Actual Play – Topaz Championship (2/23/2008)

GM: Travis Lindquist
System: L5R

We started the L5R campaign last night with an introduction to the system and setting through the topaz championship. Each of our characters competed, first to pass their gempuku (rite of passage into adulthood) and, one fortunate and skilled individual would become the Topaz champion.

I have to admit, I was really hoping to either get it or be a major contender. As it stands at the end, my character Miromoto Jo (his child name, he’ll take a new one when he passes the ceremony) is only passing. Of the six competitions he’s only won three, and I’m kicking myself that it wasn’t four, just because of a player mistake I made. Talk about that more soon.

Sometimes these posts are objective recaps, but in this case I’m feeling passionate about the specific outcomes so this one is more told from the perspective of me as a player and the affairs of my character.

1st Contest: Heraldry.

We had to identify in order a major clan mon, a major clan family, a minor clan mon, an imperial legion mon, and finally the chop (woodcut, like a signature ring) of an imperial legion commander. Jo succeeded in all but the last, but still passed the test. Most of the other player characters passed, the two who didn’t were the other bushi, which made me content that I gave Mirumoto a good intelligence and several lore skills. (So far 1 – 0)

2nd Contest: Jujitsu

Random chops were drawn from a bowl to match contenders. Mirumoto was faced with Asahina. My first bout with a Crane. Miromoto was very apologetic as he lifted Asahina out of the ring and placed her gently on the outside. Other contestants had much better matches. (Now 2 – 0)

3rd Contest: Debate

This was the first contest that I wasn’t confidant in. Mirumoto has only a passing skill as a courtier. It was also the challenge that I faced by hardest opponent. Doji Sakura, another Crane and favorite of the match, the one many believe will be the Topaz champion. There was some consternation before the beginning of the challenge and then we were told our subject. Debate the merits of the Kakita school versus the Mirumoto. A very hot topic.

I’m really kicking myself right now over this match, as we tied on one roll and I opted not to break the tie with a void roll off (we each would have spent a void and whoever rolled highest would have won at that point) in order to roll a second round. In which she summarily debated my ass into the grass. (Now 2 -1 )

4th Contest: Poetry

Another match with a crane, this time Kakita. This was the first player head to head. I faced Kakita Kaza, one of the other player characters in a match of poetry, in which we both honored each other’s schools. He just honored mine that much more. Interestingly these are two character with a Karmic tie and a great amount of respect for each other. So even in my loss, I felt quite content to be bested by a most worthy opponent. (Now 2-2)

5th Contest: Go

We played a game of Go and I was again faced off with Doji Sakura. In this battle I held on for much longer that I probably should have, but I underestimated that she was trained by Matsu as well as Kakita and was bested. As before the Doji, and all of the crane for that matter won honorably, respecting my skill regardless of the defeat. (Now 2-3, ugh)

6th Contest: Horsemanship

Each of the contestants had to ride, draw their blade and attack a target, continue riding fire their bow and then ride back… all without stirrups mind you. This contest was the first where we realized something beyond the normal Scorpion shenanigans were going on. Each time an opponent faced a Crane, their saddle straps broke, clearly sabotaged and they fell off their horses. This caused a crab to be infuriated as he was sure the Crane had rigged the tournament so their own would win. As our wise Yoritomo shugenja (who’s well on his way to becoming the Topaz champion on his own right) discovered from the Kami, there were foul spirits in the area.

Mirumoto Jo faced, his fifth Crane opponent, a DaiDoji harrier. Like all the other matches vs. Crane my saddle fell apart in the middle of the bout. With a feat of athleticism however, I let the saddle slip out from under me while I maintained my balance on the horse and rode bare back. DaiDoji, recognizing that my saddle straps had been cut honorably dismounted, bowed and forfeited the match. (End for the game 3-3)

So far, six of the fifteen points have been awarded. Should Jo win the next nine, maybe eight he might have a shot at the championship, otherwise he’ll most likely pass his gempuku but that is about it.

So, a couple of observations. First, the fortunes were conspiring because all I ever faced were Crane. Five matches, only five crane in the competition and faced one every time. I know the Storyteller didn’t assign the matches, so it must have just been luck of the draw. If I have to loose, it will be honorable that I lost to the Crane. Second, I’m still really kicking myself over that debate. Had I not been a moron and rolled the void I would have had a 50/50 chance of winning that debate, placing me at 4-2 instead 3-3 and, in some ways more importantly placing Doji Sakura at 4-2 instead of 5-1. It’s not that I don’t’ want Sakura to win, I just want to be the one she faces off with. The thing that bugs me is that was a player mistake rather than a character mistake, I don’t know why I thought I’d stand a better chance with a second roll, but for some reason I did, and boy was I wrong. Third, I forgot that you can once per session make a “test of honor” where you reroll a failed roll using your honor in place of either an attribute, ring, or skill. That would have served me very well in the debate, the poetry or the battle roll. I don’t feel bad about this, however as nobody else thought about it either. Just something to consider in the next portion of the competition. Finally, I’m usually an okay sport about losing. I don’t like it but I don’t throw a temper tantrum either. In a lot of role-playing games, especially in a lot of the ones I’m playing now, losing is actually just as fun as winning. I still get to see my character interact with the game and do something meaningful. In this case though, it was rough. I tried to be a good sport and congratulate the other winners but if I lose another match I’ve got to face it that I won’t be bringing home the championship and start setting my sights on something else.

On a non-competition front, I did get to indulge my characters fascination with the Unicorn. First I talked to a Moto, who allowed me to ride his steed briefly. Then I met with an Utaku battle maiden in her personal quarters to share fermented goats milk and a mushy substance that I could not pick up with my chopsticks (cheese). I’m pretty sure my character is lactose intolerant (most Rokugani are) so I appreciate that the storyteller did not torment me with graphic descriptions of my characters uncomfortable bowels.

What rocked

The storytellers background knowledge of the culture and history really fleshed out the world and made it feel very rich and very real. We had representation from almost every clan and each of them added their personal nuances to the overall feel of the world. I thought each clan was depicted with their own particular flavor.

Some very interesting relationship came up. Kakita Kaza seems to be making allies with the Hida. He also is developing a rivalry with Doji Sakura, often trying to give my character advice when facing her. Yoritomo Ki has made a very poor choice in trying to befriend a Bayushi courtier, who is using him like a tool. One of her schemes ended up offending Mirumoto Jo (me) as well as Sodano Moku and Isawa Shingon (two other player characters, both Phoenix clan) by depicting his Go board in the fashion of the war between Dragon and Phoenix caused by the Dark Oracle. Yeah, fun stuff. Doji Jokuro is defiantly claiming home turf and while behaving appropriately as a Dojo courtier, may be making some enemies amongst the Crab and Scorpion. Go figure. Mirumoto Jo has four people that are all VERY interesting to him. He’s idealistic and thinks things should work out if everyone acts with honor. First is Kakita Kaza, who has show him nothing but respect, even when besting him in a challenge of poetry. Both seem to appreciate the rivalry between their schools rather than let it come between them. Next is Yoritomo Ki, who, having been manipulated by Bayushi has sent mixed signals to Mirumoto Jo. First one of offering an alliance, then one of great offence and finally a sincere apology. Jo is confused and intrigued by his shifting behaviors and assumes this has something to do with the rocking of the waves. Next up is Doji Sakura, the only rival he has faced twice. He lost both times but gave her an excellent challenge in both of them. They both respect each other on an intellectual level. Finally, the Utaka battle maiden who is very shy and unsure of herself is a complete mystery to Jo. Had I not taken the flaw “fascinated with Unicorn culture” I probably never would have talked to her but as is we shared a private meal and I’m sure Mirumoto was starting to feel a little warm around his colar… I’m sure that was just the fermented goats milk though

The Go match caused some discomfort between the Pheonix and the Dragon. After the match however, Mirumoto Jo had lost his center and need to regain focus (regain void) however he does not trust himself to meditate. Rather than centering, him mind wanders and displays horrors that chill him. Thus, fearing that he would fail to mediate, Mirumoto approached the Isawa and Sodano to ask that they forget the past and think about the honor we bring our families now by honoring the treaty our clans have made. To celebrate I asked that Isawa perform a tea ceremony for us. It was cool how mechanics (Doubt: Meditation) and history (Dragon and Phoenix war) came together that way.

What could have been improved

Call me a burning wheel fan boy, but think L5R could really benefit from a Belief system. I’d like to see each character have achievable goals besides just “I want to win the championship” and gain honor, glory or status for working towards and/or achieving them. This would help me personally (as I’d be less fixated on the prize) and I think would give some of the other characters more direction.

Edited: Less whining.

7 thoughts on “Actual Play – Topaz Championship (2/23/2008)”

  1. I think the amount we got done was amazing, as evidenced by your post and my post.

    The relationships and the immediate nature forming was cool.

    Yeah, beliefs could be neat, not sure how to incorporate them in explicitly. I’ve definitely given you one (the ‘find food for my clan!’ thing.)

    Also, I hope it didn’t run too long.

    1. Totally, we did a ton, which was a lot of fun. And we got done before midnight so I was happy. Great game all around.

      I was remembering playing Dust Devils everyone has chips that can be used for more cards, to fold or to discard and draw cards. You could also wager those chips on the outcome of a conflict before anyone was dealt cards. It might be cool to set up an Honor or Glory wager, whereby you have goals and if you achieve them you gain whatever you wagered, if you fail, you lose what is wagered. The size of the wager would be judged by the scope of the goal. Getting food for my clan would be a pretty big one vs. making Bayushi Maime look bad would be a minor one (or maybe a major one, I’m not sure). That way it would be optional, if you don’t take beliefs you wager nothing, if you do take them you have a chance of gaining or loosing glory or honor. What do you think?

      1. I could see Honor, Glory, or Status being used as wagers, depending on the belief and the action taken.

        Honor would be things involving rivals and shaming them.

        Glory would be defeating specific people/organizations.

        Status would be jockying for position in your job.


        1. hmmm… is right.

          I can see a lot of other application. Just take my looking for food motivation. It could be listed as:

          “I will provide a new source of food for the Dragon” (6 Glory). Provided I succeeded I would gain six boxes of glory, failure would mean losing that much.

          Even better though would be smaller goals, like “I will make an ally at the Topaz Championship who comes from a rice trading clan” (1 Honor). So, in this case the stakes are more clear. I need to make an ally of the Crane, Mantis or someone else who has rice before the end of the Championship. Once completed (or failed) the belief would of course change.

          I think this is the kind of thing you could test out as an experiment. Let those interested try it. If it works (for both parties) we could continue. If you like it but specific players don’t they could opt to not give their characters goals. If you didn’t like it, we could scrap it.

  2. Having seen the Beliefs in that playtest, I like the idea of having a few, even with zero mechanical benefit. I don’t recall them having mechanical effect during the playtest, but they provided something instant to hang the character off of. I think folks with a strong idea of character in most games have an informal version of Beliefs in their head anyway.

    1. I agree, most people do have some goals in mind for their characters. The major reason I see for mechanical reinforcement is to encourage people to have short, achievable goals rather than epic “I’ll be the greatest samurai that ever lived” goals which will almost never be addressed in the scope of a game.

      While I do like epic destiny stuff, it isn’t nearly as interesting to me as “I need to get rice for my people so they will survive this winter.” It’s still a big task, but it’s one that is achievable and when completed should turn into something new such as “I will establish a better trade agreement so that we’re provided for in the future” or “That bastard Mantis lied to me and didn’t come through with the rice, I’ll make him pay for all the people that starved.” etc.

      In BW you get rewarded Fate, Persona and Deeds for following beliefs at the end of the game. In the case of the playtest I omitted that part but normally you’d get at the very least a point of fate as long as you worked towards you beliefs.

      1. *nod* Possibly something as simple as an xp award? Or given L5Rs love of the decimal system, incremental xp where you gain a new rank of it after filling up 10 points? Basically a more powerful (and free) tweak on Higher Purpose. In which case, I’d likely disallow Higher Purpose, which has a tendency to be abused painfully by forum gamers.

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