Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

A Mantis and His Rat

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This module has the unique honor (if that is the right word) of being written in response to a joke. At a convention in early 2001, Keith and I were talking about L5R with various new and potential Living Rokugan players, and we happened to mention that the Mantis bushi school allowed you to use ANYTHING as a weapon. Someone facetiously asked, “Even a ratling?” Keith and I agreed that the technique would indeed allow the use of a ratling as a weapon, and I told Keith: “You have to write a module where this happens!”

This was actually the last module Keith wrote for HoR, but due to the long lead-times required by the RPGA for GenCon, it released before his third mod, The Ties That Bind. It was also the mod of his that I had to rewrite the most during editing (after playtesting it with Keith as the GM). In Keith’s original draft, there were two Crane bushi accompanying the PCs, and the initial battle was with a huge pack of trolls. I quickly decided to cut back to one Crane – they lacked distinctive personalities and having to run two of them plus the Mantis ship captain made the NPC-management burden on the GM too high during the combats. The trolls were even more problematic – it seemed rather dubious for a huge pack of trolls to be wandering undetected through the Crane coastal marshes, and even more dubious for a ratling pack to jump into a fight with trolls. My solution was to change the initial combat into an ambush by ashigaru from the smugglers’ base, thereby tying the initial fight in with the final one. It was still a dangerous combat, but the ratling intervention was now credible.

A Mantis and His Rat (the title was a satiric riff on the title of Harlan Ellison’s short story A Boy and His Dog) was not a module I felt very satisfied with when it released – I thought the joke/climax was not strong enough to make up for a very linear and combat-dominated plot. However, as it turned out I was quite wrong – the payoff of seeing the obnoxious Whe’zer used as an improvised club was so strong that A Mantis and His Rat became one of the campaign’s most popular modules. In fact, I ended up bringing Whe’zer back for an encore at the very end of the campaign. Several of the other NPCs introduced in this module would also make return appearances in later mods, such as the siege-obsessed Kaiu Engineer. For that matter, the mod’s underlying plot (Yasuki smugglers are working with gaijin to bring in gunpowder) ended up being a negotiating point in the campaign’s first Interactive.

This mod is another example of putting little “easter eggs” into the stat blocs – Whe’zer had “Great Destiny: To be Used as a Weapon” (which conveniently explained why he survived the experience!) while the Mantis ship-captain had a corresponding Driven Disadvantage (“To Use a Living Creature as a Weapon” or something similar, IIRC).