For this last part on the various subsystems of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, we’re taking a look at another staple of the game: Mass Battles.
Being samurai, there’s always the expectation that when the clan goes to war, you’re duty-bound to fight. And in a setting where Clans war against each other pretty often, there’s bound to be at least one setpiece Mass Battle in a campaign of L5R.
Given the scope of Mass Battles, it becomes necessary to split up the action into different roles.
Each army has a Commander, a single character that is assigned to direct the entire army. While this is usually reserved for a high-ranking officer, I find it more fun if you give that to one of the player characters as it gives them the opportunity to really affect the setting in a big way.
In addition to the Commander, the army also has several Leaders, each of which is in charge of their own Cohort. Normally player characters are assumed to be the Leaders, and there will always be enough cohorts to allow all the characters to participate in a Mass Battle.
Armies possess two critical attributes: Strength and Discipline. This attribute is a summation of the entire army as opposed to each individual cohort. As the battles rage on, Strength and Discipline both decline, and if they reach a certain threshold, the battle ends.
On each round, the commander chooses a Strategic Objective for the round. The Leaders then spend their actions in an effort to achieve the objective by accruing enough Momentum to satisfy the requirement of the chosen objective. These actions often take the form of assaulting a target, resulting in a degradation of the other army’s Strength (via Attrition) or their Discipline (via Panic).
Thoughts on Mass Battles
Overall the Mass Battles system here feels pretty utilitarian, with enough wiggle room to push for various opportunities. In the old editions, you usually had a chart where you could move up and down to find glory opportunities. This systems inverts that, with the Leader deciding the opportunity and everyone running to achieve that goal.
I think one of the things that could be better explained here would be what kind of actions could be done to achieve an objective. Take this one for example:
The How to Achieve It section feels unnecessarily restrictive. As a GM I would actually relax this requirement and allow Leaders to be creative in how they want to pull this off as long as at least one of them performs the Attack action.
Doing so allows for things like having a Shugenja Leader direct her cohort to cast spells that speed up the assaulting cohort, to help them drive a wedge through the unsuspecting target. Or even a wily Courtier to direct his cohort in a fashion to convince the target that they were being attacked from a different direction than the main force.
These wouldn’t fulfill the How to Achieve It section as written, but it allows for more clever (and in my opinion, satisfying) play.
Next up, the GMing section and my final review of Fantasy Flight Games’ edition of Legend of the Five Rings.