I just got my hands on a copy of Emerald Empire from the 4th Edition L5R RPG line. Let me tell you, it is worth the price of admission, and tickets are going to sell fast. What one might think to be just a rehash of material already covered (and thus not worth picking up) I can tell you that having glimpsed through it when first getting it and only reading headers with “Scorpion” I found myself discovering all sorts of useful information even I did not know before. I figured I was about done at one point and realised I was only half way through.
It will take a while to do a good read through, and absorb all the information inside, I don’t want to go in depth in the flavor aspect of the book, because in truth, it would be the majority of the book. There are very few actual mechanics introduced. The main one though that Scorpion players will want to take note of is the Soshi Magistrate, found in Chapter Seven: Law and Order. This is perhaps my favorite chapter and is the one I am presently working on reading and getting familiar with.. The key bit of information is the history of the Emerald Magistrates, as well as what they can and can not do under the title of their office, and gives a really detailed breakdown of exactly where Clan Magistrates fall in the scheme of things and what they can and can not do. As having the party be either Magistrates, or yoriki to a Magistrate, this section will see alot of use by many players and GMs. Though enough of my rambling on the flavor aspect of the chapter, on to the mechanics.
New Basic School: Soshi Magistrate [Bushi]
Benefit: +1 Agility
Skills: Athletics, Defense, Intimidation (Control), Jiujutsu, Kenjutsu, Lore: Underworld, any Bugei skill
Before we get into the actual techniques and my views on them, there are a few things to note with what we have already. First I’d like to draw your attention to the skill list. While some of them may seem standard for a bushi school, some may raise a few eyebrows. The concept of the Soshi Magistrate is one of a Clan Magistrate. With this in mind there will usually be more of a focus on intimidation, blackmail, and knowledge of the local terrain and persons instead of investigation and quick combat abilities. Local authority makes the Soshi Magistrate more of a story option for a centralized campaign that will be taking place in one location as it allows the Magistrate to truly make use of their Intimidation (Control) skill ranks, and make contacts with Lore: Underworld. They can still be used for traveling campaigns, but will truly shine in something more localized. Jiujutsu may seem like an oddball choice to give the class, but when dealing with close quarters combats, the prospect of being disarmed, and the occasional need to actually take a prisoner alive, Jiujutsu fits the bill for always being able to hold your own in a scrap in most any situation (not to mention those pesky moments when one must surrender their blade).
While some may seem like odd choices or may lend themselves towards one style of campaign or another, the truly interesting aspects are the associated traits. Going down the list we see one use of Strength, one of Reflexes, one of Awareness, two of Agility, and one of Intelligence, with the last skill being a pot luck based on what is chosen (for the build below I went with Polearms which requires Agility). That’s five traits being used for School Skills. Yikes. That’s alot of points needed to increase the number of kept dice one would need. Going over the full list of skills one might want to pick up for a Magistrate, only Perception is not already accounted for among associated traits. Various other skills one might look at for a Soshi Magistrate would probably include:
Courtier – Awareness
Etiquette - Awareness
Forgery – Agility
Iaijutsu – Reflexes
Investigation - Perception
Lore: Heraldy - Intelligence
Lore: Law - Intelligence
Sincerity - Awareness
Stealth – Agility
The wide spread of traits one would make use of for a Soshi Magistrate makes it a delicate balancing act of what traits to boost while still leaving enough points to take and increase necessary skills. We’ll pause on the Trait/Skill point use for now and go ahead and look at the Techniques.
Rank 1: The Face of Justice – The Soshi Magistrates gain a bonus on rolled dice to Intimidation as well as to damage rolls..
Starting out we see that the Soshi Magistrates have the makings of someone who has control of their own charge (be it a city, town, or district). Wanting to get as much out of the class as possible, this means that the Social Position advantage for 6 points is an option to make the starting status 2, which would also help match the story idea of being a Clan Magistrate. The bonus on damage means that Strength can be a secondary concern for damage purposes.
Rank 2: Rise to Meet the Challenge – Soshi Magistrates gain the ability to easily get up from Prone, as well as bonuses on holding a Grapple.
As a second rank goes, it may not seem like much, but such is why I really enjoy playing Scorpion schools. It is subtle in it’s ability to perform the duty it was designed to do. First of note we see justification for Athletics/Agility among the school skill list, increasing the importance of Agility for the build. But why the need to remove the Prone condition? Because being Prone is bad! While Prone you suffer a -10 Armor TN penalty against melee attacks, you can not use Move Actions, and can only adopt the Defense or Attack Stances. You also can not attack with Large weapons, and suffer a -2k0 penalty to medium and small weapon attacks. It usually takes a Simple Action to stand up. That is a steep conditional penalty for someone to have. Being able to potentially remove it as a Free Action is worth it’s weight in gold. The Grapple bonus makes the school skill of Jiujutsu/Agility important for initiating Grapples. Using Grapples also means Strength does become a useful Trait to look at increasing for controlling Grapples. One of the options naturally being Throw, where the person you throw becomes Prone after the Throw. Having that +1k1 to control a Grapple allows the exploration of using options like Throw to force an opponent into a position to surrender or be attacked easier by ones group.
Rank 3: The Magisrate’s Cut – Soshi Magistrates gain the ability to Blind foes.
No simple attack at 3rd Rank. For a bushi school it’s something Scorpion players should be used to by now as the Bayushi Bushi does not get one either at 3rd Rank. What we get instead is a rather nice debuff that requires at least 3 Raises to bestow. Blinded is just as bad as Prone (if not worse), and combining the two on some unsuspecting target really puts them in a tight spot. While Blinded they suffer a -3k3 penalty to all ranged attack rolls and -1k1 to all melee attack rolls, their Armor TN is their Reflexes + 5 (plus worn armor bonuses); on top of their Water Ring being considered two ranks lower for purposes of determing their movement. Any Simple Move Action attempted while Blinded requires an Athletics/Agility roll (TN 20) or they fall Prone. As if Blinded wasn’t bad enough it lasts not until the end of the current round, but the end of the following round. Getting this technique off on an enemy could make them surrender before they even take an action. Because it requires 3 Raises, Void becomes important, or perhaps other avenues such as the Great Potential advantage. While not getting the damage focus of some other schools at the same level, the Soshi Magistrate does help bestow the penalties of Prone and Grapple from the Previous Rank, and Blinded from this one, two very potent conditions.
Rank 4: Certainty of Purpose – You may make melee attacks (including unarmed attacks) as Simple Actions rather than Complex Actions.
While it’s nice to have the “extra attack”, in comparison to the previous rounds, this is not as big a deal for damage purposes. Instead look for it to be really useful in trying to Blind multiple opponents a round, allowing yourself the advantage for a couple rounds of combat, or giving your group the means to shut down a fight before it truly begins. It’s understandable why Scorpion bushi get the Simple Attack at 4th rank, as they are not meant to be the big damage dealers, but instead the controllers of a combat.
Rank 5: Relentless Resolve - The Soshi Magistrates gain bonus rolled dice based on Intimidation a limited number of times per skirmish.
This makes the Extra Attack manuever so much easier, but instead I look at it as reading that anything from your previous ranks happens almost certainly. Those hard to hit defenders that you need to call three raises on to Blind are alot easier to hit for that one round, and as we know with Blinded, that one round is all you need. Extra Attack, Extra Damage, Called Shot, everything becomes easy for that one round. The key will be when to activate it. Do you wait for when you are in wound penalties to offset them, or do you strike it early in order to get your techniques off fast and try to end the combat? I prefer to try and end the combat as soon as possible myself. Unlike in 3rd edition, 4th has the bulk of a players hit points on the top of the health track, so once you are in wound penalties odds are it’s time to get out of there. Better to try and put so many penalties on the opponent fast so they have no choice but to surrender quick. This is risky of course as it leaves you with nothing from Rank 5 for later rounds if things don’t go well.
The following are the better choices I can think of for Advantages for a Soshi Magistrate:
1. Clear Thinker (3 pts) – A Clan Magistrate must keep a cool head and know how to recognize when others are trying to fast talk them. This advantage helps the Soshi Magistrate against those pesky courtiers or someone better trained in social skills. With the stress of points needed for the wide range of traits and skills needed this will help against various techniques for the low cost of 3 points.
2. Hands of Stone (6 pts) – One of the more expensive advantages one should consider for a Soshi Magistrate build. With the use of Jiujutsu and Grapples in the build it could be possible to build a Magistrate to walk around as a citizen or ronin to better get information (which would mean no weapons). This will help for famage in Grapples or in a fight without weapons.
3. Hero of the People (2 pts) – For only two points it becomes easier for common citizens to recognize you. Despite what is usually seen in a campaign, the majority of subjects of the Throne are commoners of one form or another. Being a Magistrate, making interactions easier with the normal citizen can go a long way towards helping in your duty.
4. Irreproachable (2 pts) – While not as useful in my mind as Clear Thinker, for the low cost of 2 points this advantage has it’s uses. More Junshin characters may wish this one as well as Clear Thinker.
5. Paragon: Duty (7 pts) – Second of the high cost advantage options I feel fit Soshi Magistrate builds. Well, any Scorpion build really. I love the flavor of it for Scorpion characters as Duty/Loyalty is the primary (some say only) aspect of Bushido they adhere to. The Soshi Magistrate School requires no Void Point use for it’s techniques so this gives a useful ability for spare Void Points. Being able to remove any penalty on a Skill or Spellcasting roll has it’s uses. Remember all those penalties the School bestows? Don’t let that happen to you!
6. Precise Memory (3 pts) – I don’t think this one needs an explanation. Having the bonus +1k1 to an Intelligence roll to recall something is very handy for 3 points for a Magistrate. Clearly recalling what someone said, or if the bandit had a scar on his left hand or right hand could mean the difference between success or disgrace.
7. Prodigy (12 pts) – Third of the big cost advantages. As we know our points are going to be tight when choosing skills and traits. For 12 big ones we can get +1k0 to all School skill rolls. Jiujutsu is one to look at as it uses two traits for different rolls (starting a grapple and maintaining a grapple) and the bonus works for both as it’s the same skill. At higher levels the 12 points becomes more justified as instead of needing to buy that 5th rank in a skill, you can use those instead to increase traits. This is for more of a long-term build/campaign.
8. Read Lips (4 pts) – As with Precise Memory, this one requires little need for explanation. A very handy utility advantage that could allow you to keep watch from the other side of a room in a noisy sake bar or opium den, or keeping tabs on conversations in a line outside of a town as it makes it’s way into a city.
9. Social Position (6 pts) – Last of the big cost advantages. The Rank 1 Technique has the added bonus if someone is of lower Status, and starting off as Status 2 (mentioned earlier) is both thematic for a Clan Magistrate/Yoriki, as well as practicle for being able to get that added bonus against the majority of criminals/citizens one is likely to meet at Rank 1.
10. Wary (3 pts) – This is one of my personal favorites. I’ve played RPGs for quite some time and one of not only mine, but my local playgroups pet peeves is that it is easier for NPCs to set up an ambush than it is for player characters to set up an ambush. Being able to notice those sneaky ambushes will help rob GMs of those annoying Ambush situations and level the playing field for players/NPCs. Always be on the alert.
11. Way of the Land (2 pts) – Take this one. Every Scorpion Clan Magistrate should have been assigned at least once to a particular location. If the campaign is stationary this will be a huge boon in the performance of your duties and the execution of your plans. If the campaign is more travel oriented it is still worth having for 2 points for the location you worked in. Having that bit of flavor will come in handy at some point (especially if you meet someone who claims to be from there and can either catch them in a lie or prove their innocence).
The following Disadvantages are the most notable I would consider when making a Soshi Magistrate as they present some good story options for both the player and the GM.
1. Blackmail (varies) – Now this is a fun one to take. It opens up all sorts of interesting story options for the GM to use, while not putting you at too great a hindrance to your duty or character build.
2. Infamous (2 pts) – As far as disadvantages go, being an intimidating Magistrate of the Scorpion Clan, shouldn’t this one be an advantage? Free points and story potential to influence folks to your line of reasoning. While other samurai may not view you very well, that could have it’s uses too, especially if they fall under your jurisdiction and are of lower Status.
3. Overconfident (3 pts) – Should a Scorpion run away? Sometimes. More often than not we need to seal the deal and do our duty. This helps us do that, but does get in the way of those times we do need to run away.
4. Shadowlands Taint (4 pts) – What can I say, I love the tragic story of tainted characters. There is no way to go back, it’s just a matter of time till one succumbs.
5. True Love (3 pts) – This couples with Shadowlands Taint for a similar reason. I’m a sucker for a good love story if done right. Balancing love and duty is a good story for Scorpion characters, again if done right, and can lead to some very memorable sessions.
Now after reviewing what is given with the Soshi Magistrate, as well as what would work well with it, here is a build I cooked up for folks to examine, and my reasons for the various selections.
Bayushi Tategami (Soshi Magistrate 1)
Water 2 (Strength 3)
Air 2 (Awareness 3)
Honor: 2.5 Status: 2.0 Glory: 1
Skills: Athletics 1, Defense 1, Etiquette 1, Intimidation (Control) 2, Investigation 1, Jiujutsu (Grappling) 2, Kenjutsu 2, Lore: Heraldry 1, Lore: Law 1, Lore: Underworld 1, Polearms 1, Sincerity 1
Advantages: Social Position (Clan Magistrate), Way of the Land (Hizoku province)
Disadvantages: Infamous, Overconfident
Outfit: Light Armor, Sturdy Clothing, Daisho, Sasumata, Traveling Pack, 5 koku
I went with Bayushi for the Agility bonus as that is one of the more widely used traits, and I always prefer playing Bayushi so the trait bonus fit nicely with the School bonus to give me a Fire Ring of 3 right off the bat. I spent 12 points on increasing Strength and Awareness. My Insight is going to be low starting out, but there is some good room to improve as the character progresses. Strength is used for weapon damage, Athletics for the School ability, as well as checks for having control of a Grapple. Looking at the traits he has now at 3 and the rest at 2 he’s a very generalized character, with the potnetial to go in almost any direction based on the campaign.
Skills I increased Intimidation, Jiujutsu, and Kenjutsu to 2 each as my primary choices for skills. Intimidation was chosen assuming it was more of a localized campaign, but could just as easily have been any other skill increased to 2. Jiujutsu and Kenjutsu are the primary means of fighting. You’ll note the use of Polearms and the Sasumata in the outfit list. That will of course be the primary weapon when trying to capture targets, but for an outright fight Kenjutsu is still the best for the build. I also picked up some of the standard magistrate skills at 1 rank each so I can have my potential dice explosions on them when rolled.
Advantages and Disadvantages are all drawn from the lists I provided already, and again went with more of a localized campaign idea. This guy knows his way around that particular Bayushi province which is part of his charge to maintain the law. He is known to employ some questionable methods, but so long as order is maintained his lords look the other way…for now.
This is but one of many different build options. I hope you enjoyed my run down of the Soshi Magistrate from Emerald Empire. The book is a stellar read and worth the investment despite the low number of new mechanics. It has information for both players and GMs, even introducing optional guidelines for running Governor campaigns or other such gentry, on top of rich setting information and details as pertains to every facet of Rokugan.
Matt Tyler and his group have years of experience with countless RPGs, including being playtesters on Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Feel free to discuss his insights on our Forum.