by Adrian Burton
The third set post Emperor came to us under the code name of Unraveling. The situation in the Empire had grown worse and it was clear this was going to be the start of open conflict between the clans. With EoW and TSE we had made a focused effort to not show as much combat and fighting, but with SoD those restrictions were off the table: full on conflict could take place within the illustrations.
The Cult of Fudo emerges now as trait used more often, so an attempt to visually distinguish this group took place both with symbols and appearances. They would be large rotund monks, typically with normal tattoos. Those with the Fudo trait were in general to be alone, contemplative yet adventurous to follow the idea of finding ones own path to enlightenment. This set also marked the first time we included the Oracle of the Void and the L5R Art Tumblr, in addition to the art gallery and style guide we had set up previously, as a tool for the artists to get inspiration/references from. We continued our attempts to include established characters in Strategy cards and even had continued scenes from the prior set take place in Seeds of Decay. We also included for the first time a mini vignette in images with Doji Yuka, Kakita Yusugi, Bayushi Makubesu, An Insult Answered, and Incriminating Testimony. Again the goal being bring the world alive with characters interacting in various ways. Finally, the set also marks the return of very big name entities in the game’s visual library: Oni no Akuma (Akuma’s Power), and The Thunder Dragon.
Total number of illustrations commissioned: 186 (including promos)
Number of artists used: 52
Crab Clan: Crab were now firmly in expand and control mode in the Colonies so we aimed to make them aggressive looking, active and out and about. Kaiji is a monster to fight monsters with, a mutant berserker: we wanted him big, bizarre. Long have the sons and daughters of Hida fought oni bigger than them, it was only “fair” oni could now face a Crab that’s a lot bigger than some of them. We wanted to show Kaiji out in the Shadowlands doing his best to get killed for his mutant shame, yet use his size for the clan while he works on his demise. One theme we try to never forget for the Crab is that the Shadowlands is ALWAYS there at their doorstep. On that idea we also had Adam Schumpert’s create Hiruma Nitani with the Kaiu Wall, the aforementioned doorstep, as a backdrop. Nitani’s design was to show off light armor, and help define him as his own from his non experienced ‘soul of card’: he has the powerful arms of an archer, carries a jade encrusted bow and exemplifies just how a well trained the Hiruma should be. Yasuki Tsujiken got a bit more dangerous looking for his Experienced version to show how the blessing of the Void Dragon carried onto his scheming mind. As a slight in world joke, Exquisite Gift was commissioned to show a Crab receiving what could be the most useless gift ever, a Golden Anvil.
Crane Clan: The objective for the Crane was to show them embroiled in conflict with the Mantis, both in court and on the fields of battle. Much of this takes the form of Holdings and Strategies such as Hachi’s Revenge, Deafening Thunder, Advanced Intelligence. Asahina Akikusa arose as an unnamed Daimyo we were tasked with picking a gender, and an aesthetic, for. We chose female and attempted to have her carry on the values of the Asahina family by being powerfully in tune with the Air kami all the while remaining peaceful and serene. Doug Shuler brought her to life in the sand garden we imagined her in, contemplating the spirits, and in a bold choice he chose to use negative space to convey power flowing through her hand as she gently traces circles into the sand. Standing in total opposite to Akikusa’s calm was Daidoji Kitahime galloping into battle, bow in hand. During the designing stages, we jokingly called her Rekai jr and used the original Rekai as a large source of inspiration. Sergio’s style lent itself to this wonderfully.
Dragon Clan: Looking for answers in the real world was a theme for the Dragon in SoD. With accusations made against the Spider, the ever reasonable Dragon demand evidence of wrongdoing, and even seek it out on their own, be it in the colonies or in their records. The son of Satsu, Togashi Noburo makes his entrance this set as a powerful figure for the Dragon. He was imagined as a fellow who is not terribly easy to get along with: aggressive, bossy and in your face, all of which Heather Kreiter captured in his art perfectly. His tattoo of a sun and a moon call to both Hitomi and his role as the son of Satsu in a loose metaphor. Experienced Mirumoto Houken also arrives in this set. David Horne has a special talent for water and detail so he was brought on for Houken and we loved the result. Finally, the Dragon received a stronghold that visually we are really proud of. Monastery of New Thought incorporates Noah’s striking landscapes in and around the building to a beautiful new locale in the world of Rokugan.
Lion Clan: For the Lion this set, a conscious effort was made to pour a lot of nobility into their artwork: brave and stoic poses, graceful and powerful looking individuals. As Matsu Koyama was granted with a battle ability that hands out force pumps to an army, we really wanted to make sure he had an army with him; he needed to be shown as a leader, noble and worth following, so we had him up higher than the rest, his men with banners flapping in the wind. Diego added a touch of gray in his beard to show some aging. Lion also got a courtier sensei in this set and since the Lion have a tactician tradition, we elected to have Aimi playing shogi: even in court, one can apply the principles of warfare and think many moves ahead, and as a sensei uses games as a method of teaching.
Mantis Clan: In TSE, the Mantis get roughed up by the Crane so in SoD they are pushing back harder and are shown attacking Crane rather relentlessly in actions. It would be impossible to talk about the Mantis this set and not touch on the Thunder Dragon. She has been in the game for so long, and for all that time the idea that she has always been more connected with humanity and has a preferred human form stuck with me; when given the chance we jumped at getting to see her in “mortal” appearance. We were unwilling to drop all visual cues to her Dragon nature so we have both her forms in the illustration in all their glory. Mantis also received one of my personal favorite pieces in the set: Moshi Ino by Adam Schumpert. Ino in addition to just a knock out composition has a character design that is unique, and a great example of a shugenja geared for battle but not overburdened.
Phoenix Clan: For Seeds of Decay, the Phoenix clan was noted by the Story Team as still pursuing their search in the colonies for clues, and relics from the fallen Ivory Kingdoms. The bulk of their characters were Henshin, the most high profile of which was Asako Chukage, so we focused on continuing to build their style and appearance out. Since the master of water is cavalry it seemed to us his best means of transport was a giant wave of immense power, so that’s where he ended up. As I mentioned previously David Horne just has a great way with characters and water so that was a simple choice. Asako Rikate also returns with so many odd traits and conflicts of loyalty I decided his status of favored of the Earth Dragon might be a double edged sword; a bit of the Midas curse worked its way into the ideas behind his powers as all he touches turns to gold. Chris Pritchard brought a strange curiosity to Rikate as he tests out this new ability. This is a good example of story vs image: he may end up having a curse, he might not, that is for the Story Team to decide. However as the art team we try to add interesting moments into the art (if it allows for it) and let our writers have fun with them or save them for later what ever the choice might be.
Scorpion Clan: The Scorpion go on the hunt from the edges of the shadows in Seeds of Decay. Theirs was a theme of increased involvement. Nearly all their personalities are busy at work in their art. Bayushi Shibata sits in the lap of luxury ruling from a penthouse estate, his personal fortune and position increased from his newfound status. His art work was largely inspired by the Secrets of the Scorpion book cover. Diego brings a gravitas to his illustrations: all his characters feel worn and alive. He was kept in his fine estate in the art to better reflect his influence reaches even from afar. Shosuro Hawado is another story entirely. There was concern in the story that she was not fully human and her first artwork did nothing to discourage this. We asked Wen Juinn to have her eyes revealed in this piece to reflect some of her humanity, and to prove that while she is a human she is every bit as awesome as she appears to be. This set, through Hawado and Metsubushi, continues the ongoing theme that there might be a small night war going on between Spider and Scorpion Ninja.
Spider Clan: We had a breakthrough for the Spider clan in this set. Long had we been struggling with defining the look of the Daigotsu family to a degree. Previously they had wandered in their appearance lacking the style that so many other families have set over the many years of the game. Daigotsu Yamato was that breakthrough as we finally felt that the Daigotsu samurai would take their visual cues from the Oni of the Shadowlands: their armor spiked, their mempo representing monstruous maws, their helms horned and fierce. Yamato is the first of the family to take aim exactly at where we felt the Daigotsu samurai should be going. Jason Juta took our request and helped us set a new theme in motion. Goju Yurishi on the other hand fell right into the established themes and direction we’ve set for the Goju. Carlos NCT was selected for his ability to work with the pallet of colors that are contrasting; Yurishi needed to be creepy and out of place much like he is strange even among his own kind.
Unicorn Clan: The Children of Shinjo this set were a grab bag of characters of varying skills but none more skilled than Moto Taigo, the long awaited Shogun. Shen Fei was selected for his attention to detail, excellent character style and strength in armor and character design. Taigo is part Chagatai, part Chen, part Gaheris. He was imagined to be gruff, powerful and stern but deeply intelligent. Shen brought a life to the piece with the use of banners and a sunrise. Where Taigo is bold, Mario Wibisono’s Utaku Chikako sits in quiet contemplation. There are very few battle maidens out there with a limited printed ability so when this one came along, we wanted to show her in her quarters readying herself for the day in meditation. Her amazing armor is ready for battle at her side, her weapon the source of her meditative focus. Chikako also is the final Mario piece to complete our promise of at least one Wibisono artwork per clan within a reasonable time frame.
Seeds of Decay was one of our favorite sets to work on so far. It is also the set we’ve received the most praise for as well so we hope you too will find it visually pleasing and we will see you for the next set’s Art Focus article in a few months.