From the TV series the Hero Hong Gil Dong on KBS2
Revisiting and working through Choson – a role-playing game set in historical Korea – is a more likely outcome than working on Pandora Excess (needs new name) – a tabletop RPG inspired by Borderlands – because Choson would be closer in philosophy to Centurion and Nefertiti Overdrive. Choson could be a streamlined, simple system rather than a robust, complex system, which a Borderlands tabletop would need to be were to one replicate the many facets of that game.
But were I to embark on this – and this very post seems to indicate that I am doing exactly that, at least as an exercise – I would need to zero in on what I want the game to be about. What makes Choson Korea different than Ming or Qing China? Well, that’s not actually the question I need to answer. I need to answer why would I want to game in Korea? It may be the same or different than China, but I am making a game about Korea, so I’m going to focus on that.
Dirty commoner! From the movie Kundo: Age of the Rampant
The elements of historical Korea that I want to include in Choson are the extreme stratification of society and the disdain of the ruling class for all things martial.
The stratification of society for me works great because I believe it mirrors the situation in North America (and elsewhere) right now. We have a huge wealth gap and limited social mobility (though that’s not the image we want to project). That gives the game a bit of social relevance, something I haven’t really included in other games.
This also sets Choson Korea apart from Ming China, which still claimed to believe that a man (and, unfortunately, it was always a man) of ability could rise to the very pinnacle of government (though not to the ruling class). While Choson Korea was very Confucian, this was a part of the philosophy the ruling class rejected. One did not rise. One did not threaten the hold on power of the elite.
From the TV series Iljimae by Chorokbaem Media
The disdain for all things martial pretty much guarantees the PCs will be outsiders. They might be literal outsiders – though foreigners generally fared much poorer in Choson than they did in Shogunate Japan – but as mercenaries, adventurers, trouble-shooters, whatever, they will be considered unpalatable if necessary elements. To me, stories of outsiders are always more interesting than stories of those within the status quo or ruling apparatus.
So, moving forward, I want Choson to include some mechanical representation of the extreme stratification of society and the outsider status of the PCs.
But there is more. There are elements I want to include that are not a part of historical Choson. And I think you probably know what those elements are.
You can read more about Choson here.
Wikipedia’s got you covered for a primer on society in the Choson period.