[L5R – Never a Dull Blade] Actual Play 7: At What Price Victory?

Posted: November 13, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Actual Play, Articles, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games

With word of the Unicorn’s advance towards Lion Clan territory, the group assembled in Shiro Matsu at the behest of their superiors.  The Matsu castle was abuzz with activity as all of the Lion were preparing for what was an inevitable battle with Moto Chagatai, the fearsome champion of the Unicorn Clan.

The group arrived in time to meet with the various heroes of the Clan in the war council.  There they found familiar faces like Akodo Ginawa and Ikoma Yasuko, to famous names such as Ikoma Otemi, Matsu Ketsui and Kitsu Juri, to finally The Golden Lion himself, Matsu Nimuro.  The planning stage was debated strongly, but finally a plan was agreed upon.  It was a risky one, but one that could nip the entire Unicorn offensive in the bud should it succeed.

The plan was to lure Chagatai and his elite forces into entering the City of the Rich Frog, whereupon the Lion could enact a cul-de-sac, cutting off all escape routes before falling upon the Unicorn troops while they mill about in confusion.  It was a bold plan, but one that could reap huge rewards for the Lion, and leave the Unicorn potentially crippled for the next year.

The team was dispatched after the plan was decided.  And the first thing that Hikkikomori’s Akodo Kenji noted was word that majority of the city’s food sources had spoiled.  Meeting with Kaeru Hachi, the governor of the City of the Rich Frog and vassal to the Ikoma, Kenji learned that over the past few weeks, food spoilage had begun to break out across many of the city’s food storehouses.  Kenji took this as a bad sign and went on to investigate, only to discover that the storehouses had been seeded with spoiled grain… from crates marked as belonging to the House of the Three Leaves.

Alarmed at this, Kenji spoke to the others to try and establish a supply chain, the storehouses would not be enough to feed the number of troops that the Lion were hoping to keep to defend the city, and now they had a vulnerability.  If the supply chain were to be broken, the Lion would have to withdraw or starve to death.  Neither of which was an acceptable outcome.

The team was unhappy to learn that their old opponents had been interfering in the matter as well, but they had little time to follow up, as word of the first contact between the Unicorn and the Lion had arrived.  The troops fell into position, and the group found themselves put into a true war, one that didn’t take place in some spirit reflection of the past.

The Unicorn Champion arrived with his Baraunghar Army first, the swiftest of the entire Unicorn, using their strange magical rituals to transport an entire Unicorn charge while preserving their forward momentum. The effect was startling, as the Lion watched an entire cavalry charge manifest out of thin air.  Chagatai was there, shouting commands while surrounded by the eerie White Guard, who rode to battle in complete silence, their eyes showing nothing but complete devotion to their champion and their mysterious Ujik-hai gods:  Shi-Tien Yen-Wang, lords of the dead that deal out eternal punishment to those found wanting.

In response, the Lions unleashed the Deathseekers, among which were Matsu Jin and Akodo Isamu, people that the team had met in their first mission together.  They watched as the Deathseekers counter-charged the incoming Unicorn Cavalry, hell-bent on taking down as many of the Baraunghar shugenja that they could in hopes of cutting down the Unicorn’s mobility advantage.  It was a poignant moment for the game, as only the Lion would understand that the death and sacrifice of the Deathseekers in such a suicidal situation was a source of pride, not fear.  Even as the Deathseekers fell to the unicorn, the Lion cheered them on, knowing that every death in battle was a brother or sister redeemed in the eyes of their ancestors.

The Matsu infantry cheered on as the Deathseekers disengaged, having managed to somewhat break the momentum of the Unicorn, raising a pike wall in place to cover fro the Deathseekers who escaped into the city.  Chagatai saw the weakness in the defensive lines and drove his troops forward, running down several of the Deathseekers as they broke through into the City… and realized their mistake.

The Matsu Infantry then flooded into the city, sealing off the Unicorn’s escape as they began to raze the exits, making sure that the horses would not be able to approach the flames.  This was the deciding moment, the Unicorn would lose much of their mobility and the Lion were waiting to make the killing stroke.  Paulo’s Akodo Senji was among those who executed the strategy, watching with vengeful eyes, hoping that this strategy would win them victory, and perhaps the head of Moto Chagatai himself.

At this point all the player characters were heavily engaged. Kitsu Tetsumi was fighting and supporting the archers and other Shugenja in their attempts to restrict the Unicorn’s movements.  Akodo Senji was directing the strategy from the command tent, pitting his wit against those of the Unicorn commanders.  Finally Akodo Kenji had managed to catch a Shinjo scout carrying casks of Gaijin Pepper, which he then sent trampling down the streets, and having it detonated against the Unicorn army to hopefully alarm the others.

Unfortunately at this point, Chagatai had issued a personal challenge to Matsu Nimuro, calling on the Golden Lion to face him perhaps as a strategy to keep his forces from being decimated by the Lion forces that fought on, trying to end the Unicorn troops before the Unicorn Shugenja could find a way to help them escape.

Matsu Nimuro took to the field then, assisted with his Lion’s Pride, and the Lion Elite Forces clashed headlong with the Moto White Guard, clearing an area for the two Champions to square off.  It was then that Akodo Kenji saw Kaeru Hachi and his mercenary forces readying their bows.  Kenji accosted them, trying to get to Hachi in time, but the Kaeru signaled for his men to let loose their arrows… into the backs of the Lion’s Pride and the Golden Lion.

Taken by surprise, Nimuro caught two arrows in the back, whirling about in confusion as he realized that he had just been betrayed by someone in his own army.  The Golden Lion drew his blade, trying to re-establish his stance, but Chagatai and the White Guard surged forwards, cutting down the Golden Lion and many of the Lion’s Pride in one savage charge.

The Lion’s morale crumbled at the sight.  Shock at seeing their Champion falling, the confusion at the idea that they could have been harboring a traitor, and fear at the concept that they might actually lose this conflict flooded the minds of everyone.

Kenji hurled himself at Hachi, who had begun to run towards a waiting Shinjo scout in order to make an escape.  Kenji ducked past an arrow that the Shinjo fired at him and drew his katana for the first time in the game to hamstring Hachi, sending the traitor tumbling on the ground.  Seeing that Hachi was no longer able to escape, the scout urged his horse away in a gallop, leaving Hachi as a prisoner for Kenji.

Tetsumi flung herself into the fray heedless of danger as she braved blades and hooves and magic, suffering wounds as she ran, single-mindedly to the body of Nimuro.  She knew it was too late to heal him, too late to save him from such a savage assault… but she had one more gift to use.  Calling upon Nimuro’s soul, she urged him to come back… for but a moment, to finish what he began, to end this right.  Her ability was a secret to all but Kitsu Juri, the Daimyo of the Kitsu family… but these were desperate times.

Nimuro struggled to his feet, dead in all sense of the word, but possessed with his soul to finish one last task.  He lifted his sword and spoke, in a hollow voice, distant and haunting, to challenge Chagatai to a duel.  The Unicorn Champion was shocked to see the dead walk again, but knew that no tricks would satisfy the dead, and honored a dead man’s request, dismounting to take Nimuro on in a proper duel.

The armies watched, stunned to see the vicious exchange as both warriors fought.  Chagatai suffered grievous injuries, but survived, while Nimuro fell dying, for the final time.

Akodo Senji and the rest of the Akodo commanders took charge, taking advantage of the sudden surge of courage as the sight of Nimuro standing once more to rally the Lions into one last desperate charge.  Chagatai, wounded, called for a retreat, as his shugenja managed to create just enough spells to take a number of them out of the battle, but leaving the rest of the Unicorn army behind to suffer the wrath of the Lion.

The battle turned into a rout, and then a manhunt, and finally butchery.  The Unicorn were defeated, the Lion victorious, but Matsu Nimuro, the Golden Lion, lay dead… just another body among so many others.  Akodo Ginawa raged at Ikoma Otemi, accusing the other of having insufficient wisdom to determine that it was one of the Ikoma’s vassal families that betrayed them.  Otemi struggled do defend his family but had to accept Ginawa’s demands that the Kaeru family be tried and executed for their actions in the battle.  Kitsu Juri tried to call for peace, to give the Lion time to recover for their losses.

At the end of the battle, the team was left to deal with a fractured house.  The Akodo, emboldened by the success of their strategies, had put the loss of Matsu Nimuro on the shoulders of the Ikoma.  The Ikoma, desperate to defend themselves had distanced themselves from the other families.  The Kitsu were overwhelmed with the number of the dead that were lost, and concerned themselves with finding which souls had been taken to the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang rather than their proper afterlife in Tengoku.  Finally the Matsu felt the loss the most, having yet again lost their greatest son to a manner that was out of their control.

The game will continue next week to deal with the aftermath of this, in Nimuro’s funeral.  The Other clans have begun to make their bids to take advantage of the Lion’s position and the Unicorn’s weakness.  The Ikoma will, undoubtedly bring the matter of the attack up in the winter court, and the Ide will be there to try and stop them from asking for reparations.

The team will be dispatched soon after to the Winter Court, which will be held this year in no other place than Kyuden Bayushi, home of the Imperial Chancellor, Bayushi Kaukatsu as well as the Scorpion Champion, Bayushi Paneki.

This was perhaps one of the more difficult sessions I’ve had to run in the campaign so far.  It was a big risk on my part to throw the group in to a vicious event that would change the campaign from Canon to unknown territory.  Now with Nimuro dead, the Lion are in shakier ground than ever, and they need new heroes, new characters that will embody the virtues that the Lion Clan call their own.  The Paragons will be vital in getting the clan back on their feet before the other clans start taking advantage of the Lion Clan’s moment of weakness.

  1. dbro36 says:

    I don’t read all of your L5R entries, which is mostly a form of self preservation. Every time I read one, I wish I was there. Of course I can’t tell how the actual play sessions go, but the way you describe them here afterwards, they have such a great vibe. Even if I don’t know any of the characters personally, or even anything about the setting, like the way Lions and Unicorns should look, I can totally picture what has happened.

    The game gives me a very strong Suikoden vibe. I know the setting is completely different (well… the original story might be quite close actually), but the theme is very much alike. It is very political while still giving plenty of room for adventure. Your play sessions are a source of inspiration for any GM who wishes to do more than just send a group into another dungeon.

    Your players are lucky to have you.

  2. Unknown territory IS good, it gives that feeling of suspense that we can’t know what else could happen. Though I will admit that I am more impressed that you didn’t spare Nimuro since I know you’re a big fan of the Lion Clan :3

    • I had to kill Nimuro at that point. It was a powerful sort of event that could signal a change that affects the entire setting. With him out of the picture, the future of the Lion Clan is now up in the air, and the players have a real chance of actually being part of that future… whatever kind of future that may be.

  3. Hikkikomori says:

    Rage, fan boys. Rage!

  4. dbro36 says:

    Ah, another Suikoden lover. We are more numerous than people think. We are kind of like the rebels that way. But that is exactly what your Actual Play sessions make me feel, like I am reading a Suikoden play sessions.

    So are the game mechanics in any way better suited to those kinds of things than, let’s say D&D4e, or is it mostly a setting thing?

    • Well, given that L5R was originally a setting for a collectible card game about warring samurai clans, the I’d say that the game does have mechanical support for multiple levels of this sort of conflict. Whether it’s some Ronin guy trying to earn his next meal, to a soldier on the front lines, a courtesan lobbying for peace (or war), L5R has something for nearly every scale.

      There’s a serviceable Mass Combat system in the core rules as well, which lends well to handling conflicts in an abstract fashion. The players roll their Battle skill to determine just how well their strategies did against the enemy, and the entries on the battle table also give chances for Heroic Opportunities, such as duels and such.

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