Blood and Honor
After ten years, John Wick has returned to the world of samurai!
Blood & Honor: Samurai Tragedy in Old Japan is a new way to tell stories of honor and steel!
The Good [ edit ]
Blood and Honor was created by John Wick, who was also the lead designer of the original edition of Legend of the Five Rings RPG (as well as the collectible card game that the RPG was based on). Given that he won multiple Origins Awards (including Best RPG of 1997) for that work, many fans were disappointed when Wick left L5R to work on the company's swashbuckling Seventh Seas System ... and so were excited to see him return to Japan with Blood and Honor in 2010.
Although Blood and Honor has some similarities with L5R (eg. both systems involve "dice pools" where you can trade greater risk for a chance to succeed more spectacularly in the story). However B&H's system (which is taken from another Wick RPG, Houses of the Blooded ... although that book isn't needed to play B&H) is loosely based on the FATE system, and has many other major differences from Legend of the Five Rings. Perhaps the biggest difference is that the game is much more of a communal storytelling-focused game, as opposed to the more traditional "party of individual adventurers, each strictly controlled by one player" style of L5R.
The core way players check for success is to roll d10s and reach a total of at least ten. If they fail the character may still succeed: it is the GM's call. Your character's details determine how many d10s you get, but when doing something your character is good at you can easily have excess dice. If you "wager" (ie. save) some of your dice, and still manage to reach 10, you gain greater control over the exact story details of the outcome, based on how many dice you saved.
But before you can even create a character in B&N, the entire party collectively has to create their clan. Not only does this impact the characters stats, but furthermore the characters get in-game bonuses for fufilling their duty to their clan, they can control clan "holdings", etc. The group's connection to the clan extends into a sort of secondary meta-game where players take "season actions" (meta-turns lasting one season) to do things like have their spies conduct espionage or have their smiths craft weapons.
The Bad [ edit ]
Despite being an incredibly popular developer, Wick is not known for his editorial quality, and the book has been criticized as having excessive errors. Also, there are only two companion products for Blood and Honor, so if you get into the game you won't find a lot of supplemental material (although fans of the system might also like the related games Houses of the Blooded and Cold Shadows, for fantasy/spy variants).
Perhaps most importantly, combat in B&H is extremely deadly: if hit by a katana the character can either die immediately, or spend an "honor point" to be on death's door (and even non-katana combat is fairly deadly)! The game also has no initiative system: combat begins when any party declares it, and they not only get the first attack, they get a bonus to it. This deadliness means fans of extended combat sequences likely won't enjoy B&H.
Blood and Honor vs. Legend of the Five Rings Recommendation [ edit ]
Given that John Wick created both games, and both are based (loosely) on Sengoku-era Japan, it's natural to compare the two. Let's focus on their differences.
The biggest is that B&H is set in a (cinematically) realistic world, and has tragedy as a central theme, whereas L5R's Rokugan is very much a fantasy setting, with monsters and magic. Also, L5R comes from a major publisher: not only does it have a large number of products in any edition ... it has had five editions! In contrast B&H is a tiny independent game by comparison, with only a single edition and minimal companion products.
In short, L5R is more suited to someone who wants a setting with magic and monsters, and a well-established and popular system that lets characters survive multiple hits in combat. B&H is a stronger choice for someone who wants a smaller and more focused game, where every aspect of that game (including a separate "meta-game" involving the clan, holdings, etc.), revolves around telling samurai stories.
Recommendation: Blood and Honor [ edit ]
John Wick himself described Houses of the Blooded (Blood and Honor's sister game) as "anti-Dungeons and Dragons", so if you love battlemats, minitiatures, and tactics this almost certainly isn't the RPG for you. Likewise, you should pass on B&H if you don't like the idea of realistic death, or of having to play a "meta-game" involving your clan and it's place in the game world. Finally, if you want to have lots of supporting products (or even just strong editing), B&H won't be a good pick.
But, if you looking for a game whose rules will immerse you in the world of Sengoku-era Japan, a game that let's players help shape the story with every roll they make (through the "wagering" mechanic), and one that focuses heavily on non-combat interactions, even as war itself is a central theme ... Blood and Honor could be the perfect RPG for your next samurai campaign.