Legend of Five Rings has been one of my go to games for...well, for more than a decade now. There has always been something not only about the world of Rokugan that drew me in, but the Roll and Keep system as well. When Fantasy Flight Games announced they had purches Legend of Five Rings from AEG I was pretty excited. I rather like FFG's other forays into the RPG industry, as well as their handling of the Star Wars license. I figured Rokugan was in good hands with them. And this GenCon I got a chance to play in a game using the new system. Today I want to talk about that.
Roll and Keep Remains
The heart of the old L5R system was a roll and keep system where you rolled a bunch of dice, and then choose which dice you wanted to keep. The idea being that you could choose how much - or how little - you wanted to succeed by, or when doing damage how much damage you wanted to do.
With FFG making the game, they've gone to a special dice system similar to the Star Wars system, but it makes the Roll and Keep choice all the more meaningful. Dice have four possible outcomes: Success, Opportunity, Strife, and Explosive Success. Explosive Success adds another die to the pool, but otherwise counts as a success. Success is self explanatory. Strife...more on that later, but consider it an emotional outburst. And opportunity is a chance for something else to happen or be noticed.
For example, when a Kakita Bushi rolls to iai-draw their sword, if they get an opportunity they can use that to also draw their wakizashi.
What I like about this is it means you can choose to fail - which could always happen - but this way you can choose to fail to some other benefit. Playing a game against your Lord's son is now more straightforward - do you choose to win or not? And if you don't choose to take those successes, what do you choose to keep?
Raises Are Gone
The other part of Roll and Keep that I loved is gone sadly. In R&K you could call raises to sort of call your own critical hits. This seems to be gone - or at least wasn't featured in the game I played. You can still choose if you crit or not - combat featured a lot of people choosing between extra damage or getting enough opportunities to make a critical hit happen - but you can't just bake it in to your roll when you declare it in an all or nothing fashion.
Strife and Composure Feel Great
One of the new additions to the game is the concept of Composure. Composure, or Face, is not new to the narrative side of L5R but having a mechanic for it is new. Every character has a "Composure" rating derived from their rings similarly to how their Fatigue (read: Hit Points). When rolling dice, some dice have a 'Strife' symbol on them. If you take those dice (Strife is often paired with Success or Explosive Success) you gain Strife. Effectively, your character is becoming emotionally compromised as things get more and more tense.
Once you have more strife than you have composure, your character counts as being Compromised. This means their emotions are too strong to hold back. At this point you can no longer keep any dice with a Strife symbol on it. To remove being Compromised you need to "Unmask" your character. Unmasking means 'losing face' and having some display of emotion. This could be something as loud and obvious as a scream of excitement/pain/sadness, or as small as wiping away a single tear that perhaps someone else can see. You unmask, your strife goes back to 0 and you can take Strife on dice again. You don't because it would be bad to unmask where you are? Well, enjoy having half the good faces on the dice be worthless.
Frankly, I love this mechanic and can't wait to see what else can be done with it.
Combat Feels A Little Clunky
My only complaint about the new system is that combat feels a little clunky. This could just be getting used to a new system, but it does a couple things that I think will keep it clunky even with experience.
Damage in L5R is not damage, but rather fatigue. When your fatigue threshold is passed, you lose the ability to defend yourself as well and attacks automatically do critical hits. Critical Hits count as "real" hits. For a Critical Hit you take the deadliness of the weapon + the successes of the attack and subtract from it the number of successes the hit character gets on a Fitness roll. Then you compare that number to a chart which goes from "Near Miss" (i.e. you cut clothes but not flesh) to "Destroyed Armor" and then at the top has "Agonizing Death," "Swift Death," and "Instant Death."
The rolling Fitness vs. the Crit is where I feel some clunkiness will always stick, but I feel that will also make the Crab amazingly hard to take down.
Still, a little clunkiness doesn't take away from what looks like an amazingly fun system. I can't wait to get the full version in my hands.