Originating as a series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after a several year absence, Dave of the Five Rings continues on as he examines the current and future of the iconic world of Rokugan.
Chapter 11: The Winds of Change
Welcome back to Dave of the Five Rings! It has been some time since the last article, and now things are finally catching up with me. In my previous series, I closed out what turned out to be a story arc rather than my experience in entirety. When we last left off, I had finished with my reporting on the repercussions of Main Event at Gen Con 2014.
Through the victory of the Crane Clan, the Second City had been saved with the Temple, Military, and Imperial Districts intact. The Dark Naga had been defeated by the Second City defenders, and his death cries echoed across the shared soul of the Naga race. In the depths of their ancestral Shinomen Forest, the Naga stirred in their slumber and awakened to the world again. The Naga would be returning to Legend of the Five Rings in 2016, and I would be able to return to my original faction…
Just When I Thought I Was Out
In the interim, two new Expansion Sets have been released in the CCG, along with several errata to the existing rules. Alderac Entertainment Group has been responding quickly to the evolving environment of L5R’s competitive play and many of the player’s concerns.
Quite like in the world of Rokugan, however, with winter sweeping in from the north, the competitive scene puts up its decks and focuses once again upon the theory craft of the game. With two new expansion sets released into the environment, the card pool has changed dramatically. In addition, AEG announced at the World Championships in Europe the name of the next base set, Twenty Festivals, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the game, along with revealing each Clan’s new Strongholds for that set. Right now is a very dynamic time for the game, with a very uncertain path forward.
Teachings of the Sensei
The greatest impact on the environment due to the release of A Line in the Sand and The New Order is the unveiling of several new Sensei. In the CCG, a Sensei is selected along with a deck’s Stronghold, greatly impacting how a deck is designed. While every Clan in L5R has a single Stronghold, each clan has access to several different Sensei to cater to their deck’s theme. The Sensei can modify a Stronghold’s starting attributes, change their Stronghold’s text, or provide a reliable action for a deck to rely on. The right Sensei can allow a Clan weak in military to viably pursue that victory path, for example, or even provide its own alternative win conditions.
Ivory Edition provided each Clan a Stronghold and Sensei that represented their underlying basic themes. A Line in the Sand gave each Clan a second Sensei specific to only their Clan, allowing that deck to explore a more particular theme instead. Many of these new Sensei met with a lack of enthusiasm, sadly. While the Crane’s Tadanobu Sensei gives Crane Dueling an edge of sustainability, many Spider Clan players felt the introduction of Kuroko Sensei’s new Clout mechanic diluted that faction’s already weak Honor running ability.
On the other hand, the multi-clan Sensei have shown great promise to impact the environment. Kobi Sensei introduces a new victory condition via locking down your opponent’s Personalities, and the Yung Sensei expands the Kharmic trait to the point of significantly rewarding a deck built around it. Even AEG’s Love Letter tie-in has received some attention this cycle with the release of the Seppun Tasuke Sensei card in The New Order, allowing a player to build a theme deck around the personalities featured in the L5R Love Letter version.
Aside from these new Sensei mechanics, A Line in the Sand and The New Order significantly increased the card pool for each faction, and Line in the Sand introduced the new Courage keyword. A card with Courage can be discarded as a Repeatable Interrupt rulebook action to modify a Fear effect. This Interrupt either increases or decreases the Fear effect’s power, allowing it bow stronger cards or acting defensively to protect one’s own cards.
With an increase of Fear effects being printed – especially ones capable of targeting through Followers and impacting other Attachments – Courage can swing battle momentum, effectively making your opponent waste their action when used on the defense. Since battle momentum determines the outcome of conflicts more than anything else, it will be interesting to see how much Courage changes strategies involving Fear.
The New Order also introduced the Unstoppable keyword previously mentioned during my time in the Heart of Darkness challenge booth. As with the new Courage keyword, the impact of Unstoppable will be seen in the coming Kotei season.
Wielding The Banhammer
On the rules officiating side of the game two cards were officially banned in September, with two more issued errata:
Banned – Advanced Warning: Reflecting the continued power of the Crane Clan Scout theme, Advanced Warning was banned from competitive play for its ability to send a unit home while simultaneously reducing Province Strength. Through the Akagi Sensei or Return to the Front, this allowed a single personality to strongly swing a battle’s outcome at little tactical cost.
Banned – Cavalry Escort: Cavalry Escort was also banned, as its ability to create presence inside of a battle for a personality the turn it’s purchased accelerated military strategy advantages to the point of being detrimental to the environment.
With both of these cards banned, military decks will face a slower build time, thus giving dishonor and honor decks more equal opportunities to thrive. Even a single turn in Legend of the Five Rings can prove pivotal, after all, and many games end with both decks in sight of victory.
Errata – Oboro: Released in A Line in the Sand, the personality Oboro interacted with the Kobi Sensei to create a powerful loop on turn six that allowed a player to achieve victory through a method that was very non-interactive. To prevent this, Oboro’s ability to place Conspiracy counters needed to achieve victory through Kobi Sensei was restricted to being once per turn.
Errata – Official Sanction: The item Official Sanction created a similarly powerful loop. With the amount of card effects in the environment to straighten Attachments, Official Sanction created an unbalanced situation where an opponent could easily lock down the other side of the game. This card was given errata to prevent its straightening from card effects, bringing it back in line with its intended power.
The reaction from the player base to these changes has been mixed. While many approve of AEG’s active presence is keeping its game balanced, there also exists growing concerns that the increase in bannings and power level errata is leading to a reduction in being able to simply pick up and play the game.
Twenty Stories Strong
At the World Championship in Sheffield, UK, the Unicorn Clan cinched victory and named the Imperial Regent who would oversee the Imperial Winter Court in 1199 IC. As that Winter Court would be a living RPG event hosted online by AEG staff, this gave the winner a great deal of power to influence the storyline to come. The winner, Bartolomej Chrobak chose the character Utaku Zo Sia, a character he created previously through winning a separate event, to be the Regent. Utaku Zo Sia was based on Chrobak’s ten year old daughter, and took the opportunity afforded to him at the World Championship to increase her prominence within the story.
Moreover, the World Championship also revealed the nine Strongholds due to be released in Twenty Festivals. As the first true glimpse at the next arc of competitive play, the Twenty Festivals Strongholds illustrated an effort from AEG to add depth to gameplay without actually increasing complexity.
Better than anything else, though, the new Strongholds also demonstrate which factions are functioning as intended. Gone from the new Strongholds are blanket effects, such Force bonuses for all opposed Personalities or Crane’s Limited action boost to their economy. The Grand Halls of the Lion is identical to its Ivory Edition version, as is the Fruitful Port of the Mantis and the Shadowed Estate of the Scorpion.
Others saw minor changes:
- The Hidden Bastion of the Spider gained a point of Province Strength and an improvement to its Fear ability.
- The Fortified Monastery of the Dragon now allows for the recruitment of out of Clan monks, but it loses its traits when it takes a Sensei which removes its Actions.
- The Golden Plains of the Unicorn had its Gold Production reduced to 4 Gold on the first turn, but is otherwise the same.
Yet it is the Crab, Crane, and Phoenix Clan Strongholds which have changed the most. The Unassailable Fortress of the Crab matches its old Province Strength but now relies on an Action to straighten opposed units, and The Esteemed Palace of the Crane now bows as an Action to gain 2 honor, rather than serving as a boost economically.
Finally, the Majestic Temple of the Phoenix leaves behind the card draw of Ivory Edition in lieu of recycling dead Personalities into your Province and Proclaiming them for more honor.
These new Strongholds promise a very interesting time ahead for Legend of the Five Rings as it moves towards its twentieth year. While tournament attendance is at an all time low, the release of a new Learn to Play set – the Currency of War – and these newly designed Strongholds serve to lower the challenge of introducing new people to the game. Time will tell if their efforts prove fruitful.
Kotei season 2015 also promises a great deal of potential in reinvesting old fans, as winners of next year’s Kotei will be able to pick and choose aspects for their Clan to focus on in the future. The Spider Clan is even gaining the opportunity to taint aspects of other Clans, heralding a return to the old days of the corruptive aspects of the Shadowlands Horde not seen since the inception of the Spider Clan into the CCG.
While March 2015 is a long ways off, these new realities have me already planning my decks out for the next Kotei season, where we will see just how these new rules and cards will change the game.
To that same end, in our next session, we will chat with Fred Wan, the second in command on the Legend of the Five Rings story team. In it, we’ll be discussing the many things that make L5R unique, and the culture that has made us both lifelong fans.
After that, we will begin my coverage of Winter Court IV, wherein I play a plucky little Spider Clan novelist and mother of two named Susumu Naishi. Hopefully, by the time you get to read about her, she will not have died or been shamed out of court.
Until next time, dear reader, carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he also has a long and complicated past with L5R. These are his stories. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; Game of Thrones from HBO; Cowardly Lion of The Wizard of Oz by MGM Studios; Soup Nazi from Seinfeld by NBC; Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by New Line Cinema; Susumu Naishi by The Art of Rhiannon McCullough