The Meaning of Skill

Preview Skill Checks in Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying

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In the land of Rokugan, adventure awaits you. War, intrigue, and arcane mysteries will beset your journey, but you are not without power. In Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying, your samurai’s skills, ambition, and honor will guide them through tumultuous times toward victory and glory, but not without cost or opposition.

Whether mighty bushi, cunning courtier, or mystical shugenja, skill checks are the fundamental interactions you and your character will have with the game itself to determine the course of your adventures, and provide a path to unexpected journeys!

Join us today as we explore how skill checks are made in Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying and how they will help players and Game Masters shape stories together.

Finding the Path

Like most roleplaying games, Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying uses dice to determine the success or failure of the tasks that you and other characters are trying to accomplish. These objectives could be very small and immediate (escape a room, convince a guard to let you pass unhindered) or huge and incredibly aspirational (such as finding the original text of an ancient prophecy in a forgotten temple atop a faraway mountain). But just as small steps lead to great adventures, individual skill checks are the foundation for determining your characters’ progress and how the game’s world reacts to their efforts. After all, a skill check in Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying does not merely mark success or failure, but also what turns of fate may support or hinder an adventure as a whole.

While you're playing the game, the Game Master will determine when a skill check may be appropriate. A character walking across a bridge, even briskly, would not require a skill check, as this is a mundane activity. However, if your character is chasing or evading an opponent, or attempting to cross the bridge as a flash flood is washing away the support beams, then we have a consequence for failure and rolling the dice for a skill check is relevant.

The Flow of Fate

Every skill check in Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying follows a similar path: determine the approach, roll the dice and choose which to keep, and interpret the results.

The method and attitude that your character exhibits toward the task is called their elemental approach. The approach is relevant because many actions can be accomplished in different ways, depending on the character’s personality and intentions. For example, you and Game Master may decide that your sword master is currently relying on precision and studied discipline in their strikes, which means the elemental approach is Air. A bushi whose sword is meant to be a ferocious talon, cowing their opponent with a combination of overwhelming speed and passion for battle, is using the approach of Fire.

After determining your character's approach, you'll gather the dice that you need. For your chosen elemental approach, you'll look at your character's ability in that ring and grab that number of black six-sided dice—ring dice. Then, your character’s training in the specific task is applied and you'll take white twelve-sided dice (called skill dice) equal to your skill number. These dice are all rolled together—but you can only keep a number of dice equal to your character’s ring score, which can lead to some tough choices.

Each die offers a number of symbols that all represent different things:

Success: This symbol counts as one success toward achieving your goal. Some checks will only require one success for relatively simple tasks, while more difficult tasks can require more successes.

Explosive Success: Not only is this symbol counted as one success, but you may also roll an additional die to increase your chances of a better result. On difficult challenges, this can allow your character to overcome truly formidable opposition.

Opportunity: Opportunity doesn't count as a success for the action, but it is a narrative tool representing a beneficial turn of fate. With opportunity, the character may notice something about their surroundings, or add a positive narrative twist that can make their successes even greater or their failures salvageable.

Strife: The other side of the narrative coin is strife, which indicates unchecked emotion and inner turmoil that can destabilize your character. These emotions are not necessarily good or bad, merely strong. A character’s mounting strife may cause them to act out in rage against an adversary just as easily as it may cause them to abandon decorum and show their open affection for another person.

Once the dice have been rolled, you'll choose to keep a number of dice equal to your relevant ring score! Sometimes this decision is easy, but if multiple symbols appear together on a single die, the choice can be more difficult. You may need to choose whether to accept success with increased strife, or perhaps balancing success with increased narrative opportunity.

Once the dice have been chosen and the final results tallied, the player and Game Master describe the results together! A sword may find purchase in an opponent’s armor which makes future attacks more deadly, a merchant may assents to a deal but holds a grudge against the character, or a shinobi finds a familiar alley to hide in as her enemies waste time searching in vain.

A Rooftop Chase

When you put it all together, a skill check may look a little like the following:

Kat wants to have her character, Sakura, leap from one rooftop to another while pursuing a suspicious figure fleeing the scene of a crime. She describes her character’s reckless approach to the task—catching up is the most important thing right now! 

The GM decides that since she’s trying to overwhelm a foe with a burst of speed, the check will use Sakura’s Fire Ring and Fitness skill. A rooftop chase is already an impressive feat, and the layer of snow across each surface isn't making anything easier, so the GM determines that Kat will need to roll three successes to achieve her goal. Sakura has a Fire Ring value of three, so Kat picks up three ring dice, along with the single skill die that represents her meager Fitness skill. After rolling, Kat views her results and sees one die showing a success, a second showing an opportunity, a third showing a strife and an oppurtunity, and her skill die showing an explosive success. 

Kat must now choose three dice to keep. Kat needs three success symbols to succeed, but currently only has two. However, if she keeps the explosive success, she gets to roll an additional die, which may give her the final success that she needs! She chooses to avoid strife and keeps the dice showing success, explosive success, and opportunity. Kat rolls an extra skill die for the explosive success, and gains an additional success and a strife!

Kat records her newly gained strife on her character sheet, inching her closer to an innapropriate outburst. Kat then resolves her opportunity, deciding the chase has shaken her target, making him easier to question later. Finally, Kat resolves her three success symbols, which allows Sakura to leap across the gap and tackle her target!

Finding Center

At the core of the mechanics of dice and skill checks is the advancing story that you and your friends are telling together. The goal isn’t to say “yes” or “no,” but to ask “why” and “how.” By fleshing out the narrative of the actions rather than just declaring the actions themselves, players and Game Masters together tell a story of ideals, emotions, and purpose. Honor and glory await!

Stay vigilant for future previews for Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying where we’ll examine the process of creating interesting and evocative characters, the world they inhabit, and the stories they’ll tell!

Find your center with the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Core Rulebook (L5R02), available now for pre-order from your local retailer or our website!

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