Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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This was the last of several module ideas I had forced myself to brainstorm when the campaign was getting underway and I was starved for ideas (most of the others wound up in Treacherous Terrain). I delayed it for a while specifically because it was a “mandatory combat” and I wanted the PCs to get some Experience Points under their belts first. This module was a major piece of foreshadowing for the “Three Old Men” plotline. The PCs can figure out, at a minimum, that there’s something hinky going on between the Mantis and the Scorpion, and that not all members of those clans are aware of it. PCs who actually open and decode the letter they are carrying can learn even more, though I’m not sure how many (if any) PCs did so. It would be quite some time before any of this foreshadowing actually paid off, but that was one of the ways in which I was trying to make the campaign more resemble a novel series, with subtle clues in the early stories getting “paid off” later on for those who were paying attention.

This mod also experimented with doing something “cinematic” in an action sequence. The first battle, in which the PCs fight the Mantis pursuers, is played out straight, with the normal possibility of PC casualties… but then the PCs get a second battle with actual pirates, and that one is unwinnable. However, the GMs are explicitly told not to actually kill anyone in that second fight, and at the end the PCs are rescued by Orochi Riders. When this was done right, it really worked to create a powerful emotional payoff when the Orochi Riders appear and save the day – some GMs really got into things and would run the fight until all of the PCs were Down/Out except for one.

The inclusion of the Orochi Riders was partially to create a “cameo” for Toturi Hizatoru and partially to justify an Advanced School Cert. I had accounced in the campaign rules that Advanced Schools would all require certs/special permission, so I wanted to put in an example of how this would work early on. Humorously, I didn’t realize at the time that the Orochi Riders had some of the most stringent mechanical requirements of all the AS’s in 3rd Edition – although the cert was given out to a number of different players, only two PCs managed to qualify for the AS, and both took until the final six months of the campaign to do it. (Sometime in late Year Three or early Year Four, a player who was going through the modules out of sequence acquired the cert; since he’d already played a lot of the later modules, he literally couldn’t earn enough XP to meet the high Water requirement for the Advanced School. Rather than accept that this was the consequence of his own choice to play the mods in the wrong order, he tried to persuade me to lower the requirements for the AS. I said “no.”)

The Epilogue – in which the GM narrates a scene to the players which the PCs themselves do not actually witness – was yet another attempt to work something “cinematic” into a module. However, this idea did not originate with me… it had actually been discussed in one of the L5R 1st Edition books (I don’t remember which one) as part of a general topic of how to work in literary/cinematic concepts such as foreshadowing, flashbacks, prologues, and epilogues. I would end up using this sort of thing several times over the course of the campaign. In Devoured by the Sea, the epilogue is intended to evoke a conspiracy-movie vibe: the PCs have just made an immense effort to deliver the letter safely to the Scorpion ambassador, only for the players (the “audience”) to see that the ambassador is sharing the letter with the Mantis and is thus revealed as part of the sinister plot. Interestingly, some players never seemed to pick up that this meant the Mantis magistrate was also one of the bad guys.