Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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The first of the two big meta-story premiers for GenCon 2008, Cursed Gift was the module I had been working toward ever since I introduced Kaiu Sumata back at the end of Year One. Indeed, in some ways I had been working toward it since the campaign began, since this was the moment where the PCs’ actions determined which of the potential villains would become the ultimate Big Bad of Year Five. The deciding point would be which of the bad guys got the Bloodsword Ambition at the greatest number of premier tables, since the possession of that sword would be the tipping point that sent the villain down the path of eventually sacrificing the Jade Sun and enrolling the Shadowlands as his minions. (To make this work in the module, I had to introduce the Bloodsword to the game in a way that would not immediately reveal its true nature – this was Kaiu Sumata’s purpose in the story, eagerly seeking out a treasure that turns out to be rather different than what he was expecting.)

As I’ve mentioned previously, Hida Gojiro was originally going to be a choice for the Big Bad, but got dropped when I decided he didn’t fit the bill. Thus the two main choices here were Moto Temujin and Akodo Gintaku, although I also included a long-shot possibility for Shosuro Hido to get the sword if his Fangs successfully stole it. This would certainly have taken the campaign in a very different and interesting direction that would have forced me to radically revise many of my plans, but I figured it was pretty long odds for a majority of the GenCon tables to lose the sword to the Spider’s Fangs, and in this I was proven correct.

Although I’d had the basic idea of this metaplot-point from the moment I conceived of Kaiu Sumata, the specifics did not develop until early 2008 when I began focusing on writing this module. Where would Sumata conduct his treasure-hunt, and what treasure would he think he was looking for that turned out to be the Bloodsword? After considerable brainstorming, I came up with the idea of Sumata looking for the wakizashi of Takuan, the general in Toturi’s Army who later became Chancellor under Emperor Toturi I; Sumata would see this as a way of honoring the Toturi Dynasty. (Since L5R canon specified that Ambition had been reforged into a wakizashi, after its original katana form was broken at the end of the Scorpion Clan Coup, it was easier to maintain the deception that the sword was something other than its fearsome self.) This let me set the module in a long-abandoned Nanishi Mura, which was cool not only from a creative standpoint (redesigning the iconic settlement, described and mapped in 1st Edition’s Way of the Wolf, into a haunted ruin) but also as another “beat” on the recurring sub-theme of the changes which had taken place by the year 1500: the once-famous home to Rokugan’s most heroic ronin is now a nearly-forgotten place, of interest only to an archeologist.

I came up with the idea that Nanashi Mura itself had actually been destroyed by Ambition: the blade’s malign influence had driven the inhabitants to try to fortify their town, in violation of their agreement with the Dragon Clan, and the Dragon had responded by wiping them out. There were various clues scattered around the ruins (and in the night-time manifestations of ghosts) that this was what had happened, although I deliberately made it quite difficult to connect those clues to the sword. Likewise, although the presence of an Asahina maker’s mark on the blade was a hint, I deliberately refrained from anything that would let the PCs shout “it’s a Bloodsword!” I think one or two PCs did put all the pieces together at the time, though.

An entertaining side-element in this module was the appearance of a group of “bandits” (peasant insurrectionaries), led by a ronin named Mifune, heading north from the Lion lands to the unaligned territories. This was actually an in-module extension of sub-plots that had previously appeared only in the campaign gossip – the previous year’s famine (which the Lion had been unable to mitigate due to the food-distribution machinations of the other clans) had resulted in a peasant rebellion, and eventually the Lion’s Pride (with young Champion Matsu Nimuro accompanying) had been sent out to deal with them. Now the remnants of the rebellion were fleeing in search of a place where they might settle in peace. I made the bandits numerous enough that the PCs could not realistically fight them – thus, they would be forced to evade or negotiate; I also deliberately presented Mifune in a very sympathetic manner, as an idealistic and self-sacrificing ronin trying to protect the people around him, so the PCs would not necessarily feel comfortable at viewing him as an enemy. Later, I would use a fiction to depict Mifune and his followers meeting a tragic-heroic end in battle against the Lion's Pride.

The finale of Cursed Gift was set up as a multi-stage confrontation: the agents of Gintaku and Temujin confront the PCs, then the Fangs intervene and everyone must deal with them (and Sumata gets knocked out of the fight with poison, leaving the PCs in charge), and finally (assuming the Fangs are defeated, as they generally were) the PCs must decide which of the two groups gets the sword. The one thing I could not allow was for PCs to “finesse” the ending by trying to keep the sword, give it to the Emperor, or some similar dodge – my solution was that if the PCs tried anything like that, the two rival groups would team up to defeat the PCs, a thoroughly bad outcome since they were both rather formidable. Although this thankfully didn’t happen (as far as I know), I did learn about a couple of tables where the GMs allowed PCs, typically bold-talking Imperials, to finesse a different outcome that should not have happened; I had to ignore those tables in determining the campaign storyline outcome.

Through much of GenCon, all the way up to Saturday night, it looked like the sword was going to Temujin, which I felt was the preferable outcome because it would easier to depict the Unicorn Clan going down a dark path than it would the Lion. Also, Temujin was already the Clan Champion of the Unicorn, whereas Gintaku were merely the Akodo Family Daimyo and would have to dispose of young Matsu Nimuro before he could attain absolute power. So I was happy with how things were shaping up… but then, on Sunday, the Akodo tables pulled ahead and Gintaku ended up getting the sword. So I got stuck with the more difficult option after all. :)