Review – Fields of Victory (Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying)

Fields of Victory (along with its accompanying adventure, Blood of the Lioness) is the last Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying product from Fantasy Flight Games, with the game now being passed into the hands of Edge Entertainment. Like the other FFG-published hardbacks, Fields of Victory covers both a topic one of the Great Clans – this time, war and the Lion. Well, mostly war, but also some history too. And, of course, a new minor clan, the Badger.

On the war front, Fields of Victory covers basic unit types, military ranks and roles, the Imperial Legions, Clan army styles (with editorial comments from a Lion trainee in the sidebar), and the nature of war in Rokugan (especially given the part with how war technically isn’t legal without the Emperor’s sign-off). There’s also GM guidance on running a campaign focused on war, including expanded army/battle rules if that sort of activity will be the focus of a campaign.

The history portions gives us a look at ancient treatises like Akodo’s Leadership (duh), Bayushi’s Lies, Mirumoto’s Niten, Kakita’s The Sword, and the least popular book in Lion lands, the Tao of Shinsei. Also the libraries those books might be housed in, especially the High Histories of the Ikoma (not the biggest library in Rokugan, but the most official). I guess if you don’t get a book, then you get a library, because the non-Lion references are the Great Library of the Isawa, a collection of old notes at the Kaiu Engineering Academy, and the Secret History of the Unicorn.

War and history come together with lessons on, what else, the history of war in Rokugan. This starts off with the part where the Kami take over in the first place, and then have to fight Fu Leng. After that, the examination is more of individual battles followed by ‘lessons learned’ after action reports. These battle descriptions, and the accompanying lessons, are a bit hit or miss, as the battlefield tactics are sometimes a bit baffling and it feels like they’re trying to come up with ‘lessons’ just to fit the format. The best ones divorce themselves from these narrower concerns and just present noteworthy historical moments.

The Lion get a solid write-up, with the usual descriptions of the clan’s history, the individual families, and notable locations and groups (e.g., Deathseekers, Beastmasters, lots of famous castles and tombs). They come off much more reasonably than you might think from the rant in the next paragraph.

With your indulgence, let me take a minute to talk trash about the Lion. Personally, the deep dive here on the Lion kind of wants to make me roll my eyes out loud at the notion that they’re the noblest of noble samurai. Their founding kami’s treatise spoke about how deception was acceptable on the battlefield … but most of the copies of Leadership that the Lion produce omit that part. After all, if deception is acceptable on the battlefield and – as the Lion (especially the Matsu) would say – everything should be treated as a battlefield, then is deception not always acceptable? There’s a construction of the Lion where they’re kind of just the Scorpion with better PR. And I mean that last part literally – they control the Imperial Histories, and systematically edit was goes into those Histories to make themselves (and the Imperials) look better. None of that requires esoteric knowledge of the publication history of L5R – it’s all right here in Fields of Victory. All of that “honor” stuff is just another way to get the other clans genuflect to the Lion and to limit themselves to fighting in ways that favor the Lion. Their greatest accomplishment isn’t having the biggest army, it’s convincing the rest of Rokugan to admire and appreciate the Lion boot being placed on their neck. And you, dear reader, will surely (and probably correctly) think that this paragraph is an over-the-top rant at the hapless Lion. Nietzsche would have had a field day. So this is about Fields of Victory, but it turns out that the fields on which the Lion are victorious aren’t limited to the literal field of battle.

With that little rant out of the way, what about the real starring clan of the book, the Badger? The Badger are an offshoot of the Crab, founded when a traveling Crab sumai joined forces with a mining village to help repel a gaijin invasion from the north. Their lands are nestled in a northern pass, with lots of traps and defensive structures. They’re also known for decent quality, but well-priced, arms, armor, and silk. The Badger have one family, the Ichiro, and between the two characters will get stacks of Earth or Earth/Fire, plus unarmed combat, Fitness, and Tactics. The Badger’s primary school option will be the Ichiro Grappler, who will double (or maybe that’s triple) down on Earth, plus Water (and, yes, more Martial Arts [Unarmed]). Their new, early access kata (Fierce Badger Style) gives new uses for opportunity in unarmed combat (throws and granting strife), while their school ability applies fatigue to enemies the Badger can pin or knock down. Badger characters also have the option of the Ichiro Ironsmith, but like many Artisan-tagged schools they’re really good at stuff that usually isn’t relevant.

Those aren’t the only new mechanics of course, with the headline being a new school for every great clan.

  • The Crab weigh in with the Hida Battle Leader. They can use a support action to increase the composure of allies by their school rank, as well as getting mass battle benefits.
  • The Crane’s gunpowder ninjas arrive with the Daidoji Harrier. Unfortunately, they join a lot of Shinobi schools in focusing on activities that encourage/require them to have solo scenes, like being super-sneaky and trying to assassinate enemy leaders.
  • Dragon get the Agasha Ascetic, an Air/Earth shugenja school with an odd elemental path – slightly Earth-leaning right away, then no access to more Earth invocations until Rank 3. Their school ability encourages them to channel invocations by granting damage resistances based on the number of kept dice. While this can leave the Agasha Ascetic hard to take out, it also means spending a lot of turns doing nothing while (probably) the other team just deals damage to your softer target teammates.
  • Lion get the Fire/Water Akodo Soldier school, which can clear strife and gain oppotunity when attacking, although at a cost of taking fatigue. They gain early access to Crescent Moon Style, Pelting Hail Style, and Tactical Assessment.
  • The Lion also get the Matsu Beastmaster, who starts with 1-2 bonded animals and then enhances them. Nice if you come to L5R looking for a pet class. The book suggest starting with a pair of large dogs, but, seriously, is anyone not just going to take a hunting cat?
  • Phoenix players pick up the classic Isawa Tensai for characters who want their super-shugenja to focus on a single element. Tensai gain +2 to a chosen elemental ring, any invocation they want from that element, add extra dice when using invocations of that element, and suffer spiritual backlash less wehn using invocations of that element. They also gain early access to all invocations of that element. On the downside, they suffer spiritual backlash more readily when not using their chosen element.
  • The Yogo Penitent shows up for the Scorpion, spreading a bit more Monk tag love. They can react to defending against damage or being critically struck by unleashing kiho with bonuses based on the severity of the attack suffered. They get immediate access to Iron Forest Style and Veiled Menace Style, so expect a lot of that.
  • The Ide Messenger is added to the Unicorn repertoire, who can remove strife from another character to gain a bonus on their next Social action targeting that character (this includes just removing strife from a buddy). They also have a bit of wilderness scouting going on.

There is, of course, a wide menu of new distinctions, passions, adversities, anxieties, weapons, other items, and techniques. Notable items include blasting powder (for those Daidoji Harriers), war fans, mempo, and back banners. There’s a cycle of rituals that beseech the clan Kami (Akodo helps your army, Shiba removes the Defiled trait from the land, Togashi lets you sort-of see the future, that sort of thing). New stack of new titles includes Ashigaru, Deathseeker, Elemental Guard, Elemental Legionnaire, General, Lion’s Pride Warrior, Master Saboteur, Poet of War, Quartermaster, Renowned Warrior, Spirit Caller, Sumai Master, Sword-Saint, and *pauses to catch breath* War College Graduate.

Fields of Victory is a solid finish to FFG’s run with Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying. As usual, FFG delivers a well-written book (but with some silly typos). The history lesson is welcome, and the further information on the Lion is clear and interesting. The schools generally provide new mechanical options, fill in existing lore holes (like the Beastmaster or the Harrier), or are generally decent. It’s hard to see not wanting to pick this one up if you’re an L5R RPG player.

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