It’s been a while since my last review, but finally, I bring to you my take on Legends of the Five Rings: Enemies of the Empire for 4th Edition. This is the second book to come out for the L5R 4e. It kind of comes off as a Monster Manual of sorts; the book gives the GM a plethora of possible foes to ram up against the players, but the book isn’t just a bunch of stat blocks. It is so, so much more.
This book follows the example set by AEG with most of their books, especially the core rulebook for L5R 4e: it is extremely beautiful and makes it into my RPG Coffee table books category. I will point out that some of the art was carried over from the first book, not a lot, but I did find a few picture repeats. I kind of dislike it when companies do this with their books. It is likely something that can’t be avoided, but you see it a lot, especially with Wizards of the Coast and the many carry-overs from one edition to the next. The full color standard that L5R is setting right now with their stuff is setting the bar very, very high. This may of course seem very superficial, but when you are paying what they are asking for their books you want to make sure that you are getting your money’s worth.
Content-wise, the book is 13 chapters plus an additional chapter of appendixes. Overall, I think the weakest chapter was the very tiny bestiary at the beginning of the book which provides stat blocks for many of the standard animals and beasts which might happen to roam the world of Rokugan. The section does provide rules for various animals ranging in habitats; they even provide stats for a couple sharks. I think the bestiary could definitely come in handy for a game, especially if I want to have a villain keeping a couple tigers as pets, but other than that, I found it to be a necessary chapter, which unfortunately took a little more space than I would have liked.
On the whole however, I did find the book to be very strong. The book is appropriately titled “Enemies of the Empire” as it provides the GM with not just a bunch of stats, but rather full descriptions for most of the major threats in Rokugan, including the history or organizations, as well as tons of story and plot which accompany the main campaign world villains in the game. By far, the strongest chapters in the book were the ones covering the Bloodspeakers, the Kolat, and The Lost; I found that these were the most story-heavy and also the most likely to be of real use in putting together a campaign. However, that isn’t to say that the other sections weren’t equally important or useful. I also really liked the chapters on the Nezumi and the Oni. These present the possibility for series potential in developing stories and exotic plots featuring truly sinister, life-endangering threats.
I was a bit disappointed that the book didn’t give more space to describing the Five Ancient Races of Rokugan. Though many of them play a very trivial role in the campaign world at its current date, a good GM could easily change the story of the world and bring these races into a more central position. With that in mind, I would have liked to see a bit more information about the Zokujin and the Trolls. They hardly got a passing glance in this section, and are mentioned, it seems, as only a footnote in the history of Rokugan. I would imagine that historically speaking, they played quite a bit more of an important role, but they didn’t really get the coverage they deserved. The Kenku, Kitsu and, to some extent, the Ningyo were well represented here, but I would have liked to have a bit more detail on how to use them appropriately in a campaign.
I think the biggest surprise for me was the amount of space given to Ronin. For what seems like a staple of the L5R universe, Ronin didn’t really get much coverage in this book at all. This could be because they have already gotten a bit of space in the core rulebook, but honestly, I would love to have more information on using Ronin as villains in a campaign. The wandering Ronin character has always struck me as something particularly important in L5R and especially in Japanese fantasy, fiction, and literature. I could have used a bit more on them to make the book really rounded out and complete.
Apart from these few complains about content, I have very few critiques. The book is, like all other AEG products, of particularly high caliber. I enjoyed sitting down and actually reading the long sections about plots and people of importance. The book is well written, but still is quite useful as an RPG rulebook, though you might forget that is what you are reading half way through. My only real complaint about the L5R 4e books in particular is that I dislike the formatting that they use for the stat blocks in a character, villain, or monster entry. I would like these to be a bit better organized and set apart from the rest of the text. However, that is really nit-picking. If you’re interested in playing L5R or you are already playing it already, you really don’t have a reason not to get this book. It is available in Hardback as well as in PDF from various sources. I encourage you to pick this book up and give it a read.