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 50: Pride
Hard to imagine that we have done this now fifty times, huh? That, like, has to be a milestone or something.
For me, at least, it is. And to that end, I have something special for you, dear reader.
June was a month marked in the United States by continued social unrest, the unchecked growth of a pandemic, and unmatched uncertainty in our future. But the one thing it was, above all others, was a month of Pride.
For those outside the US, June is celebrated in LGBT+ communities to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations by the LGBT+ community in New York City against the New York police in response to police raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. Pride Month celebrates the LGBT+ community and continues the fight for civil liberties in this country and beyond.
Longtime readers know that the fight for civil liberties are near and dear to my heart. I am, however, a cisgender heterosexual man. While I can (and do) support Pride and benefit immeasurably from its presence in my life as I take great delight in witnessing the joy it brings to many friends and close community members, it is not my celebration. Pride Month is not my month.
And so, for June, I turned my platform over to three other voices:
- Octavia Hayes is a personal friend, a member of my local L5R playgroup, and a game-runner whom I have played under.
- Wynter Medb Rose is a friend I have made through LARPing, and one whom I have welcomed into our local L5R community.
- Tsar Agus is known throughout the L5R community as the Haughty Magistrate, and is one of the most prominent judges in the L5R LCG.
I had invited each of them to provide me with a short essay on what it means, for them, to be a member of the L5R community and be LGBT+.
So, with a slightly belated ado:
Finding a Community
by Octavia Hayes
I was asked to write my experiences as a trans girl in the L5R community, and I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I’d always loved card games as a kid, although I grew up pretty much in the middle of nowhere, where chances to actually play those games were few and far between. I played some Magic for a while (and was reasonably competitive), but the only game shop in my area was somewhat sketchy. After a few bad experiences, I lost most of my interest in playing. When I moved up north to New England, however, I realized two things. First, I was moving to a town with three different game stores within easy driving distance, meaning that I could play again. Second, because there were three stores, I didn’t have to limit myself to Magic.
Taking the advice of one of my friends, I heard one of the stores in my area was hosting tutorial sessions for the new Legend of the Five Rings – a game that always had stock at my old gaming store but never players. I was intrigued and decided to give the game a go. Despite getting completely demolished in my first few games, I was determined to actually get good. I made friends with the locals, practiced more with my chosen clan (Crane, to start, but I’ve since shifted more to Phoenix and Unicorn), and even won a couple of tournaments.
There was just one problem: I hadn’t come out to anyone yet.
The reason I had moved to New England in the first place was to pursue transition. It wasn’t really an option in my hometown, but in New England, I was finally free to be myself. The trouble then became making sure that I’d be safe in whatever place I ended up living afterwards. The people at my local game store were hugely accepting, though, and that store ended up being one of the first places I went after socially transitioning full-time.
That night stands out still as one of the most heartwarming, yet terrifying, nights I’ve ever experienced. It was a cold February evening and my first night out presenting as my true self. I hadn’t started any form of medical transition yet, and I only had some clothes that my friend had helped me pick out and some basic make-up. I was on my way to the store to run my weekly L5R RPG session and had just texted the group to let them know I’d be there right after I stopped for dinner. And then, my car didn’t start. I was stuck, alone, halfway to the store, wearing a dress that suddenly felt nowhere near covering enough. Needless to say, I was panicking just a little bit.
However, about 10 minutes after I sent a message to the group (only half of whom knew I was trans), a car pulled into the parking lot I was stranded in, and out comes one of my players with jumper cables! The people at the game shop banded together to find some cables and get them to me. (They didn’t work, unfortunately, as the problem wasn’t quite with the battery, but that didn’t stop my players from coming to the rescue and staying with me until AAA arrived.)
Even better was the conversation that I had with my player as we waited for roadside assistance. He didn’t say a word about my outfit, and what he said when I did bring it up left me in shock and awe. It turns out he had actually figured out that I was trans from an off-hand joke we had made during a game (something about ‘not having balls’, I think), and when it clicked he immediately went home and practiced more gender-neutral expressions and pronouns so he’d be ready when I did come out!
While things have generally been wonderful, they haven’t always been perfect. I’ve had one or two incidents where someone would call a character’s gender-neutral pronouns a typo (that one hurt as both a trans person and an English major), as well as at least once having to chide someone for using “gay” as an insult. But for every minor setback there have been a hundred little moments of joy. On the whole, having the L5R community and the friends I made at my back made the process of transitioning much smoother, and I’m ever so glad I took my friend’s advice to give it a try.
by Wynter Medb Rose
I’ve been into CCG’s since I was probably nine years old. I started with Magic: The Gathering, moved onto Warlord: Saga of the Storm, and one day someone gave me a magical Ratling Deck for free for Legend of the Five Rings. I played in your typical comic shop, surrounded by angry neckbeards or polite poindexters. I always wanted to make good decks but really couldn’t grasp the math yet, and came into my own when Magic’s Mirrodin block launched in the early 2000’s.
Being closeted and wishing you were a woman every day, you pick up on subtle things about the men on the scene. Especially when you look around the comic shop and see maybe 1 – sometimes even 2 – girls playing along with you. The scene wasn’t inviting for women, and honestly, from where I sit, it was the lack of character in the games.
From early on L5R had good feminine representation in its core story; Bayushi Kachiko is still to this day amazing, but she never felt like she represented me. Similarly with the majority of the women in the game, I wanted to be these amazing and powerful ladies but I never felt like they were distinctly me.
Cue my surprise and elation when I opened the beginner box of the new Edition released by Fantasy Flight Games. Bayushi Kyo. Boom. Right there. Trans representation, non-binary representation. Oh, and they go in depth with Kachiko and Hotaru’s beautiful relationship? There’s also other gay folk in this story!?
Having come out during the initial release of the new L5R, I was taken aback by FFG’s success in putting Trans stories, lesbian and gay stories, front and center in their new game. This isn’t something that would have flown very far during the time I started gaming in, and to me that meant everything. It meant that finally when someone cracked a terrible joke at my expense, I had a fiction I could relate to in order to ignore it. A game company decided it’s time to include our stories.
I grew up surrounded by angry nerds who frankly didn’t like women’s stories being told, let alone a little egg like myself, and I can envision them upset and frustrated and shouting things like “Japan would have killed Kyo for existing!” or “This sort of thing was frowned upon in Japanese Society.” Both knowing the history, understanding it, and recognizing the fact that it’s as much my game as theirs? That is a game changer, and something that will always make me come back to games like L5R despite being terrible at it.
Now, I’m an old and very jaded trans woman. If this experience so late in life affected me in such a profoundly positive way, imagine how it will affect someone now. You won’t have that scared little girl everyone is misgendering sitting at the table and feeling disenfranchised. She’ll feel right at home. She’ll feel safe. She’ll feel represented.
Representation absolutely matters, and L5R has taken a great first step.
The Human Story of L5R
by Tsar Agus
Picture it: Singapore, summer 1997. I traveled by myself across the Pacific to see my grandparents for the first time. While in Singapore I went to a game shop and saw these packs that looked like weird Magic cards but were all Asian people. Seeing this in Asia for the first time, I thought this was a product exclusive to Singapore. Who knows what other weird stuff they had here? Universal housing, healthcare, and the best food on the planet? Crazy talk!
Imagine my surprise then, around August, when I came back to the States to find my local game store had this weird rings card game from Singapore. Oh what now – it was published 30 minutes from me?? And there’s a giant tournament right now at Gen Con? Lion just won? WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE’S THE NEW EMPEROR?!
Fast forward to 2020 and L5R is still here. It’s still living and thriving. And as a Chinese Immigrant from the Nanyang, I love that the entirety of the East-Asian Diaspora is represented. As a gay man, AEG’s L5R failed me. I felt that if gay themes were mentioned at all it was a joke. FFG’s L5R, however, is leaps and bounds insanely better in terms of representation. We have two very powerful women in their own right in a loving and caring relationship.
Now we have gay characters in the game and no one bats an eye at their sexuality. The love affairs and relationships in this L5R that are being kept secret, are NOT because they are homosexual in nature, but because of the political implications. The husband of the Scorpion Clan Champion having an affair with the Crane Clan Champion would have the same implications and reverberations throughout the Rokugan as Kachiko and Hotaru.
The best thing that FFG’s L5R did was to just let it happen in their first fiction, and the relationship became part of the story. In subsequent stories it was just a plot point, not the spicy twist. And this is probably the best treatment for the LGBTQIA+ characters in L5R: acknowledge we exist and treat us as you would any other people. Just the way we want to be treated in real life.
I wanted to judge in the CCG era, but I never felt that I would be welcomed, so I stayed in my local game store, played and stayed in the pond. Reading “Her Father’s Daughter” felt like I now had permission to participate in L5R fully – the game that I had loved since I was a 14 year old kid. I may have always been welcomed, but I didn’t know if I was. And that was the power of that first fiction; it opened the doors of participation to many players who felt it was closed to them for so long.
Now I go to events because I feel welcome. I never feel like I have to hide parts of myself in this incarnation. I love seeing the friends who I don’t have to hide parts of myself from. I’m Tsar, that loud, sometimes annoying, always assholic, judgy… judge. I love pulling my pranks on players, and I love seeing new players get what they want. I get to experience new players break into the Top 8, and I love seeing my friends do well. I get to see this close-knit community that welcomed me. I credit this experience to the story, and truly felt allowed to participate after reading it.
I don’t know what’s next: Shiba Aikune unleashing Isawa’s Last Wish over the death of his husband at Oblivion’s Gate? Tsudao choosing to reign and live as Emperor rather than Empress? These are not ‘gay stories’; these are human stories.
And that is it for this article. Keep an eye out for later this month, when I will discuss the news for June, and specifically the update to the Imperial Law document. I will also respond to the feedback on my article about dueling.
Until then, dear reader.
Carry the Fortunes.
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 on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.