Legend of the Five Rings 5th Edition Beta

First impressions. I’m confused. When the beta version dropped my weekly group were keen to take part in the play test. So we postponed the start of the Unkown Armies campaign and allocated a few sessions to this. Having just made my players devote a whole session to a UA cabal creations, I didn’t want to force them to generate their own characters, but I gave them to option to do so, or to take a pre-gen from me. Three players volunteered to make characters. One didn’t find the time in the end, but the other two said they found the process complicated. Hence my confusion. I don’t find the process complex at all. These are all experienced players, of a variety of RPGs, so I can’t understand what they are finding difficult. 

My conclusion is that it might be in the layout of the beta rules. One player complained about having to flick back and forth between distinctions, techniques and the 20 questions. But that sort of split happens in every rule book I’ve ever read, except PbtA games where it’s all in the playbook. We have played a lot of those recently, so maybe, in comparison this system of twenty questions seems a little … old fashioned? Actually my only “old fashioned” complaint would be that lots more games nowadays have character generation with a focus on links between the PCs. Given that one of the challenges I’ve often heard bout L5R is “why would these samurai from different clans be working together anyway?”, I’m a bit disappointed that some mechanic wasn’t attempted in this version to address that. Feels a bit like a missed opportunity- though given this is a beta, if enough people share my feeling, perhaps it won’t be missed. 

Back to beta layout, my only flicking back and forth annoyance was that guidance on giri and ninjo was in a separate chapter, and I think most of it could’ve folded into chapter 2. But I note I did have two copies of the PDF open – one on my pad and one on my screen alongside some formfillable character sheets a fellow fan hastily created, so maybe there are some layout issues the designers could solve (with some layout training myself though, I can’t see an easy solution). 

I’m not clear on whether there are discretionary XP to spend after the 20 questions. There are in the scenario but not at the end of chapter 2.  I went with not giving them any, with their agreement, partly because most of them didn’t know the system well enough to spend it anyway. This is one of the things also mentioned as confusing by my one of players. In fact, when we came to play that player hadn’t finished her character. She was the experienced L5R player, so I must say I was surprised. One of the things she had not done was choosing for advantages and disadvantages. I like the unified advantage disadvantage mechanics (I think, we’ll see how they work in play), but I think she was a little frustrated at having to have at least two of each. She had only selected one, a disadvantage. And I think I began to understand that her complaint about the complex nature of the rules was more about, in the beta version at least, not being able to create exactly the character she wanted. That and English being a second language for her. 
So I ran my first session of the beta rules. I used the intro scenario from the 4th Ed book, as I thought it made a better introduction to the world of Rokugan than the one in the beta rules. Most of my six players were neophytes to L5R, and I wanted to run a game that at this stage had minimal actual combat and introduced them to the complexities of honour, face and the class structure. The good news is we had loads of fun, they loved it and want to play again. I’m on vacation for a couple of sessions. So we’ll return to the game in a couple of weeks, when I’ll start the adventure in the beta rules. 

We have two Scorpions, one “openly” and the other masked as an ex-Hida Ronin, a Dragon Investigator (who quickly worked out Miramoto Rai was having an affair, but couldn’t prove his innocence), a Crab bushi, a Unicorn bushi, and a Phoenix shugenja, loyal enough to his clan to lie when the kami told him that a man in Phoenix colours stole Miramoto’s kimono. So there are some interesting team dynamics happening. 

Nobody (if I recall correctly) failed a single roll. (This even though many rolls were ring dice only, as they didn’t have the skill. QUESTION: Am I doing it right? I let them roll on their ring with no penalty as nothing appears in the rules to say they can’t, but I’m very willing to be corrected.) Maybe I wasn’t being tough enough with TN, but it felt “too easy” in general. I wonder if the probabilities are designed correctly in these custom dice. No fighting in this game, so I couldn’t test leathality. 

The strife rules worked well – the crab played comedically very well, especially during the Haiku competion where the player composed some excellently awful haiku, and earned loads of embarrassment (strife) on his dice rolls. Then tried to share his sake knowledge passion to recover some strife, succeeded in the roll, but in doing so earned another point of strife so raged out, knocking the sake cups everywhere. And again towards the end of the session, the Ronin/scorpion rolled to detect the Phoenix’s lie. Succeeded but earned strife enough to shut him down, so said nothing. 

Rules for custom xp spend at the end of character creation are missing. This was a feature of the 4th ed., and at the beginning of the scenario players are given 24 points to spend on their characters, but I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be standard or just to meet the challenge of that particular scenario.

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