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 46: The Fate of Two Worlds Collide
Welcome back, dear reader. First off, I hope that everyone is as safe and healthy as can be in these strange times. Massive disruption from one’s normal routine has become commonplace over the last month, but I must confess that other matters prior to a global pandemic have compounded matters for me and set my Rokugan coverage back slightly. So let us start off by discussing where we left off – February. I hope that it treated you gently. It was rougher than some months for me, but I made it through the far side and now I can take a bit to sit, relax, and commiserate over the more recent happenings in Legend of the Five Rings.
So, let us begin with what was the only thing L5R fans were talking about in February: the major internal changes happening at Fantasy Flight Games. It had previously been reported that FFG had laid off the majority of its RPG staff early in January 2020 but initially responded publicly with reassurances that they were planning on continuing the production of their RPG lines.
Then, on February 18th, d20 Radio reported that FFG’s long-term plans were to actually end development of its RPGs lines over the next six to nine months. All currently announced or otherwise finished products would still be released. As this would mean the shuttering of the L5R RPG line, I reached out for confirmation on this matter. Regrettably, this was confirmed by Katrina Ostrander that this news was true and had been what she was telling people over that weekend at Con of the North.
Shortly following this story, FFG announced the releases of two more RPG books. Initially slated for a Q2 release, Celestial Realms is a sourcebook similar in size to both Shadowlands and Courts of Stone, Celestial Realms aims to provide the RPG with more information on the spiritual side of life in the Emerald Empire, including extensive detail on the Spirit Realms. Covering also the Phoenix Clan as its Great Clan, the Centipede Clan as its Minor Clan, and a full write-up of each Great Clan’s Ancestral Sword, I can only hope to see the name of Robert “Spooky” Denton III among the main writers for this product. As one of the formative voices in FFG’s version of the Phoenix Clan, along with his extensive knowledge of the Ancestral Swords of old lore, he would be my first choice for lead developer on this project.
Aimed to be released alongside Celestial Realms, “Wheel of Judgment” is an adventure which further explores the themes of the Spirit Realms and religion in Rokugan. Similar to “Mask of the Oni” and “Winter’s Embrace”, “Wheel of Judgment” will be a 32 page adventure with a full double-sided map and a page of punchboard tokens. The conceit of starting an adventure in the afterlife with all the PCs being dead strikes me as a unique approach to a story, and I cannot wait to see how it goes. It is unfortunate that L5R RPG’s combat is very ill-suited for a battle mat, as the tokens it provides are quite fetching and feature some of its best pieces of character design. Still, my other RPGs are benefiting from my growing collection of tokens, and what would an FFG product be without useless extraneous cardboard?
February also saw the release of Path of Waves and “Sins of Regret”, which we will get to shortly.
In regard to the L5R RPG, it would be an interesting swansong for the game to end in a supplement where you play dead PCs in their afterlife, but it seems that that is not where the story may be ending after all. During a February 25 livestream featuring X-Wing, the subject of FFG’s RPGs was asked by the audience, specifically calling out the L5R RPG. The response from FFG Live was that the RPG production was not shutting down, and there is an announcement planned which would be shared “soonish”.
Without any further information from FFG, the community has been in a state of honest discontent. In the last two months, we have gone from believing our game is dead, to believing our game might live, to knowing our game was dying. To Actually Maybe Not.
As it happens, it was announced during its keynote at GAMA in early March that , Asmodee would be moving all RPG production to Edge Entertainment Studios, an EU based company that was formerly in charge of translating games into Spanish and French. Asmodee has had a longstanding relationship with Edge, eventually purchasing it outright several years ago. Details are still sparse, but I will provide more detail in the next update as more intel becomes available.
While this is good news for the FFG RPG community as a whole, we are, by and large, not wholly trusting that this decision won’t change again in the months ahead – especially as the industry grapples with the fallout of the global pandemic in the months ahead. Frankly, despite this good news, we aren’t wholly ready to believe that the L5R RPG is not going to be shuttered along with all of FFG’s other RPG lines down the line.
This news, however, does, track with what I had hoped to see as a possible solution. My original prediction was a new imprint at Asmodee North America, not unlike Atomic Mass Games or Aconyte Books, dedicated solely to the development and production of the RPGs tied to their board game lines. With the success of the KeyForge game line, and Asmodee’s recent acquisition of Plaid Hat Games’ Dead of Winter as part of its separation deal, such an imprint would have been a solid means of consolidation and cross-product marketing, in addition to a solid income source. But the Edge news is not all that far oof.
That said, I also hope that we will eventually also see a user-created content portal for L5R RPG similar to DM’s Guild and Genesys Forge, as this community is desperate for the opportunity to share its creativity with the world.
Clan War Makes Credible Contributions
Moving onto more reliable news, February started off with a bang for the Legend of the Five Rings LCG, with the release of the Clan War deluxe expansion set. Introducing 234 new cards into the meta, Clan War expanded upon the multiplayer rules tested previously and showcased in the months leading up to its release.
Providing support for both 2 vs 2 Team Conquest and the 3 to 5 free-for-all Enlightenment format, Clan War does this mostly by introducing the blind Treaty system. Two players may strike up a deal and stake a number between 1 and 5 on the deal. This deal is then assigned a Treaty card face down from a selection of 12, which dictate the results of the broken Treaty. As this may result in a harmless effect or a devastating change in momentum, this simple addition removes the previous method of speeding through Enlightenment for prize tokens by brazenly breaking deals.
The rest of the cards provide a new Province for each Clan suitable for Enlightenment, Neutral Provinces for each Element suitable for Enlightenment, five new Dynasty card for each Great Clan, four new Conflict cards for each Great Clan, and a handful of new Neutral cards for each side of the game. Each Great Clan gets a taste of the Support keyword, a new mechanic allowing other players to pay part or all of a card’s Fate cost, which is effectively blank in 1 v 1 but does not preclude its play in that format.
It’s a lot of solid material.
Every Great Clan also got at least one card which will likely see play in competitive decks, though the power of those cards vary greatly. While the Crane Clan and the Lion Clan definitely got some serious boosts with Battle Aspirant and Return the Offense, the Dragon Clan received only the Inscribed Tanto which slightly helps the Niten Master deck. Imperial Advisor breaks down the pack by each card, and I recommend taking a look. Clan War will push some decks forward into the meta, but I do not expect it to be the bomb on the meta that last year’s Children of the Empire was, or that Rokugan At War is promising to be.
One personal gripe I have for Clan War lies in the continued poor design conceptualization for the Dragon Clan. Prior to Clan War, the Dragon Clan had one card (Impulsive Novice) which cared about Claimed Rings, and one card (Volcanic Troll) which cared about a Ring being Unclaimed. Characters and Events which cared about Rings being Claimed was a mechanic featured on several Phoenix Clan cards, most notably Prodigy of the Waves, Isawa Tadaka, and Katana of Fire.
In Clan War, the Dragon Clan cards focused around having specific Rings Claimed to be able to trigger effects, none of which are nearly as potent as the three named from the Phoenix Clan. Clan War stands out as a product which continues the design trends shown in Seekers of Wisdom, save that rather than give the Dragon Clan an entirely new underdeveloped theme, they have been given an underdeveloped theme from another existing Great Clan with even weaker effects.
As someone who has enjoyed playing Dragon Clan decks in the past, this is rapidly reaching a point of no return for me. While I am happy that there has been good performance with Alex Jacobs’ Strike the Summit deck, it is ultimately carried on the back of Togashi Mitsu, just as Aneil Seetharam’s old workhorse of Test is carried by Niten Master. The Dragon Clan do not have decks; they have two strong Characters who can win a game as long as they are piloted by people with enough luck and skill to close the deal.
And nothing I have seen in the previews for the Dragon Clan makes me think this is going to change any time soon.
Dominion Continues To Add New Wrinkles
Fantasy Flight Games previewed in February both Dynasty Pack 3 and Dynasty Pack 4 for the Dominion Cycle, In Pursuit of Truth and Campaigns of Conquest. Tentatively slated for release in April and May of 2020, both packs will introduce more cards into the LCG featuring the Eminent and Rally keywords. The cards previewed for In Pursuit of Truth offer powerful new tools for both the Lion Clan and the Crane Clan.
Shori, the Lion Clan Ancestral sword, grant an additional Military conflict each phase if attached to a Lion Clan Champion, bringing the total number of Conflicts a Lion Clan deck using Hisu Mori Toride can attack in a single turn to four – enough to take and break a Stronghold on the opening round of the game. While not the easiest achievement, the fact that it is possible (and not that difficult to achieve) may usher in a new era of Lion Clan blitz decks. The Crane Clan, meanwhile, will be receiving Tsuma, their Eminent Province which brings a Character into play Honored, allowing the Crane to use Voice of Honor from their very first Action opportunity onwards.
Campaigns of Conquest continue the trend of handing the Lion Clan game-shapingly powerful tools, with a new Stronghold. Hayaken no Shiro’s ability to ready a Bushi character with a printed cost of 2 or lower plays to the existing strengths of the Lion Clan, removing the cost of In Service to my Lord.
Ikoma Tsanuri returns with a new card, this one carrying both the Rally keyword and text which prevents triggered abilities on Provinces from being activated while she is attacking. The Scorpion Clan will also be receiving a boost in this Dynasty pack, with Forgery giving them back a non-Restricted List Event cancel, albeit one gated by a Fate cost of 1 and requiring the player to be less honorable than their opponent. Combined with its Influence cost of 3, the play restriction should limit it to being played solely in Scorpion Clan decks, but it is another tool in the arsenal of one of the most reliably performing Great Clans in the game.
With the Lion Clan currently dominating the meta, it remains to be seen if the unknown cards in In Pursuit of Truth and Campaigns of Conquest will do anything other than increase their power. With two more packs left in the Dominion cycle, As Honor Demands and Atonement (slated for release in June and July, respectively), we will see what the game looks like going into the silence of August 2020. While my first planned outing at a Grand Kotei is not until June (fingers crossed), the recent shake-ups of Organized Play around the world may lead to that event being canceled as well.
One Last Hurrah As Organized Play Grinds To A Halt
In terms of Organized Play, February has seen the last month of significant tournament numbers in the foreseeable future. With COVID-19 and severe distribution errors on the part of Fantasy Flight Games, all Organized Play has been suspended until June. Early February saw two major events, with the Texas Kotei in Fort Worth and the Netherlands Grand Championship in Amsterdam. The Texas Kotei came down to a match between Aneil Seetharam playing Crab and Chris Pottorf playing Scorpion, an amusing outcome considering their roles as the chief commentators during the 2019 World Championship. Pottorf took home victory for the Scorpion Clan, scoring more points for the already dominant Great Clan in the Tides of War. The Netherlands Grand Championship was also won by the Scorpion Clan, piloted by Kelfecil. Information on the two events can be found on Imperial Advisor here and here.
Due to the leap year, the UK Grand Championship also fell within the month of February and will likely be the single largest event in L5R LCG this year, barring the GenCon Grand Kotei and the November World Championships (provided they are not canceled). With 87 players, the UK Grand Championship was also the first event with Clan War being legal.
Bucking the odds, the meta around the UK Grand Championship is one that is still being studied, mostly for its highly unusual placement for the Phoenix Clan, Unicorn Clan, and Dragon Clan. While neither the Unicorn Clan nor the Phoenix Clan qualified for Day 2, the latter can be explained through simply low numbers, as only 5 players signed up to play Phoenix Clan. The Unicorn Clan tied with the Scorpion Clan for the third largest Clan, and yet found themselves devastated by the Lion Clan, which walked out of the UK Grand Championship as the second most number of players and a positive Win to Loss ratio across their entire Great Clan. Despite being considered underpowered, the Dragon Clan managed to get two spots in the top 16, and one spot in the Top 4. Ultimately the Lion Clan won the day, led by the infamous Akodo Hato himself, Marios Bounakis. Again, for more information on the event and the winning decks, Imperial Advisor has you covered.
A Quick Fiction Break
Two more pieces of short fiction for L5R were released in February. “A Night Storm Rages” by DG Laderoute continues the story of Doji Kuwanan and his struggles to find his proper place in a Rokugan rapidly spiraling out of control. Mari Murdock centers her story “Cold Autumn Harvests” on the experiences of Ikoma Tsanuri. On the front lines of the Lion Clan’s ongoing military engagement with the Unicorn Clan, caught somewhere between a skirmish and an all-out war, Tsanuri grapples with the demands of her leaders, the needs of her soldiers, and the code of Bushido itself. Taken together, these stories build an increasingly vibrant image of a Rokugan after the death of Hantei the 38th, where nothing is certain save that the future will be bloody.
Path of Waves & Sins of Regret Mini-Review
Finally, I would like to recommend to anyone who plays the Legend of the Five Rings RPG to pick up a copy of Path of Waves. While it is more expensive than either Shadowlands or Courts of Stone, it does as much as Emerald Empire to build out the world of Rokugan and far more than that supplement does in building out the pieces of the world where most people live. While Emerald Empire lays the foundations of Rokugan’s society and how it works, it focuses heavily on the samurai of Great Clans and the people who are central to their experience. Path of Waves covers everybody else in Rokugan, which involves a much wider variety of people.
Path of Waves opens describing how Ronin fit into the various highly structured parts of Rokugani society, and more importantly, how they do not. By their very nature, Ronin challenge societal norms and present unique opportunities and challenges. The chapter examines how Ronin come to be, how Ronin interact with the different castes of Rokugani society, how the spiritual world of Rokugan looks at the Ronin, and how one survives in Rokugan without the benefits of the wider societal structure serving them. Its chapter closes with a brief history of the Perfect Land Sect, which does not quite fit within the rest of the information provided but is still useful regardless. As a heresy of the traditional Rokugani religion, it could be seen as a naturally appealing faith for those who do not fit within the traditional boundaries, but the way this last section is presented feels more like something that could have been released in greater depth in a future supplement but was shoved in at the last moment due to editorial decisions.
The next chapter is the real heart of Path of Waves, providing a revised form of Character Creation specifically for the characters who do not fit the traditional mold of the Great Clans. Rather than the model of Great Clan – Family – School, this presents a system of Region – Upbringing – School, along with twelve new Schools. This is also our first glimpse of both the cultures of the Burning Sands and the Ivory Kingdoms in the FFG reboot era, two of the three regions adjacent to Rokugan and likely sources of gaijin characters. It closes out with systems to design not only new Gaijin cultures but also entirely new Schools – something which the community has taken to with understandable trepidation, considering the news surrounding the future of the RPG.
Path of Waves continues with a chapter that offers a great deal even to players who have no interest in playing either Ronin or Gaijin, with a robust selection of new Techniques, Equipment, Patterns, and other mechanics. It also gives an extensive system on designing Divine Implements, magical items specific to the cultures of the Ivory Kingdoms but easily adaptable for the nemuranai of Rokugan.
That being said, Chapters 4-6 return in part to the Ronin. Chapters 4 and 5 are location gazetteers for Ronin-focused locations, while Chapter 6 expands on telling Ronin-focused stories set within Rokugan. Chapter 6 also gives greater detail on the Burning Sands and Ivory Kingdoms, expanding on both the earlier chapters and supporting the information provided in the back of the “Across the Burning Sands” novella.
The information on the Ivory Kingdoms is particularly compelling, as it was written primarily by Amudha Venugopalan, a woman of South Asian descent, and heavily researched to be authentic and respectful to the real world cultures the Ivory Kingdoms are based on. In many ways, this is what Path of Waves succeeds the most at, building out Rokugan as a living, breathing world which respects and pays tribute to the real world cultures it is modeled after, without turning them into the shallow, racist stereotypes that L5R has often been guilty of in the past. FFG has begun incorporating racial and ethnic sensitivity readers into their development cycle, and Path of Waves shows the impact of their work.
Personally, I would love to see a Legend of the Ivory Kingdoms RPG supplement using the systems introduced in the L5R RPG along with the world presented in Path of Waves. Of course, the fact that the Ivory Kingdoms of this version of Rokugan presents the Naga as an active, awake presence in the Ivory Kingdoms is no small part in that dream.
Path of Waves closes out a chapter on new NPC and NPC templates, as well as a table of dozens of “Trinkets” to round out a character’s equipment as well as a table of common names for Rokugani, Ujik, Qamarist, and Ivory Kingdom based characters.
“Sins of Regret” is set in one of the two locations presented in Path of Waves and builds on the themes presented in that supplement. While ostensibly designed with Ronin PCs in mind, the module itself almost plays better with Great Clan PCs who have enough social clout to challenge the local lord on his cruel actions. By focusing on Ronin PCs, the module allows for characters to enter into the local lord’s service directly, changing the course of the module entirely, or seizing control of the local holding through manipulation and highly targeted violence. As such, “Sins of Regret” is far more open-ended in its storytelling than “Mask of the Oni” but also more available as a place of entry than “Winter’s Embrace”. Nearly any party of L5R PCs could find their way into Twin Blessings Village and be in a situation to change events for better or worse.
And while FFG has failed to make mention of it on their website, I highly recommend anyone picking up “Sins of Regret” to also download the Cresting Waves Supplemental Encounters DLC, as it provides more than just additional encounters but information on what a GM should do if their plucky band of Ronin end the adventure in charge of Twin Blessings Village and Closed Shell Castle….
And that is it for now, dear reader. March has already shaped up to be a tumultuous month in L5R and in the world beyond, and we will cover that in the very near future. Needless to say, 2020 has been a roller coaster ride so far, and it is showing no sign of slowing. See you again in April, 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.
You can discuss this article and more on our social media!
Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.