Actual Play – The Battle of Ten Banners (8/3/2009)

GM: Travis
System: L5R

Last night was a powerful game for me, in several ways. Even though I had envisioned these events happening in game, I was surprised on how much they affected me as a player. So much about my character changed that I was actually pretty happy with the idea of him dying. He didn’t though (narrowly) and I’m not sure what will happen to him now.

The session was set around a battle that we knew was unavoidable. The Unicorn on one side of the river, the Lion on the other. The Lion wanted to cross to take back the City of the Rich Frog, the Unicorn wanted to cross to continue conquering Lion lands. The Dragon and the Sapphire Magistrates on behest of the Emperor were there to see that neither army crossed the river.

The Sapphire Magistrates sent ambassadors to both sides to quell their forces with the Emperor’s decree but neither accepted the authority of the magistrates. Battle therefore was inevitable. We positioned our forces on a small ford where we could easily cross to either bank and held there, waiting for the advances on both sides.

Soon battle horns were blown and the armies of the Lion advanced slowly and steadily on one bank, while the Unicorn cavalry charged from the other. In the middle of the ford was utter chaos both armies fighting each other as well as our forces.

The Sapphire Magistrates brought many disparate forces to bear. Of the major clans, the Dragon including Isawa Yoshi’s betrothed Togashi Akana (who he found out on the battlefield that he was betrothed to), a regimen of Mirumoto infantry, Mirumoto cavalry and Togashi Monks. Of the Unicorn, a unit of Utaka Battle Maidens, led by Al-Salin’s betrothed Utaka Nayan, added their swift steeds and deadly steel to our side. Of the Lion, we had aid as well. Both Matsu Takeko and Matsu Thandi marshaled their fierce Lionesses to our banner. The Crane showed their support as well. Doji Naomi, father of fellow magistrate Kazumichi rallied his ronin forces alongside Ikoma Tso-Lao. Doji Domotai, while not present sent along her contingent of warriors, Daidoji Bushi skilled at military fighting, to aid Kakita Shimzu. From the Phoenix hailed Shugenja loyal to Shiba Ninjen and Asako Inquisitors, sure that their enemies were corrupted by Maho. Of the Scorpion, only a courtier and her Bayushi yojimbo graced the battlefield, but her presence was enough to root out the Khan’s dishonorable Unicorn and send them fleeing in shame. Finally of the Mantis clan, our leader, Tsurichi Nadu and his bounty hunters arrived to lead our vanguard.
Seven of the eight major clans present would have showed that we truly stood for the Emperor’s decree, however that was not all, the minor clans lent us their aid as well. Our Kasuga courtier, no doubt counting the koku in his purse entered the field. Usagi Henji, determined that Kolat present also aided our forces with his own breed of samurai. Finally, showing their support the Tsi sent their weapon smiths fine blades to our side.

Ten banners. Ten! And yet the neither the Lion nor the Unicorn would admit the inevitable outcome. Instead they jested that we were likely never to make it too the battle under the weight of all our standards.

A scene of two Lion heimin describing the battle afterwards.

The fat one with a hairy belly jealously quaffs down the cheap sake his host has provided. “It wasn’t a battle. It was a sham. There were shugenja splitting their stomachs open all over the fields. The river ran red with their blood. The kami were bloody mad that day.”

A wiry man missing most of his teeth though made some kind of spitting sound, gurgling the sake in his throat to savor the taste “Fool. It wasn’t the kami that make them commit seppuku, the Inquisitors arrived. Those hell spawn in orange robes, let them go to the shadowlands if they want to find maho! Anyway, they found that one of the Matsu infantry leaders used blood magic. After that those priest were lining up to open their bowels. Stupid shugenja. My son was born with a club foot, one of them could have given him a blessing instead of pouring their intestines out all over the field.” The wiry man muttered to himself.

“After that it was a mop up.” The fat one continued “That Phoenix, whatever his name is, led his men across the ford and cut through the remaining Lion like a tanto through a shoji screen. In a single play half the battle was won.”

The thin one sucked on his few remaining teeth “Not that simple though, if it pleases my host enough for another drab of sake, I hear the Master of Earth was at the battle too.”

The host calmly ordered another round of sake for the heimin but the fat one took back over while his toothless friend gulped it down “Fool, it wasn’t the Master, just some Isawa Shugenja. The men were all shouting “Yoshi! Yoshi! Yoshi!” That was until the Shinjo scouts crept up on them and put arrows in their throats. Bloody Shugenja weren’t saying anything then except ‘gurgle, gurgle, oh hell, I’m dead’ I heard their leader caught hell for that though. You talk about the Master of Earth, I heard he showed up and rained hell on that Yoshi. Sent the fool up the mountain to go study with those crazy monks.”

“He’s got it easy compared to the general” Laughed the thin one. “That fool of a mantis has stinger in his back and he doesn’t even – oof” Whatever he was going to say was lost after being slapped in the back of the head by his fat companion.

Turning from his friend to the host “What he was trying to say, honorable Scorpion-sama, was that the general had made an alliance with one of your clan.” A lusty expression appeared on his face as he took another strong drink “was that the wise Mantis gained the favor the Bayushi Hakuseki, who aided him greatly in the battle by uncovering the dishonorable Unicorn and scattering them in shame.” The fat one looked at his host tentatively before taking another drink, wary that if is head tilted to far back, it might roll off his shoulders.

“Hai, but chasing a tail made him loose his head.” The wiry one was now more drunk than cautious “His cock swelled so big looking at her that his head went faint and he lost track of the Champion. Tusuchi something or another.” He laughed at his own joke, spit again and continued “Yeah, the Mantis were right in the front line until they were overrun by the Matsu and Unicorn both. After the fight, nothing was left of that pirate in blue but his kabuto.”

“He’s too smart for that you fool. I’m sure he made a deal, maybe with the unicorn, maybe the lion, kami knows, maybe with the fortunes. I wouldn’t count the champion dead unless you see his head… even then, I’d ask the ancestors to be sure.”

The hosted nodded as the two base born half men continued. His fine red and black lacquered armor shifted gracefully as he filled both of their cups with more sake. In a gentle but firm voice he prompted them. “Please… continue.”

The fat, hairy one was starting to feel wary. He eyed the katana at the man’s side and wondered where he had put his own blade. He also noticed that his host was not drinking, only listening. Listening very intently. Still, the sake was better than he’d ever had and it made him bold. “Then the Kakita that you asked about advanced. He had the crane bushi with him, sent by Doji Domotai I heard. You think he bedded her and took her men?” He chuckled but then there was a pause as he waited for the host to respond.

To break the silence the skinny one butted in “Nope, the other way around, he’s her little errand boy. ‘Do this Shimzu, do that’, I’m sure that what she says to him. Her forces came to his aid, that is for sure, but he flies her banner and serves her will. It must mean the Doji had some reason to be in the fight, or at least show up. They didn’t do much but look pretty, sent out a few infantry to tangle with the Matsu and the Shoji, but they were their flying their banners high and proud.”

The host looked disappointed “You said that Shimzu was seen in the middle of a huge mass of Lionesses?”

The fat one continued “Oh yeah, but those were his own forces turned on him. Or rather that fool Dragon’s forces. Got what he deserved for putting Lion and Unicorn on the same battlefield. Got it run right through him.”

“You’re skipping the best part though” the other sucked his few teeth again. “The Ikoma, he led those psychotic Hare. Nothing more than a bunch of bandits if you asked me. Jumping out of trees, throwing knives, and screaming like bloody maho. Don’t know how he did it but when his scouts moved up on the unicorn bank, a charge came on the lion side and wiped out the remaining forces. The Hare kept screaming ‘Kola’ or something, hard to tell, it sounded like bloody murder. After that there was just chaos in the ford. It seemed like the Dragon units took the worst of it. Just as the battle seemed a victory for the magistrates, the allied Unicorn and Lion turned against each other.”

“Hai! That was rich. I heard the bloody kami were called down to bless a wedding in the battlefield. They blessed it alright. Blessed it with blood. Some fool Dragon, just down from the mountain in his shiny Topaz armor decided to marry and Utaka Battle Maiden right there on the front line. He rounded up a Shugenja, but he turned out to be a maho-tsukai and blood poured from his bowels!”

“Idiot, it wasn’t Maho that made him bleed, it was business end of a Lion’s katana. That’s when the Kakita dropped from the chase to pull back as well. The entire Lioness Legion was descending on that marriage. Their leader, a brave lioness named Takeko was satisfying her honor with the blood of a traitor. That fool they call the Topas Champion, Mirumoto with some gaijin name that would make the ancestors curse, proclaimed his love for Takeko and then he married some Unicorn whore on the battlefield. She did justice and killed them both. Well, almost. The Kakita and his Daidoji held off the Lionesses while Mirumoto and Matsu fought. It’s said that they both roared like lions as their blades plunged into each other. A samurai’s embrace is what they should call it. They held each other one last time and then they both died together, over the corpse of the Utaka. Three lovers… all dead.

“And you call me stupid? How can the Topaz Champion be dead if I didn’t see him a week later talking with the Oriel Daimyo about marry his daughter? He must be a Dragon, he’s got a snake in his kimono that won’t stop!” The thin one sucked on his teeth again and chuckled as he tried to drink more sake but snorted it out instead.

Calmly, quietly, the scorpion removed his katana from the heimin’s stomach. “Thank you heimin for your account. Now I must find the nature of this so-called ‘Scorpion’ attack on Shiro Smooth Water. You, fat one… ashigaru… tell me of the man who sold you our clan colors…”

What rocked

The game was tense. We had a lot on the line in this battle and unlike the Kazumichi exit story where it was all or nothing, we kept taking losses along with our victories. Great epics are about really bad things happening to good people who STILL persevere. We had that in spades.

The other character’s reactions to my melodrama was great. Shimzu told me to pull myself together so that we could duel together some day and he could cut me down, proving that Kakita was better than Mirumoto. Yoritomo congratulated me on being free of love and told my character to buck up and look at the bright side. Sodano Shiko couldn’t stand to even look upon Al-Salin he was so ashamed.

Relationships I’m looking forward to seeing advance now that so many of my previous ones are dead:

  • Tsi Daimyo – I think once Al-Salin pulls himself together they will have an interesting business relationship.
  • Tsi Tsuturo – I think she loves Al-Salin, something he doesn’t share. This should be fun to play out. What happens if he’ll never touch her again?
  • Sodano Shiko – If samurai can love each other for the good they see in the other, then Al-Salin’s heart wasn’t the only one that was broken. Shiko is ashamed of him. What will happen when they speak next?

Lots of cool changes happened in the battle. Yoshi met his wife and got sent to meditate with the Togashi monks on the hill as punishment by Ninjen for losing his troops. Sodano Shiko proved himself to the Asako and was gifted a Nemuranai to aid him in court. All around our character got story hooks to weave into the upcoming games.

What could have been improved.

With six players and the respective number of enemy units, the TNs during our Heroic Action phases were too high. We talked a lot after the game about what to do then and given the fun of the card play, we’re considering taking out the maneuver roll (attack, hold, etc) all together and instead offering each player an opportunity to select from a list of heroic actions (destroy a unit, save a unit, move units on the battlefield, etc.) that they can do during the battlefield resolution phase.

My scene was really powerful for me, personally as a player. I had been thinking about it for a while, I hoped that I would have something heartfelt and earnest to say, but in the end all I could think was the rage my character felt and I just described him screaming. He should have been poetic and symbolic, instead he was just hurt and angry. In that regard I thought I played a moody 16 year old very well. Still, I didn’t feel on my game about the end scene.

Yoritomo Miyazaki (Erik) didn’t get a really good closure at the end of the game. He was looking for our lost champion Nadu but instead had a scene with Hakuseki, which I think frustrated him more than anything. As a player I don’t think he was mad, but he wasn’t getting what he was looking for.

I was trying to bring the Lords of Death into the game. I really wanted Utaka Nayan’s death to be sealed by the Lords of Death. I’m going to have to find some keepsake of hers (perhaps they couldn’t burn the body because the unicorn weren’t present so Al-Salin will be able to attend the funeral).