Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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The campaign’s final two-round module was also, fittingly, the final module to focus on the Shadow. This was easily the most ambitious module of the campaign in terms of scope and goals, with the PCs traveling all over the increasingly-chaotic Empire – first to retrieve the information needed to complete the secret ritual, and then to retrieve the artifacts required to carry it out.

Yasuki Taka, after years of playing the clown as a merchant at various Interactives, now finally got to “step up” and join with another Kolat Master to send the PCs on their quest. The specific point of the quest – the ritual to call down the Sun and Moon and have them name the Shadow – was not something I made up on my own. In fact, it was essentially an abandoned plotline from AEG’s canon.

To explain… when the Merchant’s Guide to Rokugan (the original Kolat book) came out in January 1999, the Hidden Emperor/War Against the Darkness storyline in the CCG was still less than halfway done. The Merchant’s Guide included a lengthy discussion of how the Kolat recognized and understood the threat from the Nothing (and indeed was the Nothing’s most dangerous enemy) and had pieced together fragments of a ritual to call down the Sun and Moon to Ningen-do in order to name the Shadow. However, they knew such an event could have cataclysmic consequences and were thus unwilling to use it unless things became truly desperate.

Given what was happening in the canon CCG storyline, clearly that time of desperation was at hand – the Emperor himself was Shadow-corrupted, Hitomi had become a champion of darkness and was collecting a force of “negative Thunders” by tattooing individuals from all the other clans, the Goju were running amok throughout the Empire, and the Kolat themselves had been gravely weakened by the purging of the Unicorn Clan. The Kolat were being set-up as the anti-heroes who would save Rokugan from dissolution for their own selfish reasons – thus explaining why Togashi had never taken action against them (“they too have a role to fulfill”). However, this whole story-plan – which in my opinion would have been quite awesome – was derailed by the “Honorable Dragon Movement,” a large group of Dragon players who crusaded/complained against their clan being the bad guys until head writer Ree Soesbee agreed to change the storyline. Thus in mid-1999 the story underwent an abrupt reversal in which Hitomi turned out to be a hero and the “real” villain was revealed as Lord Moon himself. Hitomi slew and replaced the Moon and eventually named the Shadow, while the Kolat was reduced to a secondary role of killing off a bunch of Goju.

By the time I was working on HoR, it was pretty clear to me what had happened and what had been originally intended. I decided it would be much more interesting to go with the original idea of the Kolat ritual. However, in order to make this into a properly challenging module, I decided the Kolat had never actually completely assembled the ritual, and the conspiracy’s leadership was still unable to decide whether things had become desperate enough to justify using it. Thus, Yasuki Taka and Emon the Shadowbane decide to betray the rest of the Kolat Masters and enlist the PCs to complete (and ultimately use) the ritual. This puts the PCs in an underdog scenario in which they must carry out the task while dealing with opposition from both the Goju and the rest of the Kolat.

A key aspect of this module, in both Round One and Round Two, was the passage of time. The PCs must travel all over the Empire in both Rounds – in Round One they visit libraries in Crane, Lion, and Dragon territories to research and collate the final pieces of the ritual, while in Round Two they travel to the lands of the Centipede, Crane, Fox, and Scorpion to retrieve the various sacred artifacts required to actually perform it. All of this traveling takes time… and as the “clock” advances, the Empire slowly comes apart from the combined effects of war and supernatural assault. GMs had to keep track of how many days passed and then notify the PCs of the news they would hear; moreover, some locations would be lost/destroyed if the PCs took too long to reach them. All of this was intended to give the PCs a powerful sense that Rokugan was unraveling and they were racing the clock to save it.

A lot of the Goju/Kolat encounters in this module were presented as “soft-points” that the GM should drop in periodically as the story progressed. I borrowed this idea from some of AEG’s early 7th Sea adventures, which divided their scenes into “hard points” (which happened at specific times/locations) and “soft points” (which could be sprinkled in anywhere). Over the course of each Round the attacks from the Goju escalate, leading to a battle with a former Crab PC in Round One (a "hard point") and a series of “soft point” meetings with a former Dragon PC (Tim Dickey’s character) in Round Two.

Round Two saw the first and only time that a module written by me took the PCs to Ryoko Owari – specifically to that city’s Temple of the Sun with its globe of sacred dragon-fire and its semi-divine high priestess. I always liked the fact that the Empire’s most corrupt city was home to such a sacred site, and I especially liked the depiction of the priestess, who is so close to enlightenment that her feet no longer touch the ground. I thought it was a nice twist to have the PCs go to that temple since it formed such a contrast to all of their previous visits to the City of Lies.

The module climaxes with HoR’s version of the Kachiko-Shosuro-Bayushi resolution in the lake beneath Kyuden Bayushi. I really liked that scene in the Hidden Emperor storyline and wanted to create an HoR counterpart to it – which would, of course, also remove Kachiko permanently from Rokugan and thus clear the way for a PC Scorpion Thunder. Forcing the PCs to survive for three Rounds of combat against Shosuro was probably the single most dramatic fight in the campaign (the final battles on the Day of Thunder were supposed to be more intense, but fell somewhat short).

Overall, I consider Unmaker’s Shadow to be HoR1’s highest point.

Side-note: The Tears of Doji
One of the artifacts the PCs acquired in Unmaker's Shadow was the Tears of Lady Doji, five pieces of pure awakened crystal which could purify any Taint or corruption. I knew such items would be a great temptation to PCs who suffered from such ailments, so I marked five boxes on the cert and had GMs inform me if any of their players decided to selfishly use a Tear on themselves. Ultimately, two PCs did so, which left three for the final ritual on the Day of Thunder.

So, what would I have done if the PCs had actually used up all 5 Tears before the Day of Thunder? A good question! I probably would not have doomed the entire Empire, but I certainly would have made things a lot harder and also required the PCs in question to commit seppuku.