My view of L5R 3e/3r was that it was a fun game with good core mechanics up until you hit IR-3. Even at IR-1/IR-2, there was plenty of one-shotting enemies, infinite spellcasting through mastery, and whatever.
L5R 4e is a massive decrease in power, to the point where newish characters feel too pathetic to bother with and to where the game often drags in combat. I was thinking that the range of the game had moved up significantly. I was still questionable on the idea that IR-4/IR-5 was a fair game, but I thought the game had made IR-3 a reasonable place to play.
I no longer feel that way.
I have now seen and played a decent amount at IR-3, and it’s broken.
Oh, sure, combat can still take forever (i.e. more than 5 rounds) at these ranks, but combat just gets out of control, nevermind what sort of noncombat tricks shugenja can pull.
The fact of the matter is that it’s not techniques that are the problem. Simple attacks doesn’t suddenly make the game broken. It’s the combination of several factors for magicless fighters. Magicdudes don’t maintain as much combat edge as time goes on, but they only get better, which is so unnecessary.
For example. Let’s say you give simple attacks to a newb. Newb very likely has 6k3 attack rolls and a 6k3 damage roll with a no-dachi. That’s worlds better than one attack for 6k3/6k3, but it’s not broken. Missing can happen. 6k3 is harsh, but it’s not crazy. The reason why simple attacks seems so insane is that the PC will also have Heavy Weapons 7/Kenjutsu 7. It’s not two attacks of 6k3. It’s two attacks that are typically 10k4. Damage might be with just a katana, but that katana damage is 7km2 or 8km2 or includes a static bonus from Feint or whatever. 7km2 is an average of 26 wounds (8km2 is only an average of 27 wounds!). Two hits and it’s like the old days. But, then, variance is a huge feature of L5R damage. Maybe suffer through the 12 wounds hits, but, then, I’ve been hit for 60+ wounds by a 7km2+4.
More than anything else, I blame HW7/K7. Not only are you gaining the ability to go crazy with damage but also improving the attack roll to where you hit consistently. Obviously, someone with a 10k3 or, the absurdly improbable, 9k2 attack roll is far less a threat. But, then, we aren’t likely talking about higher IR characters if someone just turbos into R-7 weapon skills and ignores everything else.
What’s amusing to me about this is that this is something 3e/3r actually did that was weaker than 4e. In 3e/3r, you didn’t explode 9’s on damage until the massive XP waste that was R-10 with a weapon skill (going to ignore other ways to explode 9’s). The Free Raise for R-5 in a weapon skill was buff because of the ability to raise for extra kept dice, but that would be far, far more tame in 4e as a R-7 (or even R-5) mastery.
To summarize: PCs improve. They don’t just improve Traits/Void, which can make them far more effective. They don’t just gain much better techniques as they improve (well, some PCs do, others get things like spend two VPs to have +1k1+8 to their Lore/Perform rolls) but increase their weapon skills to optimal levels. This combination of high attack rolls and exploding 9’s on damage takes simple attacks from “this is so cool” to “this is 3e/3r all over again”.
Now, I enjoyed 3r, but I enjoyed it at the end of IR-1 and the beginning of IR-2.
Then, let’s look at how messed up 4e combat gets from the magic side. Magicless L5R has a definite offense outstrips defense feature. Sure, Hida Bushi in 3r could take the kata to have a 100+ TNtbH, and there were other ways to push TNtbH into the 50’s or whatever, but my courtier/duelist/beserker could pretty consistently hit TNtbH’s in the 60’s, so whatever. Magic is the way that defense scales.
For example. Be the Mountain goes from 10 Reduction to 15 to 20. Twenty Reduction is really hard to beat through. Nevermind that someday The Kami’s Strength becomes available, fortunately not at R-4 casting, as was the case with 3e/3r. But, anyway, Be the Mountain. So, a GM is put in the position that a threat that can’t punch through 20 Reduction isn’t a threat. After all, it’s not -20 to damage, it’s -40 or -60 because multiple attacks are going to be required. Now, suppose a PC doesn’t have 20 Reduction? That oni that does 8k4 damage with simple attacks now explodes the PC in one round.
These sorts of insane swings were what 3e/3r felt like, though it wasn’t always like this … says the person who played a character with the Hurricane Tattoo that pretty much meant the difference between a fight being an irrelevant walkover to it being a party killer.
While shugenja don’t ramp up the way bushi ramp up in combat prowess due to the difference between complex and simple attacks (yes, it is a big deal, just not the only deal), suddenly start seeing Heart of the Water Dragon, which I’m okay with even if it is awesome, The Wolf’s Mercy, Wall of Earth, Hungry Blade, Wall of Fire, and other brutality.
I’m increasingly believing that the way that L5R characters should advance so that they can play higher IRs and can play longer is that they need to be forced to put XP into areas that don’t contribute to extreme swinginess. This isn’t just a combat problem. As people on the forums have mentioned, advanced courtiers start rolling 10k5 or whatever, making it impossible for victims to defend against social abilities.
I don’t like the idea that you need to have all of your school skills at certain threshold to advance – it’s actually not advancing IRs that’s the problem, anyway. It’s that my Usagi Bushi has an Air Ring of 5, making all of my social skill rolls no worse than 7k5. It’s that HW7/K7 should absolutely be a priority somewhere in IR-2. I may be biased, as I advance characters very broadly (20+ skills), like thematic buys (emphases just have flavor), and otherwise limit my prowess in a lot of areas (though my Usagi Bushi is actually really good in a number of key areas). But, I’m thinking that 4e PCs should start with, say, 60xp (down from 80xp that I was previously thinking), have 20xp worth of stuff provided by the GM to flesh the character out, gain 2xp per session that can be spent on anything, gain 1-2xp per session that can only be spent on certain things, things that won’t likely make the character broken when you get around the 150xp mark.
This may seem frustrating, but it extends the life of PCs by not having them get too powerful to make play worthwhile. Can even start getting IR-8 PCs or whatever that might actually be playable if a bunch of Insight is coming from Perform: Biwa and Games: Kemari rather than from Fire 5, and the like.