Fantasy as a genre has long been dominated by eurocentrist bias, giving a distinctively European theme to many medieval fantasy stories, from their characters to their worldbuilding.
When the settings move away from Western tropes, other cultural inspirations are often left as a collection of shallow stereotypes or merely an afterthought used as placeholders to flesh out the world without much effort. It can also be used to create a sense of otherness, setting a nation as the odd strangers for an assumed Western audience. The medieval fantasy genre has typically been ripe with orientalism when it came to Asian inspired cultures and peoples in its worlds, and while that still holds true, the potential for Asian fantasy is immense.
History and mythology are the fuel that fed some of the greatest works of fiction in the medieval fantasy genre, and Asia has so much to offer to inspire creators and worldbuilders. Its rich history marks the imagination, with mighty nations like ancient China, a pillar of civilization that has nothing to envy the Romans in terms of legacy or complexity.
There are also its conquerors and warlords, with the Mongol empire inspiring awe and fascination with both its brutality and its revolutionary methods. Finally, feudal Japan often finds a special place in fantasy, a time of turmoil that evokes tales of ambition, heroism, and relentless strife. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this corner of the world and its rich history.
Contemporary fiction gives more and more space to fantasy set in Asian or asiacentric worlds. The popularity of Japanese manga, animation, and videogames, as well as Chinese and Indian movies are no strangers to this phenomenon, as some of the biggest cultural exports to break the mold of eurocentric fantasy. Even western media had turned toward Asian fantasy tales in the last decades, such as with the famous Avatar: The Last Airbender series. The LARP community can certainly follow in the footsteps of these changes.
Asian-themed fantasy characters can be as diverse as their European counterparts. In truth, you could read any of our other inspiration pages and apply it to fantasy characters of any origin. Rogues, priests, warriors, and rangers can be found everywhere and come from any nation, fantasy or otherwise. However, there are some iconic character tropes that are widely associated with Asian inspiration, coming from either history or the cultural myths and legends of Asia.
The idea of the martial artist can hardly be dissociated from Chinese kung fu and its numerous offshoots across the continent. Unarmored fighters finding purpose and spirituality through the refinement of both mind and body are often found in fantasy and can make for great LARP characters. These warrior monks, ascetics, and disciplined sages are great archetypes to build upon, and can be woven inside the spiritual tradition of many fantasy cultures as a nod to their place in the real world.
Feudal Japan is also ripe with fantasy darlings like the samurai, the ninja, and the ronin. While the ideas of a noble warrior caste, deceptive operatives, or outcast fighters aren’t unique to Japanese history, someone would need to live under a rock not to notice the popularity of these in LARP. Steppe nomads, may they be dangerous raiders, ambitious warlords, or simple hunters and scouts are also a very evocative theme directly taken from Asian context. In LARP, these characters inspired by Mongolia can bring a very different perspective.
The song of the steppes
This armor was designed for a true warrior of the steppes. Leather brigandine reinforced with rivets, it combines the impressive appearance of a heavy armor while keeping an unbeatable comfort thanks to its modular torso allowing a great mobility.
Asian themed costumes for LARP are fairly straightforward, requiring to simply take inspiration from Asian historical attire, weapons, and armor. Plenty of Eastern styled swords are found on the market, from the famous Japanese blades like katanas and wakizashis, to daos and jian swords from China. There are also specialized weapons like shurikens, tantos, and Asian polearms.
Armors are a bit more complex to find. While our store has a samurai leather armor as well as a set inspired by Asian steppe nomads, these armors are rare and often require custom projects to appear in your LARP event. As a general rule, Eastern warriors used more composite armors, especially lamellar designs and complex constructions made of numerous little plates woven together with silk or other thread, similarly to brigandine but without rivets. Full plate was nearly unheard of, while chain remained very popular in central Asia.
Clothes can be found with some ingenuity. While Asian themed clothing isn't very common in LARP or medieval stores, traditional clothes can be found in stores around the world and can easily be adapted for LARP, especially if you are willing to invest in clothes made of natural textiles, which look more authentic in medieval fantasy settings.