Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

The Time Jump

As I’ve mentioned before, from roughly late 2002 up through summer 2004, I was intending that the conclusion of the Day of Thunder would be followed by a time-jump to the Four Winds era, with the players having the option to run characters who were the children of their previous ones. (I even considered allowing an inheritance rule to keep certed items.) I thought the outcome of the first campaign would be close enough to “canon” that I would be able to do a one-page familiarization sheet listing the differences from the official Four Winds era (things like the name of the Emperor). This was the plan I had in place when I spoke with Ray Lau and we set the time-limit for HoR1’s conclusion. However, as time went on it became increasingly clear that I could not bring about this result while also giving the players the freedom to make their own choices. As I also mentioned, the final turning point came at the Origins 2004 interactive; about midway through the event I decided “nope, stop trying to block it” and allowed the results to play out. This was actually a great relief since I could stop worrying about trying to herd the cats (er, the players) and simply embrace the results.

It was also around this time that I realized doing a Four Winds campaign would actually just repeat the same problem I’d had with the first campaign – the continuing relentless advance of the CCG storyline (which operated on a much more aggressive pace of plot than I did) would mean I was perpetually falling behind the current RPG materials. The problem of the Gold-era books, in which I had to prohibit the majority of the material because it simply did not yet exist in HoR’s timeline, would continually return to bedevil me. Thus, at some point – I don’t remember exactly when – I hit on the idea that I should instead jump into the future, far enough that all of the CCG storylines would be in the past and thus almost all of the published material could be used. My assumption at the time was that CCG storylines would tend to always return to the status quo (which had been true throughout the Gold/Diamond era up to that point) and thus would not interfere with whatever storyline I created. In fact, I actually advocated to AEG that my storyline should be the “official” future that would eventually happen in canonical L5R. (The new Brand Manager, Eric Devlin, genuinely considered the proposal but eventually turned it down on the quite reasonable basis that it would restrict their storytelling options too much.)

At first I planned a relatively modest jump of 50-100 years, but gradually came to believe I needed to make it larger in order to eliminate any possible risk of interference with the CCG. The final number of “340 years after the crowning of Toturi III” was arrived at more-or-less arbitrarily – it just felt right – and I was rather surprised to subsequently discover that this number placed the start of the HoR2 campaign in the year 1500 IC. Fate!

The Earliest Draft

This may be of interest... still on my computer is the earliest outline of HoR2, which I wrote up in May of 2005 for the new Brand Manager, Eric Devlin. At the time, I was pitching the idea that HoR2 should be the official, canonical future for L5R, and this proposal was based on that idea -- once Devlin turned that idea down (on the quite reasonable basis that it would shut down the CCG's ability to do interesting stories), that in turn led me to change some of my own ideas.

Those of you who played through HoR2 will be able to see that the campaign which eventually emerged had some significant differences from this early outline -- I would later decide to de-emphasize the Shadowlands, and the whole Miya Shikan plotline did not yet exist. But a lot of the other basic ideas were here. In particular, I already had the notions that the Emperor would have nine children (but the succession crisis would not be what the players would expect), there would be two or three major villainous NPCs who would vie for the role of the Big Bad, a Celestial being would be murdered, and the gaijin would be involving themselves in Rokugan's internal affairs. Baseline Assumptions

The following will serve as the basic starting assumptions of the campaign:

  • 300+ years after the Diamond era. It is assumed that, at campaign start, the Empire has enjoyed a 2-3 generation period of relative peace and tranquility.
  • Starts late in the reign of Emperor Toturi XII, the “joyous prince,” who has nine children. His wife is a Scorpion (I assume that the Toturi Emperors continue the current policy of marrying into different Clans).
  • The eight Great Clans are assumed to still be the same, and to fulfill the same roles. Their relative power may have shifted – in particular, the Mantis are probably significantly more powerful. We might also add/remove one or two of the vassal families in order to “shake things up” and show the passage of time.
  • “Canon” Minor Clans which we would use: the Badger, Fox, Monkey (assuming material gets published for them), Sparrow, and Tortoise. Possibly also the Bat if some material gets published on them. We would assume that at some point in the next 300 years the Dragonfly finally get incorporated into the Dragon Clan as the “Tonbo” family (if you say no, we can keep them as a Minor Clan). Also, with your permission we might add one or two of our own “campaign-specific” Minor Clans.
  • It is assumed at campaign start that the Shadowlands bad guys have been fairly inactive in recent years: the Bloodspeakers have been beaten back down into an underground movement, the City of the Lost is divided into squabbling factions, and the Oni Lords are more interested in playing dominance games with each other than in attacking the Empire. This will “clear the field” for a new Dark Lord to emerge during the timeline (see below).
  • Although the Kolat might still be around, we don’t want to do anything significant with them in this timeline. This is partly to avoid stepping on any plans you might have for them, and partly because the current HoR campaign had a major Kolat sub-plot, and we don’t want to repeat ourselves.
  • The first HoR campaign timeline lasted five years. Our plan would be for the second timeline to do roughly the same.
M

ain Plotline (“The Big Problem”): Succession Crisis

As one might suspect, an Emperor with nine children is just screaming out for a succession crisis. However, our idea here is to disrupt the players’ expectations and stage a “bait-and-switch” – in the fist half of the campaign, all the children get killed off or otherwise eliminated, and when the Emperor dies/retires, the Otomo historians have to research all the Imperial cousins to find the one whose bloodline offers the strongest claim to the throne. This would lead to ferocious political struggles as different factions would back different claimants. Ultimately, the PCs’ efforts would help determine which heir takes the throne – it might even be a PC!

Main Villain: the New Dark Lord

Early in the campaign, two or three NPCs would be set up as potentially “going bad” and becoming the new Lord of the Shadowlands. PC actions would help determine which of them in fact becomes the new evil leader, uniting the Shadowlands and threatening the Empire. As a kicker, the bad guy would remain within the Empire, maintaining his/her “normal” political position, while running the Shadowlands at the same time. There would be a final showdown with this bad guy at the end of the campaign – however, my preference would be for this to be an indirect showdown (e.g. the PCs have to accomplish some sort of quest or cosmic deed in order to break the villain’s power, rather than simply fighting head-to-head).

Sub-Plots

Over the course of the campaign, many sub-plots would emerge from both the actions of the players and the various ideas submitted by different module authors. However, the following are specific sub-plots which I would like to include:

  • The Dogs of War. No Rokugan timeline is complete without a few inter-Clan wars. We would run several of these over the course of the timeline.
  • Lion Strife. At the campaign start, the family daimyo of the Akodo is an ambitious, driven fellow who wants to restore the Akodo family’s old dominance of the Lion Clan. This would eventually lead him down the path of dishonor and violence. Depending on how the PCs involved themselves, this could potentially bring about a Lion civil war, with the end-of-campaign goal being to heal the breach and restore unity (much like the Crane civil war in the Jade era).
  • A Clan Suffers Catastrophe. During the campaign, several Clans would face the prospect of some sort of major political/military/supernatural catastrophe. The actions of the players would “nominate” one Clan to actually go through this. That Clan would then spend the rest of the campaign timeline struggling to rebuild from the damage, eventually being restored at the end.
  • Gaijin Meddling. I have noticed that the gaijin have crept into the L5R universe a little more in recent years (the Ivory Kingdoms ambassador showing up in the newest card set, for example). We’d like to have the overseas “European” gaijin come back at some point prior to the start of the campaign and establish diplomatic/trade relations (this could be within the last two generations to minimize timeline impact). The Emperor would restrict their access to a couple of ports controlled by the Tortoise and Mantis Clans. The current gaijin ambassador would be a clever, ruthless git who meddles in Rokugani politics (especially after the succession crisis emerges), hoping thereby to subvert the Empire and turn it into a colony. Eventually, the PCs might have to fight off a gaijin fleet coming to “intervene” on behalf of whatever faction the ambassador subverted. Needless to say, we would be careful not to let this sub-plot have any deep/lasting impact on Rokugan (no gun-toting samurai).
  • Death of a Cosmic Being. One of the more shocking moments at the start of Diamond Era was when the Bloodspeakers sacrificed the Ki-Rin. We’d like to do something similar in this timeline, but on a more epic scale – have the big villain find a way to sacrifice one of the Celestial Dragons, or maybe even a Fortune. The players would then have to go on a big quest near the end of the campaign to resurrect/replace the Dragon/Fortune and restore celestial harmony.

Key Story Decisions

In the first campaign I had started out with the standard “pre-Coup” era that was the default for L5R 1st Edition and went from there. This allowed me to engage in a certain amount of storyline short-cutting, since anyone who read the 1st Edition books would already know who all the major NPCs were and what the story would be about. For HoR2, however, I had no such luxury. The storyline and setting would have to be created from scratch (aside from the basics of L5R overall), which meant I would need to have at least some idea of what I was doing from the beginning so I could develop plot-hooks, story-links, and emotional connections to the NPCs.

The previous post showed my initial proposal to AEG, made in May of 2005. After Devlin turned down the idea of making HoR2 into an “official future,” I started getting even more ambitious with my concepts for the campaign – I decided to expand the gaijin aspect of the story and integrate it into a larger plot that also involved the Scorpion and the Mantis (a plotline which I eventually named “the Three Old Men”). The idea of gaijin meddling in Rokugan expanded socially and historically as well, becoming a sort of “late Tokugawa” concept depicting the Empire as stumbling into the first unhappy steps of modernization. At the time, there were still rumors that Rich Wulf might do an official version of his “Rokugan 2000” fan-setting (Rich’s departure from AEG lay a few months in the future), and I started thinking about what sort of changes would have to take place for Rokugan to morph into a “modern” country. I concluded that it would be a very wrenching transformation and even the early stages of it would threaten to completely overturn the Empire’s social, political, and economic order. The merchants, for example, would acquire far more power and influence than they held in canonical L5R, independent criminal gangs would likewise emerge, and Bushido would weaken and crumble under the pressure of worldly concerns.

I also decided, reversing my initial idea, that I did not want to make the Shadowlands into the focus of evil in this campaign. Partly this was because the Taint and the Shadowlands had been so overwhelmingly prominent in the previous campaign, and I wanted to try to do something new. But partly also it was because of my decision to showcase themes of modernization and social/cultural unrest – in such a storyline, the focus needed to be on human evil. Accordingly, I came up with the idea that the Big Bad NPC (whoever that ended up being) would actually wind up controlling and exploiting the Shadowlands rather than the other way around. I also decided that the potential Big Bads would be the leaders of the three martial clans, the ones I thought of as the most heroic and “good” clans – the Crab, Lion, and Unicorn. (I would later change my mind about the Crab, for reasons I will discuss when the time comes.) A side-decision I also made at this point was to completely ignore the Lying Darkness. Again, this was partly to avoid repeating myself from the previous campaign... but I also was motivated by my sense that the Gold-era "Shadow Dragon" was a weak story contrivance to let the writers keep using the Goju. From my perspective, the naming of the Shadow at the end of the Jade/Pearl arc should have ended that threat for good; the whole “the Shadow always grows back again” device introduced in Gold Edition seemed like a cheat, devaluing the previous storyline. Accordingly, I consciously chose to do absolutely no references to the Shadow in the new campaign.

The NPCs

In the first campaign I had started out with the standard “pre-Coup” era that was the default for L5R 1st Edition and went from there. This allowed me to engage in a certain amount of storyline short-cutting, since anyone who read the 1st Edition books would already know who all the major NPCs were and what the story would be about. For HoR2, however, I had no such luxury. The storyline and setting would have to be created from scratch (aside from the basics of L5R overall), which meant I would need to have at least some idea of what I was doing from the beginning so I could develop plot-hooks, story-links, and emotional connections to the NPCs.

The previous post showed my initial proposal to AEG, made in May of 2005. After Devlin turned down the idea of making HoR2 into an “official future,” I started getting even more ambitious with my concepts for the campaign – I decided to expand the gaijin aspect of the story and integrate it into a larger plot that also involved the Scorpion and the Mantis (a plotline which I eventually named “the Three Old Men”). The idea of gaijin meddling in Rokugan expanded socially and historically as well, becoming a sort of “late Tokugawa” concept depicting the Empire as stumbling into the first unhappy steps of modernization. At the time, there were still rumors that Rich Wulf might do an official version of his “Rokugan 2000” fan-setting (Rich’s departure from AEG lay a few months in the future), and I started thinking about what sort of changes would have to take place for Rokugan to morph into a “modern” country. I concluded that it would be a very wrenching transformation and even the early stages of it would threaten to completely overturn the Empire’s social, political, and economic order. The merchants, for example, would acquire far more power and influence than they held in canonical L5R, independent criminal gangs would likewise emerge, and Bushido would weaken and crumble under the pressure of worldly concerns.

I also decided, reversing my initial idea, that I did not want to make the Shadowlands into the focus of evil in this campaign. Partly this was because the Taint and the Shadowlands had been so overwhelmingly prominent in the previous campaign, and I wanted to try to do something new. But partly also it was because of my decision to showcase themes of modernization and social/cultural unrest – in such a storyline, the focus needed to be on human evil. Accordingly, I came up with the idea that the Big Bad NPC (whoever that ended up being) would actually wind up controlling and exploiting the Shadowlands rather than the other way around. I also decided that the potential Big Bads would be the leaders of the three martial clans, the ones I thought of as the most heroic and “good” clans – the Crab, Lion, and Unicorn. (I would later change my mind about the Crab, for reasons I will discuss when the time comes.)

A side-decision I also made at this point was to completely ignore the Lying Darkness. Again, this was partly to avoid repeating myself from the previous campaign... but I also was motivated by my sense that the Gold-era "Shadow Dragon" was a weak story contrivance to let the writers keep using the Goju. From my perspective, the naming of the Shadow at the end of the Jade/Pearl arc should have ended that threat for good; the whole “the Shadow always grows back again” device introduced in Gold Edition seemed like a cheat, devaluing the previous storyline. Accordingly, I consciously chose to do absolutely no references to the Shadow in the new campaign.

Digression: HoR2 and AEG

So what happened to all those plans for HoR to form a tighter partnership with AEG? The short answer is that the Second CCG Crash and the d20 Bubble-Crash both happened. At the same GenCon in 2005 that HoR1 came to an end and HoR2 was announced, AEG’s owner John Zinser was forced to confront the reality that the combination of the CCG crash and the collapse of the d20 market had put his company on the brink of bankruptcy. Unwilling to give up, Zinser was forced to undertake drastic cutbacks. He purged every product line that wasn’t making decent sales (which basically meant everything that wasn’t L5R) and even L5R got cut back significantly. Eric Devlin was among many who were let go, and Todd Rowland – previously the manager of the Warlord CCG – took over as Brand Manager of L5R. Todd didn’t know anything about us, of course, and for the next year he and Zinser were too busy saving AEG to do more than vaguely acknowledge our existence. It wasn’t until the summer of 2006, when they were past the crisis, that we started talking with them in a meaningful way again (and those discussions led to my running the first of the L5R Winter Court events).

Todd was in many ways an excellent Brand Manager for L5R – far better, IMO, than most of his various successors. However, he didn’t really got too interested in HoR. My one real disappointment with Rowland’s tenure, in fact, is that he never got us set up with a link or reference from the official L5R website. Just doing that would probably have boosted the campaign’s player-base by another 30 or 40 percent.

Zinser, for his part, supported us generously as “L5R volunteers” but did not seek out a closer relationship with the campaign itself – no doubt in part because, having dragged AEG back from the edge of collapse, he was focusing more on developing the company’s new board-game division and was mostly leaving L5R to the Brand Managers. Even after he hired me as an editor for the RPG line (a job that eventually grew into being co-designer of 4th Edition) he never was able to pay much attention to what I (and later my HoR3 successors) did with HoR. I don’t think this was out of any malice – John seems like one of the most non-malicious guys I’ve ever met – but rather because he was scatter-brained and had way too much going on to spend time thinking about a semi-independent and essentially self-financed RPG campaign.