Legend of the 5 Rings and
9 Clans ONLY SEVEN CLANS??
For 2 decades, L5R has been a game that has engendered fierce “clan loyalty” from it’s playerbase. What do we mean by clan loyalty?
Many players form connections to a particular clan. This may be because they personally identify with aspects of the clan (eg. Crane thinking they’re better than you, Dragon being serene and calm, etc). It may be because they think the clan theme is cool (“I love Pirates so I’m playing Mantis!”, “Ninjas are cool so Scorpion 4 lyfe!” etc). Sometimes it’s simply because they enjoyed the play style of the clan.
AEG (the original creators of L5R) did a fantastic job at playing up these clan “loyalties”, giving excellent incentives to commit to your “chosen” clan.
1) Top of clan prizes – Most Kotei level events (somewhere between FFG Regionals and Nationals) rewarded people for coming top of clan, often times rewarding them very handsomely. It didn’t matter if your favourite clan was trash tier competitively, if you did the best with them you could win a prize or even multiple prizes ranging from trophies detailing your accomplishment, full booster boxes, foil sets of rares, commons or uncommons, art prints, playmats specific to that clan, the list goes on. Quite often TOs would also add to this pool of prizes, further increasing the quality of prizes. I recall one event where one clan was so bad, the highest placing player came around 40th out of 80ish. That player walked off with a trophy, playmat, and half a box of booster packs. That is not a bad prize haul for coming halfway down the standings!
2) Story implications – every kotei level event (and to a lesser extent the smaller events) had an impact on the storyline of L5R. Many 1st place tournament prizes (among the swag) included something similar to the following:
“Choose a living character from the clan you played in this tournament. He does something awesome”.
Obviously you can see why that would incentivise you to play the clan you like most. Why would you want to give Unicorn Clan some cool storyline if you’re a Lion clan player? You want to take your own clan to victory, and immortalise yourself and your tournament win in the L5R storyline. Often, the turnaround from your story choice to the story being produced would be within a fortnight, win a tournament on Saturday/Sunday, it would normally be one of the following 2 Fridays that the story surfaced on the main L5R site. That’s right, there would be a story update nearly every single week!
There was often another benefit of these prizes too. The player who won the “Emerald Championship” (as an example, there were many tournaments like this), and chose his favourite character (eg. Shosuro Jimen) as the new Emerald Champion, then when Jimen’s card was printed, it had the player’s name on it (similar to the “champ cards” you can see in Game of Thrones, but printed on the border instead). Having your name on a card is a fantastic reward.
I’m going to segway just a little from the topic at hand to talk about Jimen becoming Emerald Champion, just to really cement in new (or future) L5R players why people became so invested in the story. Both players in the final of the Emerald Championship had their candidate, it was Kakita Noritoshi of the Crane vs Shosuro Jimen of the Scorpion. Noritoshi was almost definitely the greatest duelist alive at the time, whereas Jimen wasn’t even a duelist, and in the land of Rokugan clearly had no purpose being in the competition to decide the Empire’s greatest duelist. I’m not too up on all the details so forgive me if any of this is incorrect, but it’s as accurate as I can get it from my zero research and recollected hearsay. In that final, the Crane player was the clear favourite in the matchup, as well as the Crane “character” being the obvious favourite. However the Crane player conceded the final to the Scorpion, crowning Jimen as the new Emerald Champion.
The resulting story and story arc was not just about Jimen becoming champion. It was about the shame of Noritoshi having conceded defeat (in story, he’d been coerced by Jimen). There was a story arc spanning years of Noritoshi’s quest for redemption as he wanted revenge against Jimen, to remove his shame. Just a small thing in a tournament turned into a full story arc, there are many (probably better) examples of this throughout the game, but the fact that not just the winning player’s choice, but often stuff that happened DURING tournaments, affected the storyline, was a fantastic gripping thing that sucked a lot of people in.
3) You didn’t have to do good – I’ve mentioned that the “best” in your clan often got extra swag. But what if you’re just a terrible player, attending for fun and because you love your Spider clan? Well L5R had rewards for you there too! Other than the regularly generous participation prizes, you didn’t have to win to contribute to storyline. Often there would be story lines based purely on attendence/voting, simply showing up allowed you that small vote towards something story related! If you’re a Thrones 2.0 player, think of the recent Trident votes, Maesters Knights or Armies, with the winners adding more contribution but everyone getting a vote.
Not only that, there was always what was referred to as an “honour contest”. This could take a huge number of forms, things like best costume, best haiku, best themed deck, all the way to “most cans brought to charity food drive”, where we often saw pallets worth of food donated – allowing people to win something cool but also do fantastic acts of charity at the same time.
Theme decks were an interesting concept. People would often make a deck based around a theme with a write-up, story, poem, something that would amount to “coolest deck”. The majority of these didn’t have any chance of winning competitively, they were there for fun, and fun is what they had. The “lower” end of these was often a moderately themed deck with a few pages of story written, the story covering every card in the deck so it all had a purpose, but tied into a story rather than deck description.
The coolest theme deck I ever saw went to a fellow Crane player of mine, who had travelled from another country to the UK for one of our kotei. His deck had no competitive way of winning. Instead he had a number of events (one-shot cards that flipped randomly in your provinces over the course of the game). These events loosely coincided with titles of plays (possibly Shakespearian? Not certain on that). When the first one flipped in the game, he would spend the rests of the game attempting to “perform” that play in game, as per his script write up. Characters appearing in certain orders, cards being played with specific characters in specific orders etc. It was a masterpiece and really highlighted the “casual” aspect of “premier” level events.
4) Price – This is a boring one. But with a collectible card game with randomised boosters, collecting everything can be expensive. However if you KNOW you are only ever playing Crane, it’s very easy to trade for cards, I would often trade away all my rares and even uncommons of other clans to acquire the Crane cards I needed. “Neutral” tournament staples were obviously like gold dust, but acquiring your own faction meant cutting down a lot on having to buy too much product.
Above is just a scratch of WHY people were encouraged to stick to their own clans. What this means is that over 20 years of L5R, people became fiercly loyal to their own clans. “I am Crane” rather than “I play Crane” was a normal term.
Over the course of the game we saw the addition of, and loss of, a small number of playable factions. Two factions stand out however – the Mantis, and the Spider.
Now I was never invested in either of these clans, so my description of how they came to be will be brief to try and avoid the ravening hordes of people telling me where I’m wrong.
The Mantis – The Mantis were around for a while before they were recognised as a “major” clan (in Thrones terms, think of a Major clan as the playable houses, and a minor clan as small houses tied into other themes, like Wildlings or The Seven or Tully). However their clan champion had huge drive to raise their clan to great clan status. He took on the Kami (gods) alone for this right, and something or other happened and he was raised in status and then they were great. It was super cool and heroic though I’m told, though I’ve never really read that story. From that point they were considered a major clan.
The Spider story I’m a little more familiar with. The Spider started as the “evil” Shadowlands, the bad guys, the outsiders, seeking to corrupt and bring down the Empire from the shadows. However prior to this sort of existence, the Shadowlands faction had been limited to “ravening hordes”, huge Oni (big monsters) capable of taking on 20 men without batting an eyelid, swarms of goblins, and other menacing bad things. However with the introduction of Spider as a playable faction, many players flocked to the cool bad guys with a dastardly moustache twirling (metaphorically) villain at their helm. As time went on and the playerbase grew, there was clearly a divide – Spider players who wanted them to go back to the “old ways” of just being big bad beasties from beyond the wall, and Spider players who wanted the clan legitimised, brought to the forefront, and given Great Clan status.
Over a tournament season, Spider clan players were given additional votes in koteis, whether they wanted the Spider to ascend to Great Clan status, or revert to the Horde they used to be able to play. Well, Spider Clan won and it was written into the story their role in saving the Empire, however evil they were, and given Great Clan status as a result.
Both of the stories leading to the rise in power of these clans meant a lot of players had a very strong affiliation with these clans. They were there when the clan was CREATED, and saw them through to the end. Both Mantis and Spider were among the largest clan player bases, and among the most vocal online. They were fiercely loyal, loud about it, and didn’t like other people mocking them and calling them “minor clans”.
Which leads us to the image from Cannes. It appears there are only 7 clans at the start of the core set: Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, Unciorn. Neither Mantis or Spider made the cut.
For those of you new to L5R, or soon to be hopping on the hype train, you may see many outcries of woe, of complaints, of people rage quitting before it’s even released, or of general sadness at the loss of “their” clan. This loyalty to a faction in a game of magical cardboard samurai may seem strange to you. But don’t judge these people. This is an attitude fostered in 20 years of L5R, in clan loyalty being more important than “selling out” for tournament wins, in the strong community within each clan that was fostered.
I am hopeful for the future of L5R. I always expected clans to be cut. My initial thoughts were that Unicorn and either Spider or Mantis would fall. AEG proved that balancing 9 clans wasn’t just difficult, but outright impossible. Trimming these down allows for easier balance, and less “gimmicks” not having to make 9 unique clans. I hope they can keep each clan’s identity, rather than having them feel at all homogenised.
But more importantly, Mantis and Spider players shouldn’t despair. New factions have been added later in FFG’s games before, in Thrones 1.0, in Conquest, possibly in Netrunner? They may still show up. And if they don’t, it’s still an L5R game. The Mantis and Spider might have gone, but as long as the Mantis and Spider players remain, then no matter how the game is, the community is going to be a damned fine thing. And ultimately, isn’t that more important?