Telling a Story – Narrative Roleplaying in L5R and Genesys
Fantasy Flight (Asmodee) has released a two new story-driven Role Playing Games (RPGs): the Genesys system and the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. Both games feature custom dice, which determine more than the simple dice rolls you’ve become used to with Dungeons & Dragons. Many of you are familiar with D&D, but the L5R RPG and Genesys both offer incredible alternatives to the Role Playing experience! The bread and butter of most RPGs are the checks that you roll in order to determine your success at any particular action. Both Genesys and Legend of the Five Rings keep the basic mechanic but elevate the concept through utilizing symbols on their custom dice. The facings include successes, failures, opportunities, advantages, and other positive and negative symbols; how the systems use them are different.
Legend of the Five Rings
Legend of the Five Rings’ system functions more like a standard RPG. The GM sets a target number for how many successes are required and players will strive to roll at least that many. Unlike D&D however, players must use a combination of D6s and D12s with special facings. Facings include: explosive success, explosive success & strife, success & opportunity, success, success & strife, opportunity, opportunity & strife, and blank faces. When players assemble their dice pool, they roll D6s equal to the ring (base stat) they are using, plus D12s for each point in the relevant skill. Then, they keep a number of dice equal to their ring. Explosive successes allow players to roll and keep additional dice of that same type, while opportunities allow players to improve their successful results or add side effects to their rolls. Opportunities result with strife that taxes the players’ mental ‘health.’ Players receive penalties if they’re compromised by too much strife. Typical checks might require one or two successes, but players are often (like in combat) motivated to keep opportunities as well.
Legend of the Five Rings is a fantastic samurai setting that combines many ancient Asian cultures and mythologies. The setting is dripping with all the trappings we’ve come to associate with samurai, though there are some novel additions like magic, dragons, tattooed monks, and bits of Korean, Chinese, and Mongolian cultures. Furthermore, in Rokugan (the continent in which Legend of the Five Rings takes place), political combat is every bit as pitched and deadly as war. With such a rich setting, these mechanics really shine because players are always motivated to explore deeper and accomplish more with the opportunities they roll.
Genesys diverges even further from the typical RPG mechanics, though in an awesome way. In this system, the difficulty of a check represents the number of negative dice a player must add to their roll. These dice will generally roll results that will subtract from the players’ total. The larger the die, the more severe the results can be. Genesys uses D6s, D8s, and D12s in both positive and negative configurations. The D6s represent either Boosts or Setbacks and will be added to your dice pool to represent aid from allies, small bonuses, or unfortunate elements of checks you make. The D8s, which are core to the system, represent your base Abilities and the base Difficulty of checks. The D12s are Proficiency and Challenge dice, which represent mastery over the checks you perform and provide the highest tier of symbols: Triumphs and Despair. Each die will have various configurations of Successes, Opportunities, Failures, Misfortunes, and a possibly a Triumph or Despair on it. Failures will cancel out Successes while Misfortunes will cancel out Opportunities. Your check will be successful as long as you have at least a single un-mitigated Success leftover.
When building a dice pool for any check in Genesys, you’ll start with comparing the skill and core stat that the check calls for. Let’s say you’re in a bar, shooting a pistol at an enemy behind the counter. You will be using the Ranged Light skill value and the Agility score. If you had a 1 in the skill and a 3 in Agility, you would take 2 green “Ability” D8’s and upgrade the third to a yellow Proficiency D12. Then, the GM will provide you with the difficulty of the check. The standard shot at a standard range for that pistol is 2 purple Difficulty D8s. Then, the GM will assess that you should roll an additional black Setback D6 due to the enemy’s cover behind the counter. Finally, we’ll say an ally assisted you with some covering fire, so you get to roll a blue Boost D6. So, your total die pool would be 1 Yellow, 2 Green, 1 Blue, 2 Purple and 1 Black die. After rolling the dice, you’ve got a total of 4 Successes, 3 Opportunities, and 4 Misfortunes, so your net total would be 4 Successes and 1 Misfortune, after everything else cancelled out. This could represent an incredible success that strains your character a bit.
Rather than being a specific setting like Legend of the Five Rings, Genesys is a generalized system that can accommodate any game you choose (the base rulebook has general rules for many different settings). Luckily, Fantasy Flight Games owns a whole bunch of properties, which they are steadily releasing for use with the Genesys system. You can use these properties completely or just pick and choose the element you want for a custom setting, which gives a ton of customization available to your games. Currently, there are fantasy and futuristic settings available through the Realms of Terrinoth (Runebound) and Shadow of the Beanstalk (Android) books, but they are planning on releasing Cthulhu, Weird War (Tannhauser), Space Opera (Twilight Imperium), and Steampunk in the near future.
Both of these roleplaying systems allow us to play out a wider variety of scenarios than your standard D&D dungeon crawl (though one can replicate the latter). The Narrative-based Roleplaying in Legend of the Five Rings and the Genesys system are worth checking out for anyone looking to branch out from the traditional RPG model. If you’re interested, you can try out Genesys in the cyberpunk game we run on Wednesday nights, or feel free to ask us about the L5R games we’ve been playing monthly!
~ Andrew Narzynski