[L5R 4e: Hearts and Souls] Meditations on the Virtue of Courtesy as a Theme

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Jay Steven Anyong in Articles, Campaign Design, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games
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Now that I’m about to run a campaign centered on the Crane Clan, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to their Clan virtue of Courtesy or “Rei.” Alternately called Respect, Courtesy is the virtue of proper manners and bearing in a true Samurai.

But what does it actually mean? Surely there’s more to it than just running a game focused on making sure that everyone exhibits good manners, right?

Well, let’s go back to an in-game definition of the virtue, as written in Akodo’s Leadership:

“Samurai have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. A samurai is courteous even to his enemies. Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men. The true inner strength of a samurai becomes apparent during difficult times.” – Akodo’s Leadership

One of the ways by which we can highlight the virtue of Courtesy is to show the lack of it. I pulled this trick in the Phoenix Civil war by pitting the players against several power-hungry and hubristic Isawa and Shiba groups, highlighting the Phoenix virtue of “Humility” in the process. Likewise, the Lion game fought against an enemy that used cowardly tactics such as conspiracies and dirty tricks, giving players ample means to demonstrate the virtue of Courage.

Needless to say the lack of “Rei”/Courtesy isn’t about the lack of manners. It’s certainly not about the scandal of farting in a tea ceremony (though that might be a funny thing to insert into a game.)

I think the best way to tackle this is to step back and look at what Lady Doji, the kami who founded the clan represented: She was the light of civilization. She brought not just commerce and art, but drew man away from barbarism. Her rules are the rules of law and respect for each other, and her structures gave a place for every man.

To deviate from that form of Courtesy is to return to the state of bandits and Gaijin, where strength, not respect, ruled over human interactions. The Crane Clan stand as a representation of mankind’s triumph over such a state, and I think that this point of view will hold very well as a theme in a campaign. A focus on just how the little things we let slip might just be the ones that make us worthy of being called “human.”

Already I’ve got a few plot hooks that tie in to the theme, and even better, how to tie them to the player characters. I think Silver Countess and Hikkikomori will be most pleased by what I have in mind.

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Comments
  1. Very, very interesting. Your way of giving a theme to your campaigns, sometimes even restricting a lot character creation, but then exploring the theme so deeply, through its negation and subsequent affirmation from the players, makes for a unique way of role playing, that I never tried, just as I never actually played L5R, although I’ve always been a fan.

    I would be very curious to read a blog on one of yours L5R sessions, written not in-character or from an inner point of view, but more like from a game observer point of view, to understand what really goes on at the table in games so different compared to those I’m accustomed to.

    • Hi Rafael and welcome to the blog!

      I’ve often been accused of overthinking things by the fellow GMs in my group but I find that I can run games with richer experiences if they aspire to themes as opposed to pure fun. I’m not sure if what I’m doing is actually all that “different” in play, but I’ll see if I can get a player of mine to give an observer’s view of how I run games. :)

      • As a long time player (10-12 years of gaming), playing under Pointyman’s GMing style, I find that his style is one I find most fun.

        Pointyman is different from most GMs I’ve played under. For one, Pointyman’s games are never about dungeon crawling, we all believe that if you’re looking to just blow shit up and take their stuff, Pointyman is not your GM to go to. :D

        I describe Pointyman’s style to be very heavy on consequence, meaning your character’s decisions affect them and the world they live in. And that’s important, because as players it tells us that we have power to affect the world (for good or for ill) we play in.

        Personally I don’t think Pointyman is restrictive, since as players we understand that we need to make characters that would best fit the setting he presents and is able to work with other players (may not necessarily mean they get along of course). As long as the character isn’t detrimental to the setting then he’s fairly open to a lot of character concepts. :)

    • Hikkikomori says:

      Hello Rafael,

      Sadly I don’t have a blog but I’ll just share my experience here.

      I’ve played under Pointyman under several games (for L5R, in the Phoenix: Civil War and Lion: Never Dull a Blade Campaigns) and from my experience there isn’t a lot of restrictions with regards to character creation. He’s usually lax – even allowing for a Kitsu shugenja who has a natural ability to summon a recently deceased person’s ghost by touch (an ability that was not written in the books, but could be explained by mixing certain elements of L5R’s fluff and partial abilities). There was also the Phoenix Fire Shugenja Tensai (prodigy) who was secretly a Scorpion supporter in our Phoenix game.

      Though for these series of games, Pointyman admits that he’s trying something experimental. He said he wanted to keep it Clan-centric in order to be able to focus on the internal issues and what makes the Clan tick. Rather than the usual random characters meet in a bar and slay the monster of the day -style of gaming. Since given L5R’s setup, each Clan is naturally antagonistic with each other, so it would be hard to motivate other Player/Characters to help resolve the issues of a single clan without simply hand-waving it with the promise of loot and glory.

      As for how we interact. We have different Players in the group. Some are more mechanically-oriented, while others are more story-driven. We usually understand where our roles lie, and trust that everyone can do their part in trying to keep the story and roleplaying experience enjoyable. When in play, we are usually casual around the table and most of the time explain our intent rather than strictly roleplay our character’s dialogue – though RP’ing does help in terms of setting the mood and story (and grants bonus EXP). Pointyman does a lot of research beforehand to fully grasp the history of a game and its characters in order to maximize the setting. Especially with an RPG like L5R which has volumes of rich settings, historical events, and even its own culture. He brings this knowledge to bear in unpredictable ways which makes the experience enjoyable for all.

      His games aren’t combat intensive since he usually prefers to attack the campaign from all sides — physically, politically, and socially — instead of just generating a giant/horde of monsters for us to fight. So I guess his style isn’t for those who are looking for constant combat and mechanically-oriented challenges. He allows for leeway ,and sometimes does not even require rolls, if the action enriches the story.

      All-in-all, I’m content with how he runs campaigns since I’m not that mechanically-oriented (but still combat competent), and I prefer to perform unconventional actions that may not necessarily be mechanically advantageous, but adds to the value of the story – which he usually allows.
      An example might be during the Phoenix: Civil War campaign, where my character, Shiba Ryu, used a bow to attempt to assassinate/martyr-ize a renowned rebel leader during a quelled rebellion. My Bow skill (kyujutsu) was at a dismal rating of 1, combined with my average dexterity skill only granted me a pitiful die pool of 2. Pointyman decided that since the rebel leader was already in custody, that he’d have no armor and that my intent was critical to the plot so he allowed the attack to cause a pivotal event that caused panic in the setting (and my character’s subsequent arrest. heh.). But if considered mechanically, my damage was almost negligible (around 4 HP out of an average of 25, I think).

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