Five Rings

The Olympic Games are messing with my sleep schedule.  There’s just something about international competition at the highest levels with history that I find compelling.

There’s an obvious way in which the Olympics can be inspiring for one such as myself – how to truly draw upon the Olympics for Legend of the Five Rings rather than the questionable connection between the Olympics and L5R that led to card back changes.

In particular, I can see an Olympics style event in Rokugan …  Well, sort of.  It’s actually tricky when you get into the details, or seems so.

Rokugan is not an open society with fair opportunity for competition, which, admittedly, could be arguably said of even the modern Olympics where money is a huge factor in generating athletic representation.  Back in the day, based on what I know of sports in general, was likely far less of an open competition.  Samurai are not going to be competing against peasants or, in my view, monks.

The nature of the events is going to be shaped, then, by samurai interests.  Mechanically, that wouldn’t seem such a big issue given that peasant games and other peasant-y considerations aren’t covered with skills.  But, actually, there aren’t that many skills in L5R for what would be more athletic endeavors rather than combat-derived endeavors.  Gymnastics would be out as something samurai wouldn’t have any concept of, and the only samurai physical game with enough prominence would be Kemari.

Which brings up another issue – physical versus nonphysical.  Even the sports where you don’t need to have a cut body have physical requirements in the Olympics.  There is some logic to having a grand contest event in Rokugan including nonphysical events like the Topaz Championship does.  It would be rather simple to say that someone came up with an idea for having a Topaz Championship style event open to all of the best in Rokugan.  Except, that sounds a bit too much like the Test of the Emerald Champion.  Not exactly the same but close enough that such an event could reasonably ruffle feathers in a tradition bound society like Rokugan.

What is the point of doing contests, big or small, in L5R?  I see there being two primary reasons for contests and for why they are so popular:  using skills you don’t normally use; rolling dice in a challenge that is basically all upside.

I asked the L5R 4e RPG AEG Forum one time how often they see duels since duels get talked about to death on the forums while I virtually never see them and never see more than one duel in an adventure outside of tournaments.  It was pretty amusing how these people who will drone on about rank 5 vs. rank 5 or rank 8 vs. rank 8 duelists largely came back with statements along the lines of “Rarely happen, duels to the death not at all, mostly occur in tournaments.”  In other words, my experience, which is why I don’t consider being good at dueling important and why I see Tattooed Monks own in dueling even with a single rank in Iaijutsu.  (Their competitors are even worse.)

Might seem to have gotten sidetracked there, but the point is that, if Iaijustu contests are so damn rare, everything else is going to be even rarer.  Organized contests, therefore, are crucial for having people use their fluff skills.

I do need to get back to physical vs. nonphysical.  Because of the similarities of a “come one, come all, contest with the brightest samurai in Rokugan” event to the Topaz Championship, I’m strongly inclined to focus on physical contests and make it more akin to the Olympics.  This doesn’t necessarily make things easier.

The beauty of doing an event with a variety of individual events in L5R is that L5R is based around the concept of five rings.  In theory, it should be easy to come up with Air events, Earth events, Fire events, Water events, and maybe even Void events.  In practice, not as much.

You can have more variety if you include nonphysical.  But, I think you end with Ring bias problems just as you do with just physical.  By the way, on a tangent, the two out of the box skills I can think of that incorporate or could easily incorporate a combination of physical and nonphysical are Iaijutsu and Sailing.  Sure, anything can be mixed and matched – Stamina/Artisan: Poetry or Intelligence/Athletics (Climbing), which does end up helping round events out.

In the realm of physical, you are mostly talking about bugei skills.  Without getting into weird mixes, the only high skills that use physical traits are Games (only Kemari listed) and Perform (musical instrument playing, dancing).  Merchant skills don’t need to be included, the Mantis can keep sailing competitions to themselves.  Low skills are completely out.  Athletics is the obvious bugei skill to use, but just how many of the competitions should use it?  Defense is not easy to use.  Horsemanship is interesting; I’ve already considered having two divisions – “pony” for most samurai, “open” for Unicorn.  Jiujutsu is a reasonable competition.  I really don’t like weapon competitions, though, as it fails the “make use of underused skills” concept.

What of Iaijutsu?  I have two problems with it.  One, it is something you might find a tournament of or otherwise use, whereas climbing, running, swimming are extremely rare outside of the Topaz Championship.  Two, what does it fall under in the five rings model?  It’s helpful to give Void an event, but it also gives Air an event.

Speaking of rings and events, Stamina can get some love with endurance Athletics events – long climb, long run, long swim.  Strength can get love with not just Athletics and Jiujutsu but some sort of weightlifting event that I can see either being straight Strength or being Strength plus a bonus to the total equal to one’s Athletics rank.  I’m not as excited by making it a normal STR/Athletics roll as that makes it too similar to other events and doesn’t convey the same flavor of raw strength, no matter that weightlifting does require skill and not just brute force.  Agility can get some love from some sort of obstacle course Athletics event, Athletics (Throwing), Horsemanship, and … well, it’s not terribly important to Jiujutsu the way the game mechanics work unless you are using Jiujutsu for strikes rather than grappling.  What of Reflexes?  What events require reacting to something that won’t seem silly?  Kyujutsu would help for making Reflexes get more use, but again, I’m not enthralled with people using skills they would already have a strong use for.

Even worse, what of Void?  Actually, an idea that just came to mind is that athletes would naturally try to use Center Stance as often as possible.  While the rules on taking stances outside of combat are unclear, I’d allow it for certain events.  That helps get Void into the events, besides the obvious massive use of Void Points for rolls.  But, it doesn’t help establish “Void Events”.

In general, I don’t see a balance that can be achieved all that well, without getting funky in the nature of events, in terms of balancing Ring use.  I see Strength getting the most love.

In some ways, that’s a good thing.  The least used Trait in L5R is Stamina, being almost meaningless except for how it feeds one’s Earth Ring, which is important enough that people will “waste” points buying up Stamina.  It’s quite easy to have Stamina-based athletic events.  In 3e, Strength was the obvious dump stat since Water Ring was nowhere near as important as Earth Ring and Strength did hardly anything that mattered, though I don’t recall the grappling rules being used hardly ever in 3e and I don’t even know how they work.  Strength is much less of a dump stat in 4e with tactical movement mattering more, grappling being broken, and knockdown and disarm seemingly seeing more use.  It’s still not Reflexes, which a bushi can live entirely off of if built a certain way, or Agility (if you pretend that using weapons is better than grappling, it’s arguable that Agility isn’t actually better like it so clearly was in 3e).

From a thematic viewpoint, it would be sweet to have the Rokugani Olympics make great use of the five rings model.  From a mechanical viewpoint, it works well to have less used traits and skills get used much more.  How to reconcile?  That’s what I’m still working on.

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