It starts off with a competent but forgeatable piece of fiction featuring Ginawa, with sidebars repeating part ofthe Introduction's Glossary, which in my opinion makes it even more expendable, and the disclaimer that Rokugan is not Japan.
I suspect I'm going to have a lot of fun with that disclaimer...
After the fiction snipet begins the Gaijin's Guide To Rokugan proper, in narrative format starting with the creation myth.
The initial part of the myth is clearly identifiable from chinese and japanese creation myths but with the twist of the Three Sins, that forms the basis of Nothing's origin for those familiar with it.
It's also simplified in that Amatersu and Onnotangu directly replace Izanagi and Izanami. Nevertheless, so far, it seems closer to the Japanese myths than the more recent retellings.
It begins to differ significantly with the introduction of the Naga, and, more importantly, with the introduction of the
|Young Fu Leng|
Incidentally there is a nice illustration of the celestial family on page 18.
If you ever wondered what Fu Leng looked like as a kid, search no more. Ain't he a cute little tyke?
At this point we start moving from creation myth into historical narrative, with brief overviews of the clans being given as well on geography.
Incidentally, Shinsei is awesome. Check page 20 if you don't believe me.
The next big section of the guide is on culture. The celestial order is explained, with the different castes detailed.
Now, I have a problem with the Rokugani caste system, because their cosmogony doesn't doesn't really justify how strict it is, same as the blood taboo. It's one of those things were the designers changed one element of the source material without really thinking on how it would affect those that stayed the same. I can think on ways to reconcile these discrepancies, but it's still a sore spot.
Women's roles are also discussed. In this edition there is a stricter definition of roles comparing with later edition, altough not as strict as the inspiring societies usually were. I tend to prefer it this way, but again it is a place where the changes in mythology can justify it going either way. I tend to deal with this in family by family basis. I do have an extreme distaste of the marriage customs as they were lifted wholesale from japanese culture and are very hard to reconcile with Rokugani history.
After women's role the lifes of samurai and farmers are detailed. There isn't much to point out here, but it is a good place to note on how effectively the sidebars are used, at least in this chapter, always full of small cultural detais.
Then we have on of the favourite subjects of L5R, the economy. It's actually not too bad, just very incomplete and unusually focused on carpenters...
The food section is other that it isn't as restricitve as I remember. It could have done with better editing and I had to smile when they say that milk is more valuable than the cattle's milk (let's just say that if Rokugani are human, or even merely mammals, there is a high probability they are lactose intolerant as adults), but there are some allowances for the eating of meat by samurai.
Considering Rokugan is far more landlocked than Japan, and that some of the cultural taboos against eating meat don't make sense in this context, this allowance should be bigger, but it is stil better than I remember.
Clothing and housing are up next, and here I find something I've been missing in newer editions of L5R, or other RPGs, and hadn't even noticed. Art that isn't character or action oriented. I understand why AEG took to recycling card art, it makes sense, but for the CCG it's usually important that the art be dynamic and/or character focused, and I've noticed that many RPGs have had their art focusing on characters and actions, maybe in attempt to establish some kind iempathy/dentification with the prospective player, which is all fine and well. However, I think this come at the price of leaving the setting "shrouded in mist" so to speak. The black and white drawing of houses, castles and people in this section lead me to imediately imagine busy streets full of peaple and rows of houses.
Those pictures helped the setting come alive.
This leads us to the Bushido section.
Now the Code of Bushido as the Rokugani know it was not defined at this time. That happened either with the first travelogue, or with Way of the Lion whichever was published first. Here we have something which shows more of the societal effect than scriptured dogma.
I suppose either way is ok, and they aren't mutually exclusive,but since Rokugan's brand of bushido seems to have been largely lifted from Tokugawa's household code it's a times... "iffy".
I particularly like how Sincerity and On are treated here which put's it in stark contrast with the later assertion about Rokugani judicial system that it is completely testimony based. None of that silliness here.
So far this has been a breeze to read through, but I've already hit two facepalm moments. One was a bit on sword etiquette on how katana are kept in the obi blade down so that the saya does not dull the blade. The other, more problematic, in my opinion, was the revenge section, which highlights the anachonism stew approach L5R takes. Again it is not something that can't be reconciled, but it was clear that the writer wanted to include the revenge theme in the setting, but didn't want give carte blanch to the potential abuses that might lead.
By the end of the chapter we have additional information on the political and justice system, including how much magistrates should earn. I was quite surprised to find an Imperial Magistrate should have a stipend of 2-4000 Koku, and a clan magistrate should have a stipend of 700-2000 Koku. Also it's mentioned of karo actively leaving their lord due to lack of reward.
The last section of the chapter is a quick rundown of the game system. Personally I think this should have been part of the Introductory section.