Actual Play – Jurojin’s Blessing (8/31/2009)

Two observations about our L5R game:

  1. Between the Keys, Battle System, Mons, Spell Cards, Personality cards, and these upcoming changes, nobody is going to recognize what the hell game we’re playing. And I’m okay with that. We’re having lots of fun making all the tweaks, hacks, and add-ons.
  2. The second observation (which I’m less happy about) is that we’re going to become like miniature gamers with regard to all the crap we have to lug to game. Who am I kidding though, I love props. So, here’s the new stuff:

Mechanical Updates

Spell Scrolls. Last game we had six shugenja in a battle. And it took a long time. Way too much looking up spells, seeing what they do, range, etc. So, in the same vein as power cards for Dungeons and Dragons, I made Spells Scrolls (conveniently the shape of magic card and in color coded sleeves) for our Shugenja. As they each know 12 spells, this took time but wasn’t insurmountable. Most importantly the cards have all the information you need to cast them (casting time, range, duration, effect, special rules for raises, etc.) They in some cases also have cool pictures.

Improved Character Tents. We used to have plain printed character tents with our name and keys on them. I’ve improved this by taking the clan specific bumper stickers I got from GenCon and adding the name and keys to them, so we’ve got clan colors, clan mon, a (sometimes humorous) statement about the clan, character name and keys all in one place. Pretty shwank.

The Honor Wager. This was just discussed and hasn’t been fleshed out yet, but the gist of it is that when in difficult situations we’ll be able to wager honor to get something we want. The roll will have three conditions. Total failure = Lose honor and don’t get what we want. Success = Lose honor, get what we want. Exceptional Success = Keep honor and get what we want. I’m excited about making honor more like a currency and less like a carrot and stick.

Enemy Cards. Like personality cards, we’re going to gain enemy cards that we can summon into scene like our allied personalities. Instead of costing void, however, it will regain a void. An interesting twist and a way to replenish resources by complicating your life.

Naval Combat. This idea is still really vague (at least my understanding of it is vague), but Travis wants to make naval combat more like mounted combat, where our boats will offer us advantages or other options in combat. Note, this is for kabuni skirmishes, not naval warfare. That will be handled with our battle system.

Campaign Workshop. Travis has created a wiki for keeping track of the upcoming storyline, through the end of days. *WARNING* Material that could be considered spoilers here:

New Keys:

Sodando Shiko, no longer “The” Sapphire Magistrate, now The Soul of Shiba

Ikoma Tso-Lao, no longer consumed by Fratricide, now the Advisor.

Retcon from last game

Travis and I agreed that taking Mokoku was just going to suck and be all kinds of no fun. We decided that instead of taking interest in void, the Lords of Death discovered Al-Saleen’s Dark Secret (one that he didn’t even know he had) and discovered that one of his grandparents was a Maho-Tsukai. We didn’t play it out (will probably do this in flashbacks) but I took Lore: Shurido (the corrupted version of bushido) and Travis has said that periodically useful maho spells will pop into Al-Saleen’s head, with all the knowledge to cast them should he wish.

Introduction to the Tournament

As we arrived we saw all the minor clans setting up there various contests. It became immediately clear that a minor clan tournament looks nothing like that of the major clans. Divination much?

The Badger Clan: Sumai – Lead Judge: Ichiro Chingoro

The Bat Clan: Meditation – Lead Judge: Komori Iongi

The Dragonfly Clan: Divination – Lead Judge: Tonbo Hachiko

The Fox Clan: Herbalism – Lead Judge: Kitsune Toru

The Hare Clan: Athletics – Lead Judge: Usagi Uono

The Monkey Clan: Kenjutsu – Lead Judge: Toku Satsuko

The Oriole Clan: Craftsmanship – Lead Judge: Tsi Zutaka (O-father-in-law-sama)

The Ox Clan: Horsemanship – Lead Judge: Morito Shimaru

The Sparrow Clan: Iaijutsu – Lead Judge: Suzume Akashi

The Tortoise Clan: Sadane – Lead Judge: Kasuga Kaiten

Our Duty Calls

This was a great scene. Tso-Lou was pondering the tournament and remembering a story about a brash young samurai who did incredibly well for himself but his hubris, his lack of wisdom, was his downfall. We all got the strange suspicion that we had forgotten something.

One great concern was Number Two. He had vowed vengeance against us and as we spoke it seemed that disasters cropped up everywhere. Tents collapsed, supplies were missing or broken and heimin confused. Serious as this threat was however, it was Kakita Shimzu’s duty to keep both his follower and the tournament in order.

The Forest Killers, however, and their threat upon the emperor, weighed heavily on us. Just as the Sapphire Magistrates were discussing our plan for stopping them a bold group of Emerald Magistrates charged in shouting “There are Forest Killers in these woods. We will slay them. For the Emperor! For the glory of the Emerald Magistrates!” As they left, one of the magistrates, a Bayushi by his armor, chided us “Sapphire Magistrates, why don’t you go find a creek to guard until we return?” After that, it was on! Our boyish desire for glory just so happened to coincide with our duty.

Shurido discussed

Briefly, before we set out Al-Saleen spoke with Shoki and Tso-Lao and told them he had learned from the wisdom they tried to impart on him before the battle of 10 Banners. Standing on the pillars of Bushido and Tao alone did not support him. The dragon fell in the water (quite literally, as he was stabbed and dropped into the river) without the support of the third pillar. Which of course his companions took to mean On, rather than his new knowledge of Shurido.

As a short aside, I think Shurido is cool because taken individually the tenets all make sense and as a whole feels like the companion to Bushido. It’s awesome.

My Father’s Blade

Al-Saleen offered to procure a blade that would gather the Forest Killer’s interest. As they already believed we carried the Emporer’s gift, it would do as well to keep them believing that, both to keep then attention on us and to prevent them from attacking the diminished guards at the tournament.

The young dragon approached the giant that was his father-in-law (Gregor Clegane anyone?) requesting a Tsi blade. The older man laughed at him, calling him weak and deceptive and promised that the Sapphire Magistrate’s tricks were not needed here. “He” would handle the Forest Killers. He stormed off to rally other minor clans to his side… and Al-Saleen still needed a blade.

Thankfully the other Tsi apprentices really liked Mirumoto Al-Saleen. Whenever he was present, Zutaka yelled at him rather than them. For his distraction, and his promise to return to the forged two hours every day while in the Imperial City, one of the other Tsi allowed Al-Saleen to take a Tsi blade, which he would return, of course. (Note to NPCS: Never give and important sword to Al-Saleen. He loses them all the time!)

What’s all this commotion?

Meanwhile, Tso-Lao was drawn to a crowd of bushi who were one part arguing, one part boasting. As he mingled into the crowd a Hare pointed him out. “Ikoma, the Usagi [Hare clan] know this forest better than any other, clearly I should go hunt for the Forest Killers. You pick who else should go!” Unbeknownst to him, Tso-Lao was the arbiter of which minor clan bushi should go hunting for the Forest Killers and which should stay behind to protect the tournament.

One Ox made it very clear that NO major clan was going to tell him what to do. Sadly, cutting down heimin sent by the Kakita was his preferred method of demonstrating his independence. Despite his fury, Tso-Lao managed to convince him that he could demonstrate his bravery and prowess the best by staying behind and guarding the tournament.

When the group was selected, Tso-Lao told them about our encounter with the Forest Killers and that he could provide directions to find them. Eager to prove themselves, the minor clan bushi all listened with rapt attention as the Ikoma gave them the most circuitous route he could finagle. Most were happy for the advice but clearly the Hare wasn’t convinced. Perhaps he just believed that he knew the forest better than a newcomer, either way that was the last we saw of him.

He also met a Badger, a man who was slow to speak, but who had apparently saved both Tso-Lou and his little sister’s lives years ago. He had never received recognition for it then, he didn’t expect to now. Obligation Badger, Check!

The Mad Monk

Sodano Shiko and Isawa Yoshi set off on the innocuous task of rounding up horses and supplies for us to head out. They chose mounts which were serviceable but unimpressive, un-dyed riding cloaks and other apparel that would aid us in finding the Forest Killers without standing out.

As they gathered supplies, both became aware of a short man wearing naught but a black loincloth and dozens of tattoos. An odd fellow, he was adamant that the Forest Killers must be stopped and that the tournament was “willed to be”. He spoke cryptically, and was quickly identified as a tattooed monk. I suppose that was true enough, but didn’t tell the whole story. He agreed to help the Sapphire Magistrates defeat the Forest Killers if they would aid the peasants, offering up all their Koku and valuables. Shiko, being and ascetic had little to offer, but Yoshi had purses laden with coin, jewelry, and other riches befitting of his status. When the monk saw his netsuke he looked at him very curiously “Ahh… very powerful indeed. So you would sacrifice you companions in pursuit of your desires? Very good.”

Yeah, awkward moment for the Sodano who just too the key “Soul of Shiba!”

The monk gave the Phoenix directions, which were clarified by some earth kami, and we were off!

An old woodcutter

In the woods we met an old man cutting wood. This was a conundrum for the magistrates who knew the forest belonged to the Emperor, for which this heimin surely did not have a writ allowing him to gather wood here, yet he was old and our compassion guided us to hear his story rather than punish him (at least not yet).

The old man who seemed feeble, yet oddly still able, spoke of staying young by chopping wood and other stories. The most interesting of them was of a cherry tree that had died before its time, it grew too fast and exhausted its life. The greatest tragedy Rokugan had ever known, the old man said. Yeah, that made Al-Saleen feel great.

He kept stalling; telling us that if we wanted to live out the rest of our lives as youth we should go forward, which was a great way of saying that we were going to die soon. Quickly, however our patience waned and at last when the old man would not stop his silly idling, Tso-Lao leapt forward and broke his arm like snapping a branch.

That about resolved that… or did it? Tso-Lao threw the old man over his horse like a bundle of wood and we all continued to ride. Only as we proceeded the forest got thicker to the point we could not ride any further. So we continued on foot, but soon the old man complained he was thirsty and needed water.

Ikoma Yoshi, suspecting this man was more than he seemed reached out with his senses to see if this man was in fact a kami of some sort. He observed that as the kami of air passed through him, they became smaller. Unsure what this meant, he still knew the old man was not what he seemed.

Frustrated Mirumoto asked the old man what trial he would place before us before we could continue. At first the man asked that we carry him back to the cherry tree, then he looked up as though he heard something no one else could and said “never mind… you can go now.”

Later, it would don on the magistrates that this was Jurojin, the fortune of Longevity and his delay saved our lives.

Kokujin, Forest Killers and Oni, Oh Mai!

After the old man left us, we slowly because aware of the sounds of battle ahead. As we drew nearer we found one of the Emerald Magistrates, a Yasuki, whose leg just been severed by a trip wire. Bitterly we realized the same wire we would have walked across if we had been there first. Al-Saleen tended to his wounds, so that he would not bleed to death and the rest of the Magistrates appraised the battle ahead.

Ahead was a grand melee that did not belong this side of the wall! In a small lake a giant oni (a nightmare of water in fact) lashed its tentacles and suckers out at the Forest Killers, but in the fray as well were the Emerald Magistrates and the Minor Clans. Though the monster seemed focused on the bandits, it spent no major effort differentiating between those it attacked. To make matters worse, riding on top of the great beast was none other than the mad prophet the Phoenix had talked to before, apparently controlling be beast. Yep, we were messing with Kokujin.

So, like any sane Samurai, we cut our losses. The monster could not be killed, but it could be distracted by gorging on Forrest Killers, and the Emerald Magistrate and Minor Clan bushi could be saved.

Ikoma Tso-Lao rescued the badger that reluctantly retreated with him, on the condition that he use his father’s great wealth to aid the badger clan.

Mirumoto Al-Saleen leapt into the fray to distract the Forest Killers by waving the Tsi blade, which in motion and at that distance looked much like the Emperor’s Gift. He saw his father-in-law trying to battle with one of the bandits, but his great blade was tangled by a tentacle from the oni. Al-Saleen leapt into the air, and with a single stroke severed the tentacle, then rolled and kicked the bandit towards the water, where it was consumed by another monstrous appendage. As usual Al-Saleen and Zutaka had some verbal sparring in the middle of it, something about “what the hell are you doing with that sword?”

Isawa Yoshi, ever the stalwart wall of defense ignited his hands into a blaze to protect his companion. As a tentacle came flying down to wrap around Al-Saleen, Yoshi burned it with his fiery hands, causing the beast to writhe in pain and recoil. Sadly though, not without its ichor seeping on to Yoshi and tainting him. Yeah… more work for Shiko.

The Sodano, mean while, was rescuing one of the Emerald Magistrates, the Bayushi who insulted us in fact. “It looks like you found some trouble by the water. I’m glad the Sapphire Magistrates are here to help.” Practicing Sedane seemed to be the flavor of the evening! Shiko dodged tentacles and swords to pull the bushi free, but once he arrived the man turned and said follow me, both bolted from the fight, with amazing alacrity despite the troubled path they took.

After the party there is the after party.

Returning home, the magistrates agreed we all fought the Forest Killers and came out triumphant. The plan was that no one would horde the glory, nor point out how the Sapphire Magistrates could have been more timely or how the Doji could have been more valiant. Also, no mention of the Oni was to made.

That was the plan at least. Ikomo Tso-Lao told a lively story of the great battle against the Forest Killer, bragging about the heroics of the Sapphire Magistrates and painting the Doji leader of the Emerald Magistrates a coward and a clown. We earned glory, the Doji lost more and Tso-Lao made one another enemy.

Kokujin returns.

In the Pheonix hut, Kokujin appeared to Sodano and Isawa, thanking them for their service to him. He made it clear that he despised the Emperor, but that this tournament must continue. An uneasy alliance was formed, made even more troublesome when the mad prophet told Isawa of the Chuda, the Snake clan, and how much power he could offer Yoshi. Power that the Master of Earth couldn’t fathom.

And if the story wasn’t ending dark enough…

Afer the party as Al-Salin cleaned the edge of his blade, he took a long look at the blood stained rice paper and whispered just in earshot of Tso-Lao “Hmm… there is so much power in blood…”

What rocked

I really like tournaments. I like all the different trials and tests. Especially in this case as each event has significance to the minor clans. I look forward to competing in them and to spending more time with the minor clans putting them on. It’s also cool that each clan will choose its own champion to reward.

Interacting with the canonical bad asses was great. It felt a little overpowering during the scene with the oni (see below) but in general it was cool to feel tapped into major events and people in the world. Kokujin was just batshit crazy (and evil) and Jurojin’s interest in our lives was awesome. I think Al-Saleen will take a limb from that cherry tree to remember him by.

The rivalry between the Emerald and the Sapphire Magistrates was great, an awesome catalyst for getting our characters into action.

All of Number Two’s previous “pranks” are starting to turn into outright disasters. It is great to see him becoming a force to be reckoned with.

“Saving” my father-in-law is just going to make him hate me all the more. In fact, every part of my father-in-law hating me is great. I hope to continually disappoint him by giving him little reason to fault me.

I love the tension brewing between Sodano and Isawa. Yoshi is totally Anakin Skywalker and Obi-wan, er Shiko is watching him be tempted to the dark side. Excellent!

Similarly, the discussions of morality, service to our lord and consequences of our actions between Sodano, Ikoma and Mirumoto is awesome. There discussion, vague as it usually is becomes a prophesy for play. Usually in the form of Al-Saleen declaring something stupid, Ikoma saying it won’t work and then Al-Saleen discovering (the hard way) that the Ikoma was right. I’m really glad Fattig took “Advisor” as the new key for Tso-Lao, it is perfect.

Shiko keeps having these people of very strong conviction (first Al-Saleen, then the Sodano Daimyo, and now a Bitter Lies scorpion) who tell him that they know the one, true right way to act. And because of their conviction and the way they frame their logic, it makes sense. Then their beliefs encounter the real world and like all one-dimensional ideas, fail to apply. So he keeps being promised clarity of purpose, but it is never delivered. I look forward to the day when he finds someone telling him how to live and tells them to shove a wakazashi in it!

Getting all the “fight” that I need in. I know Fattig will disagree with me, but for having a VERY martial character, I’ve had plenty of actual fighting with the few snippets of battle we’ve seen. One round of combat is A-OK with me.

As said before, the introduction of Shurido as a companion (ultimately a destructive companion, but that isn’t clear yet) to bushido is awesome. I think next session if there is room for it Al-Saleen is going to bring it up in name rather than just talk about its virtues (strength, wisdom, knowledge, etc.) Should be fun times.

Dude, we’re totally going to be paranoid about this tournament. Kokujin wants it to happen, which must be bad. Should we stop the whole thing? Start an investigation? Watch for everything that goes wrong (which Number Two will help with plenty)? Try to control who wins so that we control who gets access to the Emperor’s Gift? Watch for people who came from the fight to see if any of them were tainted and now serve Kokujin?

What could be improved

During the last “fight” it was hard to tell if the giant nightmare of water was an opponent or just scenery. I got the impression it was the latter, but it was hard distinction for our characters to make, as they clearly felt obligated to do something about it, and felt a bit like cowards at the end for running away. I felt like it needed to be framed as “okay, seeing this your mission has changed, your duty is to get these people to safety or to give them a quick death if they are beyond help.” Not sure if the moral quandary was intentional, but if so I don’t see how we had an option but to suck it up and be cowards. I guess if this was a test of our duty, courage, etc, I’d like it at the least to be framed as such. “Okay, following your beliefs is suicidal. What are you going to do now?” Still thinking on this one.

Here is a gripe with the system and I realize it has effected how I play. Part of the reason I don’t want a long skirmish is the death spiral. The more messed up you get, the harder it is to be awesome and more likely that you’ll just die. I know, its ridiculously John McClane of me, but when the hero is beat up and broken, that is when they are the most awesome, and that is when I want to see them come through with a victory. Sadly, L5R supports just the opposite. You kick ass when untouched and become weaker as the fight continues. Over the phone Travis pointed out a work around for this, spending a void to ignore wound penalties for a round. Agreeably, that is pretty sweet, just make sure to save that void point! Otherwise… well, not every game is Don’t Rest Your Head.

I think Travis was a bit more overt with the Bitter Lies scorpion than he needed to be. “It’s all a lie Phoenix, a bitter lie. A bitter, bitter lie. Phoenix, do you understand that it is a bitter lie? Bitter I say. Bitter.” Okay that is an exaggeration, but I think some of the mystique of the character was taken away but him identifying himself as a Bitter Lies Scorpion so soon and so obviously. Then again, there have been times when Travis tries to be subtle and we’re totally clueless, so it’s always hard to gauge how clear to be.


  1. 1) Moral quandry was quasi-intentional. I tried to push you guys to frame your own mission. That was why I gave you all the option of what you were going to attack. Could have been framed different, but I didn’t really want to hit you over the head with it.

    2) Ooo! Synergy! When battle goes bad you can pull out someone that doesn’t like you (since a number of the opponent cards won’t want to kill you) to come in to the battle, get a void point, and then do cool shit!

    3) Yeah, I didn’t want to do yet another too subtle scorpion. And, in my mind, the Bitter Lies are treated different, at least by me. I dislike most scorpion, since I think they tend to operate against the party. But the Bitter Lies Swordsmen are freaking awesome since they do crazy, crazy shit!

      • Totally, I had a blast. Like I said, we sat around for an hour talking about the game, which is a really good sign that all of us are excited about it.

    • 1) I find putting our character’s lives a frustrating stake, too binary. Arguably it’s on the line in every skirmish, but it doesn’t excite me. I think there is value in characters making decisions un-informed as it surprises the players when they get the outcome, but that also leads to risk-aversion, which we were all doing (i.e. I don’t want my character to die and/or become a creature o the shadowlands, rescue the bushi rather than face the oni). Since we didn’t have the ability to appraise the danger we faced, we played it safe rather than being as courageous as we could have been.

      I agree the characters should have weaknesses; times when they feel they could have done more, so maybe this is a good thing. I’m still thinking on this. Another example would be Lana watching her father get killed by Vampires in Buffy. In that case she was even more powerless. How do power fantasies (which arguably a lot of role-playing is) work when you lose agency? Something to talk on more.

      2) Hellz yeah, I totally like that idea.

      3) Okay, makes sense. He is the anti-scorpion in that regard. Cool. Joe, BTW, keep and eye on this character and talk to Travis about it as you may be asked to play him when you get in the game.

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