måndag 21 november 2016

Rokugan Basara: Notable Places

I'm considering reversing the hemisphere, so the equator is to the north. Southern Rokugan is cold, and northern Rokugan (with the exception of mountain tops) is warm.
Large sections of Unicorn lands are desert, there's occasional savanna in Lion territory (as is inexplicably the case in canon Rokugan, presumably to explain the presence of actual lions), Mantis island climate is more Iceland than Okinawa, Dragon has pockets of tropical heat in valleys, with temperate-to-cold peaks.

On the other hand, considering it's all supposed to be covered in deep snow in winter, maybe it's better to discard realistic climate entirely and just assume everywhere is really hot in summer and really cold in winter.

Either way, here are some notable cities:

Capital of Peace / Capital City / the Imperial Capital (Otosan Uchi)
A city more defined by craftsmanship than trade - many of the Empire's finest artisans compete for the honour of plying their trade in the Capital. Defined by a distinctly upper aristocratic culture, as influenced by the proximity of the Emperor. A Mekka for many High Skills. "Necessary evils" - waste management, executions, prostitution, trade (of things you did not make) - are relegated to the furthest edges of town, usually outside the city walls. Permanent artisan-run shops are accepted in the city proper, but getting a permit is difficult.

Ranbo City / Ranbo / City of Drink (Toshi Ranbo)
Known primarily for "Ranbo" - an ancient variety of "white spirit", a type of alcoholic drink similar in strength and feel to vodka. Loved by locals and connoisseurs and made famous by the many Kakita Artisans who've settled in the city and composed miles of verse in honour of the drink.
- Alcohol ceremony still more common than tea ceremony
- Decent "second choice" for artisans that don't establish themselves in the Capital
- Commercial hub of east Rokugan, picking up a lot of the business that would've taken place in the Capital had it not been so openly disdainful of merchants
- Stark, conservative architecture

City of Sacrifice / Isawa's City / Gisei Toshi
Secret city of the Phoenix. An extreme student-town shrouded in secrecy - no commerce to speak of, not a lot of outsiders, almost everyone you meet is in some way involved with the Isawa shugenja school.

City of the Rich Frog / City of Heaven's Judgement / City of Foreigners
Built towards the end of the Lion-Unicorn war and functions as a gateway in and out of Rokugan proper. The third name is only relevant if the Unicorn eventually lose, in which case it becomes the only city in the Empire that is open to foreign merchants, which primarily arrive through the desert between the northwestern mountains deep in Unicorn lands. The Second name may be used if they are defeated by the Lion specifically (as opposed to the Hantei restoration), which results in Unicorn exile from the Empire and them being included in the "foreigners" who are only allowed to enter Rokugan through the city.
Either way, it is the only city that sees a decent amount of Dragon(/Dragonfly) presence, which, combined with the prevalence of foreigners, and the ever-present Unicorn-Lion tension, gives the city a strange vibe. Most Rokugani experience it as extremely exotic.

Journey's End / Greenwall / City of Lies (Ryoko Owari)
The city most affected by the result of the Unicorn's invasion of Rokugan.
- if the Unicorn remain in charge, and the city is still de Facto Capital of the Empire. The previous Capital retains its name, but little of its political significance.
- if the Lion exile the Unicorn and the Hantei restoration fails the Shogunate takes control of the city, likely leaves the day-to-day running of most of the northwestern former Scorpion lands to the Ikoma.
- if the Scorpion survive the war and hold the city (either the restoration succeeds, or blame is successfully deflected after it fails) the Scorpion come to embrace many of its Unicorn-era quirks, including merchant culture, the booming drug trade, its criminal gangs, its unapologetic hedonism. In the post-war era it becomes a favourite gathering place for a hip new breed of romantic upper class youth.

Rokugan Basara: misc changes from vanilla

All Shugenja, through their three starting spells, are proficient in "basic sorcery", ie what everyone with the talent was doing before Isawa invented spells, the "sorcerers" of the first era. Generally I allow Shugenja to achieve almost any supernatural effect they can think of if they are prepared to spend enough time, effort, and resources bargaining and making pacts with the right spirits.

It's more time consuming than spells, and not something anyone in their right mind would do in the middle of a fight, but it's open ended and can make for great roleplaying.


Gaijin pepper = Mountain pepper
Developed by the Agasha during the Two Rokugans era, thus the name-change. Partly a response to a worrying decrease in children with a talent for sorcery. No muskets until much later, mostly explosives/fireworks. Takes a few years to really take hold in Rokugani culture, first as a tool of war, then as entertainment.


Kiho are different things to different people, but on a metagame level I think of them as psychic powers. Some people have a natural affinity and kiho can occur untrained, but this is rare. They're a common side-effect of dedication to Bharata (Shintao), which has caused adherents to regard them as a sign of enlightenment. In reality, they're the result of a quiet, "uncluttered" mind, which is something Bharata helps with, and something Ancestor Worship, Fortunism, and Xavism generally do not.
I'm reversing the Bushi/Shugenja relationship, making it easier for Bushi to learn and harder for Shugenja, as well as making them harder to learn and execute for anyone with abilities, advantages, or disadvantages that imply a strong spiritual connection (anything that involves contact with ancestors, for example).

Many shugenja schools gradually move towards kiho use (in meta-game terms filling their ranks with "monks" instead of shugenja) as the talent for spellcasting grows rarer over time (the Tamori's more martial focus and kiho-like blade-summoning strikes me as a clear example of this, as does the kuni witch hunters, which I would populate primarily with Kuni who were born without the gift).

Because of its anti-spirit overtones, kiho are highly controversial in the Lion, and not uncommonly viewed with skepticism or scorn among dedicated adherents of non-Bharata religions.


Unarmed combat skills split into a more pugilism oriented and a more grappling oriented skill. Regional differences accounted for with kata/kiho and by "knowing the school". These are still experimental, so game balance may be non-existent.

Striking Art
alt names: Pugilism / Foot and Fist / "Kenpō"
Armor-based damage reduction counts double, but no need to ready a weapon and no risk of getting disarmed (even if they cut your arms off, you can still kick and headbutt). Also covers improvised weapons. Practiced primarily by monks and peasants.
0k1 (roll dice equal to strength and keep one, dice explode)
Rank 3: 1k1
Rank 5: 1k2

Grappling Art
alt names: Jiujutsu / Kaze-do
Used to either grapple as per the grappling rules, or to disarm, redirect, or trip an opponent that is attacking you.
Reactive Grappling: Unarmed disarm attempts do 0k1 dmg instead of 2k1, but require only one raise if done against someone who's just attacked you (with three raises you take your opponent's weapon). You also get a free raise when you make a Grappling / Agility roll against someone attacking you at close range to trip or throw them (as "throwing" in the grapple rules). Taught in most bushi schools, practiced by everyone. Requires one extra raise to use while holding a weapon larger than a knife.
Rank 3: Reactive grappling (against opponents who've attacked you) is now a simple action (2 per round)
Rank 5: Free raise when initiating a grapple


No longer a skill. Ninja-weapons are all covered by whichever weapons skill seems relevant.

Ninja experience a golden age during the Two Rokugans era, especially on the Shogunate side. Many villages that struggle to survive, whether because the war ruined the harvest or their land was barren to begin with, switch focus to training ninja for the local clan in exchange for economic support.

The average ninja would beat the average samurai in a fight. Their skillset is more pragmatic (fewer court-related skills), they're a lot less predictable (using rarely seen weapons), and they do not "fight fair" (most samurai would not willingly do things like coat their blade in excrement). Most are peasants, some are eta, very few are samurai. Way of the Land is common, as is carrying a kitten beneath your clothes as a pocket watch.

lördag 23 juli 2016

Rokugan Basara III: Two Rokugans

When the Kirin faction returns, they have shed all Kirin imagery and happily indulged in cultural syncretism for generations. They are now the Unicorn, and the world will split into two.

Rough timeline:
- Empire establishes relative control over most of the lands traditionally associated with Rokugan
- short period of peace, castles and the foundations of cities are built
- Asako family travel north, building the White Castle deep in the mountains, and the Castle of Consultation further south, for guests and court
- Gozoku/Akodo tensions increase
- the Unicorn invade from the south
- Akodo Shogun uses duty to protect against barbarian threats as pretense for establishing martial law and the first shogunate
- Unicorn gradually conquer large sections of the south and west while maintaining an aggressive propaganda war against the Akodo shogunate
- both eastern and western Rokugan coexist uncomfortably for a time, maybe even generations
- decisive conflict, end of split
- Second Rise of Iuchiban
- remaining dictator militarily weakened, Imperial loyalists attempt a Hantei restoration
- if the Imperial restoration succeeds, the Hantei will hold true political power for the first time since before the Gozoku, and will be incompetent but harmless
- either the Emperor remains in charge (canon ending), a new shogunate rises from within Imperial loyalist ranks, or, if the restoration failed, the old shogunate/khanate remains in much weakened form

Rokugan after the Unicorn. I refer to my earlier maps for what it could've looked like before.

torsdag 18 februari 2016

Rokugan Basara II: Gozoku

The second of the six ages is roughly analogous to the Nara / Heian periods. There is only one city to speak of, and it is the capital, Otosan Uchi, or maybe "Capital of Peace" after Heian-kyou, to cut down on the copious and unnecessary Japanese.

The Empire of Rokugan is still small and surrounded by threats. Barbarians in the north and west, pirates from the east, the shadowlands to the south, yokai everywhere, and eventually Iuchiban and his bloodspeakers.

The world, as they see it

The descendants of Bayushi, Shiba, and Doji maintain the alliance that gave Hantei the throne, mostly to keep the Akodo out of power. Old retired Emperors have long "advised" their young replacements to a large enough extent to be de facto emperors, and with the tradition of Emperor/Doji marriage, the prestige of the Isawa school, and the tactical importance of Bayushi, it wasn't particularly hard to make the Emperor their puppet.

It seems fitting to name this era

onsdag 17 februari 2016

Old L5R doodles

Campaign concept art from years ago.

The full, original version of the world map I posted earlier. Covered in plot-notes.

Reference drawings for the Unicorn. Emphasis on variety of weapons, foreign languages, and outdoor training. Decided against giving their shugenja the Asako Inquisitor look. Bottom one is Shinjo waking up and returning, bringing a small entourage of foreign sorcerers.

Inspired by above drawings, I tried boiling down the cultural essence of the Mantis and the Lion.

 "Tradition, Discipline, Honour!" Lower right depicts their martial art of choice as "wrestling."

torsdag 4 februari 2016

Old Planescape doodles

Four Githzerai in a gang, five Githyanki pirates, and a Fire Genasi.

"Holy Man", the pickpocket

torsdag 14 januari 2016

Rokugan Basara I: Mythic Rokugan

I'm splitting Rokugan's history into six large chunks (or "eras/ages/periods"), with a slightly more Japanese history take on the existing setting, but consciously designed to each have a different but clearly defined feel.

Zeno Clash
The first, and possibly least playable, is the
Mythic Age

Various conflicting accounts will be passed down through history. Most of these will be lies. That they are lies is largely unimportant. 

The two most important events of the era are the appearance of the sky-children and the Day of Thunder. Together they form the basis of what will one day be Rokugan.

Global changes
- The tournament for supremacy taken as fact by later scholars was, in reality, a drawn-out, large-scale military conflict.
- Though it is widely believed that the children of the Sun and Moon learned of Bharata/Shintao, it only came to Rokugan towards the end of the era, after the Day of Thunder. Shinsei, while often taken as historical fact, is almost entirely fictional.
- blades are generally straight, and the katana is not yet invented
- replace tea-ceremony with alcohol-ceremony (for lack of a better name)
- "shugenja" do not exist, but people with access to magic, known as sorcerers, do
- slings are about as common as knives and significantly more common than bows

söndag 3 januari 2016

Rokugan Basara

Spelling Rokugan with the kanji 六癌 (six cancers) is optional
Since game balance is mostly irrelevant or even undesirable for L5R, I suggest using schools roughly like Apocalypse World Playbooks. Each player picks a school and they're (currently) the only person in the world with that school. Clan is irrelevant, even being a ronin is irrelevant. Pick a school.

This counters one of my biggest gripes with the system - the underpoweredness of ronin in a game that claims inspiration from a list littered with ronin heroes. But it also allows your clan to feel less uniform, and for strange genius to appear in unexpected places.

Kurosawa's classic "seven homeless guys with no school techniques"

While NPCs don't have schools, they may have techniques, often taken from the schools in question (because it saves time), but not limited to them. Most NPCs won't have any techniques, but when they do, it's not necessarily something the players can learn.

I would personally eliminate the courtier schools entirely. They represent a strange divide which has little support in the fiction (how is Hoturi such a master of court if he's a kakita duelist?) and seem to be playing a completely different game from the other schools. Better to remove them and even the courtier playing field.

Artisans stay. While circumstantial, they do not step on the other schools' feet as much, and they come in many interesting flavours.

Another thing I'd change is the jade. If we're gonna have something that rpg-resourcey for dealing with taint, I'd prefer if it was something more thematically appropriate. Maybe trees. They're alive, it lends an extra meta-holiness to sacred groves (and torii gates), it makes the twisted death of trees in the shadowlands more potent, and wood is an easily carved, renewable resource. The vast amounts of jade that's being consumed while venturing into the shadowlands feels excessive, and the tree theme allows for subplots of deforestation down the line.
the older the better
Shintao I have mixed feelings about. I dislike the name, but that could easily be replaced with terminology from Tenra Basho Zero (or another game of your choice): Bharata instead of Shintao, major sects including Hou-oh, Bokusen, and Myouren.
I would also prefer if it was more complex and littered with factions, but its graspability (as a vaguely defined mindfulness religion where players can insert pretty much anything) is a good thing and its primary strength. A few of their factions should have serious tensions with Fortunism, and I'd probably consider Ancestor-worship a separate religious tradition (using Heraldry as its primary skill).

Adding Sengoku Basara-style Xavism in the latter parts of history, coming hand in hand with rifles and nanban armour.
bullet-proof vest, samurai edition

Also everyone has ninja. They're basically there already. Let's just come out of the ninja closet and throw some Path of the Assassin politics into the mix.

And I am implementing a shogunate. Because the uncontroversial ancient dynasty of the Hantei holding absolute power with little or no opposition just fails to suspend my disbelief.