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.

6 thoughts on “Actual Play – Innocence Does Not Buy Freedom (3/29/2010)”

  1. I think that, for more reaction to the bastard son, it would need to occur in a situation that was less fraught.

    a. finding out when the kid is in peril leads to a certain amount of “wtf?…nevermind let’s deal with the immediate problem rather than whatever you did in the five years wandering.”
    b. Much like public drunkeness, you try to ignore such impolite things. A bastard is something for her family to deal with while we all put our fingers in our ears and go ‘lalala’. Shinji was pretty much in that mode. “new information to file under ‘none of my damn business.'”
    c. In fact, the new kids don’t know her well enough yet to actually know if that’s terribly out of character.
    d. while bastard kids are a bit shameful, they’re often acknowledged in some fashion (like…the current Shogun). They’re a huge shame for someone who took a vow of celibacy. Otherwise, they’re as big a deal as your family and superiors make them, and fodder for courtiers who want to jab at you.

    I wasn’t too worried about the focus on Rei. Among other things, focus tends to shift and seldom manages to be entirely equal in any given session.

    1. Yeah, good point(s). I’m not sure what I was looking for exactly, except maybe something to substantiate Rei’s fear of telling the magistrates about her son. That however, will probably become justified at some point as Travis has NPCs use the PCs knowledge of him to put him in danger. So while her fears may seem unjustified now, I bet they’ll make sense sooner or later.

      1. Alternately, I could see a plot that eventually involved some other family adopting him. Matsu being a matriarchy, the family would have little issue with that. So someone owes Rei a favor? Rei owes a favor? Childless but important family needs a son? (maybe minor clan…which means a drop in status for him, but he gets to be publicly acknowledged).

        There’s enough tension in not wanting to give him up, but probably having to at some point for her/his/the family’s good without just using him as a blackmail plot(which could get stale). Further tension in the fact that there are likely trade-offs socially/politically in whatever scenario develops along those lines. It’s one resolution I’d see for a plot where the other obvious ones involve peril and/or death for a child.

        In any case, she’s right to fear telling the magistrates. If nothing else, it tarnishes her image significantly in their eyes. Can they testify to her spotless character? ‘Er..hmm..except for that…well, we don’t talk about that.’ For the new folks, what kind of group have they gotten themselves into with this Lion who has problems with her loyalty? (I mean…look how many lords she thinks she can serve. And then, putting herself out of commission with childbearing, and putting the welfare of the result above her other duties? Well….). They have to wonder if she’d sell one of them out to protect the boy. Etc. So I think it’s likely a subtle thing making ripples even if the PCs knowledge never gets used in a blatant way.

        The Crab are a bit more practical. So it matters less to Shinji (who wouldn’t 100% trust you, or anyone, with her back anyway), and likely the Kaiu. Crab bastards are one more warrior for the Wall and not infrequently raised alongside their more legitimate half-siblings.

        1. Good ideas, all of them. Having her son become political capital is part of the darker (or maybe just sadder) parts of Rokugan. The tragedy is that even if she loves her son, the best (or only) choice may be to give him up. Not because of extortion or blackmail or kidnapping, but just because that is what society expects/demands. Still, if she loses him she’s renaming him Utaku!

          As for the crab being understanding; I figure I have both that and the fact that it is a reasonably common occurrence amongst the Matsu to make it more acceptable with those that I spend most of my time with. The Crane and the Scorpion, however… at least their courtiers, that is totally ammunition for them.

    1. When I first read this I though it said “bit tatas” and I was like WTF BBQ you love big tatas. Then I wondered what in the hell that had to do with the game and re-read it. Makes much more sense now.

      Yeah, it’s okay though. A lot of Tracy’s ideas have some great potential, so while it didn’t come out in the “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us…” soap opera melodrama, her son will still be interesting. Oh yeah, and I want him as a card as well, but as a rival (not that he sides against me but that he complicates my life rather than making it easier). His name (if I didn’t give this to you before) is Jo. Yep, that’s intentionally the same name Al-Salin had before his gempuku.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *