Twenty Years of Memories is a series of interviews (mostly of World Champions, GenCon/North American Champions, and European Champions) by Aaron Frede to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Legend of the Five Rings. Strange Assembly will be hosting a series of those interviews this week. You can find a full introduction, and links to more of the interviews, on the AEG forums.
by Aaron Frede
Twenty Years of Memories: 2002 and 2007
The Year is 2002. Gold Edition is halfway done, players are furiously collecting new “foil” cards that AEG introduced with Gold Edition and rallying behind their favorite Wind. Mantis returned to the fold as a playable faction and the new standard of 9 Great Clans was set. This was also the first year that the Kotei tournament season made an appearance in its modern form.
The Year is 1159. Daigotsu’s Onisu wreak havoc amongst the clans. The clans continue to war with each other and, in some cases, within themselves, while the Winds continue to establish support among the Clans. Daigotsu launches his most daring plan yet, and allows Fu Leng to wage war with Tengoku.
Today we get the pleasure of talking to Eugene Earnshaw, L5R’s first repeat GenCon Champion, and L5R’s only repeat World Champion:
Hi Eugene, first off so people know who you are, any online handles that you frequently used?
I went by Shosuro Arunsa when I was active on the L5R forums.
Where are you from, tell us about your playgroup?
I’m from Toronto. One of the main reasons I got into the game was back in 2001 L5R had a huge and active playgroup based in a couple of downtown game stores, the Hairy Tarantula and 401 convenience. I picked up the game from them and got into the tournament scene because of that. I mostly played with Charlotte Ashley and Jason van Wert. Nina Illingsworth worked at the Hairy Tarantula and gave me the Sneak Attacks I used in the winning deck.
Did you/Do you consider yourself a clan loyalist?
Yes, I’ve always been a Scorpion player.
What did you like about or what drew you to the Scorpion?
Ninjas, to start with. I was into Ninja more than Samurai to begin with, so your L5R options were Scorpion or Shadow back then, but the Ninja stronghold wasn’t tournament legal when I started and those ninja seemed too weird anyway. So Scorpion it was. And once I got more into the game and the back story I just liked that they were interesting villains who sometimes got to be heroes, and I liked the idea of courtiers shaming their opponents.
What was your first L5R tournament experience?
It would have been a local tournament at Hairy Tarantula. They used to have them on a weekly basis. I played an honorable Scorpion deck based around Bayushi Sunetra and got tooled by Kolat Master.
Do you have a favorite story or quote from the fiction?
My favorite story is the one where Daigotsu opens up the portal from the world of the dead to Heaven for Fu Leng to go to war against the gods. I think it was a very creative and epic idea, and it made Daigotsu a very impressive villain. Second would be the story where Bayushi Paneki tries to commit Seppuku but becomes corrupted. I thought that was written very well and was a god way to end a fantastic character.
Any favorite characters?
Probably Paneki. He was one of the Scorpion characters who was always consistent, competent and interesting. I always liked Shosuro Maru, too, because she was in all the good Scorpion decks for a long time and had good art.
What is the best memory or experience you had playing L5R or because of L5R?
Probably the day of winning Gen Con 2002. It was so tense, and then the endorphin rush after I won was monumental. Its one of those things that is very hard to describe. I was down in Milwaukee with a bunch of Toronto friends, and afterward we went to the Safe House, a spy themed bar. It was a really satisfying evening.
Do you have a favorite deck that you built or played?
The single deck I enjoyed the most was probably the Show of Good Faith Scorpion deck. It was the single most skill-dependent and flexible deck I ever played. You could search your deck for Political actions with the Favor, and its best trick was to steal their guy for a turn with Show of Good Faith and then have Haseru no Oni eat them for follower tokens. It had answers for almost everything, but if you didn’t know how to play it, it was easy to get run over. It was probably the best deck I actually took to a tournament, and I made top 4 with it in GenCon that year and could have easily won. Shosuro Dairu would have come back instead of Hida Kisada.
Is there an Arc of the game that you liked better than others?
I liked the Scorpion civil war and the return of the Gozuku. I liked the idea of secret plots and divided loyalties. Probably second would be Moto Chagatai attacking Otosan Uchi. I just thought it was civil war done right, and Chagatai was a fun character. I always liked internal conflict in Rokugan more than an external enemy that everybody unites against.
If you mean card arcs, Samurai of course. After all, I helped design it!
Tell us about the lead-up to GenCon ’02. What was the environment like? How did you prepare and how did you decide on what deck to play?
The good decks were honour using Flattery and Campsite, control using Poisoned Weapon and the Kolat cards, or military rush using the Corrupt mines. I played a lot in advance, and I had won the Toronto Kotei using a similar deck. I had really wanted to play a non-corrupt Scorpion deck, but it just was not competitive in the environment, so I went with corrupt and played it a lot. I spent a lot of time testing decks on my own as well as playing with other people.
What did the atmosphere feel like at the event, were there a lot of players, were people talking about the story?
It was very busy, very fun. It was my first time at GenCon, so I didn’t know anybody in the scene: I just hung out with my Toronto buddies. Tons of players. I was also just taking in the GenCon experience.
Can you recall any details of the final match or any intense moments throughout the tournament?
I was against a Shadowlands deck in the finals, but it was a pretty good matchup for my deck so it wasn’t too close. One of the most tense moments was match I played against Bryan Reese — I forget if it was top 4 or top 8. He was playing Phoenix control, I think. I was running Kharmic Strike in my deck. He didn’t expect that because Poisoned Weapon was the more usual defense against duels, but I didn’t own any Poisoned Weapons! I was attacking, he dueled me, and I tied the duel and killed his defender with the Kharmic Strike. In that circumstance, Kharmic Strike was the one card that could kill him because he had higher Chi and better focus values and he had a Poisoned Weapon too.
Your deck was corrupt Scorpion, something the Story Team tracked and took into account more seriously than in recent years, was that a deliberate decision or were you just playing the best deck possible?
No, just playing the best Scorpion deck possible. I had tried pretty hard to make a good Scorpion deck that didn’t use the Corrupt mines but it just wasn’t possible in that environment.
Naseru was the Wind you supported so he was the one who learned Daigotsu’s plans (and would eventually become Emperor) but the Steel Throne was tainted. Were you satisfied with the outcome, do you feel like your win contributed to the story in a meaningful way?
The tainting part turned into the Shadowed Tower/Gozoku story, which I liked, so yeah, it was all good. I was happy with it overall. I think later on the story team did a better job of consulting with the winners and making the wins have more specific concrete effects, which is MORE satisfying: there wasn’t really a big character impact I could hang my hat on until Bayushi Atsuki came along, and that took a while.
The Year is 2007. After an arc that was above the preferred power level of some players Samurai Edition is hot off the presses. This would be a comparable setting to Ivory Edition following Emperor. Players are excited for the new changes and uncertain what kind of environment to expect at GenCon.
The Year is 1169. The Emperor Toturi III is dead, sacrificing himself at the Battle at the Tomb. The clans battle each other again in minor skirmishes and larger wars. Moto Chagatai seeks to end the chaos in Rokugan and marches on the Throne to take it for himself.
Fast forward to ’07, we have now moved from Gold to Samurai, how had the game changed over these years. Was your preparation for GenCon the same or different?
Very different. I hardly prepared at all. I had been focusing on design team stuff, and hadn’t been doing very much playtesting. I had played Scorpion control dueling some, and I thought it was the best Scorpion option in the environment, so I just ran with that. I was not expecting to do well. I thought that playing in the tournament would give me a better feel for the samurai environment, plus I wanted to play — I had played in every GenCon from 2002 on, and I thought the “player” part of PDT meant I could, you know, play.
Tell us about the event that year, how did it feel compared to ’02?
I knew a lot more people by then, so it wasn’t just me and my Toronto friends: I knew lots of L5R people. So it was much larger scale sociability.
Your win made Shosuro Jimen the Emerald Champion and he went on to have a pretty good story arc over the coming year. How did you feel about the result of this year compared to ’02?
It was more satisfying, definitely. Jimen was a very cool character.
There was some outcry from the players because you were a member of the PDT at the time, if I recall correctly this resulted in you stepping down from PDT. How did the player reactions make you feel?
The only backlash I dealt with personally was one opponent during the tournament complained about it after I beat him. I didn’t really take it to seriously. But I didn’t step down: I was taken off.
Did you feel like you were treated unfairly by AEG or the playerbase?
Not exactly. I think the PDT was kind of a weird concept. They never said why they let me go, but I assume it’s because I won. I think it could have been handled better than it was, but I don’t think anything was unfair. They were unclear about their expectations, but it was up to them who they wanted to work with.
Did you continue to play L5R after the outcome of ’07?
For about a year I continued on as a playtester. The problem was that the scene in Toronto had died by that point. Eventually my playtesting group felt they couldn’t devote the time to it anymore and there wasn’t really anyone for me to play with.
Are you still involved in L5R now at any level? If not, do you miss the game?
I haven’t done anything with it for a while. I sometimes check in to the website just to see what the new cards look like or where the story has gone, but I don’t follow it at all, and I haven’t played since ’08. Real life kind of crept up on me too. I miss having a vibrant and competitive tournament scene for a game I enjoy, but I play other games now: there’s lots of good stuff out there.
Any other memories or experiences from L5R you want to share?
There were a lot of things. It was a big part of my life for many years. Honestly the best part about it was the friends I made. Winning a tournament is also a huge, exciting accomplishment, and I think succeeding in L5R gave me confidence that I could succeed at other things, but winning the first GenCon was the high point for me.
Thank you Eugene for talking with us about your experiences at GenCon and for your contributions to the game as both player and designer.
Also check out Eugene’s GenCon 2002 Tournament Report and GenCon 2007 Tournament Report