Building L5R Characters – Traits

And, Void, too.

On a side note … because who doesn’t start any sort of missive with side notes?  On a side note, I’m now running Legend of the Burning Sands.  Using mostly 3r L5R rules with some miscellaneous L5R 4e rules, like Guard from 4e.  Relearning the differences in how the numbers play out and how it affects actions.

Anyway, 4e L5R, building character, and …


Let’s start with something interesting.  Void sucks in 4e.  Well, now that that’s out of the way … oh, I have to say more or people are just going to tune out everything else I say.

So, 4e makes Void hideously expensive but also goes back to the idea that Raises are capped by it.  There are some ways to deal with the latter.  My main way to deal with it is to just not plan on calling more than two Raises.  That obviously doesn’t work so well with shugenja and their bizarre desires to cast R-4+ spells in one round.

Other things this edition did with Void was to make Void Points less flexible.  Why there’s a rule that you can only spend one a round for enhancements I have no idea.  You are likely to have three or less to start combat out with (ignore Shiba Bushi as an exception to having a host of VPs, or Kharmic Intent and other Void Shugenja cheese).  If you could spend more than one in a round, you would be out in two rounds.  Oh no!  You killed my PC!

So, Void.  While I may have a PC who just went to IR-5 who still has Void 2, there are plenty of benefits to Void 3.  And, actually, if you are going to start out your campaign with the Topaz Championship, you should totally be Void 3 as a starting character … well, if your intention is to win.  Not only do you own most of the NPCs in the Iaijutsu event with your Void 3 + Iaijutsu 1, you are only going to meta so many of the skills to R-1 in the competition and need to pump up your jams with VPs for either exploding dice or hitting threshold TNs (depending upon the nature of the event’s scoring system and how badly you need points from it).

But, Void 4?  Akodo Bushi likes Void 4 for the “I call four Raises and use my FR to Extra Attack.”  Sometimes, you might want to Knockdown a four-legger.  Every once in a while you duel a Kenshinzen and want some 10k8+13 or whatever Focus roll.  Shugenja get that extra spell slot.  Meditation and Tea Ceremony are things, though they are just replenishing something you already have a relative abundance of, so there’s weird math on whether that’s important or not.

Feint and Knockdown in one attack?  Let’s not get crazy.

Void 2 is entirely viable.  I have my example above.  I don’t really see it for most characters, but it’s something to keep in mind.  Obviously, your supercheese Momoku + Touch of the Void character is not enthused by spending 18 XP on something minor.

Void 3 is the norm.  It’s so normrrific that a lot of characters will sit there for ages to the point where Void isn’t really all that interesting a topic, as can be plainly seen by how I spend only eight paragraphs on it.  Kiho, Voidsucking schools, et al, sure, do your Void 4 thing when it doesn’t seem crippling.  Duelists, you know who you are, just don’t get crazy with crippling yourself in other ways just to overkill duels.

Stamina and Willpower

Yes, Willpower does some things where Stamina doesn’t.  Still, it’s all about the Earth Ring.  I may make some NPCs with Willpower one higher than Stamina, but that’s just so they don’t get social-owned.

As much as I like Earth, it’s really hard to justify Earth 4 unless you like to do that old time magic thing or gain Reduction equal to your Earth Ring or whatever.  Earth 2 is just scary, though not as scary in 4e, where you can Air Ring your way to brokenness.

When does Earth 3 become necessary?  That is the question.  Figure when you are consistently ending up in Wound Penalties or you are a shugenja who sees the fight fairly often.  Obviously, if you have Reflexes Suck, you need a way to not explode into a fine red mist.  But, hey, this is 4e – just do what everyone else does and work on Reflexes 5.

Taint is tiresome and Fear has too much impact.  By 100 XP, figure would be at E-3.  If you don’t mind being a more limited character, can certainly go E-3 right off the bat and just leave the investigating, socializing, or showing off to other PCs.  For a fighty type, I’d expect to be at E-3 by 80 XP.  On the other hand, I create a lot of newb characters with E-4 … and they suck hard.

Strength and Perception

Strength still ends up being a dump stat for many a build.  Yes, it’s better now that grappling is busted, Knockdown is winning, and people care how many feet you move in a round.

I’m certainly finding movement distances to be a huge consideration in combat, so I’m getting much more Watery in my builds.  Moving at Water 5 is pretty funny cuz … horses, though steeds are still way more powerful for the ability to spend zero of your PC actions on moving, yet still wandering about the battlefield.

But, anyway, the main consideration is whether to ever go to Strength 3.  In a number of cases, don’t have a choice.  Matsu/Matsu need to leverage the four free XP they get by using their Strength 4.  Defender of the Wall, sadly, requires goofy expenditures.  Then, once at Strength 3, do you go Strength 4 to move faster?  I’ve gone there.

Grapplers want “I always win this roll” levels of Strength.  It does suck to have “I get free grapples with my tentacles” oni that just take your Str-2 character out of combat, but, hey, that’s why we have shugenja around – to fry them with Jade Strikes.

When are you going to talk about Perception?

In my experience, Perception is the bomb.  Investigation and Hunting are two of the most crucial skills in the game, and sometimes you just need to consistently hit 30 or need to hit 40.  One of the reasons to care more about Strength is simply because you care about Perception and moving faster comes along for the ride.  My Water 4 character started out with Str-2 and Per-4.

Having said that, there are a number of schools where Water is the only dump Ring you have.  Both of my HoR3 characters are forever and ever W-2 characters.  Which brings up something.

Figure out which Ring is your dump Ring when figuring out your characters mechanics.  For me, a dump Ring is a Ring that will always be two.  For my Hare, my two dump Rings were Fire and Void.  I couldn’t dump Earth as survival was a key aspect of the character.  I couldn’t dump Water as it’s fun to move faster than everyone else and because I had to be the party perceiver for a while.  I couldn’t dump Air because Usagi/Usagi start with Air 3, and I was doing a cheesetastic Airy build as part of my concept.

For most folks, I figure just the one dump Ring.  Then, there are the boring people who buy everything to three, then start buying everything to four.  Really, bah, I say, bah.  I’m all about figuring out which of my Rings will be four right away and will get to five when I have the XP and which Ring will never get to the greatest marginal benefit in the game – going from 2’s to 3’s in Traits.

Perception is always useful.  Now, a party does want at least one real perceiver (Per-4+, Inv and Hunting 3+), but every party is better with more Perception, so even the “I probably won’t increase above Per-3 this campaign” sorts are dandy and fine.

Agility and Intelligence

Both are easy to dump on in 4e.  I find it laughable … ha ha … when people proclaim Agility as an important bushi stat.  Just play an archer and you will revel in your disgustingness.

While dumpy, Agility still has some key uses.  Well, it definitely has one and may have another.  A lot of GMs like to have people roll Agility/Athletics even though Strength is supposed to be the primary Athletics Trait.  That can determine whether you fall off the tightrope over the chasm or not.  Then, Stealth.

Oh, Stealth.  You are so the thing.  You shouldn’t be, but you are.  See, it’s not just how common Stealth rolls are, which aren’t supercommon unless you like to go all rogue on the party.  It’s that failed Stealth rolls are so, so very depressing.

As mentioned in my Elemental Party post, Agility also has showoff uses.

Intelligence’s big problem is not that you won’t use it for rolls, it’s that you don’t know if the roll using Intelligence actually matters.  It’s just too unpredictable.  I’m sure there have been rolls where brainifying was crucial, but there have been plenty where it hasn’t mattered at all.  One of the more notable editing failures I find in HoR mods is when there’s an Intelligence roll for some skill to know something and the box text right after the roll gives you the information, anyway.

I’m a Fire lover, in addition to my Earth loving ways – lava for everyone!  So, I’m often the Fire-4 sort.  But, really, Fire 3 should be the upper limit of necessity for most builds and I don’t see much problem with Fire-2 as long as someone in the party isn’t an imbecile and someone can sneak around.  Splitting this Ring is probably hot.

Reflexes and Awareness

These are what the game is all about.  So, challenge yourself and choose this as your dump Ring (with Earth 4, of course, as you don’t want to create a new character who doesn’t dump the “One Ring”).

Anyway, combat is all about Reflexes, not because you have to go first, which is something people seem to obsess about for reasons that escape me given that when I play L5R I play as part of a party, but because you might not get hit if you have a high enough Reflexes and not getting hit is pleasing.  See, 3e/3r had lower TNs for getting hit in many cases and a lot better attack rolls in most cases and no Defense Stance.  With 4e, my IR-1 Hare was ATN 44 in Defense Stance.

Then, Kyujutsu.

It’s really, really hard to play with a mediocre Reflexes of only three.  You just suck attacks that can hit ATN 25 constantly.  The plan should always be Reflexes 5.  No, really, being serious.  Split this Ring if you must, even the shugenja, but work on not getting hit.  But, of course, XP don’t grow on flesh-eating trees, that’s a D&D mechanic.  Can’t just be all “combat is my thing, my very special thing” …

Have to also increase Awareness.  For, why not solve challenges through socializing?  Why not interrogate better than your Perceptive brethren?  Why not “defend well”?

Plus, all sorts of dumb stuff ends up getting rolled with some Air Trait or the Air Ring when it shouldn’t be.  Like that Sailing challenge in that adventure that irritated me as … both … Sailing … Traits … are … Fire … Traits.

Unlike Earth, Water, or Fire, you never have a mechanical reason not to keep boosting the Air Ring.  Plus, if you want to be marginally better at dueling than others who ignored Void and Iaijutsu, well, here you go.  It would be really funny to see my Air-5/Void-2/Iaijutsu-1 PC in a duel.

Stone Cold Stats

Blah, blah, blah … said the same things in the Elemental Party post.  Where’s the building advice?

You have a bushi.  People go on about Earth 3, Agility 3, Reflexes 3 ASAP.  That’s expensive.  It’s also boring.  Why would you want to play a cookiecutter character?  First, decide whether your bushi is the “I win because I Kyujutsu” sort (itself, pretty boring).  That means Agility is low relevance.  Assume that you aren’t just playing a Tsuruchi wannabe (really, you are playing a Tsuruchi? … oh … lost cause).  That means Agility 3 because 9k2 on your attack roll is very funny but also very flawed, where 10k3 is reasonable.

Either Earth or Reflexes has to be three.  However, for the XP starved, have to figure out which you can ignore for a while.  Because you aren’t just some combat sidekick to real PCs, you are going to have some mental Traits that aren’t two (or one mental Trait at four).  But, you might get Reflexes 4, Agility 3 with a second mental at 3.

Much more interesting, of course, is to pick your “4-Ring”.  Will it be Earth 4, where you suck at everything except absorbing damage?  (Again, ignoring shugenja, who play by different rules.)  Will it be Water 4, where everyone loves you for being able to chase down fleeing enemies and for noticing enemies in the first place?  Will it be the showoff?  Or, will it be the cheesemeister?  Or, yes, it’s been done, will it be the “I suck at everything except those few times Void matters” PC?  42 XP to start at Void 4, unless you are Tattooed, not samurai, are Taoist, are the Emperor, or whatever.  Even 24 XP to go from “hey, cool, I start with Void 3” to “yo, Void 4, oh yeah, I totally hope I can Meditate soon” is hideously expensive.

For HoR play, besides doing the Void 3 thing for any sort of Topaz opening, which can be rearranged after you no longer care about being good at Iaijutsu and a ton of skills you don’t have, Perception 3 is always going to have value.  Awareness 3 is always going to have value.  But, I’ve run a courtier with Awareness 2 to IR-4, so good choices aren’t always necessary choices.


“But, I’m playing a shugenja!  I need Rings.”

Yeah, to a certain extent, you do.  You can still dump on one or two Rings.  Void will need to get to three at some point because Raises are essential for certain spells.

Earth 2 doesn’t appeal to me not because you can’t find a way to not die [only four negatives in that sentence, you are slipping].  It doesn’t appeal because Earth spells rock the Casbah.  Jade Strike split four ways.  Be the Mountain.  Force of Will while in Wound Penalties.  The Kami’s Strength.  Stuff needs doing.

Water 2 has the problem of Path to Inner I-Like-Functioning.  Water also has great spells.  Plus, in your spare rounds, you drop the heavy end of a tetsubo or no-dachi on someone to speed up combat and like having a random +1k0 to damage.

Extinguish, Fires of Purity, Fury of Osano-Wo.  Then, what?  Dump Ring!  Make the bushi be the brains of the outfit, as Fukurokujin intended things to be.

Air?  Ha.  Ha ha.  Reflexes 5.  Might as well have Air 3 to Tempest with more Raises while you are at it.

Of course, since you are cooler than you look, you want to take the godlike power of the shugenja and add crackers to your cheese.  So, sure, 2 that Air.  (Can’t 2 that Water as your party members are all going to be like “Wtf?  Medicine is crap, I want wound boxes back.”)  Void 2 is fine until you get more broken.

What’s kind of funny (maybe) is that there’s actually little incentive to work on a Ring of five with a shugenja, with one exception.  After all, that 40 XP could have been 32 XP to get to Ring four somewhere else, maybe even 24 XP for Void 4.  The exception?  Void 5.  See, some shugenja get a lot out of a hefty Void Ring – you know, they refill their VPs or get back spell slots or can spend 5 VPs on a single roll.  The wackiness of this is that a shugenja is more likely to be able to Extra Attack than a bushi and will own in duels.

Please Pass The Perception

Stop building characters in vacuums.  You already did?  Well, good, then you listened to me or came up with the obvious realization yourself.

As an example of how the party context matters, let’s say everyone hates effectiveness and is running Reflexes 2.  Let’s say that you don’t want a TPK any time soon.  You might just have to suck up being the cheesemeister archer who can Initiative swap with your creeky shugenja who knows the “Kill the Soultwister” spell.

If everyone Hunts well, maybe you don’t need to be helpful and can be oblivious (Per-2, even better, Weakness Perception or Bad Eyesight or Blind).  Sometimes you got to be the shinobi and Agilityze for Stealth because nobody else can be bothered.

Sometimes, you can be silly.  I do silly.  I do it hard.  I talk with Awareness 2 and swing swords with Agility 2 and Lore: Naga with Intelligence 2.  These things are possible because others pick up the slack.  Consider whether they are cool with that or will get annoyed.


2 Responses to Building L5R Characters – Traits

  1. Benoit Quettier says:

    Hi Iclee, thanks a lot for your last answers.
    I dont understand why grappling is now busted as you said.
    Anyway i have two more questions :
    Is grappling still an important role on a party ?
    What character would be the best grappler ? A bushi (which one ?), a monk (which one ?) ?

    • iclee says:

      Important role is not really the way I’d put it. Grappling is something you do because it’s so effective. It’s not something I go out of my way to try to be good at. You don’t need to be good at it most of the time, anyway. The point of grappling is that you wrap up someone so that everyone else murders your victim while simultaneously making your victim useless. Obviously, if you have Fires of Purity on yourself, you don’t need anyone else to murder your victim.

      Courtiers are great grapplers if they have STR 3+. Shugenja are great for grappling when they have nothing better to do, which, admittedly, is not that often. Bushi usually do well with weapons and do very well when they have simple attacks, so, bushi tend to be most wasted grappling.

      What you really want out of someone grappling is someone with a bunch of Reduction and STR equal to or higher than whatever is being grappled. Other than those, it comes down to what can the PC do in combat that’s more useful? The lower the damage output of a PC, the more relative value that PC has just wrapping up someone for everyone else to eviscerate.

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