Magic of Rokugan
Magic of Rokugan Capsule Review by Alan D. Kohler on 27/02/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
The third in a line of d20 system L5R books, Magic of Rokugan provides a valuable resource for Shugenja as well as for the treatment of magic items in a d20 system Rokugan game.
Product: Magic of Rokugan
Author: Shawn Carman, Rich Wulf, Seth Mason, Travis Heermann, Aaron Medwin, Eric Steiger, Erik Brann
Company/Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Line: D20 System / L5R
Page count: 96
Year published: 2002
SKU: AEG 3105
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Alan D. Kohler on 27/02/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Asian/Far East
Magic of Rokugan
After the excellent showing of AEG's d20 version of their Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) setting with the Rokugan book, and a good follow-up with Creatures of Rokugan, one was given to wonder if they could keep it up. To answer that question, AEG comes out with their third d20 System L5R book, Magic of Rokugan.
Magic of Rokugan is a sourcebook of magic in the Rokugan setting. This book is primarily for players of shugenja, the chief magic-using class of Rokugan. Yet there are a number of magic items and other rules that concern a more general audience, such as advanced rules for ancestral daisho.
A First Look
Magic of Rokugan is a perfect-bound softcover book. The book is somewhat thick, but a quick look inside reveals it to have only 96 pages; as with Creatures of Rokugan, Magic of Rokugan is printed on a heavy paper stock. The book is priced at $24.95. On a price-per-page basis, that is rather expensive for a book of this size. This may spring, in part, from license fees that AEG must pay to use Wizards of the Coast's Oriental Adventures material and logos freely, but that will come as cold comfort to the consumer who must pony up the dough.
The cover of the book has a color cover with graphics that make it resemble rice paper with a blue binding, similar to Rokugan and Creatures of Rokugan. The front cover has a nice picture of a man in orange robes (probably a Phoenix shugenja) casting some sort of fire spell.
The interior uses a small typeface and leader space, and the layout is pleasant. The art is fairly decent, though nothing drew my attention the way that prior Rokugan d20 books did. Most of the illustrations are small and representative of specific character classes, items, or spells in the book.
Though the production values on the book are high, so is the price. The book is $5.00 more than a Wizards of the Coast book with the same page count.
A Deeper Look
Magic of Rokugan is arranged into an introduction and five chapters. The introduction has an introductory short story and a short snippet on how to use the book.
Chapter 1: Religion and Magic
Chapter One is something of a miscellany. It contains most of the background text in the book. It touches on topics such as the two major religions in Rokugan, becoming a shugenja, the likely roles of shugenja (including the rare multi-classed shugenja) in Rokugani society, guidelines for creating new shugenja spells, and the nature of the Kami.
The chapter ends with a few mechanical bits. It introduces a new Knowledge sub-skill: Knowledge (ghosts). If you took a gander at Creatures of Rokugan, you should understand that this skill could prove very useful. It is basically the equivalent of the Knowledge (undead) skill in the standard D&D game.
The last page of the chapter is a small selection of new feats:
Chapter 2: Prestige Classes
The second chapter introduces a number of new magic-oriented prestige classes for the setting. As with the Rokugan book, each class has a short list of sample characters in the Legend of the Five Rings setting.
The jade magistrates are an order of military shugenja that serve the jade champion, the leader of the imperial military. Jade magistrates are specialized in fighting corruption within the empire. They gain abilities that improve their perception as well as enhance their damage dealing spells. The class seems modestly powerful to me and might have been better balanced if you took a level or two out of its spellcasting advancement.
A master smith is not necessarily a spellcaster at all, but rather a legendary smith who can create magic items without the aid of magic. I like this concept so much that I am sorely tempted to use it in a standard campaign. Unfortunately, there seems to be a few editorial glitches in the class write-up. The first and second level class abilities have different names but the exact same description; apparently, the author had intended the 2nd-level ability to be an improved version of the 1st-level ability, but forgot to edit it. Also, the name of the 10th-level class ability is reawaken the blade, but there is no description of this ability; the class abilities description describes a true master ability at 10th level.
The rebai (or medium) are women who act as envoys to the spirit world, such as the ronin shugenja of the Fortune's Grace order. Rebai have impugned spellcasting advancement, plus abilities that allow them to sense, interact with, and protect against spirits.
Yorei-ryoushi (or phantom hunters) are samurai dedicated to dealing with the threat of spirit beings that have entered the mortal realm. Phantom hunters gain a variety of abilities to deal with such creatures. The most central ability is disrupt essence, which provides a competence bonus equal to half of the phantom hunter's class level against creatures with the spirit subtype.
Chapter 3: Spells
The third (and largest) chapter deals entirely with shugenja spells. I was a little disappointed to see that there were no maho spells here; that's the fun stuff as far as GMs are concerned! This choice, however, might make the book a bit more player friendly.
There is a complete list of spells available to the shugenja, including the spells in this book and previous d20 L5R/OA books. It does not include the previous spell schools, but it does introduce three new spell schools: the Moshi school of the Mantis clan, the Kitsune school of the Fox clan, and the Tonbo school of the Dragon clan.
The new spells are largely drawn from the history of Rokugan. For example, the spell devastation of stone was used to destroy the armies of the spirit emperor Hantei XVI.
One of the more interesting chains of spells is importune kami I-IX. Basically, the spell can be used to bargain with an elemental spirit to bring forth any spell of the same level of the shugenja's choice. Yet the spell costs XP, and the Kami demands a service in exchange. If the shugenja agrees to the service and then fails, he is stripped of spellcasting from that element for a week. This acts as a miniature wish spell. The cost is steep, but it can help add to a shugenja's flexibility.
Some spells would be interesting additions to any D&D campaign. For example, kingdom beneath the sea is a group teleport that works by allowing the recipients to enter the water at one point and emerge anywhere else along the coast.
Many of the spells, though, are appropriate primarily to an Oriental Adventures game, or in some cases are unique to the assumptions of Rokugan. Many spells reference void points, a purely Rokugan mechanic. For example, spiritual presence boosts an ability score by a number equal to your maximum void points. Some spells reference honor, and as such should be usable in a general OA campaign, though not in a regular D&D campaign without some adjustments.
Chapter 4: Magic Items
Unlike the previous chapter, Chapter 4 is not merely a laundry list. It does introduce a number of magic items unique to Rokugan; however, it also introduces a few new concepts for handling magic items in Rokugan.
The first and perhaps most interesting such item is the concept of nemuranai. As you may well know, the typical D&D paradigm of acquiring magic items from the fallen is at odds with the ethos of the upper classes of Rokugan (who are the most likely player characters).
In Rokugan, there are considered to be spirits in many things. Nemuranai are spirits that become awakened by their association with powerful individuals. In doing so, they essentially become spontaneously enchanted magic items with rudimentary intelligence. Nemuranai may be granted to a PC by the GM if that PC does not have the amount of magic prescribed by the normal rules for the character's level. Nemuranai almost never operate when looted. They sometimes will operate if given as a gift, but generally only for a character with a similar outlook (i.e., alignment and honor).
New rules are provided for ancestral daisho. Most of these rules are recommendations for handling situations such as bonding to a new set of daisho if you do not have one, removing capabilities from daisho, or using the ancestral daisho ability on weapons already enchanted by the normal means.
The chapter also introduces two new special materials: Rokugani steel and night crystal. Rokugani steel is somewhat like adamantine in that it provides a means for non-spellcasters to make weapons and armor with enhancement bonuses, though Rokugani steel provides a bonus up to 4. Night crystal is a material used by unicorn shugejna; items made with it receive a bonus to ranges, saving throw DCs, skill check bonuses, charges, and uses, making it very useful in item enchantment.
Finally are the new magic items. Along with them comes a new random items table. The table refers you to the table in the Oriental Adventures book for most rolls, though 15% of random items will be taken from Magic of Rokugan.
A single new armor item is introduced, Takao's Jingasa. This item provides an armor bonus and resistance bonus to Will saves, as well as free use of the Void Use feat (or two extra void points if the character already has Void Use).
A number of new magic weapon properties and specific weapons are introduced. New Rokugan-specific text is provided for the dishonorable and honorable weapon abilities originally detailed in Oriental Adventures. New abilities include bloodthirsty (inflicts a negative level on a successful hit), slayer (doubles sneak attack damage), void and void burst (inflict extra non-elemental void damage). There are many specific weapons, including items such as Anekkusai's feathers (appear as feathers, but upon speaking a command word become 2 arrows that return to the owner in 2 rounds), blood arrows of Yajinden (tainted arrows that strike as touch attacks), the dragon's claw katana (a 2 katana that gives the wielder a pool of extra void points), as well as several unique weapons of the various clans.
A few new potions are introduced, most of them brother of [element] potions. Each potion grants spell resistance against spells of the named elements.
A new type of item is introduced, the imperial writ. Imperial writs are items created by the power of the emperor; shugenja prepare them much as scrolls with a reduced cost, and then the emperor seals the writ with his own hand.
Naga pearls are another new type of item, unique to nagas of Rokugan, allowing casters to expand their spell repertoire. By meditating while holding a naga pearl, a shugenja may cast the encoded spell as if she knew it with a Spellcraft check. The pearls also may be crushed to activate a second power.
Finally, Chapter 4 introduces a variety of new wondrous items and artifacts from the Rokugan setting. Examples of the former are bronze lanterns (which act as one-use items that may summon a monster), dragon helms (a variety exist; each has a different defensive ability and enhances a different ability score or set of scores), and the silk and steel kimono (a kimono that grants armor bonuses but does not incur any sort of armor check penalty or arcane spell failure chance). Examples of the later include the mantle of the jade champion (has defensive abilities, plus boosts the user's spell DC against creatures with the shadowlands taint), the bloodswords (a set of bloodthirsty katanas, each with its own additional traits and some sort of compulsion that is inflicted upon the wielder in a certain trigger condition), and the twelve black scrolls that contain the essence of the wicked kami Fu Leng.
Chapter 5: Magic of the Clans
The fifth and final chapter is entitled Magic of the Clans. This section is mostly exposition, with a few details and tweaks for magic by each clan. For the most part, the section describes the character and organization of the spellcasters of each clan as well as that of bloodspeakers, ronin, and the Kolat.
As already mentioned, the book does come at a fairly high price point per page. Yet AEG is keeping their production values very high, and overall, the ideas and mechanical implementation are fairly good. This should be a valuable resource for GMs or shugenja characters in a d20 Rokugan game. The spells are probably not as portable to other settings as in prior Rokugan products, owing to the common reference to void mechanics, but many of the magic items could be useful in other settings. I am especially fond of the idea of using Nemuranai in other settings.
-Alan D. Kohler