Meeting with Marie Brennan

2022 / 12 / 26

A meeting with Marie Brennan, author of the L5R “Imperfect Land” adventure.

Marie, could you introduce yourself to our fans, as well as your experience in fantasy writing in general and the L5R universe in particular?

I’ve been publishing novels and short stories for nearly twenty years now, but I only got involved with L5R much more recently. When AEG, the previous owners of the game, were publishing the fourth edition of the RPG, I contributed a chapter to one of their books that presented an alternate vision for Rokugan in which Togashi, not Hantei, won the Tournament of the Kami.

That led to me writing material for the RPG more generally, and then when FFG acquired it, I began writing short fiction for the LCG metaplot. From there I went on to do the Dragon Clan novella, The Eternal Knot, and then a series of novels — The Night Parade of 100 Demons, The Game of 100 Candles (out in February!), and a third one coming in 2024, The Market of 100 Fortunes.

But I think it was more due to my involvement with the LCG story that I got tapped to write “Imperfect Land.” I was elbow-deep in developing the corner of the narrative that had to do with the Perfect Land Sect, and since that forms the core of “Imperfect Land,” I was very glad to get to revisit it and bring out some of the ideas we hadn’t gotten to use previously.

What do you like about L5R?

It’s such a rich setting! I’ve been interested in Japanese history and culture for decades, so a lot of the inspirations L5R is drawing on were already familiar to me, while introducing me to bits I hadn’t been aware of before. Lots of game worlds frankly feel like they’re cobbled together out of plastic: they’re colorful and fun, but I have an academic background in anthropology, and that means I’m often rolling my eyes at how nonsensical the settings are if you stop to think about them for too long. But right from the start, Rokugan felt very solid and textured and real.

I also remember leafing through the fourth edition core book when a friend recruited me to play in a tabletop campaign, and all the clans were so immediately vivid. Even the ones that aren’t my personal cup of tea, I could easily see how they would appeal to someone else. It offers a huge amount of variety, not just between the clans, but also between the different types of school — in fact, L5R is one of the few games I’ve seen that treats “the social character” as an option on equal footing with “the fighter” and “the magic-user.” Politics are important here!

Can you describe the plot of Imperfect Land?

The central event is a conclave of religious leaders — which doesn’t sound exciting, I know, but it’s all about context! There’s a particular sect, the Perfect Land, which has been causing conflict all across Rokugan. The Phoenix Clan have declared their ideology a heresy, while the Dragon Clan right next door gives them shelter, and many other people are worried about the sect’s growing influence, since they’re highly critical of the moral failings of the samurai class. So these leaders have gotten together to decide what to do — whether to formally outlaw them, give them recognition, or what — and the PCs have a chance to influence that decision. In fact, it’s important that the PCs do influence it, because left to their own devices, the leaders of the Brotherhood will fall into schism, starting a religious civil war.

. . . and then, of course, complications arise! But those get into spoiler territory.

What makes it a unique L5R Adventure?

I’ve only read a selection of the other adventures, so my apologies to anyone whose toes I inadvertently step on with my answer!

But I think this one stands out for how much potential it has to reshape Rokugan in any campaign. Depending on what choices the PCs make, they can set in motion events that will completely transform anything from their own lives to the entire empire — and no, that’s not hyperbole! The adventure itself doesn’t get deep into the potential consequences, because those will depend so much on how a given group chooses to run with the fallout, but the foundations are there. If you want to feel like PC actions matter, this adventure will absolutely give you that.

Any message/tips for the GM or for the players?

Embrace the story. While there are some combat opportunities in here — I did my best to craft the setup such that characters of all types can contribute meaningfully to the adventure, not just those directly involved with religious matters — the best parts of this, I think, I hope, are the ones that get personal, both for the PCs and the NPCs. It’s possible to make choices in the course of this scenario whose result would, in a conventional sense, feel like “losing” . . . but I am speaking with absolute sincerity when I say, no, that’s the beginning of a phenomenal story. If you wind up in one of those situations, the most burning question is what do you do now? Having gone down that path, how does your character react?

Embrace that. This isn’t about winning. It’s about how these events can transform individuals and the world, and every transformation can be an amazing tale.

Thanks for your time Marie, to end this interview, can you share with the readers the project(s) you’re currently working on?

I am going to have an astonishingly busy year in 2023! In addition to The Game of 100 Candles out in February, I have a standalone novel called The Waking of Angantyr coming out in October, which is essentially a Viking revenge epic. And then in between those two, the final volume of the Rook and Rose trilogy I’ve been writing with my friend Alyc Helms (under the joint name M.A. Carrick) is coming out in August. That’s called Labyrinth’s Heart, and if you want a sumptuous epic fantasy with street gangs, noble politics, masked vigilantes, and many types of magic, you can start that series with The Mask of Mirrors.

Finally, I have an ongoing Patreon project, New Worlds, which is all about worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy (with many references to Japanese culture as well as a wide variety of others). If you prefer collections, I have one for each year of the project so far, but you can also support it directly by becoming a patron.

Imperfect Land is a L5R adventure only available on DriveThruRPG.

To enjoy the book, you need to possess the sourcebook Writ of the Wilds and the Core Rulebook from The Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game