While Fear might be an odd topic for Christmas Day – Merry Christmas! – there are certainly carol lyrics that give some good titles.
So, Fear. Specifically, I’m talking about the Fear mechanic in L5R 4e.
It’s brutal. Many don’t seem to realize how brutal. Members of the design team may hate the term RAW (rules as written), but the RAW for Fear is that failing affects all rolls, not just skill rolls or whatever. That means Initiative, which is why you need to do Fear before rolling Initiative (yet, this is often forgotten until after), damage rolls, and … something I got to thinking about.
I’m not in favor of 4e’s Fear mechanic. I think it’s too easy to fail and too harsh when you do. But, I got to thinking about who is affected more or less by Fear. Because I don’t play shugenja, something I should address at some point but they are just too powerful to play, I hadn’t thought that much about how Fear is a shugenja hoser.
Where a bushi is likely to be rolling something like 9k4 or 10k5 or whatever on attacks after advancing some, a shugenja is probably more like 7k3 for a middling element at rank 3. Hit with Fear 3, the bushi still attacks at 6k4 or whatever while the shugenja is trying to get off Path to Inner Peace (or whatever) at, like, 4k3.
Then, I thought about how bushi are so often running around with that crap weapon, the katana. Sure, PCs will often have a real weapon, like a no-dachi, but some schools just tempt you into katana awfulness. But, when you are running around with an 8k2 damage roll or whatever, going down to 5k2 isn’t that harsh. The ono-meister, who is used to 5k4 damage, with calling raises for damage which so won’t happen when Feared, is in the 2k2 land of impotence. Not that no-dachi or tetsubo users suffer much, since they roll as many dice as katanafolk, so it wasn’t so much bushi versus bushi.
It was the damage output of bushi versus shugenja. I debated (with myself) whether a spell’s effect should be affected by Fear, as it’s the kami doing the work, not the shugenja. But, I draw enough of a parallel between how weapon damage is reduced and “spell weapon damage” that I don’t see a reason to let kami of the hook. Thematically, the scared shugenja isn’t summoning as many kami, as powerful kami, or giving them as clear direction, which makes tons of sense when you consider how many magic systems in fiction rely upon confidence.
So, not only does my Jade Strike go off at 4k3 or something, but, now, without raises, it does 3k3 – 3k0 = 0k0 damage. Some like to say that you always roll at least 1k1 when dice pools are reduced, but I’ve never seen such a rule in 4e and am not sure whether it existed in 3e, though I think that’s where the idea came from. Fires from Within, the vastly better Tail of the Fire Dragon, Tempest of Air, et al, similarly become embarrassingly ineffectual. I like that, conceptually. Not so much for my parties as the shugenja are on my side, but it provides an interesting game balance feature for reining in the brokenness of shugenja.
In particular, Jade Strike is the most ridiculous death ray in the game, so the risk of having Jade Caresses means that the shugenja better do something about making their Fear rolls. Though, it’s sort of irrelevant when you get Earthy shugenja, who roll 5k5+Honor or whatever to resist Fear and turn around and unleash Jade Kamehameha Waves on Fearsome foes.
Note that not all spells require rolls, so another benefit is encouraging combat spells that aren’t the ubiquitous ones. I mean, sure, nobody ever expects to fail Fear, as failing Fear is so utterly crippling, but in a game with much Fear, like our Gaki Mura campaign (there should be more) or a Shadowlands campaign, maybe someone does pick up a combat spell that doesn’t need effect rolls. Earth’s Stagnation is already good, but it becomes that much better. The biggest impact is probably on Air and Fire spells, though the alternatives to Tempest of Air are kind of sparse. Having someone take a defensive Fire spell (yes, these exist) would be quite interesting.
Bottom line, while I don’t like how easy it is to fail Fear (Fear 4 is so much worse than Fear 3, yet the latter is still failable), I am kind of turning my opinion around on the effects of Fear.