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, Grave of Heroes… one of the very few mods in HoR2 that was designed and intended to be lethally dangerous to play. You’ll note that this time around I waited two years to do a module like that, instead of releasing it within the first half-dozen like I had in HoR1.

I actually came up with the basic idea for this module over a year earlier (around the time I was realizing Shikan’s storyline was going to take longer than originally planned), and posted the module title as a “teaser” on the HoR website immediately after GenCon 2006. I knew from the start of the campaign that I would need to dispose of most (if not all) of the Emperor’s nine children, both as part of the “bait-and-switch” of tricking the players into expecting a conventional succession crisis, and to open the door for the Big Bad to make his own play for power. I’d had no plans for _how_ I would do this, and the story for Grave of Heroes was the first specific idea I got. It was essentially an indirect sequel to Uncertainty, with Miya Hanzu/Kageko once again using a third party (in this case a rogue group of Tsuno) as his stalking-horse to take out prominent NPCs who Miya Shikan wanted assassinated. I decided to use Tsuno because (a) they hated the Toturi bloodline, making it credible that Kageko could recruit them, and (b) they were villains I had not used before, so they’d be “fresh” for both me and for the players.

I had used the “gossip sections” in earlier modules to set up the information that the Toturi twins and their little sister Chisa were touring the Empire, so when the PCs encounter them at the beginning of this module it is not an arbitrary event. I chose the location of the ambush (in the Seikitsu Pass next to the Great Crater created by Yakamo in the twelfth century) because of the connection between that location and the original appearance of the Tsuno in Gold Edition. This choice in turn dictated where the PCs would encounter the Imperial travel party (in southern Unicorn lands). As with a number of other modules, I wanted to emphasize how much time had passed since the current twelfth-century CCG era, so I depicted the Great Crater as having filled in and become a lake, with a thriving trade village located on the shore.

A side-story element in the module was a scene in which a peasant boy touches a samurai’s sword and is thus condemned to death… unless the PCs can save him by convincing his father (a wandering Sparrow bushi) to admit to fathering an illegitimate ronin son. This had actually been submitted to me by a couple of players as a potential module idea, but they were unable to come up with a full module to construct around the story, so I persuaded them to let me use it as a side-story in one of my own mods. For the role of the merciless samurai who demands the child’s death, I chose Kakita Amika, who had been a contestant in the Topaz Championship. A prominent Crane PC had adopted a policy of permanently scarring his opponents in duels to first blood, and Amika had been one of his victims (this behavior earned him the nickname of “the Merciful” – he would eventually appear in the module Assigning Blame). I liked the idea of Amika (who was carrying a torch for her sensei, the Kakita daimyo) becoming a scarred and tormented figure, and made this outcome canonical for the campaign as a whole. In this module, PCs who couldn’t “solve” the situation with the boy could opt instead to accept an Obligation to duel Amika in the future – a nerve-wracking long-term consequence, since she was already established as a lethally skilled duelist.

I deliberately made Toturi Chisa (who had gotten a very brief cameo in Topaz Championship) as cute and appealing as possible so the players would be highly motivated to rescue her once Hanzu/Kageko’s plot went into motion. I also allowed a very, very difficult roll for snoopy PCs to realize that Hanzu was the one who had kidnapped Chisa; of course, since he outranked them in Status they could not make any accusation stick, but they would have an early clue-in on his sinister true nature. (To the best of my knowledge, only one player ever made this roll, and he became obsessed with investigating Hanzu and trying desperately to prove something against him, even writing up lengthy fictions about these futile efforts.) The climactic battle in this module was specifically designed to evoke an emotionally intense “cinematic” experience, heavily influenced by the scenes of heroic tragedy in some of my favorite movies. The princes’ fates are “programmed” but the PCs still have to fight to save Chisa (and themselves), and then – assuming they’ve survived that initial fight – they face the choice of whether to flee with Chisa or to stand and die alongside the princes. PCs who chose to stay were automatically killed, but the players were rewarded for this true-samurai act with a powerful “Kharma cert” that granted the right for their next character to buy the otherwise unavailable Great Destiny advantage.