[Let’s Study] Adventures in Rokugan, Part 1: Introduction and Expectations

Disclaimer: This Let’s Study series is made possible by the generosity of Edge Studio, who provided an advanced review copy of the PDF.

Legend of the Five Rings’ Rokugan is perhaps my most beloved RPG setting. As an Asian, seeing a fantasy remix of a culture I was relatively familiar with in 1995 was a huge thing for me. As I was also an avid player of the Collectible Card Game at the time, Rokugan was a second home of sorts. I loved the heroes, thrilled at their victories, agonized at their losses and admired how everything came together in a satisfying narrative.

I’m also a huge fan of the Roll and Keep system of the original AEG line of RPGs. It was a departure from D&D, and I appreciated the lethality of combat in the game, which highlighted the importance of the social aspects of the setting in ways that were hard to find back then.

Flash forward to now. Edge Studio now acts as the stewards of the current edition of L5R, and Adventures in Rokugan (AiR) is their first release. I had my misgivings, but I didn’t want to form an opinion without seeing it for myself, and so I reached out to Edge Studio on the off chance that they’d be willing to send me a PDF copy of the book… and here we are.

Wait, what’s a Let’s Study?

To those new in to the blog, hello! A Let’s Study review series is essentially where I break down review releases section-by-section offering insights, opinions and sometimes suggestions along the way. Please note that these are from my initial read through of the book and I can (and sometimes) will get things wrong about mechanics. If you spot an error, feel free to call it out in the comments as this is also my way of learning the system.

What is Adventures in Rokugan?

Before we continue with the rest of the series, I think it’s best if we already set expectations on what AiR is based on what it contains. To put it simply, AiR is meant to present Rokugan as as setting for 5e adventures of heroic adventure, mythic tales and larger-than-life exploits of extraordinary individuals.

It doesn’t seek to replicate Legend of the Five Ring’s focus on samurai drama and conflicts between Honor, Duty and personal desires. The writers go out of their way to provide a call out box explicitly stating this, which I greatly appreciate since it helps mitigate the knee jerk reaction that we all had when we first heard AiR was coming out.

This singular direction influences the whole of the book, and the sooner we understand and accept that, the more we’re able to view the rest of this series without throwing unreasonable demands and expectations on it.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

Adventures in Wokugan

I had to make this pun before anyone else did.

Kidding aside, Adventures in Rokugan also features a few minute changes that are more respectful of other people’s cultures and experiences.

This is a Good Thing.

AiR also introduces a section on content notices and safety tools, which is a much appreciated addition to the game as a whole. Legend of the Five Rings badly needed an update like this, as it does open the game up to a wider audience without the vulnerabilities that have left many gamers exposed to negative experiences on the table.

While some old GMs like myself might have a reaction on the specific callout of removing ritual suicide as a cultural / narrative element in the game, it’s more important to consider the mental and emotional safety of your players first. If it means that the game is safer for more people, then I can do without seppuku.

Other notable changes include:

  • Names of real-world religious figures, such as the Fortunes have been removed entirely from the setting.
  • All the location and city names have been rewritten to their English translations instead of Japanese(ish) names: Ryoko Owari Toshi, for example, is now Journey’s End City.
  • Bushido is gone, now reformulated as The Code of Akodo, which is now expanded though the efforts of a distinguished adventurer(!) named Kitsuki Emika. The expanded list of virtues are now: Compassion, Courage, Filial Piety, Courtesy, Loyalty, Accountability, Justice, Sincerity, Faithful Friendship, Wisdom and Ritual Propriety
  • The Tao of Shinsei is now translated to the Teachings of Shinsei

Overall these changes are understandable and won’t impact gameplay too much especially in the context of a 5e heroic adventure. There’s certainly less careful navigation around Honor and Duty, and more focus on doing what needs to be done.

Adventurers!? in MY Rokugan?

Yes, yes, I know. “Adventurer” used to be a dirty word in my L5R games too.

It’s important to remember that AiR assumes that play groups will be diverse. Rather than be teams of landed nobles who go about furthering their personal and Clan agendas, the player characters of AiR can hail from differing Species, Families and Backgrounds who go out on quests and do great deeds.

There is a note however that Adventurers do buck the general trend of society’s structures, and while it’s seen as different, there doesn’t seem to be a heavy stigma against those who decide to go against

But is it still Rokugan, tho?

In a word? Yes.

AiR presents Rokugan’s setting with the same love and care as it has in Legend of the Five Rings. The introduction chapter goes over the details of Rokugan’s society and feudal structure, with a special mention on how Adventurers buck the expectations of their station.

The governing structure of Rokugan remains the same, with the Emperor ruling over all of the Empire, and the Great Clans and Minor Clans in his service. Each of the Clans gets a paragraph-long description of what they’re like.

The cosmology of the setting and the faiths and beliefs of those who inhabit Rokugan are also given the same treatment, making it a great introduction to one of the best Fantasy settings in TTRPGs.

Initial Reactions

Adventures in Rokugan was crafted to be it’s own thing. It wasn’t meant to replace Legend of the Five Rings, nor was it meant to subvert the core 5e experience as a means of “weaning away D&D players to something more enlightened” and it should be treated as such.

Given the nature of a franchise as old and beloved as L5R, it’s easy to see why there were so many pains taken to make that point abundantly clear. My only request to my fellow old fans is to put down their swords, and view it for what it was meant to be: a new avenue for people to discover (and hopefully fall in love,) with Rokugan in their own way.

The series starts in earnest next week, where we’ll be taking a look at the next section of the book: The Species of Rokugan, which details the various beings that are valid as player character choices in a game of AiR.

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