by Adrian Burton and Steve Argyle
Before we even had a final name for Embers of War we had some themes simmering and brooding. We knew it was a set in a time where the clans have, with one exception, been at peace for decades. We wanted to convey a lack of large scale clan conflict in this set and get a better sense that they are, for the most part, at relative peace. There is little samurai versus samurai imagery in the set. Much of the conflict is samurai versus naga or samurai versus nature.
Another goal for the set was to work with a large number of artists. We wanted to work with everyone and get a sense of their styles, speed and proficiency. As a result we use 70 artists for Embers when we now use about 40 per set. There are a wide variety of styles in Embers of War because of this. Some old names from the game return: April Lee, Ben Peck, Jason Behnke; as well as many first time L5R artists: Shaun Lindow, Hanna Böving, Eddie Sharam, Miss Tak, to name a couple. It was a wild experience and we received an even better education in the process than we had finishing up Emperor Edition. Now close to a year later you get to see the results.
Let’s talk about some numbers and the art in which the Clans appear.
Total number of illustrations commissioned: 180 (including promos)
Number of artists used: 70
Crab Clan: 15 pieces. The Crab we tried to show were busy still in the art of war. 25 years of rebuilding and gearing up for more conflict with the Shadowlands. They have a more aggressive art but also a lot of preparations themed work. We also wanted to get some ideas of newer technology across with the Crab. The main one to make it in was the trebuchet in Kaiu Onizuka’s background. Speaking of which, Kaiu Onizuka by Bill O’Connor, the Unique of the Crab, the Topaz Champion. We tried to work a sort of personal mon of the Topaz Champion into his banner, some orange highlights and an attempt to mimic the armor of the Topaz Champion with a more Crab pragmatic sense. We also made sure he was armed to the teeth — four weapons: a war fan and and at least four gigantic slingshots. You will be seeing the result tomorrow with the preview of the card.
Crane Crane: 17 pieces. We attempted to have the Crane either in court in the Empire or out in cities in the colonies. The intent, of course, to show that the Crane are city people. These are the centers of political power and it’s where you find most influential Crane. Their highest profile Crane character of course is Daidoji Akeha: a unique Daimyo by Mario Wibisono in which we stressed her leadership by having armies lower and to the rear of her. She is turning to give a sense that she just finished speaking to them. We wanted a feeling of a capable samurai, confident eyes, strong posture. Notice the elongated katana hilt for war time and the wielding of a traditional Daidoji spear. We had Mario include heterochromia (two eye colors) as a fun possible story point. She in many ways became the symbolic art of the set for Steve and I.
Dragon Clan: 19 pieces. Dragon had a great deal of rising action pieces, as if we caught them in the middle of some event. Nothing huge yet, but we wanted to convey that the Dragon are busy actually being involved in the world. They have the most major conflicts yet, but they are participants and staying active. In retrospect the Dragon have possibly some of the best grouping of artists in the set: Tony Foti, Drew Baker, Heather Kreiter, Aaron Miller, Mario Wibisono, and Aurélien Hubert. Kitsuki Daisuke by Aaron Miller is the Dragon’s Unique for the set. I want to convey how very much I love the look on his face — this incredulous glare asking if the Crane he is talking to thinks he is some sort of a moron. Miller really got the description we offered him. We wanted to get the sense that this is a fellow who is a proficient Kitsuki magistrate who confronts people with the evidence and then lets them screw up and panic and maybe get into a duel. I really feel he hit it spot on.
Lion Clan: 14 pieces. For the Lion we had a story covering a few cards of the Ikoma scouts heading out to assist an ambushed Unicorn caravan. We wanted them to feel anxious and maybe a bit alarmed at what they are finding as a result. This also let us put the Lion onto terrain they normally don’t get seen around: desert scrub. The artists had to put their minds to work to not let the Lion color palette blur into the scrub lands, and we made some notes to point out where it could be an issue. The Lion received two uniques, Shika whom I’ve talked about ad nauseum about on the L5R Tumblr (check it out if you haven’t already!), and Ikoma Hakige by veteran L5R artist Paul Prof Herbert. Prof is the sort of guy who often gets relegated to animals, ratlings and berserkers, which he is great at and we still use him for often. But when given a description he really likes you find he rises to the occasion. We wanted to give him something new to try, thus the Ikoma Daiymo. For Hakige we wanted an honorable, grumpy, sour-faced, heavy-duty Lion. As a result we got a great looking armor, solid composition and the facial expression we were looking for.
Mantis Clan: 13 pieces. The Mantis have yet to be spoiled so we’ll try to talk around that a tiny bit. Outdoors and in the fray is a good way to sum up the Mantis artwork in this set. We generally try to have the sky in their artwork to maintain that connection to thunder. An artist we brought back is also Jason “I drew Yoritomo” Behnke and, naturally, we had to have him do a Yoritomo, so keep an eye out for Yoritomo Kanaye this set. Fortunately, the Unique for EoW is out for the clan: Tsuruchi Tomaru by Andy Hepworth. Andy has a classic style which he brought to Tomaru. As a character that had prior reference art we wanted to look a little older a little wiser, so he got a mustache, some men to follow his orders and even remembered to bring his katana along this time. He was an exercise if trying to maintain characters aging in a more realistic fashion, something all L5R art directors struggle with from time to time. A secondary favorite of ours are the angry deer. You’ll see.
Phoenix Clan: 16 pieces. Color was a bit of an increased focus for the Phoenix this set. They have one of our favorite color palettes. Artists were encouraged to play with the Embers theme in the form of fire and the clan colors. We also wanted to show the beginning of Lion/Phoenix tensions which visually we pushed hardest in Asako Megu and Precision. However, we also tried to tie them into some Naga conflict as well as showing a presence in the Colonies. The Unique is of course the exquisite pyromaniac Isawa Koiso by Mario Wibisono. She went through only one draft stage and most of the revisions ended up being to the color of her clothing and eyes to bring her more inline with Phoenix. The level of detail is amazing and tragically not fully appreciated at card size. Her hair pieces have symbols and etch marks on them, and the reflection of her poor target is fully visible in her big eyes.
Scorpion Clan: 13 pieces. The night time is the right time, and Scorpion are masters of the evening be it outside or inside. Several of the Scorpion pieces are outdoor night scenes. Many of which include the Obsidian Moon hanging in the sky: firstly because it is easier on the coloring for the artists but also because even in full moonlight Scorpion know the nightscape. The Scorpion feature a character whom we both thought was by far one of the most entertaining from an art and story point: Shosuro Ryochi. Clearly used by Nitoshi for dishonoring others we figured he should be shown in the service of his lord — by … (you’ll see that on the 30th when the Scorpion cards are previewed). His art plays up one of our favorite themes about the Scorpion: prove useless to the clan and they will find a use for you. Soshi Yoshihara by Matt Zeilinger is the Scorpion’s Unique this set. The goal with Yoshihara was to find a solid way to convey her dishonoring manipulation. “Drunk angry puppet” was the final idea and it worked out into a fun scene; we were careful to keep it focused on her rather than letting it look more like a strategy style piece.
Spider Clan: 12 pieces. Finally a full born clan with a generation to establish some looks and traditions, but also done far away in the Colonies. We brainstormed about establishing some looks we could build upon. The only real established look was that of the sohei monks. For the rest we took cues from Daigotsu, Shahai and other high ranking trend-setting first generation Spider. Whites, blacks and silvers were established as the primary clan color scheme and more locked in this set. In brainstorming sessions often we would discuss an idea of heritage of the individual, as all Spider had to descent from another clan at some point. Spider get the benefits of being dark reflections of other clans from whom they coalesced, and as a result come in all shapes and sizes. Daigotsu Takayasu by Andy Hepworth is their set Rare and as an experienced character who was a child previously was a lot of fun. We wanted to show off his vocal prowess and put him in the middle of the fray in the jungles of the colonies all grown up and dangerous.
Unicorn Clan: 14 pieces. The Unicorn have spent a lot of the early story time trying to establish and maintain the overland routes to the Second City and as a result see a lot more action and violence than many of the other clans. We tried to convey this with a lot more action scenes than all the other clans. One scene we’d really wanted to do was showing a Battle Maiden’s horse getting into the fight as this is a part of the RPG and story that doesn’t always get reflected in the CCG. Thus Utaku Lishan was born with her horse tossing around a desert nomad. Moto Rani by Jason Engle has a strong Death Priest theme: crows, skull, a quieted battlefield. Jason already brings an other worldly mystic lighting to his pieces so he was the first pick when Jim Pavelec wasn’t available to continue working Rani.
Well we’ve rambled on for a while here, but we hope we’ve given you some insight into some of the clan goals. Embers of War was a joy to work on and we hope you all enjoy it, we know we did.
We hope that this series of articles brought you great insight onto the Embers of War expansion for Legend of the Five Rings and are looking forward to continuing bringing them to you with the next expansions.