Categorized | Reviews, RPGs

L5R: Emperald Empire RPG Review

Posted on July 12, 2012 by mazecontroller

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    One of Legend of the Five Rings greatest strengths is the detail that Rokugan has achieved over its fifteen year history. Gamers love a detailed world. Rokugan grew from a few characters and locations on cards to one of the most richly detailed worlds currently being published. Thousands of cards, RPG books and story fictions add Eastern flavor to this world that’s a mash-up of Western and Eastern fantasy. Emerald Empire is the Fourth Edition’s guide to the world of Rokugan. It is available in PDF and hardcover book.

    The book follows the same art and layout style as the Legend of the Five Rings core book. Full color pages with artwork from the CCG used for illustration. Most of the artwork is from the more recent sets with the chapters broken up by two page spreads. There is an index in the back. Unlike the core book PDF, neither the table of contents nor the index are hyperlinked. There are one or two repeats of art from the core book but the majority of pieces are new to the RPG line.

    The book exists as a place to collect and expand the cultural details that make Rokugan a unique world for adventure. There is discussion of multiple topics ranging from geography, war, law and order, religion and much more. Each section delves into how each of the Great Clans sees the particular topic in question. Generally, the clans that view the topic as favorable get the most ink in the section. Sidebars handle specific points in history important to the topic. Many of the chapters also feature the classic Challenge/Focus/Strike adventure hooks meant to directly inspire GMs. The book’s final chapter on Rokugan’s Xenophobia is unique in that it discusses the topic and offers some brief glimpses of the cultures outside the main game’s focus.

    Emerald Empire contains new mechanics in each chapter that relate to the topic at hand. The majority of the mechanics involve either a new basic or advanced school that fits the theme. Most chapters get one though the Law and Order chapter features two magistrate schools. Almost all the schools are timeline neutral. Even those that are not are easily adaptable to games unconcerned with the metaplot. New to this version of the book is an appendix adapting the Way of the Daimyo rules to Fourth Edition. The Daimyo rules are meant for games that want their characters leading armies of samurai rather than being one on the ground.

    Anyone looking for a book to see what sets Legend of the Five Rings apart from other fantasy worlds will love this book. It has a lot of great art, but it also goes into excellent detail about Rokugan. Players eat this stuff up and there is a lot to choose from in the book. The obvious chapters are well done, talking about war and combat and the usual suspects that gamers love. But the book shines in the small details, like the different marriage customs of the clans. Those small details help turn a generic Crane samurai into one who tied the hair of her lost love to her katana to remind her why she must never duel again. There is also an excellent glossary of terms that makes a great handout for new players.

    A book like this should have a good index to allow for quick lookup of those small details important to characters. Unfortunately, the index in this book doesn’t get the job done. Finding the right way to collect minutae is a difficult task. Beyond that, the book scatters the mechanical options between the chapters of the book. Rather than having all the new schools, paths and player candy located in one spot, they are scattered between the chapters. Even more frustrating, the schools aren’t called out in the table of contents, making quick reference very difficult.

    This is the second version of one of the most popular books for third edition also titled Emerald Empire. That book was meant as a successor to the GM’s Survival Guide published for first edition, which mixed plenty of good general GM advice in with cultural details about the Emerald Empire. GMs that own both of those books might struggle to find new information in this book. It can also be intimidating for new players. Rokugan has a lot of cultural differences and a player unfamiliar with them can get lost or browbeaten by players who already have this stuff memorized.

    Games always run into the challenge of reprinting material from older editions. It can be easy to assume that when a new edition of a book comes out that the older edition will suffice. Emerald Empire avoids this trap by distilling cultural details down into basic, yet essential elements that players will want to absorb. It also shows how far Rokugan has evolved as a setting. Older books in the line often got wrapped up in timeline details or overly specific maps and detail. This book offers important concepts and ideas essential to the setting without locking into specific characters or parts of the timeline.

    Bottom Line: Emerald Empire is a great choice for players new to Rokugan and to old players who want to revisit a favorite setting.

    Review by Rob Wieland

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