The Game: Legend of the Burning Sands
The Publisher: AEG
Degree of Familiarity: None; I played Legend of the Five Rings once many years ago.
Books Required: Just the one.
So, if Legend of the Five Rings is a fantasy/historical game set in not-Japan, then Legend of the Burning Sands is its counterpart set in not-the-Middle-East. L5R, as the kids call it, has a looooong and detailed history, tying into a CCG (as the kids call them), and leading to a great big long metaplot that's entirely too much for my addled brain (as the kids call...no, hang on).
All of that said, LBS (that really doesn't sing, it doesn't even have a number!) is playable with just the one book and has some pretty interesting stuff going on. The system is basically the same (you roll dice and keep a certain number, total them, and try to get a high sum), but the names of some traits and what they mean in context changes. So let's get to it.
Elle, over on FB, gave me this song to use as a theme song, and I kinda like it:
It's actually dark as hell; to me it's about wishing so hard to take something back, something that's so unfair that you feel sure that some higher authority has the power to reverse it...but that's not what happens, and we bury the remains of something beautiful because that's all we can do.
That's all very well, but because I don't know the game I can't translate it into anything concrete at the moment, so let's take the step-by-step in the book and see what happens.
Step One: Choose a Faction. All right, cool, get right to the meat of it. Is there a handy list of factions? No, but chapters 2 through 9 of the book (good lord) detail factions. Let's see. Oh, well, shit, I can play an Assassin. I'd like to do that.
Step Two: Choose a Sub-Faction. Assassins have a long, rich history, which I'm not reading carefully, but basically there's betrayal and murder and stuff like you'd expect. Anyway, there are three sub-factions, and the one I like is the Caliphate Guards. These are Assassins that are working for the state, basically; every year, 40 of the City Guard get to demonstrate their skill and best become Assassins. My character is one of those, meaning he'd get assigned to guard some important person. I get a +1 to Perception for my trouble.
Step Three: Choose Character Class. I pretty obviously want to be an Assassin Slayer; I'm a warrior. For my trouble I get +1 Agility, 1.5 Integrity, Acting (Disguise), Athletics, Deceit, Stealth, Underworld, any one weapon Skill, and a free Skill. Neat. I assume I'm Rank One, which would give me the All Shadows Walk in the Light Technique, but I'll have to come back to that.
Step Four(?) Character Points: I put the ? in there because based on the headers, this seems to be a sub-section of Step Three, but that doesn't make any sense because it doesn't flow from Character Class. Anyway, I get 45 points with which to buy things. I start with Rings and Traits at 2, except Agility and Perception, which start at 3. I suppose I should also choose the two Skills I need to choose, huh? I get a Weapon Skill and a free one. I love chain weapons, so I'll take that as my Weapon Skill. For my freebie, I'll take Polearms (hearkening back to my days as a guard).
OK, so now, spending points. I'm gonna leave my Void at 2 because it's expensive and it doesn't tie into Skills. I can't raise Ring ratings (it's the same Rings as in L5R; Earth, Air, Water, Fire). They all start at 2, and the Traits attached start at 2 except the ones I get a bonus in, and I can't raise them past 4.
Ugh. OK, it doesn't say that my Skills start equal to their controlling Trait anywhere (that I can find), but the text implies that they do. The text says that I start with 2 in all Rings and Traits, but not in character creation (it's in the intro when it's explaining what those terms mean). The corresponding section on Skills does not state what Skill ratings you start with. The section on character creation likewise doesn't specify. Likewise, there's no fucking example of chargen, which always annoys me. OMG, what the shit, AEG, did you expect no one to play this game?
Ok, well, I don't want to be here all night. Let's assume everything starts at 2. That being the case, I want to raise some things. I think that my Earth traits can stay at 2. I guess there's no way to raise Rings, actually, so they can stay at 2? I can boost Traits, and I think I want higher Agility and Strength. Raising those to 4 and 3, respectively, would cost 16 and 12, or 28 total, out of my 45. Fine. I have 17 left.
Well, I'm gonna leave Acting, Deceit, and Underworld at 2. I'll leave Polearms there, too - it's something he was trained in while a guard, but he's focused on Chains since. If I wanted to raise my other four Skills to 3, that would cost me 12 points. I can do that, it'd leave me 5 left. I'm good with that, I think.
So, Skills have specializations called Emphases, but I can't tell if I get one for free or not. It says that you get one at Rank One, but it's not clear if that's "Rank One" in a Skill or "Rank One" in your class. There is a lot of cross-terminology in this game, and it's hard to keep it all straight; it doesn't help that the lore and setting get a lot of attention while the gameplay aspects seem to take a lot of understanding for granted.
Well, anyway, I have 5 points left. I can take Disadvantages for more, but only 10. I'll do those first.
Aaaaand there's no place to write them. Glorious. Well, I'll put 'em under Mastery Abilities. I'll take Anti-Social, and I'll go ahead and take the 4-point version. It's not that my guy doesn't like people, but like, he has to kill them sometimes, and that means he has trouble relating to non-Assassins. Ooh, I'll take Dark Fate. I'm doomed to some tragic end. I'll take Lost Love; seems to fit my concept. That's 9 points. I'll take a 1-point Phobia of fire (it just raises target numbers when I'm around fire).
OK, so now I've got 15 points. Let's check out Advantages. Ooh, Death Trance. It plays nicely into my Dark Fate. With 12 points remaining, I'll spend them to buy Chain Weapons, Athletics, and Stealth up to 4.
Well, that leaves me Reputation of 1, Status of 1, and Integrity of 1.5, though buggered if I know how to indicate ".5" on this sheet (this is really badly designed). I have to calculate Insight since it determines how to level up. Easy math, it's 120.
Now, interestingly, unlike L5R, LBS doesn't ask me to answer a bunch of character creation questions - in fact, the actual "create a character" portion of the book is really thin. No matter.
Ali was a pretty nondescript City Guard; he was quick and perceptive, but wasn't particularly special. In fact, the reason his superiors knew about him at all was because of his friendship with Kalil. Kalil was another guard, and he and Ali were the best of friends - blood brothers, first into a battle, last out, their love for each other giving the other strength. There were rumors, of course, as to the nature of that "love", but that's not really the important thing - either would have died for the other.
Kalil and Ali were part of a squad that foiled an assassination attempt on a visiting dignitary; the would-be killers weren't Assassins, but mercs for hire, and fled when the Guard showed up. Ali and Kalil got separated, and Ali saw Kalil ambushed, stabbed, and immolated. He heard his friend scream as he burned, and watched him die as he tried to fight his way through the enemies between them.
Ali might have been chosen as one of the 40 to audition to become Assassins because his superiors took pity on him, but whatever the reason, he passed. He's slowly mastering the arts of stealth, movement, and chain weapons - he's never going to be trapped in battle again. Ali fears fire and he wants nothing to do with other people; he's cordial and polite, but never friendly or warm. It's not that he doesn't want to, but he watched what he loved most in the world die in horrible pain, and he doesn't have it in him to go through that again.
Ali is in his late 20s, strong, slim, and dresses like all low-ranking Assassins do. He wears his chain wrapped under his arms and around his waist, and carries a dagger but seldom uses it. Contrary to rumor, he's not seeking revenge. Kalil is dead. He could choke the life out of the men that did it, but to what end? What, really, would that change? Better to do the work he's been chosen to do, and see where life takes him. Ali suspects, in his terrified soul, that destiny is not done with him yet.
There, that's a better character than this book deserves.