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 37: Content, Creation, And Everything In Between
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The same extends to gaming companies, though it is heartening to see the effort Fantasy Flight Games is taking to get the 2019 Release Train to live up to its promises. March of the Year of the Meta has come and gone, and with the second half of April now wrapping up as well, we will see if we reach our next station on schedule. For the time being, lets look back at all the changes that have come, and what lies in store in the months ahead.
Beware the Shadowlands
Let’s begin first with a brief review of the latest offerings from the L5R Roleplaying Game. Shadowlands, a guide to the domain of Fu Leng and the lands of the Crab Clan, hit shelves in the latter half of March, alongside The Mask of the Oni companion adventure. It was supported by the release of an online supplementary scenario, The Knotted Tails. Shadowlands retails for just under $40 USD and provides 144 pages of supplementary material for both Game Masters and players alike.
Shadowlands opens with a history and tour of the Shadowlands itself, providing several specific locations and encounters in the style of the Emerald Empire supplement. Though not nearly as in-depth or intimate as the 1st Edition supplement, Bearers of Jade, the first chapter gives enough information for GMs to kickstart their exploration of L5R’s darker lore.
It also gives the first solid information on the Nezumi, one of the many fan-favorite parts of the setting from the old canon. The second chapter explores and details the lands of the Crab Clan, putting their history and culture into perspective, while the third chapter details the Crab’s Minor Clan neighbor, the Falcon Clan. The final section of the supplement provides a wealth of new mechanics for the RPG, including new Schools for each Great Clan, a school for the Falcon Clan, new rules for Artisan PCs, and an extensive selection of new equipment for characters. It ends with an appendix examining the Bushido tenet of Courage, and how it influences gameplay.
Shadowlands is an absolutely essential purchase for any player or GM with an interest in the horror elements of L5R and the Crab Clan in particular. For everyone else, I would put this strictly on the optional list. I was particularly happy to see the inclusion of shields in the equipment section, if only for accuracy and completeness. As someone who has studied the history of east Asian warfare and martial traditions, the sentiment of “shields are for cowards and not samurai!” found throughout the L5R RPG player base frustrated me as an oddly resilient pocket of ignorance and Orientalism. Its inclusion and explanation moves Rokugan towards a more expansive setting, and one less obsessed with the “Cult of the Katana” – which hasn’t really been “cool” since the 1990s.
That said, I would have also loved to see more mention of some of the culture of the trolls and ogres in the Shadowlands, and not just the goblins, Lost, and nezumi. Volturnum, the lost city of the trolls, was incredibly important in the old lore, and there was no mention of it. My only other nitpick, though, has to be in the Falcon Clan Phantom Hunter School. While I had my hopes pinned on this for some time, as a long-time fan of the Falcon Clan, I was disappointed in it being a shugenja school, and not a bushi school.
I have not yet read the accompanying scenario, The Mask of the Oni, as I plan to be playing through it in my local tabletop game soon, and did not want to spoil it for myself. The Knotted Tails, however, I did read, and it was an exceptional piece of world building, fleshing out the information on the nezumi from the bits we get in the Shadowlands book. There is also another Moth Clan easter egg in there, and it is getting to the point where I expect that this is one of the designer’s little pet projects.
Also released last month was Wedding at Kyotei Castle, which was an update to a much beloved 1st Edition module. Wedding at Kyotei Castle was initially run at Gen Con 2018, and I was fortunate enough to play through it at that time. At the time, the module’s results were tallied up and a winner to the scenario was ultimately decided for the canon storyline. Still, if you too want to play out the events of Kintani Valley, I would recommend picking up both this module and its pre-generated characters and giving it a test run with some friends.
We have reached a bit of a lull in regards to Organized Play in the Legend of the Five Rings LCG, with most of the Season 1 Elemental Championships wrapping up. In more formal events, Paris hosted a Grand Kotei in March, Adepticon in Illinois hosted two regular Kotei, and PAX East in Boston hosted an Elemental Challenge. Strong showings were given at both Kotei events by the Crab Clan, with Paris and the second Kotei at Adepticon taken by them.
(I apparently spoke too soon when I called out their struggle to remain competitive in my previous article; apologizes to underestimating the many Crab players out there.)
With the release of Warriors of the Wind, I expect the Crab to continue to place strongly in the current environment, as they have a strong match up against both the dominant Phoenix meta deck and the rising full-speed blitz Unicorn deck. As usual, Imperial Advisor has some excellent reporting on the post-CotE meta featured at Paris and Adepticon, which can be found here and here.
I personally attended the Elemental Challenge at PAX East, and while it was absolutely good to see familiar faces at the Cascade Games booth, turnout at this event was particularly lackluster. The first two days of the event saw only four players each, forcing the tournament into a 3 match round-robin format. While I was able to earn my ribbons from the event, along with some promos for a Fire Role and Void Role, I unfortunately decided the third day was not worth the expenses of commuting into Boston for a similar outcome. My time at PAX East overall was sufficient…but definitely not worth the price of the badge if your intent was to play L5R. I hope that PAX Unplugged this year will be a better showing for the community, and I plan on hauling myself all the way down to Pennsylvania to attend.
In general, March and April have been tumultuous months for the L5R LCG. The post Children of the Empire meta game began to settle down, as new deck archetypes began to emerge from both the Dragon and Crane Clans. Just as the meta began to be solved, however, a major shakeup came from the release of the Unicorn Clan pack, Warriors of the Wind.
Delayed from its March release to mid-April, it had been nearly entirely spoiled by the time it hit shelves. Only a few cards remained undiscovered, and its impact on the game is already being felt. The words “I charge Moto Chagatai” echoes across the tournament scenes, sending shivers down the spines of present and future opponents, and the sheer power now available to Unicorn Clan players running Hisu Mori Toride is frequently overwhelming in the early game. While I still believe that Shiro Shinjo will eventually be the Unicorn Clan deck to beat, the full-blitz HMT Unicorn deck has been a fun experience to test out.
Releases, Releases, and more Releases
Announcements and previews continue to roll out, whetting the appetite for the Unsolved Meta of 2019. Previews for the Crane Clan pack, Masters of the Court, continued to be unveiled, though not nearly in the number as Warriors of the Winds were prior, leading up to its April 25th release. Which meant April saw the release of two Clan packs and puts the Inheritance Cycle on schedule to start in May. The early card previews have met with a measured response, with most finding some interest from the player community for how they can shift the game. Two in particular, however, have been highlighted as being game changers.
Daidoji Uji, whom I mentioned last month, remains the most impactful character previewed from the pack so far, but he has been matched by the Event card Gossip. A 0 Fate Event, Gossip can be played in any phase and allows a player to name a card. Copies of that card cannot be played from an opponent’s Conflict hand that phase.
While it is Limited, and thus only a single one can be played per player per round, the ability to proactively shut down potentially game swinging Events or Characters is just the sort of power the Crane Clan needed to shift the competitive scene in their favor. It favors the high skill player as well, as its versatility makes an always usable card, and knowledge of the environment means a canny player can easily name the one lynchpin their opponent will need.
The third Dynasty pack of the Inheritance Cycle was also announced, with Justice For Satsume promising to feature two new Clan Champions and more cards to help support the bushi and courtiers of the Empire. Based upon the artwork alone, I expect one of those Champions to be a new version of Doji Hotaru, the Crane Clan Champion, though I disagree with the common speculation that Doji Kuwanon will also be a Clan Champion.
Despite the artwork that appears to show the siblings squaring off at first glance, it has been pointed out by sharp-eyed members of the Crane Discord groups that they instead appear to be fighting back to back. This artwork is being featured as Province backers for direct preorders, with FFG continuing its trend of discouraging players from supporting their friendly local gaming stores – a practice which continues to meet sharp criticism in the L5R player base. Justice for Satsume also features a new mechanical focus for the Lion Clan, rewarding them for having less Conflict cards in hand than their opponent, an interesting mechanical space.
The Lion Clan have also been announced as the next Clan to receive a Clan Pack after the Crane. The Emperor’s Legion has not been given an anticipated release date, but FFG is already accepting preorders (also with Province backer direct preorder bonuses). Focusing on the Lion Clan themes of “recursion, revenge, and righteousness”, the Lion Clan pack will feature 28 new cards for the LCG.
The new Stronghold for the Lion, Kyuden Ikoma, opens up an interesting design space for the Clan, providing a benefit for losing a Conflict as an attacker. When coupled with cards like Deathseeker and the new Embrace Death, the Lion Clan will soon be able to push their opponent into a position of “Let me win, or you’ll regret it.” With the high starting Honor on Kyuden Ikoma, I would not be surprised to see the Lion Clan switching to a Phoenix Clan splash to make use of cards like Seeker of Knowledge and Winds of Change to begin pressuring Honor victories through winning Conflicts.
Laughter and Heartbreak
Lastly in news for the month, April saw the release of two major updates in the Fiction. Alongside the Unicorn Clan pack came the novella, Across the Burning Sands by Daniel Lovat Clark. Following the story of Shinjo Shono as he journeys west to the city of al-Zawiri and the Quamarist Caliphate, the novella is a fast-paced story filled with engaging characters, intense personal development, and an introduction to the world beyond Rokugan. We were promised sword fights, romantic tension, and dangerous intrigue, and the author did not disappoint. I found myself laughing out loud at the character of Moto Chagatai, who was captured in all his affable, unabashed ambition and charisma. The new Moto Chagatai is an excellent update to the old canon’s version, and the story of the Unicorn Clan is richer for his inclusion.
A new short fiction was also released from Robert Denton III, laying the groundwork for the upcoming Inheritance Cycle. The Last Stone Played is a compelling fiction with an explosive development, shaping the story to come in exciting ways. Furthermore, it did something which many of the previous fictions failed to do: it made me feel genuine sympathy for both Hantei Sotorii and Bayushi Kachiko. Denton’s fiction continues to portray genuine, well-realized characters who make decisions or lose control and have to deal with the consequences. While the previous fictions surrounding Sotorii made me understand the young man to be isolated and lonely, Denton provides the capacity to live even momentarily in his experience, grappling with challenges which are familiar to anyone who has helped youths who are not neurotypical. While this is not an excuse for the actions some take, it makes those actions easier to understand and all the more tragic as a result.
Signal Boosting Galore
And now, at long last, we come to the feature of this article, dear reader. As anyone who pays attention to Legend of the Five Rings since its return under FFG can tell you, the social media aspect of this community has simply exploded over the last year. Every month a new podcast or Twitch stream has appeared with L5R content. While this is far from a complete list, I have included below a selection of the various content creators I’ve been able to find for the L5R community. Normally, I would split them up by podcast, YouTube channel, and Twitch Stream, I have found that many of these creators operate across several mediums, and so I am being as inclusive as I can be.
The Streams of New England
- New England L5R – This was the first and in many ways the most notorious of the New England media producers for the L5R LCG (other than myself). They typically stream on Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET, and provide…colorful commentary on the news of the week and previews. If nothing else, this show gives a good impression of what it is like to be an L5R player in New England, and it is always a fun listen.
Twitch | YouTube | Podcast
- The Meek Informant – If you’re starting out in L5R, this is the podcast you should be listening to. They focus on the entry level experience for the LCG, and seek to get players new to the game up to speed on the rules, decks, factions, and lore. They also stream and commentate on local tournaments in the New England area.
Twitch | YouTube | Podcast
- Dice or Death – Run by Ray AKA RayDaka AKA the Amethyst Champion, this show features more than just L5R content, though it is principally focused on providing live play of the LCG on Jigoku (L5R LCG’s unofficial online free play version). Ray regularly streams at 9 PM ET on Fridays, and recently hosted The Meme Wars, which was a series of matches between NEL5R’s cast and The Meek Informant’s cast.
Twitch | YouTube
Big in Rokugan
- The Jade Throne – In many ways, this is THE L5R podcast. Hosted by Shey Ramsey, the Jade Throne is a podcast about the L5R LCG which deals primarily with the competitive organized play aspect of the game, providing reviews of cards and strategies from the distinctly North American viewpoint. Frequent guests and cohosts include Aneil Seetharam, Chris Pottorf, and Johnny Shen.
- Imperial Advisor – Running the counterpoint to North American strategy in the L5R LCG, Imperial Advisor speaks to the organized play scene of the UK and Europe. It is hosted by Colm Brophy, Justin Walsh, Eoin Burke, Andy Gordon, and Barry Sheppard. They produce content regularly, and organize one of the most comprehensive websites on the organized play scene for L5R around the world.
Twitch | YouTube
- Hidden City Roller Derby – Hosted by Simcof, Hidden City Roller Derby is Australia’s own podcast on L5R, and rose to prominence with their excellent coverage of the Discord World Cup. They have since provided a strong third voice in the field of organized play commentary, keeping the rest of the world up to speed with the performance of L5R in Australia and Oceania, and quite possibly is one of the few podcasts which gives NE L5R a run for its money with its colorful commentary.
All About That Story
- The Last Province – If long, circuitous rambles through the greater, deeper lore of Legend of the Five Rings is your thing, then you owe it to yourself to listen to this podcast. Hosted in part by Robert Denton III himself, this podcast provides an in-depth exploration of the world of Rokugan, along with the standard commentary on previews and special events. I highly recommend their episode on law and punishment in Rokugan, and this podcast in general to anyone seeking to run the RPG.
- Shadows in the West – What happens when a bunch of highly talented creative people decide to make a show about their tabletop game? Well, it usually is not this good, but sometimes, you get a gem like Shadows in the West. This is an audio drama based upon the logs of an actual play game taking place online. Furthermore, this is one of the most inclusive and diverse podcasts in the community, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough. Give them a listen, and prepare to dive into a world of high drama and beautiful artwork.
- The Table is Yours – One of the biggest barriers to entry in Legend of the Five Rings can be the sheer depth of its fiction. As some of my previous articles have called out, there is well over a George RR Martin novel’s worth of fiction already written – and that’s not even including the three novellas. The Table is Yours is lowering the barrier to entry with that story by presenting the fiction in audio-book format. Give them a listen!
More Than Stars In The Sky
There are a lot more podcasts than the nine I have listed above. To provide insight on each of them is a task greater than I can achieve here. So, rather than go through each of them in depth, I have included below a list of the ones that I follow, in no particular order:
- The Art of WarCast
- Imperial Host Coast to Coast
- The 6th Ring
- Garbage of the Five Rings
- Court Games
The explosion of new content creators in the Legend of the Five Rings community has been nothing short of amazing. When I started writing again for this series, there were only a handful of us providing regular media on the L5R community. Now, there are dozens. Whatever else comes of the FFG reboot, the evolution of the community in these last two years has been truly a wonder, and I am glad to have been a part of it.
In fact, in the preparation for this article, I took a little trip down memory lane. My first Dave of the Five Rings article was published in March of 2014, which makes this the beginning of my fourth year writing this blog (sixth if you give me credit for the two years between the sale of the IP and the relaunch at Gen Con 2017). The journey has not been insignificant, and it has truly been a pleasure to watch how the journalism surrounding the game of Legend of the Five Rings has expanded. It has been quite the bumpy ride, rife with delays, controversies, and the perennial calls of “L5R is dead! Long Live L5R!” But as bumpy as it has gotten, it has been an honor to be on this road with you, dear reader. So, thank you for your continued support.
Here’s to four more years in Rokugan.
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.