Kata Analysis

One of the major differences for bushi players between 3e and 4e Legend of the Five Rings is kata.  In 3e, kata were crazy.  The basic ones were reasonable, but the fancy ones did weird stuff that could lead to abusive plays/combinations.

To avoid abuses, Fourth Edition kata came out not-remotely-deadly dull.  Not to say this wasn’t in line with the dryness of school techniques in 4e, but kata are a clear example of both the nerf hammer and the aridity arising from the nerf hammer.

Still, not all suck.  So, because it may become relevant to me at some point, even sooner rather than later in one amusing case*, I decided to give my uninformed opinions of the kata out of the main book and The Great Clans.  Yes, uninformed.  I have pretty much not seen anyone use these.  Most of my L5R play to this point has been Heroes of Rokugan, and HoR restrictions meant that locals have never done anything with 4e kata.

*  Daigotsu Bushi with Strength of the Spider about to see some play.

I’m going to only look at main book and Great Clans because the “Book of …” series isn’t done, leaving room for a follow up piece when it is done, and because these two books have the greatest concentration of kata.

The Top:

Book Kata Element Ring Rating
GC Strength of the Crab Earth 3 ****
GC Strength of the Phoenix Void 3 ****
Main Striking as Air Air 3 ***
Main Indomitable Warrior Style Earth 4 ***
Main Strength in Arms Style Water 4 ***
Main Strength of Purity Style Void 4 ***
GC Strength of the Crane Air 3 ***
GC Strength of the Dragon Fire 3 ***
GC Strength of the Lion Water 3 ***
GC Strength of the Scorpion Fire 3 ***
GC Strength of the Spider Earth 3 ***

Clearly, kata have gotten better.  There are 17 main book kata, less than 25% make my better than average list.

In general, the reason the GC kata do better is that they have modest requirements that fit the schools of the clan and have effects that work with what the schools want to be doing.

Best of the Best

Strength of the Crab gets high marks because bushi should be typically both in Attack Stance and wearing armor.  Low rank bushi are pretty much worthless without armor as, not only won’t they have spells to cast, but the shugenja will have higher ATNs from being in shugenja stance.  Armor not only gives bushi a chance at not being hit, but Reduction is something the armorless don’t normally have.

Strength of the Phoenix rates because the Phoenix only have one bushi school and that school should be Guarding almost all of the time.  Also, that +3 to ATN matters a lot more when someone already has a good ATN than it would for someone with a poor ATN.  In theory, the Shiba will normally be bumping someone something like ATN 20 to ATN 25, this will put that to ATN 28, which is an actual difficult TN for many.

Opportunity Cost

It’s important to keep in mind that only one kata can be up at a time (and that activating a kata is always a Simple Action for some groups), so opportunity cost is huge.  While I could have penalized some kata even more for being inferior to others that PCs would normally use instead, I did try to keep in mind when there were “strictly” better options.

Hida Bushi get interesting kata options, though two of the above don’t open up until they meet the non-trivial requirements.  Later, I’ll say something about a kata that Hiruma might employ over Strength of the Crab.

Shiba Bushi do have a decision to make between Strength of Air and Strength of the Phoenix.  SoA also works well with guarding, but its benefit is to the guarder rather than the guardee.  Arguably, my ratings already are strange because there are many instances when improving the guarder’s ATN is more important than further boosting the guardee’s.  I’d very much like to see how this plays out in practice, rather than in theory.


Kata Element Ring Rating
Strength of the Crab Earth 3 ****
Strength of the Phoenix Void 3 ****
Striking as Air Air 3 ***
Strength of the Crane Air 3 ***
Strength of the Dragon Fire 3 ***
Strength of the Lion Water 3 ***
Strength of the Scorpion Fire 3 ***
Strength of the Spider Earth 3 ***
Indomitable Warrior Style Earth 4 ***
Strength in Arms Style Water 4 ***
Strength of Purity Style Void 4 ***
Veiled Menace Style Air 4 ** (***)
Striking as Void Void 3 **
Breath of Wind Style Air 3 **
Iron Forest Style Air 4 **
Spinning Blades Style Fire 5 **
Striking as Earth Earth 3 *
Striking as Fire Fire 3 *
Strength of the Mantis Air 3 *
Striking as Water Water 4 *
Disappearing World Style Fire 4 *
Hidden Blade Style Air 4 *
Reckless Abandon Style Fire 4 *
Strength of the Unicorn Water 3 0 (**)
Balance the Elements Style Void 3 0
Iron in the Mountains Style Earth 3 0
Son of Storms Water 3 0
Dance of the Winds Air 3 0
Art of Ninjutsu Water 5 0

Besides commenting on the worst, there are a few oddballs I want to single out.

Strength in Arms Style and Iron Forest Style both allow characters to ignore Agility in combat.  The advantage of that is that more points are freed up to be spent on Reflexes, Earth Ring, Void Ring, skill ranks, or whatever.

Why is SiAS better than IFS?  Both schools that get IFS at normal cost (I assume that main book kata are open to anyone per the sidebar option) get Agility as a school bonus!  In fact, the typical Daidoji Iron Warrior build is a Kakita to double stack Agility for the “free” four experience points.  Besides, spears and polearms are natively substandard weapons, only being elevated because of mechanics like the IFS kata.

Veiled Menace Style has two ratings because I don’t know what the timing of it is.  If you can add to your ATN after an attack has been rolled, then it’s far better than if you have to make the decision prior to a roll.  This was the kata a Hiruma might employ instead of Strength of the Crab, though probably not.

Strength of the Unicorn has two ratings for an obvious reason.  If a GM never goes after the Unicorn’s horse, then it’s worthless.  If a GM commonly goes after the steed, then it’s nice, though I must admit that Utaku Warhorses don’t need help, so it’s really more for Shinjo and Moto riding lesser steeds.

Other Costs

Spinning Blades Style was something I almost gave one star to.  A requirement of five in a Ring is absurd, which brings up that not only opportunity cost matters but that requirements are an issue as well.  However, unlike Art of Ninjutsu, which I would never expect a PC to qualify for since some of the schools don’t care about Water at all and Daigotsu has better things to do than buy Perception up to 5, any PC that meets the requirements for SBS will likely take it.  Of course, the only reason a PC would meet those requirements, given that Intelligence 5 is hardly an important buy, is to take this kata.

Other Losers

Balance of the Elements Style, per designer intent, does nothing.  Again, staff has said that the intent of this kata is that it only ever can be used to do anything if you have multiple combats in a single day.

Iron in the Mountains Style reads as a misprint.  What it should say is that you *also* add Earth to your ATN in Defense Stance.  As written, talking about pretty much the difference in ATN of a single point, which is so, so not worth 3XP.

Son of Storms is hilariously awful, as well.  Why am I spending XP to bypass a single point of Reduction?

Dance of the Winds suffers from obvious opportunity costs.  Not only do you need to be using a spear or polearm but you are foregoing using vastly better kata for an unpredictable combat benefit.


Count of Kata
Element Total
Air 8
Earth 5
Fire 6
Void 4
Water 6
Grand Total 29

Interesting that Air, which is the best Ring in 4e in my opinion (if not only for combat), gets the most kata.  Then, Book of Air coming out first only adds to its lead.

Rating Air Earth Fire Void Water Grand Total
0 1 1 1 2 5
* 2 1 3 1 7
** 2 1 1 4
** (***) 1 1
*** 2 2 2 1 2 9
**** 1 1 2
0 (**) 1 1
Grand Total 8 5 6 4 6 29

Unfortunately, I don’t see this chart showing much of interest.  Earth comes out relatively well, Water relatively poorly, with Fire hardly better.  Small sample size and less than rigorous ratings are problems with trying to draw conclusions.

I suppose if I assign points, with the two oddballs getting minimum points, then it seems more cogent to look at the data this way.

Average of Points
Element Total
Void 2.3
Earth 2.2
Fire 1.8
Air 1.8
Water 1.2
Grand Total 1.8

This does tend to indicate the worthlessness of Water kata.  I do have a hard time trying to figure out what Water kata should do mechanically.  Maybe that’s the case for everyone.  Certainly, I’m no fan of tactical movement manipulation, which is what Striking as Water (overcosted requirements) champions.


5 Responses to Kata Analysis

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  2. shakauvm says:

    Why only one star for Hidden Blade Style? Seems like it’d be worth building a Yoritomo character around – disarm and deal full damage with every hit, and they get a free raise when doing so with their kama.

    (Just found this page when looking for a list of kata, Ian. Nice site!)

    • iclee says:

      I don’t really expect a Yoritomo Bushi to ever have Air 4, considering that it has to have at least Earth 3, may very well go Water 4 since it has a jump there, may go Fire 4 since it probably wants Agility 4 (or Fire 5 to go Spinning Blades Kata), and virtually everybody seems to go Void 3 (I’m testing playing with Void 2 with some characters).

      Now, since I consider the Air Ring the dominate 4e Ring, there’s no guarantee someone won’t push it up.

      Which leads to my general lack of respect for Disarm. Normally, Disarm is one additional Raise and does massively less damage than Knockdown. Note that Knives R5 doesn’t give a FR to Disarm for kama. Even if it did, base damage would be the same and number of Raises would be the same, but the Knockdowner can use maneuvers to increase damage.

      A couple of reasons I don’t care about Disarm, which, by the way, I think I’ve seen used something like twice in 4e play, is that a lot of things you fight don’t use weapons – oni, fisty zombies, O-toyo – and those things that do use weapons may just decide to either run away (if they are losing) or switch to grappling, which may be awful.

      Again, when you are only doing 2k1 damage when Disarming, it’s almost never worth it, where Knockdown does full damage. I’ve had various GMs not use Wound Penalties for Knockdown rolls, sometimes never, sometimes not for the incoming attack. The latter I’m okay with, the former I don’t understand. But, at some point, the Knockdown attacks are likely to get stronger where the Disarm attacks just buy time.

      Also, there may have been other kata that I thought were better for Bayushi Bushi, who would be the only ones I see taking this kata. As only one kata can be up at a time and giving up attacks to switch kata is often counterproductive, kata cannabalize each other rather fierce.

  3. […] two kata I gave four stars to in Kata Analysis were The Great Clans’ Strength of the Crab and Strength of the Phoenix.  Because kata are so […]

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