It's been quite a wait for us who rely heavily on PDF copies of rpg books, but the Second City Boxed set that was released earlier this year has finally made it to electronic format.
I have to admit that I've been curious about this product for a while now, as I'm not entirely caught up on the canon storyline of L5R. Making a whole boxed set placed in what can be considered to be a very new development of the story is an interesting choice, as it does help people like me understand what is actually going on.
The Boxed set download is actually a group of PDF files for easier downloading. These include:
The Pillow Book
A Map of the Second City
A "for printing" version of the map
The Journal of Yogo Tanaka
It's a hefty download, but that's par for the course in L5R pdf books. Besides, most of the time the gorgeous production values and layout are always worth it.
Both maps of the Second city are in full color, showing the massive scale of the city in question. It's impressive to look at and gives you a good idea as to just how many people can fit in this place. The difference between the files is just that the for-printing version is cut up into 8 pages, while the other has the entire map in one big image.
I did notice that there didn't seem to be any labels of any sort, so it's really a collection of buildings with some farmlands and a walled city in the middle with a palace in it. I'm curious as to why there weren't any labels, or if the files will be updated later.
The Pillow Book of Ide Arahime
The Pillow Book is a 20 page work of fiction meant to serve as an in-character guide to the Second City as written from the point of view of Ide Arahime, a Unicorn Clan author. Presented as a journal of the author's travel and experiences in the Second City, it presents an interesting "outsider's" view of just how different the Second City is compared to traditional Rokugan, and perhaps to the more astute L5R fans, just how many concessions were made to exist there.
The Author touches on all aspects of life, from the look and feel of the place, to the stranger customs, artwork, and architecture. There's a lot to be learned through the fiction, and I found it to be interesting reading and a good way to slowly introduce the differences to those unfamiliar with the colonies.
The Journal of Yogo Tanaka
This second journal is another in-character account, but serves as a record of Yogo Tanaka's investigations and how it slowly gets out of hand. The writing is well done, and I have to admit that it works well for it's purpose, which is a supplement to the Campaign included in the Boxed Set. I'd rather not go into too much detail with regards to the contents lest I spoil any pertinent information, but the book makes for an interesting prop for the campaign.
This pdf contains the rather... plainly titled, "The Campaign" which is a full length campaign meant for characters using the Second City setting. It's an extensive campaign, with interesting characters and a compelling villain go to after.
The campaign itself is fairly broad, starting from Rokugan proper and spinning off into a tour of the Second City setting itself. It's a strongly investigative campaign that lends itself well to characters and players who are more interested to mysteries than pure combat, though there's enough of that as well to show the unique dangers posed by the new setting.
I'm glad to see the variance of plot hooks in the campaign, and it suits a good mix of characters from different clans as the varying points of view and approaches to solving a problem can come in very handy.
The Campaign ends with a bestiary of the various monsters in the Second City setting, including the Destroyers and stranger creatures that can threaten even the most stalwart of samurai.
This book is the one that provides the meat of the setting. Starting off from the History of the Second City as the Rokugani understand it. There's some mention of the Ivory Kingdoms, but the section starts from the rise of the Cult of Rhumal, and Kali-Ma the Destroyer and how Empress Iweko I proclaimed the colonies as territory of Rokugan.
The book also goes on to discuss the layout of the city, complete with sections of the map as presented in the PDF complete with the annotations I was looking for with regards to the important locations in the city. I'm starting to understand that the maps are the ones that can be provided to PCs who are new to the city, and they can be free to add their own notes as necessary, while the GM has this for reference.
Each district is covered in great detail, with all the locations given a thorough treatment and notable NPCs scattered throughout. The RPG team of L5R is known for being thorough, and it shines through in this book.
The last chapter of the book goes into the smaller details, including the routes by which people travel to and from the colonies, and a discussion of the culture and mannerisms of the Second City and how they differ from Rokugan main. A mini-Emerald Empire supplement, if you will.
This PDF goes into the detail of the various social structures in the Second City, including the Ivory Court, the government of the Colonies. This is a great way to preserve the political / intrigue feel of Rokugan in a new setting. With so much to be discovered and explored, this is new territory even for the political characters as they try to push the influence and control of the Second City for their clans.
The next chapter discusses the movers and shakers of the setting including Otomo Suikihime, the notorious Imperial Governor and the various ministers of the setting. While strongly tied to the colonies, those who don't plan to use the setting can always transplant these characters into their own settings with little to no trouble.
The People of the Second City discuss the Great Clans and the Imperial Families. Again these are a host of NPCs that can be used to populate any campaign, and help paint a vibrant (and well populated) location.
Not to be forgotten, the minor clans and wave men of the setting also get their own chapter, discussing the opportunities and nature of their presence in this brave new frontier.
Fnially the last section discusses a smattering of new Paths for the Great Clans and Basic Schools for those native to the Ivory Kingdoms.
The Second City Boxed set is huge. It's also an impressive body of work to bring to life a new and exciting development to the L5R universe outside of traditional Rokugan.
While I have to admit that I was initially lukewarm to the idea of this sudden shift outside of the borders of the Empire, I do appreciate the advantages of changing the status quo in such a traditional society. The NPCs and locations presented in the Second City are all done by a team whose enthusiasm shines through, and I'm glad that the team has managed to make sure that none of these characters are mere caricatures.
The usefulness of the set for those who don't plan to use the Second City is still high, as even if you don't end up using the setting, the NPCs alone are worth the price of admission.
Those GMs who wish to have a campaign get their wish, and it's certainly one that spans the length of the Second City and the empire, with equal opportunities for politics, investigation and combat.
The two books are nice for flavor, and the journal makes for a great prop for the campaign. I'm ambivalent about the pillow book however, but it can still be useful for new players who aren't in the mood to slog through The City book.
Is the Second City Boxed Set worth the price as a PDF product? Definitely. There's a ton of detail here, and one could easily run a full campaign with just the contents of this box and the corebook and never look at another supplement again.
The Second City Boxed set continues the winning streak of the Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition supplements and I'm more than happy to say that it can certainly add tons of value to anyone's L5R Collection.