like the Lord of the Rings. Our video rentals tend toward old movies (Cary Grant, Gene Kelly) and romantic comedies, though when my wife's not around I sometimes rent cheesy horror flicks.
2. What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Anything you can recommend?
My musical tastes are... eclectic. The gamut from baroque to 20th-century choral (Britten, Stravinsky), selected contemporary Christian musicians (I let myself believe that Nichole Nordeman is a closet feminist in the Christian music world, and I don't want to hear otherwise), and 60s-80s rock (Beatles, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Seal). I'm totally out of the loop on most current music. (Loop? There's a loop?)
3. Do you play any computer games? If yes, what are you currently hooked on?
I am not really a computer game player, with the exception of short-term flings. I had to give up Tetris for Lent in my senior year of college so that I could get my thesis done. I played a lot of Crystal Crazy while I was in ministry. I'm currently hooked on a Mac OS X port of minesweeper, which I'm playing to avoid working on a big freelance project. I think there's a pattern here.
4. OA really manages to capture what I consider the essence of various unarmed combat techniques. Do you practise any martial arts yourself?
I am a master of the Recumbent Typing style, having acquired the prerequisite feats of Balance Laptop on Paunch, Funky Ottoman, and Type With Eyes Closed.
5. Where there any major changes/revisions during the OA project? If yes, what ideas got discarded?
The biggest midstream revision was organizational, really. The original plan was to present Rokugan in all its glory in the major part of the book, and relegate all the non-Rokugan stuff to a separate section toward the back. It quickly became apparent that this would mean having two races chapters, two classes chapters, two equipment chapters, and so on. So I pushed for what we ended up with: integrating all the material together, with the Five Rings icon to identify material that's particularly appropriate for Rokugan.Other changes that happened along the way: I toyed with a redesign of the monk class that would allow more picking and choosing of special abilities. The special abilities I was going to add eventually got formed into the Shintao monk and the Henshin mystic.
6. How did you design the new spells? Are they based on old ones or did you feel there was the need for a different "direction" in spellcasting?
They are almost entirely based on existing spells, either drawn from the L5R game, from Dragon Fist, or from the original OA. Spirit needle is all mine, though, based on something in Chinese Ghost Story.
7. I really enjoyed the way the art within the book complemented to descriptions. How much influence do you have on the artwork (or do they influence you)?
I wrote the art order, but never saw any of the art until my design work was done. One of my favorite pieces is the Void Disciple, and I remember trying to explain to the art director what I wanted there. That's probably the one piece that most shows my influence on the art. The rest is up to the fabulous art director and artists.
8. Why are there no staffs in OA? Chinese Ghost Story III had this guy with this cool staff. Of course one can easily include them but was there a reason to leave them out?
No particular reason.
9. I love the idea of the Bladedancer - but how can I ever make it into that prestige class?
Nuke the alignment prerequisite; change it to "any non-chaotic." (See the errata posted on the WotC web site.) That should help.
10. Do you feel a shaman's unarmed combat abilities are worthwhile without multiclassing into monk?
They're not great, it's true. And they put a heavy burden on the shaman to have good ability scores across the board. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably change the way that was implemented.
11. My players (especially the one who plays one) feel that the wu jen is a lot weaker than a wizard, e.g. the missing Mage Armour and spells like Fiery Wings as opposed to fly. Do you share this opinion?
There is certainly an issue with regard to spells that appear on the Sor/Wiz spell list but not the wu jen spell list (also Clr versus shaman). Someday I'm going to write a DRAGON article or something on the web on that subject. Mage armor might fall into that category, and you might just let your player add that to the wu jen spell list. I wouldn't do the same for fly, frankly because I think D&D is better when flying is more the exception than the rule. Fire wings is a much more flavorful spell, and gives a more reasonable rate of speed.
12. Why do so many spells require a ranged attack roll as opposed to a ranged touch attack? (I feel that the Iron Scarf is less worthwhile than a crossbow for example)
The scarf spells, to pick up your example, really just give you a weapon when you might not otherwise seem to have one. They don't do damage by touching the opponent, but by hitting it. Spells that use touch attacks usually deliver damage in the form of energy or negative energy, not whacking someone with a freakishly hard scarf.
13. Why are so many weapons without any "special" abilities classified exotic in OA (e.g. butterfly sword)?
For the same reason that the kama, siangham, and nunchuku are: they're not part of an ordinary warrior's training. The butterfly sword is a monk weapon that provides an alternative to the kama (with a better threat range) for a monk who wants to use a slashing weapon. The tonfa is a similar alternative to the nunchaku. The kau sin ke and three-section staff are just too weird to be martial weapons. Most of the other exotic weapons are double weapons or double/reach weapons.
14. OK, after all these design questions - what is your favourite OA-based setting? What is your favourite RPG setting?
I'm still running my lunchtime Mahasarpa game, based on the sample campaign in Chapter 10 and the web enhancement for the book. I really like the Indian/Southeast Asian flavor of that campaign, and I intend to keep it going as long as my players will stand for it.
15. What is your favourite OA monster? What non-OA monster do you like best?
Hm... I like the penaggolan a lot. As my players will tell you, I also use yuan-ti a LOT (particularly in this campaign).
16. What is your favourite race/class combo in OA?
The vanara are far and away my favorite race in OA (and one of the things in the book that's mine mine all mine, as opposed to coming from an earlier game source). I'd like to play a vanara monk, maybe even tattooed or a henshin mystic.
17. Which spell do you think is the coolest ever in OA?
Snake darts. Man, when Dave Noonan's cackling eunuch warlock Shadhbakht cast that in our game, we all just sat there with our mouths hanging open.
18. I love OA but I do not play Rogukan so most of AEG's products are of little use to me. Are there any plans of releasing more OA stuff of a generic nature (like "Katana and Fist" :-) )? Will OA some day become open game content?
Anthony Valerra says, "It's on the list but there are at least a few products in front of it." I don't believe Wizards has any plans to do more OA products, but I'm sure that once it goes into the SRD there will be a lot of third-party material available. Green Ronin already did Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts, and I just saw another Asian-themed adventure (I can't remember the name of it or who did it, unfortunately) in my Friendly Local Game Store the other day.
OK, many questions. Thanks a lot for your time and willingness to put some effort into a fan-site based interview. Thanks for the cool game and take care.
So that concludes the interview. Again, I would like to thank Mr. Wyatt and WoC PR Manager Mr. Williams for their time and effort. Some answers came as a surprise to me (e.g. 1-3) and some please me (I love the Penaggolan too :-) ). Also, I am definitely looking forward to the article hinted at in 12.