Building L5R Characters – Origins

It’s surprisingly common how often someone asks on the AEG forum for advice on designing or advancing their L5R characters.  Why do I find it surprising?  Because why would I care what other people think about my characters?

It’s actually my most common first reaction when people post deck ideas or decklists on CCG forums for multiplayer CCGs.  Sure, two-player CCGs are all about optimizing decks (still have metagame considerations but whatever), but my inclination for advice with multiplayer CCGs where it’s all about manipulating people into doing your bidding is “What do you want the deck to do and what do you enjoy playing?”

Given that CCGs are competitive (usually) and that there are many more instances of clear superiority in card choices, the questions “What do you want your character to do and what do you enjoy playing?” seem that much more relevant.

What’s so strange is that so often the original poster doesn’t give clear ideas what the answers to those might be.  So, advice is out of any sort of thematic or mechanical context.  It’s almost like people think that RPG characters have some sort of native mechanical relevance.

Which, if someone said “I’m going to be playing in HoR7, The Ocarina of Memory, and I want my Squirrel Clan character to own all others at Divination Duels”, well, that’s way, way more info than what I typically see.  Just the idea that a character is being played in something besides a home campaign is, of course, relevant.  Because, hey, mechanics – there is such a thing as objectively better, like how Luck is just better than any other 3xp expenditure in the game and the first question with a new character that is optimizing to the rules set is whether they can get by with only two ranks of Luck.

The subject of building L5R characters strikes me as one with a number of parts, which is why I named my post the way that I did and which is why I’m not going to get into a lot of things until (hopefully) later.


Do I consider mechanics when creating characters?  Ofacourseim.  But, context is everything and mechanics are not.  No, really, context is everything as I argued in a college philosophy class.  Without context, there is no meaning, though how you give meaning to context is next stage philosophy stuff that … well, I got my degrees in economics.

Maybe for other people they can be satisfied with a character sheet being a character sheet.  I guess giving my advice to such people is wasted, though:  never take Touch of the Void or Consumed by Perfection, always take three ranks of Luck, blah, blah, blah.

My L5R investment began with HoR2.  What were the inspirations for my main in that campaign?  Well, HoR1, where I played two mods with an Omoidasu, but that was not really what got me into the character.  Ikoma.  No, not the family.  The Ikoma.  Once upon a time, the only clans that I really felt a connection to were Dragon and Phoenix.  I kind of lost the sense that I can play a Dragon correctly.  But, then, I read Way of the Lion.  I finally got Lion.  And, I loved Ikoma.  Now, the Lion are stereotyped as a bunch of uptight prigs.  Well, I can see beyond that even for others, but why would you ever want to play an Ikoma that way when you got a drunk, lecherous brawler as your perfect ancestor?

Now, it would be an interesting role-playing stretch for me to play a drunk.  But, Ikoma Jun was all about wanderlust, meeting exotic folks, babes, and exotic babes, and mixing it up (keep in mind that this was 3e/3r where I didn’t even bother learning the grapple rules, so mixing it up meant Kenjutsu and, uh, … War Fans … because war fans are cool).

Now, the interest level in hearing about other people’s characters tends to vary from low to nonexistent, so I’ll try to move this along.  It wasn’t hard to play Jun.  Then, as things happened, it became really easy to play Jun because in game events tied into themes developed from deciding to play a “true” descendant of Ikoma.

Mechanically?  That is, what did Jun need to be good at mechanically?  Um, nothing.  Well, let me be a bit more specific.  Obviously, Storytelling was something to have some ranks in.  But, the character started with Awareness 2 and ended the campaign at IR-4 with Awareness 2.  Even the bonus to Honor Rolls from Balance only came about when 3e became 3r.

The mechanics that did matter were his advantages and disadvantages but not because of their mechanics.  I took Balance back when it was pretty much worth 1cp and cost 5 because I wanted to play a character that could justifiably play with any sort of other PCs, this being a living campaign where I didn’t have a group I played with.  Fascination: Odd People/Places and Gullible also made it easier to seek out adventure with a ragtag fleet, though Gullible has always been to me cheese.  Would I have bothered with any of these in a home game?  Maybe.  But, metagaming, bro, metagaming.

So, you are saying he was useless?  Um, no.  Perception 3, Intelligence 4, some miscellaneous INT skills.  Party brain.  Reasonable investigator, if not interrogator.  How he advanced was … different, but time to move on.

My first alt for HoR2 was predicated on mechanics.  I needed a character who could play in Battle Interactives, which was so not what I was going to do with Jun until he got Earth 3, which was far, far down the line.  Because I’m actually quite the fan of resilience, that makes me a fan of Earth, which meant Earth 4 newb, baby!  Since this is an alt and alts are going to be behind the curve, what’s this?  Mirumoto Bushi is not only horribly broken but also lets you choose any Trait to bump (in 3e/3r).  Well, since I’m now officially broken and are sinking all of my points into Earth 4, Different School (*Isawa* Ryota), Jurojin’s Blessing (never used), and Strength of Earth (who cares when you are rolling 3k2?), who needs Agility 3 or like any Trait/Ring above 2 outside of Earth?

Then, there was Doubt.  Doubt is top tier cheese.  If you can’t find a school skill you will virtually never or never roll, try looking again.  In HoR play, where mods have no idea what sort of PCs are going to be playing, there’s always something irrelevant to Doubt.  So, because my cheese always comes with crackers, not only am I playing a Mirumoto Bushi with an attack roll of 3k2+3 (at SR-2, when he had two attacks he was all the way up to having a 5k3+5 attack roll) but I’m playing with Doubt: Kyujutsu and Unlucky x2.  I figured that he would suck so much at rolls in the first place and that resilience would keep him alive, that Unlucky would be relatively painless.  But, as much as Doubt hardly mattered mechanically (it did actually come up because … newsflash … Kyujutsu is some good), it defined the character thematically.  Why did he Doubt Kyujutsu?  Because he totally killed his best friend with an errant shot.  Oh, how unfortunate.  While we are making for a sad luck loser who is unkillable, why don’t we have his mom die giving birth to his happy go lucky (… and Momoku) brother?  Where Jun was upbeat and curious, Ryota was morose.  Helped me distinguish them in my head.

Anyway, the point of all of that character explanation was that there are many ways to work with mechanics.  First of all, what is the campaign (or one shot) about?  You can take 10 ranks in Perform: Tuba, but if you never roll it, you aren’t likely to be happy with your decisions.  But, there’s way more to metagaming than living in your own little world of character design.

Our Princess Police campaign probably won’t run much longer.  My initial character was a disaster.  Why?

Long before the campaign started, I realized one of the biggest problems I had with campaigns was that the parties made no sense.  PCs who should never adventure together did, and it affected party collaboration.  So, when this campaign was floated, I suggested some cooperative party creation.  We created a Google Spreadsheet and everyone put their character ideas on the first tab.  Typical L5R party, with your paladin and your assassin, a priest here, a ronin there.  Yes, there were two Scorpion, … and everyone else had at least Honor 5.

But, of those non-Scorpion, only my character really needed to have a high Honor for my Lion Paragon concept.  Now, in my HoR experiences, massive Honor discrepancies are easily glossed over (it helps to have the high Honor character have Gullible … metagaming!).  So, maybe it will be the same.  But, my concept wasn’t just a Paragon but a Kensai.  See, because most of my L5R play used to be HoR, I’m used to living in the IR-1 or IR-2 world.  I figured that a home campaign would be an opportunity to not only plan an advanced character but play mechanics that might require effort in HoR (certainly, the way HoR3 went for me, I would have just given up and stayed at like IR-2 forever rather than beat my head against the wall of trying to get approval for paths, though, to be fair, see below for the much harder to get approved mechanic).

Prodigy – 12xp.  Paragon – 6xp.  Virtuous – 3xp.  I should probably mention that while I tend to hate the ancestor mechanics in the corebook, there are some I love in Great Clans … like Kitsu – 6xp.  Yup, 40xp character with 21 points of advantages and an ancestor.  Our ronin was similarly afflicted with “here’s what I’ll be like with 100 more XP” disease.  That could have worked – a party full of ridiculously Advantaged characters bumbling their way to competence.  I could have even recovered from my mechanical, self-inflicted wounds.  Instead, I continued down a path of mechanical hopelessness.  I got to IR-2, created the Jade Legionnaire technique (didn’t exist in our timeline) for extra cheese, and had the crackers of playing an IR-2 bushi with Earth 2, Reflexes 2.  Every fight should have killed him because, amazingly enough, the rest of the party had spent XP to get better at combat.  Actually, the only thing the party was suited for was combat … and I was playing a bushi.

Did I mention his disadvantages?  Maybe I should mention those.  Compulsion: Keep Secrets, yeah, that’s party friendly.  Overconfident.  *drops mike* [That’s not when *drops mike* is used.  Oh, okay.]

My second character was a direct response to my initial character.  My second character had to be morally ambiguous because I just grew weary of “Where’s the Scorpion?  I guess he’s off doing something … important.”  My second character had to be able to survive, not just not being the bushi with Earth 2 and Reflexes 2 who charges the enemy by himself but survive without any assistance from the rest of the party as party combat tactics were rather atrocious early in the campaign.  My second character had to be more sociable not because the party ever socialized much with NPCs (outside of, ironically, my loner Lion) but because the PCs just didn’t seem to enjoy being around each other that much.  To facilitate getting along with wildly varying PCs, playing a subordinate style character was perfect, say hello to our minor clan buddy.  The one thing my Lion did provide the party was Perception, so I had to continue to be the party perceiver (when another player started playing, that niche was taken away).

Using this campaign as an example, the point is that one’s role in a group is fundamental to deciding how to construct and advance a character.  My Hare lost his perceiver niche but seized the talker niche as no one else cared, he was already Reflexes 5, Awareness 3 to start with, and Iron Forest Style is really good for someone with Agility 2.

Without the context of what the rest of the party looks like, how does advice matter?  Okay, you are playing a Hida Bushi.  If everyone else is going to run around with Awareness 2 and your campaign involves, I don’t know, interacting with NPCs, why not buy Awareness 4 and own the talker role?  “But, d-u-u-u-de, then I’ll just play a Doji Courtier.  I’m playing a Hida Bushi.”  Okay, whatever.  My sense of humor is different from other people’s.

We can make some assumptions of what people want to be good at based upon their school choices.  At the same time, what you should be good at and what you will be good at don’t have to relate at all.  But, that’s me.  I wouldn’t bother making a Kakita Bushi with Iaijutsu above 1 because I’ll already win any duels with my one rank and I have more interesting things to do.  Now, my Daigotsu Bushi who had Iaijutsu 5 … and never dueled, that was classic.

Let’s say you like making boring characters and build to stereotypes.  This is purely a judgment upon your worth as a human being, so don’t take any offense.  There are certainly ways to play to strengths and to synergize.  There’s also the concept of “good stuff”, which I talk about with CCGs.

Luck is good stuff.  Reflexes is good stuff unless you never plan on fighting.  Because Reflexes is so powerful, Kyujutsu becomes good stuff beyond just adding a ranged component to your attacks.  Our Princess Police party sees nobody with Reflexes below 4 in the core group and multiple PCs at 5.

Bit more on the side of synergizing with what your player gave you:  If your Intelligence is or will ever be above 2, then Sage is required (stop being recalcitrant – it’s required, I just find it painful when my fellow PCs can’t be bothered to Sage up).  If your Perception is or will ever be above 2, then you always take Hunting (every character already always takes Investigation) and you likely spend that precious single XP to take Battle.

But, hold on, I skipped over something.  Or, more accurately, I’m jumping ahead to what should be a subsequent post.  This post should really focus on originating.

Here’s another origination consideration – you don’t need to define your character until you have enough XP to define your character.  I know this runs counter to my Princess Police Lion example, where the character was designed as an IR-4 character with 40xp, but 40xp is just absurdly low.  You not only can’t buy everything, you can’t even buy key elements to your character.  Obviously, if your campaign makes advantages cost more after character creation, you must focus on advantages to the exclusion of all else.

Really, beyond advantages and disadvantages, which may not only be problematic after character creation but which are far more character defining than Traits/Rings/Skills, there are rarely priorities.  Tattoos, kihos, and the like, sure.

I find it concerning when people suggest a 40xp character should be buying up a bunch of skills to 3.  No, really, this is atrocious advice for the dedicated powergamer.  Newb characters are mechanically pathetic.  Skills are the easiest thing to buy after character creation.  After you spend 9xp on Luck, 3-4xp on Sage, 24xp on Traits, and something to make your character not entirely a cookiecutter, who can afford any skills above R-1?

Does that mean all of my characters always start out with no skills above R-1?  Of course not!  Crackers with your cheese!


I find it surprising how often players want mechanical advice on creating RPG characters.  But, you know, RPGs do a really awful job of giving such advice, so I guess there’s a reason people need help figuring out what works well and what sucks mechanically in RPGs.

I don’t see where thematic advice is actually useful, but, then, I like building my own characters, my own decks, and whatnot.

So, within the realm of mechanical advice and without getting too spreadsheety, which is another post for another time where we go through and assign ratings to all advantages and disadvantages or whatever, things to consider include:

What are the challenges my character will face in the campaign?

Should my character be the best or one of the best at facing those challenges?

How do I differentiate myself from other PCs?

How do I work cohesively with other PCs?

Why am I building a character in a vacuum when that’s not what play is actually like?

Can I get by with just 2 ranks of Luck?

What abilities are worthless?


Which skill is irrelevant for Doubt?

How can I be mechanically relevant now when I’m a pathetic 40xp loser without making wasteful buys that will impact my awesomeness later?

How can I set up my advancement so that around the 80xp mark I’m not only defined (hopefully get defined in the 60-70xp range) but am actually resembling my vision?

How can I avoid having such a rigid view of who my character is before I even start playing it to where when I get more XP I can spend them on things like Games: Pachisi?


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