Legend of the Five Rings – An Introduction to the Background for New Players

Legend of the Five Rings – An Introduction to the Background for New Players

Legend of the Five Rings the Card Game is a game produced by Fantasy Flight Games which is set in a Fantasy world inspired by East Asian history. The game takes its name from the famous work of Asian Miyamoto Musashi‘s The Book of Five Rings. Musashi was a famous samurai who lived at the start of the Edo period of Japanese history. The book was split into 5 chapters named after the five Japanese elements earth, water, fire, wind, and void.

Although this card game is due to come out in late 2017, the game has a legacy going back to 1995 when a collectable card game was released in the setting. An exciting element of the game was that players could influence the story, winners of tournaments could make important decisions like the outcome of a battle. Many players had adventures and excitement over those 20 years exploring the world and making their own mark both in the card game and the roleplaying game of the same name. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to read twenty years of stories to catch up. Fantasy Flight Games have reset the story back to the start similar to the Star Wars story clean up, or the Star Trek franchise reset. The goal of this article is to give you the basics to help you start in this new and exciting world.

A Map of Rokugan

The world of Legend of the Five Rings is set in a land called  Rokugan. It is not clear how large Rokugan is, but it is estimated to be about 4 times the size of Japan. To the North, there are fierce mountains known as the Northern Wall Mountains. To the East is the ocean, wild and unexplored. To the West is the Shinomen Forest, this is a strange forest full of dangerous things. Most people in Rokugan believe there is nothing beyond the mountains, the ocean, or the forest; to them, Rokugan is the world. To the South is a great wall, similar to the Great Wall of China, called the Kaiu Wall. Samurai always guard this wall, and the people of Rokugan know there are terrifying monsters beyond in what is known as the Shadowlands.

The Symbol of the Hantei family is a Chrysanthemum Flower

The society of this world is organised in a hierarchical caste system similar to that of Feudal Japan called the Emerald Empire. At the bottom are the peasants who work to support the Empire, above them are the noble Samurai who rule the peasants and protect the Emerald Empire, and at the top is the Emperor. Although we commonly think of the historical samurai as wielding swords and fighting in battles, samurai is the name of the noble caste. Like some European nobles were knights, some samurai do fight; these samurai are called bushi. The current Emperor is Hantei the 38th who rules from the Chrysanthemum Throne in the Empire’s capital Otosan Uchi on the eastern coast. The line of Hantei Emperors have ruled since the foundation of the Emerald Empire over a thousand years ago. The first Hantei was the greatest of the Kami (big K), a divine child of the gods Lord Moon (Onnatangu) and Lady Sun (Amaterasu). As such, the Emperor holds divine authority over Rokugan.

The five elements or rings
There are many gods in the world of Rokugan. The most powerful are Lord Moon and Lady Sun. After them, there are the Seven Fortunes who gift the people of Rokugan with Love, Strength, Wealth, Honest Work, Wisdom, Contentment, and Longevity. There are also many minor Fortunes, and the pantheon as a whole is referred to as the Thousand Fortunes as they are numerous. The religion of Rokugan is similar to Japanese Shintoism paying respect to the spirits (also known as kami, small k) of all things. The spirits require no belief in Rokugan as they are a part of everyday life. Some of the samurai specialise in talking with the spirits, and these are called shugenja. Shugenja are like wizards as they can cast spells. Unlike wizards, they do not cast spells from books but instead ask the spirits of the elements fire, earth, water, air, and void to work for them. Stronger shugenja are better at convincing or controlling the spirits. Everything in the world of Rokugan contains a combination of spirits of these five elements. Shugenja act as the Priests of the religion of Rokugan, they run the religious festivals and ask the spirits to bless the people.
The Seven Great Clans of Rokugan

Beneath the Emperor are the samurai Clans each lead by a Daimyo. Each Clan is a group of Samurai Families who have joined together to increase their own power. There are many small clans, but there are only seven Great Clans. The Great Clans are the largest Clans in Rokugan, and each of them claims to descend from a Kami who, like Hantei, were divine children of Lady Sun and Lord Moon. These Kami were:

  • Hida who founded the Crab Clan was the strongest of the Kami
  • Doji who founded the Crane Clan was the most beautiful of the Kami
  • Togashi who founded the Dragon Clan was the most enlightened of the Kami
  • Akodo who founded the Lion Clan was the greatest warrior of the Kami
  • Shiba who founded the Phoenix Clan was the wisest of the Kami
  • Bayushi who founded the Scorpion Clan was the cleverest of the Kami
  • Shinjo who founded the Unicorn Clan was the quickest of the Kami

When the Kami founded their clans they invited other families to join them, but you can still see a family in each of the clans who still share the family name of the Kami. In Rokugan the family name comes first, so Bayushi Shoju the leader of the Scorpion Clan (the Scorpion clan Daimyo) is Shoju of the Bayushi family and is a descendant of the Kami Bayushi.

A game with a Crane Clan player (blue) facing a Lion Clan Player (yellow)

During the game, you will play as a samurai lord of one of these clans. You will send your samurai out to fight on battlefields and in the courts. Some of your Samurai will be Bushi who fight with the blade, some will be shugenja who use the spirits, and others will be courtiers who fight for your clan in the Empires courts. Your opponent will be a member of another, or possibly the same, Great Clan. Although the Emperor rules over all of the Great Clans, he tolerates a certain amount of in-fighting between the clans as long as it does not threaten the Emerald Empire. Each Clan has different strengths and focuses both in the story and in the game.

The Mons (Crests) of the Seven Great Clans
  • The Crab Clan are the defenders of the wall. They protect the empire from the monsters in the Shadowlands who would seek to destroy Rokugan. Some see them as brutish, but they do not have time for bickering and intrigue in the courts. In the game, they will be at their strongest on the defence wearing their opponents down as they crash against their wall. Their main colour is dark blue. The Crab Daimyo is Hida Kisada.
  • The Crane Clan are the masters of court. If the Crab Clan protect the Empire, then the Crane Clan make the Empire worth protecting. They are the poets and the artists but also the master duelists who have perfected the art of the duel. In the game, they will be masters of the political conflict and will concentrate on having honourable samurai. Their main colour is light blue. The Crane Daimyo is Doji Hotaru.
  • The Dragon Clan are the seekers of individual enlightenment. They are best known for their warrior monks who join with their samurai in battle. Dragon samurai are known for wielding two swords and duelling in battles, less artful than the Crane but no less deadly. In the game, they emphasise flexibility, able to switch between military and political conflicts. Their main colour is green. The Dragon Daimyo is Togashi Yokuni.
Bushi of the Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn Clans
  • The Lion Clan are the military might of the Emperor. They are sometimes known as the Emperor’s Right Hand and have the largest army in Rokugan. They are an example of courage, honour, and duty for the rest of the Empire. In the game, they will focus on winning military conflicts and will benefit from having many characters in play. Their main colour is yellow. The Lion Daimyo is Akodo Toturi.
  • The Phoenix Clan are the masters of magic. Their Shugenja are the most powerful in the empire, and their mastery of the elements is unmatched. They are known for their belief in pacifism but also for their destructive power when roused. In the game, it looks like they will focus on neutralising their opponents’ characters before conflicts even start. Their main colour is orange. The Phoenix Daimyo is Shiba Ujimitsu.
  • The Scorpion Clan are the Clan of secrets. They are the Emperor’s most loyal villains who do what the Empire needs without having to be asked and without thought to their own personal honour. In the game, they will be masters of the conflict deck having tricks and traps to reduce their opponents’ effectiveness by dishonouring them. Their main colour is red. The Scorpion Daimyo is Bayushi Shoju.
Shugenja of the Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn Clans
  • The Unicorn Clan are masters of the horse. They spent 800 years exploring beyond the borders of Rokugan returning 300 years ago. They are still distrusted for their foreign ways but have gained much wisdom from outside the Empire. In the game, they will use cavalry to outmanoeuvre their opponent moving characters in and out of conflicts. Their main colour is purple. The Unicorn Damiyo is Shinjo Altansarnai.

Some players like to stick to one Clan when playing the game, some like playing only a few Clans, while others have no preference and just enjoy the game. You can play your game the way you want to.

A Scorpion Clan samurai makes an unannounced visit to a Phoenix Clan samurai

Currently, in the story, the seven Great Clans are bickering with each other. The Crane look with envy at the Scorpion who have recently taken over the Imperial Court. The Lion press an age old vendetta against the Crane while the Unicorn try to maintain an uneasy peace with the Lion. The Phoenix are disturbed by the foreign magics of the Unicorn Shugenja while the Dragon are concerned by the rise of a heretical sect of monks. Meanwhile, Crab scouts from beyond the wall report a growing army of goblins, ogres, undead, and demons known as Oni in the Shadowlands. The monstrous army seeks to destroy the Emerald Empire in the name of Fu Leng, the fallen Kami, a dark and evil brother of Hantei and the clan founders.

The Shadowlands Horde wait beyond the wall eager to destroy the Emerald Empire

Hopefully, that will give a good start to the background for the Legend of the Five Rings. If you are brand new to L5R you should check out the L5R website on the Fantasy Flight Games page. If you have more questions, the L5R Reddit is very friendly. If you have story questions, the Rokugan Reddit is focused on the background where players of the RPG game go into detail.

Thanks to everyone who gave feedback on this: Sorveris, Drudenfusz, Xealous, Doji Tori, Fumi, Kiseki, and Cobrophy amongst others.

This article was initially posted on Medium.com. Future articles will be posted on the Imperial Advisor a day before they are posted on Medium.


5 Replies to “Legend of the Five Rings – An Introduction to the Background for New Players”

  1. Great!
    This article is highly useful for those who touch L5R first like as me.
    Although the world of L5R is inspired from medieval Japan, it has very small awareness in Japan here. In fact, I hardly find any of Japanese webpage talking about L5R.
    So, if you let me allow translate this article into Japanese language and post it to Boardgame Geek, it will be a perfect helping hand for Japanese boardgame player.
    May I ?

  2. Very useful article! But reading through it now after a little experience from the game I couldn’t help but notice an error. “Beneath the Emperor are the samurai Clans each lead by a Daimyo.” I think what is meant is “lead by a Clan Champion”, right? A clan then has several Daimyos, who are heads of families.

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