I’m taking a bit of a break from analyzing the Crane clan to talk about the setting I use for my games. I’ve seen a thread in the L5R forums asking if people prefer to play in the Canon setting or an Alternate take of Rokugan. In the camp of Canon vs. Alternate, I’m pretty much firmly in the side of “Start with Canon, then deviate accordingly.”
The benefits for taking this approach are many:
- A massive supporting cast – Ultimately your player characters are the ones who are meant to be the Protagonists of the game. This means that everyone else, from the Emperor to the Clan Champions are the supporting cast. I’m all for the idea that NPCs should be active even when the players aren’t, but this doesn’t mean that they matter more than the players.
- Surprise, surprise! – Taking the alternate route is a sure fire way to keep things interesting to those who are already familiar with the history and the events in the stories as presented in Canon. When an NPC suddenly takes a different track than what they did in established Canon “history” suddenly everything changes and everyone’s left in suspense.
- Room to explore – I enjoy asking the “What if?” questions in stories, and this is a perfect opportunity to kick in and start pushing the boundaries of where the story is. The players get to explore the setting beyond the sections that Canon focused on.
- Establishing ownership – By letting players create lasting changes to a setting, the game takes on a life of it’s own, and lends a sense of ownership to the team that is difficult to replicate in Canon based stories. In Canon stories, there’s always the sense that players could say, “We were part of that big event.” but Alternate players could easly say, “We caused that big event.”
The upcoming Hearts and Souls game builds on the events and established events from the earlier Never A Dull Blade campaign, which was in turn informed and influenced by the events of the Civil War story arc. In some ways, my players are co-authoring a new story that takes us away from Canon, but towards a new set of legends that are purely theirs and theirs alone.