Welcome to part ni of my L5R series. I had originally meant to talk about setting today, but halfway through I realized I was using concepts that really belonged in the mechanics section, so here we are.
Don't worry, I'll be gentle.
I don't know how many of you do this, but when I pick up a new role-playing game, the first thing I do is go to the back and take a look at the character sheet, because it's a great summation of the game itself. I can see what the designers think is essential information based upon the kind of information on the sheet: where the stats are placed, how big certain sections are, etc. If you are like me in that regard, you can look at a PDF of the character sheet here.
Now if you haven't been living in a cave for the past 15 years, when I tell you that L5R uses 10-sided dice you'll probably have a very good idea of how this game plays because, yes, it's quite similar to Vampire in that it's a stat + skill kind of game. What's different is how those rolls are made. L5R's core mechanic is what's known as "Roll and Keep", in which you roll your stat+skill but only keep your stat. I think this is very nifty because your skill rating gives you more dice to choose from, or "breadth" if you will, but your stat dictates the "depth" of your roll.
Let's say you want to hack someone into pieces with your Katana. That's an Agility + Kenjutsu roll. Let's say that you're what I like to call "heroically average" and have a 3 in both. In that case, you will roll 6 dice (3 for Agility and 3 for Kenjutsu) but you only keep 3 for your Agility. You roll 6 dice and get the following: 3, 5, 8, 8, 9, 10. Since you only keep three dice, you will in all likelihood choose 8, 9, and 10.
But oh! You rolled a 10, and in this game, tens explode, meaning you roll that die again and add 10 to it. If it rolls another 10, then it explodes again, meaning you can get some really heroic rolls. (Or some really gruesome damage totals, because tens explode there, too; you could conceivably kill someone in one hit with a lucky enough roll.) But in this example, when I re-roll it I get a three, which means my total is 13.
So! 13+ 9+ 8= 30, which is quite a good roll. The base difficulty for most skill uses is 15, but when it comes to combat, 20s and 25s are usually the norm.
There are only two other things you need to know. First, if you really need to succeed, you can spend a Void Point, which is measured by -- you guessed it -- your Void stat. A Void point can do many, many things in this game, but its biggest use is in a skill roll. By spending a Void point (and you can only spend 1 per roll), you can roll and keep an additional die. Wow!
Second-- and this is where it gets complicated, so if you want to know more you'll have to buy the book -- you can call a number of Raises on your roll. A Raise increases your difficulty number by 5, but if you succeed, you have a greater or more complete success. In effect, you're stating, "I can hit a 15 with no problem, but I want to do this with style and grace, so I'm going to bet that I can hit a 25." Raises can be used to execute difficult maneuvers, perform called shots, deal more damage in combat, or perform multiple actions in a single round.
That's the basics of the game system. If I've forgotten anything, I'll certainly feel foolish when I bring it up later, but for now I feel like I've blathered on enough as it is.
Tomorrow, I hope to cover the basics of the setting.