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Szadek

Merchants' Guild review on the new L5R

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When I first heard FFG was releasing a new edition to one of my all time favorite settings, I became super excited....I'm talking about on the level of a hyper active school girl tweaking out over a new boy band. (That's still a thing right?). I gathered my group of friends that I have had the pleasure of storytelling for over the last four years and downloaded the Beta file and digested the goodness. One of the reason I was so excited was because we enjoyed the Star Wars system FFG created, and thought with the dynamic dice and other subsystems presented in that game that it would have a natural fit within the amazingly rich setting of the Emerald Empire. For some parts it did, while others seemed over convoluted and detracted from the immersion of playing within this beautiful setting.

The Dice & TN issues 

The dice do their job and offer what would be expected with using a similar system to Star Wars. (I know they came out with another game line using a modified version as well, but we have not played it and have no reference to go off.) They present a dynamic resolution system that has great potential, but is flawed with the use of TN instead of difficulty, setback, and challenge dice. TN's are to easy to reach unless your throwing crazy high challenge ratings at your players out the gate and do not offer excitement my group was hoping for. The beauty of the "bad" dice was it added dynamic resolution as well, this allowed a greater diversity in success and failure...it also added a lot more narrative fun for both players and storyteller.

Strife

Great idea that helps showcase the internal conflict that samurai face. Right now in its current iteration however, players find themselves nearly having an outbreak every conflict and while the occasional outbreak can lead to good rp and fun it should never happen so frequently. It takes to much control away from the player and breaks the spirit of the genre we find ourselves playing. We home ruled spending opportunities to remove strife for a 1 to 1 ratio as a generic spender. We also home ruled skill mastery form older editions that allowed it's first level at rank 3 allowing you to ignore strife on a roll equal to half the characters void ring rounded up. 

Opportunity 

A great subsystem carried over that adds narrative flare and fun mechanical effects to the game. The major complaint really here is layout and convenience of use. Having to go from page 18 to 82+ to find what you want is a bit harsh and time consuming which detracts from the game.

Approaches

This is one of the best things implemented in an rpg I have seen. It promotes diverse play and adds to the creative flow of player and storytellers decision making. I'm also a huge fan of going away form traditional attributes and making them more abstract or representative, instead of being so binary and constricting. Between the new ring setup and how approaches work accomplished this quite well. Only real drawback is the time it takes to grow a custom to pairing skill with approaches.

Skills, subskills and the lack of no real perception or investigation skill

The skill groups and generic skills work great for the most part and with the pairing of approaches adds a truly intuitive way of handling skill test. We switched Design to be more generic in nature instead of being tied to fashion and all that courtly flare no respectable Crab would bother with. honestly when I first saw the design skill I was like cool we can make siege weapons and other feats of engineering.....how my heart was broken....

Subskills do not even need to be a thing and should instead be replaced with a new game mechanic from earlier editions known as emphasis. We home ruled this by giving question 13 the added choice of three emphasises as well as allowing players to give up a skill from their school list to gain two in its place. Mechanically when a skill was rolled that fit the emphasis chosen the player or npc could reroll a single dice of their choice. This allowed for another level of customisation as well as giving further identity to the character. Additional emphasis could be purchased for 1xp times the total emphasis already obtained within that skill.

The biggest issues we had with the skills is how the system wants you to handle investigation and perception. The idea of using a skill that fits the criteria of the investigation or perception works in theory and in niche situations but that's where it ends. We spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out the best way to handle a few situations that should have been a simple roll. An example was our Bayushi Manipulator was walking threw a garden past a small pond and needed to figure out if she spotted a reflection just off in the distance. We spent a long time disguising which skill would work with which approach and it was just overly painful. We known vigilance is used for detecting stealth, lies and so on but does Jack for noticing already established features of a scene character come into that are not readily apparent. There really needs to be a skill for perception/investigation and a rule to allow other skills in their place for niche situations.

Advantages & Disadvantages

While some are neat or add flare, their simplistic mechanical nature to govern a poorly put together subsystem kills a very special place in my groups heart that these once filled. The unified bonuses and penalties detract from the very spirit of the game we have grown to love (I speak for my group). Do not get me wrong the concept is sound, I am a big fan of anxieties and phobias, as I love pushing the boundaries that make people question their choices in and out of game...but mechanically the delivery is lack luster and takes from the over all experience. They lack impact from earlier editions and for us was barely even thought about except once in our last session. Also recovering void points should not be tied to disadvantages and honestly could have stayed the same of refreshing through meditation and rest.

Conflict

In its entirety skirmish combat is a joke right now. Using static TN's of such low values that scales by 1 point depending on the stance of a character is a game of wac'a'mole. Yes some techniques and action types can help this but for the most part it doesn't help unless you want to give up being on the offense all together. Some people enjoy that and I have played may fair share of meat shields but it shouldn't be forced to survive the first round of combat. I am a huge fan of the deadlines of 3e/4e but the difference is when someone got wrecked to that scale it felt epic with the exploding dice and abilities used...rarely did a character get taken out by the first strike unless it was a very weak minion and when it did the group exploded in excitement or terror. Adding a scaling defense attribute or bringing back difficulty, setback, and challenged dice would fix this.

We haven't had a chance to handle social conflict in a court setting or mass combat yet so I can't really comment on the rules. Dueling feel empty but is robust enough to handle any type of duel which is a plus.

Techniques

Over all the new way techniques are handled work great. I am a huge fan giving non shugenja the ability to commune with spirits, rituals, blessing and so on. Shuji are an amazing edition to add to social characters and a level of play a lot of games lack. 

Overall all this new edition is clunky and barely enjoyable to us. I could write a navel of complaints and praise so I touched on key parts that played a role in our last session. We spent half the time playing and the other half checking rules and trying to figure out how thing are suppose to work. While some key aspects of the game are intuitive and unique the rest is overly convoluted and takes away many things we fell in love with from earlier editions. As an example our first game of 4e ran flawless for the most part. We were able to run two separate tournaments for Bushi and Shugenja, handled major rp, and character development in a five hour session. This new edition we got introductions, a brief combat and a whole lot of rule checking and debating how to handle things on a productive level in a 4 hour session. Both games where ran within a week of reading core rules. We will continue beta testing to help give feedback and improve on a game setting we all enjoy.

I do apologize for typos, grammar, and spelling as I am typing this on a tablet running errands. 

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