What Do I Know About First Impressions? Adventures in Rokugan (5e OGL)
The history of Asian-themed roleplaying games is filled with pitfalls. Much of this can be encapsulated by realizing that Asian-themed RPGs showed up fairly early in the lifecycle of the roleplaying hobby, and at a time when a lot of the content of the hobby was produced by white male wargamers who wanted to represent what they saw in the history books that they had read. This didn’t exactly lead to a lot of cultural sensitivity or nuance.
I received a review PDF of Adventures in Rokugan from Edge Studios. I own the L5R core rulebook, and the L5R starter set, both of which I purchased myself. I am familiar with the L5R setting from fiction, sitting in on a few card games, and from reading parts of the core book and the starter set. I have not had the opportunity to run Adventures in Rokugan myself, but I am familiar with D&D 5e as both a player and a DM.
Adventures in Rokugan
PUBLISHER Edge Studio
MECHANICS DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT Max Brooke with Welden Bringhurst
NARRATIVE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT Lydia Suen
PROOFREADING Kate Cunningham and Tova Seltzer
SENSITIVITY REVIEW Johathan Altig and Raiden Montero
RPG MANAGER Sam Gregor-Stewart
GRAPHIC DESIGN Paco Dana
GRAPHIC DESIGN MANAGER Curro Marín
COVER ART Andrey Pervukyn
CARTOGRAPHY Francesca Baerald
INTERIOR ART Piotr Arendzikowski, Asep Ariyanto, Imad Awan, Francesca Baerald, Helge C. Balzer, Lukas Banas, Max Bedulenko, Cassandre Bolan, Marius Bota, Chris Burdett, Shiba Byodumai, Manuel Calderón, Sergio Camarena, Mike Capprotti, Joshua Carlos, Billy Christian,Calvin Chua, Brent Chumley, Conceptopolis, Mauro Dal Bo, John Anthony Di Giovanni, Nele Diel, Stanislav Dikolenko, John Donahue, Derek Edgell, Shen Fei, Tony Foti, Anthony Francisco, Felipe Gaona, Diego Gisbert Llorens, Kevin Goeke, Gong Studios, Brock Grossman, Matt Hansen, Lin Hsiang, Aurlien Hubert, Amelie Hutt, Giby Joseph, Shen Kei, Daria Khlebnikova, MuYoung Kim, Mathias Kollros, Pavel Kolomeyets, Olly Lawson, Damien Mammoliti, Antonio José Manzanedo, Francisco Martin, Diana Martinez, Jorge Matar, Marcel Mercado, Tomas Muir, Reiko Murakami, Ursula Murray Husted, Luis NCT, Chris Ostrowski, Carlos Palma Cruchaga, Immar Palomera, Ben Peck, Borja Pindado, Peter Polach, Polar Engine, Jeff Porter, Eli Ring, Axel Sauerwald, Fajareka Setiawan, Rudy Siswanto, Filip Storch, Shawn Ignatius Tan, Andreia Ugrai, Halil Ural, Charles Urbach, Magali Villeneuve, Le Vuong, Haibin Wu, and the Fantasy Flight Games art archives.
ART DIRECTOR Antonio Mainez
DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Luis E. Sánchez
EDITORIAL MANAGER Stéphane Bogard
HEAD OF STUDIO Gilles Garnier
A Brief Rumination on Asian-Themed RPGs
TSR’s Kara-Tur setting can be very instructive in tracking a multitude of missteps. While trying to present a fantasy Asian setting and including multiple versions of China and Japan, as well as fantasy versions of Korea, Tibet, and even India, some of the core classes were inspired almost exclusively from Japanese stereotypes, meaning it was “close enough” to use samurai, ninja, sohei, shukenja, and yakuza in any of the Asian analog cultures presented.
There are sections of rulebooks dedicated to tracking family inheritance for purposes of titles and authority, as well as strict rules for tracking honor that made alignment feel like a natural and flexible character trait. In perhaps the most brutal of all the rules tied to honor, if your honor score dropped to a negative number, your family members would automatically hunt you down and kill you if you didn’t take care of “the problem” yourself. It’s also telling that in a game where many designers assumed that the fantasy world of D&D would behave exactly like the medieval societies they read about in their favorite sources, none of this level of tracking family or reputation was needed for “regular” D&D. There were no automatic triggers for society and your family to turn against your character for all time.
Going into the 90s, there was a bit of a shift in mindset toward Asian-themed settings and games. Instead of just creating rules to rigidly quantify how various members of societies “must” act, there was a shift in focus, as some, still majority white male, designers idealized and romanticized the settings they developed. Instead of thinking that those European settings where designers didn’t add in strict rules about honor and succession were the baseline, these designers went a bit further, assuming that those settings were all about hypocrites that never believed what they said, but that the fantasy Asian worlds they created were populated by true believers. If only everyone could adhere to these notions of honor and perfection, everybody would be better off. Which increasingly led not only to stereotypes but also to fetishization.
When Worlds Collide
One aspect of the purchase of TSR by Wizards of the Coast that is often missed is that due to the third-party brokering of Five Rings Publishing, that company also fell under WotC’s umbrella for a while. This led to WotC publishing a 3rd edition rulebook that shifted D&D’s “Asian” setting focus from Kara-Tur to Rokugan, the setting of the Legend of the Five Rings properties, which by now consisted of the original collectible card game and a roleplaying game.
There are still a lot of problems in the 3rd edition implementation of the rules, although with Rokugan’s more focused setting being a pastiche of Japanese tropes, at least the problem of making Japanese-inspired classes “primary” in fantasy China or India fell away. Rokugan in this era still carried with it a lot of fetishized elements. It also had many issues with using names and terminology that lacked accuracy, claiming elements of Chinese, Korean, and South Asian folklore as part of Rokugan while still presenting the setting as being based on Japan, focusing on very rigid definitions of honor and right action, and really leaning into the seductive, duplicitous Asian woman trope.
Eventually, the Legend of the Five Rings property was no longer under WotC’s umbrella. The IP was purchased by Fantasy Flight in recent years, which led to the development of a new card game.
Fantasy Flight tried to fix some of the past issues in the setting. There were more women in roles other than as provocateurs or seductresses. There were queer romances. Where Rokugan showed influences from other cultures beyond Japan, more detail was given on the surrounding nations and where that influence came into the Rokugan proper.
The setting was rebooted so that the major events of the previous card game weren’t presupposed, and some characters could be replaced with re-envisioned versions. It created a recognizable setting with the same factions and many of the same personalities, but with room to rewrite the past.
Roles to Play
Eventually, Fantasy Flight produced their own version of the L5R RPG. Mechanically, the symbol-based dice resolution focused on characters choosing between succeeding, but potentially having some kind of slip of the mask or outburst or having a lesser chance at succeeding at various tasks. From a mechanical standpoint, it created interesting choices in the game.
Mechanically, characters would track their honor, glory, and status. They would also track their ninjo (desire) and giri (duty). Effectively, this meant that sometimes a character might do something that conflicts with their duty, because they have chosen a desire to pursue, and failing to balance desire and duty might result in a loss of honor, glory, or status, depending on the context of the situation. It built in a reason for characters to have inner conflict as they pursued their goals and executed their duties.
This did make characters feel more like people, rather than props that are battered by the rigid expectations of a stereotypically bordered setting, but it still played with concepts that felt like they were made to be intentionally inscrutable. Honor is something Asian settings often throw around, without examining what the word means, or realizing that it means different things in different contexts. Even using ninjo and giri instead of just desire and duty felt like it was “othering” the concepts that went into humanizing characters in the setting.
The L5R game is designed for players to be samurai from one of the established clans. This means that they are part of the ruling class, but can have all kinds of roles, from warriors, to courtiers, to practitioners of magic. One of the best elements to come out of this book was the clarity that samurai was a social construct, rather than a class or archetype of warrior.
Given the game’s assumptions, your character’s stats are often based on picking a clan, a family, and a specific school within that family that is known for training people for a particular role. What each clan and family is good at, and what they control in the Empire, is important. As much as the setting itself contains sorcerers and blood magicians and evil creatures from the Shadowlands, much of the conflict of the card game, and by translation, the RPG, comes from clans opposing one another, trying to take over lands or duties and raise their own prestige.
While this is an action-oriented game, action is often resolved quickly. The focus is on how individual characters are going to juggle the needs of the Empire, their clan, their family, and their own desires. Are they going to have an outburst that lets them do what they wanted to accomplish but creates complications down the road?
I have friends that are deeply into the card game, and I’ve sat in on a few games. I have the core L5R roleplaying game rulebook, and I even read through the starter set, with the intention of running it for those friends. I was a little intimidated and uncomfortable. I felt like the setting avoided a lot of the pitfalls I remembered from my much younger days, but by I also felt like it was presenting a society that had so many expectations that it would be easy for someone that was a fan of the setting to assume you were interpreting Rokugani society “the wrong way.”
But What About THIS Game, Now?
This review is based on the PDF of Adventures in Rokugan, which is 426 pages long. This includes a credits page, a table of contents, a three-page index, and a full-page ad for the Legend of the Five Rings fiction line.
For those not aware, a while after Asmodee purchased Fantasy Flight, there was some reorganization, and the RPG lines were in limbo for a while. Eventually, Edge Studio was created to handle the RPG lines for Asmodee properties, but it took a while for the company to get up and running.
If you have ever seen any of the RPG books put out by Fantasy Flight, you know they were art-filled and had attractive and thematic formatting and layout. This continues with Edge Studio releases. I haven’t had enough exposure to pick out which pieces have been reused in the book, but Fantasy Flight has a massive amount of L5R artwork to use in this, and it has been used to good effect.
What’s In The Book?
The book is organized into the following sections:
- Book 1: Player Resources
- Species of Rokugan
- Customization & Feats
- Book 2: Setting Resources
- Adventuring in Rokugan
- History of Rokugan
- Atlas of Rokugan
- A Grim Inheritance
- NPC Appendix
While this book presents enough in the way of species, class material, equipment, supernatural powers, NPCs, and monsters to stand on its own, you will at least need to reference the basic rules of D&D 5e, which are not reprinted in this volume.
This book has a clear goal, and that is to present a Rokugan that can be used for epic adventuring. This is meant to present stories of heroes that save the village, the city, the clan, and the world from impending danger. This isn’t meant to be the 5e adaptation of the L5R game, where characters are forced to make difficult choices and manage the tension between their duty and their desires. This is meant to tell distinct kinds of stories in the same setting, where PCs have less internal conflict and more external conflict with demons and sorcerers threatening innocent lives.
That means that even if you stumble across a situation that would be common in an L5R game, your purpose won’t quite be the same. In an L5R game, where you might meet Lion and Crane clan representatives about to come to blows, you might intervene to see who should win, based on what’s best for your clan and the good of the Empire. In an Adventures in Rokugan game, you will likely be chiding them for fighting while a hoard of undead is ravaging the countryside.
This presents a more “zoomed out” version of Rokugan. You learn about the clans and the broad strokes of history, but there aren’t many specific, famous clan NPCs detailed. In fact, one of the assumptions of this game is that you might set your game in different historical eras, listed as “Flashpoints.” Times where adventurers will stand out as individuals that can act and save the day.
The “H” Word
There is no honor statistic or game mechanic in this game. The word “honor” only appears around a dozen times in the entire book. In most cases, it is used as an adjective, such as when discussing clan honor guards, or when discussing how spirits, the dead, or the gods are “honored.” The one “traditional” use of the word honor is actually in the ad at the back of the book for the L5R fiction line.
Content Notices and Inspiration
The introduction addresses some of the ongoing issues with adapting a fictional version of an Asian setting to games. As I mentioned above, the L5R setting at its inception pulled in some other Asian influences beyond Japan, but presented itself as a fictionalized, fantasy Japan. This can easily come across as dismissive of other cultures by intimating that those distinctions don’t matter. In this case, the inspirations section clearly explains that other cultures contributed to the look and feel of Rokugan.
In addition to these inspirations, there is a list of things that DMs should do to run the game conscientiously:
- Humanize your characters and avoid perpetuating harmful Asian stereotypes
- Don’t make up “Asian-sounding” words
- Don’t use suicide as a game element
- Be careful when using religious content mirroring real-world religions
- Be mindful of what to introduce and ask other players their opinions
- Don’t explain someone’s culture to them
- Understand that you may mess up, and actively research when you make mistakes
- Commit to growth
At the end of the section on committing to growth, there is an acknowledgment that Edge Studio may still make mistakes in presenting material and that they want people that find objectionable material in their products to contact them.
As a white person that has spent most of my life in the Midwest, and none of my life outside of the United States, I can’t absolve anyone of any mistakes they have made in the past. It’s not within my purview to do this. I will say as someone that is interested in the subject matter, may wish to run the game, and has been uncomfortable with similar material in the past, this has a different, more intentional feel to it.
Player Facing Material
The first item on the agenda in our player-facing material is species, and this will highlight the different focus that Adventures in Rokugan has compared to the L5R RPG. In addition to human characters, you can opt to play Naga, Nezumi, Mazoku, Specter, Tengu, Yokai, and Unique Existence characters.
Each one of these other species has some built-in hooks for why they would be adventuring. The Naga (snake people) might be interested in the awakening of ancient magic, while the Nezumi (rat people) are often allied to humans fighting against creatures from the Shadowlands. The Mazoku (demons) are often sent after spirits or monsters that have escaped the afterlife, and Specters might be the thing escaping the afterlife to finish a task. Tengu (bird people) often serve as messengers of higher powers, and Animal Yokai (animal shapeshifters) often get caught up with humans due to curiosity or pranks. The Unique Existence species is just that, a custom-built being that is unique, such as a dragon reincarnated as a human to complete a task.
All the non-human species can appear human, with many of them having special abilities that reset either on a short or long rest, or on a long rest. All the species use the post-Tasha’s ability score assumption of freely assigning ability score bonuses. Another interesting trait that many of these species have is that they count as humanoid when appearing as human, but their creature type shifts to something more logical (such as fiend for the Mazoku) when they transform into their natural forms. Another interesting shift from the more recent D&D ancestry design is that the difficulty of various abilities is set at 12 + proficiency bonus, instead of 8 + ability score bonus + proficiency bonus.
The DM is encouraged not to frame surprise at these uncommon creatures as racism, but more awe or curiosity. I also appreciate that all of them have been designed in a way to work around the idea that it would be unusual to see a party of non-human creatures wandering Rokugan. All their species’ backstory works for including them in more epic stories of supernatural threats and correcting cosmic imbalances.
The next thing we see in the player-facing material is classes. These include the following:
- Bushi (all-around warrior)
- Duelist (warrior focused on one-on-one fights)
- Courtier (think bard, but without spells)
- Shinobi (think rogue)
- Ritualist (general spellcaster)
- Pilgrim (think monk, with some reworked ways of accessing abilities)
- Acolyte (I guess think of what a monk/warlock would look like)
Each class has a section on how that class fits into the established traditions of Rokugan. For example, many of the Great Clans have specific families that maintain schools for training specialized skills, and this section often explains which classes and subclasses match up with those clan schools. That said, all these classes work outside of the clan/family/school structure as well.
Bushi get the extra attack progression you would assume from a dedicated warrior class. They also get stances, which give you a bonus in a particular situation in combat and give you a means of generating focus. Focus can then be spent on triggering martial techniques. Martial techniques can scale with the amount of focus spent on the technique when it is triggered, but the more impressive upgrades won’t happen until higher levels, because there is a maximum amount of focus a character can have at one time, which goes up with level.
Martial techniques might allow you to do things like attacking an area instead of an individual opponent, and upgrading that technique might change your range from reach to 10 ft. or even 15 ft. when you can spend more focus on it.
The duelist class interacts with the dueling rules in the setting. When facing a character in a duel, a character gains a number of danger dice based on different elements, which their opponent can roll and add to their damage when they attack. The duelist gains different abilities to challenge characters to a duel (even in the context of a wider battle), and more opportunities to add danger dice to their opponents. In addition to these abilities, they are designed to be mobile fighters, not wearing armor, and fighting one opponent at a time.
Like bushi, they gain focus and can learn martial techniques, although often those techniques are more focused on individual targets or defence instead of multiple targets. For example, one of the techniques duelists get allows them to directly spend focus to add to their weapon damage on a foe.
Courtiers represent that thing that is often tricky in RPGs, especially d20 games, where a class is presented as being “good at talking,” and that may not translate well to the combat tier of games. See most of the classes that have been called “nobles” over the years. Bards are the best example of doing this well, because the bard can boost allies in combat and cast spells. There are some aspects of the courtier that looks like the bard in this respect.
The courtier’s main feature are intrigue dice. Both the number and the size of the die go up as the character levels. The character also gains access to flourishes, which are additional ways in which their intrigue die can be spent. Depending on the flourishes a character picks up, they might be able to use a reaction to add to an ally’s armor class, pass a secret message to a number of characters, add temporary hit points, trigger an opposed character to take a disadvantageous action, remove conditions, or other affects to bolster your allies or hinder your enemies. There are also flourishes that can be used to determine hidden secrets, determined by the highest rolling intrigue dice, which plays into a more investigative aspect of this class.
While it would be easy to port over most of the rogue’s abilities as a baseline for a ninja-style class, the Shinobi fills a similar role, but with different mechanics. For example, the Shinobi doesn’t get sneak attack dice, but it gets Merciless Strike, which does additional damage to opponents who are suffering from a condition.
In addition, Shinobi get a resource called Ninja Tools. In certain circumstances, a character can activate one of the abilities that they have that is powered by Ninja Tools. These abilities can vary from using a smoke screen to disappear, throwing multiple sharp objects at multiple opponents at once, or declaring that an area a foe is moving through has been seeded with caltrops. Because many of these tricks can cause a creature to take a condition, this plays into the Merciless Strike ability of the class as well.
Ritualists are the spellcasters of this rulebook, but they don’t use spell slots the way the core D&D classes do. Instead, they gain a number of Invocations. These are divided into Tier 1, 2, or 3 Invocations, and the character gains access to more invocations at each level, as well as gaining access to more powerful Invocations.
Ritualists also have a resource called Favor. Favor is how well the spirits regard the ritualist, to allow the ritualist to call upon them to invoke a supernatural ability. While you can regain favor with a long rest, not unlike spell slots, you can also spend four hours at a shrine to gain favor as you perform certain rites. Much like focus, you can enhance an Invocation by spending more favor on it than the base amount needed to trigger the ability. In the case of Invocations, this also means changing casting times, as some Invocations at their base level take much longer than a combat round to cast. Some Invocations grant additional favor to the Ritualist when cast under certain circumstances, like elemental Invocations being triggered at a site favorable to that element, but those extra points of favor can only be used to enhance the effects of the Invocation being triggered.
Pilgrims are somewhat similar to the core D&D monk, in that they are characters that can harness internal spiritual energy through unarmed strikes and the manifestation of various powers, but the pilgrim does so in a much different way than the monk. The pilgrim has additional hit dice granted to them beyond what other classes get, which go up in number as they gain levels.
The character spends hit dice to trigger different Externalizations, abilities fueled by the inner strength of the pilgrim. In addition to spending hit dice to trigger Externalizations, the pilgrim also tracks where they are aligned on a chart of Yin versus Yang. The Yin extreme increases healing abilities, while the Yang extreme increases damage potential. Remaining balanced can benefit your saves and perception. Taking different subclasses within the pilgrim class can grant a character access to different spells found in the 5e SRD. By spending hit dice, they may trigger spells from different spell lists that may connect to nature, learn charms and the ability to raise the newly dead, or see-through lies, hold opponents, or counterspell magic.
The Acolyte is described as the mortal agent of immortal causes. They are characters that channel energy from powerful beings beyond the mortal world. This plays with inspiration in unique ways, in that a long rest restores inspiration, and inspiration can be spent to do things like regaining the use of class abilities.
Depending on what subclass you take, you gain tattoos or brands, which both function in a comparable manner. The tattoo or brand gives you a limited ability, although tattoos also have expanded abilities that you can take as embellishments rather than gaining a new tattoo. Shadow Brands are less wide open when it comes to learning them, but they also can be upgraded in favor of gaining a brand you didn’t previously have.
Other Player Facing Material
There are more customizations that can be achieved through both backgrounds and feats. For example, there are backgrounds that are specific to the Crab Clan, and there are Crab Clan feats. There is a background for Naga characters and an additional feat that can modify their abilities.
Awakened armor and weapons as well as charms make up some of the unique equipment in Rokugan. Instead of finding new magic weapons or armor, there are charts that detail specific events under which a weapon or armor might awaken, transforming it into an item with spiritual power. Charms are items that are broken up into three ranks of increasing power. Characters can often find lower-powered charms at various shrines, but the most powerful are only given out as narrative awards.
Backgrounds don’t include the standard Traits, Bonds, Flaws, and Ideals. Instead, that’s covered in the Motivations section, where a character picks two motivations from the broader categories of Bonds, Desires, Duties, Fears, Ideals, and Regrets. While this section gives examples of all these categories, the examples are broad enough to leave room to tailor the motivation to the character but pointed enough to give a player direction. There is also a chart explaining how a GM might bring two motivations into conflict to add that as an aspect of the campaign’s story.
Techniques is the broad category that details martial techniques and invocations, both powered by scalable resources. This section also introduces new areas of effect (slam, sweep, and wave), and new conditions (bleeding, disoriented, distracted, maimed, marked for death, provoked, and weakened). Most of the new areas of effect are like existing ones, but they are only considered to be five feet high. The new conditions are a bit more fiddly than the existing conditions. For example, bleeding causes a character to take ongoing damage until they regain hit points, distracted causes a character to have a -2 penalty to armor class, and maimed causes a character to have disadvantage on dexterity saves and -10 feet to movement. Marked for Death sounds extremely dramatic, but it’s essentially converting something like a warlock’s hex or a ranger’s hunter’s mark into a condition.
DM Facing Resources
A big part of this involves explaining what Rokugan is, its history, and its regions. The history section is about twelve pages long, and while it provides some date ranges, it doesn’t provide a highly detailed timeline. It summarizes things in broad strokes, and for each major epoch it describes, it details an Adventure Flashpoint, which is a suggestion for what adventurers would be doing in this time.
The Atlas of Rokugan takes a tour of the various lands of the setting. For most of this section, this means breaking up Rokugan along the lands held by the different Great Clans. Most of the locations presented have some solid adventure hooks, some of which are expressly called out in sidebars in the text.
Not only does this present various lands in Rokugan and places where plot hooks may arise, but there are also numerous places where neighboring cultures are mentioned, including where their influence can be felt and where members of the culture might be found in Rokugan.
To summarize for anyone that isn’t familiar with the setting, in a strangely Greek-inspired creation myth, the God of the Moon ate all of his children except one, who was protected by his wife, the Goddess of the Sun. Eventually, that son freed his siblings, but all fell to Rokugan as powerful beings now tied to mortal life. One sibling fell through the earth into the Underworld.
Each sibling had a particular talent, and each sibling founded one of the Great Clans. The strengths of the Great Clans are usually tied to the strengths of the original founder. Because he was upset that his siblings did not look for him in the underworld, the sibling that fell there led an army of monsters to the mortal realm, creating a place now known as the Shadowlands, where undead and fiends constantly attempt to escape from in order to cause havoc in Rokugan.
The example adventure, A Grim Inheritance, is an adaptation of the L5R adventure Mask of the Oni, but its theme works very well within the paradigm in which Adventures in Rokugan wishes to operate. The Crab Clan is the clan that watches on the wall leading into the Shadowland, guarding the rest of Rokugan against incursion. In this adventure, a young samurai who was scouting into the Shadowlands has gone missing, and his mother hires adventurers to find him. Not only is this an effective way of framing Rokugan from the standpoint of adventurers, but it’s also a great introduction to some thematic elements of the setting in the form of the Crab Clan and venturing into the Shadowlands on a mission.
I especially like the NPC Appendix. It mentions using some of the stat blocks from the 5e SRD, but it also presents some new stat blocks. What is noteworthy about this appendix, however, is that there are a number of simple templates that can be applied to tailor a stat block into a more specific type of NPC. For example, there are templates for the various non-human PC species, templates for different clans, and templates for distinct roles, like investigator or socialite. Most of these grant a single special ability to add to the stat block, although you can easily tack multiple templates onto a character, if you wanted to make a Crane Clan Investigator, for example.
Another aspect of this appendix that I like is that the new NPC stat blocks that they present have a chart with motivations that make sense for that type of NPC. This also contains my favorite joke in the book, i.e., the motivations for the undead NPC stat block presented.
I’ve been interested in Rokugan since I first encountered it, but I’ve had several hurdles to my enjoyment of the setting. There were some restrictive ideas that constrained individuality and felt like they lent themselves to a narrow interpretation of how to present the setting the right way. That means I spent a lot of time being both fascinated and a little wary of engaging with the setting.
This book is so much more approachable than any version of Rokugan I’ve seen. The core elements that make the setting unique are all present, but the paradigm of what players are doing has been shifted in a manner that makes it easier to engage the setting without some of the negative aspects. It also does something I think is particularly important while converting the setting to D&D 5e. It doesn’t make this book the 5e OGL version of Legend of the Five Rings, it creates a game setting that exists in the Rokugan setting that is more properly aligned with the heroic adventuring of D&D.
I’m glad that the book starts off with a discussion of safety and respect, and I can’t say if they got everything right, but I can say that it feels more thoughtful to me than many other RPGs that deal with similar subjects.
One of the ways I normally gauge if a publisher gets the 5e OGL is if they can crawl inside of it and twist it around in a manner that makes it do something different than it does for core D&D, while still understanding the current design zeitgeist of the game. While this uses less of the current design tech of “per proficiency bonus” abilities, species design and class design doesn’t feel rigidly locked to what 2014’s options looked like. The shifting creature types on species and the flowing class currencies of the various classes feel fresh and engaging.
I do think those fresh options can be a little bit of a blessing and a curse. Unlike the core 5e rules, I don’t think you have as many “simple” classes. The ebb and flow of currencies and states of being are going to take a little bit more rules knowledge than just tracking hit points and ways to hit things harder (even though some of those abilities are, indeed, ways to hit things harder).
I would love to see a longer campaign-style adventure in this setting. I think the sample adventure does a fine job of showing what an adventure looks like, but I want to see a campaign that moves through multiple tiers of play, and how to sweep the characters up from saving people to saving Rokugan or the world.
The monster section is a little sparse, and I don’t know that Rokugan, canonically, has a lot more supernatural creatures than already appeared in this book, but I’m always up for new monsters, and I would love to see more of those NPC stat blocks with motivations attached to them. Those can work great not only to interact with the NPC in the moment, but for building adventures featuring those NPCs.
Because this book took the time to address some of the potential pitfalls of Asian-inspired fantasy, I would love to see sidebars and discussions in future products that touch on tropes to avoid and how folklore has been misconstrued over time.
Beyond just the concept of Adventures in Rokugan, I would love to see a little more of the discussion we got about Asian stereotypes and respectful playing in the core L5R books, potentially with some sidebars on how to deal with things like desire and duty in a manner that feels ripe for player conflict, without robbing characters of some degree of freedom and personality. I would also love to see the core game workaround using terms that may be more nuanced than the game affords them to be, and away from the long-term catch-all “honor” stereotypes.
I’m really looking forward to seeing more from this line and seeing where Rokugan goes in the future.
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