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Review: Emerald Empire

Posted in: Fluff,Reviews,Rokugan by Ariel on May 3, 2011

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 mobile.ae.org 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?!

 

Our friends from Alderac sent a new game for review. It”s called and it reminds me of nothing so much as a board game in compact size. The story premise is that the sun is gone and permanent night has fallen on earth. The world has become a playground for the dark creatures of our imaginations. Ghouls, vampires and werewolves battle each other and the human hunters who stalk them. Secrecy is not needed — these menacing creatures walk openly through the streets. As with everything Alderac does, the art and design are magnificent.

You start gameplay with a handful of minions. Good guys and bad guys share space in your hand — and maybe I should say “good” guys and “bad” guys. Are the werewolves bad? Maybe the hunters are bad? It certainly feels like an every creature for himself scenario, so good and bad might be old fashioned notions in the world of Nightfall. There are common actions and additional minions to draw from, using the archive function.

There are Wound cards to illustrate what damage a player takes, as opposed to damage inflicted on minions during gameplay. The stack of Wound cards ultimately controls the length of the game. You set aside 10 Wound cards for every player in the game. In other words — four players would have 40 Wound cards.

Games will average 45 minutes and the game ends when the last Wound card has been given to a player. Players finish any unresolved cards on the table and then count up the wounds. The player with the fewest wounds wins the game.

You begin with some cheap creatures that have zero cost to play. This allows the players to get on the board right away, eliminating one of the annoying things about games like Magic the Gathering, where depending on the luck of the draw, you may have to wait three or four rounds before getting a creature on the table. Play can be fast and deadly for your creatures.

You put minions into play and you also can play Order cards and create a chain of cards, much like a chain of events. The cards use a unique mechanic for this. Each card has a large colored moon and two lesser moons in the upper left corner. The cards in the chain have to have matching colors. Play a red moon card on top of a card with a lesser red moon, for example.

In addition, other people can add to the chain. Sometimes they might be helping you against a common enemy (in multiplayer games) or hindering your actions in some way. I think I will like this mechanic. It adds an interesting twist to the game. It seems like 3 or 4 players in a game is the perfect balance. Lots of personalities on the table and cards are flying left and right.

As with L5R, they put a lot of thought into the game”s world. Flavor text abounds in the rule book. The minions in the decks feel like they have rich back stories just waiting to be explored. Hunters and werewolves, ghouls and vampires — each is a unique personality whose presence or absence affects the game.

It is a fun game that takes just a few minutes to understand and I think it will provide hours and hours of great gaming. Nightfall has a little bit of everything — competition, combat, cooperation, betrayal and bloodshed. If you are looking for a new game, consider entering the world of perpetual night.

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