Thursday, September 22, 2016

Approach Vs. Power

This post was supposed to go up Wednesday, but I was sick Tuesday and forgot that meant time passed. Sorry!

My L5R game has an upcoming problem. Right now three of my players are reading this post and wondering what they did. I'm not going to play coy about this either. There is an interesting problem, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. To ease the tension of who is to blame, it all revolves around a messy little disadvantage called Sworn Enemy and how it's mechanics tie into the problem of Approach vs. Power.

Sworn Enemy
Sworn Enemy is a 2-5 point disadvantage. It states that there is someone out there who is your sworn enemy. This person wants you ruined, and they will take actions to see it so. For 2 points the character is equal in Insight Rank (effectively equal in level) to you. At 3 points they're a level higher. At 4 points they're 2 levels higher. And you get the idea.

Now, for a normal enemy this makes sense. Your player plays a Bushi, and the enemy is a Bushi, and at 2 points they should be at approximately equal power to each other. It gets harder at 3, 4, and 5 points, but if that is the story the Player wants then so be it. Some folks like a challenge. Some people want the deck stacked against them. And some just want to have the whole party take down their foes.

In my game though that isn't what's happening. One of my PCs has a 2 point sworn enemy, but their enemy is an Imperial courtier. Whoops.

Things Not Governed By Power
The first complication comes in from things that aren't governed by mechanical power. Even at the same insight rank, or a weaker insight rank, an Imperial character has a number of advantages over a non-Imperial. For starters, they're an Imperial and that comes with wealth, prestige, connections, and oh yes...elite bodyguards.

I mean, to mess someone's day up most Imperials just need to arrange it so the person they don't like is seen to hurt them, and the nearest Seppun will resolve the problem right quick. What's most important here though is the resources and connections. Why? Because they basically supercharge the other key difference.

Approach Matters
The PC in question is a spiritual bushi. Basically, if not for the katana he'd be a monk, but his class still counts as Bushi. The NPC Sworn Enemy is a courtier. One of them resolves all their problems by swinging a 1-3 lb hunk of metal at it, the other resolves all their problems by dispatching groups of people who swing 1-3 lb hunks of metal at the problem. See the issue?

XP spent on the PC is partially going to direct combat stats. XP going to the NPC is going to stats to make people believe you're the good guy and those against you are villains. A courtier doesn't fight you head on. They take what you love. They turn things against you. They squeeze your family and your clan until you are left broken and bereft.

They don't fight fair, to put it bluntly.

Leaving Me With
What this leaves me with - and could leave you with - is two characters who - mechanically - are at the same power level but in practice are basically in different worlds. It's an interesting issue, and one that basically governs how they interact and who will come out victorious by whether or not the PC can manipulate things into their area of expertise, or if they will have to fight an uphill battle against an entrenched position.

Then there is the possibility of innocent bystanders, and other PCs getting pulled in. It could get very very messy.

In the end this is one of the things I love about L5R though. Do it right and you can get a PC killed, or a whole party wiped, because the wrong (or right) person wanted 2-3 extra points at character creation and really played into it. Samurai Tragedy indeed!


  1. My first thought was: what happens if the NPC increases in power but the PC doesn't? Will the PC gain additional disadvantage points so to speak, to make up for it? Or should the PC work his ass off to ensure they stay on the same power level?

    Or maybe that means there needs to be a sort of neutral ground between the two sworn enemies. A playing field where the MANY advantages the courtier can pull in won't have any effect. Maybe there's a shrine with a powerful spirit nearby who offers the Bushi some advantages, or at least won't allow the courtier to take his bodyguards with him. And where he needs to wash his feet and leave his shoes and weapons at the door, so to speak.

    Though I do have politics in my game, I don't have sworn enemies or the mechanic behind it. But my players have a tendency to go up against much more powerful enemies (in raw strength, magic ability or political power). The first thing they learned was not to play by the rules set up by their more powerful enemies. Maybe the Bushi can do the same for the courtier: wealth, prestige and connections counts for less if the courtier is seen as a freakin bully who pesters a lowly Bushi who SHOULD be beneath his notice. His allies will be less likely to provide the courtier with assistance when they think he should a) deal with the pesky insect himself or b) is an idiot for being drawn in this silly feud in the first place.

    1. The mechanic requires a certain amount of playing fair from the GM. It says say insight rank, but there are ways to break that in the game. The easiest way is stats are grouped into pairs where the lowest value of the stat is the value for the pair (called a ring.) Each rank of a ring gives 10 insight, but if a ring is unbalanced (i.e. Agility 10, Intelligence 2) it's still just a rank 2 ring and costs no extra insight.

      In your case, the PC would get no extra points because advantages don't impact insight rank. However, the NPC also shouldn't go up in rank unless the PC does, so if the PC opens that kind of shenaniganry (i.e. the Agility 10 for combat, but int 2 for low insight rank) then they're kind of just asking for it :)