Actual Play – How Heavy a Burden (11/30/2009)

GM: Travis Lindquist
Players: Sean, Eric, Erik, Alec, Steve, and Omar
System: L5R, 3rd Edition


Last night was a great game. We started with a recap of the previous game. So much has been happening each week (especially last week when we finished Winter Court) that we couldn’t recall all of it, but the one thing that stuck in all our heads was the disgrace our lord did us by using our false testimony and stolen wares to gain a personal victory over another clan.

That was an important point because Travis gave us all and option of how our characters could protest this dishonor. Commit seppuku and denounce your lord in your death poem. Cool! It made me think of the death curses from the Dresden Files. I sat for about ten minutes thinking is this something worth dying for? I had been an active participant in the deception which betrayed my clan of birth. More importantly my honor got used as a tool for his own dishonorable act. It would be one thing if we were serving the Emperor, Rokugan or even the Sapphire Magistrates but this was pure selfish advancement. Finally I decided that I’d rather stand for what my character believes then have him live on in shame. Seppuku it would be.

The scenes leading up to and including the ritual were cool, if a bit focus on a single player. Yoritomo Miyazaki, our Chui, the next champion to be, tried to dissuade Hojatsu (Al-Saleen’s name after marriage) and for that effort earned the thanks of being my second. Yay. I also had audience with my Father-in-Law, who beamed with pride and Nadu who was relatively unconcerned with the affair. He was worried that Hojatsu knew about his peasant family, find out that he was only objecting actions with the Kitsuke did not faze him much. He was losing a magistrate but truth be told Hojatsu/Al-Saleen was never a particularly good one. I didn’t have a poem prepared for the Seppuku but a rolled a high enough storyteller roll to make a passable one. The Seppuku itself was a challenge I wasn’t prepared for (mechanically speaking). Stamina + Etiquette, TN 40. I makes a lot of sense, you’ve got to disembowel yourself. No easy act. I got a LOT of help on this one. First I spent all my remaining XP to raise my Etiquette from 1 to 3 and took and Etiquette Emphasis in Seppuku. As I walked in Isawa Yoshi gave me a blessing of the Kami, raising my Stamina, finally I invoked “no thought” and used a void. With all that it was still going to be a very hard roll. And somehow my dice were just kind enough to get me over the TN. I died with a 42. Here was Tsi Hojatsu’s death poem:

I’ve known Shourido
Now I cleanse her from my soul
My lord walks with her.

After his death, which had the desired effect of making Nadu lose some face in eyes of honorable samurai and a nice side effect for him of making him gain credibility in the underworld, winter court ended and each samurai went their separate ways.

After Winter Court

Ikoma Tso-Lou returned to his father’s shiro and was welcomed by the family. His father teased him about being a pawn of the Crane (as he was now Daimyo of the Shiro Sapphire’s Honor) and told him of his brother’s further disgrace. He had abandoned his post amongst the death seekers. Undoubtedly to plot his revenge against Tso-Lou. He also saw Ikoma Li who still had it in her head to be a Matsu Bushi. Upon hearing that Hojatsu killed himself she struck even more, bullying those around her, and got a friendly (if somewhat punitive) visit from my now ancestor spirit.

Sodano Shiko went home to pray at sensei’s grave. When there, from the shadows he saw Kokujin who first berated him for leaving him to die and then introduced Chuda Sagoten. Greatly distressed Sodano told the Pheonix of this. While they insisted that he was seeing things and should drink a special tea so as to stop seeing images of Kokujin, they responded to the threat of Chuda Sagoten in earnest, starting with changing all of their defenses.

Sezume Shimizu (now a Sparrow) spent some time with his wife in a cottage just a step above a peasants before receiving an invite with his sister to stay at their shiro, where they have little luxuries, like say… floors. Benten visited his wife and told her they would have twins. He also visited the shrine to Hojatsu and Kakita.

Yortimo Miyazaki held the Sapphire Magistrates tournament (by himself) and recruited a handful of new Sapphire Magistrates. He also spent time setting things straight (as well as horizontal) with Mirimoto Akimoto, who Tsi Hojatsu handed over to his custody after his death.

Isawa Yoshi went to the dragon lands to face his challenge, a meditation contest under the melt from a glacier. Both contestants endured such pain as not thought possible by others. Togashi was protected by his stomach of fire, while Yoshi was warded by the kami. Even so the freezing water eventually broke down their defenses and Yoshi lost his concentration. In a fit of anger he call out the Fires of Osano Wo and melted a large of the glacier, losing both honor and glory.

After the Magistrates returned to their duty they attended the Topaz Championship. Seeing it this time as one of the staff rather than a participant. During the championship a stranger appeared and told one of Tso-Lou’s companions “It is time to wake” suddenly the “sleeper agent” woke and attacked Tso-Lou, along with the stranger’s allies. The fight was brutal, enough so that we played it twice to see how a tweak in the power of our opponents would work. My nebulous shade of a Matsu character was introduced, full of range about her aunt so-and-so and her grandfather Matsu run-away-chicken.

What rocked

If I didn’t say it clearly enough before, the Death scene and residual agency was awesome.

I loved some of the down time scenes, specifically Isawa’s meditation contest and Shiko’s encounter with Sagoten. Great stuff all around.

What could have been improved

I wasn’t prepared to die. I was happy that I did it but I didn’t have another character in mind. What this meant is I spent most of the night figuring out what kind of character I would play, settling on a Matsu Berserker but still looking fondly at the Akodo Bushi and Akodo Warmaster.

The skirmish was rocky. The first time around the NPCs predominantly had the initiative. The second time we rolled it, we were more staggered but the players got pretty lucky about attacking the folks who hadn’t already acted and therefore got a higher effective initiative. The sad result seemed to be that whoever wins initiative murders the other side. We threw out some ideas on how to make the battle a little more tactically interesting with more options that just kill the other guys as fast as you can but nothing stuck as the definitive fix. I’m sure we’ll keep looking at this. Some ideas I have:

Contests that work really well are duels based on rolls with escalating TNs. I think this helps eliminate the riff-raff and leaves only the serious contenders. Not sure if this could be applied at all to combat.

I’d like see the special maneuvers being at least as interesting (if not as effective) as taking raises for damage. The current character I made is a big hammer to smash things down on the anvil of the Lion’s honor. She’s not a great candidate for trying out feints or knockdowns, but if I do end up playing an Akodo Warmaster, they are specifically good at exactly that kind of stuff.

5 thoughts on “Actual Play – How Heavy a Burden (11/30/2009)”

  1. Nice write up. Glad you had an awesome scene with your sepukku.

    I’ve heard the complaint/comment about initiative, but frankly it is the one thing that I really like about the system. The L5r skirmish system is quick, brutal, dirty, in-your face murder the other guy with a 3 foot razor blade.
    It’s the brutality and sheer intenisty of combat which makes characters reach for violence as a last resort, as opposed to the first one.

    1. conversely, NPCs should maintain that same “violence as last resort” mentality as well. There should rarely, if ever, be a “random” combat encounter. If for no other reason than most bandits are cowards, and wouldn’t want to risk getting dead when there are plenty of unarmed peasants to bully/murder around.

    2. This is actually a pretty good point. The “skirmish” could have played out very differently if things hadn’t devolved immediately into combat. Several rounds of positioning/diplomacy may have been more interesting in the long run and allowed the players to set things more to their advantage, or vice versa.

        1. Indeed. And I am quite sure that this was no “random” encounter either. And to be fair, a well planned ambush on unsuspecting foes by skilled assassins should nearly diasterous to those getting ambushed.

          I’ve been playing a lot of 4th edition DnD as of late, and that game seems purposely built to take away any risk of character death (let alone permenant character death) on the grounds that it sucks when your character dies. However, what WOTC failed to realize (or calculated was a lesser of the two) was that by making it next to impossible to die, you take all the dramatic tension out of the scene. Then its just mindlessly rolling dice and killing shit at random in order to take their stuff (since there are no social or moral framework to punish that behavior) in order to get better to be able to kill bigger stuff. Wash, Rinse, Repeat ad naseum.

          Never once have I ever entered into a combat in L5R in which it wasn’t a tense environment where literally a single thing could spell the doom of your character. Acting upon those conditions instead of running like a little girl is real heroism, and the stuff of dramatic legend.

          *climbs off soapbox*
          Thank you for your time, back to the shadows with me.

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