Welcome to Rokugan, where honor is a force more powerful than steel.
Legend of the Five Rings started out as a Collectible Card Game created by AEG and later branched out into a tabletop role-playing game and a series of tie-in novels. It gained renown as being a game where the players shaped the metaplot (through which clans won victories in the card game). The game's setting is Rokugan, an isolationist empire which is a mishmash of Japanese, Chinese and Korean mythology and culture. The nation is ruled over by an Emperor and is made up of clans of samurai, each of which vies for the Emperor's favor (or, depending on the era, the throne itself). Players generally choose one clan to identify with and collect.Gameplay for the card game is pretty good, and is well-received. First off, you have to have two decks: your "Dynasty" deck comes with a black design on the back, and the "Fate" deck has green backing. Fate cards go to your hand, whereas Dynasty cards go to one of your four "Provinces" (IE a little patch of territory on your table), where you flip them right side up and then deploy them if you want to (or can). The main kinds of cards you'll find in your Dynasty deck are "Personalities" (characters, essentially) and "Holdings", whose Gold totals are used to deploy things. But there's also "Region" and "Event" cards; one modifies the province it popped up at, and the other modifying the game until the end of turn. Meanwhile, your Fate deck provides you with "Items", "Followers", "Spells" and "Ancestors", all of which which essentially Status Buffs that you deploy on a Personality. There are also "Action" cards that you play out of your ownself.There are Variable Player Goals available. For "Military" victory, destroy all Provinces belonging to anyone who isn't you. An "Enlightenment" victory requires you to play the eponymous Legendary Five Rings, proving their spiritual worthiness to rule. An "Honor" victory, which symbolizes your clan's impeccable reputation and political standing, takes advantage of what is essentially your Life totals, Honor points: if you can get them above 40, you win. Finally, you can also drop a "Dishonor" victory on your opponents by getting their point score below -19, thus proving that they are unfit to rule.The tabletop RPG is known for being deadly and focusing on social interaction as much as combat; the setting was also adapted to Dungeons & Dragons rules in that game's 3rd Edition Oriental Adventures handbook. In 3.5E, it was expanded into its own campaign setting, called Rokugan. Recently, RPG players have also been able to shape the plot through special LARP events held at major conventions, or through a specially-designated forum for online roleplaying known as "Winter Court".The original story arc featured a war between the six Great Clans of the Empire for control of the throne. This war was spurred on by the vengefulyet manipulative consort of the young Emperor, as her clan had been destroyed by the other six years before. As the conflict grew, it was revealed that the Dark GodFu Leng had broken free of his prison to possess the sickly young Emperor, and a band of heroes (reincarnations of the original samurai who defeated him centuries prior) put aside their differences to face him.Several more story arcs followed, including the continued story of the new Toturi dynasty (which withstood the wrath of the reality-dissolving Nothing, a new Dark Lord of the Shadowlands, the return of a heartless sorcerer and his minions, and a few conspiracies from within) only to fall to more political infighting between clans, leaving way for another war of succession. A new dynasty has begun with the coronation of a Divine Empress blessed by the Heavens, but the fledgling ruler was forced to deal with an invasion from Kali-Ma the Destroyer, a threat from outside of the Empire's borders. Ultimately, the Rokugani people were victorious only by embracing the Spider Clan as allies and allowing Fu Leng to be reborn into the world to destroy her, drastically changing the nature of Taint and the Empire's relationship to the Shadowlands in the process. The most recent story arc has centered around the Empire expanding to colonize new lands outside the Empire's borders, and seems to be shaping up for a succession conflict between the Empress's two sons, the elder arrogant but popular, the younger dutiful but raised among the Spider clan.For those who are interested, the Kaze no Shiro fan site holds a mirror archive of all the official published L5R story fiction from the very beginning. They tend to be a little behind in updating, but the current L5R story fictions are available at AEG's website. For tropes pertaining to the different Clans, go to the character sheet.
Action Girl: Pick a samurai-ko, any samurai-ko. Some of the Crane and Phoenix ones even cross into Ladyof War territory
Always Chaotic Evil: The various races of the Shadowlands. Subverted in that it's living in the Shadowlands that makes the non-spirit races Chaotic Evil: uncorrupted ogres and goblins occasionally show up who are no more "evil" than ordinary humans.
Also the fate of anyone Lost to the Shadowlands Taint- rather than returning to the cycle of reincarnation, they are tormented in Jigoku for eternity.
Anyone Can Die: You have a favorite character? Don't get too attached. Matters of honor are usually settled by either a duel to the death or a ritual suicide. And there are few problems in this world that can't be solved by either an all-out war or a strategic murder. There's also old age, but that is incredibly rare.
So far the death toll includes multiple Emperors, Clan Champions, and gods. Some of them more than once.
Since the game started, nearly 14 years worth of real time and nearly 50 years of in-game time have passed. This, combined with a need to shuffle older characters out of the spotlight to justify new characters being added in each new card set, means that there isn't a single character from the original set who is still alive and/or visible in the game. There is usually a massive character purge every 3 years or so.
The 2013 Kotei season aligning with the release of a new, dual-bugged (two edition) set averts this somewhat. After the release of Coils of Madness, players are barred from using characters in the Kotei if they receive a more experienced version in the new set. This makes sense given that any given Kotei tournament can end with the death of a character - and more experienced characters may be ones they may already have story plans for in the near-future.
Annoying Arrows: Averted. An arrow hurts about as hard as a katana, and combined with incredible range means they'll make pincushions of most enemies before they can get too close. Any bushi school that can use bows for their simple action attacks such as the Shinjo Bushi, who also gets a horse to boot can kite most enemies to death.
Likewise averted with the Ranged Attack mechanic in the card game - provided it has enough strength to make an attack, it instantly kills the target.
Artistic License - Economics: The economy outlined in the RPG is a very simplified version of the medieval Japanese economy, perhaps a little too simplified, to the point where any GM that wants to deal with economic matters in depth is better off homebrewing.
The lead developers themselves went back and forth over whether the koku (standard currency unit) represented enough rice to feed one man for one year, or the expected annual income of a peasant family. Do the math and you'll see the problem here...
Rice is the primary food crop in Rokugan, but not the only one. There's also fishing and hunting.
Peasants also don't eat rice. They eat wheat and millet which are much cheaper.
4th Edition arguably rectified this by making a koku worth roughly one month's worth of rice and have nothing to do with peasant income and declaring that previous issues with economics were caused by in-universe mistakes.
Not to mention that for years the primary export of the Scorpion clan was officially listed as information.
Ascended Demon: When the Jade Champion, Kitsu Okura fell to corruption and gave his name to a demon, creating Okura no Oni, the demon eventually gained an appreciation for honour and Bushido through her possession of his soul, and turned against the other oni in the Battle of Oblivion's Gate. She was later cleansed of her taint by the Void Dragon and now guards the gates of the Celestial Heavens.
Ascended Extra: Toku, a throwaway character in the first set, ends up being a General in the Imperial Guard and leading his own minor clan.
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Thanks to the way the setting's cosmology works, virtually anyone can be rewarded with godhood if they put in the requisite work. Otaku Komoko, Hida Yakamo, Hitomi, and Toku are just a few of the high-profile heroes who have achieved divine status since the game's inception.
Dead individuals may also be named as Fortunes by the Emperor, essentially becoming minor kami with power over certain conceptual dominions. For example, Inari, the Fortune of Rice, is often prayed to during the harvest, while Benten, the Fortune of Love, is regularly invoked in marriage ceremonies and romantic poems.
Horribly subverted with certain enemies of Hantei XVI, who used his power to name Fortunes to punish his enemies posthumously. This resulted in such lovely domains as Torture, Cockroaches and Dung.
Ancestral Weapon: Each of the clans has several of these, usually used by its Champion.
Arranged Marriage: All samurai characters are assumed to be in one by default, unless stated otherwise.
A common trait among women who join a monastery, such as the Togashi Monk School or the Brotherhood of Shinsei.
Battle Couple: Usually averted: when two bushi marry, usually one (not necessarily the wife) becomes the "housewife" and stays at home to manage the estate and raise the kids, while the other goes to fight. However, when both bushi are exemplary and/or of sufficiently high rank, they usually both remain active in fighting, with the woman taking breaks to give birth to their children (if any). Hida O-ushi (Crab Clan Champion) and her husband Yasamura are the best example of this trope, and Tamori Shaitung and Isawa Nakamuro were a shugenja Battle Couple.
In the most recent edition of the RPG, the timeline goes up to the extinction of the Toturi clan... but the rules all act as though Toturi III is still on the throne.
All the Wizards of the Coast-commissioned novels are considered to be non-canon by the Story Team and by RPG players, with the exception of Naseru's viewpoint novel, Wind of Justice. Kaneka's novel, Wind of War, is infamous for being a terrible rip-off of A Fistful of Dollars/Yojimbo and has been expressly contradicted in the canon storyline. All other novels fall under "if the canon stories don't directly contradict it, then they're ok".
CCG Importance Dissonance: Usually averted nowadays - impressive characters in the story tend to have equally bad-ass and/or useful cards in the CCG. There have been disappointments in the past, as well as happy subversions when a no-name character with a weak or useless card ends up doing something awesome in the story, usually as a result of a tournament prize.
Toku being one of the big ones in the subversions category.
Chekhov's Gun: In a game with an ongoing storyline in which new items are constantly being introduced, it's inevitable that this trope will come into effect with some of them.
Chekhov's Gunman: As with Chekhov's Gun, above, the vicissitudes of a storyline with player-determined outcome means that characters can languish in obscurity for years before suddenly being thrust to center stage.
Sanzo, a weak ronin samurai, seemed destined to be entirely forgotten until he almost succeeded in assassinating Emperor Toturi I while under the influence of the Bloodsword Ambition.
Scorpion playwright Shosuro Furuyari did not make any waves after returning through Oblivion's Gate... until he was revealed to be the notorious Bayushi Atsuki who had been quietly rebuilding the nefarious Gozoku.
Gusai, another Oblivion's Gate returnee, appeared to die off-screen alone with several other returned spirits at the hands of a mysterious murder, only for it to turn out Gusai had faked his death and was the murderer all along.
Class and Level System: While not as binding as many examples, a character's School and Insight Rank are basically this.
Combat by Champion: It is not unexpected for Crane or Dragon armies in war to deploy duelists specifically to call out and challenge officers of the opposing army to a duel, usually killing them. It is also acceptable for opposing generals to duel to end a war with little bloodshed, or in some cases the parties that were the cause of the war in the first place.
Cooking Duel: The challenged party in a formal duel gets to name what form the duel will take. While swordsmanship is usually the default for bushi, and magic for shugenja, any "cultured" art can be a perfectly acceptable substitute. Serious Business origami, poetry, indeed cooking duels have been seen in the fictions. Bear in mind, however, that it may cost you some face if you suggest something other than the norm.
Cult: The Emperor is also the head of the official state religion, and has official authority in Tengoku.
The Dark Arts: While Rokugan considers all non-shugenja magic to be heretical, none are more reviled than Maho. First, maho is powered by blood sacrifice- the more powerful the spell, the more blood you need to make it work. Second, maho draws its power directly from Jigoku, and causes its user to become infected with the Shadowlands Taint. Finally, many monsters that can be summoned through maho (including oni and gaki) can escape the summoner's control, resulting in massive collateral damage. Nevertheless, maho remains a potent draw for certain people, because it can be used by anyone, even those who lack the spiritual potential or training of a shugenja.
Another, much less well-known magic is tejina, the Shadow arts practiced by the shinobi of the Soshi and Shosuro families of the Scorpion Clan. Given how secretive the Scorpion are about their use of normal ninja, it's no surprise that the existence of tejina is only known to a handful of people, even among the Scorpion. And for good reason- the Scorpion Clan would likely not survive if it were known that they were tapping into the power of the Lying Darkness.
Deadly Decadent Court: The Imperial Court of Otosan Uchi (later Toshi Ranbo), or for that matter, any High Ranking Daimyo. Though Kyuden Bayushi takes this up to eleven.
Death Seeker: Most famously, the Lion Clan produces quite a few of these. Corrupted Crab Clan members also sometimes choose this path.
As the Tortoise Clan's true purpose involves a hearty violation of Imperial Law, the Daimyos traditionally introduce themselves to the new Emperor during the first week of coronation, reveal what they've done, and offer to commit seppuku. They rarely get the go-ahead.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: There are a few areas where the morality of Rokugan will clash with the morality of its audience, particularly its intense focus on etiquette, courtesy and social harmony. That's far from the only example, however:
The Rokugani justice system values witness testimony more than anything else for investigating crimes, with physical evidence and logical deduction serving only in the event where there are no reliable witnesses. Unless, of course, the person doing the investigation was trained by the Kitsuki.
Related to the above, samurai are valued much more highly than peasants, and can get away with doing just about anything to a peasant without suffering more than a token fine. They are also considered to be much more reliable witnesses by default, so a samurai's testimony will almost always be taken over a peasant's.
To be fair, part of the point of the code of Shourido is that it looks like a perfectly reasonable set of alternative beliefs at first glance, but the deeper one looks into it the more troubling it becomes.
Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: Shadowlands enemies are weak to jade, so naturally jade weapons are not unheard of. Crystal hurts Lying Darkness spawn. Tainted characters can wield obsidian weapons, though, which hurt non-Shadowlands targets more.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Let's see, Fu Leng (twice) the Dark Oracle of Fire, Lord Moon (not a title, but the actual MOON GOD), the Living Darkness. It's gotten to the point that the current stories are actually trying to distance themselves from this trope.
One foreigner who comes to Rokugan lampshades this trope.
She looked up out into the valley spread out before them. "And in this land, they breed killers of gods."
Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: See the example with Naseru above. Also, Shinsei made a career out of being wiser than the Kami, and along with Togashi they masterminded a thousand-year plan to put an end to Fu Leng.
Double Standard: Originally part of the traditional conservative culture of Rokugan in the early stories as well as the First Edition RPG, thus making the Lady Land families necessary. Later averted entirely, and stories set in earlier days were retconned to be more egalitarian. The massive losses that nearly everyone suffered during the Clan War and surrounding events forced samurai cast aside any prejudices they may have had against women in less traditional roles (ie,serving as Bushi hold positions of power, ruling as Daimyo) simply because there were no longer enough men to fill them might explain this.
The Lady Land families have, however, stayed just as matriarchal as they always have been.
Driven to Suicide: Occurs often in both the CCG and RPG, often as a result of political maneuverings of the Scorpion or Crane. A lot of characters in the story have also done this, either to cleanse their dishonor, or to prevent themselves from succumbing to the Shadowlands Taint.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: Everyone in a position of power at the end of Toturi Naseru's reign. Naseru went on a nebulous quest in the Shadowlands that ended in his Heroic Sacrifice, as well as that of his Emerald Champion. With the power vacuum, the Unicorn Clan marched to take the throne. In the ensuing battle, Naseru's wife, his two brothers, and his chancellor are all killed in various ways. The last remaining man with any sort of Imperial authority decides he needs to step down and protect the line of Shinsei. This was mainly so that all of those Imperial positions could be prizes in the next mega tournament.
Duel to the Death: While conceding to a superior opponent is perfectly honorable, and non-lethal duels are common for minor matters, if you insult someone's honor, one of these will follow.
Easter Egg: in the 1st Edition Rulebook, one of the locations marked on the map is "Reihaido Uikku" - "a shrine in honor of the Phoenix shugenja who recorded the Tao of Shinsei". "Uikku" is a Gratuitous Japanese transliteration of the game author's surname, John Wick.
Elemental Powers: There are five elements, which are represented both in the CCG and the RPG by rings - the titular Five Rings. Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Void (both the absence of the other four, and its presence.) Each Ring represents a physical and a mental stat in the RPG, with the exception of Void. Shugenja usually use their Elemental Ring to cast a spell of the corresponding element, but all classes have a single Ring that they rely on heavily. Also, all non-Phoenix shugenja classes focus on one Element and have a weakness in another.
Evil Versus Evil: The true saviors of the Empire at the end of the Destroyer War were Fu Leng and Daigotsu, the two most prominent/iconic antagonists of the storyline. Respectively Satan and Satan II: Satan harder.
Overall a popular trope for the franchise- to date, you have the Lying Darkness being opposed by the Kolat (anti-Imperial Yakuza who's Antitheistic philosophy makes them enemies of otherworldly influence in general), the old Shadowlands posterboy Iuchiban deposing Daigotsu as the Dark Lord after falling out of favor, the aforementioned Destroyer War conclusion, and towards the end of the Emperor Edition arc the disciples of Fudo, a heretical sect of the Brotherhood of Shinsei, have been taking on P'an Ku, the Mad Dragon responsible for most of the events of Emperor and the upcoming main villain of Ivory Edition.
Evil Virtues: The Code of Shourido, practiced predominantly by the Spider Clan, which emphasizes Control, Determination, Insight, Knowledge, Perfection, Strength and Will.
Evil Weapon: The Bloodswords (Ambition, Judgment, Passion, and Revenge). The more you use them, the more powerful they become, and the easier it is to drive the owner into a murderous frenzy.
Also, any nemuranai that was awakened by maho or other heretical magic counts.
This is a game mechanic in the CCG: A card may have the trait "Soul Of" and list a name. This means that the power, chi, costs, and abilities on both cards are identical. This is in place so that if playing an Unrestricted game (meaning expansion and edition don't matter) these older cards count toward the same no-more-than-three rule.
The Mirumoto fighting style is clearly mimicking the two-handed style practiced and advocated by Miyamoto Musashi.
The Face: Courtiers are explicitly designed to play this role, as even though most PCs should have basic social skills to survive Rokugan's complicated system of etiquette and conversation, it helps to have someone who can recruit allies and deal with gossip and slander. In a pinch, Air Shugenjas and more politically oriented Magistrates and Bushi (particularly from the Scorpion or Crane Clans) can fill this role.
Fantastic Caste System: Rokugan's society has a caste system mirroring that of feudal Japan's, with samurai at the top, farmers and craftsmen below them, merchants underneath both, and the eta, or "untouchables", who do all the "dirty" work such as handling the dead and cleaning latrines and can be killed by samurai with no social repercussions.
Geisha are notable in that they are free to interact with samurai socially, but are considered non-persons like the eta and the peasants.
Monks are another puzzle in the pecking order - anybody, even a peasant or samurai, can become a monk, and technically they cannot gain social status. Yet due to their reputation of devoutness and their religious duties they are free to interact with samurai and peasants without etiquette getting in the way. Even arrogant samurai who wouldn't think twice about testing their sword's sharpness on a nearby peasant would give a monk some token respect, if only because one can never be sure if a monk has awesome kung fu skills... or fire breathing.
Further, asking a monk about their past is considered a breach of etiquette, and since they take new names upon joining a monastery, there's often no way for someone to figure out whether the monk was a peasant or a Samurai. As such, honorable individuals tend to avoid insulting monks to avoid insulting a former lord, if the monk had been a Samurai, thus averting potential crises of honor.
Rokugan doesn't really know how to handle ronin. They serve no master and have no place in the Celestial Order, but despite this, they are still part of the samurai caste. Most of the time, they're treated like garbage, but individual ronin or families of ronin can win some place in Rokugan, be adopted into a clan, or in one memorable case, become Emperor.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The whole setting is a sort of feudal Japan counterpart, with splashes of China, Korea, Mongolia, and Southeast Asia. While the original setting was strictly based on feudal Japan and feudal China, the Unicorn were given a more Mongolian flavor and the Mantis more traits of Southeast Asia to make them standout from the other Clans.
Additionally, the surrounding nations all copy a bit of other ancient civilizations: Burning Sands (Arabs), Merenae and Thrane (firearms suggest Renaissance Europe, with Merenae names like King Diego and Espada Cornejo suggesting Spain and Thrane names like Hawthorne suggesting England), Senpet (Egyptians), Ra'Shari (Roma), the Ivory Kingdoms (India) and Yodotai (the Byzantine Empire).
Fantasy Gun Control: Guns and Gunpowder are illegal in the Empire under penalty of Death. As a matter of fact, their use is considered to be nearly as bad as using Maho. Just so there are no misunderstandings about how stict this is, no one, not the Crab who have been made the ultimate Combat Pragmatists by centuries of warfare with the Legions of Hell, not the Mantis and the Unicorn, for whom under the table trafficking of Gaijin is a major source of wealth, not the Scorpion, who use every dirty and dishonorable trick in the book without even blinking will show you ANY PITY WHATSOEVER if you get caught using a firearm.
The Dragon Clan once waged war on the Crane solely because some of their scouts had been using gunpowder, once the Crane realized this they disbanded the scout group.
A note: gunpowder and guns weren't always illegal, and gaijin weren't outright banned from Rokugan until the Battle of the White Stag, the first time Rokugani saw gaijin weapons in action. Seeing the outsiders, not at all within the celestial order upon which all position and status is based on, slaughtering samurai by the hundreds with an ease that even magic users don't have access to, sealed the deal.
It should be noted, of course, that ninja use explosives on a regular basis, often for the "smoky exit" effect as for demolition. Of course, since ninja don't exist, they can get away with it.
Gunpowder is also used by the Agasha family to make fireworks. This is a highly honorable art form, albeit one restricted to that family. They are not allowed to use gunpowder for anything else, however.
"Iron Rokugan," an AU setting in Imperial Histories 2, averts this trope, by asking what would have happened if things went differently at White Stag. Had the gaijin forces split along national lines due to the Merenae discovering Thrane's treachery, Rokugan may well have developed ties with Merenae, and eventually Rokugani firearms would have been developed on their own, leading to a world where a flintlock pistol being effectively part of the daisho.
Feuding Families: Several: the old Lion Clan-Crane clan rivalry (at least until Doji Kurohito and Matsu Nimuro had their Not So Different epiphany); the Daidoji/Yasuki trade war; the Dragon and the Phoenix also had something going for a while (and the Agasha and the Tamori still need to make an effort to be civil), and the Unicorn and Lion seemed to have become the new Lion and Crane.
Fragile Speedster: both the Kakita and Bayushi Bushi schools emphasize the "Hit hard, don't get hit in return" tactic. The Hiruma family also specializes in being faster than the Shadowlands monsters trying to smash them.
Gambit Roulette: One could say that the whole Clan War arc was the culmination of a thousand year-long plan by Togashi to finish Fu Leng once and for all. Heck, between him, Iuchiban, the Kolat and the Living Shadow, to say nothing of the normal politics and intrigue for the Great Clans the entire history of Rokugan is a really bad Gambit Pileup.
Game-Favored Gender: In the RPG, there are a small handful of female-only schools, like the Utaku Battle Maidens.
Frequently, the result of a clan being under-represented at tournaments or underpowered in game mechanics leads to major story losses at tournaments. The results of these storylines often play out simultaneously with major retooling of the clan's mechanics. The Scorpion were recently subject to two massive invasions and a plague, and the Spider were forced to abandon their major holdings. Both clans are still reeling from their losses in story, even as they're mechanically two of the stronger factions right now, with several recent victories.
A great example for much of the CCG's history were the Crab Clan whose brute force-driven military decks were highly vulnerable to Chi-based dueling decks. In the storyline, however, Crab samurai train for superhuman endurance, making them far less susceptible to one-hit kills in duels than most samurai. More recent iterations of the card game have sought to reflect this, with the Crab receiving cards that reflect their ability to delay or shrug off death.
The Naval Invasion mechanic would allow the maritime-themed Mantis Clan to seize initiative during combat by launching an attack from the sea. However, looking at a map of Rokugan reveals much of it to be landlocked and beyond the reach of the Mantis navy.
Glass Cannon: Shugenja in combat are capable of nuking entire armies into oblivion. This is why everybody aims for them first.
Glove Slap: Insulting someone's honor in Rokugan is something not to be done lightly - this may end up in a duel, or even a generations-long blood feud.
God of Evil: Fu Leng, the Big Bad of several arcs. Eventually supplanted by Daigotsu, who manages to take over Jigoku.
Guns Are Worthless: Semi-Averted, Guns actually have some advatanges, the most notable being that they ignore Armor, Defense, and other Technique based T Nt BH modifiers. This is balanced by both the fact they take long time to reload between shots (the only guns available in the world are Flintlock Muskets) and Fantasy Gun Control.
Half-Human Hybrid: The Dragon Clan contains a number of human/dragon crossbreeds. Also, before her people went back into the Great Sleep, the female naga known as Mara gave birth to a son by the human Mirumoto Daini; Mirumoto Mareshi.
Happy Ending Override: The main reason for this is that much like in Warhammer 40,000, if widespread peace breaks out the game ends! However as a CCG with periodic story-themed expansion sets every time some major, world ending threat appears and is defeated, a new one comes along very shortly. It basically means that the Emerald Empire has seen more tumult and chaos in the last 100 years than in the 500 preceding it. Case in point there have been three Dynasties on the throne in the last 100 years. For the past 1100 years there have been only one.
Honor Before Reason: This is a game involving samurai often working within a very strict interpretation of Bushido.
The new Empire at War card "In the Heart of Battle" has the following flavor text: "Dying in service of your lord is one of the greatest honors a samurai can achieve. Many warriors ignore tactics and logic to deal one fatal blow to their enemy."
Humans Are Special: Humans in this setting are technically semi-divine (even before the Kami brought their bloodlines in). They weren't originally native to Ningen-do; rather having been created by Amaterasu's tears, they're strictly speaking creatures of Tengoku—the Celestial Heavens. Humans Are Special indeed.
Ice-Cream Koan: Usually a source of hilarity when invoked by Togashi monks, or by characters quoting Shinsei (the messiah monk who saved the Empire).
Idiot Ball: Due to the storyline being affected by what happens in tournament play, sometimes the Idiot Ball has to be handed off to get the results.
Instant-Win Condition: There are four possible victory conditions in the CCG (Military, Honor, Dishonor and Enlightment, though the last one has a reputation for being a Gamebreaker), and most clans are designed with at least two of these conditions in mind. And a well-built deck can win in multiple ways.
Interspecies Romance: Accidentally on both their parts, but Mara (female Naga) and Daini (male Dragon Clan human) both fell in love with each other despite their different species.
Jackass Genie: This is a possible way that the Nothing might grant "favors." One of the source books includes an example of a Shiba bodyguard who was being blackmailed by the Scorpion Clan and made a deal with an agent of the Nothing to get rid of the blackmail. The agent did so—by telling everyone the Shiba's secret, eliminating the hold that the Scorpion had on him but ruining his life in the process.
Shugenja Soshi Bantaro acted this role toward Bayushi Kachiko. When she accepted his offer to arrange a visit from her dead husband, Bantaro used a Black Scroll to revive him as a Shadowlands Zombie.
Karma Houdini: The Dark Lord Daigotsu, the game's longest-running and most consistent villain. He kills two Emperors, destroys the Imperial City, unleashes the Dark God Fu Leng into the Celestial Heavens, creates the insidious Spider Clan, and unleashes the widest assassination strike in the Empire's history, which claims the lives of dozens of important men and women. For his crimes, he gets to become the new Dark God following his death at the end of the Celestial Arc.
Last of His Kind: While they're not technically dead Chi'kel is the sole living Nezumi on Nigen-do, all the rest are trapped in the realm of dreams. Oh, and the Nezumi had a lifespan of about 30 years max.
Lady of War: Quite a lot of Crane samurai-ko take this line, as do some Phoenix. Also, Toturi Tsudao, the Sword, Toturi I's eldest legitimate child.
Love Hurts: In Rokugan, it's essentially a given that love will conflict with duty and thus lead to tragedy. Thus, Rokugan has a very ambivalent attitude towards love; love of an abstract ideal of beauty is honored, but love of a specific person is often considered dishonorable (and the point of true love is to blur the lines until they're indistinguishable).
The Magnificent Seven Samurai: The start of Toku's rise to fame came during a case of this, though all seven died. More recently, the ronin monk Koan pulled together seven Champions of Bushido to defend a small village.
Not to mention both sets of Seven Thunders.
Master Poisoner: One of the skills that fits under the Scorpion Clan's hat. The Shosuro family in particular kept large gardens full of various plants that could all be turned into some kind of poison.
Medieval Stasis: The Empire has lasted a thousand years with no real advances in technology. (Which isn't that unrealistic, given Japanese and Chinese history... and gunpowder and the like has been spreading in recent decades.)
Merchandise-Driven: The vast number of characters in the setting is due to the need to print a lot of cards for the CCG.
Also, one of the things that most annoys RPG players about the metaplot is the fact the Story Team has an annoying tendency to cast aside established rules of the setting and even simple common sense just to give the CCG players a new story prize for which to play.
Minmaxer's Delight: Despite the game's nature as having deadly, deadly disadvantages, Legend Of The Five Rings is unique in that many of the disadvantages can simply never come up. A Caster can take Elemental Imbalance at maximum ranks for up to 8 free points, and all they have to do is simply never cast from that element which would otherwise be available to them. A Fire Shugenja giving up the ability to cast Earth spells doesn't lose much. Doubt gives several points, at the expense of being slightly worse at a skill you never use.
Ascetic is similarly a good choice for characters who don't rely on equipment, such as monks or most shugenja builds.
Disbeliever and Dark Secret also make a great combination, since you can take both to refer to the same flaw (i.e. in a country ruled by religious fanatics with a “purge the heretic” mentality, the fact that you don’t swallow the doctrine is a Dark Secret) but they have minimal actual impact if you’re careful not to blab the secret to anyone.
Don't forget Cursed by the Realm: Gaki-do, which causes nearby gaki and undead to give priority to attacking you over everyone else. Bad news if you're a courtier or shugenja... awesome news if you're a crab bushi in heavy armor. There's a reason why taunt abilities are usually the most important part of a tank's toolkit in any game.
Touch of the Void has a chance to daze you when you use Void Points, but improves their benefit. Once you have a high enough Willpower trait to resist being dazed, it becomes purely beneficial. What's more, the penalty from daze doesn't last as long as the bonus from using a Void Point for tasks that take multiple rounds to complete.
On the Advantage side of things, there's Elemental Blessing and Enlightenment, both of which reduce the cost of increasing your traits, making them more than pay for themselves in the long run. It's not even that long of a wait if you spend your points right.
Averted with character Traits. Characters have "Rings" that have two Traits associated with them, one physical and one mental, with the rating of the ring being equal to the lower of the two stats. Since a number of important secondary stats are based on your Ring Rank (such as a character's base speed and health, as well as the power of shugenja spells), people who focus entirely on physical or mental Traits will tend to be weaker than those who diversify.
Ring Ranks are also one of the major contributing factors to determining a character's Insight Rank. Without higher Insight, a character can't access the higher level Techniques of their School, so balancing out your character is essentially mandatory to reach higher levels.
Nerf: Tends to happen when GameBreakers make it into the game. Formerly, L5R had ads bragging that they had "Zero Banned, Zero Restricted" games... after which cards started getting erratas if not outright banned.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The entire Clan War arc was kicked off by Scorpion Clan trying to exterminate the Hantei family in order to prevent the prophecies of Ukkiku from coming to pass, in which the last Hantei emperor would cause the return of the Dark God. They managed to kill the Emperor, but not his son. Guess what happened.
Ironically, their attempt to poison the last Hantei was what weakened him enough to be possessed by Fu Leng.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Fu Leng has been twice defeated as a result of him killing or betraying someone who held the key to exposing his weakness - Togashi the first time (Togashi was hiding the scroll that turned Fu Leng mortal in his heart) and Daigotsu in the second one.
Out of Focus: With nine great clans and several other groups, this is inevitable. As of the Emperor Edition arc, the Kolat are next to extinct after their primary stronghold was taken by the Scorpion and now mostly exist as glorified Yakuza. Additionally, the Shadowland Hordes, the traditional Big Bad of L 5 R have been notably quiet all through Emperor, though this can be attributed to being under new management and the focus mostly being on the Colonies.
One storyline prize allowed a hero from the winning clan to return from the dead. The Crab Clan won and received Hida Kisada who became a man again while simultaneously continuing to serve as the Fortune of Persistence in Heaven.
Pitbull Dates Puppy: What is considered an ideal match in Rokugani society - one spouse does the asskicking, the other spouse takes care of the kids and manages the finances. The most recent example is Dragon Clan Champion Mirumoto Kei and her husband (and Mirumoto Daimyo) Mareshi.
Plot Armor: An advantage is quite literally that you are deemed too important to die by the heavens.
Praetorian Guard: The Seppun family bushi, known as the Miharu, serve the Emperor in this fashion.
Primordial Chaos: One of the villains, responsible for "real" ninjas, is the leftover bits of the primal darkness, which hate being forced into shape and so would like to undo all creation. The ninja powers of its servants comes form them being "unnamed": they don't have true names and as such aren't set in reality, so their shape is a matter of whim.
Power Creep: A common occurrence in the CCG, particularly towards the end of an arc, when game-ending combos starting showing up and ruthlessly efficient decks start ruling the day. The current Design team is now painfully aware of this, and each subsequent arc sees a lower overall power level in each expansion.
It reached its worst with Lotus Edition, which is what prompted the gradual nerfing of power. Emperor Edition (the current) is regarded as the most powerful edition since Lotus, with the same issues of mountains of kill actions, disable actions, and cards with three or four simultaneous effects.
Purposefully Overpowered: Many NPC Basic Schools, such as the Dark Moto school and Tsuno Ravager. They have techniques that absolutely hurt, and would make a GM cry if a player ever had access to them.
Rage Against the Heavens: The ultimate agenda of the Kolat, though in reality it gets little more than lip service. They are more or less happy being glorified Yakuza.
Rage Judo: The Jester can taunt in a fashion that directs an attack at someone else, making this trope a game mechanic.
Red Shirt: Ashigaru are considered little more than human shields for the enemy arrows.
The Crab's attitude towards any other clan samurai who come to the wall. They are referred to as "ponies", after the tithe of lame and crippled ponies the crab clan are paid. (Usually used for targeting practice.)
Remember the New Guy: When the Lying Darkness was defeated, most of its servants were turned into human honorary members of the Akodo family. These new family members are welcomed with surprisingly little fanfare or suspicion despite their horrific origins.
Retired Badass: Since samurai are expected to retire from active duty once they reach old age (usually 50, but varies between the Clans) and go to a monastery, giving up their status as a samurai, there are a lot of old monks in temples who can give you a schooling in strategic warfare, courtly intrigue, or the finer points of smuggling goods, not to mention kick your ass twelve ways to Sunday.
Rodents of Unusual Size: The Nezumi, or "ratlings", which are four to six feet tall humanoid rats who once held their own empire in what are now the Shadowlands, only for it to be extinguished. This was after the time of the Naga, and indeed the Nezumi used to be animalistic livestock for the Naga. They make up one of the two non-human races in the setting who don't want to skin humans alive for the hell of it.
The Savage South: The Crab Clan who occupy Rokugan's Southernmost Provinces are considered by most Samurai to be crude and vulgar. This is justified however by the fact that, for nearly their entire history, they have been at war with the Shadowlands just south of them, and courtesy tends to take a backseat to survival.
The Shadowlands, themselves, are arguably an even better example of this trope, since they are literally Hell on Earth.
Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The Emperor of Rokugan is considered infallible and can pretty much do whatever he wants. The only real limitation being that he cannot directly contradict an edict made by a previous Emperor.
Most of the time, fortunately, this hasn't really been a problem. Most Emperors have been, if not necessarily benevolent, at least competent enough to know that there are limits to how much they can, or should, push things. Unfortunately, on the rare occasion where this trope has been invoked, it's turned out poorly.
This trope also applies, to a lesser extent, to the lesser lords and samurai that rule over local territories and fiefdoms. More than one provincial daimyo has abused his authority to fill his coffers (or fulfill other needs), and samurai are essentially allowed to do whatever they want to peasants without fear of reprisal.
Screw the Rules, I Have Plot!: The Story Team will put aside established rules of the setting for the sake of the Story, (or to give the CCG players a story prize). For example, if the Empire followed the Thousand years of custom,tradition, law and precedent that existed at the time, Otomo Banu would have become Hantei XL after the Second Day of Thunder, but the Lion won the Tournament so we have the Toturi dynasty.
The first character was actually just a minor one introduced long after Toturi's coronation.
Not to mention that Toturi HAD just killed the god of Evil and had the support of basically all important lords. Unless Banu were the firstborn child of the previous Emperor, Toturi would still have been crowned Emperor - and possibly even then.
The developers also have a history of ignoring or very selectively interpreting tournament results when they don't match with where they had intended to take the story. In the above examples, the Lion Clan won the Second Day of Thunder Tournament, but the storyline prize effectively went to another faction (Toturi's Army), on the basis that their leaderused to be a member of the Lion Clan.
Shameful Source Of Knowledge: In the RPG version, there are several skills that are classified as "Low Skills" (such as Forgery, Sleight of Hand, and Temptation) which if you ever exhibit or imply knowledge of, will lead to dishonor.
Single-Stroke Battle: Iaijutsu dueling is the default honorable means of resolving matters of Honor. The Kakita family of the Crane Clan are the masters of this, with the Mirumoto of the Dragon coming in a close second (or the other way around, depending on the point of view).
Snake People: The Naga, a species of reptilian beings with fundamentally human-like upper-torsos attached to lower torsoes that are gargantuan snake bodies/tails, with females of the species being able to change their tails to human-like legs in a five-hour ritual. Prone to all sorts of mutations, which makes them rather like both the naga of Warcraft and the Yuan-ti of Dungeons & Dragons. Notable for being one of the two non-human races (the other are the Nezumi, which are humanoid rats) that aren't hostile by default. They used to rule the land of Rokugan in eons past, but were forced into a magical slumber. They eventually woke up, and were involved in the Clan Wars and Days of Thunder, but went back to sleep afterwards.
Also there are rumors that 7th Sea was originally planned to exist in the same universe but that Wick was forced to abandon the plan due to copyright issues with Wizards of the Coast.
Star-Crossed Lovers: In a society that frowns upon emotional displays, and where all samurai are expected to enter arranged marriages to benefit their family, lord, and/or clan, love is a very dangerous and often fatal thing. Notably, Bayushi Kachiko and Doji Hoturi's romance nearly caused the destruction of the Crane Clan as a result of Kachiko's revenge. Tamori Shaitung and Isawa Nakamuro's romance also nearly fell under this, if it wasn't for the intervention of the literal Goddess of Love.
The Starscream: Doesn't come up as often as you'd think in a game filled with so much political maneuvering. One particularly noteworthy aversion involved the evil monk, Kokujin. The story team planned to have Hitomi welcome him back into the Dragon Clan, only for him to ultimately betray and overthrow her. When the new Dragon Champion proved unexpectedly popular with the fans, her story arc was rewritten and Kokujin's turn as a major villain was saved for a later arc.
Stealth Insult: Matthew Wilson, the artist who painted the famous art for the first three versions of Bayushi Kachiko card painted kanji in the wall of the background of Kachiko's third version that reads "Uikku no baka" or "(John) Wick is an idiot" in Japanese. This is probably why he was never hired to do art for L5R until long after John Wick had left the company.
Succession Crisis: Quite a few, including the Four Winds arc, often providing the driving force for a year's tournaments.
Sword Fight: A majority of its subtropes apply to L5R's setting. It is certainly dishonorable for other people to intervene when two samurai are dueling. But if it's an outright battle, though, Neutral Female never happens unless the woman in question is incapacitated.
Taken for Granite: The touch of jade can be fatal to a Shadowlands creature; the spell Tomb of Jade, which transforms their skin into jade, is instantly so.
The Man Behind the Man: a popular twist for the metaplot. The most recent example would probably be the Civil War between the Empire and Colonies being caused by P'an Ku, a powerful dragon and more or less the physical embodiment of Madness.
The Theme Park Version: Of feudal Japanese culture and samurai traditions. Rokugan takes its bushido far, FAR more seriously and inflexibly than the real-life Japanese ever did, which admittedly IS saying a lot.
Throw-Away Country: The Ivory Kingdoms (whose ruins the Rokugani later colonized), and more recently the island-state of Anisrana both get wiped off the map without apparently putting up much of a fight.
Justified in Hida O-Ushi's case as her birth name was Hida Yoritoko. Her two brothers nicknamed her O-Ushi ("Ox") because of her great strength and stubborness.
Unreliable Narrator: The First and Second Edition RPG sourcebooks were all written from the subjective, in-universe point of view of the Clan that was the primary focus of the book. This was done for flavor, and to give the GM the freedom to determine what was true and what wasn't. This approach was abandoned halfway through Second Edition when Wizards of the Coast (which had joint rights to the game at the time) thought this was too confusing for their d20 players.
There’s still a certain amount of this even in the fourth edition books, especially when they discuss religious and/or supernatural aspects of the setting. The chapters on pre-human history in Enemies of the Empire, for example, even include a sidebar explaining that the scenario described there is only one possible interpretation of events.
Villain Decay: Happened in-universe to Moto Tsume, the infamous leader of the Dark Moto. For years, he operated out of the Shadowlands as a terrorist leader and was the kind of monster that other monsters were afraid of. Since the Second Day of Thunder he has faced one humiliating defeat after another. This eventually led to one protagonist telling Tsume to his face that since the Dark Moto lord had already been slain twice before that he was no longer scary! Needless to say, Tsume did not break the losing streak that day.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: main tactic of Ninjas corrupted and controlled by the Nothing. More benign spirits can do this as well, to a lesser extent, as can spirit-blooded PCs if they buy an expensive Advantage.
Volleying Insults: the careful wielding of insults is an artform in Rokugan's courts. Dishonoring your opponent with a well-placed verbal low-blow is dandy, but you also have to be careful not to expose yourself to a challenge to a duel. The Crane Clan and Scorpion Clan's samurai tend to be adept at this.
What Happened to the Mouse?: With so many characters, some inevitably just drop through the cracks. One good early example is Yogo Asami, a relatively significant member of the Scorpion clan, connected to many of the most important characters- Bayushi Kachiko's former body double, trained by Bayushi Aramoro who she fell in love with, married Aramoro (accepting that she was his Replacement Goldfish because of his unrequited love for Kachiko), bore his son Bayushi Aramasu... and never appeared in the story again after her card was initially released in Forbidden Knowledge.
Wizard Duel: There are two formal dueling styles for shugenja: direct spellslinging, and elemental avatar summoning.