What to say about this particular post? It’s a piece about gaming, but not wfrp3? Aido, have you lost your mind? Yes, I have, did you know I just say “call me Aido” to most people and within a week most are referring to me as Crazy Aido? True story.

Aaaaaaanyway, bitterness aside, I picked up the L5r corebook today. Why? Because I figured it would look nice on my shelf full of core books for games I would love to play but never actually will. *sigh* Stupid miniscule Irish gaming scene. Regardless, I thought I would also give you all a brief idea of what the book is like and hopefully from this you can figure out for yourselves whether this might be the next system for you.

Currently I’m still tearing through the book snorting up the marvelous new-book-smell that always comes with these purchases. But I’ve digested enough of the book to be able to give an educated opinion of it.

First of all, you didn’t buy this book if you don’t like Samurai or Japanese culture. So we’ll just sort that part out right now. L5R is based in Japanese history, mythology and Shintoism, to varying degrees. If you for some bizarre reason don’t like these things, then I hope you kept your receipt. That said, the background of L5R is not actually based in feudal Japan. It is definitely based quite strongly on it, but likes to take certain artistic licence in some areas. (Samurai are all round decent guys. When the foreigners show up, they get their tails handed to them, samurai have absolutely no time whatsoever for gunpowder weaponry, I can assure you the last of these facts is complete bullshit.) However, what they have done with the vast swathes of information that exists on all these topics is quite exemplary. There is a decent history section at the beginning of the book, more importantly, there is a more considerable section on behaviour, something that lay at the core of feudal Japanese life. It stands to reason that if you want to run a game based in faux-samurai setting, you’d want to do more than just say your character wears his hair in a topknot and bows a lot. So the setting is quite well fleshed out, right down to the book being split into five sections based on the various “rings” in question. It’s also beautifully illustrated with really high quality art, calligraphy as well as each page having a traditional Japanese watercolour “look” to it, which I think is a really classy touch. All of this goes towards creating the background, so now then, what of the actual rules.

The dice mechanic for L5R hits something of a soft spot of mine, I’ve always been somewhat of a sucker for d10 based mechanics. M0st of those that I have encountered however, have been in the style of white wolf games, where you usually need to bring a reasonably sized bucket of said dice with you to work everything out (especially if your playing something like Exalted). L5R’s is different and interesting in equal measure and allows for a fairly varied degree of flexibility even within basic actions and that’s something I’m more than happy to get behind. Getting to the jist of it, L5R uses a “roll and keep” system that seems initially quite confusing and difficult, but seems like it would become fairly intuitive after only a short period of time. Essentially, each skill check takes the form of “XkY” “X” is the number of dice you roll, which can, potentially, be quite a lot. But hold your horses. The “Y” is the amount of dice you are allowed “keep”, so if you roll 10k2, you roll ten dice, but you are only allowed keep two, for the purpose of figuring out what you actually scored. These “kept” dice are then added up to work out the exact score you rolled, if it beats the target number of action, (lower for easier actions, higher for actions like convincing people to gargle scorpions.) then the action succeeds. If your feeling brave, (or indeed, stupid.) then you can add a raise. A raise raises the target number by five, with the benefit that you can gain an additional bonus from performing said action. It also gives you a hefty run of things you can do with all these raises, from having an extra sugar in your tea to disembowelling yourself in a very honourable fashion.

 

Character creation. Right off the bat, characters seem a lot less super powered than their other d10 based counterparts. Aside from the roll and keep mechanic making rolls decidedly more hairy, there is a lot less to play around with than would be given as part of, say, a “Vampire: The Masquerade” character. A really good attribute in this game is a five. If you have that, you’re either an horrendous cheese monger or you’ve gimped every other stat you have, which will have consequences down the line. There are some additions to your base attributes, (which all start at two.) but after that, your meager stats and skills have to be upgraded with an even more meager series of experience points, then BAM, you have a character. You’ll more than likely get a very good “roleplaying” charactt er, good at what he does, not so great at everything else and likely to have a secondary thing that you thought “screw it I’m not doing anything else with the points.” that you dumped your last few xp into. There are also advantages and disadvantages. They add certain flesh to your character and also give critical advantages within certain other areas. You obviously want to be a pain resistant Samurai, you don’t mind being a bit crass. There are some great tweaks to add here as well.

 

Finally, the devil is in the detail, how does actually running to game work, for the GM and for the players? Well, I don’t know, I’ve nobody to play the game with, BUT, there is an adventure at the back of the book, so let’s ruin that for you. The starter adventure however, is incredibly interesting because it potentially has no combat. None. Not even a spitball. There is the possibility of a duel at the end, but you can either work your way around it or even get another NPC to fight it, (you don’t want to actually fight the guy, he’ll tan your hide.) but what makes this little adventure much more interesting is how they load on the aspect of L5R so potentially interesting. Etiquette. In particular, Japanese etiquette, which stands alone as the most reserved, archaic form of respect imaginable. Did you know you are expected to refuse a gift three times before accepting it? You do now. That’s the first of a huge long series of social moors you’re expected to stick by. Amusing isn’t it? Suddenly you’re not playing Moritomi the slanty-eyed swordsman, you’re getting into the game and learning what it actually meant to be an anally retentive samurai. I purposely kept this bit from the character creation part because it seems to be more a factor of playing the game than character generation, but there is a long section on honour, glory and status. In short, your character has a personal record that he needs to be mindful of as he acts, because one false move and people start talking about you like you’re covered in bees. This is a whole aspect of the game that a lot of people might overlook, but it’s what really makes it for me. After all, you can play pathfinder mods for an eastern setting till your blue in the face, but this setting seems to have done all the work for you.

 

In conclusion, if you like samurai, eastern settings and have watched altogether far to much anime and Akira Korosawa films in your formative years, then this is the game for you. If you like uncomplicated, hack and slash games, it probably isn’t, and your money is better spent on another pathfinder sourcebook, If you are looking for a genuine roleplaying challenge, then I recommend this book.