As the minor clans hustled to start the tournament, the sapphire magistrates prepared as well. On the surface this tournament would be a chance to gain standing with the minor clans and show the Emperor that we obeyed his desire to see Rokugan prosper.
Beneath however, there was doubt. What is Kukojin’s interest in the tournament? Why does he want it to continue? How far will Number Two go in his vengeance against Kakita Shimzu, and how damage will he do the tournament? More importantly, where is the bloody rat?
Travis introduced a scene economy for the tournament. He used a map which showed the 10 events hosted by the minor clans. He then gave every player 8 colored stickers (red for the phoenix, blue for the crane, etc) to place on the events, one during each round. We could also use the round to make a good impression on one of the clans or peruse our own personal affairs. The idea is that nobody could do everything, and just like at a convention, you have to prioritize what matters most.
A limb from the cherry tree
Two days before the tournament would begin Mirumoto Al-Saleen commissioned a simple woodsman’s axe and headed back into the haunted forest. He found the dead Cherry Tree, the great tragedy of Rokugan as the old man put it. “We are the same you and I. A fire that burnt too hot, too quickly and now all that remains is a shell. I cannot give you life, but from your limb something new will grow.” With a deft blow Al-Saleen cut a long limb from the tree and returned to the tournament.
The Sparrow Bride
Kakita Shuizu was honorably invited to sit beside the Sparrow Daimyo and share tea. As the two discussed the tournament and the mutual benefit the Crane and the Sparrow receive for their strong relations, the Daimyo made mention of two gifts. The first a very rare copy of the Tao, beautifully rendered by the Sparrow artisans, which would be awarded to the competitor who gained the Sparrow clan’s favor. The second, however, was a prize whose worth could not be measured. The Daimyo’s own daughter was of age to marry and should Shimzu prove worthy, he would bestow the gift of a Sparrow wife and heir to the Daimyo to him.
To discover if they were compatible, however the Daimyo instructed Shimzu to meditate beside his daughter, which Shimzu tried, he really tried to do. Unfortunately his daughter was veiled head to toe and did not speak when he entered the meditation room. But there were three others there as well. A guard, a courtier and a monk, all watching the two of them.
As Shimzu tried to meditate he was assaulted by distractions. First the monk began to whistle random notes, then laugh to himself. When at last Shimzu had stilled his mind to ingnore those distractions he heard the monk ask him questions but when he replied those in the room looked at him strangely and the monk asked “why do you said ‘hai’ for no reason?” He kept trying to ingnore the monk but his voice continued, now Kakita noticed, it was in his head. “Will you accept this woman unseen? Will you marry without love? Did not Kakita marry for love? Are you not Kakita reborn?”
These thoughts troubled Shimzu much and finally he had to surrender that he would find no peace in the presence of the monk… or perhaps in the presence of the Sparrow bride.
Blessings of the Water Kami
This far from the ocean, the small water kami of the rivers and creeks were delighted to have a Shugenja respect them and entreat their presence. The jealously listened as Yoritomo Kazumichi told them stories of the giant water kami of the ocean, and for his respect offered to keep the creaks running strong and clear, carrying off any stagnation delivered to them.
Training in the Woods
Sodano Shiko found his new companion Bayushi Oku training in the woods, practicing a seemingly chaotic kata which sent him spinning, leaping and twisting around obstacles. The bushi spoke, discussing their beliefs, as though training in a dojo.
“The only truth is duty. Everything else is a lie.”
“But bushido has seven tenants, not just one.”
“Yes, and they are the lie!”
It was troubling discussion, just as his discussions with Nadu, Al-Saleen, and the Sodano Daimyo have been. Shiko, ever the student in search of a master.
Emissaries from the Clans Arrive.
That evening, four separate delegations. First were the ronin, nameless warriors seeking to prove their work to the minor clans and possibly gain entry into their family. Aoyama, a courtier whose dice jingled as she walked by. Arai, a bushi who bore an assortment of weapons. The woman Ukita who bore the markings of a Shugenja and finally Akimoto, the giant woman, a previous Hida, that has been supporting the Sapphire “Champion” since Miyazaki took up the mantle.
Following the ronin were the Scorpion clan, outfitted with handsome steeds, and an entourage of retainers. A troubled shugenja Yogo Usami was introduced first. Following her was a courtier Bayushi Sugihara, and on his tail was none other than Bayushi Hakuseki.
At the sight of her the kami stirred in Miyazaki’s chest and he stepped forward with a crude and cutting insult. The Scorption tittered their fans as Hakuseki poured salt on his wounded pride “Husband, such things should not be shared outside our bed.”
Next were the crab. Proud warriors, cheering for themselves. First was the familiar face of Hida Fujita. The man would could be mistaken for the Wall was also at the Topaz Championship. Behind him were two Kuni, the first a petite woman who drew little attention, Kuni Matsui. Behind her however, was the previous year’s winner. Clad in a kimono that bore the mon of all the minor clans Kuni Kuroki rode in, dismounted and bowed low, thanking the minor clans for inviting him back to their tournament.
Finally the warhorns of the Utaka ushered in the Unicork clan. First was a bushi of the Ide family. Ide Minagawa, who bore a stern demeanor. Following was Iuchi Yoshida, a unicorn shugenja. Finally, to the great despair of Al-Saleen was Utaka Nikku, an woman who seemed a mirror image of his beloved Utaka Nayan.
The inquisition is everywhere
A novice Asako Inquisitor arrived at the tournament and received word from Sodano Shiko. “Kokujin, the Mad Prophet is here?!? I must make haste to inform the council!”
Hold the scorpion by the tail, that way her claws may rend you.
That evening, after the delegation arrived and the feast had commenced Miyazaki approached his wife to be and asked why she had spurned him so. They traded wounding remarks and witty banter, but he was none the wiser after their talk. As he was about to leave her abode, however, the young shugneja forced his betrothed out of the tent, feigning that his love for her had overcome his senses. Miyazaki shouted so that all the assembled samurai could hear him profess his undying love for Hakuseki and his need for her companionship.
And as he did this, when Hakuseki came to beg him to be quiet, Ikoma Tso-Lao snuck into her quarters to pilfer through her belongings in search of Nadu’s helm and daisho. He found less and more. The helm was buried deep in a chest of clothes but the daisho was not present. The other items he found, however, were tools befitting a servant of the shadow. A ninja-to, throwing stars, black clothing, and outfits which would allow the wearer to take on the guise of anyone from a lowborn merchant to a minor lord. Without much time to spare, Tso-Lou marked the outfits such that he could recognize them in the future, and made off with a the helm, as well as a note he found written in the scorpion cipher.
Number Two, where are you?
Shimzu spent the evening in search of Number Two but found nothing but his wake of destruction and mischief. He did however, end the night with a merchant, ordering what gold cloth he could. Perhaps young Kakita will find a way to appease him afterall.
Al-Saleen approached the Monkey clan as they prepared for the tournament and introduced himself. They were having some trouble, it appeared, donning their armor, as the cords had been chewed through. Al-Saleen offered to help and began to discuss with them the pride of the monkey clan magistrates. Eventually he noted their strange “padding” and asked them of its nature. Apparently in their contest one of the monkey has to stand still as the contestants smack him with their bokun. Not a pleasant job, but the padding makes it tolerable.
The Monkey mentioned the prized blade they would offer the winner of their contest and when Al-Saleen mentioned that he often had difficulty holding onto a weapon, there was much chuckling. “Yes Dragon-sama, many of heard of your misplaced swords.”
The Emperor Arrives
The next day, with a giant fanfare, the Emperor and his procession of magistrates and seppun arrived. Al-Saleen remarked as how blessed we must be to be in the Emperor’s presence, not once, not twice but three times in a single year. The Emperor spoke, which at first delighted the crowd, but the news he delivered was grave indeed. “At this very moment, the Phoenix are under attack. Asahina Yajinden and an army of bloodspeakers have attacked the Phoenix in their homes as well as finding the hidden city. I know that this affects many of you, but our resolve must not falter. We will show the heavens that even after the Rain of Blood the Empire is strong and does not forget its traditions.” In other words, the show must go on.
A Feast before the Tournament
That night, a great feast was held to celebrate the tournament, with the Emperor present! At the table of the Sapphire Magistrates all were present, except for Bayushi Hakuseki, who seemed to prefer the company of her fellow scorpion instead. Al-Saleen, perhaps practicing for the upcoming craftsman tournament, opted for a playful jest and excused himself briefly to create a rather prominent name placard for Hakuseki, so that all could see her unused seat.
We were joined by others, however. Bayushi Oku, the Bitter Lies Emerald Magistrate came to share rice with us. He told us how Hakuseki and he were close friends that grew up together. After her gempuku, after the Topaz Championship, however, she changed and acts as though she hardly knows him. He also mentioned his hatred for Bayushi Nomen, the bushi that went in his place to the championship.
Tsi Zutaka walked by, saw the fine crastsmanship of Al-Saleen’s calligraphy and grunted an mocking approval of his son-in-law’s work.
After Oku and Zutaka, came Kitsu Hiroaki, the lone Jade Magistrate at the tournament. A mouse of a woman, Hiroaki was beautiful but shy. She had no official place at the feast except beside the emperor and appeared terrified of conversation with him. We gladly invited her to sit with us, tipping over the name tent, Al-Saleen had created. It appeared that she just got swept into coming with the emperor to the tournament, with no particular reason other than she was standing at the wrong place at the wrong time. She seemed happy enough to be here however, until of course Sodano Shiko asked if she came because of the word he sent to the Asako. Apparently she had not been privy to such information and when she heard that Kokujin was present, her pale face seemed to lose what little color it had. The Jade Magistrate scurried to the Emperor’s table, whispered something in his ear and – BAM – The feast was over.
Summoning his champions
The feast ended and the Emperor summoned forth his seppun, the minor clan Daimyos as well as the Jade Magistrate. A few others showed up as well.
Ikoma Tso-Lou came to speak on the Jade Magistrate’s behalf. Though he served the Sapphire rather than Jade order, Tso-Lou could see that the woman was clearly intimidated by talking directly to the Emperor, so he acted as her champion. That, and he desperately, so desperately, needed a hair of the Emperor. His little sister Ikoma Li is a doll collector and the most prestigious dolls are those of the Emperor WITH the Emperor’s own hair!
Mirumoto Al-Saleen also stood present. Not only was he the Topaz Champion, but betrothed to Daimyo Zutaka’s daughter, and his heir that should stand at his side. Zutaka was of course, infuriated with his presence, but could not honorably refuse him.
Kakita Shimzu, who shared the same station with regards to the Sparrow Daimyo, however, deigned to leave. When confronted with his potential future father in law, he excused himself explaining that he was needed to keep the peace at the tournament.
Yoritomo Miyazaki, or should we say, the Sapphire Champion also showed up form nowhere, dressed head to foot in his blue heavy armor, complete with mempo.
Sodano Shiko knew he would be summoned but was not so presumption as to say he knew the emperor’s mind. Instead he wandered into the forest where he was confronted, once again with Kokujin “So, you’ve told the Emperor of my presence. That is just as well, we both want this tournament to continue. Should it not, I will take your head AND the soul of your Isawa. I sense the snake’s coils closing around his heart as we speak. He will be mine one way or the other.” Kokujin disappeared and as expected, moments later as seppun guardsman found Shiko to deliver the Emperor’s summons.
With nearly all of us present in one form or another the Emperor commanded Sodano Shiko to, in no uncertain means, explain very clearly every interaction he had with the mad prophet. After Skiko described all four encounters (including the most recent one just minute ago) the Emperor rolled his eyes “I did not think I would ever had to tell one of my magistrates this but please do not speak with Kokujin! The tournament must continue however, so all of you must be alert for his presence. The mad prophet will not bring ruin to my tournament.”
We were all excused, except the Sapphire Champion.
“Nadu, I did not expect you to be here.”
Miyazaki grunted with some kind of passive response.
“You seem… shorter than usual.”
“There is a dip in the floor, Emperor-sama”
Tired of this charade the Emperor told Miyazaki “I appreciate the work you have done to preserve Tsurichi Nadu’s appearance, however the Sapphire Champion does not need to be at this event. Now, be gone.”
Miyazaki, impersonating his boss Tsurichi Nadu ran like a tidal way from the Emperor’s sight.
A Hairy situation
While Miyazaki sweated underneath the Champion’s armor, Tso-Lou faced a delicate situation as well. As the Emperor spoke during the meeting, a single hair dropped from his divine pate onto the floor. As Tso-Lou bowed deeply to excuse himself, the hair disappeared into his kimono.
So deft was his deception that surely he would not be noticed.
However, the Emperor’s guards are not hired for their looks. An imperial shugenja stopped the young Ikoma at the door and cleared his throat. “The Emperor’s hair?” he inquired.
Knowing that he was caught, Tso-Lou gave it over and explained himself. The shugenja sighed and asked why people never just asked every once in a while! With a blessing from the kami the siphoned away any essence of the Emperor preserved in the hair so that it could not be used against him in some ritual magic and returned to Tso-Lou with an official scroll certifying it’s authenticity.
Shiko the Master
Outside Al-Saleen and Shiko had a moment alone to talk. It hurt Al-Saleen to see his friend so torn by pursuit of the Truth. “My friend, I believe you are more wise than any of us. Just as we must suffer many blows from our sensei before we properly learn how to wield the katana, you have endured many lies before you will know the truth. I believe, however, that these lies make you stronger and one day, you will be the sensei, and those around you, the students.”
The tournament beings. Sumai!
In the morning the first match was held for those who wanted to participate. The Sumai competition, hosted by the Badger clan started the tournament as the first match. Meanwhile the six other trials which were going on both days were also available for any takers.
How did we do?
Ikoma Tso-Lou, master of Jujitsu spun kicked is opponent right out of the ring, receiving cheers and congratulations form the onlookers. He may be a courtier but the Ikoma packs a punch. Five points. Banzai!
Sodano Shiko, however was faced with a tough opponent and after several thrusts and pushes was sent out of the ring. He held his own however and impressed the judges with his effort. Two points.
In the trials, Kakita Shimzu, Yoritom Miyazaki and Mirumoto Al-Saleen all did well for themselves.
Shimzu mediated even as the bat clan pounded steel beside him. Apparently his encounter with the monk and the sparrow paid off. Five points. Banzai!
Miyazaki found the Oriel Daimyo very approving of his knot work, despite his affiliation with the Daimyo’s son-in-law. Five points. Banzai!
The Monkey let out a stiff “oof” as Al-Saleens bokun struck home, showing both form, accuracy and power. Five points. Banzai!
Sheesh, 2800+ words into this AP report and I’m having a hard time remembering something that didn’t rock. Let’s see if I can distill it down a bit further.
Starting with the mechanics, I liked the scene economy stickers. Ever since I heard of this in Burning Empires I really dug the idea that players have goals and have limited time to try and reach those. In this case there are a lot of different things to go for and it will be cool as the game proceeds to see who peruses what.
Most of our personal scenes (which is what most of the game was) were great. I really love seeing what all the characters are about. Tso-Lou, Shiko and Miyazaki in particular really had entertaining scenes.
The tournament events were done briskly, which I appreciate. I like the idea of the events, but hate the notion of being bogged down by the minutia of I’m really glad they’ve been handled with a single roll.
The mystery of what is going on behind the scense with Kokujin, Number Two and Bayushi Hakuseki is great. I’m really happy to have that extra intrigue in the game.
Oh… I almost forgot, Al-Saleen totally drew down on Shimzu. After his scene with monkey (whose armor was tampered with) he came to his loyal companion and told him in no uncertain terms to “get his affairs in order!” This was followed by a fox clan heimin with a dislocated shoulder, injured by a small furry oni. After that Shimzu stormed off looking for that rat!
I was happy to have another short scene discussing faith and beliefs with Shiko, I always value these interactions.
Already planning for next session. Next three slots going to 1) impress the monkey, 2) complete in the craftsmanship competition, 3) compete in the end of day match.
Al-Saleen is a total drama queen. Nobody understands the pain! It was great when Miyazaki was making a total fool out of himself proclaiming his love to Hakuseki, Erik described him trying to think “What would Al-Saleen say?”
What could have improved
I feel that as we add more and more tweaks to the game, some things are getting forgotten. For instance, in the last few sessions, I’ve only seen personality cards come into play once. Also, in this game I forgot to put out tokens for the keys until an hour into the game and we ended up awarding some retroactively. I love all the hacks; don’t get me wrong, they just get a little crazy to keep track of. And, this one goes to you Joe, I’m a little worried about overwhelming any new player that comes to the game.
Speaking of personality cards, these need to get updated. Miyazaki needs Jo and the Bat Daimyo. Al-Saleen needs Zutaka. I’m sure there are others that I’m not thinking of.
The scene with Shimzu and the Sparrow went too long. I couldn’t really tell what the conflict or center piece of the scene was. I think it would have been better if it was split, one scene impressing the Sparrow Daimyo, and a second meeting his daughter and trying to figure out if he could marry her.