Actual Play – The Tortoise and the Hare (7/2/2009)

GM: Travis Lindquist
System: L5R

Since our GM will be gone for a few weeks, we played L5R a few days earlier than we normally would have. Great, except it leaves me hankering to play tonight. Meh!

At the start of game, the GM introduced two new elements of the game: Personality Cards and Keys.

Personality Cards are the introduction to a large Mass Combat system that the GM (with some help from yours truly) is creating. When done it will be a merging of the Mouse Guard scripted conflict system, the Heroic events from the existing L5R Mass Combat system and Cards (along with some mechanics) from the L5R CCG. The goal is to make Mass Combat more fun, more interactive, and involve NPCs that are important to our characters.

As the system is still in development, these cards mostly served as flavor for the game, however as they also have a social aspect to them, the cards also allowed us to summon our respective NPCs or to allow other characters to summon our respective NPCs at the cost of a void point. In game this flowed very naturally, both of the Lion NPCs were summoned into the Lion Shiro. Makes sense, and was very fun to play out. Here’s an example of one of the cards we used. All copyrights are blah, blah, blah. Don’t use it, sell it or be dumb, etc. This is for personal use only.

Matsu Thandi

Keys were taken right out of The Shadow of Yesterday, with a few modifications. Each character had two Keys and could earn a maximum of two experience points combined (so either using one key twice or both keys once). At the end of the game all the experience gained was pooled and divided amongst the players. The way we determined Keys was pretty cool as well. Each player picked a Key for their character but first the group picked a Key. For example Sodano Shiko was give the Key Nose for Trouble (Yeah, if that sounds more like an aspect than a Key, it’s because we’ve all played a bit too much SotC and FATE, but it works fine). He then picked “The” Sapphire Magistrate as his second. Here were the final results:

Sodano Shiko: Nose for Trouble, “The” Sapphire Magistrate
Kakita Shimizu: Everyone’s Errand Boy, Competitor
Yoritomo Miyazaki: Scorpion’s Lure, Mantis Scoundrel
Ikoma Tso-Lao: Reluctant Ninja, Memories
Miromoto Al-Salin: Outsider, More Love than Sense

Sailing up river

The game started with our characters on their kabuni floating upstream, catching wind where we could. The pace was slow and the river very wide. As the GM described it I started thinking about Vietnam War movies that invariably features some scene of guys motoring up a river and showing what life is really like for a soldier. Dirty, sweaty, and yet somehow still romanticized by the wind in your hair and the camaraderie of your group. Pardon my little tangent but it was probably the first time when I felt like we could have an encounter where the water was just a backdrop for the action. I totally could have seen us shouting across our ships “Who let the Nezumi into my quarters? My wash basin is full of fur!” Or a discussion of Shintao while our boats carried us gently past the majestic landscapes of Rokugan. In fact, now that I think of it there was a description of the rice crops in land that would be much better suited for wheat or corn. Killer!

During the trip up Mirumoto Al-Salin practiced his Kata “The Empire Rests on its Edge”. Folding his understanding of theology into his mastery of the sword, Al-Salin held his blade in the retracted “First” position and then began balancing wood pegs from the ship on the edge of his Katana. All the while he cited passages from Shinsei and making clear his conviction that a true master could wield many blades, and so should also wield many loves.

Arrival at Ikoma Shiro

As we arrived, Ikoma Tso-Lao’s boat was in the lead. The heimin were the first to see him. They were a bit surprised… and then the Sapphire Magistrates were a bit surprised. And by a “bit” I mean a whole kami loving lot. “Gaki!” (Ghost) they cried. Over and over. At first it was a few dock workers, but soon a wave of terrified peasants charged through the fields, fleeing the coastline “Gaki! Gaki!”

Tso-Lao disembarked his ship and spoke with the lone magistrate who’s fear did not overwhelm him. “Why do you visit this Shiro Gaki?” He asked with respect and a healthy dose of fear. The Ikoma spent some time convincing this man, and many others that he was not dead and was in fact alive and well. This did not quiet the panic of the heimin but at least allowed him to have normal conversations with the Lion samurai. The magistrate turned out to be a boyhood companion of his and the ashigaru probably guards when he was a boy. The excitement started when he was admitted into the daimyo’s hall and discovered just how important he really is. “You are a boy who’s father does not know whether he should weep for joy that you are alive or curse you for the pain you have brought your family.” After some awkward exchanges Ikoma’s memory loss prevailed and the widowed man admitted that Tso-Lao was his son, thought dead this last year.

Meanwhile the other Sapphire Magistrates were afforded what hospitality the Shiro could provide during this period of upheaval. We were asked politely to wait for the Daimyo to prepare himself and while doing so met some interesting figures.

Yoritomo Miyazaki met a somewhat disgruntled guard who bore the Lion mon, but no family name. We deduced that he was a ronin in service to the Lion. He was very honored that a Sapphire Magistrate would treat him with such civility and compassion (Miyazaki had offered him water, a kindness in the sweltering heat) and asked if the magistrates would drink with him later when he was off duty.

The others were alerted to a bombastic figure clad in mottled green, bearing a mon of the minor clans. It was Sodano Shiko who spoke first “Kasuga-san, have you had your rice today?” He properly identified the Tortoise clan and the GM informed us the Tortoise were notorious traders who happily moved any product for the right price. They also tended to laugh at the tenets of bushido. Kasuga Toto greeted us with mock sincerity. His sarcasm was layered on so thick, I feared the tortoise would be crushed under his own shell. Unsure of the ways of the minor clan and enchanted by the man’s scimitar (a gaijin weapon, the same wielded by Moto Taban), Mirumoto Al-Salin introduced himself and the faux fawning only increased. “Ohhh… Topaz Champion-sama. I am sooo honored to meet you….” Finding that we wished to hear his stories, and would provide him sake for the pleasure of his company, Toto gladly agreed to meet us later in the sake house.

Audience with the Daimyo

As the ocean magistrates were allowed into the lord’s chamber we saw many signs of mourning; white cloths hanging from the walls and over the chair adjacent to the lord himself. The hall however seemed festive, as Tso-Lao had just recently been returned to them. The Ikoma greeted us and thanked each of us for saving his son. Unfortunately we could tell him no more about how we found his son the he already knew. The Rain of Blood still left many mysteries in its wake.

While in the daimyo’s court a contingent of Matsu warriors including Matsu Thandi appeared as well. Thandi had intended to garner the attention of Tso-Lao and while she may have succeeded she also reminded Al-Salin of our duty as Sapphire Magistrates to prevent any Lion or Unicorn armies from crossing the river. “I am sorry to interrupt the happiness you have rejoicing your returned son, but as Sapphire Magistrate I must insist that these samurai not cross the river.”

Then there was awkward silence. Followed by awkward laughter. The lord replied “Young samurai, I am Ikoma, not Akodo. Come here, sit at my steps, drink sweet tea with my son and I will show you our territories.” This was pretty insulting, but most of the magistrates suffered it. Sweet tea is a child’s drink and when we sat beside him he summoned his youngest daughter Li to come sit with us as well.

The Ikoma showed us a battle map, explaining that this far south the Lion controlled both sides of the river and should be able to cross as they please. He also asked the Matsu which side they had boarded the river on and by their testimony they had boarded on the west so the Ikoma reasoned it would be fair that they sail up river and depart on the west as well. This unfolded into a few, interesting events.

First off, both Mirumoto and Yoritomo got a really good look at the battle map and did their best to commit it to memory, though perhaps for different reasons. Also, at Mirumoto’s insistence that this would not be the Emperor’s will, Sodano Shiko, who had refused to play the Ikoma’s games and would not be treated as a child stood firm and allowed that the Matsu forces could cross the river hear, into lion land if they wished, but could not travel up the river any further. This upset the Ikoma and the Matsu, but as protector of the Emporer’s waterways, Shiko’s voice could not be ignored. Al-Salin would have stood at his side to support him had he not been distracted by a backhanded fist. “You unicorn loving Dragon!” Matsu Takeko was also in the court and nearly spit on Al-Salin in disgust. He caught her wrist, twisted it ever so gently and the then excused himself just after she stormed out of the court. We faded to black on the Dragon and the Lion once more.

The court was left in awkward silence as Shiko was not swayed by the recent acts of impropriety, nor was the lord. It was little Li who broke the silence. She had recognized Kakita Shimizu from the Topaz Championship and started telling him about all the tournaments she attended. At only eleven it appeared that her father doted on her every whim. Tournaments, prizes from every clan, and gifts from around Rokugan were common place to this little one. Kakita realized he could gain favor with the lord and fulfill his duties in one stroke… of his calligraphy pen. He drafted an invitation for Ikoma Li and her father to attend the Tournament of the Emperor’s Favored. The daimyo’s advisor received the letter and ensured it was very likely the lord would receive the gift graciously. It was for his daughter after all.

The Sake House

In the sake house, we prepared our pallets for the feast with the lords Sake. Several things happened in mixed conversations.

Yoritomo befriended the house guards and found out they were looking to gain a promotion by fabricating a heimin uprising and then putting it down. For a handful of koku Miyazaki offered to provide scorpion colors to the guards to plant on the heimin and make it look like a real threat they put down.

Kakita, Sodano and Mirumoto all sat with the Tortoise, enamored (at least some of us) with is strange, presumably gaijin, mannerisms. He told Mirumoto a bald face lie about how he acquired his scimitar. He also discussed Tsuruchi Nadu with Sodano, indicating that the two had a less than friendly past. It seemed however, that he was willing to ally with the Magistrates. Presumably only because he could use such an allegiance to better serve his own needs. We’ll have to cement something more out of him.

After drinking, Yoritomo caught the Kasuga taking a piss in the alley. It was a humorous scene as they talked over urination. Yoritimo made a deal with the Tortoise to sell him some of the ballista bolts we had requisitioned for our ships and made a nice profit off of it. The crafty Kasuga, however would multiply that profit tenfold when he sold them up river.

End of game bits

Remember my mention of the Hare clan samurai in the court? No, oh that must have been because he was a freaking ninja! Tso-Lao will be persuing him next session, I’m sure.

Also, with regards to Tso-Lao’s pursuit, with Matsu Thandi present, meeting his brother (and presumably the woman he should have married) will be really fun. Another tragic love story coming right up!

What rocked

The personality cards and keys were very well received. We had fun offering each other experience and trying to tailor scenes to fit our character’s motivations. For instance, when Yoritomo was talking to the guards and just making friendly conversation, I suggested he might want to see if he could sell them any of his wares to try and push the “Mantis Scoundrel” key.

I really liked how our duty as Sapphire Magistrates was tested, pretty much by our own actions. By summoning the Matsu into the scene it became clear that we would have to discuss troop movement with our host and displease him greatly. This gave Sodano Shiko a chance to shine. His voice was not a well liked one but it was the only one that upheld our duties. It was a good movement towards becoming “The” Sapphire Magistrate.

When the Ikoma Daimyo called out his daughter Li, I was totally sure he was going to ask one of us to marry her. I could totally see him saying “Since you saved my son, I owe a great reward. Here take my beautiful young Li as your wife.” I’m not sure who I expected him to offer her too but the tension of not knowing what would happen when she came into the court was cool.

Tension builds between Matsu Takeko and Mirumoto Al-Salin. I’ve requested that their next scene start post coitus where Al will speak to her about their unborn child and, if a boy, he would be a proud Dragon. I figure a start with sex leading up to a fight will be a nice way to switch things around some. And give a chance for Al-Salin to prove he does care about Takeko. In that very passionate I love you, I want to decapitate you kind of way.

Tso-Lao did a great job in his home Shiro. The player held out just long enough that all the other players were chomping on the bit to say “This is your damn Shiro already!” but not to totally frustrating anyone. He’s been playing the memory loss motif up very well and it’s been a lot of fun to see how his back story (or lack thereof) is unfolding. Meeting his father was very cool as well. Fun times at the Lion Shiro. Which, by the way, is really saying something coming from a guy who has traditionally disliked the Lion.

Tso-Lao’s player also did a great job when he took the roll of the Kasuga. It is always fun to see someone who totally disregards Rokugan customs and the player did an awesome job at it. Pissing in the alley! Bravo.

What could have been improved

I think some of the scenes could have been cut or condensed. It seemed like we had a few moments of confusion where the players didn’t know what they should do. I think that is generally the sign to move onto the next scene. I would have liked to see the feast and I think if we were more on top of it we could have gotten to that scene.

It seemed like there should have been an opportunity for Kakita to invite the Kasuga to the Tournament of the Emperor’s Favored. Both because he is supposed to ensure that a representative from every minor clan is there and because that little secret has been sitting on the back burner for so long it needs to surface. It also would have earned him that last point of experience as Everyone’s Errand Boy.

The divvying of experience didn’t work so hot when we had 9 experience points amongst 5 players. The GM was generous and rounded in our favor, but it was still awkward. I’m sure we’ll talk about this more offline.