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 31: Steps Forward for Scorpion and Representation
Where to begin?
It has been a long two months since last we spoke, dear reader, and one that has been filled with myriad developments throughout every aspect of Legend of the Five Rings. While new developments at Gen Con were surprisingly sparse in regards to L5R, the weeks leading up to and after it were quite active news-wise.
For those who missed it, I was able to attend the annual Fantasy Flight In-Flight Report on Gen Con Eve as part of the convention kick off, and it was certainly an interesting event (one in which I live-tweeted throughout). Sadly, the only L5R announcement was a reveal of the first full supplement for the RPG and a promise of a new expansion to be announced in November.
The Pay Gates Come Down
Leading up to Gen Con, however, saw the biggest shakeup to date of L5R LCG Organized Play. In late July, FFG announced the creation of the Elemental Championship tournament series. Designed to expand the Organized Play experience and supplement the Kotei Series of tournaments, the Elemental Championships and Challenges are meant to be high-level tournaments focusing around each Great Clan’s connections to the five Elemental Rings. Elemental Challenges are designed to be side events at conventions and the like, while the Elemental Championships will run at select retailers. The Elemental Challenges and Championships will run in two cycles per year, with one ending in March and the other ending in July.
The greatest change this new series brings to the Organized Play environment is how it opens up the Elemental Roles for deck construction in formal tournaments. Previously, each Great Clan would be limited throughout most of the year to the single Elemental Role chosen by their top finisher at the November’s Winter Court tournament, with a second Elemental Role becoming available only after the conclusion of the Kotei Season in August – and even then only playable for a single season of Organized Play and the following Winter Court. Instead, Elemental Roles will be held by a Great Clan for eight months, two of which are chosen by popular vote of the top finishers at the Elemental Championships and one for the top Great Clan at Winter Court. As no Great Clan can choose an Elemental Role they currently have access to, this will create an environment of staggered play and will always give each Great Clan two Elemental Roles.
Through this, Fantasy Flight Games has answered the two largest criticisms leveled at its previous system. By hosting the Elemental Championships at retailers rather than conventions and other events FFG is removing the “pay-gating” barrier, which has been cited as a direct cause of low tournament attendance in the United States. Similarly, by opening up the Elemental Role selection to two Roles at any given time, cycling them out every eight months, this creates a dynamic, engaging tournament scene where decks can experiment with synergies and construction. As the card pool for the LCG expands over time, this will hopefully make the choices of Elemental Role less restrictive and increase the overall investment of any given player in the tournament scene.
A “Close” Kotei
Prior to Gen Con, Fantasy Flight Games also revealed the present state of the Kotei Season, making clear the stakes for the final event at long last.
To no one’s great surprise, the Scorpion Clan stood in first place for the prize of taking home the Toshi Ranbo Province and the honor of hosting the next Winter Court, with the Crab Clan close behind in both categories. A victory by either Great Clan at Gen Con would’ve clinched the final points needed to lay claim to the city itself. A victory by anyone else, however, guaranteed the Scorpion Clan’s victory. The all but final order of the Elemental Roles pick for the World Championships (and the next eight months) were also showcased, with the top three for each Great Clan revealed.
While this certainly got excitement piqued for Gen Con, it was later revealed that the tallies shown on FFG’s website did not account for several sizable European Kotei votes. The article itself only called out Gen Con remaining to be accounted for, which left certain players quite surprised with the results posted after Gen Con as more than one Great Clan outside of the top three went home with an Elemental Role. The new Elemental Roles can be found here.
Gen Con itself saw a modest 138 players on Day 1 for the Qualifiers, and 174 players on Day 2. Congratulations to Aneil Seetharam for his victory at Gen Con over Travis McDaniel of the Phoenix Clan, successfully claiming his second Grand Kotei victory for the Dragon Clan. Aneel remains one of, if not the best L5R LCG players in the United States, and I cannot recommend any of his analysis podcasts or videos enough for serious competitive play. Full coverage of the Grand Kotei and analysis can be found on the Imperial Advisor.
With the Dragon Clan clinching victory at Gen Con, both the Emperor’s Favor and Toshi Ranbo went to the Scorpion Clan for their many victories of the first Kotei Season. The Scorpion Clan will host the Winter Court World Championship, and prizes this year will be themed around them. Additionally, they will gain access to the Toshi Ranbo Province card, to be printed in an upcoming expansion. While it is unclear exactly which Ring the Province will serve as, its impact to the game will be commanding. However, with the Elemental Cycle now completed, there is speculation that the competitive environment from the World Championship may not be favorable to the Scorpion, especially with the secondary Elemental Roles now in play.
“A repeat of Hisu Mori Toride with a purple paint job would simply be disappointing.”
Gen Con coincided with the end of the Elemental Cycle of Dynasty packs, and rumors of the new Unicorn Stronghold were so accurate that even my joking description from my previous article hit the mark. The Unicorn Stronghold released in the last Dynasty pack, Hisu Mori Toride, functions almost identically to the Lion Stronghold released in the first Dynasty pack, also called Hisu Mori Toride.
It is, almost quite literally, the Lion Stronghold with a purple paint job and a lot of battle damage in the artwork. It also favors having greater numbers than the opponent and requires the sacrifice of a Cavalry Character to trigger rather than simply a Bushi Character. The Elemental Cycle also benefitted the Unicorn in the form of several Dynasty Characters to help bring them up to par with the rest of the Great Clans. Only time will tell, however, if it’s enough to move them from their spot at the bottom of the heap.
In the weeks since Gen Con, Fantasy Flight Games has also announced a change in their plans for the upcoming releases. They will still be releasing the Scorpion Clan Pack, the Underhand of the Emperor, in October in time for the World Championships in November. Additionally, they will be accelerating the release of the upcoming Clan Packs, with the goal of releasing the remaining five by the end of 2019. The next one due out is scheduled to be the Unicorn Clan Pack, followed by Crane.
Beyond that, there was confirmation that product to be announced in November is neither a Clan Pack nor the next cycle but something else entirely. Community speculation is that it’s most likely a formalized Multiplayer Boxed Set with rules, similar to the Melee boxed set released for the Game of Thrones LCG, and using a formalized rule set based on the Enlightenment multiplayer variant tested earlier this year. Personally I’d prefer to see a limited “Story Pack” boxed set instead, which whould include all the rules and cards needed for a special scenario play, to capture a turning point in the story of L5R, but we shall see fairly soon just what FFG has up their sleeves.
Gen Con Highlights
In non-LCG related news, Privateer Press announced just before Gen Con an unexpected partnership with Fantasy Flight to produce an L5R-themed subscription box miniature series. Privateer Press introduced Mini-Crate, their Warmachine / Hordes miniatures subscription box service at Gen Con 2017, and it’s garnered enough success for an L5R one starting in early 2019.
Although this may come as a surprise for some, it’s only the degree of cooperation between two AAA gaming studios which is different. Matt Wilson, the founder of Privateer Press and its Chief Creative Officer, helped create the original Legend of the Five Rings and was one of the most influential and iconic of its early artists. The quality of miniatures produced by the Mini-Crate line has been quite exceptional and the subscription box will be the only way to secure each miniature. In fact, the policy of the Mini-Crate brand is to destroy the molds of each miniature once the run is complete, making it all the more limited. As the bonus for the first VIP (6 month) subscription is one of the fabled Naga Hunters, it’s easy to predict where I will be spending some money soon.
My own activities at Gen Con were filled with both the old and new versions of the L5R RPG. To that end, I would first like to extend my admiration and congratulations to the crew at Heroes of Rokugan, the unofficial living L5R RPG campaign, for another successfully handled convention. Their Political Interactive LARP and their 100+ player Battle Interactive is a challenging undertaking every year, and it’s no small feat to pull off without a hitch. Their modules truly came together this year, making the buildup to the interactives engaging and high stakes. While the PC I had been playing in the campaign for the last 18 months met his end during the Battle Interactive, he did so in a blaze of glory and achieved a major goal for the Crab Clan. My gratitude to the GM, Stephen Pfuetze, and my fellow PCs, Josh Bush, Crystal Bush, Tanner Henley, Rhiannon McCullough, and Joshua Hodges, for making Kwaidan’s death memorable and epic.
I also had the opportunity to play through the Wedding at Kyotei Castle module for the new L5R RPG. As I already have had prior experience with the Beta rules, I was happy to serve as an extra hand with the system and the setting for the GM, who was new to both the game and the world.
For this I played Kitsu Kohaku, a demure priestess of the Lion Clan who could speak with the souls of her ancestors and had traveled to the wedding to help put the spirits of the Lion Clan samurai who died there twenty years ago to rest. The situation, of course, quickly became far more complicated, and before the wedding was done there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the spirits of the Lion Clan did not rest easy in Kyotei Castle.
A Beginner’s Set Review
The RPG Beginner’s Set debuted at Gen Con this year, and I was able to secure a copy of it before it sold out. While the box itself left a little to be desired in the form of durability, the artwork and graphic design for the game set the bar high for future products. The Beginner’s Set contains an introduction guide to Rokugan and L5R, four full-color character folios, an introductory adventure book, a Beginner’s Set rulebook, a full sheet of cardboard tokens for game play, ten narrative dice, and a two sided poster map (which was by far and away my favorite piece).
One side of the poster makes further use of the expressive map of Rokugan, first shown in the trailer videos for the LCG and printed as part of the Battle For Rokugan board game, but it has been marked with the locations of every major castle and city in Rokugan. Many old favorites were there, including the City of Lies (Ryoko Owari) and Violence Behind Courtliness City (Toshi Ranbo), but what caught the attention of veteran players like myself was the inclusion of new locations like Khanbulak and the Castle of the Cat.
On the other side of the poster were two location maps in a similar style and palette: one detailing the village of Tsuma and the other the Palace of the Emerald Champion. Tsuma is the location of the included module, focused around the annual Test of the Topaz Champion, while the Palace of the Emerald Champion was featured in the free follow-up module released online.
The artwork featured in the Beginner’s Set is of the consistently high quality and evocative content we’ve come to see in L5R under FFG’s stewardship. Each character folio features them on the cover in a moment of iconic artwork, and both the adventure and the rules supplements feature similarly fantastic artwork. Quality art direction and effective graphic design is something that Fantasy Flight Games is well known for, and the Beginner’s Set does not disappoint.
The module, however does reveals a few editing errors, including misleading or repetitive text. For example, Kakita Toshimoko (an iconic and central NPC to the module) is initially referred to as Doji Toshimoko, which would absolutely confuse someone unfamiliar with the beloved character from the old game. The rules supplement itself, on the other hand, is easy to read and straightforward, presenting a game which on the whole should be exciting and fun.
My strongest criticism upon playing the Beginner’s Set reinforces my initial concern: Strife still accumulates too quickly without access to the expanded Opportunity Table on the back of the rules supplement or the Complication mechanic introduced in the sequel module. By limiting the reduction of Strife to a 1 for 1 basis on Opportunities, characters spend Opportunities to reduce their Strife rather than introducing interesting thematic elements or further exploring the story. It pushed characters to become Compromised simply so they could Unmask right before a big fight in order to increase their odds of victory.
Beyond the sequel module released online, FFG also released three additional introductory characters to round out the 7 Great Clans. This includes Bayushi Kyo, a shinobi of the Scorpion Clan and a welcome step forward in representation. Bayushi Kyo is not described at any point in either the folio or in either module with a gendered pronoun, and their backstory explicitly has them impersonating both their brother and their sister flawlessly. FFG has stopped shy of openly referring to Bayushi Kyo as a nonbinary or genderfluid character, but the choice to use gender neutral pronouns speaking about them is an excellent step forward for representation in gaming all the same.
And that is it for now, dear reader. With the release of the Core Rules for the new RPG on the horizon and the pending Winter Court World Championships for the LCG, the next month promises to be filled with plenty of Rokugan hype. Now that I’m back and rested from my short gaming break, I am looking forward to seeing how the story unfolds. Barring any major new developments, look for me next month with a comprehensive review of the story so far. Until then.
Carry the Fortunes.
David Gordon was 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 were his stories. He can be reached on Twitter.
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Photo Credits: Legend of the 5 Rings images by Fantasy Flight Games.