Actual Play – Topaz Championship – Part 2 (03/02/09)

GM: Travis Lindquist
System: L5R

I’m a week late in putting up this review, so I’m probably going to miss some things. I’ll try and recap to the best of my knowledge.

7th Contest: Etiquette, History and Law.

This was a “gear check” sort of challenge ensuring that would be samurai are either educated in the ways of etiquette, history and law or are naturally intelligent enough to act appropriately in these areas as adults. We had an Intelligence + Random Skill (from those above) check, TN 15. I think all but one of the players passed, however for the NPCs we decided randomly if they passed or not and our rolls made Samurai as whole look like uneducated idiots. Ahh well, this was not a “make or break” test. I had a pretty easy time. Mirumoto was asked why in Rokugan we burn the dead and with a History check he could tell the story of Iuchiban raising the dead. (Mirumoto Jo 4-3)

8th Contest: Weapons Training

This was a brief look at how quick and deadly skirmish fights are in L5R. We each used bokun or blunted weapons. And in every case but one, the first to swing won the match. I was faced with a Shugenja who made an effort but could not match Mirumoto’s speed. (Now 5-3 and feeling better)

9th Contest: Obstacle Course

Here is where things started getting interesting. There were several opportunities in the obstacle course to “accidentally” fall in a pit and get put way behind. The tests were a combination of Agility and Stamina with athletics. Jo did just fine, able to make almost all of the Stamina rolls (except the very last) and able to take enough raises on the Agility based checks to take a substantial lead. I thought I was doing pretty well, getting nine successes until Isawa Shingon, the Shugenga made of resilience powered through the course taking as many raises as he could on every Stamina roll. He easily won his match and would have had a record (14 total successes) if not for the Hida Wrestler who put his all into not only winning but doing so in the best time (15 success at the end I think). It was a fun match and the first time the Shugenja were able to use some of their magic in a contest. (Jo now 6-3 and starting to look at the prize again).

10th Contest: The infamous “hunt”

This contest was staged as a opportunity for the children to try a diverse use of their skills. Running, hunting, etc. It of course was actually a place for all manner of mis-deeds to take place. Having good relations with the Shugenja Yoritomo Ki I asked if he would join me on the hunt along with the Utaka battle maiden that Jo has been fancying. Somewhat surprisingly we were approached by the Asahina and asked if she could join (right in front of the Utaka, mind you). That was a tense but fun moment, and a decent display of horsemanship won the Utaka over. The other four players Kakita, Doji, Isawa and Sodano also formed a team and we rolled out.

For our part, Yoritiomo Ki is definitely surrounded by some wickedness. He was the one who discovered the corrupted Kami during the horsemanship contest and in our journey we found Moto Taban’s head alongside his horse, no body to be seen. Ki, who had been given a Nemurani that allowed him to speak with the Emerald Champion, summoned him (after a funny bit of “please tell me you’re not using this power of the Kami for help on your contest”). As we proceeded back to the Dojo the ronin Nobaru ran out of the woods claiming that the Samurai Usarichi was Maho, had killed Moto and animated his corpse. The story was true, provided you switch Nobaru and Usarichi. Luckily we figured out his deception before too much happened. Jo and Ki cut him down within moments and almost immediately, traveling on a gust of wind, the Kuni sailed in and smote his skeletal creation with jade fire. BAM! We found out from Nobaru that it was Kukojin that wanted not only to soil this championship but make the Crane look like they had cheated.

The other group was confronted by a different hostility, in some ways more terrifying. Tsurichi, the crab harrier had lost horribly throughout the contests and personally blamed Dojo Jotaru. He used the hunt as a chance to gain vengeance and without warning or honor sunk an arrow into Jotaru’s stomach, nearly killing him outright. The other three bravely protected him and when Tsurichi would not leave his vantage point shot him down. The fact that untouched by Maho or even Scorpion deception the crab would stoop so low was very unsettling feeling for all of us.

In a bit of generosity for our efforts to preserve the championship and because our groups got split up (half of our group made it before the other players, and the second half made it just after them) all 8 of us were awarded two points (Now 8-3 and a very serious contender).

11th and final contest: Iujitsu Duel!

The final event, the duel is in some ways the determining factor of who will win the Topaz Championship. Mirumoto was born and raised for this event. Although skilled in other areas, this is where he would really shine.

  • First bout. Mirumoto faced a Shugenja, who after appraising his stance, bowed and forfeited the match. (10-3)
  • Second bout. Mirumoto faced Isawa Jingon who also, after appraising his stance, bowed and forfeited. Mirumoto understood but could not help but feel disappointed that his skill would not be tested. (12-3)
  • Third bout. Finally a challenge. Mirumoto faced off against Doji Sakura. Finally he would fight a Kakita. Knowing her reputation, and having been defeated twice (in Go and in Debate) he thought the duel would be the culmination of his training. He expected Doji Sakura to defeat him and bow before the Kakita school, vow to continue learning how to one day best them. But she choked, could not focus and Mirumoto struck first and true. Disappointed, Mirumoto won again (14-3).
  • Fourth bout. The humble Sodano, who traveled a long way to the championship with Mirumoto now faced him in the final match. Having fared better in the championship than Jo, Sondano was positioned to win, save this last fight. Both combatants displayed incredible skill and focus but eventually Sodano could focus no longer and Mirumoto cut once more. Ending the bout and the championship, the new Topaz Champion. (16-3).

What rocked

Well, winning doesn’t suck. I had built Jo to be a serious contender in the championship. He had all the necessary skills and is a fine warrior. After the first day I thought I lost it but was able to catch up and take it away. I was defiantly stoked about that.

Lots of continued intrigue. Kukojin, the crab harrier, a unicorn opium trader, and budding romances between several characters. I achieved many of my character’s goals for the championship (winning, bring food to my clan, meeting the Unicorn, dueling a Kakita, etc) and look forward to become a Sapphire Magistrate.

What could have been improved

By their nature single round elimination means some people get left out early. I could tell some of the other players were disappointed in the Iujitsu duel. The basic rule is the worst punishment you can ever give someone in a game is not being able to play. However, in the course of thing the match didn’t take much longer than any of the others and it was only of the 11 contests.

I felt a connection between several of the character (Yoritomo, Sodano, and Kakita) but two I couldn’t sink my hooks into (Doji and Isawa). I think as long as some of the other characters are well connected we’ll be fine, but I always have “party” anxiety as I have no desire to be put in the situation where two characters want nothing to do with each other and the game has no room for them to separate. So far this looks like it will be fine.

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.