Review – Wheel of Judgment (Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying)

When I recently took a look at Celestial Realms, I noted that I considered the information on the spirit realms to be mostly background information, because typical L5R roleplaying games don’t involve wandering off into other realms. Well, Wheel of Judgment – the adventure/map/token pack that was released along with Celestial Realms – is here to show off that, while it may not be typical, it can be done. Indeed, I think Wheel of Judgment is the best L5R adventure to be published in one of these supplemental packets, and comes with probably the most useful set of tokens.

Note that, although my usual adventure reviews are divided into non-spoiler and spoiler sections, this is a spoiler-free review – or, at least, it’s no more of a spoiler than what it says on the back of the product.

The premise of Wheel of Judgment is pretty fantastic. The characters are in the spirit realm of Meido because the characters are dead. And as I noted in that Celestial Realms review, Meido and the afterlife are kind of a mess. The characters are in line to be judged and sent on to their next destination, but reading the background material one knows that this process tends to take centuries. And it will come as not surprise to learn that the characters will be adversely affected by the mess that is the realm of Emma-O. So, because waiting in line forever would be an extremely boring adventure, the characters will of course end up trying to help themselves out, and then get sent off to Jigoku to investigate how the realm of Fu Leng is interfering in Meido. If the characters play their cards right, they will be able to escape the afterlife altogether.

I really liked the story Wheel of Judgment is telling. The characters get a involved in things more than a little above their pay grade, but it didn’t feel ridiculous. The motivations of the NPCs were, with one exception, pretty comprehensible (well, as comprehensible as you’re going to get for a bunch of inhabitants of the under realms). Wheel of Judgment could be used as a one-shot, as the start of a campaign, or even in the middle. If you’re the sort of GM who thinks you might accidentally run into a total party kill you could even keep this in your back pocket, although I personally would prefer to just deliberately kill off the party (there are usually plenty of dramatic reasons to have the characters die, it’s just that it’s usually a bit of a buzzkill). There are ways built in to Wheel of Judgment that might affect what the characters do if they get out of the afterlife, and the GM can, of course, build more in.

The main weakness to Wheel of Judgment is not providing enough information on what the characters are definitely going to be doing in favor of providing information on aspects of Medio and especially Jigoku that aren’t really relevant to the adventure. The issue isn’t as pronounced as it was in Mask of the Oni, but I would still prefer that a published adventure hold my hand for me as much as possible. It’s not that other tidbits can’t be interesting, but as a GM I only want to see that after the book has detailed the straightforward part of the adventure. Still, the overall nifty story in Wheel of Judgment overshadows this.

As for the other materials included in the packet, the poster map depicts the Phoenix lands on one side and the spirit realms on the other. I like posters and I like maps, and as usual I’m quite happy with the clan territory map that’s on one side (Phoenix, this time). The flipside can only loosely be described as a map – it’s not like there’s actually a geographical layout where you will end up in Tengoku if you just walk up/north far enough from Jigoku. That’s also fine, really, as I don’t find the back of these double-sided maps, which usually have some vague depiction of a fortress, all that useful. In this case, I’m not enamored of the aesthetics of the spirit realms map, but that’s entirely a matter of personal preference. You can see the top half of it below and judge for yourself.

Finally, there’s a token sheet with about 50 tokens. As I’ve expressed before, while I love tokens/miniatures for something like Pathfinder or D&D, I find tokens for Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying much less useful because there’s no tactical map. These are, however, possibly the most useful set of tokens that Fantasy Flight has released because most of them are pictures of spirits, oni, and other supernatural beings. Even if you’re not using a tactical map, these make good visual references for the players – I don’t know about you, but it’s a lot easier for me to vividly describe what a person looks like than what a random aberration looks like, so I find a visual reference to be quite handy.

With I think the best Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying adventure since the GM Kit and probably the most useful set of tokens, I think Wheel of Judgment is a solid buy for the L5R GM.

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