the l5R learning curve

With 2 ongoing campaigns and a Let’s Study series under my belt, I think I’ve got a decent enough exposure to the new Legend of the Five Rings RPG to put together something of a reaction post to my experience as a GM with the game thus far.

If you meet the Buddha, kill him

If the 4th Edition of Legend of the Five Rings was known for the “Rokugan, Your Way” approach, then this edition of the game from Fantasy Flight Games has taken the same impulse and baked it into the setting itself.

The reboot was something of a big deal, having ditched all the sacred cows from the old setting and keeping only the most essential elements of what make the Legend of the Five Rings what it was. It was a strong move, and one that I still heartily support as it frees people from the shackles of the metaplot, and explicitly tells the GMs of the game (old and new) to run the game as they want.

Learning to Unlearn

Part of the challenge here for old GMs of the setting like me, is to learn to undo the habits and expectations of the former game. It’s not always easy, of course. 15 years of playing the same game the same way tends to calcify certain behaviors and the narrative nature of this edition still throws me off now and then.

So rather than judge, I took it upon myself to learn. And in the end, I’ve found that there are things about this style of play that I can find amusing. As a GM, however, I also found that I needed to help guide and lead my players towards this change of playstyle. It’s a bit of a give-and-take as we all work our way through each session and review what worked and what didn’t and why.

In a way this is why I’m glad the players I’ve found have been considerate and willing to learn and try something new. If I’d run into 4e grognards who rejected the new in favor of old things I’m sure I’d be stuck with a very different opinion of this edition.

Let the players lead

This brings me to the next point. As a GM, I’m used to being the story lead in most games. I figure out plots, throw out complications, and let players sort them out. This still exists in the new Legend of the Five Rings, but it becomes richer the moment players learn to trust me enough to express where they want to take their characters.

There’s a benefit to having an open conversation where players can outright tell the GM, “I think my character has an opportunity to go down X route.” It’s the kind of feedback that this edition excels at handling. I’ve gone on and on about my preference for the genuine joy of emergent gameplay, but I’ve learned that there’s a fallacy to equating “I want my character to do X” with the death of surprises.

I’ve hit the point in my Lion campaign where I’m ready to let my players take the wheel. I’ll still be doing the heavy lifting for the setting, but in letting the players have at it, I’m also telling them that I’m ready to be surprised.

In the same way that I’m letting go of being Supreme Overlord, it’s also a challenge to my players: surprise me. Take the game down paths of your own choosing and let’s all have fun along the way.

Form first, before power

One of the things I’ve learned this year ever since I’ve started going to the gym is that you need to work on form before you can even think about working on increasing weights. Form seems boring, but in the end it is what will save you from injury.

The same applies for me and this edition of L5R. I’m only about 4 sessions into my Lion Clan campaign and I’m still making the same mistakes (forgetting to declare TNs in particular) and I’m still getting used to the mechanics. But the more hours I clock in means that I’ll have the necessary equivalent of GMing muscle memory to run it better next time.

It’s easy for me to fall into the confidence trap of judging my games too harshly because they don’t run as smooth as they used to, but I need to remember that this is a game that I’ve only collectively clocked in only about 48 hours into, as opposed to the cumulative years of running the prior system.

Mastery will come in time. For now, work on understanding the game, taking it for what it is, then eventually learn to make it sing.

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