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Old Clan identity article

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This is something I wrote for the Elfiver blog many moons ago. I've been thinking about it a lot since Worlds, and figured I'd dig it out and share it here.


It's fair to say that most of the time, I'll be concentrating on the positive elements of L5R in my articles. After all, they are a large part of why I'm still playing the game fourteen years on from buying an Imperial Edition Phoenix starter (which I pulled a Shiba Ujimitsu in, and immediately convinced a friend to buy himself a starter, assuring him he'd get a cool Clan Sword and his Clan Champion in there! Er, oops. Not only was his Champion not present, he bought an Imperial Crab Starter, containing the only Ancestral Sword to be reprinted. We called him Lucky.), despite a couple of minor breaks from the game, most recently when Lotus made it not fun.

Still, there are some negatives almost unique to L5R too, and I'm going to focus on some of those here. For as long as I can remember, L5R players have loved attaching labels to others. I made a decision last week that might see three such labels attached to me.

I decided I wanted to take a break from my regular clan and try out a different clan. For that, some may label me a bandwagoner.

I partially made this choice because of a deck list I saw posted online. For that, some may label me a netdecker.

The clan I'm thinking of changing to is Scorpion. For that, some may label me a cheat.

Before I look at each of those labels in more depth, here's a little history of my playing habits. I picked up the game as mentioned at the tail-end of Imperial Edition, and bought literally the only starter deck that the local trader had available, that IE Phoenix starter. Bear in mind this is before the widespread influence of the internet, so I couldn't just jump online and read spoilers or order from online stores. For a long time, our local card pool was extremely limited, and the main way of getting new cards was playing for ante! Eventually we tracked down a few retailers in the UK who supported Five Rings, and the choice of clans and decks increased. Like a large number of other old-school players, the art of two cards in particular drew me in and led to my trying out a new clan: Bayushi Aramoro and the original Bayushi Kachiko.

I picked up a Ruined Fortress of the Scorpionstarter from the Shadowlands expansion, then traded with my local sparring partner to get the various pieces I wanted to try out. At the time, our decks were huge sprawling affairs with little if any synergy, but in the very first game I ever had with Scorpion, I threw an Earth Dragon onto a Sacrificial Altar while I had Bayushi Goshiu and three Ninja Shapeshifters out, and my love of dishonour/control was born.

I actually played Scorpion pretty religiously over the next several years: my eBay name, my first email address and my online handle all are Scorpion derived or influenced. I branched out and tried several other clans, but at the time, the overriding mindset for L5R players was that you picked a clan and stuck to it, so that's largely what I did.

Ironically, it was one of my best tournament performances that saw my particular preference for clan 'loyalty' start to weaken. At UK GenCon in 1999, I made the final of what was at the time one of the largest storyline tournaments the UK had ever hosted, the Battle of Kyotei Plains. I was playing Yogo Towers dishonour control/military, and my route to the final was through two Mantis decks played by two very good friends of mine. In the quarter-finals, I had to pull out every trick in the book to stay in the game against Ian O'Briens' METH deck, but found myself pretty much out of tricks and on my last province with Ian on -18. I flip Bayushi Goshiu, but have nothing that causes an honour loss on the table. I draw my last card...and pull Threat. During Ian's action phase, I play Threat on myself, bowing a Yogo Shidachi, and use Goshiu to share the honour loss... In the semi-final, an early bout of honour loss saw Ben Davies drop below his honour threshold and not be able to recover, as his deck ran a lot more personalities with honour requirements (remember, these were the days before the Blood Money rule when an early Breach could win games by itself).

Still, playing those two tense and thrilling games against two great guys who I had pretty much known for as long as I'd been playing in L5R tournaments left me wanting to make a gesture of thanks for not just those two matches, but the years of great games and better friendship both had given me, so I mentioned that if I won the tournament, I would ask if the Mantis could take the storyline victory instead. This didn't go down well with either the Scorpion players present, or some of the more rabid and vocal members of the developing Scorpion online community. Some... uncomplimentary comments were made, and it really took me aback: the complaints were all about how I was screwing the Scorpion in the story, but I honestly couldn't understand how showing respect to friends in the real world wouldn't take precedence over the 'stated storyline goals of the Scorpion Clan'.

I still continued to play Scorpion, but I branched out into other clans, notably once again my first L5R love, the Phoenix. I found myself associating very much with the storyline implications of playing corrupt or tainted decks, and that's pretty much what I've done since then. When I came back to L5R for Samurai Edition, I was unsure which faction would suit me, but as soon as I read the background on the Spider Clan, I was hooked: it felt like AEG knew exactly what would entice a player of corrupt and tainted clans into pledging his loyalty to a new clan, and I bought into it right from the start.

Okay, with that tangent out of the way, let's look at those labels. During the early years of L5R, there were frequent arguments centered around the merits of bandwagon players versus story players, or players who would pick a deck based on the strength of a particular archetype over those who would limit themselves to a single clan for storyline or loyalty reasons. The basic assertion was that story players were more entitled to change and influence the direction of the L5R storyline than bandwagon players because they 'cared' more. For quite a while, success at major tournaments not only allowed a huge amount of direct influence over not only story direction but future powerful cards, as big event wins would often see a card made as a result, making the strong clans even stronger and widening the gap between the less competitive clans (a practice that has thankfully long since ended). In the UK, winning a Kotei during the Wizards of the Coast era could also earn you a paid trip to US GenCon, making bandwagoning a huge bone of contention when some clans just weren't able to field a winning deck.

To this day, players who are associated with a particular clan will draw comments if they switch to a different clan for a large tournament. It is nowhere near as prevalent as in the past though: I think the L5R community has come to be more accepting of the fact that some people play the game for the story, and some play the game as more an intellectual competition. I don't think that one philosophy has any more validity than the other, although I still to this day encourage new players to take a look at the descriptions of the different clans when deciding on what their first deck should be. I think there is an emotional attachment that can develop which strengthens the possibility of an interested casual player becoming a regular player (and more importantly to AEG, a frequent purchaser), and the storyline is such an immediate and obvious hook to use towards that end, but if the game isn't enjoyable and competitive enough to stand without the vibrant background behind it, people will gradually drift away.

Netdecking is something shared by many games, and there always seems to be a stigma attached to the term based on the apparent notion that a player using a deck built by someone else is less deserving of a victory, or at the very least borrowing the fruits of another persons hard work and research.

My personal opinion is that building and playing proven winning decks helps all aspects of your game. It often highlights deck synergy and construction guidelines that a less experienced player has missed. If I ever see a deck that I can't comprehend how it won or performed well at a large tournament, I'll throw it together to try out: sometimes it's just a case of favorable match-ups or different meta, but more often there's something I've missed that I just wouldn't have otherwise discovered. I'm also an advocate of learning how your worst match-ups work: if you're having consistent trouble with LSC, find a deck list and build it yourself, and see how it works from the other side of the table.

The idea that a player has to be both a great deck builder and a great player to do well isn't something I've ever agreed with. Players receive support and advice on deck construction and play from a wide range of sources, from their friends and local playgroup to their opponents at tournaments and often their clanmates online. No deck is built or played in a vacuum, and listening to those better than you will always improve your game and with it your play experience, which is ultimately what it's all about: we play L5R as a entertaining and enjoyable hobby, and anything that helps increase that should be embraced, not scorned.

I do however firmly believe in giving credit where credit is due. If you do well with someone else's design, even if you've tinkered and changed a few cards to suit your personal playstyle, it's only polite to acknowledge that fact. A quick note in a tournament report or post pointing out the inspiration behind your deck is a nice way of doing this.

Finally, the cheat label. The L5R community has always been tight-knit: I think we recognized from an early stage that as a smaller game, we would need to always be welcoming of new players and be as accommodating as possible to those that joined. One of L5R's strengths is that new players who pick a particular clan almost have a support network built in right from the start: clan forums will usually, to varying degrees, offer help and advice to budding players, and I've yet to find a clan community that won't go out of it's way to provide free cards to new clanmates.

Problems begin to arise when Magical Samurai Syndrome begins to kick in. It is almost an inevitable progression from 'simple' clan loyalty to associating with the clan identity: Crab players usually seem to be burly jovial men, Crane players lean more towards the metrosexual sensitive side...and Scorpion players are scheming and deceptive, at least according to the rest of the L5R community.

While a certain level of interclan rivalry and banter both at events and online is undoubtedly healthy for the game, playing Scorpion now has a massive stigma attached to it. The difficulty that inexperienced or unprepared players have with dishonour provided the platform for that view, it was the actions of certain Scorpion players, especially during the Race for the Throne, that caused this perception to become widespread online and in the real world. I'm not going into specifics here (although anyone interested can check out the L5RCheaters blog for more details), but I think it's fair to say the largest perceived complaint is that because Scorpion are an underhanded clan, Scorpion players consider it fine to cheat at the game. Again, that perception wasn't helped at all by some individuals pretty much stating that philosophy, which caused some Crab players to muse that it would therefore be 'in character' for them to turn up with a tetsubo and club their opponent at the beginning of a game.

I think that playing Scorpion in the past actually helped me become a more courteous and pleasant player: I realized from a very early point that if my deck was going to frustrate my opponent, I'd best make the game as enjoyable an experience in other ways. The vast majority of Scorpion players I've played against over the years have shared this philosophy: no matter how infuriating and unpleasant the decks could sometimes be, I'd still enjoy the time at the table with the person sat across from me. Jigoku, if the game was a whitewash, we'd often have time to just kick back and chill for the rest of the round.

It's also worth pointing out that my most enjoyable and memorable game since coming over to the US was also against a Scorpion opponent. Some may argue games against Scorpion are more enjoyable now because the deck is supposedly weaker, but I think that most top tier decks have the potential to overpower their opponents to the same degree that Samurai-era dishonour did: sometimes decks just click and there's nothing you can do against it...it's not a great feeling when it happens whatever the clan you're facing.

It can be argued that the Scorpion playerbase brought this negative reputation on itself, but I think it's a case of, ahem, Rokuganese Whispers blowing things out of proportion. Next time someone goes off on a rant about Scorpion, ask for some details, and think about how unfair it is to paint an entire clan because of the actions attributed to one or two individuals. Some labels can be deserved, but in this case, I think not.

Posted 21st May 2010 by Hinomura


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Nice use of rethorics and storytelling. +3 insight on you character sheet as a GM fiat. 

You are right, some people take Clan loyalty WAY too seriously. 

Before the CCG, I only played once the RPG, died stupidly after 2 hours, loved it, but opportunities to play again didn't happen. So when my GM friend started the CCG, some of our group joined. 

I started as a Dragon CCG player because:

1.I likedWuxia and martial arts flick and was attracted to monks (boy that sounds weird...) 

2. I had just read the Book of Five Rings and the Manga "Wanderer"

As cards weren't enough to to get our Rokugan fix, I started GMing it with "Time of the Void" campaign book. 

RPG was what made most of us relativize clan loyalty. As a GM, I had to drop it out to stay objective to all the clans weaknesses and strength. And then in CCG I ended up playing all but crab and Unicorn. 

Even tried a small Tourney with a castle of remembrance Elemental Dragons phenix deck when I had a Strong Dragon enlightenment, just for flavor (lost to everyone, even rats). 

So as you said, people should focus on fun first and then clan loyalty. It's just a game. 

I have the utmost respect for what you did, even more for Brad who dropped an Hatamoto status and "disguised" to do what he considered he had to do. 

That's way more in line with Rokugani spirit than most of the wannabe fantasy cardboard  samurai dissing you will ever do. 


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One of the designers who works on Magic: The Gathering developed two different metrics to describe peoples' reasons for playing their game. I think these metrics are relevant to this discussion. The first metric they developed was a sort of three-axis scale: they named one end "Timmy," one "Johnny," and one "Spike." The scale was meant to describe what the goals for different players were when they played the game: Timmies were in it because they thought that the actual playing of the game was fun, regardless of the ultimate outcome. Johnnies were in it to express themselves and show off their creativity. Spikes were in it because they enjoyed winning. Later, they created a second scale, which described why players wanted to play the game in the first place. This scale had only two axes: a "Vorthos," at one end, played for the lore, story, and flavor, while at the other end a "Melvin" played because he or she enjoyed the mechanical nuts and bolts of the game.

I think that, for this community to grow, we as players need to be understanding toward other players who play for different reasons than us. If we don't, we're going to alienate potential newcomers and drive current players away. You mentioned drawing criticism for netdecking, and the fact that you did highlights an issue of two different types of players not understanding each other. For a "Johnny"-type player, netdecking is the ultimate evil, because they want to use the game to express their uniqueness and someone who netdecks isn't doing this. However, for a Spike, the point of the game is to overcome a challenge--why wouldn't you use every tool available to you? In my opinion, it's not wrong for people to netdeck, just like it's not wrong for a Johnny-type player to come to a game with a rogue deck. However, when that Johnny-style player starts criticizing people for not enjoying the game in the EXACT WAY that they do, that becomes a problem. I view clan-switching in the same light as this: some players find value in identifying with a clan, but others see value in certain game mechanics or playstyles. If you switch clans because there's a deck or mechanic in that clan that you want to play, there's nothing wrong with that--and I wish that players wouldn't criticize.

However, you also highlighted another player-type conflict when you said "but I honestly couldn't understand how showing respect to friends in the real world wouldn't take precedence over the 'stated storyline goals of the Scorpion Clan'." You sound like you fall somewhere more toward the "Melvin" side of the "Vorthos-Melvin" scale--you play because the game is fun, and the story is nice, but not paramount. That's fine. It's also fine that, when making the story choice, you weighed the benefits of doing what would benefit the many players in the Scorpion fandom and showing a little respect toward your friends, and chose to go with your friends. However, you HAVE to understand that there are a great many players in this game who have different priorities than you do there. L5R is one of the most Vorthos-friendly games I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and for many players like myself the number one draw that this game has is the ability for players to influence the story. Other games like Magic don't give players this privilege, and so for us it's the most valuable prize that they hand out at the tournaments. To some of these players, watching you win the story prize and then throw it away to another clan would be like watching you win a couple hundred dollars in a tournament and then light the bills on fire. Except, in the case of those few hundred dollars, there is other money out there that are identical to the ones you would've won--but the storyline prize that you won is completely unique, and it's not like there's other games for those players to go to that will let them influence the story. My point is not that you made the wrong choice, because I don't think that you did. You won, and you had every right to make the decision that seemed the best to you. However, just as you had the right to make the decision, other players have the right to criticize it--so long as they are respectful, of course. It's just something that anyone who sets out to win a tournament has to be prepared for.

There are many different players in this game, and everyone plays for different reasons. I think discussion and debate are healthy for the community--so long as we are respectful and understanding toward one another. Is someone playing a netdeck against your ace custom concoction? It's fine to state that you like customs more, but don't demonize them for having different desires for the game than you. Did someone make a storyline decision that you disagree with? Feel free to criticize the decision on the forum, but don't demonize the player or call them a "sellout" or a "traitor." Respectful debate is healthy for the life of the community--personal attacks and demonization are not.

Edited by Mandalore525
Corrected a grammar mistake.

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13 hours ago, Mandalore525 said:

One of the designers who works.. [...] ..personal attacks and demonization are not.

That, so very much that. That's something that is not easy to grasp - since most people tend to be self-focused, which is fine but makes understanding others more difficult - but it is vital to mantain a healthy environment. People have different reasons and different goals for playing.

The only thing you left out that I think is worth pointing out is that, sometimes, those goals conflict with one another and there will be choices to be made that will prioritize one over the other. However, rather than subtracting from the importance of what you said, that makes it even more important, since that's the very ground on which people need to start to even have a hope of keeping everything civil.

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3 hours ago, Tetsuro said:

I think I still have the death threat filed away somewhere that I received when working as a designer for old L5R. Ah, memories.


Honestly, I don't know what goes through some peoples' heads. Sorry you had to deal with that.

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It happens. I got hate mail too. That doesn't even count the stuff on clan forums which was usually pretty vicious. I mean, look at some of the programming team for Star Wars Battlefront 2. I think one guy said he was up to 7 death threats over lootboxes and paywalls, neither of which he or any of his programmers had anything to do with.

Like politics and sports, fandoms inevitably call to the worst aspects of tribalism.

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