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 17: The Waiting Game
The last few weeks have been quiet compared to the last two months of Legend of the Five Rings; it feels like the community itself is holding its breath. For those who remember my last article, a series of recent announcements in recent months have shaken up L5R from the very top to the bottom. Dave Laderoute was named the new brand lead of Legend of the Five Rings, three new members of the Story Team were hired, and a new level of transparency in the living story at the heart of L5R was embraced.
In the spirit of that, we at The Cardboard Republic have been fortunate enough to interview both C Thomas Hand, one of the new Story Team members, and Chris Medico, a member of the Player Design Team and multiple Kotei winner in 2015, about their history with L5R and what has kept them in the community.
It is the future that concerns that community of players presently, and it is an uncertain one. On June 14th, the finalized versions of the Story Paths for Onyx Edition were posted by AEG. Accompanying the previous choices were several created by the L5R community, including the Spider Clan path Shourido Above All. As one of the voices which helped shape that path from its origins in the mass brainstorming over on Shinden Fu Leng to the final version written by Rory Heffernan and Justin Walsh. It was anything but an easy process, but seeing the words I crafted being put before the community of my fellow players has been amazingly gratifying. Time and again, the L5R brand team has proven itself to be one that listens to its fans and provides proof that their voice is heard.
In the previous segment I described the two choices presented to the Spider Clan, with a decision that split us hard down the middle. The community of Spider Clan players reacted strongly to the choice, and quickly both sides had their diehard adherents. Many players welcomed the return to the Shadowlands Horde of Imperial, Jade, and Gold Editions, when monsters from the Shadowlands fought alongside undead horrors and vile blood sorcerers to bring the Empire to its knees.
The option to Embrace the Darkness invigorated these players as nothing else had, as did the promise that the Spider Clan and its Champion would rule Rokugan. It is the promise at the heart of the Spider Clan, that one day, the line of its founder would sit on the throne of Rokugan and rule as its Emperor. To them, the cost of losing the identity of a Great Clan to achieve this end was no true loss.
Many other players rallied to Walk in the Light. Citing the fact that Embrace the Darkness would leave the Spider Clan in a 9 vs 1 fight against the rest of the Empire, these players saw that choice as ultimately shortsighted and a betrayal of the identity they had. The Spider Clan was a Great Clan, built of samurai who served the Empress, albeit in a villainous, ambitious manner.
Seizing the Throne backed by the force of Jigoku would lose the interactivity with the nuanced politics of the setting many fans of the RPG enjoyed, locking the Spider Clan into a marginalized faction of monsters with no real purpose other than frustrating the Story Team with their victories.
Coupled to that was another strong argument that, in a setting where the CCG directly impacts the storyline, victories for the Spider Clan have always been rare. The continued presence of anti-Shadowlands cards in the environment did not promise any change in that, especially in a faction which would be increasingly dependent on cards with the Shadowlands trait.
Between these two sides stood a sizable number of players who were like me. While the idea of ruling the Empire appealed to me as a Spider Clan player, and siding against our Champion in the storyline felt like a betrayal of our ideals, the cost being asked for was simply too high to Embrace the Darkness.
Since returning to the CCG, the Spider Clan has resonated with me in a way that the Shadowlands Horde era never had. The idea of playing the faction of dark samurai, driven by ambition and sworn to the service of a dark god but still servants of Heaven was a fascinating examination of morality separated from the Good vs Evil tropes ubiquitous to fantasy. Embracing the Darkness and Walking in the Light both felt too much like accepting a moral dualism. Worse over, choosing either side in effect meant telling a part of the community that they were playing the Spider Clan wrong.
The Third Way
In the weeks following the announcement of the Story Paths, Spider Clan players watched the other Clan’s choices eagerly to see their respective dilemmas, only to be met with repeated disappointment. Only the Mantis Clan truly had as dire of a choice to make as the Spider Clan, for their Story Path came alongside the announcement that the Mantis Clan would no longer be a playable faction in Onyx Edition. The stakes were high for the Spider Clan, and many rose to the challenge. The community at Shinden Fu Leng pooled their energy, creating path after path to try to present an option other than the two that were given. The community wanted a Story Path it could walk which would allow them to continue the story of dark samurai, without betraying their Champion.
From that brainstorming, the Shourido Above All Story Path was created. Created as an objection to the “Horde-ification” of Embrace the Darkness, it proposed an Empire ruled by the Champion of the Spider Clan where the Spider themselves neither rejected his actions nor embraced Jigoku. Instead, the Spider Clan would shape the Empire in its image, forging a society founded on the principles of Shourido, a martial philosophy created by the Spider Clan as an alternative to Bushido. This path would see the Spider Clan remain as samurai, using the power of Jigoku as necessary but never accepting becoming its servant.
The final version posted pushed this to its necessary extreme, positing a future of conflict between the Champion of the Spider Clan and his own father, the Dark Lord of Jigoku. Failing on the Path of Shourido meant almost certain destruction for the Spider Clan, as it meant angering both the established order and Jigoku. No other path promised to change the Empire as much.
As Shourido Above All came into focus on the forums, the community responded positively. It soon became the rallying cry for Spider Clan players who did not wish to remove either side of their identity. It eventually overtook both of the previous options in popularity and was formally submitted as a Story Path.
And it was accepted by the Story Team, albeit edited slightly, It was included in the official choices.
By the time this article is posted, voting for the Spider Clan Path will have closed. Win or lose, I am honored to have been a part of its creation and I have only the highest hopes for the future of L5R.
Which is good really, because if my competitive play record stays on its current course, Winter Court IV and Shourido Above All might be my only possibility for future story impact.
Speaking of which…
When I first returned to L5R at the start of this series, I talked about wanting to play a Spider Deck modeled after the Susumu family, filled with political tricks and ploys. After two years of collecting, testing, and playing, it finally became a reality At the Cambridge Kotei on May 2nd 2015, I fielded my Susumu deck for the first time in a competitive environment. I have included my deck list below.
3 Political Standoff
1 Counting House
3 Famous Bazaar
2 Forgotten Legacy
1 Jiramu’s Court
3 Kumite Grounds
3 Shinomen Marsh
3 Suana Dojo
2 Daigotsu Teruo
3 Gyushi Kageto
3 Otomo Terumoto
3 Susumu Jaru
2 Susumu Kengo
3 Susumu Takuan
2 Susumu Tanjin
3 Past and Future
3 Touch of Death
2 Building Contract
2 Defensive Grill
3 Encircled Terrain
2 Flashy Technique
2 Inexplicable Challenge
2 New Factors
3 Strike as the Earth
3 The Turtle’s Shell
3 Victory Through Deference
3 Wheels within Wheels
3 Wounded in Battle
3 Your Past
In an environment dominated by Mantis decks running Shika Sensei and Scorpion decks running Kobi Sensei, Kuroko Sensei provided the Spider Clan with a viable means of sustainable honor gain. Cheap, low personal honor Courtiers provided the bulk of the personality base, with Gyushi Kageto and Tairao adding the Shugenja support to speed up the deck even further. Through Susumu Takuan and Wheels Within Wheels, the deck was also capable of surprising Honor gains, easily pushing it past the 40 honor it needs to win in nearly every playtest match I had done against Military and Dishonor / Control decks. Only Pheonix Defensive Honor was able to strongly outmatch it, and defensive honor was never popular in New England. As with previous iterations, I kept in Wounded in Battle and Strike as the Earth for their synergy with Tairao, using Chi death in key fights to stop military in its tracks.
Shika Mantis was still going strong in New England at the the time of the Cambridge Kotei, and so all I needed was the right matchups to get my way into the finals.
That’s probably was why I was doomed to failure.
Round 1 – Jon Borras – Mantis Clan, Shika Sensei (0-0-0)
This was one of the decks I had planned for in playtesting and the one I was most comfortable facing. Jon played a good game, but I was able to keep the edge in the necessary fights by leveraging Chi death when needed to swing key battles. He was unable to take my last Province when I crossed 40 honor through simply having two Encircled Terrains to his one Contentious.
Round 2 – Melissa Bowers – Phoenix Clan, No Sensei (1-0-0)
Ah, the defensive Phoenix honor runner. I was not expecting to see one so early after my first win, and I beat the odds somewhat in doing so. Melissa played her deck to a tee, however, and I never even got close to closing the gap. As expected, I received a loss to honor running.
Round 3 – Keith Barriere – Phoenix Clan, No Sensei (1-1-0)
I’ve faced Keith before in tournaments, including the most recent Kotei. Usually, I am able to eke out the win. This time, however, he was playing my deck’s bane. It was an incredibly tight game, but it ultimately went Keith’s way. He was able to land on 40 honor the turn before I was able to and rightfully claimed the win this time. Alas, another loss to honor running.
Round 4 – Tonya Segee – Dragon Clan, No Sensei (1-2-0)
This was a matchup I was not expecting. In my playtests, I had not gone toe to toe with a Dragon Clan deck. Tonya was the only Dragon in the tournament, and I simply was unable to get my engine off the ground before she switched from honor running to military. She had played against enough Chi death in her home environment to actively protect her key personalities against it, and I literally had no tricks left in my hand when she put me down hard. It was an excellent match by Tonya, but unfortunately another loss for me.
Round 5 – Jacob Bobbie – Lion Clan, Kageko Sensei (1-3-0)
I will say this about diving into the loser brackets of a Kotei: you encounter decks you never thought would see competitive play. By this point, I knew I was actually one of them. Kageko Lion was another. Another Defensive Honor runner, the initial gap of 7 starting honor to my 2 starting honor was too big to close, and he was able to cross before I was able to catch up.
I closed out the day as Bottom of Clan for the Spider Clan at 1 win and 4 losses. Still, I had an excellent time there, taking home a tie on the Honor Contest for my submitted joke card, A Game of Doomtown. Chris Medico went on to take the day for the Mantis, winning his second Kotei in New England. He chose to preserve Shourido as a Spider Clan Icon, bringing our two Clans closer together.
And that, dear reader, is that. By the time you read this, the Clan Paths will have been announced, and I will be hard at work getting ready to head to Gen Con and the 20th Anniversary of Legend of the Five Rings. It is going to be a crazy time, and I hope to see any and all of you there, whatever your clan may be.
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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