Actual Play – Legend of the Five Rings (1/8/2009)

System: L5R

buffaloraven  really likes L5R. I mean, he REALLY likes it. He likes the RPG, the card game, the story line, the whole tamale. He had been talking about running an L5R game after our current 7th game finishes (my guess in a month or two) but wanted to see if some of the non-bushi, non-shugenja roles were viable. These are courtiers, yojimbos, bounty hunters, artisans and the like.

To test this out we’ve been getting together for short play-tests (this was the 3rd of them, I wasn’t at the second and I forgot to write up a recap of the 1st). In each play-test we’ve create some non-standard characters alongside at least one bushi or shugenja.

1st game we played Crane. I was a Kakita Bushi (pretty vanilla) but from a vassal family that respected crafting and so I had forged my own blade. Of the others, one was a courtier and the other a storyteller. I can’t say much about this as it has been a few weeks and I don’t think I’d give it a fair break down. I know I had fun cutting two silk scarves that were tied together apart with a single swing of my katana without damaging either scarf. They were color coded based on family and it was all symbolic and stuff.

2nd game I wasn’t present for, I think they played Mantis.

3rd game we played the Imperial Family. A family that is dedicated to keeping all the other clans at each other’s throats so they don’t turn on the emperor. Pretty smart, eh?

I played an Otomo courtier from a vassal house formed in the memory of this horrible bully. My job was to stir shit up, piss people off and boss people around. Hell YEAH. The story was that we were Imperial Magistrates who are sent with the emperor’s koku (gold) to dispense and improve the land. We had an encounter with a monk and an encounter with some not so typical bandits.

What rocked

My character’s school power is what rocked. It allowed him to use deceit without losing honor. Specifically deceit allows a character to convincingly tell a lie, seduce people (no romance here, we’re talking about buying people’s souls Palpatine style), and intimidation. A very nice selection of abilities.

In combat, when faced by a corrupted samurai and his ronin mercenaries, I was able to use Deceit to turn one of the hired hands against his master just enough to make him hesitate while we dispatched the real threat and then told him to kill himself with my tanto. Nice!

I was able to play a drunk without making it a huge “oh my god, you’re playing a character who is a drunk, we all need an intervention now!” Rokugan is a culture based on ignoring (or pretending to ignore) each other’s vices. It if isn’t “seen”, it didn’t really happy. It meant I could act a little dumb without grinding the game to a halt.

We met this poor man who was starving and waiting for the monks to return. I got a chance to use theology and quote something of Shinsei convincing him that he was purifying himself by fasting and that waiting here patiently was a lesion the monks were trying to teach him. We had barrels of cash, tons of food and yet somehow it was the right thing to do to leave this old man hungry. It was weird, and kind of cruel and creepy, but very cool.

What could have been improved

While I was very happy that my Deceit was a useful skill in combat, there was no die mechanic for it. The GM just assigned an arbitrary number of raises needed to convince someone of something. While I was very happy with the way he ruled, I think it would get tiring having to do that every time I used deceit against an enemy. I like to see mechanics that encourage certain actions. In this case, my character’s school power got him halfway there but (he got free raises) but failed to present a method for him to talk down an opponent.

It seemed like the Sepun Bushi was a bit underpowered. The requirements of a normal bushi are to have a high Agility and Reflexes. The Sepun also need a high Perception for their school, which results in them being less bad ass all around.

5 thoughts on “Actual Play – Legend of the Five Rings (1/8/2009)”

  1. The Otomo techniques (and Deceit in general) aren’t meant to be combat skills, they’re social skills. This doesn’t mean that GMs shouldn’t find ways to use them in combat. Hell, there are ways to use origami in combat, I’m sure. But they also can’t make rules for every eventuality.

    I’ve used Sincerity in combat rather effectively. (still died…but we were able to take the Goju with us) But that really does fall to GMs and players to negotiate ‘what will this mean?’ as opposed to most actual combat techniques which straightforwardly affect defense, attack, initiative, or damage. It’s no different than any system trying to use social skills in combat or vice versa.

    Once combat is started, L5R isn’t a game that encourages talking.

    So yeah, courtiers tend to be less useful there other than as meatshields to take a blow and slow down a mook for a round. Unless they’ve spent points for decent combat skills…in which case they’re not so great as courtiers. There are support things and whatnot (two void to give one of the effective fighters one…Encouragement=courtier cheerleading).

    L5R does need the GM to balance combat and social encounters more carefully than many games if they have a mix of characters.

    1. That’s actually a big part of what the tests are for: Can a courtier still be decent at whatever their courtier shtick is while still having a chance in combat, and can a bushi still excel at combat and survive court.

      I think we’ve got the bushi down, at least in 3rd. Having most things come down to an etiquette roll for the “I don’t want to do this, I have no ability, and I want to keep my honor as intact as possible” situations gives the bushi a solid defense.

      Courtiers in combat are working ok. This was the first time I’d seen a player use the courtier abilities while trying to fight, and it worked out well: Shouting at a ronin to lay down their arms rather than continue to fight for the Daigotsu samurai seemed to be a logical method. But a courtier with at least one decent weapon skill being able to roll 5ish dice and keep at least 2 seems to work ok as well.

      Also trying to weed out certain classes that don’t make effective character types for the brief game I’ll be running. Being Sapphire Magistrates (something I thought was canon, but turns out I made up) and policing clan trading and the ocean doesn’t lend itself to being a pacifist who won’t harm people, so the Asahina are out, etc. It’s been an interesting process.

      1. And given that you’re running it…testing them with you running should be an accurate representation. A GM with different leanings might make such things work less well.

        Also, keep in mind that at the moment, I mostly play forum games. So a watered down courtier tends to do poorly next to their straight-courtier bretheren unless they have some ‘hook’ to work with. Likewise for the bushi…which has been obvious when they spar.

        Not that they can’t do well. I just finished a game partnered with a Sparrow shugenja with lots of Iaijutsu. He was a very competent duelist. With a bit of kami-aid, he was the best one in the game. (yes…that’s cheating. He was guarding a Scorpion…)

    2. Sort of piggy backing on what Travis ways saying, I should have prefaced this with the point of these tests are to see how viable the non-combat characters could be in a game with a lot of combat.

      The actual use of deceit in this case made a lot of sense. The ronin was poor, working for a crazy guys and being offered koku, a lot of koku. I tried to script it in the same manner that Mal turned Jayne from an enemy at gun point to a part of his team.

      And yeah, pulling out “I attack him with my deceit skill” every time we enter combat is lame, what I was looking for was opportunity to make people second guess themselves, which Otomo seem to be very good at.

      If we were playing Wushu or Sons of Liberty or Wilderness of Mirrors or even Houses of the Blooded, courtiers with epic court-fu would be able to use their incredible understanding of social nuances to take an advantage in combat. Distracting, charming, taunting, infuriating, demoralizing, intimidating, or simply confounding their enemy. Though the narrative would not describe their speeches decapitating their foes, the net result could be as effective or even more so than the Bushi’s blade. I love L5R but I’m just a little disappointed that there is no mechanic for this in the game. Even 7th Sea, as outdated as the mechanics are has the Repartee system, which while poorly done were still a good attempt at making all the witty one-liners the game encourages into something that mechanically means something.

      1. I’ve tended to find that making courtiers with combat skills and bushi with decent Etiquette, get owned by the folks with sneaky because they have little in the way of Perception. (unless they’re Seppun there.)

        L5R was built initially around the more classic samurai movies. So while you might chat in a fight, it isn’t going to mess up your opponent. The mechanics are doing what they’re supposed to do.

        Also, to brush on my exceedingly minimal bit of game theory. The current edition is quite simulationist and tactical as far as combat goes. This is where it’s evolved from it’s much less crunchy, more narrativist 1st ed days. Making it pretty much apples and oranges to compare it with Houses of the Blooded, Wushu, etc.

        House-rules can make it shift more in the direction you want. But I’m really not sure that *more* mechanics are the way to go when you’re comparing it to games that get their feel by having fewer, or at least less simulationist, rules.

        It’s one of the things I like about playing it via forum; good players can often manage to play their characters realistically without dice, effectively creating a slimmed down, rules-lite version. (note..there are also forum games that tack on a ginormous amount of new rules to deal with all sorts of stuff they want to work just so..those are less my thing)

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