It was good to play out the consequences of actions that the players had initiated in the previous session.
And to step back from crowding out player decisions with a blast of content from myself.
There were two religious deeds: Gin the Gakusho won the attention of a Kami but did not attempt to Placate it and create some enduring relationship with it. Rokuro accompanied a 0-level Gakusho in an attempt to bury the remains of a murdered Buddhist monk with the correct rites. The village headman was able to pull it off.
The young priestess got the attention of the village Kami who was more than willing to use his minor magics to defend the village. The players declined to Placate him and ask him to call down earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.
A side note: Many Kami have the “Natural Phenomenon Power.” They can initiate a widespread natural disaster. However, they can also selectively reduce the Danger Factor for selected individuals. The mechanics would have obligated the Kami to start the disaster, and then try to reduce the Danger Factor in a particular area. And the Spirit Rank 3 Kami would have spent one use of Power on starting the Phenomenon, and up 2 two reductions in Danger. It is possible for a low-Rank Kami to start a Phenomenon that it cannot ameliorate.
A herald from the local fortress rode out to pass on a message to the headman: he was to prepare the village to participate in a massive search for the escaped prisoners, and to threaten death on anyone aiding them. Not enjoying being ordered about, young samurai Mistu approached the herald and dispatched him with an Iaijutsu quick draw. And they threw his body on the horse and sent it back home on the back of his horse.
The players employed the Kami’s powers to create a quagmire that ended up taking out a lot of the weird samurai. Takeda, the one-eyed thug who met Mitsu and the fortress gate, pulled himself out but met his end at the end of Rokoru’s chain. I believe one samurai made it across to surrender. A number of his fellows, on the other side of the mire, also wanted to surrender but were tasked to drag out the 2 warriors working with Makoto: Ashitari Kobe and Makoto’s future son-in-law Tsuzawa. The Kami animated the plant life in the fortress to aid in terrifying those two out of their hiding place.
Kobe and Tsuzawa burst out of the castle, forcing the weird samurai to retreat before them. The advanced ronin wielding 2 swords and Tsuzawa swinging the No-dachi belonging to the sorceress were able to make short work of the 4 men sent to capture them. An honorable death.
Kobe is furious and has sworn to end the lives of everyone who messed up his mission. Mitsu refuses to duel him, taking a hit to her On but making the point that Kobe is far beneath him. Rokoru challenges Kobe to a martial arts contest on the morrow, and Kobe accepts.
We will pick up from the moment where Kobe and Tsuzawa retreat into the fortress to recover. And we will find out what the Kami will do next, what Gin’s plans for the Kami and spiritual life of the village are. And see what actions Mitsu and Rokoru will take. And the morrow will bring Rokoru out of the fortress.
21 responses to “Ketsumatsu , Soshite Hajimari”
Some Rules Notes
The characters levelled up so their rolls were easier to make.
But we missed an opportunity to use the Ki powers. We talked about Gin taking 10 seconds to try to focus her Ki power. But we forgot to pick up on that great idea.
It was only a single 10%
It was only a single 10% chance for a +1 to the summon roll, not too much to miss out on.
The real heavy hitter in the kami magic is sacrificing wealth. From one point of view, it's a little gross, concluding that rich people can summon them and poor ones cannot, but that might be simplistic. I can think of several ways in which the rules wouldn't favor that interpretation. I do like the detail that wealth aids you in summoning a kami, but not in placating it.
These concepts are a little hampered by the RPG convention of wealth, exchanged currency, and coinage all being the same thing, and also that one carries one's entire assets about in a handy pouch. In playing Bushido at some future point, my plan would be (i) to play a substantial amount in Downtime before anything else, so that work and money and training would be understood as facts of life; and (ii) to arrive at a useful understanding of how assets are and are not used during, say, a sojourn into mountains and visiting villages.
Placation is, ultimately a Status Contest
The rules permit you piling up treasure to get a Kami's attention.
But to get the spirit to perform a major deed via placation, the Gakusho has to enter into a Status Contest. And silver helps in such contests. But to an extent that is both limited and random.
A person can contribute up to 2d10 in silver to making sure that their request for aid is heard. If Gin were doing a Placation and rolled 11 for the silver donation, her status score would be 46.
It would be fun to have the players make whatever silver contribution they wish and then roll the 2d10 to see how much of that donation actually counts.
Money and Wealth and Resources in a Feudal Society
"These concepts are a little hampered by the RPG convention of wealth, exchanged currency, and coinage all being the same thing, and also that one carries one's entire assets about in a handy pouch."
Consider also that retainers expect stipends from their lords in addition to the lands that they have been granted. You can't carry your fiefdom in your pocket. Nobles in Europe were exempt from taxation, and 1/6 of the Hungarian population had been enobled to keep them loyal to a new dynasty. That exemption from taxation is a serious class privilege.
Feudal lords were owed corvee labour by their serfs. Uncompensated work for a number of days every year.
They also expect to have their needs attended to. Entertaining a noble required a big outlay and your household staff was expected to see to their needs. A prosperous merchant hosting a medium-status noble is going to be seriously inconvenienced.
There are good reasons for making Gakusho check for subdual damage while they are reaching out to Kami.
The Japan Foundation has videos of traditional performing arts. and Kagura is pretty intense.
Fictional Threads to Catch up On
The Headman said that he wanted the Kami to walk among his people to remind them that their gods are near them and that there is more than malign magic.
I don’t want to forget that
I don't want to forget that intention.
Takaeda was knocked
Takaeda was knocked unconsciousness by a chain hit. He is not dead. But he is pinioned by heavy rocks. I was unsure if Rokoru finished Takeda's existense completely.
I think I was being too sly
I think I was being too sly in my description of Rokuru's actions regarding Takaeda. The intent there was to leave Takaeda face down in the water so that he'd drown. The rocks were there to help that purpose but also to slow him down if he were to rise again after death.
A tale of two duels
In the last session, Mitsu refused to duel Ashitari Kobe. The caused a loss of On for Mitsu and highlighted an interesting point about On. On tends to accumulate faster than Budo, resulting in a surplus that lets players take actions that cause On loss without losing a level. This grants lots of latitude to explore different moral choices and priorities. Mitsu lost some On, but we learned much more about the character and what she values. It's a feature of Bushido. Mitsu can regain the On by doing something more important to her than besting Kobe.
Rokuru, on the other hand, wants to duel Kobe. He knows that Kobe has won 80 duels, and he saw Kobe skillfully dispatch a group of samurai just moments before challenging Mitsu to a duel. This is not a prudent choice by many measures. Just as the surplus of On puts different options on the table; the Reincarnation rules put suicidal bravery on the table, in fitting with both fictional and historical influences on Bushido.
Rokuru's goals and trajectory make fighting the duel with Kobe much more interesting than not fighting, even if he loses his life. If he wins, he is on the way to becoming a famous duellist and raising the social and material status of himself and his family in this life. If he loses, he has already far exceeded anybody's expectations of a lowly Eta yakuza, so dying honorably after performing a good service for the village and his companions will still elevate him and his family in the next lives.
Of course, the Reincarnation rules in Bushido do not mandate that 19 years of game time pass for Rokuru's reincarnation into a playable adult character, so there is a fictional disconnect. However, if they didn't help nudge me in the direction of challenging a superior opponent to a duel, they did reassure me that I haven't made the wrong choice in challenging Kobe despite my slim chances of victory (but I will try my damnedest because if Rokuru wins, that victory is going to be sweeeeeeeet).
Some of the comments above apply to this session. The video was recorded by Erik during play, fortunately becoming a backup which was sorely needed when my audio recording failed us.
Here's the link directly to it in the playlist.
I am getting a post about the more recent session together. I will draw attention to the big decision Rokoru made: to go back on his challenge and leave the village with his companions.
Way that came together was very organic. I didn't need anyone to justify their acts and didn't want to. But I'd like to hear what was going on with people's minds and feelings and intuitions while that decision unfolded.
Straightforwardly, I was
Straightforwardly, I was completely uninvested in the personalities, fates, history, or opinions of either the samurai inhabiting the fortress or the two (ronin and samurai) who traveled there with us. If Gin as written or defined had reasons to think otherwise, I would have played those reasons as part of investing in her as my character, and gladly. But she absolutely did not, for any of a dozen reasons based on profession, social class, immediate personal history with them, and why she was up in the mountains in the first place.
This happens to dovetail with my view as a player that Tzusawa and Ashitara were already scum-adjacent via associating with Shosen Makoto, and that they cinched that status by allying with the local samurai who were themselves outright bandits. I couldn't take Ashitara's injured pride seriously at all, and found it particularly appropriate for Mitsu to leave him there at a ruined castle full of corpses swinging around his silly sword, yelping about honor, otherwise with nothing but his dick in his hand. Let's hope Shimi makes a drinking goblet out of his skull.
From a role-playing standpoint, or, perhaps, an integrity check on how I am playing her, Gin sees Rokuro as a dumb animal who was being manipulated – subject, essentially, to human abuse. [This doesn't correspond to my own personal view of Rokuro as a person able to make his own choices, but it is her view. Whether there is some deeper psychology, in which she likes him as a person and doesn't want him to die, is her business, I suppose.] It especially offended her because she hopes this particular dumb animal has a chance of being reborn as a person, or becoming a fine minor spirit perhaps. She has no authority over Rokuro's behavior and is even doctrinally prohibited from any close association with him, which she plays up more extremely (talking about him in the third person, e.g.) just to be sure. She similarly has no way to advise Mitsu except as a concerned spiritual counselor, but if that role is accepted, she is able to lay down her views in full, and that's what happened.
I went into the session
I went into the session expecting to fight the duel. The day before the session, I read the combat rules to figure out my best strategy for winning the duel. I even reviewed the Reincarnation rules once again and looked at the different professions in case the duel ended badly.
At the beginning of the session, Rokuru commissioned a will from the village calligrapher and planned to say goodbye to Gin and Mitsu. He encountered Gin on the road and said his goodbyes. Gin gave a moving speech (to the air, within earshot of Rokuru). (I can imagine that they would eventually develop a protocol for talking to each other that would involve being at an appropriate distance and talking about
things very abstractly to the air while being within earshot of each other).
At this moment, I started to consider a different course for Rokuru. Perhaps he would be satisfied by changing the terms of the duel to be non-lethal — just a test of skills between martial artists. Perhaps he could even convince Ashitari Kobe that Makoto is slime and suggest that Kobe seek honorable employment with the daimyo instead. I hadn't changed my mind yet but I was considering the different options for Rokuru.
Gin discussed the matter with Mitsu in the next scene and requested (in her abstract way of talking about an Eta without talking about an Eta) that Mitsu order Rokuru to refuse the duel. Afterward, Rokuru went to Mitsu, intending to say goodbye and make arrangements to have his will and belongings delivered to his family in the event of his death. Mitsu gave the order to back down and told Rokuru that he could work for her family.
At this moment, I decided that Rokuru would not show up for the duel. Instead, he would leave the village with Mitsu and Gin. The opportunity to work for Mitsu's family opens up a new path for Rokuru to achieve what he wants. He also got the message that Ashitari Kobe is not worth dying for.
I played Mitsu in a very much
I played Mitsu in a very much more mature way (maybe too much). It's relevant to note that this evolution comes from my reflection about what happens during the downtime. Three months passes, she may meet the Daymio's nephew in a potential wedding for her family – and although it wasn't a priority for her when I created her, she now thakes this opportunity for her potential clan uplift very seriously.
Her failed participation in Mataji's Seppuku has been underlying all this new Dignitas she's trying to embody. So whenever we discussed and played about those choices, I was orientating Mitsu's choices by thinking about those background events: her clan, the potential wedding, how the Daimyo would see it. She was evaluating the actions she could be associated with through the Daymio's eyes, instead of the people in this location (including Ashitara and Kagataro).
Ashitara and Kagataro lost all her consideration and/or empathy once they let her alone in the castle with three horrible samurai. Mitsu (and me) didn't understand their sudden association and willigness to deal together with lord Kumo, specially as it was obvious that something wrong and corrupted was happening in the place.
Ashitara's defiance in Duel was a point of no return. I think I was proud of Rokuru's answer to defy him – as it was the ultimate insult Ashitara could receive as an anwser for defying Mitsu. The fact that he accepted destroyed only transformed her lack of consideration in straightforward disgust fro Ashitara. So be it.
I considered saying to Rokuru that he didn't need to fight this duel. I didn't, and in retrospect imagine it as Mitsu's pride was involved in that. It was clear for her that she wouldn't let Rokuru dies and I was thinking about how to intervene if things get wrong. I considered martial intervention – but the more we were playing, the more I was considering a social statut intervention, before Rokuru's death. But I wanted to see if Rokuru was able to kill him – as he was quite effective in the combats of the two first sessions. This was a bit instrumental from her part.The second Gin advised Rokuru to change his mind, I was ready to go myself speak to Rokuru and tell him to change his mind too, so we can leave the village and talk to the daymio. The fact that Gin made her request changed the way I approached it – and you know (or can see) how Mitsu took this opportunity. I also think that the fact that Gin made her request made Mitsu realized of the instrumental position she was adopting, and that she didn't want to be that kind of Samurai.
Here is the link to session 7
Here is the link to session 7!
An Important Phrase to Hold On To
An important phrase to hold onto
Dave's post includes this phrase:
I really want to read about the moments at the table that enable consequential decisions. Aside from this site I don't really read much about those.
I think that similar moments can be set up for GMs. Procedures of play can lead to the creation of moments of play where the GM can make consequential decisions.
Too often my decisions are conditioned by two concerns that are not really connected to the moment of play that calls for a decision. One is the desire to create a good show. I resolve to introduce something to the fiction that will lead to a subsequent moment that I feel will be "cool" or "meaningful." The other is a desire to be faithful to the situation described in some text. I watched the videos and can see myself look past what the players are putting in front of me.
Gin’s Acts and Speech
Gin made her thoughts and aims very clear.
Her words just made sense, they seemed utterly convincing.
I was cross indexing what I saw with instances of play I'd seen in my past. (Let's overlook the the distorting influence of availability heuristics). And I would say that it was unlike the play I observed in the 80's and have observe only occasionally in post-2000 play.
I have a lot of memories of players hemming and hawing, or looking for approval from other players, batting options back and forth and then doing nothing. Or players talking other players out of doing something.
My favourite memories of unapologetic decisiveness
1) An Apocalypse World player making her gun lugger back flip out of a chair and bolt for the door the second her character recognized that the warlord she was talking to was pursuing a dodgy agenda
2) 3 Nights Black Agents characters resolving to sink the occultist/dancer's tour boat next to the customs house in Belfast, inciting the strikers and encouraging Republican uprising.
Both were completely unexpected. And both gave me the space to decide what the NPCs would do in response. Now, Apocalypse World's procedures get the GM responding to actions the characters initiate and so an action like that inspires me to think "OK, just how would this guy respond to someone who not only didn't fall for his BS," and how he would handle someone prepared to do anything her instincts suggested. But Night's Black Agents is Vampires meets Mission Impossible. I was jazzed by the confusion the sinking of the boat caused the British agents and the vampire that was involved. The mystery went by the by. At the end, I felt like I had betrayed Laws and Hite's advice about how to make a compelling mystery that would absorb the players. I felt like we were cheating somehow by having fun that wasn't encouraged by the rules. [Yes, it's irrational but I am just registering my sentiments at the time].
Along with them are a few convention play example. I always thought that conventions would be places where players said "what the hell" and made choices with no thought for the long term or fulfilling some narrative agenda. Very rarely the case. But a couple of people rose to the occasion.
1) In Burning Empires a shady smuggler type with the Instinct "Always has a weapon hidden on him" just straight headshotting the boss of a mining rig and then rushing off the bust out the Kern in servitude.
2) A Blades in the Dark gang turning a Duskvol train station into a recreation of the gunfiight in dePalma's Scarface (and Battleship Potemkin).
Roaring good fun for the players and for me. I just tried to figure out what the authorities would do in response to these moves. The players' choices and the resolutions provided by the mechanics created moments where I could decide what to do. I didn't finagle the players towards some imagined conclusion.
Now, in the 90s don't know what I was expecting from gaming. The colour of Deadlands just gripped me — Clint Eastwood and Zombies! — and I started picking up games again. And when I was hit with unapologetic decisiveness and rolled with it most of the time. But there was one moment I really regret not letting develop. It was a pick-up game at the U of Minnesota's gaming club. The party was supposed to go do something in the shattered remnants of San Francisco. And the crusty prospector just said "hell no, I ain't goin' to no collapsing canyon." Eventually I and the other players cajoled him into getting on the steam drigible.
I would like everyone who picks up RPGs — GMs especially — to realize that they can just let the crusty prospector refuse to get on the blimp. They should let the person oddly obsessed with magic daggers to wander off in search of a demonic shrine in which to sacrifice a left hand. If they come up with character speeches where the characters' motivations are laid bare, fine. But don't expect or seek justifications or apologies. And GMs please learn to juggle multiple locations.
Play Procedures Enabling Fiction
Play procedures enabling fiction
Greg's comment connected rules with fiction and player decisions in a way that I have never seen before. It's worth a comment.
So: downtime requires that players allocate time towards work and study or other forms of improvement. We are not talking in character or using the skill or saving throw mechanics. But going through that procedure created moments where players could re-imagine their characters.
We weren't even rolling, so the old "roll vs. role playing" phrase is even more irrelevant than it usually is. We were playing and play allowed productive moments to arise.
I was really delighted to see Mitsu become an assured young woman who knows her rank and knows her values. The game is about novices who seek growth but are also seeking excellence, distinction, and power. And that's what is happening.
There is also an organic connection between sessions. A story is developing: Mistu witnesses a suicide and that moment makes her think about her values. I don't recall Gregory ever talking about this. He just incorporated it into the portrayal of his character. So the decisions made by the players are contributions to an unfolding narrative. The players are most decidedly NOT loudly signalling "hey, this is where the story should go — I really want all of you to go along in this direction — it's really important to me that you all take this story in a direction that is good for my character."
Note: this is unlike Burning Wheel. I am not compelling the players into confessing what their new Beliefs are and giving them little bump-ups for behaving in a way that conforms to their written confessions. I really like not haveing to "hold the players to their promises" or some such thing.
On “Surprises” and Character Motivation.
The Valley of the Mists has some interesting characters but doesn't know what to do with them.
For example, Ashitari Kobe. A successful duelist so far from respectable values that he can only get a gig training the followers or a gangsterish merchant.
Gin is right when she says "Let's hope Shimi makes a drinking goblet out of his skull."
The authors' plans for Kobe were not at all problematic for me when I read them a long time ago. The players WILL sign up for employment and they WILL defeat the bandits and they WILL recover the box with the magic thing-a-ma-bob in it. And then Kobe WILL betray the PCs and kill them after they have retrieved the item. Wow! What a cool double cross. It's like a heist film or something.
Now I am gobsmacked by the pointlessness of this contrivance. The players prove how skilled and resourceful they are and Kobe kills them under orders from Makoto. WHY? Because deep down everyone knows the PCs are the "good guys?" And that the good guys will of course go report to Washima? WHY? They pulled off a heist and got paid for it — and then go to the authorities but get no punishment for having participated in a dubious mission for a wicked merchant in the first place?
Why wouldn't reprobate characters make a career with the would-be oyabun of Takayama? Why wouldn't alchemists and sorcerers be eager to learn what is in the box and use it to help become masters of shugendo? Why would Makoto hire goody-two-shoes PCs in the first place if he is so worried about being ratted out to the Daimyo. Why?
I agree with your general
I agree with your general points here. I'd like you to consider something which will be especially evident in the latest session's video, soon to be included above.
Were you under the impression at any time that our characters were formally contracted or had agreed to seek the magic box, and to return it to Shosen Makoto?
Because we weren't and hadn't. Gin accepted a donation to the village shrine so she could be accompanied and protected as she investigated the potential spiritual harm lurking "up there in the mountains" with the box merely as a detail thereof. Mitsu accepted an opportunity to kill monsters to build her status, and if I'm not mistaken, was not even paid. The contract Gin negotiated with Shosen Makoto specifically disavowed "find the box for me" for all of us, and our interactions as characters confirmed that we all knew it. As a later detail, the money Gin received from him went directly to the mountain village kami during the rite, fulfilling the contract.
Given a number of statements you've made either in play-conversation or via an NPC, this important skill roll and plot point may have evaporated in the corrosive, reading-the-text atmosphere of "this is the scenario," for you.
I bring this up because all your points here are correct, but they apply very much in the context that player-characters had indeed accepted the contract as offered (i.e., as conceived in the scenario). Since we did not, all the nonsensical, pre-scripted, OMG-heist-betrayal bullshit was not even in play to be deconstructed in the first place. At many points play seemed to include NPCs and contextual chat which kept trying to re-instate the textual expectation, and I hope you'll examine the video to see how confused we become when that happens. It's as if you're talking into the air to players who aren't there.