L5R 4e Material

There’s a thread in the products forum of AEG’s forums about the future of the L5R RPG.  Having a blog is a reason to post here, instead.

L5R 4e started off incredibly strong.  The core book was dry, had a bunch of dull mechanics, and swung the nerfhammer hard.  While 3e/3r certainly deserved some nerfing, I see the genre lending itself more to the spectacular and less to the +1k0.  But, it has a lot of content and has a lot of cleaner mechanics.  Anyway, the strength of 4e was in The Great Clans, Enemies of the Empire, and Emerald Empire.

Then, it dropped off immensely.  Imperial Histories was a great product for doing something few other product lines could do.  But, the Book of … series has been mediocre to bad (on my list of things to do is a review of Book of Void, that and Sword and Fan).  Secrets of the Empire was a massive disappointment with horrendous structure.  I’ve played in a Second City campaign.  I’ve looked for what was missing from that campaign in the material provided.  I still have little sense of what Second City is about or how to set a campaign in the Colonies.  Etc.

Why such a dropoff?  As much as folks like to go on and on and on about how much fluff matters more than crunch, two terms I’d replace with thematics and mechanics, mechanics matter.  Then, a lot of the thematics we get don’t.  A lot of it is stating the obvious.  A lot of it is redundant.  A lot of it isn’t new to someone who has previous edition books.  A lot of it is esoteric, which is like the opposite of the problem of material being in previous books, but there you go.

What I see as the biggest problem with the content of so many supplements is relevance.  It’s not just that I don’t need any material on monk brotherhoods or paths that only NPCs would ever take or whatever, it’s that what I could use the most information on is surprisingly (arguably) sparse.

Strongholds and Imperial Histories provide setting information, which is valuable when wearing a GM hat, but I still think that publishers can think more like GMs.  Some people really like settings with prebuilt conflicts.  I don’t need that.  I need to be able to convey how place A is different from place B.  What are the hooks that don’t rely on specific NPCs?  What do things look like?  It’s funny how little physical description goes with locales in fantasy worlds.  Sure, can always pull up a photo of Japan or whatever, but that has a lot of problems, one of which being that it requires effort.

Putting aside Secrets of the Empire’s problems with the minor clan and imperial sections, the spirit realms section was just terribly limited.  More than anything else, I want to know what it’s like to walk through a gate into one of these realms and wander around.  There were descriptions, of course, but they don’t go nearly far enough.  What are population breakdowns, commonality of encounters with various things, landmarks, etc.?  What sort of stuff am I going to find lying around?  In buildings?  Hanging from trees?

The other thing missing from what should have been its own spirit realms book was mechanics.  Where are the monsters?  Enemies of the Empire is great because it’s not just a bunch of statblocks.  But, that also means the game has plenty of room for more enemies.  Book of … series adds some animals and monsters, but they seem kind of random.  Again, if I go to Chikushudo, how often do I encounter various animal spirits, other stuff?  What are their motivations given that they aren’t alive?  What is there to do there?  But, also, what special abilities do they have, what skills, and what strategies would they employ during conflict?  (And, what do they look like?)

Minors, Imperials can both use kata and maybe paths, advanced schools, or even schools.  I mostly care about kata.  I suppose spells are another thing, but I’m not much of a fan of magic in L5R.

Okay, Secrets got made and the clamor for Secrets two seems nonexistent, though I’d say one of the most important things is to do that book over again and do it right.  Still, Enemies of the Empire 2 does seems viable.  Monster Manuals have always been popular.  A book on optional/variant mechanics seems viable where we get into things like changing how Void expenditures work, changing the wound chart, adding or changing combat maneuvers, alternate movement systems, having magic resistance based on Rings.  Can also get into creative uses of existing mechanics, something not at all present in the Book of … series, which just goes into obvious stuff like “You can use Stamina for this roll” or vague stuff like “The fire kami don’t like it when you overuse this spell”, neither of which adds value.

Just establishing standards would have some interest to me.  This edition heavily discourages buying skills above R-1, R-2, unless there’s some important mastery to attain.  So, what does an expert performer look like?  An expert gamester?  The way the game plays, the Trait-4, no skill character often competes strongly at stuff, which has some thematic problems and gets discouraging for people who buy skills and not traits.  I know I expect any Trait-2 character with any level of Skill, including like R-7 in a skill, is just not going to be that good at the skill.  I suppose every campaign sets its own standards, but there are NPC writeups in 4e books, so it would be nice to know what the design philosophy is.

As a player, I want things I can do mechanically primarily, with some thematic stuff being interesting (I keep making bows in different fantasy campaigns).  I want paths that are relevant.  I want kata because magic neither needs help nor is as flavorful as bushi stuff.  I want advantages and disadvantages so that my courtiers, artisans, and so forth have more distinguishing mechanics.

As a GM, I want to do as little work as possible building a world, dealing with mechanics, or defining challenges.  After all, I don’t need to pay money for any of those things if I’m willing to spend my time figuring those things out for myself.

I want to see more monsters, preferably with art.  I want more specific descriptions on locales of what distinguishes one from another and what the standard is for a village, town, city, district, temple, inn, road, etc.  I want better ideas on how to use existing mechanics or to standardize modifications to mechanics.

Somewhere in there, I think there’s at least one book.  For me, I just wish that what had already been published was a lot better since I know that better versions won’t get published for this edition.  As much as I might want a 5e, I don’t want that for a few years to give time to play 4e out.

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