The second chapter is the book of Water, which is the character creation chapter, and like the book of Earth, begins with fiction depicting the continuing adventures of Ginawa. Again there is nothing memorable here.
With that out of the way we get to the meat of this chapter, character creation.
It starts out with character concept using the Game of 20 questions. Now, I don't have anything against the 20 question per se, it's just that they don't necessarily have much to do with character creation.
Sure, it can be helpful if the player has no idea whatsoever on what he is to play, but even then they don't give that much aid to a newbie player or to those with little knowledge of the setting.
Now if all the question had direct impact on character creation, in a similar way in which most FATE variants do, it would be worth it, but this way it is just encumbering the player at the creation phase with thing that aren't really needed. or that arise organically from play. I would probably cut down the Game to 5-6 question and let the rest come from play.
Following the 20 questions, a few archetypes are described, with their benefits and pitfalls. Bland, but useful.
At this point the mechanical information starts to be more substantial, with an explanation of the elements on the characters sheet, but before going into that I will point out the sidebar on pages 54-54. Now start a drinking game on how many official character names break those rules. Or rather, don't. Results can be disastrous...
Returning to the issue at hand, it is given an overview of the rings and traits folowed by a shorter overview of skills, clans, families and schools.
Only after this overview do we begin with actual character information.
One thing that surprised me me was how Honor loss was handled. Every time a character fell bellow a rank he'd go to the halfway point in that rank. So if Isawa Shigeharu was Honor rank 3.1 lost 2 honor points he'd go to 2.5 Honor rather than 2.9. Apparently when gaining Honor it reveive a bonus of 3 Honor points altough the writing isn't very clear here. So if Mirumoto Naomasa had 1.9 Honor and gained 1 Honor point, he'd be at 2.3 honor rather than 2.
I don't remember ever using this rule, and I'm a bit surprised at it. I'm also surprised on how Insight and Glory are described in so similar a manner.
One thing I do remember, and I'm very glad was changed was the difference between character points and experience points. Traits and skills had different cost depending on wether you were upgrading them on character creation or in play, and as I prefer to view CPs as XPs for the character's life before play, the different currency wasn't much to my liking.
However I've also noticed something. Much has been said of how inportant traits are in relation to skills, but looking at the costs this seems overstated. Relatively speaking Traits are actually cheaper in 4th Edition than they were in 1st Edition. Character creation does favour raising traits instead of skills as does the the Insight system, but for advancement skill are much more effective unless compared to Void which is a ring that is valued as trait. However as Void's main bonus are the Void points this might not be too bad.
Thematically this is interesting as a optimized starting characters will probably have a good dose of natural talent, represented by traits, but will then develop skills, and their attunement to the universe, as represented by Void. Considering starting L5R characters seem to be teenagers this looks appropriate.
After the character creation overview we have clan outfits, an example of character creation, and the equipment section.
If you went hum?! there, it wasn't an accident.
The character creation example is great, but for the love of God I don't understand why it was crammed between two equipment sections, particularly when the clan outfits are redundant.
As for the equipment section I must give props to art direction again. Almost every equipment item is illustrated.
After the equipment section came skills. It's a list tipycal of the period, mechanically light. The only thing that caught my eye was Herbalism and Medicine being specifically stated has being the same thing. An attentive GM can take care of that, but it felt redundant.
Same deal with the Advantage/Disadvantage sectio. Sensei, True Friend and Ally feel redundant, altough this might be a case of hindsight. On the Disadvantage side, Compulsion, Phobia and Chemical Dependency suffer a bit from the same problem, as does Black Sheep and Social Disadvantage. Other than that I found no obvious problem, altough I'm coming back to this section once I read the Fire book in more detail.
Following the Disadvantage sections we find the Clan spreadsheets that are awesome, in style at least if not in content (Who am I kidding?). Each two page spreadsheet (1 page for ronin) has a stylish illustration, a summary of character creation, clan overview, clan mon, opinions on the other clans, bushi and shugenja schools for each clan, outfits and three families.
This is where I find most to criticize though. Like I said above the outfits are redundant, and, as per errata, when they differ, the correct outfit is the one in the clan sheet, so the space used before the character creation example was a waste of space. More important though is that only 3 families per clan are included when the space used to describe them is about one line. This is made more egregious by the fact that at this point all the missing families with the possible exception of the Moto were already defined in the storyline (and several are mentioned in the clan overviews).
It gets worse if, like I did, one goes through the trouble of reading through the PR stuff, clarifications, and whatever else can still be found. Many of these things were not left out by lack of space or some other reason , but clearly as commercial/marketing strategy.
I'm not commenting on the schools themselves, as, due to the several iterations they have gone through, I don't remember how they feel in play.
It's clear shugenja shouldn't be unbalanced as there isn't much variation between them, but I can't really remember the bushi schools.
Bayushi being initiative based probably ruled alongside the Mirumoto vorpal blender.
Ok, I'm going to open an exception to talk about the Dragon, as both the Agasha and Mirumoto school and families are potentially abusive.
Both schools allow choosing the trait bonus, and the Mirumoto family does as well. This invites trait optimization as I've mentioned above. More inportantly, the built in control is that the Mirumoto school only gets 6 school skills, and the Agasha school 5. I'm not sure when did the Agasha got their 6th and 7th skill, probably sometime during the second edition, but the Mirumoto only got the 7th skill in the 4th Edition, long after they lost their trait choice.
Finally, on what would be the ronin's spreadsheet second page there is a listing every skill, advantage and disadvantage.
Next up, we'll move to the Book of Fire.