A good place to start explaining my love for L5R is the factions that exist within the setting. Originally, there were 7 Great Clans (although when the game first launched one of these had been “destroyed” and was reintroduced later in the story). Every clan tends to revolve around particular themes, although individuals within that clan may deviate from the norm.
Obviously, this was done mostly for gameplay reasons. By having every clan wear a unique hat (so to speak), it makes it easier for prospective players to understand what mechanics each clan is most interested in interacting with. It is actually something I do like. For one, this means that every clan ends up representing different aspects of Asian cultures. Also, while the game does take this specialization to an unrealistic extreme, it isn’t entirely unheard of (the English and Longbows, French and Knights, Swiss and Pikes, etc).
For the time being, I am going to focus on a few of the 7 Great Clans, and cover the others in Part 2. I may also go over some of the other factions (three or four in particular), but do not want to get bogged down. These background posts are supposed to be an overview, not a setting sourcebook. Also, these clan summaries obviously give my perspective of the different clans. As such, they highlight the things I find most interesting about them.
(For those who are curious, the cards shown here are from the new Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games).
The Crab Clan
One of several military-focused clans, the Crab Clan are best known for their defensive prowess. Charged with defending the empire from a corrupted region (the Shadowlands) to the south that is overrun with the undead and literal demons, the defenses built by the Crab Clan are the most formidable in the empire. Because the threat posed by the Shadowlands is ever present, the Crab Clan exists in a constant state of war. Knowing that they are all that stands between Rokugan and the tainted horrors beyond, they have gained a reputation for pragmatism and coarseness with little tolerance for the frivolities of the court.
Crab castles are imposing fortresses of stone without peer, however the crowning jewel of the clan’s engineers is the massive Kaiu Wall (also known as the Carpenter Wall) they’ve constructed along the empire’s southern border. Towering over 70 feet high (100 feet on the Shadowlands side), it has turned aside numerous assaults and remains under constant threat of raids or full-scale assaults. Although the wall is occasionally breached (and in one instance was even destroyed), there is no denying that this single construction usually allows the rest of the empire to exist as if it weren’t under constant threat.
However, the defenses alone would mean nothing without the men and women standing guard over them. Crab Clan samurai have a reputation for being physically imposing and favoring massive warhammers or clubs over the more traditional Katana, as many of the most fearsome beasts they face are protected by supernatural shells that must be cracked open if the creature is to be killed. More than any other clan, the warriors of the Crab Clan live under the shadow of death. Most accept this stoically as their duty and remain ever ready to sacrifice themselves to give others a chance at victory, thereby protecting their families and the empire as a whole.
The Crane Clan
At the dawn of the Empire, the Emperor tasked the Crane Clan’s founder with establishing customs and social norms that would serve as the cultural basis to hold the fledgling nation’s people together. Ever since, the Crane Clan has been the most refined clan with a reputation for creating fine works of art and an exquisite sense of style, often setting fashion trends throughout the rest of the empire. Although one might dismiss this as a frivolous matter, the reality is their keen understanding of social rules and culture also makes them a force to be reckoned with in the courts.
In fact, their diplomats are found in nearly every court and advise lords across the empire, while naturally reporting back home. Their matchmakers are in high demand, giving them a surprising amount of influence over the political marriages among the other clans. And their works of their most skilled artisans are prized throughout the empire, with few lords willing to turn down such gifts even knowing that strings will surely be attached.
This isn’t to say that they are without martial skill. Perhaps taking a cue from the clan’s artisans, Crane Clan samurai strive for perfection in all they do. Perhaps their military is not as large those fielded by the more militant clans, but there is no denying the skill of their soldiers. Although they may be outnumbered in the field, it is rare that this isn’t more than compensated for by the clan’s political dealings…and in the event that there is a dispute at court, their duelists have a fearsome reputation, being ever-ready to defend their clan’s honor.
The Dragon Clan
Like their founder, Togashi, the Dragon Clan is the most enigmatic in the empire. They typically keep within their own lands, in the mountains at the empire’s northern border, with only the duty to watch the empire and record its history. Of all the clans, members of the Dragon Clan are seen the least often. As a result, they are thought to be aloof and reclusive, although they would instead point out the value of only acting when the time is right.
Samurai of the Dragon Clan are known for both their skill and their unorthodox methods. They are the origin of the Niten technique—wielding the Katana in one hand and the Wakizashi in the other—which is almost completely unknown outside their ranks. Likewise, their investigators have earned a reputation for being able to piece together events thanks to such strange concepts as “evidence” and “logic” rather than relying on testimony. Although outsiders may consider such things odd, it is difficult to argue with results.
But the Dragon Clan is not only known for its samurai, but for the Togashi order of monks. It is said that the members of the Togashi order are often reincarnations of previous members, and through meditation are able to unlock supernatural abilities. Many of these monks wear magical tattoos, further enhancing their abilities. Although abilities may not be as flashy as true spells, there is no shortage of samurai who have been dealt a surprising defeat by an unarmed Togashi monk.
The Lion Clan
Although the Emperor maintains his own military force, the Lion Clan is the true source of the empire’s martial might. They maintain the largest standing army of any clan, and their founder literally wrote the book (with every champion of the Lion Clan adding their experiences to the book ever since). Being such a militarized clan, it should come as no surprise that they value martial prowess above all. By extension, they also have a reputation for being the most uncompromising in their adherence to the tenants of Bushido (if sometimes being found lacking in the tenant of compassion).
It has been said that an Akodo-trained general has never been defeated in the field. Although this isn’t strictly true, it is not very far from the mark and there is no denying that most of the best military minds in the empire are found within the Lion Clan. This acumen for tactics and strategy is only matched by the ferocity of its samurai. Warriors of the Lion Clan are most at home when on the attack. Between their unrelenting assaults and the sheer size of their military, there are few forces that can stand against a Lion Clan army.
As a result, members of the Lion Clan are known to be both hot-headed and sever, ever ready to serve as the emperor’s sword and to answer even a perceived slight with steel. However, those with the most fearsome reputation of all are the Deathseekers. These disgraced samurai serve as the clan’s shock troops, often leading the charge against terrible odds as they seek death in battle. For if there is one thing every Lion samurai knows, it is that the battlefield is the only place where honor and redemption can truly be found.