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 second Interactive was set in Ryoko Owari, in part because I had created the notable NPCs of the city for “City of Lies” and wanted to get more use out of them, and in part because I liked the idea of a LARP during the Ryoko Owari Bon Festival, when everyone in the city (not just the Scorpion) wears masks. We had a pile of simple face-masks that we handed out to all the players who didn’t have masks of their own.

To a large degree this Interactive was an experiment with a specific storytelling concept – using letters (physical letters, written on paper and circulated by "servants") to convey plot. In Rokugan, letters are carried around the courts by servants and are routinely opened and read by other samurai (hence the importance of indirect language and subtle imagery in the “Game of Letters”). I conceived the idea of a LARP in which new letters would periodically arrive and could be read by other players before they reached their intended recipients. Over the course of the event, an entire sub-plot involving the Scorpion, Mantis, and Unicorn unfolds through these letters. Players acting as “servants” carried the letters around on trays, asking random PCs for directions and thus creating plenty of opportunities for the letters to be read. Unfortunately, it turned out that almost all the players didn’t touch the letters (even though I myself, playing Kitsuki Jiro, ostentatiously read a letter that was not addressed to me) and thus the plotline remained a mystery to pretty much everyone. I was forced to judge the experiment a failure and did not repeat it.

Tied in with this letter-storytelling scheme was a plotline involving one specific PC, Daidoji Tokiru. His player had boldly chosen to take the Mantis Clan Champion as a Sworn Enemy at the start of the campaign, and this Disadvantage “paid off” at this event when the Scorpion (remember, the Shosuro were part of the “Three Old Men” scheme with the Yoritomo, effectively making the two clans into allies) frame Tokiru for murder. We actually played out the frame-up in real time, with Tokiru talking with a Dragon NPC (played by my wife), a Scorpion leading her away for a few moments so Tokiru is left alone with their drinks, after which she returns, takes another drink, and keels over dead. “Clearly it was you, Daidoji-san, since no one else was alone with the drinks!” As an extra bonus, this had the potential to push a Crane-Dragon war, disrupting Shikan’s peace. Ultimately, the Unicorn find out what is happening and try to turn it around on the Scorpion, forcing them to find a “fall guy” for the crime – the Scorpion players decided to pin it on a servant from the tiny Badger Clan delegation, thereby setting up a later Dragon-Badger conflict.

A couple of completely player-driven diplomatic developments took place during this event that proved to be hugely influential to the future of the campaign’s storyline. The first of these was the emergence of the “Golden Alliance” between the Lion, Crab, and Phoenix, which would remain completely secure throughout the rest of the campaign despite many efforts to break it up. In particular, the allegiance of the peaceful Phoenix to the Empire’s two most warlike clans would prove indissoluble in spite of relentless pressure from other clans and from the storyline itself. All sorts of later diplomatic and metaplot elements in the campaign would revolve around this alliance, which was almost entirely player-created.

The second element came from the efforts of one particular player who was running a Hare samurai. He had taken it upon himself to pursue the long-term goal of elevating the Hare to Great Clan status – pretty much an impossible goal, really, but he was determined to try. At the first Interactive (the Sapphire Tournament) he had started gathering support from other clans for a Hare shugenja school, and at this Interactive he had another Hare player to help him with this effort. By the end of the Interactive they had gained pledges of support from the Crab, the Phoenix, and the Scorpion. This made for all sorts of future tensions and problems as each of these clans took offense at the involvement of the others. On top of this, a completely different player had sent me a fiction about improving Hare-Scorpion relations – purely motivated by the desire to train his Hare character in a Scorpion path, but nonetheless the combination of this with the diplomacy at the Bon Festival created the Scorpion-Hare alliance that would become immensely important in the next two years. Ultimately, all of this player creativity would give rise to the Crab/Hare War of Year Three, the event that would finally shatter Miya Shikan’s peace.