Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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From the beginning of the campaign I had intended that Miya Shikan would be secretly assassinating daimyo who threatened to disrupt his carefully-forged universal peace. This allowed me to start out the Crane with one notably competent leader – Daidoji “Iron Serpent” Hayashi – with the intent that he would soon be killed off and replaced by his artisan-trained younger brother Kowaru. Around the start of 2006 I came up with this module to depict exactly how this would happen.

The concept of the “Hira-gumi” – a tiny inbred remnant of the losers from the Foxfire War in the 6th century – drew inspiration both from the Foxfire story itself (originally printed in the vassal families sections of Secrets of the Crane) and from an obscure 1980 movie called “The Island” (based on a novel by Peter Benchley of “Jaws” fame) about a group of Caribbean pirates living on an isolated island for 300 years. The movie was pretty terrible but had some fun moments, and I felt that the concept of a decrepit inbreeding remnant group holding onto ancient traditions would actually work pretty well in Rokugan. There was probably a touch of backwoods-hick-horror influence (more H.P. Lovecraft than “Deliverence”) as well.

The true villain of the module is the mysterious figure called “Kageko” who found the Hira-gumi and let them know that their hated enemy, the Daidoji daimyo, would be in Friendly Traveler Village at the scheduled time. The PCs cannot learn anything more about Kageko than his name and superficial appearance – another example of early foreshadowing in the campaign. My concept for Kageko had just formed when I wrote this module and it underwent a number of changes over the next few years; initially, he was simply going to be Shikan’s chief aide (and secret assassin) Miya Hanzu, and the whole Shikan/Hanzu plotline would have wrapped up quickly with Shikan getting assassinated by one of the potential Big Bad NPCs (most likely Moto Temujin). However, a combination of story pacing and the growing interest of many players in Shikan’s cause resulted in the Imperial Herald’s lifespan being extended and Hanzu/Kageko becoming a more significant and longer-running sub-villain. Eventually this would result in both the epic Shikan-as-Khadi plotline and the idea that there were actually TWO Kageko’s, twin brothers, sharing the public name of “Miya Hanzu.”

I chose Friendly Traveler Village as the setting for this module because I had carried over the “divided rule of the Yasuki lands” concept from the then-current Gold/Diamond CCG era. This placed FTV right in the middle of ongoing Crab-Crane tensions and thus provided an excellent excuse for Daidoji Hayashi to be visiting there at the same time as the PCs. The village had actually been completely mapped out in the official L5R adventure “Bells of the Dead,” so I traced over that map and then modified it to reflect three further centuries of development. (Doing this sort of thing, depicting how Rokugan had changed since the twelfth century, was one of the campaign’s more enjoyable aspects for me.) This also let me plan out the course of the Hira-gumi’s rampage through the village, selecting various Crane targets and deciding how each of them would die.

One interesting smaller element in this module was the Hira-gumi using pongi sticks to ambush anyone who pursued them into the marshes… this could result in a PC getting an infected wound, a long-term problem that would endure until cured. This was, again, an attempt to introduce longer-term continuity into the campaign, as well as an extra touch of gritty realism: an injury that could actually be something more than mere generic “Wound Points” easily healed up between modules. In fact, we had at least one PC who lived with his infected wound for the better part of a year and was nearly killed by its effects. Later, I would not only use this idea again but would also employ more extreme consequences such as lost limbs and lost eyes. Speaking of long-term continuity… this module also included a humorous minor NPC, a street-entertainer called “the Candyman,” who would show up several more times over the course of the campaign. He was actually based on a real person, a traditional Japanese street performer who appeared every year at the Japanese Festival in the St Louis Botanical Gardens. I liked throwing in these little recurring bits, since it made the campaign feel that much more like a unified ongoing world rather than a set of discrete stand-alone adventure. Another such recurring concept that first showed up around this time (though I do not recall if it was in this module or another) were the “Happy Bowl” noodle-shops, Rokugan’s first-ever restaurant franchise, branches of which would appear in many different modules over the course of the campaign’s five-year arc.

Five-Year Arcs

It is worth noting at this point that when I launched HoR2 I did not have any specific intention that the campaign would run five years. As I noted in some of my earlier notes, the five-year schedule of HoR1 happened more or less by accident, and I had actually felt unhappy with the story-compression that it had forced on me in the campaign’s final year. Accordingly, while HoR2 was much more structured in its first two years than HoR1 had been, and was intended from the beginning to eventually lead into a climactic battle with the Big Bad, I did not go into the campaign with any specific notion that it would run for only five years – indeed, I sometimes talked about how it could easily last six or seven years if the story supported it. Ultimately, of course, HoR2 did end up replicating HoR1’s five-year schedule. This decision evolved naturally over the course of the campaign’s first three years, as I saw the pace of how the story was developing and how fast the PCs were advancing in Insight Rank. By early 2008, I had pretty much decided that the campaign would aim for a five-year arc… which proved a wise choice when, a few months later, I became one-third of the L5R 4th Edition design team and learned that 4th Ed would be launched in mid-2010.