Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

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I had been dropping foreshadowing for a couple of years, in both modules and fictions, about the hidden lair of Shosuro Hido beneath Nihai Tower, with the intention that eventually the PCs would have to go in there and rescue Toturi Hisako. Exactly when and in what context this would happen depended on the course and outcome of the Three Old Men plotline; as it turned out, the Unicorn invasion of Scorpion lands and the failure of the Mantis/Thrane gambit left the Scorpion isolated, so I decided the Hisako plotline should resolve soon thereafter. This module thus became the big metaplot scenario for the campaign’s final Weekend in Rokugan, in January 2010.

The two NPCs who serve as Quest Givers are the two “internal security” vassal-family NPCs introduced much earlier in the campaign: Soshi “Kobura” Keilani from Kharmic Vengeance and Shusuro “Kochako” Kiyome. I had intended from the moment I introduced Kiyome that she would eventually be a gateway into this scenario. Keilani was a “bonus,” although I debated for some time as to whether I should use her given that her original appearance had been in a terrible module whose author clearly wanted her to be a Mary Sue. (He later posted a description of her in the campaign wikia that was so absurdly over-the-top worshipful that I had to delete almost all of it.)

This was the second of the campaign’s two climactic “dungeon crawl” scenarios, as the PCs must descend into the tunnels beneath Nihai Tower and find their way past traps, ambushes, and wrong turns in order to reach the secret bottom-most level where Hido is holding Hisako as a prisoner. Much like with Dark Eyes on the Wall in HoR1, I designed the tunnel layout in such a way that the PCs could potentially find their way fairly directly to Hido’s lair (although not without dealing with a few traps and ambushes)… or potentially could get bogged down in all sorts of distractions, unnecessary fights, and other such side-tracks. My favorite was the prison/torture-chamber, which included a Scorpion traitor and a gaijin captive. One table debated at length on what to do with the gaijin before a Crab PC “solved” the problem by abruptly killing him.

The action climax of the module occurs when the PCs reach the big cave that contains Hido’s underground mini-castle. (The visual image of a small castle hidden in a cave deep underground was inspired by the climactic setting of the anime Lupin III: Plot of the Fuma Clan.) This fight – in which the PCs face four high-Rank Scorpion bushi, while suffering harassment attacks from ninja and shugenja hiding in the shadowy ceiling of the cave – was intentionally designed to offer a very serious challenge to the PCs, a sharp “reality check” to players of higher-Rank characters who had gotten overly accustomed to winning their fights easily. Of course, I didn’t want to actually wipe out a bunch of highly experienced PCs right before the campaign’s final eight months, so I didn’t _really_ rig the fight… I just made it hard enough to put the fear of the Kami in overconfident players. (Ironically, the only PC at the premier who actually died was slain by an ambush earlier in the tunnels.)

This module was also unusual in that the climactic fight and confrontation did not leave the PCs free to automatically head home safely afterward. In fact, the PCs could potentially find themselves in a series of deadly and even hopeless fights while trying to get out of the Nihai tunnels. Simple realism made this necessary – the bad guys were highly competent, organized, and numerous, so allowing the PCs to waltz out after killing Shosuro Hido would strain credibility past the breaking point. On the plus side, this escape sequence provided an opportunity for Stealth-capable PCs to “shine” by guiding the party safely out of the tunnels without a fight.

After all the combat and tunnel-crawling, I ended the module with a difficult social challenge: the PCs must convince the Scorpion Clan Champion that he has lost control of his clan to Hido. I liked changing things up this way whenever I could manage it, especially in these sorts of “big” metaplot modules – an earlier example of the same concept was in the climax of Test of Purity. In this case I especially liked it because it gave social-oriented PCs an opportunity to save the day after being relatively unimportant in the module’s earlier action scenes.