Among the many excellent books for the 4th Edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, the Imperial Histories series is perhaps the one that I would recommend for busy GMs. Imperial Histories presents several alternative eras for an L5R campaign, each being a very game-able setup with enough hooks and twists to keep things fresh and interesting.
Imperial Histories 2 is divided into the following settings:
The Togashi Dynasty – An alternate Rokugan wherein Togashi defeats Hantei in the tournament to decide who should become Emperor in the dawn of the Empire. The resulting setting is one full of interesting supernatural wonders and a stronger presence of nonhuman races as opposed to the default setting.
The Reign of the Shining Prince – Taking place in the reign of the second Emperor, this setting is an introspective one for the Empire. Having fought the first Day of Thunder, the second Emperor finds himself saddled with the duty of making the Empire worthy of the sacrifices of the Kami. It’s less bombastic than the other settings, but I find that it is the one with more options to explore the foundations that made the Rokugan what it is in the present.
The Iron Empire – Again another intriguing setting, this one discusses Rokugan if samurai were slowly being displaced by technological progress? By adopting foreign technologies, Rokugan finds itself evolving differently, and along interesting branches of development. Steam engines, guns, and other technologies transform Rokugan into something similar but also teeming with tension as traditionalists try to cling to old glories in the face of innovation.
Heresy of the Five Rings – This setting offers a different angle, as it deals with what happens when change in Rokugan happens from a Religious angle. This is especially useful for games centered around the more spiritual clans such as the Dragon and the Phoenix.
The Reign of the Steel Chrysanthemum – One of the most hated villains in Rokugan’s canon history is the Hantei XVI, the Steel Chrysanthemum. A cruel and vicious tyrant, his reign was considered to be one of the darkest in Rokugani history, which is saying something in a setting that is constantly beset by assaults from Ancient Evil Gods. That said this is great for the rebels and freedom fighter types.
The Eighth Century Crises – Perhaps one of the settings in the book that amuses me due to how closely it resembles standard RPG campaigns, this setting is a gauntlet of existential threats thrown at Rokugan one after the other. From the Maw to the Dark Oracles and the Bloodspeakers it’s a veritable buffet of evil for the heroes of Rokugan to confront (and hopefully defeat.)
The Return of the Unicorn – Perhaps it’s because I’ve been running a Unicorn Campaign, but this setting deals with a major turning point in the history of the Empire. It surprises me that it took this long for it to actually get the spotlight. The return of the former Ki-Rin Clan is a wake up call of sorts to the Empire to understand that the world does not revolve solely around them and that there are other places exotic and dangerous outside their borders.
The Shattered Empire – An alternate setting meant to take place after the Second Day of Thunder. This setting assumes that it was Togashi Hitomi to survive the confict against Fu Leng, and does not assume the throne, as Toturi did. This power vaccuum leaves the Clans working on recovering fast enough to put their candidate upon the empty throne.
The Four Winds Era – Detailing the age where the Four Winds were making their various bids for the throne, this is considered to be one of the better eras of the canon storyline. Interesting characters, plenty of opportunities for glory in both combat and in court and a spiritual hook in the form of Toturi Sezaru makes for well-rounded opportunities for any group of samurai.
The Shadowed Throne – In an interesting counterpoint to the Four Winds Era, the Shadowed Throne assumes that Toturi Tsudao survives to become Empress. With all Four Winds taking their places in the empire, Rokugan still proves to be a fragile setting as the various Clans react to what turns out to be Tsudao’s insufficient skill at keeping the Clans placated.
The Destroyer War – Another canon setting, The Destroyer War discusses the time when Kali-Ma marches towards Rokugan with the intent of claiming it for her own. Fans of the more recent events in the setting will find good use of this setting as it presents important details of that era as well as the necessary NPCs and mechanics of the era
Age of Exploration – This setting works very well with the Second City Boxed set, as it presents the time when the Empire goes forth to explore (and claim) the lands of the Ivory Kingdoms as it’s own.
Empire of Emerald Stars – Of all the settings in the book, this one is perhaps the most divergent. Empire of Emerald Stars takes the L5R setting and spins it off as a Space Opera, set in the far future, with interesting takes on what spacefaring and technology would look like if filtered through Rokugan’s unique lens. I have to admit that I’m very amused with this particular setting and a part of me wishes that it had a bigger page count. For those wondering about how different an L5R game can get, this is well worth checking out.
Imperial Histories 2 is full of interesting worlds, both canon and alternate, and has the mechanics to back it up. Fans of the setting will find nothing to complain about in the book as it lives up to the incredible reputation of being another excellent supplement to the 4th Edition line.