Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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The second Origins premier was inspired by various home-play experiences, both as a player in Jaime’s campaign and later when I ran my own campaigns as a GM. In both cases, there were some very cool adventures built around the idea of a series of tests or riddles with Elemental themes, culminating in an especially subtle and demanding Void test. I really liked this idea because it perfectly evoked the elemental mysticism of Rokugan, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate an adventure of this sort into the living campaign. The solution was to have Naka Kuro, the Grandmaster of the Elements, create a series of tests to identify those who would help to shape Rokugan’s destiny. Plus, this let me give Kuro – a very cool but very obscure canonical NPC – a little bit of time in the spotlight.

(Incidentally, I liked the whole “Elemental tests” idea so much that I would return to it again, in a very different form, in HoR2.) I felt that entry to Kuro’s temple of testing should not be 100% automatic – Kuro would not wish any truly scummy or extremely worldly samurai to take his Challenge. However, I was acutely aware that the earlier module Ancestral Dictate had mistakenly created a situation in which some PCs could be excluded from the scenario by failing an “entry” die-roll. Accordingly, for Kuro’s Fire I created a complete secondary storyline that took place back in the camp with all the various NPCs who did not get to face Kuro’s challenge (or who chose not to even try). This meant I had to include a truly huge selection of NPCs, both newcomers and returning characters from various earlier scenarios. Recurring NPCs showed up from To Do What We Must, Legacy of the Dark One, Winter Court Kyuden Asahina, The Falling Darkness, A Chance Meeting, Lies Lies Lies, and most notably The Ties That Bind, which contributed the increasingly demented murderer Otomo Keisuke. I also threw in several notable “canon” NPCs such as Mirumoto Daini, Togashi Mitsu, Horiuchi Shoan, and even the infamous Iuchi Shahai (not a maho-tsukai… yet). All of this, combined with two separate plotlines, meant that Kuro’s Fire was by far the longest module in the entire campaign, and took over two months to write.

Ironically, all this extra effort ended up being somewhat wasted because the GM’s discretion involved with admission to the Challenge meant pretty much every PC got in. I’m actually not aware of anyone who stayed out of Kuro’s temple and played through the secondary murder-mystery plot. And so Otomo Keisuke continued his slow spiral down into psychotic madness, protected by the Scorpion… and would eventually become the focus of a third murder-mystery module at the end of Year Four.

Creating the various tests within Kuro’s temple was lots of fun, but also entailed a lot of work since I had to figure out which NPCs would pass which tests (I only wanted one NPC, Daini, to pass all five) and how each of them would react to each test. The final test, in which the PCs are asked “How do you defeat the Void?” and must write their answers secretly on pieces of paper, was cribbed almost directly from Jaime’s game (it was one of my favorite memories from his campaign), as was the correct answer – “You cannot defeat the Void, you must become one with it.”

One lingering bit of annoyance… the title of the module (“Kuro’s Fire”) really did not fit very well, since that card is a combat blow-you-up spell and this module, while it did include a rather dangerous Test of Fire, was really not focused on combat. However, at the time it was the only Kuro-themed card I could think of. Years later, I would realize the module should have been titled Lessons from the Grandmaster.

Side-note: GenCon 2003 Officially, GenCon 2003 was supposed to mark the conclusion of Living Rokugan, after which we would be independent as Heroes of Rokugan. Aside from being able to run our final modules, our only request from the RPGA was for us to get a “hearty handshake” at the RPGA’s meeting to the membership would know we were carrying on.

That didn’t happen. Not only did we not get an announcement at the meeting, but our modules were left off the RPGA’s schedule and we were not assigned any table at which to run them. We had to get by with hand-written signs hung with scotch tape. The excuse given to us was that this was all an accident/oversight due to the chaos of GenCon being held in Indianapolis for the first time, but I was convinced then – and remain convinced now – that this was a deliberate attempt to sabotage us on our way out because we had not meekly accepted our cancellation. I take deep personal satisfaction in the complete failure of this petty sabotage attempt. HoR went on, thrived and grew, and became the trend-setters for the shift away from the RPGA to the modern world of many independent campaigns. Indeed the RPGA itself ceased to exist while we were still running.