Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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Part Five of Shadow's Path The basic idea for this module had been brewing in the back of my mind ever since I had the PCs rescue Isawa Kaede from the Goju in Fist of the Earth. I knew I needed to specifically get rid of Isawa Tadaka (in order to clear the boards for a PC to be the Phoenix Thunder), and I wanted to cripple the Phoenix Elemental Council -- and the Phoenix Clan more generally -- so they would not be able to serve as Deus Ex Machina and save the Empire (which their immense power would otherwise allow them to do). I saw the key to all these goals as the so-called Nameless One, the Master of Void Isawa Ujima (father to Kaede, Tadaka, and Tomo), who had been gradually twisted and dehumanized by years of battling Shadow corruption. In the canon, he finally died without ever fully succumbing to the Shadow. Since I was depicting a Shadow-Jigoku alliance, I felt that making him lose the struggle instead would be a great way to trigger the fall of the Phoenix (and to get them to open the Black Scrolls in their possession). In my old home campaign I had done something similar, but had it happen “off stage” while the PCs were busy elsewhere; for HoR, I decided to send the PCs right into the heart of the fallen Phoenix lands to confront the corrupted Elemental Council.

Kaede served as the Quest Giver, sending the PCs north to investigate what was happening in her clan’s homeland. I had a lot of fun developing the PCs’ odyssey through the increasingly dark and twisted Phoenix territories – my favorite elements included the depiction of Shiro Shiba as being “under siege” by nightly assaults from Tainted Goju, and of course the portrayal of Kyuden Isawa itself as transformed into the Iron Citadel, with a now-Lost Shiba Tsukune serving as the leader of the citadel’s evil guards. I also liked bringing back the magistrate Shiba Osugi, now crippled, to provide the PCs with a hiding place near the Iron Citadel where they could plan their final assault.

This was probably the most “epic” module I had done since Fate of a Hantei – not only did the PCs wind up doing battle with no less than four of the now-fallen Council, but the fate of the Phoenix Champion Shiba Ujimitsu and the Phoenix Ancestral Sword were both in their hands. (I threw in another of the campaign’s rare prophetic dreams to serve as a further motivator for the PCs.) I worked hard at making each of the fallen Masters distinctive in both their abilities and their appearances -- Isawa Uona, for example, was visually influenced by the entity in the Japanese horror film “Ringu”. I drew on the full panoply of Taint, Shadow, and normal magic to make each of them a serious challenge, and if the PCs wound up battling several of them at once – as could easily happen – the fight got very unpleasant indeed. Two of the villains made use of the previously largely-ignored spell Force of Will, which meant that PCs could not simply rely on inflicting large amounts of damage to win; this twist required creative thinking to overcome it, and left many groups somewhat flummoxed, reduced to trying to “outlast” the villains until the spell expired. Fortunately, by this time the campaign did include a fair number of powerful shugenja PCs, so while this mod claimed some casualties it did not become the outright slaughterfest that Fate of a Hantei had been.