Obsidian & Ivory
4th edition Legend of the 5 Rings was designed from the very beginning to be as modular as possible. Unfortunately, this means that a reference is needed so that players know which Optional Rules are and are not in effect for a particular game. I’ve done my best to list all modifications to the general rules — including my own House Rules — that will be in place.
At the start of every adventure, 3 tokens of “Good Kharma” will be placed in the middle of the table. Any time during the adventure, any player may spend one of them as another player is about to be killed to effectively become GM for a brief moment and save their teammate through some form of high drama, divine intervention, or dumb luck.
As this is a samurai game however, this cannot be used to prevent a thematically fitting death — as determined by both the GM and the player of the endangered character — just “bad deaths” like random goblins with statistically unlikely damage rolls. Also note that this rule cannot be used to save yourself.
Any unused tokens go away at the end of the adventure, and are refreshed at the beginning of the next.
Anytime the GM feels that the group has gotten too far off track, a “Bad Kharma” token will be placed in the middle of the table. At any time during the session, the GM can spend one of these tokens to cause a roll to fail. If multiple players are making the same roll, then everyone fails.
Any of these tokens still on the table expire at the end of the session.
When a PC dies, the next character created by that player retains the total experience points that player has earned in the campaign so far. At the GM’s discretion, there may be a bonus or penalty to the total xp carried over, depending on the circumstances of the character’s death.
When a player makes a roll, doubling the TN grants a free raise to the roll, but the GM gets to dictate the outcome of that free raise. This applies again for every factor of 2. For example, if the TN to hit an opponent is 15 and the attacker rolls a 62 to hit, that’s 2 free raises (for 30 and 60, respectively) that the GM may assign to any combat maneuver(s) he prefers.
Wild successes also impact spells in unpredictable ways.
Rights of the Challenged
For matters of personal insult or disagreement, the customs presented in 4e surrounding duels are incredibly slanted. Here are the accepted practices we will be using:
- After a challenge is issued, the Challenged has the right to choose the means of the duel (horse race, Iaijutsu, poetry contest, etc)
- If the Challenger is a bushi (wears a katana) they may choose to invoke their right to defend their honor with it – requiring a trial by combat (the Challenged may still choose skirmish, iaijutsu, or a competitive display of martial skill)
- If both the Challenger and Challenged are shugenja, the duel may be resolved using Taryu-Jiai (see below)
- Once the means are set, the Challenger may set the terms (first blood, submission, death, judged by a 3rd party, etc)
- Once the terms are set, the Challenged may choose the time and place. Duels to the death may be delayed for up to a year without major loss of face, but lesser duels should be resolved as promptly as possible.
Battlefield duels and duels involving testimony and the law are handled according to the Book of Air(p23).
(Note that courtiers will exploit any weakness they can find. While a samurai may technically be within his rights to set ridiculously slanted means, or set the time and place to somewhere favorable and remote, doesn’t mean they won’t lose Glory due to the gossip about their cowardice. Iaijutsu is the only option that is completely safe on this front.)
The Luck Advantage may not be used in the Assessment or Focus phases of an Iaijutsu duel.
Duelists instead gain a pool of Duelist re-rolls, to be used at will between the Assessment or Focus steps of any duel they find themselves in. Re-rolls may be gained from:
- The Iaijutsu Skill grants 2 Duelist re-rolls, one at rank 3, and another at rank 7
- Schools with a tradition of dueling will grant Duelist re-rolls
- Dueling is often the ultimate arbiter of justice in the empire – in matters of truth and guilt, the heavens grant their blessing to the noble of spirit in the form of a Duelist re-roll
Lore Skills (and implied Lore skills)
The system of Lore skills is wildly imperfect. There aren’t enough points made available to characters (at any stage) to reflect the things they should know, merely based on their upbringing and training. As such, all characters gain the following bonuses:
- +1k0 to any Lore(Clan) or Lore(Heraldry) roll related to any clan the character has lived with for at least a full year (all 4 seasons, though they need not be concurrent)
- +2k0 to any Lore(Clan) or Lore(Heraldry) roll related to any clan the character has studied with (possesses one or more ranks in a school owned by that clan)
- +3k1 to any Lore(Clan) or Lore(Heraldry) roll related to the clan the character was born into
- Any skill the character possesses may be used as a Lore skill at their skill rank divided by 3 (round up)
These bonuses do not stack.
The True Ronin options as presented in the 4e Core book (p234) are woefully underpowered. The goal of these rules should be to create a character who has learned to live without the connections, safety net, and other intangible benefits of being part of a family and clan. In exchange, they need to be slightly smarter, faster, or more powerful just to be able to keep pace (and thus survive.)
- Ronin who take Option #1 and give up the benefits of both Family(Trait=12 points) and School(Trait=12-16 points, and Technique) will gain 35 points instead of 25.
- Ronin who take Option #2 and give up only the Family bonus will receive 15 points instead of 10.
Given the remote location of the setting, written correspondence has a chance to feature prominently in this campaign…
The Game of Letters
One of the favored games of the courts of Rokugan, and the Second City is no different.
Some of the schools presented in the source material may be modified for our campaign. Please refer to either the character binders or the Character Rules page for the versions that we will be using.
Additional Character Options
We will be using some entirely original character options, including Advantages and Alternate Paths. Again, please refer to either the character binders or the Character Rules page for more information.
According to the source material, the process of gaining a School Rank is lengthy and disruptive to the flow of a campaign.
We will very likely be altering these rules, perhaps significantly, but I’m still working out how I want to go about it.
Learning Extra Spells
As a shugenja, the number of spells taught by your school ranks can be extremely restrictive. This is partially necessary as a balancing factor, but the system as written is too restrictive both from a mechanical as well as a lore perspective.
I will be allowing shugenja PCs to learn a limited number of additional spells beyond what they are explicitly granted by their school. This will take effort, and will likely make use of the Thread system.
I have a lot of experience with LARP-style games where this kind of balance absolutely had to be strictly maintained, but I don’t believe it’s going to be as necessary in a smaller tabletop game. I will be keeping track of the relative power levels within the party just to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.
Gossiping is a shameful act that is unbecoming of a samurai, but that doesn’t stop basically anyone. If a PC wants to “listen to the wind”, they may make declare a subject of interest – this can either be any person/group with a wiki page devoted to them, or simply “current events” – and make an open Awareness/Courtier roll.
Spreading gossip or chasing down specific rumors are slightly more nuanced tasks, especially if the source is attempting to remain anonymous.
Much like being too involved in commerce, habitual involvement with gossip may result in a mild loss of Glory and/or Honor, but only for those considered too pure to involve themselves in such things.
Void Recovery/Rule of 3 (3e Core, p165)
In addition to the standard 4e methods, a PC regains a Void point whenever they roll 3 or more 10’s on a single roll. A character cannot exceed their maximum Void points this way, nor may they gain more Void points than their Void Ring per day from triggering this effect. For those familiar with 3e/3er, you will note that this is a slight interpretation in the players’ favor. This is intentional.
Character Creation Rules
We will be using some of the 2e rules for Skills and Traits in character creation:
- Many schools allow the player to select ‘any skill’ as part of their training, representing the character’s elective studies. Players may choose to focus on a skill the school already teaches, learning that skill at rank 2 instead. Note that this is a trade-off, both for character creation (see below) as well as for any effects that impact “school skills”.
- Some particularly elite schools, such as the Utaku Battle Maidens, teach skills at rank 2 base, and these skills may not be further increased with this option.
- No Skill or Trait may be increased more than twice from what the character learned from their School/Family during character creation. (Skills not taught by the school can be raised from 0 up to 2, most school skills may be raised from 1 up to 3, etc)
Mystical Ninja (4e Core, p226)
Some schools with the Ninja tag teach the mystical arts rather than the martial. Students of these schools may learn kiho, but not kata, and may never join a school with the Bushi tag.
Ancestors (4e Core, p241)
We will not be using the “standard” Ancestor rules that are part of L5r 4e. Players have the option of discussing other options with the GM if they wish to claim a particular lineage, and perhaps gain mechanical benefits.
Gender Roles (4e Core, p37)
We will be using the stock setting’s setup with regards to female samurai, meaning gender is largely not a concern. There are still sexist jerks (on both sides) but the culture as a whole doesn’t have a bias against women who are more than subservient housekeepers, and women samurai don’t have a bunch of extra hoops to jump through to live their daily life.
Lethality Level (4e Core, p84)
PCs in this game will be slightly more robust than the 4e standard. We will be using 3x Earth to determine wounds/level instead of 2×. This will also apply to any NPC of standing.
Honor Rolls (4e Core, p92)
We will be using Honor Rolls in this game, though I am considering using the legacy version instead. It will depend on how the new version works for the group.
Advantage Limits (4e Core, p149)
During character creation no character may have more than 15 points worth of Advantages, unless they have only 3 (or fewer) distinct Advantages.
(Note that the game already enforces a 10-points-received cap on Disadvantages)
Mass Battle System (4e Core, p236)
We will use the Mass Battle System in this game, if a fitting situation ever comes up.
Alternate Paths/Advanced Schools (4e Core, p245)
We will be including both Alternate Paths and Advanced Schools in our game, but they will be significant events in the life of a character. The content will (largely) not be truly gated – a character won’t be forbidden access to a Technique because the player’s justification wasn’t strong enough – but Paths should be considered a goal for the character to expend at least token effort working toward, and Advanced Schools are akin to getting into an ivy-league college. Not necessarily a life-goal, but just one or two steps below that.
This will likely be resolved using Threads.
Crafting (4e Core, p // Various)
We will be including Crafting in our game only so much as is needed to explore the PCs’ stories. The rules are honestly kind of a mess, and aren’t typically important enough to stretch/modify/rewrite without a direct reason.
Kata (4e Core, p)
We will be including Kata in our game, though it bears mentioning that the name for this mechanic is misleading. In previous editions, kata were actually kata – forms a character physically went through to temporarily shift their frame of mind – but in 4e kata are far more akin to sub-schools. They represent subtle, fundamental variations within the framework of the Techniques taught by the school institutions.
Kiho (4e Core, p)
We will be including Kiho in our game.
Maho/Shadowlands Taint (4e Core, p // Enemies of the Empire, p)
Shadowlands taint and maho will not be available to starting characters, but these elements will be present in the game – both as a threat and as a temptation.
Due to the way the modified storyline we will be using plays out, the “Modern Taint” as it exists in the official L5r canon does not exist in our setting.
Additional Shugenja Rules
Sacred Spaces/Places of Power (Books of Elements, Various)
Life-casting (Great Clans, p24)
A shugenja may make the decision to invoke the kami with the offer of their very life force. Casting a spell this way is invariably and unavoidably fatal, but has miraculous effects. At minimum, the casting roll automatically succeeds at the maximum raises the shugenja can call, plus a number of additional free raises. However, depending on the situation, the kami summoned by such a prayer have been known to act in unique ways that aren’t specifically within the dictates of the particular spell.
Appeasing the Kami
Counterspelling (Book of Fire, p182)
Rituals (Imperial Archives, p101 // Book of Earth, p61)
Shugenja and Purity (Imperial Archives, p100)
We will not be using the Optional Rules listed under the headers “Purity and Spellcasting”, “Worldliness and Spellcasting”, or “Spellcasting and Religious Devotion” as such. While it would be great to keep these pieces of the setting in mind, and there may well be consequences/benefits to characters who observe these practices, the systems as suggested are both very restrictive and a headache to keep track of.
Taryu-Jiai Mechanics (Book of Fire, p184)
Shugenja duels are in. I will need to look over the mechanics more carefully to see if there will be any modifications, however.
Heritage tables are open for use as part of character creation, though the rolls must be made in front of the GM. A character with mixed ancestry may roll on any applicable table, but each character may only roll once. Unlike other editions, making a Heritage Table roll doesn’t have a point cost.
Dramatic Chain and Staff Combat (Book of Water, p175)
Common Martial Arts (Book of Fire, p179)
Essentially, any samurai who can find a sensei may take the Martial Arts Style Paths at the appropriate Rank.
Grappling Options/Sumai (Book of Earth, p51, 194)
Competitive Sailing (Book of Air, p111)
We will be using the Competitive Sailing rules in this game, if a fitting situation ever comes up – though the definition of a “fitting situation” may be expanded from the rules as presented.
Commercial Warfare (Book of Air, p177)
We will be using the Commercial Warfare rules in this game, if a fitting situation ever comes up, but there will also be an Honor Loss associated with engaging in such pursuits.