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.