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OSSR: L5R 3rd Edition
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 12:08 pm    Post subject: OSSR: L5R 3rd Edition Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Legend of the Five Rings
Role Playing Game
3rd Edition
OSSR


This came out in 2005, making it a decade old come the new year.

Full disclosure: back in the 90s, teenage Frank Trollman was one of the better players of the card game on the planet and wrote stories for their listserv (it was the 90s). This was back when the fandom was small enough that a vocal and halfway decent fanfiction writer could push the overall arc of the storyline in one direction or another, and there was a Crab Clan / Nezumi alliance for a while pretty much because I wrote one in. I had... a falling out with the AEG people where they banned me from discussing their rules (and wrote in my suggested rules change to the next edition of the rulebook without attribution), and asked me to keep writing fanfics for them – which I declined. But I still liked the setting, and when they made a d20 version in the 2000s, I ran a long running Rokugan D&D campaign (K played a Scorpion clan sorcerer in that one).


The original card game had great art for the time and a lot of flavorful characters. Of course, in the original rules that character counted as an item.

So you'll be forgiven if you discount much or all of my hair pulling about the fluff. After all, I am a known former fanboy of this setting and can probably be counted upon to shout at the kids on my lawn no matter what direction the storyline decided to go in the gosh, nearly two decades since I first became invested in this setting. Gosh, I feel old. However, I'm going to try to be aware of my own cognitive bias here and only call out direction changes in the storyline that are genuine train wrecks rather than just things that are a different color from the rosy hue of my nostalgia glasses.

This board has a little bit of hate crush on John Wick, which is understandable because he's an asshole. He really likes to break rules, and throw temper tantrums when people use rules as-is, which makes him extremely annoying to deal with as a DM or game designer. And despite that fact, he is best known as a DM and a game designer, bringing in a giant WTF from everyone with enough brain cells to get a group discount. He also was one of the major people behind L5R both in card game and RPG format. I think it important to note that he has pretty much nothing to do with this edition, having grabbed his dick to run off and make 7th Sea nearly two presidential terms before this book hit print. Wick was the guy for the first edition back in 1998, and then there was a 2nd edition which tried to have an open relationship with the d20 system, and then there's this one. And while John Wick was only directly involved with the first edition of the RPG, the game is still picking up after his mess even in the 4th edition (which came out in 2010 and is almost old enough to warrant an OSSR in its own right). The sort of trademark Wickian “I just made those rules to troll you” type lazy twists are in here just as they are in a Shyamalan movie – but it's changed hands several times since his funk was on it and some of them have been papered over. John Wick doesn't even get credit for “original concept” which is instead given to Zinser.

Anyway, this is the 3rd edition which came out in 2005. The big crossover with D&D is officially over and now real fans of Rokugan have taken over and are taking things in a bold new direction. The authors thank their playtesters (and there are a lot of them) for making this the best edition of L5R yet. There are five writers and two editors, and all of the writers give a little bit of gushing praise for their homies and the process. This is both good and bad. Obviously a high quality RPG product can only happen when people love what they are doing and these people do love l5r. On the flip side, the L5R world was already a decade old and had been doing Marvel Comics style “shocking events” of varying stupidity twice a year or more for the entire time. From a story perspective, Rokugan was badly in need of a reboot and the fanboys writing the 3rd edition were not going to give it one. And of course, the core system of L5R is honestly terrible to the extent that you need an app to follow its perplexing probability functions. It's seriously almost as bad as Cthulhutech and badly needed to be scrapped and reworked to something that could be taken seriously in the 21st century. That didn't happen either (although it'll be over a hundred and fifty pages before we get there). Basically, imagine if the obsessive fans who main Memory Alpha or Wookiepedia were put in charge of writing new canon for Star Trek or Star Wars respectively – you get a genuine love for the source material and a frighteningly encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter, but a bizarre refusal to actually throw away any of the parts of the past that are genuinely bad.

Table of Contents


This isn't the full page art from the ToC, but the art from this book does look like this because it's the same artists. It's both thematic and beautiful.

Normally a table of contents would not warrant a chapter writeup, but in this case it is four fucking pages long and is longer than many books give for an introduction or foreword. One of those pages is a full page art piece, but you still have three full pages of dense text.

But the real reason that I'm doing a section on this isn't because of the ToC's tremendous length or the relative difficulty of actually finding anything you're looking for in a table of contents that has no-shit six entries for page 160 and is partially written in Japanese. I'm highlighting this because the table of contents divides the book into five “books” that are each associated with one of the five elements whose elemental rings give name to the setting. There are of course five of them, hence the legend being about five rings. It's all based on a misreading of Musashi's Book of Five Rings, where the last ring is given as “void” and filled with vacuum metaphors rather than the original intent that it was the heavenly ring representing perfection.


The elements are basically this, but with a bunch of western interpretations of those elements shoved in sideways.

The books in this book follow the elemental progression of the Musashi book and that's all very thematic. But it does set things up for an organizational structure that doesn't make a lot of sense to new readers. The Book of Earth contains setting information, the Book of Water contains character creation information, the Book of Fire contains the actual game mechanics (the core dice mechanic is explained on page 85), the Book of Air contains cosmology and magic systems, and the Book of Void has gamemastering information. There's certainly a logic to this, but information you need to make sense of most statements ends up divided between the different books and you need to read the whole thing through or be familiar with previous editions to make much sense out of anything.

Notably absent from this book is any “what is roleplaying” section, an introduction, or any sort of explanation as to what the fuck is going on at all. Once we're through the Table of Contents, we jump straight into the Book of Earth which in turn jumps right in to short writeups of the clans. So this book isn't just by obsessive fans, it's for obsessive fans. This book is absolutely gorgeous, but it doesn't even pretend to explain what the fucking hell it's doing to a potential new player.

But we'll get to the Book of Earth next time.
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Lago PARANOIA
Invincible Overlord


Joined: 25 Sep 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 12:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

What really sold me on Rokugan was the description of the clans. I mean, I fangasmed over Oriental Adventures long before I heard of Rokugan in a context more detailed than 'this is where your weak-but-flavorful monk tjeese came from' but at that time I didn't give a shit about the setting. But hearing about the Cranes and Lions and Crabs and how they did business interested me enough to want to learn more. Especially the stuff about how events in the CCG phase would influence the metaplot. But then I heard about the blatant clan favoritism the game developers had and... yeah. Completely killed that burgeoning fanboy spark.

Thanks a lot, fuckers.
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Josh Kablack wrote:
Your freedom to make rulings up on the fly is in direct conflict with my freedom to interact with an internally consistent narrative. Your freedom to run/play a game without needing to understand a complex rule system is in direct conflict with my freedom to play a character whose abilities and flaws function as I intended within that ruleset. Your freedom to add and change rules in the middle of the game is in direct conflict with my ability to understand that rules system before I decided whether or not to join your game.

In short, your entire post is dismissive of not merely my intelligence, but my agency. And I don't mean agency as a player within one of your games, I mean my agency as a person. You do not want me to be informed when I make the fundamental decisions of deciding whether to join your game or buying your rules system.
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Longes
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 12:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Notably, fourth edition starts with:
-What is a Roleplaying?
-What is Rokugan?
-What changed between 3rd and 4th editions?

It's all really nice.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The Book of Earth


Later editions of the card game could often afford some pretty amazing paintings, but went with a simplified card format that doesn't look as good.

The Book of Earth is 75 pages long and is basically a setting primer. The closest thing to an introduction that it gets is an italicized story about a samurai fighting and shouting shonen anime aphorisms. It doesn't tell you a lot about the setting and is not terribly well written. When a piece of italicized text goes much over half a page I think most people just don't read it, so I don't think this clunkiness does the book a lot of harm. But it doesn't help either. The book doesn't really set up answers to the more fundamental questions of “What the hell are we doing?” at this point (or arguably, ever). The game asks you to come up with a character concept on page 82 but it doesn't start talking about how to put together an adventuring party (or even particularly explain that that is what you're expected to be doing) until page 274. I think you're basically supposed to run around having D&D style adventures, but some of the proposed character types are quite useless on adventuring expeditions. So really, who knows?

The chapter proper begins with a description of the eight major clans. When the game first came out there were six major clans, and one of the draws of the card game was that they all played differently and were optimized towards winning the game in different ways. The Crane were optimized towards honor gain and were best at winning through honor. The Phoenix and Dragon were optimized towards winning through enlightenment because they were the only ones that could get out all five ring cards. The Crab, Lion, and Unicorn were all warrior clans and optimized towards different manners of fighting: the Crab were defensive, the Lion were offensive, and the Unicorn were about mobility. From a simple concept explanation, since a military victory required you to succeed offensively and nothing else really mattered that the Lion would be the only good military clan, but with the actual original card set the reverse was pretty much true – Crab (whose “defensive” prowess mostly corresponded to having higher numbers than you) and Unicorn (who could burn half your provinces without actually fighting your army and then economics their way to an army big enough to crush whatever you had left) were very powerful and Lion was mediocre and unreliable (heavily dependent on getting good early draws to get anywhere). Enlightenment victories were like getting a hole in one in golf or a perfect game in bowling – something a fan and frequent player of the game might never actually see, so the Dragon and Phoenix were kind of joke factions. This put Crab, Crane, and Unicorn on a very different and much higher power level from Dragon, Phoenix, and Lion. As card expansions came out and the metagame changed, those positions changed a lot – developers would quite explicitly print cards with the intention of making one clan or another weaker or stronger – and it was quite often not to make a more balanced game but merely because they wanted to see such and such a clan win or lose more often.

Every so often, L5R writers and authors remember that “phoenixes” and “Unicorns” in East Asia actually refer to Hou-ou and Kirin, but mostly they use representations of Western phoenixes and unicorns because to a very big degree this is a yellowface game rather than actually Asian fantasy.


The swords of the Crane are pretty much for show, they actually win the game by holding lavish parties and composing compelling poetry.

But I said eight clans. The other two major clans in this book are Scorpion and Mantis. Scorpion began the game as a “disbanded” clan that had various ninja and subversive agents who still believed in the cause. Obviously, they became a playable faction with the first expansion and a few expansions later they could even win games. The Mantis are a bit dumber than that. They were in the original bit just an example minor clan. You could get some Mantis soldiers if you wanted as neutrals. But the thing is that the actual cards had really cool art, and they became subject to the Boba Fett effect: fans took them way more seriously than their position in the story warranted because they had green armor and double kama fighting style and that was “awesome.” A few cycles of fans writing storyline and becoming developers and the Mantis got upgraded to being one of the major clans.


See if you can spot the reason for this clan being upgraded to “major” status while the Hare and Monkey clans remain obscure.

The clans, the monks, and even the Shadowlands all get dealt with in just two and a half pages (the bird riding northern nomads, the rat people, and the various flavors of sketchy spirit folk who live in the area but aren't part of the empire are ignored for now). And then we're off to a history of Rokugan. This is not a set of broad strokes to generally get a feel for things. This is a 19 page rant covering twelve hundred years of history picking out all the events that the authors think are awesome from the card game. If you hadn't spent the last 10 years with a subscription to the L5R fanzine getting regular storyline updates, you will be very confused. There are seriously five entries for the year 1133, and this is one of them:
L5R, 3rd edition wrote:
Moto War: year 1133
While the Clans fight against the Living Darkness at Oblivion's Gate, the Moto family of the Unicorn engage in their own war. Shinjo's return brings the nomadic Moto from the Burning Sands, who ride beside their cousins of Rokugan as they meet the Dark Moto of the Shadowlands in combat. The Dark Moto are led by none other than Otaku Kamoko, who has sacrificed her own honor to lead the corrupted Unicorn to destruction. Using fierce tactics of Khan Moto Gaheris, the undead Moto are crushed, unifying the line of the Moto once and for all.

If you weren't already very conversant with L5R trivia this would basically be like pokemon talk. Hell, even if you are, that's pretty opaque. And it's basically all like that, for a quarter of this chapter. Event after telegraphic event. It was hard for me to choose one, because the level of WTF on all of it is very high. I kind of wanted to do the Death of Toturi in 1133, but only because Toturi's first child is born in 1136. I like to consider myself fairly conversant in L5R trivia, and I don't know how that's supposed to work. Seriously, he commits seppuku and keeps having children born for the next six years. That's some seriously potent sperm, a laughably bad set of explanations by his widow, or some deeply confused writing by the guys producing canon. I'm guessing it's the last one.

L5R's storyline is a confusing shambles, and in 2005 was basically incomprehensible even to the people writing it. They had at that point been going on for a literal decade, riding the hype event rollercoaster and also attempting to write in the results of card tournaments, beloved fanfiction, and even card misprints into canon in order to create the illusion of a living world that the players had a say in. Now a lot of this was typical John Wick styled bear world bullshit – where your clan doing well in a tournament might result in your major personalities falling to corruption and your clan being nearly destroyed or it might result in your clan conquering extra territory and getting credit for saving the day. Because there were no established rules as to what tournament results or events the story herds were going to select to riff off of in the main story and no telling whether they were going to riff off of them in a positive or negative way. And another lot of it was that since the players pretty much all played someone on team good guy, the villains never ever won anything, so there was constant threat creep and at the same time the villains were a bunch of failtards who only ever made any progress because of MC dickery rather than player contribution.


The main shugenja of the Crab Clan turned into a melt-faced demon traitor because the Crab did well in a tournament.

I can think of a lot of things to put at the beginning of this book that would have been more helpful than this ADHD report of everything ever ranted about in the Imperial Herald for the last 10 years. In fact, I can't really think of anything that would have been less helpful. These 19 pages could have been spent on giving more information about the clans. Or describing who and what lives in and near the empire. Or telling the players what you're supposed to do in the game. Or fucking anything.

We then get two and a half pages about social classes in Rokugan, which appears to have been cribbed rather directly from Japanese history. That includes rants about untouchables and stuff. It's all pretty strange, because L5R isn't Japan, it's Fantasy Asia. There are female samurai warriors and snake people and talking spirit badgers and shit. If I just wanted a dry recounting of how Kuge are different from Buke and Eta are different from Heimin, I could have just read a book about feudal Japan. This book's one job was to sell me on how the fantasy elements interact with the game's pseudo-Japanese society, and it doesn't even bother trying. This is a world where the mines have Mujina working in them and it's possible to be less socially respectable than a giant snake without actually committing any crimes. Telling me that someone is not considered human doesn't tell me a lot in a world where there are actual non-humans and some of them rank higher than most humans.

The “Home and Hearth, Customs and Laws” section is twelve and a half pages long and is best described as “a random collection of essays about Rokugan.” Some of these are really about Rokugan and talking about the Emerald Magistrates (who speak for people who speak for the emperor and act like judges) or the superstitions of various clans. Other parts of it are rants about Japan, such as spending a third of a page describing the game of Shogi in almost enough detail to actually play it. It veers wildly between assuming you know quite a bit about Japan and/or China and attempting to patiently explain the strange foreign ways of Orientals to the reader as if they were the most sheltered of white people with wholly white people problems who doesn't even know what Sailor Moon is. Honestly, the biggest problem here is that Japanese society was actually incredibly brutal in its patriarchy, while Rokugan is not. In Rokugan you can be a female samurai or daimyo and no one thinks that is strange. So glibbly saying “it's basically Japan” doesn't really hold water, and every time they copypasta some material from an all about Japan book, it comes off pretty flat.


This is a giant snake with boobs that is a warrior and also more socially respectable than most people. Once you've introduced that, using the historical Japanese social castes unaltered doesn't even parse.

A special callout goes to the subsection in adventurers, which lists some ideas on how samurai might be allowed to go on adventures in the Rokugan context. The thing is that while it throws out some ideas like packs of Emerald Magistrates or Imperial Cartographers, but none of this is addressed to someone who doesn't know what's going on. Basically, you're playing D&D I guess, because the fact that you play a party of adventurers is not actually stated directly anywhere in this book. The context is that you're already familiar with the L5R game's previous editions and that you came to that game from 2nd edition AD&D, because if either of those things aren't true none of this is going to make any sense to you.

Three pages are dedicated to telling you the names of the hours and present other such clock and calendar trivia. All hours and months are given multiple names, and I'm genuinely not sure if that's a retcon to attempt to harmonize multiple different accounts of that shit was supposed to work in different L5R publications over the years or not. In any case, this section also had one job, and given that it had 3 pages to do it, it should have succeeded: it was supposed to talk about how the seasons mean different things in different parts of the empire because the empire is geographically basically China. So there's a barley growing north and a rice growing south, and they have different planting seasons. And it didn't do that, so I'm going to call this section a waste of space.

The 1 page Lore of the Land section is mostly about natural disasters and natural animals. There is also a dry list of plants that grow in various parts of Rokugan which hilariously also includes some rocks. I assume that when they mention “cinnabar” that they actually mean dragon's blood. But honestly, who knows? Maybe mercury sulfide grows in fields in Rokugan. Perhaps more hilariously, they forget to mention that Rokugan has access to rice. And lime is listed with the flowers and not the trees. There's no explanation for anything in the list, it's just a pile of words that someone grabbed from somewhere and doesn't make any sense.

What follows is 33 pages of more in-depth information on the clans. It's actually only 28 pages when talking about the real clans, and then it starts talking about monks and ronin brotherhoods for 5 pages. And um... then it talks about some Shadowlands families for another two and a half pages. That stuff isn't actually a different section that I can see, so I guess that it's really just supposed to be a 35 page section even though it's called “The Clans” and a couple of the pages are about groups that live in The Shadowlands and are very specifically not Clans or even formally part of the empire. It's just odd is all.

This section also the first mechanics of the book, not that they are in any way explained. See, whatever family you are a member of gives you a +1 bonus to one of your attributes. So if you're in the Crane Clan, if your family name is Asahina you get +1 Willpower, if it's Daidoji you get +1 Reflexes, if it's Doji you get +1 Intelligence, if it's Kakita you get +1 Agility, and if it's Yasuki you get +1 Perception. Now note that you haven't been told what these modifiers mean, or how big of a deal they are (they are a very big deal). But the bottom line is that min/maxing calls upon you to make certain kinds of characters with just a few family name options. And since there were already a bunch of characters that did various stuff and had various names, there are almost certainly going to be characters that you are heavily encouraged to be in a different family to replicate. So for example: the Kakita family has some famous duelists in it, who are probably pretty happy getting a bonus to Agility, it also has some famous courtiers in it who basically only care about Awareness, Perception, and Intelligence and are definitely not OK with getting saddled with an Agility bonus.


Kakita Noritoshi lives and dies by his Agility score and is glad to get a family bonus to that trait.


Kakita Taminoko will tell you where to stick a family Agility bonus. And if you do not do this, her daimyo will gain 2 honor.

Each of the clans tells you who the clan champion is, and each of the families tells you who the canonical family head is. They don't actually mention this in this section per se, but those are all for the year 1166, which is nearly 40 years after the events of the original game that most people actually care about. So these guys are like the sons and daughters of the mighty warriors and crafty shugenja that players of the card game were attracted to in the first place. It's a bit like writing up a Star Wars game and just putting in all the mentioned characters from late in the careers of the Solo twins and just not feeling that there was any great need to explain that is what you were doing.

To expand on this, most of the family writeups want to tell you at length about what various family members were doing during the battles with the Lying Darkness. I don't think they should be doing that. Firstly because that was a stupid plotline and secondly because Oblivion's Gate was 33 years ago when this book is set, so all that shit happened when the parents of the protagonists were children and weren't involved. So this is ranting about political maneuvering and military campaigning that your grandparents were involved in. It would be like if a game about contemporary college students spent much of the writeups of each of the fraternities talking about what positions they took on the Volcker recession.


Some families also were involved in blowing up the Moon. Because event power creep got out of hand there for a while.

So all told, I would say this is not a great chapter. It spends a lot of time referencing events that no one cares about and almost no time explaining basic Yoda shit like where you are and what you are doing.

And that's basically the chapter. Next up: The Book of Water. That's where they tell us how to make a character and sort of accidentally gives away some parts about how to play the game. It's just as long as the Book of Earth and has a lot more mechanics in it, so it'll probably take a bit longer to disect.
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Lago PARANOIA
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Joined: 25 Sep 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
See if you can spot the reason for this clan being upgraded to “major” status while the Hare and Monkey clans remain obscure.


Let's see: attractive model, badass green armor, what looks to be a double-sickle, oh yeah and PIRATE. If you were going to ask me to build a clan mythology around a cool picture, you could do much, much worse than that.

...

More abstractly, how do you handle the whole yellowfacing thing? I don't mean the abhorrent industry practice of shutting out Asian actors, I mean the insensitive appropriation of cultural symbols. Having the daimyo being an amazonian giant snake woman is cool as fuck and having dragons being a fusion of eastern and western dragons is also cool as fuck. But you also don't want to do shit like mocking the eta class Gully Dwarf style.

I think exaggerating them so heavily that it becomes impossible to view them in any real-world sociopolitical context is the way to go, but even that has its pitfalls. Mad Bull 34 is offensive in a way that Metal Wolf Chaos and Talladega Nights is not -- and yet a lot of people from the lower-class sections of New York City will say that they're okay with how Mad Bull 34 portrays their subculture.

What do you, the viewers at home think?
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Josh Kablack wrote:
Your freedom to make rulings up on the fly is in direct conflict with my freedom to interact with an internally consistent narrative. Your freedom to run/play a game without needing to understand a complex rule system is in direct conflict with my freedom to play a character whose abilities and flaws function as I intended within that ruleset. Your freedom to add and change rules in the middle of the game is in direct conflict with my ability to understand that rules system before I decided whether or not to join your game.

In short, your entire post is dismissive of not merely my intelligence, but my agency. And I don't mean agency as a player within one of your games, I mean my agency as a person. You do not want me to be informed when I make the fundamental decisions of deciding whether to join your game or buying your rules system.
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Whipstitch
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
But the thing is that the actual cards had really cool art, and they became subject to the Boba Fett effect: fans took them way more seriously than their position in the story warranted because they had green armor and double kama fighting style and that was “awesome.” A few cycles of fans writing storyline and becoming developers and the Mantis got upgraded to being one of the major clans.



Yeah, one should never discount the Sentai/Ninja Turtle Effect. Mark it down: a non-trivial portion of your fan base can and will choose favorites based mostly on weapon choice and preferred primary colors. For example, I'm a sucker for black or green and for that you can blame this guy:


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name_here
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2014 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Lago PARANOIA wrote:


More abstractly, how do you handle the whole yellowfacing thing? I don't mean the abhorrent industry practice of shutting out Asian actors, I mean the insensitive appropriation of cultural symbols. Having the daimyo being an amazonian giant snake woman is cool as fuck and having dragons being a fusion of eastern and western dragons is also cool as fuck. But you also don't want to do shit like mocking the eta class Gully Dwarf style.

I think exaggerating them so heavily that it becomes impossible to view them in any real-world sociopolitical context is the way to go, but even that has its pitfalls. Mad Bull 34 is offensive in a way that Metal Wolf Chaos and Talladega Nights is not -- and yet a lot of people from the lower-class sections of New York City will say that they're okay with how Mad Bull 34 portrays their subculture.

What do you, the viewers at home think?


Well, I have watched enough anime lately to see at least some where the US is on the other end of that stuff, like Evangelion's Judeo-Christian word salad. I don't think it's usually a big problem so long as the setting isn't pretending to be more than "we have a setting with various foreign things that we don't know much about but think are cool".
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fectin
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 5:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Crane spent a while winning by killing everyone in the face with duels, and so do need that sword. That was around 2007. Poetry composition stopped being viable when Gold edition screwed up the lobbying rules, in 2002ish.

Lion won several tournaments very early on, largely because they went first, and won victories on their second turn. Afterwards, they stopped being quite so overwhelmingly good.

When the Mantis became a major clan, this was their face:

Monkey Clan never became a major clan because the whole thing was nothing more than a vehicle for Toku and a place to stick the Emperor's retired buddies. Hare didn't become a major clan because all but two of them were wiped out before they were introduced, and only one of them got a card. There were seriously more Sparrow clan characters than Hares.


... I also paid a lot of attention to the L5R CCG.
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GreatGreyShrike
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 5:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Re: the Toturi thing:

I looked it up out of morbid curiousity and apparently according to a random l5r wiki after Torturi died he came back from the dead then died again in 1158, maybe permanently this time?

Quote:
Ginawa reached Toturi's hand and pulled him through to the Empire as the Oblivion's Gate was sealed by Goju Adorai. [95] Toturi returned from the dead at the Battle of Oblivion's Gate, together with many other spirits including the Steel Chrysanthemum. [96] Some of the Thunders, as Tadaka, remained behind guarding Jigoku from the Shadow. [97]


Maybe his returned spirit which reigned as Emperor got his wife pregnant? I don't even know. You'd think the book would specify that his death was sort of impermanent, it seems like sort of a biggish deal to me that a dead dude took over an empire he had ruled as an alive dude? I tried reading some of the rest of it and it looks like mostly word salad to me, though, so who knows?

Anyways, thanks for doing this review Frank!
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The Book of Water


The original depictions of the elemental rings were just the Japanese kanji made out of the element as depicted in D&D.

The Book of Water is 75 pages, making it the same length as the Book of Earth. They are the longest chapters in the book, with everything that comes after being progressively shorter. The first thing in the chapter is another little story bit that's slightly over a page and in italics. As mentioned earlier, these are annoying and hard to read and I really think it must be said that they aren't very rewarding. Someone decided that they were making a 21st century RPG book so they should put italicized story segments at the start of each chapter, but because there were only five chapters they should make the stories eye exhaustingly long. I disagree. The story is about a Crab courtier assembling a group of adventurers from different clans and getting a mission to fight a crime syndicate. It has a lot of dialog and doesn't go anywhere. Most importantly, the presented story hook doesn't seem like it has series potential. It's like a one-shot game and not a campaign, which makes it a not-great setpiece to frame an RPG with.

But the thing that really bothers me about that story is the in-character thought balloon which says “There was little room for a courtier to find advancement on the Wall” which kind of jumps out at me because it implies that the writers of this book do not know what a courtier is. In the card game, “courtiers” are personalities who interact with the Imperial court. It's an important (if rarely used) game designation, because characters with the courtier designator are physically at the imperial palace and its surroundings for part of the year and therefore can be interacted with by certain effects. But in world a courtier is just someone who interacts with a court. So the warrior attendants of a Crab Clan Rikugunshokan are courtiers. If someone goes off and hangs out in a place that is not a court because they are a face character and their clan is at war and promotes soldiers and tacticians rather than merchants and negotiators, they are not a fucking courtier. So a lot of the characters with social powers in the card game have the courtier designator, and you would be within your rights to call the character class that gets social powers “courtier” in the game text in homage to that. But characters shouldn't call themselves “courtiers” in character if they do not hang out in somebody's court because that is not what the word means.


In character, this woman is a courtier because she is a ranking aristocrat in her father's court.


This character has social powers but he is not a courtier because he does not live or work in anyone's court.

This chapter is upside down, topsy turvy, and kind of drunk. The first thing it does is to ask you to explain why your character has unusual stat and skill assignments, and then gives you a twenty questions thing to explain how your character is interesting and unique. They do this before explaining what the stats and skills even are, let alone what might constitute normal. It seriously asks you “Is there a reason he has a high Awareness but a low Intelligence?” on page 82 but it doesn't even tell you what Awareness is in the context of this game until page 86. Awareness is your go-to social stat, and is totally different from Perception, which this chapter just sort of assumes you already know even though there is absolutely zero reason for that to be the case.

The main game rules are in the Book of Fire, but this book breaks with its traditions by giving us a preview right here in the Book of Water. They are... well... L5R uses the Roll and Keep system developed by John Wick and it's really fucking bad. You roll a number of d10s equal to your attribute plus skill and then you keep a number equal to just your attribute, and 10s explode. You add all the dice you keep together and attempt to get a specific target number. It's not just the old Shadowrun 1st edition problem where there are target numbers that are equivalent (you can't roll a 10 on one die, making TN 10 and 11 identical), it's that the odds for everything are completely insane. Also, adding one to an attribute is fucking huge because it adds a rolled die and a kept die which means that it increases your average roll by a bit over five, while a point of skill is pretty close to worthless, adding just a rolled die which in most cases increases your average by about two and a half (and most of the difference comes from “crit fishing” for an extra chance at an exploding 10). Just to drive home how ill-conceived all this shit is, page 85 ends with the sentence “As a general guideline, difficulties are as follows:” that is the end of the subsection and there is no text dependent to that fucking colon!

Instead of giving us the sample target numbers that the book promised, it jumps off into a discussion of “raises.” Basically, you can choose to voluntarily increase your target number by 5 to tack on a minor benefit to your action if it succeeds. Like called shot rules in other, saner systems. Note that +5 target number is actually really a lot. But then the book shits all over that by giving only one combat example and it's the GM demanding that the player raise four times in or to cut someone's mustache with their sword. This is target number inflation so berserk that I can't even really talk about it with words. Supposedly this book has an ass tonne of playtesters, but I have honestly no idea what target numbers they were using for anything. The basic target number examples are missing and the specific target number examples are all over the place and completely fucking insane. I assume that people were just min/maxing like crazy and simply accepting target numbers of 40 to accomplish basic swashbuckling crap. Because when you're keeping 6 dice, you succeed on that shit like two thirds of the time. It's just that “normal” characters are supposed to be keeping like two dice and this shit absolutely won't fly.

Stats are paired under four of the “rings.” Your lower value of those two stats is your ring value. Most people have shit ring values, because most rings are calculated as the lower of a fighter stat and a non-fighter stat. So Air is the lower of Reflexes (your ranged attack stat) and Awareness (your charisma stat). Fire is the lower of your Intelligence (your knowledge skill stat) and your Agility (your melee attack stat). If you care about your ring values, you might attempt to become a horse archer face or a swordsman engineer, but for most characters this will end in tears. The two exceptions are Water, which is calculated as the lower of Perception and Strength, which are both secondary fighter stats and could easily be 3 or even 4 for a starting character, and Void – which is like Edge in Shadowrun or MechWarrior and is game mechanically just a stat despite being nominally a ring value. The primary benefit of rings is that whenever they go up you gain 10 “insight points” and every 25 insight points causes you to go up an insight level and that does various other fiddly bullshit. There are of course other ways to get insight ranks, but most of them are very small compared to the bonuses you wrangle out of getting more rings. The bottom line is that it is incredibly easy for two characters to be made on the same number of points but be wildly different level and for that to be a really big deal.

Actual character generation is simple. There are a lot of skills and you don't have them because you don't get a lot of points. Those points are mostly going into stats and advantages because you are not an idiot. You choose a family and a school. Both of those give you +1 to a stat, and that can take you past the starting maximum of 4. If you choose a family and a school that add to the same stat, you can start with a stat of 6, and that is extremely good what with the way this game handles its bullshit dice mechanics. Actually maxing out your start costs a large and triangular number of your starting points, so it's really important whether you apply the family and school bonuses before or after spending the points, and I don't know because the book says it both ways. The example character generation is no help, because when they are going through Dave spending points, he pointedly decides not to spend any more points on the stat that gets a bonus from family and school because it is already going to be a 4. Note that either way there is a right and a wrong answer to what your family is named if you want to raise at least 2 stats and want to have at least one stat at 4 – which you fucking do.

The information in here is badly out of order. Step 1 is Choose a Clan, and Step 2 is Choose a Family, and both of those are described in the previous chapter. But Step 3 is Choose a School, and those are described after the stat descriptions, the primer on how the skill system works, basic character advancement, the skill list, the advantages and disadvantages, the example of character creation, and a picture of a dude with a double headed ax standing on top of a pile of skulls. Then you go to step four where you deal with all that other shit. There's a lot of page flipping if you're trying to make a character in this game.

I guess I have to talk about Schools even though they are at the end of the chapter. They mess with your stat accounting as previously mentioned and they affect your starting equipment. In a short campaign, starting equipment can be modestly important, and in a one-shot it can be very important. In a long campaign, it doesn't make any difference at all. The school also sets your starting honor, which is worth 3 character points a piece and you can sell it back if you want. Some schools give you fractional points of honor and I don't know how that's supposed to work with buying and selling the stuff at chargen because this book is not very well written and despite the dozens of playtesters no one thought for a moment that perhaps you should perhaps show this book to someone who didn't know how the game was developing in case massive amounts of important things were being unsaid. Also, every school gives you one point in several skills and I have no idea if this is done before or after you buy skills with starting character points. It actually says when buying skills “School and Family Trait bonuses do not count against this maximum.” which firstly doesn't answer the question and secondly is a copy/paste error because Family Trait bonuses apply to Traits (which is to say: stats) and not to skills. Obviously, some skills are a lot better than others but skills are cheap and don't make a huge difference for the most part so it probably doesn't make a lot of difference. Unless you get the bonus after spending starting character points and have an ability that lets you do something with actual skill ranks, in which case having the right skill on your school list could be a modestly big deal.


I'm not saying that picking the right school makes you a golden god. But picking the wrong school means you won't be one.

But the really big thing about schools is that as you go up in Insight Level (which you'll recall is a thing that you get from playing bingo on your character sheet), you gain completely arbitrary abilities from your school, provided that you call time in your adventures to go back to your dojo and train up your next arbitrary ability. Note that since the different dojos have physical locations in the empire and characters do not get new insight levels at exactly the same time, that the training requirements are going to be much harder on some characters than others. But the real takehome of these school abilities is that they are all arbitrary abilities and vary wildly in effectiveness. So not only do some schools simply give you more or less starting points by giving you more or less starting honor, some schools give you arbitrary special abilities that are very good and others don't. There are like three dozen of these things in this book, and more in other books. There's no kind of balance and a lot of the really crazy abilities are hidden in there at school rank 3 or 4 meaning that figuring out which school is “the best” for your character is really quite complicated and we won't get too much into it here, because parsing any of the Bushi or Scout schools would require information the Book of Fire, parsing any of the Shugenja schools would require information from the Book of Air, and parsing any of the Courtier schools would require information from the MC's rectum because they are heavily dependent on how the MC builds and plays NPCs – the “Typical Courtier” in the Book of Void section doesn't tell you what skills or disadvantages or whatever they have, so it's pretty much up to your MC whether your special courtier abilities do anything at all.

And on top of that, there's an advantages and disadvantages system. Disadvantages get you more points, advantages cost points. These are like every single thing that's wrong with White Wolf Merits and Flaws. Some of the disadvantages make you actually worse at your job, while others are basically story hooks or even potentially advantageous. Some of the advantages are just point accounting that are better or worse than buying skills or whatever depending on how many points you've bought of various things, while others are new powers or just flavor shit. And if you thought there was any justification to how much things cost, never fear! Some of them cost more or less depending on what clan you're from, even (nay, especially) the ones that are just points accounting. So the breakeven point for having “Crab Hand” is lower if you happen to be an actual Crab.


He's a Crab and he has a hand...

The last part of the chapter is a list of names (good), and a random heritage table for people who have good or bad heritages. Which has absolutely no place in a point-based chargen system.

And that's the chapter. It's kind of exhausting. The character generation and advancement system here is needlessly baroque, laughably unfair, poorly explained, and not presented in a logical order. It plugs into a system that was not good in the 90s and looks worse in hindsight, but I suppose we should get to that when we do the Book of Fire.
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Silent Wayfarer
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

IIRC the 3e Heritage system is greatly toned down from 1e where lucky rolls meant you won at everything forever (and different clans had different heritage tables) and unlucky rolls meant that you might as well throw your character away. 4e goes even further and makes the benefits nigh-meaningless* and locked away in another supplement, although the penalties can still fuck you over.

* Sometimes it's a rank or two in a skill, sometimes it's just a discount to buy shit you don't even care about. At least in 3e, when you roll a benefit, the game has the fucking decency to actually give you a benefit, which might not fit your character but could at least make for an interesting hook.
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Longes
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 2:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Quote:
You choose a family and a school. Both of those give you +1 to a stat, and that can take you past the starting maximum of 4. If you choose a family and a school that add to the same stat, you can start with a stat of 6, and that is extremely good what with the way this game handles its bullshit dice mechanics


Wait, what? You start with everything at 2, then you get house and school bonuses, then you spend xp, no? So maximum of 4 at chargen, not 6.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 2:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Longes wrote:
Quote:
You choose a family and a school. Both of those give you +1 to a stat, and that can take you past the starting maximum of 4. If you choose a family and a school that add to the same stat, you can start with a stat of 6, and that is extremely good what with the way this game handles its bullshit dice mechanics


Wait, what? You start with everything at 2, then you get house and school bonuses, then you spend xp, no? So maximum of 4 at chargen, not 6.


It specifically says that your family and school bonus do not count towards your limit of increasing your traits by two. What is totally unclear is whether they count towards the cost of raising your stats during chargen. Could go either way.

-Frank
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

How should they have handled the setting power creep as a result of card game tournaments? Have the tournaments basically be zero-sum where a Mantis winning X means a Lion losing X, so basically all player-faction victories are against other player-factions, and the shadowlands not really being involved? Make Shadowlands more of a player-controlled adversarial thing such that they can actually win tournaments rather than "This faction used some badtouched cards so something happens to them"? Declare "And then the PCs won. There are no more baddies, now everything is factional stuff with no big evil against which you must unite"?
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 3:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

They should have just fucking ignored the CCG results.

Quote:
Declare "And then the PCs won. There are no more baddies, now everything is factional stuff with no big evil against which you must unite"?


Like 4e, then?
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Either they should have made Shadowlands playable or they should have had tournaments trigger Shadowlands events when other people won, I should think. Maybe whoever wound up dead last had something terrible and Shadowlands-related happen to them. Like what happened to Crab but triggered by losing instead of by winning.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 7:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

name_here wrote:
Either they should have made Shadowlands playable or they should have had tournaments trigger Shadowlands events when other people won, I should think. Maybe whoever wound up dead last had something terrible and Shadowlands-related happen to them. Like what happened to Crab but triggered by losing instead of by winning.


L5R was first promo'd at GenCon in 1995. Shadowlands has been playable since December of 1996.

One of the major themes of the L5R tournament scene was various factions gathering metagame currency and trying to pay off the actual players to take a dive, or to take/refrain from taking in-game actions. In the Day of Thunder tournament (arguably the most important and successful one yet), the rumor was that the Shadowlands player was bribed to take a dive, and that the (admittedly beautiful) Thousand Years of Darkness promo set was the payoff (released four years later, after Alderac re-acquired L5R from WotC).

Here's a summary of a lot of the storyline impacts:
http://www.lavozakasha.org/torneosvotosl5r.htm
And of the Day of Thunder in a little more detail:
http://forum.genconhistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=45

edit: moved the line break to the right place. much less incoherent now.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 22, 2014 9:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

fectin wrote:
name_here wrote:
Either they should have made Shadowlands playable or they should have had tournaments trigger Shadowlands events when other people won, I should think. Maybe whoever wound up dead last had something terrible and Shadowlands-related happen to them. Like what happened to Crab but triggered by losing instead of by winning.


L5R was first promo'd at GenCon in 1995. Shadowlands has been playable since December of 1996.

One of the major themes of the L5R tournament scene was various factions gathering metagame currency and trying to pay off the actual players to take a dive, or to take/refrain from taking in-game actions. In the Day of Thunder tournament (arguably the most important and successful one yet), the rumor was that the Shadowlands player was bribed to take a dive, and that the (admittedly beautiful) Thousand Years of Darkness promo set was the payoff (released four years later, after Alderac re-acquired L5R from WotC).

Here's a summary of a lot of the storyline impacts:
http://www.lavozakasha.org/torneosvotosl5r.htm
And of the Day of Thunder in a little more detail:
http://forum.genconhistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=45

edit: moved the line break to the right place. much less incoherent now.


That's a crazy read. It must have been nuts to be part of something like that.

Also, any chance of a 7th Sea OSSR?
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 2:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank Trollman wrote:
The book doesn't really set up answers to the more fundamental questions of “What the hell are we doing?” at this point (or arguably, ever).


That would explain all of Rokugan's problems with constant PvP so permeant at my local RPG scene years back.

Quote:
We then get two and a half pages about social classes in Rokugan, which appears to have been cribbed rather directly from Japanese history. That includes rants about untouchables and stuff. It's all pretty strange, because L5R isn't Japan, it's Fantasy Asia


That's strange, I didn't know that actually, while female samurais existed & junk, local groups played up the social classes of Japan, super hard. Lot of my friends treated it somewhat like Fantasy Japan (or a Japanese Game of Thrones), because of crap like this, and our local RPG scene pressing it very hard. Because of that, had notions where playing the "wrong" clan at character creation could/would get your PC killed in basically first 5 minutes of play. Knew a friend who playing RPG first time wanted to play Boar clan, but the resident L5R fan playing a dragon talked how his PC would kill the Boar player, because they're monsters. Apparently monster leader of the Boar-Clan spirit in some cabin somewhere protected by legion of Dragon Clan dudes that beat him off every so many years he comes out.

While I'm dubious as to you being responsible for the Nezumi/Crab storyline, and them being buddies. However I do thank you very much for having made that happen, as you made my favorite "faction" that I only wanted to play in the RPG the safest, and basically the "nobody hates me, nor wants to murder me, and are basically my buddies" faction. Till I discovered Lion being a cool clan, Nezumi seemed the most refreshingly interesting for being basically Hobo's who just like to collect shiny objects and go on random adventures (which considering the vague intent of the game, kinda makes sense).

Quote:
(the bird riding northern nomads,

There were Bird Riders in Rokugan?! What the hell, why is there all this cool crap that never sees use?

Quote:
But I still liked the setting, and when they made a d20 version in the 2000s, I ran a long running Rokugan D&D campaign (K played a Scorpion clan sorcerer in that one).

This is something I've been deeply interested in hearing about for years. I've mentioned how you seemed to run Rokugan awesomely, and didn't seem like actual oppressive Rokugan my local scene knew it for, wondering what all you did. What were the social classes like, were they not the Japan-esque eda "not human", and other not Samurai problems that may come up? Apparently your PC's got actual magical items, despite it being like corrupted, so people would get all NPC'd otherwise, among other crap that L5R so oppressively does? So basically, what all did your campaign do, that this book doesn't, what Fans believe Rokugan should be like, and how true was your campaign to Rokugan in general?


Quote:
where your clan doing well in a tournament might result in your major personalities falling to corruption and your clan being nearly destroyed

I figured it was because they closely saw what methods were done to win the tournament. So if in the tournament lot of card effects/flavor made notions of using Shadowland taint, Maho or whatever, then write in made sense they won because turned to Dark side, or whatever applicable. Otherwise, it's sad to hear then that very little of the specifics in a tournament mattered then.


Quote:
Most importantly, the presented story hook doesn't seem like it has series potential. It's like a one-shot game and not a campaign, which makes it a not-great setpiece to frame an RPG with.

That does sound an ideal story actually, sorta telling what the campaign was about, or least that's how it got played (mish-mash of clans coming together to fight some conflict, usually near Crab territory no less!). It seemed like in my experience, most games ended up being one-shots to only a few sessions long, especially due to the games apparent high lethality. It really just wanted me to see how I could play an optimized Nezumi who goes around kicking A like some Frank Millar spartan.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Koumei wrote:
How should they have handled the setting power creep as a result of card game tournaments? Have the tournaments basically be zero-sum where a Mantis winning X means a Lion losing X, so basically all player-faction victories are against other player-factions, and the shadowlands not really being involved? Make Shadowlands more of a player-controlled adversarial thing such that they can actually win tournaments rather than "This faction used some badtouched cards so something happens to them"? Declare "And then the PCs won. There are no more baddies, now everything is factional stuff with no big evil against which you must unite"?


A big problem here is that the dramatic story of good versus ultimate evil that they decided to tell was an incredibly bad fit for the card game. The card game was about people on team human fighting each other, and it was entirely possible to win by honor whilst still having some honor losing monsters on your team. A bunch of the honor losing monsters weren't even evil, the aforementioned bird-riding nomads cost you honor to deal with because they are barbarian foreigners, not because they eat baby hearts or something. Other powers are just plain complicated - the main shugenja of the Lion Clan is a fucking necromancer and when he uses those powers to speak to the ancestors that is considered very honorable and when he uses the same powers to animate his ancestors that is considered dishonorable. And then there are straight up oni that have assimilated into Rokugan society and you do not lose honor for playing them.

So when they threw down a plotline where all the shadowlands stuff is iredeemably evil and the entire empire has to come together to fight the big existential threat - that was not just something that didn't fit great with the presented setting - that was was a thing that you couldn't even do in the card game at all. So you were pretty much committed to complete MTP for such a plotline and a total disconnect between the mechanics of the game (where all the clans are fighting each other by definition) and the story they wanted to tell (which was about heroes from different clans joining together to fight an external threat).

If they wanted to have great evil destroying things all over the place, they probably should have gone the Warhammer 40k route and have all the clans be balls deep in grimderp. After all, it is entirely possible for a tournament final to be between two "honorable" decks of the same clan. On the other hand, if they wanted to tell stories from the perspective of the card game they had made, things should have been shades of gray and Japanese historical expies. Bandits, pirates, court intrigue, conflicts between honor and righteousness, conflicts between love and duty, daimyos leading courts of people from mixed clans, and so on.

As it was, it ended up just being standard John Wick style bear world nonsense.

-Frank
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I thought the northern barbarians rode flying dragons they made with magic amulets?
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 10:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
I thought the northern barbarians rode flying dragons they made with magic amulets?


You are thinking about the Wyrm Riders, who originally had nothing to do with magic amulets but were later retconned into not riding "real" flying serpents but just biological constructs powered by magic amulets. I don't even know what that was about. The bird riding northern nomads are the Hawk Riders.



This was later expanded into being "The Tribe of the Sky" and there was some dumb stuff there too. Basically, the expanded universe of L5R is like the expanded universe of Star Wars - go there at your peril.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 11:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Right. Honest mistake.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Well, I joined a 4th edition L5R game as a Togashi Tattoed Man (Dragon clan monks). When not wearing clothes I have as much armor as a samurai in heavy armor and my hands deal more damage than a katana. Wish me luck.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2014 3:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
You are thinking about the Wyrm Riders, who originally had nothing to do with magic amulets but were later retconned into not riding "real" flying serpents but just biological constructs powered by magic amulets. I don't even know what that was about. The bird riding northern nomads are the Hawk Riders.


I have never encountered barbarian cock riders in my experience with L5R; and I've been with it since 3E came out. Were they a niche thing?
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