Game of Thrones was a cultural phenomenon like few other fantasy tales. Regardless of how one might feel about the ending, the show dug its way into pop culture through a slow-burning supernatural threat kept behind a wall, characters caught between honor and duty and politics where words were just as deadly as blades. There’s another excellent world full of these ideas and more; the world of Legend of the Five Rings. We’ve talked about this excellent game before, both in its latest card iteration and the new tabletop RPG edition. With the end of the tales of Westeros (for now) and the release of some new books in the RPG, it seemed like an excellent time to return to Rokugan.
Legend of the Five Rings tells of the struggles between the Great Clans of Rokugan in a fantasy world heavily influenced by Asian myth and Japanese history. It’s a world of duels won in a single flash of a blade, spells cast with a whispered word and intrigues that can be just as deadly as either. Players choose which of the Clans they serve and create their characters by answering a questionnaire that not only determines their abilities but also sets up the conflict between what they must do to be a correct member of society and what they want. The clash between these two things provides the drama of the game. What if your clan wishes for you to marry your samurai rival? What if your lover ends up on the other side of a clan war? What if your father is cast out of the clan and you discover his lord was really the traitor?
Emerald Empire digs into the deep information about Rokugan. Rokugan spent the first 20 years of its life managed by Alderac Entertainment Group, and this book starts to lift the veil on what changes Fantasy Flight has made to the setting. The new RPG focuses on a time before the Second Day of Thunder and on Rokugan being much more directly influenced by samurai drama. The book offers specific information on how to play members of the Imperial family. More fantasy options are included including the opportunity to play a kitsune living their life as a samurai. The book is an excellent resource for new fans to discover why Rokugan has endured for so long and gives a chance to old fans to see the subtle changes made in between the different versions of the setting.
Rather than Clan books that each center on one of the Great Clans, FFG looks to be widening the format that discusses the clan but also the element of society most important to the clan and how it affects the greater empire. Shadowlands deals with one of the scariest things in Rokugan: the demonic creatures that await outside the giant Carpenter Wall created by a corrupt kami who was left out of the creation of the Empire. The book also talks about the more insidious Shadowlands cults and blood magic users that spread evil within the Empire while giving focus to new options for players of the Crab Clan. Crab samurai are dedicated to protecting the Empire from the Shadowlands so they get the newest school in the book, but each clan gets a school to show how they deal with the forces of Jigoku.
An adventure released in support of Shadowlands called Mask of the Oni also shows how this story element can be used beyond sending players to the Wall. It’s a sequel of sorts to the adventure included with the Game Master’s Screen that centers on the chase of a corrupted shugenja looking to trade her abilities as a spellcaster to become a blood magician. The villain is a Lion, which echoes a classic storyline but it also complicates matters for the players. There are rules for her capture and her membership in a Great Clan means that rivals of that clan might want to tread carefully before cutting her down without remorse.
Fans of Westeros will find a lot to love in Legend of the Five Rings. The culture of Emerald Empire will hook players into understanding their Clans just as they might their houses. Shadowlands offers great opportunities to battle and outwit fiendish creatures. Mask of the Oni throws players right into the middle of a story that combines the deadliness of clan intrigue and supernatural horror. The one sure thing about heroes in Rokugan? They always live in interesting times.
Samurai are Cool
Images Credits: Fantasy Flight Games
Review copies provided by publisher.
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer (Star Wars RPG, Firefly RPG, Camelot Trigger) and professional nerd. who occasionally tweets and livestreams RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players while his meat body resides in scenic Milwaukee, WI.