Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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The GenCon 2009 Interactive, run on Saturday afternoon, was simultaneously the most successful Interactive of HoR2 (we had something like 140+ people in attendance) and the least successful, for reasons soon to be explained.

I had developed the specific concept of this Interactive over a year earlier. The vision in my mind was focused on the climactic moment in which, depending on the PCs’ the Emperor would either regain his Honor and die heroically, or succumb to despair and kill himself. The key measuring-stick would be how many clans backed the Mantis/Thrane ploy to put Hizatoru on the throne… if half or more backed “the Rogue,” the Emperor would give a tormented speech in which he hinted at Hizatoru’s illegitimacy. If a majority opposed the Mantis/Thrane move, the Emperor would give a speech proclaiming the value of Honor and rallying the clans (including the Mantis) to join him in driving out the Thrane. (Whether or not the Emperor would fully reveal the infidelity of his late wife was dependent on whether anyone showed him the contents of the infamous puzzle-box, although I also retained some flexibility based on my “feel” for the event as it was happening.)

Originally, the plan was for the Mantis and Scorpion to already be unified behind Hizatoru, meaning that they would need only two more clans to join them. However, the results of various Interactives had put the Scorpion into a dangerous war with the Unicorn, so they were in a more precarious position at GenCon 2009 that originally expected and would not be able to “come out” as part of the Three Old Men unless other clans also joined their side. Thus, the strongest diplomatic burden at this event was on the Mantis (I specifically included notes in their Clan Orders about how this was a challenging situation in which they would have to employ skillful diplomacy rather than brute-force bullying), with the Scorpion probably supporting them more covertly. In order to make sure the outcome of the event was not pre-determined, I made sure that all the other Clan Orders listed legitimate reasons for them to support Hizatoru (except the Lion, who were immovably opposed). Even the Unicorn had the option to pose as supporting Hizatoru if they judged that would enable their own schemes. I also made sure to have a couple of trustworthy players running clan-leader NPCs, such as my wife playing Doji Akane. I myself played Daniel Hatchermann, while Kevin played Sven Oldarsson (and did a bang-up job, though in retrospect I should have prepped him better for what would happen at the end).

So what went wrong?

A modest part of the problem was that the majority of players went all idealistic and simply refused to even consider backing the Mantis position, Clan Orders be damned. But the real trouble came from a large group of “ringers” who came into the event from the CCG side of L5R. The leader of this group was a prominent figure in the Mantis CCG community who went by the username of Kerisate; she had been playing HoR intermittently for a couple of years (primarily because a couple of her friends were also playing), and had developed some very odd notions about the campaign, its storyline, and how its Interactives worked. However, she never sought clarification of her misunderstandings from me. She chose to deliberately maintain a false image of Interactives and to make decisions and demands based on that false image. (For example, she somehow decided that any character with a Favor/Ally in another clan should be able to force a PC from that clan to do something at an Interactive.) In this case, she convinced herself that the GenCon 2009 Interactive would determine which Imperial child would become Emperor – that this was the campaign’s big “prize” to be “won” – so she recruited a swarm of Mantis CCG players with no experience in HoR and no understanding of the storyline to flood the event. Within the first hour, these people had antagonized everyone else there, including their willing Scorpion allies, a Mantis-aligned Otomo PC, and even the handful of actual Mantis PCs who were present. By the end of that hour, they were trying to conspire to murder PCs and flinging out bizarre lies about putting Tsuruchi assassins on the rooftops. Unfortunately, because this event was so huge and spread out across multiple rooms, it took a while for me to realize just how badly Kerisate and her gang were sabotaging my event. By the time I was ready to lower the boom and expel them, they had already decided to walk out (parading ostentatiously through the main room on their way out). Amusingly, a few days after GenCon they started a thread on the Mantis fan-forum in which Kerisate spouted an outrageous series of lies about what had happened… unfortunately for her, some of our long-term players were also regulars on that board, and they alerted me to what was happening. I went in, registered, and utterly dismantled all her claims. Whereupon her mod-friends locked the thread.

The upshot of all this was that the ending of the event was rushed and somewhat confused, and the handful of actual Mantis PCs did not really get the chance to redeem their clan once the truth came out. I ended up having to work elements into subsequent modules and campaign-fictions to make clear that the Mantis were not going to be disbanded due to the shenanigans of a pack of interlopers.