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Making an Existing Setting Your Own

rokugan edited

I’ve started running an L5R game (you can hear recordings of the session at, and some of the things I’ve done with this well-established, long running setting are likely to make some purists a little twitchy.

Strangers in a Strange Land

L5R is a game of honor and politics, peopled with brave samurai and lofty courtiers. It is — to say the least — a complicated, incredibly detailed setting.

Because the setting (for me and the players) was new, uncharted territory, I wanted to introduce it incrementally. I did this by making the PCs sort of outsiders. The most obvious way to do this is to make them actual outsiders who’ve suddenly found themselves in this last. I didn’t want to do that, because it’s a kind of old, hackneyed literary device.

Instead, I made the party members of an unimportant, vassal family within one of the major clans.

Small Fish in a Big Pond

So I created out of whole cloth the Inukai family — a new vassal family with modest holdings that was established only a generation ago when a ronin and his band performed a great service for one of the families in a major clan.

This gave me an enormous amount of flexibility. This is not a family that has been wandering through the twisted machinations of the Winter Courts for hundreds of generations. No. This is a family with maybe eight or ten samurai, with a daimyo (lord) who is not from a long line of wise lords, but the son of the ronin upstart, with only his brash father’s example to guide him.

This allowed me to create a situation where the PCs are steeped in the honor bound world that sets L5R apart from other fantasy settings, but still accounts for the players’ ignorance of the setting.

It has also allowed me to insulate the game from certain game mechanics (namely Shadowland Taint  and magic) so that we are not overwhelmed with a bunch of rules as the game begins. As the game progresses, I can add other elements from the mechanics to the game.

This has worked out well so far.

He’s a Real Nowhere Man

The other thing I did was to create a region of Rokugan (that’s the name for the setting) that doesn’t exist. As I stated earlier, L5R his a well-developed setting with a lot of fan-produced on-line assets, including a very extensive wiki.

Rather than go through the map and find a place that’s suitable for the kind of story I wanted to tell, and risk the players doing too much research, I made up my own place: the Asai Valley — a lush and remarkably productive area. I then gave this area to the party’s Inukai family in the first session.

It’s Not Canon!

Once you start a campaign in an established setting, you are creating a pocket universe within the collaborative imagination of you and your players. It is unique and it is separate frOM every other game that takes place within that setting.






Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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4 Responses to "Making an Existing Setting Your Own"

  1. R. A. Whipple (@RA_Whipple)No Gravatar says:

    Excellent strategy that will work for anyone Stu, especially in world settings that are crowded with too-much information for GM comfort.

  2. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve seen similar things to this done very well indeed. I’ve been lucky enough that when I’ve wanted to do it, that the games I’ve played in have not had exhaustive campaign areas, instead only mapping and detailing the capitols etc. The rest of the map is left almost totally blank, just waiting for GMs to fill it in.

  3. Andreas DavourNo Gravatar says:

    I are just now listening on the first episode, about on hour left. I noticed that none made much of their swords when they entered combat at the grain warehouses. For a samurai, their katana (and to a lesser degree) and wakisashi were their honour as a warrior. Was that a modification you did, or is the relation to their swords different in Rokugan than medieval Japan?

  4. KhongerNo Gravatar says:

    Pretty solid advice. In my first L5R experience, we played very young minor clan samurai out in the world for the first time and were introduced to the setting little by little. I have absolutely loved the setting ever since, thanks to the adventures of Toku Inawa.

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