In another episode from the Everything Old is New Again files, Legend of the Five Rings has an RPG once more. And it’s doing quite well; according to ICv2, who keep the closest eyes on the hobby games business, it was the second-best selling RPG in the autumn of 2018, beaten only by D&D.
So what’s all the excitement about? Legend of the Five Rings parts from traditional fantasy fare by drawing on the myths of Japan rather than northern Europe. And that doesn’t mean D&D with katanas and kirin. Who your character is and what they are sworn to do will count at least as heavily as their gear in this game.
Your character is an honorable samurai of the mythical realm of Rokugan. But don’t think you’ll be stuck playing a laconic sworld-swinger; in Rokugan, samurai come in many flavors, including courtiers, priests, and monks in addition to warriors. What they all share in common is devotion to the Code of Bushidō. Samurai put justice, loyalty, and honor ahead of their own desires. Or, at least, they try to. The conflict between personal desire (ninjō) and social obligations (giri) is at the heart of this RPG.
As you’d expect from a Fantasy Flight RPG, this game comes with custom dice: white twelve-siders and black six-siders. The symbols on the dice can grant you success, explosive success (allowing you to roll more dice and potentially perform superhuman feats), opportunities (that may allow you to tilt events in your favor even if you fail to succeed), and strife. Sometimes, you’ll get two symbols on the same face, giving you success but with strife. You get to decide what dice to keep and which to set aside in hopes of achieving enough successes to accomplish your goals. But collect too much strife and your character will suffer an outburst of desire, shattering their composure as repressed desires surge into irrepressible action, usually actions unbecoming of a samurai.
It can be challenging to play an RPG set in a culture you’re not familiar with. Legend of the Five Rings helps players overcome this through character creation. The process involves answering twenty questions. When complete, you’ll know your character’s clan, family, and school, giri and ninjō, their attitude towards Bushidō, how they regain a sense of control and peace, which honored ancestor they were named for, even how they ought to die. The process will look very familiar to anyone who’s used a lifepath system to generate a character, detailing not only your character’s background and personality, but also generating the numbers that will define your character numerically. These numbers define your character’s ability in an array of skills divided into five categories: artisan, martial, scholar, social, and trade. They’ll also measure your character’s honor, glory, and status, as well as their attunement to five elements, the Five Rings of the title. Each Ring represents a different attitude and way of approaching life and challenges. The Ring of Air is about being precise, subtle, and cunning, while Fire rules the flashy, creative, and inspiring. Earth is protective and thorough while Water is flexible and affable. The fifth Ring, Void governs the mystical, wisdom, and instinct.
Unlike D&D, where certain skills are linked by the rules to certain stats, in Legend of the Five Rings you get to decide in what manner you’ll be using your skills. Do you go for a flashy and in-your-face approach in order to rally your allies and discourage your foes? That’s Ring of Fire. Or do you adopt a more traditional stance, serving as a reassuring bulwark to your friends? In that case, you’ll be using your Ring of Earth.
If you’re a fan of samurai movies (especially those that contain a supernatural element), just tired of elves and orcs, or love the card game and want to delve more deeply into the world of Rokugan, you’ll want to check out the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. Ask for it at your neighborhood Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy® today.