Just in case you didn’t know, the featured image for this post is (a cropped version of) what might be the most iconic photograph of all time, an image of the Earth taken by Bill Anders while orbiting the Moon on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. A bit more important than the icons discussed in this article.
So, I was going to call this the “Top Ten” icon selections that should be made for the Legend of the Five Rings 2015 Kotei. However, while that’s pretty inherently a subjective “top ten,” and I could lead the article with an explicit notation that, of course, these were completely subjective ideas based entirely on my own idiosyncrasies, experience has told me that labeling it a “top ten” is basically inviting folks to comment on how I have no idea what I’m talking about, no matter what disclaimer to make. And while that sort of thing is good for clicks, we aren’t really a “commercial” site in any meaningful sense of the word, so I’m just going to label this as one of my “Ten Things” article series.
For those who need a recap: bad times are coming to Rokugan. Each winner of a Kotei this season gets to choose one “icon” of the Empire to be safe from this upcoming tide of darkness. Things that don’t get protected, might get trashed. Players can pick an icon from their own Clan to save, or an icon of another Clan. If a player picks an icon of another Clan, then this can be used to bring the two Clans closer together, or be used only to strengthen their own Clan, thus causing a rift between the two Clans. Additionally, a Spider win can be used to “corrupt” (lowercase ‘c’ in the prize text) another Clan’s icon.
So, a couple of things to keep in mind here. First, we don’t know what the nature of the coming storm is. Second, we don’t know what a “corruption” choice will mean (for example, actual Corruption, or something more vague). Third, I think that based on public statements some folks are reading too much into the “cause a rift” selection. In particular, I sometimes see this being referred to as “stealing” the icon from another Clan. I suspect that anyone who says this in a serious way is going to be seriously disappointed when their Phoenix selection of “The Utaku Stables” does not result in the Phoenix stealing all of the Battle Maidens’ horses.
Indeed, I suspect that Kotei winners probably shouldn’t rely too much at all on the bring us closer/drive us apart aspect of the selection. There are 48 Kotei. There is no way that the story team can meaningfully incorporate dozens of such selections. Preserving the selected icon will be assured. And there’s often a good chance that things like this result in a card (e.g., if the Unicorn choose to save the Kakita Technique and cause a rift, that could result in a Unicorn Personality with Duelist who has some sort of anti-Crane gloss to her ability and/or flavor text). However, for the purposes of this list, I’m going to assume that there is some sort of story impact of such a choice. Because, after all, that really has the ability to make the icon choices a little more spicy. Sure, each of us who roots for a particular Clan will, in general, want that Clan’s stuff saved. But, in general, such choices are not about what will happen in the story, but about what will not. So don’t expect to see a lot of “Clan X saves its own icon” choices below. Also, don’t expect a lot of saving of objects or places because these are, at best, good individual fictions, and not so much bends in the story – while they may be important to the Clans, in the long run it may or may not make much of a difference that Clan X relocates operations from the now-trashed City Y, or whether the Ancestral Acorn of the Squirrel Clan gets smashed or not (plus we’ve already got a Second Pit and all sorts of items have been corrupted before, so that isn’t exciting to me either.
You can see the list of pre-approved icons here, but Kotei winners are not restricted to that list, and I’m not going to limit myself to it either.
WARNING: If you’ve been reading/listening for a while, you’ll probably recognize some old saws from me. What can I say – I am what I am, and the story stuff I cared about three years ago that hasn’t changed is probably still something I care about now.
Honorable Mention: Dragon Clan chooses “divine or semi-divine Clan Champion:” Why is this not on the numbered list? Because anything not on the pre-approved list is going to require story team approval. And the leadership of the ST now is the same leadership that really, really wanted to get rid of this iconic aspects of the Dragon Clan. From Togashi to Hitomi to Togashi Hoshi to Togashi Satsu, the Dragon were always led by one cosmic sort of being or another. However, the ST did not seem to like how Togashi Satsu had been set up as the reincarnation of Togashi, with almost all of his powers, and so in story the Heavens decided that this arrangement went against the natural order (of course, the Heavens then went ahead and allowed the Thunder Dragon to give up its place in the Heavens so that a mortal man could have a permanent seat with the Kami … also, there’s a reincarnation of a Kami leading a Clan right now … can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?). I’d love to see this return for the Dragon, but there’s no way the ST would approve it.
10) Phoenix Choose to save Mantis Thunder Magic (hostile or friendly): The Phoenix are the masters of magic and arguably the masters of sticking their noses where they aren’t welcome (and may or may not belong). The Mantis have lots of guys with this new form of Magic that the Phoenix have no present access to. And this form of Magic involves the cosmological oddity of the Thunder Dragon being directly present in Rokugan (rather than just an avatar). This is exactly the sort of thing the Phoenix would want to stick their noses in. And, really, isn’t poking around in other people’s magical business the primary way the Phoenix get story time? And the Mantis players shouldn’t even get all that mad, since they Phoenix will have guaranteed that the Mantis’s connection to the Thunder Dragon is not severed.
9) Spider choosing a friendly save of anything Crab: If there’s any Clan in Rokugan that harbors a permanent hatred of another Clan, it’s the Crab for the Spider. Sure, sure, the Spider haven’t been around that long, so this incarnation of this feud doesn’t have the longevity of the (currently dormant) feuds between the Crane and the Crab or Lion, but while those are more practical contests that may flare up or be swept aside as times change, the Crab perceive the Spider as little (if anything) more than a continuation of the Shadowlands Horde. And that means there will basically never be friendly relations between the two. But the Spider do have the ability to save something of the Crab’s, and “thaw” relations between the Clans. Now, no actual friendliness is actually going to result here – or even a temporary abatement of the Crab’s hatred. So there’s really, really no chance of a long-term change in anything. But it could be interesting to see some super-uncomfortable Crab at owing the continued existence of something like Kyuden Hida to the Spider.
8 ) Crane save their own Wealth: This is my one exception (well, not counting the Honorable Mention, anyway) to the idea of not picking Clans to save their own icons. The Crane are supposed to be fabulously wealthy. However, this aspect of the Clan seems to have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps, a selection of Fabulously Wealthy as a Crane Icon might nudge this back into prominence a little bit more. It’s not just that the Crane have a preference for having a friendly diplomat in every court in the Empire. It’s not just that the Crane favor artistic endeavors, allowing them to shape and control the culture of the Empire. It’s also that the Crane are historically a very big Clan with giant piles of money. They can afford to send swarms of courtiers dressed in the finest silks all across the land. They can afford to support a large group of artisans making luxury goods (such as all those finest silk kimonos) – oh, and then they get to keep the money when any of those rarities happens to go on sale (instead of being used directly for political purposes). It takes money for a Clan’s smallest courts to rival some other Clan’s biggest courts in luxury and comfort. The Crane are never (can never, really) going to get back “we’re always the Emerald Champion” or “the Emperor’s wife and mother always come from our Clan” schticks. But they can be shown as having a bit more heft in the economic sphere.
7) Spider choosing to corrupt Tamori’s Furnace: Not the only location on the list, but the one that’s really about the location. Still, not a city, but the gigantic volcano in Dragon lands. When the Dragon were on their foolish quest to destroy all the nemuranai during Gold Edition, this is where they were throwing them. It’s been used before to destroy an invading army and the Dragon stronghold built right on it (this is one of the many Destroyer War era instances of a city or fortress getting completely destroyed and then magically rebuilt like nothing ever happened). There’s some definite bad juju in there that could result in more than a simple location change or require some sort of permanent Corruption (yeah, a permanent spot of Corruption would be a big deal, but we haven’t really seen that much exploration of the Second Pit, so I see no need to dig a Third just yet).
6/5/4) Anyone But Unicorn choosing a friendly save of the Death Priests/Anyone But Spider choosing a friendly save of Shourido/Anyone But Dragon choosing a friendly save of the Kitsuki Method (what, you’re surprised that saving the Kitsuki Method made it onto my list?): I’ll just combine these into one so you don’t have to read the same introduction three times. Each of these is a cultural innovation in Rokugan, but which is largely limited to one Clan. But there’s no reason why each couldn’t spread to another Clan and each probably has the most interesting story in the possibility of expanding outside its own Clan (the Shourido could potentially have story potential with Shourido if the Clan moved more towards ‘normal’ Clan status and there were internal disputes about the status of Shourido and Bushido, but Death Priests and the Kitsuki Method are pretty solidified in their own Clans). The Shi-Tien Yen-Wang are part of the Rokugani pantheon. The Method was practiced by the Divine One before her ascension and you’ve got to figure that there’s some practical support for moving away from the current Scorpion-created “we’re allowed to lie and there’s nothing you can do about it” legal system. And Shourido was originally created by Daigotsu as a sham moral philosophy in order to lead astray samurai across the Empire, before Spider started to collectively actually believe in it (there was a Master of Shourido in the Dragon Clan, for example). So there’s room for all of them to expand. And it seems to me like a “friendly save” could give a little push towards that sort of spread.
3) Dragon choosing to save the Kakita Technique (hostile or friendly): There is, you may have heard, a somewhat longstanding rivalry between the Kakita and Mirumoto in the field of the duel. The Mirumoto half of this, niten, has already been chosen to be saved by a Dragon player, so there’s no way to make this mutual craziness (and a Crane player subsequently tried to make a hostile save choice for niten, so I know I’m not alone in thinking there’s potential). But the Crane half is still out there. And while there is some potential in anyone choosing a hostile save of the Kakita Technique, the most story potential would seem to arise from the Crane’s traditional rival choosing to save it. Because, whether the save was friendly or the save was hostile, it would forever be the case that the Kakita (sort of) owed the continued existence of their signature dueling technique to their ancient rivals. Even if the save was friendly, that would always be hanging out there, a little grain of sand in those exquisite sandals.
2) Anything That Weakens the Mantis Stranglehold On Having A Real Navy: Hey, I gave you a warning that you were going to see old saws on this list, right? I was going to label this something like “The Official Remind A Clan Why They Hate Chris” selection, but really I don’t feel like there’s been much personal animosity expressed by the Mantis playerbase as a result of my various opinions on the Mantis, so that label seemed a bit unfair. Regardless, if you’ve listened or read here before, you probably know that I find the over-dominance of the Mantis navy to be counterproductive to the story – the Mantis navy is so much better than anyone else’s (or, depending on the source, than everyone else’s put together) that it essentially removes from serious consideration any real contest between the Mantis and anyone else on this front. So my selection here is just anything that could be construed as addressing this situation. Maybe the best thing here would simply be for no one to choose “Mantis Naval Power” and then the ST can feel free to smash it. But this is a list of story choices, not the absence of story choices, so we’ll have to go with something more affirmative. The most direct way to accomplish this would be for the Spider to corrupt something like “Mantis Naval Power” (and getting a really big bang out of that pick). But the idea isn’t really for the Mantis navy to go away or get turned against it, just for there to be more parity. So a hostile save by anyone might work out better, with the Mantis still being naval bigshots, but another Clan getting into the naval game for real. Although this sort of pick, still involving “saving” the Mantis navy, might actually preclude any substantive weakness being introduced. One could choose to save somebody else’s navy, but no one else’s is really iconic, and simply preserving someone else’s navy doesn’t really address the situation. Bringing us back to the whole ‘just nobody pick this, OK?” idea.
1) Lion choosing a hostile save of Traitor’s Grove/Scorpion choosing a hostile save of the Kitsu Tombs/Spider choosing to corrupt either: I’ve lumped these two together because they are mirrors of each other. Traitor’s Grove is where the Scorpion condemn their greatest traitors, their spirits permanently locked in the grove’s trees. The Kitsu Tombs is where the Lion (the most ancestor-venerating of the Clans) most directly commune with their ancestors – sometimes very directly (and literally), if the Lion in question is a sodan senzo. Retribution against traitors is a Very Big Deal for the Scorpion. Veneration of Ancestors is a Very Big Deal for the Lion. These two locations best symbolize those Very Big Deals. Messing with either location would be a big blow to the Clan in question, without actually disrupting that core trait of the Clan. The Lion would still venerate their ancestors, they’d just feel much more disconnected from it. The Scorpion would still go after perceived traitors, they just wouldn’t have this ‘ultimate punishment’ to hold over them. So, somewhat like above, both of these could actually make pretty interesting stories if they just weren’t picked and got smashed – and, again like above, that isn’t the point of this list, so instead we’ve got somebody saving them or the Spider corrupting them. The Spider corrupting one of these locations essentially serves as a synonym for their destruction – probably a more menacing one for the Scorpion, since those condemned traitors might more directly harm the Clan (while the Lion ancestors, not being actually resident in the Kitsu Tombs, presumably would not be directly harmed by its loss). But there is also interesting story in each Clan “saving” the other’s locations in a hostile manner. What if the Lion save Traitor’s Grove, but are able to learn its secrets and use them against the Scorpion? If nothing else, there’s got to be a lot of politically damaging material in there. What if the Scorpion save the Kitsu Tombs, but are able to directly speak with their own ancestors (in even a limited way)? What effect would it have on the morale of the Lion if blessing spirits from the Celestial Heavens begin favoring the Scorpion in their war with the Lion? All sorts of tasty potential story fodder in there.