Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Twenty Questions Character Creation in L5R 4Ed

18 January 2011

Editor’s Note: Originally, this content was posted in two parts. I’ve taken the liberty of combining them into one, using the original publication date of the 2nd post. -JM

For my brother-in-law’s campaign, I decided to roll up a character and share the results with all of you. After two failed starts - which focused a little too much on mechanics (“crunch”) instead of roleplaying (“fluff”) - I decided to play the game of twenty questions listed on page 100 of the L5R sourcebook.

Iuchi Masatsune

1. What Clan?

Unicorn Clan Symbol

I decided to be a member of the Unicorn clan. This is a clan of wanderers, curious and not immediately distrustful of gaijin (non-Rokugani). They are also known for their compassion towards those under their care. The Unicorn clan clan also has a good relationship with the Crane clan - which is what my other brother-in-law’s character is.

2. What Family?

I’ve already decided that I’m going to play a shugenja, so the Iuchi family is a natural fit.

3. Bushi, Sugenja, or Courtier?

I gave away this one in the last question. I definitely want to play a shugenja to John’s bushi. Hopefully the complexity of playing a spellcaster won’t be my undoing.

4. How would others describe my character’s appearance?

His hair is cropped short with long sideburns neatly trimmed. His goatee is also neatly trimmed. His garments are purple and silver - the colors of his clan. On the left, closest to his heart, is the mon (circular symbol - think Dragonball Z if your imagination fails you) of his school. On the right, near his sword-arm, is the symbol for the Iuchi family. On the back of his kimono is the symbol of the Unicorn clan.

5. What is my character’s primary motivation?

Exploration of the world and how it works. This drives him to speak with the Kami and explore the world outside of Rokugan.

6. Who is the person my character trusts most in the world?

This is one I’m going to have to discuss with the GM. I think the person he’d trust most in the world is the teacher of his school. Hopefully, you’ll forgive me for punting on this one.

7. What is my character’s greatest strength and weakness?

His greatest strength is his ability to think “outside the box.” Gaijin influence has given him a different perspective at times.

His greatest weakness is that his dedication to honesty leaves him unable to lie at all. He must even point out the lies of others.

8. What does your character think of Bushido?

My character thinks Bushido is an admirable thing. He also thinks it - in its entirety - is unattainable. He considers Gi (Honesty) the most important tenet, and Rei (Courtesy) as least important. He values Jin (Compassion), but not as highly as most in his clan. This is not to say that he is heartless or cruel, but his honesty and frequent lack of courtesy tend to make people view him as cold or distant. The air of mystery that surrounds him as a shugenja doesn’t help, either.

9. What is my character’s opinion of his clan?

He thinks highly of his clan, the Unicorn. He admires their curiosity, and their willingness to explore the regions outside of Rokugan. Like most Unicorn, he believes that the Empire is only true safe when it knows the threats from without.

10. Is my character married?

He’s not married because he leads a more solitary life because of his training as a shugenja. He believes marriage is important, but his fate lies in a different direction for now.

11. Does your character have any prejudices?

Like most, Masatsune’s not fond of the Scorpion clan because he believes they enjoy twisting the truth. He also assumes that everyone he meets has a tendency to lie, either to save face or because the truth is sometimes brutal and often hard to hear.

12. To whom does your character owe the most loyalty?

Masatsune serves the family daimyo and is most loyal to him.

13. What are my character’s favorite and least favorite things?

Masatsune enjoys a quiet evening spent in study or meditation. He gets precious little of these and covets the ones he does get. A close second for him is communing with kami he hasn’t spoken with before. This really appeals to his curiosity even if it is dangerous.

14. Does your character have any recurring mannerisms?

Masatsune has a strange gaijin habit of cracking his knuckles when his mind is busy problem-solving.

15. What about your character’s emotions?

Masatsune is most likely to display an eagerness when presented with an opportunity to learn something new. It might even be called giddiness. He tries hard to suppress this emotion unless he’s very comfortable with the people around him.

Anger is the easiest emotion for him to hold in check. He’s almost incapable of it.

16. How would your character handle a subordinate’s improper behavior?

Masatsune will seek to forgive minor infractions (and even more egregious behavior occasionally), unless the subordinate displays a pattern of impropriety. In those cases, seppuku becomes necessary.

17. How would your character’s parents describe him?

Masatsune is an orphan and only child. He knows very little about his parents and has been unable to find out anything substantial about them. Rumors say that they died beyond the boundaries of Rokugan. (This will dovetail nicely with John’s character, who has a strong sense of family).

18. What is your character’s highest ambition?

Masatsune aspires to be known by kami both within Rokugan and without. This also means he wishes to be a powerful shugenja (the two go hand in hand in his mind). He is willing to go to great lengths, as long as dishonesty is not required.

19. How religious is your character?

Like most shugenja, Masatsune is religious, but his devotion has a slightly different flavor. He sees the kami as more enlightened and powerful beings. He believes them to be a higher class of being, but open to sin, as an honesty view of history will attest to. He does not make many visits to the temple, preferring instead to offer prayers out of doors.

20. How will your character die?

Masatsune assumes his death will come in the wild places of the world, far from Rokugan. He also seems himself advising others as an ancestor spirit.

In Closing

What does everyone think of this method? I’m sure I’m seen something similar in other sourcebooks, but I believe this is the first time I’ve used something like it to generate a character. Do you tend to generate a character by asking yourself questions? Do you just think of a concept and then hang mechanics off of it?


Simon Gill said:

The 20 questions method is good at helping you expose a little more detail about what kind of character you want to play before you start.

I like the hybrid method of character creation. That involves looking at what the group needs or what mechanic could be fun to play with first. The next part is to think why a character might have that mechanical ability, think of some reasons for or consequences of that choice and then go back to make a few mechanical choices.

You know when you’ve found a characters voice when you can look at a mechanical choice and know instantly what the character thinks about it. For example, when you look at the Idealist disadvantage through Masatsune’s eyes you’ll probably find an opinion there about idealists. It’s unlikely to be flattering, either.

Have fun in your game :)

TriskalJM said:

I must admit I am sometimes guilty of not thinking through the reasons or consequences of mechanical choices I make with my characters. I’m endeavoring with this campaign to try a little harder not to do that.

I can see already that I’m going to have to work a little bit for Masatsune not to be smug or insufferable.

Thanks for the well-wishes. I’m thinking an ongoing series of how the campaign is going would be a good thing. I’ll have to wait and see how our first session goes, though.

TogashiRyuken said:

I actually require my players to answer the 20 questions as a way of fleshing out their characters. Of course, I give them the option of not doing so and losing some starting XP (as they’re basically a blank slate at that point), but I’ve yet to have a player take up that option.

These questions are actually a very good way of building a character in L5R. They can inform your advantages and disadvangates as well as what skills and equipment your character might start with. As a new L5R player (welcome, by the way!) you really can’t go wrong with using these questions as a starting point.

TriskalJM said:

Hmm, this is an interesting idea, losing some XP for not walking through a more detailed character generation. I may have to adopt this for my other games and definitely incorporate it if I ever GM a L5R game.

Isawa Rin said:

Hey, sometimes a smug and insufferable character can be a lot of fun to play! :)

In general, I second Simon’s advice. When I’m coming up with character inspiration, I browse the different schools until I see one that makes me go, “Ooooh, that sounds fun!” I often use the Advantages/Disadvantages for inspiration regarding personality/backstory, too. (For example, I was browsing some homebrew Disads at a play-by-post and was intrigued by the disadvantage Blind. That made me think, “What kind of role could a blind person play in Rokugan?” I decided that being a courtier was the most likely route, so I built my character from there.)

TriskalJM said:

I have to say, I really like the Advantage / Disadvantage component. I’ve seen it in other game systems, but this will be my first chance to actually use one.


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