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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.)

The world of Rokugan is incredibly complex. The mechanics of honor are tangled up with the Taint of the Shadowlands and the politics of the Clans. Fighting Oni, for example, is the thankless job of the Crab Clan. It sounds as glamorous as being a garbage collector — and just as prestigious. So navigating this world as an adventurer requires a deftness that is missing from your average dungeon crawl.  As they say in the pages about the Oni, going around boasting that you have killed an Oni is likely going to get you a one-way ticket out of town because who wants to be around someone touched by the Taint of the Shadowlands? Thanks for the assist, now move along and don’t touch me.

There are some familiar faces too. Goblins, animated skeletons,undead, naga, assassins and the like. But each of them has a special place in the rigid world of Rokugan. Goblins are the kobold of this world. Plentiful, varied in their strength and fighting ability and none too bright.

Enemies of the Empire is a worthy addition to the Legend of the Five Rings world. It adds variety, nuance and depth to an already intricate world. Players who are looking for more depth for a back story will find much fodder here. GMs who want to change up their campaigns will dive into these pages and not surface for weeks. New players (like me) can find out even more about the world that they are inhabiting during their game sessions.

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