Currently I am running a game of Legend of the Five Rings, 4th Edition that is an extension of my 3rd Ed campaign. The current setting is a courtly endeavor, which dredges up certain problems. When I was closing the arc in the 3e campaign, they were in a massive war so when I asked my players what they wanted from the new arc, they all said "more social" because even though only two (maybe three) of them lost characters of the six character table, (and one was because they had to leave the game so i gave that character a heroic death) the game was still quite tough.

So my answer was that the characters were given custodianship of a small castle because of their status as war heroes. Their varying clans are to make the castle a hub for any diplomatic activity, and them responsible for the goings on (although there is a lord that they must answer to if things get out of hand).

My Problem

The table has shifted some, and one of my players can only play every other session. They want a social game but L5R's social strata is complex and while I can weave machinations and things that I think they can manage, the characters are mostly bushi and thus have low social skills (enough not to make fools of themselves when visiting someone), so even low level Courtiers outclass them in this element and my players sometimes don't catch on to the way the system works. The table all love their characters, but I worry about having a railroaded plot.

My Current Workaround

The game itself has been off and on due to personal emergencies and i have put 7th Sea as a filler game in the meantime. Just last week I ran a bit of a tutorial to show the players a little more of what they can do since it was the first time after char gen. I almost want to switch to 7th because the social system is something that's easier for them, but that means entirely scrapping the ideas I have been working on since last year.

What would you recommend as a way to keep L5R healthy?

EDIT: I've said this in a couple answers below but will reiterate for new readers. The players are, on average, Insight Rank 4 so they are extremely capable at what they already do. Because of the Emerald Empire rule book I have some extra rules to make them the head honcho of their respective fields of specialty.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered running what you have planned using the 7th sea's system? \$\endgroup\$ – Pulsehead Jun 1 '12 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, they host completely different characters in 7th and want a more adventure-oriented game because that system is less lethal. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jun 1 '12 at 18:06

I hope they pass, and try to plot for them passing but I feel like I need a swoop-and-save always in the wings.

Ah, here we clearly have part of the problem. They're in a situation where they would fail most of the time if you weren't engineering things for them to succeed, so they should fail some or most of the time. If you feel bad for railroading them or for removing the challenge from the game by ensuring that they don't fail, stop doing that.

PCs don't need to succeed all the time, especially when the danger isn't lethal. Failure can be instructive and even fun! (Even, dare I say it, . . . "character building"?) Honor is so important in that setting that a moment of lost honor, a recognition that they aren't perfect in all things, can do wonders in terms of future character motivation. Plan for the characters to fail.

That is not to say that they should never succeed or not learn anything, though, but there are ways of doing that without having direct social-roll confrontations or even after failing at all direct confrontations.

First, don't worry about giving them a loyal subordinate with the social skills to take on the courtiers some of the time, and don't worry about fudging the rolls for him up or down if you have to . . . maybe he's talented but new and prone to rookie mistakes or getting rather old and not as fast or perceptive as he used to be. Also, don't worry about having him advise the PCs. However, his advice shouldn't just be "do this"; have him offer multiple options with pros and cons and let things play out from there. Heck, let him be wrong sometimes just so the PCs don't rely on him too heavily. (A sufficiently deep intrigue will have elements he couldn't expect, or that were expecting him. . . .)

Second, give them plots where their bumbling or social weaknesses are strengths. Have enemies overestimate them and plan for the wrong reaction from the PCs, have their bumbling somehow convince everyone that they know more than they do (spooking the enemy into making mistakes), have them accidentally round up all the right people for all the wrong reasons and someone confesses to the plot and then asks how they knew, or just plain have things come to a point where the villains are expecting some nuanced social reaction they can parry and the heroes decide to just charge in and take care of things the old-fashioned way.

There's one more option: The overestimated idiot at the center of a backstabbing circle. In social politics, this is where everyone tries to curry favor with the lord by telling on everyone else. As a result, the lord is spectacularly well-informed about everyone else's secrets and develops a reputation for being an omnicient badass when all they had to do was sit there and look stern and knowing. If your players can handle that kind of information effectively, they'll find ways of taking care of business without ever having to make a social roll they don't like.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Instant +1 for "his advice shouldn't just be "do this"; have him offer multiple options with pros and cons and let things play out from there" \$\endgroup\$ – o0'. Aug 1 '14 at 21:15

I admit, I have never played L5R. However...

They should take it as a challenge that they need to overcome in their new political environment. I have just started to do the same with my PC's in a D&D game. They have been fine as heroes fighting off the monsters and saving the land. But their responsibilities have increased and now they have to administer the city that they're protecting, choosing what directions to go in and talking to the right people. It's daunting, as only one of them is a social character. But one way I have to help them along is to give them a mentor. Someone that wants to see them succeed and rise to this challenge.

Maybe something you could do is suggest a hiring or offering from the PC's. Have them scout out talent that they could enlist as either tutors in the ways of the tongue and pen rather then the sword. Scholars, diplomats, ect. People that know a bit more about political games then they do. And, as the observe these new hires and servants, they will start to learn how they need to go about things, giving them the skills needed to rise to a diplomatic challenge. It shouldn't be easy, but giving them a stepping stone sounds like a good idea.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I will keep this under consideration, but after the Emerald Empire expansion rules with mechanics to make someone a socially powerful samurai, it has granted some room for play. I have allowed the bushi to be mentors to the students in the dojo, the shugenja to administer the temple, and miscellaneous social interactions based on their decisions. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Mar 30 '12 at 19:06

It sounds like you heard "more social (than a war)" and gave them "ALL THE SOCIAL" instead.

Have you considered backing off from or entirely backgrounding the politics storylines and bringing the level of social down a bit to where it's more comfortable? How about social issues and tensions among the people they're mentoring and responsible for, rather than from higher up in the social structure? A dojo member caught stealing because he's paying a scam artist to "cure" grandma of a minor possession could be fun. Honour decisions and maybe an exorcism!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It hasn't been all social, no martial. There have been a couple of tournaments. For example, a character playing a Tsuruchi Archer was called out on his talents as a bushi in general after losing a practice kendo spar, so an archery tournament was enacted. In the contest I had each player develop a challenge and they each randomly received one. The setting itself has them as higher on the food chain because it's Winter Court, so even though the Insight Ranks are similar, they have the home field. +1 for the idea. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Jun 1 '12 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like you're drifting toward stuff that suits the characters, then! If the players are enjoying it, then you can rest easy. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 1 '12 at 21:53

If they are being outclassed by the people you are pitting them against then lower the level of these people and hand out enough experience for them to up their social skills.

Have them deal with local officials to start with to get them into the hang of how you are using the system and setting. You should still be able to advance your agenda using these people and, if you offer the right opportunities, they should be able to build up a local network of social contacts they can exploit to help bring pressure when they start moving up to the more important officials and courtiers. If they are skilled bushi then they could start by helping a local dignitary clear bandits off his land - that will allow them to use their bushi skills and gain social position.

After all, if you are playing a social campaign, it's important that the players have their own social contacts and networks - it's not what you know but who you know.

  • \$\begingroup\$ They are only lower than the level of the courtiers in social skill. it's a high level game (because I was running 3e for about two years off and on based on scheduling) with Insight Rank 4 characters, so they are quite adept at being bushi/shugenja, just untrained at being socialites. My current arc of the social game is a gempukku ceremony and I've had them each playing a student through the rituals/tasks associated with it to help get them attached to the roots. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Mar 30 '12 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Insight rank isn't an automatic leveller. A rank 4 courtier wouldn't stand much of a chance in a fight with a rank 4 bushi and, versa vice, a rank 4 bushi isn't going to be the equal of a rank 4 courtier in a social situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Colonel Sponsz Apr 2 '12 at 8:44

One of the fun things about playing in a new system is discovering the system. I've played D&D 3.5 to death and am no longer capable of naively building a character one level at a time, with no prestige class in sight. Exploring the system for the first time is something you can only do once.

I think you need to change your expectations for what they'll succeed at. When you say you're railroading them it almost sounds like you're giving them a path for success and a path for failure, but since you know they'll fail at social challenges you might as well be railroading their failure. If that's an accurate guess at what's happening, I think your game should branch based on how they fail instead of whether they fail. You'll still have an interesting game and the players actions will change affect what happens to them. Don't skimp on the win condition paths of course - you want that to be an option too and you want it to be lucrative enough that once the players taste it they want more.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My thought that I'm "railroading" is that even a level one courtier could be rolling up to 8k4 versus their 4k3/5k3. It's a high level game, with the average character being Insight Rank 4, so their positions aren't unwarranted. I hope they pass, and try to plot for them passing but I feel like I need a swoop-and-save always in the wings. \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Mar 30 '12 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fundamentally, the "new system" he's running isn't - it's the same basic mechanics, differing in setting and character building templates. L5R, Legend of the Burning Sands, and Seventh Sea are all the same game engine. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Mar 31 '12 at 10:00

I'm not familiar with the game engine at all, but it seems like they shouldn't know that they're consistently failing their social rolls. Only after a few sessions should they come to realize that they've been played.

A charming and trustworthy old baron comes along, happy to advise the famous heroes. He helps them solve a plot against them, and asks for little in return. He already has lands, but he spends months away from them so his heir apparent has a chance to practice reigning - so he has nothing to gain, he's just helping out of the kindness of his heart.

Until the day the players end up framed for murder or witchcraft, or they send a gift to another lord which they do not realize is insulting ("you should send him a silk robe for his daughter whom he dotes over"... but the daughter died recently), or maybe he forges their signatures on a letter to the realm's enemies. The baron turns them in, and is rewarded with their lands, while the players end up in prison or on the run. Now they get a chance to use their adventuring skills to escape and clear their names, and with the XP earned you can bet they'll be boosting their social skills.

Basically, let their failures drive the plot for a bit, and let them use their strong skills to recover from the failure of their weak skills. It's the opposite to the situation where a party of classic tough guys are saved not by the strongest, but by the fast-talking bard who rarely gets the spotlight.


No one has addressed the problem of the ever-other-session player, and we have no details on that PC. But perhaps this character's continual appearing and disappearing could be fictized in a way that makes sense for the character's storyline as well, and might even be used to drive some plots forward. You could chat with the sporadic player after a missed session and run a little "downtime" which ties directly (or indirectly) into something the other players know about. To the other players, this is "off-screen action" but there's nothing really wrong with that, and it will help keep the world moving along logically.


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