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 upon the game’s sale to FFG in 2015.
Chapter 34: A Rokugan Retrospective
While it’s hard to be absolutely certain that we have seen an end to the seasons of flood and drought in terms of L5R news, the forecast thus far of 2019 shows that Fantasy Flight Games might finally be moving finally to a more sustained and sustainable release cycle. Still, in December, we had our first previews of the upcoming Unicorn Clan Pack, a community effort to build a Character for an upcoming set, the L5R Roleplaying Game released both its Gamemaster’s Kit and first supplement, and the first two Kotei of the Kunshu Season were resolved. Finally, we received the updated Restricted List and an expected release schedule for 2019, which promises something we have not yet seen from FFG’s tenure in the game: consistency. But given that I originally intended for this to go up prior to the New Year, there’s no need to further dally. So, dear reader, let us begin.
The Plight of the Unicorn
As a Day Two Gen Con 2017 player of the Unicorn Clan in the Legend of the Five Rings LCG, I have experienced firsthand the struggles and challenges facing the Clan of Shinjo in the current LCG. While described infamously by one of the designers as a “puzzle”, the truth is simply that for the longest time, they did not have the requisite pieces to win. Golden Plains Outpost in the Core Set is wildly regarded as the single worst Stronghold in the game, with an ability which is too narrow to be useful and a complete lack of a bonus to Province Strength.
For many, the best part of the Golden Plains Outpost was that it started at 10 Honor, which meant that the City of the Open Hand had to work on losing Honor before it could use its ability against you. This is further exacerbated by being tied with Dragon for least amount of in-faction Dynasty cards and by their Characters frequently being over-costed for their abilities and Skills. While their Conflict side was good, it was often more expensive than comparable cards in other Clans. If the Unicorn Clan were meant to be a puzzle, then they were missing many necessary pieces out of the box and needed some serious grease to get the pieces they did have to fit together.
The development of the Unicorn Clan through the Imperial and Elemental Cycles increased their overall footprint in the game, and the new Stronghold of Hisu Mori Toride (with a purple paint job) gave the Unicorn a foundation they could begin to build off of. Unfortunately, this might have taken them two steps towards being a competitive faction, but it also pushed the other Great Clans forward in their competitive ability. The Unicorn Clan struggled to keep up in an environment dominated by the Draw 5 Meta, High Fate power decks of the Scorpion Clan and Dragon Clan, where many of the Unicorn’s cards came with an Honor cost (restricting their ability to bid high to draw cards) or cost more Fate than comparable cards in other factions (looking at you, Dispatch). Hisu Mori Toride moved the Unicorn off of being the unquestionably worst clan position, but the only reason the faction can be said to be better than Lion is because Unicorn had been so bad for so long, while Lion’s fall from grace came hard after the World’s Championship of 2017.
Coming in March 2019 will be Warriors of the Wind, the Unicorn Clan Pack, and many in the community are hoping that it will be what turns the game around for the long-suffering Clan of Shinjo. Expanding on Unicorn’s theme of “exploration”, Warriors of the Wind will introduce 28 new cards into the game, including a new Stronghold, a new Province, and 8 new Dynasty cards specifically for the Unicorn Clan. Previews from this Clan Pack have already begun to be released, and the hope has been growing steadily.
First and foremost is the new Stronghold, Shiro Shinjo, which promises to change the way the game is played for most Unicorn players. It is the first Stronghold in the game to offer a non-standard Fate production, producing a base of 6 Fate a turn (compared to the standard 7).
However, after players collect their Fate, the player with Shiro Shinjo can bow their Stronghold to collect additional Fate equal to the number of revealed non-Stronghold Provinces your opponent controls. These broken Provinces remain revealed, meaning this Stronghold will likely be earning 10 Fate a round from third round onwards.
Alongside the economic strength of this new Stronghold, we’ve also seen cards like Iuchi Daiyu and Speak To The Heart, both of which provide significant Skill pumps in a Conflict for the number of revealed Provinces your opponent controls. Although anticipation is justifiably gathering as a result about this Clan Pack, I’m still withholding judgement.
While cards like Iuchi Farseer may prove to be the unsung heroes of this Stronghold, the fact remains that the Unicorn Clan simply might not have the tools in its arsenal to take advantage of the economic strength the Stronghold provides. Even with 8 new Unicorn Dynasty cards, the Unicorn still run more expensive than the other factions. Their best bet might wind up being getting surprising equity out of powerhouse cards like Yoritomo and devote the rest of their deck to running the necessary defenses to push them up over the finish line. The possibility is there that Warriors of the Wind might spell a change for the perennially poor performance of the ponies in purple, but for the moment that remains to be seen.
What does have my unwavering excitement, however, is the next Clan Novella. Focusing around the Unicorn Clan, Across the Burning Sands by Daniel Lovat Clark follows the story of Shinjo Shono as he journeys along the Sand Road west of Rokugan into the foreign lands of the al-Zawira Caliphate. What he finds there promises to be an adventure of danger, excitement, and romantic tension, as all fantasy-laden, hot-blooded action stories should. This may be Daniel’s first foray into L5R fiction, but he has met with success writing for Fantasy Flight Games before as the author of the Android novella Monster Slayer.
Praised as a short, but solid action flick in prose, there’s hope that we might finally see a proper sword-fighting action scene in L5R. The cover illustration features Shinjo Shono in gaijin clothes, along with a mysterious figure in Unicorn armor. While the identity of the man with a the x-shaped scar has yet to be confirmed by FFG, any fan of the old canon would be hard-pressed not to recognize Moto Chagatai, a character who nearly single-handedly developed the entire personality of the Unicorn Clan after the muddled confusion of the Hidden Emperor story arc.
Moto Chagatai turned the Unicorn Clan from the “kind but boring samurai in purple on horseback” of the early game into the semi-barbarian horde which serves as the basis of the current version of the Unicorn Clan – one heavily inspired by the stories of Kublai Khan and his court. It’s been pointed out that the timelines for this would not match up, and yet it would be a major misstep for FFG not to include such an iconic character early on. As a Unicorn Clan player, I would eagerly welcome the Once and Future Khan.
Coinciding with all the Unicorn chatter, FFG has been actively engaging with the general online L5R community through a series of “Community Design-a-Card” articles. For several weeks, they have invited players to vote on an aspect of an upcoming Character, destined for release at an unspecified point in the future. Each vote lasts 24 hours, showing its results on the next day along with a brief description of the stakes of the next vote. The first vote was for Great Clan, which was won surprisingly by the Unicorn Clan. The next votes determined the character to be of the Utaku family and the Unicorn theme it interacted with, of which “out of clan allies” won. The Skill was determined to be “balanced, High Glory”, with an identity decided to be a Worldly Shiotome who is fascinated with the gaijin world. The Character’s ability was to be “In Search of Honor”, allowing it to honor when a Gaijin card is played. And most recently, fans decided on the card art itself:
From an outreach perspective, the design-a-card series has been a resounding success. The choices have been the buzz of the L5R podcasts, has engaged the community in active debate, and despite the best efforts of the salt trolls of L5R, it appears that as a community we have come together to make a solidly playable Character for the Unicorn Clan.
The current speculation places our Worldly Shiotome as a 2 Mil / 2 Pol / 3 Glory Character for 3 Fate after correctly predicting it has having Bushi, Cavalry, and Battle Maiden traits, as well an Ability of “Reaction: When you play a Gaijin card – Honor this character.” Considering the prominence of Spyglass for Unicorn Clan decks, along with the new options of Curved Sword and Trading on the Sand Road in the Warriors of the Wind Clan Pack, this would place her as another solid Character rounding out the middle bands of the Clan. Personally I would love to see her as a 1 Fate Unique, giving Unicorn a Character who can compete with both Doomed Shugenja and Ethereal Dreamer for sheer power at low cost.
Roleplaying’s Past & Futures
News on the L5R RPG front has been more multi-clan focused by comparison, with the release of both the Gamemaster’s Kit and the first supplement, Emerald Empire. Reflecting my review of the RPG, both pieces continue to present a visually beautiful game, rich in depth and with lore seeping out of every lush, full-color illustration. The Gamemaster’s Kit comes with a deluxe GM screen, which does leave a little to be desired for selected rules. While Skills and Approaches are useful inclusions, it truly could have used more depth on the different type of Opportunities available to characters in the game.
The Kit’s adventure takes place in Slow Tide Harbor, a holding of the Tortoise Clan, and provides all the rules needed to play a member of that distasteful Minor Clan. The adventure itself is fairly straight-forward, taking only about two sessions to play through. Its strength lies in its replay value, as the GM is given a choice of three antagonists to be behind the plot and can vary the clues to lead to any of the three that they wish. I recommend this product for anyone who plans to run the L5R RPG, and highly recommend it for any fan of the Tortoise Clan.
Emerald Empire continues in the tradition started with the GM Survival Guide all the way back in 1st Edition. It is absolutely essential to own for any fan of the Legend of the Five Rings world, especially for those of us interested in the various changes included in the new lore. Yet whereas some of the changes are welcome, especially the re-structuring of L5R’s somewhat confusing and vaguely Western Spirit Realms into a semi-functioning grand Celestial Bureaucracy that feels far more authentic to the source material, others contradict the Core Rules in certain places, most notably an absence of the Fortune Kisshoten. The book also features detailed rules on playing a member of the Imperial Families, members of the Brotherhood of Shinsei monastic orders, a fox spirit pretending to be a human being, and…something even more insidious than all of the above. I will not spoil it here save for the phrase: “Hungry dogs always bite”…
A New Kotei Season Begins
On the tournament side, the Kunshu Kotei season is well underway, with the first two events of the season, a Kotei at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia and a Grand Kotei in Madrid. I extend my congratulations to both Aneil Seetharam and Jakub Irzyk as our first two champions of the season, even if the non-Grand Kotei do not exactly have winners anymore. Seeing two of the best players in the world recover from their performance at Worlds is heartening. The Scorpion Clan continue their dominance of competitive play, however, taking an early lead in most of the metrics being tracked this season. The Imperial Advisor is keeping an up to date tracking of this season’s tournament points and Hatamoto, so keep an eye on this page if you wish to follow along.
Rokugan in 2019
As for 2019, two new developments are already shaking up the greater L5R community. On December 10th, the new Rules Reference Guide for the LCG was released, making several not-insignificant changes. With Children of the Empire around the corner, language was added to clean up dueling and introduce the Composure mechanic, and a few places where the rules weren’t functioning as intended were removed.
The Restricted List was also updated, with both Iron Mine and Against the Waves being taken off, while several high Fate power cards (Niten Master, Guest of Honor, Isawa Tadaka, A Fate Worse Than Death) were added. Many pieces have already discussed these cards in particular, and I think the greatest connecting thread between them is simply their Fate cost. While the new additions of Rebuild and Young Rumormonger did not share in the high cost, I think FFG is starting to rethink the power of such high costed cards and the economic balance in light of cards yet to come. Void Fist was also added, giving the Dragon Clan a grand total of three Restricted cards – four if you count Pathfinder’s Blade.
Moreover, 2019 will see the release of two new supplements for the RPG, with the module “The Mask of the Oni” serving as a companion adventure to the Shadowlands setting book. Focused around the Crab Clan and its war against the forces of darkness and corruption, Shadowlands promises to follow in the footsteps of Bearers of Jade, a 1st Edition supplement widely regarded as one of the single most important pieces of L5R RPG writing.
With each new supplement FFG seems to be cleaving closely to the pathway laid out by the original version of the RPG, though they seem to be pairing material effectively, such as detailing the Shadowlands at the same time as showcasing the Crab. I would not be surprised if we saw this continue into the future, with the Dragon and the Phoenix being paired with the mystical aspects of the game, the Scorpion and the Crane with Winter Court and politics, and the Lion and the Unicorn being warfare and combat.
Finally, at the Madrid Kotei, Tyler Parrott provided a release forecast for 2019 which will be a change from the feast or famine elements of the past. The deluxe expansion, Children of the Empire, will inject a massive amount of cards into the LCG and is due out any day now, and March will see the release of the Unicorn Clan Pack. The Crane Clan Pack will follow in April, and May will see the start of the next Dynasty Cycle, which will release at a rate of one pack per month from May through October. If all goes to plan, the last quarter of 2019 will then see the release of the final three Clan Packs (though it was confirmed that the Dragon Clan Pack will not be legal for the World’s Championships in November).
The meta of the LCG seems to have finally entered into a mature enough state as to where it will be a moving target, with each Great Clan going through its ups and downs, but with steady shifting throughout the year.
What does this all mean for us, dear reader? It means that L5R is as healthy as it has been in a long time, giving us a steady amount of news for us to speak of. But that’s all for this month. By this time next month, we should have a whole new deluxe expansion to talk about, along with all its undoubtedly juicy story developments. Until then, dear reader.
Carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon was 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 were his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
You can discuss this article and more on our social media!
Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.