Threading the Needle on Lore
Let’s talk about Legend of the Five Rings by opening with a discussion on Star Wars. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
A distressing amount of my life has been defined by my adoration of Star Wars. I am old enough that I managed to see the original trilogy in the theaters, and I adopted the old West End Games Star Wars D6 game nearly as soon as it hit the shelves. (Y’know, thirty damned years ago. Ugh.) My world, for good or for ill, is littered with the ephemera of the setting, whether it come in the form of toys, books, concept art, etc.
I was not, however, a fan of the Prequel Trilogy. It made little to no sense, and I have made it a point that anyone who prefers these movies is not likely to be a good fit for my playing group. I’ve gone to the trouble to rewrite my own personal canon for this time period, deviating from the movies as I need to in order to maintain a cohesive narrative, something that these movies do not do.
And so far as it goes, I’m a huge fan of the direction of the new Star Wars movies, with a special eye to the bleakness of Rogue One. I understand why people don’t necessarily like the new movies, but they’re challenging. They may not be made for people who are comfortable in their perceptions of the galaxy that these stories are set in.*
I especially liked Solo, which seems to put me in the minority. I had no problem with the re-casting of the main character, I enjoyed the plot, and more than anything, I was a fan of the inclusion of the myriad little details that hinted at the expanded universe of the old novels and comics. It was a pity that the so-called “easter eggs” that were scattered throughout the movie were missed by all of the old fans that chose to sit this one out because of their reaction to The Last Jedi.
Looking over the adventure in the Beginner’s Box for L5R, I feel like this edition is going to be the Solo of role-playing. It’s brand new, gorgeous, and it’s made with a particular mind for the die-hard fans of the game, but there’s an entire contingent of the audience that’s acting all butthurt about the new direction and won’t pick it up. Which is a shame, since the writers went out of their way to reference specific lore for their benefit.
When it was announced that Alderac was selling L5R off to Fantasy Flight, there was a hue and cry among the various fans that I know, all of them complaining about the new directions that FFG would likely take things in. When the card game was discontinued and reborn as an LCG, the same set of people muttered darkly about how everything was accordingly ruined. And of course, when the Beta PDF was released, the new version of Roll & Keep was roundly despised.
Now, of course, I’m not saying that this particular group represents the entirety of the L5R fanbase, but I have little doubt that there are echoes of their displeasure within the audience. I am well familiar with the Edition Wars that define Dungeons & Dragons (I mean, I’ve complained here about the new edition of Pathfinder that’s due to release in another year; it’s not like I’m a stranger to the phenomenon), so it would be well within bounds to assume that there will be a similar backlash to this new edition of L5R.
One of the things that FFG has done with this new edition is to reset the timeline of the setting, bringing everything back to the very beginning of the familiar storyline. L5R began its run with the Clan War era, a period of time when the dynastic Emperor was assassinated and the Great Clans raised armies against each other. It was a rich era for the game, and by doing this, FFG can introduce new players to the setting without trying to make sense of what has happened over the last 20 years of play.
The canned adventure in the Beginner’s Box takes full advantage of this, building out a scenario that is a direct reference to the canned adventure in the back of the original L5R book from 1997. The adventure is set a year after the original module, with many of the same characters appearing. The situation is similar, with the newly minted characters being brought forth to participate in the coming-of-age gempukku ritual that ushers them into adulthood.
To anyone unfamiliar with the lore,** the adventure is a solid sort of one-off. It allows new players to make sense of the rules and introduces enough aspects of the setting to bring them back for future sessions. But to the fans of the deeper lore, all of this builds on what has been established and anticipates what is to come.
And really, this is a shame, since I feel like Fantasy Flight went to a lot of trouble to make an adventure that has the right sense of history and placement, only to have the people most poised to appreciate it generally ignore it.
I mean, I could be wrong. It may turn out that the people that have been with the game for its history could eventually come around and learn to appreciate what FFG has done with the game. That would, of course, be the best possible situation. But there seems to be too much ingrained cynicism within the gaming community when it comes to new innovation and design, which could very well doom this game for the old audience.
For my purposes, I can see myself sticking with this edition. The learning curve for the depth of lore has been eased back, and while it’s still a different flavor of game from what a lot of people are familiar with, it’s a much lower threshold for entry. That alone should be enough to bring a new audience in. At least, I can hope for such.
*Point of note: I actually managed to scare off a player from my regular Star Wars game with a discussion of the new movies. The guy was bound to the idea that the portrayal of Luke Skywalker was terrible and out of character for what had been established. He was of the opinion that Luke would have swung in, lightsaber in hand, and defeated the First Order on his own. When I countered with the idea that Luke’s general methodology was based on reacting out of fear, he nearly flipped the table on me.
But it’s true. If you look at everything established in the original trilogy, Luke’s actions are not those of a hero as much as they are the actions of a character who is unprepared for the role that has been thrust on him. This is best illustrated by the sequence in the cave on Dagobah. There, he is confronted by his own fears, strikes out, and it is revealed that he is in danger of becoming what he most fears: Darth Vader. This is reflected by the sequence in Last Jedi, where he confronts Kylo Ren.
And well, the end result of this discussion was that the player in question vanished and has not been seen since. He was very uncomfortable with the idea that Luke wasn’t his vision of greatness.
**Make no mistake; even though I may own the books, I had to pull the book off the shelf and skim through the adventure to make sure that my assumptions were correct. Most of my suspicions were confirmed by a couple of specific Google searches and a bit of careful reading of the attendant wiki. I only know the lore in passing. I leave it to other people to make a close study of the setting.
Posted on September 2, 2018, in Current Games, Older Games, Review and tagged Alderac Entertainment Group, Fantasy Flight, L5R, Legend of the Five Rings, Star Wars. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.