Monday, October 22, 2018

L5R 5e: Emotions, Drama, And Making It Happen

One of the magical things about the time we're living in is that it seems almost all the big RPGs from my youth are now on their 5th edition. What is also interesting is that in that 5th edition many games are embracing the story telling, role play, and drama aspects of their games. This is seen in D&D 5th Ed's embracing of the three pillars of adventure which bring the focus to exploration and social interaction. In games like Legend of the Five Rings, which always had a stronger focus on narrative and drama if in the suggestions for how to run if not mechanics, developers are bringing in gameplay mechanics like composure, where by a simple mechanic in the game a character is forced to either bring their emotions into play, or suffer a significant mechanical penalty.

Today, I want to talk about that.

Strife & Composure
L5R 5e brings emotions into mechanical play with Strife and Composure. Strife is one of the symbols on the custom dice that L5R uses to resolve mechanics. If you keep dice that have the strife symbols on them, then you character experiences some upswelling of emotion. This doesn't necessarily mean negative emotion. It could be positive emotion. Your character could just as easily be feeling satisfaction, pride, or joy in a task well done as they could be sorrow, hatred, or disappointment at the necessity of it. The point is, you keep a dice with a strife symbol and your character is noticably - to them at least - feeling emotions.

This is 'resisted' by the character's composure. Composure is how capable your character is of not revealing the emotions happening beneath the surface, and it works a lot like Hit Points. Composure determines how many points of "emotion" your character can experience before they become Compromised. Once a character is compromised they are not allowed to keep dice with the strife symbol on it (meaning a lot of faces of the dice now can't be kept) until they do something to release their emotions, or otherwise ease the buildup.

Unmasking is the 'big' way that a character can relieve themselves of being compromised. When a character unmasks they - momentarily - drop their social defenses and let people see what is going on inside. This can be a big outburst - an angry challenge, storming off, jumping into your lovers arms for a big hug/kiss, bursting out laughing at something - or it can be smaller and more subtle - a hidden smile, a longing sigh, a lingering stare, etc - the point is, something happens and the mask of 'stoic samurai' comes off.

The game is clear that while this is against the 'expected norm' for samurai, that it shouldn't be all bad for the player. Yes, they lash out and criticize something of their daimyou, but perhaps that gets the daimyou to listen - even if they lose standing for their emotional outburst. Yes they lose face and make a big deal of a greeting which will have the courts gossiping for months, but it intrigues the pretty Doji poet who would love to spend more time with them to use their emotionality as inspiration.

Why I Like This
I like this because in all the years I've GMed, while I have been fortunate enough to have players bring character emotion into play it has always been for specific things and always in a way to make a dramatic point. Yes, the players I've had are awesome and they are playing their characters correctly, but the small nuances of emotional build up - a fight being emotionally draining, the feel of what happens in a day at court, the small joys/irritations of seeing a loved one/rival - while there they may not get expressed because their character is remaining stoic and so they keep it internal.

With the Composure mechanic, this comes to the forefront. A player is encouraged to let the other players in on what the collected strife on a roll means, and definitely when unmasking how it happens and why. It's a simple mechanic, but it works as one part of two relatively simple mechanics that focus the game on the natural drama of what is expected of the social caste samurai, and what those samurai actually are as passionate, driven, human beings.

One part, the other?

Ninjo vs. Giri
At character creation along with determining their characters clan, family, school, and other mechanics a player is also charged with choosing both a Ninjo and a Giri for their character. Ninjo is their personal desire. This is what the person wants to do with their life, or in their life. It doesn't necessarily have to be fully self serving, but it is a personal want. Perhaps they want to become known as a legendary duelist, or poet. Or perhaps they want to have a sordid love affair like in the great stories. It should be something that gives the player a goal to work towards at all times, and working towards one's ninjo helps relieve 'strife.'

Giri on the other hand is a character's duty. This is what their lord has ordered them to do. It could be as direct as protect a specific character, or to see some task succeeds. This is also something a player should have no problem working towards

The idea then is that one's Ninjo and one's Giri should be able to come into conflict. More specifically, they should conflict and it should take work to make them both be aimed at the same thing.

With Ninjo and Giri a character always has two things to be working towards, and the conflict between the two creates the drama. After all, it's hard to become known as a great duelist when your orders are to keep things running smooth with the people you want to duel. Then again, who is to say that one duel won't keep things moving smoother if the situation arises properly?

A Change In The Game
These changes, as much as I like them, do mean that the game L5R has changed and not just in having different mechanics. L5R 5e is much more of a "Samurai Drama" simulator with a focus on the inner struggle of the heart vs. duty than any previous version of L5R. Where 1e through 4e could just be "High Fantasy Samurai Game," regardless of the initial designers focus on the dramas and tragedies of court era writings from Japan, 5e very firmly staples the label 'drama' into that in a way that can't be removed.

I know of at least two characters that I loved that would be very hard to recreate in 5e. The first being my Bayushi Saboteur Bayushi Kyouten who, for various reasons, was very lacking in emotions and completely focused on giri. Kyouten was something of a socio-path, so maybe the game could do it, but he only really showed emotion once in the whole game and that was the point. The other character is my ronin Akigara who was kind of the opposite of Kyouten. Interestingly enough, one of these characters doesn't "work" because they are completely focused on their Giri, and the other wouldn't because they are completely focused on their Ninjo.

Still, that change in the game's focus is important to recognize. It makes 5E more focused on the personal than the epic, even if you can still use the game to tell epic stories - because a good epic should still have the personal in it, after all.

This is mostly just conjecture from reading though. I can't wait to try it to see how it works. Hopefully soon!

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