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.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of the article reported over 200 players having signed up for the LCQ in the 2019 Winter Court World Championship. This number actually reflects both the LCQ and Main Event, and the article has been updated accordingly.
Chapter 42: A Game, If You Can Keep It
By the time you are reading this, I may likely be on my way to Worlds.
October has been a turbulent month personally, as the autumn season often is, but I did want to make sure I got this out before November arrived. The scene is set for a truly momentous November for Legend of the Five Rings, dear reader, with the arrival of the 2019 Winter Court World Championship in a meta which has not truly had the opportunity to be tested and settled. In some ways, it may be nearly anyone’s game at the Winter Court World Championship, though some recent changes may have spelled a sudden disaster for some.
So dear reader, let’s first take a moment, survey the results of September & October, and take stock of just where this game is at presently.
The Deafening Silence of FFG
It is impossible to speak about September without addressing what did not happen first. This is, of course, the release of the much anticipated Lion Clan Pack for the Legend of the Five Rings Living Card Game. The Emperor’s Legion was first anticipated for release at Gen Con, then hoped for in August, then possibly September. Yet September came and went as well. Only now, halfway through October, have we finally been given an “anticipated” release date of tomorrow – November 1st.
No official reason has been given for this extended delay, though Matt Holland has directly addressed the concerns of the community regarding the legality of the Lion Clan Pack for the 2019 World Championships. The Emperor’s Legion will be legal for the event, and to address concerns about playtesting the pack, a full spoiler was released online to allow players to proxy in its cards. Additionally, each attendee at Worlds will be given a copy of the Clan Pack as part of their entry.
While this is heartening news for the community, especially Lion Clan players, it actually highlights two major issues Fantasy Flight Games is currently suffering from. The first and most pressing is their inconsistent communication regarding the state of the game. With the addition of Matt Holland to its team, FFG is finally speaking with the player community, but it’s being done mostly through Facebook. And not even an official L5R Facebook group at that, but rather through engagement with the unofficial Facebook group.
The November 1 release date? That was given during a Facebook post. The news on receiving the pack at Worlds? This was also given through a Facebook post. While the Lion Clan Pack legality was eventually confirmed in a press article, it was first promised through a Facebook post. As a member of the community, I am grateful for Matt Holland’s actions since he began at FFG, but there needs to be an improvement to this process. Simply put, players should be able to know about the status of their game even if they are not on Facebook, let alone an unofficial page.
Then we come to the process by which we learned whether the Lion Clan Pack would be legal or not. Those who follow my Twitter feed will remember that I reached out to FFG during September, after FFG France posted a release date for the Emperor’s Legion in Q1 of 2020. This, naturally, set many to speculate that it would not be legal for the World Championship, leading many Lion Clan players to openly declare they would not be attending. It was only at this point that FFG responded – in a position where no response at all would negatively impact their business. But why did FFG France post the release date in the first place? According to them, they have had the French language version of the Lion Clan Pack in their warehouses since August, and finally had been given the go-ahead to stock local stores the day it hit shelves in the US. Internationally, FFG is better at communicating with distributors than it is within the United States, and it’s actually through these international distributors that we know as much as we do about the future of the L5R LCG.
Magic Madhouse and Zatu Games, both online distributors of games in the United Kingdom, posted information regarding the next seven L5R LCG releases for 2020 – last month. They did this by beginning to accept pre-orders for these products, products that have not even been formally announced by Fantasy Flight Games despite their arrival in January, 2020 – barely three months from now. Both of the late 2019 RPG supplements were announced two days after pre-order information for them became available through European distributors, as was the Seekers of Wisdom Dragon Clan Pack.
Through this commercial-grade gleaning, we currently know that the next Deluxe Expansion set will be called Clan War, and that the next Dynasty Cycle is scheduled to begin in Q1 of 2020. The names of the next six Dynasty Packs will be: Rokugan At War, Spreading Shadows, In Pursuit of Truth, Campaigns of Conquest, As Honor Demands, and Atonement. The community even has price points for these packs. However, on a US consumer level, FFG has been silent regarding them. While I called out the lack of public release dates in my previous chapter, this goes far past even that.
Let’s speak plainly about the one thing that the community knows but does not seem to want to say: while it was good that Fantasy Flight Games posted the visual spoiler for the Lion Clan Pack, it was also unnecessary. The complete text of the cards had been available to the community from well before Gen Con. Likewise, we’ve had visual spoilers on the entire Inheritance Dynasty cycle since May of 2019, even though the final Dynasty Pack has only just now arrived in stores.
In the time it took to begin writing this article, photos surfaced online of the cards in the Dragon Clan Pack, Seekers of Wisdom, and rumors hold that a complete visual spoiler of Defenders of the Wall, the Crab Clan Pack, are likewise out there. Possibly, these pictures are coming from a distributor. Possibly, these pictures are coming from a printer. Possibly, these full text spoilers are coming from disgruntled playtesters. The point of the matter is that they are out there, and the community knows about it. If done properly a well-executed spoiler process can be highly advantageous to a product, whereas wholesale set leaks can have the opposite effect. But for many LCG players this is immaterial; the only reason that the community is so very hungry for these spoilers is that they receive so very little communication otherwise.
This is made worse by the policy of most L5R-focused media outlets refusing to speak about these leaks. They are doing the community no favors by not directly engaging FFG regarding these leaked cards, and acting like these leaks are not happening.
I have seen the leaked cards from the Seekers of Wisdom, and they are bad cards. None of them hold a candle to the meta shaping power of cards like Clarity of Purpose, Duty, Gossip, or Spoils of War. High House of Light is not the powerhouse Stronghold that Kyuden Isawa is, nor the cornerstone of a new strategy like Kyuden Bayushi or Kyuden Kakita. The cards in the Dragon Clan Pack that were not spoiled in September, but were leaked just the other day, are bad, and by refusing to even talk about this on their platforms, other influencers in L5R are choosing the side of FFG against the community. And I find that troubling.
Leaked cards are nothing new for Legend of the Five Rings. Players who remember the final years of the L5R CCG will recall when entire expansion sets would be spoiled a month or two before they would be released. The betrayal of the Spider Clan by the Emperor and it subsequently turning its back and going rogue on the Empire was spoiled to the Spider Clan delegation at the 2016 Winter Court online game, something which absolutely impacted our efforts during that game to influence the canon storyline. AEG learned from this quickly and adapted its strategy of engagement with the community, making them much more a part of the game and investing them with its direction. FFG, on the other hand, has embraced a “less is more” strategy to the point where no communication at all seems to be the ideal. This was made starkly evident when L5R failed to even get a mention during the Gen Con InFlight Report, and has only grown worse in the months which have followed.
The Legend of the Five Rings community is one which thrives upon engagement. The promise of L5R is not in the story of magical samurai feuding in the Emerald Empire of Rokugan. That is, honestly, just set dressing. Clan Loyalty and Faction Love aside, the promise of L5R has absolutely nothing to do with Great Clans, Rokugan, or anything quantified in a game mechanic.
The promise of Legend of the Five Rings was always in the interactive nature of its storyline, and how player actions can shape the story we are all telling. By necessity, this interaction requires a company which actively engages and converses with its community, one which addresses concerns swiftly and not only when they are backed into the corner and must risk losing sales or attendance if they do not respond. As the voices of this community, influencers are in a privileged position to be heard by Fantasy Flight Games when the promises of L5R are being let down. We need to use this privilege for the benefit of the community, not ourselves.
I have an obligation to you, dear reader, to use my voice to raise your voice to where FFG and the people at the helm of Legend of the Five Rings can hear it. And right now, if they can hear us? They are saying nothing back. That is more than worrying. Know that I share in your frustration, and I will continue to do what I can on your behalf. Fingers crossed that we might finally get a response.
An Imperial Decree
In other news, Fantasy Flight Games made the decision in September to formally separate its Organized Play rules for the L5R LCG from its Rules Reference Guide – something I advocated for in previous entries. The Rules Reference Guide will continue to be updated, and several rules were clarified in the September update. More will be updated in January, likely to reflect timing of effects and separate sentences, which have already been clarified on both Prepare for War in The Emperor’s Legion, and Regal Bearing in The Children of Heaven. The Rules Reference Guide will remain focused on presenting a central rules document for the LCG, regardless of current Organized Play rulings. These OP rulings have been separated into a new document, called Imperial Law.
Imperial Law covers the current OP legal Elemental Roles, any card errata made for balance (and not clarification like Paragon of Grace), as well as the Restricted List. The latest Imperial Law document added errata to Feast or Famine, a Fire Province which previously pulled all the Fate off a Character and placed it onto a Character without Fate when it was broken. Now, it pulls 1 Fate, and can place it on a Character with or without Fate. This turns a previously game-winning Province to simply a strong one, closely aligned with other “effect on break” Provinces.
As a result, Feast or Famine was removed from the Restricted List, along with Niten Master, while Consumed by Five Fires, Cunning Magistrate, Miya Satoshi, Daidoji Uji, and Gateway to Meido were all added. These choices were made to prevent certain combinations using Miya Satoshi and Gateway to Meido, as well as Consumed by Five Fires and Embrace the Void.
The loss of Daidoji Uji is an odd one, though barely felt with the release of the superior Doji Kuwanan in Justice for Satsume at the same Fate cost. Cunning Magistrate’s restriction removes one of Scorpion’s few options in dealing with overwhelming force, and it must compete with both A Fate Worse Than Death and Forged Edict to merit inclusion in Scorpion Clan decks. The consensus of the Scorpion Clan community is that Cunning Magistrate has joined with Young Rumormonger and Secluded Shrine in being soft-banned from competitive play.
The new Rules Reference Guide and Imperial Law went into effect on October 7th. For a more detailed rundown on the choices behind these decisions, I suggest checking out the associated article by Tyler Parrott, the lead designer for L5R.
Only two major tournaments have been held over the last six weeks or so, with the final Kotei of the Kunshuu Season held in Bologna on September 22nd. Attendance there was surprisingly low, all things considered, with only 26 players battling for the chance of earning a spot at November’s World Championships. Pietro Sebastiano Monari took the title for the Scorpion Clan, securing the last few points of Glory and Honor for the season and ensuring that the Ancestral Sword of the Hantei will rest in the hands of the Scorpion Clan when it is printed. This was followed on October 7th with the Spain Grand Championship in Madrid. Attended by 90 players, the top place was won by Pablo Pintor Espinosa for the Crab Clan. Coverage of both the Bologna and Madrid events was provided by Imperial Advisor and can be found at the links above.
With the release of the Lion Clan Pack’s spoilers, and the confirmation that A Champion’s Foresight will be legal for the 2019 Winter Court World Championship, testing for the event has heated up across the community, though with a distinct snag. Jigoku, the free online L5R LCG platform, has been struggling in keeping up with the releases of the LCG, and it has been impossible to test many of the cards which will be legal for Worlds on that platform.
This has led to a meta which may be the most untested yet, and one which promises to make the event quite unlike any other previous. While I will cover this in greater detail next month, the 2019 Winter Court World Championship for Legend of the Five Rings LCG promises to be the biggest L5R event since the Kiku Matsuri at Gen Con 2017. There are already over 200 tickets sold for the Last Chance Qualifiers and Main Event combined. A full schedule of events has been released here, and I will have a great deal to say about this before the event itself.
The Story Leaps Forward
September and October have seen a sharp increase in fiction releases for Legend of the Five Rings, as the events of the Inheritance Cycle are behind us and the chaos in the capital begins to echo outwards into the Emerald Empire. D.G. Laderoute’s “Black and White” concluded the Inheritance cycle with Bayushi Shoju assuming the regency and condemning his wife’s actions in private, albeit covering for them in public. Mari Murdock picks up the story from there with “Behind the Empty Throne”, showing Shoju’s own thoughts as well as his handling of Agasha Sumiko, the acting Emerald Champion, in securing his power.
Meanwhile, Annie Vandermeer Mitsoda wrote about the fall of Kyuden Kakita at the hands of Matsu Tsuko in “Roar of the Lioness”, giving greater intrigue and depth to the most honorable Great Clan of the Empire and its latest Champion. Lisa Farrell then weaves both of these threads together in “Wind Through Falling Leaves”, giving perspective to Kakita Yoshi, the man who in a matter of hours learned of the loss of his Emperor, loss of his regency, and the loss of his home. The rapidness of these fictions being released has whetted the appetite of the community for more, especially after the lean months of the last year, as any fiction at all is a welcome feast.
Trevor Cuba and the Future of RokuCon
The last item of note this month I wish to share is a sad one. If you recall, dear reader, there was recent Kickstarter effort from Trevor Cuba to start an L5R fan-centric convention called RokuCon. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter failed to reach its $10k goal, but it did succeed in raising over just over 50% towards it and helped to raise awareness of this fan-led convention effort.
As it happens, while this does delay the event, upon chatting briefly with Trevor for an intended interview, I have learned that it is not the end of the story of RokuCon. What follows is a truncated version of that Q&A conversation that I’m excited and thankful to share with you today:
Although I know you Trevor, there are members of my readers who may not. Who are you, and what is your background with L5R?
Trevor: Currently I am a co-host on the Court Games LCG podcast, I run the Crane Clan website and Facebook group, I pop up occasionally on other podcasts such as The Table is Yours, and am generally retweeting L5R stuff on Twitter.
I was introduced to L5R back in high school and instantly fell in love with the Crane Clan and the Kakita duelists. My friends who introduced me to it figured I would enjoy that particular bishōnen / edge-lord aesthetic but probably never figured I would get as involved as I have over the years. After high school I joined the Navy and had little opportunity to engage with L5R aside from playing around with the Dungeon & Dragons Oriental Adventures sourcebooks. When I left the Navy in 2009 I immediately went to a local game store and dove headfirst into the competitive scene and online community. Since then I have tried to be involved with the community as much as possible and enjoy getting new people interested in this wonderful multimedia setting.
How did you first get involved with running conventions?
My cousin did the badge art for Youmacon around the time I got out of the Navy. I had traveled with him to some smaller conventions when I was younger and briefly mentioned I was interested in checking out a big con for the first time as an adult. The next thing I knew I had a staff badge and was managing registrations lines. Such is the chaotic nature behind the scenes of running an anime convention: a bunch of passionate individuals coming together to donate whatever time and skillset they might have to make the con the best experience it can be.
This will be my 10th year staffing with many of the same folks I met that very first weekend in 2009. We really are a bizarre family that meets a few times a year to help run Youmacon as well as a number of other conventions that we become individually a part of and call on each other for help whenever time permits. Over the years I have done everything from volunteering, to buildup/ tearing down the stages, to sitting in a door to check for badges, to running entire departments.
What aspect of Legend of the Five Rings appeals to you the most?
Without a doubt it’s the way L5R interacts with the community, from earning story prizes at a card tournament to running side events that are fun and / or charitable but also earn points towards faction rewards. L5R to me has always been a setting where the players, be they card players, roleplayers, fiction writers, etc., can make a meaningful impact on the story we are in essence all telling together.
I liken it to a perpetual roleplaying session that spreads itself across multiple forms of media and even bleeds into the real world in very fun ways. There are so many great stories within this community, and often times the tale of how a certain story decision came to be due to the efforts of specific individuals can almost overshadow the story decision itself. To me, L5R is a living breathing world that is kept going by the wonderful, passionate, inclusive, and kind community that is formed around it.
What is your favorite memory related to L5R?
That would have to be the time I played the ronin Tomoe in Winter Court 3. The Winter Courts at one time were a series of play-by-post RPGs that ran in almost real time for a few months where players would pursue goals in a pure roleplay environment. Some players got to build their own characters and some were handed pre-made NPCs with specific goals or functions. Tomoe’s game function was as a yojimbo for hire, so any character who found themselves in need of protection or needed a champion to represent them in a duel could always have at least one option, and I was given free rein to determine what jobs I would take.
The “problem” is that pound for pound Tomoe was easily the most powerful player character in the game, and in my first duel I defeated a well-known Lion duelist so hard that I essentially stopped almost all duels from taking place for the rest of Winter Court because people were terrified if they challenged a courtier, that courtier would come find Tomoe and end the conflict. It got to the point where eventually a representative of the Dragon Clan approached Tomoe and offered her a great deal on money to simply go away.
But aside from that (and the resulting Court-long rivalry Tomoe ended up in against that same Lion that had its own amazing conclusion), I really enjoyed being given loose character concepts and being given the chance to fill in the blanks of her backstory and figuring out why she was why she was. Further, as a female character in a heavy roleplay environment where my being male in real life wasn’t readily apparent, it was also an eye-opening experience in the ways women are treated, both as a character and as a presumed female player. I don’t have any horror story of instances of overt disrespect, and I never hid my real life gender identity in the non-roleplay threads, but I did become acutely aware of the subtle ways other players would treat my character. That experience has led me to reexamine the way I might be treating people based on their perceived gender.
What is the biggest lesson the RokuCon Kickstarter taught you?
Even though the Kickstarter failed, the people and the connections I made this summer trying to plan and promote it confirmed for me something that I suspected but feared I was off base on: that there is a deep desire within this community to grow L5R into something much greater than it currently is. I met so many great people who have deep ties to the game’s past who are looking to rekindle some of the aspects of the community’s history that are not as prevalent anymore, and people newer to the community keen on exploring ways of expressing interest in this setting in new and exciting ways. Maybe a convention is the proper way to express these desires, or perhaps it is an idea that can be revisited in the future, but the desire is there, waiting to flourish.
What are the next steps you intend to take? Do you intend to seek another crowdfunding campaign?
I’m disappointed that the Kickstarter failed to fund, but I am currently looking into ways I can leverage the contacts I have made and the ideas I’ve collaborated on to see what can be turned into a number of smaller projects for the community to enjoy. Some of these will depend on resources and opportunity, but I think there are many things we were playing around with that can be moved into already existing areas where the fans gather. I doubt I will be using crowdfunding again anytime soon but only because none of the ideas I currently have fit well into a backer reward system. That said, I am not opposed to using it again if the right project develops for it.
Thank you again for the interview, Trevor!
And that is all for this month, dear reader. It will be a short turn around on this article, however, as I expect my pre-Worlds article to go up the week after this one. It may be short, but I will be discussing my plans at the Winter Court 2019 World Championship in detail. 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.