Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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As I mentioned earlier, the idea for this module grew out of the simpler concept of unleashing an earthquake in Otosan Uchi. This would kill off the Emperor and create a sort of “first responder” scenario in which the PCs would run around trying to save various other prominent NPCs from the after-effects of the quake. Although I liked this idea, it lacked any larger significance to the storyline. I started thinking about what would cause the earthquake – after all, in Rokugan a “natural” disaster is always a manifestation of the spirits’ wrath – and that line of thought eventually triggered the inspiration to bring in the Shadow and present a combined Clan Wars/War Against the Darkness meta-plot. I decided the Shadow had gotten its hooks into the Emperor’s son during the weeks he spent imprisoned in a Bloodspeaker cave, and if the Emperor’s son was Shadow-corrupted that would certainly outrage the spirits – especially since the Shadow’s influence would then begin insidiously spreading throughout the Imperial City. (I dropped a big hint of this in the module itself with a vision the PCs could get of the Earth Dragon being afflicted by the Shadow.)

In this regard, a humorous side-note: Several of our players who had become partially Shadow-corrupted used their “shadow jump” power to succeed (or at least survive) in Fate of a Hantei. However, one player – Kevin Blake, playing a Crab named Hida Hiroku – took things a step farther and carried Hantei Sotorii with him when he shadow-jumped out of the Bloodspeaker cave. Although I did not specifically use this incident as part of the larger storyline, Hiroku later became convinced that _he_ was responsible for Hantei the 39th becoming Shadow-corrupted. It was thus rather fitting that Hiroku eventually was the Crab Thunder…

Fist of the Earth probably had the highest population of big-name NPCs of any mod in the campaign, with the Emperor, the three Imperial Family daimyo, Kachiko and Aramoro, Otaku Kamoko, Doji Satsume and Doji Kuwanen, Yasuki Taka, Isawa Kaede, and several others besides. A few of these were “auto-killed” (the Emperor, Satsume), a few others auto-survived (Taka, for example, as well as my personal avatar Otomo Hiroshi) and the rest had their fates placed in the hands of the PCs. However, this had a result I did not anticipate – because the various “at risk” NPCs were scattered around the city in different locations, this led to only a minority of the PCs trying to save each of the NPCs… except for the unsavable Emperor, who got maximum effort from everyone! The result was that the module’s official outcome was basically a “clean sweep,” wiping out all the NPCs.

There were two exceptions. The first was Isawa Kaede, whose kidnapping by the Goju was set up to function as the module’s climactic challenge – thus, every table sought her out and rescued her. The Kaede sub-plot was designed to lay the foundation of future plotlines, drawing attention to her family’s connection with the Shadow and the importance of the Void in resisting the Shadow’s influence. I was already toying with the idea that Kaede’s father (Isawa Ujina/The Nameless One) would eventually fall to the Shadow, leaving Kaede as the only one who could preserve the Void’s purity.

The second exception was a rare – probably unique, in fact – instance in which I decided to disregard the player-driven outcome of a specific event. One of the sub-plots in the module involved the fate of Bayushi Kachiko, who is trapped inside the collapsed and burning Imperial Palace. The options for the PCs were three: rescuing her, rescuing her but with severe burns, or failing to rescue her… with the latter result also killing off Bayushi Aramoro, who burns to death while frantically trying to dig her out of the burning wreckage. The player-determined outcome was death for Kachiko (and hence for Aramoro). However, by the time the module released, I had begun formulating a future storyline involving the return of Shosuro, and realized that a burned/crippled Kachiko would be ideal for that plot. Accordingly, I decided that Aramoro did succeed in rescuing Kachiko on his own, albeit at heavy cost. One other interesting bit for this module… during a pre-GenCon playtest, the Goju captured the character of one of our GMs (Tim Dickey). This meant the character, a heavy-set Togashi Ise Zumi who mocked greed and physical appetites by being greedy and gluttonous, would inevitably be Shadow-corrupted and become a villain. Tim embraced this and wrote a very compelling fiction about how his Togashi fought against but eventually succumbed to the Shadow’s manipulation and torture. In Year Five the character would reappear as a Goju villain, most notably in the epic two-part module Unmaker’s Shadow.