Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Converting L5R to HeroQuest 2e

Converting L5R to HeroQuest 2e

So after having spent like five posts defining first systems in general and then HeroQuest in particular, we finally get to this.

So some thoughts about adapting over Legend of the Five Rings to HeroQuest 2e (finally...). Let's begin with the basics: all characteristics, skills, equipment, advantages and disadvantages can be handled by abilities. That's a pretty basic idea. One of the questions will be how do I want to present those-- should I create a list of example abilities? Doing so makes things easier, but also tends to limit what people go for-- usually drawing from those lists rather than going through the making up one's own process. Maybe-- it at least serves as a starting point.

As is my habit, I'll be using the term skill and ability here interchangeably. That's a mental block I haven't yet overcome. But I mean abilities as defined in HQ.

One of the things I need to prepare myself mentally for is the idea of defining the broadness and narrowness of skills-- i.e. how do I see them? Certainly some of that is going to come around in play-- if a PC ends up relying on one or two skills to the exclusion of all else, then by definition that skills a little too broad. However, that can also be a sign that the game's too focused on one aspect or another. Generally, I think you can at the start identify three levels of abilities: broad, medium and narrow. For example, Strong would be broad, Weight-Lifting would be medium and Arm-Pinning could be narrow. Or from a classic example, Perception would be broad, Spot Hidden Object would be medium, and Sense Ambush might be narrow...maybe.

So I suspect one of the first steps will be to go through the L5R skill lists and come up with a list of abilities drawn from the names and texts, with a range of scope. Laws' suggests focusing on the text of things when doing this-- what the ability looks like or covers rather than the hard mechanics.

One of the things that sticks out like a sore thumb, especially in the later L5R d20 material is the fall back to new and more complicated combat mechanics and abilities. Everything reflects yet another complication, modifier, or slight change to the combat situation. All of that has to wash out when handling this system. Combat abilities will have to be a mix of medium, with a few narrow to be used as augments for particular situations or to flavor what a character is doing. That's probably going to mean working out flavor combat abilities by families. I have to keep in mind that the characters will probably start with about twelve abilities, plus a keyword from a school (see below). Breaking things into too narrow a range also means reducing overall effectiveness. There should be enough diversity among these concepts to make each character feel unique, but also able to act in more than a niche situation. However, within their niche, they should be well set.

Clan Schools
Probably the most important distinction between characters lies in their choice of schools. In L5R there represent dojos or training paths which set a character's “class” more than anything. As PC advance, they gain new abilities within their schools. I will probably handle these as keywords, with several abiltiies group beneath them. One of the problems with these schools is that especially within the more focused samurai classes, most of the ability tend to be varying degrees of granular combat effects. Let me take two examples, drawn from the 2e rules:

Lion Bushi School
*Rank One: The Way of the Lion: May ignore an opponent's armor bonus or gain a raise for damage or a called shot.
*Rank Two: The Strength of Purity: May add honor rank to damage done.
*Rank Three: With the Strength of My Ancestors: May attack twice per round.
*Rank Four: The Hand of Destiny: Doesn't take penalties for called shots.
*Rank Five: May reroll failures, but reroll loses the benefits of any raises.

So as you can see we have a pretty mechanical thing. However, we may be able to salvage some things from that. There's an emphasis on precision, so any combat abilities will likely have that as a description. There's also the sense of overcoming failure, and the guidance of the ancestors, as well as purity of soul as a focus in combat. We want to have a couple of abilities which reflect combat, but others which reinforce the ideas of the school. The Loin stuff also reflects a focus on large-scale engagements, so that can be used.

Keyword: Lion Bushi School
*Precise Swordsmanship (the broad combat ability)
*Keeping the Righteous Heart (to represent the focus on honor)
*Knowing the Battlefield (a warfare ability)
*At Home in War (a combat ability for mass situations)
*Ancestral Guidance (knowledge of the ancestors, probably used as a reach or broad ability)

I've left out a few things, like archery or unarmed there, or a narrower battle tactics skill

For another example, consider the Mantis Bushi School, which only has four techniques listed (as a minor clan school). The Mantis are the only really strongly sea-faring clan.

*Rank One: Fight Without Steel: knowledge of peasant or improvised weapons.
*Rank Two: Voice of the Storm: allows character to all-out attack with less penalty
*Rank Three: Claws of the Mantis: Allows character to use two weapons
*Rank Four: Yoritomo's Rolling Wave: Increased defense due to ability to maintain balance on the rolling surfaces of boats and such.

Keyword: Mantis Bushi School
*Balanced Footwork (ability to avoid situations that might knock down)
*Master of the Seas (knowledge of sailing which comes from cultural background- fairly broad)
*Fight Without Steel (combat ability for use of peasant or improvised weapons)
*Ferocious Charge (a more brawl and extnded ability which might be used as an augment or for effect)
*Scaling the Masts (a nice athletics ability for climbing and scrambling)

For a less combat oriented example, consider the Yaskui Tradesmen School. This gets short shrift in the original books- with each rank of the school giving access to new goods the character can obtain relatively quickly. So we have to fall back to more thematic ideas

Keyword: Yasuki Tradesman School
*Honorable Commerce (a merchant ability, but also denoting that such trade is not against their code, so can be used as a resistance against those who might question their methods)
*Hasten Friends in Low Places (a contact skill for the lower reaches, with an emphasis on being able to get things done quickly)
*Useful Goods (In the sense of preparedness, being able to have at hand or find minor objects, a kind of wealth substitute ability)
*Gifts of Dubious Nature (both a bribery skill and also the ability to lay one's hands on forged or illegal things)
*Staying Out of Harms Way (a defensive combat skill)

The nice thing about keywords is that they do allow a thematic grouping, but players can also buy up a focus in a few abilities underneath a particular keyword.

Clans and Families
Clans and families obviously set a lot of things for the character. I suspect this will make up the other set of keywords available to the players. Each family will have a keyword set associated with it. Some of those will be the same across the families, but there will be a couple of distinctions between them. There will be at least one distinct “personality” skill in each set-- like Crab's knowledge of the Shadowlands, the Crane's artfulness, the Unicorn gift with riding, and so on. I'm also debating about something that reflects their outlook-- like “Crab Honor” which represents the particular flavor of what matters and doesn't matter to them.

Honor and Glory
Which does bring me to an interesting issue in the game. In L5R players have both Honor and Glory ratings. These can serve as bonuses for particular skills or measuring rank. They can go up or down depending on actions. In the past, I've mostly sidelined these functions, but here I think I can make them active abilities. Honor can be used to challenge someones honor or to defend against challenges to one's own, such as social attacks. It can also be used in contests against certain drives, such as personal flaws. In HQ damage can be done to Honor as an ability and I think that works here. I will probably have Honor be defined by the Clan flavor-- so there's a difference between Crab Honor, Scorpion Honor and Lion Honor. That can be represented by circumstantial bonuses.

Glory will also be its own ability, but not made distinct between the different clans. It can be used as an augment for social contests, or as a fall back skill used directly. It represents reputation and tales told. Strong actions can give temporary boosts, as failures can lead to damage to one's glory. I like that the mechanic there seems symmetrical with other abilities.

I like the idea that a duel, either social or swordplay, can be an extended contest. This can make the specialist dueling schools (like the Crane and Dragon) quite good in their narrow roles, but second to more rounded fighters in general combat. An extended dueling contest would begin with an assessment of the opponent (dueling perception, assess adversary, gather rumors), then a focus contest (dueling focus, stare-down, garner support), then probably exclusively to a certain kind of duel-- the iaijutsu draw contest, and then the strike (iaijutsu strike, precise swordsmanship, discredit opponent). It also allows the classic samurai trope of one challenger being outclassed even before the blades have been drawn.

Some non-standard magical stuff can be handled easily- particularly that of the Monks and the Artisans. Dragon Monks have tattoos that grant them unusual powers and Monks likewise have kihos. Those will simply be handled as discrete abilities. For example, the Grasshopper Tattoo might be the ability Prodigious Leap. A kiho about resistance might be the ability Endure Hardship. The same thing with some of the small magics the Artisans have.

For the more classic magic of the shugenja I'll probably build a framework. Magical schools for the different families will have some abilities tuned to their particular style-- like the Kuni's work against the Shadowlands or the Yogo's skills with wardings. The Crane and the Unicorn both have spell users with a slightly different style, the making of material objects, but functionally that won't matter.

L5R breaks spells into the five elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Void. The last is less of a consideration as only one family, the Phoenix can take up spells of that element. I imagine that each element will be a kind of keyword, with abilities underneath it. The base effect within an elemental magic set will be to serve as a skill for auments and for communing with or summon small amounts of the element. Each element has some meta-concepts tied to it (Fire with Speed, Earth with Resistance, Air with Lore, Water with Purification) so on the fly augments should be easy. Then spells themselves will be listed under the elemental keyword. They'll be written fairly broadly, as I imagine players won't have that many spells, but will use them for various effects.

The game provides notes for the various schools having different elemental affinities, so for example the Asahina Shugenja school of the Crane has an affinity for Air and a Deficiency to Earth. I'll probably set the rule so that the element with an affinity must be at least three higher in rating than any other element, and the element with a deficiency must be at least three lower than any other element. I imagine I'll also put in some sample abilities for magical dueling.

We it took me about sic entries to finally get to this and put down some of my starting ideas about L5R conversion down on the blog. Seems like a lot of front work for not all that much payoff. However it will help if and when I sit down to do the full write up. There are a couple of other settings I'd like to think about for conversion, but I'll stop talking about that for a while.

For Friday, I'm hoping to talk about some of the new ideas for doing my next major revision to the Action Cards system-- version 3.0. I keep tuning that and there are a few things from HQ I want to think about for a very indirect application to the game. I might also talk about a character exploration exercise that Sherri and Sharon have been working through and one can get on the same page as a player about their character.


  1. Strikingly, I find the new ability listing for the schools infinitely more interesting than than the finicky mechanics. All of a sudden, things have extensibility and flavor. Previously, to make use of schools that gave both social and combat mechanics, one had to purchase the requisite stats and skills in order to make use of the mechanics, spreading points all over the place. With HeroQuest 2E, non-combat schools may have narrower abilities in combat--but the abilities you do have will work. That's pretty cool.

  2. Came across this in my attempt to convert L5R to HQ2. My thought process was almost exact to yours - though I got stuck at the magic section. I wonder - did you manage to resolve it and playtest it?

  3. No- got distracted by other projects. Looking back I think there's some decent structure there. I haven't seen any of the HQ2 supplements beyond the base book and Nameless Street. I'd probably want to look at those to see some other variations on the magic system. In theory it shouldn't be too much of a stretch.