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.
|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.
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.
|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.
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.
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|
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.
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|
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.