I started playing Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) in middle school. Fifteen years later, I had the chance to add to its setting as one of the authors for the L5R role-playing game.
As I wrote my chapter of The Imperial Histories, my goal was to create an environment that supported play across a range of character levels. The fictional history my chapter covered–the reign and fall of a dangerous political conspiracy–involved some of L5R‘s most powerful figures. In role-playing games the presence of such characters can lead to situations that are fun to read about, but impossible for players to influence. I wanted to be sure that I was making a gameable setting, in addition to an interesting one.
To that end, I devoted a substantial portion of the chapter to laying out sample plans for escalating involvement with the conspiracy. I suggested challenges suitable for low-level characters. Peppered throughout the text were adventure seeds that did not involve the sort of direct combat with an overwhelming foe that tends to get new characters into trouble. Finally, I offered broad themes which could be worked into any adventure; these could be used to create period flavor while allowing those running the game to tune the difficulty for their own groups.
I was also careful to address intra-group conflict. Games with conspiracies are often games about secrets and betrayals. Those can lead to exciting reveals and turnabouts, but they can also produce out-of-game arguments. Rather than leave players to manage the problem themselves, I gave concrete suggestions about how to handle this issue.
Most game designers have, I think, favorite games that they want to work on just for the joy of having been a part of it. Legend of the Five Rings was one of mine, and I’m glad to have had the chance to contribute to The Imperial Histories. My chapter was the “Reign of the Gozoku;” should you find yourself playing in that setting, take down an evil conspiracy for me!