Actual Play – Three Pillars (7/24/2009)

GM: Travis Lindquist
System: L5R

Sodano Shiko was alerted by his ashigaru. “Captain, Mirtumoto-san has boarded the kabuni”.

Shiko reproached the heimin, “He is Mirumoto-sama to you” and then turned to Al-Salin. The two samurai, two friends greeted each other and adjourned to the bow to share tea.

Al-Salin was troubled. At Shiro Smooth Water Shiko had asked him if his relations with Matsu Takeko and he shield himself with On (face), saying it was not honorable to speak of such things. But he knew it was not sincere for him to leave his good friend and a fellow magistrate in the dark. The code of Bushido must be followed first.

“I will tell you the answer to your question, but first I must ask you who you would server first. Your clan or the Sapphire Champion? The Champion or the Emperor?” They discussed the hierarchy of duty, how one duty may break another and how duties must be followed in accordance to their place in the celestial order. When one duty is found wanting, or contradict a higher calling, it must be cast aside.

“Such is the case of Bushido, Shinseism and On. All three must be followed but they are not equal. Bushido and Shinsei descend from the fortunes, On is fickle as it is self serving. One day creating peace, another day war. A tool used by the clans to control the passing of land, marriages and political power in the court. What’s more On is different in every clan. It is called a code but there is no text that could contain all of its changing rules. On is mandated by the man, Bushido and Shinsei’s wisdom from the heavens.” Mirumoto continued to explain that he had know Takeko as a man knows a woman. And he would know Utaka Nayan and Tsi Tsuturo as well. For just as a true samurai wields many blades, so must he wield many loves if he seeks excellence as a husband. Were it not for On, he would marry all three and balance his love for them on the edge of his katana. Just as it is said “The Empire rests on its Edge.”

Shiko and Al-Salin discussed these ideas for some time, but just as they seemed ready to abandon On, they were joined by Ikoma Tso-Lou. A skilled courtier and storyteller Tso-Lou cautioned his allies against their divergent thoughts. He counseled that each belief is a pillar that we must stand upon and if one falls, all will crumble. The conversation became esoteric; comparing all things to the five elements and putting forth that were we enlightened we would see that the division between all of these is an illusion.

In the end Tso-Lou could not agree with Al-Salin’s beliefs, but with earnest he encouraged his fellow magistrate to peruse them. “There are many stories of men who follow their passions against all odds. Those who succeed become the thing of legend!”

Earnestly Shiko inquired “And those who fail?”

“They become the stories shared in sake houses. Either way, I will be there to write the story of your fortune Al-Salin.”

What rocked

This was a small scene, with just three of the players. My goal was for the other characters to understand what was going on in Al-Salin’s head. While I wasn’t quite a eloquent as I would have liked to be, I’m pretty happy that the other samurai know enough to say that either “He’s a Visionary!”, “He’s bat-shit crazy”, or “He’s a dishonorable dog that I will put down.” No matter their eventual reactions, I was REALLY happy to have the scene explaining my character’s thoughts.

Ikoma Tso-Lou really put a kink in Al-Salin’s otherwise total confidence. He was the voice of reason, and not in mocking on condescending way, but rather in an earnest attempt to discern the truth. In the end his reason was sound and Mirumoto agreed that he was wise, but that Mirumoto had found the truth. “Just as the hammer and anvil strengthen the blade, so have you strengthened my will!” It was a great face-palm moment for Tso-Lao and something that propelled me forward with Mirumoto. He’s had this belief that has been personal so far, now he would spread it to the world.

In the end all three left as friends, happy for each other, but generally in total disagreement. One of those situations where we all respected the other too much to say they were wrong. This was awesome and very fitting for a group of samurai about to go to war.

I didn’t mention it in the narrative but the GM kept having the Nezumi (affectionately named “Number Two”) butting into our conversation. The point of this was to show a creature with no concept of On at all. It was a great juxtaposition to Al-Salin who clearly wasn’t considering all the implications of abandoning social customs.

What could have been improved

I’m not sure this would have made it better but I found myself itching to roll some dice. Rolls may have broken up narrative, but I would have liked to put some kind of stakes on the line that we argued over. As it was I was really happy with how the results turned out, but it might have raised the tension of the scene if we started calling for some stakes and throwing dice. Hard to know for sure.

9 thoughts on “Actual Play – Three Pillars (7/24/2009)”

  1. I’m a bit confused at the way [i]On[/i] is used here, particularly as the reason not to marry three women. Face is this slightly complex mixture of dignity/self-control/ability to know appropriate actions/culture. A simple way to lose face is by embarrassing yourself (or allowing someone to embarrass you). Laughing uproariously in court will lose face for being disruptive and obviously not knowing proper behavior. The same action at a sake house is fine.

    Wheras, if there’s nothing in the Rokugani laws about only getting to marry once, it’s because it’s like making a law against growing a second head–inconceivable. :p

    [i]On[/i] is self-serving in that it’s very much about personal appearance and standing, and may conflict with elements of bushido when one decides that keeping their face is more important than duty, honesty, compassion, etc. This makes it very much a lesser goal to uphold than bushido (in most cases).

    So in the above, by trying to deflect a question about a lover with “It’s not honorable to talk about such things,” he upholds honesty (didn’t lie), and sincerity, but is probably losing a bit of face because it’s an answer that very obviously dodges the question in a way that makes it clear there’s something shady going on. Leaving his friend in the dark would be an issue with honesty, not sincerity.

    And this nonsense is one of the things I love about L5R. Why simply argue for days about covert vs vulgar effects and why the universe notices them even without anyone else seeing them…when you can argue the subtle interactions of *seven* tenets, social rules, and a nice dollop of heavily melded religions?

    1. Al-Salin is very intelligent, educated and young. My Rokugan analogy might not be perfect by to me that spells self-righteous college kid who thinks he’s the only one who’s ever had a novel thought and can change the world once they understand.

      The focus on On is similar to college kids talking about The Man, or “Corporations” or “The system”. He perceives it as the weakness of society selling out because they won’t uphold higher laws (Bushido and Shinsie). Is he right? Not at all, but I too was a pretentious college kid once so I’ve got a pretty good feel for what is going on in his head. On becomes the scapegoat for his feelings that society is broken because it doesn’t work the way he wants it to.

      On a different front, from all I’ve heard about L5R nothing is inconceivable. The fiction is made up of all these amazing characters that break the rules all the time. There is a backdrop of social norms but exceptional characters in canon often break them in spectacular ways. That is what I am going for with Al-Salin. Right or wrong he will be the guy that people say “And then that crazy fucker with three wives and a gaijin name did this!”

      It’s going to get a whole lot worse for Al before it gets better (if it ever does). Assuming he kills at least one of his loves (which from what I know is in the cards) his next stop is the Lords of Death and will (if I can finagle it) end with a crazy hybrid Dragon/Unicorn abomination. But I try not to speculate too far, buffaloraven loves to throw me curve balls so I’m sure it won’t be even that simple.

      1. I can see the crazy college kid syndrome there; which wasn’t something I knew about the character. I was reading the above as far less in-character than it seems to be.

        And that is one place for dice. Given that otherwise it’s really easy for the discussion to become all about the players’ oratory skills. Rolls aren’t mind-control, but at least allow for influencing someone’s opinion from “that Mirumoto is batshit crazy” to “He’s got some crazy-ass conclusions, but it’s coming from a sound place…I should think about that.”

        OOC nothing is inconceivable, even three wives (until someone else learns of that, then there’s problems…seppuku would probably be the kindest of the possible outcomes.) But in an in-character conversation, it’s one of those ideas that make people wonder what was in your tea.

        My point was that the only reason it might not have actively been made illegal was because people thought it was self-evident that nobody would do that. In-character, someone should find it odd that it’s only [i]On[/i] that would keep the character from running out and doing something like that, since it means he thinks saving face is more important than the lying that would have to be done to those spouses and their families, not to mention that at least two of them would have to be done without the permission of his lord or family–and that’s all ignoring whether or not it’s actually illegal. It fits the crazy college kid. But I’m not exactly going to trust the vehement anarchist who doesn’t believe in personal property with my purse. In-character perceptions around that kind of thing would tend to be similarly wary.

        But then I’m running L5R with a GM who’s on the rules team, chatting with someone who’s a canon guru to a point that would drive even me nuts to actually play with, and regularly playing with a couple of folks who’ll have ooc conversations about just the right wording for a post in order to convey several levels of social implications without overt insult. So my flavor of Rokugan is, not surprisingly, more heavily steeped in the social underpinnings, and less in the crazy magical samurai elements than Travis’s game.

  2. Regarding stakes: I was actually quite happy that there weren’t any stakes. This really let you guys have the conversation and come to your own conclusions. I think that, in this situation, stakes might have caused more tension than was wanted, and possibly led to warriors being estranged as they entered battle, which would be cool too, but not for this fight.

    1. You know who also lurk in shadows? Yep, but they don’t exist. But if they did, they would know how to use poison to remove players foes from their position at the table court.

      Just kidding I don’t actually want you to poison any of my friends to get in the game, but I’m having such a fun time with this game I would probably say it would be worth it.

      1. We purged the Lying Darkeness and its taint from the shadows more than a generation ago, at the cost of much blood to the Scorpion. Now, only we remain, protecting the Empire from those who would see it harmed.
        Sleep well, little Dragon.

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