Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

The Seige of Shiro Usagi

GenCon 2008 saw the climax of the “Hare War” storyline and the campaign’s first and only true Battle Interactive. I had actually been reluctant to try to use the 3rd Edition Mass Battle rules in HoR2 at all – I felt they were both poorly realized (they basically just force the PCs to fight a long series of skirmishes) and would be impossible to incorporate into a module, in contrast to the abstract and fairly quick-resolving Mass Battle rules from 1st and 2nd Edition. (I made sure we brought back an updated version of those rules for 4th Edition.) However, one of my players argued that the 3rd Edition format could work… not in a normal module, but as a one-time special event. He volunteered to supply the giant pile of NPC stat-blocs that would be needed to make it work. On that basis, I decided to go ahead and make the Battle of Shiro Usagi – the event that would finally shatter Miya Shikan’s peace for good -- into the centerpiece of GenCon 2008.

Of course, I knew that not all players would want to fight in a giant battle, and more importantly we needed to determine which clans would be supporting which sides. Going into GenCon, the “set” sides were Crab/Lion versus Hare/Scorpion/Dragon. All the other clans and factions were uncommitted, so I set up the event to run in two successive rounds – the first round would be a LARP in which the uncommitted clans and factions would have to choose sides, and the second round would be the battle itself. Characters could play in only one of these, although players could participate in both by running different characters in the two rounds. (Ronin were a special exception to this – they could hire themselves out in the LARP, then fight on the side that hired them for the Battle.) What this meant was that players who had strong feelings about which side their clan should join tended to play in the LARP, resulting in an interesting selection of PCs in that event.

A lot of maneuvering and scheming happened during the LARP, but the keys to all the negotiations were the decisions of the Crane Clan and the Phoenix Clan.

The Crane had negotiated a non-aggression pact with the Crab and Lion the previous year, and this put them in a bind – they were appalled at the Crab aggression against the Hare, but knew that siding with the Hare would breach the treaty. Many Crane felt that they must keep their word regardless of their feelings for the Hare, while others argued just as strenuously that the Crab aggression was an unconscionable crime and the Crane were therefore morally compelled to oppose it. As it turned out, the “fight the Crab” faction went heavily to the LARP and thus determined that their clan would break the treaty... setting up the wars of the following year. (Amusingly, a few players later tried to weasel out of this by claiming that the Crane “merely” took the field alongside the Hare, and it was the Crab who violated the treaty by attacking them. I was having none of that.)

The Phoenix had thus far remained loyal to their Lion allies in the face of all sorts of pressure. In fact, the “food LARP” the previous year had pushed them more closely into the arms of the Lion because the latter clan had cleverly decided to share its own inadequate food resources with them, in contrast to the opposing clans who had “frozen out” the Phoenix from Miya’s Blessing. Nonetheless, in the Hare War there was no question that the Lion were assisting the Crab in an act of aggression which contradicted the Phoenix Clan’s pacifistic principles. The other clans tried to use this to pressure the Phoenix into abandoning their Lion/Crab alliance, but ultimately the players of the Clan of Shiba insisted that Honor required them to stand by their allies; they attempted to maintain fidelity to their principles by focusing almost all their support on “humanitarian” efforts.

In the end, it came down to the Golden Alliance (Crab/Lion/Phoenix) against everyone else… however, while the Crane sided with the Hare out of compassion, others (Unicorn, Mantis) made a pragmatic choice to “balance” the sides and thus ensure the battle was as bloody and indecisive as possible. (The leaders of both clans wanted the Empire plunged into war in order to further their own ambitions.) The Battle Interactive wound up with twice as many Hare-allied tables as Crab-allied, but this was offset by the fact that the Crab general was superior, and in fact the Crab side was winning pretty much throughout the battle; we had to fudge things just to give the Hare-allied side a chance at pulling out a win at the end, but ultimately the Crab still prevailed. During the final round, we created some special encounters for the toughest tables on each side, and this resulted in a cool moment in which the Scorpion general (Bayushi Tenkai) failed a Fear roll while fighting a Crab PC named Hida Tango and fled the field. (Rather to my annoyance, some players later willfully misinterpreted this into meaning that the entire battle’s outcome was determined by this single event.)

Although the Crab won – complete with a dramatic scene of the Kuni magic bringing down the walls of Shiro Usagi – I made a point of emphasizing the extreme bloodshed of the battle and thus the somewhat Pyrhhic nature of the victory. This would have been true regardless of which side won, of course, since the real “winners” here were the villains who wanted the fight to be as big and bloody as possible, unleashing the storms of war to sweep across the Empire in the following year.

[Lengthy Side-Topic: The Race, Shiro Usagi… and Cheaters]

The importance of the Shiro Usagi event and the player turnout at GenCon 2008 overall were both magnified by the fact that the CCG storyline’s Race for the Throne event was still underway and indeed was approaching its climax. AEG wanted to give the role-playing side of L5R a meanginful voice in the Race, so at GenCon we were asked to award clan Race points for all of our tables (for both Best Role-Player and, where applicable, Best New Player) and also to award points for first through fourth place at both the LARP and the Battle Interactive. For the most part this was good, since it brought in many new players, some of whom would stick around and become regulars in the campaign. However, it also led to the campaign’s second and arguably most serious incident of cheating.

At the time, a hugely influential figure within the Scorpion CCG community was a player known as “Crankybolt” who had been caught cheating multiple times in CCG tournaments. The Scorpion Clan was one of two factions in the lead of the Race, and Cranky urged the rest of the Scorpion community to spam our tables with Scorpion PCs in order to win points. In principle, this would have been fine… except that he also sent in a “personal” group of four players he knew, all of whose characters were complete lies -- ridiculous over-powered twinks who violated numerous campaign rules. (They attempted to cover for the characters’ power-level by requesting 15 modules in the month leading up to GenCon… so, you’re playing a module every other night? Really?) As if that weren’t enough, they outright lied about die-rolls at their tables. I know this for a fact because I wound up GM’ing their table briefly during the Battle, and by the end of the single fight I ran, I was fully aware that they were running illegal characters and falsifying their rolls. Afterward, they went around GenCon that evening boasting about having cheated at the event… apparently unaware that some key members of the CCG community were also loyal HoR2 players. When word of their boasts got back to me, I decided to deliberately spread a rumor that HoR was going to disallow all Scorpion Race Points due to the presence of cheaters at the Battle Interactive.

The next day, Cranky himself showed up at the HoR room and desperately tried to spin a web of lies to protect his clan’s ill-gotten gains – claiming, for example, that his players simply had not known that their characters had illegal Advantages. We had a lengthy conversation that my wife (who was sitting nearby) later characterized as Scorpion-versus-Otomo: “I’m totally lying my ass off.” “Yes, I know you are, but we’ll both pretend otherwise to avoid a scene.” “Good, now I’ll pretend that we’re getting along.” “Yes, face must be maintained.”

Although I did not actually erase ALL of the Scorpion points as my rumor had threatened, Cranky’s cheating DID have consequences. I deleted all the Scorpion points specifically earned at the Battle Interactive, and halved the points they got for individual tables. I told AEG about my decisions and they supported them fully. I’d like to believe that this contributed to the Scorpion finishing just behind the Dragon in the Race’s final standings. [End Side-Topic]