Thursday, 29 September 2011

On a more positive note...

... My little outburst of rage was due to a small trip to AEG's boards, which I really should be immune to by now, that made me forget the reason I went there in the first place were these little gems of fiction.

The First Lesson is nice in that the Sparrow are probably my favourite clan, and the story as a lot of atmosphere going for it. I believe it fails somewhat on a conceptual level due to a worldbuilding bug I can't fault Denton for.

Canonically the Minor Clans have been described as ridicullously small (I don't agree with it and there are quite a few authors who clearly don't follow that rule either). At that level the kind of infiltration done by the Spider doesn't really work which make the Sparrow look unbelievably incompetent.. If, like me, you believe a minor clan can have several thousand samurai this won't be a problem at all, but it make for odd continuity.

One Path, Many Truth, might just be the best tattoed monk story ever writen and the only one to provide actual, reasonable insight about them.

I'm really tired of this jackassery


Just so we are clear the concept of Yin and Yang is about the harmonious existence of opposite, but complementary concepts. The bellow image is a good shorthand:

Such harmony is by itself Good. If there is no such harmony there is Evil.

Conceptually it could be said that negative effects like droughts, banditry, floods were caused because the ideal harmony had already been broken.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Wind of Truth

I truly wasn't expecting to say this, but Wind of Truth is actually pretty good.

It's the final installment in the Four Winds series,detailing the exploits of Sezaru and bringing the saga to its conclusion.

As I've said before the portrayal of Magic is something I always struggle with in fantasy novels in general and in Rokugan in particular, but in this case Ree Soesbee managed to deftly avoid most of the pitfalls associated with magic by focusing on the investigation of artifacts and making Sezaru always wary of unleashing his power. In fact there is a recurring theme of self-control and responsability on Sezaru's character

There are of course issues. The main theme of the novel is balance which is something I loathe, and there are some strange continuity problems, all the more so because the contradictions were not so much with then L5R canon, altough there is a strange scene in Crab lands, but with story points Ree Soesbee herself had writen when story team lead.

And just while I mention it, the last chapter has long uncredited sections taken from Rich Wulf's final fiction from the Gold arc. This isn't plagiarism, of course as it was almost definitely authorized, or at least allowed under the terms of the WotC/AEG license, but I'm always a bit disappointed when I find out a writer's work isn't at the very least aknowledged.

Another thing that at some point had me worried was the possibility that Wind of Truth wouldn't bring closure on the Four Winds saga, but as stated above that was not the case with this book published after the end of Gold. On the other hand, with these books being used to characterize each of the Winds I can't help but feel that Sezaru got the short end of the stick with his book being published after it could be used to influence tournament player choices.

Considering that the Tsudao book, and the book I shall not name were really poor showings Naseu ended up being the most fortunate character in terms of story time.

Still I feel this was the best of the Four Winds book and would easily recommend it for what it is.

As a final noter Ree Soesbee also introduced three minor families in this novel, the Fujitze which are Akodo vassals, the Sezu, which are, probably, Crane vassals and the Mariashi which are likely to be Crab vassals. Good times!

Friday, 9 September 2011


As you can see bellow I've updated with Wind of Justice.

I intended to do the Book of the Shadowlands first, and I have finished reading it but I've moved into a new town to work and for college so thing have been a bit hectic for now.

I'm also finishing to read Wind of Truth so that might even get posted before, but hopefully everything will get done before the week.

As a sidenote the Great Clans is out. I haven't decided if I'm going to get it yet, but I'm thinking of waiting for used copies to appear in the secondary market.

However kudos should go to AEG for realeasing the PDF for the book nearly simultaneously with the hardback.

I've also done a more thorough read through of Emerald Empire. While it is about as bad as I feared it was, it does have some nice gems in it. I just wished they were truly striving to prevent bloat.

Wind of Justice

The third Scroll of the Four Winds Saga, detailing Hantei Naseu, youngest of Toturi's offspring. Wind of Justice is widely considered the best of the L5R novels, and the only one to be considered automatically canon.


That all I have to say really.

Still reading this?

I guess I should dispense some words of wisdom then...

"If you believe in yourself, stay in milk, drink all your school, don't do sleep, and get eight hours of drugs!"

Better now?

So you still want to know about Wind of Justice eh?

Well, in my not so humble opinion meh is very much an apt description of it. It's not a bad book per se, at least not in the sense The Phoenix or The Unicorn (we do not speak of Wind of War), but I have wonder if the praise heaped on this book is not just merely a reflection of the fact that it was writen by the Story Team lead during is tenure.

It undoubtful that Wind of Justice is the novel that most smoothly fits canon (it is fact the only novel that seamlessly fits it), but there is very little to aplaud here beyond that.

For the most part is just yet another standard action adventure romp. Competently done, but formulaic, there is very little that makes Naseru stand out, altough to be fair I'm not so sure that isn't the intent.

Reputedly Naseru is a master politician, but the problem is that masterminds are particularly hard to write, so the action adventure trappings might be a way to avoid that problem while still mantaining Naseru's aura of command, and who knows, even giving him some aditional fan cred by allowing him to display traditional samurai virtues of physical courage.

If that was the case I suppose that Wind of Justice achieved it's aim.

Comparing it with the previous Four Winds novels it is definitely superior because it managed to present convincing villains. The Tsuno, while irredeemably evil have undertandable motivations are competent and, more importantly,, capable opponents, something that Junnosuke and the Scorpion lacked in the previous scrolls.

So again we have a novel that I have a hard time recommending to anyone other than a completist. If you're not bothered by standard gaming novel fare, and like L5R, it might be worth your money but for the most part it's forgettable stuff.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Emerald Empire

I've swallowed my fear and decided to buy the new Emerald Empire book.

On a cursory glance I'm regreting it already. I'll need to do a more atentive reading but most of my fears seemed to have been confirmed. I'm very disappointed with the Way of the Daimyo update.

Sometimes it really sucks to be right...

On a more positive note Shogun 2 is still awesome

Monday, 16 May 2011

Post Scriptum: Game Master's Pack- The Hare Clan

I managed to get a first printing of the GM pack on eBay.

All in all much prettier than the later printing. The map in particular, which I must point out is even more useful as it is easier to read on the screen than in the book.

AEG has really done a disservice to itself by replacing it it with the Shadowlands assault screen.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Shogun 2

Considering I am yet to win a campaign, I'm having way too much fun playing Shogun.

I am however reading the Book of the Shadowlands, so that should be done by next saturday.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Taro the Ugly

God, Dammit!

Apparently there is Taro content in both Emerald Empire and the GM Screen.

Now I feel like I have to buy them!

I have no willpower...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wind of War

The second of the Four Winds novels, Wind of War has the "honor" of being the very worst book I've ever read.

I still don't know why I didn't just drop it at the bookstore after reading the first paragraph.

And believe me the first paragraph is just that bad.

Don't believe me? Well, I did warn you:

Warm wind shuffled through the rice paddies. Spring had come to Rokugan, and fifteen samurai on horseback had come to the villages. One carried the flag of Bayshi Zuto, their warlord, their daimyo. The soft red and black silks fluttered slightly against the pole. The horses plodded across the flooded rece field, taking care to step on solid ground. Trees to the north, east, and south defined the square edges of farmers' land, and the neat rows of dead, defrosting vegettion looked like poorly groomed tufts of hair between long furrows of dark brown water. Moving across the field was like walking across a soft, wet head.
That's metaphor for you!

So, chapter by chapter:

Chapter 1- Water and Blood, where Jess Lebow displays knowledge of In Media Res, and we learn that Bayshi Kujo has an impressive set of balls.

Chapter 2- The Dragon, where we find Hatsuko was put in a time stasis and become undecided on loving the Water Dragon for being a Smug Snake, or hating him for unleashing Kaneka and thus Wind of War upon the world.

Chapter 3- Seeking Shelter, where Hatsuko wangsts a little more, and we wonder when exactly is this thing going on.

Chapter 4- Dogs of War, Where Kaneka has his first taste of war and we find out the Akodo have a strange grasp of tactics.

Chapter 5-  Gifts and Revelations, where Kaneka comes of age and the star of the book, the Dragon Sword makes its first appearance.

Chapter 6- Homecoming, where we find out that Kaneka after a winter of luxury in Winter Court needs to take a vacation...

Chapter 7- Takada, the wretched hive of scum and villainy where most of the action will be set in is introduced, and the plot starts to become suspiciously familiar...

Chapter 8- Roof of the Broken Monk, where we realize we're reading Yojimbo starring Kaneka...

Chapter 9- Old Friends, New Foes, where we find out that Hideo and Rata are complete morons.

Chapter 10- Unmasked, where Kaneka decides to namedrop in order to get some pussy...

Chapter 11- High Noon, were we have yet another bar fight, and the villains prove once again they are utterly incompetent.

Chapter 12- The Daimyo and the Shugenja, where we find out who Hideo and Rata answer to.

Chapter 13- Fire and Blood, and yet another fight scene! I'm starting to see a pattern here. I'm also getting a sense of Dejá Vu again, but surely Lebow would not dare...

Chapter 14- New Friends, Old Enemies, where Kaneka bonds with the salt of the earth, and we continue to wonder about the villains goals.

Chapter 15- To Lead and to Follow, yet another fight scene, and, for those keeping tabs, Lebow did dare. He is also ripping off The Seven Samurai.

Still no idea what the villains intend.

Chapter 16- A Decision, were we find that the Scorpion Clan seems to have the political acumen of a slug, and 2000 strong Scorpion armies aren't that great either...

Still no idea what the Scorpion hope to achieve.

Chapter 17- The Plain of Thunder, Akodo Pao is the greatest shugenja EVarrr!!!

Will this novel ever bother with causality and motivation?

Chapter 18- The Counsel of the Dead, Kaneka as a "Well Done, Son" Guy moment with Toturi thanks to Pao.

Chapter 19- The Hidden Way, where the Scorpion Army sucks ass or the Akodo army outscorpions the Scorpion. Which is kind of fitting supposing they are shadowspawn...

Chapter 20- Vengeance, where Kaneka returns to Takada and I have another deja vu.

Chapter 21- Sowing the Fields, where we witness yet more fighting and find out that Kaneka is capable of twirling his father's ring while charging a group of hidden archers. Truly this man has no lack of talents.

Chapter 22- The Wind of War, Where we find that Bayushi Akira, had a grandfaher called Kurosawa, and he'd like to rename the Spine of the World as the Kurosawa Mountains.

How sweet!

Now if only Lebow could make a proper homage instead of half-assed plagiarism we'd be set.

Chapter 23- The Road from Takada, Wohoo! Kaneka is a liberator freeing citizens from the tyranny of evil men. And he hates the smell of freshly disemboweled guts while doing so.

Chapter 24- Water and Blood, You've seen this already.

Chapter 25- The Calm Before... You know, I could make a series of witty puns on this chapter, or, maybe, a few cutting remarks, but quoting page 248:
"Hold tight, samurai boy, (...) This might get rough."
Literature at its best.

Chapter 26- ...The Storm, It almost over! It's really ending!

Chapter 27- The Final Foe, Just end already!!!

Chapter 28- In the Light of a New Dawn, denouement. Pointless, ill-writen but denouement nonetheless.

Generally I can read a novel pretty fast, but this book is so horridly bad that work was allowing me to relax.

What's even more disturbing is that it gets far worse the further you go. I can ignore the fact that this is an obvious plagiarism of Yojimbo,with elements from The Seven Samurai, I can overlook the use of rape as a dramatic tool, I can even ignore the villains utter lack of rational motivation, and the complete ignorance of setting politics. I won't even mention the other small myriad of mistakes, stylistical screw ups or lack of research.

The problem is that nearly everything that can go wrong when writing a story, did go wrong in this story.

Painful read.

I bought it not knowing better some seven years ago.

Learn from my mistake.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Is It Just Me, Or Do Ronin Kind Of Suck?

Actually it's not me we're talking about, but it is the name of the thread at AEG's boards, and the original poster is certainly not alone in his feelings.

I just don't want to login into my account and rant about some of those design decision or deal with Dace's arrogant dismissiveness.

Basically, minor clans and ronin characters were designed to be inferior to their great clan counterparts. Mind you that Shawn Carman as stated at least a couple of times that he doesn't feel Minor Clans are inferior to their Great Clan counterparts, but considering what everyone else says, including a playtester, and my own appraisal, that is not true.

To be fair to Mr. Carman he designed mostly shugenja in the rulebook and, like I stated in my review of that book, shugenja and Courtier schools suffer far less from this problem.

However, Enemies of the Empire introduced a series of higher rank Ronin paths to complement the rulebook, which in general are even less powerful to the the point that some of these techniques seem inferior to the starting techniques, escalating this problem even further.

At this point it's probably abundantly clear that this is a design decision I despise, but let's go over it again.

The standard justifications for making ronin and, to a lesser extent, Minor Clan characters, "suck" are the following:

  1. They should suck because they are underfunded, and lack clan support.
  2. Most schools have 1000 years of refinement.
  3. It's in keeping with setting flavour.
  4. Ronin aren't a major part of the setting.
  5. Being cast out as ronin is the worst punishment in Rokugan.
  6. Ronin are not intended as PCs.
  7. Ronin "sucked" in previous editions, so they should suck in 4th as well.
  8. Being outside the social structure is an incredible advantage.
  9. Ronin that don't "suck" are "special".
  10. Ronin are for those that want to play underdogs.
  11. Contribution to the team is not dependant on techniques.
Now let us look at those reasons one by one.

The first thing that comes to mind is how 8 is denied by 1. Surprisingly I've actually seen those two resons used by the same person. I believe there is also one such example in the thread I linked.

Personally, I have an incredible time figuring out how being outside the social structure can be advantageous outside the rare punctual circunstance. Certainly not a huge enough advantage to compensate for the mechanical disadvantages.

Reason 1 however is harder to debunk. For me the fact that players shouldn't be mechanically punished by setting circunstances is justification enough why this reason shouldn't be used, and I would further state that the design of L5R with an Advantage/Disadvantage system that give the player character points for taking disadvantages supports my view.

For a more setting related explanation of why I think reason 1 still doesn't hold water we can look at the Minor Clan and Imperial schools. Imperial schools while arguably superior to their clan counterparts, were never mechanically so (they were supposed to be in 1st Edition, but 1st Edition varied a lot from supplement to supplement). Further if we are going to use financial resources as the reason why schools should be better, then Crane, Unicorn, and Mantis schools should be the absolute best schools in the RPG.

I don't think that's true, and I doubt anyone thinks that is desirable.

Even if we argue that financial resources translate in better schools, the fact that the Great clans support a much bigger number of schools means those schools might not be receiving their full attention. Example, the Kuni family supports two full schools and a few paths. Can they really devote more resources to them than the Kasuga family to their single school? Or the Hiruma that at some point depended on the Shinjo to train them?

This also takes us to another point. As financial resources do not map uniformly from Great clan to Great clan they don't do so from the Great to the Minor clans either, or from Minor clan to Minor clan.

When the Mantis absorved the Wasp and Centipede and became a great clan did their resources become so great that they could create an extra technique for their bushi school and create courtier and shugenja schools? Were the Fox only capable of capable of supporting one shugenja school, despite their age, and their closeness to the Hantei to the point that they often served as their enforcers?

Another example is the Yotsu. They had lands (which pretty much made them not ronin) and strong Imperial support. Why did the Monkey easily develop a five rank school but they didn't?

The Dragonfly also served as Dragon courtiers before the creation of the Kitsuki and kind of mantained that role after that as well. Further they had strong support from the Phoenix beyond that of the Dragon. Again why where they never able to create extra schools?

So as you can see clan financing and resources don't justify a simple Great Clan> Minor Clan> Ronin structure. Resources vary a lot within those tiers and it's not universal that the higher tiers have better resources than the lower tiers.

Reason 3 is also easy to counter. There are a lot of cases of notable ronin in the setting, and if you look far enough there was even a ronin faction in the CCG, Toturi's Army which is also a counter to reason 4. Ronin might even not be a major part of the setting now, but they were once.

When 4th Edition claims to be timeline neutral, not giving ronin strong mechanical support on this count is, I think, counterproductive.

And, again, players shouldn't be mechanically punished by setting circunstances. Whether you believe in PC exceptionalism or not there is no reason to force a player to play a mechanicaly inferior character than the rest of the group.

For reason 5, have I said that players shouldn't be punished by the circuntances of their characters? It's also another counter to point 8.

Reason 6 is harder to counter.

I would say that ronin are intended to be PCs. There are no disclaimers otherwise in the game, and clear rules and guidelines are given, If anything the only thing missing is any indication that ronin are not intended to be played along clan samurai.

If ronin were not intended to be played as PCs there was really no point to make such an extensive section in the rulebook leaving it to EotE. Even in EotE there are in my opinion more paths than necessary if the point was only to give a few special abilities to ronin NPC opponents.

Pont 7 is easily dismissed on the fact that following tradtion for the sake of tradition is no justification to do anything. In fact considering that during 4th Editions launch much was made of the willingness to slaughter sacred cows this argument on its own has no merit.

Argument 9 is possibly the most disingenuous and fallacious of the lot. Even for those that are not proponents of PC exceptionalism it reeks of player disempowerement.

Basically only those that are special may escape the constraints set out by the mechanics.


Now who decides who is special and who isn't you jackasses?

Want to play a Kaneka, Dairya, Toku, Fusami, Otoya, Mokoto, Utagawa, Yotsu, Kazumasa, Tawagoto, Masakazu, Naoharu or Takuan? Sorry, you can't, you're not special enough. Well, unless you are actually playing a character from the Spider Clan, that is, because the thought of a ronin is court is trolling, unless the CCG character has a Spider Clan tag on it.

What's worst is that this filter can be applied to Great clan characters as well. For each Yoritomo, Shoju, Tsuko or Kisada there are countless anonymous Lion, Crane, Scorpion or Crab samurai that get slaughtered by these big name "special" samurai. Fortunately for the idiots that sprout this justification no one makes the claim that the PCs should be this kind of cannon fodder.

Just to make it clear, I don't agree with the other reasons given in this post, but I can understand them. Those that justify not giving mechanically sound techniques to ronin because ronin that don't "suck" are "special", are complete and utter morons.

10 is another argument that is hard to counter.

Again I would say that the social/setting disadvantages of playing ronin and Minor clan characters don't justify the mechanical hurdles that have been imposed to them as well, and that a player can, by his own mechanical choices, play an underdog in a game with equally balanced choices while the reverse isn't true.

Concomitantly this makes the "L5R Your Way!" motto of 4th Edition harder to achieve. For example before Emerald Empire there was no published school for the Shinjo bushi. However it was perfectly reasonable to use the Morito school as a placeholder. Unfortunately the design decision to make Minor Clan schools inferior to their great clan counterparts meant that those using such measure would find themselves less capable than remaing party member.

Another example, now from enemies of the Empire, is the Claws of the Wolf that could easily represent an organization like the Mondai Ketsu (Imperial Enforcers and Troubleshooters) but presents no incentive to be taken as such. In fact I would further and say this technique is very bad at representing the group it is supposed to represent. The Shadowed Steel path whose description makes it a perfectly plausible Shosuro path, until you read the actual technique is another example.

The same can be said of the Wolf Legion technique that is the worst rank 5 technique in the game that I can think of, and is probably weaker than quite a few rank 2 techniques. I expect many will house rule it into a rank 2 path but this is a technique that many Imperial and Monkey samurai must have learned and yet presents no kind of interest from a mechanical point of view.

Finally we have justification 11 that claims that contributions to the team do not depend on techniques.

That is factually true, but that's actually not an argument that justifies making same rank techiques have different power levels. It just a statement of fact, and given two equally creative and experienced players, intent on playing a similar character concept, with the same amount of points, guess what will be their distinguishing contribution to the group?

So I think arguing against technique balance, on the count that contributing to the team is not dependant on techniques, is disingenuous.

Techniques have an impact on the contribution a player can make to the game. Sure a bad player won't be capable of making any character interesting while a creative one might make even the most gimped character fun, but the reverse is true as well.

There is no pint in making players jump through hoops to play a fun character.

Ultimately though, it will be the market to decide if this approach continues or not, and it has worked since the RPG came into production.

Those that like ronin will continue to buy books despite the fact it doesn't support their games and homebrew re-skin what they need, or they will move on to a game that supports their playstyle.

Those that don't like ronin won't be bothered by it, at least until the point where they may start to feel they are paying too much for content they have no use for.

Finally there are those for which this model works fine and will keep buying the books.

As long as the losses from groups from the first and second group are not serious enough to affect AEG's margin it's unlikely for things to change.

I just hppen to think designing the schools with parity in mind would produce better commercial results. AEG disagrees, apparently due to results from 3rd Edition, but I would argue that the problem with 3rd Edition was the execution, not the objectives, and that, sadly, they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Emerald Empire news

Apparently, Emerald Empire is already out, or at least there are people out there with copies.

Unfortunately, from what I'm reading it seems some of my initial fears are being confirmed.

 During the last couple of months I've been checking AEG's boards with some regularity to see if the new books might be of interest to me. The paths in the rulebook had me preocupied in relation with school bloat and this statement by Shawn Carman does not reassure me.

Sure, now you're not filling it with the brim with paths.

Big Fucking Deal.

The problem wasn't the number of paths.

The problem was how many of those paths, schools and advanced schools were redundant or thematically inappropriate. If you're just going to "fill it to the brim" with schools, then you're not actually solving the problem, and looking at the Emerald Empire school list it is impossible not to feel bloat is a serious risk:

  • Shinjo Bushi Basic School- I'm actually more than ok with this one because, while I understand why AEG decided to go with the Moto bushi, it should have been in the rulebook.
  • Minor Clan Defender Advanced School- As it applies to all minor clans, and some of them have crappy mechanic I can also live with it easily.
  • Imperial Scion Advanced School- The first one to trigger red flags. Does it actually add anything? Or are we just throwing an advanced school to the Imperials because the other clans also have advanced schools?
  • Ikoma Lion's Shadow Basic School- Historically I understand why make this one a basic school, as they are the old spymasters, but why not reconvert it to an advanced school? Or maybe to a series of paths focusing on a magistrate/counter-intelligence aspect, a scout aspect and an intelligence officer aspect? Still this is not something that raises any red flag.
  • Shiba Artisans Basic School- This one used to be a path. I'm not sure it merits a complete school but it is one I can live with.
  • Kobune Captain Advanced School- Does this really require a complete school? I can be convinced of the merits of the school but only with some trepidation.
  • Doji Magistrate Basic School- Historically I can understand the rationale for this one, but here I feel we're before a lost opportunity. This could be a path that granted some social ability to the Kakita and Daidoji bushi, and/or some combat ability to the Doji courtier. Instead it is actually a straight out bushi recycling the old Mizu-Do mechanics which makes it even more puzzling as in L5R lore Mizu-Do was the province of the Kakita Artisans.
  • Soshi Magistrate Basic School- I wanted a Soshi Magistrate for years, but was there a need for it to be a complete school? Again couldn't this be a path that granted combat ability to the Bayushi Courtier and/or social ability to the Bayushi bushi? Worst, it seem to be a straight out combat school, in which case one has to wonder what does it offer beyond the Bayushi and Shosuro schools?
  • Dark Paragon Advanced School- I'm actually not touching this one without further information.
  • Taoist Swordmen Basic School- In third edition we had the bushi, the swordmaster, Student of the Tao and Hojatsu's Legacy. Are we going down that path again?
  • Hida Pragmatist Basic School- Apparently this one recycles Kobo mechanics. Which means we're on the way to have three or four Crab wrestling schools, again. Redundant.
Disapointingly, from what I can gleam, the Kuni Witch-Hunters will also be return as a basic school. Again, I understand the legacy issue, but it would be very nice to see them redesigned into something else. Even if it was an advanced school it would make me happy.

On a related note I've got Enemies of the Empire, and, despite some misgivings, my opinion on it is largely positive.

It has a lot of material inspired by Bearers of Jade, and Kuni Mokuna's Guide which is cool. I was a bit surprised that they decided Doji Nashiko is the Demon Bride of Fu Leng when they were two different characters previously, but that's ok.

I think that the Core book and EotE has more than enough to run a complete and varied L5R campaign, and with the older material I have it certainly won't be a problem I'll have if I ever feel like running L5R again.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Imperial Herald Issue #8

I said I would read Wind of War next, but I've got the heralds around and, them being short and I not being a masochist, I'm doing issue 8 now.

This is the second Herald with RPG content, and I'm not sure if it came out before or after the firts book of the Shadowlands, but it was close enough that I feel confortable reading it now.

Comparing it with the previous issue, there is more content, including the adventure Hand of Fuhinko, which is based on the House of the Plum Blossom material from City of Lies. It's a very competent action/horror romp that it is a shame it wasm't included with the boxed set as it is superior to Yemon's Legacy in my opinion.

The solution for the Hare clan riddle was also published in this herald, as well as another round of the RPG FAQ.

There is an interesting tidbit about True Ronin taking the different school advantage as a way to have a normal school progression. I'm not sure if it is something I'd ever allow in my games, but is something I never even thought about and it has me intrigued.

The column Veterans of the Shadow is introduced detailing Moto Nimthat and the Blade of Mol-Ghan. Serviceable but nothing spectacular. However it is something that, again, could have been printed in a standard book, lets say instead of the CCG decks.

As a sidenote, the CCG decks from the books don't seem to be reprinted in or from the herald, which makes it somewhat less galling.

Finally there is what I think is supposed to be a preview of the first book of the Shadowlands.

However, unless I'm completely blind, Oni no Jimen was not in Kuni Mokuna's guide. I'm going to take extra care when checking that book to make sure.

As you can see this is an interesting issue, altough so far my feeling being more that it is a shame this content wasn't published in the standard books where it would fit perfectly.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wind of Honor

Insert standard boilerplate to describe mass-market fantasy paperback novels here.

The above phrase sums up my view of Wind of Honor nicely. in a word it's bland. Incredibly bland.
I kept reading to find out if there was a reason why I should care, but at the end of the book the only feeling I was left with was "Well, there's a few hours I'm neer going to get back..."

It's that bland, there is a narrative in there somewhere, but basically you just go meh.

In a way, much as I hate Wind of War, I don't know if this isn't worse. At least I can mock Wind of War endlessly. Wind of Honor is just as big a waste of paper, but doesn't even manages to increase my blood pressure.

My doctor might be happier with that, but it is definitely less cathartic.

I guess The Unicorn needed company.

Speaking of Wind of War, it will be the next book I'm going to review. Expect a lot of wailing and snark...

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Ok, I've got Total War: Shogun 2 so my updates will slow down a bit for a while while I try to unite Japan under my iron sandals.

However I also got Wind of Honor, which is being a very fast read so I might review it in a few hours.

The teaser word however is uninspiring...

Way of the Unicorn

"We are the people of the wind."

The second splat book for L5R, Way of the Unicorn deal, surprisingly enough, with the Unicorn clan.

Again, my own copy is a second printing, so it may not apply to other printings.

The book, as usual in this series, starts off with a piece of fiction.

It's not bad, but, for some reason, it bothered me. I think the crux of it was the fact that Kamoko seems to think feminine women are man-pleasing doormats.

Maybe it's a particularity of Ree Soesbee's writing I didn't recall.

Maybe it's Kamoko's opinion, and L5R has Kachiko, and, to a lesser extent, Doji Domotai, to prove the opposite is true, but considering how frequently I've come across this posture in works of fiction and fandom as of late it starts to weigh on me.

So after this little misstart we get to the first chapter which provides us with points of view on the Unicorn writen as in-setting letters. Comparing with the similar section on the Dragon book it felt shorter, and not nearly as accomplished. While the shortness is probably only a result of the fact that Unicorn history is completely covered in the second chapter, while in Way of the Dragon it wasn't the case, the quality of letters is clearly inferior. The first two cover much the same ground, while the third doesn't add much at at all.

At this point I must admit I remember liking this book, and I became worried that my remembrance might have been the result of rose tainted glasses.

So onward to the second chapter, on Unicorn history.As usual in this series there's a series of sidebars with many random trivia like a series of travel poems or further explanations on the Unicorn mindset.

Unicorn history itself is told in a mix of fictional and factual tone. There is a clear undertone of selflessnes, devotion, and sacrifice in Shijo's depiction which is pretty much at odds with the current depiction of the Unicorn to my pity.

Another thing that jumps to my eye is that, like Togashi, Shinjo's true form is said to be a Ki-Rin. In my opinion this probably meant that at the time there were thoughts of making the kami spirits with their clan's namesake form. Of course the fact that the next clan was on the Crab might have put a damper on those plans...

This chapter also includes the family details, with the Moto and Ide getting their first description and the Otaku being expanded. One thing that surprised is that at no point are the Moto hinted as being direct descendants from the Ujik-Hai. Not even a little bit. The closest I could find was the Moto Soro ancestor in the Who's Who chapter.

On the sidebars, as usual in this series, there are the fmily mon, of which the I must admit the Unicorn ones are my favourite along with the Doji and Kakita.

All in all this section dispelled the fears that were growing on me that I remembered this book merely on nostalgia colored glasses.

The third chapter is that of character mechanics.

Four skills are introduced: Horse Archery, Animal Husbandry, Yomanri, and Lance. The same comments I made on the skills introduced on the Dragon book could be repeated here.

Horse Archery as an independent skill is redundant, Animal Husbandry (Horses) while not redundant is also a bit limiting. Yomanri flat out contradicts the rulebook and Lance also adds nothing new.

Basically, Yomanry, Lance and Horse Archery should have been maneuvers like those of Kaze-do in WotD or from 3rd Edition, not new skills. This is particularly grating because the advanced horsemanship rules make this perfectly logic and no further rules were needed. I have to wonder if this was the case of two different writer not working in communication with each other.

Two new advantages are also introduced, Gaijin Gear and Irreproachable.

Gaijin Gear is a bit redundant with Inheritance, but Irreproachable is ok.

The total of disadvantages introduced is seven; Adopted Blood, Gaijin Name, Greed, Lechery, the Moto Curse, Never Sat on a Horse and Overconfident.

I dislike the Moto Curse, both because it is mandatory without benefit, and basically because it's a redundant bad reputation outside the Unicorn clan. I wouldn't mind if, while being mandatory, the PCs weren't hit with the double whammy. I suppose it might be because the Moto family bonus is Void, but still...

I've said it before and I will say it again, why does a player need to be penalized for assuming a roleplaying challenge. If anything this actually increases character optimization if the player feels the need to synergize options to make up for shortcoming that the system imposed upon him.

Never sat on a Horse is also problematic. I see no reason why it should be limited to Unicorn, but frankly, depending on the way the GM interprets the reading it can actually be far more damaging to a Unicorn PC than its 1 point cost would suggest. After all, all Unicorn schools start with ranks in horsemanship, how does that work in conjuction with this disadvantage?

Following that there are advanced Horsemanship rules which I discussed above with skills.

Then come the mechanics of the new Unicorn families and schools. I've already discussed the Moto above with the Moto Curse, altough their school depending on the reading might be very powerful. The Otaku definitely are powerful at this point but mostly due to a godly fourth rank technique.

Finally we have the Heritage tables, which, frankly are all over the place in terms of both getting great stuff or getting royaly screwed over. Often at the same time...

The fourth chapter is the Who's Who of the Unicorn clan. We immediatelly start off with Shinjo Yokatsu, who Can't Lie...

Stupid CCG. Stupid Kolat. Must hold rage...

Other than that there isn't much that stand out. Most NPCs are interesting and have ready hooks with other clans, with Tadaji and Hanari being the ones that do stand out

This chapter also as ancestors in the sidebars. The ancestor mechanics is one I always had some trouble evaluating and this is no exception.

Chapter five has a series of pre-generated characters. Much like those in the Dragon book I see these as more of a source for plot hooks rather than good PC options altough they will do in a pinch. Unlike in the Dragon book none are clearly unsuited for a PC party.

Finally we enter the appendices.

The first appendix is on strategy and tactics of the Unicorn. I liked that it had quite a bit of emphasis on horse archery which I didn't remember, but then I'm reminded tht Unicorn schools aren't that archery based as they could be. More importantly though there are a few weird things like frontal charges with cavalry as the tactical doctrine... It's not terrible, but it is bogling. The difference between an offensive and defensive strategy is also puzzling as horse archer armies were notorious for not really needing such adjustment. In fact that is what puzzles me, at no point is the Unicorn army told to deny engagement. There are no feigned retreat tactics, no supply line harrassment. It's basically a set piece affair, but with cavalry.

Appendix II describes Horses and Unicorn specific gear. In relation to the horses I'll overlook the fact that they should have been in the corebook.

As a sidenote they go trough a lot of trouble in this book to tell there was no cavalry in Rokugan before the return of the Ki-Rin, but this kind of contradicts the City of Lies information on the leatherworkers.

Returning to the horses, three breeds are described, the Rokugani pony which is a very small pony, the Gaijin rididng steed, which is clearly a heavy horse, altough in the lighter side of those, and the Otaku warhorse which is clearly a scaled up Arabian or, maybe, a Barb.

After the horses we have the gear. Or as I like to call it, the land of the forty pound longsword. There are also rules for different quality equipment. This appendix also includes the Unicorn secret spells and Nemuranai.

These days the idea of secret spells is problematic for me, because, as prayers to animistic spirits the idea of a secret spell doesn't really make sense but that's a personal quirk of mine, and it is an extensive and interesting list of spells.

Appendix III is a miscellany including a few adventure ideas, a short description of Unicorn provinces and Meishodo.

Frankly, Meishodo rules add very little to the game, particularly as they make standard spellcasting more difficult remove the basic spells from the player's reportoire. As I'm of the opinion that Commune is one of the most important spells in the game this make meishodo a very unatractive option even when speeding spellcasting greatly.

There is also a map of Shinjo Castle, and, like I've said before, this is something which I would like to see done again.

Appendix IV is the blasted CCG deck section. I'm still not convinced of it's utility, and after seeing the Imperial heralds this could have been used to print some of that content instead.

Doubly so if these CCG decks weren't original and were being reprinted from somewhere else.

In the end I have to admit I enjoyed this book altough it's clear that AEG was still testing where it wanted to go with the line. I think Way of the Dragon is better but I much prefer the flavour the Unicorn had at this point than the one it now has.

I also have to reiterate that the Lion and Crane clan books should have been the first published, as a way to establish a baseline for Rokugan.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Imperial Herald Vol. 2 Nº 3

I've decided to get the Imperial Heralds that I know to have RPG content (and Clan War content as well, actually). I've just received the first one from eBay and while it confirmed that it wasn't worth a subscription it's actually quite ok.

The first Imperial Herald with RPG content which is I believe the seventh published, which is a small FAQ Errata, including movement rules, and a complete adventure called alone in the Dark.

Alone in the Dark is in fact a rather competent horror romp. It lack a bit in that doesn't suggest how to involve the players, nor does it give any advice on running it, but I suppose it is understandable considering it's published in a periodic newsletter with limited page count and mostly devoted to a CCG.

Taking that into account I suppose it's greater flaw is that, as one of the first published L5R adventures, the Horror genre in an awkward choice. At this point in the line there wasn't much advice on running horror L5R and as stated above, there is no advice in the adventure for it, making it less useful for a GM with good grasp on horror gaming.

City of Lies- Musings

So here are the thoughts that didn't really fall on any specific post or that only clicked after finishing the whole thing:

  • Again Stolze introduces hitherto unknown families. The Jitsuyoteki, Shosuro vassals, whose sole representant feels quite interesting and could hae been developed further in my opinion. Were I to run City of Lies today I would place him in the place of Gate/Kado, and relegate a ronin to a bouncer role in one of the teahouses. The Hoji, Mantis vassals are also introduced and forgotten until I pointed out their existence and one of the notable L5R fans, Okuma, took a special liking to them, and managed to play one in the first AEG official Winter Court PbP. It goes without saying the Ashidaka were also introduced here.
  • There are a lot of hints and tidbits. I disliked the handling of the Kolat, but we have Lord Moon's cult introduced and a Naga cult. Iwill be coming back to Asako Kinto when reading Way of the Naga.
  • The rumor mill is an interesting tool from the location guide, and it can probably be used with little modification in any city setting.

All in all, this box set as passed the test of time well. It's an incrediby useful tool for the GM and one of the examples of how an adventure module should be done.

City of Lies- City of Green Walls

"Rokugan's most elegant cesspit; a monster of beauty, a seductive lie cast in limestone and gold,l atreacherous maiden whose loveliness is exceeded only by her brutality- that is my home. Ryoko Owari is a grand tombstone for dead honor, where decadent childrencaper and rejoice in their unholy freedom. I could live nowhere else."

This is the companion to the GM guide. If the GM Guide is the meat of the set than this is the skeleton.

Or maybe it's the other way around...

Anyhow, this is the location guide for Ryoko Owari.

It's divided in six chapters corresponding to each quarter, Fisherman's, Leatherworker's, Merchant, Temple, Licensed and Noble Quarter.

This is pretty much the continuation of the GM guide, and the only failing I found is one that will be repeated in later AEG books.

The included adventure Yemon's Legacy is divided thoughout the different chapters, und unlike in the later books it's not in order, ie part 1 is followed by part 2. It's not a serious flaw, but it is a needless burden placed on the GM.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

City of Lies- GM's Guide to Ryoko Owari

This is where the meat of the box set is.

It starts by detailing the city power groups, like the Thunder Guard, the Opium Cartels, including rules for addiction and overdose, the firemen gangs, and the assorted threats from the player's guide as well as a few new one's.

The inclusion of addiction and overdose rules surprised me because at the time I droped L5R AEG was on a strict PG policy, and even earlier there were a few such decisions like Mirror, Mirror, not being published. Frankly, while I can understand the reasons for such policy I think they rarely work as intended if at all.
Example of a PG appropriate picture.

The worst problem is the double standard and lack of transparency often contained in those kind of policies.

Apparently serious, responsible discussion of such things as drug addiction or sex are verboten, however graphic depiction of violence, like the picture on the leftt, used extensively in advertising material at the time are ok, as are titilating cheesecake illustration.

Join the specific problems of Rokugan as a PG setting, with its highlighted xenofobia, Evil is Good factions

And we probably shouldn't mention the possibility of using inclusive language in the face of it's lack in 3rd and 4th editions. By the way, Shosuro Gobei the only known homssexual character in Rokugan also make is sole appearence here.

We move on to the secrets of the characters from the player's guide. Extensive and detailed, with some shockers along the way. If the players play their cars right in dealing with the NPCs they may gain acess to Ashidaka Noritoki's journal, which is a handout booklet. Suffice to say it shows the deceased magistrate was not a very good person. I'm still scratching my head on who J. is though. It's clearly not Shosuro Jocho, but I guess it's not important.

Of note is many off-track mechanical tidbits are included. In Kitsuki Jotomon we find the prototype for advanced school. Ample with his Two-Way Throw and Fade's Bushido's a Joke are proto-paths or maybe kata. The first two techniques of the Otaku Battlenaidesn also make their first appearence. Clearly L5R was on an intensive schedule at this point, something that Yeamon's Legacy also illustrates.

After NPC secrets we have the GM advice section. Detailed and effective, I have taken an inordinate amount of like for the attitude chart. It's the kind of tool that should be a part of any campaign where PCs are supposed to have some kind of social weight. There are also extra CFS on of which is developed nearly into an adventure outline.

Finally we have one of the complete adventures included, in this case the Opium War. It is an excellent adventure, except for a tiny detail which can't be blamed upon the author, but rather on the line editor, and which illustrates a problem that often affected L5R in the 1st Edition.

The Kolat.

Or rather the fact that Greg Stolze was clearly told to include the Kolat in the adventure, but was refused detailed information on what the Kolat was. Naturally what he hints at is completely incompatible with what was later revealed.

This was something that was very present in 1st Edition, with metaplot information, particularly on the Kolat and Shadow, being strung along the supplements so that if someone was interested in some part of the metaplot having to buy multiple books, with the ocasional bait and switch thrown in for good measure. If the info wasn't incompatible it wouldn't be so bad, for instance the other adventure includes a prop that is tie in to The Tomb of Iuchiban, but at some point one has to wonder why bother if there isn't going to be some overarching continuity?

The Opium War is an egregious case, because it works perfectly without the Kolat. In fact I would say it works better without the Kolat.

Having said that I would like to find out if the Knots of the Lawgivers are triumphant was something Stolze came up with himself or was something indicated from above. I'll be keeping an eye out for it when reading The Merchant Guide to Rokugan.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


Updates will take a bit longer now, because I've just started a new job.

Hooray for sources of disposable income!!! Goodbye unemployment....

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

City of Lies- City of Stories

City of Stories is the player's guide to Ryoko Owari.

It is fully intended to be acessible to the player, so it is completely writen from an in-world point of view.

It can be roughly divided in five parts, altough the book only recognizes four; the charter of the Emerald Magistrates, wherein the privileges and obligations of the Emerald magistrates are detailed, general information on the city's history and organization, more detailed information on locations within the city, information on important NPCs, and a letter from Doji Satsume detailing the more pressing threats to order in the city.

The travelogue section themselves are a compilation "made" by Asako Anjo from four sources; a dossier prepared by former magistrate Matsu Shigeko for her sucessor, the pillowbook "Memoirs of an Opium Eater", "A History of Ryoko Owari" and "A Visitor's Guide to Ryoko Owari" (seriously).

I would have liked to see "Memoirs of an Opium Eater" as an independent book, organized chonologically, but this device works very well as it is. The entries are informative, but at the same time have enough meat to them to have the players second guessing them and fuel paranoia.

The charter of the Emerald Magistrates also had me thinking about some of the advantages of electronic publishing for some nich products.

As it is the charter is whitin the player's guide, but it could have been included as a detached book or sheet for ease of photocopying, and these day it is something that would make a superb web enhancement on PDF. I'd love to see it printed on scroll paper, specially those with coarser fibers that you can find in craft stores these days.

I'm expecting to reference this book alot while reading the GM guide of course, which will be next.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

City of Lies- Overview

"In many ways, a reliable criminal is preferable to an unpredictable hero"

I come to the read through of City of Lies with two vivid memories:
  1. City of Lies was the best L5R supplement ever.
  2. City of Lies is one of the best RPG products ever.
The last time I picked it up was some 4-5 years ago, so it will be interesting to see how this changes things, if at all.

First of all, this is a boxed set, it come in a nicebox, altough a bit too small. The contents don't swim around in the box, but it is a tight fit.

The contents are the following:

  • An introductory booklet.
  • A black and white map of Ryoko Owari.
  • A poster map of Rokugan. On one side in color with clan borders, but nothing else, and on the other side black and white, with location names and an hex grid.
  • A player's Book.
  • A GM Guide.
  • A Location Guide.
  • The Journal of Ashidaka Noritoki.
The  introductory booklet perfectly executs what it sets out to do. It gives an overview of the Box's content as well as of the design objectives behind it, gives an overview of the city, including the power-players, gives a summary of the included adventures, and suggest alternate campaigns. I'd be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to any product.

The map of Ryoko Owari is also a nice poster.

Finally we have the map of Rokugan. As far as poster map gos it's the prettiest map of Rokugan. I would like to see locations marked in the color section, or that it was a direct copy of the rulebook map, but it is my only quibble with it.

On the back of the color map is the black and white version with the hex grid. This one does have the locations marked.

Recently I've considered using it as a basis for a wargaming campaign, and I think it is certainly workable in that role.

The next few posts I'll make will detail the main books, with Noritoki's Journal being read along the most appropriate book.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Honor's Veil

Honor's Veil was the first adventure module published for the L5R RPG.

It consisted of two adventures and s small supplement on poison.

The first thing one notices is that this is not a standard book, but rather a paper booklet between a detached card cover.

I don't understand why this choice, because, despite the existence of a flow chart for each adventure inside the cover, they are layed out in a way which perfctly allows standard staple binding.

I suppose the cover might be used as an impromptu screen this way...

The first adventure Murder at Kyotei Castle is a tipical revenge tale. It's a fine adventure, altough I have a slight dislike on the set-up for involving the players. The Special Magistrate idea is workable, but in my opinion only if there is some kind of Imperial mediation going on for example. Or you can go with the standard Emerald Magistrate setup and be done with it. Murder of a Daimyo might be easily seen as a crime against the Emperor after all.

Of particular not is the fact that neither this adventure, nor the titular Honor's Veil require any combat to handle.

Other thing that caught my eye was how much freedom the writers had at this point to create or add families and clans. In the GM pack there were the Kochako, and I think the Hare clan was also a new creation. At Murder we have the Tsume (which Wick misnames as Asano in Honor's), the Damasu, the Goseki (misspelled as Goskei), and the Nasu as well. I don't know if this is the same Nasu family that was later made into a Phoenix vassal or if that was only a coincidence.

The second adenture is more labyrinthine but also very interesting. It is setup as a magistrate adventure from the get go altough I think it works bet if the PCs are already retainers of Matsu Ino or Crane representatives.

However I'm also afraid it might have consolidated that testimony is all that matters in Rokugani court.

Finally we have a section on poison creation and application, with five example poisons, that was to be included and expanded upon on Way of the Scorpion . It's elegant and complete which is a big plus in my book.

To round things up there 6 pages with portraits of NPCs and maps of the adventure areas.

Frankly I was always one that thought that art in RPGs was extraneous, but the more I think about it the more I realize it isn't. Sure that no art is better than bad art, and good art doesn't mean sparkly gloss color ilustrations.

The character portraits help bring the NPCs alive and the maps are just pretty.

 In hindsight I believe these are actually better starting adventures than Ceremony of the Samurai from the corebook.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Way of the Dragon

"I see nothing more than you do. You look the wrong way."

Way of the Dragon was the first supplement/splatbook published for the L5R rpg. This post will be based on my 1st printing copy, so it may not apply to any other of the three printings. However I always try to find clarifications and errata and will make note of that in text.

As an aside I will make a small comment on the publishing order of the "Way of..." books.

It was awkward. I mean Dragon, Unicorn, Carb, are hardly the meat and potatos of Rokugan. I suppose that by starting with the aberrant clans they might be giving themselves the time to hit a stride and focus they were confortable with, but Crane and Lion are pretty much the clans that define Rokugan.

Having said that, the Dragon clan is my favorite clan and I'm sure this book had much to do with that.

In tipical RPG fare it starts off with a piece of fiction, which is actually pretty good, altough to say it starts with a piece of fiction is a bit misleading as 1st edition material had a strong narrative focus and much of the setting material was presented from an in-world point of view.

Case in point, the first chapter, an oerview of the Dragon Clan is mostly presented through letter annd anedocts by characters.

One thing that jumps to the eyes is how something aren't yet defined or might have been writen in isolation. As John Wick is listed as the primary writer with the contributions by other writers well defined in the credits page I must assume it was part of the "biased history" angle JW claimed to be aiming at.

Still, particularly as this isn't outright stated, it is a bit awkward to see Agasha being adressed as a male several times, or the points where Mirumoto is said to have no sons and then being treated to Yojiro. This one is more telling because the source cultures put a tremendous emphasis in lineage so this kind of mistake doesn't seem very realistic.

The second chapter goes more in-depth on the specific families, starting with the Togashi. Another thing I found here, and dearly miss, is the existence of family mon. Currently I'm not even sure all the clan mon have been printed in the books (Oriole, Bat and Ox might be missing), but family mon, other than a showing in Death at Koten have been completely absent.

Mind you though that I'm not particulalry fond of Dragon mon. They're based more on a chinese aesthetic that clashes with what I expect a mon to be. However most family mon are a bit too complex for my taste. Dragon mon just more so.

Oh, there are also rules for non-Togashi to have tattoos. Yeah it's a sore point for me that this was the last place where this has been considered despite the fact that, in fiction, many characters outside the order have been shown to have received a tattoo.

After the Togashi come the Mirumoto.The initial portion is a discussion on the Mirumoto armies structure and organization. This has largely been superseded now (altough, only on a web supplement, if I am not mistaken). Frankly I somewhat prefer if over the structures proposed in Way of the Lion and Masters of War as it seems a bit more feudal (not much mind you).

I was somewhat amused by the notion that the Mirumoto daimyo's income is a mere 20 000 koku per year. To put it in perspective, if Rokugan had the kokudaka system, he'd have to supply 400 samurai and 4000 Ashigaru. Far from the 200 000 samurai the Dragon armies are supposed to number.

Chui are supposed to lead 700 men with an income of 30 koku.

I must now remind myself that Rokugan is not Japan. Too bad it often doesn't make sense either...

The rank names which range from the modern to the gibberish also rake a bit. For someone who claimed to have 3000$ of books on samurai in his shelves it a bit disconcerting to not see John Wick use the ubiquous Kashira. It was fun to see Nikutai used. It does mean corporal, just not as in the military rank but rather as in body...

From then we move to history, and a discussion on Niten, with excerpts from the text. Here it is atributed to Hojatsu rather than Mirumoto. I need to check if this is recurrent because I was convinced it was from Mirumoto himself, despite the fact that this way it actually makes more sense.

Niten is clearly inspired by Musashi's Book of Five Rings, and I found it awkward that Kijome's commentary reads as tranlator notes, including word choices. Considering Kijome is suposed to be a near contemporary he shouldn't sound like he was translating from one language to another.

After the Mirumoto we move on to the Agasha. Finally I start seeing Agasha refered to as a she, which had me worried for a while.

For the most part it isn't a very interesting section other than the fact that their history is quite entwined with that of the Kitsuki (something I'm alway fond of because it creates context), and the description of the Agasha "foundries".

The Kitsuki section closes the chapter. It's agood read but there is nothing that truly stands out. It might be the origin of the idea that Rokugani only value testimony though.

The third chapter is the chapter on new mechanics and character options.

Six new skills are introduced. Ichi Miru, Nazodo, Mountaineer, Kagaku, Craft: Tattooing, and Craft: Mitsugusuri.

Frankly I'm of the opinion that skills should be wide, mostly available to everyone, and I'm very critic of expanding skill lists beyond corebooks, so I'm not very fond of this section. Mountaineer just dilutes Hunting, Ichi Miru should be a fucntion of the Kitsuki school and otherwise dilutes Investigation, Nazodo has the same problem being another form of Investigation, with some Divination thrown in. Kagaku and Mitsugusuri are adictions that make sense, but Kagaku shouldn't be restricted and be a craft skill, while Mitsugusuri (actually Mizugusuri) should probably be a function of the Agasha school. Unfortunately the Agasha school had already appeared in the corebook, and paths are still a long way from being created.

So all in all, Tattooing is the only skill I don't have a problem with...

There are also new advantages, Elemental Attunement, and Noble Birth. Remember, in first edition Ise zumi are not automatically samurai, they needed to take Noble Birth to be so.

As for Elemental Attunement I think it should either be open to any character, or be a function of the Mirumoto School.

There are also three new disadvantages, Ascetic, Enlightened Madness and Vanity.

Vanity is a roleplaying disadvantage, basically being a free point.

Ascetic is a disadvantage I have mixed feeling. It's a obvious take for ronin, but I'm alaways leery of how it is supposed to work in other situation. I suppose it might work as some sort of temple membership...

Finally the Kitsuki and Ise zumi schools are detailed.

The Kitsuki school is quite cool, in particular because it is a dramatic departure from the schools in the corebook. It has issues. Rank 3 and 5 are automatic sucess techniques with Rank 3 being more worrysome because there is no suggestion on how to deal with opposed rolls. Rank 4 is a technique denial technique, which I alaways find too fiddly for my taste.

The Togashi school is harder to grasp. On one hand it is quite versatile, but on the other the tattoos are generally weaker than techniques, or at least have significant drawbacks, and the Ise zumi will need to spend 16 points to get two extra tattoos beyond those given by the school. Frankly I don't remember how tattoos felt in play. They don't seem overpowered (far from it actually), but a few seem no-brainers in relation to each other. Ocean and Crane come to mind and Mountain seems a better option than Bat.

The chapter finishes with the Heritage Tables. On the positve side only one entry which grants 3 extra Void points per day seems overpowered altough there are a few other entries that might be strong depending on the interpretation, but the dishonorable past table will fuck you up if you're unlucky enough to roll there. Quite flavorful though.

The following chapter, the Who's Who, details a few NPCs, and introduces Ancestors in the sidebars. In my opinion Ancestors should have been in the character chapter and here should have been some of the gneric NPC stats that were put in the sidebars of the second chapter, but what do I know.

As for the ancestors themselves their backstory is very good and for the most part they are not abusive. With one exception.


Priced at 15 points and it is still a bargain for a Mirumoto bushi PC...

The NPCs are writen in the crisp, vivid style of John Wick. They are quite cool just with an hint of special snowflake here and there. I could lie without that, but surprisingly I'm not in the least bothered by Yokuni lack of stats unlike others. Gaijutsu's, Hitomi's and Tamori's tattoos bother me a lot more because they are a lot better than PCs can get. Yokuni being a god and working by GM fiat is small potatoes compared to that, in my opinion.

After the Who's Who there is a sample of 5 example characters. Supposedly they are ready made characters for players to take, but I suspect they were more fodder for GM ideas than anything else. Hell, the 5th character is nigh impossible to fit in a party.

Finally we have the Appendixes. The first is on Dragons (the creature), the second is on Kaze-Do, expanding unarmed combat rules.

The third appendix is on Agasha magic, with a new spell, Transform, which I was always wary about, a few Kagaku items, including black powder, a few nemuranai, of which the Agasha seeds and the Twilight lanterns left me very impressed, and Mizugusuri recipes.

The fourth appendix has a few adventure hooks, including Togashi Okkio which seems a proto-Kokujin (at least I think he pre-dates Kokujin), and a rough description of the Dragon provinces.

Between this and the next appendix there's also a map of Mirumoto Castle. I still haven't taken a look at the other maps, but this one actually disappointed me.

Finally we have appendix five which is a couple of CCG decks...

I would seriously like to know if anyone found this section useful?

Because for me, as a roleplayer it certainly did not, and I suspect it wasn't that useful for the card floppers either, but why waste a good synergy for network externalities...

Closing the book there is a reference sheet summarizing the new options and some clarifications, as well as a few character sheets.

All in all this is a solid first supplement.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Game Master's Pack- The Hare Clan

The first GM screen I bought was actually the 2nd printing with the Shadowlands scene, so I'm reviewing this screen from the PDF on sale at Drivethru RPG.

I assume the screen itself was thin card like the 2nd printing, but had, on the outside, the 1st Edition map of Rokugan and the Great Clan mon (as seen on the left), and on the inside a combat summary, the mass battle table, a TN table, skill roll and maneuvre summaries, Hit location tables, which are explained in the booklet along with rules for intant kills, but are actually wrong (were switched with one another), weapon damage, iaijutsu rules. All in all a very complete package, and in my opinion nicer to look at than the 2nd printing.

As for the PDF I will warn that while searchable it is not bookmarked nor hyperlinked. AEG seems to have revised their policy on PDFs with the new edition, but it is a shame that the legally available older edition PDFs don't have better fucntionality than those of a competent pirate.

As for the booklet itself it starts of with the Karma Rule. It's just a way to start with an experienced character based on the players previous character. Nothing much to be said, altough If I'm reading it right a character created with this rule might end up significantly more powerful than the previous character particularly if said character was insight rank 1 or 2.

It's followed by further elaboration on the GM advice from the Corebook. Again, I find the advice to deal with power players, well, Ill considered. Passive agressive behaviour won't make for good group dynamic.

There's also errata for the corebook.

Then come the new rules, Shadowlands Taint and Maho. Maho rules are interesting, being  quite different from the current incarnation. It is however yet another different sub-system and one that clearly was developed as an afterthought. Considering the importance of the Shadowlands in the setting it seems strange that Maho and Taint weren't part of the core rules to begin with.

The spells included are mostly ok. Oni summoning though as no suggestions on how to be used so it feels like it's mostly a way to taint someone.

Finally we have the adventure itself. I don't want to give much away, but I quite like it even if it feels a bit disjointed at times. The weak link in my opinion is that while the setup lends itself to a court/intrigue game, a third of the adventure is spent on the Shadowlands with a plotline which is completely tangential to the interests of the PCs. There is also little advice on running mass battles which could come in handy for the last part of the adventure.

Personally I would fork the Hare Sword recovery into an independent adventure, and focus more on Lion-Hare-Scorpion-Kolat politicking.

However I usually love Greg Stolze's work, and this is no exception. He created the Kochako family for this adventure, a poison, put the proto-Usagi technique, there are floor plans for both Hiruma castle and Usagi castle. Other interesting thing is that the Hare general Takeshi seems to have a variant on the Crab technique.

All in all this is worthwhile product.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Previews at AEG

I've been looking at the Emerald Empire previews at AEG.

Interesting, altough it didn't made me want to buy the book. There's too much stuff there that is unlikely to fit my taste. I'm afraid they might have just reintroduced Dojo rules and Way of the Daimyo was a mixed bag for me, so I'm not that psyched about it being updated.

There's nothing hinting of vassal family content, either.

I was however pleasantly surprised by the preview of Enemies of the Empire. I had discounted it as being an expendable book, but the preview made me reconsider my opinion. I may very well come to buy it.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Legend of The Five Rings Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire- Musings

These are just a few strings of though that came to me while reading the first core book, but didn't quite fit in the section read throughs:

  • For a game based on the Five rings, they have actually little impact. Only Earth and Void have specific purpose in the rules, with Insight and spellcasting making sure the other rings must also be considered. Water would be tied to movement from 2nd Edition onwards. Air and Fire still don't tie to anything, although the Stance and Kata rules can be seen as covering this. I personally think  that tying Air to Initiative instead of Reflexes would have been a good start. Other thing that could have been done would be to do away with traits altogether and use the Rings, but this would raise the question of skills being considered even less useful. Hard-linking rings to skills migh solve this but it become an extensive re-design.
  • No movement rules. They were only added in Clarification/Errata. Personally I'm not overly bothered by it as I took a more narrative aproach, and in situations where movement is important we have the Athletics skill, but for those more interested in a tactical or gamist aproach to combat this would be lacking, in particular because there are no rules for multiple actions.
  • Honor. On one hand I found that the book decidedly wasn't that focused on honor being an integral part of roleplaying in Rokugan, so the vagueness of the Honor rules isn't that bad. On the other hand the honor system is lifted from the Passion system of Pendragon (where BTW there is a defined Honor Passion), and badly lifted at that. Unfortunately this is something that would become a bigger sore as the line grew.
  • No multiclassing. Considering that there are only two classes, and that shugenja are supposed to be taught, not born, it's a bit annoying, more so if you consider that these are supposed to be religious prayers. But I guess much could be said of the non-handling of religion in RPGs.
  • On a related note. spellcasting being class based, in a system that is otherwise very heavily skill based.
  • The use of a supplement threadmill approach. I'm not exactly against this business model, but AEG was being rather heavy handed in its use.

Legend of The Five Rings Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire- Book of Void

We now reach the last chapter of the first L5R core book, the book of Void.

Again we begin with a small fiction, now with the twist that partway the POV changes to that of an ongoing game session.

There is a short campaign construction discussion. It is interesting that from the start it is assumed that the GM will limit the campaign compared to the stance taken in the 4th Edition.

Then comes the advice on actually running the campaign which is actually pretty good for the most part, and clearly aimed at the beginner.

However, John Wick has the stance of punishing a player in-game, for out of game actions. See page 170 for example. The irony is that the GM in that first example doesn't even need to cheat for the player to suffer the exact same consequences, and by cheating it's probably making sure what we are told in pages 167-168 (having fun is the most important) doesn't happen.

A disruptive player is disruptive regardless of the in-game consequences you dump on their character(s).

After the campaign and game mastering advice there are a few non-stated out NPCs, a few magical items, and information on the ninja.

Frankly the ninja section seems a badly though out bolt-on, if not an outright comercial to the Way of Shadow supplement (nevermind that the Way of Shadow didn't exactly include what they tell us would be included herr). Way of the Crab and Way of the Lion also get the same treatment.

Oh, yeah, the insistence that Rokugani characters are absolutely convinced without the shred of doubt that ninja don't exist is also boring as well.

And unnecessary.

And not helped by insisting on making a ninja section, firmly putting an elephant in the china shop when he wasn't there before...

After the much to big ninja detour we have a small bestiary.

This section aslo includes several adventure seeds in the Challenge-Focus-Strike format, and a complete adventure.

I found the CFS seed fine, but the adventure while interesting has some flaws.

For one, it forces players to play pre-gempukku characters.
It also puts a Fortune immediately as a patron of the players.
Considering it is an introductory adventure and the characters are supposed to be children it also is very heavy-handed in the consequences for some failures.

If you fix these aspects it is a very fine introductory adventure for both the system and the setting.

After Ceremony of samurai we are treated with something I've come to realize we are sorely missing from 3rd Ed. onwards.


Castle maps, geisha houses, temples, villages, you name it it exists.

Finally there is the actual map of Rokugan and a travelogue of locations.
One thing I liked here, and that returned in 4th Edtion, was how the great clans had borders that left large gaps of unaligned lands.

There are also some roads marked, which is a nice touch, as well as sea lanes, which we probably could live without.

There are a few mistakes, some key numbers are repeated, others are missing (or migh be in the creases of the pages), but nothing otherwise obvious.

My main impression here was how mind-numbingly long and baroque the toponyms are you won't find any Osaka here. Hell, you be lucky to find an Okinotorishima....

And with this I ended reading the first L5R rpg book ever. There were a few tables adds, reading suggestions, and the usual author notes, but nothing noteworthy (pun not really intended), but there is no point going over that.

I will do a small post-read analysis of somet hings that came up while I was reading but didn't fel right to post just yet, and then I'm going to start on the 1st gamemaster pack.

Legend of The Five Rings Roleplaying in the Emerald Empire- Book of Air

First things first, I should start with a disclaimer:

Magic bores me to death. I suppose that which attracts me in fantasy is what could have been or maybe the what if.

Magic though, at least the way I've seen it done in most books and games, just plain bugs me, in particular when conbined with historical stasis.

Sometimes I'm surprised I'm not that much of a fan of science fiction either, considering it usually handles these aspects much better than fantasy.

This little rant only means that I'm reading the Book of Air, aka the magic chapter, and, well, it feels like work, and not just any kind of work, but the mind-numbing, wage-slave kind of work.

Almost at least...

 Like the previous chapters it begins with a small piece of fiction. Again, utterly forgettable.

It moves on to religion. A lot of what's in this section as been superseded by changes in the setting, and it's not very deep to begin with, but the only thing that annoyed me was when we are told that because spellcasting looks like maho peasants fear shugenja...

Right, so religious ritual looks like ilegal sorcery, which makes priests feared, but still very important because of their social role.

If you thought that phrase makes no sense, that's no coincidence. Mind you that they started off as if shugenja were scholars, which would make this distinction much more sensible.

One thing that was changed, to my pity, is that in 1st Edition, shugenja were clearly taught rather than having innate ability. This made their religious nature far more believable without sacrificing any other interpretation.

Following this overview we get the spellcasting mechanics proper and the spell list which finishes the chapter.

 The first thing I noticed is that I really liked the streamlining that was made in 2nd Edition.

That's right, I'm praising 2nd Ed. for something.

The main problem, for me, and this is something I've already mentioned about my personal preferences in 4th Edition, is that Magic is not very transparent, particularly when compared with the rest of the system. There are a lot of fidly bits here, with mastery level being a major culprit.

At this point I'm remembered that 1st Edition magic was overpowered, but I've got to wonder if they noticed one small detail:

In first Edition rest only recovered 1 slot per element. It could take many days to recovel all spell slots.

Now, this is a rule that I don't like, but I would like to know if those thinking Magic was too powerful took this into account, because it makes spellcasting a much bigger trade-off.

 One thing that might also escape notice is that alot of these spells were lifted directly from the Bushido RPG. This is something about which I have mixed feelings. A problem I sometimes have with RPGs, is that they become somewhat self-referential. Take the proliferation of elves and dwarves just because Tolkien did it, but as codified by D&D (which means they are not much like Tolkien). Something appears somewhere, and all of the sudden it appears everywhere...

This is not necessarily bad, there is something to be said about familiarity, and I'm certainly not the type that defends the mantra that new or different is always better, but at times it feels just fucking lazy and unimaginative how these thing get repeated, and in this case they don't even credit any kind of inspiration from the original.

Curiously, I found no traces of D&D, the usual suspect, being copied...