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 14: The Winter Court, Part II
Snow flakes fall from the sky, white and pure. They fall throughout the city, uncaring of the little things passing beneath them. In the marketplace, a peasant hears a phrase whispered in her ear and it awakens something deep and terrible inside her mind. She picks up the knife she was using to cut fabrics for the latest Winter kimono fashions and begins walking towards the person she was programmed to kill.
In the grand concourse, the snow lands on a perfectly folded chrysanthemum made out of paper. Inside the blossom, scented with lavender and painted with red calligraphy, is a beautiful, heart-wrenching love poem. It will go unread by its recipient, but it does not matter. A priestess with a reputation for being nosy will be along before too much snow has gathered, and she will read it as she reads all the other letters, hoping that this time, one of them might be for her.
In the dueling grounds, the gathered crowd holds their breath. The allegations have been read, and there is no backing down now. The Yasuki woman trained by the Shiba matches her gaze with the white haired killer from the Colonies. Both of the duelists have already been blooded, having won previous duels. The Yasuki woman carries with her the soul that has seen a thousand generations, but the killer carries with him the certainty of the Spider Clan.
They have already lost one duel to the Crab Clan on these grounds, and there cannot be another failure. Another failure will spell defeat for the entire delegation, and both clans have gathered here to witness it. In the background, another life hangs in the balance, the Tortoise Clan merchant whose words sparked both duels. Should the Yasuki fall, his life is also forfeit.
In the time it takes for the snowflake to drift to the ground, it is over. Both duelists are wounded, but the Daigotsu Atsushi stands triumphant. Yasuki Kyoko breathes her last breaths of her life as the snow flake lands on the steaming crimson pouring from her. As it melts, all eyes go to the Tortoise, to see if he will rise to the challenge of taking his own life.
Another snowflake begins to fall over Toshi Ranbo, uncaring of the little things passing beneath it.
Winter Court IV, or How I Spent my Winter
From December through the beginning of February, Winter Court IV was probably the single most consuming part of my life. It has gained me friends and rivals from across a half dozen countries and out of nearly every Clan featured in Legend of the Five Rings. It was an experience like few others, and one that I will look back on for years to come with a sense of fondness…as well as relief for it being over. The stakes were high, the drama was tense, but in the end, I left a mark upon my hobby. As of writing this article, a story was released by Alderac Entertainment Group, giving us a new fiction in the world of Rokugan, a fiction which has a very important name to me in it.
Susumu Naishi has been made canon.
In my previous article I discussed the process of creating my character, Susumu Naishi, and how she had come to life out of the several ideas I had going into Winter Court. A merchant patron who married into the Spider Clan from the Unicorn, Susumu Naishi was a mother of two young children and knew about the existence of the criminal conspiracy, the Kolat. She was also an author of a series of detective novels, and had been sent to Winter Court in order to serve as her daimyo’s eyes and ears.
I was joined in court by several canon Spider Clan characters, including the Master of Guile, Susumu Takada; the feared duelist, Daigotsu Atsushi; the dangerous spymistress, Susumu Mizuki; the untainted priest-smith, Gyushi Kageto; and the powerful but mad, Daigotsu Geiko. I was far from the only homebrew character in our clan.
As seen in the picture of the full delegation I included in prior segments, the Spider Clan brought to court over a dozen members in total. Of that number, six were canon: the aforementioned five, plus the Monkey Clan samurai Toku Saiga, the Metal Storm. Among the other homebrew characters were Susumu Yuna and Susumu Naoru, a married pair of courtiers who were a wonderful singer and a skilled orator, respectively. Daigotsu Kurogane was a warrior-philosopher who had been trained as a Taoist swordsman by the Dragon and served as our delegation’s second in command, answering to Susumu Takada as our delegation’s leader.
There was also Daigotsu Tsubaki, the Black Camellia of Kyuden Kakita, our honorable duelist who had started with more in common with the Crane who had trained her than with the Spider she called family. That changed. Daigotsu Mori was a master of chain weapons, and sought to wage a personal war against some of the more…faceless members of the Spider Clan. Susumu Asina bore an awakened blade forged by Gyushi Kageto, and provided bodyguard services for many members of the delegation. Lastly, our official ambassador, played by our AGM Emma-O, was Susumu Kuroko, the daimyo of the Susumu family. Not pictured in the clan artwork commissioned was Daigotsu Katashi, her rather brutal bodyguard.
Readying the Team
All in all, the Spider Clan felt pretty confident going into Winter Court. Each of our characters were coming together very well, and we were dividing up the Clan’s duties as the court itself neared. Ambassadors to each clan were decided, along with the public captain of our guard and private head of our security. We debated amongst ourselves what we wanted to achieve at Winter Court, and it became quickly apparent that the top desire by the Spider Clan was land in the Empire. Since its inception a generation ago, the Spider Clan had been primarily restricted to the jungles of the distant Colonies, conquering in the name of the Empress Iweko I.
Nearly all of their official holdings existed in the Colonies, with only a few temples and personal estates in the Empire to call their own. Despite having several members in Rokugan proper, the Spider Clan had nowhere in the Empire to marshal forces, collect taxes, or serve as the gentry of.
And so, the Spider Clan of Winter Court IV set their eyes on the biggest prize possible: Otosan Uchi, the former capital of Rokugan which had been tainted and sacked by Daigotsu himself sixty years prior. We knew it would be controversial, but it would be worth it.
We were soon given our official Clan Goals by the AGM staff, along with a list of Clan Resources. Our Clan Goals were close to what we expected. The Spider Clan were tied very closely to the younger heir to the Throne, Iweko Shibatsu, so it was unsurprising to see getting him named as the Heir was our first goal. We also required securing 10,000 koku in food preparations for our upcoming war with the Crab. In addition, we needed to conclude an agreement with the Imperial Families to secure two permanent positions in the Imperial bureaucracy, and we needed to ensure the Crab Clan secured no military aid – publicly or privately – in said war. Finally, we wanted to make sure that the Imperial Princess did not marry into any of the more Traditionalist Clans.
With our official and unofficial goals in hand, the Spider Clan readied themselves for court. The next two months were an intense series of events better described in fuller detail elsewhere. I encourage my readers to check out the forum itself, as well as the official Court Summaries available through the Imperial Herald. There will be a document released by AEG as well soon, consisting of the finalized descriptions of the events, key players, and the like.
To put it succinctly: a lot happened. I learned a lot of key lessons, and while I know I will be interested in doing it again in two years, there are many things I would do differently. More tellingly, I am genuinely happy to know it will be at least two years before Winter Court V. However, since it would not be fair to you, dear readers, if I was to say nothing at all about Court, I have compiled my Top Five Lessons Learned at Winter Court IV.
1. Read Your Goals Closely
How you achieve your goals in the Winter Court counts as much as if they are achieved at all. As an example, the Spider Clan lost track of our goal to conclude that agreement with the Imperial families fairly early on. Our diplomats negotiating with the Imperial families had become less active as Court went on, until the last thing we heard was that the Imperial families were uninterested in any public agreements with the Spider Clan.
So, we went instead to the Crane Clan, the rivals to the Imperial families. The Crane Clan were willing to give us the two spots in the Imperial bureaucracy, and we actually managed to achieve two spots entirely on our own merits as well. In the final scoring of Winter Court points, however, these two achievements did not count towards that goal. It was entirely an “all or nothing” aspect, and since we did not conclude the agreement with the Imperial families, we received no credit at all. As a result, it’s questionable if the achievements we did secure will even make canon.
2. Make Friends Across the Aisle, Even If Only Out Of Character.
From Day Zero, the Spider Clan and the Crab Clan were at each other’s throats. The same was true for the Lion Clan and the Scorpion Clan, and the Otomo and the Crane Clan. Among the four major conflicts currently in the L5R storyline, only the Unicorn Clan and the Phoenix Clan seemed reasonably civil with one another, and that was more borne out of the players of both clans feeling the source of the conflict was short sighted. Thus, tempers ran high in Winter Court, and things felt very strongly partisan. Still, one of the first things I did upon becoming the karo (second in command) of the Spider Clan after the In Character death of Daigotsu Kurogane was reach out to the head of the Crab Clan delegation outside of character.
The player behind Yasuki Tono was nothing short of brilliantly political and had been achieving political success after success. It is important that, no matter how heated things became in the court room, we remembered the key fact that players had far more in common than not.
We both loved Legend of the Five Rings and the Rokugan setting. We both wanted to see our Clans succeed. We both wanted to have a mark on the setting and the world we shared. In many ways, Winter Court IV confirmed the old joke that L5R players have more in common with sports fans than other gamers. We have our team, and we are going to root for them no matter what.
I will avoid any Spider Clan – Red Sox comparisons, though.
3. Observe And Report Constantly
Part of the distinct success of the Crab Clan in Winter Court came from their daily reporting of actions which should trigger Glory and Honor gain or loss. Part of the scoring for Winter Court was through how much Glory and Honor you gained, and to ensure it as a delegation, they each reported on their daily actions for due rewards. Most of the other factions did not adopt this method until halfway through the Court, if at all. While many of the European players disliked doing so, equating it to a form of bragging, it is something that needs to be mentioned.
Always talk about what your character is doing in your private forum. Always mention your plans and always mention your actions. Even the littlest of things can lead to a few points of Glory here and there, and those add up over time. It also helps if you have a regularly connecting staff member. If your Clan’s Assistant Game Master is spotty on connectivity or is pulling too heavy of a load, do not be afraid to make friends with another AGM and have them take care of these things for you. For the Spider Clan, Emma-O quickly became our only regularly connected AGM, and he was swamped throughout most of the back half of Winter Court. In this experience, I personally befriended Saibankan and Shi-Tien Yen-Wang, both of whom were central to helping me make Naishi’s story the best it could be.
4. Do Not Be Afraid of Bold Action
Part of going to Winter Court as an RPG player is the opportunity to have an impact on the storyline as much as someone who wins a Kotei or a World Championship. That is the dream that brings us all there, the hope to have something in Rokugan that will be indelibly ours. The best way of doing that is to play without fear, and be bold. Take risks. Do not be afraid of awesome character death.
While the final canon shakedown of the events at Winter Court has yet to bear all of its fruits, it is a deep well from which the L5R Story Team will be returning to time and again in the years to come. Several matters have already passed into canon, however. The betrothal of Iweko Miaka, the Imperial princess, to Bayushi Karyudo, is canon. The duel between Daigotsu Atsushi and Yasuki Kyoko is canon. The hostage of Ikoma Aimi’s daughter to the Scorpion Clan is canon.
And once more, I can’t help but reiterate that the Progressive Alliance and Susumu Naishi are now canon. I have made my mark on L5R, and while I do not know yet how deep it will be, there is nothing more satisfying in this hobby than knowing that. Be bold, and you will leave your mark.
5. Have Fun. If You Are Not, Take A Break
It might seem out of place to put this on a list of Important Lessons Learned at Winter Court, but it’s a lesson who earned its place here. At the end of the day, Legend of the Five Rings in all of its various forms is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. L5R has a very unique premise in the idea that it is a game where the players choose the story, where the players design the cards, and where the players write the rules. L5R was founded by John Wick, but it has been built by its fans into several different games that we have today. It is important to never lose sight of that.
It is easy to become lost in the heated debates and political mudslinging at Winter Court, getting too involved and invested. When that happens, it’s imperative to step back from the game and get some air. Many players on the boards did so at one point; many more simply stepped away and did not come back. There is nothing wrong with that if it stopped becoming fun to them. We are all here to have a good time and change the world.
Taking The Final Bow At Winter Court
All in all, Winter Court IV was an amazing experience, and one I cannot wait to do again. It is currently questionable if AEG will, with the sheer size of the undertaking required, along with how certain actions fell out at the end of the event. There is hope, however, that the experience of Winter Court IV will help AEG learn and improve the process to make Winter Court V work even better. That is, if they do go forward with it. Keep your fingers crossed that we’ll gather again for another Imperial gathering down the line. I know I will be.
And that is all we have for Winter Court. Keep your eyes on the Legend of the Five Rings website for the official summaries and future fictions. Hopefully, you will be able to see more of my handiwork as Naishi in the weeks ahead. Until then? It is Kotei season again, which means we’re leaving forums and heading back to the tables.
Once more unto the breach, dear readers. Always once more unto the breach…
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 email@example.com.
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Photo Credits: Aaron Burr image from Wikipedia; Susumu Naishi image by Rhiannon McCullough; Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; Istanbul was Constatnople from They Might be Giants; Ikea Instructions from Ikea; Boston Red Sox from USA Today; Harry Potter image from Warner Bros; Game of Thrones by HBO