[L5R – Never a Dull Blade] Actual Play 8: The Lion in Winter, Part 1 [Long]

Posted: November 20, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Actual Play, Articles, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games

The characters find themselves a few weeks after the terrible War of the Rich Frog, and the Lion Clan and Unicorn have both retreated to lick their wounds.  This isn’t a time of complacency, however, as the team must now gear up for what promises to be one of the most difficult challenges they have ever faced: The Winter Court.

To those unfamiliar with the setting of Legend of the Five Rings, the Emperor holds an annual imperial court which is often hosted by one of the Major Clans.  The Emperor stays over as a guest for the Winter season, and as such the event is marked with all sorts of events, festivities and political maneuvering as the various clans attempt to curry the favor of the emperor or bring up their disputes for him to adjudicate.  Where many see this event as a season-long social event, the courtiers of the various clans know Winter as one of the bloodiest of times as their battles in court are equally as dangerous and often have higher stakes than the ones fought by the soldiers in the field.

What makes matters worse is the fact that this year’s Winter Court is being held in the capital of the Scorpion Clan.  Well known as dangerous and duplicitous villains, the Scorpion nevertheless are remarkably capable courtiers who aren’t afraid to use methods like blackmail and such to press their advantage.  The Lion consider the Scorpion to be one of their most dangerous opponents, as the Scorpions hardly ever bother to fight in an honorable fashion.  The fact that the Emperor has chosen the Scorpion venue is one that has led to no small amount of stress to those in the team, with the Idealistic Akodo Senji (played by Paulo) always on edge, expecting all sorts of unpleasant things from the shadows.

The session also sported a full compliment of players characters.  With the aforementioned tactician Akodo Senji, the wily Bard / Spy Akodo Kenji, the sodan-senzo pugilist Kitsu Tetsumi, the gigantic duelist Matsu Broli and the one of a kind Matsu shugenja, Matsu Hiroto.  Together they made up the bulk of the Lion Clan delegation to the Winter Court, along with the head Lion Ambassador Ikoma Sume, and the matriarch of the Ikoma family Ikoma Yasuko.

The Lion delegation’s purpose was simple, to bring the Unicorn’s attack on the City of the Rich Frog to the attention of the Imperial Court and ask for reparations for the damage inflicted on the city and the farmlands that were ruined in the Unicorn’s offensive.

The delegation’s arrival in the Scorpion capital of Kyuden Bayushi was one met with pomp and pageantry, even as the team took note of the arrival of several members of the various clans:

  • Crab – No notable members except for the Yasuki delegation, and the connection to the current Emerald Champion, Yasuki Hachi.
  • Crane – Clan Champion Doji Kurohito, and his wife, Doji Akiko, the Elemental Master of water.  Included in the imperial delegation was the Imperial Advisor Doji Tanitsu.
  • Dragon – The only notable in the clan was the young Daimyo of the Tamori family, Tamori Shaitung.
  • Imperial  – Toturi III and the empress Toturi Kurako were present for the event.
  • Mantis – Yoritomo Yoyonagi, young up-and-coming courtier of the new clan was present for the event
  • Phoenix – Shiba Mirabu, Champion of the Phoenix was accompanied by Isawa Ochiai, Master of Fire, and her brother Isawa Nakamuro Master of Air
  • Scorpion – Given that this is their province, everyone that could be anyone in the Scorpion were present.
  • Unicorn – Among the Unicorn delegation were the former Imperial Adviser Ide Tadaji and the young Ide Tang.

Whew.  Alright that’s a long, list of NPCs, but in a setting like this, it’s important to get your who’s who straight.

Akodo Kenji was requested to join Ikoma Sume on the VIP table, while the others were sent to their respective dining areas.  It was there that Kenji was introduced to the generals of this particular battle over food and drink.  Doji Tanitsu and Ikoma Sume were his allies, while Ide Tadaji and Bayushi Kaukatsu were there as his primary opponents.  Amidst idle chatter lines were drawn, and the courtiers prepared themselves for the war ahead.

Kitsu Tetsumi was paid a visit by Yogo Honnouji, a Scorpion Jade Magistrate.  Tetsumi was in her quarters when the Yogo asked to speak with her, confronting the Kitsu with information that certain witnesses during the War of the Rich Frog noted that Tetsumi was the last to touch Matsu Nimuro’s apparent corpse, which promptly stood up and fought on despite being dead.

This was a dangerous line of inquiry for Tetsumi, as she already knew that the Yogo was probably trying to find out about her abilities.  Her powers were not common to the empire, and to an outsider, such a trick could be easily misinterpreted as the use of Maho blood magic to raise the dead.  This left Tetsumi’s player (Silver Countess) in quite a pickle.  We struggled through this part, as she strained to consider the best wording for the inquiry.

Ultimately Tetsumi spoke that she did not raise Nimuro from the dead, and instead spoke to his spirit.  The fact that the body stood and fought was not by her command.  Honnouji regarded that statement with much scrutiny, but found Tetsumi without the stain of shadowlands taint, and her words ran true.  The Yogo then left, thanking Tetsumi for her time.

Matsu Hiroto on the other hand was met with a certain Soshi Umi, who asked to meet with the young Matsu Shugenja over tea.  The two had a pleasant evening of tea and conversation, whereupon Umi expressed her dissatisfaction at the Unicorn’s actions against the Lion so close to winter.  She then offered Hiroto a gift, a scroll from the Soshi’s own libraries which discussed the art of creating Shadow Brands.  Hiroto questioned her purpose, and Umi quoted Akodo’s Leadership by saying that “All war is deception” and thus the Akodo should not turn away an asset that will allow them to wage war through other methods if it was a means of securing victory.

Hiroto thanked her, and took the scroll, bringing it to Kitsu Tetsumi to ask about such a thing.  Tetsumi remembered the vision that she had in the Dragon mountains, remembering the shadow and what it did to Shosuro and warned Hiroto against its use.  She did not know what effect it might have, but knowing that many an Akodo was originally from the Lying Darkness… the use of Shadow Brands could be dangerous indeed.

It was at around this time that Akodo Senji met up with a famliar face. Toritaka Ami, the scout that had accompanied him to the Shadowlands on a mission.  The two spent a quiet evening with each other, catching up on how things have been since Senji was sent back to the Lion because of the Unicorn attack.  One interesting bit that Senji was able to determine was that the Crab had received a gift of Jade from the Unicorn before the attack on the Lion, something that the Crab accepted graciously as jade supplies in the empire were running dangerously low.

The team regrouped not long after, sharing notes.  Hiroto and Tetsumi chose to not mention the scroll from the Soshi, but Senji did mention the gift of jade.  Kenji took note of all of those details, even as he prepared himself for the next day… the first of the Emperor’s hearings of the matter.

The next day arrived with no untoward incidents, no poisonings, no sudden disappearances, much to the team’s surprise.  They were expecting the worst, but it seems that at least for now, they were safe in their quarters.

It was here that Akodo Kenji went into full throttle, seeking out the Mantis delegation.  He found Yoritomo Yoyonagi outside of the palace proper, having just drunk a Miya herald under the table in a sake house.  The two spoke, with Kenji negotiating a fair deal.  The Mantis provides the Lion with additional monetary assistance, in exchange for lower trade tariffs and an established trading post in a lucrative Lion riverside town (one that used to belong to Akodo Isamu, in fact!).  All the Mantis have to do is to side with him in the hearing later that evening.

With that done, Kenji went to speak with Tamori Shaitung, of the Dragon Clan.  There he offered if there was anything he could do to secure her vote and support.  She mentioned that she had been eyeing a seat on the Elemental Council, but since that seems to be something out of his reach, there was nothing else he could offer.  Kenji countered that the recent eruption of a volcano in Dragon lands have made things difficult for her clan, as they lost valuable arable land this way.  The war with the Phoenix has left the Dragon in need of food, and the Lion may yet be able to provide for that.  Shaitung countered that the Lion themselves are at risk of famine due to the Unicorn’s attack, which Kenji sidestepped neatly by saying that while that is true, he was able to secure some additional monetary aid from the Mantis and that he was quite willing to pass on the benefits of such to the Dragon, since both clans were in a similar predicament.  That caught Shaitung off-guard, and while she was wary, she accepted Kenji’s offer.

Thus prepared, Kenji set off to the Courts, to attend to his senior, Ikoma Sume, as they made their case in court.

The Court session was one where Kenji was to serve as Ikoma Sume’s understudy and his first full taste of the politics in Rokugan.  The opening statements of the two sides were both delivered with equal aplomb.  With Ikoma Sume going into an impassioned diatribe against the ruthless and heartless savagery of the Unicorn’s attack in a moment where peace should be in the foremost of any true Rokugani.  Ide Tadaji countered with an appeal to justice, stating that the lands of the City of the Rich Frog belonged to the Unicorn, and the eviction was not a war as much as it was and expulsion of squatters.

Aiding either side was Bayushi Kaukatsu, Imperial Chancellor and Doji Tanitsu, the Imperial Advisor, it was a vicious sort of argument, with words that sought to bait and goad the other into making a fatal mistake in public.

After the initial statements, the Yasuki spoke up saying that they were to abstain for this judgement, as the conflict between the Unicorn and the Lion was a non-issue to those who are more focused on the defense of the Empire.  Kenji jumped at that statement calling on the Yasuki, accusing the Crab of being hypocrites.  Kenji then presented the fact that the Crab had been given a shipment of jade by the Unicorn, mere weeks ahead of the attack on the City of the Righ Frog.  Kenji also insinuated that it was a bribe that the Crab gladly accepted… so therefore they had no right to call this a non-issue.

The sort of interruption and the reveal of the shipment’s acceptance by the Crab was something that the Yasuki did not want to hear.  Now they were in a crossroads.  If they abstained, they would appear weak, and uncaring of the Empire, and their calls for Duty would fall to deaf ears.  If they voted for the Unicorn, then that would only make them come off as patsies for Chagatai.

There were only two options left: Vote for the Lion… or call for a duel to purge them of this insult.

The Yasuki then turned to his yojimbo, as a massive Hida stood in acknowledgement.  Kenji on the other hand mustered his own dueling champion: Matsu Broli…


And that is where the game ended last night.  It was a short-ish game, but one where a lot of explaining took place.  The problem with the setup was that it requires a hefty amount of knowledge of in-game lore, and that was one of the difficulties that I was worried about.  That said, the team handled themselves well, but I feel that I need to really beef up more plot hooks for Broli, Hiroto and Senji at this point.  I’ve scattered a bunch of new plot hooks and Kenji seems to be quite in the spirit of being a crafty courtier.

Overall, it was a good session, and one that I was happy to run.  Hopefully I’ll be able to wrap up the main events of the Winter Court, and move on to Spring… the time of rebuilding, where the Lions finally have time to take stock of just how much they have lost, and where they want to start building anew.

  1. mythicast says:

    I think a lot of plot hooks will present itself (not to mention the fact that there were a lot of loose ends), i.e.Tetsumi’s arranged marriage, Broli’s tournament, Hiroto’s sick new spell, and after Senji further establishes his persona as more of a threat to sake houses rather than the winter courts (hopefully slipping under the radar), he’ll start with prestigious Go houses to build ties and maybe pick up any information that may slip through the cracks, it is after all a game for the elites.

  2. So, is there a social conflict mechanic in L5R? Reading your AP, I couldn’t help but imagine the climatic argument being resolved with a system like Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits.

    • Hi Michael!

      L5R has the usual social skills in the corebook, mainly Courtier (the social attack stat) and Etiquette (the social defense one) which are supported by several other skills such as Investigation, or even Performance. That said, there’s also an Optional Court Battle System that was introduced in the Emerald Empire supplement that gives a mechanics backbone to such things.

      However for this particular game, we didn’t really use any mechanics as much as it was a lot of in-character dialogue and wits. Trust me when I say that I have some of the most talented players I have ever had the pleasure of running a game for in this group.

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