Legend of the Five Rings — What makes a good Character?
We’ve now had three weeks of spoilers from FFG and in that time have accumulated a decent number of characters. It still is only a fraction of the whole, Tonbo Karasu has estimated there are 11 characters in total for each clan and more unaligned characters beyond that. So far we have seen around 3 characters per clan with some having less and some having more. Dragon and Crane have the most with 4 while some like the. Phoenix has only 2. This is still plenty for rampant speculation to try to work out what makes a good character. They range in Fate cost from 0 to 3 with skill values from — (worse than 0 unable to be involved) to 3. So far we have a pretty tight range for personalities. Broadly 0 Fate gets you a 0/0, 1 Fate a 1/1, 2 Fate a 2/2, and so on.
Looking at the 1 cost Fate personalities we can see Bayushi Manipulator and Togashi Initiative at the baseline, both of whom have very useful and excellent abilities. Their abilities seem to key into main themes for their clans with the Bayushi messing with honour and cards (and possibly cheating in duels) while the Togashi Initiative interacts with Rings. Next up we can see the Otomo Courtier who has skipped on Military skill in exchange for Political skill. This character actually comes with two drawbacks, cannot attack the player with the Imperial Favor and cannot participate in Military conflicts. Given that the character is unaligned and can be played by any clan looking to add a splash of Political skill to the deck this does make some sense.
Near the end of the scale, we have the 3 skill characters. Similar to the Otomo Courtier the Matsu Berserker cannot participate in Political conflicts, apart from that this is some raw efficiency. The Berserker is actually outmatched by the Crane’s Doji Whisperer who is 1 Fate cost with 0 Military skill and 3 Political skill, as such unlike the Berserker the Doji Whisperer can go into either conflict. This would suggest the Berserker trait may be of some value. Lastly, we have the Doomed Shugenja of the Dragon who has possibly the most efficient stat line we’ve seen spoiled so far but at the brutal penalty of not being able to add fate when purchased meaning this character is likely to only stick around for one turn.
For the 2 cost characters, we have a little more range across skills. The Seeker of Englightment is in effect a 2/2 due to their ability but with proper control can be pushed much higher. The Shrewd Yasuki provides in battle card draw and still adds a respectable 2 Political skill to the Crab deck that may not have much. The Young Rumormonger provides what seems to be baseline stats of 2/2 while providing a control interrupt for Scorpion decks looking to control an enemies board through dishonour. Near the upper end, we have Daidoji Nerishma and Mirumoto Prodigy both of whom have 3 Force and excellent abilities.
The 2 Fate cost characters do appear to have slightly better abilities than the 1 Fate cost characters, especially when compared against the pure Skill efficient characters such as the Matsu Berserker who compares poorly to Daidoji Nerishma and Mirumoto Prodigy. Comparison between the Bayushi Manipulator and Young Rumormonger suggest similar power level of abilities with the skill levels as the distinction.
The upper level in cost, so far, is 3 for characters. The Wandering Ronin provides the largest Skill contributor we have seen so far. A full turns investment of 7 Fate adding 4 tokens to the Wandering Ronin provides 2 turns of 6 then 4 or 4 then 6 Skill as required in either type of conflict. This is quite an investment but is also extremely flexible and can immediately break Provinces. The Lion’s Pride Brawler and Isawa Masahiro dealing with opposing characters, where the Lion’s Pride Brawlers bows them and continues to contribute skill Isawa Masahiro bows to burninate the target discarding them no matter how many personalities they have. The remaining character, the Borderlands Defender, has a solid 3/3 stat line and cannot be bowed or moved. Without knowing the full card pool and typical abilities it is difficult to judge, but based on our experience of actions from the CCG this is a pretty strong ability. Notably, we do not see any 4 skill characters yet, this may indicate higher cost characters have more rounded stats or that 4 is to be a rare skill.
For these larger personalities, we can clearly see a greater return on initial investment (the characters cost) which increased the value of further Fate investment to keep these characters around further turns. So we’re back to the core dilemma of wanting to bring out characters which cost more with more Fate but being able to add more Fate to the cheaper characters. We also have to ask ourselves; what are these characters good for? It doesn’t matter if the numbers are larger if we aren’t going to use them. The simple answer is to win conflicts.
Every conflict we can win brings us a little closer to victory, either breaking all of our opponents provinces, hitting 25 honour, or making our opponent hit 0 honour. To this end, the primary purpose of a character is to contribute their skill during conflicts. In a vacuum, without an opponent, we want a 4 Military skill character and a 4 Political skill character so both we can successfully win both conflicts breaking provinces. Right now 4 seems to be somewhat of a magic number as the revealed provinces have has province strengths of 2 Endless Plains, 3 Shameful Display, 4 Defend the Wall, 4 Elemental Fury, 4 Mori Kuroi, and 5 Ancestral Lands. Importantly, we want to be able to take advantage of both Military and Political conflicts.
Once we add in an opponent, things become a little more interesting. Clearly, numbers being larger would help beat the opponent, but we also need the numbers to be able to defend in addition to attacking. For more numbers, we’re looking at one of two options, early game cheap characters and in the later game, we’re hoping to have invested enough from the early game to still have those opening characters in play. Of course, this is again a balancing act, as pushing out lots of early characters comes at the expense of keeping characters around longer. So we are looking for different types of characters at different times.
So, then what makes a good character? The first time I played L5R it was with a very loose understanding of the rules. The particular problem in my case was that I hadn’t realised there was a limit of 3 of each card to a deck. A Lion deck with 40 Matsu Gohei’s packs a real punch. In this new format, however, I’m not sure a deck of 40 Matsu Berserkers would do the job. While the Military skill output would be exceptional, you could only be involved in two conflicts a turn attacking and defending with Military. The berserkers also give a minimal return for Fate tokens, why keep them around when buying another would cost the same? The optimal curve would be to buy 4 of which 3 get a Fate token. Turn two, the Military total caps out at a heady 21, but the deck is static from there on. We’ll okay, maybe that is kinda sweet. The point I’m trying to make is that the character should not be considered in isolation it needs to be part of a greater deck and fulfil a role within that.
What is there we can learn from looking at these characters? We are expecting a stat line of 2 skill points for each Fate spent, anything beyond this is notable such as the Matsu Berserker. We can also see that 4 skill is a good number for breaking the majority of provinces, but none of the characters naturally have 4 skill, characters like the Wandering Ronin who can naturally boost to 4 are notable as they can break provinces by themselves. We know the game is focused on conflicts, so any ability that helps us win those is good. The Lion’s Pride Brawler is the best example here as it bows opposing characters while remaining unbowed. It is less clear I think whether it is viable to focus just on Military or just on Political, right now I’m favouring the idea that even a focused deck would have some presence for the other type of conflict. We can see that characters either focus on one type of conflict (0/2, 0/3) or are balanced between types (1/1, 2/2). Focused characters are clearly going to be more effective in their own conflict type while balanced or flexible characters are going to force hard decisions for your opponent as they could be assigned to either. To challenge on both fronts, there should be a mix of characters in the deck.
No easy answers.
Update — No easy answers indeed. This does seem to be the conclusion from the discussion on the Reddit thread. Two important elements brought up during that thread are how the priorities for a character change depending on the phase of the game, so a larger personality bought early with lots of fate can have a significant impact while late game a more immediate impact of a rush of little guys might be of more benefit. The Glory stat was completely left out of this article, and high Glory could be both a boost and a bane. High Glory characters get a big bonus when honoured, but low Glory characters have less penalty when dishonoured.