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 39: The More Things Change…
Hello again, dear reader. I hope that June has treated you well and that you enjoyed the gift of the Daimyo L5R format in my previous article. I would like to begin today by thanking both the Art of WarCast and the team over at New England L5R for their continued support of this little experiment. I will be packing a Daimyo deck if I make my way out to the Winter Court World Championships in November for L5R, and hopefully we will be able to pick up a game or two. Rumor has it that there might even be plans for a Daimyo take-over of a Skirmish pod. Who knows?
A Quick Daimyo Note
Additionally, since the question has been raised a couple times, the artist who provided both the layout and the artwork of the Halls of the Daimyo Stronghold did a limited time pre-order for a professionally printed version of the card. While that window closed at the end of June, it is still possible that extras may be available. I would recommend contacting Rhiannon McCullough through her website to inquire about extras or other support for Daimyo L5R tournaments.
We will be hosting one in Derry, New Hampshire on August 11th at Midgard Comics and Games. It will be a charity tournament, with all proceeds going towards the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Let me assure you, dear reader, that there are very few causes nearer to my heart than the fight to prevent suicide. Any support you can give them, I highly appreciate.
Now, with that information out of the way, we have an entire month’s worth of news to discuss, don’t we?
The Swirling Sands of Organized Play
As always, it’s the Organized Play side of the Legend of the Five Rings LCG which presents the liveliest of news. Late May saw two major tournaments with drastically different metas, and June saw the local Elemental Championship here in New Hampshire.
Both the Birmingham Grand Kotei in the UK and the Seattle Grand Kotei in the US were held on May 29th, with 249 players across two qualifying days in the former and 76 players in the one qualifying day in the latter. The Birmingham Grand Kotei, held at the UK Games Expo, provided a strong presence of the Unicorn Clan across both qualifying days. The 16 spots which qualified were fairly evenly distributed across Clan lines, with David Hoyland taking home the prize for the Crab Clan, besting the 2018 Shogun World Champion, Erik Baalhuis, who was playing Crane.
Due to a shipping delay, the Crane Clan Pack was not legal for the Birmingham tournament but it was for Seattle, the results of which differed drastically. Seattle saw a large presence of Scorpion Clan, though only one managed to make it through the gauntlet to the Top 8. Yet Kevin Ho carried the Scorpion Clan all the way to a victory over Aneil Seetharam, who was playing Crab. Congratulations to both David Hoyland and Kevin Ho for their victories!
June in New England brought on both the summer season and its Elemental Championship on June 22nd, hosted by Midgard Comics and Games and giving me my first experience in running a Formal level event. While not as large as either the Saugus, MA Battlegrounds or Lebanon Black Moon Games Elemental Championships, we hosted 22 players across all seven Great Clans.
That said, four of our players already held World Championship invitations and three held the title of Hatamoto, once again proving New England to be a particular crucible for L5R Organized Play. We ran four rounds of Swiss before a cut to the Top 8, with one player bowing out after Swiss and giving her spot in the finals to 9th place. Congratulations to Brandon Lane of the NEL5R podcast, playing the Scorpion Clan and triumphing over our finalist, Ray Ortgiesen of the Dice or Death Twitch stream, playing the Phoenix Clan. I would like to give additional shout-outs to Casey Hayes, our Paragon of Courtesy for her exceptional demonstrations of good sporting conduct, and Nick Mason of the Meek Information podcast, our Paragon of Honor for earning the only Honor victory that tournament. The Meek Informant also streamed the matches with live commentary and will be posting them on their YouTube channel.
Winter News In Summer
In other Organized Play news, Tyler Parrott went on FFG’s livestream on June 6th to provide information regarding the 2019 Winter Court World Championships for the LCG. This will be held at the FFG Games Center in Roseville, MN from November 6-10, 2019. While no information was provided about the possibility of RPG events at this tournament, he did confirm that the event would be open to anyone who had a ticket to any of the events held during the Winter Court, including a Last Chance Qualifier on November 6th, which will be open to the general public.
The 128 seat tournament is barred to those whom already have a Worlds Invitation and will qualify the top 64 players to play in the World Championships. It was confirmed that this would hold true even if less than 128 players signed up. As one of the many who have not earned a World’s Invite, I applaud this decision by Fantasy Flight Games to keep the Winter Court event accessible to as many people as possible.
Here is hoping my finances hold steady and I can make the flight out there in November…
Restricted List Changes
The final piece of OP news from June was the release of a new Rules Reference Guide and an update to the Restricted List, which went into effect this week. While speculation ran rampant before the release of this announcement, the actual changes ultimately focused around a single dominant deck. With Spyglass being added to the Restricted List, the Unicorn Clan finally have joined the ranks of the other Great Clans with something on there. It was added, however, not due to any of their decks, but the dominant Crab Clan deck that has existed since the game was re-released in 2017.
This deck, a Crab Clan deck with a Unicorn splash, focused on establishing a lasting board presence while pressuring Dishonor through Watch Commander and Spyglasses. Such decks shared some space in the Crab Clan with wide-board strategies for a short while before Rebuild exchanged places with Iron Mine on the Restricted List, eliminating that strategy almost overnight. Ironically, the official reasons given were not to weaken the Crab Clan, who have been performing quite well in the current Kotei season, but to force them to change and evolve their decks. This has not necessarily gone over well among Crab Clan players in general, but quite like their Clan in the lore of the game, most simply accepted that they will just have to do more with less – though some have begun to embrace a recently released Province which allows for a nearly infinite combo. (I would recommend checking out a recent article from Joe From Cincinnati for more information on that front.)
The new Rules Reference Guide also provides further language regarding the interaction of the Disguised keyword and how it necessitates the discarding of a non-Unique Character as part of its costs. If the non-Unique Character cannot be discarded, it is an illegal target for the activation of the keyword, thus preventing the Disguised Character from entering play using it.
The Good And Bad News of New Pack Statuses
The final two Dynasty Packs have been announced for the Inheritance Cycle, along with several previews. A Champion’s Foresight will focus around the Dragon Clan’s involvement in the coming chaos due to consume the Imperial capital in the wake of the death of Hantei the 38th. Shiro Kitsuki, the first new Dragon Clan Stronghold since the Core Set, allows a Dragon Clan player to name a card each Conflict, and claim a Ring each time their opponent plays that card. How this allows a Dragon Clan player to advance towards victory is very unclear, though some predict that this will be a mid to late game economic Stronghold.
For my two zeni, I am most curious how this Stronghold will interact with the current Enlightenment Multiplayer rules, as it can allow for an accelerated victory by simply claiming Rings outside of winning Conflicts.
The sixth and final Dynasty Pack of the Inheritance Cycle, Shoju’s Duty, presents a very curious outcome of the events of the coming fiction. Due in November, this pack would coincide with the Winter Court World Championship and features a new version of the Scorpion Clan Champion. With artwork showing Bayushi Shoju sitting on the Jade Throne of Rokugan, the flavor text of this card speaks to his reluctance to take on this task. Other previews from this pack show a focus around the Scorpion Clan and the Imperial keyword, presaging a gathering of both the power of the Imperial throne and the Emerald Empire’s villains par excellence. As a fan of the old lore, I have my money on Shoju taking the throne in the wake of chaos, knowing that the Great Clans will overthrow him and remove him. He is doing what is necessary, the ugly duty of being the villain the Empire needs to survive. The question remains of where the Heirs are at the time of this, and if they are both even still alive.
The first Inheritance Cycle Dynasty Pack, For The Empire, released on June 20th in the US, and its impact on the game is already being felt. As aforementioned the new Province, Gateway to Meido, has opened up an infinite combo to the Crab Clan, though play has shown that even without the infinite part of the combo, the Crab Clan can still make the Province shine.
Time will tell if the new Events designed to make the Bushi keyword stronger will succeed, but the Unicorn Clan have definitely found a winner in Adorned Barch. Its ability to move a Character into a Conflict while bowing an opponent punishes any commitment from your opponent. As an Attachment, it does not bow during Conflict resolution, and so it can be used to move a bowed attacker into a defending army, locking down the opponent’s largest tower in doing so. I honestly expect to see this item find its way into any deck splashing Unicorn and looking for something spicy to run alongside their Talismans and Gaijin Customs. With Spyglass on the RL especially, expect to see this take its place in Crab.
Regrettably, we are still awaiting the release for the Lion Clan Pack, The Emperor’s Legion. The most recent information states an anticipated release date of August 2019, though it’s not expected to be available before or at Gen Con. Here’s hoping that it will not be struck with an unexpected delay. The Lion Clan have been at the bottom of the competitive barrel since the release of the first Restricted List, and giving them a playstyle more than just “Big Red Numbers” would be a welcome change.
Roleplaying Releases and A Dear Deer Clan Letter
Late June was rather fruitful for RPG releases, however. The last week of June saw the release of two books for the RPG along with a short scenario to accompany them. Courts of Stone is a new sourcebook in similar length to Shadowlands and provides detail for the castles of Rokugan, along with the political intrigue and courts held within. Courts of Stone also details the Crane Clan, fleshing out each of its families and tweaking some of the fluff ever so slightly from previous editions.
While the Doji and Asahina families remain mostly the same, the Kakita family are made far more explicit in their role as the provocateurs of the Crane Clan, living up to every trope of the good-looking, most popular jock in school who gets away with everything they want because they can win every fight. The Daidoji are given the most distinct change though, with the family’s difficult task of defending Crane lands given far more detail than in previous editions and an emphasis given to their devotion to personal Honor. It is a fresh reinterpretation of the family which made “To Do What We Must” their signature move, sacrificing their lives for the honor of the Crane Clan.
Sadly, I wish I could give as much praise to the Deer Clan. A Minor Clan new to Legend of the Five Rings entirely, the Deer Clan is an offshoot of the Crane Clan who were given the Aokami Woods on the border between the Lion and the Crane. Ostensibly a clan of matchmaking shugenja and their spear-wielding shinobi assassins, the Deer Clan failed to truly bring something new to the table. Putting aside the credulity of a Minor Clan capable of manipulating all levels of society and getting away with it (L5R is a game about magical samurai; any argument favoring “realism” is doomed to failure), the Deer Clan compete in many ways with existing elements of the world.
Setting Great Clans against one another to keep them in balance, especially through manipulative marriages? This is a play straight out of the Otomo family. Shugenja who can see the lines of Fate and manipulate them? This is essentially what the Tonbo of the Dragonfly are all about. And then there are the spear-wielding shinobi assassins. Why were the Deer Clan given two schools when the Falcon Clan were given only one? Why not detail the Dragonfly Clan if we wanted fate-reading shugenja? If we wanted a shinobi Minor Clan, why not the Cat Clan which were mentioned in the Core Rules?
As it stands, the Deer Clan feel like the pet project of one of the writers, and as that, they feel unfocused and occupy space which historically fell to other groups. However, I will say one positive thing about this clan: there is nothing stopping you from playing the renegade Shika Matchmaker, who travels around Rokugan, seeking out their next One True Pairing, and then uses their magic to force their chosen victims into a succession of increasingly unlikely meet-cutes, all while lurking in the shadows, murmuring “Now KISS!”
Courts of Stone finishes with an expansive section of new mechanics, focused primarily around the several new shinobi schools the book introduces. Both the Ikoma Shadow and the Bayushi Deathdealer I expect to become favorites of players seeking more reliable reroll mechanics in the L5R RPG, while the Doji Bureaucrat and the Mercenary Ninja provide options for those of us who prefer more reliable abilities. Several new weapons and equipment complement a collection of new Techniques, with new Ninjutsu and new Games-related Shuji being the real shining stars here. Bonds are a new mechanic which function similar to an interpersonal Advantage system, but I do not see them gaining much traction with how unforgiving the Curriculum system works in the RPG.
Courts of Stone also provides a guide for storytellers to better incorporate shinobi and Courtesy into the RPG and how to give each their opportunity to shine. All in all, Courts of Stone provides more to a GM and player of L5R RPG than Shadowlands, and I would highly suggest any GM or any player interested in playing a coutier or shinobi purchase it. While I am not a fan of the Deer Clan, I am certain it has its audience, and I hope to see it grow and develop into a Minor Clan equal to the others in the lore.
In truth, my strongest criticism of Courts of Stone is in its copy editing, as I was able to spot multiple significant errors in my first read through. While I did not find an occurrence of the old “Reference Page XX”, there was a prominent line describing the Kakita family as “cultured rouges”, and a repeating of a line in the description of a School Ability which was obviously rewritten without the old text being removed.
Winter’s Embrace also released in June to accompany Courts of Stone. Set during the Winter Court the year previous to the death of Doji Satsume, Winter’s Embrace offers a strong introduction to the Rokugani court. The module is well-paced and reveals several interesting secrets about certain loyalties, one of which I am particularly curious on how it will inform the events of the Inheritance Cycle fiction. The Scroll or the Blade is a free DLC companion scenario written by Ian Houlihan, which can serve to flesh out the events of Winter’s Embrace, similar to how Knotted Tails expanded on the events of Mask of the Oni. I found that The Scroll or the Blade presents an excellent addition to the module, and one which should get players used to the idea of ‘no right choices, just consequences’ which is essential to good storytelling in Rokugan.
Rokugan In Arrested Development
When it comes to current lore for the game, however, things have been abnormally quiet. No new fiction released in June, though a notable story decision was made at the UK Games Expo. As previously mentioned, Shiba Tsukune was considering where she would send her advisor, Asako Maezawa. In specific, she needed to choose between sending him to the Imperial capital of Otosan Uchi to root out evil magic there, or keep him back in Phoenix Clan lands. Players ultimately decided to keep Asako Maezawa at home, a development mostly regarded as the “safe” choice in the storyline. It will certainly keep Maezawa out of what has been called by Tyler Parrott as the “worst 24 hours the Imperial capital has seen in some time”.
This therefore marks the third month hanging on the cliff edge we slipped off during The Last Stone Played by Robert Denton III. The only hints we’ve received about what’s coming has been pieced together by livestream statements and the various covers, titles, and previews of the Inheritance Cycle’s Chapter packs. Story inserts have been removed from the Inheritance Cycle Dynasty Packs to make the story more accessible (by removing the gate of having to buy a Dynasty pack). Still, the decision has been made to hold back the fiction for the Inheritance Cycle until all of it can be released as once, though when that will come about has also yet to be said.
Current speculation places the release of this fiction to coincide with the street date of the release of the sixth and final Dynasty Pack in November – something the L5R community is not happy with, by and large. For myself, I see both sides of the issue. I would love to have more fiction to read and discuss with the community, and nine months is a long time to wait between one development and the next. On the other hand, this gives the L5R Story Team the time and space to incorporate the results of the 2019 Kunshuu Kotei Season and structure the Great Clan Story Choices at the Winter Court to reflect the fiction.
Luckily, there is some hope on the horizon. The Eternal Knot by Marie Brennan has been announced as the Dragon Clan novella, a name which should be familiar to any long-time L5R fan. Marie Brennan was a featured member of the Story Team during the initial fiction roll out during the game’s relaunch. She also fleshed out the Togashi Dynasty as part of the L5R RPG under AEG. The Eternal Knot will follow the story of Togashi Kazue, a mysterious monk who has been mentioned briefly during the opening Dragon Clan fiction, as well as Togashi Mitsu, a fan favorite character from both the old lore and the new. Taking place before the start of the current storyline, this novella will likely demonstrate the sinister powers of her mysterious, titular tattoo and explore the mystic world of the Dragon Clan in greater detail. I look forward to The Eternal Knot, and hope that FFG will give us more information on its release date soon.
And that brings us to the end of June’s news in Legend of the Five Rings. July is shaping up to be a relatively uneventful month, with Gen Con 2019 looming large at its end. And if you failed to secure your own ticket to Fantasy Flight Games’ InFlight Report at Gen Con (or won’t be attending the convention at all), have no fear dear reader! For up to the minute info for that event you’ll merely need watch my Twitter feed as I will be livetweeting the event (especially any L5R items). I also have tickets to the Grand Kotei and secured a ticket at the last table of an RPG scenario written for the event, “The Highwaymen”.
Fingers crossed that they’ll let me go home with some of the material this time! Until then.
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.