Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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With the Lion-Unicorn war averted (at least for the moment) by the outcome of A Hidden Blade, I was free to proceed with the Lion-Crane conflict. Although war between the two clans was inevitable, it remained to be seen when and how it started; this module created the opportunity for it to start “early” and through dishonorable circumstances (a violation of the Setsuban Festival truce).

The design of this module was heavily influenced by my dislike of the canon 1st Edition adventure “Legacy of the Forge,” which depicted the start of the Lion-Crane war. That book introduced the concept of Toshigoku, the Realm of Slaughter, and portrayed the previous Lion champion Akodo Arasou as having been condemned to Toshigoku due to having perished in the rage of battle. The whole concept of Toshigoku bothered me – it felt like a Western “violence is bad, mmmkay” idea sneaking into an Eastern setting where it didn’t really belong. Moreover, it _really_ bothered me that Arasou had been condemned there, since his depiction in Way of the Lion was as a highly honorable and noble warrior. (Later L5R writers would try to resolve this by ret-conning Arasou as being more bloodthirsty, which just annoyed me even more.)

Ancestral Dictate was basically me offering my own take on the whole idea. The setting (Toshi Ranbo) and basic concept (Arasou in Toshigoku) are the same as in “Legacy of the Forge,” but the results are very different: the PCs have the chance to rescue Arasou from the Realm of Slaughter and restore him to the cycle of reincarnation.

The module made heavy use of the new Spirit Realms materials in the L5R book “Fortunes & Winds.” I wasn’t a fan of the way that book rewrote the L5R multiverse into something more like D&D, but that didn’t stop me from making use of it for module ideas. In particular, I used it to send the PCs on an odyssey through the realms, starting out by visiting Yomi and then moving to Toshigoku and finally to Meido.

The module did suffer from one major design flaw: the PCs had to make a die-roll in order to enter the Spirit Realms at the start of their quest. The TN was modest, but it was still possible to fail, and any PC who blew the roll was frozen-out from the rest of the adventure. (PCs could also miss the adventure by choosing not to help the Kitsu on his quest, but I was okay with this because it was the result of a legitimate in-character choice.) Putting a “point-failure source” at the start of the adventure was bad design, as I discovered when the module actually premiered, and I learned an important lesson from this: never make the PCs roll dice just to continue the adventure.

A lot of “canon” NPCs made appearances in this module, ranging from top-tier figures like Doji Hoturi down to the rather obscure Matsu Morishigi, whose peculiar flavor-Trait of “Lion Clan Revolutionary” inspired me to give him the role of potential war-starter in the mod.

A Digression: Winter Fantasy 2003
When I was planning out the “Lion and Crane” arc, I intended for Ancestral Dictate to premier at Winter Fantasy in January 2003. However, the RPGA did not put any Living Rokugan on the WF schedule, which in retrospect I ought to have recognized as an early warning of the secret cancellation decision. So I ended up premiering Dictate at a local event two weeks earlier, then going to WF with a folder full of modules to run as “open play.”

Of course, once I got there I finally found out the truth. I spent the con in a pretty low emotional state (it didn’t help that I came down with a very nasty cold during the drive up), but once I came home and started talking with the player-base on our listserv, it quickly became clear that there was plenty of energy for continuing the campaign outside of the RPGA. It is worth remembering that at the time, no one had ever done that. The RPGA had invented the whole concept of the “living campaign” and every single one existed within that organization; our current era of myriad independent and company-sponsored campaigns was inconceivable. Happily, AEG’s Brand Manager was more than happy to embrace the idea of an organized campaign supporting their game. However, we had to change the campaign’s name – WotC claimed the term “living” in that context was copyrighted, and neither we nor AEG had the resources to say otherwise. (A classic example of how a large company in a small industry can get away with bad behavior, simply because no one else has the money to fight them in court). After discussions with AEG we eventually settled on the name “Heroes of Rokugan,” which was derived from the title of the first direct-to-player L5R CCG set.