Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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This one had an interesting history. I’d actually had no intention of bringing back the Tsuno after the events of Grave of Heroes/Voice of the Emperor, since it had essentially been a one-off story to dispose of the Imperial Princes and I considered it closed. However, a player whose character had been in love with one of the Toturi Princes proposed writing a module in which the PCs could go into Toshigoku and retrieve the princes’ swords. I was okay with this idea since it could serve as a deferred postscript to the earlier modules (and afford some emotional satisfaction to players who had suffered the loss of characters in those modules). Also, at that point I was already toying with the idea of following up on a “tour of the Spirit Realms” and this would let me add Toshigoku to the list. Ultimately, after many months the player was not able to get the module written herself, but rather than give up she instead passed the project on to another player who eventually succeeded in submitting a draft to me. After a significant rewrite, it became Essence of Toshigoku.

The introduction of this module also served as a book-end to the Hare War: the PCs visit the ruins of Shiro Usagi to observe the final withdrawal of the Crab occupation troops, the Crab and Hare having agreed to a complete peace treaty at the Cherry Blossom Festival Interactive. As always, I loved working in these sorts of call-backs into the storyline, showing consequences for earlier events and player actions. In this case I also brought back a minor NPC from much earlier in the campaign: Kitsu Mokuna, who had originally appeared in Tears of a Fox’s Heart.

(Since this module, like Ancestral Dictate in HoR1, involved travel into the spirit realms, I needed either a stable portal or a Kitsu, and it seemed only appropriate to use a Kitsu given the history of Toshigoku’s depictions in L5R.)

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I am not actually a fan of the whole concept of Toshigoku, which seems to undermine and subvert many aspects of Rokugan’s world-concept. Still, it was an established part of L5R canon and I was willing to use it if I could come up with a good story for it. In this case, the association between the Tsuno and Toshigoku was such that I couldn’t really set the module anywhere else, while the brutal, dirty, bloody battle at Shiro Usagi seemed like the perfect place for Toshigoku to have extended its malign reach into Ningen-do. Plus, this let me work in a scene with my wife’s dead second PC (Daidoji Eriko), in which the PCs could ‘redeem’ her from the clutch of Toshigoku. (I wanted to do the same storyline for the other PC, but he was a GenCon-only player who never returned.) Some players who had worked dead-at-Shiro-Usagi family members into their personal backgrounds also spontaneously role-played out their own rescue/redemption scenes here, which was cool.

The finale of this module was straightforward, albeit dangerous – a confrontation with the last remnants of the Tsuno pack, with the fate of both a pure-blooded Kitsu sodan-senzo and the lost Toturi swords on the line. Since this was a Mid/High-Rank module (in contrast to the Low/Mid rating of Grave/Voice) but the Tsuno were essentially at the same power-level as before, I was confident that most PCs would prevail fairly readily… and was rather surprised when one of the GenCon premier tables had to bargain with the Tsuno and ignominiously retreat, while another collapsed in total defeat, with everyone Down or Out and their Void exhausted. The latter table seems to have been a victim of a mixture of overconfidence, poor tactics, and very hot GM dice (the GM was, of course, Ken Martin) – in any case, the “saving grace” for them was the presence of Eriko, who could potentially retrieve their unconscious bodies and drag them back to the portal to Ningen-do. The problem, of course, was that Eriko would have to wait until the Tsuno left, and the Tsuno were not going to just waltz off and leave the defeated PCs untouched. I ruled that each PC had a 50% chance of being a “Tsuno-snack” and the die-rolls did, in fact, spare exactly half of the PCs at the table.

At the end of this module it was possible for some PCs to be either voluntarily or involuntarily trapped in Toshigoku along with Kitsu Mokuna (who stays behind to guide Eriko to Meido). I specifically noted that such PCs would be able to return to the campaign at GenCon 2010, when Mokuna would finally return them to Ningen-do. (I drew some inspiration here from an old sub-plot in the RPGA’s Living City campaign in which PCs could get trapped in the mists of Ravenloft but were released a year later, becoming playable characters once more.) By the time I actually reached the end of the campaign, I would expand this “spiritual rescue” to also bring back PCs trapped in other spirit realms.