Review – The Atlas of Rokugan (L5R RPG)

            The final release for the Fourth Edition of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, The Atlas of Rokugan provides the most thorough description of Rokugan ever (and really the only one attempted in years). It also provides actual maps, which have also not been seen in the game for some time. Originally released as a 300-page, full-color hardback, The Atlas of Rokugan was later made available as a pdf on DriveThruRPG (sorry, no giant pull-out map in that version).

Contents

The Atlas of Rokugan is pretty much exactly what it sounds like from the title – a comprehensive guide to the locations in Rokugan (with a lot of work to harmonize prior conflicting sources). About two-thirds of the book is dedicated to covering the lands of the Great Clans, broken down by province (note that, unlike most L5R RPG products, the clans are not given equal space – if they had more to say about one clan than another, then one clan gets more space than another). Each clans lands have an introduction, as does each province, in addition to the discussion of individual locations within that province. Each of these clan chapters opens with a map of that clan’s lands, and as the text goes through different sections of those lands, different zoom-ins of that map are used. This works reasonably well for the most part, although not for the Dragon, whose primary map small enough that the (barely) zoomed in versions are so similar as to be almost identical. As is standard for the 4E L5R RPG books, there is a two-page art spread leading in to each chapter.

There is a chapter providing similar coverage to the lands of the minor clans, going through each minor clan in about the space of a great clan province (there is even a zoom-in map for the lands of each minor clan, where those lands were encompassed on a Great Clan’s larger map). The Imperial Families, the Brotherhood of Shinsei, and unaligned holdings also get their own chapter with location descriptions, although there is no accompanying map of these disparate holdings.

There are additional chapters on the Shadowlands and Shinomen Forest, although the Shadowlands chapter is necessarily vague about where anything is (the Shinomen Forest does get its own map, which depicts features like the location of Naga cities, but does not depict some more vaguely situated sites).

Finally, there are three chapters on the three most prominent cities in Rokugan – Otosan Uchi (the original capital), Toshi Ranbo (the second capital), and Ryoko Owari (the City of Lies). Otosan Uchi and Ryoko Owari each received a full box set in earlier editions of the RPG, and no single chapter in the Atlas of Rokugan can compare to that treatment, but those books are also focused on those cities at one point in time, while the Atlas of Rokugan aims at a more historical overview.

Opinions

First, I’ll note that the book quality, layout, and graphic design are excellent here as they are in all of the 4E L5R books. The art is also as usual drawn from the pool of recent CCG art, which generally means high quality (although I question that lead-in art for the Shinomen Forest chapter). Given the subject matter, it probably won’t come as a surprise that the art in The Atlas of Rokugan focuses on landscapes and buildings, rather than people.

My thoughts on The Atlas of Rokugan are pretty straightforward. As a playing aid, it is fantastic. There is no other source that even comes close to providing this sort of helpfully arranged information on Rokugan broadly, and any GM who wants to present an “authentic” experience as their players travel across the Emerald Empire will absolutely want to get this book. It’s also a handy resource for folks, like me, who are giant L5R geeks and just want official, easily accessible information at their fingertips. However, it is not good reading material. There are a few atlas/gazetteer books that can manage to make a list of locations interesting, and this isn’t one of them. There’s simply too broad a scope for spinning entertaining yarns about the myriad locations presented. The previously released supplement Emerald Empire makes for a better read, or if you want a full introduction into the peoples of Rokugan.

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