So, I am of course talking about editions of Legend of the Five Rings RPG and not D&D.
I had a surprisingly developed idea for a L5R campaign come to me. I don’t have any investment in the canonical storyline, and I’m most comfortable with Rokugan 1500 (HoR2) as a setting, where everything pretty much exists except the absurd Spider Clan, yet where there isn’t some Empire destroying threat every few years/decades. So, my idea was a natural for being set in the HoR2 storyline, after the HoR2 campaign ended. About 100 years after, in fact, to give time for things to reshape themselves and to move away from some of the events of HoR2.
Three major clans are annihilated, Rokugan fights on two fronts and isn’t sure what to make of a new Gaijin people on a third, etc. HoR2 does indeed have a legacy that seeps into my idea. In fact, I plan to start the campaign with one of the HoR2 mods to not only provide an intro into history of this Rokugan but to have ancestors for the PCs based on the events of the mod. This particular mod is one I never got close to running for the local group, so shouldn’t be any issues with repetition for potential players.
Since this campaign wouldn’t happen any time soon, as things appear to be going, filling in more thematic details lacks urgency. On the other hand, while I think I can keep thinking up cute details to flesh out the thematics, I am at a loss as to what mechanics to run.
I much prefer Third Edition Revised (3r) to Fourth Edition (4e). On the other hand, 4e is a much better managed game that will continue to see mechanical expansion, and it’s the edition that I’m likely to use for other play. Ideally, I can take the best elements of both editions, which is where a 3.5 would come in, however that might be a lot of work, something that only makes sense if there’s some real payoff.
What are some of the differing elements between the two that I like/dislike?
3r – Like
- Start with 45 points to make characters rather than 40, though this isn’t a major thing since I would start my PCs at something like 60.
- Void Ring is the same cost to increase as Traits. Is this going to lead to characters with a high Void all of the time? Sure. That doesn’t bother me. Void, to me, is a major way to separate PCs from their enemies. I also want to see Void Points spent often (see below). Also, the less Void costs, the more points PCs will have for other things. 4e really shafted PCs on character points between the lower starting value and the increase in the cost of Void. The only thing I don’t really like about high Void is that I want to restrain going to higher Insight Ranks.
- Ability to increase a Trait (and assumedly Void) two ranks above starting, rather than be capped at 4. Again, as GM, this can be ignored, but it was cool to come up with character concepts with a Trait of 6 out of the gate when playing in other people’s campaigns.
- Honor only has 5 ranks. If you start at Honor 3.5 (or even 2.5), you can see a way to rise to Honor 5, where 10 ranks of Honor means Honor (upward) mobility is that much slower. Does it make sense for someone to be at 5? Not really, but that should be covered by how it gets harder and harder to gain as you go up rather than just ignoring the possibility of ever being a paragon of Honor.
- I like the idea of skill subtypes, but it never worked well in practice, so can probably leave this out.
- Raises being limited by Void or Skill Rank. It’s ridiculous to me to limit raises only by Void, even if that’s what has been done in multiple editions of the game. For one thing, it yet again punishes skill buys. For another, I don’t want raises to be that limited. I’m fine with people calling 5 raises for stuff or whatever. Then, my master (rank 7 skill) artisan with a Void of 2 is a pretty terrible artist compared to Joe Void, with his Void of 4 and single rank.
- General skill mastery abilities. Skills get shafted in 4e for reasons I’m unclear on, though it seems like one reason may have been simplicity. 3e was a huge improvement in balancing skill buys against Trait buys. While there’s still too much emphasis on specific ranks, that rank 5 gives you +2 Insight and a Free Raise and that rank 10 gives you +5 Insight and no limit on Raises (which is pretty much meaningless) are real incentives.
- Specific skill mastery abilities. Further screwing over people who want to buy up skills, 4e eliminated all but two Insight bonuses from skills, and for some reason, gave them to two skills that get used all of the time! 3r was kind of a mess with bonuses, but having Artisan skills, Games skills, Performance skills, Storytelling, Theology, and Craft skills give Insight bonuses justified wasting XP on (often) low yield skills.
- Medicine mastery abilities makes Medicine far more useful for healing. Healing is something I think all heroic RPGs need to be incredibly easy and powerful, as it’s tedious to spend time recovering between dangers.
- General weapon mastery abilities. Wound penalties were common in 3e/3r. Going to rank 5 in your primary weapon skill was crazy powerful – Free Raise, -rank to wound penalties – which was fine with me. Rank 10’s damage explodes on 9’s was the only reason to ever consider going to rank 10, still largely an XP boondoggle.
- War Fans rank 7 mastery ability. Essential to the whole War Fans build.
- Defense skill increases your TNtbH (ATN in 4e) at all times. Can go into this more when speaking about 4e, but that Defense is often useless to a bushi but great for a shugenja in 4e is weird, where 3r has the more logical “people who want to fight, want Defense”. Plus, it’s easier to create interesting TNtbHs for antagonists where ATNs in 4e are so often multiples of 5.
- Balance in 3r (less so in 3e). Bonus to Tests of Honor. 3r bonus to Honor Rolls. Will talk more about these.
- Advantages, general. A number of advantages are far better. Advantages should be strong to get people to purchase them.
- Magic Resistance, arguably. While it says kami are reluctant to do stuff to you, I would play MR as applying to Maho and Gaijin magic. Otherwise, it’s just a disadvantage pretending to be an advantage, as L5R is a RPG where far more magic comes from PCs than from enemies. In particular, making Path to Inner Peace harder on a PC is awful.
- Unlucky is worth a more reasonable number of points.
- School techniques, in general, aren’t so boring and weak. While this could be a very long subject, just an example, since it’s first in the 3e book, the Hida Bushi rank one tech adds Earth to attack and damage rolls and has the heavy armor thing. That’s cooler (more thematic) and scales, where 4e’s +1k0 to damage, only for Heavy Weapons I might add, is dull, not particularly good (ends up being 2-3 extra damage on average in most cases), and doesn’t scale. And, Hida Bushi is one of the best 4e bushi schools!
- Mirumoto Bushi adds +1 to any Trait, thus creating all sorts of interesting double stack builds. Now, the school is horribly broken, and this exacerbates that, but I like Different School a lot, nevermind in-clan double stacks.
- Toku Bushi 3e. Just kidding. I now have my spiel for how broken this school is by going on about how broken the Mirumoto Bushi school is and the punchline being that the Dragon school was left alone and the Toku Bushi school majorly nerfed. Interesting that the change is not mentioned in my doc of revisions between 3e and 3r.
- Void Point uses. Yes, Encouragement is kind of broken. But, I like being able to help others, especially when I have a surplus of a resource and the others have a dearth. Final Strike – cool if awkward. I’m not sure about gaining an action, which was broken. Persistence – awesome; why in the world would you get rid of this, even more so when making the mistake of inverting the wound chart as 4e did?
- Being able to spend any number of VPs in a round. Who in the world thought it was a good idea to limit to one VP per round (for basic uses) in 4e? Keep in mind that you essentially decreased everyone’s number of VPs by one because of the Void Ring cost increase. Maybe 4e just wants combat to be tedious rather than explosive.
- Speaking of explosions, I like the idea of recovering Void Points while doing stuff, but I realize that pretty much any rule, including the triple explosion rule, is subject to abuse.
- Declaring stances normally, rather than the lack of timing in stance declaration in 4e. Of course, I’m also for eliminating Defense Stance and Center Stance. The former is mostly of benefit to shugenja, who don’t need to be better at combat, though it is kind of interesting to have a way for folks to take non attack actions in combat and be harder to hit. The latter is just a bunch of unnecessary complexity.
- Being able to call raises to keep extra damage dice. I know this is horribly broken. I would probably actually do this differently, maybe use 4e’s misnamed Feint mechanic to deal extra damage, but it utterly blows to use a weapon with less than 2 kept dice. And, I enjoyed doing over 100 damage with a war fan …
- The 3r wound chart. No, it’s not perfect. But, it does result in wound penalties from pretty much everything that isn’t Voided off. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. It means fighting one on one battles makes sense rather than the typically correct tactic of ganging up on enemies in 4e. It makes the Permanent Wound disad actually work, rather than being guaranteed death as it is in 4e. It makes anti-wound penalty stuff much sweeter. It puts chumps down fast, a major problem I’ve seen in 4e, where every random bandit becomes far more threatening as nobody goes down fast. The padding at the end of the chart means that you can live without being in combat, which sounds lame but actually is a boon to keeping PCs alive, as they are likely to stop fighting (stop being a target) much sooner.
- Iaijutsu. Well, okay, this is another messy mechanic that ideally would be done better. But, whereas 4e duels are a dull roll off, Iaijutsu duels in 3r are dramatic affairs. You also avoid some of the problems with ties. I’m not that excited that Agility and Reflexes matter a lot more than they do in 4e (where Agility doesn’t matter at all), but it’s kind of better than everything coming down to Void. I do dislike how you have to balance your stats, though there are some benefits – it helps prevent characters from getting too good to ever duel – while it hurts in other ways – it’s really easy to suck at dueling because you don’t have the XP to increase everything.
- Weapons have special abilities. Yeah, too much of this sort of thing is kind of annoying, and it radically increases complexity, and I’m the one who doesn’t like there being any differences between weapons normally in RPG play. But, if you are going to have people use different weapons, something I’m oddly in favor of with L5R, then you should make the weapons distinct beyond just how much damage they deal. And, no, staves having a disad against armor is not what I’m talking about (doesn’t even make any sense as avoiding blunt trauma is not the primary purpose of armor).
- Item quality. Again, has issues. I’m not a huge fan of item quality for combat items since it gets cheesy what people do, but it makes tons of sense for kimono, fans, et al.
- Glory actually does something. I was amazed to find that Glory actually has no mechanics in 4e. Adding Glory rank to social skills vs. people who know you is intuitively obvious.
- Tests of Honor and Honor Rolls. Okay, this is a huge mess of confusion for people. Yes, you can dispense with Tests of Honor as a separate mechanic and simply say that any Honor Roll that prevents dishonorable behavior nets Honor, but there is also the fact that Tests of Honor are unlimited. Considering how rarely I ever made a Test of Honor, I’m kind of okay on having limitless Tests of Honor. After all, each time you fail, you lose a lot. On a separate issue, which would go into a dislike category, Honor Roll mechanics in 3r, with substitution, are way too complicated and weird with the only upside being that the better a character is the worse Honor Rolling is for the character, and that’s something of a dubious upside, being more mechanical and less flavorful.
- Kata are broken in 3r. But, at least they have flavor. There must be some way to get kata to work right. Maybe 4e general mechanics with a lot more flavorful effects.
- Sort of 3r mass combat. In reality, I’m not familiar enough with how mass combat works to say I like the mechanics. However, I like the concept, much more than I once did. And, 3r does it far better than 4e – you actually get to fight fights!
- Fear is not utterly crippling and reasonable levels of Fear are easily countered if you have a decent Willpower and a decent Honor or high in one of the two. Not only is being afraid unheroic, it’s amazingly unfun to have 4e’s penalties.
4e – Like
- Switching Initiative with Void is cheaper. All power to PCs and evil GMs.
- Actions are better defined. Free, Simple x2, Complex – much cleaner, if also rather mechanical. I do miss the days of simply moving without specifying how far and what sort of action I’m using to do so. I’m not a tactical movement dude.
- Guard maneuver. Guard maneuver was actually pretty dumb in 3r, where you had to successfully attack, which both meant that you might suck at defending someone because you weren’t an offensive build and, as I discovered, you just up and killed the dude you were guarding your friend against. 4e Guard makes way more sense, and it’s actually quite interesting except in the broken Daidoji Iron Warrior’s case.
- Conditional effects are much better defined.
- Not to pick out every school improvement, but I do really like the change to the Asahina Shugenja School.
- In general, schools lack the brokenness of 3e/3r. Schools are really the greatest problem for my coming up with a rules set. I can use 4e schools with largely 3r rules, though Kakita Bushi needs Center Stance and the like, but I don’t actually like a lot of the 4e school mechanics. They are just so dry. I have considered a way to access the higher level, cooler mechanics to deal with this, but I wonder whether it’s worth trying to merge the more balanced 4e schools with the more fun 3r core mechanics.
- Some consolidation of skills. I actually wish, as I wrote about in another post, that the skill lists were consolidated even more. But, there really was no reason for Theology or Storytelling to be separate skills in 3r. Still, there’s no reason to pull out Sincerity, Intimidation, and Temptation in 4e, etc.
- Some of the mastery abilities. I like how rank 3 gets more mastery abilities, where 3r saw too many skills only get mastery starting at 5.
- Clearer definitions on certain disads, notably Gaijin Name and Cannot Lie, which gained mechanics.
- In general, spellcasting in 4e. Master casting from 3r was broken. 4e is all about casting rank 1 and rank 2 spells, which isn’t all good but the ease of casting them is nice. Path to Inner Peace is clean, whether it’s better or not. Spellcasting doesn’t seem quite as broken in 4e, helped by no Free Raise for Innating and using a scroll (I might give a +2 bonus as Innating isn’t that great, otherwise), lower Free Raises in general, and a lot of ridiculous spells being corralled.
- No more double stack Willpower, and +1k0 is the bane of my enthusiasm, but the Toku Bushi school is relatively awesome in 4e. Meanwhile, the Suzume Bushi School is much less painful due to removing the decisions on what Lore skill to boost in the 3r version.
- Paths are much more coherent and much less of a penalty to bushi in 4e. The replacement rather than add on is massive progress in getting paths to work appropriately.
- Reduction instead of Carapace. Carapace was just too confusing and gamey, even if it did help people with low keep weapons.
There are things in both editions I dislike immensely, of course. Luck is way undercosted. A lot of advantages and disadvantages are poorly costed, poorly explained, or both. Extra attack never seems to work, in 4e not so much because of the mechanics but because of how hard it is to get that many raises. There are pointless school techniques, e.g. Imperial Legionnaire. Shugenja are way more useful than anyone else. Adjudicating Honor changes is difficult. Grappling rules exist. I don’t know enough about ancestors in 3r, but ancestors in 4e are dumb; I actually most like HoR2’s system for ancestors where you got an extra Void Point for a courageous or honorable action.
I just don’t know. Maybe 4e with wound inversion and 3r Void Point use is enough. Just feels like too many changes either way to core the mechanics on one edition.