An honorable bushi sworn to stand against the Shadowlands but longing to follow her heart. A wily courtier keeping the Emerald Empire together with his eye straying towards wealth. A ninja disguised as a magistrate, working in the shadows but dreaming of standing in the light. A shugenja tasked with keeping the people of Rokugan pure, even while corruption eats at her mind. Meet the Party travels to a land of samurai, bushidō, giri, and ninjō to create a party of ready-to-play characters living and struggling in the Emerald Empire of Rokugan, playing with Fantasy Flight Games’s Legend of the Five Rings Beta!
As mentioned in my review the process of building a Legend of the Five Rings Beta character is handled through the Game of Twenty Questions: exactly twenty questions which determine everything from basic statistics and skills to backstory material and character goals. A lot of what ends up in the Who They Are section of a standard Meet the Party article gets addressed during the course of the Twenty Questions, so it was interesting to be doing that during the process of building the characters rather than before or after. I went with what seemed like pretty standard L5R archetypes for these characters, which was easiest since this is our first dip into the system and the options are somewhat limited in the Beta. I’ve ‘blown up’ our first character to explain what some of the different parts of the character mean, as per usual for a new system. So, let’s see who is wandering the roads of Rokugan today . . .
Clan: Crab Family: Hida School: Hida Defender [Bushi]
Clan, Family, and School have some immediate mechanical impacts: they determine your Rings, Skills, and starting Techniques. They also immediately give your character a place in the world, providing some ideals to either aspire to or reject.
Status: 30 Glory: 54 Honor: 55
These stats play a big role in how your character feels about themselves and, more importantly, how they are perceived by others. You’ll often find yourself ‘wagering’ points in these stats in order to do certain activities, such as challenge someone to a duel.
Giri: Defend the Emerald Empire and the Crab Clan from their enemies.
Giri is the character’s sworn duty to their lord, the thing that their lord (and thus the rest of Rokugan’s society) expects them to carry out to the best of their ability. A good giri should be something that the player wants to see their character doing and that can show up in any type of campaign.
Ninjō: Marry the love of her life and start a family.
Ninjō is the character’s personal desire, the thing they want the most regardless of their responsibilities. A good ninjō should also be something the player wants to see the character pursuing, and should also come into conflict with their giri from time to time.
Air: 1 Earth: 3 Fire: 2 Water: 2 Void: 2
These are the eponymous Five Rings; they represent the core strengths and personality of the character. When rolling they are represented by custom d6s.
Resilience: 10 Focus: 4 Composure: 10 Vigilance: 2
Derived stats, determined through formulas based on the Rings. Resilience is physical health, and Composure is mental health: if Wounds exceed Resilience you’re out of the fight, and if Strife exceeds Composure you’re suffering an Outburst. Focus is used for initiative, while Vigilance is the difficulty to avoid, fool, or otherwise trick the character.
Skills: Fitness 2, Command 1, Tactics 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 1, Survival 1, Meditation 1, Courtesy 1
Training and talent in specific abilites. When rolling they are represented by custom d12s.
Starting Techniques: Lord Hida’s Grip [Kata], Striking as Earth [Kata]
Techniques are equivalent to powers and abilities in other games, or perhaps feats. Either way they provide some extra, well, technique the character can use as well as some new uses for Opportunities rolled on the dice.
School Ability: Way of the Crab
Every school has a unique ability of its own!
Advantages: Indomitable Will (Earth), Daredevil (Fire)
Advantages are split into Distinctions and Passions. Distinctions have some narrative impact but also allow the character to reroll some dice during specific situations, while Passions are used to decrease Strife.
Disadvantages: Bitter Betrothal (Water), Impatience (Earth), Dark Secret (Void)
Disadvantages are split into Adversities and Anxieties. Adversities have a narrative effect and force the character to reroll dice with Successes/Explosive Successes in certain circumstances, gaining a Void Point if they then fail as a result. Anxieties inflict Strife in certain circumstances, and if that causes an Outburst the character gains a Void Point.
Starting Outfit: Lacquered Armor, Traveling Clothes, Daishō (katana and wakizashi), tetsubō, crossbow, knife, traveling pack, 3 koku.
What detail do others find most striking: A scar that cuts through her left eyebrow, barely missing the eye.
Opinion of Clan: Positive (+5 Glory) Opinion of Bushido: Positive (+10 Honor)
Greatest Accomplishment: Stood against the oni without fear.
What Holds Them Back: An unwanted betrothal.
What Brings Them Peace: The simplicity of battle.
What Troubles Them Most: The thought of dying before accomplishing their goals.
Who have they learned the most from: Her beloved.
This is another point where the player must choose: either their relationship with this person grants them an Advantage, or it give them a Disadvantage while also giving them a rank in a Skill.
Samurai Heritage: Glorious Sacrifice (Lost Family Heirloom: Set of Armor)
Death: In battle, with enemies in front dead and loved ones behind unharmed.
Many of these Questions had a mechanical impact. Their greatest accomplishment, for instance, provides a Distinction Advantage, while what’s holding them back provides the Adversity Disadvantage. They’re also full of roleplaying material, like what the character believes their own death will be like!
Personal Outburst: Cracks neck.
This is essentially a tic that the character displays when they’re getting stressed, and should be roleplayed accordingly.
Customized Outburst: Become enraged. Excessively polite and soft-spoken when demanding a challenge, goes berserk if the challenge is not accepted.
This is what happens when the character suffers an Outburst. The good news is that Strife is quite reduced after the scene is finished; the bad news is that in the meanwhile the Outburst carries out, probably ruining the character’s day in some way.
Hida Kaguya is a warrior through and through, from her dress to her attitude. She is well-armed, the best-armored, and the most physically capable among her companions. Striking as Earth makes her even tougher after making an attack of her own, and Lord Hida’s Grip makes her uniquely adept at fighting the much larger monsters of the Shadowlands. Way of the Crab lets Kaguya ignore the Cumbersome quality of her armor, and soften the effect of a critical strike once per scene.
Clan: Crane Family: Doji School: Doji Diplomat
Status: 35 Glory: 44 Honor: 45
Giri: To forge alliances between the Crane Clan and others to strengthen the Emerald Empire.
Ninjō: The accumulation of wealth.
Air: 3 Earth: 1 Fire: 2 Water: 3 Void: 1
Resilience: 8 Focus: 5 Composure: 6 Vigilance: 3
Skills: Culture 1, Courtesy 2, Design 1, Aesthetics 1, Composition 1, Government 1, Martial Arts (Ranged) 1, Commerce 1
Starting Techniques: Whispers of Court (Shūji), Lady Doji’s Decree (Shūji), Striking as Air (Kata)
School Ability: Speaking in Silence
Advantages: Famously Wealthy (Water), Sake (Water), Paragon of a Bushidō Tenet: Propriety (Air)
Disadvantages: Blackmailed by Ikoma Nobu (Air), Materialism (Void)
Starting Outfit: Ceremonial clothes, wakizashi, bow, calligraphy set, traveling pack, pony, 10 koku.
What detail do others find most striking: His smile, almost constant with bright white teeth.
Opinion of Clan: Positive (+5 Glory) Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent (Bonus Skill: Commerce)
Greatest Accomplishment: Arranged a trade deal which greatly benefited all involved.
What Holds Them Back: Someone knows about my shadier economic dealings.
What Brings Them Peace: A fine drink after a successful negotiation.
What Troubles Them Most: The accumulation of wealth.
Who have they learned the most from: My father, a dutiful courtier.
Samurai Heritage: Stolen Knowledge (+ Kata)
Death: Peacefully, at the center of his massive estate, surrounded by wealth that will go on to forge his legacy with the clan.
Personal Outburst: Closes eyes, breathes in through the nose, and exhales slowly before continuing.
Customized Outburst: Shut Down. Becomes extremely proper, ‘retreating’ before his emotions before they can do damage.
Doji Daisuke is a proven master at navigating the courtesy-based conundrums and political pitfalls of the Emerald Empire. While not unskilled in martial conflicts Daisuke is far more deadly with words. Whispers of Court allows him to craft and spread rumors while making them seem perfectly credible, while Lady Doji’s Decree lets him use words to keep others from attacking him. Speaking in Silence lets Daisuke keep additional dice that have rolled Opportunity. If all else fails then Striking as Air lets him spend Opportunity from an attack to make himself harder to hit.
Clan: Scorpion Family: Shosuro School: Shosuro Infiltrator
Status: 35 Glory: 43 Honor: 30
Giri: Treat the criminals of the Empire like a garden, cutting and encouraging where necessary. (Publicly, the enforcement of the Empire’s laws)
Ninjō: To be well regarded as an Emerald Magistrate.
Air: 3 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 2 Void: 1
Resilience: 8 Focus: 5 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 3
Skills: Skullduggery 3, Performance 1, Courtesy 1, Fitness 1, Games 1, Martial Arts (Melee) 1, Martial Arts (Unarmed) 1, Labor 1, Survival 1, Command 1
Starting Techniques: Soaring Slice (Kata), Sensational Distraction (Shūji)
School Ability: The Path of Shadows
Advantages: Subtle Observer (Air), Travel (Water)
Disadvantages: Whispers of Cruelty (Earth), Jealousy (Air), Cynicism (Fire)
Starting Outfit: Ceremonial clothes, common clothes, travel clothes, daishō (katana and wakizashi), knife, bow, 10 arrows, traveling pack, 5 koku.
What detail do others find most striking: The rough growl of his voice.
Opinion of Clan: Disagreement Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent (Bonus Skill Skullduggery)
Greatest Accomplishment: Arrest of a crime boss in the Imperial capital.
What Holds Them Back: Rumors of his status as a ninja.
What Brings Them Peace: Seeing new corners of the Emerald Empire.
What Troubles Them Most: Concern over how others view him.
Who have they learned the most from: His ninja mentor.
Samurai Heritage: Dynasty Builder (+1 Command)
Death: In the line of duty as a magistrate, taking his secrets and life as a ninja to the grave.
Personal Outburst: Starts glancing towards possible exits.
Customized Outburst: Compromise (or flee). The facade of the magistrate fades away, and the ninja reveals himself.
Shosuro Makoto is a ninja of the Scorpion Clan, sworn to be the villain the Emerald Empire needs to protect itself from threats within. Soaring Slice lets Makoto hurl a weapon at an enemy in a surprise maneuver, while Sensational Distraction is used in social situations to make a target lower their Vigilance against Makoto’s allies. Finally the Path of Shadows forsakes a samurai’s honor to display a ninja’s effectiveness: it increase the damage of Makoto’s attack of the target is unaware of his presence or otherwise Incapacitated or Unconscious.
Clan: Pheonix Family: Isawa School: Isawa Elementalist
Status: 30 Glory: 44 Honor: 45
Giri: To keep the Emerald Empire pure.
Ninjō: Acquire knowledge of these she fights, all the better to be prepared.
Air: 1 Earth: 1 Fire: 3 Water: 2 Void: 3
Resilience: 6 Focus: 4 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Theology 2, Meditation 1, Composition 1, Courtesy 1, Medicine 1, Tactics 1, Martial Arts (Melee) 1
Starting Techniques: Invocations (Extinguish, Path to Inner Peace, Tempest of Air) Commune with the Spirits (Ritual), Divination (Ritual)
School Ability: One With The Elements
Advantages: Blessed Lineage (Void), Fortune-Telling (Void), Seasoned (Void)
Disadvantages: Shadowlands Taint (Fire), Paranoia (Water)
Starting Outfit: Sanctified robes, wakizashi, knife, scroll satchel, traveling pack, 5 koku.
What detail do others find most striking: Long, jet-black hair shot through with a few strands of premature silver.
Opinion of Clan: Disagreement Opinion of Bushido: Positive (+10 Honor)
Greatest Accomplishment: Banished an oni back to the shadowlands.
What Holds Them Back: A dangerous degree of curiousity.
What Brings Them Peace: Knowing what’s on the road ahead.
What Troubles Them Most: The thought of falling too far or being found out.
Who have they learned the most from: Her love, a Crab bushi lost to the Shadowlands.
Samurai Heritage: Ruthless Victor (+1 Martial Arts (Melee))
Death: Killing the oni that took her beloved, avenging him.
Personal Outburst: Mutters prayers under her breath.
Customized Outburst: Expose a Weakness. Tends to reveal knowledge of, our at least tacit awareness of, things not even a shugenja should know.
Isawa Tomoe is a student of the spiritual word, skilled at dealing with it but perhaps far too curious about it. Her Invocations are varied. Extinguish lets her end mundane fires, hamper Fire-based Invocations, and aid her Attacks. Path to Inner Peace can heal Wounds, remove Conditions, and increase supernatural resistances. Tempest of Air can send enemies flying and disorient them. The Commune with the Spirits ritual lets Tomoe do just that to gain information, sense kami, or gain an elemental gift. The Divination ritual lets her peak into the future, potentially adding kept dice to a future roll. Finally One With the Elements lets Tomoe, once a scene, reduce the difficulty of succeeding at an Invocation.
So, as you can no doubt tell, there’s a lot in L5R character creation that’s more about coming up with story ideas and writing than choosing stats and skills and the like. There’s an an entire section on the character sheet for Relationships that I haven’t touched upon here other than what’s covered by other Questions, because I could find myself going into a lot of detail. Of particular note is that several Questions then determine things like Advantages and Disadvantages, in that you’re supposed to choose one of those based off of your answer. Personally I found it easier to go through the Advantages/Disadvantages list, choose ones that worked with the character concepts as they were coming together, and then reverse-engineered them into answers for the Questions that explained why the character had them. Perhaps some more experience with the system, particularly willingness to create new Advantages/Disadvantages, would let one do things in the proper order. Or maybe not!
Another final point of interest is that no Ring or Skill can go above 3 in character creation. If a Ring or Skill would go above 3, then that point is to be placed into another Ring/Skill of the player’s choice. That does help some of the more straightforward builds be a little more flexible.
Who They Are
Hida Kaguya has spent her fair share of time on the Hida Wall, safeguarding the people of Rokugan from the horrors of the Shadowlands. It’s been a life of courage in the face of certain (yet thwarted) death, a surety that she would be dying for the right reasons, and knowing herself through intimate familiarity with her possible end. That has not stopped her from listening to her heart, however, and despite having a betrothed she has carried on an illicit affair with the true love of her life. Perhaps, by overcoming the most recent challenges put in front of her, she will earn the right to her love once and for all.
Doji Daisuke has long played the game of politics in the Imperial capital with a smile on his face and a clever (but polite) word on his tongue. It is the place of the Crane Clan to be the cultural and political strength of Rokugan, after all, the Emperor’s Left Hand. Daisuke has served in that capacity willingly and capably, but in a way he has strayed quite far from the samurai ideal: he is not so dismissive of material wealth as he should be. Money can be its own path to power if you have enough of it, after all, power that can be put to use in service to lord, Clan, and Empire. And if the one who accrues that power gets to enjoy some of the benefits, well, why not?
Shosuro Makoto lives a double life. In the public eye is a magistrate tasked with hunting down those who break the Empire’s laws. In the shadows, however, he is as much a ‘villain’ as any other member of the Scorpion Clan. Criminals who prove a threat to the Empire are eliminated. Those who can be of some use or who can be properly manipulated, however, are preserved and even helped to flourish. Makoto carries out these tasks because it is his duty, but quietly longs for the public’s view to be the truth of his life. Justice gained in the light is much more rewarding than pragmatism that bleeds out in the shadows.
Isawa Tomoe is one of many shugenja who is tasked with making sure that the taint of the Shadowlands does not pollute the people of Rokugan. It is thus unfortunate that her duty has led her to that same pollution. Knowledge of your enemies is the single strongest weapon against them, and Tomoe has attempted at every turn to gain that knowledge, but in doing so has let the taint of the Shadowland into her mind, driving her on to learn things no person should know. She is also driven, tragically, by revenge: she fell in love with bushi of the Crab Clan who never returned from a sortie into the Shadowlands. Only time will tell if her will is strong enough to protect Rokugan from the monsters – and herself.
How They Interact
Kaguya doesn’t care much for Daisuke as a rule; the Crane are far too concerned with niceties, and have little appreciation for what the Crab have sacrificed to keep them safe in their nests. The courtier could come in handy, however, with dissolving a certain unwanted betrothal. Makoto is an honorable warrior on his own path, hunting human criminals instead of monsters. From a certain point of view they are both doing the same thing, just from different angles. Tomoe is a shugenja, true, and thus a valuable ally to have. There’s an undercurrent of distrust, however, as Kaguya prefers to work with the Crab’s own Kuni family’s shugenja.
Daisuke views Kaguya as a more or less typical Crab Clan thug, more suited to bashing the enemies of the Empire to death with her own thick skull than anything else. Where she is less typical, however, is quite interesting; she’s not entirely unskilled with words as it turns out. Makoto is a player of the great game in his clan’s own way, and his magistrate facade is fascinating one. A ninja is always a valuable ally at court, after all. Tomoe represents something of a wild card in Daisuke’s plans, but a powerful one, provided she can be pointed in the right directions.
Makoto knows that Kaguya does not realize his true nature, that she thinks of him as an exception to the Scorpion rule. This pleases him and shames him in equal measure, and he is terrified of destroying her image of him. Daisuke knows too much, but for the moment is a flower that should not be picked. The likelihood of him becoming a weed that must be cut, however, is never entirely gone from Makoto’s mind. Tomoe is, in Makoto’s eyes, his supernatural equivalent, at least when it comes to his public role. He does wonder at some of the knowledge she displays, however, and suspects that not all it as it seems.
Tomoe sees Kaguya as a natural ally in her fight against the Shadowlands; maybe not someone to share all of Tomoe’s knowledge with, true, but definitely someone who can be fed useful tidbits of knowledge to be more effective. She tries not to think of her own dead lover when she sees the Crab markings on Kaguya’s armor. Daisuke is something of a worm, but he is a worm with connections that one day may lead Tomoe to new sources of knowledge. Makoto has secrets of his own, that much Tomoe is sure of. Whether those secrets will be a blessing or a threat remain to be seen, but Tomoe would be lying if she wasn’t eager to find out either way.
What challenges will Kaguya, Daisuke, Makoto, and Tomoe encounter across Rokugan? Will they accrue Honor and Glory as they fulfill their giri, or fall into shame as they pursue their ninjō? Will they somehow manage to balance the two? How will this new edition of the Legend of the Five Rings change over the course of the Beta, and what will the final version of these characters look like? As always, that for you (and your dice) to determine!
Like what Meet the Party has to offer? Want to see ready-to-play characters for a system and/or setting of your choice? Let us know @HungryHalfling, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or here in the comments! And remember, Patreon supporters get first dibs!