I first came into contact with AEG’s Legend of the Five Rings in 1997 or 1998 when I was still in college (at Sherbrooke University). The guys from Le Griffon recommended the game and I gave it a go. I was quite enamored with the setting: the idea of an empire that did not change (at least officially). The setting I like. What I didn’t like was when they used to push the storyline forward with the card game. L5R allowed me to meet close friends like Darryl and Tammy, Christophe, Oliver, Marie and Kristian. The most international gaming group ever (not one of us was from the same country!). Came 2003, my gaming time moved to Living Greyhawk and I focused on that for the most part. So my L5R time stopped.
Still, I wanted to play some, and looked at Living Rokugan which was active at the time. Finding no one, I focused on LG. I saw them play a few events at CavalierCon/ Weekend in Dyvers in the days and was curious but again saw no games in Denver.
JP: Who are you? How long have you been involved with L5R?
CM: I’ve been role-playing for very nearly thirty years now, having started with the old D&D Blue Book and a group of older friends at school. I’ve played a large number of games, like a lot of other players, and have become something of a collector – I’m at that odd place now where I own more games than I get a chance to play!
I’ve been playing the L5R roleplaying game since it first came out, having played the CCG a few times; I got hooked principally by the fact that there were multiple ways to explore the setting, and eventually gravitated more and more toward the RPG. I was fortunate enough to be a play-tester for the third edition, and I did start out on the playtest team for fourth edition, though the living campaign has taken up my attention of late and I have bowed out [of play-testing].
I also was a GM on an online L5R game for a few years, so having a few hundred players is something I have a bit of experience with.
JP: What is your official title in the campaign?
CM: Head Campaign Admin. I write the overall plot, approve rulings, edit and prepare the modules, and coordinate the efforts of the rest of the campaign staff.
JP: What draws you to L5R? What particularly attracts you to that game?
CM: Legend of the Five Rings is inspired by tales of the samurai of ancient Japan, with a healthy infusion of fantasy and a number of other Eastern cultures. While it does not attempt to match all historical or cultural details, it is a fun game that gives the players a chance to explore some of the aspects of living within (or flouting) the constraints of a strict code of honor. The setting has a complex culture and rich history that a GM can use to develop their campaign, and the rules for the fourth edition are generally presented more as options they can use to customize their game.
JP: What is your favorite RPG game of all times?
CM: I have played a lot of different RPGs over the years, and picking just one “favorite” is very difficult. L5R is good for intense roleplaying in a complex culture with a lethal combat system. Exalted and Scion are fun for over-the-top action with little regard for the laws of physics. Overall, Mutants and Masterminds is probably my favorite core system, as it allows me to do a lot of different styles of game with minimal modifications to the rules.
JP: What is your favorite supplement/ adventure, all games and genre together?
As far as supplements go, I think the old City of Lies boxed set from the first edition of L5R is my favorite. The production quality was very impressive. I really liked the fact that the player books were all written from an in-character perspective, and the maps were really well-done. I’ve run more than one group through adventures or campaigns based off that boxed set through the years, and pretty much have always had a blast with it.
JP shudders sat the simple mention of City of Lies. JP’s personal preference for supplement is The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep. ‘City’ is not far behind. It could very well be the most intricate and one might say impossible to ‘succeed’, unless leaving with one’s head is considered a success.
JP: What are the high points of a home game you run? What elements do you particularly enjoy in a campaign?
CM: My home games tend toward relatively personal plots, but that’s a luxury I have when I’m writing material for players and characters I know fairly well. Most of my games involve moderately complex intrigues, and I have a great fondness for antagonists that have multiple conflicts, including amongst themselves. I like to spring surprises on my players, and they generally enjoy the situations they find themselves in. Especially the challenging ones (though I suppose that is more of a commentary on how fortunate I am in my playgroup…).
JP: What would you say are elements that define your writing style? What elements would I expect to find in one of your adventures?
CM: I tend to emphasize character decisions over character capabilities when I write; the things that the players choose to have their characters do are often more important than their stats or powers. Getting a chance to use their skills is important to the enjoyment of the game, but I usually prefer to utilize those to get the characters to the point where they have to make decisions that are not represented by mechanics.
Also, I’ve been a fan of L5R for a very long time, so I tend to pepper my works with obscure or minor references to things from early editions. Old canon characters, places, or strange concepts (like the Tsu fish) that aren’t really in the game much anymore pop up regularly when I’m putting things together.
JP: In an average week, roughly how much time do you devote to campaign-related duties?
CM: Lately, it’s been about thirty, but that’s the press of preparations for GenCon (our biggest event of the year). On average, it’s closer to fifteen or twenty, between writing, playtesting, and editing. I have a full-time (plus) job, and this is the biggest hurdle I have to face on a regular basis.
[Note: I conducted part of this interview shortly before GenCon when Cory and a number of others were busy with their preparations.]
JP: A difficult one: I give you a magic wand and you can only use it to make your campaign better… What do you do?
CM: I would publish a campaign sourcebook with all the relevant information in it that the players would have access to, and possibly another one for the GMs. And since we’re talking magic, it would be free! I’d also like to have more time to devote to the game; writing mods is fairly time-consuming for me, and I’d like more opportunity to communicate with the players.
JP: Play, GM or write? Which do you enjoy best?
CM: GM. Pretty much hands down. I love to play, though I don’t get many chances. Writing allows me to get more ideas out of my head than just running does, though it more closely resembles work. But GMing is what I’m best at; improvising reactions from the world based on the actions of the player characters, giving NPCs their own voices, engaging the players on whatever level works best for the individual player, and giving the players challenges while still letting them shine… It’s my favorite role at the table because it’s the one that lets me be the most creative in a lot of ways.
Next week, part 2.