We ended it. Act 1, the story of our characters as children coming into adulthood. Of the Six that started the Topaz Championship last February only two made it to the end of the first act and none with the names they took at gempuku, but that’s getting ahead of myself. Here is our triumphant conclusion.
Though this was a proper battle, and Travis does have a cool “Mass Combat” mechanic, this story was a personal one, meant to reflect the characters as individuals rather than as leaders. Thus the mass combat became a backdrop for our individual heroics. Travis modified the Skirmish rules such that each contest was an opposed roll that involved our personal stakes but also affected the outcome of the battle (very Burning Wheel/Empires-ish). This meant that every roll REALLY mattered and getting what we wanted could cost an eye… and did.
But first, some downtime
Before getting to the battle proper we had to do Shimizu’s month of downtime which consisted of him serving as Doji Domotai’s honor guard and preventing her from removing the wrong heads (or the right heads at the wrong time). The scene featured Alec as Domotai, Eric as Doji Akiko, Omar as Doji Kurohito, and myself as Ikoma Masote. We told this story http://l5r.wikia.com/wiki/Isawa_Akiko#Death with Domotai and Shimzu in court. Good times for the crane.
Maho amongst the Mantis
Convinced that the Mantis were Maho users and had attacked the Isawa the Pheonix launched an assault upon the Mantis. Our mission, prevent this disaster by making sure Shiba Murabu (THE effing Soul of Shiba) and Yoritomo Kimiko (Mantis clan champion) both lived. A somewhat challenging task as they were both leading navies to kill each other.
Phase One Setup
In the first part of this fight, we split up into two groups, to protect each leader. In a show of great honor Isawa Yoshi vowed to protect the Mantis champion. Sodano Shiko, also a surprise, allowed his ward to travel unprotected as he went to aid the Pheonix (did I mention that Murano is THE soul of Shiba?). The other splits were perhaps less noble. Tso-Lou, for reasons unknown (perhaps guided by the fortunes) protected the Mantis. Rei sided with the Pheonix as well so that if she died, the lion would blame them. Lastly Shimzu, in memory of his mother, sided with the Mantis as well.
Phase one victory conditions
We each had to protect our leaders for 4 rounds. If either leader died, the battle would continue, but none of us would walk away with names, or liked our lives. Dying was not a lose condition however. Should we die to protect those needed, it would be very honorable indeed.
Powerful Isawa Shugenja assaulted the Mantis with their wave riders. Crashing powerful waves against the hulls of their junks and launching skilled bushi aboard deck, they sowed chaos in the ranks of the Mantis.
Sezume Shimzu faced down one of the wave riders in a duel, distracting him until he was overwhelmed by the Mantish bushi on board.
Ikoma Tso-Lou brutalized one of the wave riders in unarmed combat, tearing his mempo from his head and beating him with it savagely, terrifying the phoenix warriors.
Isawa Yoshi, accompanied by two Moshi shugenja’s whose only job was to counter his summons should he endanger the ship, called upon the Air kami to the bushi who had just landed on deck into the water below.
Meanwhile on the Phoenix flagship Matsu Rei and Sodano Shiko introduced themselves. Where Shiko was ready to serve, Rei was testing the waters and risked making a well concealed insult upon the Pheonix champion. He reminded her that he bore Isawa’s Last Wish and after that, she fell into line, accompanied by a unit of Phoenix yojibmo no less. Orochi dragon riders approached and battle was upon us.
Sodano Shiko found a choke point to hold off the Mantis raiders and filled it with his own wavering blade. He held them back so they could advance no further.
Matsu Rei, cursed herself for wearing Heavy Armor but even as she was un-strapping it, she grabbed a still heavier chain from the rigging and leapt off the bow of the boat onto an Orchi rider, entangling himself with the chain. The dragon, now rider-less dived under, creating a whirlpool that would have sucked Rei down if not for the net hanging over the port side that she caught hold of and climbed up.
Their men rebuffed the powerful Isawa Water shugneja chose instead to launch great trees, uprooted from Pheonix lands and carried across the waves to smash into the Matis fleet.
Isawa Yoshi decided to fight, er, wood with wood? Again calling upon the kami of air he sent a great torrent to make the tree fly off course back at the Isawa ships.
Ikoma Tso-Lou seeing the disaster averted took a moment to gather his thoughts and meditate upon the dangers to come.
More orochi arrived, smaller and faster, bringing another wave of Matis to assault Murabu’s ship.
Matsu Rei, while climbing up the net was attacked by a mantis bushi who sunk his kama into her calf until it struck bone. Hanging onto the net with one hand she cut away at the rope beneath her an watched grimy as the bushi was sucked down into the whirlpool, his blade still buried in her leg.
Sodano Shiko, his defense overwhelmed saw the Champion under attack. He leapt up to Shiba Murabu’s side and in one swift iajitsu stroke cut the arrow that was flying at him from the air. Murabu turned, impressed at Shiko skill “You’ve saved my life Shiko-sama. I will not forget my debt to you.”
Seeking increasingly desperate measures three Pheonix turned three of there boats, all from different angles directly at the Matis flagship and prepared to ram. As they approached the crew ignited their boats, sending flaming lances of destruction toward Yoritomo Kumiko’s ship.
Ikoma Tso-Lou grabbed hold of the rudder and beat the phoenix to the punch. Before the first ship could ignite itself he steered his own vessel right into it, causing titanic crash and a sea of wreckage.
Isawa Yoshi, seeing the two other ships, approaching fast looked at his Moshi guards and with disdain told them if he was not allowed to use his magic on the boat, he could not help them, instead he cast an Armor of Earth upon himself.
The orochi were reinforced with Mantis ships which were boarding the phoenix fleets.
Matsu Rei, seeing a Matis ship slipping between the Phoenix flagship and another junk sent out commands to the other ships captain to steer their ships together and crush the smaller, but more maneuverable boat between them.
Sodano Shiko took advantage of the turbulence as the ships smashed into each other, hoisted up a discarded Yari and knocked surprised Matis bushi off the decks into the water.
One of the Phenoix flaming ships plowed into the wreckage, igniting Kumiko’s junk. Another was fast approaching, ready to ignite itself as well.
Ikoma Tso-Lou, seeing his own ship in ruins grabbed hold of the champion Yoritomo Kimiko, the first time she had been touched by a man, and leapt onto the one Pheonix ship as it approached and forced them to delay their attack by challenging the captain to a duel. Sadly it turns out the captain was prepared for this challenge and gave Tso-Lou a grievous wound across the face blinding him in one eye. Kimiko held her wounded champion, awaiting her fate.
Isawa Yoshi, seeing the inevitable demise of the woman he swore to protect and his fellow Sapphire Magistrate, leapt on board as well and proclaimed himself the voice of the Elemental Council and commanded the ship to cease their attack. Amazingly, the captain believed him!
Now growing desperate the Orochi riders took to a tried and true method. They began circling Murabu’s ship, faster and faster, creating a whirlpool that would suck the flagship and all of her crew down into the depths.
Matsu Rei, remembering the stories she had heard of Isawa’s Last Wish, that it was a powerful nemuranai that could only be help by a Pheonix and it would take the form that suited it’s wielder believed that Murano could save the ship with his legendary blade. She approached him and told him to cast the blade into the water, making it grow into a great lance of flame that would boil the sea beneath them and repel the Orochi. Gravely Murano agreed “You do not know what you ask for, but I agree, it must be done.” The Sodano that accompanied Murano took notice of Rei’s knowledge and offered to later, teach her of her own ancestral blade.
Sodano Shiko, seeing the pain his Champion suffered to use the blade and placed his hand upon Muranbu. Using all of his focus he channeled Murabu’s pain into himself. Oddly, as he performed the highest duty of the Sodano, he earned the name of Shiba. That Moment Shiba Murabu pronounced him Shiba Shiko!
The leaders protected, the second part of the battle stared when the Dark Fleet showed up on the horizon, ready to crush the weakened Mantis and Pheonix. The leaders heeding the good sense the kami gave them agreed to postpone their aggression and unit to face the Dark Fleet. Like Lawrence Fishburne said in Precinct 13 “Our shit’s on pause.” Our victory condition was a bit more nebulous. We needed to find one way to kill Yoritimo Kiteo, leader of the Dark Mantis fleet and incapacitate Galen Hawthorn, Gaijin Admiral. It really didn’t help that both of them were, at the start of battle, indestructible.
The canon solution, which we opted to aid in was that members of the Elemental Council, including Shiba Ninjen arrived and if they could get close enough would give their lives to raise an island under Kiteo’s feet so that she could be separated from the water, and finally slain.
Mechanically speaking, each round Ninjen got closer to casting the ritual, Kiteo got closer to killing Kimeko and Hawthorn’s fleets go closer to contaminating the souls onboard our ship thus filling both Pheonix and Mantis ranks with bloodspeakers. Oh, and they were sending all kinds of Oni to sink Ninjen’s ship as well. And of course, without our interference, the bad guy’s objectives would occur way sooner than the good guys.
- Yoshi sped up Ninjen’s boat with a Tempest of Air
- Rei took command of the Pheonix fleet, declared herself Chui and commanded them to destroy and Oni.
- Shiko (snow Shiba baby) disguised himself as a Mantis and took control of the Mantis fleet.
- Shimzu commandeered one of the unlit fire vessels and crashed it into one of Hawthorn’s galleons, sinking it.
- Tso-Lou boarded the boat that Kimiko and Hiteo were dueling on and sent it rocking into the winds, splitting the combatants apart… for a time.
- Shiko, identified as the enemy was cast off the Mantis boat and declared a sworn enemy of the captain.
- Rei, spotting Hawthorn’s command frigate passed leadership to the captain and zipped down a harpoon line to knock Galen from his ship. Instead she mealy crashed into his frigate and gained his ire, plus several servings of terror as she realized is ship was alive.
- Shimzu climbed the kelp onto another Galleon and burned it with the “Soul of Yoshi” (fire kami in a bottle). In addition to burning down the ship, fear of the name Isawa Yoshi spreads.
- Yoshi defended Shiba Ninjen but was distracted as Eriko and a band of oni boarded his ship.
- Tso-Lou grabbed the distracted Kiteo and threw her overboard. He silenced Kimeko’s objections with a kiss.
- Yoshi faced Eriko and his will was weak. She got close enough to whisper sweet nothings into his ear. Close enough for him to Jade Strike her as well. Half melted Erico her her wrath on Ninjen’s protectors.
- Skino tried to defend Shiba Murabo but he and the other yojimbo were overwhelmed by Oni, many died.
- Rei swallowed her fear and launched a vicious assault at Galen Hawthorn. Though his wounds would heal, she left him a smile from ear to ear.
- Shimzu captured gallons and sent their cannons upon each other, sinking the last of them and flying off into the water as they sank.
- Tso-Lou seeing Kiteo rise up out of the water with a swarm of blood thirsty sharks at her aid crashed the boat in to her and drew her wrath.
- Shiko protected Ninjen’s shugenja from oni, cutting it down.
- Tso-Lou tried to defend himself from Kiteo but was torn apart by her tentacles and barely survived.
- Yoshi pulled his fabled nemuranai and told his mater “I’ve figured out what it does” as he blew up Erico, barely surviving the blast and left unconscious and drowing.
- Rei, seeing Kiteo nearly kill Tso-Lou charged into the fray screaming “You will not touch him, he is claimed by the Matsu”. Which Matsu she meant is unclear.
- Shimzu called to his mother’s spirit and was blessed with a dolphin that rescued him as well as Yoshi.
- Rei stood off against Kiteo and saw that she drew two blades, one of them a shame sword, charged in and cut off the hand that wielded it. Sadly, this just made Kiteo mad.
- Shiko and Shimzu defended Nijnen from a nightmare of water, sharing it’s devastating and corrupting attack. (sorry, I just have to say this. Two tanks to suck up the cleave. If you play WoW you’ll get it, otherwise ignore)
- Yoshi in his greatest act of bravery told his mater to stand down. The ritual he would perform would take his life. Yoshi offered his own instead. Together, with the other Shugenja Yoshi cast his last spell. A summons of Earth that raised an island underneath Kiteo where Kumiko slew her in single combat.
The battle over, the Pheonix recognized that they had been fooled into thinking the Matis were attacking them and using Maho when it was the Dark Fleet all along. With the great leaders still strong and the Dark Fleet leaders falling, the black sails of Rokugan’s coast are no more.
The island that raised up was named Yoshi’s Enlightenment and he will soon be made a Fortune of Honorable Sacrifice. Both clans were reluctant to claim the island so Shimzu proclaimed it was owned by the Sapphire Magistrates. He also proclaimed Rei the Chui. Cool beans.
Every roll in this game mattered. There was always danger on the line. Some of us walked out with a new clan and powerful allies, some walked out missing an eye, some of us didn’t make it at all. All because of choices we made, sacrifices we were willing to make to serve the greater good (or to obtain the object of our heart’s desire).
I didn’t do a fantastic job of it but I really ejoyed playing up Rei’s fear of Shadowlands creatures. It didn’t matter in the first phase and affected EVERYTHING in the second.
Many of our scenes were epic. Blowing up ships, dueling captains, wielding legendary blades. All very good stuff.
We changed, and some of the changes were only incidental to the stakes. Rei for instance joined the Sapphire Magistrates for a purpose, to get their aid in fighting the Unicorn at City of the Rich Frog. Her only allegiance to the order was that which was required. By the end though, she saw how much difference the ocean faring magistrates make, and how they prevented a disaster. Perhaps to the disappointment of Lion, Rei will start Act Two as a strong supporter of the Sapphire Magistrates.
The mini game that determined our victory conditions really informed our actions and gave purpose and direction to the players. I COMPLETELY stole this concept and appropriated it into my Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies game. It was great.
The player energy that night was great. It was already getting late when Phase 1 ended but we all wanted to push through to the end. Very cool.
What could have been improved
Occasionally we flubbed and made the wrong roll. Shimizu should have just made a single Initiative roll to see who won his standoff, for instance. Other times we took non-heroic or non-stake-worthy actions that created kind of a lull. Sometimes this was because we couldn’t really find a way to capture what we wanted in terms of a conflict. Most of these were pretty minor blips though in an otherwise rockin game.