placed the pen on the black page
& red ink flowed out.
I get it. This is a book that will continue to grow on me. kingtycoon & Antonio gave me this book, since they are book huge fans of it. & given my last roleplaying session, you can tell that it has already had an influence on me. The thing is-- I'm not blown away. Then again-- how could I be? What we've got here that is new is the rule system, mostly. The land of Rokugon has already been spooled out, in earlier editions, in the card game...& most prominently in Dungeons & Dragons' third edition's Oriental Adventures. I know the clans, Crab to Crane. I'm aware of some of the intricacies of the politics. & don't get me wrong-- they are great. This edition of the game does a great job portraying itself as what it is-- a fantasy setting. A fantasy setting influenced by Asia instead of Europe. They are clear when they say it isn't based on "Japan," though samurai may make up the mainstay of the game. That alone-- that clear delineation as "not even remotely trying to be historically accurate"-- positions "L5R" correctly. & hey, anybody who has heard me blather on & on (& on & on) about Avatar: The Last Airbender knows I like my respectfully done non-Western worldbuilding.
Lets talk mechanics, first thing. I guess the moral of the story is-- that I think they are too complicated. The "roll & keep" notation puts me in mind of the first edition of Shadowrun, which wouldn't be a bad thing, except as FASA found out (when they were still making Shadowrun...), it isn't required. Well, I take it back: L5R's mechanism is fundamentally different, because you do need that notation. The game doesn't work without it. My problem is that it is hard to judge the rolls "on the fly." More dice? Keep more? What is appropriate? Then you throw raises in the mix-- purposefully increasing difficulties. Okay, but then you throw the ten die cap, & then the cap on the dice you can keep-- the fundamental mechanic gets a little muddy. It seems totally playable-- but compared to the Attribute + Skill mechanic of World of Darkness, I tend to be inclined to go with the simpler. Everyone has a laundry list of powers they'll accumulate-- the sample character sheet is five pages, just to give you a concrete example.
Of course, I played around making characters to test it out. My favorite-- because why not mess around-- was a member of the Chuda Family of the Spider Clan, who had wandered out of the Shadowlands into the Kuni Wastes, & been adopted by the shugenja of the Crab Clan. His training as a Kuni Shugenja was complimented by the involvement of the Soshi School of the Scorpion Clan. Now his goal is to be recognized as Chuda, honorably, by the Emperor, & start a "true" Spider Clan with families from the Crab & Scorpion. Of course, I'm a little sad you can't make a mixed Shugenja/Bushi, but I understand. The strength of the rule set is that it evokes the world. You don't want them mixed, okay. You want Honor & Glory to matter, & they do. I am down, I absolutely get it. & hey, I guess if you wanted to be a bushi who could cast spells, you could always sell your soul for a little maho blood magic, right?
The weakest thing, to my mind, about Legend of the Five Rings? Is the immediacy of the meta-plot. Is the fact that every crazy thing you can think of has happened in the past decade of the twelfth century. Again, I "get" it. The setting is motivated in large part by the devoted card game fan base. Good for them for being inclusive of their fans-- I might not care about collectible card games, but whatever, you might not care about pen & paper. The thing I don't understand is why each major event-- you know, evil incarnate crawling out of the Pit, the Sun & the Moon getting killed, Scorpion Clan being exiled then reinstated with honors-- isn't separated by a century. I mean, I like that it has a living mythology, but that living mythology seems crowded & silly when it all runs together. I have the same problem with shows like LOST. Really? They are on the island for 90 days? That is a pretty crazy couple of months. Why not expand it a little. "Oh, this week all we did was smash coconuts, no troubles-- there were some weird sounds, but that is it." I really like Rokugon, & I like a lot of the metaplot-- just space it out a little!