We’re now a couple of sessions in to the L5R campaign ‘A Gaijin’s Guide to Rokugan’ and while I’m enjoying the game so far reading over the system has already thrown up a few aspects which, on a personal level, annoy me. The biggest of these is the calculation of the armour TN (defence scores), which form the target number to hit in combat. While they may be modified by certain actions the base score is calculated as 5 + (Agility x 5) + Armour bonus. So for an average (agility 2) unarmed and unarmoured individual their base armour TN is 15, this doesn’t change at all if they are later armed with a weapon.
Yup, this is a system where the primary mode of combat is melee but where an unarmed character is as easy to hit as one wielding a katana. Supposedly (if anybody know better please correct me) this is down to the style of combat employed in Rokugan, with parries being avoided in order to prevent damage to blades which have been passed down multiple generations of a family. Even if this is the case for katana’s there are a whole host of weapons where it would be reasonable to assume that the blade isn’t as sacred and parries or blocks would be acceptable. Chief amongst those would be polearms and spears. Using these weapons provides a major advantage in their ability to keep opponents at a distance, which is most easily represented by making the wielder harder to hit (though if this were me I’d give them an additional bonus on top of the one given for being armed) however nothing like this is present in the system. Likewise there are a few examples of where the weapon does affect defence (dual wielding and the war fan come to mind), which seems rather inconsistent.
It gets better (well worse actually, damn semantics) however when you consider the defence stance, which provides a boost to defence with the only restriction being that the character may not attack. In order to cast a spell a shugenja is required to maintain their concentration for a number of rounds dependent on the difficulty level of the spell and they are required to roll to maintain that concentration if sufficiently distracted. Despite this they are able to maintain the defence stance while casting, which somehow doesn’t affect their ability to concentrate but does make them harder to hit. Yeah, I’m not sure I quite get how that is meant to work either, essentially the system is saying that somebody reading from a scroll and trying to maintain their concentration is also able to move about in a way sufficient to make them harder to hit.
I’ve not played enough of the game to fully work out how I would prefer to see the armour TN calculated but as a start it would definitely factor in whether a character is armed or not. My initial idea would probably be (Agility x 5) + (Skill with melee weapon being used) + 5 with the role of armour shifted solely to reducing damage. I’d then also include bonuses for certain weapons through the mastery abilities (for example Polearms 3 – You gain a +3 to your armour TN while wielding a readied polearm). Under that system the basic armour TN of my current character Doji Soshin in the attack stance (no bonuses or penalties) would be 20 when unarmed, 23 when wielding a polearm or 26 if the mastery ability was also included. This is compared to a score of 25 when using the system as written, so the scores are fairly comparable while also making unarmed targets easier to hit but without entirely crippling their defence. To my mind though that still makes put the unarmed TN too high, simply because an average unskilled person would not be able to reliably hit him (average roll of 11 vs TN 20) and assuming he had only an average agility (so TN 15) over half of the attacks would still miss.
All of this is probably over thinking the situation and maybe my opinion might change once I’ve played the system for longer, for the time being it is a bugbear as opposed to a mechanic that ruins the game for me. So I can live with it, though I suspect it’ll be something I look into houseruling if I ever run a game in the future.