It’s good to dust off old books and give them a new shine sometimes and that’s what Alderac has done — they first came out with a source book called Emerald Empire for the 3rd edition of Legend of the Five Rings RPG in 2008. It has stayed popular in the ensuing years, so when the new 4th edition of L5R came out, well of course they had to reboot this valuable source book, too.
As always, I cannot say enough about how beautiful the books are. The paper, the binding and the illustrations are a delight for the senses. I wish Wizards would take a similar approach to their books. Paging through an Alderac book is magical.
The content is equally enthralling. For a GM or a player, Emerald Empire is a great tool. The world of Rokugan is covered in the book — politics, law, culture, the arts, commerce and more.
This is not about creatures or geography but about the flesh and blood people who inhabit the world, whether NPCs or players.
There are some new mechanics, as well. It makes sense that when you update the material, that some mechanics would fall by the wayside and others would be enhanced in the new edition.
Not all the mechanics deal with combat. Some, like creating a role in law enforcement for a player or as an NPC, are part cultural, part role play and part story-driven.
The section about art is particularly near to my heart. Whether you are thinking tea ceremony, flower arranging, landscape gardening, painting or poetry, Emerald Empire will offer guidance.
There are suggestions for how an artistic player character might become an adventurer. And how he or she would incorporate the traditions and skills of the artisan school within the game play.
I love how the team at Alderac has given life to the world of Rokugan. It has many layers and personalities within the world. It is as rich, or richer, than other fantasy worlds.
Newcomers to Rokugan (and of course seasoned players too!) will have so many choices in creating their character that it could be overwhelming. But using the source books to create a living breathing character is easy and rewarding. Imagine having your young warrior be ashamed to tell his comrades about his poet mother because she was from another clan and another tradition? It’s a subtle addition to the player’s back story, but it can spark possibilities for the GM and hidden motivators for the player herself.
Another favorite section for me is the chapter on the world beyond Rokugan. Like the real world its based upon, Rokugan is particularly xenophobic. Outsiders are shunned and repelled. If their culture is not inferior, it is dangerous and most likely, in the eyes of the citizens of the Emerald Empire, any outsiders are both inferior and yet dangerous.
And what a way to deepen your story with a journey to Medinaat al-Salaam, for example (again it doesn’t matter if you’re the GM or a player looking for a unique back story). Or to enhance a particular piece of treasure by giving it an outsider origin.
As a source book and a rule book Emerald Empire is another great addition to the L5R universe. New combat maneuvers, new skills, new places to explore — what more could an adventurer ask for?!
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