Legend of the Five Rings Role Playing Game Open beta First Impressions
an ongoing series of articles highlighting the GM side of the FFG Legend of the Five Rings Fifth edition beta. For a player perspective check out Feldia’s articles.
After a few weeks of anxious anticipation and checking to make sure that my email had indeed been submitted I have finally been able to rip into the hefty beta document. I have participated in a few RPG betas before (Modiphius Star Trek, D&D Next) this one really surprised me by the scope of the content we were getting access to. Overall I like Fantasy Flight and their RPGs, played a few years of the Star Wars proprietary dice system and have come to really admire the things that system does well. I’m using several other games as touchstones here among them L5R 4e, the earlier version of the game by Alderac Entertainment before Fantasy Flight purchased the L5R property. Fourth Edition L5R is an astounding game to me, it stands head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries by encouraging character drama and interpersonal conflict without derailing its own intentions. It is the delicate interplay of the fatalistic world and the particular type of tangible samurai drama that creates a really fun play space for all involved. After many rumours about this game using the FFG Genesys/Star Wars dice system I was cautiously optimistic, below in a kind of slapdash order are my thoughts on the beta.
This edition takes several bold strides into the 21st RPG century that undoubtedly the internet is going to hate. Many of them stand out to me as particularly Story-Game inspired, that being said there is still a powerful tactical crunch behind the gaming. Much like Genesys/Star Wars this game has a cinematic bent used in framing and executing the narrative, formalizing scenes into a mechanical space. There is definitely a lot of space being hollowed out in this game for player choice and direction.
In the 4th Edition of L5R the abilities derived from Rings for characters is gone. Rings are now the primary stats of the character added to skills (Martial Arts Melee, Theology, etc) when rolling. The skills have been grouped and the particular Ring and Skill combinations have been given specific approaches. Players attempt tasks by choosing the appropriate Ring and Skill combo and trying to hit a target number (TN) set by the Game Master.
No Genesys dice here but an entirely new proprietary system. There are two types of dice, the d6 Ring die and the d12 Skill die. They have blank, single and combination sides. The symbols for this system represent Success, Explosive Success, Strife and Opportunity. Successes count toward your TN as do Explosive Successes which also allow you to roll more dice into the check and potentially succeed at the impossible. Strife is an upcounting emotional hitpoint system that governs when your samurai will have an Outburst and lose their stoic face. Opportunity much like Genesys/Star Wars’ Advantage result allow the introduction of additional mechanical and narrative effects and are the real nitty-gritty of this game.
This is still a roll and keep system (roll Ring+Skill, keep Ring rank) but the choice you are making here isn’t about the bigness of a number as it was in the d10 based Fourth Edition. The choices the players make here are about doing something effective and awesome at the risk of losing their honour by losing their composure. In a game world where that can lead to your own ritual suicide it adds a lot to Roll and Keep that was not there for me before. I was the most skeptical of these on a first glance but have come to a better place with these dice as I think it will give the captain crunch in your group something to do while at the same time satisfying the almost LARPers that just want to yell and cry.
Not much to say here, in my not at all humble opinion Alderac’s handling of the L5R lore especially in the later years is a level of frivolous, boring and predictably bad that just had to be purged, Star Wars Expanded Universe style from the collective unconscious. We find ourselves in a slightly more high fantasy Rokugan with a lot of questions about minor clans, destroyers and what the Mantis is up to.
This edition adopts Scene Framing mechanically. Several things happen once a scene or at the start or end of one. The beta splits the scenes into downtime, combat, social combat, travel, mass battles and duels. This allows for a smoother tactical experience but also in a game that is extremely cinematic has an important psychological use, reminding the players that they are in a new space now that they have helped create. With the downtime and travel scenes you see even more film inspiration as the game encourages beats that explore the land and landscape, time where the players get to breathe and set their own pace. This stands out to me as starkly narrative and collaborative, overall a good move for L5R.
This edition has a lot going for it, unfettered by the taint of a mountain of card game lore and seems to understand itself in a way that 5e D&D, Pathfinder and other heavy hitters in the space don’t. It embraces and mechanically enforces the drama and melodrama of samurai stories through scene framing and through the angsty dice mechanics.
This is a deceptively crunchy game, just like Genesys/Star Wars most of the player side mechanics involve the spending of opportunity. There are so many ways to spend opportunity and they are hidden everywhere in the document. Some of the most useful and essential stuff is unreadably hidden on a godforsaken page under a godforsaken chart. Further there are so many ring/skill combinations that I can foresee a lot of analysis paralysis from my players when the rubber hits the road here.
To be understood and critiqued RPGs have to be played, thoroughly and well. You have to have consideration for how the game wants to be played as well as how it will be played. I’m excited overall to assemble my group and get this going.
Blade folded 1000 times