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Final Beta Thoughts by GM81

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This is my first RPG beta and I have really enjoyed it. My one regret was not having more time to play throughout the official Beta period, as the holidays did interfere with regular gaming. My plan is to continue playing using the beta rules as my friends are really enjoying the system and setting. For my experience, I have played 1st, d20, 3rd, and 4th edition of the L5R RPG. On and off the CCG, the new LCG. Plenty of random RPGs, starting with 2ed AD&D. 

Strife, Compromised, & Unmasking: This system will definitely not be for everyone, but I really enjoy the concept of internal emotional strife helping to fuel success and possibly leading  to obvious displays of emotion. Samurai  drama playing into the expectation of stoicism versus the reality of personality is a great new interpretation of the setting. Not at all what I was expecting but I am very pleased with it. Strife usage being turned off by being Compromised is a good limitation in and of itself. However I really want to see more mechanics, new actions, opportunities, and techniques that play off of compromised characters. Continue to make it a risky state to remain in. Maybe a compromised character drops their Focus and Vigilance to 1, due to internal distractions. And/Or they cannot gain the base benefit of a stance (but can still spend opportunities as normal). I sort of like the stance shutting down one since that makes Compromised work against every ring, not just Fire.

Fatigue, Endurance, and Critical Hits: A good evolution of this system changing to an endurance based one. In a lot of ways this calls back to the early days of RPGs and what Hit Points were supposed to mean. Having the basic easily regained hp and a telling blows system working in tandem is my preferred method. This also opens up the door to requiring fatigue for actions and techniques. An example: I required my players to sacrifice 3 fatigue when they climbed down a cliff, with each bonus success reducing the fatigue by one. A fatigue system really gives me the opportunity to pull it into narrative scenes as a cost and consequence. The critical hit system playing off the rings is a fun little idea, if a bit complex. Generally speaking people are using their best ring, but may have to switch because of damage, or may explicitly use a poorer ring to soak damage as part of a long term plan.

Derived Statistics: With the changes to Strife and Endurance replacing Resilience, I strongly feel the calculations for these two stats should be reversed. Water being the ring of patience makes more sense for maintaining composure, while Fire being the ring of energy and passion makes more sense for being enduring. The big problem is that someone could have Fire 3, Earth 1, Water 1 and only have 4 Composure. Which brings me to thinking that the Composure and Endurance pools are a little too swingy right now. Maybe if they were something like 4-6 + (Earth + Other ring) that would be a tighter pool.  So starting pools with an example +4 , rings both 1 is a pool of 6 and rings both 3 is a pool of 10. Compared to the current version of 4-12. Late game that would be 6-14 versus current late game of 4-20.  I'm also leaning towards Focus should be (Air + Fire)/2, like how Vigilance is /2. The current Focus swing is 2-6, with a possible range of 2-10. I think having the same range as Vigilance, starting 1-3, late game 1-5 is better to handle. Especially since I like to use Focus as the baseline for contests of various sorts. Plus, if the range of Focus is usually 1-5 then I can use the LCG honor dials for Staredowns in duels.

Stances: My big concern still remains the Air stance. Being a non-school system aspect that uses School rank still doesn't sit right with me.  Otherwise I have been happy with the stances. Earth can seem powerful, but there are ways around it. I will try to test my house rule of Compromise shutting down all stances, because currently it shuts down Fire and no other stance truly be shut down.

Intrigues: Formalizing the courtly, political, and interpersonal drama scenes is a good idea in my mind. This helps add structure for players and can inspire them. Easy to ignore and focus on plain narrative scenes as well for those groups who prefer no to little structure to social conflicts. What we really need is more actions though. Something like a Hinder action to increase TNs of your opponent's action using the same skill to represent heckling and tearing down arguments. Guard could be brought into Intrigue as a Sentiment skill. Maybe a Provoke action that deals direct Strife against someone.

Duels: Honestly I haven't had the opportunity to attempt these yet. It seems to try to fulfill many purposes in a single subsystem, but without going to quite the full on levels that Art of the Duel did in 3rd Edition. I'm curious to see how it plays out soon. I'm not sold on the point based resolution. I see most often going to the completion goal being the resolving element. In dojo duels and such I can see resolution points being the bigger determination. Accidental killing through the element of chance still remains, but by and large it seems a little easier to manage your successes in this edition since a single die cannot be a massive over success. 

Skirmishes: With the updates to Maneuver, the Water stance, and Fatigue, and Critical hits I feel skirmishes are in a very good spot. Plenty of choices in actions, plenty of techniques. The Clash mechanic is a great way to pull duels into other fights. I would like to see a few more actions for non-combatants to take, but I suppose one can always pull out a musical instrument and use opportunities to increase or lower strife of opponents and allies! The grid rules are welcome to have the option. Personally I intend to use hexes for some battle later on. Still, the very loosey goosey range system is a nice way to ad hoc things without using visual aids.

Mass Battles: Another system I have yet to use. Very much has elements of previous editions, but geared more towards resolving goals than then setting a narrative for heroes to play in. This is another one I think could use a number of more actions and goals to help flesh out. The previous edition rules should provide plenty of inspiration. The army and cohort abilities seem like a good way to make battles more interesting. I feel the big missing element is having Strength factor directly into the rolls, not just as the casualty pool.

Equipment: To be honest I was expecting a modding system like in Star Wars, with a different flavor and focus of course. Maybe it is unnecessary for L5R, but I still kind of miss the idea. The variety of weapons is welcome in my mind, but so many options can be a bit daunting to new players. Personally I have always felt the clans should have more varieties and tastes than was often presented. The chokuto being a good in close fighting weapon fits with Shiba bodyguards. More Chinese weapons for variety is a good thing in my opinion. Now that Razor-edged has a benefit I'm at least content with the differences. 

Overall Conclusions: The game has been fun so far. There is need of a little more polish and options, but the intentions and flow of the game feels right to me. Currently my group consists of two new to RPG players, one previously 4th edition player, and a player that unfortunately moved who had previous RPG but not L5R experience. We intend to continue playing the Beta rules and plenty of my house rules. We are finishing up a modified version of the Topaz Championship adventure. Then I plan on having them act as Emerald Magistrates to keep the multi clan element going. Something I have done a few times.

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