Bushido is the seminal 'Samurai' RPG by FGU.
FGU is noted for its attention to detail and the somewhat complex systems used to simulate its subject matter. Bushido is no exception, and its core system is detailed, complex, and not for the novice GM. It does, however, provide a solid base for the background, and its attention to detail covers everything from the caste and position of birth through to mass combat and what happens to characters in those 'down-times' when not adventuring.
The system is a points-based mechanic, with characters enjoying bonuses to their base statistics (Strength, Health, Speed, Deftness Wit and Will) depending on the profession - or class - they choose. This distinguishes them as 'classic' heros or characters, rather than as average characters. Once base stats are decided, there's a barrage of calculated secondary statistics covering things such as how quickly one learns new skills, how many actions one can accomplish in an action round, and how well one concentrates to improve performance ('Zanshin').
Skills derive from stats and are intially calculated on a range from 1 to 100+. However, resolution of most activities, including combat, is handled on a d20, with the skill value being divided by 5 to yield a 'raw' chance of success. This raw chance is subject to further modifiers to provide a 'Base' chance, reflecting such things as character level (there is a maximum of 6th level), and situational modifiers.
As such the system is reasonably simple to understand, if a little fiddly at administer, and study of the rules eventually clarifies the way the system works. Additional ideas include 'effect numbers' which determine differing degrees of success, and 'intensities' used for things such as poisons and magical effects.
The rules are NOT well structured. Concepts and definitions are introduced before they are fully explained, so expect some head-scratching as one works through character generation. But, with perserverance, the rules do make sense and are suprisingly logical when play gets under way.
A mechanic to note is the advancement system. Characters advance in 3 seperate ways: in Level, which is based on gathering experience points (either Budo, if a warrior, or shugendo, if a magician or priest); skill points, based on training and learning through skill use; and 'honour' or 'On' which reflects reputation and personal integrity. On can be lost - and if sufficient On is lost to create a significant loss of integrity, then seppuku, or ritual suicide, might be the only honourable course of action open to the character.
So the rules aren't for beginners, but they are comprehensive. However, where Bushido really shines is in conveying the Japanese background. One gains a real sense of place, despite the fact that Bushido never sets out the background to 'Nippon' in explicit and exhaustive detail. Concepts like birth status, honour, martial competence and other, traditional Samurai conceits, are conveyed gently and persuasively. By the time you have created your first character, you'll know what place he or she occupies in society, his or her relationship to a lord (or not, depending on birth), and what's expected. You'll know how much they earn for serving a master, and what equipment they get for the privilege. It's subtle, complex and involving stuff, and a refreshing change for the tendency to swamp GMs and players with expansive background detail that can't be used to its best extent during play.
A good example is the handling of the two major religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Both co-exist, although they are different philosophies. Shinto is animist in approach, investing every natural feature or event with a spirit and wisdom of its own. Buddhism is based upon enlightenment and study, with the cycle of being at the heart of the ethos. However, both religions provide enough detail to allow you to create a character that is immersed in the chosen religion. You really do gain a sense of faith and what its responsibilities are, rather than simply creating a warrior that wields a holy symbol.
There's lots more to be said about Bushido, but space and time don't permit it. I will conclude with the following points:
If you want a detailed, simulationist RPG, then Bushido ranks amongst the best
Its attention to detail and setting are first rate, and the best of the Samurai games available
Everything you need to run a campaign is present in the rules books - you don't need countless supplements
Not for beginners, or those who like 'system-lite' games, but definitely rewarding if you persevere with the (sometimes) confusing layout and structure.
- Bushido's system is innovative, and was used as the basis for two other excellent FGU games, 'Aftermath' (which takes the complexity to the absolute extreme) and 'Daredevils' (where it's significantly streamlined.
And, at the price offered here, it's superb value for money.