The interactive story has always been one of L5Rs greatest and most unique aspects. Since the Second Day of Thunder at Gencon 1997, gaming halls and the internet were abuzz with excitement about the ways individual players could leave their unique mark on the games story. The events of the Second Day of Thunder are lovingly recounted here by Matthew Colville, and other epic accounts can be found in that videos comment section among other places.
The drama and intrigue that came from L5R’s blend of story interaction and gameplay results were even the inspiration for the film Gamers: Hands of Fate!
So what happened?
The AEG version of L5R died for a NUMBER of reasons, but one of the points of contention among fans was that the story and their interactions became bad. Very bad. Some tournament series had so many choices that every individual choice became so small it was functionally meaningless and most likely wouldn’t even be mentioned in any fictions. Some choices gave players too broad a choice, such as controlling the fates of character the company already had plans for, resulting in the player choice being shot down or heavily edited to the point that there was essentially no choice at all. Finally, organisation of the prizes had become a mess. The story team had been reduced to a handful of volunteers and part time employees who were also in charge writing the flavor for the cards and large chunks of the RPG books. As hard as they tried, they didn’t have the time or resources for anything more than a few fictions a year, let alone anything with a player driven story choice.
The Elephant in the Room
Displeasure of AEG’s handling of the story prizes seemed to come to a head with a particular mishandled story choice: Choose any character that had a legal card to become the new governor of the Ivory Kingdom colonies. Some players began a campaign to elect Chiisai, an elephant that was, in fact, a currently legal card for the Crab Clan. Accounts are unclear as to why players were trying to do this. Some blamed troll players who just wanted to screw with the story for fun. Others had claimed that they had become so disillusioned with the quality of the story prizes and stagnate plotlines that they were attempting to make a choice so wild it would shock the story team into making an interesting result. Personally, I have always maintained that the story could have even worked if they used the story of Incitatus, the horse that Roman Emperor Calligula tried to appoint to senate, would have worked. But it was too late. People on all sides were so angry, upset, or simply done that the story of the time that L5R players tried to make an Elephant Governor became a symbol of why story choices in general were something that maybe shouldn’t have happened to begin with.
Fantasy Flight Games
When FFG bought up the property, they did so with notably muted story choices. They were definitely there though! The L5R LCG’s “Kiku Matsuri” launch event at Gencon 2017 had a HUGE turnout, harkening to the massive love this game still holds in many people’s hearts. There, Katrina Ostrander presented the newly formed Hatamoto (players who earned Top of Clan placements at the tournaments) with a story choice, one that has had lasting ramifications to this day. The event echoed both the legendary choice of the Second Day of Thunder as well as the dramatic peak in the Gamers: Hands of Fate film, albeit with a much softer resonance. And since then, there have been a handful more choices. But the message from FFG was clear: Story choices would be rare and limited in scope.
On the plus side, the quality of the stories under FFGs control has been amazing! Writers from L5Rs history have returned along with some new blood to do a much much MUCH cleaner redoing of the Clan War. Character actions are far more logical and great care has been taken to address issues of inclusivity and cultural respect. These are massive improvements!
However, there are some notable downsides. The game currently lacks the buzz of excitement that came part and parcel with finding out kotei results. They have tried to emulate this a bit with card prizes, but those have proven to be somewhat lackluster. RPG and story focused players have almost no interest in which faction gets a new card, and the LCG players question their effectiveness since they doubt FFG will make a truly powerful card a prize. That would be a design nightmare. Even the cases where card prizes are tied with story implication have been lacking since it is unclear if they have any meaningful impact on the story beyond what has been planned. Some still haven’t even come out! To date, Lion, Scorpion, and Unicorn have not been released and nothing has become of Kunshu, the 2019 megagame prize.
Many of the current contributing writers for the current story have openly talked about how they write stories with the players choices in mind, and I 100% believe them. However, it is hard to determine where player input ends and write fiat begins. Katrina Ostrander just did a good job of tying several story choices together with her recent fictions about Bayushi Kachiko and Doji Hotaru, including the results of 2018 Gencon RPG event “Wedding at Kyotei Castle” and the 2018 Megagame results of the Scorpion Clan laying claim to Toshi Ronbo. And while these inclusions are much appreciated, they are in effect little more than background details that do not meaningfully impact those characters current story arcs, and also have come almost 2 years after those choices were made.
Why is this important
I am of the opinion that the current lack of story prizes is not just a personal let down, but a critical missed opportunity for Marketing and engagement. The interactive story served as a bridge that kept all players of the L5R umbrella (RPG players, card players, lore fans) united in a way where we could feed off of each other’s excitement. It is the life blood of what many have described one of the greatest communities in gaming. As such, each product has the potential to diversity and expand to audiences beyond its core focus. An LCG player is more likely to pick up the RPG books to see decisions they made stated out. An RPG player may be more inclined to pick up the LCG for the chance to make canon story changes. Or, just to hang out in this wonderful overlapping community. This extends to people not currently invested in L5R as well as card and RPG players maybe be out there looking for the unique interactive experience L5R is known for. And with the popularity of thing like Critical Role and RPG playing in general, I think now is a prime time to offer something that is in essence a massive Roleplay experience.
What are your thoughts?
I do have some ideas on how I think Story choices could be better integrated into both LCG tournaments and RPG events at major conventions, but what I want is to hear from anyone reading this. What are your thoughts on the story, interactive choices, and how FFG is doing. Have I made a convincing argument? Why or why not? I really would like to have a big community wide conversation about this and would like to see the responses from everyone. Please post wherever it is you have found this article and I’ll be sure to read all of the responses. Feel free to tag me wherever. Have a good day my friends. The table is yours!
You need to login in order to vote