[Let’s Study] Adventures in Rokugan, Part 7: Conclusions and Review

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


When I heard Adventures in Rokugan was announced by Edge Studio, my knee jerk reaction was to look for something bad about it. Thankfully, curiosity and hope won over, and I forced myself to really go through what Adventures in Rokugan had to offer and what I found surprised me.

Adventures in Rokugan was a book built purposefully to serve a particular goal: to offer Rokugan as a new and exciting setting for heroic adventure using the mechanics of the 5e SRD. In doing so, the design team made deliberate choices to lean into what that system does best: heroic combat and adventuring. This is the game you can go for if you’re looking for thrilling martial arts heroics and the zero-to-hero story arc that 5e is best known for, paired with a stunningly realized setting that has made L5R a favorite of fans from all over the globe.

What Adventures in Rokugan wasn’t meant to do, is to emulate L5R. Courtly intrigue, doomed romances and high-stakes politics are less of the point in this game. Winter Court isn’t something you’ll see much of in this edition, for example, though there are still little nods here and there to the worth of dressing right and knowing how to do well in proper society.

So let’s set those aside and judge it on its own merits.

Clever, tactical combat

As mentioned in the classes section of this Let’s Study series, Adventures in Rokugan introduces a ton of clever mechanics for combat, with each of the Classes having a very strong form of niche protection. Add the extra layer of customization from the Backgrounds and every character brings something new to the table.

That said, I can’t help but feel that the game really starts at the 3rd Level, as many of the foundational Class Features really come in at that point.

A fully-realized setting

Rokugan is a beautiful setting with so much lore and history that has been refined and improved over decades and Adventures in Rokugan delivers that in one easy package. I’m sort of jealous of new DMs who might discover the setting with this book as everything was bundled together so neatly in a way that is easy to consume.

Of course, it helps to have strong cultural notes in the game as well, and the way that Rokugani culture was portrayed reveals that there’s a funny disconnect between how the society functions, versus the way that Adventurers go about their business. Adventurers sort of get a free pass, an odd exemption from the way the rest of the world works, but again, that’s an assumption that all adventurers in 5e worlds seem to work with.

A missed opportunity to bring social mechanics to 5e

Given all of the innovations and mechanics that were new in the game, I can’t shake the disappointment of seeing that Courtiers didn’t get as much focus as social characters as they could have. L5R can be a political game, and I have a feeling that Adventures in Rokugan might have had mechanics that dealt with this but were left on the cutting room floor.

The tools were all there: A host of new Conditions could have been introduced, much in the way that they were done in Martial Techniques. Intrigue Dice could have been spent to enact Rhetorical Flourishes that imposed these Conditions on targets with special means by which the Conditions could be resolved or removed.

But somehow, they fell back to tactical square grids and attack bonuses.

As a GM, I know that I could simply jury rig a system that works as above, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to.

Final thoughts

As a 5e product, Adventures in Rokguan is a steal. Not only do you get a wealth of new character classes, you also buy into one of the best settings that isn’t based on traditional tolkien-esque fantasy. The rules are easy to understand and there’s a ton of flavorful lore and stunning artwork to enjoy.

As for L5R fans? It’s worth picking up if you’re looking for something with a lot more action. Many of the L5R groups I’ve met pride themselves for having tension-filled campaigns where not a single combat roll was made for entire storylines. Clearly Adventures in Rokugan isn’t meant for those campaigns.

In the end, I like having it around because it gives me options. Not every group of players will like the way L5R might be too focused on flowery words and clever politics and tragedy. Sometimes, you just want to go off on a journey and forge a legend of your own.

And that’s fine, because now, I’ve got a game to offer for that kind of play.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the review. The changes to the setting made me a bit wary of trying it as a specifically Rokugan adventure, but I can see it working out as a D&D variant in a heavily east Asian inspired setting. How much would you say Rokugani society (noble and commoner) has been changed? I saw the traditional L5R one as one with predominantly Japanese influences, but also elments from various Chinese dynasties, Korea, the various steppe people and maybe some Southeast Asian elements in the Mantis. Now that there seems to be more on other regions that are based on these cultures, have the authors changed the “makeup” of Rokugan itself?

    • Hi there,

      Given how Rokugan is presented in this version of the setting, the Dragon and the Phoenix Clan share cultural similarities with the Fantasy China and Fantasy Korea civilizations introduced. They’ve also made Rokugan more accepting in general of foreigners, which means that being a foreigner in Rokugani soil is no longer a cause to be shunned at every turn.

      That said, Rokugan is still pretty much “Japan” in the scheme of things.

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