I argue vehemently about how much better shugenja are than other schools in L5R 4e. At least, the schools anyone should ever allow, so exclude Henshin.
I don’t see why I need to beat the dead horse as to why.
I see some value into going into why it’s a problem.
With 3e/3r, school imbalances didn’t bother me. This was in sharp contrast to how class imbalances in Conan d20 bothered me, when I was playing the two at the same time. I went into why.
With 4e, it’s not so much that shugenja bother me, as I like having party members who cast Path to Inner Peace, Jade Strike, even Tempest of Air (I just played a HoR3 mod where Tempest put a fleeing baddie into the kill zone of my fellow bushi … I never attacked in the combat). It’s how everyone else sucks so hard that bothers me.
I mentioned this on the forums, and the only response was that design philosophy was to not have the insane power that 3r had. Except, that’s terrible design philosophy. That’s the D&D philosophy of starting out a worthless nobody and grinding into brokenness. L5R is broken at SR-3. Yet, most of the play is at SR-1 and SR-2. I’d much rather have fun than not. A lot of having fun has nothing to do with power. Part of having fun has to do with being special in some way.
Not that I see courtiers being special in 3r, but bushi? Yes, bushi felt special. Maybe my views are distorted because my primary bushi experience in 3r was with a Mirumoto Bushi that gets an awesome ability at SR-1, a solid ability at SR-1, then a second attack at SR-2. Maybe my views are distorted because TNs to cast spells for shugenja were generally higher in 3r (had to innate and use scroll to match lower 4e TNs), and mastery didn’t show up until you got to the broken stage of 3r play – mid to late SR-2.
As previously mentioned, courtier abilities are too campaign dependent for me to consider useful. But, let’s just list bushi abilities for those ranks that, by far, most of my play is at.
Hida Bushi – Heavy Armor, damage bonus, Reduction – fantastic.
Hiruma Bushi – +1k0 to attacks, only ever seen the noncombat ability relevant twice, situational +10 ATN – meanwhile, Earthy shugenja gives 10 Reduction at this rank.
Kakita Bushi – skip a turn to do more on other turns is useful to be able to do but has very little value, situational +2k0 to attacks – weak.
Daidoji Iron Warrior – more wounds, +1k0 attacks, broken guard ability – shugenja level combat impact.
Mirumoto Bushi – minor ATN bonus, spell manipulation, dueling ability – awful, and I get really tired of hearing about how the school is strong at SR-5 … I’ve yet to play with a SR-5 bushi in 4e.
Akodo Bushi – Free Raise, probable +1k0 to attacks, add Honor to one roll per round – really solid.
Matsu Beserker – +Honor to damage, some other stuff – +Honor to damage and some other stuff.
Yoritomo Bushi – even more minor ATN bonus, +1k0 attack, situational pile on – I’d rather be a Hiruma.
Tsuruchi Archer – +1k0 attack, Initiative bonus, +2k0 damage – would I rather be a Hiruma? Basically trading +2k0 damage for nontrivial ATN bonus. Damage is always useful, so this is probably better.
Shiba Bushi – double Void (primarily a noncombat ability), free guard, spell manipulation – all abilities you leverage from building around (i.e. as unlimited as double Void is, it’s still limited by how few VPs you will have), one of which is pretty useless without a shugenja.
Bayushi Bushi – Initiative bonus, probable ATN bonus, damage bonus – the sort of abilities you want in combat.
Moto Bushi – +1k0 damage, situational attack bonus – huh? What is the thinking here?
Utaku Battle Maiden – +Honor to attack maybe damage, bonus to Initiative or ATN – better than Hiruma.
Only the Shiba gets a powerful noncombat ability. So, one might think bushi are meant to fight.
Yet, how much better are a lot of these abilities than not having them at all? I got into this with analysis of the courtier archer. The reality is that they generally sound fair – you will be better at combat than those who don’t have these abilities. Some schools will be much better at combat, like Hida and Matsu. They kind of sound in line with courtier abilities, if you could ever analyze courtier abilities for how actually useful they are, something I suppose I should make some effort to do, some day.
But, they all have one huge limitation – they only help combat, which is, on average, around a third of my L5R play (one campaign, it’s probably more like 75% of what matters). Most shugenja spells are combat spells. But, some aren’t. Some really good ones. Even if you made Importune impossible, an area of shugenja betterness that some have gravitated towards, I will just use up that Air slot on By the Light of Lady Moon or Nature’s Touch. As much as Commune should not exist mechanically, I don’t see it going away for thematic reasons. Extinguish, Jurojin’s Balm are both narrow but see use. Reversal of Fortunes should be usable in noncombat situations, otherwise you get into a huge argument on what is and is not possible outside of combat. Ignoring Void spells, other utility spells see far less use in my experience, but they exist. Then, there’s Path to Inner Peace, which isn’t just a combat spell, but it’s so often tied to combat.
Betterness. I choose “better” for shugenja because, even if you believe bushi are as good at combat as shugenja, shugenja would still be better, having abilities not limited to combat. Even if you somehow thought courtier techniques made a bigger difference than spells outside of combat, courtiers get pritnear nothing for combat and most spells are combat spells. I don’t think anyone questions shugenja versatility. I think they overstate what nonshugenja can do compared to what shugenja can do in their fields of core competency.
Getting completely off on a tangent, I have the sense that so much of people thinking courtiers talk better and bushi murder better comes down to people building characters differently in terms of traits and skills. My mind was blown by someone recently saying that Courtier/Etiquette Insight bonuses are to help courtiers. Um, you mean, if they waste their time getting Courtier 7/Etiquette 7? Because, everyone (in HoR) gets Courtier 3/Etiquette 3, unless they think it’s inappropriate to the character, which just makes everyone (in HoR) more talky. I’m exaggerating, but it’s really, really hard not to buy those up to three in HoR, where rank 1 skills don’t count for Insight. In other campaigns, sure, might just pick up rank 1 skills, instead, for the same Insight payoff.
There’s nothing to prevent a shugenja from having Heavy Weapons 7 or Kenjutsu 7. There’s nothing to stop a shugenja from having Courtier 5. Etc. My Usagi Bushi has Awareness 5. My 3r Omoidasu had a weapon skill of 10, at IR-1.
Let’s assume, for a second, that bushi and courtiers and weirdoes had no techniques and that shugenja couldn’t cast spells. I build my shugenja exactly the same way I build one of them, say Earth 3, Agility 3, Reflexes 3 as a newb or newbish shugenja who wants to be fighty. We are exactly equal. Maybe the bushi has a kata that I can’t take, but core book kata largely suck. Now, we add back in techniques. The bushi gets 1-3 combat abilities. The shugenja casts spells … badly … except for Earth spells, in this hypothetical. Still, the bushi does Medicine and the shugenja does Path. The bushi does swing with Agility 3/Kenjutsu 3, the shugenja drops Fires of Purity first and does 4k4 more damage every round (possibly less, possibly more) with the shugenja’s Agility 3/Kenjutsu 3.
So, what was the point of this post? Actually, the point of this post was to talk about fixes.
Bushi are “easy” to fix. Give all bushi simple action attacks as part of being a bushi. Change their simple action attack techniques to two Free Raises with whatever weapons they are supposed to be using. That’s the power fix. Someone mentioned regeneration on the forums, I had that idea as well. Make Stamina do something – bushi gain Stamina in wounds back every … round? That could be supertedious. Every minute? That deals with the problem of how bad nonmagical healing is … for bushi. I’d rather just see everyone get back 50% wounds after every fight to prevent the “we can’t go forward because we are too beat up” problem that is common in FRPGs.
But, what about everyone else? Bushi can be elevated to be more cool and maybe even better at combat than shugenja. But, why would anyone ever play a courtier, artisan, ninja, or monk?
For courtiers, I see some ability based off of mental traits. Add Willpower to X, add Perception to Y. But, what are those rules? How do they avoid stepping on just being better at skills? Actually, it would help a lot if I had some idea what courtiers, artisans, et al, are supposed to do in play. While combat may only be a third, investigation is about a third, and, while Courtier rolls and Sincerity rolls make up about a third of play, that’s it – they are skill rolls. Techniques rarely come into the equation. Sure, Free Raise on those is useful. Bayushi Courtier ability gets used. But, Yasuki? Kitsuki get investigation help, so they are good. Omoidasu don’t get techniques until SR-3. Yoritomo is a more specialized form of skill bonus, but sure. Asako are screwed because knowing stuff rarely matters to the plot or to doing cool things.
More generally, a lot of adventures screw courtiers by just having social challenges not be that hard or be focused on a single roll that can be Honor Rolled. If social challenges were Commerce TN 30, followed by Courtier TN 30, followed by Sincerity TN 30, with Free Raises for allies and gifts and Temptation, sure, I can see why they have the techniques they do. Never see that.
Of course, it’s a vicious circle. To not blow away the bushi and force shugenja to cast social bonus spells, social challenges are either limited or not that hard. Because they are limited or not that hard, people would rather play bushi or shugenja to get their fight on. Because people are playing bushi/shugenja, don’t make social challenges that involved.
Even my Awareness 5 bushi spending 30 odd sessions at Winter Court didn’t have to make a lot of social rolls (in a single session) or do a lot that involved gifts, allies (we aren’t using allies, so, um, yeah), or whatever. I did try to use role-playing to support roll-playing, and that may have made a big difference on achieving goals, but, actually, the goals didn’t really matter that much. It was fun to participate, but it wasn’t life and death. Why would it be life and death when the party has no courtiers and has a bunch of characters who don’t even bother taking one rank in core social skills?
I’m just going to throw this out here, now, and not play into my native secretiveness. My intention in HoR4 is to play a courtier, just as I played one in HoR1 and HoR2. I don’t care that my techniques aren’t likely to matter. I expect to have fun with the mechanical oddity of the character and with whatever thematics I develop as I play the character. But, I know how to build characters to leverage what I want to be good at. I embrace being a support PC or doing what interests me and not what is optimal for party success. Other folks don’t worry about mechanics, which can work, too. But, you know what, I hope to have at least two shugenja at every table because shugenja win …
Unless 5e changes things, which is what I’m hoping for. Power to the nonmagical people, 5e!