Legend of the Five Rings RPG Beginners Guide by Fantasy Flight Games – Review

Legend of the Five Rings RPG Beginners Guide by Fantasy Flight Games - Review 1

"A fantastic update of a favorite system."

Legend of the Five Rings RPG Beginners Guide by Fantasy Flight Games - Review 2

Theme and What is it?

*Note* Copy of the game provided by the publisher for review purposes.

In the ancient lands of Rokugan mysticism and honor meet to guide powerful clans as they vie for respect and honor. You are a member of one of these great clans.

Tasked with representing your family and brining honor to their name. You balance your duty to your family with your desire for personal glory. On the battlefield you are a proud warrior armed with spells, weapons, or your fists to protect you. In the courts your words must be chosen carefully because a misspoken statement here can be deadlier than any demon’s claw. How will you fair?

In Legend of the Five Rings you are a member of the samurai social class. You may be a noble warrior, a mystical shugenja, a noble monk, brilliant courtier, or an artist of renown. Mysteries and intrigues fall at your feet as you are pressed into the service of your families goals.

Will you have to enter the wilds and face roaming bandits, mighty demons, or warriors from another clan? Or will you be in a more civilized setting surrounded by tea ceremonies and haiku, court intrigues and murder mysteries, or even a plot against the Emperor himself?

What will you do when duty and glory are on the line?

Will you bring honor to your family through your deeds or your seppuku? 

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Gameplay Mechanics

Legend of the Five Rings is a pen and paper Role Play Game where you take on the role of members of the samurai class. A member of one of seven great families you will be required to work your way through the land of Rokugan. This is a fictional kingdom based on the myths and legends from the Far East. While Japan and its samurai traditions are more to the forefront several pieces of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese legends are touched on as well.

The setting allows for groups to play bands of warriors roaming the land fighting the forces of evil or courtiers dealing with day to day politics and intrigue.  In my opinion the game truly shines when your campaign is a mix of the two.

The primary means of conflict resolution in the game is a roll and keep dice pool mechanic. When you decide on a task you assemble a number of six sided dice based on the attribute you’re using, a number of twelve sided dice based on skills, and roll them looking for specific types of symbols. You’re only allowed to keep a number of dice equal to the attribute you used. However, you get to choose the particular dice you want to use.

There are four symbols found on the dice. These are a success, an explosive success, an opportunity, and a strife. A success is worth one point towards the number of success you need to perform the action. If you choose an explosive success, you may roll an additional dice of that type and may keep one additional dice; the may is important.

The opportunity may be spent to learn things, cause critical effects, buy special moves, and earn bonus effects. The strife represents the effects of continued stress faced by the players as they move through the world.

Since you get to choose the dice you keep it lets you manipulate the end results of a roll. The reason the may is important in explosive success is that the strife symbol only appears on dice sides with other symbols. This usually leaves you in a position of needing to choose to take opportunity or a success but also needing to take strife as well. It makes you decide how important it is for you to succeed at something.

Strife in and of itself isn’t a particularly awful thing. However, if you amass too much you lose your composure. This could cause you to giggle uncontrollably, challenge your enemies, or become angry with your allies. This is individual to each character and is used as a roleplay cue. In battle your warrior might call out to a large or deadly looking enemy to face him one on one but in court the same character might call out another person for low tactics or unfair practices.

A character who begins giggling might use an inappropriate joke or snide insult against a rival while on the battlefield the same character might become reckless as a way of dealing with the horror around them. How you react is mainly a guideline of what happens when your character breaks not a hard fast rule.

One of the other things that lets this game shine is how the attributes or rings works. Each player has a ring that represents one of the five elements of nature: air, earth, fire, water, and void. Each of these rings represents not just an element but a philosophy or method for doing things. Fire is ambitious and reckless. Earth is steady and thoughtful. While water is balanced and even.

When you decide to take an action you decide how you’ll do it. In a fight, are you going to hold back and pay more attention to your defense striking only when ready; then you’re using earth. If you’re trying to negotiate a treaty that’s fair for both sides then you’re using water.

Will you be climbing a balcony to recite a love haiku to a young lover on the night of their wedding to someone else; then you’re using fire. You’re physical traits don’t really matter in this game. It’s about how you do it not what you do it with.

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Initial Impressions

I own a lot of the old AEG first edition Legend of the Five Rings books. I love this game. It’s a bunch of fun and love delving into the world that was built for this game.

When I heard that Fantasy Flight was bringing the game back using a hybrid of the old roll and keep D10 system and the system they sue for Star Wars RPG I was really excited to see how it all worked together.

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Game Build Quality

Everything is really nice. The set comes with a nice map, solid tokens, and good quality character sheets. Everything is well laid out and three books are clearly labeled with which one to use first.

 

I will ding the dice a little bit here. The ring dice, the D6’s are black with dark red icons. Since all of the symbols are some form of a circle it makes them difficult to read at a glance. I wish that they had used a different color for the ring dice.

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Artistic Direction

The art is beautiful. Every picture is gorgeous. The paper map that comes with it is fantastic. It has a very Far East fantasy vibe that I just adore. I would love to have posters of many of the pieces in the game.

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Fun Factor

This is a storytelling RPG. There is some good crunch to the rules but there’s also a lot of using the rules and dice results as a guide to describe the results.

I think a group that wants absolute answers to how things work and how results are rolled might find the game lacking. However, if your group is okay with a bit of narrative embellishment then they might find the world just right.

Age Range & Weight

The box says 14+ and I think that’s correct.

Thematically there are a lot of things in this setting that younger players might have a bit of trouble with. There is potential for a seppuku, ritual suicide, in the learning scenario. This and a few of the more subtle story telling moments might be a bit over their head. Of course you know your players better than I do and they may be just fine.

As RPG’s go I think this one is on the heavier side of middle weight. The rules are chunky enough you’ll need to pay attention to what’s going on but they allow for enough interpretation that you should be able to bend to story a bit here and there.

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Conclusions

I like Legend of the Five Rings. I always have. One of the things I really enjoy about a good RPG is when it makes me have to think different. L5R does that. This game forces me to think like someone from a culture that I’ve never been a part of. It requires that things I am normally used to doing I don’t get to here. I like playing a smart ass. That’s a quick way to kill yourself in this game.

The new mechanics took a little getting used to. However some of that was the way the adventure was set up. It doles out the rules one new thing at a time. It lets you get used to how one thing works before moving on to the next scene and teaching you the next rule.

The very first scene in the game is literally just for role-play purposes. There is nothing your characters can’t succeed at there. The second scene adds dice and the chance of failure. Then you get the ability to spend opportunity followed quickly by stress. This does mean that some bits of the game are lacking in nuance that players familiar with RPG’s or specifically L5R might hit little hiccups as the game expects them to respond one way over another. There is also a slight bit of railroading near the middle.

The game also includes something I wish that every RPG ever included, a pronunciation guide. I almost wish it had been a small card that I could have kept out as I played. It was nice for me to be able to look up how to pronounce some of these names that I would have murdered otherwise.

The box set only comes with characters for four of the seven clans. There are three free characters you can download online as well as a follow up adventure. All of these are nicely set up and well done. I understand why the three characters found online are there. The four in the box are the most straight forward and give a nice selection of the different types of characters. A Bushi (warrior), shugenja (mage), monk (martial artist), and courtier (diplomat). The three on line are a different kind of warrior, an actor, and a member of the cavalry.

The other three are also more complex from a roleplay standard. If you have players who are experienced in L5R and know a bit about Rokugan going in these are great options for them. However, if this is your first trip to the Emerald Empire I would stick to the ones in the box.

I do wish the four base characters were available online so I could easily print out additional copies. It would be nice to have so I could use this at local meet ups and such as a way of introducing people to the game.

All in all the game is a ton of fun. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to adding the full rules to my collection.

As always I recommend you try before you buy. That said, this is designed so you can do just that with the purchase of this. It is a weird flux area the box set puts me in for my recommendation. If it were a little cheaper I might recommend it out of hat but at its current cost see if you can find someone to run you through before you think about grabbing it to show your players.

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