I’ve probably said this far too many times on this blog, but the greatest strength of the Legend of the Five Rings franchise would be the compelling setting. Having been around for 15 years, the L5R setting has evolved and matured to the point where there’s a solid sense of culture to it.
And this strength shines through completely in Strongholds of the Empire, the first PDF sourcebook release from Alderac.
At first glance, it seems like a strange topic for a sourcebook, a smattering of cities for each of the various Clans of the empire, presented in the 4th edition standard of timeline neutrality. With books like Emerald Empire already out, was there really a need to come up with something that deals with individual cities?
Strongholds is more than just a dry accounting of various cities, but showcases the sheer diversity found in the sprawling empire that is Rokugan. Each of the cities presented gives a new insight to each of the Clans and their individual cultures, as well as how they relate to each other.
Each of the cities is given a discussion on their history and timeline, a smattering of important personalities, a quick location guide that discusses the various places of interest and a few new mechanics, including Advantages and Disadvantages that relate to each city.
I found these particular advantages and disadvantages as very interesting and an easy and interesting way to add further layers of complexity and color to a character. Everyone knows that where you grew up in tends to color how you think, how you talk and how people perceive you, and having this reflected via the rules was great.
Each of the cities is well done in the sense that it takes an iconic facet of a given clan and plays it up, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect. The Crab city for example, Clear Water Village, has a strong commercial focus, and goes into great detail on how it is known for commerce and the Yasuki that run the place, a far cry from the standard Crab goons and the wall, but nonetheless a valid take on it.
Strongholds of the Empire is yet another essential addition to any L5R 4th Edition Library. Any of the cities presented could spawn several dozen different campaigns that don’t even need to go beyond the city walls. There’s plenty of conflict and politics to go around, and for the ambitious, there’s always the extra challenge of playing in a campaign set in Toshi Ranbo, the Imperial City that is shared between the Lion and the Crane.
Well written, beautifully illustrated, and very useful for new and experienced L5R GMs and players alike, Strongholds of the Empire is a strong first entry into PDF sourcebooks, and I can only hope that Alderac continues to publish in this format.