The Book of Earth is that of mechanics proper. During the countdown to the release of the game it was made a big deal on how the sacred cows of the game were thoroughly examined and put dow if found wanting.
Well, I'm happy to report that no cow was hurt in the making of this book...
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of changes, but they are just not nearly as dramatic as they were sometimes made out to be. The core system is the same from 1st and 3rd , a dice pool where you roll trait plus skill and keep ta number of dice equal to trait against a GM defined Target Number or the result of the opposing roll with results of 10 exploding.
The only systems that were cut out were the Dojo and Vassal Family systems, and considering their simplicity they probably will be re-introduced. I hope to be wrong because I disliked how they had been implemented, vassal families don't need mechanical interpretation other than the ocasional path to represent specialized training, and Dojo can be fully represented witth Paths.
Some things that were changed:
- Void points can only be used once per turn, are harder to recover, and some of the Void Uses were removed/changed. I probably will ignore that limitation and re-introduce the Persistence use from 3rd Edition. I'm also pretty sure I'll be using the Speed use instead of the Initiative Bonus from 4th, because I'm not convinced Initiative has been as nerfed as it should in this edition and the old option seems to be more muted.
- No more Tides of Battle rolls. I think this is a good change, ToB was interesting, but slowed down combat resolution significantly eliminating the benefit of rolling Initiative only once per encounter.
- The Wound Buffer is now in the first Rank instead of being in the last. I'm undecided on this one. It reduces the importance of Initiative which is good, but it may also give a sense of false security to players.
- Action were far better defined and clarified, in a way similar to WRFP 2nd Ed. However I'm not sure the problem with multiple attacks has been solved at al. As it is attacks are complex actions, that with the appropriate technique become simple actions, so the power boos is still all there. I suspect that it would be far better that attacks were always simple actions that could only be used once per round, and that the extra attack technique removed that limitation, or instead, considering that the extra attack maneuver found it's way into this edition, it should give free raise that can only be used towards that maneuver.
- Stances were expanded, there is now a Defense and a Center Stance. Center Stance is pretty much Focusing from 3rd Edition, but with a temporary Initiative bonus as well. Full Defense was also changed, now it only add half the defense roll to the TN to be hit. Frankly there is nothing much to be seen here, Full Defense just became even less atractive an option, the Center stance is nothing new, and the Defense posture is necessary because no kind of action is possible on Full Defense any longer.
- Feint. I tend to dilsike feinting rules in general, for most RPG it should be assumed to be a part of the standard attack roll. It makes sense in some more detailed combat systems, 7th Sea being an obvious example. In L5R and this edition in particular it becomes even more of a sore point for me. Raises to increase damage may perfectly be used to simulate putting extra strength in the blows, hitting unprotected areas, or putting the the target in an unbalanced position. Instead we get a tweaky option that only has benefit if the character has an high attack and relatively low Void, and is limted by Insight Rank making it nearly useless. To add insult to injury this edition codified a lot of the status condition, so there is absolutely no reason why Feint couldn't just be used to inflict the Dazed or Stunned conditions.
- Iaijutsu. It has been graciously streamlined, ending the horde of rolls that were required to resolve duels and somewhat integrating it better with the normal Round/Action structure. Unfortunately I think this is one of the Sacred Cows, and one of those that could happily be slaughtered without prejudice. There is realy no reason for Iaijutsu duels to be solved any differently from other conflicts just because of something that happened in only two movies. On the other hand it might be interesting to experiment this system to solve every type of conflict from combat, to social repartee.
- Honor. This is another change where I have mixed feelings. It has been chaged so that it is in a 0-10 scale instead of the previous 0-5. Honor rolls are now an optional rule about which GMs are warned that it can unbalance the game in favour of High Honor PCs. The only fixed benefit of Honor is increasing the results of rolls made to resist the efects of Fear, Temptation and Intimidation. The way I see it we are again faced with a sacred, and again nothing was really done with it. And this is not a new problem, I used to love Honor, but less and less I see what it adds to the game. Imean we're bombarded that in Rokugan Honor is more important than steel, but the fact is that the rules never reflected that and now less than ever before. In 1st and early 2nd edition Honor was subjective to the point of Scorpion honor being defined almost in reverse. In 3rd edition it became largely objective but it started to introduce the exceptions which became even more prevalent in this edition. Merchant skills cause honor loss, unless your a merchant, Low skills cause honor loss, unless your a ninja. Basically you only have low Honor because your school says so, which make the point of having Honor in the first place moot. Why not conflate Honor with Glory? Why not use Pendragon's Passion system? It was the original inspiration for Honor, and Traits and Passions would work great if the main focus of the game is the conflicts of Bushido. Why not use something like FATE's aspects, Burning Wheels belief and instincts or a few other belief and conviction systems I can't remember? What's worst is that you can't really end up ignoring and ignoring Honor because there are a few school techniques and kata that depend on it meaning that you have a cascade of things to change after it.
- Most penalties are now measured in dice rather than straight modifiers as in 1st edition. This makes sense as it increases the importance of skills as a buffer to prevent the loss of kept dice, however straight numeric modifiers are generaly easier to judge by the GM and are also widely used. This is a fundamental flaw of the Roll and Keep system and there is no easy way to solve it. I'm afraid it might make action resolution more cumbersome, and I suspect most GMs will feel they have more thing to keep track of.
- Status Conditions have been codified and compiled in a nice little section.
- Stance declaration is made before Initiative is rolled. How? We are not told... This is not a big issue, and those that played 3rd Edition won't be phased with it as the seeds for this rule were already there, but I've got to admit I hated the dismissiveness people who posed the same question on the AEG boards before I checked it out were treated with. "L5R your way" is all well and nice but at least provide a baseline we can wotk with! And it's somewhat disrespectful telling someone there is no problem with an undefined rule only to then reveal that you haven't even using the rules that are defined...