Last week’s session was quite long as the players were able to meet up earlier in the day and were quite eager to start playing as soon as they could. Thankfully the past week gave me a lot of opportunities to think about their characters and what I could do in order to give them something to do in the setting.
It’s a long report, so I had to put it behind a break, but please, read on!
The Main Hall of Kyuden Doji
Kakita Noritoshi, the Daimyo of the Kakita family sat on the dais beside his wife, Kakita Mai. With the Champion attending to the Imperial Winter court, it had fallen to him to conduct the Clan Courts of the Crane.
He was here to see to an issue of inheritance. A wealthy Doji samurai had passed away, and with all the samurai’s children dead, his will was that his nephew, Doji Satsu (Played by Tarathiel23) would be the one to inherit his holding. While normally, following a dead man’s will would have been no issue, the holding to be inherited was of particular value to the Crane.
The inheritance would grant Satsu control over the Crane’s interests in the Merchant Quarter of Toshi Ranbo, the Imperial Capital. To make matters more complicated, Doji Satsu had been living with the Phoenix for most of his life, having been taken away as to learn how to control the magics of the Void. He would need assistance if he were to take over. The Crane could ill afford to mismanage this holding, not in these times.
Thankfully Kakita Mai, his clever wife had already laid her own plans to assist in the matter. Before the couple were a gathering of samurai and shugenja, people she had chosen and recruited through a combination of her own network and a few favors granted.
Noritoshi regarded them in turn. All of them had skill necessary to running the holding, but nearly all of them were untested.
Doji Tomiko (played by Maddie) waited patiently. Noritoshi-sama had been most gracious as a host, and had known her Uncle personally. She understood that her brother’s inheritance despite being not of direct descendance was not standard procedure, but Noritoshi honored her Uncle’s request despite this.
She regarded the rest of those gathered. She knew Doji Naito (played by Mappy) from her days in school. He was rude at his best days, but she would have need of his administrative acumen, and being married to the Daidoji Daimyo’s daughter did give him some contacts that could be of use.
Doji Haruko on the other hand was younger than she was. She could already tell that Haruko would need some sprucing up. The Kimono she wore was threadbare and had been out of fashion several seasons ago. Her ronin Yojimbo, Ragan (played by Hikkikomori) on the other hand was a mystery.
Tomiko turned her attention to Doji Ai (played by Silver Countess), the Artisan. Stoic and expressionless, Ai did have a reputation for being rather sharp-tongued, though her skill with weaving kimonos was nearly supernatural. Rumors had it that the Kakita sensei that saw her work during her gempukku shaved his head and became a monk, taking on a vow of silence.
They were waiting for one more, supposedly. Another Shugenja like her brother. She was about to say something to Satsu to try and alleviate the atmosphere when the door opened to reveal a handsome young Asahina Shugenja with a cocksure smile.
Asahina Tezuka (played by Paulo) sauntered into the room, eyeing everyone else before giving a cursory bow to Noritoshi and Mai, without offering apology for being late.
Instead he turned to Ai, giving her a once-over and smiled, “So, what are you doing later?”
Ai met that remark with a quick rap of her fan on his forehead, “Behave, Asahina-san,” She scolded him, “Court is in session.”
Tomiko frowned, surely there must be some mistake. The boy had a reputation for being a spoiled brat, for him to be assigned to this group was insanity. Her eyes met Mai’s and comprehension dawned.
This too was another favor.
At this point all the characters rolled their Courtier/Awareness rolls and made it past the TN of 30. It dawned on all of them that Tezuka’s presence was a favor Mai was performing for someone else. Tomiko understood then that she could leverage this later on, and Mai caught that Tomiko figured this out, and acknowledged the younger courtier’s suspicions with a slight nod.
With the entire team assembled, Noritoshi went about his duty officially assigning the group to serve in Toshi Ranbo, and to take over the estate once held by Satsu’s Uncle. With the official duties squared away, he and Mai left them with some important information, and a few warnings.
Toshi Ranbo, being the Imperial City was a hotbed of activity of samurai across the Empire. While divided between the Crane and the Lion Clan, the city is also home to embassies for all the other clans. Furthermore, the Imperial Families also have a strong presence in the city, and the group should expect to run into the otomo in courts as well.
One of the bigger issues would be the fact that the Scorpion Clan are enjoying a moment of unprecedented fame and influence. With Bayushi Kaukatsu as Imperial Chancellor, and Shosuro Jimen as Emerald Champion, the Scorpion now have a legal means to apply pressure to the Clan. Also, with a vacancy in the Shogun position with Akodo Kaneka‘s death and exposure as a Gozoku conspirator, many of the Clans are now trying to push their candidates to the position, with Hida Kisada himself as a leading candidate.
In addition to this, the Crab Clan’s Yasuki family are taking advantage of the Daidoji’s recent fall from grace and lack of morale by stepping up their economic warfare. Likewise, the Mantis have never really backed down, and the Kasuga family have their sights set on taking a chunk of the Crane Clan’s economic dominance.
To complicate matters further, tensions between the Lion and the Crane are escalating. With the death of Matsu Nimuro, and the disappearance of Doji Kurohito, only Doji Domotai’s influence is holding the Lion at bay. The Crane Clan’s most effective deterrent, economic sanctions, are not feasible at the moment, as the Emperor’s edict that the Crane bestow monetary and agricultural support to the Lion is still in place. The Lion’s current Diplomat, Akodo Kenji, has made great strides in cementing an alliance with the Crab, and the Mantis, reducing their dependency on the Crane for money and food.
Needless to say, this is mostly a result of the actions that the same Players took when they were playing Never a Dull Blade, the all-Lion Clan Campaign I ran. Part of the reason why I keep a constant timeline is to see the looks on their faces as they realize that they have to contend with their own successes from a different angle.
Noritoshi concluded his briefing, and granted them the rest of the winter to make their preparations. They would be moving to Toshi Ranbo in time for the new year.
The coming of the New Year was a time of great revelry all over the Empire, and the celebrations were in full swing in Toshi Ranbo. The team arrived early in the day, amidst the festivities, to reach the estate.
The Crane Holding was a massive home, with its own courtyard and expansive gardens. An army of servants were within, all of which were there to welcome their new lord and master. It was a testament to Tomiko’s ability that the estate continued to function after her Uncle’s death and without a staff.
The team then began to settle down, taking time to unpack and rest, and prepare to perform their duties.
Doji Satsu took some time to speak with Asahina Tezuka. Understanding that Tezuka had been sent to him to serve as a student, Satsu realized that the headstrong Tezuka needed a stern mentor and was more than willing to play the authority figure.
He sent the younger Shugenja to appease the Air Kami in the estate, to better win their favor and perhaps serve as a defense for those who would use Air Magics to eavesdrop on them. Tezuka grumbled about the matter, but went about it anyway.
After completing his task with the barest amount of effort, Tezuka decided to go and join the revelry outside, taking off without telling anyone.
Tezuka’s random wanderings in the big city was one of great discovery for the young shugenja. He’d never been in a city so large and so… populated as Toshi Ranbo. After following the sounds of laughter and revelry, he found himself in a red light district, and ducked into a nearby “tea house” at the urgings of some pretty young ladies that beckoned from the upstairs windows.
He was immediately intercepted by the establishment’s proprietess who let him eat and drink with the company of the ladies, before he proceeded upstairs with a lady of his choosing. Coming down from his own little party, Tezuka was about to settle his bill when a Mantis Clan woman came up to settle it for him.
The woman introduced herself as Yoritomo Yoyonagi of the Mantis Clan. She explained that she found it amusing to find an Asahina here of all places, and inquired as to whether it was his first time in Toshi Ranbo. Tezuka was somewhat wary of the Mantis, but didn’t think too much of it.
Yoyonagi managed to inquire as to his status, and why he was in the city. Tezuka admitted that he was sent away from the temple, and that his stipend was effectively gone. Yoyonagi smiled and gave him a substantial amount, telling him that it was a gift from her, leaving him wondering at what cost that gift might have, before he took off to return to the Temple.
Doji Ai spent the morning exploring the Merchant Quarter, taking time to find where to source the more mundane materials for her craft. She found a store manned by a Kasuga Kaiten, a Mantis merchant with a broad smile and easygoing manners.
The two exchanged mild pleasantries, and Ai purchased quite an amount of Mantis silk threads, an unusual sort of product to look for.
Kaiten was intrigued, “What would you use it for, Doji-sama? Surely the Mantis weave silks just as well as the Crane.”
“Perhaps.” Ai smiled, “But I am not here for premade patterns. Do not be insulted by what I am about to say, but I find that I prefer to weave my cloth myself.”
“And sully your perfect hands?” Kaiten asked, more suprised than insulted.
“I cannot be assured of perfection unless I do it myself.” She smiled, “A personal quirk, I’m afraid.”
“Then take my goods with my sincerest goodwill.” Kaiten smiled, “I’ll even throw in a discount. I have a good feeling about you.”
Doji Satsu and Tomiko on the other hand, found themselves already entertaining their very first guest of the year. In this case, it was none other than the Emerald Champion, and Scorpion Clan duelist, Shosuro Jimen.
Neither Satsu nor Tomiko had any illusions as to the nature of this visit. One one level, it was a courtesy call, and on the other it was Jimen making certain that they knew he was aware of them.
“I must say that I am greatly relieved to have this estate full staffed once more.” Jimen spoke, sipping his tea, “As always your tea is excellent, Tomiko-san.”
“You are too kind.” Tomiko responded, her training coming to the fore, “Your presence here assures us greatly. After all, my Uncle and my cousins depended on your magistrates greatly for their safety.”
And look where they are now!
Jimen didn’t take that bait, instead smiling at that, “I will aspire to perform according to expectations then. Ah, but I find that I must inform you of something that may be of interest to you, Satsu-san.”
The Emerald Champion gave Satsu a letter, “A report from one of my magistrates regarding a young Asahina Shugenja.”
Satsu took it and read it, seeing a detailed account of his student’s adventures in the red light district.
“I felt that I should bring the matter to you for now. No crime has been committed, but it might be a concern for your reputation to have Tezuka-san gallivanting around in such an un-priestly manner.”
Satsu folded the letter, inwardly cursing himself, Jimen’s message was clear: The Scorpion were watching him and his staff closely. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Jimen-sama. I will see to it that Tezuka-san will be reprimanded accordingly.”
“Would you like to have some more tea?” Tomiko interjected, “Though I understand that a man of your position will have many more duties to concern himself with.”
Or, as we put it: the Rokugani way of saying “Get the hell out of my house!”
Tezuka returned that night to find himself confronted by Satsu.
“And how was your time in the Red Light district?” the older Shugenja asked, making Tezuka flinch.
“How did you know?”
“I can read minds, Tezuka.” Satsu lied, using Jimen’s information to his advantage. Tezuka needed to fear him, or at least think that Satsu was an unassailable form of authority if he was going to rein the impulsive youngster in.
While Tezuka was sent to his room, the Courtiers gathered to discuss what was the best course of action for the young Shugenja.
“We can’t allow this to continue.” Tomiko began, “He needs to learn about honest work.”
“Well, there is a nearby temple in our jurisdiction.” Haruko advised, “It’s currently tended to by monks, but there’s no resident Shugenja. Even then it’s fairly busy as it is a popular place for the, um… poor.” her voice trailed off at that.
Tomiko made a mental note to lend Haruko a few Kimonos.
“Do it.” Naito snapped, “It’ll at least get him off our backs.”
Satsu agreed, writing the necessary paperwork to assign Tezuka as the resident Shugenja for the temple.
Tomiko proceeded to meet with Doji Ai later on that day. “It’s clear that we’ll be required to present ourselves to the Imperial Court.” she explained, “And I would like that my brother and I make a very good impression. To do so in the best possible light, we’ll be needing kimonos.”
Ai nodded in understanding.
“Hai, but in exchange I must ask for something.”
“What is it?”
“A story.” Ai explained, “I find that I work best when I am inspired. Tell me a story, and what you wish to say and I will do what I can.”
“Then you will have to speak to me and my brother both.” Tomiko advised, “For he will need a kimono as well… and a third one for the Emperor as a gift.”
Ai smiled at that, just the first day and already she was being made to come up with craft for the Emperor?
“Very well. Tell your story, Tomiko-san.”
While Ai was hard at work on the three kimono due in the week, Haruko and Ragan were walking in the streets, looking around to see if they could find something. Haruko held a sheet of paper in her hands, a letter from her father.
“It should be here somewhere.” she spoke more to herself than her companion, “Ah!” she pointed in the direction of a warehouse.
“Is that it?” Ragan raised his eyebrow, looking at a merchant house with a mon of three leaves inside a circle. “Three Leaves Merchant House…”
Accompanied by the sound of many, many facepalms around the table. Needless to say the players remember this particular merchant house quite well and they aren’t happy to see it again.
“Hai” Haruko smiled, “My father said that Shigure, the owner did him a favor before and it would be a good idea to meet her and introduce myself.”
Ragan didn’t really mind either way, and spent the day watching over Haruko as she exchanged pleasantries and introductions with Shigure.
They were on their way back when Ragan spotted another ronin in one of the side streets ducking into a restaurant. Ragan recognized the man as Keizo, an old comrade during the Phoenix Civil war. They both served the same lord, and it seems that they both shared the same fate as Ronin as well.
“Wait here, Haruko.”
“I think I saw someone I knew.” Ragan said, “Stay here and wait for me, alright?”
“Alright… but don’t take too long!”
Ragan ducked into the busy restaurant, noting that it was full of the working class. Invisibles like him, they were beneath the notice of most Samurai, but as fate would have it, he and Keizo were now among them.
“And what do you call yourself now?” Keizo asked, looking up from his meal.
“Well, Ragan, have a seat.” Keizo said, “You look well, all things considered.”
“As do you.” Ragan said, “What brings you to Toshi Ranbo, Keizo?”
“My work.” Keizo gestured to his swords, “We do what we must in order to eat.”
“And what is your job now?”
Keizo chuckled, taking out a sheet of paper. “Some Yasuki extortionist lives in this district.” he handed the paper to Ragan, “Some of his victims decided that combining their payments to finance a killer is better than having to live with him hounding them.”
“You’re an assassin, now?” Ragan frowned.
“Not all of us have options.” Keizo explained, “I’d like to think of it as doing the world a favor. He’s an extortionist, Ragan. The world could do with one less.”
“Perhaps.” Ragan stood, “It’s been good seeing you.”
“Don’t get in my way.”
Haruko saw Ragan step outside the restaurant and gave him a wave. She was already nibbling on some dango sweets. “You took your time.”
“Old friend.” Ragan said, darkly, “Shall we?”
Doji Ai’s had always been blessed.
Born in the same island where the First Hantei’s bride was reputed to have lived, Doji Ai, and her brother Makoto had always exhibited a strange, fairytale quality to them.
In Ai’s case, her strange touch manifested in her chosen art. When she wove cloth for kimono, little details would shift and change almost imperceptively. Perhaps leaves would fall from trees woven into cloth, or faint ripples play across the surface of a lake. Perhaps it was magic, but for Ai, it was always the case.
But such miracles of her art could only happen if she was truly inspired. When in the throes of great emotion, her ability manifested in full.
Perhaps this was the reason why she would ask for stories. The lives and travails of those she wove for would spark the emotions that she so desperately wished to feel again.
She worked feverishly throughout the week, the kimonos were the first impression that Tomiko and Satsu would make in court, and they needed to be perfect for their purpose. She knew what they wanted to say, and it was up to her to make them say it without a single word.
That was the Artisan’s Way.
“Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse.” Tezuka surveyed the rather plain looking temple that he was assigned to. “I’m surrounded by monks, have to live like a beggar and need to clean this place myself? Also, not a single shred of meat at mealtimes.”
He had taken to talking to himself over the past few days. Having been assigned to the temple, surrounded by monks with vows of poverty or silence, or celibacy, he was feeling rather put out. Still he found that everything here was as his father would have done it. The Asahina were a very traditional family, and as such their mannerisms and procedures were the same no matter where they were.
While his first few days were torture by boredom, he soon found himself busy helping peasants, blessing them for the new year, and generally attending to the duties of a Shugenja. He never thought that he’d have to stoop this low, but seeing hope in their eyes, and their genuine faith that he was a priest there for them was starting to stir something in Tezuka’s sheltered soul.
He was about to close up the Temple for the night when he saw a figure running up the steps.
“Asahina-sama!” a woman’s voice, and as she came closer, he recognized her from the pleasure quarters… one of the prostitutes.
“Asahina-sama, I beg of you! Please let me hide in the temple.” the girl collapsed in front of him.
Tezuka didn’t hesitate, “Get yourself inside, girl.” he spoke, before he closed the gates shut. His heart was pounding. She was in trouble, but from what?
It was then that he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end… someone was casting magic.
Tezuka recognized the spell as one to allow an observer to eavesdrop on them. He countered it with his own casting, making harsh cutting motions as he castigated the Air Kami involved in the spell, casting them out of *his* temple.
He relaxed after he felt the spell dissapate, before feeling just a little more nervous once more. A shugenja felt it was important to eavesdrop on a prostitute. Just what was going on?
What’s worse, the eavesdropper now knows that the prostitute went to him for help.
Satsu and Tomiko entered the Imperial Court on cue. Bayushi Kaukatsu, the Imperial Chancellor announced their arrival, and the siblings made their entrance with the simple grace that the Crane are well known for.
Each of them wore a kimono carefully crafted by Doji Ai:
Tomiko wore a kimono crafted in the fashions of the age of the Kami. While dated in form, the designs of a Crane in mid-flight, paired with such excellent craftsmanship, brought the name of Lady Doji to the lips of the courtiers present.
Satsu on the other hand, wore a kimono the spoke of the Crane’s grandeur and stability. With his newly-dyed white hair, there was little question as to where his loyalty was, despite being raised as an Ishiken.
Together it was a powerful statement, a guarantee of the Crane’s legitimacy and importance in Toshi Ranbo, that they were there since the Dawn of the Empire.
Already the other courtiers were sending servants to make reservation with Kimono makers to secure fashions of a similar style in case the Crane sparked a resurgence in classical cuts so different from the midriff-baring kimonos of the Mantis and the seductive fashions of the Scorpion that were currently in style.
As if to further stress the point, the two presented the Emperor with a kimono of his own, a radiant golden kimono with patterns that spoke of the Dawn of the Empire and the blessing of Lady Amaterasu.
Doji Tanitsu, the Imperial Advisor smiled before opening with a formal welcome and introduction to the two, using his own eloquence to further drive home that the two were not here as a replacement, but as a show of the Crane Clan’s committment to Toshi Ranbo and the Empire.
Toturi Naseru acknowledged their claim and their dominion over the Merchant Quarter, a mere formality, but in court, such gestures were very important. After the Emperor retired from the court, the two siblings went on to confront other courtiers.
Satsu found himself speaking with Asako Karin, the diplomat from the Phoenix.
“We welcome you to the Imperial Courts, Satsu-san and congratulate you for your new assignment. We hope then that you do not forget the lessons of the past.”
“The lessons of the past are valuable,” he replied, “but only a fool does not look towards the future.”
“Well said.” Karin smiled, “Then I look forward to future cooperation with the Crane.”
Satsu had no illusions as to what Karin meant. His studies as an Ishiken would be hamstrung if the Phoenix were to withhold Void spells from him in the future. He needed to keep them as allies, but he would not be beholden to them… perhaps another gift would be in order.
Tomiko on the other hand found herself approached by none other than Yoritomo Yoyonagi, the Mantis Clan diplomat.
“Tomiko-san! How good to see you again, we’ve missed you in the Imperial Court all winter.”
“It is always a pleasure to be graced by your presence, Yoynagi-san.”
“I see you’ve managed to bring your brother back to the fold. I must say he’s quite easy on the eyes. And look at you! Your kimono is splendid.”
“Why, thank you. Our resident Artisan made it.” Tomiko blushed on command, “She’s quite skilled.”
“I’m certain she is… is that Mantis silk?”
“You noticed? It’s amazing what Ai can do with material at hand, isn’t it?”
Yoyonagi was well aware of the slight jab in that statement. “That said, I’ve some word about another member of your staff. Tezuka, was it?”
“It seems that during the revelry of the New Year’s celebration, one of the establishments he’d visited has had some money stolen.”
“Indeed, I was hoping to know if you could check up on him, given that he was there, perhaps he could seen something.”
“Absolutely, was it one of your establishments?”
“No, but it does belong to one of my Kasuga acquaintances. It would so set his mind at ease if Tezuka would be there to lend his testimony.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do.” Tomiko smiled before Yoyonagi extracted herself from the conversation.
That evening Satsu found himself visited by Ragan. Satsu was with Doji Naito seeing to the paperwork, taking over the estate wasn’t an easy task and Naito had been up to his eyebrows in bureaucratic process to make sure that all the books were in order.
“What brings you here, Ragan-san?”
“A murder.” Ragan replied, “Or more precisely, a possible assassination of one of the merchants in this quarter.”
“Tell me more.” Satsu set his brush down.
“The target is a Yasuki, an extortionist.” Ragan spoke, “I know the man hired to kill him. I wanted to let you know since this is your jurisdiction now.”
“I see.” Satsu considered the situation, “Can you stop him?”
“I can.” Ragan said, “Will it be to our favor if the Yasuki lives though? He is an extortionist after all.”
“I’m afraid it will have to be. If he dies so soon after we’ve made a big show in the Imperial Court, it could erode much of the goodwill and show of strength we’ve worked this hard to make.”
“What’s he worth to you?” Ragan asked. Straight to the point as usual.
“Do this, and make sure that we’re not involved… and it will be worth quite a lot.” Satsu said, handing some money over to Ragan.
Ragan checked the pouch, “I’ll make sure the Yasuki lives.”
Naito watched the exchange before excusing himself. The courtier visited his wife, Daidoji Akeha, requesting that she tail the ronin, and make sure that nothing untoward happens.
Later that evening, Keizo walked towards the Yasuki’s holding, only to find Ragan in the way.
“I was hoping this wouldn’t happen.” Keizo said, one hand resting on the handle of his swords, “I told you not to get in my way.”
“Think this over.” Ragan said, “What’s he worth to you?”
Keizo narrowed his eyes, “I need to eat. He’s an extortionist. We’ve been through this before. I do what I have to. I don’t have a choice.”
Ragan shook his head, “What’s he worth to you?” he repeated as he took out the pouch of money from Satsu. “This is more than what they’re paying you to kill him. Take it, and get out of here. Start over. Do something with yourself.”
He tossed the pouch over to Keizo, who caught the pouch with one hand. Keizo’s eyes grew wide at the amount inside.
“You’d give it away?” He asked.
Ragan shrugged, “Think of it as a second chance.”
Keizo closed his eyes and slipped the pouch into his kimono, before bowing deeply to Ragan. “Thank you, Ragan.” he spoke before turning away and walking back into the shadows.
And THAT concludes Episode 1 of Hearts and Souls. This was an extremely long session involving six players, and I have to admit that I was actually dreading having to write this up.
I’ll go on and apologize to the Silver Countess and Mappy, who played Doji Ai and Doji Naito as they didn’t quite get the screen time that they hoped to get this session.
That said it was an interesting game with a lot of laughs, and interesting moments for those participating. I was afraid that a political game like this would bore the heck out of the other players but it was certainly encouraging to see them watching when it was another player’s turn, listening intently to see the stories unfold.
I can be quite jaded at times, as players tend to tune out when it’s not their turn, but in this case the other players quickly took the role of the audience, which helped things along. I was also very happy that my players were well versed with the Rokugani polite double-speak in the setting and that left for a lot of amusing moments of Roleplay.
Next episode, we’ll find out what happens to Tezuka, and get some interesting visitors for Doji Ai. Likewise, the other players get more involved with the struggle to reinforce their holding and fend off antagonists from all angles.