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Last weekend, I was able to round up a bunch of L5R players from my local gaming community’s massive 30-player “Living” Rokugan 4e campaign to sit down and take 5e for a spin.

The session was broken down into character creation, and the opening sections of the beta document’s free Adventure: A Ronin’s Path. If it isn’t clear by now, consider this a SPOILER WARNING for those who might end up playing this adventure.

Character Creation

Character Creation took about 2 hours overall, given the amount of reading and questions we had as the team had mostly not had a chance to really dig into the 5e beta rules yet. That said we were able to put together a crew of Emerald Magistrates consisting of:

  • Shosuro Infiltrator
  • Ikoma Bard
  • Akodo Commander
  • Togashi Tattooed Man
  • Shinjo Outrider

Prelude:

When I pitched the adventure, I told the team that they’d be Emerald Magistrates, and as such will have to put their inter-clan bickering aside for fighting crime. That was generally okay with them, given that they’ve been playing 3 months worth of crazy inter-clan politicking with the occasional duel.

Observation:

Of course, when I read out the opening text and the players insisted to join the Magistrate for the chase after the Mahou-Tsukai, the boxed response was so awful that the players were all, “Holy cow. Alrighty then, you go enjoy getting tainted on your own!”

I suspect having a different response will have softened that particular moment. Something along the lines of:

“Your devotion is appreciated, but both criminals must be caught, and Michiru is a dangerous quarry. I am off to meet with a second team to handle her. However, her accomplice may know more information crucial to this investigation. As such, I entrust this duty to you. Do not fail me.” 

In any case, the team went on to check to see if they had missed any clues. This was where the game lets players do a low-risk series of investigation rolls in order to get a hang of the dice rolling and basic resolution system.

Observations:

Of course the first thing that the team questioned is why would someone with a functioning establishment like the inn allow for a room to be left untouched for 2 weeks?

It was another moment which shook the players out of their suspension of disbelief, but they soldiered on. Here I had some difficulty pinning which Ring corresponds to a player’s approach, and for some players, they defaulted to saying “I investigate it with Earth” as opposed to giving a narrative description of what their character did, leaving it up to me to come up with how it’s done.

Clearly that’s not how it’s meant to work

We pinned it down as something that was influenced by the Character sheet. The column of boxes next to skills tended to influence players to express their approach in the game space by use of the Rings. I found myself either falling into the habit of retroactively describing their actions to accommodate the Ring somehow which added more mental load to me as a GM. I believe the intent was to relay everything narratively, then check to see which Approach matches.

The investigation itself was pretty straightforward, and my players felt a little silly afterwards after realising that there was nothing much left to find aside from the detail about how the characters were positioned during the time of the murder. With that, the team raced South towards the Kaiu Wall.

Part 1: To the Third Watchtower

The team made their way towards the Kaiu Wall, dreading what was going to happen given that the Ronin they were after had a three week lead on them. When they arrived, the reveal that the Ronin was now a Crab Samurai was not quite a big surprise but it was a welcome complication as it was the first real twist they’d encountered so far.

They made their inquiries and tried to take a softer approach rather than  making a direct accusation. I decided to have the former Ronin challenge them to a duel to first blood, and they nominated their Akodo Commander to be their champion. The match was an interesting one, where the Ronin was clearly winning, but at a crucial moment a counter-strike by the Akodo Commander left him bleeding out on the ground.

Observations:

First off, it seems first blood basically means leaving your opponent dying but not dead as opposed to being the first to draw blood. This changed the dynamic of it, but the mechanics, which I’ll go over in another time and a different post.

That said, it took a bit of time before we were able to resolve the duel. Unlike in the original system where everything was decided in a single strike, this one is more like a Chambara duel with circling, stance changes, several strikes and then that one deciding moment when someone dies.

I liked how the Stances worked, how there were sub-actions that could be made to either improve your TN to be hit and to deal damage to the opponent. It was essentially a combat system of it’s own. Iaijutsu had a lot of spotlight in the previous edition, but now you had all sorts of duels, and it’s possible to have a Crab with a tetsubo face off with some Daidoji with a yari and still have it count as a duel.

That said, getting there was tough. Mechanically we didn’t exactly know what we were doing, and for most of the match, the Akodo was slowly losing Wounds from all the strikes that the Ronin was using. Unfortunately, the Ronin suffered an Outburst first, triggering a Finishing Blow from the Akodo, and leaving the Ronin dying on the floor.


This was where we left off. There’s a second part to this adventure but I needed time to study the rest of the Mass Combat system before I proceeded with it.

In the meantime, here’s a list of issues that the team noted from their experiences so far:

Character Creation

  • Layout concern, flipping back and forth during character creation
  • Font for Headers is difficult to read.
  • Starting Experience: 24 experience at the start of the adventure. Is this part of character creation? Game needs more means to customise a build after the lifepath. 24 exp feels about right but we need further playtesting to find out.

System

  • Shugenja starts only with 2 spells, feels a bit underpowered compared to the old 6 spell spread of the old game.
  • Spell Spamming is possible, and the Backlash is abusable by a creative Shugenja. Is this intentional?
  • Kiho feels a lot like Elemental Bending from Avatar: the Last Airbender
  • Skill advancement feels very restricting, is there an option to make generic exp purchases that count towards the advancement?
  • Ring Guide up front feels confusing because it limits people to approaches. While it wasn’t the intent, players suddenly consider only those approaches. Perhaps it would be best to hide that chart and give that to the GMs instead?
  • Rings allow for flexibility, feels much more liberating.
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Hey guys,

As you can tell, I’ve been eyebrows deep into the L5R Corebook Beta file that was generously released for free and as someone that’s been playing L5R since the first edition, I’m doing what I can to help me learn this brand new system better.

I’m afraid that this is a disorganized mess, but I’m still trying to put down my impressions of the game as I read along:

  • Raises are now Opportunities – Raises as a mechanic in the previous systems have always been a weird thing to teach, in my experience. In the old system, players don’t feel good about voluntarily increasing their TN to succeed and tend to avoid making Raises because of it. Instead, they’d rather roll high, then deduct Raises in increments of 5 from there.

    The new system addresses this by replacing Raises with Opportunities, which pop up from the roll separate from your successes. This feels more rewarding while retaining the same general structure,  you trade the value of the roll for a chance to do something else with it.

  • No two clan bushi are alike – There’s something to be said about the freedom to purchase kata and techniques according to preference. The linear progression of learning X technique at Rank 2 is eliminated in part by the fact that players just need to meet a a quota of required spends. In some ways it allows for different kinds of samurai to exist within the same family and school.
  • Duels are interesting – It’s different from the classic format, but one that also works within the context of duels as seen Chambara movies. The doubled deadliness of weapons in duels in particular has me cringing at the results of what a duel might be like. That might make for a good next post though. Maybe once I’m able to put together another sample character.
  • Mass Combat has changed – There’s a greater sense of leading a command in this edition, and while I’m still going over it, I remain positive that it will work out pretty well in this regard.

Since we’ve got a sample character already, let’s go on ahead and pit him against a Bandit and see how combat goes in the new L5R. L5R has traditionally been a fairly deadly system, with characters dying in 2 to 3 hits.

For this example, we’ll be taking a look at the Skirmish Rules. Tetsuya has chased down a bandit to a filthy dead-end alley in a small town, and the brigand prepares to fight for his life.

Bandit

Assessment

At this point, characters get their bearings, identify their foes and determinin initiative. This is done with an Assessment Check. Skirmishes use a TN 1 Tactics Check to gain a read on battlefield conditions and enemy.

Tetsuya chooses to get a read on his environs, and in doing so is considered to be taking a Water element approach. He rolls his 3 Water ring dice + 3 Tactics skill dice and gets the following:

2 Successes and 1 Opportunity

Tetsuya is then considered to be using the stance associated with the ring used in his Assessment roll, and is therefore in the Water Stance.

The Bandit is no pushover and rolls his 3 Fire ring dice + 2 Martial skill dice to get the following:

1 Success and 3 Opportunities

The Bandit is then considered to be in the Fire Stance.

Initiative

Initiative is determined by adding either a character’s Focus or Vigilance attribute to the bonus successes of the Assessment roll.

This gives Tetsuya an Initiative of 4 (Focus 3 + 1 bonus success), while the Bandit has an Initiative of 6 (Focus 6 + 0 bonus successes)

ROUND 1

Stances

We talked a bit about stances. Each element has a corresponding stance, which then bestows a different Effect to the combatants.

Stances.PNG

Tetsuya’s Water Stance allows him to remove 2 strife, ready or stow an item or move one range band after making a check. Meanwhile the Bandit’s Fire Stance makes each Strife result count as an additional bonus success on a successful check.

Perform Actions

At this point, the characters perform their respective Actions. The Bandit, seizing the opportunity, strikes first! He rolls his 3 Fire + 2 Martial skill dice vs a TN of 2 and gets:

3 Successes, 1 Opportunity and 1 Strife

This triggers his Dirty Tricks ability, that allows him to force Tetsuya to suffer the Disoriented condition, increasing Tetsuya’s TN for Movement and Support action checks by 2!

In addition, since the Bandit succeeded, he deals 5 Wounds (Katana 4 + 2 Extra Successes)! Thankfully, Tetsuya is wearing Ashigaru armor (Physical 3) and is able to reduce the damage to just 3 wounds.

Tetsuya feels the blade cut into flesh and tries to counter with a strike of his own with his Naginata! He rolls his 3 Water and 1 Martial Arts (Melee) vs a TN of 2 and gets:

3 Successes, 1 Opportunity and 3 Strife

Tetsuya counters with a Fierce assault of his own! He triggers his Striking As Water Kata into this attack, and spends his Opportunity to reduce the Bandit’s Resistance by 2 until the end of Tetsuya’s next turn!

A Naginata deals 6(!) wounds of damage, plus 1 more for Tetsuya’s extra success. Normally, the Bandit’s Ashigaru armor would protect against most of this damage, but Striking As Water reduces his armor to just 1 point. The Bandit suffers 6 Wounds from the vicious counterattack!

Due to a successful check, Tetsuya reduces his Strife by 2 thanks to his Water Stance.

ROUND 2

The Bandit begins again, and shifts to an Air Stance, this allows him to increase the TN of attacks made against him by 1. He also moves to close the distance between him and Tetsuya, to make sure that Tetsuya is hard pressed to get away.

He attacks again, this time using his 2 Air and 2 Martial skill vs a TN of 2 to get:

1 Success, 1 Opportunity and 1 Strife.

He misses, but is able to spend his Opportunity die to activate his Dirty Tricks Ability once more! Tetsuya remains Disoriented.

Unwilling to back down, Tetsuya strikes again against a TN of 3 and rolls:

3 Successes, 1 Opportunity and 3 Strife

Tetsuya makes it, and spends the 1 opportunity to activate Striking As Water once more.

The Ronin takes 5 Wounds, pushing him past his Resilience of 9 by 2 points, and scoring a Critical Strike! The Bandit must now make a TN 1 Fitness Check. He scores:

2 successes and 1 Strife

This reduces the effect of the Critical Strike by 2. This means that the Injury is downgraded to a staggering strike, and the Bandit is knocked prone! Since the Bandit also took more wounds than he has Resilience, then he also suffers the Incapacitated Condition, taking him out of the fight.

Due to a successful check, Tetsuya reduces his Strife by 2 thanks to his Water Stance.

2 rounds is all it took for Tetsuya to take down an experienced Bandit. Thanks to Striking As Water paired with a very powerful weapon in the form of a Naginata made up for it. Add a few lucky rolls and he was able to bring the bandit down.

Combat feels a bit different from the usual L5R mechanic. I’m still getting used to attacking a static value of TN 2, but it’s pretty straightforward so far. I do like the dynamism brought out by the stances, and the extra effects bestowed by switching up in mid-battle. I would love to see how tactical the decisions get once people finally get to the point where they’re used to the system.


Hey there,

I’m still a bit busy but I wanted to let people know my thoughts on the L5R 5e Beta as far as Character Creation goes.

  • Twenty Questions – This has been a tradition of L5R books since the first edition, and I’m glad that they found a way to tie it into character creation itself as you make the choices that define each stage of your character.
  • Clan Profiles in chargen – Great stuff! Adding cultural, knowledge and philosophy notes in chargen help cement what kind of people tend to come from the various Clans.
  • Ninjo and Giri – The conflicting forces of Ninjo and Giri are an interesting addition to the L5R character, and adds mechanical weight to what was originally all very “setting” detail that was hard to communicate to newbies.
  • Honor, Glory and Status – Good to see all three of these made it through, with some interesting new rules! Tying advantages and flaws to high and low scores of these attributes is a neat way to reward different styles of play. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the Staking Honor rules here. The fact that you’re putting your honor, status or glory on the line to convince someone to take a course of action you feel is best is a great moment that deserves even a slight mechanical nod.
  • Strife – Here’s a new mechanic that I’m a little worried about. I like Ninjo and Giri but I worry about how Strife might end up like Exalted’s limit break, and if my fiddling around with the dice roller is any indication, Strife can build up really fast. Will need to find out more as I actually playtest.

To try and get my bearings on the new L5R RPG from Fantasy Flight Games, I’ve decided to try and put together a quick character. The Beta document doesn’t have a full set of schools but there’s enough to make a decent spread of characters.

Part 1: Core Identity

Characters begin with 1 rank in each ring and 0 ranks in each skill. Ring and skills cannot be raised beyond 3 during character creation.

  1. What Clan does your character belong to?

    I’m rebuilding an old character of mine, a Shiba Yojimbo (bodyguard) by the name of Shiba Tetsuya. He belongs to the mystical Phoenix Clan as a warrior sworn to protect the Clan’s shugenja.

    This gives him a +1 to his Void Ring, +1 to the Theology Skill, and a starting Status of 30.

    The character creation section here gives a quick snapshot of the various things inherent to those raised in the Clan. This includes Culture, Specialised Knowledge and the Clan’s Interpretation of Bushido.

    I find that this is a GREAT way to give people an idea of what kind of knowledges they have and how they’re generally expected to behave.

  2. What Family does your character belong to?

    As noted in his name above, Shiba Tetsuya belongs to the Shiba Family.

    This gives him a +1 to his Water Ring, +1 to the Courtesy and Tactics Skills, and a starting Glory of 40.

Part 2: Role and School

  1. What is your character’s role and school?

    Shiba Tetsuya is a warrior, so I’m assigning him the Shiba Guardian School.

    This grants him a +1 to Earth and Water Rings, and a +1 to 5 picks from this list: Courtesy, Fitness, Martial Arts [Melee], Meditation, Survival, Tactics, Theology.

    Techniques available to him are: Kata, Shoji and Rituals

    His starting Techniques are: A choice between Striking as Water, or Striking as Earth, as well as the Lord Shiba’s Selflessness Kata.

    He begins play with 45 Honor

    His School ability is Way of the Phoenix: This allows him to help a nearby character by negating a number of Strife results from a check they perform equal to his school rank.

    His starting Outfit includes: Ashigaru amor, travel clothing, dash, spear OR naginata, traveling pack and 5 koku.

  2. How does your character stand out in their school?

    Tetsuya has always been innovative, willing to take risks and use new ideas to get the job done. As such, I’m giving him a +1 to his Fire Ring.

Part 3: Honor and Glory

  1. What is your character’s duty to their lord?

    Tetsuya is a Yojimbo, a bodyguard assigned to protect one of the Isawa shugenja. This functions as his primary Giri, or duty, and is the primary way by which Tetsuya gains and loses Honor and Glory.

  2. What does your character long for?

    On the flip side of Giri is Ninjo, or personal goals. Tetsuya’s Ninjo is his fatherly devotion for his charge, Isawa Yuri. She was the daughter of his lost unrequited love, a Yuki no Onna who fell in love for Tetsuya’s best friend instead.

  3. What is your character’s opinion of their Clan?

    Tetsuya is a pragmatic sort, and while he understands the nature of the Phoenix, he does not see harm in being prepared. Because of this, he benefits from having a +1 to his Tactics skill.

  4. What does your character think of Bushido?

    Tetsuya’s Ninjo holds sway over him far more than his Giri. As such, he is prepared to take great risks to his Honor to do what he feels is right. As such, he gains a +1 to the Skulduggery skill.

Part 4: Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. What is your character’s greatest accomplishment so far?

    In one legendary incident, Tetsuya was able to track down his charge when she was kidnapped by bandits in the midst of a snowstorm.

    I’m giving Tetsuya the Specific Distinction: Karmic Tie to his charge.

  2. What holds your character back the most in life?

    Ever since the loss of both his best friend, and the only woman he ever loved. Tetsuya has always felt on edge, and secretly fears that the Fortunes only have the worst in store for him.

    Tetsuya gains the Specific Adversity: Paranoia

  3. What activity makes your character feel at peace?

    To centre himself, Tetsuya exercises Meditation to overcome the anxieties and worries of his life.

    Tetsuya gains the Specific Passion: Enlightenment

  4. What concern, fear or foible troubles your character the most?

    Tetsuya has difficulty holding back when he is committed to battle.

    Tetsuya gains the Specific Anxiety: Ferocity

  5. Who has your character learned the most from during their life?

    Given his colourful history, Tetsuya isn’t among the young hopefuls that have just completed their gempukku. His experiences with his comrade, falling in love with the Yuki no Onna, and raising Yuri has forged him into a formidable soul.

    Tetsuya gains the Seasoned Advantage.

Part 5: Personality and Behaviour

  1. What detail do others find most striking about your character?

    Tetsuya’s intense gaze is one born of having seen the supernatural, and suffered through great emotional pain.

  2. How does your character react to stressful situations?

    Tetsuya’s wrath is a thing to behold, but something that many others would rather avoid. Tetsuya lashes out physically in moments of intense stress.

  3. What are your character’s preexisting relationships with other clans, families, organisations and traditions?

    Shiba Tetsuya is a samurai with some dealings with the Dragon, and see them as strange, if kindred spirits with their ties to Theology. He has not truly interacted with Scorpions, but he shares their willingness to abandon Honor to get the job done.

Part 6: Ancestry and Family

  1. How would your character’s parents describe them?

    Tetsuya would be described by his parents as quiet and stubborn. He has a strong sense of justice and would always stand up for the underdog even if it meant getting beaten up by bullies, until such time that he grew strong enough to overcome them.

  2. Who was your character named to honour?

    At this point Tetsuya was named after a revered ancestor who was a Dynasty Builder.

    His Glory is reduced by 3, but he gains a +1 to his Performance skill.

  3. What is your character’s personal name?

    Tetsuya, which stands for “Devoted,” or “To be like iron.”

  4. How should your character die?

    Shiba Tetsuya is a character of unyielding devotion. If he should die, then he should do so in order to protect that which he loves.

Summary of Stats:

Shiba Tetsuya, Veteran Yojimbo

Rings: Air 1, Earth 2, Fire 2, Water 3, Void 2

Skills: Theology +1, Courtesy +1, Tactics +3, Fitness +1, Martial Arts [Melee] +1, Meditation +1, Survival +1, Performance +1, Skulduggery +1

Techniques available to him are: Kata, Shoji and Rituals

His starting Techniques are:

  • Striking as Water (Kata)
  • Lord Shiba’s Selflessness (Kata)

Way of the Phoenix: This allows him to help a nearby character by negating a number of Strife results from a check they perform equal to his school rank.

Outfit: Ashigaru armor, travel clothing, daisho, Naginata, traveling pack and 5 koku.

  • Glory: 37
  • Honor: 45
  • Status: 30

Advantages: Karmic Tie (Isawa Yuri), Seasoned

Passions: Enlightenment

Disadvantages: Paranoia

Anxieties: Ferocity

Derived Attributes:

  • Resilience: 5
  • Focus: 3
  • Composure: 8
  • Vigilance: 2

Void Points: 1