Categorized | Game Designers, Interviews

Rise of the Last Imperials Interview with Hiromi Cota

Posted on May 18, 2020 by Flames is pleased to present an interview with Hiromi Cota conducted by Monica Valentinelli, the Dark Eras 2 lead developer. Hiromi worked on the Rise of the Last Imperials chapter which takes place in 17th century China and presents material for hunters and mummies. Hiromi has been a special operations heavy weapons expert, an adjunct professor, a rave journalist, and the flaming-sword-swinging lead in a heavy metal opera. They’ve lived around the world, but settled down in Seattle with their spouse Randi and their dog Nasus. Outside of crafting roleplaying games, Hiromi writes queer science fiction/fantasy, produces the inclusive and comedic D&D radio drama podcast “Dear High Elves,” programs video games, and gets into sword fights as a member of the Seattle Knights actor-combatant troupe. To learn more visit or follow @HiromiCota on Twitter.

Dark Eras 2 | Chronicles of Darkness Cover Art

The Rise of the Last Imperials chapter takes place at a crucial time in Chinese history during the 17th century. Can you give us a brief overview of the background for this era?

Oh, boy. That’s a big question. The super short version is: The ethnically-Han Ming Dynasty had pretty much run its course; the last three (arguably four) emperors were ineffective, leaving a power vacuum for angry peasants of all ethnicities to fill. They did, established the Shun Dynasty, and sacked Beijing, then immediately got steamrolled by the ethnically-Manchu Qing Dynasty and their Mongol allies. The royal survivors of the Shun attack on Beijing fled to the south and established the short-lived and fractious Southern Ming Dynasty.

So, at the time of Rise of the Last Imperials in Dark Eras 2, most of China is under Qing rule, with a chunk of the south continuing to claim dominion over China. It is a period of massive upheaval and change, creating a challenging, but exciting backdrop for hunters to go looking for monsters.

When you were conducting your research, was there anything you learned that interested or shocked you?

There’s SO MUCH going on during the 17th Century. I had to cut a million things. At one point, there were six different people claiming to be the Emperor of China. Dozens of important figures die under mysterious circumstances, including the Taichang Emperor. The last competent Ming Emperor, the Wanli Emperor, is a wild ride on his own. At the beginning of his reign, he was fighting three simultaneous wars and winning. He did so many things and was just one of the best Emperors of the whole dynasty…up until 1600 when he just stopped. He didn’t go to court, he didn’t issue proclamations, nothing. He was still around for another 20 years, but not in any meaningful way. Why is a whole mystery and could honestly be a chronicle in itself.

Another potential chronicle that I couldn’t include (because it was in the wrong time period) would be about the Great Tianqi Explosion in 1626 that killed 20,000 people in Beijing. We know basically nothing about what happened other than the explosion happened and that it killed the Tianqi Emperor’s last heir. Elaborate assassination? Military experiment gone wrong? Who knows! If I ever have the free time for it, I might turn it into a chronicle for folks through the Storytellers Vault. No promises.

I was able write some details about the granddaddy of the Manchu Dynasty, Nurhaci, but his whole story is way more complicated and interesting than I could add in due to space constraints and because he dies before Rise of the Last Imperials takes place. I don’t know if there’s enough detail to build a chronicle around him; Nurhaci unified the Jurchen people and created a number of systems that ultimately led to the Qing conquest of China and are noteworthy. As an interesting punctuation to this, it took a cannon to kill Nurhaci.

You presented a lot of material showing the depth and breadth of the many peoples who lived in 17th century China. What advice do you have for players who want to create characters based on your work?

One of my goals in writing the chapter was to ensure that people understand that China is far from a monoculture, especially during the 17th century. Race, religion, ethnicity, and who who backed during the most recent wars are all important in this setting. The biggest piece of advice I can offer to players here is to understand that these biographical details are more than just a short blurb in your backstory; they impact how your character experiences the world. A Manchu hunter in the Southern Ming regions will be an outcast and subject to arrest or worse. Likewise, a Southern Ming loyalist will have issues outside of those regions, and a former Shun soldier will be hated everywhere regardless of their ethnicity.

At the same time, there are many examples of collaboration and cooperation between the many peoples of China. Beijing is super cosmopolitan at this time, with massive numbers of Manchu, Mongol, and Han people, as well as the largest population of Hui (mostly-Han Muslims) in China. Uyghur, Kazakh, Hui, and Han people work together in the western provinces. A chronicle of hunters from the same ethnicity will play very differently than one where there’s a mix of backgrounds.

Players and Storytellers should will want to discuss during Session 0 to decide how much they want these elements to impact their chronicle. If you have a multi-ethnic cell, do you want to rotate who the spokesperson is to minimize complications? If all the characters share a background, what will you do when you encounter someone from a different culture? Additionally, I strongly encourage people to read up on these folks — learn about their history and culture. All of the groups that I mentioned — and ones that I didn’t — still exist in China and would love for people to remember that fact. For players who prefer video, YouTube! is a great resource here; the internet has given voice to a large number of folks, allowing their stories to be told. Even the relatively small Tanka people have a number of documentaries online.

One of my major references for the era was The Manchu Way (Elliot 2001), which I highly recommend to folks looking for details of the Manchu people and how they reshaped China. The book is almost 600 pages, so while it’s a valuable resource, I don’t expect anyone to read it unless they’re vested in the history. Again, YouTube! can help here.

Finally, I’m definitely not saying you can’t play a Han character; the Han people are great and make up the majority of China, both during Rise of the Last Imperials and now. What I am saying is that China is not a monolith. The North is different from the South and the West. China has 56 recognized ethnic groups. Explore the diversity of culture in your chronicle; you’ll find a lot of interesting stories to be had.

In addition to Dark Eras 2, you’ve worked on other games and have been in the hobby gaming industry a while. Can you tell us more about them?

I’ve been working in the industry for about four years now and have three books out, with another eight that are waiting on art, layout, or other arcane mysteries. For folks outside the industry, that might sound kind of weird, but it seems pretty typical. There are all sorts of important steps that books have to go through in order to arrive at your FLGS (friendly local game store), so the lifecycle of a book’s development is often many times longer than it takes to write the content.

As far as the actual books I’ve worked on, I’ve done a lot of work on Mage: The Ascension and Scion Second Edition, both of which are a lot of fun. When Mage: Technocracy Reloaded comes out, folks will have access to a bunch of hypertech gadgets, most of which have my fingerprints all over. I’m a fantasy writer, former Army Ranger, and scientist, so sci-fi gadgets for a pseudo-magic paramilitary organization were right up my alley. I blew right past my word count making cool stuff! This gave my developers headaches since they didn’t want to cut anything, but needed to trim the words down. Fortunately, Satyr and Travis are magic and made it work.

Over on the Scion Second Edition front, I worked two upcoming books: Dragon and Titanomachy. This allowed me to delve into pantheons that weren’t in Scion: Hero or Scion: Origin, as well as explore the core pantheons from different angles. One of the core pillars of Scion is that “All Myths Are True”, which means that we can complicate the material that we’ve already presented with contradictory lore. In this vein, I wrote about ostensibly the same God from two wildly different perspectives. Titanomachy goes into this in detail and has an adventure that really gets into some of the fun complications created by All Myths Are True.

Are you working on any new games? What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on six tabletop RPGs, most notably Fifth Season Roleplay (based on N.K. Jemisin’s amazing fantasy trilogy), Victorian Mage, and Trinity Continuum: Adventure! I can’t really go details for those, but I can offer up that I have a TON of books coming out this year.

Assuming that the world of print goes according to schedule (Hah, hah!), I’ll have somewhere between 20 and 40 books out in 2020. I have a bunch of queer sci-fi and fantasy stories being published in a monthly anthology called Trinity (no relation to the RPG) by Blue Forge Press. Each month will have stories by men, women, and non-binary writers (hence the title). January’s edition is already out. Also from Blue Forge Press, I have one-story previews of my upcoming queer sci-fi short story collection Bi Robot that should debut any time now. If you ever wondered what life and relationships might be like in a post-human world, you’ll enjoy these tales.

Also this year, I have two serialized novels: Gunsmoke & Mirrors, a military fantasy tale about a mercenary crew that learns the world is bigger than they thought (it’s not Hunter: The Vigil, of course, but it’s not not Hunter), and @ and &, a pair of gender-fluid mages trying to survive in a world that keeps getting weirder. I want to emphasize to players and copyright holders that these are neither official novels nor fan fiction novels; they take place in their own worlds, with their own lore and whatnot. I didn’t set out to create a Hunter: The Vigil or Mage: The Ascension novel, but working on both game lines created echoes in my original works. would like to thank Monica and Hiromi for their time. To explore Rise of the Last Imperials set in the Chronicles of Darkness, be sure to check out Dark Eras 2.

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