With this third edition of the role-playing game, AEG celebrates the tenth anniversary of Rokugan and the world of "Legends of the Five Rings", or L5R for short. What started as a collectible trading card game became a popular RPG in 1996. There were many events in ten years, a miniatures-based game (Clan War), a second edition of the RPG, a d20 version (Oriental Adventures), not to mention license deals going back and forth, and of course changes in personnel.
The original RPG, created by John Wick, used an elegant and simple rolling system: roll a number of 10-sided dice equal to your Attribute score plus your related Skill score; keep a number of dice equal to your trait, trying to assemble a number equal to or higher than the target number (by default, usually 15). For example, with an Agility of 3 and a Kenjutsu (swordsmanship) skill of 2, Yoko's player rolls 5 dice; they come up as 4, 9, 6, 2, 2. She keeps the three highest, leaving her with 9+6+4 = 19, a success for a default target of 15.
It was a good system, but after five years of supplements each adding a few new skills, a few new spells, a few optional rules, the game had become cluttered and contradictions were now rampant. In late 2001, AEG published a second edition of the game that changed the system considerably. Despite assurances that characters could pretty much convert straight across, players rapidly discovered that this was far from realistic. Between dissatisfaction from the old guard of players, and new converts generally opting for the d20 version of the setting, the second edition never gathered momentum.
But AEG published a third edition in 2005, returning to the original mechanics while fixing the numerous redundancies and contradictions. Moreover, this (magically) did not make all the sourcebooks previously published now obsolete. They should generally be usable with little work from the GM, so you don't end up feeling like you're just being gouged for more money. The lists of skills, spells, and advantages and disadvantages were considerably streamlined and point costs were adjusted to be more balanced. The main problem in the original system was the limited incentives to raising skills, since it was more point-efficient to raise your attributes and take a bunch of skills at low levels; this has been fixed by adding benefits to reaching higher ranks in skills.
In addition, the writing team went above and beyond the minimum of just updating the contents of previous books, by including some of the more useful or interesting bits that until now had only been available in sourcebooks. In particular, each clan now offers not only a bushi (warrior) school and a shugenja (sorcerer) school, but also a courtier school and one specialist school (e.g., Hiruma scouts, Shosuro shinobi). Minor clans and their schools are covered in enough detail to make a starting character, as are monks and Dragon Tattooed Men. There are numerous new bits such as the Kata, which allow further customization of characters. And although there is a default time period within the overarching L5R timeline, suggestions are offered for setting the game in numerous other periods, along with guidelines of what mechanical effects this would have.
For sheer "meatyness" and quality of the writing, L5R 3rd Edition gives very good value. Editing seems to be above-average for an RPG product -- meaning I have not found typos on every page as I normally do; in fact I haven't spotted any yet. Presentation is also quite nice; while I was partial to the ink drawings of the original edition, this is a full-colour hardback book lavishly laid out and illustrated by quality artists.
Overall, one of the L5R line's top three products in terms of quality, and a book that respects the fans, new and old.