Continue Down the Character Creation Path for Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying
Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying invites you to play a firsthand role in the samurai drama of Rokugan, becoming a member of one of the Great Clans and serving your masters as best you can!
Last week, we expanded on the role of the elemental approaches and began the journey of character creation, looking at how you can use the Game of Twenty Questions to discover and establish the attributes of samurai in the Emerald Empire. Today, we'll progress through some more of these questions to see how impactful they are on your character’s abilities, personality, and the stories that you tell.
Schools of Thought
While the first two questions, those of Clan and Family, establish a character’s past, the next set of questions confirms their present. What is your character’s school, and what roles does that school fall into?
Here we move from “where they’re from” into “what they do,” which is the true meat of a character’s place in any roleplaying game.
A character’s role is a less formal descriptor than their school, and it can be thought of as a way to illuminate what a particular school prepares your character to do. Bushi meet enemies with steel, arrow, and fist. Shugenja provide religious counsel and commune with the kami to create spectacular magic. Monks contemplate a simple and introspective life, but their perfection of the spiritual, mental, and physical makes them quite formidable in matters of self-defense. Courtiers provide their lords and comrades with a deft voice and are masters of social encounters. Artisans are scholars, builders, and advisors whose value may be subtle but proves invaluable. And finally, secretive shinobi serve in secret as spies, saboteurs, and assassins.
These roles come into play more descriptively than prescriptively; a school prepares you to fill one or more of these roles, though different schools will do this in different ways.
For example, those of the Crane Clan who have studied at the Doji Diplomat School number among the most adept Courtiers in the realm. Their knowledge in social customs is surpassed only by their ability to maneuver inside these customs for the greatest and most impressive social interactions.
When this school is selected for a character, it increases your Air and Water Rings, as the students of this school are trained to be more cunning and perceptive. Then, the character gains one rank in five of the following skills: Aesthetics, Composition, Courtesy, Culture, Design, Government, or Martial Arts [Ranged]. Doji Diplomats also receive two shuji, or social techniques, including Lady Doji’s Decree, a very potent ability that keeps the Courtier safe from those who would do them harm. (We'll take a closer look at techniques in a later preview!)
Each school also includes an exclusive ability that enhances their ability to perform their primary duty, and for the Doji Diplomat School this ability is called Speaking In Silence. Once per scene, the courtier may add opportunity results to a skill check involving persuading or influencing someone!
But the path of a courtier is not the only path available to samurai of Rokugan.
Students of the Kuni Purifier School serve the Crab Clan as a combination of bushi and shugenja. By combining strength of arms with their communion with the kami of the earth, Kuni Purifiers are trained to battle the Tainted and impure abominations that invade Rokugan from the Shadowlands. By claiming this school, the character buffs their Earth and Fire Rings and chooses to increase three skills from Martial Arts [Melee], Medicine, Sentiment, Skulduggery, Survival, and Theology. If your character belongs to this school, you also begin play with five techniques, a mix of kata, invocations, and rituals.
The Kuni Purifiers’ unique School Ability is entitled Gaze Into Shadow, which lets them change the face of a kept dice showing the strife symbol if they are fighting or interacting with a being they know to be Tainted. The cursed monsters of the Shadowlands are their sworn enemies, and such conflict does not destabilize a Kuni Purifier's emotions; instead, such passion fuels their power.
In all, over 30 schools are described in the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Core Rulebook, with each clan gaining a full range of schools, each themed around that clan’s own interpretation of Bushido.
Ups and Downs
Proceeding down the list of questions, we'll find a section dealing with a character’s advantages and disadvantages. What is your character’s greatest accomplishment? What holds your character back the most in life?
These features for your character are each tied specifically to different Ring Values. Rather than relating to your character’s clan, they have more to do with your samurai as an individual—they are your character's distinctions and passions, adversities and anxieties.
Distinctions are advantages that tie directly into how the rest of the world sees your character, and how your character sees the world. For instance, Indomitable Will is an Earth advantage that espouses your samurai’s stalwart soul in the face of danger. When making an Earth check that represents your samurai performing a feat of internal resolve, such as Meditation to withstand the terrifying visage of a Shadowlands creature, you can reroll two of your dice before you choose which dice to keep.
Passions, on the other hand, are interests—places where your character can find joy in the small aspects of life. A passion for Sake couples with the Water ring, and results in the character removing strife after making a check to serve sake or other alcoholic beverages according to custom or to brew your own.
Passing over to disadvantages, adversities tend to be a circumstance or background that causes recurring issues for the character. For instance, Momoku is an inability to fully sense the spiritual world that surrounds and suffuses everything. When a character with Momoku makes a Void check to touch or interpret the spirits, such as a Theology check to request the aid of kami, any die showing a success or explosive success must be rerolled before any dice are kept. However, if you fail this check, you'll gain a Void point, which you can spend later for a variety of benefits.
Anxieties are negative emotions that the samurai cannot seem to push out of their minds. They arise in specific circumstances and must be dealt with by the samurai or, potentially, their allies. Cynicism, for example, is a reluctance to give credence to any new or unusual idea, no matter how promising it may look to others. Any time the character must think creatively to solve a problem, such as a Tactics check with a Fire Approach to overcome an enemy’s unusual defenses, the character receives three strife. Still, if this is the first time this has occurred in a scene, your samurai will gain one Void point to compensate.
These advantages and disadvantages are not merely meant to punish or reward mechanical abilities, and players and Game Masters are encouraged to explore the many ways that stories and scenes can develop that will challenge or illuminate these traits inside the narrative.
While these questions establish the mechanical identity of your character, the rest round them out, breathing life into the samurai you will inhabit. What does your character long for, and how does this impede their duty? The push and pull between your character’s ninjō (their desire) and giri (their duty) are essential to Legend of the Five Rings storytelling, and discovering your characters inner turmoil will impact the game in ways only you can understand.
How would your character’s parents describe them? What does your character think of Bushido? Who has your character learned the most from during their life? Completing the Game of Twenty Questions will leave you with not just a character you are happy with, but gives context to that samurai’s place in the Emerald Empire.
In our next preview, we will examine the different categories of techniques and resources available, as well as the various pieces of equipment available to samurai across Rokugan.
Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Core Rulebook (L5R02) at your local retailer or our website!