Thursday, 25 November 2010

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition Roleplaying Game review- Part 4

Following the Boak of  Earth comes the Book of Fire that covers character creation and options. Systems covered are the skill system, Advantages/Disadvantages, Families/Schools, equipment and Spellcasting. I will mention again that in my opinion the layout was greatly improved in relation to 3rd Edition. We are talking about a big book, but everything flows more naturally and in the PDF the existence of links helps.

Points of note:
  • There is no longer a limit to Insight Rank. I suspect this is merely the codification of something that in practice was already the norm.
  • Carapace no longer exists, replaced by reduction. This is the opposite move of what I have mentioned in Part 3 with skill roll penalties,. Reduction is a straight modifier unlike carapace. If you prefer straight modifiers it's an improvement, if you prefer the dice penalties it's not.
  • Armor now both provide an increase to the TN to be hit and provides reduction. This is more realistic, but again it is one more thing to track. Personally I favour Armour as a source of damage mitigation rather than increasing TN to be hit.
  • As I mentioned before quite a few schools have techniques that allow dishonorable actions to have no consequence. Examples are the Yasuki and Yoritomo Courtiers, the Shosuro Shinobi and the Ikoma Bard. This is not a new problem, in fact it was the only ability of the orignal Ikoma Omoidasu, but in my opinion it makes the existence of Honor meaningless.
  •  There are some odd choices of schools. The Hiruma school is a mix of the Ancestral and Scout with the Ancestral being dominant. I suppose it would make sense if the Scout school became merely a path in this edition but this mix feels strange. Another problem was created by space constraints, and exposes how timeline neutrality is not completely possible, the Shinjo bushi school was not included, the Moto bushi being favored. I understand why the Moto where chosen, but I would have straight out prefered the Shinjo had made the cut as they were the primary school for most of the setting history and because I much prefered the slight Arabic flavour the Unicorn than the cookie cutter pseudo-barbarian, pseudo-mongol stereotype they now are. The same happened with the Henshin that had to compete with bot the Asako courtier and Agasha Shugenja.
  • Other school that I'm not completely happy, and I will admit it's mostly for a silly reason is the Tattooed Order. The reason? The tattoos only work if they are not covered by cloth... Yeah, I know it's silly, but I really dislike that an art convenience to display Tattooed monks be made part of the setting particularly in contradiction with other depictions like Hitomi who had a tattoo that was hidden and she could still use at will. But I suppose this is easy enough to ignore. Less silly reason not to be entirely happy with this school is the fact that the tattoos are yet another sub-system and ,worst of all, one that is quite opaque. I understand why they are no longer as they were in 1st Edition, but why not integrate them with the Kiho system? Why create another sub-system? I'm also disappointed that again there is no suggestion on how to create tattooed characters that are not part of the order like Kitsuki Taiko, Doji Reju, Hitomi, or Agasha Tamori.
  • No more generic schools. 
  • In general, however, schools seem to be pretty well balanced against each other. I've found no obvious stinker nor any obvious uber-school, altough I would prefer to have about a month of play to be more certain. I'm less happy with Shugenja schools, but I'll go into that in the next part of this review.
    • Emphasis no longer provide static bonuses but rather allow re-rolling 1s. I'm not sure this was a good idea. Yes, 3rd edition L5R was bogged down by an excess of static modifiers, but the problem were not static midifiers per se. The problem of static modifiers were the fact that they came from multiple sources, were more often than not situational. In this case I think AEG has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Re-rolls tend to be more cumbersome than static modifiers and in this case the oerall roll probabilities do not become more transparent.
    • There are less mastery abilities.
    • The skill list has again been reworked. Some skills were split, other were merged. I have to admit I miss the rationale for many of the changes ,and tend to prefes broad skills but this is probably not a dealbreaker, altough social schools might have been somewhat shafted a most of the split skills were social.
    • Advantages/Disadvantages were slightly reworked. The inherent/granted split was removed but they are now divided into Mental/Physical/Spiritual/Material/Social. I have a problems with a few specifics ones. Namely... 
    • There are a few sets of Advantages/Disadvantages where you can't choose multiple options from the same set or the opposed set. Frankly, I don't see any narrative reason why a Character can't be blessed by both Hotei and Benten, or why it is impossible to be a Dark Paragon of Will and be Consumed by Perfection, and it doesn't look like it would mechanically unbalance things either, so I intend to ignore that particular rule.
    • Dangerous Beauty. Not so much a problem with the Advantage itself, but with the fact that yet again it uses heteronormative language. This is disappointing because; a) Originally it had no such wording, and b) AEG was aware of the issue, it was brooched with relative frequency in their boards and I remember a lengthy discussion I had about it some three years ago in which Shawn Carman participated, which make the mix of dismissivness, cluelessness, if not outright arrogance, this issue is still treated with when mentioned to AEG all the more difficult to excuse. If I had read the comments made around the release of the book I doubt I would have bought it, and I do kind of regret giving them money again because of something which was one of the reasons I had stoped buying their products in the first place. Is it that hard to use inclusive language? Was the language used in Way of the Scorpion that terrible? Is it that difficult to replace "opposite" with "appropriate"? 
    • Gentry has absolutely no game effect other than whatever the GM decides. The problem is that no help is given to the GM on how handle this advantage. Worst, suggested costs are as high as 30 points and it is suggested that PCs pool their point together to create the holding. So what we have here is an extremely expensive advantage without any mechanical effect, that tells the GM should do what he is already supposed to be doing, and doesn't even help him in doing so. WTF??! I'm going to ignore it, Social Position will not be limited to a single rank and will be used to replace it. Complete waste of space.
    • Multiple Schools. My problem with this advantage stems from my issue with shugenja schools and as I said I will elaborate further on it, but my misgivings stem from the fact that I don't think that the problem with multiple shugenja schools and Advanced Shugenja schools has been solved. Shugenja paths yes, but the rest not so much. 
    • Ishiken, at 8 points only allows the casting of Void Spells. I have mixed feelings about this one. I tend to dislike that to dislike that the only thing it does is allowing the casting of Void Spells, but I suppose I'll have to see how they intend to implement Void mages. If they are supposed to be represented by the printed Isawa shugenja school I suppose it makes sense.
    • Dark Fate. Again this is a legacy issue which means those sacred cows were quite safe. This is the interesting advantage that is considered a disadvantage. Yes, the player is relinquishing some narrative control. Eventually. It is still an advantage, and it would be enough to price it under Great Destiny, maybe at 2 or 3 points.
    • Spell casting also receives a face lift. While the difference are relatively minor they have a relatively big effect, in particular the fact that raises may no longer be used to cast spells without expending slots. Concentration rules were also simplified in a manner similar to 4th Edition D&D. However the best change in my opinion is how Importuning was iplemented. I think I would still prefer that spellcasting became skill based, but I have to admit this goes a long way in making Rokugani feel at least somewhat religious and I'm tempted to try and pitch a game where shugneja are limited to the basic spells.
    • Another interesting difference in spells is that they now have keywords. I'm actually a bit surprised that they took so long to implement it considering AEG is a CCG company and the use of keywords in RPGs is around for a while now. They seem to work well, altough I'm worried on how they might be used in the future. As it is Sun, Moon, Crystal and Obsidian seem keywords that should have been included from the start and I'm kind of worried there might be the temptation to include these and others like Shadow in an ever inflating list.
    • The Spells themselves seem to be well balanced, at first glance, altough False Whispers can be used as a social equivalent of nuclear bomb, and I'm sure I missed some interaction somewhere.
    • Weapons have also been changed. Many lost their special properties which are now exclusively granted through skill masteries. The problem is that other weapons have not lost their special abilities, and there seems to be no clear rationale why, nor are the damage codes and costs very logic.

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