A Legend Forged by the Fans

Part one of a series looking back at how players authored the L5R storyline

It was a time of danger.

It was a time of darkness and distant thunder.

It was a time for Legends.

When Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) introduced the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game in 1995, it heralded the beginning of something unprecedented in the world of tabletop games: the ability for players to make their mark on the ongoing storyline. At card game tournaments, the stakes were higher than mere titles and prestige—the winners and losers would determine which samurai clans would rise and which would fall… as well as who would become heroes and who would meet an ignominious end. But tournaments were not the only avenue to decide the fate of the empire. Story choices offered to members of the official fan club, the Imperial Assembly, also had a large impact on the way the saga unfolded. 

As we retell the Clan War storyline though works such as the novel from Julie Kagawa and J.T. Nicholas and games such as Champions of Rokugan, these original story choices are foundational. Your choices and triumphs will serve as the pillars around which the new tale will be spun. But why retell something whose outcome is already set in stone? Put another way: there are some serious spoilers out there! 

The Lessons of the Past

Though much work has been done to preserve this period of the game’s saga, some of the story has been lost to time—or clouded by later works’ attempts to reconcile or retcon large sections and integral characters. At present, the original story is difficult to piece together through oral histories, out-of-print materials, and fan sites on the internet that were as fleeting as spring blossoms. Moreover, the story was being told by writers who did not know where the story would end up as they wrote it, resulting in some jarring heel-turns by major characters, or plot points that stretch the limits of verisimilitude. And because of the tight time constraints in which the story was being penned, certain elements that deserved much greater development were glossed over or skipped entirely. 

Our storytellers have the benefit of being able to see the story from start to finish and set up key moments. We can use foreshadowing and flashbacks to deepen the story. We can explore the backgrounds and inner minds of beloved characters, and answer questions like “What was Kisada thinking?” or “Why would Hitomi go to such lengths?” We can integrate important characters such as Yoritomo and Daigotsu, knowing where their paths will ultimately lead. Finally, we have the opportunity to enrich these tales with the insight and imagination of storytellers who have a genuine connection to the cultures depicted in Legend of the Five Rings. 

From the High Histories and Imperial Archives

In the near future, we’ll be reliving the highlights from the dozen or so foundational story choices as they played out during the run-up to the legendary Day of Thunder at Gen Con 1997. We owe a debt of gratitude to the fan site The Jade Hand, which gathered these historical story choices for posterity, along with the Stronghold of the Lion Clan (because of course the Ikoma family kept meticulous historical records). Although the former site isn’t live anymore, you can check it out using the WayBack machine. Conducting this research would have been much more challenging were it not for the dedicated fan archivists who preserved the story for future generations.

The Legend Endures

The way players helped guide the chronicle of the Clan War cemented Legend of the Five Rings’ place in the annals of gaming history. These story choices from the game’s original era are the story of Legend of the Five Rings. Few other games have inspired the passion and dedication of the L5R fanbase, and we are grateful for all the players who have stayed with the saga over the years. You can learn more about this early era of the game in Matthew Colville’s YouTube video on “The Greatest Story in Gaming.” And stay tuned for the next article in this series, where we set the stage for the epic story to unfold… 

Similar topics