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HappyHuman

Playtest from late October

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Preamble: Just before this my group played the Champions of the Sapphire Throne campaign, written for 3rd Ed, using the 4th Ed rules.  Took us almost two years.  We loved it, and we're excited about 5th Ed and wish you all the best.

Summary: We kind of muddled our way through the playtest adventure, and I didn't love it, and I don't think anybody else did.  I should have posted this sooner while my memory was fresh, but I hope I can still say some helpful things.

Dice: That gluing took a while, but my love for L5R got me through it.  Techniques being enabled by opportunities is a neat idea.  A lot of the strife tracking feels wasted because you accumulate strife doing trivial rising-action things and then erase it all as a scene ends (or as a couple scenes pass without you getting any more).  Could we give players a certain window in which to have an Outburst, so they have more latitude to do it at a time that makes sense?  In our game we had one, with a Unicorn losing it during the monk debate, and the player did a pretty good job of doing something understandable but even so it felt like a slightly weird time for it to happen.

Subdividing advantages and disadvantages into distinctions, passions, adversities and anxieties (is that all of them??) created some confusion.  Any way that could be reformulated to make them more like "social advantage/psychological advantage/physical advantage" or something like that?  Cut down on the number of keywords.

Table 1-2 on ways of spending opportunities is just daunting.  Even if I had it as a quick-reference card, I'd probably improvise to avoid having to engage with all that.  I challenge you to simplify that table tremendously.  :)  (I'm an online math/science teacher, so I simplify information for a living, and this feels like a spot that really needs it.)

Character generation feels like the ceiling is too low.  In 4th edition, the characters started with mostly 2s for stats, a few 3s in their specialties, and about the same for skills.  At that point, hearing that skills go up to 10 and that the Crab daimyo has an Earth ring of 9 feels alright - like you're starting a journey and there's lots of room to grow.  In the beta, you still start with 2s and 3s, but your cap is 5.  Starting more than halfway to your ultimate potential makes the world feel kinda small, like you'll never be too much better than you already are.  Maybe I'm hopelessly negative.

The new ring system is an interesting idea and I think I hate it.  [Being grossly unfair and mean for a bit] It homogenizes characters - it doesn't feel like anybody has a special thing that they're good at anymore.  Just pick any ring, max it out and come up with some way to bull your ring's adverbs into every sentence.  "The Doji diplomat killed all those Matsu...gracefully.  The Doji diplomat tore down the castle gates... elegantly.  The Hida berserker negotiated the trade agreement...rationally."  (My players are awesome and wouldn't try to do any of that, but why make a system that would reward it?  And don't you get better team dynamics when characters, and their opponents, have clearer strengths and weaknesses?)

The ninjo/giri dichotomy has a lot of potential.  Right now it seems like strife spikes up and down too fast for players to react to it, but if you slowed it down so that they could see strife piling up, and try to blow off steam through ninjo at appropriate times, or could have the pressure of giri piling up on them over a longer time and struggle to deal with it, I think I'd like it better.  As it currently is, one or two weird rolls on potentially-trivial events can make it tempting to just go catatonic and avoid rolling anything so you don't blow up.

The clan profiles are decent.  I think the "what do we think of the other clans" sections in L5R4 are just about the best thing in the whole book, and you can see new players starting to warm up to the setting and find their footing as they read those.  Steal as much of that as you possibly can.

Throwing kata/rituals/shuji/school abilities at a starting character all at once feels like overload.  Probably fine for an experienced player, but it's too many choices for a newbie.  I like how D&D5 starts characters off with a really basic kit at level 1, and then introduces new class mechanics over the first few levels.  It feels like the tutorial stage of an MMORPG, and it works.  Can you see some way to do that?  Characters don't need a crapton of abilities right off the bat if they have one good, flavorful one and a few others that they can see in the near future.

A different, full-page, advancement table for each school?!  Holy smokes.  There's gotta be a way to boil that all down to a paragraph or two.  Think of how RL universities talk about core courses, technical electives and non-technical electives, or something.

Skills section: The sheer number of tables in here tells me that you've thought a lot about skill/ring/approach interactions and you care about it and put a lot of time into it, but man, it's bewildering.  I count 169 examples in Chapter 3, and that's just the ones in the tables.  If we need all those examples then this is way too complex for me; if we don't need all those examples, then please, lay down the principles behind them and then stop typing.

Techniques: I wish this came after basic mechanics, so we could evaluate how these things change the normal course of events, but what the ****, maybe reading sequentially is overrated.

Equipment: Thanks for buffing the katana a little, and I like most of the special qualities.

Scenes: I think I would have led with the unifying idea that a scene has to have some kind of conflicting-goals thing as its premise, and then contains assessment, initiative, stances and available actions.  Instead you go over that 3-4 different times, like you're thinking "let's see how long they take to notice the similarities".  If you want them all to fit into the same framework, why not make that really explicit?

Also, unless I'm mistaken, the combat section (or whatever term you use instead of combat) doesn't seem to have a "What can I do during my turn" block, and it could really use one.  If you asked me right now if one can move and attack in a single turn, not only can I not remember, I'm not sure where I'd look to find out.

The dueling system with composure playing an important part is a nice idea.  As in so many other places, the "pick your favorite ring" concept grates on me.

Range bands seem like an abstraction that might be workable.

I don't think I'm excited about critical strikes.  Awful lot of maiming potential.  (If I wanted realistic consequences, I'd be over the moon, though.)

The mass battle rules don't have the kind of interaction I like between individual characters and the overall outcome - preferably in both directions.  Let's see more "if you do this heroic thing on the individual level then the battle goes better", and also "because the battle's going badly, you're in more danger on the individual level".  I skipped over most of the mass battle events in the sample adventure because all they amount to is the players watch me crunch out a bunch of mechanics behind the screen, then update a scoreboard (while trying to narrate so that they feel a connection between the score and stuff they did) and do it again, several more times.

Favorite part of the adventure was splitting up to do tasks all over the wall.  Least favorite was the debate with the monk.  (I know a puppy commits suicide every time a gamer on the internet talks about immersion, but...the social conflict mechanics where you're trying to accrue "rhetorical points" were immersion-breaking.)  Trying to discern someone's character to figure out the best approach, though, that part's interesting.  I wish there was more to it than "find out which ring they respond to, then use that".

 

Now that this is over I feel like my tone was bitchy on more than one occasion, and I hope that doesn't drown out the message.  I'm rooting for you, I'm pretty much guaranteed to buy L5R5 the moment I see it, and hopefully there's something in here that helps.

Edited by HappyHuman

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I feel that the game would benefit from Strife and Fatigue automatically going down to half your Composure / Resilence after the scene ends, but also making it so that incidental Strife removers (like Opportunity spendings) cannot take you below that. Gotta go indluge in your Passions / Geisha Tea Houses / etc to truly relax. Or, Unmask.

Edited by WHW

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Right.  I can think of a few scenarios where the scenes are coming one after another, like "search the warehouse, go question witnesses at the seedy bar, get jumped by gangsters as you leave the seedy bar, report findings to the magistrate" where the Strife would be going up, up, up with no real opportunity to deal with it.

If a player looks at their Strife that evening and decides it's time to go do something impulsive/ninjo, your story is probably about to get good.  :)

 

Edited by HappyHuman
Clarifying, I hope.

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