Legends of the Five Rings

Role Playing in the Emerald Empire

Like a number other RPGs, Legend of the Five Rings (henceforth called L5R) deals with the mythical powers of the four elements Fire, Water, Air and Earth. The elements are complemented with a fifth element, Void, that stands for the mysteries of nature, the emptiness of all things living. L5R casts the characters into a original fantasy setting, Rokugan, that bears close similarity to medieval Japan. The game's fantasy aspect is not only conveyed by the five elements' power as well as their presence in all living (and unliving) creatures, but also in Asia's and Japan's philosophy in regard of the world's spiritual blessings and curses, providing a rich basis of folklore and traditions.

A Graceful Society [Edit]

Rokugan's cultural life is based on a steep, hierarchical society with strict and indispensable rules. Breaking the rules is unthinkable, and doing the unthinkable means falling from grace, an incident that calls for final matters.

On top of the hierarchy resides the emporer on his throne. His and the realm's well-being is being taken care of by seven clans, each of which is mostly represented by two castes: bushi (warriors), and shugenja (spell casters), both being samurai (servants) of their families, their clans and the emporer. Anyone below the samurai layer is actually considered "below", that is, unworthy or even impure, and not permitted to directly interfere with the upper ranks of society.

Rokugan as a country is completely isolated from the rest of the world by physical barriers in form of high mountain ranges, protecting it from any foreign influence, be it cultural, intellectual or an enemy's threat. In fact, only one of the seven ruling clans, the Unicorns, has ever stepped beyond the borders of the realm, and when they returned, they brought strange horses with them, animals that should become the symbol of that clan. Over the centuries, foreigners have approached the Emerald Empire several times, trying to steal its riches, but have been beaten back each time.

The seven clans' history goes back to the beginning of time when their first leaders descented to earth as the children of Lord Moon and Lady Sun, the latter protecting her offsprings from her husband's hunger. There was an eighth child, Fu Leng, who scattered away from the rest of his brothers, digging himself into the underground. Separated from his brethren and hidden in the darkness all by himself, he became the epitome of evil and, eventually, his brothers' opponent. His malicious deeds called them to war against him, a war they could only win with a strange monk's, Shinsei's, wisdom. Still, Fu Leng survived the united assault of his brothers' clans and drew himself back into darkness once more, claiming a barren country, the Shadowlands, as his territory.

The Players' Part [Edit]

Although players can also take the roles of members of the lower parts of society as well pass as ronin and ninja, they are most likely to play a bushi or shugenja, a samurai of one of the seven clans. Each clan has its own special traits and abilities. In theory, Rokugan's structure is based on the harmony of its seven pillars and their various representatives. Each clan has its own special interests and ideas of how to rule a country like Rokugan, preferring its own style and vision over the other clans'. As quite so often, external danger that threatens the people as a whole sets aside internal disputes, at least for the time being. Such threats are regularly encountered in form of Fu Leng's minions, nasty creatures that try to disrupt society wherever they can. Yet, in times of national peace, conflict between the clans gashes openly on the battlefield, or in silent conspiracy at the Emerald Court.

How to Play [Edit]

L5R uses a dice-pool driven system. Players roll a variable amount of dice to score their results. The size of the dice pool is derived from the sum of a skill and an associated attribute, an approach being followed by many popular systems, such as WEG's D6 and White Wolf's World of Darkness. What makes L5R unique and outstanding is that only a certain amount of dice cast that way may be kept, while the rest of the dice pool, preferably the ones that ended up with low numbers, are removed from the table. The remaining dice are summed up to yield the final result, a value that has to equal or exceed a previously assigned target number or, in case of an opposed roll, an opponent's result. Although some basic arithmetic has to be performed by adding up the values, dice rolls do not hamper the game flow too much, for usually only small quantities of dice have to be dealt with in the end.

All in all, L5R offers an original setting accompanied by an interesting cultural background. The rules are comfortable to use and to apply, and support the game flawlessly, emphasizing its heroic, mystical style in an entertaining manner.


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