Categorized | RPGs

L5R: Imperial Histories Review

Posted on August 9, 2012 by mazecontroller

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Each of the previous editions of Legend of the Five Rings was connected to a specific time period. The first edition was set before the events of the CCG. The second edition bumped the timeline to the Time of the Void. The third edition came out current with the CCG story at the time. The fourth edition opted to be timeless to allow fans to use whatever time period they wanted. This left a lot of the game’s history out of the core book. This makes the fourth edition versatile, but left out a lot of the player created history and backstory. Imperial Histories was created to fill that void.

Imperial Histories is a guide to various points in the history of Rokugan. Many of the periods have been seen in other sourcebooks or editions. Some have been referred to in historical accounts. And a few are brand new to the book. Each of these is set ups as a campaign possibility with new rules, new schools and, in some cases, modifications to the existing rules for different eras of the Empire. This book is aimed at GMs looking for campaign ideas or fans wanting historical information in one place.

Imperial Histories is available in hardcover and PDF. The book follows the same art and layout style as the Legend of the Five Rings core book. Most of the artwork is from the more recent sets of the CCG with the chapters broken up by two page spreads. Appropriate art is used where available. The book includes a sidebar talking about the time periods that don’t use accurate art. 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 chapters each detail a different period in Rokugan history. It starts with the Dawn of the Empire, when the kami walked the earth. The book also details more famous elements of history such as the first two arcs of the CCG. The Day of Thunder is when many fans of Legend of the Five Rings came into the game. It was followed by the Spirit Wars and the Four Winds saga. Each of these gets a chapter. The book rounds out with two alternate timelines. The Heroes of Rokugan illustrates a living campaign that’s been going on for years. One Thousand Years of Darkness takes place in a world where Fu Leng, the Lord of the Shadowlands was not defeated on the Day of Thunder and rules over the Emerald Empire.

Each chapter ends with mechanics relevant to the chapter. This usually means new schools, different schools or rules modifications. There are a few settings that involve gaijin, which add rules for things like firearms and non-Eastern weaponry. The rules for playing a gaijin essentially boil down to: don’t. Full rules might appear in a later book but the authors make an argument that there are plenty of other fantasy games on the market that cover that ground well.

The most compelling chapter is One Thousand Years of Darkness. This dark setting is one the fans have been waiting for. The timeline puts the players as part of the rag-tag rebels still fighting against the dark Emperor Fu Leng. This game of samurai already thrives on tough choices between duty and honor. This setting makes those choices even tougher. Fans of horror will love being desperate demon slayers as well as dark intrigues to try and save an Empire that might not be worth saving anymore.

One of the chapters not in the book is the current CCG storyline. Other storyline updates have filled entire books. Fans looking to see how the current timeline is shaping up will be disappointed. AEG has plans for a second book like this next year. Rather than just updating characters and storylines, these books could be a gateway for fans of the RPG to keep up with the CCG and fans of the CCG to try out the RPG. These camps have been separated for far too long. Not telling the ongoing story here is a missed opportunity.

The Heroes of Rokugan chapter misses in a few areas. It reads like someone’s campaign that already happened rather than a jumping off point for a new campaign. The story has some interesting elements and characters but doesn’t feel ready to run out of the book like the others. The same information can be picked up for free on the campaign website. Having it here seems like a bit of padding, especially when there are a lot of other time periods that could have fit in the book.

GMs looking for material to mine will have a lot to choose from. Things from the alternate timelines could easily make themselves seen in home games. Historical schools could be reskinned or used to make an NPC unique. There’s a ton of material here to put into any game regardless of the setting. Each chapter also has enough material for the basis of a campaign. GMs looking to run Legend of the Five Rings after a campaign or too will find the information here very useful.

Bottom Line: A great book for GMs looking for a time to set their new Legend of The Five Rings campaign.

Review by Rob Weiland

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