Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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Ah yes, Compassion, the module so emotionally wrenching that some players were made physically ill. Bwa ha ha ha!

The “Code of Bushido” series was conceived by a player, Claudia, who envisioned it as a way of redeeming her character Iuchi/Bayushi Nishari from HoR1. Nishari’s secret love affair with Otaku Taro had led her into eventual disgrace and death, the classic Rokugani tragedy of forsaking Honor in favor of Desire. Claudia suggested the idea that Nishari could have wound up in the Realm of Thwarted Destiny, from which the Fortune of Mercy, Jizo (who she had actually encountered in HoR1’s Ancestral Dictate), would offer her a chance to return to the Celestial Wheel by teaching the true path of Bushido to others (and thus finally learning it herself). This story would be played out through a series of modules themed around and named after the different Virtues of Bushido. Nishari would “haunt” selected PCs from each module in the series, offering advice which would make it easier both to gain and to lose Honor thereafter.

I really liked this whole concept, especially since it would create a long arc running through the campaign and would reinforce the existing Honor-versus-corruption theme. However, getting from idea to finished modules was challenging – we ended up going back-and-forth many times on what to do with the individual mods. Coming up with plots that would reflect the themes of each Bushido Virtue was surprisingly difficult, especially since I was constantly pushing to make them more emotionally and morally painful for the players. Ironically, in that regard the single most successful module in the series was this first one, Compassion, which subverts players’ Western concept of that virtue by showing that in a society which truly believes in eternal souls and reincarnation, killing a child may actually be the morally correct action. I chose the boy-monk from Scholarship for this role, rather than a new NPC, in order to maximize the emotional impact of the decision.

This module also wound up having a much bigger impact on the campaign as a whole than originally planned. This was due to the choices of villains, especially the main adversary. Claudia’s original draft featured the Shadow Dragon as the supernatural villain who was manipulating the old monk in order to possess the boy, but – as I noted back at the start of my HoR2 discussions – I had already decided not to include the Shadow in the campaign in any form. Casting about for a replacement adversary, I took note of recent CCG fictions that had introduced the idea of the Obsidian Dragon, Celestial counterpart to the Jade Dragon, a being embodying moral corruption and the Three Sins. This seemed perfect for the module given that (a) the Three Sins were already emerging as an important theme, and (b) the Dragon was a Celestial being and thus its activities would not automatically set off the usual spiritual alarms that would be triggered by Taint or the Lying Darkness. At the time I did not have any specific larger plans for the Obsidian Dragon, but once he was introduced to the campaign his presence inevitably affected my later plot-spinning, especially given the importance of the Three Sins to the storyline. Later on he would become very important indeed.

The secondary threat that strikes halfway through the module also wound up having a longer-term impact, albeit a lesser one. Claudia’s original draft had an attack by anti-Lion bandits (sponsored by the Daidoji), but I wanted to escalate things and give these bad guys a more specific reason to go after the child-monk. I had been toying for a while with the idea that Rokugan’s moral and social decay would give rise to fringe cults and religious heresies. Both historical Japan and, more notably, historical China showed tendencies for such behaviors during periods of social upheaval (the various Hong Kong movies depicting kung-fu cults running amok in 19th-century China were definitely a creative influence here). I thought it would be interesting to portray this same phenomenon in Rokugan. Thus was born the “Sons of Destiny,” who would reappear in an Interactive and two or three more modules over the course of the campaign.

Of course, what everyone really remembers about this module is the climax, in which the PCs have to kill the child-monk in order to keep him from being possessed by the Obsidian Dragon. It was very remotely possible to save the child, but this required rolls which were nigh-impossible to make at the module’s Insight Rank, thus forcing the PCs to either kill the child or let him be possessed. It was quite common for players to break down in tears over this choice… which was, of course, exactly the result I was looking for. No other single module in HoR2 would have the same shattering emotional impact on so many players, making this very much a high-point for my goal of a deeply immersive story built around samurai tragedy.

Interestingly, Nishari herself would become a rather controversial figure within the campaign. As more of her personal story emerged in later modules, some PCs would be sympathetic to her and embrace her guidance, while others would view her in a sharply negative light – particularly many of the Scorpion PCs, who condemned her as a villain who properly belonged in Traitor’s Grove. (A few Scorpion players even tried to submit fictions to pursue the goal of trapping Nishari in the Grove, which I had to nix since it would block us from doing the rest of the Bushido modules!)

The Obsidian Moon?

When Compassion first released, the Obsidian Dragon was a recently-created element of L5R’s canon universe – he had been introduced about six months earlier, in the spring/summer of 2006, as part of the same fiction arc that also established the East Wind ronin band. At that time he seemed to be nothing more than an attempt to “balance” the Rokugani cosmology by creating a counterpoint to the Jade Dragon, so I used him without any immediate larger plans.

However, the following summer (at GenCon 2007) I got officially hired by AEG and, as a result, I learned their cosmological plans for the Race for the Throne: the current “ascended mortal” Sun and Moon would be cast out and replaced by the Obsidian and Jade Dragons. I realized at once that this would actually work really well for HoR2’s storyline, since it would move both of these beings into much more prominent roles and would interact very effectively with my plans to have the Big Bad eventually sacrifice a Celestial being. I had already been vaguely leaning toward the Jade Dragon as my candidate for this role, and this cemented it.

Of course, I now had a quandary: I had advance knowledge that the Sun and Moon should actually have different identities in the year 1500, but I couldn’t reveal that information in the campaign without violating confidentiality. Accordingly, I revised Compassion and other early modules in various subtle ways, such as changing all references to “Lord Sun” and “Lady Moon” to merely “the Sun” and “the Moon” and making a point of mentioning that the full Moon was directly overhead during the climax of Compassion. I also applied these same principles to all the modules released for the next half-year or so (until the change in Celestial ownership was officially announced) and carefully avoided using the Obsidian Dragon again until GenCon 2008, months after the transition. After that, I wrote all the later modules to explicitly identify the Obsidian Dragon as the Moon and the Jade Dragon as the Sun, culminating in the apocalyptic sacrifice/destruction/rebirth of the Jade Sun at the end of the campaign.