part of an ongoing series of articles highlighting the player side of the FFG Legend of the Five Rings Fifth edition beta. For a GM perspective check out Meatyogre’s articles.
My group finished the starter campaign for the beta a few weeks ago. The verdict? I love this system. It delivered on everything I had wanted from it; the drama, the action, the politics, and the role playing. When Fantasy Flight Games release a physical book I am going to buy it for sure. I like this system much more than the Fantasy Flight Star Wars system.
Before I continue further I just want to thank the DM of our group MeatyOgre who started up the group and whose hard work and dedication made the game really easy to pick up and play. And also the three other party members who were so much fun to interact with. The game would not have been the same without them. Cheers!
The aspect of this system that I love the most is how story focused it is, and it delivers this without dumbing the game down or making it feel shallow. What allows it to do this is how the skill system works allowing for greater flexibility. The special dice allow for the player to get some interesting interactions and use their skills in a variety of ways. The leveling system encourages and makes it easy to make balanced characters without making them homogeneous. Special consideration goes to the fleshed out world that the game takes place in as it is in this world with its flavors and rules that makes all the other mechanics come together in one nice package.
I love playing fighters in D20 systems but the problem with pathfinder and 5e is that when you roll a fighter you are good at fighting but not much else. What I like about skills in this system is that you can apply them easily to situations outside of combat. For example we were examining a murder scene, my character is really good at fighting so I applied my martial melee skill along with a ring in order to figure out what the murder weapon was and how the victim died based on the wounds and blood splatters. It was coll and let the whole party be involved, we had the witch hunter checking the room for blood magic while the fighters were checking the physical evidence, and our coutier was asking witnesses questions, then we reconvened and swapped information. No one in that situation felt useless or outclassed. That is the moment when I realized how much I liked the system. There is a great flexibility not just in the skills but how you can apply them. So even individual skills can be applied in several different ways mechanically by choosing the approach you character wants to use for that skill by choosing a ring. Overall it made it so that fighter, face, or caster you feel included in all parts of the story.
The dice system is a big improvement upon the Fantasy Flight star wars system. The star wars system could be annoying to use because of how things cancel out and interpreting the symbols. You still need to interpret symbols with these dice but it is streamlined and I find easier to use because you are adding up stuff and never distracting. After just one session I was getting the hang of the system. There are only really two annoying things about the dice and one is mostly because of the book. Keeping track of exploding die symbols can be a bit irritating, but the most annoying thing was dealing with opportunity and that was because of the book. The book as of right now is laid out in a pretty terrible way. Charts and information that you could really use together are separated and it is most annoying with opportunity. There are two or three charts on the ways you can use opportunity plus your special abilities. For most our adventure we rarely used opportunity and when we did we cursed the book. Later on and especially in combat it got better but I am hoping they change the layout of the book to stop spreading information all over the place.
I like the leveling system a fair bit (although FF has recently updated the way leveling works so this only applies to the first version of the beta) because it encourages balanced characters. Even my super good bow character had points in a bunch of other skills. Using D&D 5e as my reference point again you are encouraged in that system to min max otherwise you will not be hitting the numbers you need to succeed and it feels terrible. In this system because rings and skills work together you have an easier time as a balanced character to hit the numbers you need, especially since what ring approach you choose can make your action much easier or much more difficult you have to think about how to approach a problem.
The world is wonderful and full of flavor without being too restrictive. It was nice having a world react to the characters in a more realistic or more dramatic fashion. A trend with traditional adventure games is that you are four random people of a variety of races that meet up and become murder hobos. Except in specific games no one really questions you in the world, your characters won’t face racism, your background is not something that affects how you are greeted, and you might was well have popped out of thin air because your parents/siblings will never be relevant. LoTFRs makes your background very relevant, what clan you are from, and who your ancestors are is very relevant. This world focuses very much on duty, tradition, and family. Being a rebel in this world is very dangerous not just for yourself but also your family. You have to be careful with your actions because it affects not just your character in a monetary or health way but your reputation, the reputation of your family and of your clan. Our DM made sure to emphasis that this world has rules and if we don’t abide by those rules we will have a bad time. Our characters have expectations placed upon them and to disappoint wouldn’t just be a temporary funny moment that the table laughs off it would be much more serious. In this world if you act in a dishonorable manner it can result in your family asking you to kill yourself, and if you don’t do that it is even more dishonorable.
The game play was exciting with it being very strategic with what dice to keep and what dice to discard. You might not want to keep certain dice if it causes your strife to go over a threshold and take you out of a fight even if that would let you succeed. As I mentioned in the dice section the way you use skills meant that even though there was not a lot of fighting I never felt useless or bored. Most of the sessions were composed of traveling and social situations. This is also the first system and game where I have played a mounted character and it feels real good to use. Being faster than the rest of my party was something I never let them forget for long. I always felt that D&D 5e was hostile to mounted characters because of the nature of dungeon crawling and the gold cost. In this system using a mount is easy and effective without being overpowered.
Social combat was surprisingly fun with some really neat and interesting stuff you can do. What ring, skills, and techniques you can have mean that there are a wide variety of approaches you can take to convince people. Our social “boss battle” led me to reconsider my character a bit and when I rebuild I will switch some of my skill points to social skills and techniques.
I like the combat system as well because it delivers on the fantasy of samurai battles without getting too crunchy or convoluted (looking at you pathfinder grapple flowchart) which meant you could do cool and interesting stuff without needing to min max your character, this is also where opportunity shines. During the combat instead of dealing more damage in a few cases I instead took more opportunity dice in order to set up my teammate to deal more damage. The way damage is dealt is not as straight forward as D&D instead of just dealing straight damage you also inflict the deadliness of your weapon. The deadliness of your weapon causes a corresponding status effect on the critical table. This means at lower deadliness you might just wound, but at the highest you can outright kill your enemy. Each round of combat where you are dealing damage also causes the next critical to become more deadly. So for example in typical samurai fashion you can be inflicted with a three turn dying status where you have a chance to speak your last words before dying. By putting those mechanics directly into the game it allows for some cool classic samurai drama moments.
In the final session each party member got a cool moment, my character using his school ability horse parkour ed his way up a tower to deliver a legendary sword to the commander of the tower to help her face down an Oni. We ended our final session having saved the wall by slaying the Oni. Our DM has told us that it made us the hottest bachelors in all the land and that will cause change in how the world and clans react to us. In addition there are all sorts of effects our actions had that he won’t tell us about. He is good at teasing. “Fun isn’t something one considers when teasing the players, but this does put a smile on my face” – my DM probably
Overall this system has met all of my expectations and more. I can’t wait for my group to get together again to dive back into Rokugan. There are so many more stories and parts of my character that I wish to experience and I have such a wonderful group of people to explore it with.
“Once you have traveled with someone they become like brothers. So you are never alone in this world.” – Samurai Champloo
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