Twenty Years of Memories: 1999
The year is 1999. Jade Edition has reached it's midway point. With the new addition of Ninja, there are 13 playable factions the largest to date for L5R. One more would be added at the end of Jade before Gold would establish the familiar 9 faction balance.
The year is 1132. The clans still war with each other and amongst themselves. At Morikage, Toturi is found and rescued by Kamoko and a small group of heroes. The minions of the Lying Darkness gather their power, and Otosan Uchi is plunged into complete darkness as Onnatongu launches the final stage of his plan.
We are here with Ree Soesbee, One of the central figures in L5R's Writing Team in the earlier years of the game. How did you hear about L5R, and when did you get involved with the Story Team and how long exactly was your tenure?
I was working on my PhD at the University of Chapel Hill, when I wrote some short stories for the Imperial Herald, AEG's mini-magazine. Those short stories turned into an offer to work on the RPG material, and from there, I was hired to help with the Day of Thunder and subsequent storylines of the CCG and RPG. I worked at AEG for approximately 7 years, writing stories for L5R, Legend of the Burning Sands, Warlord, and several other product lines.
What was it about L5R that drew you to the game and made you excited about working on it?
As a student of myth and literature, I loved the opportunity to work on a game that truly integrated player action into the story; made the player part of the myth and history of the game. I loved the japanese-esque setting, and I was a big fan of the Crane Clan.
What was it like working on the Story Team during those years, tell us a bit about the size of the team and the process, was it a lot of collaboration, or was some parts of it fairly autonomous?
Both, depending on what part of the process you were working on. We'd have a meeting about the overall story arch of a release, then separate - Dave Williams and his team would do mechanics, Jim Pinto would head up artist coordination, and I'd work on the collective story. As the release was being put together, we'd all work as a team - coordinating story events with cards and mechanics, writing art descriptions that helped make the portrayals on the cards more story-based, and so forth.
You are credited on 7 RPG books and wrote 4 L5R novels, (The Dragon, Clan War being my totally unbiased favorite) as well as numerous fictions, did you have a favorite piece or story that you worked on?
I'm so glad you liked the Dragon! It was a difficult novel to write, and I had a heck of a fight with the editing staff on that. It was always my idea to put the epilogue at the beginning, and the prologue at the end - but they couldn't understand why that was quintessentially "Dragon." When I did get it through, I was thrilled, and it seems the fans were appreciative.
My favorite piece, though, is a somewhat obscure short story named "Kappuksu." It was about a goblin chieftain working with the Crab Clan on the border of the Shadowlands, and how he came to be a real samurai. There's something both honorable and sad about his situation, and yet the story was so darkly humorous. I loved writing for the Crane and Scorpion books (DARK SWORD OF BITTER LIES!), but the Kappuksu story holds a special place in my heart.
The Story of L5R has evolved over the years especially in how it is transmitted to the players with more time being devoted to short fiction. I feel like in the older days players had to piece together the story a bit more. What advantages do you think there are in smaller scale delivery methods of critical story info, like flavor text and clan letters, as opposed to presenting it cohesively in short fictions?
I think you've hit the nail on the head. Fiction, particularly representative fiction that takes into account tournaments and player actions, is a tremendous strength of the new storylines. Piecing it together lets players feel a sense of victory and integration, but having the story at your fingertips allows the writer to ensure that the players understand some of the more complex storylines and events within the game. I think there's a place for both methods, and I'm glad that the current L5R team has the flexibility and leeway to do both.
Tell us about GenCon 1999. What was the atmosphere like at the event? Were the players excited for the outcome of the tournament?
Hugely excited. There were banners, chants, people in samurai armor, and a ton of player-sponsored fun. I always loved how excited the fans got about the game. They loved L5R, and the staff loved them in return.
In other years you had separate stories written for each outcome depending on the winning clan, was it the same this year?
Absolutely. I always had ideas for every clan's potential victory - some similar to others, if the clans were fighting toward the same goal, and some radically different. There will always be some outcomes I'm sad didn't happen... but I can't say what those are.
Did the final being both Brotherhood decks take away from some of the drama of the event?
Not at all, because they were Brotherhood. The story of the Brotherhood always came around to a war within one's spirit; a war with yourself to be a better person than you were yesterday. The decks both being Brotherhood - but very different in mechanics - was a poignant irony, in my mind. I loved it.
You had a big hand in Hitomi's story with the writing of the clan war novel, was her battle with the Moon part of your idea for her story and how do you feel that it turned out?
Hitomi's battle with the Moon was established during the Day of Thunder fiction, written by John Wick, and rolled from there. Some parts of the tale, I wish had gone differently. However, I was very grateful to the players for taking that story and actively working to make it their own - to get the story they wanted out of it. I worked with them at great length to help them shape things, and I think the L5R team did a lot to shape the best story we could.
Were you disappointed that many of the Dragon players seemed to reject the path that Hitomi had taken (referring to the “honorable dragon movement”) and were unhappy with the story?
Not at all. I felt less that they were "unhappy" and more that they wanted an opportunity to shape the story in a different direction - Hitomi's story was a challenge to them, and they really rose up and showed up the Dragon Clan's will. I think that was an integral moment, for the clan and for the players. The best part was helping them help me, with shaping the story in a larger respect. I'll never forget their dedication, and I hope the L5R storyline in the end rewarded much of that by pushing Hitomi in the direction they wanted (and was shaped by the tournaments they won or lost). I always paid attention to the winner of a tournament, and also to the type of deck played. Those things shaped story.
Without something that players are interesting in, things they want to change, the story becomes stale. Having that challenge out there - getting players excited or even a little frustrated, just enough to invest and really push their desired outcome - means the players have a victory that they really want to win. That's the point of tournament play affecting storyline.
What are some of your favorite memories or experiences from GenCon over the years relating to L5R.
1. Ratling Kabuki Theatre at GenCon
2. The Engagement of the Dragon and the Unicorn, GenCon Larp
Those two are the ones that stand out the most.
What are you up to these days, where can fans go to keep in touch with your work?
I work on Guild Wars 2, doing Narrative Design and storyline for ArenaNet/NCSoft! I have several novels and short stories on Amazon, and I'm also part of By Night Studios, creating LARPs. I have a website, http://www.learsfool.com, and they can reach me through that site.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and thank you for everything you have done to make L5R what it is today.
You're very welcome! I have fond memories of the game, and especially the fans. Thank you!
For another view of GenCon 1999 you can see the event report over on the Kolat Informant
A place for those from far and wide to present themselves to the Khan and engage those from far and wide in conversation.
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