Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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Written for Origins (they had requested a premier – the Origins RPGA team was always much more friendly and welcoming to us than the RPGA’s national leadership), this module was based on an essay in one of the L5R 1st Edition books that discussed ways to create scenarios that are more complex and “gray” than they first appear. A lord is slaughtering peasants – he’s just a callous evil nobleman, right? Well, maybe not. Maybe the peasants are being subverted by a neighboring clan, or maybe there’s a maho cult growing among them. PC magistrates who swoop in as do-gooders may ultimately find themselves taking the lord’s side.

For Living Rokugan, I decided to take this concept and “turn it up to 11,” adding multiple sub-plots, scheming/interfering samurai from two other clans, and even an outright red herring: the weird local peasant superstition and a paranoid Kuni Witch-Hunter who is convinced it is actually maho. I made the daimyo a Lion to play on the cliché of the “callous Lion” and created a soft-hearted Unicorn Emerald Magistrate to send the PCs to investigate. (Kitsuki Yuri would not have worked for this role since she was not depicted as being particularly soft-hearted.) The theme of a peasant revolt, first mentioned in The People’s Expense, returns here with the prospect that a revolt can actually happen in the climax of the module – in fact, this was the first mod in the campaign where there was at least the possibility of the Mass Battle Table coming into play.

The scenario is designed to repeatedly overturn the PCs’ assumption that there is a clearly identifiable villain. The “cruel Lion” daimyo turns out to be a fairly decent and honorable man who is forced to be harsh because he is trapped between the revenue demands of his superiors and the intransigence of his peasants. The “bandits” who have taken the rice and murdered two Lion samurai turn out to be led by an idealistic ronin who is hiding the rice from the tax collectors in order to protect the common people. (My favorite minor NPC, Izumi the Cowardly Ronin, makes a brief return appearance here.) And the “wise compassionate monk” who is trying to protect the peasants is actually the primary force driving the region toward a disastrous revolt.

Ultimately, if the PCs want to prevent the peasant revolt, the only “solution” is to kill the ronin leader and have the monk executed for subversion – a classic “stab in the gut” tragic Rokugani ending. However, I did incorporate the possibility for smart and ambitious PCs to try to appeal to higher authority, persuading Matsu Tsuko to lower the taxes or persuading the Emerald Champion, Doji Satsume, to intervene. Both were long-odds options but I made sure to include them to reward creative players – especially those running characters with social/political skills.

Side-note #1: Many years later, when I was an AEG employee, I would use this scenario as the basis for an official L5R fiction. For that story I used a then-current Lion/Scorpion war as the background and simplified the plot considerably, dropping all the side-elements and focusing on the monk and the ronin.

Side Note #2: The Doom of Living Rokugan

Although I did not realize it at the time, it was shortly before GenCon 2002 that the then-new leader of the RPGA decided to cancel Living Rokugan (along with two other smaller campaigns, Living Jungle and Virtual Seattle). However, he didn’t tell us about this decision until it was publicly announced at Winter Fantasy in January 2003.

Ironically, if he’d told us at the time he made the choice, I would probably have just shrugged sadly and said “well, that was fun while it lasted,” since the campaign was growing very slowly and the end of the Iuchiban arc was a natural concluding point. Because he waited until Winter Fantasy five months later, the campaign picked up more players, developed more momentum, and launched into its second big story arc (“The Lion and the Crane”). And this momentum, combined with the conviction that I’d been deceived, made me extremely reluctant to let the campaign die. Instead, we became gaming’s first successful independent living campaign. (Many others would later follow the path that we blazed.)