[L5R – Never a Dull Blade] Actual Play 17 – Revelations (Warning: LONG)

Posted: February 12, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Actual Play, Articles, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games

At this point I fear having to type out this actual play entry, but not because it was a terrible session or anything. This has to be one of the most complicated sessions I’ve had a chance to run in years.

So rather than waste more time with the preamble, let me get right to the story.

We begin with Akodo Kenji, Diplomat of the Lion Clan, who was left behind in Scorpion lands in order to somehow find a means to stop the Scorpion-Crab war from happening. He was in Kyuden Bayushi, capital of the Scorpion Clan, and was rather brusquely told off by Yogo Honnouji of the Jade Magistrates that his assistance in the matter was not needed.

Kenji ignored this, instead putting his plan into motion. First off, he’d sent a letter to his commanding officer, Ikoma Yasuko, wife of the Interim Champion Ikoma Otemi, and former Scorpion herself. He wrote to ask if she could refer him to any contacts that might be able to assist him.

He was reviewing his options when he was contacted by an agent of the Gozoku conspiracy.  One that instructed him to meet a man in a sake house in the town outside of Kyuden Bayushi. Intrigued, Kenji met with the informant, who told him that he could still be of use to the Gozoku despite the fact that he’d been cut off from the Chain of Command when Doji Akiko was executed last year.

He left the contact, having been told to await further orders.  Kenji was running out of ideas at this point as to what he could do… this was not a problem that they were involved in directly, after all, until he received a message from Kitsu Tetsumi via spell, telling him that the Tsuno had declared their intention to start a war come the Fall, and were planning to attack the Lion Hall of Ancestors!

With that, Kenji found himself doubly motivated to stop the Scorpion-Crab war.  He knew that the Tsuno could travel to the realm of man only via sites of slaughter.  In order to be able to create a rift large enough to transport an army, they would be banking on something like a battlefield… one that could be provided easily by a Scorpion-Crab war.

Kenji sequestered a goodly amount of food and supplied and made his way towards Hida Kisada’s camp at the border of the Scorpion Lands.  He was stopped along the way by Honnouji, who was determined to figure out what his plan was in apparently bringing a load of supplies to Kisada’s Camp.  Kenji told her that as there was still no real war going on, whatever he was goign to do with the food was his own business, but she was free to tag along if she was so curious about it. Honnouji was annoyed but decided to follow, just in case.

Kisada’s welcome of the Lion Diplomat was guarded. Arriving before the deadline was a good thing, but it didn’t seem that his Scorpion companion was here to discuss terms of surrender or overtures of peace.  Honnouji decided to not do anything just yet, as starting a fight here was counter to her own hopes of stopping the war without the Lion’s interference.

It was then that Kenji revealed his plan. He presented his food supplies and anounced that he was going to stay in the camp for a while.  It seemed like an innocous thing to say, but the results were going to be interesting.  Having a Lion Clan Diplomat present during an assassination attempt would damn the Scorpion, and having Honnouji present at the time to see his declaration meant that she was suddenly under pressure to stop the attacks before the Lion could reverse the Scorpion’s Claim as a victim.

Honnouji pulled Kenji aside, forced to reveal information that Kenji had suspected: The Scorpion WERE involved in the assassination attempts, but these attacks were not done with permission from the Champion.  Someone else was orchestrating these assassination attempts and Honnouji was working with a few loyal Scorpions in order to try and stomp out this faction before the war breaks out.  The name of the faction? The Gozoku.

It seems that Kenji had an awful lot to do…

Meanwhile, Kitsu Tetsumi and Akodo Senji had travelled to The Hall of Ancestors, where they met with several high ranking Lion officers:  the living legend, Akodo Ginawa, Interim champion Ikoma Otemi, Ikoma Yasuko, Ikoma Sume and Kitsu Juri.

The two discussed their discovery and their encounter with the Hero-turned-traitor Matsu Turi, who was revealed to be the Dark Oracle of Water. Such an opponent, along with an army of Tsuno Soultwisters and Ravagers was a threat that the Lion could not ignore.

The group discussed the matter at length, with the commanders agreeing that they could not rely on allies from any other Clan to assist them.  This was a purely Lion matter, and it would be best if the Lion Clan itself managed to defeat such an opponent.

It was easy enough to say, but how to achieve such an end was something that the group had to decide.  The matter of the Scorpion-Crab war was brought up, especially since the Hall of Ancestors was actually near the border to the Scorpion.  Having the Tsuno manifest in Scorpion lands and then marching to the Hall would blow the matter out of proportion, leaving the Lion exposed to Scorpion aggression for the Winter Court.

Ikoma Yasuko informed them that she’d received a message from Akodo Kenji, and she advised them to wait for further news before they made any pre-emptive actions involving the political landscape. It was clear to them that Yasuko had some idea as to what Kenji might be trying and believed in him enough to wait and see if his plan would work.

The team turned their attentions to preparing for the Tsuno then.  Tetsumi and Juri informed the other Kitsu of the need for them to prepare to summon ancestors into battle when the war arrives, as the Lion are now at about half their original strength during the War of the Rich Frog against the Unicorn.  With only a year since the fateful battle that led to the deaths of so many Lions, the Kitsu would be crucial at this point for two things:  Using their mastery of Water spells in order to try to mitigate Matsu Turi’s control of the element and to summon the ancestors to help bolster Lion troops.

Their plan of action wasn’t simple, but they had to do everything to prepare for the Tsuno invasion.  Akodo Senji would remain there in the Hall of Ancestors, serving as the primary general and would be responsible for training the troops in order to make sure that they would be ready for fighting the Tsuno Ravagers, who were incredibly hardy and were possessed with a fearsome howl that could stop even Lions in their tracks. Furthermore, he would contact his allies in the Kaiu family of the Crab Clan to request for a favor in bolstering the defenses of the Hall of Ancestors.

Kitsu Tetsumi on the other hand would travel to Tengoku, the Celestial Heavens in order to entreat the ancestors for their aid.  She knew that they needed every advantage they could muster, and while speaking to the Ancestors for help was bordering audacity, she had no choice but to try.  It was either to admit that they were in dire straights, or to die at the hands of the Tsuno for their pride.

Meanwhile, Akodo Kenji had received word from Yasuko with regards to an informant he could contact.  He had gone on to meet with Kisada to explain his need to venture back to Scorpion Lands, when he felt his Shadow Brand grow warm on his back, and his consciousness shoved to the very back of his mind.  His hand, as if possessed of a will of it’s own, seized his blade and swung towards Kisada, who was unarmored and quite comfortable with the presend of the Lion Diplomat.  The Great Bear managed to avoid the blow and caught Kenji’s arm, slamming him into the ground with a mighty roar, demanding what the meaning of that action was.

Kenji found himself back in control, and thinking very quickly, had come up with a joke, passing off the attempt as a way to check if Kisada was getting dull since the Great Bear had complained about boredom.  The lie was crafted with such skill by the Lion’s Shadow that Kisada bought it, his anger replaced by laughter as he helped the Lion up, warning him against making such jokes.

Kenji was alarmed at having lost control of himself, and found the confirmation he needed, the Gozoku were using shadow brands, and were involved in the assassination attempts.  He finally had a guilty party, now to find a way to stop them.

He set off to the Scorpion Lands to meet up with the informant provided by Yasuko.  The informant was unable to give him much in terms of direct information, but promised to lead him to someone else who would know more… but at the risk of his own safety.  She could not guarantee his health, but Kenji pressed on, surprised to be led to a different location to come face to face with Bayushi Sunetra.

Bayushi Sunetra was the Scorpion Clan Champion before Paneki, who revealed that she’d stepped down in order to focus on destroying the Gozoku. She greeted him warily, informing him that she was aware of him having a shadow Brand, by virtue of a crystal bauble that could detect the presence of such. Kenji endured a tricky negotiation with her, trying to win her trust.  She’d revealed that she suspected the Lion Clan as being part of the Gozoku as well, and that she’d recently learned that Akodo Ginawa, living legend of the Akodo family was actually part of the conspiracy as well.  In the end, he’d managed it, and was able to gain her cooperation by revealing to her that he had a potential ace in the hole: a powerful ally that would be very interested in the destruction of the Gozoku: the former Crane Champion: Doji Kurohito.

Of course, getting Kurohito’s cooperation was an entirely different task.  After ascertaining the former Crane champion’s location, Kenji requested a meeting with him at a location of his preference.  The meeting place chosen was a long bridge across a river.  Kurohito had taken on a different identity as a ronin, one that had been on a rather potent killing spree of any gozoku agents that were in the Crane lands.  Kenji took a similar path to his negotiations with Sunetra, admitting first that he was a Gozoku, and that he had a shadowbrand.  His admission of information to Kurohito piqued the former champion’s curiousity, and Kenji was able to earn his somewhat tentative trust in the matter upon revealing that the Lion Diplomat had managed to strike a tenous alliance with Bayushi Sunetra, who knew the location of the Gozoku Headquarters in Scorpion Lands.

There was one more problem of course: Kurohito told Kenji that an assault on the Shadowed Tower was going to be next to suicide without an army and someone else who was able to cut through the Gozoku along with him.  He was just one man after all.  Kenji’s thoughts then turned to the closest army he had at hand… camped right on the Crab-Scorpion border.

Kitsu Tetsumi stood in the midst of a group of Kitsu, all of which were focused on opening the most difficult of spirit gates, the one leading to the Celestial Heavens itself.  Few mortals were able to make such a journey and return, and so it fell on the shoulders of Tetsumi to make the journey and make sure that the ancestors heard their pleas.

She stepped forth through the portal, forcing her way through the barriers that tested her mortality and her sanity.  It was often a one way journey at the end of one’s life, but she needed to do this to save the lives of countless others.

She made it, appearing before the Gates of the Celestial Heavens itself, finding herself face-to-face with Oni no Okura.  The Oni made her position clear:  It would not allow any mortal to enter the Celestial Heavens.  No amount of pleading will sway it from it’s appointed duty, and it would crush any who would attempt to enter by force.

Tetsumi smiled and assured it that she had no such plans, even as she began a prayer before the Oni, calling on her Kitsu bloodline to carry her wishes to the ancestors, clear as a bell.  The Lion was facing it’s greatest threat, demons born of the Lion’s own failures and weaknesses.  If the Lion were to survive, it would need it’s greatest symbols of hope, and the guidance of those before them.  Tetsumi made it clear that the Lion of the present were not too proud to turn to the advice of the Ancestors for aid.

At her call several heroes of the Lion Clan manifested, each one promising their blade to the cause. From the fiery Matsu Tsuko and the acclaimed tactician Kitsu Motso, to the Golden Lion himself, Matsu Nimuro.  Tetsumi thanked them profusely, begging them to speak to their descendants.  The Lions were starting to come apart as the pressures of having to face their own demons were starting to break down all bonds of family.

With the assurance of the ancestors, Tetsumi bade them farewell and wished them good luck on the day of the battle.  If the Tsuno wished to face the Lion clan, then they would fight not only the warriors of the present, but the Lion Clan as it was throughout history.

Akodo Senji on the other hand had his hands full.  The Lion Army was emotional, angry and ill-coordinated.  The loss of the Golden Lion last year had left the families at a point that they were almost at each other’s throats.  The Ikoma were reviled as traitors by the Akodo, while the Akodo were blamed for the loss of the Champion by the Matsu.  The Kitsu attempted to bring some balance to this, but they were regarded by all three other families as a supporting role, and thus their voice had no bearing in the discussion.

He stormed outside his command tent and rounded up the drill instructors of all the families, berating them for their failure to cooperate.  He gave them several tests of tactics, repeating again and again of the need to understand that the Tsuno were no ordinary enemy.  A single Ravager was the equivalent of three Lion Soliders!

He ordered them to regroup in mixed teams.  Each fighting team would include a member of several families, and they would train as a single unit.  Their tactics would need to be fluid and second nature.  The drill sargeants weren’t too happy about it, but they followed his orders due to his place in the chain of command.

He returned to the command tent, and spoke with Ikoma Otemi with regards to the situation with the men.  Otemi told him that he was well aware of the situation, and was lamenting the fact that the Lion were about to come apart at the seams.  The Interim Champion confessed that he was seriously considering ceding the Championship to Akodo Ginawa, as the older Akodo would make for a perfect figurehead to instill unity within the Clan.

Senji berated him for such thoughts, telling Otemi that a change in command at this point would be counter-productive and will disrupt whatever little organization the Lions had left.  Otemi was chosen because of his skill as a tactician… popularity was not the issue here, and every lion who was worth his salt would obey his commanding officer, regardless of who he was.

Otemi seemed somewhat moved by his words, but Senji knew that he didn’t have final say in the matter.  Still he hoped that Otemi would retain the championship, if only to spare the Lion more trouble.

Tetsumi returned, bearing good news to her father, but she had also gained a valuable piece of advice from Kitsu himself.  The Tsuno were a corruption of the Kitsu, and perhaps there was a means to somehow undo the corruption that turned them into bloodthirsty savages.

The secret, Kitsu surmised would be perhaps through Mimiru’s Nezumi magics.  The Nezumi seemed to be a shaman of her people, and had the power of Names.  To change a person’s name was to change who he was.  It was a long shot, but it was worth a try… if she could determine the Tsuno’s true name, then the Nezumi could enact a spell that could reverse the process.

It was a dangerous task as it involved actually capturing a live Tsuno and hauling it back to Mimiru.  Still, the rewards would be immense, rather than slaying their former bretheren, then perhaps there would be a way to redeem them.

And that’s where we ended yesterday’s game.  It was a long game that involved a ton of detail, old plot hooks being sprung, and surprises that had all of us reeling.  I didn’t really expect myself to end up plunging into this level of detail.

All the players had a Crowning Moment of Awesome at this point, and the players were also feeling like they were movers and shakers in the game.

Akodo Kenji was a true Diplomat of the Clan, navigating the thorny realities of Clan Politics.  Akodo Senji was a General with the massive task of preparing for a war, where his blade didn’t count as much as his ability to lead, and Tetsumi had become the gateway by which the Lion could reconnect with it’s past, and perhaps save the future of the Kitsu.

All in all it was an excellent session, and the throbbing headache I got after running it was a sign that my brain was working on overtime.  Consequences were firing like crazy at this point, and the next session will wrap up the Summer Arc, leading the way to the biggest conflict that the team will have ever faced:

The Tsuno Invasion.

  1. EvilGardenGnome says:

    Excellent post. This is really sounding like a novel.

    I’ve always liked that L5R has a focus on politics. You didn’t have any drawn out melees and it seems like the players were intensely interested. Good story and good group.

    • Hey there EvilGardenGnome!

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying the Actual Play reports thus far. Again I have to give full credit to my players for this one. Each and every one of them were fully on board with the way that the game was run. No complaints that there wasn’t enough combat, or that they didn’t want to roleplay through the crucial scenes where they had to negotiate (or fast talk) with NPCs.

      Without their level of commitment to the game, I have little doubt that the campaign will probably fall apart. I have awesome players.

  2. mythicast says:

    Hahaha, by the end of the game, i could see your head swimming in details. Honestly, I don’t think that you’ve ever given new and unearthed old plot hooks and details like this before. I wouldn’t be surprised if you swallowed a bottle of Tylenol after the game. LOL Really appreciate the way you GM and the overall game flow. Again, it really does seem like a great TV mini series, only downside is I can’t download it if I want to watch it again or if i miss an episode. lol ^_^

  3. Hikkikomori says:

    Who says you can’t survive Rokugan with only Kenjutsu 1.

  4. BigDog says:

    I’ve only recently started reading your session reports but I have to say I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly and can wait for the next one. Reading them feels like I was taking part. Keep up the awesome work.

    Oddly enough I’m in the process of starting a Lion clan five rings campaign and I’ve never seen my players so keen to start a game.

    The level of detail and hooks in your plot are fantastic. I’m hoping to get my campaign as interesting as yours. Any tips for a new GM?

    • Hi BigDog, and welcome to the blog!

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying Never A Dull Blade as much as we have, and I’m glad to hear that you’re starting an L5R game of your own. We need more Lion Clan games! 😀

      As for tips, I’d say that if your players are comfortable with working with the Rokugani Honor system, then use it to it’s full effect. Some of my best games have been when a character is forced to choose between conflicting facets of Bushido. Does one obey one’s lord when it is clear that his lord is doing something that is morally wrong, yet not entirely dishonorable? This sort of social / emotional conflict is the kind that gets players to make difficult and meaningful choices, and they often end up being the most memorable moments for characters.

      That said, if you have anything in particular that you’d like me to discuss, then please feel free to ask and I’ll see if I can put up a blog post or two about the topic!

      • BigDog says:

        Thanks for that pointyman. With the exception of one who has only played the ccg, my players have only really played dungeons and dragons 4th ed and pathfinder so they have no experience of rokugan or the culture so I’ll ease them in gently and once they’re comfortable with the concept and virtues of bushido I’ll turn on the pressure.

        So far may group is going to include an ikoma courtier, kitsu shugenja, matsu bushi, a ronin trying to win the opportunity to swear fealty to the lion clan, an utaku who’s married into the lion (changing clans in the process) and a scorpion spy who’s trained in the akodo bushi school.

        As far as the other 5 players know the scorpion is simply an akodo bushi and I’m going to try and keep it that way for as long as I can whilst setting the scorpion player his own tasks and assignments which may or may not run counter to the overall partys.

        I’ve picked up every edition of l5r but was planning on running 4th as it seems easiest for new players to get into. Which edition would you suggest?

        • My personal recommendation would be to go with the 4th Edition. I think that the design team did a great job balancing the inherent complexities of making so many schools, while making sure that the Roll & Keep mechanic still remains relatively simple.

          Your group sounds like it has a lot of potential. Do you have an idea on which Era of Rokugani history you’re looking to run this campaign in?

          • BigDog says:

            I’m not sure really, I like the scorpion coup/ clan war arc and also the stuff about the lying darkness but I don’t really want to stick with canon. I don’t really know much about the four winds arc or the timeline after that so I’ll probably stick with the earlier part of the 12th century. Good possibilities for inter clan conflict with scorpion / unicorn.

            I was going to ask about combat. How lethal is it? It looks like most pc’s can take a hit from a katana but will be suffering from enough target number penalties that they’ll probably be inneffective and after a second hit should be around the down level. Is that right or are the pc’s a bit more robust these days? I will have some combat but I’m trying to get my players roleplaying and away from the ‘kill the monster, steal its treasure’ mind set they’ve been used to with dnd.

          • Combat tends to still be a very serious affair in L5R, the TN Penalties are a big deal and many characters still will find themselves considering retreat after a hit or two. That said, they’re tougher than they used to be in 1st and 3rd editions, given that the initial wound level is Earth x5 wounds, if I remember correctly. Don’t forget that armor also has damage reduction, and that players can spend 1 Void Point to negate 10 wounds from a single attack, if things get dangerous.

          • BigDog says:

            I take it your running your campaign around the clan war period? Any particular reason you chose that slot?

            I missed a bit of background with the tsuno I think, are they a corruption of the original kitsu?

            Are you using any of the 4th ed sourcebooks? I’ve only got the core rules at the moment and I’m wondering whether to splash out on enemies of the empire, emerald empire or the great clans.

            I’ve decided to go over a bunch of old usagi yojimbo comics for possible plots and storylines to work with. They tend to have a good balance of tragedy and melodrama.and with the based in a version of feudal japan the mood and theme should translate well. Do you use any particular sources for plot ideas?

          • I’m actually running it during the reign of Toturi III, in the period of peace after the Four Winds Saga. I decided to ditch Iuchiban’s return for now as that would take the focus away from the Lion in general and provide a big threat to the entire Empire which was not really what I was gunning for.

            I’m using the Corebook, Enemies of the Empire and Emerald Empire. The Great Clans book is useful but we used it for more player options and to give the players a better idea of what the Lion Clan was like, more than as a GM resource. Still if you can afford all of them, the 4th Edition line has been nothing but amazing for me… I’m still waiting for Imperial Histories to come out on pdf so I can grab that too.

            Usagi Yojimbo is a great resource! I find myself drawing a lot of inspiration from Hiroaki Samura’s “Blade of the Immortal” manga. It’s rather violent, but the artwork and storyline keeps me reading. You might find Takehiko Inoue’s “Vagabond” manga to be pretty good for inspiration too.

          • BigDog says:

            Thanks for the tips. A mate of mine has his own game store and can occassionally get stuff a bit cheaper than rrp for me so I’ll see if he can get me prices for enemies of the empire and emerald empire initially.

            The biggest issue for me will be keeping up the momentum because I work variable shifts, one of my players works shifts and the we all have various ‘grown up’ commitments. Sometimes it sucks being a grown up . We’ll probably only manage a session per month so I need to make our sessions count.

            I think I might leave the game period deliberately undefined and pull in plot elements which I think will be of interest. The gozuku, the goju ninja/lying darkness, etc I’ll probably sneak in there somehwere.

            I like the ideas of tough choices and some of the usagi stories highlight this brilliantly. In one he comes to a prosperous small town governed by a famous retired general who does everything he can to make life better for the people he is responsible for. He was assigned the role after his lord died and requested that he try to guide the lord’s son when he succeeds him. The son is influenced by less reputable court advisors and assigns the general a less prestigous appointment than he deserves. This is coupled with the general succumbing to a progressive wasting illness which he resents as unbecoming a warrior. As usagi leaves, the general blocks his path and demands him to engage in a duel.

            If I work it properly and build up the general as a paragon of bushido and all round good guy over time this could come as a real blow to the pc’s.

            Another I like involves a monk who had previously been a dishonourable samurai who as part of a group had killed a fellow samurai in cold blood and stole from him before running away to avoid the consequences. He subsequently repented, shaved his head and became a monk who is now utterly selfless in his devotions and the aid he brings to his community. The son of the dead samurai has managed to trace all of the other killers and slain them, only the monk is left and when he finds him usagi tries to convince him not to pursue his sworn vengeance.

            From the bushido point of view the son has sworn an oath of vengeance which could be viewed as his duty. The monk was dishonourable but has tried to redeem himself and is also living up the virtues of compassion and duty. Which side do the pc’s take?

            Again a little pre-emptive work to have the pc’s come across the son prior to the adventure and build the monk up as a real pillar of thw xommunity so that it hits nice and hard and leaves them tough choices to make.

          • Excellent examples of tough situations when virtue goes up against virtue. I’m eager to hear about how your game goes once it starts!

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