A few months ago a friend of mine convinced me to give this game a try. Basically, as he said, it’s a game where you roleplay as Samurai. And that was pretty much all I needed to give it a try.
Legend of the Five Rings (often abbreviated L5R) is a fictional setting created by John Zinser, Dave Seay, Dave Williams, and John Wick and published by Alderac Entertainment Group in 1995. The setting primarily involves the fictional empire of Rokugan, though some additional areas and cultures have been discussed. Rokugan is based roughly on feudal Japan with influences from other East Asian cultures such as China, Mongolia and Korea.
Now that we’ve got the Wikipedia part of the review out of the way, let’s get into what the game has, how it plays and my general thoughts about it.
"If you see the "half-persons" -as you call them- like posessions, you should take care of them properly. Will you leave your wonderful yukata dirty with mud, or would you clean it and make sure it is anything but perfect?"
The core rulebook is pretty thick. It has 404 pages and it’s divided by books titled after the rings referenced in the name of the game. First there’s an introduction, then there’s the Book of Air, which has about 60 pages full of Lore dealing with How the world was created, how Rokugan (the name of the setting, like “Greyhawk” or “Faerun”) came to be, the social classes, everyday rituals, religion, philosophy, Honor, Politics, Economics, and a very thorough description of the 8 Great Clans of Rokugan.
It has a METRIC ASS-TON of Lore.
“I think L5R is a rich role-play game. It is quite fantastic how simple is to understand it, and though it is fictional, you can make realistic characters with it.”
-Elii Mascarin – Player and Game Master
The Book of Earth deals with Game mechanics, how to roll dice, how to read the dice, how combat works, how skill checks are made and how to deal with certain situations in the game. Even though it’s mostly about mechanics, this book also has a few lore entries that help the reader to get immersed into the world of Rokugan.
“Good game, if you like manners and went to finishing school! “
-Priscilla Shirley - Player
The book of Fire is all about character creation. In here you’ll find tools to create your character, like a set of 20 questions to help you flesh out your character’s background story. Here’s where you choose which clan your Samurai will belong to, wether he will be a Bushi (warrior) a Shugenja (Magic user) Courtier (Politician) or a Monk or Ninja. As always, you should ask your Dungeon Master which one of these fit better in the story. This chapter goes on to explain how skills work, how spells work, and it gives you the stats for armor and weapons. It also has lore.
“Perfect family game, if you want to GET KILLED FOR DRINKING SAKE, like why, are we kids? And the turning down gifts three times thing is pretty annoying too. Just give me my damn gift bruh. The shadowland prowlin' oni slayin' part makes it kind of worth it, though.”
-Daidouji Takeru, half-crab half-crane full awesome.
The Book of Water Talks about advanced mechanics. It has information on minor clans, Imperial Families, Ronin options, optional systems like massive battle rules. The Lore in this chapter is also very heavy.
Then the last chapter: The book of Void, focuses on tips for Dungeon Masters and gives them a lot of tools to run a game, like different types of campaigns, how to award experience points to the players, stats for monsters and nonhuman races. It also has a complete 30 page adventure that’s ready to run. And of course: LORE LORE LORE LORE LORE LORE!!!
“We all want to play as a Samurai in some RPG in some moment of our lives. It doesnt matter which one we're playing at the moment there is always that need to wield a Katana. What surprised me about L5R is that the way the convey the setting to you makes you want to do more than just become Battousai and slash people. You do cool thinks. For example, my character, a Crane Clan Courtier by the name of Daidoji Daichi, would speak in code whenever he wanted...and it was awesome.
Daichi: It would be most imperative to suggest that the Monkey will soon land upon the branches where the Crane is taking a rest.
Which means, basically, that Monkey reinforcements are arriving to the Crane clan's camp.
Or something like:
Daichi: It is known that when choosing between poisonous enemies, nothing goes past the webs of the Spider...or survive the venom of the scorpion.
Which can mean multiple things. So, speaking in code is pretty great. Get this game if you want to go all cryptic on other players and have them laugh/roll their eyes”
-Moises Montero – Player and Dungeon Master
Legend of the 5 rings has very simple gameplay mechanics. If you want to do something, you determine your level of success by rolling d10s. You take a bunch of d10s, you throw them, keep the highest number of the roll and add them up. If your result reaches the Target number (determined by your DM) you succeed in doing what you want to do.
Now, what determines the amount of d10s you roll? And what determines the amount of high rolls you get to keep? That’s the not-so-simple part. Let’s try to give you an example.
Rolls are described as xky
X is the number of dice you roll, and Y is the number of dice you keep from that roll. So a roll where you roll 8 and keep 3 would be read as 8k3 or “8 keep 3”
So… You want to hit something with a sword.
The skill required to do so is “Kenjutsu”
You have bought 5 skill points in Kenjutsu, which is tied to your Agility trait. Until now you’ve spent some experience points to raise your Agility to 3.
You would add you 5 skill points in Kenjutsu, to the 3 in Agility, for a total of 8 and you would keep the 3 (from your Agility) highest dice from your roll.
If one or any of your dice land on 0 (meaning you rolled a 10) they “explode”. So you can add 10 to your roll and roll that dice again, keeping whatever number it lands on. If the dice lands on 0 again, you keep adding 10 to the roll and rerolling until you stop exploding dice.
That is the basic mechanic, but this is pretty much the same for all types of checks, you take a number of dice, you roll them and keep a number of dice out of that roll.
Eh… no…. I would be lying to you if I said this system felt simple or in any way intuitive to me. But, as any other game, you learn to roll your skills a lot faster and more naturally the more you play.
Legend of the Five Rings is an RPG setting with a load of customization options that will make you look at Role Playing Games in a very different way. As any other setting you can always adapt some of the gameplay options to fit the type of game you want to run. Do you want a game full of political intrigue, moral backstabbing (also: literal backstabbing) and sword duels to the death? L5R has got it. Do you want a game where you slice you enemies down with your katana, fighting for the honor of your house? L5R has got that too. Is it the first time you play an RPG, and want to take a swing at roleplaying with a couple of friends for the first time? Stop right there.
-Samuel Gonzalez - Player
This game might work for you if you have never PLAYED an RPG before, as long as your Game Master is familiar with the setting. A GM that knows the intricacies of how the 8 houses interact with each other, and who has also familiarized him or herself with the oriental cultural aspects that have been integrated into this setting, is your best bet at running a really awesome adventure in Rokugan.
If you’re a Game Master that has never run a Roleplaying Game, then you might want to steer away from this one. I would suggest that you get the Core Rulebook (4th Edition) and read it. Then read it again, and again, and again. Then when you’ve finally learned the details of this game, read it again. THEN you can run a game in Rokugan. Trust me, it’s in your best interests to get REALLY immersed in the setting before you run it. It will make it a lot more fun for you, and most importantly, for your players.
-Fernando Dolande – Game Master and player
Here’s my absolutely honest opinion, this game is awesome. If you’re looking for a game that draws inspiration from Oriental culture, and lets you play as Samurai. Then look no further than Legend of the 5 Rings.
Also did you know they have a Collectible Card game?!?!? Time for a SEQUEL REVIEW!!!
Thanks for reading