Actual Play – Forrest Killers – Bonzai! (8/17/2009)

GM: Travis
System: L5R

Normally I insist that my play reports are in chronological order. I fear that if I skip one I may never get to it. That said, I was at GenCon this weekend and gamed my ass off. I will absolutely not have the time to write up all those AP reports before last night’s L5R game goes stale in my head. So, I’m breaking my rule with hopes to do the game justice.

Travis has his write up of the game here:

Mechanical Updates

Mirumoto Al-Salin: Key changed from “More love than sense” to “Dude, Where’s my Sword?” (He’s on his 5th blade now and there is very little guarantee that he’ll keep even that one.)

Personality Cards Lost: Matsu Takeko (dead), Utaka Nayan (dead), Number 2 (sworn enemy), Bayushi Hakuseki (sworn enemy), Tsuruchi Nadu (out of commission until we find his Daisho, see below)

The Battle of the 10 Banners was won by the Sapphire Magistrates ( and we were finally starting to get recognition in the neighboring regions. Toshi Ranbo, the capital city flew our banners in their port on our arrival and accolades and praise flew freely from the lips of the guard.

Arrival at Toshi Ranbo

Yoritomo Miyazaki, who had recovered the helm of our Champion (Tsuruchi Nadu) was wrought with concern that he could not find our leader. After his eventual exchange with Nadu (who had been hiding his identity) Miyazaki found out that they have both been wronged by (surprise, surprise) Bayushi Hakuseki. She had played them for the fool, marrying Tsurichi Nadu, promising herself to Yoritomo Miyazaki at the same time and stealing the badges of office (Nadu’s helm, notably not the one Miyazaki found and his Daisho). So long as these items are missing Nadu cannot show is face in public and the strength of the magistrates is greatly weakened. The scorpion could destroy the entire order before it ever became establish by incapacitating our leader.

Her subterfuge was founded on a helm blessed by the kami that made any who wear it appear in the Sapphire Champion’s armor, including helm and mempo to mask their identity. Thus while it appeared that Nadu was at the battle, we have no idea who actually stood in his place.

The magistrates made a plan to lure Hakuseki into believing that we did not know of her misdeeds in an attempt to gain her audience once more. If she was bold enough to steal the champion’s office but held off on the killing blow (not revealing that he has lost his Daisho), perhaps she had some other motive in mind that we could appear instrumental in. Meanwhile we had other duties to attend to before the Tournament of the Emperor’s Favored was upon us. Over the next month, each magistrate went about their personal affairs.

Kakita Shimzu

The tournament was coming close and arranging all the attendees, participants and logistics weighed heavily on Shimzu. He spent the month traveling, writing letters and appearing in court so that nothing could go wrong at the Tournament of the Emperor’s Favored.

Generously he arranged for his companions to be invited as well, assuring that we would be humiliated by the minor clans but giving no details.

Yoritomo Miyazaki

The Mantis led two lives. One as himself, a shugenja and Magistrate. The second in the armor of our Champion, providing the ruse that Nadu was alive and well behind the mask. His efforts were aided by a giant of a woman who seemed to endorse not Nadu, but simply the station of the Sapphire Champion. The woman was a ronin but later we discovered she was originally Hida, which explained her size and ferocity, but not her dedication to the Champion.

Ikoma Tso-Lau

Tso-Lau kept alert for any presence of Hakuseki and heard word that she would be attending the coming tournament but was not to be found in Toshi Ranbo now. He also investigated the mysterious ronin supporter of Yoritomo.

Isawa Yoshi

Attended his studies in Phoenix lands, practicing under Shiba Ninjen. He began to prepare for his test with the Togashi, meditating despite extreme environmental hazards (like sudden snow drifts summoned by Ninjen).

Sodano Shiko

We got to see a personal side of Sodano at home, visiting the Sodano daimyo to ask for guidance. Shiko attended him unwashed and uncut, appearing haggard as though he had not slept in weeks. The shining example of a samurai (Al-Salin) had lost his purpose and failed him. The leader of his order (Tsurichi Nadu) proved no more honorable that the scorpion that betrayed them all. Even Shiko’s own family (the Sodano) secretly performed dishonorable acts. Surrounded by this corruption the Phoenix bushi was not sure that he could continue, but was instructed to do exactly that. His daimyo told Sodano that so long as his actions protected Shiba’s soul it did not matter how they appeared or if his companions were honorably, it only mattered that he fulfilled his duty. This inspired him to return, assured once more of his purpose.

Mirumoto (now that I think of it possibly Utaka) Al-Salin

Al-Salin was a shell of a man. If Shiko’s will had been crushed because Al-Salin failed him, that was nothing compared (at least in his mind) to the pain of losing two women that you love as well as your unborn child all in the same instant. One thought lingered in his mind, the words of Utaka Nayan, that she whispered in his ear with her last breath. Dark words, dark memories. He did not know the specific terms, but having learned something of the Lords of Death from the Unicorn, he knew that forsaking her clan for love would earn his love a punishment in the afterlife. This weighed heavily on his conscience as he rode north, back through the City of the Rich Frog and into Unicorn Lands.

At a Moto Deathspeaker shrine he begged entrance to the house of the Lords of Death. Reluctantly the Deathspeakers heard his tale and were confounded by his desire to speak with the Lords of Death once more. For three days he was held in a cell blindfolded, without food or water, fasting in preparation for a journey. As they dragged him from the cell weakened and disoriented, he was asked once more if he truly wanted their audience. The Lords of Death, minor fortunes, were know for their cruelty and capriciousness. There was no telling how they would react to one who demanded their audience, especially for the second time. And of course visiting them would not be without pain. Warned of all this Al-Salin persisted and was blessed by the fountain waters of the Moto. Blessed with the aid of two strong men holding his arms till they could flail no more. Drowned, he was cast to the ground.

In the distance he heard the sounds of hoses being whipped as they bolted apart in four different directions, they were chased by the wails of agony from his beloved as she was ripped apart. Then torn apart again. And again. Again. Looking down he saw his broken body, still, unmoving, not breathing. In front of him where the statues had been were the Lords of Death. Tall, gaunt figures in black robes looking down at him perplexed. “I’ve come to make payment for my wife’s crimes. I’ve come to bear her punishments myself.”

When Al-Salin woke in his right hand was an iron book. On his chest was the brand of the Lords of Death, claiming him as theirs.

Travel through Baiden Pass

When the Sapphire Magistrates had returned home and preparing to make the journey to the Tournament, Kakita Shimzu was given one last task. To escort a Katana, a gift from the Emperor to the winner of the tournament. Of course this would never end up causing trouble. Never.

Before the Forrest Killers fired their first arrows we had already killed or maimed a few of their swordsmen, however our ronin Jo was wounded and they still had shugenja hiding in the distance, thwarting us. It was the ronin woman’s appearance that turned the tides of the battle and chased the Forrest Killers off for a time. Cutting down a tree housing a shugenja with one blow from an axe will do that.


We ended with a threat from the Forrest Killers. Give up the Katana or they would frame the Crane for violence against the Lion and start a great clan war again. What to do now?

What rocked

I’m a drama queen. It’s true. I love my characters having over the top melodrama. I must protect the one I love even after her death, but what will I sacrifice to do so? The scene with the Deathspeakers was great and it’s getting Al-Salin that much closer to becoming the abomination the Hitomi foretold. And I made it out without losing body parts.

Yoritomo’s dilemma is great. Do I take the fall for my Champion? Do I seek out Hakuseki? How long can I keep up living two lives? How could I have trusted that backstabbing woman? I really feel that the player was very excited about the plight his character was in.

I’m looking forward to our Nezumi bringing his wrath down on us. I didn’t include it in the narration but Number 2 (the name Shimzu gave him) has every reason to release a world of hell upon us. Good times ahead.

Shiko and Al-Salin both broke at the same time. Now they’ve come back together changed. They had a horrible animosity between them. Shiko betrayed by Al-Salin. Al-Salin crushed under the weight of expectations everyone (especially Shiko) placed on him. Now, in one swoop they have both changed. While the animosity is gone, it was replaced by a void between them. It will be a long time, if ever, before they call each other friend again. Oh… and power to the “I’ll be honorable because that is the way I can serve my family, drawing attention away from their dishonorable acts.” You sure you don’t have any Yogo blood in you Shiko?

I was really happy to see how the fallout from the battle drove so much of this story. Yoritomo lost the Tsuruchi Nadu card and now he’s in hiding. Shimzu lost the Number 2 card and now he’s going to turn against us. And of course Al-Salin lost both Takeko and Nayan, causing him LOTs of pain.

Shiko and Al-Salin dueled for the duration of one flinch. As soon as he showed his stance, Al-Salin bowed in submission, calling Shiko the better samurai. This was taking Shiko’s broken heart out of his chest, throwing it on the ground and stomping on it a few times before putting in back in… by way of his nasal cavity.

What could have been improved

The combat at the end was lackluster. We were tired, hadn’t run a skirmish in months and had some rules hang-ups that slowed things down. Bushi are simple, Shugenja are not. I think I need to make “Power Cards” for spells because they all have such different effects and reading them out of the book takes ages. Also, it was an ambush that didn’t allow us to appraise the enemy well enough to use much in the way of tactics. The smartest move in that fight was punching the enemy shugenja in the throat. Go “Crab Hands”!

It’s hard to portray the Nezumi (who has thus far been comic relief) as a significant threat. He kept warning us that if we didn’t live up to our end of the bargain he’d get back at us but I didn’t feel like the players took him seriously. I like to see him bring some real pain next session. DUDE. It just hit me. The Forrest Killers seemed incredibly prepared for us and knew all about the Katana. That was totally his doing. Good job #2.

My interaction with the Lords of Death was difficult. I like difficult choices; I think they are important for characters to grow. The decisions characters make are what make them into people, as opposed to caricatures. Al-Salin was faced with a choice: Save his wife from punishment and become maimed or leave her to be tortured until the Lords of Death were satisfied. At first the choice was obvious. Yeah, mess Al-Salin up! The problem became how. They couldn’t prevent him from doing his duties on earth, which meant no removing arms (he practices Niten, two sword style). I offered an eye (missing eyes are awesome) but they claimed that was needed for Al-Salin to be vigilant. They offered a foot or his manhood. I was sorely tempted to do the latter, it would make a lot of sense that Al-Salin could never love again, physically as well as emotionally. The problem with that for me was that it would be a serious issue for me, but one that would just end up turning into a joke at the table and as a player I really didn’t want to be the butt of every eunuch, man, and penis joke.

We settled on Mokoku, a really rough disadvantage that prevents you from using your Void, which is a big deal. The problems with that are a) it’s kind of boring because it takes away options instead of creating new ones, b) it’s not really visible or interesting and c) Al-Salin has just a huge stockpile of disadvantages that have earned him no points (25 points of them in fact). Now while I’m all behind characters suffering, if you lump too much stuff on one character, in becomes impossible to see the person underneath all their handicaps and they become as one dimensional as the character with no weaknesses. I’m talking with Travis now about instead addressing one of his previously unused disadvantages and brining that to the forefront. “Dark Secret” is a whopper that has a lot of potential for story. Something I’d like to play out.


  1. Anonymous

    Is #2 really a sworn enemy now? Well, he brought it on himself. There was no satisfying the temperamental little rat. I won’t mind seeing him in the ground. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having him pilot our ships either, but his attitude needs some restructuring.

      • I’m not sure that it is permanent but that was pretty much the risk in the battle. You lose a card and there are serious repercussions. You lost Nadu and look how complicated that has become. I lost Takeko and Nayan and they are both dead. Yoshi lost Ninjen and is getting his ass kicked all over the place because of it. In this case Number 2 was lost, meaning a bunch of his nezumi died for our cause and he is pissed that we let them eat it. Given that I think he was actually pretty forgiving. Instead of just leaving he said “I’ll work for you if you do this thing for me” and then no significant effort was made.

        I think everyone assumed Number 2 was an empty threat. He could have been satisfied if we really wanted to but I don’t think anyone cared enough.

        So, I’m not sure he’s a sworn enemy (i.e. Travis hasn’t said so explicitly) but that is definitely the feeling I got and below T confirmed that he is the one that sold us out to the Forrest Killers.

  2. I was surprised no one caught on about Number 2. I made a pretty big deal out of the fact that he was almost never there either at night or in the morning. I meant to mention it to you later and failed. But yeah, Number 2 sold you guys out. Wait till you see what it got him…

    As far as Shugenja: I’m tempted to run a game with none of them. I’d still like the occasional scroll spell, but for people with the right touch to use it. This would seriously change the flavor of the game, but I’d almost rather that Shugenja were more like courtiers or monks: They have some cool techniques, and you get more, and they have really interesting flavor effects, but aren’t complicated as all hell.

    • I don’t think they’re complicated, at least no more so than your average magic user. I think the spell cards are an excellent idea.

      • I’ll work on them. Are your spells on the character sheet? If so I’ll try to have your specific ones and Omar’s ready next time.

        • mine should be on the second page of my character sheet. if you’re planning on including dice pools on the sheet, it will get a bit more complicated because of my “class”

  3. I’m thinking about losing one (possibly both) of my keys. Fratricide is definitely gonna go. I couldn’t think of anything interesting to do with it, and I think the reason why is that it’s more of a goal than a key. It doesn’t really describe my character. I still want to kill my brother, but I’m going to have to pick up some other key. I’m thinking maybe Advisor or Counselor, as that’s the traditional role the Ikoma have served and something that comes sort of naturally to Tso-Lao.

    I also had trouble with Reluctant Ninja, my other key. I had a really sneaky plan put together, but it got immediately shut down when I brought it to the group. I was kinda bummed about this, but I spent a lot of time thinking about this and I realized I made a mistake in bringing it to the group. If I try to play up the Reluctant Ninja bit publicly, I’m going to get shut down ten times out of ten because everyone else in the group is simply too honorable. What I should have done was just nod politely to the group and then take my plan to Nadu, who is himself a dirty scoundrel. Or executed it on my own without telling anyone.

    • Yeah, I can totally see that with the Fratricide key. It’s almost more something that I get to play with than you get to play with. I think you’ve got your first non-CP disadvantage (yay!), Sworn Enemy!

      Agreed on the reluctant ninja bit. Remember that the Sodana is Gullible, if you need another sword arm.

    • I’m sorry man. I didn’t mean to shut you down. I have this hatred for analysis paralysis that goes off whenever I see people arguing about a plan.

      Your idea was totally sound, but it seemed complex and at each possibility of failure, the group started asking what if. Planning/Table Talk scenes drive me nuts because the players never have enough information to go on, so they are speculating and then the speculation turns into arguments over who has better “logic” when logic may have nothing to do with the GMs plans.

      So I totally steamrolled that conversation and said. Nope, we’re going to go with the simple plan and not argue about it. But it sounds like I totally stepped on your fun by doing that. I’m really sorry about that man.

      Here are some thoughts. 1) Do as you said. Just don’t tell the group. 2) Only tell people who are likely to go along (or provide and interesting argument). I.e. tell Yoritomo (if you want conspiracy) or Sodano (if you want the moral implications). 3) Make sure you get a player (or two) to champion your cause before bringing it to the group. If you’ve got at least one other person saying “Yeah, this is a good plan” from the get go, you’ve got a much better chance of winning out over all the niggling “what if?” questions. 4) Give us less information. In this example you could tell the group assuredly that you have a lure for Bayushi she can’t resist. All it requires is audience with Nadu. Samurai respect others who are sure of themselves. Present yourself as having a plan, give us some indication of what role we need to play and then say something like “I am your eyes and ears. Ever vigilant. I will not fail you.” It’s hard for Samurai to refute that kind of argument. Plus it makes it that much cooler if you do fail in the end because we all trusted you… You know, like with the song about three boats.

      • No worries at all, I understand where you’re coming from. I think I’ll try and just give a vague outline and then handle the dirty, dishonorable specifics myself. I don’t really wanna abuse Shiko’s gullibility, but I may fall back on that if things look rough.

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