I’ve played Lo5R a few times now. Once at a Con actually, and I don’t remember much about it, but what I do remember wasn’t particularly noteworty. Gaz and Lemur are long-term fans, and I’ve always kept my ear to the ground about the game’s fortunes over the years. I actually bought 3rd edn last year just to try to get in on the action. Never really got much further than a decent skim of the text. I managed to snap up a copy of 1st edn on the lads’ recommendation recently (30p off ebay!) and I really liked what I saw. The art was great, the text accessible, a great example of a complete core book. I have to admit I’ve struggled with the setting before, my knowledge of feudal Japan is restricted to watching Shogun on TV years ago and reading the novel a while back. I’m more of a western fantasy kind of gamer to be honest.
I really quite like the system, but for Con games it’s got too much depth and detail. You’d need to put serious effort into the first 15 minutes of your game, and your character sheets would have to have loads of little primers on them too. 2/5.
Fantasy feudal Japan. Extremely gamable world that feels very alien to a western gamer. Loads of great flavour, a detailed alternate history, a ready made set of conflicts, obvious adventuring hooks aplenty. But, and it’s a big but.
It’s hard going at first. The terminology is pretty exotic, sword fighting is Kenjutsu, duelling is Iaijutsu etc etc. The clans are beautifully done, providing niches to fill, either by stereotypical play or by your own take on it. They all need a little explanation though, and they do make me readily think of inter party conflict, which is generally a bad idea.
The same thing is true of the world, your GM needs to be very good at evoking the look, smell and taste of Rokugan. It helps if you’ve seen ‘Hero’, or ‘Crouching Tiger…’ of course, but it’s still tricky to see in your minds eye if you’re not a student or fan of the orient. Then there’s the culture. As a pc you have to understand, and more importantly, act upon, the warriors code of bushido. The shorthand for that is to act like a chivalrous knight, but that’s not quite right. This might sound a little strange, but for the first half hour or so the game felt like Judge Dredd to me. Once I knew what the social rules were, I didn’t know whether to punish (and that invariably means death to the wrongdoer) or whether to overlook, and would that make me forfeit my life? We didn’t get into the whole seppuku thing and the idea of lives as goods that belong to another, but the whole set up serves to act as speed bumps in the first hour of the game. Again, in an ongoing campaign that depth would be richly rewarding, but one shots don’t have that luxury.
I can forsee something even worse, the canon cop. If I were to run this game at a Con, and in the introductions find out that a player had been a Lot5R gamer for years, through multiple editions and all the card game backstory, I think I’d be wise to worry. The way the setting works means that you can get involved as a player in a big way. There’s all kinds of awesome in the meta plot. Even the politest fan would struggle to not reveal their knowledge of the fate of the Bayushi family to a table of newbs.
For Con gaming purposes, 2/5
Gaz is an old hand at writing one shot scenarios and it showed through in this one. I won’t spoil the plot because I’m convinced he’ll want to run this one out again in the future. I know he’ll agree that it could have been better prepped, that’s always true. We had nice pregens that gave us a broad choice of samurai to play. None of the more fiddly types were offered, and we could tell this was going to need sharp blades more than sharp arguments, wwhich is absolutley fine. The party concept was that we were roving ‘constables’ for the magistrate. A good hook, instantly recognisable and meant we could get involved in the world straight away.We had travel and exploration before being ambushed by bandits. With a bit of tightening this could serve as a decent combat intro to the game. It did it’s job, but I’d have liked to have seen something that made it stand out from any other basic combat in any other game. Perhaps an exotic location, or some element that shouted ‘Rokugan’.
As always in Gaz’ games there were some superb handouts for us. Every NPC had a full colour portrait to back up his portrayal. Vitally, these included the characters name. This helped avoid us having to say ‘thingummy’ and ‘wotsherface’ later on in the scenario. We had some cool interactions with the world and it’s inhabitants. I held back from really engaging to be honest, not because the scenario wasn’t grabbing me, it was, but because of the setting issues I spoke about earlier. I didn’t want to derail the game by accident. Playing a scorpion clan member made it even harder to get involved. I had to make a conscious effort to not go off on my own and hog the spotlight as a sneaky traitorous ninja type might.
With 6 players and no real time pressures the game went on for longer than anyone expected I think. In hindsight we could have all used more pace, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make that happen. We got a conclusion to the game, which was were the mass battle came in. This part went really well, considering there wasn’t a whole lot of prep on show. Its a testament to Gaz’ GMing chops that he could handle six players in a brand new sub system thats full of crunch, and still manage to weave a story with it. Arguably, with a few rolls you could generate an entire one off out of it.
I thought this scenario was good. I think it’s well worth going back over and colouring in a few sections for sure. With a bit more prep this could be a great scenario, and it will be interesting to hear Gaz’ own thoughts. 4/5
Legend of the Five Rings is considered a classic game, and rightly so. I could see this being a deep, rich and colourful gaming experience that is very different from the norm. Unfortunately I think almost all of that is wasted in a Con situation. It is a perfectly servicable Samurai game, but that alone doesn’t do the game justice. On the other hand, at the right Con, with the right players, I could see great potential in a courtier based game, but I’d still want the players to have some setting know how in advance.
Approach with caution.