Legend Of The Five Rings: 4th Edition, by Shawn Carman, Robert Hobart, Jim Pinto, and Brian Yoon
A coworker of mine has played this game, and I can see why he enjoyed it so much given his interest in Japanese (and other Asian) cultures. If you ever thought that Musashi’s Book of the Five Rings would make for a compelling game world set in East Asia and dealing with the complex harmony and unity of a realm that struggled to deal with a lot of complexity and with dark and demonic forces dedicated to its destruction, this book is for you. I’m not sure if I would think as highly about the book as my coworker does, but in the right company at least this is a game that I could easily see myself playing and enjoying a great deal. I have to say, though, that there are some elements of this game that appear a bit worrisome, like traveling in the Shadowlands and dealing with various demonic characters. Some people might enjoy that aspect of the game a bit too much, given the way that this book contains a lot of spells and seems to want to encourage at least some characters to go very dark.
This book is a large one at about 400 pages and it is divided into five books that look at the five elements (air, earth, fire, water, and void). The introduction welcomes the reader to Rokugan, the name of the fictionalized East Asian empire that the game is set in. The Book of Air that begins the book discusses the origins of the universe and of Rokugan as well as its geography, classes, rituals, religion, philosophy, politics, economics, and the great clans that make up its elite. The book of earth then discusses game mechanics, including target numbers, skills, raises, combat rounds, and the importance of honor, glory, and status. The Book of Fire then looks at character creation going into more detail about the different clans and looking at skills, spells, and equipment (especially weapons). The Book of Water then looks at the advanced mechanics of clans and subclans and education within the clans and famous ancestors and alternative means of rank progression, basic crafting, more spells and the shadowlands taint. Finally, the Book of Void contains material for the gamemaster, including types of campaigns, rewarding success, various storytelling techniques, and using the rules and creatures as a toolbox to increase interest and danger, while also providing location guides and resources.
Whether or not you enjoy this game will depend in large part on the sort of experiences you have while playing it. Some characters could really enjoy investigating crimes or delivering messages or engaging in court diplomacy and have a solid game that takes advantage of the rich world that is involved here. Others, though, will end up spending a lot of time dealing in dark magic and the lure towards great evil, including assassination and summoning demons. The complex faction system of the game means that characters have a lot of choices even if they will likely be either some sort of courtier, priest, or warrior, and there are certainly female characters as well who will struggle to maintain their honor in the face of complex gender and class standards. This is a game that will test the resources and creativity and integrity of its players, and whether or not that is a good thing will depend in large part on the specific missions and how they are approached by the characters. The blend of cultures also makes for a potentially interesting setup, as many of the regions have a high degree of rivalry with others as well as alliances that will make for complex negotiation between different players with different approaches and worldviews and motives.