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 32: The State of Rokugan
Welcome back, dear reader. By now, the big announcement yesterday has been revealed, with the unveiling of the expansive Children of the Empire expansion. Like you, I had been eagerly awaiting this news, and while I certainly have thoughts on this new product and its potential impact on the game, it will have to wait till the next installment.
September has otherwise been a fairly quiet month for the L5R community, with no major releases and only a faintest rumbles of the developments to come. Still, before we launch into the focus of this month’s article, let’s first discuss what has changed.
The Rules, They Are A-Changin’
The Legend of the Five Rings LCG recently released an update to the Rules Reference Guide, featuring two significant and impactful changes to the state of the game. These have now gone into effect as of October 9th. First, Hawk Tattoo has received a much needed errata. Hawk Tattoo, released in the Ebb and Flow Dynasty Pack of the Elemental Cycle, has dominated much of the tournament scene since it became legal.
With LCG being such a delicate balance of available resources, Hawk Tattoo’s power to be able to pull an opponent’s character into a Conflict where they are already winning or already losing prevents the character from being used later in the turn. The errata issued has restricted the ability to attach Hawk Tattoo solely to a Character you control, aligning it with its intended purpose. Personally, I am grateful for this change, as its power turned it into a new version of Mirumoto’s Fury, once again locking Dragon Clan into the automatic secondary splash for the majority of the competitive environment.
Second, and arguably the most impactful change to the rules since the game’s inception, is the removal of the additional Fate given at the start of the game to the player who goes second. Originally part of the game to balance the power of priority action given to the First Player, any competitive player of the last year would swear by the power of going second. Economy is essential in L5R’s tight resource management, and while being First Player on the first turn increased the likelihood the player would be the first to pass in the Dynasty Phase (and thus earning a Fate), this was often balanced by the other player having the first pick of Rings to declare a Conflict with on the second turn, guaranteeing a balance of available Fate. A major tournament win bias has been shown to players who go second, leading me to believe that this will truly shake up even the most central elements of the game. With the World Championship just around the corner and Underhand of the Emperor looking to be legal for it, this change has been greeted by the community with an exclamatory “It’s about time”.
Winter Court Prize Support
Speaking of Underhand of the Emperor, more spoilers have been released in recent weeks, featuring cards for the Dragon, Crane, and Crab Clans. While neither the Crab nor Dragon additions are particularly spectacular, they both provide solid support for their factions. Kitsuki Shomon is another solid 3-cost Dragon character, with a printed action which can ready her under certain circumstances. Likewise, Yasuki Oguri gives the Crab another character with the potent Covert keyword, though his ability is strictly defensive.
It is the new Crane, Doji Fumiki, who shows the most promise. A highly competitively costed Conflict character for her Skill values alone, Fumiki comes with a powerhouse printed Action which bows a participating dishonored character. With the ever increasing options to cause dishonor to your opponent’s Characters, she provides effective support for the growing Crane political powerhouse. Thankfully, her lack of an Influence cost prevents her from being included in out of clan decks, at least for the time being.
In other World Championship Winter Court news, this year’s prize support has been revealed. All themed around the Scorpion Clan due to their dominating performance last Kotei season, Shosuro Miyako’s art has been chosen as the featured piece for the playmat and art print for the event. Each of the Top 8 are promised a custom prize box with the Scorpion Clan mon and a prize from the Scorpion Clan unique to their Great Clan. Prizes returning from last year include the pick of an Elemental Role for each Top of Clan (replacing last year’s pick), along with various exclusive promos. The new Extended Art champions are pretty incredible, with metallic text and border on a black background, and are guaranteed to be a hot commodity on the secondary market as collector’s items.
New this year, however, are two special prizes. First, for the top of each Great Clan, there will be a story consultation and decision made, specifically responding to a series of Clan letters sent out by the champion in the weeks leading up to the event. Second, for the one taking home the Shogun title and winning the World’s Championship, there will be an opportunity to design a card for the LCG, similar to previous World Championships in FFG’s other games. Personally, I am going to be rooting for Aneil Seetharam to take the Dragon Clan (or Unicorn Clan, if he’s feeling spicy) to the finish.
The Current Fate Of The Clans
It is the promise of the upcoming letters from the Clan Champions which hold my interest the most. Across the nearly twenty-five years of L5R history, the Clan Letters have always served as a touchstone of the experience of Clan loyalty.
Originally offered only as benefit of membership in Alderac Entertainment Group’s L5R premium fan club, the Imperial Assembly, the Clan Letters provided a personal touch to the narrative facing each faction. However, the rise of the internet L5R community in the late 1990’s made hiding their information less and less possible. I still recall the days of eagerly awaiting the posting of all the Clan Letters on the now defunct Deathseeker.com blog, just to see what questions and challenges were being faced by the other Clans. These letters fell out of popularity towards the end of AEG’s stewardship of the game, and their return under FFG’s stewardship is a good sign.
However, to fully appreciate the impact of these letters, one must first understand the problems facing each Great Clan heading into the second World Championship. And to ascertain that, you would need to dig through the expansive and ever-growing library of official L5R fiction. There have been over forty short stories released since the start of the game, each weighing in between 2500 and 3000 words. Add to that the awesome novella, “The Sword and the Spirits” by Robert Denton III, and that puts the current cumulative fiction at over 150,000 words – or roughly 350 to 400 pages of manuscript.
Yes, the first year has effectively produced its own novel that would be at home alongside the works of George R.R. Martin or Stephen King. But…what has actually transpired?
To answer that question, I would first point you towards to a very useful index from the FFG boards, where a member of the L5R community has listed the current fictions in chronological order, as well as transcribing the fiction from each Dynasty Pack. All of that is freely available online. Another member of the community has also provided a brief synopsis of each fiction, along with which characters who appear in each. These are handy starting points, but even parsing the large amount of information available can be difficult.
As such, dear reader, allow me to summarize for you.
For the Crab Clan, the situation is growing dire. Following a direct assault on the Carpenter Wall, the Clan of Hida finds its resources growing thin. Young, promising samurai continue to die by the dozens, and Hida Kisada worries about the future of his Clan in the hands of his less than worthy children.
Yasuki Taka’s efforts at securing jade, a precious and holy material in the war against the Shadowlands, have been met with repeated frustration at court, mostly at the hands of Kakita Yoshi, the Imperial Chancellor and antagonist of the Crab.
Taka’s fortunes took a sudden turn, however, after an unexpected meeting with the bold and dangerous leader of the Mantis Clan, a group of loosely allied pirates and merchants with a claim to status as a minor clan of samurai. Yoritomo, the champion of the Mantis Clan, gave Taka an offer he could not refuse, promising the Yasuki daimyo access to Crane jade so long as the Crab did not care too much about the honor of such things. Taka accepted the deal without hesitation.
Meanwhile, in the lands of the Kuni, experimentations on the nature of their enemy continue despite the toll they may be taking on Kuni Yori, the daimyo of the Crab Clan. No price is too high, however, as the threat posed to the Empire by the Lost who do slip past the Wall grows. After all, when only three can wipe out entire villages in a single night, one can never be too careful.
The Crane Clan started the current story arc in a rough position, and things haven’t much improved. A devastating tsunami and the death of Doji Satsume, their Clan champion, has left the Empire’s wealthiest Great Clan back on its heels.
Doji Hotaru, Satsume’s daughter and the new Crane Clan champion, found her leadership challenged on nearly every side. The courts are firmly in the control of the Scorpion Clan, led by Bayushi Shoju and his wife, Bayushi Kachiko (whom is also Hotaru’s old flame). The coast is being raided by Yoritomo’s pirates. And her own brother, Doji Kuwanon, was missing. The situation only escalated after she killed the Lion Clan champion, Akodo Arosou, outside the gates of Toshi Ranbo – a hotly contested city between the two Great Clans that remains an ongoing challenge.
Kuwanon’s unexpected return was a welcome sight at first but one which turned sour quickly as Kuwanon challenged his sister’s leadership of the Clan before storming off to get to the bottom of their father’s death. At least she has the voice of Kakita Yoshi in the courts of Rokugan…for now.
For the first time in a generation, the forces of the Dragon Clan are on the march. At the behest of a vision from their enigmatic champion, Togashi Yokuni, the forces of the Mirumoto head towards the capital, passing through the conflict between the Lion and the Crane. Mirumoto Hitomi and Togashi Yokuni clashed regularly on the march south, the former driven by anger over her brother’s recent death and the latter unable to resist aiding the peasants in need.
The home they are leaving behind, however, is far from peaceful, due to the growing power of a heretical religious group, the Pure Land Sect. Believing themselves to be living in the Age of Declining Virtue, the religious tolerance of the Dragon Clan is allowing their threat to grow, with the sect plotting to assassinate the leader of the Mirumoto family while his forces are abroad.
For the Lion Clan, it is a season of war. While no official war has been declared on the Crane Clan, the continuing conflict over Toshi Ranbo escalates steadily. Matsu Tsuko, the betrothed of the slain Akodo Arasou, struggles to reclaim the city for her dead love, but she must do so with honor. When it was revealed that Doji Kuwanon was captured by dishonorable ronin in order to be ransomed to her for revenge, she dispatched the ronin and chose to free Kuwanon, understanding his desire to avenge his father and knowing that he would bring no end of trouble to his sister’s control of the Crane Clan.
In the west, peace talks with the Unicorn Clan have broken down, leading to the occupation of Hisu Mori Toride, a border castle between the two Clans which had been in Unicorn hands for quite some time. Fortunately, the Lion Clan has found an ally in the Phoenix Clan, united in the marriage between the new Lion Clan champion (and the old champion’s younger brother), Akodo Toturi, and the powerful ishiken, Isawa Kaede.
Toturi has proven to be a difficult leader for the Lion Clan, however, as his contemplative, diplomatic nature stands at odds with the hot blooded, warlike desires of his soldiers. Still, it is that nature which led him to success at the Test of the Emerald Champion, securing his position as the Emperor’s chief justice and personal yojimbo.
If only things were so simple for the Phoenix Clan. Aware of a growing imbalance in the elemental spirits of the Emerald Empire, the Elemental Council who rules the Phoenix Clan seek greater wisdom on the many growing crises.
Isawa Tadaka, the headstrong Master of Earth, unseated his master from the Elemental Council at high personal cost, and was heading towards Crab lands to confront the darkness he senses there. Isawa Kaede and her father, Master of Void Isawa Ujina, failed to persuade the Emperor to make the gaijin magic of the Unicorn Clan, meishodo, illegal. Shiba Tsukune, who never expected to be chosen by the Ancestral Sword of the Phoenix to serve as the Phoenix Clan champion, has elevated the previously isolated and almost unheard of Kaito family to full status in the Clan and granted them the task of investigating this imbalance on her behalf. Kaito Kosori, still scarred from the terrible events of her ascension to a daimyo of a full family of a Great Clan, struggles with her new duties and its many challenges, even as she suspects that meishodo may not be the cause the Elemental Council claims it to be.
And then there’s the mysterious disappearance of the Master of Void from the Forbidden City, casting a dark shadow over the fate of Rokugan’s holiest Great Clan.
On the other hand, it is a good time to be the Scorpion Clan. They rule the courts in both the shadows and the daylight, with Bayushi Kachiko whispering in the ear of the aging Hantei XXXVIII and her husband, Scorpion Clan champion Bayushi Shoju, holding sway over all manners of blackmail. While Kachiko’s scheme to place Bayushi Aramoro as the Emerald Champion failed, it did so only due to the interference of Bayushi Yojiro, the Honest Scorpion and an Emerald Magistrate whose loyalty lies in Shoju above all others. Even a failed assassination attempt against Kachiko only shows just how much power the Scorpion hold.
It is only the Scorpion Clan as well who have any idea of the threat posed by the Pure Land Sect, having placed spies at its very heart and monitor the Dragon Clan for the influence of this heretical religion. An alliance with the Lion Clan itself remains, tying them close to the largest enemy of their rivals in the Crane Clan, while also serving to stymie the military power of the Unicorn Clan.
One secret, however, remains unknown even to Bayushi Shoju himself, and its revelation may change the entire course of history….
And as always, the Unicorn Clan finds itself at odds with the rest of the Emerald Empire, its time abroad having caused its values to shift. War with the Lion Clan was inevitable after the Unicorn Clan champion, Shinjo Altansarnai, refused to leave her Clan to become the bride of the Ikoma family daimyo, Ikoma Ujiaki. The main battle of this war was fought over Hisu Mori Toride, a border fortress held once by the Unicorn, taken by the Lion, then retaken by the Unicorn. The battle was won by Altansarnai’s youngest son, Shinjo Shono, though doing so took the life of his former betrothed, Matsu Mitsuko.
Victory on the battlefield was not shared entirely in the courts though, as while their unique magic was not outlawed, a hostage was demanded by the Imperial families to teach them of meishodo. Iuchi Shahai, the young daughter of Iuchi Daiyu and the half-sibling to Altarsarnai’s children, was sent to the court, where she resists the attempts to make her surrender her family’s secrets. Beset by despair, her only comfort has come in the kindness of the young Imperial prince, Hantei Daisetsu, himself a willful and curious child who sees clearly the hypocrisy throughout all levels of Rokugani society.
The Imperial ‘Clan’
Finally, there’s the Imperial family itself. In all things that Hantei Daisetsu excels, his older brother and the Imperial heir, Hantei Sotorii, fails. Hantei Sotorii surrounds himself with sycophants and lackeys, seeking to punish and bully those around him to serve his own narcissism. Even the Ruby Champion, Agasha Sumiko, is not immune to Sotorii’s challenges and traps, though she cautions the new Emerald Champion to be careful with the Imperial heir.
It is this same unworthiness that led to the greatest secret in the Empire at current. The best years of Hantei XXXVIII’s life are behind him, and when he sees the growing conflicts in the Empire, he knows he is not up to the task of being its leader. Neither, he recognizes, is his heir Sotorii. Intending to announce his own retirement at the end of winter, the Emperor entrusted his decree to Akodo Toturi. This decree disinherits Hantei Sotorii, replacing him with Hantei Daisetsu, and naming Bayushi Shoju as regent until Daisetsu comes of age. Toturi’s misgivings about giving that much power to the Master of Secrets fell on deaf ears, however, but we shall see if the Emerald Champion kept to his duty and recorded the decree in all its accuracy.
That brings us up to speed as of this article’s creation. While no earth-shattering changes may have transpired in Rokugan over the last year, it nevertheless has the feeling of reaching the top of the first big climb on a roller coaster. The Empire stands on the edge of a truly steep crash, and I expect the events of the coming Winter Court to be truly monumental. Between the growing divides in each Great Clan, the threat beyond the Wall in the south, the Pure Land Sect in Dragon Lands, the elemental imbalance, and the secret proclamation, Rokugan rests upon a precipice. It feels like all it will need is one solid moment to push things over the edge.
And I will be there to take the plunge at your side, dear reader. Next month, we will discuss the Children of the Empire expansion, along with the final cards of Underhand of the Emperor, and a review of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG Core Rules dropping today, October 11th 2018.
Until next month, 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.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.