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 19: Convention Time
At Gen Con 2015, Legend of the Five Rings celebrated its twenty year anniversary. What began at Gen Con 1995 with a story of six Great Clans of samurai struggling for dominance in a pan-Asian fantasy world has grown into an epic, sweeping story touching the lives of thousands of players around the world. Twenty years ago, L5R made a promise to its players that they would be the ones who decided the future of Rokugan, and for twenty years, that promise has kept players coming back time and again. In the words of Reggie Garth (the inspiration for Hida Kozan and the emcee of the 20th Anniversary), we are the samurai of Rokugan.
It had been my plan to spend less time this Gen Con covering the events surrounding the Legend of the Five Rings brand, but that was doomed to failure. I had forgotten to take into account the sheer power of infectious enthusiasm that spread through the community in crossing this milestone. As a gamer who became swept up into the hobby in the early to mid 90’s, it would have been impossible to imagine that I would be there for the 20th Anniversary Party. It would have been unimaginable that L5R would even still be around as a CCG twenty years later. And while the game has seen better days, if one takes Gen Con 2015 as a guideline, the day the game dies may be another twenty years off, if ever.
I do not have to remind you of my history with this game; my previous articles in this series do that. Still, simply being there for the 20th Anniversary of L5R left me feeling a little intimidated. Luckily, I was far from alone, and found myself swept into the immersive and accepting passion that has made the player community my home for this long journey. I played in more tournaments than I signed up for, made many new friends, revisited old friends, shook the hands of some of the people who made the game what it is, and wound up taking home far more cards than I intended. Scoring in the Top 8 of the Second Chance Event helped with that last part, but that was just a tip of the iceberg in regards to the true winnings I took home from Gen Con 2015.
Luckily, friendships and stories do not take up trunk space on the drive home.
Let the Games Begin
I suppose the best place to start would be with the final bit of prep work before Gen Con. While I had been playtesting a Spider Clan deck in the weeks leading up to the convention with full intent to participate in the 13th Scroll Main Event, some last minute announcements made me change my mind. Specifically, AEG announced the stakes of the Challenge Booths this year and the manner in which the Main Event would be divided.
As with last year’s Heart of Darkness Challenge Booth, each challenge booth would be squaring off against the new Siege product, the Clan War. As opposed to last year’s district-by-district battle in the Second City, each of the Challenge Booths in 2015 were split to determine who would control each of the Twelve Black Scrolls – terrible and corrupt spells once used to bind Fu Leng during the Day of Thunder. Six of the Black Scrolls would be determined at Gen Con, and the remaining six would be determined at the European Championships later this year. Three Challenge Booths were assigned to each Black Scroll, with the Scroll going to the best of three: Jigoku or Rokugan. Or, rather, the Spider Clan or the rest of Rokugan.
In addition, the Main Event Finals on Sunday and the Second Chance on Saturday would also be split into pods of 8 to determine which Clan would possess it should Rokugan win the Scroll. There were additional benefits for either side winning three out of three in the Challenge Booths and consolations prizes if your side did not win the Challenge Booths but did win the Pod. Also, the top two places in the Second Chance would have a second Story Prize.
It was a rather confusing mish-mash of events, with several conditional victories and storyline outcomes, enough so that I spent part of my time with the Story Team members reading initial posts on my phone just to try to parse what the wins were meant to be.
The central point for me, as a Spider Clan player, was that playing the Main Event would only have a small chance of helping my faction. More importantly, playing in the Challenge Booth and winning directly hurt my faction’s chances at Story prizes. Add to that an initial statement barring anyone from running Shadowlands Personalities in their decks at the Challenge Booth. That the majority of the Spider Clan’s Personalities have the Shadowlands trait left many Spider Clan players rather upset at AEG for their choice to again exclude the Spider.
Fortunately, the Brand Team for L5R were quick to issue a conciliatory effort to the Spider Clan, creating a house rule allowing us to play our decks at the Challenge Booth. While this didn’t improve the Story Prize situation, their second addendum did: the Spider Clan players would be allowed to nominate two to pilot the Siege deck during the Challenge Booths, permitting the Spider Clan to fight for their Story Prizes where it could matter the most.
Being a media member with vested interest in the game, I reached out about possibly piloting the Siege deck. After some negotiation, I was given a spot behind the table for a Challenge Booth on Thursday. I would be fighting for control of Dark Divination, a Black Scroll capable of bestowing powerful oracular visions on a subject – at the price of the sanity and soul.
Plan of Attack
Knowing I would be orchestrating the Siege deck and having little interest in the Main Event’s prizes themselves, I chose instead to participate in the many Draft tournaments during Gen Con. A win in any of them meant I could name any character in the storyline to be featured in an upcoming Scenes of the Empire fiction, and winning the Hands of the Sun and Moon Second Chance Draft tournament on Saturday (for those who didn’t qualify or participate in the Main Event) would mean the character named would be featured in a more prominent story. Still hoping to earn more story time for Susumu Naishi (last seen here), I decided to arrive at Gen Con without any cards and focus entirely on drafting and winning the Siege event for the glory of Jigoku and the Spider Clan.
Thursday proved to be my busiest day. While I was no longer signed up for the Main Event Qualifier, I made certain to arrive on the floor of the CCG Hall for the 9 AM opening ceremonies. I was pleasantly surprised that the turnout was larger than last year, though many more players had chosen to sign up for the afternoon qualifier instead. I was greeted by several acquaintances from last year’s World Championships, as well as the majority of my L5R play group out of Pandemonium Games in Cambridge. New England’s Team Scrubs on Wheels of competitive players were well represented at Gen Con, and with their many tournament wins during the Kotei season, they would go on to accuulate a hefty prize pool of over $2,000 in product for the team by the end of the convention.
Before too long, we were called to order by Reggie Garth, sans his face paint and Crab Clan costume from last year, and the annual banzai call shook the CCG Hall yet again. I observed the first table of the Siege Challenge Booth during start up, and began taking notes for how to play the deck properly. The first group of players to take it on were in a similar situation, having scouted its contents the night before online but lacked experience of seeing it in motion. By the time 10 AM rolled around and the doors connecting the CCG Hall to the Expo Hall opened, I hunted down the AEG Booth and picked up my own copy of Siege.
I returned with time to spare, determined to study the Siege deck and play it to the best of my ability.
Alas, as with all the best laid plans of mice and men, it was not to be.
I ran into Robert “Spooky” Denton and Christopher Hand, members of the Story Team whom I had spoken to previously during Winter Court. Finally able to place faces to the names and voices, I spent the next hour chatting about the direction of the story in the past year and how particular stories resonated in the fan base. In particular, I spoke with Spooky about how his Halloween fiction last year was one of the best pieces of fiction in L5R I had ever read. L5R succeeds in many ways when its stories are small, personal, and tragic – not every story should be able Empire shaping events.
Time to Play
Realizing my turn to pilot was coming up, I made my way back to the AEG Events table to connect with Daniel Nichols, the representative who would be officiating the Challenge Booth. Dan, a friend from Cambridge who ran the Cambridge Kotei this year, had agreed to AEG’s request to let me pilot the Siege deck. I sat down with my freshly bought Siege: Clan War set across from Donald Hanauer, Jacob Hampton, Dan Grendell, Dan Nichols, and one other who left before I could get his name. For the next three hours, we battled back and forth for the fate of Rokugan.
While I was able to stop the initial assault at the Scorpion Clan Coup, a series of poor turns of the Clock Deck soon played me into a corner. Dan Nichols, playing the Brotherhood premade deck, revealed an early Bayushi Kachiko XP(CW) who claimed an extensive body count. The Fu Leng deck relied upon corrupting your opponent’s Personalities and stealing them to match the attacking armies in force. Unfortunately, the mechanic for corruption and theft relied on low Chi, few attachments and low Gold Cost. The two pre-constructed decks I encountered, along with a Dragon Dueling, a Unicorn Big Item, and a Lion Commander deck were all well insulated from my central mechanic. I was only able to start taking Personalities from them the turn before they attacked the Throne Room.
Fu Leng put up a hell of a fight, however. He challenged seven Thunders in total as well as the Hooded Ronin, with Mirumoto Hitomi showing up twice. Ultimately, it was not enough, though I did take personal satisfaction in killing every single Thunder except one copy of Mirumoto Hitomi and Otaku Kamoko before dying. I could have killed Kamoko as well, but doing so would have lost me the match instantly.
As it was so, I had been given my opportunity to bring glory to the Spider Clan, but I had failed. Still, it was a blast to play against the people I did and to be given the opportunity to pilot the Siege deck alone was an honor.
The RPG Event
After the Challenge Booth I grabbed some food and made my way to the L5R RPG Spectacular. The only official RPG event for L5R at Gen Con, last year it caused the war between the Crab Clan and the Spider Clan which had been a driving force at Winter Court IV. This year, the line for the RPG Spectacular was even bigger, and I had been fortunate in picking up a ticket for it since it sold out in the first week.
At the event I ran into Tom Ramirez (who had played Daigotsu Tsubaki in Winter Court IV), along with several other court alumni including Jeffrey Gates (who played Iuchi Wattu). In Tom’s possession was a playmat featuring the chibi artwork of Rhiannon McCullough, whose art had transformed the forum into a sea of cute, magical samurai in the final two weeks of its run. Tom was collecting signatures of the playmat of all the WC4 alumni, and I gladly added my own.
Once we were shown inside, I sat down at a table of five other players. Our Game Master, Todd Stites, introduced the official module we would be playing by reading a snippet of fiction taking place one year out in the L5R Storyline from the current time. And all was not well in Rokugan.
It told of the destruction of the Otaku lands to the horde of Spider samurai, undead, and other Shadowlands monsters. Moto Naleesh, dying of a terrible injury, orders the Unicorn Clan to gather its peasants and flee the Empire on the Ki-Rin’s Path. A priest is possessed by the Ten Lords of Death and pronounces that Tengoku has abandoned the Empire for its dealings with Jigoku.
Our PCs were given orders to ride to the Shrine of Otaku, gather the relics and nuns there and make for the Ki-Rin’s Path as part of the exodus of the Unicorn. Most of us made it through the adventure. As Tom wanted to play the only Spider in the pre-generated characters, though, I took an old favorite in a Kitsu trained shugenja. My experience with playing shugenja in L5R proved key in solving several situations although my character was one who ultimately died, sacrificing his life to power a spell critically injuring the main antagonist in the final fight.
While the direct events of the table would not translate to the story itself, our GM informed us that particular actions would get the notice of the Story Team in his report. Having the opportunity to speak with Spooky, Chris, and Fred Wan, who arrived there after the Clan Dinners let out, I have hope for further impact to the story.
And with that late night meal, as well as an excellent conversation with two other latecomers, is where my Thursday ended. It was by far and away my busiest L5R day of Gen Con 2015, but even as eventful as it was, it was not my largest highlight. That will have to wait until my next article, wherein I discuss the draft tournaments I played in and, of course, the 20th Anniversary Party itself…
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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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Alderac Entertainment Group; GenCon Logo from GenCon; Super Troopers Promo Shoot from Broken Lizard; Arachnophobia movie still by Buena Vista Pictures; Susumu Naishi care of Rhiannon McCullough Grapics; Family Guy image by Fox; Monty Phython’s Holy Grail image by Python (Monty) Pictures ltd.