Actual Play – Innocence Does Not Buy Freedom (3/29/2010)

GM: Travis Lindquist
Players: Tracy, Sean, Alec, Eric and Steve
System: L5R

One part of me says this game was made of pure awesome. The other part thinks I’m biased. We used something that in general I hate. Secrets…. And yet I think they worked out; if only because they lasted two sessions before being revealed. I still think long term secrets are lonely-wrong-fun but that’s a discussion to have on a podcast or 30.

Dirty Secrets

The Topaz championship ended, Rei was cleared of her charges, and we did well in the eyes of the Otomo. All good, right? Kinda.

The show starts with Rei’s release. Daidoji Jinji receives an order and an unmarked letter. He orders his men to cut Rei down, giver her time to bathe and then provide the letter. A Haiku:

Constant rising light
The earth starts anew again
The son is with us

Outside during the mid day feast there is muttering about the Topaz championship being cursed, which Sezaru orders everyone to stop talking about, which of course only increases the speculation. After the hunt the standings have been askew. The hare (Heigi’s daughter) is in second place and an Utaka has taken the lead. Apparently when the Utaka could not find an unbroken egg she delivered the cracked shell the judges and told them a haiku explaining that the egg was present, just in many parts. The Mirumoto judge gave her full points and the hastened off with the remains provided. Rumor has it that he is cloistered in his lodgings trying to re-assemble it.

Meanwhile the magistrates discussed their plans to prove the innocence of Rei and Tamoi.

Shinji and Shiko speak about the mempo and how it had been made to look like a Lion mempo but in fact bore mantis colors. They were found by a Daidoji guard who asked that they accompany him and speak with his commander. They agree and are told Rei can go free but her travel papers will be held, thus preventing her from leaving the city.

Once Rei is set free she thanks the magistrates (Shiji and Shiko) but makes quickly for the Lion quarters to find out if the Scorpion really have her son. On the way the short Shiji hustles to keep up with Rei as she shows her the Mempo, half in Lion colors and half in Mantis. Rei quickly confirms that the mempo is not hers and then asks Shiko to summon Tso-Lou. Almost comedic how much running around got done this game.

In other parts of the city Tso-Lou is busy trying to convince the young Hare Usagi Ri that he’s not going to kill her just because she might displease him. The scary kuni present doesn’t help much in calming her down. Once she speaks though, she’s shows herself to be very bright and perceptive. She tells him the story of two Lions, one massive, the other short and unfamiliar with armor, cutting down the Dragonfly. She also says they the attacked him from behind, unlike any honorable Lion would. So many things making it clear that Tamoi and Rei didn’t do it but not who did or who they could get testimony from to clear their names. Thankfully Ri would gempuku the next day and it would take Tso-Lou AT LEAST that long to get a scribe to take her official testimony.

In the conversation Ri won over the battle hardened Lion and convinced him to allow her to be his scribe. What is it with Usagi scribes man!

After they leave Kuni Shinji communed with the earth who spoke to her through the body of the old woman (you know the one that can only say “hai”). Possessed by the Kami she spoke with a slow gravelly voice. The Kami told her that shadow was not present but that the element that surrounds us (water) erodes from all sides. The Kami present came on boats without jade (clearly pointing to the Yoritomo).

In the Sapphire Champions office Shimizu speaks with Nadu and asks him to act on Rei’s behalf. Nadu explains that not only is he too busy to help her but that if the Magistrates aren’t good enough to figure out what happened to her in the first place, they didn’t deserve to be Sapphire Magistrate in the first place. He’s fickle that one. The scene ends with an off color remark followed by a quill in the neck as a retort and reminder of Nadu’s prowess.

Shiko meets Tso-Lou and asks him to find Matsu Rei at the barracks. Tso-Lou sends Shiko to speak with the guards about who entered the city from the harbor… Shiko is tired of being an errand boy.

Tso-Lou finds Rei in the Lion quarters and she explains how the Scorpion are blackmailing her. They want (found from another haiku) the gift she brought from Kisada in exchange for her son (which nobody is supposed to know about, as he is a bastard) and Tso-Lou convinces her to give them what they asked for, but not necessarily what they want. Rei reveals that the origami wrapped katana is not actually a sword but Kisada’s poetry, meant to inspire the Topaz Champion.

Over a meal Rei asks each of her companions to aid her in meeting with the scorpion and they all rise to the challenge even though she refuses to give many of the details they should justifiably know. It is understood without saying that the Scorpion have something very dear to her. Shimzu offered to duel for her if need be, Shinji would speak to the kami, Shiko informed the Hare of the scorpion’s presence and Tso-Lou, as he has many times in the past, offered his wise council.

The arrangement was… unexpected. All of the magistrates gathered in the clearing used earlier in the day for the hunt. As they arrived a giant bonfire erupted around them, destroying any night vision they might have and making it impossible to tell how many Scorpion we hiding outside in the shadows.

We started with some cursory denouncements of allegiances. Kisada has betrayed Rokugan and the Celestial Order. The Scorpion have open Black Scrolls and killed and Emperor. Tit for tat Rokugan style. Eventually the agreement was made. Rei’s son for Kisada’s scroll. However the scorpion had no use for the scroll, they merely wanted a replacement to be given, one in which Kisada confessed that he should commit seppuku but was too cowardly to do so. Rei had three horrible choices before her. Refuse the scorpion and lose her son. Accept their offer and betray her lord. Or make a deal and break her word, burning the scroll. Rei chose the latter, which meant not only was her son still in danger but also that the attendees of the naming ceremony would think her a thief who stole the gift Kisada meant for the Topaz Champion. That was a fun situation. As a player I had some REALLY bad choices and some bearable ones. I didn’t want to make a REALLY bad one yet so I was happy for an out, even though it will hose my character later.

The next morning the winner is announced, an Utaka battle-maiden. Rei approaches the young but obviously worthy Samurai and presents a gift from her Lord, the Great Bear Kisada, a poem:

Every breath is your last
Only regret will stain your soul
Death walks at your side

Rei’s recitation is admirable (fine even) but does not stop the murmurs in the court wondering where the katana shaped gift had gone.

What rocked

The conundrum the scorpion put me in was great. I’d like to have these kinds of outcomes as stakes on future roles. Succeed and be glorious or fail and have the Scorpion backstab you.

The actual murder, which took a definite backstage for me but not the other players, turned out to be much more personal than we were expecting. The players assumed that because the Yoritomo Nizen was involved that the entire affair was an effort on the part of the Mantis or the Black Fleet to drive a wedge between the Crane and Lion. As it turned out this was just a love triangle (quadrangle?) gone wrong and Nizen just happened to be a personal friend of the criminal’s father. This was a good reminder that many things that look like their done to uphold justice or honor are cover ups for people perusing very human desires: greed, revenge, envy, etc.

I got to make a reveal about my character than otherwise wouldn’t have come to the surface. She loves her son but can’t acknowledge him. She suffers from the same conundrum that Nadu does. How do you protect your family when they are not supposed to exist?

There were some very comedic moments in this otherwise serious session. Shinji racing along beside Rei trying to figure out if the mempo was hers while Rei stalked off to the Lion quarters conjured up some hysterical imagery of shinji (who is short and walks with a cane) chasing along to catch up with the mostly disinterested Rei. Also, the scenes were Shiko kept being told to go find someone or another became comical after we realized it was the third time he was acting as an errand boy.

Some character bonds formed in the session, at least for Rei. She gained enormous respect for Shinji who defended her cause when bantering with the Scorpion. Shimzu also made her a pledge but I’m not sure if he can live up to it: “No one will ever touch your son again.” We’ll see.

What could have improved

This actual play report. Seriously, I’ve worked on it at three or four different times and it’s kind of boring and difficult to read. I would have done better to write a bit of narrative, possibly a letter from Rei to Kisada explaining her actions.

I worried through a lot of the game that the focus on my character would bore or annoy the other players. It seemed okay. Nobody complained about it after the game (at least that I heard) but I can’t really be sure other players weren’t feeling slighted.

As mentioned in the beginning, this game employed a lot of secrets, with the desire of making certain reveals have a large impact. Specifically I hoped that when Rei admitted she had a bastard son there would be some kind of “what were you thinking?” response but as usual the big “tada” reveals rarely are received the way you hope they will be. In this case everyone accepted it without question. A better response I imagine than totally freaking out, but I was going for a little shock value at least.

We didn’t have time in the end to actually wrap up the murder investigation. Travis revealed some bits that could have potentially taken us months to figure out in game but compressed them down to single session so we could move on to the main game next session.

Some thoughts after the game

If Rei’s son continues to be endangered (which he probably will be) she will probably give him up to the Matsu to raise completely apart from her. If she does, she’ll rename him Utaku. Consider the story of the boy named Sue. Now laugh. It’s a little funny.