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 33: The Month of Updates
So, October was quite the month, dear reader. My apologies if this reaches you a little later than anticipated as a result, but rest assured, it was not due to a lack of involvement. Quite the opposite: the last month has been nothing short of the height of flood season for Legend of the Five Rings, and it has been all that some of us can do to keep our heads above water (and money in the bank). In short, since we last checked in, there has been a major release for the Living Card Game, a new novella, seven new Clan Letters, two new fictions, a major expansion announcement, the Winter Court World Championships, and the release of the new L5R RPG Core Rules. There has also been seven AMAs from the designers of the LCG, one tailored to each Great Clan, as well as several major community involvement milestones. So let’s spare no time and dive right in.
The Story Continues
On the subject of the fiction, two new pieces of short fiction have been released in the last month. Both were written by Robert “Spooky” Denton III, a name which should be immediately familiar to you. I’ve spoken highly of Spooky’s fiction in the past, and quite enjoyed his Phoenix Clan novella, The Sword and the Spirits. Both of these stories do not disappoint, with “Small Mercies” carrying on the longstanding tradition of L5R Halloween fictions, and “Imperial Gifts” setting the stage for the next Kotei season’s stakes, as well as continuing to flesh out the narrative unfolding in the heart of the Forbidden City.
As a long-time fan of the ghost-hunting Minor Clan, the Falcon Clan, their formal inclusion and update into the new L5R canon was a welcome sight, with my only complaint being that the fiction was almost too short. It left me wanting to know more of what happened, and it was only in my fourth reading did I catch that it took place in the 10th Century of Rokugan – at least 40 years before the present timeline. As a Spider Clan player under AEG, the unfolding story of Iuchi Shahai and Hantei Daisetsu continues to pay homage to one of the greatest (if evil) love stories of the old timeline, while continuing to up the stakes on the revelations within “Tiger Stalks His Prey”.
And do not think it has gone unnoticed by this long term L5R fan that the prize for the next Kotei season will be Kunshu, the Ancestral Sword of the Hantei. While a very important weapon historically to the Spider Clan, as it was wielded by Daigotsu and later Iuchiban, there was a certain Gen Con where the prize was the Ancestral Sword of the Hantei coming into the possession of the winner’s Clan Champion. Ken Carpenter won the 1996 World Championship at Gen Con that year with the Crab Clan, and Hida Kisada received Kunshu under less than ideal circumstances, even if it did result in a beautiful, character defining moment for the Crab Clan Champion. I highly doubt the circumstances will be the same this time around, but I appreciate the nod to the old canon storyline by Fantasy Flight Games and hope that the circumstances Kunshu is gained by the Clan who takes home the prize next year has a better time of it than Hida Kisada.
Meanwhile, Mari Murdock’s Scorpion Clan novella, Whispers of Shadow and Steel, picks up where the fiction “A Simple Test” left off. With the leadership of his Clan, and particularly Bayushi Kachiko, deeply angry at him, Bayushi Yojiro sets off for the City of Lies, Ryoko Owari Toshi, to solve a mysterious murder. Over the course of the novella, Yojiro uncovers mystery after mystery, and is left with a deeply unsettling question for any Scorpion to contemplate: who can he trust?
Mari handles the character of Bayushi Yojiro in a compelling way, and fleshes out the world of Rokugan through his eyes. She brings a greater character to Ryoko Owari itself, and by and large, the story is well-paced and well written. The characters are consistent and effective to the purpose they are given. I recommend this novella to anyone who is a fan of L5R and the Scorpion Clan in particular, if only for the supplemental material in the back alone.
Unfortunately, some of the challenges I saw in The Sword and the Spirits are only magnified in this piece. This novella is, in a word, crowded. It does not have enough room in length to fully give the depth to its many, many complicated characters, their split loyalties, and their unique challenges.
Ryoko Owari Toshi is a city that is as familiar to me in some ways as the one I live in, in real life, as the old RPG’s City of Lies boxed set is a campaign I have run easily a half a dozen times over 20 years. Having the governor, Shosuro Hyobu, described as a stunning woman was jarring, as her plainness was a character feature of her original depictions, setting her apart from the nigh-ubiquitous beauty possessed by every other Scorpion Clan woman in L5R. Murdock was able to properly capture her dangerous intelligence and even-handed ruthlessness, however, for which I am grateful. Ultimately, Whispers of Shadow and Steel suffers from its short length, and is not given enough room to become the full-fledged mystery novel or hard-bitten detective novel it could have been. It is absolutely worth the read, however.
The Kotei Cometh
On the topic of next year’s Kotei season, Fantasy Flight Games has outlined the two major Organized Play programs they are planning for the LCG in 2019. The first is the “Kunshu” Kotei season, starting at the end of this month at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia and ending in Poland at the FFG European Championships. As with the Toshi Ranbo season, players at the Kotei and Grand Kotei will be competing to earn points of Favor and Glory. Players with Hatamoto status who end the tournament with a winning record earn their Clan one Favor point, while Hatamoto with a losing record will lose their Great Clan one Favor point. The Great Clan with the most Favor points at the end of the season will host the 2019 Winter Court World Championship, and thus all the prizes at that event will be themed around that Clan. Any player who posts a winning record at a Kotei will earn one Glory point for their Great Clan, with the Great Clan at the end of the season getting the Kunshu card in a later expansion.
The rewards are increased at the Grand Kotei, should the player reach Day Two. As always, winning a Kotei gets an invitation to the Winter Court World Championship, complete with free airfare and lodging for the winners of the Grand Kotei. There will also be Prize Stations, with Costume Contests, Skirmish Pods and Enlightenment Pods to earn more prizes. The prize support for next year’s Kotei are truly staggering, and I suggest you check them out in detail yourself.
Concurrent with the Kotei season will be the Elemental Challenges and Championships. Rather than earning their Great Clan points of Favor and Glory as in the Winter Court, these events will be focused around the Elemental Role selections. Elemental Challenges will be held at major conventions and events, similar to the announced Kotei so far, and will award those who can go five rounds of Swiss undefeated, with a first round bye for an Elemental Championship among the various prizes.
The Elemental Championship offers the highly requested return of retailer-hosted regional events, and while the details on their prizes and standings are still nebulous, they are promising to be the focal point of 2019’s tournament scene. With both the Kotei and the Elemental Challenges taking place behind the “pay walls” of major conventions (our own PAX East will be hosting an Elemental Challenge, for example), the Elemental Championships will be the most accessible regional level tournaments, and will hopefully see a surge in Organized Play numbers here in the US. The details on how the Elemental Challenges and Championships will be influencing the upcoming Elemental Roles on May and September 1st have yet to announced, though one very important detail has been released. It has been confirmed that, whiever roles will be voted on, those selected through the Elemental points will not be through exclusive draft, which may result in multiple Great Clans choosing the same Roles.
Setting The Table For The Winter Court
No discussion of L5R’s Organized Play would be complete without mentioning the Winter Court World Championships of 2018, which recently took place at the beginning of November just outside the Twin Cities of Minnesota. With over 200 people competing on Friday and Saturday to qualify for Sunday’s 128 person single elimination World Championship, the Winter Court event was only slightly smaller than the inaugural Kiku Matsuri of 2017. Featuring a far more diverse meta than last year, along with expanded side events, Fantasy Flight Games further rewarded faction loyalty with more than just the choice of Elemental Role for the top of each Great Clan. In the weeks leading up to the Winter Court, each Great Clan was given a Clan Letter, outlining a specific decision facing each Great Clan Champion. The top player of each Great Clan would choose a specific family to handle the issue presented by their Champion, with the 2019 Shogun choosing a specific character within that family to handle the matter.
All in all, the Winter Court World Championships were a highly successful event, with FFG taking many steps to involve and reward the community. The Sunday elimination brackets saw several surprising upsets, including the elimination of Aneil Seetharam, winner of multiple Grand Kotei and one of the favorites this year to take it. Congratulations go to Erik Baalhuis of the Netherlands for taking home the 2019 Shogun title for the Crane Clan!
With the completion of the Winter Court World Championship, the top player of each Great Clan selected the Elemental Role that their Clan would possess until September 1, 2019, and you can find the full list of selections that were made here. I am already finding the choice of Seeker of Water for the Unicorn Clan to be interesting, and I hope that some of their problems can be smoothed out by the changes.
Although I was regrettably not able to attend the World Championships in person, I was able to keep track of the events in close to real-time thanks to the Imperial Assembly blog and FFG’s Twitch channel. A highlight of the event was getting to listen to the commentary on the Top 4 and Finals match-ups, provided by Aneil and Chris Pottorf (better known as Fro Ttop in the community). L5R is a game defined by hundreds of decision points, made constantly throughout a turn, any one of which can turn a game from a win to a loss. Watching two top tier players play with commentary provided by experts in the game was a rare delight, and it’s something that FFG would be remiss if they did not repeat next year.
Asked And Answered
In additional LCG news, the designers of the game opened the door for a new level of interaction with the players by holding multiple AMAs over on Discord. With each AMA focused around a particular Great Clan, Tyler Parrott and Brad Andres took on several questions from the community, providing ultimately a lot of insight into the thinking behind their design of the game and a few of their favorite cards and surprises in the community. With each AMA came a spoiler from the Children of the Empire deluxe expansion pack, coming in January 2019. Although interesting overall, these AMAs were sadly lacking in substantive information, consisting primarily of trying to heighten the general hype around the Winter Court World Championship.
That said, the release train has continued to roll on. The Underhand of the Emperor has entered into legal play, and while it has provided the Scorpion Clan with a few extra tricks, its impact is far from the same level as Disciples of the Void was earlier this year. Focused mostly around expanding the Shinobi theme of the Scorpion Clan, Underhand of the Emperor provided the Scorpion Clan with a new Stronghold and several new Holdings, Provinces, Characters, Events and Attachments.
Each Great Clan also got a Unique Character with abilities to help deal with the Scorpion Clan’s strategies, though they were not made equal. Kyuden Bayushi provides a radically different style of play from the City of the Open Hand, though community consensus remains solidly with the original Stronghold of the Scorpion Clan. Kyuden Bayushi focuses around dishonoring its own characters, using the Stronghold to ready them to strike again, with a mild increase to their Skill if one’s Honor is low enough. The expansion of more options is still a welcome one, regardless, as I am having far more fun with Kyuden Bayushi’s aggressive, interactive play than I did with City of the Open Hand’s reactive control and denial play.
Meanwhile, the spoilers for January’s Children of the Empire continue to trickle in, piece by piece. Artwork can be found for Hantei Daisetsu and Hantei the 38th. The first preview article speaks to cleaning up the language surrounding duels and expanding their presence in the card game, as well as outlining a new keyword, Composure.
Similar to the card Good Omen, Composure activates when the number on your Honor dial is less than your opponent’s. So far, the cards previewed each take advantage of Composure through gaining a useful trait, such as Honest Challenger’s +2 Military skill while you have Composure. It will be interesting to see just how powerful this new keyword will be and if it will lead to decks tailored around the early game state of Composure. The presence of such decks would presumably lead to a more dynamic Honor bid environment – something that the LCG desperately needs. It will also be interesting to see if FFG will explore negative effects for characters if one does not have Composure, though it would be all too likely that such cards would ever see the light of day.
Finally, there is the release of the L5R Roleplaying Game Core Rules. But dissecting and discussing that will require an article all its own. So keep an eye out in the coming weeks for my review of it here on The Cardboard Republic! For now, I will leave you with our eyes forward for the next month. For the moment, the skies are clearing, and the downpour of content appears to be slowing. Hopefully, we will not have the drought of news from January to April that we did this year. In either case, dear reader, I will be there with you.
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.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.