Monday, November 15, 2010

Making Ninjitsu Deadly

Making Ninjitsu Deadly

Everyone knows that ninja and ninjutsu can be used to kill people with poisons, in 4th edition that is doubly so with the current ninja school getting bonuses to attack unaware targets, and people who are suffering a conditional effect. Because poisons now mostly deliver conditional effects alongside trait loss the Shosuro assassin is going to do well dropping one unaware target as their abilities stay strong.

However the weapons they wield themselves, blowguns, tsubute and shuriken, have long been regarded as weaker gimped alternatives to bows and knives. I'm going to show you how you can get bang for your buck from your tsubute.

The unaware targets rule of 3rd edition is now gone, seemingly replaced with only an ambush mechanic. This appears to leave ninja in the lurch as they are suddenly up against the full armour TN of all but the most unaware target.
But a cunning enough ninja ought to get an opponent in a situation where they are either 'helpless' aka stunned, or 'blinded' aka have no idea they are about to get ganked.
This is based on the new principles of 4th Edition. In 3rd edition it seemingly had to be printed to exist, in 4th edition your GM should be able to make the difference and interepret the rules to make sense. Here's an example
you are walking through the woods, hunting bandits or a bear, the bandits jump you. Standing ready for combat you damn well deserve your full armour TN.
You are sitting at a sake house, a ninja has scaled the rooftops and come down through to beams to above your private room, you are sitting their quietly talking.
Do you seriously want to tell me the latter example deserves his full armour TN? Frankly thats just redonculous.
The rules actually say (pg 88) "The GM might also rule that a surprised character is easier to hit, depending on whether that seems appropriate to the circumstances"
So our Ninja ought to be able to craft situations where their GM allows then a lowered armour TN.

Now if your Ninja is going to attack armoured and alert targets you deserve the pumelling you get. Ninja do their killing best when their targets are sleeping, drunk or 'otherwise engaged'..

But how you scream! A tsubute does 1k1 damage that doesn't explode!!
Well thats easy, your a ninja, you have to specialise like anyone else to be good at killing.
First the mastery abilities bring the weapons up to par with other ranged options, but they still dont make up for not being able to add your strength to damage. 2k2 isn't much of a damage roll for someone who has gotten a skill rank of 7.
The other must-have to make ninjitsu effective is the advantage great potential. That turns the puny 3-4 raises you can make on damage into 7+
Now what to do with those raises... you might at first say, DAMAGE! and to that I say no.
Use your raises for two things, in priority order, Feinting, and extra attack.
This is where that high skill rank comes in, it'll let you pull the crazy number of raises required to do that. And any decent ninja will have an agility of 4+, which is the trait of choice for throwing things (reference the athletics options here)
try to arrange a comfy hiding space where you can enter centre stance for a round, adding the centre stance benefit to a damage roll will really make a difference.
The last thing of course is that all important void point, spend that on the attack that has the raises for extra attack.

How you ask, can you feint if they can't see you?
Depends how you set it up, maneuver your target with a thrown rock in the opposite direction or some sort of diversionary tactic so they move into a more exposed position...sure sounds like a feint to me.

but to be sure it may not be every GM's cup of tea.

This will leave your 3 shuriken attacks as follows (based on a rank 3)
lets assume a measly agility of 4 on our rank 3 Shosuro
for attack that's 10k6 +void...and if you are super cunning and your hiding place doesnt require exertion you'll have been in centre stance previous round.
one at 2k2, plus on average 10 for feint.
two at a 5k2 plus on average the full 15 for feint.

that's again on average 66 damage. If the GM allows the target a void to reduce damage that will still drop an earth 3 target straight to out.. and if you've been dropped to out, and there is a ninja in the shadows who wants you dead, your survival odds are not great.

That cost our shinobi
Great potential Ninjitsu, 5 points
Ninjitsu 7, 30 points
Agility 4, 16 points (but a shinobi with a lower agility is as good as dead)
thats 51 XP, 18 of which must be spent in play.

Killing your target? Priceless.

Now our example has shown you HOW you can be effective...but why bother?

Well if you have ever tried to find a decent place to hide in the dark, and stand upright to shoot a bow with both hands, you'll know that a one handed, easily disposible weapon is a must have. Hankyu do have a better range and damage output, but try firing one from a roofbeam...welcome to TN penalties from your friendly GM.

Also we didn't include blowdarts in our example..because they aren't designed to kill people, they are designed to be innocuous. What it doesn't tell you in the blowdarts section is that Ninja would attach cotton to the feathers of the darts and quickly retrieve their dart, leaving no evidence of the dart *Ahem* except the poison coursing through the targets veins.

As for knives, well unless you are a Cashed up Daidoji Harrier with Koku to burn, do you really want to spend 1 koku of your 5 starting Koku on each crime scene? Or do you intend to try and retrieve every weapon?
Knives are expensive, and have a poorer range that ninjitsu weapons.
Knives are an option, to be sure, but if you have to resort to theft, which may compromise your real missions, its an option a proffessional assassin wouldn't resort to.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Sneak Peak into Emerald Empire v 2.0

As I mentioned while responding to a comment, I'm readjusting to being back in school. So the blog entries aren't coming as fast as I'd like. Rest assured though I intend to keep things running.

Todays topic of discussion is Emerald Empire. While at Gen Con I did an interview for L5Rchives and discussed some of the schools to look forward to in this highly anticipated book. So today I'm going to go over in brief what I discussed at Gen Con.

Hida Pragmatist - Nothing more to say on it other than, bare fisted bar room brawling Crab action.

Doji Magistrate - A classic is back. In addition to it being back the school was reworked somewhat to mechanically represent the Crane martial art of Mizu Do. I personally liked it. And this goes a long way to help illustrate what was talked about earlier with 4th Edition and how we'll look at new ways to do old things.

Lion's Shadows - This is the 4th Edition update of the Ikoma Spymaster school. The Lion are not one of my favorite clans, but I did enjoy working with this school. I think the name change is also appreciate.

Soshi Magistrate - This is definitely a new one and one that made me the most happiest. The Scorpion have finally gotten their magistrate school. This guy is definitely the bad cop to the Doji Magistrates good cop.

Now I know that wasn't much to go on, but I hope it's enough to whet your whistle. Emerald Empire should have enough new, mixed in with the old and some updates for highly anticipated schools like the Shinjo Bushi.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Creating Spirit Characters: The Quick and Easy

Creating Spirit Characters
The Quick and Easy
by Dace

So before we begin I would like to state that when I sit down to come up with rules I tend to err on the side of what makes for a fun story. So a lot of my suggestions are in fact based on the idea of creating what I feel is a good story.

The Spirit rules found in Enemies of the Empire create a brief and quick way of making a Spirit character for the purpose of NPC building. This doesn't work so well for PC's.

Now allowing a Spirit character into the game does present some intresting problems. Some GM's may find them out right disruptive. Spirits have an alien mind set from the average Rokugani, being compled to respond more based on the nature of the realm they come from and their spirit nature than that of a samurai. Concepts like honor and bushido do not always come to them.

Other things that a GM must consider is that such characters have no lords. And if things get too sticky for them could merely disappear into the spirit realm they came from. Certain combitnations of spirit powers and schools must also be watched since the powers themselves were never tested against the schools.

With all that in mind let us begin.

The basic spirit character is built by using the base animal and then adding the to it the spirit quality and basic spirit powers based on the spirit itself. Most of these base animal traits can be found either in Enemies of the Empire or the Core Rule book.

Start off using the base stats given as the basic spirit of that character. Example, I'm building a Ryu spirit to interact with some PC's in my game. I anticpate heavy use of the character and therefore will build it as a basic character. We will call him Hiei.

Hiei basic starting stats will be the same as all Ryu (found on page 254 of EotE).


Air 4
Awareness 6
Earth 3
Fire 4
Intelligence 5
Water 3
Perception 4

It's intitatve will of course be recalculated based on the school, but I would keep it's Reduction. No matter the form after all it will still have those qualities. Though I would only allow it it's claw damage when Hiei is fighting in dragon form. It's claw damage and armor TN would only apply when in dragon form.

Now the Ryu have a couple of extra abilities. Shapeshifter, Swift, Spirit and Soul of a Dragon. The Shapeshifting ability will be put to good use when it comes time to chose which powers it has. As a GM I would only apply the Soul of a Dragon ability when Hiei is serving in the capacity of the Celestial Heavens. This is one of the reasons why the book notes that such characters can be disruptive

The next step is now to chose which spirit ablities the character will have. Since Hiei intends to interact as a mortal human Humanity is a must. Mimic also makes a good choice for a guy who intends to help guide other characters. Showing up in the guise of someone the characters might trust or just observing them with a new face from time to time. And finally a Panthers Move.

Three minor ablities require three minor penalties. So we'll go with Can't drink alcohol, Must always dress in colors of your natural form and You can't answer questions in a straight forward manner.

Now comes the tricky part, a school. Now for the more powerful creatures I believe in making them True Ronin in point spending. Even if we are choosing a great clan school, say Hiei wants to pretend to be an Asako monk, I do not believe that spirit characters who start out with an initially strong set of abilities should have more points during character generation.

So in general if it has several abilities on it's own, or will pick up many abilities (like the Kitsune) I recommend using the True Ronin CP. If it has only a handful of abilities, around 2, then I say go with the clan ronin. If it only has one ablity (epically one that will be taken up with the Humanity trait) then I would say go the full 45 CP that any starting character gets. Tsuru, Saru and Tanuki spirits spring to mind as spirits deserving of the standard character package.

Now as for schools. Such characters don't get a Family bonus, but they would get the School bonus. Most will have decent traits to start with anyway from their animal. I recommend keeping the same set of basic rings and traits no matter the form. Far less confusing that way.

School selection should be done based on background. A spirit who just walked out of the woods three weeks ago is best suited for Monk and Ronin schools. A spirit who has studied a clan however may be able to pick up or trick someone into teaching them techniques. I would require such characters however to have at least three ranks in Lore (Clan). A spirit that is trying to be an Asako should have some working knowledge of how the Phoenix and Asako work.

And there you have it. The quick and easy of making Spirit PC's.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Yojimbo

The Yojimbo
By Cooper

In previous editions you could tell a yojimbo apart from another bushi by the presence of a Shiba or Daisoji mon above their sword arm. It was the Techniques of these two schools which protected their charges, but the character itself would end up fighting in more or less the exact same manner as any other bushi. A straightforward enough solution, but one which was neither diverse nor flavorful.

The newly refurbished Guard maneuver of 4E reverses that trend. Now any School can produce a decent yojimbo so long as the player remembers to place their charge's safety ahead of their own. Why? Because the Guard maneuver will allow anyone to protect an ally by surrendering an attack and compromising their own defenses.

With this understanding, I present you with ten rules of being a yojimbo:

Ten: Never Begin A Combat in Full Defense

A character in Full Defense cannot use the Guard Maneuver to protect his charge, he is also probably harder to hit than his ward, and he will pose no immediate threat to his assailants.

If you begin combat in Full Defense, a competent assassin will run right past you and stab your charge through the heart.

It should be noted that while anyone can make an effective yojimbo in this edition, the Shiba and Daidoji do still have a few edges that reflect their expertise. For example, a Rank 1 Shiba actually can use the Guard Maneuver while in Full Defense, allowing them to occasionally get away with breaking Rule #1.

Nine: Always Think About the Safety of Your Charge

Pretty obvious, really. As a yojimbo, your duty is to keep your charge alive, untainted, and if possible, unharmed. Naturally you will do a better job keeping your charge safe if you yourself are healthy and sober. However, if one of the two of you must get hurt, you should be the one standing in the way of the blow. Remember, if your charge dies before you, you have failed.

Eight: Don't Let the Obvious Catch You By Surprise

9 times out of 10 a Kaiu on the Wall is going to need a Yojimbo who can hold an Oni at bay while an emissary to the Crane courts will need one who can hold his own in a duel. By paying attention to the duties, disadvantages and enemies of your ward, you can prepare for trouble before it arrives. You can't prepare for everything, but you should at least have a plan in place for your most common enemies.

Seven: Be A Soft Target

In other words, make sure your Armor TN is lower than that of your charge. While this makes you easier to hit, it also makes you more attractive to attack, and every enemy who goes after you is an enemy who is not going after your charge. Using the Guard Maneuver is a good way to become a Soft Target, so is going into Full Attack.

A bushi who takes the Shiba Yojimbo path or who reaches Rank 5 of the Daidoji Iron Warrior School does not need to worry about making themselves into a soft target because they already posses a technique that allows them to intercept damage meant for their ward.

Six: Don't Be A Hero

You only need to protect one person, not the entire party. If your friend, the Matsu, wants to charge in and make herself and even more attractive target than you, let her. Any enemy who attacks her is an enemy who is neither attacking your ward nor undermining your ability to protect him. If the Matsu survives, be sure to sing her praises and buy her a drink. After all, you want her doing the same thing again in the future.

Five: Know When to Attack

Even for a Yojimbo there comes a time when it makes sense to go on the assault. Here are a few examples of when it is appropriate
When no assailant can reach your charge this Round
When no one else is in a position to attack
When there is only one assailant left
Daidoji Iron Warriors who have reached their 2nd School Rank can attack more often than other yojimbo because their Guard maneuvers last for twice as long.

Four: Stick to Your Ward

If you have any suspicion that there might be another assailant, stay within a Simple Action Move of your charge. Remember, someone can only gain the benefits of a Guard maneuver if they're within 5' of you.

Three: Be Ready to Duel

Since you are already fighting your charge's battles for them, it is not unreasonable for your ward to name you as their champion in a duel. As such a yojimbo should at least be a passable duelist. Enough, at least, to keep the riffraff at bay.

Two: Be Willing to Lose

Sometime the best thing you can do for your charge is lose a duel by bowing out. For one thing, it may be the only time you can safely rebuke your ward for being in the wrong. For another, there is nothing to be gained by injuring yourself against the blade of a superior opponent (or a poisoner). Remember, you can best defend your charge when you are healthy. A canny foe might well arrange for a duel before an assassination attempt just to make sure you are off your game.

One: Die Well

There will come a time when all other rules will fail you and the only way to keep your charge safe is to face insurmountable odds while they run for it. Seize that moment when it comes. In these final moments give your charge every advantage you can. Hand over your initiative, charge the enemy, assume the Full Defense stance, do everything in your power to buy your charge the time to get away and die knowing that you were a good yojimbo.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Playtester Approved Stance Declaration Systems
Compiled by Cooper

What follows is a collection of stance declaration systems that were used by the playtesters throughout the two year process of trying to break 4E. You may notice some models that do not seem to match the final text of the rules, this is not terribly surprising, as game design is an iterative process and the L5R Dev Team has taken the opinions of its playtesters seriously. Even so, I can assure you that each and every one of these methods was used and proved to be a fun and viable way to pick stances in combat.

Simultaneous Declaration – Pre-Initiative

Since the rules do not provide an order for stance declaration, most play-testers came up with approaches that allowed for simultaneous declaration before initiative is known. As this seems to be the closest to the “rule book position,” I will start there.

“He Who Shouts Loudest”

First round declarations get muddy with me, often they end up not getting done until the actual action is take, but in most cases the PCs act first, and some movements is required, so it has little impact on the play.

That's how I do with my non-PT chaps now its released anyway. I can't recall any 'but I was in full-defense' style retractions.

How It Works: Everyone shouts out their stance as soon as the combat begins.
Where It Does Work: High-trust free form play groups that just want the combat to start
Where It Doesn't Work: Highly organized groups, low trust groups, PvP groups
Who It Favors: Nobody (though it can favor the person to speak up last)

“Clockwise Declaration”

Our group stopped, chose our stances, announced them around the table in order, then played.
- NotAEGTodd

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled, the GM goes around the room asking each player what their stance is.
Where It Does Work: Organized high-trust play groups that want to get into the fight quickly
Where It Doesn't Work: Free form groups, low-trust groups, min-maxers, PvP groups
Who It Favors: The person to the right of the GM (addressed by sometimes going counter-clockwise)

“Blind Declaration”

I had each player write down their stance on a bit of paper and pass it to me/put it face down in front of them and THEN roll initiative.

This could be formalized by having 'Stance Cards' like Cooper is making up, or by using CCG cards with differing force (stances being 1-5), or by placing a 6 sided die down and covering it with a cup (stances being 1-5), or with a pack of playing cards. 1-5 are stances, or 10-Ace are stances... Packs of cards are like $1 each.
- Togashi Shinjitsu

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled, each player records what stance they want to assume. Stances are then revealed after the initiative roll.
Where It Does Work: In-person games
Where It Doesn't Work: PbP Games, disorganized games, games with indecisive players, games played without scratch paper or accessories
Who it Favors: Nobody

“The Battle Plan”

One of my favorite GMs would walk out of the room and give us a couple of minutes to plan out our group strategy without him. When he returned we'd either have a consensus of who was doing what, or we'd get caught flat footed and nobody would be prepared.
- Cooper

How It Works: The GM gives the players a fixed amount of time to come to a consensus. Once the time is up the GM gathers the stances from each group involved. If a group has no answer or if there are disputes within the group, they are flat footed and suffer penalties of the GMs choosing (e.g. being stuck in Attack Stance without the ability to make an attack).
Where It Does Work: Groups with a good team dynamic, PbP games
Where It Doesn't Work: One on one PvP, groups that want to start fights quickly
Who it Favors: The PCs if they get along well - the GM if they don't

"GM Discretion"

Related to first round stance declaration, I'm just going to put in a statement that they are declared prior to the Initiative roll in an order determined by the GM. Give them the wiggle room to do it the way they want.
-Shawn Carman

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled the GM asks each player what stance they assume. The GM can have a pattern or not as they see fit.
Where It Does Work: Games where players trust the GM to be fair
Where It Doesn't Work: High tension PvP scenarios, games where the players don't trust the GM to be fair
Who It Favors: Assuming a fair GM, nobody.

Ordered Declaration – Pre-Initiative

There are two common characteristics to all of these methods. First, they require an additional roll or calculation in order to determine who reveals their stance first, and second, all stances are considered in-character knowledge. Because of these two characteristics, combats in a game using ordered pre-initiative stance declarations are likely to get off to a slower start.

“Enemies First”

If players are worried that the GM is "cheating" by always picking the best counter-stances to their choices, he can always declare NPC stances first.
- Cooper

How It Works: Before Initiative is rolled, the GM tells the players what stances each of the enemies has assumed. The GM then uses any of the strategies above for determining the order of PC stance declaration.
Where It Does Work: Games where the GM is willing to give the PCs an edge over NPCs
Where It Doesn't Work: PvP groups
Who It Favors: The PCs

“Tactician Reads the Field”

If you need a good way to pick who declares their stance first, why not use a Battle/Perception or Battle/Awareness roll? Lowest roll declares first.

It would be a good way to make the Battle skill relevant in a Skirmish.

How It Works: Before Phase 1 of a skirmish, everyone makes a Battle (Skirmish) roll using a Trait determined by the play group. Whoever has the lowest roll must declare their stance first.
Where It Does Work: A group that thinks the Battle Skill should play a bigger role in PC combat
Where It Doesn't Work: Any group that wants the combat to start quickly.
Who It Favors: Well rounded characters

“The Best Defense is a Good Offense”

Battle isn't the only skill you can use to determine order of stance declaration. It could really be any Skill/Trait combination that the Players and GM agree is important. Defense, Athletics, and Iaijutsu all seem like they could be valid choices as well.

How It Works: See Above, change the skill.
Where It Does Work: In groups that think the chosen Skill is underpowered
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups that want combat to start quickly, groups that can't agree on what skill should let you react to others' stances.
Who It Favors: Depends on the skill chosen. Defense will favor defensive builds, Iaijutsu will favor duelists, Athletics will favor well rounded builds.

Ordered Declaration – Post Initiative

Once you know the initiative order it becomes a lot easier to know what the “best” stance is. As such, post initiative stance declarations are best for tempering the value of a high initiative.

“Initiative Order”

I would do it in Initiative order for my games!
-Brian Yoon

How It Works: After Initiative is rolled, the fastest character declares his or her stance. Proceed down the list until you have a stance from everyone. Then the fastest character acts.
Where It Does Work: Games that want to decrease the impact of Initiative on the outcome of a skirmish.
Where It Doesn't Work: Games where players want Initiative to play a larger roll in combat, games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: No one really. Low initiative characters can see high initiative character's stances before declaring stance. High initiative characters can see low initiative character's stances before declaring actions.

"Defense by Default"

For simplicity's sake, I would suggest that, until a character has a chance to change his stance at the beginning of his turn, all characters are assumed to be in the Defense stance by default. Or, Full Defense by default, but only Defense by default if ambushed.
- Otaku Mike

How It Works: Skip stance declaration and go immediately into the initiative order. Everyone is considered to be in the Defense (or Full Defense) stance until their Turn. When it reaches your turn you may change stance, even though it is still the first round.
Where It Does Work: Games that want to get into the fight fast
Where It Doesn't Work: Games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: Those with high Initiative OR high Defenses. "Attack/Damage" builds have the hardest first round, but they're usually stronger in the following rounds, so it balances.

“Reverse Initiative”

As for me, I'm an old White Wolf fan. When it comes to combat I handled as I would if I were playing a WoD game. Players declare their actions and their stances in reversed order.
I was always liked of the 2E approach of lowest initiative declares first. And since declarations are now limited to stances rather than full actions, you actually fix the 2E loophole of being unable to attack if someone else in the party kills your target first.

How It Works: After Initiative is rolled, the slowest character declares his or her stance. Proceed up the list until you reach the fastest character. Once everyone has a stance, the fastest character may take his Turn.
Where It Does Work: High Earth-multiplier games, games where combat should be decided by Initiative
Where It Doesn't Work: Games that feel initiative is already too powerful, games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: High Initiative characters

“Tactician Reads the Field Perfectly”

How It Works: This is handled exactly like Tactician Reads the Field (described above), only you know the initiative order before you start declaring stances. This gives characters with high Battle Skill a huge advantage over those without.
Where It Does Work: Groups that REALLY think Battle is under valued in 4E
Who It Doesn't Work: Just about everywhere else
Who It Favors: Characters with high Perception or Awareness and characters with high Battle skill.

Other Considerations

“Dramatic Declarations”

Sometimes stances are declared before combat is even close.

GM:"You are walking through a dark alley in a dangerous part of town"
PC:"Yeah? I am SO in defence stance right now!"
GM:"You hear the rattling sound of a wooden bucket rolling down the street ahead"
PC:"Full defence time. I inch forward ever so slowly, expecting to be attacked at any moment"
-Togashi Shinjitsu
How It Works: If the characters have a legitimate reason to expect violence and preemptively declare that they are assuming a stance, they will begin combat in that stance. If the GM feels the players should get some sort of benefit in exchange for "broadcasting" their stance before Phase 1, they can be allowed to change stance once it reaches their Turn even if it's the first round.
Where It Does Work: Play groups that feel the written rules come second to dramatic narrative
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups with a stickers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: Those interested in telling a good story

“Stealth is Sneaky”

How It Works: If you are hidden from your opponent(s) you do not need to declare a stance until your Turn.
Where It Does Work: Groups that do not feel there is enough of an advantage for ambushes and sneak attacks.
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups that think that -10 initiative is enough of a penalty for being surprised.
Who It Favors: Stealthy and dishonorable characters

A Final Word

A fairly big deal has been made out of the fact that a character built for high Initiative in one system will not have a high initiative in another. This is both true and entirely beside the point. Unless you intend to use the exact same character in two different games, run by two different GMs, using two different initiative systems, it will never come up. If you wish to move a character from one game to another in a casual game environment, your new GM will probably let you re-tool the character. If you are instead using the game within a "persistent world" or "league" environment, it's a safe bet that the governing body of your league will set out guidelines as to which initiative system that league considers most appropriate.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Enemies of the Empire - A quick glance

Enemies of the Empire at a glance

Hello from Gen Con. I'm taking a moment from the morning to talk about Enemies of the Empire, which released today at Gen Con. I haven't had the time to read it and likely won't for several days now. But to give folks something to look forward to ... :)

The book is hardback like the 4th Edition Core book. It comes out to 288 pages. The book keeps the same layout that we saw with 4th Edition Core and looks beautiful. It has 14 Chapters of goodness to boot.

So what will you find inside?


Chapter 1: Bestiary - This chapter gives you new critters to work with.
Chapter 2: The Bloodspeakers - If the Spider isn't your cup of tea. If you were more of a fan of Iuchiban - Then this is the chapter for you.
Chapter 3: The Kolat - For those sneaky bastards who have spent centuries trying to undermine Rokugan.
Chapter 4: The Lost - Non Spider Tainty gTsuoodness.
Chapter 5: The Naga - Snakes in Rokugan. Ok their not snakes, but they are still there in their awesomeness.
Chapter 6: The Nezumi - The Ratlings in all their glory.
Chapter: 7 The Nothing - My favorite if you couldn't tell. Everything you need to knwo about Nothing.
Chapter: 8 Oni - The Crab's worst enemy.
Chapter: 9 Five Ancient Races - Kenku, Ningyo, Trolls, Kitsu & Tsuno, Zokujin
Chapter: 10 Ronin - Wavemen, you know you like them.
Chapter: 11 Shadowlands Beast - Sure they're not oni but they're just as dangerous.
Chapter: 12 Spirits - Kitsune and more.
Chapter: 13 Undead - Zombies ... braaaaiiiinnnnsssss
Chapter: 14 Appendix - Some

Oh and an Index

Also just a note, while some races like the Nezumi and Naga are presented they aren't presented as the "bad guys". You are more than capable of taking them and making them the hero's of your game.

But I've spoiled enough. I need to get back to the Gen Con exerpince.

Happy 15th Aniversy L5R!!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Enemies of the Empire

With Gen Con approaching there hasn't been much time to post something new :(. However I would like to say that it was announced via Facebook that there will be 200 copies of Enemies of the Empire at Gen Con.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


L5R 4E - Monks
Togashi Shinjitsu

"When you are gone" asked Hantei, "where will I find wisdom such as yours?"
Shinsei answered "In rice cakes."

Rokugani monks are social oddity.
They aren't Samurai, but they aren't truly Heimin either - In fact, many were once Samurai.
They are holy men, but they aren't Shugenja.
Many are experts at the martial arts, and yet at the same time embrace a pacifist existence.

For L5R 4E, evoking and maintaining that oddity was a delicate balancing act.

"It is difficult to master yourself, let alone others"

Too mystical, and the monk risks impinging on the Shugenja.
Too martial, and the monk might outclass the Bushi.

With this in mind, monks still needed to be given abilities that would make Bushi respect them, and Shugenja revere their connection to the elements.

Where do monks fit into Rokugani society, and the L5R game world?
There are many stories of an overly proud bushi being shown humility by a lowly monk, or a powerful shugenja marvelling at the ease at which monks work in harmony with the elements.

"Every moment has a lesson for you to learn. Learn to listen"

one of the simplest roles a monk then fulfils is one of a teacher. Their mere presence can be a means to teach Bushi, Shugenja and others that the world is more mysterious, more wonderful and more demanding than previously thought possible.

This was a big part of how monks were approached for 4th Edition L5R.

They needed to be different. They needed to be versatile and changeable, able to be a vessel for whichever lesson was to be learnt or taught. Yet they should not be able to outshine Bushi or Shugenja in their given fields of specialty.
So Monks couldn't just have Techniques, or they would just be Bushi. They couldn't just have spells, or they would be Shugenja.
The 'middle ground' that monks ought to occupy is accomplished by mystical abilities called Kiho.

Kiho have been present since 1st Edition L5R. They have traditionally provided powerful abilities that are unexplainable by shugenja, or even the monks that utilise them. Mastery of Kiho can provide momentary martial prowess to humble even the greatest warrior, or bring knowledge even the most accomplished Shugenja cannot fathom.

The task for 4th Edition was to find this balance, and ensure that the game rules were up to the task of limiting monks, yet providing them with versatility and mystery.

Many ideas were explored for the kiho mechanic. Plain old void expenditure, tweaked versions of the 3rd edition 'activation' methods, 'always on' ideas, triggered actions and a plethora of others all came and went.

"The simplest questions are the hardest to ask."

At some point, someone sat back and thought "What are monks about, really? What do they do best/most that nobody else does?"
and the obvious result was 'meditation and void'.
That's what monks do. That's their 'thing' if you like. They meditate, to become one with the universe, to harmonise with the elements, including Void. Some monks meditate in strange ways, and every monk's path to enlightenment is different, but all monk schools espouse the benefits of meditation and contemplation - even if it involves putting your fist through stone as a step along the way.

Finally, the 3-fold method of kiho activation was envisioned and revised.
A Kiho is now activated in one of 2 ways - As a Meditation roll, or with a Void point.
Activating via the Meditation roll is a Complex action, but if you are willing to accept a higher TN, you can do it as a Simple action.
If you really need that Kiho quickly, you can spend a Void Point to guarantee it activates, AND it's a Free action.

The most you can do in one round is get 3 Kiho up and running. 2 Simple actions, at high TN, and spend a Void for the last one. As you can only perform each type of Free action once a round, you can't blow multiple void on Activating Kiho in one round, but you can still trigger effects that require extra Void for kiho that are already active.

Situational penalties of any kind can really hinder a monk's calm - and therefore their ability to focus on activating Kiho. An injured monk needs to be quite good at meditation to activate a kiho without tapping into their mystical reserves.
This can be offset a little by taking the time to centre yourself. A neat use of the Centre Stance is to use the bonus it provides to aid your Kiho activation roll in the next round.

The trade-off becomes time vs Void. A monk with a long time to prepare can become a force to be respected, or they can spend much of their void to speed up the process.
In combat situations, time is limited, so a monk can rapidly diminish their mystical reserves if they try to do too much too quickly. If they take their time and focus on harnessing their inner being, much more can be achieved.

When asked the meaning of dreams, Shinsei said:
"If only men put so much thought into what they see when they are awake."

Kiho in previous editions have been seen as confusing, and potentially too powerful, stepping on both Bushi's and Shugenja's toes.
We were determined not to let that happen in 4E, but the possibility had to remain for an enlightened monk to humble the proud bushi, or to teach the arrogant Shugenja, or to open the eyes of the jaded courtier.

The testing and refining of Monks and Kiho was not a quick process. More than a year of dedicated work went into ensuring monks were 'fun' to play, but without pulling too much focus from other characters, and without making monks a dominant force in every situation.

They make effective 'second rank' characters, supporting and aiding both Shugenja and Bushi, but without overshadowing either.
For example, many martial Kiho inflict conditions, rather than damage.
This also makes them ideal antagonists, or 'situational teachers'. A proud and mighty Akodo can be rendered immobile by a Freezing the Lifeblood atemi strike, leaving the Bushi unable to escape or respond to the monk's quiet lecture on how foolhardiness is unbecoming in a Samurai - without having to reduce the Bushi to the 'Down' rank via damage.

The sheer versatility of Kiho was a considerable hurdle, as they are easier to combine than techniques, and less limited in application than spells. A lot of time was invested into making sure Kiho interact well, without destroying game balance or becoming too cumbersome.

Shinsei said "I am only the ladle and the Tao is the well. When you are not thirsty is your mind on the ladle or on the well?"

A monk in the group provides a chance to highlight the highly philosophical nature of Rokugani culture, without crippling the group's effectiveness. They give you a chance to bring eastern works of philosophy into your game, enriching the atmosphere and highlighting the struggle (or lack thereof) that is following Bushido and the Tao of Shinsei.

Monks in 4th Edition L5R are an essential part of Rokugan society, while not actually being part of it.

They can be made of glass, or hard as diamond.
As active as a forest fire, or as relaxed as a brazier's warmth.
As dangerous as a tornado, or as gentle as a summer's breeze.
They can be as changeable as the river currents, or as inexorable as a glacier's advance.
As easy to understand as breathing is.

I hope you enjoy playing them as much as I do.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Check out the RPG page. It was recently updated with the Legend of the Burning Sands 4th Edition update and the Masters of Magic web supplement for 3rd Edition.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Using Maho

Using Maho in your Game

I recall when we first took a look at the maho rules during the early parts of playtesting. Like many people who read them now, we were concerned that they may in fact be over powered. But Design assured us that that was the point. Maho in 4th Edition was meant to represent a stronger, darker and scarier thing.

And in that regard I believe the design goal has succeeded. Maho is scary. There are of course concerns that using maho may unbalance a game. The side bar on page 267 gives a way to balance maho in regards to it's use with PC Spider characters. Those same methods can also work for NPC's. What follows are a few more suggestions on how to use maho in a game with out turning it into a party killer.

First a few simple House Rules that can make surviving an encounter with a maho-tsukai easier. First and foremost is allowing fingers of Jade to act as protection. For every finger of Jade a character possesses increases the TN of a maho spell targeting them by 5. A GM may also consider allowing the Advantage Magical Resistance to work with maho. Combined with Jade protection these two alone should help to increase surviving an encounter with a maho-tsukai.

In addition to the above house rules a GM should also remember that a maho-tsukai can not wound more than one victim per round. This can be handled in one of two ways.

The first is that the maho-tsukai be allowed to wound his first victim at the end of the round he completes the spell on. Treating the action as a part of the spell's chant.

The second is to require the maho-tsukai to wound his victim at his action in the round following the completion of his spell. This method treats the act of attacking as a normal complex action. This only allows for one attempt at spilling blood to power a spell per round, unless of course the maho-tsukai in question is allowed to make the attack as a simple action.

When dealing with willing cultist ready to lay down their lives for the maho-tsukai the GM may wish to roll initiatives. This gives your players a chance to restrain and otherwise remove the cultist as a threat for powering the spell. Do note that the act of killing them by the PC's won't count towards powering the spell.

There are of course non mechanical concerns as well. You wouldn't toss your PC's at a Rank 5 Hida if they were rank 1 characters so why toss them at a maho-tsukai who has spells that can kill the entire party?

Careful spell selection is key to using a maho-tsukai. A maho-tsukai should only cast Touch of Death, for instance, if you're seeking to destroy the party, or you truly think they can handle it. Such of spell of course is likely best used when the party itself is close to the spell's Mastery Level of 5.

In some cases the spell's themselves should be treated as plot points. Summon Oni is a great spell for an arrogant maho-tsukai who thinks he can control what he brings forth. The point of the encounter would then shift from trying to kill the maho-tsukai to dealing with the summoned Oni. Other good plot spells are Summon Undead Champion and Essence of Undeath which can lay the ground work for the evenings encounter.

A more subtle balancing factor is taint and shadowland powers. When deciding what maho spells you're going to give your prospective holy terror of Jigoku you should bear in mind how much taint he has and what shadowland powers and mutations he might have. Shadowland powers can go a long way to making a maho-tsukai more challenging with out arming them with spells that you feel might bring an abrupt end to your campaign.

However the most balancing effect for a maho-tsukai is to consider his personality of the maho-tsukai. I have found when designing an NPC villain for a game that I can make him as powerful as I want, so long as I give him the right personality to fit the kind of threat I want him to be.

If I make a maho-tsukai who is most likely to go off the deep end and kill everyone in the village then I will probably limit his maho spell selection to useful spells but ones that won't ruin my campaign when the inevitable happens.

On the flip side a smart calculating maho-tsukai may have Touch of Death, since he is more inclined to wait till the right moment and the right person to use it on. Villains who show some restraint are villains more inclined to have the patience to learn the more powerful spells. They also live the longest.

The last piece of advice I can give with dealing with maho is don't be afraid to fudge a few rolls in favor of the players. GM's are people and sometimes we overestimate the resourcefulness of the party. If it seems like the maho-tsukai is on the cusp of destroying your adventuring samurai then pull back from the brink. Have him fail that crucial role. Or maybe he remembers he left the iron on somewhere.

Time and experience will of course help you better judge what is and isn't to much for your players where maho is concerned.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

L5R 4E - Samurai Weapons

L5R 4E - Samurai Weapons
Togashi Shinjitsu

You may be asking "why are there so few Samurai weapons?" when so many of the schools hang their simple action attack hat on them.
The simple answer is that we wanted the general focus to be on swordfighting. Samurai are supposed to be good with their swords.
Tradition in rokugan places epic respect on the daisho, and this then feeds the following chicken and the egg arguments:

Samurai are given swords because they are respected. Samurai are respected because they have swords.
Samurai are skilled in the use of their katana because they use it all the time. Samurai use their katana all the time because they are skilled in its use.

So, in order to place serious emphasis on the Daisho in general use, most schools allow simple attacks with Samurai weapons at some point.

We then carefully considered whether or not *most* schools should have equal proficiency with any other weapons.
To maintain the flavour of each school, we debated each potential weapon hotly. Much reference to fiction, potential enemies and setting were made during these debates.
I'm happy to say most of the time, schools start to look, move and feel like they should by the time their simple attacks come up.

This means that we didn't assign the Samurai keyword to many weapons at all.
We wanted to make sure that the flavour of schools was maintained. There is a reason for stereotypes, and especially in Rokugan, where tradition holds a LOT of sway.

This also allows for future 'paths' that replace the 'simple action attack' rank to provide a different weapon array.
This has the benefit of instantly changing the focus of the character, and providing a lot more flavour than just "oh, I'm an Akodo that uses bows rather than a sword".
Suddenly it can become "I am a student of the Akodo Starfall Kyujutsu Ryu! When I draw my yumi and fire, it is as if the heavens rain death upon my target!"

All the "traditional Samurai" weapons were given a good going over to determine whether or not they should be given the Samurai keyword. Most didn't make the cut.
We also wanted to keep the power level from escalating, and by providing ranged simple actions to only a few select schools, we were able to prevent our combats devolving into ranged exchanges.
We paid close attention to the idea that schools should maintain their 'flavour', even in a ranged combat.
For example - Tsuruchi maintain their dominance of footsoldier archery, the Otaku make terrifying horse archers, Akodo and Kakita make wonderful snipers.

All without giving simple attack carte blanche to all the traditional weapons.

That being said, this is Rokugan-for-the-Players, so if you want to widen access to the weapons that most people can use simple attacks with, designate them Samurai weapons.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Inside Look at Shugenja

L5R 4th Edition - Exploiting Shugenja
Kakita Seigi

One of the character class types that have had the largest overhaul in the 4th Edition is shugenja. Shawn Carman has discussed a number of fundamental changes to the traditional L5R spellcaster. However, the L5R Design Diaries did not reveal everything that’s changed! Players and GMs alike are going to realize that playing a shugenja in 4th Edition is a very different animal from past editions.

The first major change is that a shugenja can now only cast a finite number of spells per day. A shugenja character has spell slots equal to the elemental ring he is casting. There are also spell slot reserves equal to the shugenja’s void ring that can be used to cast any elemental spell. That sounds similar to past editions? True, but what is new is that these spell slots are not normally recoverable like they were in past editions.

The only normal way to recover spells is through sleep with very little exception. The Meditation skill no longer helps a shugenja recharge after a fight and shugenja cannot raise to prevent a spell slot from being used. However, not all hope is lost for the player who wants a more reliable method of casting their spells. The L5R 4th Edition provides a Rank 2 Water spell called Rejuvenating Vapors that will prove a useful regeneration tool. Once per day, this spell allows the recipient of the spell to recover all Void spell slots. Shugenja will want access to this spell as soon as possible.

Which leads me to the most important point, access to spells has also changed. Veteran players will remember the universal spell called Importune. The spell allowed a shugenja to invoke any other spell by raising the mastery level of a spell and performing a huge favor to the kami. The later requirement was a real pain and limited invoking spells the caster did not have.

4th Edition has completely turned this spell upside down and created a new gold standard for flexibility. In fact, I highly recommend this new paradigm to all L5R GMs who are playing older L5R RPG systems and have no interest in playing 4th Edition. To importune a spell, a shugenja must cast Commune on the desired element. By parleying for a designated period of time, a shugenja can make a skill roll with Spellcraft (Importune) / (desired Ring Rank) at a TN appropriate TN equal to the Mastery Level of the spell. Then for a period of time, the shugenja can cast that spell at a slightly increased TN. A shugenja may not importune spells with a higher Mastery Level than he could normally cast.

Thus, in order to cast a spell that a shugenja does not normally have, the shugenja will need to sacrifice two spell slots to cast it. This offers unprecedented flexibility for shugenja. Though this new mechanic is balanced for 4th Edition, since spell slots are limited resources. And to make matters trickier, often spell slots are used to power shugenja techniques. Still this tradeoff in flexibility can be well worth the steep cost and should lead to complex decisions by GMs and players alike.

Counterspell has also been removed and the old Banish spell has been merged into a utility of the three fundamental spells most shugenja start with (Sense, Commune, and Summon). The Banish function is now the only sure way a shugenja can stop ongoing spells from continuing. Spells cannot be negated anymore while the shugenja is casting the spell. Other shugenja can only discontinue a spell's effect if the spell lasts long enough for a shugenja to banish the kami from the area so the spell hopefully stops dead in its tracks.

Lastly, I want to talk about kiho. Shugenja having kiho is not new to L5R, but 4th Edition incents shugenja to take kiho like never before. While kiho are more expensive to buy and learn than a monk, a shugenja can buffer their spells by having four types of kiho activated at one time (Internal, Kharmic, Martial, and Mystical). Shugenja will find staples in Touch of the Void Dragon and To the Last Breath. Increasing a random Elemental Ring for the shugenja (an extra spell slot!) or refilling the party’s void points via Meditation is enormous. This theme is important and something I am very glad to see return to Rokugan.

Shugenja are holy men, not standard spell casters. The elements actually talk to them and infuse them with immense power. But invoking spells is something to be respected and not treated as an infinite resource. Shugenja are 4th Edition’s glass cannon. They require care to play, but provide players and GMs with unrivaled flexibility that no other class can provide. Every group is going to want to have shugenja on their party to help solve the myriad of challenges that they will likely face from a resourceful GM.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


With the release of 4th Edition I thought it was high time that the RPG had a blog dedicated to it. So I started one.

What you'll find hear are articles about the RPG, example NPC's, and whatever else we cook up for you.

So sit back and enjoy