Actual Play – Kazumichi’s Honor (6/8/2009)

GM: Travis Lindquist
System: L5R

We had a player leaving the game, leaving the area in fact. Next Saturday he moves to Texas and the odds that we’ll see him again outside of Facebook are slim. So, in honor of his departure, his character would be written out of the story, in one epic manner or another.

The storyteller started the game announcing that this game would focus around Kazumichi and his father Dohi Naomi, specifically defending their honor. Some sake merchant named Yasuki Onida was blackmailing him and if word got out, it would bring great shame to his family. At the start of the game he set the stakes.

You win: your father leaves the story (either through honorable seppuku or by shaving his head and becoming a monk) and Doji Kazumichi takes over as head of his holdings. A great honor.
You fail: Naomi is convicted of treason and you either die dishonorably (leaving your family name stained) or becoming a ronin (also leaving your family name stained).

Pretty hefty stakes, but considering the character had to leave the game one way or another, it was fitting. As we played, the storyteller kept wrapping other elements in the game into the final stakes, so that more and more was on the line.

The game opened with Kazumichi talking to a Yasuki merchant, where he learned the name Onida and found that he was the owner of a very disreputable sake house named the Scorpion’s Mask, located just outside of Toshi Ranbo. After this scene it was determined that if Kazumichi succeeded, the Yasuki would become his new sake merchant and take good care of him. If he failed the merchant would become involved and be killed as part of the fallout. The stakes get higher.

Following up on this Kazumichi tells Mirumoto Al-Salin about this sake house and Al-Salin does what any honorable samurai would, he straps on his armor (but no katana as that had been given away) and starts heading for the sake house to find out about this dishonorable man. As he relies on Kakita Shimzu’s advice in many ways, he asked the Kakita to come along, joined by Kazumichi as well. The Mask, as expected was horribly dishonorable. So much so that much of the debauchery escaped Al-Salin. It was so horrific he just couldn’t comprehend most of it. Outside a man was dressed as Daigotsu, inside a mockery was made of all the clans, and heimin were cast about as toys for the decedent pleasures of whoever had to coin to afford them. As Al-Salin did not have his Katana he was led into one half of the establishment, the Crane, who were armed into the other.

Mirumoto saw many things that disturbed him. There was a puny man, dressed in crab colors but who bore no resemblance to the members of his clan. He was of course, like the rest of this place, a mockery of the celestial order. Al-Salin spoke with him, gaining no information about the proprietor, but settled on drinking a tea that was shared between Rokugan and Gaijin land. Yea, he got high on opium. I have no idea what being on opium is like, but I know people use it to sooth pain, so I imagine it is a sedative. Also, I thought vague hallucinations would be appropriate, so I described him seeing two people standing right next to each other as a two headed monster. As I shouted at them and banished the abomination they were cleaved into two parts, which both walked away. That was fun times for me, though possibly trying on the other characters. Mirumoto’s reputation was now on the line. Fail and word of his experience with the opium would get out. Win and no one would speak of it.

On the “dangerous” side, Doji Kazumichi spotted a guard that was supposed to be hidden, though one can hardly imagine how that was possible. The man was enormous, a mountain of a man with gigantic muscles and brutal looking staff, shod in metal and tipped with bone crushing studs. It was clear that he was watching over the establishment. Doji spoke with him asking to talk to the owner and a Bayushi in full armor appeared to speak on his behalf. The Bayushi was disdainful to Kazumichi, openly accusing his father of all the crimes that he was being blackmailed with. He took a particular hatred, however for Kakita Shimizu, calling him only by his given name and dishonoring him at every turn. Shimizu did not recognize the man, but that was no matter, he would cut him down just the same to stay his lying tongue. Here and now, with an inebriated Mirumoto and the rest of the sapphire magistrates away, was not the time to start a fight. That would come later…

Here is the later…

All the sapphire magistrates convened at a sake house and spoke of the matter. It was clear that we must make a bold move against the Yasuki. We suggested that Doji bring the matter to the Yasuki’s lord and have him put on charges for blackmail. That of course, would make his father’s affair very public. Next we suggested that if this was a personal matter, he request a duel from the Daimyo, but Kazumichi shied away from that idea as well. He wanted to keep this discrete. Kakita Shimzu’s sake house, the one we were drinking in, now it was on the line as well. Fail and it gets burned down. Win and he keeps it.

Our Ikoma, the one we rescued. Yeah, apparently, he is good with discreet. He asked to speak to Doji Naomi about his “books”. After breaking the seal (and thus involving himself in the Doji’s affair) our Ikoma found the books had been altered to incriminate him. He also found some of the Doji’s misdeeds and did some blackmailing of his own. If exonerated Doji Naomi would rename a city the Sapphire’s Honor and make a port that was always open to the Sapphire Magistrates, if we failed, the Ikoma would be muddled up in the affairs of our enemies and they would be after him.

Afterwords father and son had a private meeting and agreed that the Yasuki’s lying mouth must be silenced. Kazumichi ensured that his father’s honor would be protected. To do this, however, he needed to endanger enlist the rest of his magistrates. Sodano Skiko was the easiest to convince. Gullible and Idealistic, he was like clay in the master sculptor’s hand. Claiming that the phantoms Al-Salin claimed to see where real, he convinced Sodano that the only way to purge this taint was to burn down the building… and he procured some gaijin pepper to accomplish as much. The Doji thought Isawa would be a harder fish to catch but the Earth Shugenja saw Sodano’s faith in him and went along willingly.

Doji arranged for the Phoenix to accompany him back to the Scrorpion’s Mask. He was able to gain entry and the Pheonix began to rain the fires of heaven (actually the Fires of Osano-wo and Gaijin pepper, but close enough) down on the sake house. Our Ikoma meanwhile, in dark pajamas did his best impersonation of a ninja, taking out the guards that we did not see. The rest of the magistrates arrived moments later seeing our companions in battle (not knowing who started it) and joined in. Down below a great skirmish was fought between the guards and the heroes. Above Kazumichi stormed through the burning building until he found the Yasuki. The man was no great warrior, or even a mastermind courtier, but just a fat old man caught up in machinations bigger than himself. He was accompanied by a woman with a stern demeanor who was more than happy to watch Kazumichi cut him down. Afterwards she told him that he had just killed the only man who could redeem his father. She make the same offer but only if he would become her next subject. Doji Kazumichi saved his father’s honor, but lost his own that night.

The story ended with a weak woman staggering out of the Mask, stumbling to the ground and begging the bushi to stay their blades. Weakly she said “please wait. I am samurai.”

What rocked

Giving the player a grand exit like this was cool. He had a real “tribute” episode, which I appreciate. Made me think if spotlights in PTA.

Folding all of our character’s fates into one conflict was great. We were all interested because our own honor, or drinking house, or reputation, or whatever was on the line.

The final fight, thought we didn’t roll it out, was quite cool. Honestly, I doubt we would have had as cool a narrative if we use the dice.

The storyteller’s description of the Scorpion’s Mask was great. We all really reviled the patron by the time Doji faced him.

Bringing the Kolat in was cool. I’d like to see more of them.

What could have been improved.

I never, for a second, believed we would fail. So even though more and more kept getting put on the line, that just made me all the more assured that we would win. In fact, we never really learned the “win condition” but killing the Yasuki, making a deal with the Kolat and burning down the place seemed to satisfy it. I’m not sure what the best solution would have been, but I think it would have been great to see Doji trading in stakes to get what he wants. For example: Of all the things on the line, he’s got to start giving them up to progress. Will Mirumoto’s shame be spread? Well, I’d rather not… but I can’t go further without letting that leak… so okay I give that up and progress. This way we’d all be wondering… what is he going to give up next? Will it be the thing I care about? Maybe that would feel too much like one player was hurting the others and could have hurt feelings. Not sure.

I really didn’t’ see a solution other than “let’s go burn down the building”. I think the storyteller would have been open to other ideas but we didn’t come up with any (except ones we knew the Doji wouldn’t follow because of the public dishonor he’d face), so in the end it came down to “kick down the door and kill them all.” I would have really liked to see an actual courtier duel between Doji, Yasuki and/or the Kolat lady. Something where some exposition could have happened and maybe we had other paths to take. The choice we made was fun, but it didn’t feel in keeping with our characters. (I mean really, how many of them really think its okay to commit breaking and entering, mass murder, arson, destruction of propery, etc.) We lost s lot of honor by following this approach, which I thought was good (we should lose honor for doing that), but I kept thinking “I wish I was playing a character who could have found a better way to do this”.