[Let’s Study: Legend of the Five Rings] Part 3: Character Details

Today we’ll be looking at the mechanical components that make up a character. This is in lieu of a full-on character creation example, which we’ve already covered in the Kitsuki Yuyan article.

The Five Rings

As I mentioned in the prior article, L5R characters do not have attributes like Strength or Dexterity per se. Instead they have ratings of anywhere from 1 to 5 in the elemental rings of the setting, with 1 being indicating a deficiency, 2 being average and 5 as legendary.

Each Ring covers several approaches associated with it:

  • The Air Ring represents grace and cunning, and is associated with the Refine, Analyze, Trick, Feint and Con approaches.
  • The Earth ring represents patience and caution, and is associated with the Restore, Recall, Reason, Withstand and Produce approaches.
  • The Fire Ring is ferocious, direct and inventive, and is associated with the Invent, Theorize, Incite, Overwhelm and Innovate approaches.
  • The Water Ring is adaptable, powerful and perceptive, and is associated with the Adapt, Survey, Charm, Shift and Exchange approaches
  • The Void Ring is centered while being without an ego, and is associated with the Attune, Sense, Enlighten, Sacrifice and Subsist approaches

This take on the very core of your character feels more like their personality type. Rather than being obsessed with quantifiable data like “How strong is my samurai?” the game inherently shifts the focus to, “How does my samurai perform his tasks?”

It took a bit of getting used to on my end the first time I encountered it in the Open Beta, but I slowly warmed to it once we started getting used to the approaches. Now I find it rather liberating, especially if you consider the mindset that in martial arts, technique is often the way by which your true strength is expressed.


Skills in L5R are grouped into 5 Skill Groups: Artisan, Social, Scholar, Martial and Trade. Each of these in turn has skills under their purview, here’s what the Artisan Skill Group look like:

Artisan Skills

  • Aesthetics – Nonutilitarian art
  • Composition – Literature and Poetry
  • Design – Finery and Worn Art
  • Smithing – Armor and Weapons


As you can see, even the individual skills are rather broad. Design alone covers everything from kimono design to fashioning elegant court slippers or crafting ornate hairpins.

Like the Rings, this does take a bit of getting used to, but they work surprisingly well in play. For those that require more specificity, the game does have options for breaking the skills up further into individual skills, so you could break up Smithing into Armor or Weapons respectively, if that’s the group’s preference.

Skills are rated on a scale of 0 to 5, with 1 being novice level, and 3 being a professional level of training.

Advantages and Disadvantages

This edition of L5R takes a different approach to Advantages and Disadvantages. Rather than the minmaxing trap of costing and refunding character points, each character possesses a Distinction, a Passion, an Adversity and an Anxiety.

Advantage Types

  • Distinctions are Advantages that say something positive about your nature, psychology or history. Each of these allows you to reroll 2 dice of your choice when the Distinction is applicable.
  • Passions denote your character’s personal interests. When performing a check relating to your character’s Passion, you reduce Strife by 3.

Disadvantage Types

  • Adversities are your character failings, and represent the negative aspects of your characters nature, history or psychology. These force you to reroll successes on your checks if they are related to the task. Should that check fail, then the character earns a Void Point.
  • Anxieties are your character’s emotional turmoils, and when you encounter a situation which hampers you because of them, gain 3 strife. You also earn a Void Point for the first time you encounter your Anxiety in a scene.

Void Points

A long-standing mechanic from the old L5R, Void Points were the action point of the game, spent to add an additional kept die to the roll.

The new edition of L5R retains the Void Point, but has several ways to use it. It can be spent to roll and keep an additional Ring die. It can also be used to sacrifice a weapon in order to stave off a critical strike. Finally, several techniques require that the character spend a Void point to activate them.

Gaining Void Points works differently as well, with rest no longer being able to regenerate Void Points. Instead, you gain it by encountering adversity, most often by running into and failing checks related to your Adversities and Anxieties.

Honor, Glory and Status

Mechanics for Honor, Glory and Status are some of the hallmarks of L5R. Tehse are Social Attributes that represent a character’s personal investment in Bushido (Honor), Societies view of a character (Glory) and their social position in the Celestial Order (Status).

This edition brings some very interesting twists to these attributes.

The first is that these social attributes must be forfeited in order to perform dishonorable, inglorious or sacrilegious actions. The GM only informs the player of the need to forfeit Honor, Glory or Status to perform a deed, essentially serving as an “Are you sure?” check to give the players time to reconsider. If they still choose to pursue the action, then they give up the amount.

The second is in the form of staking social attributes. In this form, the player decides to stake their Honor, Glory or Status to achieve a goal, such as swearing to protect someone, perform a future deed or risk a position on a gambit. It’s a means of getting people to believe in them on the basis of their determination alone. Staked points in the social attributes are lost if the promised future doesn’t come to pass. Player characters do not gain points for staking them.

Ninjo (Desire) and Giri (Duty)

Another concept that was introduced into this edition of L5R are Ninjo and Giri. Giri represents the duties and responsibilities expected of a samurai, while Ninjo represent your personal hopes and aspirations.

The trick lies in the requirement for a character’s Ninjo and Giri to be somewhat opposed. They don’t have to be a constant source of conflict, but many samurai stories revolve around the opposition of these two forces.

So own it, play it up. Pick a Ninjo that makes doing your duties difficult sometimes. Revel in the conflict since it makes you the hero of that story.


While some concepts are similar, this is a whole different game. The more narrative approach, combined with a focus on elements that are geared to generate dramatic moments at every turn such as Strife, Ninjo and Giri have turned the game to something else.

Characters are no longer a stale bundle of measures as much as a vibrant collection of personality traits, advantages, conflicts and story hooks ready to engage in a world that needs them as heroes.

Next up, we’ll be looking at Schools and Techniques

For those that would like to read along, you can get a copy of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG on PDF over at DrivethruRPG for only $24.95

3 thoughts on “[Let’s Study: Legend of the Five Rings] Part 3: Character Details

  1. I know the game is more focused on the mental/personality than previous, but I’m curious if there are ways to distinguish a character being physically stronger than others? Other games I’ve played (like Shadows of Esteren) also have your traits be your personality, but have advantages you can buy that make you stronger/faster/etc than others.

    I’m mostly curious because Rokugan often has that distinction between the big, burly, strong Hida and the quick, fast, precise Kakita.

    1. One way we’ve found so far is the Bishamon’s Blessing Distinction. In this case, if your character is engaged in activities relating to the Fortune of Strength, such as wrestling, unarmed combat or basically being a physical prodigy, you get to reroll 2 dice of your choice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.