Ran the second session of my Legend of the Five Rings campaign about 10 days ago and hope to do the third session in a couple of weeks. Since I got back into gaming 7 years ago, Legend of the Five Rings and Shadowrun are the RPGs that I most get often asked to run and which it is never difficult to recruit players for.
As a GM, L5R 4th edition is about the right level of crunch for me – not too free form, but not so many rules that my brain gets frazzled. What is the major draw though is the rich setting and, as I think about it, the constraints that brings. All players are Samurai and hence (largely) bound by the tenets of Bushido, their place in the Celestial Order, and their duty to Family, Clan, and Empire. No murdering hobos here although there are rules to play Monks, Ronin, and non-humans if desired. Despite these constraints, the setting allows for some diverse games – intricate court politics with Crane and Scorpion Clans, piracy and smuggling with the Mantis, or manning the Wall and defending the Empire against the Shadowlands with the Crab.
For this game, I wanted to play in the default historical setting for the 4th edition, namely the reign of Iweko I and utilize the excellent Second City Campaign box set. However, having two new players to the game, with two veterans, I thought the first several sessions should be based within the Empire, prior to moving to the Colonies, to allow some acculturation. As the title of the campaign suggests, I wanted to bring out the tensions in Rokugani society, particularly with the founding of the Second City and the Spider being recognised as a Great Clan. Themes around Bushido vs Shurido, the Empress challenging the Celestial Order with the expansion of the territories, and the interaction between Rokugani and gaijin. I also hoped to bring in some of the Spirit Realms (detailed more fully in Secrets of the Empire), and the ways the Asako teachings of the Path of Man could stray into heretical territory.
We discussed character generation as we finished off our other games of Numenera and Yggdrasill and gave the players the following brief:
The year is 1197, the Destroyer War ended a generation ago yet the Empire is still rebuilding. Iweko I sits on the Emerald Throne, Fu Leng is dead, and Daigotsu has ascended to become a Dark Fortune and master of Jigoku. The Spider are a Great Clan, and those with Taint have been sent to explore the decimated Ivory Kingdom under the watchful eye of the Dragon, whilst the Mantis and the Unicorn control the sea and land routes to the Second City.
The adventure starts in Nikesake, a Phoenix town at the southern extremity of their lands. Nikesake is the site of the major established embassy of the Crane and is the first city of the Phoenix the rest of Rokugan come into contact on the way north. As well as the influence of the Crane, the city is known for its fashion, and the intellectual and philosophical pursuits of its inhabitants.
The Samurai start at the Blue Tiled Room, Nikesake’s school of philosophy.
Possible concepts for PC’s:
Any Crane or Phoenix Samurai can be found in Nikesake
A scholar, philosopher or mystic eager to learn from the Masters of the Blue Tiled Room
A scout, explorer or diplomat wishing to learn about Gaijin thought and languages.
A disgraced Samurai re-acquainting themselves with the tenets of Bushido
My two veteran players had clear ideas – a Phoenix Shugenja and a Unicorn Bushi. My new players joined in the discussion of the setting. One thought of a Yojimbo to mind the the Shugenja, and the other thought of a Dragon humbled in the Destroyer War returning to service after a period of meditation and self-imposed exile. Starting in the Blue Tiled Room was linked to the idea of allowing discussion, in-game, of the setting and teaching the new players a little more of Rokugan.
The PCs are:
Shiba Ujime (an Isawa school Shugenja with an affinity in fire magic, married unhappily into the Shiba family, and with an unusual respect for heimin), Shiba Sakamoto (a Shiba school Bushi, afflicted by religious doubts but with an obsession with duelling and the study of the sword), Moto Mongke Temur (a Moto school Bushi, uncouth even by Unicorn standards, clad in leather and fur, driven only by the pursuit of battle, women, and food, yet an excellent scout, animal handler and with rare knowledge of Gaijin languages), and Tamori Endo (a Tamori Shugenja with an affinity for Earth magic, religious and meditative seeking humility and peace with himself after arrogant errors made in the Destroyer War as a young man, he would wish to remain close to nature living simply in the forest but his Clan have called on him). For our second session we were joined by another player who ran Doji Niro (a Daidoji school Bushi with a penchant for less honourable ways of achieving his Clan’s goals, and skilled in the way of the Court).
In my second post, I’ll summarise where we are up to and where the third session will begin from.