Legend of the Five Rings
If you want samurai swordsmanship, mysterious intrigues between rival clans, terrifying oni and mass-battles that only Kurosawa could deliver then you must get a copy of the best samurai fantasy RPG to date- AEG's "Legend of the Five Rings."
Duly licensed from Five Rings Publishing Group and based upon the CCG of the same name, the RPG allows you to take the persona of a samurai in the Emerald Empire of Rokugan. The core book allows you to play a member of one of the seven Great Clans-- Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion and Unicorn-- or to be without one, which makes your PC a ronin. The rulebook limits you to the two primary professions, which are "bushi" (fighter) and "shugenja" (religious mage). (The clanbooks allow more, but these are clan-specific.)
Character creation is simple, easy and fast. Like Feng Shui, a newbie can go into it cold and still be ready to play in about 15 minutes. The entire system revolves on one die-roll mechanic: Roll (x)k(y) vs. a target number, where "x" is the number of dice you roll and "y" is the number of rolled dice you may keep to generate a total. (Target numbers start at 5 and (usually) rise in 5 point increments.) The base roll is a pass/fail system; if you're on, your PC succeeds and if you're not then he doesn't.
Combat is fast and furious. Initiative is everything; the high roller declares his action *last* and resolves it *first.* The system has three standard actions: Full Attack, Full Defense and Normal Action. The first adds two dice to your attack roll (+2k0), but leaves you open (TN resets to 5). The second forfeits any attack, but it raises your foes' TN- roll (x)k1, where "x" is equal to your Defense skill, and add the total to the TN. The last is both a middle ground and the option chosen should you want to do anything else, like hold your action or manuever about for a flank/rear attack.
Combat is deadly. An average character will die after two average blows from an average foe armed with a katana every time. PCs will have to use good tactics during the fight or good social skills before the fight if they don't want to be carved in half.
Magic works by convincing spirits to do what you will. Only shugenja can do this, and it is not easy. Most of the spells are not combat spells, but they're all useful and those who aren't like Brian of "Knights of the Dinner Table" will do very well playing a shugenja.
The setting is feudal Japan with the serial numbers filed off, simplified greatly and warped with some political correctness. (The developers deny it, but the Duck Principle makes it clear that this is so.) Some Chinese and Korean elements crop up, but unless you're that familiar with the big cultures of the Far East you won't spot the foreign influences- except for Fu Leng.
There is a place for mass battles, but it's handled in an abstracted manner. (If you really want to resolve it in detail, then I direct you to the L5R miniature wargame- "Clan War.") It gives just enough feel of a Kurosawa battle scene for my tastes, though I expect yours to vary.
The default setting for the RPG is roughly two years before the Scorpion Clan Coup; this allows players who want to have Scorpion PCs to enjoy them for some time before they get screwed by their lord's failed attempt to overthrow the Hantei dynasty. The sample adventure in the back of the book is quite good as an introductory piece, but if you wish to maintain the official continuity you'll have to edit it somewhat. (Doji Kuwanan is much better than how he appears, for starters.)
Is it worth it? Yes, as it is one of the best fantasy RPGs published in a damned long time. If you join the RPG e-mail list, you'll have a say on the game's development; before John Wick left to do "7th Sea" he read the list, and that how the Full Defense rule mentioned above came about- amongst many of the errata found. (AEG fixed most of it.)
Go on, get a copy. You won't regret it.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)