Actual Play – The Duel of Wills (4/19/2010)

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

We wrapped up the first month and handled the interstitial group gathering to report on our missions.

New Mechanics: Duel of Wills

Steeling very liberally from Burning Empires and Burning Wheel, Travis and I worked out a Duel of Wills. I’m REALLY in love with this system. Enough so that I’m not putting it behind a LJ Cut! Here’s the skinny. We took the BE DOW scripting sheet and made several changes.

Flavor: All the moves have been renamed to be L5R appropriate. Feint is now Boast. Rebuttal is Denial. The three volleys are called: Challenge, Focus, Strike. Body of Argument is now On (Face).

Maneuver Mechanics. We made several mechanical adaptations to incorporate the roll and keep system, as well as to utilize honor, glory and status. Because of the way Roll and Keep works it now means the results are now more all or nothing. If you hit a TN you’ve made your move. Each move has a way raises can be spent to make it better. So instead of just trying to roll high, you’re trying to set a TN high enough to get the effect you want but low enough that you can hit. It’s more dangerous in a way than the BE/BW rules.

New Maneuvers. We left all of the existing moves (although renamed) but added two more (this was inspired by the maneuver and firefight scripting): Make Gift and Give Gift. The latter requiring the former to succeed before attempting.

Overall mechanical changes. On is the sum of Awareness and your dueling skill, rather than based on a roll. Currently we are not requiring the players to script each move in advance. Pull Rank (the name for Dismiss) does not make you lose your next action if it fails, instead it grants the opponent four free raises on their next maneuver.
Class techniques. We reviewed all of the courtier schools in the core book and looked at each rank’s techniques, then wrote up errata on how each of them works in the Duel of Wills, assuming it wasn’t immediately obvious.

Week 4

Tso-Lou, having left the Togashi monks with a sad heart began his decent down the mountain. As he passed through Mirumoto lands he came across a small hut and from inside he heard laughter. Not just any laughter but the chuckle of his old friend Al-Saleen. He stepped inside the hut and saw a sparsely furnished room with a wide open space in the middle. At the far side of the room was a sword stand which held a peculiar blade. Crafted by a Toku smith, a thin lightweight chain hung from the hilt. This was without a doubt Al-Saleen’s sword. More peculiar than that, however, was the three bowls of piping hot miso soup that were perfectly balanced along the blade’s edge. Steam wafting from the bowls was visible in the cold mountain air. Tso-Lou heard another chuckle and gingerly took hold of his old friend’s sword. For just a brief moment the blade stayed still, but then shifted ever so slightly and the bowls of miso came toppling down splashing hot soup all over the floor. Somewhat embarrassed Tso-Lou looked to see if anyone was watching but instead noticed wall scrolls adorning the room. A final gift from Al-Saleen, the instructions passed from Mirumoto on the kata he developed with Kakida The Empire Rests on its Edge. Tso-Lou spends the rest the week training to learn the kata.

Meanwhile in crab lands Ryo begins asking about the Jade mine, inquiring who was managing the excavation. Sharing a few drinks and earnest questions he found that it was being run by a Yasuki Taskmaster but was actually governed by a Kuni. Digging around further he found that the Kuni hadn’t been seen in almost six months.

Rei and a Bayushi squared off in our first trial of the Duel of Wills! Rei approached the front line with her honor guard waving a flag of peace. Unsurprisingly she was met by a cocky bushi who gave her no end of grief before taking her to see his lord. For her part Rei was a stone cold bitch who matched his every jab and quip with a curt insults, bravado and disgust. She would show no sign of weakness.

Eventually brought to a small court, Rei make another faux pas by keeping her blade at her side amidst a room full of fan wielding courtiers. Rei spoke with the masked leader who would not reveal his name and because of this she purposefully insulted him by simply calling him “Bayushi”. She demanded that he stop his attacks on the Crab and he questioned why he should stop doing something that was in his best interest. The lord summoned forth an ambitious young courtier, Bayushi Meoko, and told her to debate Rei on the matter. BOOM! Duel of Wills. She was a rank two Courtier and not particularly bad ass. Rei finished her off with an “I’m an imperial magistrate, do what I say” Pull Rank in the Strike phase, but not without taking some licks herself. The settlement was that the Scorpion would sign a treaty, but that Rei most convince the Crab to investigate the Obsidian mine that is dangerously close to Scorpion territories.

In Sparrow lands Shimizu and Wada faced off in an iajitsu duel with boken. It was a good match, both were skilled duelists, but Shimizu’s Kakita training prevailed. He struck first and last.

The usurper, who at this time we all realized was a bit crazy, however, refused to acknowledge that this duel settled the matter. He was without a champion but still held that he was the rightful daimyo of the Sparrow clan. Though mercy may have been to cut him down then, Washichi instead implored to convince him of the deep shit he was actually in. Duel of Wills, again! This time the match wasn’t even close. With some bragging, storytelling and finally pulling rank, Washichi destroyed the man but did so compassionately. He spared his life and instead instructed him to go train in Miya lands as a herald that one day he might be able to properly recognize who a leader is. Awesome.

Shiko, in Isawa lands, saw what destruction Sezaru would rain down upon the Bloodspeakers but also that he was a force of nature that did not discriminate between friend and foe. Sezaru would purge the lands of evil to be sure, but he’d purge it of all else as well! To do his duty and protector of the Isawa, Shiko marshaled those he could to protect the people and the crops. In doing so he prevented the terrors of Bloodspeakers from being replaced by a terror of famine.

Shinji fought in the front lines, at first protecting the Shiba bushi with blessings from the earth kami and then when their efforts had been exhausted, leapt into the fray herself with spear in hand. She was given great praise by the Shiba for not only keeping them alive but showing great bravery and skill on the battlefield. Despite her personal glory, the Shiba forces were badly impacted. Some dead but many more wounded. Crops burnt and uncertainly lingerers. Many of their Isawa shugenja and Shiba leaders were dead at their own hands. Like any civil war, every death, on either side, is a casualty.

Return to Toshi Ranbo

At the end of our first month, the magistrate returned and shared rice with each other.

  • Ryo returned Tso-Lou’s blade to him, cleaned and repaired as only a Kaiu could do.
  • Rei told Shinji of the obsidian vein found in the jade mine and of the missing Kuni in charge of it.
  • Tso-Lou told Washichi if his fallen kin and of the mad prophet Kokujin that killed him. When Washichi learned that Kokujin tried to use the peasants to overthrow the celestial order he became incensed with horror and wrath.
  • Finally, Rei told the group that the unnamed Bayushi lord new of the Emperor’s absence. There was some argument as to whether Otomo Koreno should be told. Eventually the truth won out, despite Rei’s insistence this was information that could be more damaging that good if spread.

After the meeting Rei and Tso-Lou received a not reminding her that Tso-Lou was missed in Scorpion lands (he has a standing invitation) and that the same lord who Rei argued in front of in Scorpion lands was in Toshi Ranbo, awaiting his presence. The two discussed this in a garden and Rei found out the lord she had insulted was none other than the Clan Champion, Master of Secrets, Bayushi Paneki.

Tso-Lou met with the Master of Secrets himself and eventually figured out the right questions to ask so that the lord was not bound by oath to refuse him. It turns out the Emperor’s favored vacation spot is the Watanabe lands. Also, the Bayushi once had a powerful nemurani called the Purified Mask of Fu Leng that allows the wearer to change their appearance to look like anyone they wanted. If they wanted to help someone remain disguised that is the greatest gift they could give. However, unfortunately they no longer have the mask.

In the meeting with Koreno we reported on our success and found out what other unrest had broken out in the Empire. After doing so Rei tried to call it the meeting to a close but her etiquette-fu did not match Washichi, who asked for a private meeting where he told Koreno of the Bayushi’s knowledge, awaking any punishment she would offer for allowing another to know of the Emperor’s absence. Instead she offered a gift for this useful report.

What rocked

We had three duels in that game, all of them very cool. So far I’m very happy with the Duel of Wills system.

Rei’s first attack in the duel of wills was presenting the heads of the military leader she killed and of the infiltration team that she let behind her lines to be trapped in the Jade mine by Ryo. That was pretty awesome!

Washichi owned the usurper. At the end he asked him “What did you used to be called. Damn, the dude is a ronin now!

Rei and Washchi had a pretty cool standoff. I was very happy with the way it went down.

Travis game me the reins for a bit during the Tso-Lou kata learning scene. I had a lot of fun with it and was happy to bring back Al-Saleen as a memory rather than as some kind of agent. His only agenda as to give Tso-Lou the wisdom he could, rather than to push his own beliefs from the spirit world. In short, I really like Al-Saleen dead more so than alive right now.

The “oh crap, you met Paneki?” moment was great. Tso-Lou asked Rei if he should apologize for her, to which of course she said no, but he understood meant yes. We had some fun describing how Ikoma have learned to interpret the Matsu.

Shinji was bad ass in the fight against the blood speakers. That was fricken awesome.

Sezaru melted an entire mountain top to flood the Isawa lands in purging the Bloodspeakers. Who the melts entire snow caps? Yep, Sezaru does. I’m really glad he’s still on our side.

Tso-Lou and Paneki’s conversation was great. Lots of intrigue and veiled threats met with bold promises. Just the kind of thing to get a Lion in trouble!

Watching Chris’ face when he learned who Kokujin was and what he did (which was so diametrically opposed to what Washichi whole heartedly believed in) was epic.

What could have improved

Duel of Wills still needs a bit of work. Nobody used Meditate (aka Avoid the Topic) but I’m afraid it might be kind of week as it is. We’ll have to look at it a bit more.

We made two tweaks on the fly to the Duel of Wills system. One of them was clearly a onetime “woops, we didn’t explain this well enough” move were we allowed Boast to work against a move it shouldn’t. The other was allowing Miya to add their school rank to the On total because of a technique. Overall I’m fine with this as a permanent rule (the Miya are quasi courtiers and didn’t have any other techniques that directly impacted the DoW system) but I hate making those kinds of calls when we’re biased because of the current situation (in this case Washichi’s duel).

Rei’s scene was pretty long. There was a long setup before the Duel talking to the bushi and later Paneki, and then the duel took a while as we were explaining each move as we did it. I was afraid it might have been a bore for the other players to wait and watch my scene played out.

We’re still working on timing. This month took us three sessions and we want to get that down to one. We’ve made some changes (scenes from 4 down to 3, picking missions via email, etc) so we’ll see how we do next week. I’m optimistic.

3 thoughts on “Actual Play – The Duel of Wills (4/19/2010)”

  1. minor note

    I think Meditate could easily be kept as Avoid the Topic, btw (or change topic). Meditating in the middle of a courtier showdown seems…odd as a flavor thing. I don’t know if the maneuver wasn’t used because of the name or because the mechanic didn’t fit what folks were trying to do with their arguments.

    That said, I don’t have much stake in it since I’ll likely stick to the option of using a regular die roll or two instead. I’m still screwing up the magic subsystem and don’t really want to learn another subsystem on top of that just now.

    1. Yeah, Meditate was just a name I gave Avoid the Topic. We might change it back, or to stick with the existing skirmish analogs call it Defense, or Full Defense.

  2. Another thing on the to do list.

    A “Find the Emperor” mechanic. I know that Act 2 would end prematurely if we just found the Emperor but I think we need to see a mechanical way in which searching for the emperor is useful.

    Here’s two ideas:

    1. Everywhere we go that we specifically spend time looking for the Emperor (i.e. not to remove pins) we can place a pin of our own on the board (or some kind of marker). That area now stops being a place the emperor can go until we can eventually cover all the provinces and box him in to a single location. Like corralling a chicken.

    2. Instead of any kind of marking on the board instead we have a “search for the emperor track”. Each time we go in search of him we add one to the track, which either nets us some kind of bonus (like in Winter Court), gives us some clues to go on, or just prevents things in the empire from getting worse (i.e. we need to get our FtE track up to 4 before month 6 or the Unrest rating goes up again).

    OMG, I just proposed as system with the acronym FTE… aka Full Time Employee, i.e the way UCD measures everything. Yeach.

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