THE NEW DRAGON
As I posted before- New Worlds: Campaign Pitches and Results- my group selected a Legend
of the Five Rings campaign from the pitches I gave them. I've started work
putting that together. I thought I would post some of my thinking and work
here. I am using a homebrew system, but one we've played for years. That
creates a set of jobs I have to work through before I can actually run.
I’ll be running in Action Cards, our rules-light system using aspects like FATE in which each
player has an individual and unique deck of cards representing their character. Beyond
the individual deck, characters buy a) skills, b)
advantages/disadvantages/ancestor, c) schools, d) magical abilities as defined
by chosen track (spells, kihos, tattoos), and e) aspects. The skill list will
be open-ended- I’ll have a suggested list, but players can make their own
skills up. Having a relevant skill allows a redraw when working with that
action. Likewise players will have five aspects to start- one trouble, one
based on their family, one based on their school/path, one based on relation to
a bushido virtue, and one free. Aspects can be invoked to gain a redraw, bump a
result up by a degree, or change the situation- all by paying a Fate point.
The more concrete material I have to develop will be the schools, magics,
fighting styles, and the advantages/disads. I’ve already done adaptions of L5R
into Rolemaster and Storyteller before, so I’m not too worried.
Magic will be descriptive, with casters able to significantly modify a base
effect from a spell they learn. I’ll talk some more about that in a moment.
There’s a basic question- why reinvent the wheel? Why not simply use 4e, 3e or
an earlier edition? I have a couple of reasons for this. We’ve been playing
with Action Cards for the last decade or so and the group has really
enjoyed it. This group in particular requested using it again. I also like to
see how far I can warp this system- what changes do to the play. In particular
there are several sub-systems within L5R that I want to consider how to model:
seasonal actions, large-scale abstract units, dueling, and honor/social combat.
WHAT WILL THE GAME BE LIKE?
To begin with the players will be building a new family for the Dragon Clan, a
smallish one which will be controlling a new province. The Dragon have seized
territory as a buffer between warring neighbors; this will be the PC’s
province. I’ll be fudging some of the geography to make that work. The creation
of the family will borrow heavily (i.e. steal fully) from the Clan Creation
mechanics of Blood
& Honor. However, I want to expand some of the options and change
up some of the details. I want the game to be a blend of standard and seasonal
play. But the seasonal stuff will be secondary- kind of a bribe to the players
for moving time along. I want building and resource management, but flexibility
to modify that based on the players’ interest. My sources for this will be Blood
& Honor, Legends of Anglerre,
and Reign. At least
that’s where I’m looking first for inspiration. In particular I want to
consider how to do interesting things with grand scale actions and choices. I
looked at the Clan Burner system from The Blossoms
are Falling, but it isn’t particular good or useful. I'll be going through my list of samurai rpgs hunting for details.
Part of the reason I want some seasonal level material is to move time forward.
This gives an excuse for character advancement. But more importantly, it allows
me to have several different Winter Courts over the course of the campaign. The
first one of two could have the PCs traveling to a foreign court. Eventually
the PC will have to put on and manage the affairs of a Winter Court of their
WHO ARE THE PLAYERS AND WHAT WILL THEY BE DOING?
Players will represent younger samurai, who have for various reasons become
part of this newly established Dragon family. Some might be related by blood,
others may have chosen to take up this mantle. That means that players, while
they might all be part of the Dragon Clan, will not have to have studied at a
Dragon Clan school. I’m assuming a few will, but I want to leave that door
open. Despite being younger, each PC will occupy a significant role within the
family, in charge of some kind of duty or role.
The players will be in charge of keeping things stable in the province, dealing
with threats, finding adventure, uncovering plots, and fighting monsters. But
they’ll also be gathering resources, making allies, and negotiation relations
with those in power (perhaps even their Daimyo). The game will be about growth
on several levels. I picture some one-off character episode sessions, plus a
central arc story for the season. We’ll then move forward to the next season
and I’ll let the players make choices about where they’re putting their
A few issues will be harder to work out- or at least work out in a satisfying
way which emulates the setting.
SHUGENJA: For magic, I’m planning to simply have players buy spells
which are written out very abstractly. I found a file online of all of the
spells for L5R in a table. I stripped out everything except name, element, and
description. They I went back and simplified what the spell does. As examples,
• Castle of Air- Air- Area of buffeting winds slowing progress and making
• Speed Growth- Earth- Ritual. Plants undergo one month's growth.
• Spikes of Earth- Earth- Summon damaging spikes which can act as a bad
Spells are assumed to do what they do at touch range, with a base damage, on a
single target unless otherwise described. For example, Castle of Air’s an area
spell, so that’s built in. If you want the spell to do more stuff, then you can
add stuff to it.
These are called MODIFIERS. Each modifier added makes the spell do more, but
also makes it more difficult to cast. There are EASY and HARD spell modifiers.
EASY spell modifiers add +1 to the result you need. The most important and
common spell modifiers are:
Ranged: get someone at a distance
More Damaging: increase dice of damage
Last Longer: spell continues for more turns
Easy Spell Modifiers: At Range, More Damage, Last Longer (for non-damage
spells), Seeking (no combat pull needed), Penetrate Armor, Stronger Effect, Precise,
Triggered, Extra Effect (Minor), Hard to Detect, Cast in Armor (Light), Faster
(reducing the time for a spell to act), Without Scroll in Hand
HARD spell modifiers add +2 to the pull you need. The most important of these
Area Effect: Hit several targets
Hard Spell Modifiers: Affect an Area, Hit Multiple Targets, Ignore
Armor, Go Really Far, Last Longer (for damage spells), Exploding, Much Stronger
Effect, Independent, Extra Effect (Major), Last Much Longer (for non-damage
spells), Cast in Armor (Medium or Heavy)
After figuring out modifiers, you can choose to do something to reduce the
total difficulty. The lowest this can go is OK. If you have an Expertise in the
type of spell, you can reduce the difficulty by one (each). Each element has a
set of three expertise you can develop. You can also:
• Take an extra turn to cast -1
• Use an aspect -1
• Use an item (varies)
After casting you test to see if you hit your target. You also take stress for
casting, depending on the power of the spell. The caster takes one point of
stress. If the caster added +3 or more in modifiers, the caster takes two
points of stress. Certain advantages can reduce this.
STRESS AND CONSEQUENCES: Some games spread out different damage
types into separate tracks. I’ve certainly done that before. The problem is
that in play, one track- usually physical- gets focused on. The others do
represent a real threat. If players operate with different damage types, they
can’t coordinate easily. I plan on using a single stress track/pool to
represent all of the damage a player can take from all sources: wounds, fear,
reputation undercutting, exhaustion, and so on. Characters “move on” when they
lose all of their points.
Action Cards uses dice for one sub-system, determining damage. Why? Because
players like rolling damage. It is weird and it breaks up the symmetry of
the game, but in practice the players enjoy it (and frankly I do to). Combat
and results are determined speedily- and then people get to throw and count
damage. We have optional rules (actually the original rules) for determining
damage based on success margin as well. In any case, handling damage this way
does lead to the problem of consequences. In FATE-type systems, consequences
arise when characters take damage.
One version has the player with a track that gets marked along- they take
damage which would be marked off of the track, i.e. the player has four boxes
but takes a five-point hit, they must choose to take a consequence or else
retire. That system’s a little meh and leads to some strangeness. Two other
approaches seem workable with how I want to do damage. One, players simply take
damage whenever they hit a tier of stress taken. For example, for every five
points taken, the PC has to apply a consequence. That’s easy to track and makes
fights dangerous. But it doesn’t allow a lot of choice, beyond setting the
details of the consequence. So you take damage, and then you effectively take
more damage. On the other hand, some systems allow consequences as a way of flushing
damage. If a player takes a consequence of X value, they can flush Y damage. I
like that system- but it does rely on the player to remember that they have
that option. It also meaning you want to keep healing/consequence clearing
magic to a minimum to keep players for avoiding damage. And I do want to combat
here to be deadlier than most other versions of Action Cards.
HONOR AND EVERYTHING AFTER: Samurai games offer a number of
abstract concepts to measure Face, On, Insight, Status, Honor, Glory, Reputation.
Sometimes these detailed numbers and mechanics. For this system, I really only
want to consider Honor and Reputation. L5R has insight, but I don’t necessarily
want to worry about that- when I’ve run it before I haven’t used it. Instead I
tied that to experience in the campaign and time passage. Status is another
issue, but I think that can come from campaign play- with a raise in status or
position coming as a reward. Differences in status levels can be an abstract
modifier to conflicts as necessary.
Reputation represents the social face of a player and is what can be besmirched
by poor actions and social attacks. That means it is essentially another form
of stress. Destroying a samurai’s reputation can be just as effective as
killing them. Social combat can be subtle or more open. Social attacks and
visible poor choices will cause consequences- essentially aspects which the
player needs to take action to clear. These don’t heal naturally, but action
and assistance is required to clear them. On the other hand, public actions can
gain players temporary positive aspects which go away after use. Once you’ve
traded on your reputation, you need to reestablish it.
Honor’s a tough call though. I don’t want it as part of the general stress
track. I’ve had versions of L5R which have required tracking too many separate
things (chi, focus, honor, wounds). But I think something for honor tracking
should exist. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be an absolute scale (ranked
1-10), I don’t think. Perhaps a default value of 0 as the standard, then
shifting the scale up or down by one when significant events and trials occur.
The higher the honor, the more difficult to sustain it. Should this also create
consequences? The real difficulty is that honor represents legislated morality.
Players are rewarded or punished for their choices based on the GM’s judgment
of their worthiness- a truly subjective decision. I need to consider how to
manage that- perhaps suggesting tests on honor? Is there a way I can link up
Fate’s compel mechanics with that?
DUELS: I want this as a challenging and strategic process- with
the challenge, focus, and strike pulls all contributing to a final result. I
need to go through Art
of the Duel and basic L5R book.