Review – The Book of Air (L5R RPG)

The Book of Air is the latest supplement for the Fourth Edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. The Book of Air kicks off a new Elemental Series (Book of Air, Book of Water, Book of Fire, etc.) that touch on a variety of topics chosen based on their relation to the element in question. This includes magic related to the element, systems that mechanically involve the Traits associated with that Ring, and other more conceptual connections. The Book of Air is a 200-page hardcover that retails for about $40.

Contents

Unlike prior L5R 4E books, The Book of Air separates the crunch from the fluff, putting (almost) all of the new mechanics in their own chapter at the back of the book. Air is generally subtle, reactive, fast, and aware.

Winds of War (~35 pages) – This chapter talks about the Crane and Scorpion as it relates to combat and air, iaijutsu dueling (two of the three stats involved in dueling are Reflexes and Awareness, the two Air-associated Traits), kyujustu (bows are fired with Reflexes), yarijutsu (spear-fighting), and kaze-do (a type of martial arts). Each of these latter sections talks about the history and practice of the subject, and different parts of Rokugan that focus on it.

Winds of the Courts (~35 pages) – Pretty much every social roll in L5R involves Awareness, so this section is pretty packed. Various Crane groups get discussed, as well as groups from the Scorpion, Spider, and Unicorn. There’s a length section on Kyuden Doji, Shiro no Shosuro, Pale Oak Castle, Kyuden Komori, and Kyuden Seppun.

Winds of Magic (~25 pages) – Unsurprisingly, this chapter leads off with the Air affinity Shugenja schools – Asahina, Moshi, Isawa, Soshi, Iuchi, Komori. Then the chapter turns to the three primary uses of air magic – illusion, communication, and revelation. Each section includes sections on groups that tend to focus on this kind of magic and ways one might deploy the applicable spells. Finally, there’s a discussion of how air kami operate and elemental imbalances involving air.

Winds of Enlightenment (~10 pages) – Mostly groups of monks that are air-related – The Order of Wind, the Order of Wind’s Grace (archers), and others. There also a two-page spread on the Keeper of Air and Book of Air, including ruminations on the nature of enlightenment.

The World of Air (~25 pages) – And here’s everything else – weather, sailing, kites, music (including lots of instruments), supernatural beings associated with air (and some that aren’t really, but are in here for some reason anyway), and nemuranai of Air. The magic items include the obvious “X of Air” items that have been printed over the years (e.g., Yari, Shakuhachi), several fans, and all of the Ancestral Standards of the clans. There’s also a small section on creating new air spells, kata, magic items and schools.

Winds of Adventure (~35 pages) – Most of this chapter is taken up describing the brand new location of Kyuden Kurogane-Hana (Iron Flower Palace), including its history, physical setup, and cast of characters (at least one from all the clans, plus a ronin, an Imperial, and a couple of minor clan folk). The palace is designed as a brand new location of moderate importance (important enough that every Clan has someone there, but not so important that it’s anyone noteworthy). There are also a variety of campaign/adventure seeds in the back that are designed to not really need to be set at Kurogane-Hana.

New Mechanics (~30 pages) – The new mechanics are divided up by chapter:

–          Winds of War: Asahina Archers (R4 Crane bushi path for better called shots), Crab Defenders (R2 Crab bushi path for surviving that first strike in a duel), Hiruma Snipers (R4 Hiruma archery path), The Falcon’s Strike (R2 Crab/Falcon bushi path that lets you sub in Perception when making bow attacks), Tsuruchi Master Bowman (R6 Tsuruchi path for shooting arrows really far), Saigo’s Blades (R3 Bayushi bushi dueling path), Unicorn Yomanri Archer (R4 Unicorn bushi path that lets you actually aim when doing archery), Taoist Archers (R5 Monk/Ronin path for blind-shooting), Kaze-Do Fighter (R2 peasant/monk technique that makes you harder to hit when unarmed), new rules for called shots in archery, two new R4 Air Kata,

–          Winds of the Court: Doji Innocents (“I cannot tell a lie” R3 Doji Courtier path), Daidoji Trading Council (R3 Crane merchant path), Shosuro Defilers (R3 Scorpion courtier path for slandering people real good), Hand of Peace (R4 Ide path for talking people down), Dark Whisper (R3 Spider Courtier path that implants you with an air kansen to ferret out secrets), Silken Promises Geisha (R3 geisha path that lets you change people’s opinions), Master of Games (R2 ronin courtier path that gives a boost when working against higher-Status folks, which is pretty much everyone when you’re a ronin)

–          Winds of Magic: Asahina Artisans (R3 Asahina path that lets you expend spell slots for boosts on Artisan rolls), Kitsu Spirit Legion (R4 Kitsu path to summon your ancestors to fight for you), Mist Legion (R3 Isawa Air path specializing in illusions), Shiba Illusionists (a R1 path that can either lead into the Isawa Shugenja, or into the non-shugenja Shiba Artisan school, grants free casting of specified illusion spells), Soshi Deceivers (R3 Soshi path to let you see in the dark, and lie, sneak, and steal better), Sisters of the Sacred Light (R2 shugenja path that a sun-worshipping, air-affinity female may join, good for exposing illusions), 25 new Air spells

–          Winds of Enlightenment: 2 new Internal Air Kiho, 4 new Martial Air Kiho, 3 new Mystical Air Kiho, Order of the Wind (Brotherhood Monk school that makes people use Void points to take any sort of action that influences your behavior), Wind’s Grace Order (Brotherhood Monk school; gives bonuses on archery rolls when you have a lot of Kiho active), Fukurokujin’s Eyes (Brotherhood Monk school that makes you impossible to ambush and gives a big, if restricted, initiative bonus), 2 new Tattoos (Cloud, Whisper)

–          The World of Air: stats for the Greater and Lesser Elemental Terrors of Air (Kaze no Oni and Yosuchi no Oni), Nue (bird spirits), Tsuru (shapeshifter cranes), Wyrms. Just kidding, none of the stats for these guys are correct in the book.

The Book of Air also has a nice 2-page index.

Comments on Page Count

If you keep up with L5R4E, you may have noted that the Book of Air is shorter than prior 4E supplements, but costs the same. I happened to first see the book when it was being pre-sold at an FLGS in Knoxville, and the reason it was being presold was because Shawn Carman (the guy in charge of the RPG line) was there for the day. I noticed the reduction in page count and, as I have kinda bashed Fantasy Flight before for the low page count on their $40 Warhammer 40K books. So, I asked him why they were dropping page counts like FFG had.

Basically, the book as outlined only had enough content for the shorter book. And it wasn’t workable to do it as a paperback (my guess on the translation of this is that the profit margin is slimmer on a $30 paperback than a $40 hardcover, and you don’t generate nearly enough extra sales to make up for it). And it turns out that it isn’t really any cheaper to print 299-page books than 256-page books. So, $40 200-page book.

Of course, it turns out that I forgot that my problem with FFG was that they had dropped the page counts on their $40 books all the way down to 144, and Book of Air still has way more than that. I was always fine with $30 192-page D&D 3.5 books, and given considerations of time passing and a much smaller print run, the price point on Book of Air is still just fine. So, sorry about that, Shawn.

Opinions/Judgment Calls

There’s a reason why this stopped at 200 pages – even at the shorter page count, it’s stretching things at times. For example, the Fortunes of the morning dew, the seashore, the ocean, and fire/thunder are in the Book of Air? I’m assuming that doesn’t mean they won’t be repeated in other books in the Elemental Series, but tossing them in this one seemed incongruous. I agree that they couldn’t have stretched this concept out to a longer page count without adding entire new sections.

The utility of the fluff was more up and down than usual – the more conceptual nature of the book lends itself to a higher portion of vague philosophical content (going through the book again in writing this review made it clear there was a lot less vague fluff than I recalled, however.). How the Scorpion Clan goes about its business is concretely useful – why this exemplifies the Ring of Air is a bit harder to apply in-game. The book was better when it focused on narrower groups within the Clans (which was a lot more of the time) and what they did – this is how the Kitsu Spirit Legion works, here’s a description of a palace, check out this cool dueling dojo.

Top fluff sections:

–          Background on iaijutsu dueling – famous duels, social conventions of dueling, dojo, protocol, etc.; pretty much all of it was a good read and will come up in games

–          Winds of the Court generally – It’s pretty much the sweet spot for Air, and so didn’t feel at all diluted.

–          The extensive look at the Keeper of Air and Book of Air.

–          Origin fable for Emma-O

–          Toku Irui – because “vapid clotheshorse” is about the funniest phrase ever in an L5R RPG book

–          Kurogane-Hana generally was pretty nifty as a source of ideas, even if you don’t just use it whole-cloth.

Things I Could Have Done Without:

–          the eight steps of how to draw your bow

–          what it means when something is elementally imbalanced, which I found both boring and useless

–          no map/picture of Kyuden Kurogane-Hana – I don’t want a floor plan of the rooms, but the description of how everything is arranged outside is very unique, and I was having a hard time picturing it without one

–          the total fail on the creatures section, since there’s so much missing you have to go look it up online

–          A seeming increase in editing goofs, like the random sentence break in the middle of the Unicorn Archer description (and, of course, the critter problems); the writing and graphics were great as always, but the editing seemed off (bonus points for not pointing out all of the errors I’ve surely made in this review)

I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m leaning towards saying it was a good call to put all the mechanics in one place. It’s nicer when just reading the book to have the mechanics for a school follow the fluff, but I think that later on when playing it’ll be much handier to have all the crunch in one place.

So, should you buy it? If you’re a regular L5R player, I’d say go for it. It’s not as good as the prior 4E material, but it’s still quite nice. If you’re just getting into L5R, however, I’d have to steer you elsewhere – all of the prior 4E books are clearly more important to have, both for the fluff and the mechanics (unless you need an awful lot more Air spells, I guess). The content in The Book of Air is interesting, but it’s more specialized.

3 thoughts on “Review – The Book of Air (L5R RPG)

  1. Update: I sat down last night to look at options for making a character, and had to root all over the place in The Great Clans for mechanical stuff. I am now firmly in favor of sticking all the crunch in one place.

    1. Hear hear! As cool, fluff-wise, as it was to have the chunk-o-crunch at the end of each chapter to call out things that were mentioned in the fluff previously in the chapter, it’s incredibly annoying when you have to break in the middle of a game to look up a mechanic, remember which book it’s in, remember which chapter it’s in, re-remember which chapter it might actually be in, remember that it’s not actually IN that book, after looking through several chapters, etc… many of my L5R games have been about an hour longer (or shorter, depending on you look at it) than they should’ve been due to having to break to look up mechanics for things we weren’t familiar with. With everything in one place, it cuts down on a lot of that.

      Shadowrun is fairly notorious for having its mechanics stuffed in hundreds of places throughout their books, most of which make no sense, which makes it very difficult to figure out how anything works mechanically… to the point that I generally tell people that Shadowrun would be a great roleplaying system if not for the system. L5R’s supplements (and, to a lesser extent, the core rulebook… probably just in my mind, because I keep expecting to find Spells and Kihos in different places than I actually find them for some reason) lean a little too far in that direction, but Book of Air is definitely a positive step toward reining that in.

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