Legend of the Five Rings Rules Primer

The world itself is complicated, but essentially it all boils down to this.  It is a fictional world based on pseudo-eastern cultures, much like D&D is a fictional world based on pseudo-European cultures.  The game is heavily politically oriented.  There are nine different clans vying for social, political, and military power within the larger imperial state. There is an emperor, but as much as the emperor is both the dedicated leader, they also rely heavily on the loyalty of the clans beneath them.

The kinds of things you should expect from this game is as follows:

Point 1 – Dice Mechanic: The basic mechanic breaks down to a roll and keep system with d10s.  You have five rings, four of which are devoted to an element and one devoted to the void.  The four elements devoted to elements are composed of two "traits" that are similar to ability scores in D&D.  You also have a number of skills that you have bought using experience. 


Skill Checks: When asked to make a skill check, you roll XkY.  X is determined by adding your relevant trait to your relevant skill.  Y is determined by your relevant trait.  10s explode like shadowrun.

Example: You want to try and examine a crime scene.  You roll your Awareness (3) and Investigation (2) skill.  So, you are rolling 5 dice, and keeping 3 of them.  Naturally, you want to keep the highest dice so you do your best.  You roll a 1,4,7,8,and a 10. You reroll the 10 to get a 2, which brings the 10 up to a 12.  You choose the 7, 8, and 12 and add those numbers together for a total of 27.  I will have declared the TN originally as 27 originally (because that's the soldier's target number to be hit), and you have successfully hit the target at which point you would roll your damage to determine how much he takes. 

Trait rolls: This is why you just roll and keep a trait.  This references a moment when you are doing something that doesn’t fit very easily within any of the included skills, or perhaps you are rolling a skill check without any training in the skill itself.

Ring Rolls: Think of these as saving throws usually.  Ring numbers are equal to the lowest number within the combined traits.  A character with 3 Stamina and 4 Willpower will have an Earth Ring of 3. 

Attack and Damage Rolls: Attack rolls are usually made using the weapon skill + its associated trait, keeping the trait.  After the result is tallied, you then determine how many degrees of success was achieved, and for each degree of success, you add a dice to the damage roll.

Base damage rolls are defined by the weapon you are using.  They have specific stats associated with them.  A katana for instance is normally rolling a base 3k2+ the character’s strength.  If you have 4 strength then you are rolling 7 and keeping 2. 

Spellcasting Rolls: Spells require skill checks to succeed.  You roll shugenja School Rank + Ring and then keep your ring rank. 

Example: Isawa casts a fire spell.  Isawa has a Fire 3 and is a Rank 1 In the Isawa school.  He rolls 4 dice and keeps 3 of them. 

Contested Rolls: Exactly the same as above, except the players doing the rolls compare their final values, rather than using a set target TN.


Point 2 – Combat: Combat is deadly.  The combat system is built such that death is something that can happen fairly easily.  As you become wounded in combat you hit thresholds that reduce your capacity to do future actions well.  There are 8 stages of wounds: healthy, nicked ( +3 to all TNs), grazed ( +5 to all TNs), hurt ( +10 to all TNs), injured ( +15 to all TNs), crippled ( +20 to all TNs), down ( +40 to all TNs), and out.


During Combat, you can either do 1 complex action + any free actions, or you can do 2 simple actions + any free actions.

You can always take stances to mitigate the kind of damage you can take.  At the beginning of a player’s turn, they can adopt a stance and thus define their approach to the current combat.  Here are the stances:

  1. Attack: Basic stance.  No restrictions are placed on the player.
  2. Full Attack: In Full Attack, the player cannot use any Simple or Complex Actions other than the attack and move actions to get closer to their opponent, which they have an additional 5 feet added to their normal movement.  They get +2k1 to all attack rolls (not damage rolls), and their Armor TN is reduced by 10, thus making them easier to hit. 
  3. Defensive Stance: Player adds their earth ring + Defense skill Rank to their Armor TN, thus making them harder to hit.  They cannot attack while in the Defensive Stance, but they can make any skill checks or spell rolls they would like. 
  4. Full Defense: Roll Defense/Reflexes roll (keeping reflexes) and add half of the total amount rounded up to the player’s Armor TN.  They can only take free actions.
  5. Center Stance: This stance is used to focus a samurai’s chi.  Usually used for Iaijutsu Duels, but can also be used in combat for certain abilities.  The character cannot take any actions this round.  The character adds 1k1 + Void to any roll they are forced to make.  The player also adds 10 to his initiative roll for the next round of combat.

In combat you can do special actions called maneuvers.  In order to do these maneuvers you voluntarily raise the TN of your attack by a specific number of raises.  For each raise, you add +5 to your target number to hit.  There are a number of these as follows:

  1. Called shots (1, 2, or 3): Define where you will hit your target.  Hitting someone in an arm would be 1 raise, hand/foot would be 2 raises, and the head would be three raises, and a small area like the eye/ear/etc. would be 4 raises.
  2. Disarm (3 raises): reduces damage to 2k1, but you knock the weapon out of the character’s hand if they fail a contested strength roll.  Depending on quality of the weapon, the weapon may be destroyed.
  3. Extra Attack (5 raises): Once per turn, grants you an additional attack using the same TN.
  4. Feint (2 raises): Allows you to half the TN of the attack roll, thus affording you the ability to add even more dice to the damage roll. 
  5. Increased Damage (1 or more raises): Used to add more dice rolled to the damage modifier.
  6. Knockdown (2 or 4 raises): 2 legged creatures have to have 2 raises.  4 legged creatures have to 4 raises.  If successful, contested strength roll occurs.

Iaijutsu Dueling: Specialized combat sequence involving an assessment stage, a focus stage, and then a strike stage.  This form of dueling is used to solve political disputes that can’t be handled in a more diplomatic way.  Two clans specialize in studying this form of “art,” the Crane and the Dragon.


Point 3 – Honor, Glory, & Status: The third way this game differs from other games is the game’s heavy reliance on social skills.  Since combat is so deadly, the social side of the universe is emphasized to a great degree.  Every character has a personal honor rank which will reflect how the samurai adheres to the standard tenets of Bushido.  Now, Honor is usually something that is internalized.  Some more perceptive samurai can discern your honor rank, but unless you openly perform dishonorable actions then you can always try and feign an honorable status.  However, the stat is always a standard measure of the character’s actions, much like D&D’s morality scale.  You can’t claim to be a lawful good if you consistently murder citizens at night in the alleyways of Neverwinter.  It is a sliding scale, and the higher you are when you do something dishonorable (like accept a bribe), the farther you fall on the scale.  Similarly, the lower you are and the more honorable action you take, the higher you raise.   Honor is both tied to privileges, but it is also to obligations.  So, do not think that you have to be a paragon of honor in order to survive.  Where there are Crane, there are always Scorpions.

Glory is similar, but not internalized.  Glory is a measurement of a samurai’s fame throughout the empire given the various deeds the individual has accomplished.  Glory is a set rank that can grow and decline as well.  The greater the glory rank, the more likely one is to be recognized. 

Which brings us to Status. Status grants you the power to tell NPCs what to do.  The higher the status rank, the more people that have to bow and scrape to do what you want them to do.  Status is something largely awarded to players when they join specific organizations.  You might become a diplomat (2), or a Clan Magistrate (4).  The emperor/empress has a status of 10.  These get significant status benefits.   Ninja do not exist, but if they did exist they would have a status of -10.

Legend of the Five Rings Rules Primer

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