To wrap up L5R week here at The Hopeless Gamer we'd like to present the story that inspired it all - our interview with L5R 4th Ed. designer Shawn Carman! Shawn has a long history with AEG and a publication resume reaching back to 1999. Many of you will know Shawn as Scarman over at the rpg.net forums or maybe from his entries in the designer diary series for 4th Ed. over at En World. Or, hey, maybe some of you just know him from his vast body of work on past editions of L5R. Regardless, Shawn was gracious enough to take my naive questions to help me learn more about the work of Rokugan and what it means to jump in on 4th Edition of L5R as a brand new player. Enough babbling from me though.
1. What kind of games did you play and love as you grew into the RPG hobby?
My brother picked up a White Dwarf when we were kids. It had a write-up about Leman Russ in it and we ended up playing around with Warhammer 40k a bit. That led my brother and our buddy Matt to Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, which frankly I thought was silly (because I hadn’t played it yet), and THAT led to Star Wars D6. I was pretty much hooked after that. After that we started experimenting with all kinds of different games and systems.
2. How did you get started writing for L5R and what other L5R products have you worked on?
I started off submitting ideas for an adventure, but it didn’t go anywhere at first. After that my brother and I got involved in the company demo team, the Bounty Hunters. We were some of the first, and as a result we got on the Origins and GenCon teams, which in turn put us into contact with the folks at the company. I talked with them some and got an idea of what kind of things they looked for in submissions. Not too long after that I submitted a few things and ended up getting a small assignment on Way of the Minor Clans. That led to larger and larger assignments, and at this point I’ve worked on pretty much every book the line has put out for the past ten or twelve years, I think.
3. What kind of world is Rokugan?
I like to describe it as a fictional feudal Asian setting with strong influences from Japan, China, and Korea, among others. It is a dynastic Empire ruled by an Emperor blessed by the Celestial Heavens, where powerful samurai clans war against one another and with forces beyond the Empire’s borders for the glory and honor of their family, their clan, and of course, their Emperor.
4. What are some of the things players get to do while adventuring in L5R?
There are so many things it’s hard to talk about! For newer players unfamiliar with the setting, the best way to start a game is to make them magistrates, who are tasked with enforcing the law in the Empire. The most fun I’ve ever had with the game as a GM is throwing magistrates into an environment where they have to deal not only with legitimate criminal threats (bandit lords, cultists, murderers and all sorts of fun stuff), but also lots of political intrigue. Magistrates are important people, after all, and lots of folks want to get them in their corner. During college, I ran a multi-year game with all my roommates and sometimes I swear you could almost hear them sigh with relief when they got word of a bandit attack on an outlying village.
More broadly, though, characters can wander the Empire honing their skills, representing their lord, encountering allies and enemies, and incredible supernatural forces that they may not be able to easily categorize!
5. We have to ask these kinds of questions: which clan is your personal favorite?
That’s pretty much an impossible question to answer. At this point I have written so much about all the different clans that it’s difficult for me to play favorites. It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. When I picked up the RPG in 1997 I was a diehard Lion fan, but very shortly thereafter became fascinated by the tiny Wasp Clan and the best archers in Rokugan. After that I found things to appreciate all over the place and at this point I’m completely hopeless.
6. Don't worry, we tend to be Hopeless around here too! Are there any other forms of media, such as movies, comics, books, etc. that people interested in the game can look to for the type of action you'll find in L5R?
Well we post weekly fictions about the game world on our website, many of which are influenced by the actions of players, both of the RPG and the CCG. Last year we released a graphic novel entitled Death at Koten, which was an integral part of the overall storyline, and in the past there have been lots of different novels set in Rokugan as well.
7. What are some of the special considerations you have to make when designing products for 4th edition over 3rd edition?
The basic design principles we operated under on this edition insisted that the new edition be simpler and more intuitive, more balanced, and more evocative in feel. I hope we’ve accomplished those things! We’re sticking to them for all subsequent releases as well. None of that complicated power creep stuff for us if I have anything to say about it! (Hint: I do!)
8. What's your favorite aspect of the 4th edition rules?
I think I’m most pleased with the system of Free/Simple/Complex actions, because it clears up so much ambiguity and different action types that we’ve used before. It makes designing other mechanics a lot simpler since we can just compare them to previous mechanics and gauge what kind of action type they need to be. If I get to talking about pretty much any other part of the game, though, that part might quickly become my favorite.
9. Other than L5R, what games are you playing right now (could be RPG's, Board Games, Card Games, anything)?
My crew and I are currently playing a game of Dark Heresy every Sunday night. I play Left for Dead 2 regularly and I just reactivated my City of Heroes account as well!
10. Is there any information you can share about the follow-up release plan to the core book?
Enemies of the Empire is our first sourcebook, and it’s due out at GenCon. After that we have Emerald Empire 2, which is not just a reprint of our most popular sourcebook of all time, but a complete revision, including at least 25% new content on top of providing the most in-depth look at Rokugan that’s ever been put to paper. Next spring we’ll have The Great Clans, which is going to cover all nine of Rokugan’s major clans in a lot more depth and with tons of more Schools and Paths for folks to play with.
We also have something we’re working on for a PDF-exclusive release, but we’re not far enough along for me to tease you too much about that just yet.
Thank you very much for your time Shawn and I can't wait to finally get my hands on a copy of 4th Edition! Wondering where you can get Legends of the 5 Rings 4th Edition? Just click on the banner above to check out Noble Knight and purchase it directly from them. Looking for 3rd Edition or older L5R material? Noble Knight's got that stuff too!