Along with the launch of the new Fantasy Flight-published fifth edition of the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game comes a new Game Master’s Kit. The GM Kit comes with a four-fold GM screen and a 32-page booklet, most of which is an adventure set in Slow Tide Harbor in Tortoise lands (discussion of the adventure is at the end, so if you don’t want to see it don’t keep reading past the second paragraph about the GM screen).
Players get something out of here as well, because the part of the booklet that isn’t an adventure is the rules for the Tortoise Minor Clan, the Kasuga family, and the Kasuga Smuggler School. The Tortoise are an odd clan. They have the Emperor’s favor because they deal with gaijin, thus making necessary contacts without the rest of the Empire having to dirty its hands. But, of course, dealing with gaijin and generally being smugglers is generally frowned upon in Rokugan.
Also, so it doesn’t get buried in the adventure section for those of you who do skip over, I wanted to call out and congratulate FFG for making same-sex marriage a canon thing in Rokugan. Note that the adventure itself does not call it out or shout about it – it’s just there, in the background. But it is there.
The GM screen is sturdy and well-constructed (as one might expect, it takes up the bulk of the physical presence of the Kit; long gone are the days when the standard was a flimsy screen that came with a larger book). Those who like their screens serene will enjoy the pastoral artwork spreading across the back of the screen (sorry, no 7-part clan iconics imagery).
I’m a bit disappointed by the selection of material on the GM side of the screen, however. I love that they included the table of Skills, Skill Groups, and Approaches (from page 144 of the core book) – it’s of vital importance. But I think that one of the hardest things to keep track of in this edition of L5R is the uses of opportunity. And I was hoping to see the entire two-page spread from pages 238-239 (or at least 3/4 of it; the downtime uses of opportunity won’t need to be referenced that often during a session). Instead the screen only includes the examples from the generic elemental approach options. Those options are presented with a condensed wording, so they don’t take up as much space – I would like to have seen at least a full page of the GM screen with those tables, instead of a quarter of a page. I could readily have lived without a list of the die symbols, the silhouettes, or an index of commonly referenced rules.
The adventure is solid. It presumes that at least one of the characters is an Emerald Magistrate, but the group of imperial magistrates is a standard group for the L5R RPG, so that isn’t much of an assumption (and all of the characters are likely to be Emerald Magistrates, if your group played through the Beginner Box and the free-to-download In the Palace of the Emerald Champion). The PCs are sent to Slow Tide Harbor to investigate a missing (and woebegone) Otomo, and they will find themselves in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The question is which particular member of the hive is responsible for the really bad stuff (and the GM has more than one option of who that is). The adventure is divided into three acts, but there’s way more there for Act 1, because that’s the lion’s share of the investigation, getting to know all of the players and eventually getting enough information to proceed to Act 2. Act 2 and Act 3 are almost one-scene sections, as the PCs go to a location, defeat some criminals, interrogate one of them, and then proceed to the showdown in Act 3. But that breakdown isn’t really important; what matters is that Act 1 gives a wide variety of ways to move from person to person and clue to clue, so a group of competent players should readily be able to piece things together (that is, I believe it will avoid the common ‘puzzle’ problem of the puzzle being much more opaque than the author/GM realizes, and the session grinding to a halt).