Keizoku wa chikara nari

I first encountered mention of Bushido during the late 1970s, in an unsympathetic review in some gaming magazine. This and similar reviews led, at least in my experience, to a widespread perception that the game was impossibly detailed, demanding, and finicky, in both setting and mechanics. However, if I’d managed ever actually to see a copy, which I didn’t, I’d have known differently. It’s considerably less complex than most games of its time and vastly more sensible, engaging, and full of potential situations across the whole spectrum of violence, social context, heroism, and the supernatural. Apparently, however, it has lived in enthusiastic play since its last publication in 1981, yes, 40+ years ago, despite all hobby rhetoric about “support” and dead games, much like Marvel Super Heroes (1984).

At last, I get to play it, with great thanks to Erik for organizing the game and GMing. I’m currently in anti-GMing mode, not due to alleged demands of “work” and “time,” but because I think it’s a good idea to put that role aside for a while, more often than I do. Granted, over the past four years of Adept Play (almost to the day as of this writing, actually), I’ve played a lot of player-characters without GMing, but I still want to separate my self-perceived identity from that term … and I want to showcase doing so in order to influence others to do the same.

Sometimes this happens: to find supernaturally appropriate, character-specific artwork for a game online as pure happenstance, in this case at the Karl Lindberg Art Blog. As you’ll see if you visit there, all three are found among a single page of sketches, and two of them are even next to one another already. Evidence of time travel? From left to right in this depiction, they are Mitsu, a low-ranking buke/samurai, professsion Bushi, played by Greg; Mataji, a low-ranking buke/ronin (which is really low actually), also Bushi, played by me; and Ryokuro, a very dubious eta class person whose actual profession is best left unmentioned, played by David. I’ve attached Mataji’s sheet below, and I’ll add the others when I receive them from the other players.

At the game’s Wikipedia entry, some contributor claims the game features “modestly superhuman” player-characters, to which I may say, my ass. At the start of play, i.e., level 1, characters are not inept, but they have a long way to go before any hope of slicing foes apart with combinations, leaping onto horseback, or dominating demons with a Yoga. A beginning Shugenza can make pretty lights … maybe. You really earn your reputation in this game.

Not that I did so well at that during our first session; although technically Mataji was reasonably effective in combat, I was awfully confused about the rules based on reading the PDF on-screen and borked my Basic Phase vs. my Primary Phase. All of us were getting used to the sequence, though, and this session led Greg and Erik to post useful summaries (see attached). Also, fortunately this happened (photo) before session 2 and thereafter I managed not to be a unique problem anyway. The book may not correspond to modern notions of hand-holding organization, but everything you need is in there and nothing is badly phrased or confusing. If you use it for and during real play, its format and internal logic are completely suitable.

I’d like to talk about system stuff later in the process of play, but as a brief set-up, I strongly recommend learning it as a prime example of constraint and choice during the action of combat and similar confrontations. Reading it isn’t enough; it reads like it’s dry and metronomic, but that’s not how it plays.

Finally, and with apologies for the spoiler, I suppose we have to address why my character Mataji commits sepukku at the end of the second session. It’s a good example of something I’d have never planned or wanted in the abstract, i.e., before play or in the absence of the immediate events. I’m going to miss playing this guy.

So what happened? Despite a good initial showing against a supernatural creature, he then failed his defense roll against its fear-gaze, and then failed the recovery roll, thus ultimately careening around in the forest in panic until he collapsed in exhaustion. Now, according to the rules, if one loses a ton of On, they actually lose a whole level, and committing sepukku is a way to keep that from happening (you are, of course, dead, but you are also not dishonored). Running from a fight certainly qualifies. However, as stated in the monster’s description, doing so in response to its gaze is not so dishonorable and Mataji would lose merely 1 On. So that’s the system context at first glance: he didn’t have to do it.

My own thinking went back and forth once the final effect was determined, and you can even see me cogitating as the other characters fought the monsters. My first consideration was his social rank: although his social class is buke, ronin is the lowest sort of buke, and he’s rated at 1 (as rolled originally), i.e., the lowest sort of ronin, barely distinguishable from a ruffian such as the guys they fought in session 1. After those events, including seeing Mitsu bravely stand against two foes, I “felt” him to be very serious about rising in the world as a real samurai one day. That’s why he didn’t converse with those of lower rank during the start of session 2 and why he raced into action so fast against these foes, face to face. It wasn’t just the running-off – it was also failing to protect the kid whom the monsters were torturing. To a higher-ranked buke (samurai, or even perhaps a ronin of social rank 2 or 3), this event might be written off, it was a magical monster after all, but not to him, already at rock bottom. He saw no permissible margin of error.

Voluntary seppuku is definitely part of the game; the relevant rules section lists lots of circumstances in which character might do it without having lost On. It includes the appropriate concept of Funshi, or a protest/hate against powerlessness. But did I really have to? I knew one thing: this was the end of his ambitions as a Bushi. Something would have to change. If not sepukku, then perhaps changing profession, which I examined in the text as well. In his case, the rules focused basically into becoming Yakuza – a thug, a gambler, and (effectively) mafia goon. I considered this, especially what sort of person he might become, and all I could anticipate or understand was that he’d go all the way, doubling down into becoming a really bad guy. Playable? Yes, but not in the sense of “a heart of gold” – in any moral sense he’d a broken man, to the extent of villainy. Which I can and often play quite well, incidentally, so on another day I might have chosen this option.

The second consideration, however, is my perspective as a player at the moment: I currently feel like playing “just a guy” more than the dramatic center of attention. The events of play seemed to have landed me there due to rolled outcomes, and all I could see from playing him further was Mister Tragic Himself Now On Stage. So that’s what tipped me into Funshi sepukku: Drama Queen For a Day rather than Drama Queen Forever.

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40 responses to “Keizoku wa chikara nari”

  1. Rediscovering Joy of Playing as GM

    I am rediscovering some of the fun I used to have GM-ing.

    I was asked to GM this game when it first came out. I had to strip everything down to the basic resolution with d20 and come up with martial arts dungeon crawls. It was all I could really comprehend at the time. The social mechanics just didn't register with 14 year-old me in 1983. So one pleasure I am experiencing is seeing how all of the parts fit together. I have Heroquest and Burning Wheel experience in dealing with conflict and task resolution in non-combat situations. Those play experiences allow me to see how scenes can be resolved with the not-too complicated mechanics. Multiplying with fractions isn't as intimidating as it once was. I can also see how failures can contribute to failing forward. Low status persons may fail to get exactly what they want, but differeing parties will receive more-or-less inconvenient strictures from the authorities deciding a social dispute.

    Getting comforable with a once-daunting challenge is very rewarding in life and in playing this game.

    I have also got back into the fun of setting up possible encounters. Not planning what MUST happen to the characters. I just stat out a few Beasts, Legendary Beasts, Legendary Creatures and Supernatural Creatures and let the Encounter Tables decide which will show up. Every time I said to myself "wouldn't it be neat if I put a giant spider here: things wil go like this …" I resisted the temptation and let the dice determine what challenge the pilgrims would face. Playing to find out is very rewarding.

    The movement and positioning rules are really important. This goblin-thing with a blank face that drives people mad had just enough movement points to pay for a 180 degree rotation and look So Mataji right in the face. It was the Mujina's best move in the situation. The timing and movement rules really help me visualize what is going on.

  2. Rules Text: Organized Logically but Missing Something.

    The rules text begins as many hex and chit wargames begins: accounting for how time and space are measured in the game, and specifying the parameters for measuring a unit's effectiveness: how smart, strong, tough they are, how far they can jump or broadjump etc. And it proceeds logically, with some call for looking up numbered rules elsewhere in the book. 

    Like many (but not all) RPG texts of the time it does not provide a guide to the structure of a typical session, or a sample of play procedures as enacted by a typical or actual group of players.

    So I strained to get as many rules under my belt as I could. But I could never figure what to DO with them. Until I had a chance to play the wave of indie games coming out around 2000.

  3. How I am running the Scenario Pack: Valley of the Mists

    I have run this 3 times. The first crew made it to the big bad. And a ninja played by Justin — the guy with the paper route who bought the rules, my eternal respect — got a crit and 2 maxed out rolls on the special effects table. 1 arrow, right through the eye. And that was that.

    The second time was with Burning Wheel. A year and a half. The Beliefs really drove play. A son reconciled with a father and took his seat as a lord. A peasant martial artist was elevated to samurai rank. This time the crew got to see of the threats the Valley held. But it was resoved with a set of simultaneous Battles, where each PC lead a contingent of warriors or militia to a different area. There was also a Battle involving a peasant uprising.

    In those cases I played the scenarios as written. The NPCs were well detailed and were in a web of conflicting relationships. It's the first time I saw scenario design like that and never saw its like until Sorcerer came out. But a number of big events have HAPPENED before the action starts. The NPC patrons pull the characters into schemes and scams already underway. 

    In this case, the big events are GOING to HAPPEN. The PCs might even forestall or prevent them. But I will not follow the old formula: "X has happened so Y must be done — browbeat, bribe, or threaten the players until they realize that Y has to happen and that they better hop to it and make it happen."
     

  4. Movement and Positioning

    I love the way that Bushido makes mental/corporeal focus a part of combat resolution. A character may have two actions per turn, but if they have a "Zanshin" of 1, only one of those actions will be at their full chance of success. The game really takes the mental focus of the characters very seriously. An important step of combat is dealing with Distractions. Nearby allies, enemies that have Engaged you, and things like thrown sand or flying shuriken all count as Distractions. Every Detailed Turn you make 1 Will saving throw to figure out how many distractions you can ignore. Otherwise your rolls are penalized.

  5. Samurai and seppuku in RPGs

    I've wanted to play Bushido since I saw an advertisement for it in Dragon magazine when I was a kid. At that time, this was primarily due to my obsession with everything to do with samurai and ninja.  Over
    the years, I have played many other games set in fantasy medieval Japan and have been disappointed. I never really knew why. Now that I have had the opportunity to play Bushido with Erik, Greg, and Ron, I think I know what was missing. Something that fascinates me is the different attitudes about death that come across in both historical and fictional content about samurai. I have always wanted to explore this in role-playing games but have never had the opportunity. 

    The gold standard in samurai fiction for me is the iconic scene from Kazuo Koike's Lone Wolf and Cub, where the father Ogami Ittō gives his infant son Daigoro a choice. Choose the ball or choose the sword. The ball versus the sword is not a choice between life and death — it is a choice between death and death.

    "Choose the ball, and you join your deceased mother in heaven. Choose the sword, and we will walk the path to hell as demons, to avenge your mother."

    Death is inevitable in either case. It is just a matter of how it happens and when. To be clear, it is not inevitable in the sense that we are all mortal. Here, choosing the sword is a slow suicide for both father and son. This fact is reaffirmed at different points in the story. When either character is threatened, the answer from the other is always:

    "I don't care if you kill them, it doesn't change my action. I will still walk this path".

    These are not tragic heroes. They are people solemnly performing a duty. Throughout their journey, many of the people they encounter are awe-struck by the purity of their resolve. There is very little in the way of trying to dissuade them or convince them to forgive and forget, or that life is worth living. They see that these two are on this path, knowing full well what it means, and any sane or uninvolved person steps out of the way. It's heady stuff.

    There are perfectly good reasons why people don't want suicide in their games or have difficulties with the idea that death is inevitable for their characters. For myself, the inclusion of these things in a fantasy medieval Japanese role-playing game is an important differentiator between knights with funny armor and curved swords versus samurai.

    While I was aware of Bushido's seppuku and reincarnation mechanics, the in-game seppuku of Ron's character Mataji confirmed for me that Bushido was the game I was looking for (and that this is a great group to play it with).

    While I was thinking about this, I started looking at some other games I own that are set in medieval Japan to see how they treated seppuku. I thought I'd share my results for the sake of comparison:

    Bushido: rules for committing seppuku, including the act (it is always successful but failed rolls result in a loss of honor (On)). There are also reincarnation rules that influence the creation process for the player's next character.

    Burning Wheel, Blossoms are Falling: there are rules that state when seppuku is necessary, but one may rebel. If they do choose to commit suicide then their next character will receive a benefit.

    Rolemaster, Oriental Companion: it is treated as a frequent event and possibly unavoidable due to the rigid social structure of the setting. There is a skill for it — a normal failure means that character cried out, disgracing themselves but succeeding at suicide,  whereas a fumbled roll means that the character survived but is outcast to the lowest social class.

    Legend RPG, Samurai of Legend supplement: there are rules on how to perform the deed and penalties to On for failure (surviving the attempt).

    Blood and Honor: rules for performing the deed and honor points are inherited by characters in the next game regardless of if or how they met their end.

    Legend of the Five Rings (5th edition/Fantasy Flight Games): Seppuku doesn't exist as far as I can ascertain.

    I'd be interested in learning about other games that have special rules for seppuku. I'm also quite interested in games that have unique rules for character death, regardless of setting. This could be something like reincarnation in Bushido, coming back as a ghost, making a new character that has some connection to the previous one, etc. Does anybody know of any such games? 

    • One of the big players in a

      One of the big players in a list for these things was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Oriental Adventures, which I think is the last or nearly-last identifiable contribution by Gygax to TSR, much of it completed by Zeb Cook, published in 1985. Looking at it now, my take is that it lifts aggressively from Bushido, at that time considered dead and gone, almost to the extent of being a conversion …

      … with a significant absence of sepukku. Which is weird in one way, as the mid-80s aren't the mid-70s. Japanese-anything had become entirely familiar in U.S. media by this point (fellow oldies will recognize the TV version of Shogun, and God help us all, probably the more influential, The Bad News Bears Go to Japan) and the concept was no longer exotic. However, TSR was in the throes of cultural attack and the big trend in the 80s work was to soften everything and brand the game as suitable for younger kids. They'd just managed to scrub the titties and demons out of the core books; it seems consistent to draw a sharpie through "disembowel oneself" as an in-game activity.

    • This is a separate comment

      This is a separate comment because it's a really different topic. I'd like to investigate the point that sepukku in Bushido is voluntary on a player's part. In terms of game rules, it's not required under any circumstances.

      • If you lose a whole lot of On at once in some shameful manner, including or not including reducing your level by 1, then you can cancel that loss via sepukku.
      • You can also do it if circumstances demand/threaten such a loss of On, e.g., surrounded by victorious enemies on the battlefied, or ordered to do something heinous by your daimyo (Kanshi).
      • And, as mentioned in the post, you can do it as a protest or final-defiance against certain uncontrollable circumstances in which you are unjustly powerless (Funshi). This option includes the neat detail that if you succeed in the sepukku cuts, you become a vengeful spectre, which sadly Mataji did not manage to do.

      … but you don't have to, in any of these situations. The text says that someone who's lost a lot of On: "… will be motivated to try and regain it, or to earn more On in fresh adventures." There are a lot of ways to earn On, and nothing stops you from shifting considerably in your priorities and ways to get it, after losing a bunch when you were pursuing your original aims with your original means. That loss isn't the punishment mechanic that it looks like.

      Once you see that play all the way into and continuing with this path is completely viable and might in fact happen, you can't unsee it. Taking it all the way is totally fine: playing somewhat anti-bushido in Bushido is clearly well within the outcomes and range of play. It reminds me a lot of Marvel Super Heroes' procedures for prosecution + distinctive villain Karma rules, i.e., "to become a supervillain" is totally procedurally present.

      My last thought concerns the nominal reincarnation, which is not particularly literal. There isn't any required fictional connection or spiritual transfer to the new character; it's really just about the new build. In my case, for example, I had the option to shift my new character's birth table result by a certain number of points, as well as enjoy a boost in ability scores if they chose to be bushi (Mataji's profession). These are considerably increased according to level and current On; a first-level character just two sessions in didn't give me much.

      Given conversation and comments so far, I think the alleged reincarnation isn't worth much excitement. I mean, it's fine – and it's imitated and repeated throughout dozens of games – but it's not the huge bennie it's made out to be, and it's not fictionally particularly compelling. In some application in some way, it might be memorable, but as such, it's not different from any other mechanic in the game.

    • Mountain Witch maybe? While

      [Responding to David's question] The Mountain Witch maybe? While it does not have special rules for ritual suicide it does explain it and it has unique rules for character death, you come back as a kind of ghost and the memories others have of you can influence their actions if I recall correctly. I'd loved to explore that more in the game I played but alas, others had other plans. There is a Actual Play post around somewhere if you want to look for it. I don't know anything about samurai and such, so I can't say how "authentic" it is. But it has a lot of explanatory side notes that really helped me to develope a feeling for the setting.

    • Blood and Honor and Bushido

      Blood and Honor and Bushido are standout games because they link one player's character to the next one that player creates. The 1st character may be gone but the players in both games carry on or elaborate actions and qualities the player authored for that first character.

    • There was also Sengoku, which

      There was also Sengoku, which was very encyclopedic in coverage and made for great reading. It used the Fuzion system, but I never played. It had rules and mechanics for Seppuku.

  6. On playing in the moment.

    Ron's point about "being a Drama Queen once instead of being a Drama Queen forever" made me think a lot.
    I think a lot of people struggle with this in play – I know I often do. The idea that play is building toward something, that you can carry what happened with your character and that it will bring change and possibly one day resolution often gets in the way of doing the thing, right now, and just play it. 

    I think the idea that you need to keep playing, to preserve your character and to "live to fight another day" (or just that there's always another try, or another adventure, or another scene) can get in the way of making resolutive decisions and appreciating their effects in the moment, within a scene. Probably I feel this even more because I mostly GM, and one of the negative effects of doing so is the obsession with always thinking forward.

    I appreciated this moment because in my opinion it sets the priorities straight: do this moment right, then think about next. 

    • Weak starting characters and

      Weak starting characters and promises of eventual advancement to coolness are partially to blame, I think. There are so many RPGs that are ostensibly about these kick-ass heroes, but what you actually play are weak-ass beginners.

      No wonder the approach becomes to live another day, else we'd never make it to those exalted levels, right? People play MERP to be Aragorn but in order to actually fight multiple orcs with confidence you have to play fifty sessions.

      And in practice, many campaigns with such games never ever get there. So I agree with Lorenzo: Let's seize the moment — and perhaps choose games or campaign setups that don't wave empty promises in front of us.

    • As a useful context for your

      As a useful context for your point: I could have gone either way. If we were half-an-hour later in the session, or if this had occurred five or six sessions into play, or if it was the first thing that happened during the first session … or maybe, if everything were exactly the same but I had experienced a different series of events earlier in the day …

      I am naming these variables not because I know they would have led me to a different decision or action, but because I have no idea whether they or any similar circumstantial details would do so. I do know that a moment of decision in play, always, is not only this person deciding, but that moment in its myriad of ifs that are not.

  7. a question to those who played Bushido …

    … is it really a game in which the rules seem to be build around higher level characters (which seems to be suggested in some of the comments, Johan's and Lorenzo's) and are "impossible to be played with starting level characters?

    From my limited experience I'm not sure such games really exist, maybe it's more something players perceive or expect.

    • I don’t know how “impossible”

      I don't know how "impossible" became included in that conversation. It's nonsense.

      My post above mentions that the Wikipedia text about extremely competent characters misrepresents the early phases of the game. I certainly said nothing about the game being impossible to play with them.

    • Hi Helma, yes, this comment

      Hi Helma, yes, this comment about the impossibile things to play with a starting character doesn't make sense at all to me for this game: not even after reading it before play.

      First, level is a very specific things: you have 6 levels and you start at one. The skills where I'm competent at (I play Mitshu, the Buke/Low Samurai/Bushi) are something like 11 or 12 (I need to roll lower with a d20 to succeed). I'm a Bushi, so those skills are combat skills. Which makes it a little more than 50% to hit. But note that there are lots of combat options and for instance, flanking a character give me a +5. I don't feel I'm not competent or even restricted in terms of Combat Options at this level.

      Each level gives me a +1 in armor, so level matters a bit, but not the point of going from "impossible to do things" to "possible to do them", and not from "being a squire" from "being a superhero".

      Note that level is not directly linked to "being skilled". You gain levels by gaining honour and experience. But to advance your skill, what you need is training. Training is counted in full time days spent to learn the chosen skill, with various modifiers related to having a Master or not, learning in a school or not, etc.

      I think Level is not even relevant to social status. So you can found your own school or design your own combat techniques at level 1. Most relevant to me for the experience of play is my character age. She is actually 17 and I had to figure what she knows of the world previously when Mataji clearly showed her his expection to be a witness for his Sepuku. I chose that I never seen that, that she saw him as an older fighter, who could fight (she saw it), and that she experiences her first real fight with him. He was lower status but she fought with him and she could trust him in battle. He put her responsability in face of her: will you witness or not. She had to endorse a role, at the risk of losing On (which she did, as both Ron and me missed our Seppuku rolls) A 21 years Mitsu, knowing more about honour, the loss of it, the status of Ronin,in other words: having different models of samourai-behaviour, would have thought otherwise. 

    • I can’t comment on Bushido,

      I can't comment on Bushido, but I think there's been a mix of different streams.

      I was observing Ron's seppuku in terms of decision-making; it's not very relevant that the character was low level, it's mostly the idea that a character takes a radical, memorable action now instead of postponing it forever because surviving and leveling up is more important, and the "good stuff" comes later.

      I would also argue that most games that feature long level progressions are easier to play at low level than at a higher one. I was mostly commenting (on Discord) on how levels (specifically in D&D, but I guess it was D&D that introduced the concept?) were diegetically associated with a certain rank or name that at least attempted to provide some fictional context for where a character of a certain class and level would stand in the game's world, but it has nothing to do with Bushido (even if Ron in the post provides similar context for the characters' social classes and honor standing, which is probably a lot more relevant to discuss here).

  8. Marvel Super Heroes, Karma, just a guy

    Taking it all the way is totally fine: playing somewhat anti-bushido in Bushido is clearly well within the outcomes and range of play. It reminds me a lot of Marvel Super Heroes' procedures for prosecution + distinctive villain Karma rules, i.e., "to become a supervillain" is totally procedurally present.

    Ron: This comment and the idea of playing "just a guy" got me thinking. The Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set included a few more rewards and penalties in relation to maintaining a normal life outside of being a hero. These got compressed in the Advanced Set into a weekly reward that loses something potentially interesting.

    I think there is the possibility in Marvel Super Heroes of exploring a very compelling space (to me) between being a hero and a villain just by eschewing responsibilities, failing, not showing up when needed, being a little bit dishonest, a little bit cowardly, a little bit greedy, etc. All in a normal and not very grand way but with the hero becoming an outsider, disconnected from the hero group, their friends and family, etc. Possibly they even end up making connections with other people in the same boat and drift towards villainy together as a matter of survival on the outside of social norms and expectations. There could be something interesting along those lines in Bushido too, with obvious contextual differences, given the range of play that you describe.

     

    • I agree completely. If you

      I agree completely. If you haven't seen it, Monday Lab: Make Mine Marvel digs into this game (and the three other licensed Marvel games). I think it provides a remarkably individualized and flexible grey area, or perhaps multiple trajectories and outcomes, for a hero who's a person. It is very Marvel to suggest that one cannot actually be a paragon of both at once, and that you'll be, well, wherever you end up instead.

  9. Session #3 and the Downtime Mechanics

    This session was full of social connexions and self-development.

    The Downtime rules could have been presented better. But they are not as tricky as I remember them seeming. I had things set up where relatives of the players would offer them pretty-good jobs with some free time for training. I hope I communicated to the players that they were under no obligation to take those offers and could have sought out others.

    Seeking dangerous occupations — Spy, Exorcist, Yojimbo — requries some rolling. And some risk of character injury or death during Downtime. In Traveller you could die during character creation. In this game you could die when you were taking time out from adventuring!

    I neglected to roll for Duties. There is a chance that you might get called up by family or clan or army or temple to do something instead of earning your pay and going to night school. For our character who are without much official responsibility that would be about a 1 in 10 chance per month of downtime.

    Characters who are able to dedicate full time to a study pursuit can make big advancements. Gin increased her meditation from 40% to 68% over 3 months of hard work. It wasn't cheap.

    In terms of personal practice, I was trying to keep contact with the camera and to interact with the players. All the screens and virtual table top management was really absorbing my attention the last few times. Sending the one map out early freed me up. and there was no need for keeping track of combats this time out.

    The scenario has a standard "patron wants you to get precious maguffin" set up. The scenario starts with the patron presenting the deal. I chose to have several months pass between the time the item was expected to arrive and when the patron learned that the caravan transporting this item had been robbed and the porters and their guards either killed or kidnapped, but missing in either case. I am not sure if I communicated to the players that the 3 months could have been filled in any way they wished, including trying to figure out what happened to item. This is part of my aim of making the events in the scenario opportunities for proactivity on the characters' part, not faits accomplis. 

    I must admit that I enjoy playing NPCs who are all "yes" and "here's some help" instead of "no" and "I'll be an obstacle until you can make a lucky guess as to how to motivate me." The rules for petitioning superiors and organizations for serious assistance make it unlikely for player characters to get aid free of any restrictions or reciprocal obligations. Why make things more challenging for the characters?

    • I hoped to provide the

      I hoped to provide the session videos here, but I have run into some sound recording issues, which have become steadily worse throughout the past week. If I can repair them, I'll post them here, but for now, we have to go with text accounts. First, our new banner:

      null

      I'll "tell you about my character" in this case because the new creation process threw me some curves. First, given Mataji's beginning-level On, I had only small bits of resource or options to add into the beginning character rules. Regardless of birth, if the new character were also bushi by profession, I'd get 6 points extra for the abilities, which is no small thing. I suppose if the birth roll really punched it hard (samurai in service, etc), I'd have gone that way. If the birth roll didn't indicate it as an obvious/consistent option, I wasn't inclined to torture a complex concept into shape just for the points. I very much want to play a not-at-all fancy Bushido character. I was happy to have rolled a low-ranking ronin originally, for instance.

      As a minor but relevant point, as play had completed the player-characters' pilgrimage, this new character would most likely be local to their point of arrival, Takayama, so perhaps more grounded in family and circumstances of the place than Erik's concept of play. That seemed to me even more reason not to fill the place full of complicated backstory and dramatically mismatched birth/profession.

      In this case, I rolled high-ranking Eta, which is the brass ring of joy for anyone who wants to play ninja. I confess that I hate the idea of playing ninja and, in a rare moment of considering player-character group composition, also thought that adding a wealthy townie spook/crook to our group which already contained a scruffy outsider spook/crook would just make the whole thing about that stuff. Which is specifically my huge turn-off to nearly anything about modern pseudo-historical Japanese content.

      First, I thought about the book's statement that an Eta character might have been adopted by some other family if they were "unsuited for ninja," in which case I rolled again and got high-ranking Heimin, specifically merchant. Functional, but so much for my hopes for a simple personal background: "born to a mighty ninja clan, adopted by wealthy merchant family," et cetera. It also completely scuttled the idea of being bushi, as that would be two incredible steps of backstory drama, and I didn't even want the one I had. I thought about shugenza (wizard) as that is where my thoughts often go, but at this point, I kept getting more and more stuck into a pile of "me me me, I'm so interesting" for this person.

      That's what led me to go with gakusho, or religious person, "priest" in a very broad sense of the term. I still didn't like the background … and then I remembered the other death-benefit which was the chance to adjust the birth roll. I only had 1 point, but as it happened, the original birth roll was 86, right on the edge of high-ranking Eta, thus allowing me to got to 85 and be low-ranking Heimin instead, specifically, Merchant.

      That grounded me entirely: Miyata Gin, small-fry merchant family, Shinto priestess, and importantly, the rules allow for the lay version, so not even a shrine official. This is exactly what I wanted: just a young woman with a family and pragmatic prospects, noted for Shinto observance and able to do that stuff, but still tied more strongly to family and immediate concerns than to a shrine and its hierarchy.

    • I enjoyed the downtime

      I enjoyed the downtime mechanics. In the third session, I learned the importance of training. Mitsu did a few things: first delivering what promess she made with her aunt (getting wed to improve the Clan's position and resources, knowing that her clan his in trouble after a bad harvest and an attack from a rival) and attempting to see her reaction by revealing her true motivations (training her Naginata skills, working for the Daymo). Her aunt's reaction was as surprise to her (and me), as I expected resistance for Mitsu according to her gender in this society. Her aunt was helpful, and he helped me to get a better sense of my character, who realized that getting reputation at the court maybe more deadly and difficult than training for war and combatting for the Daymo. 

      Mitsu, who had some money at creation, got more by directly for the Daymo using the downtimes rules. Also, I hesitated between training my Budei (combat skills) and my social skills (such as tea ceremony), but went for Budei, deciding that Mitsu still need time to change her mind about the choices she made. I enjoyed those mechancics, as training for skills is really impactful (my Naginata skill bumping from 11 to 15, which really makes a difference), but also directly connects NPC in play. You really want to have a good master, to be able to pay, to go into a school. You're not just "training" in a void, you are comitting to a group. I didn't review the downtime rules and reading Erik about the Clan Duty would have added stakes in the downtime. I don't know for the other, but most of my decisions about who Mutsi is, what she wants, what she does is impacted by reflecting on the social impact of those decisions: the clans's expection of her, the way people see her.

      We played a meeting scene where we met Ron's new character, Giin, that I really enjoyed. Those things are not easy to play, at least if we don't want to fall into basic "The PC are meeting together" full of small talk absolutely present in most real life social interactions with new people, but rarely interesting in a scene of rpg. I think that we did quite well (but who knows). We accepted a local merchant's invitation to find something for him, but the way we played the scene was really satisfying. Misu keeping quite, Gin talking business and presenting herself, Mitsu trying to incarnate her superior social statut (and me trying to not be the classical "I'm superior so I'm just insulting", which is not easy and I hope I don't fall into that trap), and Rokuru adding blunt and explicit statements. To me, this presentation scene really showed us trying to internalize each other social statut, and it really felt like a little improvized jam of jazz, to use that music metaphor we like.

      To answer Erik, I felt I could refuse the merchant's proposition. But it was kind of obvious that I would not do it, as I'm eager to slay some Bakemono. Not trying to "be in group", I don't feel the process of all of us "going on quest together" as artificial. 

      Also, I'm trying to internalize the Sepuku scene and it already affected Mitsu. I think that with some maturity, I'm using this event as a lense of what is honor, for a samurai, or for a ronin, without having this thing being an haunting specter defining totally the rest of the game. To be fair, I'm not totally at ease with this kind of character (who embodies values and social status), but I enjoy trying to manoeuver myself in the game. The fact that she's sevent helps a lot, I can use her discovery of the world and this beginning of her life where she takes responsability as me discovering the "setting" (with every other players, I think).

       

    • I am playing Rokuru Honzo

      I am playing Rokuru Honzo (personal name first). Rokuru is a middle Eta. I initially started with a ninja, but we decided against it. Erik (the GM) modified the character into a yakuza. But he is not really a yakuza either. He is neither this nor that. That makes the character quite interesting to me.

      Eta are the untouchables of Japanese society, so Rokuru has his work cut out for him if he wants to be anything else. His goal in life is to raise himself and his family out of their predicament. The path that draws him most is establishing himself as a famous martial artist. But he is amenable to other paths.

      Social class is an important feature of this game, and we are playing it hard in every scene. In other medieval Japanese RPGs, I have seen a tendency to minimize social class or only play power-tripping samurai. In the latter case, nothing is played from the perspective of the other social classes. Our mix of social classes, further diversified by Gin's Heimin birth, informs what we can do and how we can do it.

      Rokuru has a role to play within this framework as the one who does the dirty work. In the second session, this meant that he was one of the people to handle Mataji's corpse. In other situations, it might mean doing things that the samurai (Buke class) and Heimin find shameful or unethical. Rokuru is aware that he will never be clean in most people's eyes, so he sees it as essential for him to perform the roles that Eta do while also looking for a way to improve his situation.

      We haven't interacted with the social class mechanics in the game yet but there are rules for resolving social conflicts that factor in the status of the participants.

      In this session, he visited with a family member (Big Ears Honomi Naokata) who is one of the yakuza operators in Takayama. During their conversation, Rokuru was quite open about what happened with Mataji and the impression it left upon him.

      Big Ears proposed that Rokuru join their operation of forging stamps, seals, and documents to help expedite the movement of goods to and through Hida province across layers of bureaucratic control. Rokuru expressed his true ambitions of working for the daimyo (Fuhito Washima) as a means to establish himself as a martial artist. He also accepted the forgery job on a temporary basis. The yakuza gave Rokuru a tip about the nighttime activities of the daimyo. The daimyo likes to play Go and carouse at a discreet tea house in Takayama.

      This brings us to the Downtime mechanics of Bushido. For three months, Rokuru's day job was working for the forgery operation to earn some coin. At night, Rokuru started hanging around the tea house and threw around a little bit of weight as a yakuza to self-appoint himself as a bodyguard to the daimyo (without their consent or knowledge). In other words, Rokuru hangs around the tea house, observing stuff and waiting for trouble to happen.

      In game terms, Rokuru acquired the Go skill as he watched the daimyo play. This experience opened up another path for Rokuru to get close to the daimyo and gain employment — become a decent Go player that the daimyo will enjoy playing against.

      We conclude the session at the residence of Makoto Shosen, a local merchant. He invited us there to discuss a business arrangement involving the retrieval of a decorative box with supernatural properties. We were instructed to retrieve the box but not inspect it too closely.

      Makoto offered to let us to keep the loot discovered as payment, but Rokuru butted in. "This is not payment, we could retrieve the box on our own and cut you out of it". Gin rode the wave of Rokuru's bluntness to negotiate a better deal for us. As part of the job, Makoto has attached a heavily scarred ronin named Kobi Ashitari to keep tabs on us while searching for the box.

      At the very end of the session, our group convenes outside to discuss the threat posed by Kobi Ashitari. Rokuru assures the group that just as Gin negotiated the contract; he will do his part in dealing with Kobi. There's a sense that we all have roles defined by our social classes and professions. Mitsu even behaves as though Rokuru is her follower, and he feels that he is earning his keep in this arrangement.
       

    • As it turns out, the video

      As it turns out, the video sound isn't that bad – a bit under water here and there, enough for any YouTube listener to sneer at and thumbs-down, but adequate for our needs here. So here's the direct link to session 3 inside the playlist.

      Regarding play, I think many different things, but they are still provisional or part of this group finding one another as participant in play. We'll probably discuss them a little ourselves first. Here's a bit at random; none of these are "for sure" for me at this point.

      • We're in an ongoing encounter with rules; some fiddly-looking stuff turns out to be exciting and some exciting-looking stuff turns out to be, or seems at this point, to go into dead ends.
      • The downtime or longer-phase aspect of play is extremely compelling, to the point where I'd consider beginning play with it.
      • In playing Empire of the Petal Throne, rolled character creation handed me a similar character (nice youthful priestess, minor magic, big mouth), and since I enjoyed playing her for very extended play, I'm trying to avoid conjuring her up instead of finding Gin as her own person.
      • I outright hate the "This guy hires you to find the box" content and (in the videos) visibly controlled myself to keep from simply refusing. Erik has mentioned the published materials he's using as notably open and unprescribed, so I can only hope this part of it is an exception.
      • I'm a little worried about playing a smartie figure-it-out aware-aware character. Games of Bushido's period provide great rules for player-characters to know a hell of lot, but they're juxtaposed with play materials and GMing practices which rely on player-characters knowing very little. GMs of mine and Erik's age were literally taught to shut all such rules-applications down hard in play to "control" events and preserve "fun," and too much of that in 2021 has put me into no-tolerance mode.
      • It's really great to feel the new composition of characters come into its own identity. Mataji's death sort of ruined the scripted concept that "diverse young adventurers bond under fire" during the pilgrimage, and therefore undermined the next "now they're hired to do a thing" step. But Greg and David have such strong expressions as their characters that I found Gin to be in-there-with-them seamlessly – you can see that it almost overwhelms me, I get a little giddy at that point in play.
      • Erik's use of geography and location is so effective that I'm taking notes on how to do it.

      Again, none of these need to be ripped into at this point. They're merely a snapshot.

  10. Spoilers Galore

    I intend to break open the structure of the scenario as written. That means I will be explicit about what the scenario mandates and how I have deviated from it.

    There is a very linear path with a very particular kind of ethic and idea of heroism behind it.

    And I will be blowing it up completely.

    There will be some moments where the characters will have to weigh some very serious practical versus ethical decisions. I really don't want to put my thumb on the scales.

     

    • So if you ever want to play

      So if you ever want to play "Valley of the Mists" as written you will have to skip some of my future posts.

  11. In the Fiction Makoto Was Bullying You

    "I outright hate the "This guy hires you to find the box" content and (in the videos) visibly controlled myself to keep from simply refusing"

     

    OK. I was trying to get across that Makoto is muscling the PCs into doing what he wants. He is a bully who is doing something most people in this society would not do. He was throwing out intimidating "I know where you and your Dad live" to whip the PCs into shape. That's his personality. It's now how every PC is going to interact with you. I wanted establish that he is an exception to the way people in this town will treat you.

    You could have refused and I think he would have decided to do a little harassment of you and your father, just to remind you who the big fish is in the commoners' district of town. But here is my promise: you will never be put in a situation where you are expected to follow some railroad upon pain of death or giant rocks falling from the sky to punish the characters for decisions their players made, and that the GM disapproved of. 

    • Please don’t reply

      Please don't reply defensively. I am not complaining or criticizing. No one said you did anything wrong.

    • “It’s not.” That was a bad

      "It's not." That was a bad typo.

      "It is NOT how the other PCs will treat you."

      Just putting a marker down to help me differentiate and particularize the upcoming PC>

    • Whew! Bit of a relief there,

      Whew! Bit of a relief there, actually.

      But to my point, it's totally OK not to explain. We'll play and learn.

  12. Characters Have the POSSIBILITY of Gaining Knowledge by Magic

     they're juxtaposed with play materials and GMing practices which rely on player-characters knowing very little. GMs of mine and Erik's age were literally taught to shut all such rules-applications down hard in play to "control" events and preserve "fun,"

     

    There are spells that allow Astral or Disembodied Travel. The thing in this game is that they are unreliable. So the spells might have the potential to uncover vast ammounts of information of the type that GMs usually limit — in the name of creating suspense, or simulating the fog of war, or outright control of characters' actions. If they work, they work. I hope to give players something to DO with their knowledge. The sudden insights should complicate the characters' lives or expand the scope of their decision making, not reveal what the GM wanted the players to do all along.

  13. “In game terms, Rokuru

    "In game terms, Rokuru acquired the Go skill as he watched the daimyo play. This experience opened up another path for Rokuru to get close to the daimyo and gain employment — become a decent Go player that the daimyo will enjoy playing against."

    I wanted to connect the abstract learning mechanics to the fiction. Learning on your own is very slow compared to full time study, with an advanced instructor, at an Academy specializing in the skill in question.

    I wanted the learning tied up with the life the characters live. The idea of Rokoru sitting down with a scroll and studying by candle light just didn't seem right.

  14. Session 3: Up into the Mountains

    The adventure contiues.

    The 3 heroes (Gin, Mitsu, Rokoru) are fulfiling their promise and head off to the mountains to locate a dangerous treasure.

    I am drawing on an adventure from White Wolf Magazine to give some sense of what the environment of the mountains is like. I am taking a troubled village from that WW scenario and introducting it to the setting. 

    The scenario pack that I am working with — Valley of the Mists — is very linear. After the players are presented with the opportunity to work for a Merchant, they are interviewed, hired and sent off to locate the box.

    I tried to give the players time to deal with their connections and give them the news that they would be travelling soon. The players used the week given to them to do a little bit of learning. Mitsu expanded knowledge of the Tea Ceremony, Gin questioned her mentor about Bakemono, Rokuru learned about the martial arts instructors in the city.

    I wanted to make the players acquainted with the tension within Shosen Makoto's camp. The young samurai engaged to Makoto's eldest daughter forced himself on the party, against the wishes of the Ronin hired to lead it.

    I prefered to make the personal conflicts apparent rather than have the players go through dozens of investigation, spy, and sneaking rolls.

    The Valley of the Mists jumps from encounters around Makoto's mansion straight to the lair of the bandit queen Shimi. I wanted the players to have some sense of he dynamics of the humans, Bakemono, and bandits who live in the mountains. 

    The WW scenario introduces a mysterious apparition who gives the PCs clues about who they must defeat. I chose to have that mysterious figure introduce the problem the fief is facing, but not give the PCs marching orders. The scenario assumes that the PCs will stay together and pass through a series of planned encounters. Of course our crew split up, the samurai presenting themselves to the lords of the manor, the peasant staying with the village headman, and the Eta discreetely directed to the bad part of town.

    On the mysterious apparition: as written, she is a source of information and a goad to action. A number of the games rules had to be overlooked or fudged for that NPC to serve that function. The limits of the figure's character class made it impossible for her to be played as written. So, I considered this NPC's situation and her goals, and then had her accomplish her aims within the limits the rules imposed on her.

    The scenario is full of so many great ideas and colourful characters and some real human drama. I feel the urge to show all of these treasures to the players. But no one likes to be forced to watch slides of someone else's vaction, no matter how enthusiastic the presenters are or how the cool the places in the photos may be. The maps and illustrations are very high quality and very evocative. So I can show those pics to the players without frog marching them through the planned encounters.

  15. About the sessions of bushido

    Hello ! (sorry for my bad english in advance, I speak more french than english) I didn't see every videos on bushido, I've just finish le second session and have read Ron's explanation.
    I think I understand his reason but at the same time…I can't help but thinking there could have been others options too with the others players, like for exemple I though during the seppuku scene : Mitsu is a samurai, she could have take him at her service for exemple.
    It could have been a nice and role play gesture, but then …if it was really Ron's character choice to commit suicide, to be blinded by the dishonnor…Even if it wasn't his fault, it wasn't him who decided/felt cowardly, it was a spell of the creature (if I did correctly understood the scene) maybe a bit too much, but maybe in some way he really felt like it was a really awful fail.
    To say it was a drama queen…I wouldn't used such a big word for that, some people are more sensitif than other so maybe Ron's character was like that, or at least that one of the thing I thought.
    In spit of this?
    I really enjoyed the videos 🙂 it was very nice and I find it cool.
    Big bravo to the GM who seemed really nervous, I know its not an easy role, I told Greg always that I more at ease as a player since I feel always like a beginer GM when I do it haha !

    Have fun no matter the role play game !

    Silver

    • Thank you, and welcome! That

      Thank you, and welcome! That's a good point about being taken into service.

      Greg played this situation with a lot of consequence for the rest of the game. It occurred to him that Mitsu is only seventeen years old and has never been in a battle – this was an awful experience for her and changed her outlook a lot.

  16. Seppuku, co-substantiality and safety tools

    I refrained myself to comment about the Seppuku scene. This scene made me things about "safety tools". We didn't talk about lines, veils, or anything like that, before the game.

    It happens that I discovered Bushido through a friend when I was 17, and that this same friend took his own life in 2013. So, Ron's choice to perform Seppuku with Mataji resonated in unexpected way for me (although I knew about the Seppuku option and rules, but the resonance didn't click before it happened in game).

    As Mitsu I was directly involved, for obvious reason in the game. Things could have happened in different ways. I think three layers of thoughts occurred. First, I felt obliged as a player to support Ron's decision to make his own choices for his character. Second, I was caught off guards, and I'm not an expert in Edo Japanese culture and class relations, so I didn't think about any other options (and this was obviously endorsed by the first point, but I don't want to focus on that in this comment). 

    This scene was very strong, emotionally, for me. I felt deeply engaged in the scene. I could totally put myself into this young girl, who never killed anyone, who always had some kind of model, but here, she had to make this choice herself, in a context of, I would not say intersectionality, but co-substantiality of the different social status involved: sure she is obviously the higher class status socially, but she is also younger than anyone else, the only woman in the location of play, the less experienced in fighting and killing (and I'm basing that on the choices and results of our previous two combats). By co-substantiality, I mean they are merging in each other to reinforce and coproduce each other in a specific arrangement that translates into my experience of her (me feeling what choices I make for her) only related to this specific scene, to make decisions for her. This experience could be very different in any other arrangements of parameters in any other scene. It's not just "she's a samurai, you're a ronin, so my character will feel superior during the whole game". Thinking intuitively of different effects of co-substantial entanglement of social status orientated in playing Mitsu in every following scene. I could not have an absolute, general guideline "this is how Mitsu is" after that. This scene thought me how to consider all those diverse social relationship in every scene, for every other character involved, and for every matter involved.

    Mitsu accepting to witness Mataji's seppuku was me very intuitively taking all those parameters and being caught off guard by this resonance with the real-life experience of a friend's suicide.

    I consider quitting the game during the two weeks following that game and didn't want to comment Ron's choice about that (and still don't), as I don't feel ready for a personal commentary about that. Finally, the day of the next session, I felt I wanted to play – and I didn't regret.

    What I bring with this statement, is a thought about safety tools. There is no way an X-Card would have helped in that situation, and I can't see any safety tool who could have worked. I didn't know what was really happening, emotionally, when he happened. Ron and Mataji didn't do anything that could be anticipated as a line (I mean, Seppuku is part of the rules system, and looks like a good rule). And the resonance between this scene and my own experience was not rationally explicit in my mind when we played. During the scene itself, I wanted to do what I did (witnessing the Seppuku), nobody forced me. If we had a X-Card, I wouldn't have use it. Only after a moment of reflection, off game, can I understand what I felt and why, not in the moment.

    Also, I think that this moment was my answer to my own feeling. By choosing to endorse Ron's agency to do it (that I agree with him or not is not relevant), by fully engaging Mitsu as a witness in the scene and putting myself in a vulnerable moment, in some way I think it was me accepting that real life event. 

    In this regard, I'm really questioning the relevance of "mechanical", "push a button" safety tools. There is no way to understand that I was myself in a moment of vulnerability, no way to feel the urge to stop the social dynamic of play because of that ("hey guys you know, let's line this thing finally and rewind all of that, sorry Ron"). I'm not sure there would have been any other option that just quitting the game if it was too much for me. Luckily, what happened was that it opened a road and a strong connection to Mitsu for me.

    • Greg’s comment about his

      Greg's comment about his experience of the seppuku is very moving to me.

      Oddly enough, I also associate Bushido with the loss of a friend. They took their own life in 1988. We'd played Oriental Adventures together, and the Bushido ads in Dragon magazine caught our eye. If Bushido was available to us; we would have played it (or tried to, we were very young).

      I went into the game with knowledge of the seppuku rules and at least some expectation that they might be used. The personal association was already on my mind even before play. I am not sure that I would have done the same with another group under different circumstances. My deliberations about this subject matter occurred before play. I decided to trust this group of people I barely knew. I see a lot of humanity in Ron's work, and I have had positive interactions with people at Adept Play (including two prior play experiences with Erik — a trial run of Bushido and a one-shot of Finding Haven). That was enough for me to throw in with this group despite knowing that the game could become very uncomfortable.

      In terms of the game, I really appreciate that we were able to move forward with play and integrate the suicide into the development of our characters. This experience is the opposite of the RPG horror story that safety tools are supposed to prevent. I don't think I would have wanted a safety tool to be employed here personally, although I would have respected the decision. If it became too much for me, I would have said something regardless of any agreement to use or not use safety tools. It wasn't a comfortable experience, but in retrospect, it obviously made us feel more connected to the game and our characters.

      Outside of play, it also helped me grieve for my friend and relive joyful memories from my childhood. Within the group of players I grew up with, we never would have touched suicide as a topic in a game. Now that I have, I could do it again with fewer concerns about how it would affect me.
       

    • Your thoughts and feelings

      Your thoughts and feelings about this was very moving (or touching…hope I'm not mistaking about the word I had in mind, it was : émouvant in french, so at least YOU will understant haha, my appologies to the english persons here)
      Losing someone dear, important to us is a very sad and shoking thing. Suicide is a serious matter, so even if its a game, its a subject that can be … unconfortable, especially for sensitive person and/or person like David and you who lost a friend because of suicide.
      When I told you on discord that there could have been other ways, I didn't mean : you SHOULD have done otherwise. If you had this impression I'm very sorry, that wasn't what I meant.
      I was just thinking about the situation and thought to myself : whats if Mitsu took him at her service, etc
      because I'm curious AND… I liked Ron's character very much haha !
      I think (now that I've read your thoughts + I thought a lot about it too) honestly that this scene in the game was maybe for the best, your way of expressing Mitsu feeling on the situation was awesome, I disagree with Ron about the word dramaqueen (hope you're not offend if you read this, Ron) it wasn't just : the guy kill himself dramaticaly in a exagerating way.
      But : A man, that could not forgive himself for runing away in fear, and could NOT see other way, blinded because of his shame, its a very sad tale. A least that is how I see things, people who suicide usually do it because…it's just awful, they can't see ANOTHER solution to their problems, even if friends, familly know about it and try to support, sometime… its just not enough.

      So that's it, it was my opinion on it, hope what I said was not foolish or offending, I did my best though 🙂
      Greg, don't forget to tell me about the new game in may you're going to play !

  17. Very Interesting Feedback.

    I was revisiting the thread as preparation for a 1-shot I am running at a convention. I am trying to do 2 things: streamline the system (reduce everyting to single d20 rolls to generate effect numbers) and break some playing patterns that really messed up my ability to just enjoy the game. 

    I never expected to come back to see all this reflective thought. 

    Thanks for sharing, everyone.

    Happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

    • Thanks for revisiting the

      Thanks for revisiting the posts. I encourage you to comment whenever you'd like about any current thoughts you have regarding the game.

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