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 15: Powder Kegs
This is his Empire. The world will burn.
– Daigotsu Kanpeki
And then all Hell broke loose.
No, that is not an understatement.
Welcome back, dear reader, to another installment of Dave of the Five Rings. When we previously wrapped up, I had just closed out my experience in Winter Court IV with what being a part of the Spider Clan delegation had taught me. It was a great deal, and an experience I am looking forward to having again when (or if) Winter Court V materializes. Between then and now, I have begun preparations for the summer 2015 Kotei season, even playing in the Lebanon, New Hampshire Kotei. Twenty Festivals, the new base set for Legend of the Five Rings, has been released, and the game has changed again.
And yet, all of this change has been preempted by an announcement literally released by the L5R Brand Manager last week. While we will be going into my Kotei experience, as was the sole original purpose of this segment, I would be remiss in not addressing the array of new developments that have transpired in the game.
When The Light Of The Kami Fades
As part of a general expansion in the L5R Team, Alderac Entertainment Group has added three new writers to their Story Team. Christopher Hand, Maxime Lemaire, and Mari Murdock have a lot of work ahead of them, balancing the voracious storyline demand of the players with those of everyday life. I spoke with Christopher Hand about this recently; look for that interview in a future segment.
In addition to these new Story Team members, L5R also has a new Brand Lead in Dave Laderoute. Dave is the author working on the current L5R novel and had been the head GM of Winter Court IV. He was also the editor of the Imperial Herald and a regular contributor to the community. In his short time as Brand Lead, he released several new articles regarding what draws people to L5R as a game, and what makes them stay. His insights into the nature of Legend of the Five Rings as a brand shows amazing promise and commitment, and it is very possible that this may be exactly what L5R needs to rally through sagging tournament turnouts and multiple accusations of disenfranchisement from the player base. Dave promised a willingness to take risks in trusting the players of L5R, and his first announcements have not disappointed.
Following the new direction of “Informed Choice”, the L5R brand team has revealed the plotline of the Onyx Edition story arc, due to begin in 2016. To say that things are about to take a sharp left turn would be an understatement.
In Onyx Edition, a time of great darkness has come to Rokugan, and the samurai of Emerald Empire will face a challenge they have never seen before: losing. Bolstered by the power of Jigoku, Daigotsu Kanpeki will declare war on the Empire, and conquer it in the name of his father, the Dark Lord of the Shadowlands. He will sit upon the throne in an age of monsters and demons, and the samurai of Rokugan will have to struggle with the question of if honor can survive in such a world.
Dave Laderoute promised that each Clan would be given a choice of Paths in this arc, and that players will decide for themselves how their Clans develop in this storyline. These initial paths will be chosen by the Clans and refined as the story continues. This new level of participation will be open to all players of L5R – not just the ones scoring tournament victories in the CCG – and the decisions brought before the Clans will transform their identity.
Embracing Our Inner Angels And Demons
These choices have already begun. Last week, the Brand Team revealed the choice to be put before the players of the Spider Clan. They were not selling these choices short, especially if all are to be as hard hitting as the Spider Clan’s. The Spider Clan has been asked a simple question: do they want to be a Great Clan…or the Greatest Clan? Do they Embrace the Darkness and follow their champion into the arms of Jigoku, who is conquering the Empire, all the while knowing that should their rule ever topple, the Spider Clan will be no more? Or do they Walk in the Light, reject the power of Jigoku, and trust in their own superior natures to claim the Empire from within, knowing that doing so means betraying the clan’s champion and founder, and in doing so will suffer greatly for it? Or is there some still unseen alternative yet to reveal itself, created by the Spider Clan players themselves?
The Spider Clan has long been deeply divided over their future, and this set the match to that powder keg; debate among the player base started raging within minutes of the announcement. In the days following, it had not slowed, and not all the debate has been civil. The lines seem to have been drawn rather starkly between the old Shadowlands Hordes players of the CCG against the new Spider Clan players of the RPG, many of whom played at Winter Court IV, with a vocal group advocating several different Third Paths. It is an ugly debate, and one that has revealed a very key truth: the Spider Clan needed this choice badly.
However it resolves, it will change this faction forever. And that is a good thing. As a member of the Spider Clan myself, I cannot yet tell you where I stand. It is a very good question, and one I have not yet decided. As much as I love the Susumu, and the sheer enjoyment I had at playing Susumu Naishi in Winter Court, there is also a simple appeal to being the biggest, baddest bad guy in the playground.
Embracing the Darkness means the Spider Clan gets to conquer the Empire and put Kanpeki on the throne, but is it worth it if it costs me what I love most about the Spider Clan? I genuinely do not know. We shall see how this ends in due time…
So About That Kotei…
On February 21, 2015, the Kotei season officially began. For the first time in several years, the first Kotei tournament was not held in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts. Instead, Black Moon Games in Lebanon, New Hampshire hosted the first Northeast Kotei, on Saturday the 28th. Having had the opportunity to playtest a deck in the weeks leading up to Kotei, I was feeling somewhat confident. The Lebanon Kotei was “Ivory Strict”, allowing only cards that had been printed in Ivory Edition, the Coming Storm, the New Order, and A Line in the Sand. The dominant Spider Clan deck of that environment, a straight forward Military deck that poured out high force bodies for cheap, had been performing very highly. I put together my version of the deck, and headed up the highway to Lebanon.
The Sinister Citadel of the Spider
3 Famous Bazaar
3 House of Disgrace
3 Kumite Grounds
3 Lonely Dojo
3 Shinomen Marsh
2 Temple of the Heavenly Crab
3 Daigotsu Meguro
3 Daigotsu Onosaka
2 Daigotsu Teruo
3 Ninube Shiho
3 Ashigaru Spearmen
3 Colonial Conscripts
3 Skeletal Troops
1 Ring of Earth
1 Ring of Water
3 Blind Honor
2 Inspired Leadership
3 Strength in Subtlety
3 Strike as the Earth
2 Sudden Movement
3 Victory Through Deference
2 Way of the Spider
3 Wounded in Battle
A fairly straightforward Spider Clan swarm deck, my deck ran Kobi Sensei for the -2 Starting Honor, greatly increasing my chances of going second. The Spider Clan Stronghold is greatly weakened by going first, and the lower Starting Honor helps prevent that. Early testing had revealed that Chi death was effective against other swarm decks and dueling, so I splashed the cards in as a secondary focus. (In the card game, Personalities have Force and Chi, and if Chi reaches 0, the Personality immediately is destroyed.) Through Tairao and cards like Wounded in Battle and Strike as the Earth, it is possible to reduce a Personality’s Chi to 0 in a battle, killing them in a way that cannot be negated. Even if they can negate destruction, they’ll die again immediately for having 0 Chi.
One of the first to arrive at the Kotei, I was there before the store itself was open. With time to kill, I spent some of it speaking with one of the two artists who had been invited to sell their work at the event and enjoyed the crisp February air in Lebanon. In college, I drove through Lebanon regularly on my way between where I went to school in Massachusetts and where I lived in Vermont. Being the halfway point on my drive, Lebanon was a place I had many fond memories of driving through, stopping for a bite to eat at its pubs, and just walking through its streets to stretch my legs. Taking a walk cleared my head, and I readied myself for the battle in front of me.
Soon, the store was open; all the usual faces started showing up. Many of the people from Pandemonium Games in Cambridge were there with whom I had playtested my deck earlier that month. I even ran into a few of the players I met through Winter Court IV and shook the hand of Kasuga Aizawa’s player, thanking him for driving my delegates out of our minds with anger on several occasions. The best part of L5R has always been the community, and it was more than a little disheartening to see the first Northeast Kotei only bring in 25 players. Compared to the days of 150+ player Kotei that I recall when I left the game several years back, 2015’s initial turnout just seemed lacking. Still, what we missed in numbers was by far made up in passion. The game may be at its smallest player base in years, but those who have remained truly do love it.
And then we got down to it. Registration ended at 10 AM, and pairings went up at 10:30. I crossed my fingers, afraid of the dishonor matchup, and went to see who I was paired against.
Round 1 – Benoit Toulouse – Lion Clan, Satoru Sensei 0-0-0
This was a straight up military-on-military fight, with Lion Scouts matching blades with Spider beatfaces. An early defense allowed me to break his tempo of going first, with my Chi-death tricks killing heavily. I swung back hard and was able to takes his Provinces without losing a battle. Tairao was by far and away my MVP that game, with his regular reductions in Force and Chi putting the hurt on hard.
Round 2 – Keith Barriere – Spider Clan, Kobi Sensei 1-0-0
This was a mirror match Kobi Spider vs Kobi Spider, though Keith had chosen to go deeper into the Swarm build than I had. I lost the roll-off and went first, allowing him to use the stronger Stronghold. Ultimately, however, it did not matter. A bad first turn flip followed by a worse cycle put the pinch on his resources when he needed them the most. My edge with Chi death swung the few opposed fights he was able to muster, and I was able to win the field.
Round 3 – Philippe Pelletier – Lion Clan, Satoru Sensei 2-0-0
My second matchup against Satoru Lion of the day, I started out strong but lost an opposed fight at his second Province. He rallied and swung back, taking a Province before I was able to tie a battle through Chi death, wiping both armies.
I rallied faster, and was poised to take his last Province before he crossed 40 honor as the game was called to time. While I was confident that I would have been able to take his Province with ten more minutes on the clock, I was willing to accept the draw. However, as it would take a record of 4 wins to qualify for the finals, a draw would have been effectively a double loss for both of us. We agreed on a dice roll, and Philippe won, giving me my first loss.
Round 4 – John Liu – Mantis Clan, Shika Sensei 2-1-0
Mantis Shika was the deck to beat in the environment, and John Liu is one of the top players in the area. He had gotten out of the game for a while but was playing a deck designed by Chris Medico, one of the top Mantis players in the world. This match was extremely tight, leading to an opposed battle at the peak of our forces. We both had full hands, full armies, and enough kill actions to level a small nation. At the end of the battle, he out-Forced my army by 1, with one card left in his hand (which would not have helped). After the loss of that battle, there was no rallying for my side, and I was quickly defeated.
Round 5 – Tim Wells – Lion Clan, Satoru Sensei 2-2-0
Eliminated from reaching the finals, I first inquired if my opponent had two losses. When Tim confirmed that he did, I threw down against the third Satoru Lion deck of the day. As with my other two, my Chi death tactics proved to be key in swinging the opposed battles, and I was able to take his four Provinces with only losing two of my own.
Come What May
I finished the Kotei with three wins and two losses, with both of my losses to people in the top 4. I missed out on Top Spider by strength of schedule, but still walked away with the 8th Place overall. Chris Medico went on to win the Kotei, choosing to save the Castle of the Wasp as an Icon for the Mantis Clan. Alan Sarkasian, who some people might remember from last year as the awesome guy who gave me three copies of Zenathaar, won the Honor Contest for the Scorpion Clan with an amazing replica of the Goblin War Banner, modeled after the card.
With the first Kotei of my season finished, and the next one in May, we’ll see how things fare at that point. In the meantime, join me next time as I sit down with Christopher Hand. We talk about his involvement with Winter Court IV and his feelings on the current development of the storyline, among other things.
Although the Kotei numbers may not be swelling of late, this is truly an interesting time to be an L5R player, with more power being handed to us over the story than ever before. The Spider Clan was simply the first to be tested in this strange, new world of complete accountability. I for one cannot wait to see what else lies in store.
And just what the Naga will be doing in 2016.
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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