Game: Way of the Shugenja
Series: L5R and d20
Review Dated: 8th, August 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 14
Average Score: 7.00
Way of the Shugenja is two books in one. The front cover boasts the Legend of the Five Rings logo as well as the phrase “Oriental Adventures” and when you turn the book over you’ll find the d20 logo.
It sounds like a rather daunting task for a 96-paged book but Way of the Shugenja goes as far as to print the mechanics for both systems – that’s L5R 2e & d20 (D&D 3e). Did you understand that? The secret language of the RPG community; we’ll leave the code-crackers at the NIA scratching their heads. This means that some of the game mechanics are posted twice, d20 in black and L5R in blue. For example, the social benefit in belonging to the Dojo of the Closed Eye appears as:
Benefit: You gain +4 on all Bluff checks when attempting to conceal a secret (i.e. not when feinting in combat, causing a distraction to hide, lying about your identity, etc..)
Benefit: You gain two free Raises on any Sincerity rolls when trying to conceal a secret.
I picked that example because I found the description of a secret in the d20 was a little confusing; it sounds as if all three examples are classed as not valid secrets but surely concealing your identity is perfectly valid.
In other cases, such as the new spells, whole sections of text are re-written entirely. The colour coding remains constant and L5R 2e appear in blue and d20 in black. I can’t praise the extra effort to colour the text enough; if it wasn’t for the clear difference I would have given up and locked the book away. I’m sure every reader has experience the disconcerting effect of becoming aware that they’re re-reading something they’ve only just read and that they’re re-reading something they’ve only just read… you get the point.
Shugenja are religious, they have to understand both the Tao and the worship of the Fortunes. If you’re not particularly well versed in Rokugan mythology – and I’m not – then the different religions, how they conflict and how they relate is explained clearly enough in the book’s introduction. Unlike many RPG supplements the introduction is neither an opening paragraph nor a couple of pages. Shugenja are strongly associated with the kami spirits and this is to clearly explained and set out in the introduction, in addition there’s a list of different types of kami; air, earth, fire, void and water (the elements) and what’s generally required to please them. I think it’s a wonderful tool for any GM to have: a fickle source of power.
The vast bulk of the book, everything between pages 20 and 75 is given over to looking at and statting Shugenja of the different Rokugan clans. Each clan has its own chapter and I think this is far superior to describing a generic Shugenja and then spending a paragraph or two on how they might differ between clans. Since each clan has an entire chapter for its Shugenja there’s plenty of space to list new spells and advanced training levels for each one. Advanced training in d20 means a new prestige class and in L5R it means a new path. These prestige classes only go as far as 5 levels and this is a shame because I really do like to see prestige classes done properly through 10 levels. Oriental Adventures are often settings which cope more easily with high level characters and villains (with much leaping around and fancy sword work en route) and so the lack of 10 level prestige classes is felt more keenly here but given the extremely harsh space requirements in this double system book it’s perhaps understandable why AEG couldn’t fulfil this wish list requirement.
The minor clans and the others are bundled together in chapter nine. There’s actually just a couple of others in the chapter but they’re detailed as fully (well, nearly) as the core clan’s Shugenja are and I think this works better than a lot of half finished Shugenja instead.
The last two chapters, small ones, of the book finish off with the Magic of the Shadowlands and Ronin Shugenja. In the Magic of the Shadowlands there’s even more new spells printed out for both game systems. There’s also a fully detailed (ergo 10 level) prestige class for the Bloodspeaker Cultists for the Cult of the Blood-Red Moon. Although there’s a second for advanced training on the travelling ronin shugenja there’s no equivalent prestige class.
I was impressed with the visuals of Oriental Adventures and so I can’t help but notice that The Way of the Shugenja does not follow the same standards. Shugenja is black and white, it is printed on coarse and slightly off-white paper and illustrations are scarce. The quality of the illustration is good despite the lack of colour, they’re carefully placed and the blue text of L5R mechanics helps offset the thousand yard stare which can strike if you find yourself wading through a sea of black print.
I think this book will appeal to those GMs with both Oriental Adventures and 2nd Edition Legend of the Five Rings and can’t decide which one you want to follow up. The book does well enough to seriously put forward the combo design as a way forward for those companies with popular lines that have been translated to d20. For me, though, the Way of the Shugenja doesn’t evoke the same sort of Oriental feel and ambience as previous Rokugan products have and that’s a large disappointment. I think the combo design is a possible future but it threatens to put mechanics over and above flavour; whereas this will be a boon for some gamers it’s a terrible price and put off for gamers like myself who hunger for background detail and depth.