A few weeks ago, out of the blue, I got an email from Alderac Entertainment Group. Their new edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG was out and they asked if I wanted to review the book. I jumped at the chance! After spending over two years in Cauldron and then the last half year in The Black, I”m eager to visit new game universes to decide what to play next.
I have certainly heard of the L5R trading card game. (Being an old Magic fan, I sometimes still hear the siren song of CCGs.) And I have flipped through earlier editions of the RPG, but I hadn”t explored the world of Rokugan, not really.
I was not the only one excited when the box arrived on Monday. Flannery, one of our Maine Coons, was pretty excited, too. It took two cat toys (tribble in the foreground) and three cat treats to make her give up her spot on top of the box, so we could open it.
The box, by the way, is still in the bedroom. She sleeps in it. We call it “Flanny”s Canadian Box.” Best. Box. Ever.
So let me tell you a little about the book first. As many of you know, I”m a bookseller by trade and I know books. This is a fine book. The binding is sewn, not glued. This is a book that will stand up to years of wear and tear. The book is just under 400 pages and if they had gone cheap and used glue, the pages would be falling out after a few months of use.
The paper is thick and the colors lay on it beautifully. I took a bunch of pictures of the book and this is only one of my favorite illustrations. She just looks totally cool and I want my character to be her. Whoever she is. She might be a spell caster — a Shugenja — or perhaps a Lore Master…. um, both write ups are on the page and I don”t know enough yet to know which she might be. (note: thanks to Max, I now know who she is! Shiba Tsukimi. As Max says, “In the current storyline she is the Phoenix Clan Champion, and she is actually a Shiba bushi.”)
I hope to convince the Divas to try out L5R for our next gaming adventure (although Michelle is just gearing up to take over GMing for Serenity, so we could be a few months, depending on what nefarious things she has planned for our characters). Like Dungeons and Dragons, the universe of Legends of the Five Rings is incredibly rich. The game celebrates its 15th year this year and the lore goes deeper than even that. Everything I know about feudal Japan I learned from watching Ran over and over.
The ideas of Bushido are really interesting. The book is giving me an education. Courage, compassion, duty….. all these things appeal to the paladin in me. I feel like the universe could give me enough story material for hundreds of blogs. We got so involved in our D&D characters and it was the depth of character creation that helped with that. The character sheet is appropriately dense, with a mechanic similar to our Serenity “complications.” Here they are advantages and disadvantages. A few examples are Chosen by the oracles, which gives you a Ring bonus (the Rings are elements that make up the world and everyone and everything has the five elements in varying levels. The elements are Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Void. The elements all house different attributes, if you will. Water is about perception and strength, for example.) Another example of an advantage — you might be a Quick healer. Michelle”s current character Brigid (“Miss V” to Swei) has the complication of being a bleeder. Maybe for a change she could take the quick healer advantage in this game.
The writer in me loves the disadvantages the most. One of my favorites (and one I may choose for my character): Can”t lie. Not only can”t you lie, but if you know someone near you is lying, you have to make a Will save (called a Willpower Trait Roll) and if you fail, you immediately correct the person. Ahem. Talk about complications…. You can have epilepsy or a dark secret or a low threshold for pain…. So many fascinating ideas! You can tell that the game designers love deep characters. There are 40 questions that (if you wanted) you could answer about your character to help flesh her out (or him, if you”re Tad).
The mechanics look very straightforward. You use d10s for all rolls and there is a cool “roll and keep” mechanic where you might roll 5 d10s and you keep three of the rolls. So there could be times where you want to pick the lower rolls instead of the higher. Introduces just enough player control to make the luck of the dice a little more chaotic. Everything I”ve read, both in the book and elsewhere say that it is easy to die in this game. And it make sense! You go charging into battle wearing a piece of bamboo and someone rams a katana through your stomach, yeah, you will probably die. Painfully. Quickly, if you are lucky.This edition makes a point (on page 84, if you are following along at home) of giving the GM ways to dial down the lethality.
As you”d expect, it is turn-based. The turns add a bit of frisson to them — a little CCG action — you roll initiative and take turns but then there is a third part — Reactions — where stuff gets resolved just like in CCG mechanics. Spell effects may end (or begin!), technique may come onto play and advantages/disadvantages might make themselves felt in the third part. There are the standard move actions we”ve come to expect but there are details for dueling and grappling (all Divas will be happy to know about the grappling!)
Much of the book (rightly so) is taken up with the different clans. There are really four classes: Bushi (warrior), Shugenja (spell caster), Courtier (diplomat), and Monk and each clan has different types of these classes. The book suggests that you pick Clan first, then Family, then School. For example, I”m digging the Unicorn Clan. I like the outsider thing they have going on. So there”s my Clan. Now for Family, each one offers a bonus on an attribute like willpower or perception. Family also (no surprise) plays into your backstory. I choose the Utaku Family and get 1 to stamina and I”m now part of the elite all female cavalry — the Utaku Battle Maidens. If I”m going to be a Battle Maiden, then I should totally ascribe to the Utaku Battle Maidens School which will help me be the best warrior I can be! Or I could go the other route and be part of the Ide Emissary School. Like, I eschew my blood thirsty heritage and study the art of diplomacy.
Have I convinced my fellow Divas to try this game next? I hope so! Here are a few other pictures from the book and bonus — we can adapt the new Prince of Persia Legos for gamplay. Why no samurai Legos, huh?
A couple more pictures:
The front cover is lovely
I like this guy. He reminds me of the knight of disks in tarot
Does this photo do justice to the Lady in Red?
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