Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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And here we are, the infamous module that in many ways set the tone for the rest of the campaign and that had one of the strongest impacts of any on players and their characters, imposing real and painful consequences both for past actions and current choices. All of which is somewhat ironic, given that this was NOT a mod that I had been planning for a long time beforehand (in contrast to Cursed Gift) and emerged spontaneously from a mixture of story evolution, creative inspiration, and personal frustration.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, I originally brought in the then-newly-canonized Obsidian Dragon for Compassion because I needed a supernatural “villain” who was not the Shadow Dragon. Later, when I got hired by AEG, I learned about their plan for the Obsidian and Jade Dragons to take over as the Moon and Sun, and this began influencing the campaign in a number of subtle ways… for example, it intensified my emphasis on the Three Sins and the various ways in which those Sins were influencing the major NPCs. (O-Doji Koneko, for example, became an icon of Regret, while Temujin and Gintaku both embodied Desire in slightly differing ways.) I also decided that the Three Sins (specifically the Sins of Desire and Regret) lay behind the troubles with the Dragon Clan Champion. From the beginning of the campaign I had depicted Togashi Imasu as withdrawing into isolation and leaving the various Dragon families to go their own way, resulting in domination of the clan by the militant Mirumoto. However, initially I had not really known why Imasu had gone bad… I assumed that inspiration would eventually supply the reason for his behavior, and this proved correct. At some point I decided that Imasu had fallen in love with a Tattooed Woman; she had committed seppuku in response (and then been reborn as Matsu/Hitomi Choujo from In Search of the Future) and the subsequent Regret had weakened Imasu’s spirit even further. This, in turn, led to my deciding that once the Obsidian Dragon had lost its chance to possess an innocent child (the outcome of Compassion) it would instead lay claim to the morally/spiritually compromised Dragon Clan Champion.

The specific inspiration for this module, however, did not come from any big metaplot scheming about the Dragon Clan or anything else. Instead, it was a frustrated reaction to significant numbers of players in the campaign who were refusing to pay much attention to their Honor… or who, even more annoying, were trying to ‘finesse’ their Honor, coming up with rationalizations for why they should maintain high Honor Ranks while all sorts of questionable things. Both of these things were happening often enough that I felt the urge to do a module in which such players would be confronted with unpleasant consequences for their actions. Who better to expose and punish their failings than the avatar of the Dragon of Sin? The starting point of the module was this sudden vision of a series of individual confrontations between PCs and the Obsidian Avatar, role-playing out the Avatar’s exposure of the PCs’ moral failings – which the PCs would have to withstand not only with their own role-play but also with a die-roll that was based strongly on Honor. The TN of the die-roll would be set by the quality and authenticity of the PCs’ role-play. What this meant was that players who had ignored their Honor were probably screwed… but so were players who had artificially maintained a high Honor Rank without the role-play to back it up.

In order to get the PCs to the goal, I drew on the campaign’s ongoing sub-theme of prophecies, embodied in the NPC Kuni Aya who had already appeared in a couple of different modules. The Quest Giver is Miya Reisei, a former PC whose player chose to “retire” (turn NPC) in order to follow her path of being a slavishly loyal agent of Miya Shikan. She wants Kuni Aya to be placed under Shikan’s protection and dispatches the PCs to undertake this goal. Since Aya’s grandfather was a Go player, I also got to work in my running Go-tournament sub-theme, something I never missed a chance to do. Of course, since L5R is all about tragedy and loss, I depicted Aya as being worn down and finally killed by the strain of her gift, delivering a final prophecy to the PCs with her last breath. Ultimately, this whole lead-in for the module is a sort of bait-and-switch, since once the PCs meet the prophetess they are diverged by her last words onto the “real” plot, their personal quest for the Shrine of the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters are one of the more obscure bits of L5R lore, though they’ve been around for a long time, going all the way back to Way of the Dragon in 1st Edition. Obviously they were originally inspired by the various “three Fates/three Furies” themes in Western mythology, but they worked pretty well in L5R as another mysterious secret of the enigmatic Dragon mountains. Actual appearances by the Three Sisters in the L5R storyline have been few and far between (the most notable was in the Hidden Emperor storyline when they told Hitomi how to defeat Lord Moon), so I thought it would be neat to work in an appearance by them in HoR. Of course, the Sisters are not actually the goal of the adventure – the PCs are there for their fated meeting with the Obsidian Avatar – so their oracular abilities are essentially a temptation placed before the players, accompanied by a warning of serious consequences if they seize it. The price of asking a question – the “Forsaken by Destiny” cert – was deliberately very harsh, and wise players listened to the Sisters’ warnings and refrained from asking a question. Power-gamers, on the other hand, tended to jump at the chance to seek forbidden knowledge; much as with the Oracle of Water in the previous year’s module Test of Purity, I included sample answers for any “metaplot” questions the PCs might ask.

Of course, the real point of the whole module is the confrontation with the Obsidian Avatar, when each PC must face his accusations and try to justify – to him and to themselves – their fidelity to the path of Honor. PCs who succeeded were rewarded generously, but those who failed (and thus became “Touched by Obsidian”) were not only subjected to various subsequent penalties but also had the potential to be marked with Dark Fate, raising the potential for a bad ending to their entire personal story. I was amused, but not really surprised, to discover after GenCon that almost all the players who suffered the Touch had also become Forsaken by Destiny. Imagine that, the power-gamers who couldn’t really handle Bushido were also the sort to jump at the chance to get special knowledge regardless of cost! Of course, no punishments were permanent – I fully intended that there would eventually be opportunities for dedicated role-players to overcome their failings and regain the path of Honor and their places in the Celestial Wheel. But I suspected that the power-gamers I so disliked would not stick around long enough to attain their redemption… and in many cases I was right.

Incidentally, although this module was remembered mainly for the unpleasant consequences it imposed on PCs, it also included the campaign’s first opportunity for PCs to rid themselves of Taint they might have acquired earlier. I also incorporated the Tainted former Crab, Guro, who so many players had sympathized with in Test of Purity; his own path leads him to join the PCs on the trip to the Shrine of the Three Sisters, where the PCs can aid him in purifying his body and soul.

Long term, this module greatly elevated the profile of the Obsidian Dragon, established that he had possessed Togashi Imasu (setting up the plot of Winter Court: High House of Light), and inspired a number of players to develop personal storylines that interacted with the Obsidian Dragon’s behavior (these would be “paid off” in the Dragon’s final appearance at the end of the campaign).