Friday, September 5, 2008

Social codes and caste systems: Looking back at L5R

Last fall, my group took a break from our current campaign and played through a three-game arc from Legend of the Five Rings. It was my first time dabbling in L5R, a game I’ve resisted mightily due to my general disinterest in Asian-themed gaming and pop culture.

It proved to be a terrific experience and a high-water mark for me in terms of game immersion. I was initially put off by the rigid structure of L5R’s playstyle, with its emphasis on clan traditions and social codes. About 20 minutes into the character generation, however, I realized that (after months spent playing a free-form superhero RPG) I actually craved a little direction for my character.

It’s fun to create a brand-new character with an innovative worldview, but sometimes you want to feel part of something more. That was L5R for me — I felt like my character instantly stepped into a complex society and became a part of it. I spent less than an hour flipping through the rulebook, but I got a solid handle on the game and setting. My samurai had an extended family and a ready-made place in Rokugan. I wasn’t being pigeonholed; rather, the game made me feel like I was stepping up, ready to draw upon a rich clan legacy and take my rightful place in history.

What’s more, the emphasis on custom and clan expectations really served to homogenize our group of players, who come from a fairly wide variety of gaming backgrounds. L5R’s clan setup ensured that no matter how we crafted our characters, they’d all be bound by the same sense of honor and duty that drove samurai of old.

Where’s this post going? Well, earlier this week I got my hands on a copy of Legend of the Five Rings — the second edition, I think, but the price was right. So although I’ve not played L5R since that three-session arc last year, there may yet be room for one more Rokugan visit in the future.


Ishmayl said...

One of my favorite aspects of L5R has always been how easy the game makes it for your character to become a part of the world. I've actually been working on a couple ideas that combine some L5R rules and system components with a system I'm working on.

PatrickWR said...

No doubt -- once you pick your clan, your L5R character is intimately connected with the setting, for better or for worse.