Review: Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition

The latest edition of the RPG Legend of the Five Rings is out and, being one of the few major RPGs that I’ve never owned, I decided to finally take the plunge and get it.

The pretty artwork didn’t hurt, either.

The book itself is a massive 400 page full-color hardback tome.  The margins are rather wide, but rather than detract from the book, it actually makes it look even prettier.  Oh, and it’s also available in .pdf.

“Pretty” seems to be a theme with this book, from the clean and minimalistic aesthetic of the exterior cover to the Japanese art-style page backgrounds to the wonderful art inside the book itself.  The wide margins, which I would normally count as a negative point, tend to serve the book well, helping to focus your eyes on the text, having just the right amount of art in it.

The game itself is steeped in Asian and Oriental flavor (particularly Japanese), making it more Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon than Lord of the Rings.  Because it is so steeped in Japanese culture and flavor, there are perhaps more terms to learn in this game than in a typical RPG.  Oddly, it took me forever to get through the “history of the world” chapter.   I’m not sure why, it wasn’t a bad read by any means, it just took me FOREVER.

Legend of the Five Rings CoverThe core game assumes you play a samurai, either a bushi (warrior), courtier or shugenja (spellcaster).  Character generation is diceless and requires you to pick a Clan, family and school which determines what stats you get bonuses to (all of them start at 2), what skills you are initially trained in and what equipment you begin the game with.  Honor, Status and glory play a large, important part in this game and is based off of the code of Bushido.  The “five rings” alluded to in the game’s title are Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Void, each of which (with the exception of Void) are based off of the lower of the two traits, one physical and one mental, that the ring embodies.  Void simply starts out at 2, and void points can be spent to gain bonuses to other rolls.   Next you pick Advantages and Disadvantages and finish up by spending 40 experience points and determining your Insight rank.  Insight is a general gauge of how powerful you are and determines at what Rank you are in your school.

Mechanically, the game is similar to another AEG game, 7th Sea, in that it is a “roll and keep” system; you roll X number of 10-sided dice (generally determined by your skill) and keep Y number of those dice (determined by your trait) which you add together and compare to a target number.  You can choose to take Raises on your target number, each of which increases the TN by +5, and if you succeed, you gain additional effects (such as casting a spell quicker, disarming an opponent, making a called shot and so on) and some abilities and Advantages give Free Raises to certain actions.  Combat, even iaijutsu duels, looks as though it will play quickly and shouldn’t last for more than a few rounds under the base rules (there are options for increasing the number of wounds you have, which would make combat take longer).  The system looks simple, and should play quite well with a minimum of fussing over the rules; something that the character sheet actually helps with as you should have room on the sheet to list what just about everything does.

There are also a lot of optional rules in the book that can be used; the Spider Clan, minor clans, playing Imperial family characters, playing Ronin, maho (blood sorcery), kata, advanced schools, alternate paths, kiho (mystical monk abilities), options for playing anime, cinematic or super grim-and-gritty campaigns…the list goes on and on.  Some of these items are to be expanded upon in later books, but there’s definitely enough to whet your appetite.

There are a handful of critters and beasties in the book, but I definitely wanted a lot more; fortunately, the “monster book,” Enemies of the Empire,” is already out…watch for my review soon!

Overall, I would say that this looks to be an excellent game.  The book is beautiful, the artwork gorgeous and the mechanics excellent.  Options are plentiful and the GM has the freedom to “toolkit” around with the campaign’s style.  If you opt to get the .pdf, though, be’s a pretty hefty file weighing in at 150ish megs.

[tags]games, gaming, l5r, legend of the five rings, review, role playing games, roleplaying[/tags]

8 thoughts on “Review: Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition

Add yours

  1. Well, there goes one item off of my review list (maybe I need to share that thing with our new writers). Seems like you did a good job of covering the product, Buddy. Good to see that this property has been treated well in its most recent incarnation.


  2. I got L5R 3rd edition at Gen Con several years ago because the books were just so damn pretty. They were interesting to read, but I am not a huge fan of the system. It is one of those games I want to play just because the books look so nice. Which is one of those geeky hangups I have, pretty book= awesome, fun game. Of course that is not always the case.


  3. Good review. I agree on the taking a long time to read aspect of the book. I think the problem (great thing?) is that there’s just so much to absorb. It’s really packed full of content, and then every couple of pages you come across a piece of art that’s a really great distraction.


  4. This is just a fantastic book from cover to cover. I played 1st Edition of this system and the d20 version of L5R years ago, and this book is making me want to run it again. Improvements in every area and like you said, its gorgeous to look at and read. I also highly recommend it!


  5. don’t judge a book by it’s cover but you can do it in this care it has some amazing thing and it portrays the essence very well, i recommend every reader fan to do it


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