Actual Play – The Voice of the Emperor (3/15/2010)

GM: Travis Lindquist
Players: Chris, Tracy, Omar, Alec, Steve and Sean
System: Magical Samurai [1]

This was the first actual game session of Act 2 and boy howdy was it fun times. Our mission to diffuse the growing concerns over the emperor’s whereabouts. The game started off about as expected. We had a lot of chatting about non-game stuff until we eventually eased into the game. The first few interactions were a bit stilted as we went over those awkward moments of meeting companions, both old and new. After that though, the game started rolling.

Act 2 – The Chrysanthemum Emblem

Travis started the game off by introducing us to a very gruff Otomo Norihisa, Koreno’s hatemoto (keeper of her affairs, chamberlain, etc). He was very clear that we would have many eyes and ears to watch. All of the major clans were present, along with the minor clan alliance, the bejeweled champions, and the imperial families. All of whom might wonder, perhaps wonder loudly as the Emperor’s absence. He told us that this job was going to be hard and he didn’t want to hear the details, just the results. He also reminded us that this was the Topaz Championship… crazy things happen at the topaz championship… that is something we should use to our advantage.

This was also the scene were the characters were (re)introduced. Shimzu appeared a lowly ronin, but was actually just in disguise, Shiko was a sensei at Sapphire’s Honor and Rei was a taisa (high ranking military commander) in Hida Kisada’s army. Of the new companions Miya Washichi introduced himself as a provincial governor, with a few connections amongst the imperial families in the Tsuma. Kaiu Ryo was a weapon and armor smith in the crab armies; a fact that instantly gained the attention of Matsu Rei, who recognized Ryo by the blades he had produced. Finally Kuni Shinji, in all her terrifying face paints and strange talking to the kami was introduced as well. The group as a whole equal parts respectful of her power and uncomfortable in her presence.

The Great Feast

Our next scene was the great feast, held before the topaz championship would begin. The contestants were there, along with sensei and family. There were a handful of ronin as well, which Miya was kind of enough sit by and converse with. A few of the minor clans were represented as well, but they were dwarfed by the massive procession of crab (who traveled in mass) and Crane (Tsuma is in a Crane province). Also present were the champions (or at least most of them) and some of the imperial families (though none of them would compete). Notably absent, of course, was the emperor, whose seat was conspicuously empty all night.

Empty at least until the Voice appeared. Isawa Sezaru, the emperor’s brother, showed up wearing the white mask that marks him as the Voice of the Emperor. For a man going mad he spoke with great charisma. He assured the assembled samurai that the tournament would be a spectacular event and that the curse of the Topaz Championship would end this year!

Appeased, at least for the time being, most of the guests went about their personal affairs.

Rei approached Daidoji Jinji and asked to me a captain of the guard. He was at first put off “You can’t be captain… I’m captain!” but when hearing that she offered two Hotai to serve in the guard, realized he could promote himself to commander and make her captain. Rei was presented with the shoulder less robes of a guard captain, in crane colors of course. The shared sake and Reil learned that Jinji was Daidoji Osono’s distant cousin (the guard captain at Doji’s Last Breath). We drank to the fortune of the Daidoji and to an eventless Topaz Championship. Rei’s first goal accomplished.

Suzume Shimzu spoke with Doji Domotai who wondered why he would be attending the championship… to oversee the sapphire trainees competing of course.

Kuni Shinji spoke with the Voice after his speech. He’s a little crazy that one. He forgot to be discrete about little details in their private (but easy to listen in on) conversation. Details like the fact that the Emperor IS missing. He did let Shinji know however that Bloodspeakers are present. Gee… Bloodspeakers at the Topaz Championship? Really? That wasn’t a surprise.

Miya Washichi meanwhile surrounded himself with the ronin who entered the tournament. Of them only one had a sensei and even he was poorly equipped. They ronin were delighted to have a Miya in their presence and hoped that he could speak well of them, such that they might receive an invitation into a major clan. Though he was friendly Washichi couldn’t not promise a recommendation until he saw their performance at the championship.

Kakita Artisans approached Kaiu Ryu and in their most condescending, yet still polite, tone asked if he could help with the crude matters of creating dulled blades and working on the obstacle course for the championship. Though clearly slighted, Ryu knew it was the kind of professional jibe that great craftsmen from different schools share with each other… not a personal attack.

As the evening continued an old Crane raised his voice to speak to the crowd. He had been at the Topaz Championship ages ago and asked everyone who had previously attended to stand in celebration of the new generation of samurai.

1000 Grain Sake

As the evening died down Shimizu gathered up the magistrates for an evening out at his favorite sake house. Most of us were invited in person but a heimin was sent to invite Washichi and Shinji. The scene was a lot of fun for me as I played a heimin trying to get money from the Miya and just trying to get away from the Kuni.

Drinking and cavorting made an excellent cover for planning our mission (or at least that is how Rei thought of it). I had a fun time being fairly no nonsense as I collect report of each magistrate’s progress and we laid plans for the morrow. As a player I loathe planning scenes so I brushed over anything resembling details and tried to describe us making plans for distracting the entire city of Tsuma.

While drinking Shiko was approached by a Hare, who did what Hare always do, act crazy paranoid and talk about Kolat. Are they present? Have you seen them? There was hysterical moment when the Hare thought that folding origami used for divination might be a Kolat device. I’m fairly certain he was talking about cootie catchers.

Topaz Championship – Day 1

I so felt like an event organizer and not and attendee in the game. In the background young samurai were competing but it had nothing to do with our mission. A year ago (real time, 6 years in game) we would have been feverishly studying our history and bushido trying to pass the tests, but our heroes had other tests to pass… keeping Rokugan’s biggest secret from getting out.


Shinji visited the temples and found that Shiba Ninjen was the most curious of the shugenja. She put the earth kami to work to distract him.
Rei visited the main gate’s guard posts and got a roster of who was coming in and where they were staying. She visited the scorpion area and began bragging about her conquests serving under Hida Kisada in order to get their attention. She also learned that another scorpion arrived but was staying in different quarters. A certain Bayushi Hakuseki (if you’re a long time reader, that named raised some hackles, if not, she’s a evil shape shifter we killed but never found the body).

Miya Washichi spend his day in court and met an Ikoma who was telling stories that clearly indicated he thought it was improper that the Emperor wasn’t present. Miya tried to tell as better story, which was appreciated but did not sway the crowd like the Ikoma’s.

Shiko spent the morning speaking with Nadu trying to convince him that he had a conversation with the Emperor just the other day. Unfortunately Nadu isn’t “in the know” and so he didn’t understand the importance of agree with Shiko, nor would he if he understood the consequences of doing so. I think Shiko needs to remember back to his early days of as a samurai, where he talked to the Emperor every day.

Kaiu Ryo built an obstacle course of unconventional nature… this one had traps. Woot!

Shimzu spoke with other duelists in hopes of creating a dueling exhibition to show the young pups how it’s done. None however would take him up on the offer.


Kuni Shinji cleared out a Heimin house so that she could sanctify it and cast a ritual to commune with powerful earth kami and assure them that all is well. They told her something she did not know, when the emperor last stepped on these stones he work a mask that made him appear as someone else.
Shiko talked with Otomo Norihisa and found that the Emerald Magistrates assigned to the same task were outside the city, looking for the emperor in Dragon lands.

Rei, who had heard about the Ikoma form Washichi over lunch visited the courts and told the Ikoma she was in dire need. Just as the Matsu rely on the Ikoma tacticians to aid them in the battlefield, so did she rely on the Omoidasu to aid her in telling a great story… the story of herself. When told she was quite bold she claimed not to be bold enough to do her own story justice. By the skin of my teeth, Rei convinced the storyteller to stop telling stories about the missing emperor and start telling stories of her great deeds at the Unicorn sake how. Two heads. One katana.

Shimzu, Ryu and Washichi all ventured to the dwelling of Bayushi Hakuseki… The found out different things.

Shimizu approached first and found a lion in a mempo in place of Hakuseki. He tried to figure out her true nature but was too brash and she called the guards on him.
Washichi spoke to the hemin nearby and found that all manner of people, including a man that fit the description the emperor himself had gone in but not necessarily left the house. He also revealed that the woman who first occupied it was a very beautiful scorpion.
Ryu found out that he’s too tall to fit in some heimin huts. He had fun standing outside looking impressive.

What rocked

Yay, I love playing Rei. She’s a capable military commander, sensible and not the hot head she was five years ago. Trust me, she’s still got plenty of fury but she’s not going to lash out at everything that comes in her way. Also, I like being around soldiers and I’ve got a character who has an excuse to do so whenever she wants. There is something about an average soldier, not the amazing duelist, not the ninja operative, just the common grunt that really appeals to me as a player. It’s the blue collar in me.

Relations with the Daidoji are cool. Of the three schools, Rei gets along really well with the yojimbo, can’t stand the trading council and is totally ignorant to the harriers. It means that any time she sees a Daidoji, she can’t be sure what she’s going to get. In this case, being made a captain. Woot.

We had some good interactions between the new characters. Ryu and Rei had the “you make cool swords” bond. Ryu and Shimzu both had the “we’ll take care of business” thing going on. Ryu and Shinji are both Crab and have that to fall back on if nothing else. Washichi impressed most of us with his knowledge and prowess both in the courts and on the streets. Rei at least totally sees him as a connection to a world she knows nothing about. It’s like politics are the kami and he’s a shugenja… only that breaks down because he is in fact a shugenja… hmmm. Either way, I saw his interactions with both the existing and the new characters as a positive one. Shinji is still a little outside the circle, but that is largely because she’s a scary ass face painted shugenja that talks openly to Sezaru. The way Tracy player her, however is awesome and I know we’ll be drawn to Shinji soon enough.

I love the plot of this, its reverse investigation. Normally the GM has this nutty secret and the players are banging around trying to find out what it is but the GM has to be patient about how much he reveals. In this game we’re the ones trying to hide the truth and the NPCs are digging around trying to mess up our Christmas. It allows us to be a lot more proactive in that we hold the cards and when someone threatens to reveal them, we can stomp on it. It allows us to create a lot of the story, something that is hard to do when the game is about uncovering the clues.

Interesting NPC just thus far: Isawa Sezaru, Otomo Norihisa, Moto Oko (the Unicorn barkeep), Bayushi Hakuseki, Daidoji Jinji, Shiba Ninjen, Tsuruchi Nado and the ronin that approached Washichi. That’s a lot of cool characters to come out in just one game. Albiet several of them are canonical and/or existed previously, but still it’s a nice spectrum of NPCs.

I think I’m getting myself neck deep in Scorpion plots. I’m hoping that will be a) fun and b) worth it. We’ll see

What could have improved

I think we players need to be more clear about our intent in a scene. This adventure doesn’t have a mini-game to show progress so I think some of the characters are floundering a bit. There were a few scenes where I felt like the characters didn’t progress, not because of failed rolls but because Travis couldn’t divine what it was they were trying to get out of it. This is just a reminder to all of us that it’s always a good idea to say what you’re trying to do if you don’t think that is clear.

I really want to bring Lore (swords) into the story more. I had a lot of fun talking about Ryu’s folding technique (something I just made up on the spot) and would like to be able to converse with other Samurai about their blades but I realize this requires me to initiate it, Travis can’t have everyone wielding exotic swords, nor would I want that. Mostly I’ve just got to be on the ball about bringing it into conversation without overwhelming the other content. I’ll start bring in more details from here I like the idea that most blades have Kizu (or small stress flaws), which might give the blade certain properties (more lift during a swing, more weight in the hilt, a patter to the vibration when striking another blade, etc). These same flaws are the aspects that make a blade personal, the kind of thing that you grow so accustomed to after years of use that you never notice, but the expert might pick up on. We’ll see if it can make interesting conversation.

We forgot to do Keys. While I’m okay with the XP, I like keys a lot and want to see what they players want for their characters, so Iook forward to bringing them back. Keys for Rei: “Kisada made me his Taisa” and “My ancestors dog my footsteps”.

[1] I’m having a hard time calling this game L5R anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game but what we’re playing… well many people just wouldn’t recognize it as L5R. And this isn’t a bad thing. I mean I’ve the Exalted setting in Wushu, Star Wars in Dogs in the Vineyard, Warcraft in Burning Wheel. Porting a setting to a game is awesome. It’s just that I don’t know what the game we’re playing is called. Hence… Magical Samurai.

5 thoughts on “Actual Play – The Voice of the Emperor (3/15/2010)”

  1. Just to get it out of my system: Tasai = Taisa. :p

    Glad you’re enjoying Shinji. I’m still getting a feel for her main self and mannerisms before throwing much of the crazy in. I have to keep reigning in my inner need to brainstorm “oh, how about we try this, or this might be neat,” when the character is much more taciturn. With Contrary and a plethora of voices, she’s generally convinced that all the discussion that needs to take place already has…”things are this way, and should be handled thus.” i need to get around to printing out my masks so I can hold them when IC and drop when I want to toss off an OOC piece I think might be cool without breaking the feel of the character.

    “This is just a reminder to all of us that it’s always a good idea to say what you’re trying to do if you don’t think that is clear.” I think that’s a good reminder, even if what one is trying to do is noodle around for inspiration. For example, going to the temple was one part reflection of Shinji’s piety, one part looking for gossip that might need quashing, one part noodling for anything interesting Travis might be thinking of setting at the temples.

    And yes, Lore is very frequently a player-driven skill. Very.

    So far, it’s still recognizably L5R to me, even with the magic morphs. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I was thinking about the whole MPD thing when you were playing her and was pretty happy that while there was a bit of I’m a spooky kuni stuff, the serious crazy didn’t hit the surface. I’d like to believe that we think we understand Shinji before she changes much. Otherwise, it won’t be a surprise, it’ll just get rolled into the “crazy kuni” label.

      As fer lore skills… well, I think the email I started covers that. For those reading I’m pushing for Lore skills being able to make decelerations, ala Fate/SotC.

  2. “As a player I loathe scenes”

    I agree! I prefer games where events occur in an unending flow completely unbound by the constraints of linear time or the strictures of any sort of narrative arc. I’m looking forward to the tabletop RPG conversion of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

    1. While I missed that line, isn’t the game of unending flow unbound by constraints basically LARPing?

      And if it isn’t…that gives me a strange idea for a con LARP sometime. One I’ll probably never be energetic enough to pull off, but it’ll tie up real estate in the back of my head for a while in entertaining ways.

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