Dave of the Five Rings is an ongoing series chronicling David Gordon’s return to the Legend of the Five Rings CCG after several years. He will be tracking his progress from the launch of the game’s new core set, Ivory Edition, through to the season’s culmination at Gen Con 2014.
Chapter 9: Heroes and Challenges
When we last left off, we covered my excellent and unexpected experiences at the Gen Con 2014 Challenge Booth. Siege: Heart of Darkness was the most fun I had playing the Legend of the Five Rings CCG in over ten years, and it took everything five players could throw at the Siege deck. In the end, we prevailed against the forces of the Dark Naga in defense of the Military District of the Second City, pushing back the line in the sand that fateful Thursday. The Peasant District, previously fallen to the forces of the Dark Naga in the Main Event, had also been temporarily saved by our efforts. Having played against Bryan Reese, the current head of L5R design, it proved harrowing yet memorable.
On Friday morning, however, I had a sudden turn of misfortune. To those who follow me on Twitter may remember, I awoke around 4 AM with an acute allergic reaction to something I had previously eaten. By the time the 11 AM Qualifier for the Main Event rolled around, I had mostly recovered, but I was still far and away from being able to handle serious competitive play. Determined not to let a sudden bout of illness dampen my spirit, I chose to bring my kooky Mantis Clan deck to the tournament, knowing its chances of victory would be slim. It was a deck I had put together for the Challenge Booth, and playing a few test games I felt would pay off dividends.
The Fruitful Port of the Mantis
1 Frost Dragon Festival
3 Carpenter Shrine
2 Famous Bazaar
3 Kabuki Theater Troupe
3 Kobune Port
2 Nexus of Lies
1 Oracle of the Void – exp
2 Secluded Outpost
3 Temple of Serenity
3 Kitsune Kohaki
3 Kitsune Yamazaru
3 Kitsune Yuko
3 Shosuro Rokujo
1 Yoritomo Minori – exp
1 Yoritomo Yashinko – exp
1 Ring of Earth
1 Ring of Fire
3 Look Into the Soul
3 Seeking the Way
2 Servitors of Stone
3 Shielded by Tempest
3 Suitengu’s Embrace
3 Walking the Way
3 Breaking the Rhythm
3 Discretionary Valor
3 Encircled Terrain
3 Faint Praise
3 Kharmic Threat
3 Strategic Withdrawal
The theme of the deck focused on non-human Personalities to show the support of the Naga against the Dark Naga. The Mantis, as a faction, had access to the most non-Shadowlands non-human Personalities. Many of the non-humans were also Shugenja, allowing the deck to play spells which allowed it to Honor run. As a Shugenja-heavy defensive honor runner, the deck was also designed to be capable of holding back other honor runners who might start a turn earlier.
While it could handle some military, it had an easier time handling Lion and Crab than Unicorn. The sheer amount of attachment power presented by the Unicorn, along with their ability to steal attachments like my Spells with Unsettling Gathering made Unicorns a challenge this deck could not stand up against. Still, I reassured myself that I was not here to win the Qualifier. Rather, I was here to have fun. So long as I did not get matched up against Unicorns that morning, I was confident I would be able to do exactly that.
Round 1 – Josh Bow – Unicorn Clan, No Sensei 0-0-0
Unicorn Clan right off the bat. Well then. As I expected when dealing with a Unicorn deck, this was a very straightforward match up. My deck was on its heels in production and control by the end of turn three, and an early Cavalry Escort meant I lost a third turn Province from a Personality bought out of a Province. Having not faced that card before, I was caught off guard by the sheer momentum it brought to the battlefield.
Had I known about it beforehand, it would have been an automatically included card in my Spider Deck – though as it turned out, the card would be banned a few weeks later due to its power.
Nevertheless, Josh Bow handily defeated me and went on to qualify for the Main Event. He won the Merchant District block of the Main Event, selecting Shinjo Ajasa as the district’s champion against the forces of the Dark Naga.
Round 2 – Paul Germain – Unicorn Clan, no Sensei (0-1-0)
Second verse, same as the first. Once again, this was a very straightforward match up and I knew the cards would be against me. While I was not destroyed by a sudden Cavalry Escort this time, I was unable to keep Spells on my Shugenja. Three Unsettling Gatherings stripped them of their most useful defensive spells, and there was little I could do against the military assault. The deck was basically a mirror of the previous match-up and the one I had faced the day before with my Spider Deck.
However, unlike my Spider Deck, I did not have the tricks to shut it down and crush it.
At least the match was over fairly quickly, allowing me to observe some more Doomtown: Reloaded in action.
Round 3 – Lyndsay Rock-Swartz – Lion Clan, Satoru Sensei (0-2-0)
At this point, the allergic reaction began to return, and I started to deteriorate. Before I started the round, I made the decision to withdraw from the Qualifier to secure something to eat and try to recover again. As luck would have it, though, I got paired up against one of my stronger match-ups: Lion Clan with Satoru Sensei. Lyndsay, facing elimination, played the very best game she could, but everything that could go well for my deck did.
Yet although I was staring down a bowed down defense with 35 Honor and enough Force on the table to take her Provinces, I bowed to her and conceded the game. I had the victory in the bag, but I knew my deck did not have what it took to make the Main Event. Lyndsay, on the other hand, did. Rather than eliminate both of us, I chose the more honorable path and gave her the shot she deserved.
A Different Combat Theater
With two losses and a concession behind me, and my health impaired, I spent the rest of the day away from the CCG Hall and into Gen Con proper. I spent some time on the Expo Hall floor, including following up with Onyx Path Publishing and Posthuman Studios. As this was my first Gen Con since 2011, the most notable thing I noticed though was how much more diverse the Expo Hall was since my previous visits.
The rest of my Friday was spent enjoying the convention and nursing whatever foodborne illness had befallen me. By the time Saturday came around, I had mostly recovered. For real this time.
I planned on spending Saturday in the Challenge Booth again, this time with my Non-Human deck tuned to reflect what I had learned from the previous time through the gauntlet. However, as it happened, the Heroes of Rokugan booth was located on the second floor of the hotel we were staying at, and I had already walked past it several times during the convention. Thus, I found myself speaking with the staff about the games being run and the sorts of stories being told.
For those who have not heard of them, Heroes of Rokugan is the organized play group for the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. Currently in their third major storyline, the Heroes of Rokugan offers dozens of modules in their continuing story via their website. Similar to the RPGA for Dungeons and Dragons, Heroes of Rokugan offers a means to track characters across several modules as they grow in power and influence.
Characters can be brought to conventions and played in any official module they have not yet participated in. While several modules are designed to be played in a specific order, many can be moved around to better suit a particular play group. The Heroes of Rokugan living campaigns have been run for several years, formally headed by Robert Hobart. (Rob Hobart has since become the head designer of the L5R RPG, keeping the Heroes of Rokugan close to the heart of the game.)
During one of these conversations on Friday, I learned that there would be space the next day for a table of players in the Heroes of Rokugan campaign. As I very rarely get to play in an L5R RPG game with much regularity, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I gave my Saturday Challenge Booth ticket away and instead showed up with a couple of friends for the Heroes of Rokugan experience, joined by a trio entirely new to L5R. While we were putting the finishing touches on the characters we were hoping to play, we shared the rich oral history of the game with these new players. It is this ritual of sharing that is central to the experience of Legend of the Five Rings, I feel, and what keeps people coming back. There really is nothing to make all the old stories fresh again like a new set of ears to hear them.
All New Heroes
That afternoon, I was a Yasuki courtier from the Toritaka family of the Crab Clan. While most of the character was a nebulous lump of clay to be worked on by the story, I made sure to give it a few solid hooks. There was a major debt to the Scorpion Clan incurred by a gambling and drinking father, and a focus for the character in Investigation.
The rest of the table consisted of two Bayushi bushi, one Utaku battle maiden, a Kitsuki investigator and a Matsu berserker. Lacking in a Shugenja, the game left us in an interesting position. That is, our party had no real access to magic, and that could prove to be entirely disastrous. All it would take would be one creature resistant to being hit with swords and we’d be done for.
Before too long, our Game Master came along and settled in on our adventure. We would be playing through the first adventure in the Heroes of Rokugan III campaign, the Spirits of Bushido. Designed as an introductory module, I was amused when we learned our characters would be attending the Topaz Championship. The Test of the Topaz Champion had been an introductory module to L5R since First Edition and had appeared in both Second and Third Edition as well. While there was no Fourth Edition update for the adventure, it was a well-known module.
In the traditional module, the Player Characters would be the contestants at the Test of the Topaz Championship, the most prestigious coming of age ceremony in the Emerald Empire. It is one part Olympics, one part Miss America pageant, and served excellently as a crash course in the mechanics and world of L5R. In the Heroes of Rokugan version, we were instead the personal tutors for the contestants in the Topaz Championship. Set during the later years of the reign of Toturi the First, this would be the first Topaz Championship in years.
The story of the module flew past quickly, with some socialization allowing us to coach our contestants in particular skills and interact a bit with each other. The forming event of the Spirits of Bushido campaign, however, ensured that events took a strong left turn from the canon storyline, as a botched assassination attempt on the Emperor at the Topaz Championship left the Empress dead by a blade forged from the claw of the Elemental Dragon of the Void – one of the fundamental deities of the setting.
The death of the Empress, herself the mouthpiece of the Dragon of the Void in the mortal realm, triggered a rift in the fabric of the spirit realms, and we found ourselves pulled through to a strange new realm. Thrust together by our shared interest in the students, we navigated bizarre versions of the tests of the Topaz Championship while rescuing our students and various VIPs at the tournament. By the time we reached the end of the module, we had been dropped waist deep into a Rokugan dramatically different than the one familiar to us.
All in all, it was an afternoon well spent. While my little wily merchant was not the most effective character for that particular module, he was still fun to play. It felt good to finally play in one of the Heroes of Rokugan adventures, and their take on the classic Topaz Championship made it new and interesting. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to participate in further Heroes of Rokugan adventures, but it was something to check off on my L5R Bucket List and made for a nice interlude from my less-than-stellar Qualifiers. I was certainly glad for it.
Once finished, I still had enough time to grab some food and attend a few brief events, but before too long, I was heading back to the CCG Hall to get there in time for 9 PM.
It was time for the L5R Experience.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; Star Trek’s Data by CBS Entertainment; Angry Simpson’s Mob by 20th Century Fox; Gen Con Expo 2014 c/o Arc Games; Lagertha of Vikings by A&E Television Networks