October 19, 2017

Thoughts on FFG's Legend of the Five Rings Beta

So as many may have heard, Fantasy Flight Games has released a beta version of their spin of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  If not, you can grab it here from FFG's own website or you can snag a copy from DriveThruRPG.

So first off, I will admit to not being that impressed with the system.  One thing that people have noted and railed against was that the game uses custom dice rather than the classic d10s that prior versions L5R used in the long-standing Roll and Keep system.  Seeing as how FFG likely only bought the rights to L5R as a property and not the actual R&K mechanics from AEG, it's no surprise that they'd use a dice mechanic of their own making.  In fact, many folks (myself included) suspected that FFG would use the Genesys dice system, as that had by and large been tested and validated by means of their Star Wars RPG, with the Genesys dice being much the same but using slightly different symbols. Instead, FFG went with creating an entirely new set of custom dice, this one using just d6s and d12s.  At least with Genesys, odds are good that you'll be able to use the dice there for different settings, and for those of us that already have a bunch of Star Wars dice we can go ahead and use those (something I will probably do as I'm already very familiar with reading those symbols to get the results of a roll).

My own take on the current state of the L5R Beta is simply that there seems to be a lot of added complexity for no reason other than to add complexity.  A prime example is formal iaijutsu dueling, which in the previous L5R games by AEG were resolved with three rolls (Assessment, Focus, Strike) and unless the battle was to the death, once those were resolved the matter was settled.  Under FFG's system, dueling feels like it's more fitting for a western-based RPG replicating the back-and-forth of the famous duel between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride instead of the single stroke contest that the samurai-genre is well known for.

Another issue is that starting characters don't feel very capable, as the dice mechanics are skewed to very heavily favor Skill ranks (which use the d12s) over Ring rating (which use the d6s) and characters don't get to start with that many ranks in skills.  Easy solution here is to simply provide the PC with a small number of extra skill ranks, so hopefully FFG does something to address other than to say "if you want more capable PCs, simply start with more XP."

Now, I did manage to play a short session of the L5R Beta this past Saturday, with a friend running a modified version of Heroes of Rokugan II: Champions of the Sapphire Throne module "Writ of Justice."  Our party composition was rather interesting, consisting of a Kakita Duelist (myself), a Togashi Tattooed Monk (wandering kung fu fighter), a Kuni Purifier, and a Shosuro Infiltrator (cover was traveling performer).  Certainly an interesting and diverse group, with my PC winding up as the closest thing to a proper "face character" simply due to what skills were available and the general lack of being able to select skills outside of the presets that the beta schools provide.  While there were some hiccups in making the characters, they did turn out to be an interesting bunch, and were this 4th Edition L5R I'd certainly be looking forward to playing more sessions with this particular cast.

So, after having played at least one session of this new version of L5R, I'm still not convinced that it's something I want to continue playing, especially as I'm not at all found of the "forced social outbursts" that the current Strife mechanics enforce, as we had much of the group breaking their composure and displaying dishonorable behavior more often than any of us would have liked.  I know that it's probably far too late for any sort of changes to how the dice are laid out, but in all honestly the rate at which PCs gain Strife compared to how they lose it needs to be revised, or at the very least the rules on "outbursts" need to be addressed; I'm very much of the camp that simple dice rolls shouldn't dictate how a character reacts to a scene, and unless it's from a mystical source the most they should do is help inform the player how their character might react to given stimuli.

But ultimately, I think I'm at a point in my gaming preferences that I'd rather stick with systems that don't overwhelm you with options on how to resolve in-game challenges, and that's something this version of L5R does, is overwhelm the player and GM so many different ways that skills can work.  Again, it feels like complexity for the sake of complexity without really providing anything meaningful to the story being told.  And to be frank, if that's the sort of thing I'm after, I'll go play 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, since the high degree of complexity that it had with regards to combat works with what the game was meant to be.

Given the limits of my own time, especially with working on my own Force and Destiny campaign and working on modules for next year's GamerNationCon (I may just scale back to two modules instead of the three I was initially leaning towards), I'm not really keen on learning the ins and outs of a complex set of RPG mechanics when they don't really provide a satisfying return on investment.  I was willing to learn the complex rules of FFG's Star Wars RPG because it proved to be a very fun experience, a high return on the investment of time made.  But for a setting that I don't see myself doing much gaming in to start with, FFG's Legends of the Five Rings just falls flat.

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