[L5R: Never a Dull Blade] Gearing up for Winter Court

Posted: November 17, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games

So… this weekend marks the start of the Winter Court arc of my Legend of the Five Rings campaign, and I’m been doing some thinking.  When I initially pitched Never a Dull Blade to my players I did specify that this was technically a “Lions in (relative) peacetime” game, where the various details of running a clan will be the focus of the game.  While I really did have the idea of putting the characters in Winter Court, I don’t want it to come off as a drag.

In short, I’m trying to make sure that I don’t end up with a lot of empty scenes where the players are in a  setpiece and have nothing to do.  From my thinking, I’ve got some ways to get around that:

  • More NPCs – I’m operating on a very lean cast of characters, as is my usual pattern, but if I want to make this Winter Court seem populated, I’m going to have to include a lot more people.  Not necessarily big names, but ones that the characters can interact with in a meaningful fashion.
  • Active Agendas – Everyone’s got an angle in the Winter Court, even if it’s just for their own self-advancement, and their actions should reflect that.  NPCs ought to be actively doing things that will aid or hinder the players.  This is exactly where the favor-trading comes in very useful.
  • Complications – No plan survives contact with the enemy, and the same is true in court as well as in the battlefield.  By making sure that things shift now and then, the players can capitalize on an advantage when the wind is blowing their way or end up trying to make sure that they do proper damage control when the tables are turned.

Despite how this sounds, I’m actually trying to think of ways to engage the players without forcing them into mechanically disadvantageous situations.  I know that the Lion clan in general aren’t exactly keen on having high Courtier or Etiquette skills, but I’m not about to turn this event into an excuse to lord that fact over them. That sort of behavior is bad GMing, plain and simple.

Still, I’m relatively optimistic about things. If anything it’ll be a chance to see what a Winter Court with Lions will really look like, and maybe the refreshing change from all the double-talk and hinting that the Crane and Scorpions do.

  1. Bird_Man says:

    Of course, going to court is all about representing your clan. Perhaps the characters can be involved in situations pertainant to their clan — both in positive and negative ways.

    You’re right that witnessing set piece scenes at Winter Court would be boring; but doing the type of scenes that take place in small alcoves, setting up the opportunity to connect with a powerful ally or dissuade an enemy from moving on your clan — those can be really fun, and give your samurai the opportunity further their clan’s agenda in innovative ways.

    Reading your blog makes me wish I lived in the Phillipines, if only to have the opportunity to play with you. Thanks for sharing all of this!

    • Hey there,

      Good idea on the focus on the smaller things, and making those count. I think I’m too focused on the event as a big thing that I forgot that it’s the stuff that happens offstage that has a lasting impact in inter-clan politics in L5R. While the public events have significant impact, the little deals done over tea in private tend to have far longer-reaching effects.

      I’m glad that you like the Actual Play reports so far! If you ever do find yourself visiting the Philippines, drop me a line! I might be able to run a game for you.

  2. I have to admit that I’ve never really checked out L5R, but your AP Reports are making me want to take a look. Does the game have particular mechanics for the Winter Court phase of your game (like in Pendragon or Houses of the Blooded)?

    • Hi Michael!

      Unfortunately L5R doesn’t have specific mechanics for a Winter Court phase, and I will admit that I was inspired by Pendragon when I opted to stage my campaign along story arcs that took place in each season.

      That said, L5R does have a very strong sense of society and acceptable behavior and the rules get that across quite nicely. Much in the same way as the people in games of Arthurian Legend, L5R draws inspiration from Asian sensibilities such as Honor, and saving face. The code of bushido is a big thing, but it’s an unspoken reality that nobody actually manages to live up to everything in the code. There’s a surprising amount of depth involved in the society of L5R, which I feel is the reason why it’s been so popular with fans. Those who get it, are hooked.

      • Hikkikomori says:

        It doesn’t help that the Code is paradoxical in order to have an actual functioning society.
        Samurai cannot handle money – but money makes the Empire work.
        But yes, if played straight, and not just I am a guy with a katana, the setting actually can operate on its own.

  3. mythicast says:

    The L5R book made a good system for all aspects of its society not just clashing swords, and Pointy is making very good use of it (thanks for all the gaming, man). I’ve both gamed and played on several L5R games where everyone was a samurai. In most of them, players were just looking to find out who’s got the the awesomest moves. That’s all well and good, to each his own I guess. But that’s like having a game of imagination and everyone deciding to play Street Fighter with it… all the time. ^_^

    I seems ironic, but imo, Winter Court is probably going to be the the most suspenseful and dangerous part of the story. How can it possibly be boring? Somewhat oddball Lion group (sample disadvantages our group has: Lingering misfortune, can’t lie, gullible, brash, and I have the “smart mouth” problem that Kenji has to clean up. Thanks kenj!)… and we’re trapped for a whole season… with enemies we have to be polite to… in scorpion lands. LOL We are so screwed that its soooo funny. At this point, we’re in the GM’s good graces. That’s why I never miss a game, cause as the famous last words say: “This I gotta see!” hahaha

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