Reviews of L5R Books
City of Lies (9/10)
This boxed set is details the Scorpion city of Ryoko Owari Toshi and is crammed full of interesting locations and characters (all with many skeletons in their proverbial closets). One book describes the history and current affairs and is intended for the players and another describes the city from a GM's perspective with all the dirty little secrets. There are enough ideas here for a whole campaign of scenarios within the city. Hardly a dull page in the whole and heartily recommended. Also included is an epic investigative adventure to solve the mysterious murder of an Imperial Magistrate.
Book of the Shadowlands (9/10)
Written in a first-person style, this book explores Fu Leng's realm from the eyes of Kuni Mokuna, a Crab shugenja infamous for his unique research methods. Full GM notes on the dreaded Shadowland Taint and its effects and details the many denizens of the Shadowlands (Bakemono, Orges, Trolls, and Oni). Superbly written and many interesting ideas presented. A second book of the shadowlands has recently been released by AEG (See Bearers of Jade).
Way of the Shadow (9/10)
Like the previous book, this is again written from a first person perspective and chronicles the investigations of the Dragon clan magistrate Kitsuki Kaagi into the Ninja legends. More an adventure book than a supplement, the book is presented as a series of investigations documented by Kaagi with each one revealing greater insights on the nature of the 'living shadows'. Packed with genuinely spooky atmosphere, this is one of the rare roleplaying adventures that is as much fun to read as it is to play. Players who assume the ninja are as portrayed in popular entertainment will be in for a rude shock.
Bearers of Jade: The 2nd Book of the Shadowlands
Like the first book of the Shadowlands, this supplement details more secrets of the Dark Brother Fu Leng, including more creatures and Tainted characters, more maho spells, Crab unarmed combat (a particularly nasty version of Kaze Do), and the Maho bushi school. In addition, there are lots of small articles describing first person encounters that do a great job of capturing the dread and horror of the Shadowlands. Interesting material but not essential, unlike the first book.
These books are intended as rule and background supplements, expanding the possibilities for both players and GMs. Each book details the families of one of the seven great clans, and includes noteworthy NPCs, additional schools, skills, and advantages/disadvantages. I particularly like the way each clanbook presents the history from the clan's perspective; thus two books may have a totally different version of the same historical event.
Way of the Dragon (7/10)
This book presents new rules and a detailed background for the Dragon clan. Noteworthy additons are rules for the "Tattoed Men" of Rokugan (including magical Tatoos), the 1000 year old secret of clan daimyo Togashi, and the Dragon samurai daisho (two-sword) technique. My major complaint with this book (common to all clanbooks) are threefold: the lack of maps on Dragon lands, the worthless card lists (to RPG players at least), and the 8+ pages of sample characters.
Way of the Unicorn (6/10)
This clanbook details the history of the "outsider clan" of the Unicorn and expands the rules for creating Unicorn characters from the Shinjo, Ide, and Moto families. Includes rules for the famous Unicorn personalities, Otaku battle maidens, warhorses, and gaijin gear. My major complaint with this book (common to all clanbooks) are threefold: the lack of maps on Unicorn lands, the worthless card lists (to RPG players at least), and the 8+ pages of sample characters.
Way of the Crab (7/10)
If you can ignore the lack of maps, the worthless card lists (to RPG players at least), and the 8+ pages of mediocre sample characters, this book is a good buy. Like all other clanbooks, the major families of the Crab (Hida, Kuni, Yasuki, Kaiu, and Hiruma) are detailed, together with the famous Crab personalities like Hida Kisada (use this daimyo's stats as a guide to creating a close-combat monster!), his son Hida Yakamo, and Kuni Yori. In addition, two sidebars in the book teach the players how to curse like a Crab.
Way of the Crane (6/10)
This clanbook details the most cultured of the 7 great clans: Crane. Not particularly outstanding, although we have the typical extra skills and advantages/disadvantages for Crane Characters, noteworthy Cranes, sample characters and seemingly mandatory CCG card lists. Also included are several pages of rules on the Kakita Artisan skills although these I consider over the top. It may just be me, but I don't really like the idea of artisans - who aren't shugenja - imbuing their creations with magical powers. The descriptions of the artisan skills may be useful for those GMs planning on making court life a staple of their campaign.
Way of the Scorpion (8/10)
I consider this the best of the clanbooks with details of the various families (Bayushi, Shosuro, Soshi, and Yugo) and more importantly, ideas on how to play a Scorpion. The story behind the Scorpions and their motivations is particularly well done and manages to capture the soul of Rokugan's most despised clan. The chapter on Treachery 101 is especially interesting for GMs looking for ways to twist the PCs into a devious Scorpion plot. Also includes rules for Poisons and the infamous Shosuro Assassin school. Some letdowns are the glaring lack of information on the Black Scrolls protected by the Scorpion clan and miniscule notes on the lands of the Scorpion (even less than the typical for Clanbooks).
Way of the Lion (6/10)
I was a little disappointed that the book of Rokugan's most militaristic clan does not include detailed rules on mass battles. Included are details of the Lion families (Akodo, Matsu, Ikoma, and Kitsu), famous Lion personalities and Kitsu spirit magic. Snippets of wisdom from Akodo's book Leadership are included, but these are mostly fluff. Like all other clanbooks, this one suffers from the lack of maps, the worthless card lists (to RPG players at least), and the 8+ pages of mediocre sample characters.
Way of the Phoenix (?/10)
Way of the Naga (?/10)
Way of the Minor Clans (?/10)
Way of the Wolf (?/10)
Winter Court: Kyuden Seppun (8/10)
This book does a great job of describing life in the Emperor's court, detailing the Imperial families and prominent individuals including the Hantei and his heir. Rules are included for creating characters from the Imperial families (Miya and Seppun) and their special schools (Miya Courtier and Imperial Bodyguard). Typical of all L5R books, there are lots of short pieces describing the history and first person experiences of the Emperor's court. A essential book for GMs wishing to make the Hantei and his entourage a main part of his campaign.
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