Review – Writ of the Wilds (Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying)

Edge Studio may be placing more emphasis on Adventures in Rokugan, but the bespoke Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying is still out there and just added Writ of the Wilds to the catalogue. Writ of the Wilds (1) introduces the Dragonfly Clan; (2) gives more information on the Dragon Clan, temples in Rokugan (especially remote ones), Yobanjin, naga and other nonhuman species, elemental imbalances, notable forests, traveling in the wilderness; and (3) provides mechanics in support of all of these. Note that, given the above, the title and tag of the book are a not the most accurate – this is not “The Essential Guide to Wilderness Survival” – although the full description from the back of the book does give you a better idea of what’s inside. With a new minor clan, the usual expanded information on a great clan, temples being pretty important to Rokugan, and foundational information on some non-Rokugani options, Writ of the Wild is a must have for fans of Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying.


Of course, as a long-time Dragon Clan player, I think the most important thing here is that there’s more information about the Dragon Clan and their chilly, mountainous lands. In addition to the gazetteer-style information, topics include the relationship between Togashi and Shinsei, the unique nature of the Togashi “family,” the clan’s religious viewpoints, the investigative techniques of the Kitsuki, and the clan’s declining birth rates. In addition to the usual family capitals, some of the notable locations discussed include Fukurokujin Seido (the primary shrine to the Fortune of Wisdom, which has built up quite the arts and crafts collection because pilgrims try to bring something they made with their own hands), the Wrath of the Kami (a very active volcano), Nanashi Mura (a ronin village), and Mountain Song Temple (a temple centered around the winds and the tones they make as they strike unusual mountainside formations).

The Dragonfly minor clan is, in a lot of practical ways, a fifth family of the Dragon Clan. They were created through the marriage of a Dragon and a Phoenix, who married for love despite the Phoenix’s political engagement to a member of the Lion Clan. For reasons we may never know, the Dragon and Phoenix Clans supported their wayward members and defeated a Lion Clan army that was sent to take retribution for the broken engagement. The Emperor, seeking to encourage the Dragon and Phoenix to work together, created the Dragonfly. Notwithstanding that origin, the Dragonfly don’t have a ton to do with the Phoenix on a day-to-day basis, instead serving as the gatekeepers for the Dragon – those who wish to visit the Dragon are politely kept at Shiro Tonbo unless they meet the Dragon’s exacting specifications (or the Dragon play all mysterious by authorizing a particular individual, usually before anyone should even know they’re coming). As with all Minor Clans, the Dragonfly have a clan option (favoring Earth) and a family option (favoring Air/Water) for character creation. The Dragonfly School is the Grace of the Spirits, which bears the shugenja and courtier tags (Dragonfly bushi train outside of the clan). Their school technique allows a Theology check to help out with a failed social roll, and they gain early access to Air/Water shuji and to the Heart of the Water Dragon invocation.

There is a full mechanical presentation for the some nonhumans as well – naga, yokai, tengu, and the Tattered Ear nezumi. The main nezumi entry is elsewhere, so the Tattered Ear section is fairly short here, but there are still mechanics (like the Tattered Ear Explorer bushi school). The Naga, on the other hand, get a bunch of pages and all of their mechanics (including the Shinomen Naga Seer bushi/courtier school). The tengu are somewhere in between in terms of flavor information (they also get the Mask of Air monk/sage tradition). The nonhumans gain specific techniques only available to them, like Flight, Razor Bite, Owl’s Swoop Style, Skittering Shift, and Tail Sweep.

In addition, there’s a bunch of content on the Yobanjin, with the flavor presentation here focusing more on Yobanjin as victims of Rokugani imperialism (including some Yobanjin still living in the heart of Rokugan), rather than Yobanjin as northern “barbarians” (original L5R always had the story about the Yobanjin including people descended from those who once lived in Rokugan but had left rather than submit to the kami, but the story was generally presented from a viewpoint friendly to the Rokugani). This is one of a couple places in Writ of the Wilds where it’s noted how inaccurate the official Rokugani records really are (it’s also discussed how the Dragon Clan has a more accurate history of the Empire than the Imperial Families or the Ikoma historians, although the Dragon don’t have a centralized library where one could try to access that information). In addition to a more Yobanjin-friendly telling of the histories, Writ of the Wilds includes a lot more nuance – there are several different groups of Yobanjin presented (with mechanics), rather than one conglomerate lump of people. For example, there’s the Laughing Mountain Hearthstone tradition (representing a group of Yobanjin living in the Spine of the World Mountains) and the Woolen Hooves Trapper tradition (one of the groups north of Rokugan). There are also a couple of Yobanjin-specific rituals.

Characters who are not from samurai clans can also choose the “region” (instead of clan) and “upbringing” (instead of family) character creation options. They provide the same sort of mechanical benefits (a couple of rings and three skills), but without quite as much setting baggage. And, in addition to the nonhuman specifics mentioned above, there’s a whole stack of new distinctions, passions, adversities, anxieties, kiho (lots of kiho – this is the Dragon-focused book, after all), kata,

Elemental Imbalances is the one aspect of Writ of the Wilds I found disappointing. The main thing is that we’ve been in the “FFG” version of Rokugan for five years now, elemental imbalances have been a plot point that entire time, and I still have no idea what’s supposed to be causing these Rokugan-wide imbalances, whether anyone but the Phoenix has any idea that they’re even a thing, or how it’s going to matter (maybe I’m just supposed to take it as a metaphor for climate change and move on?). Either tell me something about what’s going on or drop it already. There are eight pages of GM guidance and mechanics on “imbalanced terrain,” but it’s very vague and could really have used more and more detailed examples.

There is discussion of wilderness, of course, although some of that is just explaining how and why most samurai never travel there. The more specific discussions of the Shinomen and Isawa Mori are probably more useful than the more generic bits.

Can You Adventure in the Wilds of Rokugan?

All of the mechanics in Writ of the Wilds are for the bespoke Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying system. Is there something you can use in here if you’re playing Adventures in Rokugan? Yes, indeed, there is, although it’s not quite as simple as being to use all of the “fluff” in the book, because Adventures in Rokugan adjusted some parts of the setting. For example, there’s an extensive discussion of the Yobanjin in Writ of the Wilds, but they don’t exist in the Adventures in Rokugan version of the Emerald Empire. Although that sort of discrepancy is unavoidable, the best place to start if you’re coming from Adventures in Rokugan is probably Emerald Empire.

Did Adventures in Rokugan influence Writ of the Wilds? I think it did, a little. The nonhumans all have ways of appearing human (e.g., naga illusions), which was not a thing in Legend of the Five Rings prior to Adventures in Rokugan (although the Fantasy Flight version of Rokugan had not gone as in-depth with the nonhumans as the Alderac version had). But terminology has mostly not changed, so you still have (for example) shugenja who follow the code of bushido. There’s not “Akasha” for the Naga, however, just the Unity.

Final Thoughts

Despite the arguably misleading cover (Writ of the Wilds is not that much about the wilds), the book is a must-have pickup for Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying fans, with foundational content on some nonhumans and on the Yobanjin, expanded information on the Dragon Clan and their friends in the Dragonfly, and more information on temples and some of the ancient forests of Rokugan.

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