Releasing in 2004, The Complete Exotic Arms Guide was the one of the earlier Legend of the Five Rings Second Edition supplements that supported both the classic L5R RPG Roll and Keep system and the d20 system from the Dungeons & Dragons/Oriental Adventures crossover (specifically, it was the first one after the “Secrets of the …” series of splatbooks).
As is standard for the L5R books of this era, The Complete Exotic Arms Guide is a softcover and (effectively) black and white. There are illustrations, but this is before L5R roleplaying books started using the gorgeous L5R CCG art, so while I believe some of the illustrations are B&W pulls from CCG art, much of it is minimalist B&W pencil drawings created for these. Despite the weapon-based focus of the content of The Complete Exotic Arms Guide, there is only a smattering of illustrations of weapons; a lot of the art is instead character portraits with no particular relation to the text.
The list of weaponry (and other material) in The Complete Exotic Arms Guide is comprehensive, with almost 150 different types of mundane arms and some armor covered (plus 24 different nemuranai, or magical items). Within Rokugan, this includes katana variants, bows, polearms, ninja weapons, heavy weapons, peasant weapons, martial arts weapons, siege weapons, and armor. From outside of Rokugan there’s content on Senpent, Ivory Kingdoms, Yodotai, Yobanjin, and Merenae. Then there’s nonhuman content – Ashalan, nezumi (ratlings), naga, kenku, ningyo, ogres, trolls, tsuno, and zokujin (although those last seven are more like one weapon per species).
The magic items are of the fairly workaday sort. Despite the opening of this chapter’s emphasis on how special nemuranai are, and how spiritual everything is in Rokugan, and how there’s no such things as mass-produced magic items … these are mostly mass-produced magic items. Which is good, if you’re looking for magic items to actually use in a game (instead of just unique items you recognize from the story but would never give a player). These include one-shot items to stop wounds from getting infected with the Taint, saddles that keep the rider magically stable, war banners that can shift to help communicate orders, and, for ratlings, the ever-popular “sharp-sharp stick.” As that list might indicate, there are some weapons in this chapter, but the nemuranai are mostly neither arms nor armor.
Handily, there’s even a 2.5 page table of weapons at the back of the book, if you just want to look up the stats for everything all at once.
However, The Complete Exotic Arms Guide is the single most comprehensive resource on mundane weaponry and armor that there is for the world of Rokugan. It provides a lot of detail, even outside of Rokugan, and with the flavor descriptions it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to get the general idea of how to update the mechanics for the various weapons (since I don’t think a lot of folks still play using L5R 2E/d20 mechanics). On the downside, the value of the book is significantly hampered by the lack of illustrations. It’s a book full of exotic weapons that many readers will never have heard of, and won’t recognize (indeed, that’s kind of the whole point of the book). Not providing illustrations in that context seems almost criminal. Can you look pictures up on the internet? Sure – but needing to scour Wikipedia kind of defeats the purpose.
So The Complete Exotic Arms Guide is the best at what it does … it’s just that even the best at the particular niche of “complete breakdown of exotic weaponry in the world of Legend of the Five Rings” isn’t that great.
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