Starting Anew: Campaign Design

After a long break from running L5R, the author finds he is ready to begin a new campaign. Good friends are ready to get back to Rokugan, and enjoy some deep, immersive, action-packed roleplay. Since many of the e-mails I receive seek advice on how to get groups together, it seems reasonable to make the construction of the campaign an open book (doubly applicable since the campaign in play will also be likewise documented).

The first place I start is with the campaign scope. With my convention games, I usually begin with a mood and theme; for this longer running game, I find myself thinking of how to engage the PCs, and keep them working together. This, by the way, is the single biggest concern I have heard voiced about L5R: how do we keep a Lion bushi, Crane Magistrate, Phoenix Shugenja and Scorpion liar.. err, Scorpion Diplomat together? For the purpose of this campaign, my answer is “we don’t”. From the beginning, character choices will be limited in Clan and Family scope.

Immediately, the next decision becomes: what Clan? My first feeling was that I wanted something “traditional” Rokugani. Lion or Crane. After some discussions and thought, I decided that a Minor Clan was what I was looking for. I’ve been toying with the idea of a more player proactive campaign; since Minor Clans have more to lose, and the PCs – as heroes – have more influence in how that Clan is affected by their actions – it seems that players (and their PCs) will have more “skin in the game”.

Considering which Minor Clan leads me to decide that all of the documented Minor Clans don’t quite suit my tastes. Its noted in the L5R background that most of the Minor Clans do not have formal Clan Names (i.e., Mantis, Wasp, etc.); the granting of such a name is a separate act from creating the Clan in the first place. This provokes a thought: the PCs shall all be from a small, single family Minor Clan – one without a Clan name. The PCs need not be related by blood; remember that a family, even a small one, is composed of the extended family, marriages, cousins, retainers, pledged bushi, and even ronin – all of whom technically bear the same family name.

This should allow the PCs to more easily take backgrounds and advantages which might otherwise be troublesome. For instance Great Destiny has many possibilities which complement this setup – PCs may add techniques to the limited Bushi School of their family; seek renown and fortune to get a new family added to the Clan, or even seek to have the Clan granted it’s own formal Name.

Of course, this means there will be additional work for me as the GM. Specifically, documentation of the Clan background and details of the Bushi (and possibly Shugenja) School. However, the results are usually well worth the time invested.

Future articles will detail the fleshing out of this campaign idea.


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