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Friday, August 19, 2011

Towards a coherent L5R cosmology

As much as I love the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, I have to confess that its mythology makes no sense to me. And I'm not even talking about how the creation story is basically that of Zeus vs. Cronus, but with the names changed to Japanese, I'm talking about the deeply weird and contradictory stuff that you notice only after digging through some the history.

Now, normally I am a fan of the weird and contradictory, but I have a deep-seated need for things to make sense within my games, even if none of the players ever see it. Perhaps this is why I prefer to GM rather than play, because that way I can make sure things make sense to me. And frankly, L5R's mythology makes me so crazy that I actually mailed a letter to John Wick (one of its original designers) wherein I asked, essentially, What the fuck, dude?

Mr. Wick, I hope you'll forgive me for messaging you, but I am a longtime fan of L5R and there is something that's always puzzled me about its theology.

Specifically, how can Togashi be both a kami-who-fell-to-earth-and-thus-lost-his-divinity and a (literal) dragon? The same question applied to Shinjo and ki-rin.

Osano-wo is the Fortune of Thunder, but there is also a Thunder Dragon. I read somewhere they are both aspects of something greater. What would that something greater be?

It's almost like being a dragon or a ki-rin or whatever is more of a spiritual evolution than being a physical thing.... so perhaps Shinsei was the first Thunder Dragon?

Is Amaterasu a dragon? Is she something else? Both? Neither? Cheeseburger?

I love this setting but I can't figure out some of the theology. I get that, in the broadest sense, Fortunism = Shinto and Shinseism = Buddhism, but after that I get very lost. What are the differences between fortunes, kami, and dragons?

Again, I apologize for pestering you with questions about a game you made over 10 years ago. If you'd rather not answer, I understand, and will quietly go away.

To his great credit, Mr. Wick wrote me back:
Hi Erin,
Although I don't get paid to answer these questions anymore, I'll give you a quick one that should solve everything.

Rokugani theology *doesn't make sense*. Much like Japan, who tried to combine various religious traditions, there is overlap, redundancy and outright contradiction. That's why it is so confusing.

Hope that helps!

Well, then. On the one hand, this is great, because now I know I haven't missed something critical. On the other, telling myself "It's not supposed to make sense" doesn't work with me, because of my knee-jerk and admittedly non-Discordian desire to organize things coherently. So what this did was, in essence, tell me "If you think you can make it make sense, go for it."

And I did. Amazingly, my crazed gibbering is hardly noticeable these days.

At any rate, I think I've worked it out, and now I'm going to inflict it upon you, because A), this is my blog, and 2) I like giving back to the RPG community. I hope you like this sort of thing, because it's what you're going to get from me for the next few days.


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