Follow up to L5R review

I have been granted the privilege position of knowing close the three gentlemen who are going to be running the new Heroes of Rokugon campaign. As such I, my wife, and some other friends are one of their sets of guinea pigs…er…playtesters.

If you are interested in the campaign, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun one, they are premiering it in Kansas City this upcoming November 4th through 7th at KC Game Fair. If you cannot make it, there is a HoR3 yahoo group you can join and soon there will be a website with further information.

I wanted to go back and address a few points now that I’ve had the chance to play through a few sessions. What follows are a few notes from that experience.

Character creation was fairly simple. As I noted in my initial review this could be greatly enhanced by having a set baseline for character points, a step by step walk through, and a completed character to reference. The playtest group did this mostly together and noticed that  there was a subtle expectation for players to be theorycrafting and metagaming while doing so. I imagine the designers think groups sit around saying things like,”You take the higher Water ring, I’ll get Fire, you should totally get Void 3.” Which, if that made-up quote is anything like what they’re witnessing, sounds like they need diversify their playtesting groups. In any case, since we chose widely different schools, and all Bushi at that, I’m not sure that there is much point to trying to investigate further.

The other thing of note for character creation was the difference between the flavor text describing the school and the actual granted abilities. This felt very incongruous with my chosen school, the Mastu Berserker. In this case, the text I’m referring to says “…focus heavily upon the Full Attack Stance, which makes them heavy-hitting opponents who have to position themselves carefully in order to prevent an opponent from exploiting their lower Armor TN.”

Looking over the five school ranks, there’s not a single one which addresses this. Nor is there any provisional option, like with the fifth rank technique, to spend a void point and do something cool like ignore the TN penalty of the full attack stance. One might think that it is referring to the first rank ability to move an extra five feet in battle, if you didn’t already move your maximum, but that would be silly since any opponent could follow you.

Stances were something I cited as needing more experience with before making a call. Having a few games under my belt, I feel far more comfortable with them but find their usefulness lacking. That said, I really want to like them. Having done five years of intramural fencing in college, I can attest to the strategic difference between defensive and aggressive stances make.

So far, it’s not made a huge impact on how the players have worked through combat. There have been a few times where it’s made it easier to hit our opponents when the GM chose the “full attack” stance but as of yet, the additional 2k1 hasn’t had much strategic appeal over the standard attack stance. Or the defensive stances.

I suspect this might change with some experience expenditure. As noted in my initial review, the system has changed how the R&K works when you exceed 10 rolled and/or 10 kept dice. Right now, none of our characters come close to exceeding either one of those limits. If should I ever find my character at that point, turning that 2k1 into 0k2, might just do it for some extra dice in the damage pool.

As for other rules changes, the one which has caused the most conflict is the removal of the returned Void rule.

In the previous edition of L5R if a player rolled three tens on a single check, their character got a point of Void back. For the uninitiated, Void points are like Action points from 3.5 D&D variants or like Fortune points from 2nd Ed WFRP. With the returned void rule, the PC could effectively have twice the number of Void points as their ring would indicate. I have been told this wasn’t the problem most GMs ran into. Instead it was the players who would do silly actions in order to roll and have a chance at recovering spent points. The favorite of which was to “practice” drawing their sword during a battle in order to have the chance to throw dice and see if they could get another void.

On the one hand, I understand the frustration GMs who encountered that situation must have felt. There’s very little more disheartening than a player who solely uses the rules for exploitative purposes. And as a designer trying to correct this, my first reaction could very well be the same: take away the toy causing the problem. But this feels like overreach. On the other hand, why weren’t those GMs finding ways to tell their players “No”? This strikes me as something that falls well within GM fiat.

What we played was fun and well worth some of the frustrations in character creation. Most of it works very well, and despite the flaws spoken about I continue to like the amount of control over the dice that R&K systems provide the player. However, I am sticking with labeling this as the “Angry GM” edition.

Now, you could ask me why I continue to play this edition given the flaws I have pointed out here. This is a fair question. My answer is twofold. The first and foremost is that I want to support my friends in this. They’re taking on a huge, and I might add, unpaid job in creating and running the HoR3 campaign. The very least I could do is to lend a hand by playtesting their work. And secondly, as with any campaign be it HoR or Pathfinder, most of the fun comes in being with your friends. Any opportunity to hang out and potentially have fun is one that’s hard to pass up. If it comes with the price of having to use a fun, if flawed system, then so be it.