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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?!

 

Enemies of the Empire – A Review

Posted in: Advice/Tools,Meta-gaming by Ariel on November 6, 2010

The fine folks at Alderac Entertainment Group sent me a review copy of their newest L5R rpg book – Enemies of the Empire. It is a combination monster manual, history book and GM resource. And, somehow more than all of those things, too. As with the first book of the new 4th edition, it is beautiful. These people really know their art design.

It is a pleasure to hold this book in your hands. The pages are thick and smooth and the art work, layout and design are superb. Oh, yeah and the content….. it surpasses the physical aspects of the book.

Let’s talk about what’s inside of Enemies of the Empire…..  Creatures, history, lore, adventure ideas, NPC builds, advice on rolling a non-human PC and more.

The book devotes just a few pages to the bestiary. A scant handful of pages lay out some of the beasts you and your players will encounter in Rokugan.

Then we get to the heart of the book — the real enemies. I mean sure a panther might be a threat to you or a village, but it is not actively trying to destroy your world. Bloodspeakers on the other hand….. or members of the Kolat…. they have an agenda.

When you begin to turn the pages and realize that the world is so vast and intricate, it is easy to get overwhelmed. New players especially could feel like just closing the book and going back to playing Halo instead.

It is more than worth your time to explore the world of Rokugan, however. The people and the history of this delicate world are as real and three-dimensional as our own. Everyone has motivations, alliances and entanglements — complications, if you will.

Of course this book is designed primarily for your GM, but players like myself benefit from its pages too. We are planning our new campaign now — finishing up our time in Serenity — and this supplemental book will give players a deep well to draw for back stories, if nothing else. And there is so much else!

Imagine that you want to play one of the non-human races. I am considering Nezumi, actually and wow, does the book go into depth about these guys. There are 30+ pages devoted to their history (prehistory, really), their customs, language, names and tribes. Do I want to be part of the Crooked Tail tribe or the Tattered Ear? Each has their advantages and as a player I have to weigh them carefully. The book has such depth about each of the enemies (or friends, depending on the race — probably not going to have any Oni player characters — big scary demon things. Some of them have lots of teeth. Nightmare-worthy, any one of them.)

(more…)

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