Core-Tier

Current AEG forums thread is about high level court mechanics to write about in Sword and Fan, a supplement on the horizon.  The main issue with such a discussion is something brought up in an older thread – there really aren’t any court mechanics at any level.  There is the social combat system in Emerald Empire, but it’s too esoteric for general use.

So, I posted about how I’d like to see a deep dive on the major courtier schools not just to deep dive on the mechanics related to those schools that are vastly underdeveloped but just to try to figure out what AEG’s vision for courtiers is.  I am of the view that most courtier abilities are too specialized to be useful in general play, that they need campaigns built around them.  Even then, in the absence of context, of a social combat system at least somewhat more like the combat system in the game, everything is a judgment call.

Without some sort of gift economy, how does a Yasuki work?  Without clarity on what allies do, how does a Doji work?  Without clarity on blackmail, what does a Bayushi do?  What does an Asako do, at all?

I’ve also been thinking about what sort of character concepts, from a school perspective, I want to play after I finally get around to playing a shugenja.  While thinking about this post, the two lines of thinking converged – I started thinking about fleshing out which courtier schools I’d be interested in playing and why.  I also got to thinking about which fit best if you translated me into a Rokugani.

Yasuki Courtier

I have no interest in the pursuit of wealth and find most accounting tedious.  Yet, I’ve been attracted to the idea of playing a Yasuki for some time.  Some of it has to do with the fact that Rokugan doesn’t have any sort of coherent economy.  Commerce rolls don’t bother me at all.  It’s a skill a lot of my characters will have (of course, a lot of my characters will have a high Intelligence, so it’s mostly a matter of leveraging a strength).  I find Commerce use to be pretty funny much of the time precisely because money isn’t supposed to matter, and there’s generally no accounting involved in the Commerce rolls my characters make.  A lot of the time, the rolls are just info-gathering.

My interest is limited, however, by how spread out I see a Yasuki character being.  My in thing these days is hyperfocus on one or two Rings.  But, Earth 3 is necessary for any character in campaigns with reasonable levels of combat, so you get E3, Perception for school tech and because you get P3 for free, Intelligence for Commerce general and whatever, Awareness for social, and Reflexes for general goodness.

Doji Courtier

Besides finding the Crane the least likable clan (I may not find the Scorpion plausible, but I find it dull to dislike them, nevermind that I play with them all of the time), there’s something rather dull about this school.  Yet, as an extreme school, there are so many goofy things I could do with it.  Rank 2 tech is meaningless in general play.  Rank 3 really needs clarity on allies.

Kitsuki Investigator

Played too often to hold any interest to me.  Mechanics are fine, but the theme also doesn’t interest me any, either.

Ikoma Bard

One would think I’d never play one of these … again.  It’s just so hard to resist schools that don’t have techniques (well, it sort of does something at R-3 and does do something at R-4, but that takes so long that you long since stopped caring).  Actually, in terms of archetypes that suit me the best if I were translated into Rokugan, while Asako Loremaster is probably the best fit, this is actually a better fit the more I thought about it.  The bragging for others thing makes sense.  While not an outwardly emotional sort, being able to break the rules of etiquette fits.  It’s totally a help others school.

Yoritomo Courtier

I already built a highly amusing character of this school.  In fact, building that character has probably influenced me in building other Ring extreme characters, though the one I’m more interested in playing is a shugenja.  I’m kind of more into socializing with non-samurai, and I’m more into lower Honor concepts.

The downside of this school is that I’m not really into playing Mantis Schools, even though I’m a big Moshi fan and don’t really have a problem with the Yoritomo as a family.

Asako Loremaster

The obvious.  Actually, my main replacement for HoR3 is an Asako Loremaster, so I kind of can’t do anything with this school until it becomes clear whether I’ll play that character in HoR3 or not.  Mechanically, this school doesn’t do much outside of Free Raise on Lore Skills.  In terms of clarifying what this courtier school is supposed to do, it has arguably the least need for mechanical clarity but has rather little going on thematically.

Bayushi Courtier

Possibly even less desirable to me than playing a Tsuruchi Archer.  I like the Bayushi Bushi School (in that, I like R-1 for tech, trait, and skills).  I could see myself being translated into a Shosuro Infiltrator, amusingly enough.  But, no, never this school – I would never do anything with it.  That doesn’t sound like much since I don’t consider a number of schools to have any relevant techniques, but it’s not just never using the techniques, I would really never do anything as a Bayushi Courtier, as the archetype is so repellant.

Ide Emissary

A school I keep coming back to.  If Asako Loremaster is possibly the best fit for me, there’s an argument that Ide might be better.  But, it’s not so much that that I find attractive.  Unlike a bunch of the courtier schools, Ide seems to borderline do something.  There are more mechanical things I can get enthused about as this school has the benefit of not being diverse, though there is a place for spreading out traits.

I’m also generally more interested in Unicorn than I used to be.  I really should play a Crab since so many of my characters are Crabs at the core, but Unicorn feels a lot more flexible to me than other clans.

Kasuga Smuggler

I really like some of the abilities, others I can’t see ever mattering.  As a minor clan and imperial fan, this is the only minor courtier in the core book.  The downside is being too spread out in traits, which could be fixed by not being from the Kasuga Family and Different Schooling as a Smuggler, which is my kind of hilarious.  But, I don’t see HoR or anyone else going for that sort of nonsense.

Miya Herald

This is so good for me.  It’s a school with no techniques.  It’s not a great clan.  It’s mellow.  It’s even something I might be if I were a Rokugani.

So, besides whether the GM/campaign would allow this, what’s the problem?  It’s boring.  It’s not just that it has no techniques, it’s that its techniques have no flavor at all.  At least Ikoma get to cry.  There are some goofy build things that could be done since it’s a pure Air school out of the gate, but those goofy things would be more fun with another school, in all likelihood, as there would be something to leverage, where this school has nothing besides a high level of koku.

This school is one of the ones I want explained the most.  I get that techniques in 4e are meant to be thematic and having them be mechanically unregardable is not a concern to the design team.  But, I’m curious as to whether the design team ever thought any of these techniques would ever get used.  Like the Otomo School, it’s just a ludicrously NPCish school.  But, it’s cool … because it’s mellow.  I played a Miya at a convention, and it was fun because of the thematics of being a peaceful dude.

Mechanics matter.  As much as folks are attracted to L5R for its beat you over the head culture, mechanics matter.  They may not matter in a solo game, but, as soon as you have a party and that party gets into a fight, the party is going to wonder why you are so useless.  This is why goofy shugenja builds are more interesting to me, these days.  Shugenja are always useful, no matter how much you try to make them weird.  Admittedly, my Miya would likely be socially functional and could probably bow okay in combat, but I’m becoming less interested in the “sorry I’m playing this, guys” characters.

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One Response to Core-Tier

  1. Jack Champion says:

    Hey just discovered this blog and wanted to say thanks for the variety of posts. It is nice to see lots of contemplation of mechanics alongside their practical role in a game. The court side has always been the most vague aspect of l5r 4e, what they need is a start to finish exploration of a court proceedings from a really basic level with maybe example situations for each clan courtier. Just a demonstration of how Bayushi blackmail works mechanically in one situation would go a long way to clarifying how that school practically works as we all know thematically what it is supposed to do.

    I agree though that for courtiers to work excepting the mega bland ones or the kitsuki investigation engine a campaign has to be designed around them for them to shine. Any courtier character has legs, but you might as well not make use of their techniques in the majority (though a similar point can be made for several bushi).

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