Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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Possibly the most infamous module in HoR2, although I certainly did not intend this when I wrote it. I conceived this module as the next step in the mini-arc of the Lion magistrate Akodo Torokai, establishing him more strongly as a competent magistrate and as someone the PCs would trust – and hopefully, like and admire. An ideal way to do this, it seemed to me, was to have Torokai save the PCs from a false accusation and then enlist their help to solve the case and find the real criminal. What made this module so unique (and controversial), however, was my choice of what sort of criminal the PCs would be pursuing: a Hollywood-esque serial killer. I saw this as an effective way of reinforcing my depiction of Rokugan 1500 as beset by moral decay and the first stages of social transformation.

Direct inspiration for the module’s villain came from a number of different serial-killer movies and books, most strongly the movie “Se7en” with its demented sin-driven villain. By this time I was starting to get a vague sense that the Three Sins (Fear, Desire, and Regret) were an important underlying theme in the campaign, so depicting a serial-killer who was obsessed with the Three Sins seemed a natural step. The villain, Matsu Yabu, was a Lion mainly because Torokai was also a Lion and the plot required him to start his investigation in his own clan territory; however, this also served a side-benefit of emphasizing the Empire’s moral corruption even further – not only is there a serial-killer, but he’s from the Empire’s most honorable clan!

At its core, Way of Death is a standard mystery/investigative module, and as always I enjoyed constructing the array of clues and connections for the PCs to unravel. However, since the story featured a serial-killer, I also called on my Call of Cthulhu skills to make the module dark and disturbing. Little did I realize just how well I succeeded – more than one player would complain of being emotionally disturbed or even made physically ill by playing this mod. I was rather surprised by this – in part because I have never been that disturbed by anything in an RPG. In retrospect, I sometimes wonder how much of this module’s lingering dire reputation was due to the ending – when Matsu Yabu is trapped, he simply gives up and “explains” his crimes, rather than granting the PCs the cathartic release of a heroic battle.

This module also included the campaign’s first full-scale meeting with the Thrane gaijin. The PCs had gotten some brief interactions with gaijin in the opening scenes of Devoured by the Sea, but this module had them actually entering the “Foreign Quarter” of Ryoko Owari (another example of how Rokugan 1500 was different from the past) and meeting face-to-face with the Thrane ambassador, Sven Oldarsson. Sven, of course, was one-third of the “Three Old Men” conspiracy, so I wanted to establish his existence early on and to make it a memorable event. Much as with my other foreshadowing elements, I was careful not to reveal too much about him in the module, although perceptive GMs could draw their own inferences from his extremely high Deceit Skill.