Welcome back! I’ve been running the Legend of the Five Rings “Tales of the Swift Sword” campaign pretty consistently as of late, with the addition of running more character-centric scenes for the various PCs on discord chat.
I received a request from a friend to show how this was done, so here’s a large snippet from the chat. For context, the Player Character, Kitsu Tetsumi, was successful in a sparring bout where she trounced Doji Kuwanan in a hand-to-hand match. In consolation, she invited Kuwanan and his companion Doji Shigeru to attend a sake tasting event that she’ll be hosting in their honor and in celebration of the O-bon festival, a festival dedicated to honoring the dead.
The chat transcript starts below, with my text in white, and Tetsumi’s player in yellow.
Kuwanan winced as he slipped on the left sleeve of his kimono. What had felt like a bad slam started materializing itself as an ugly blue-green bruise that played along his ribs on the left side. If anything it was a reminder that the Lion were not to be trifled with.
“You should be grateful that she’s a lady.” Shigeru frowned, “And that she stopped as soon as I gave a cue. There was nothing to be gained in that match, Kuwanan-sama.”
“Maybe, but at least we’ve learned something.”
“I could have told you that she was capable of breaking a man in half. There was no need to go out and prove it to yourself.” Shigeru sniffed.
“Regardless, we’ve been invited to a sake tasting event.” The courtier frowned, adjusting the obi for his lord, “So we might as well be gracious about defeat.
Tetsumi seldom had the chance to entertain as a host, or show off her passion outside of her duty. She nodded, listening to a servant give a list of what has been done, suggesting a different dish to be served.
She wished she had the aesthetics to make it prettier however it was the substance that was more important. The Lion were not expected to make things sublime, but it didn’t mean they did not appreciate quality.
She went through every detail over in her head and on her list. Sake and food were accounted for, she had lighting ready and the room she choose to entertain them with had a lovely view of both the gardens and beyond that the river where the lanterns for the obon floated in a steady stream to the horizon. Did she need music? Maybe a musician somewhere to play behind a screen?
Would that be trying hard? She glanced around the room, maybe if she asked an ancestor…
Nobody was around, maybe a quick question? Surely someone related to the guests wouldn’t mind lending their advice.
It would not hurt and it would help smooth down relations down the road. Tetsumi sat down quietly, taking a moment to clear her head and call on ancestor to Kuwanan.
A sound of a biwa, haunting, and remote heralded the arrival of the ancestor. She opened her eyes and saw the translucent indigo image of an older crane woman with white hair done up in a fashion of a generation ago, the one with pins and combs arranged along the right side as to accentuating the slightest motions of a lady’s face, lending drama to the merest glance.
A quick accounting of her lineage brought her name to Tetsumi’s mind. Doji Teinko. Kuwanan and Hotaru’s mother
Tetsumi bowed. “Greetings and welcome, Lady Teinko.” she greets the ancestor politely. She would have to remember to bring proper offerings later on as thanks.
A tinkling of bells, “Thank you for your welcome, Kitsu-san.” Teinko smiled, “Your summons in this time of family is a balm to my soul. How may I be of service to you?”
“I’m serving a sake tasting for your son and his friend,” Tetsumi began. “A way to smooth things over for an earlier incident. Your son is still a guest here despite being a hostage, and I would simply want to make him feel comfortable.”
“I see.” She smiled, “This is…” she looked outside the window, catching her bearings, “the Castle of the Swift Sword. How curious that Kuwanan would be here in Lion Lands.”
She turned to you, “I would be happy to assist you in this regard, do you have any particular concerns about my son?”
Tetsumi showed her the placement, and the room. “I had wished to entertain your son and his friend for a sake tasting, and I wanted some suggestions to make things more comfortable for my guests.
The room was comfortable and the view was lovely with the lanterns floating in the stream. It was no where near posh but it was not shabby either.
“Can you suggest any additional refreshments, or food that your son would enjoy?” she asked politely, her serene voice held a warmth that these days were often reserved to the ancestors and to close family.
“Hmm… for festivals, Kuwanan always did have a taste for lighter sake such as daiginjō paired with a lightly grilled sweetfish and some pickles and a light clam white miso soup on the side.” she chuckled, “He would steal some from Hotaru’s plate whenever she wasn’t looking.”
A smile touched her lips then, she knew the sake to choose, though that one was going to be a little pricey. “I think I may have a drink like that, well several…would you remember if this is the one that uses the added distilled alcohol?” she asked.
“I travel a lot with my lord, and I had often made certain to visit villages with rich sake history. I might have dropped by a few in Crane lands, and given the age Kuwanan-san was when he had it…” A vintage just before his mother had passed away or something from his youth.
It didn’t take long for her to scour her collection to find the right pairing. The sake tasting was a method to respect and learn the qualities of each brew, and so the pairings for food were in small portions.
Servants were instructed to bring each tray to the participants in turn, lacquered, lidded trays opened to showcase the delicate craft of plating each central food item, a grilled fish accompanied with the fallen leaves of autumn that mirror the lovely glaze… or perhaps an artful calligraphy to serve as a place-mat for the dish of heavier nature such as a morsel of simmered pork that glistened in fat.
Each was presented alongside the vintage, whereupon Tetsumi would give a little bit of a background to the brew and where it came from and how it pairs with the food item in turn.
Six brews, six food items, six stories to share.
She decided it was perfect. It was a reflection of her passions, and her care for her guests. Tetsumi gave a prayer of thanks to the ancestors, particularly Lady Teinko.
Tetsumi would dress something more than just her priest robes for once, it was a quiet time to enjoy sake and for once be a host.
How strange that the first time she’d ever do this outside of family had to be a Crane.GM:
Doji Kuwanan arrived with his companion, Doji Shigeru, both men dressed in a rather formal sky-blue and white kimono. Kuwanan left his hair unbound, while Shigeru had his tied away from his face.
“It is an honor to be invited to such an event.” Kuwanan greeted, “I hope that it was not too forward for us to bring a gift of our own to this occasion?”
Shigeru gestured to the servants, who offered a large box to the Crane Courtier, who in turn, revealed it’s contents. “A collection of sake bottles and cups made of frosted glass crafted by the Asahina.”
It was easy to see the sincere and gentle joy in Tetsumi’s eyes as she beheld the gift. She was a woman of few words given how people perceive her (or unless you’re an Ancestor).
“This is such a fine gift,” she remembered her manners, as she beheld the box. “Is it truly alright for me to have them?”
“I insist.” Kuwanan spoke, “You’ve helped me save face in the middle of what is essentially a prank meant to discredit me or shame me for overstepping my boundaries as a guest in your Castle, after all.”
“Then I accept the gift wholeheartedly,” She smiled bowing lightly and taking the gift, setting it aside as to not clutter the table.
“I hope you enjoy tonight’s fare.”
“I’m certain we will.” Kuwanan replied, taking a seat. “This is a remarkable setup you’ve come up with. I must admit that most sake tastings I have been to have been rather rudimentary affairs, but this treats the subject matter with reverence.”
“Such an artful soul.” Shigeru agreed.
Tetsumi bade the servants to enter the serve the first tasting set out of six, reserving his childhood favorite second to the last.
The first sake tasting was a junmai-shu paired with grilled slender asparagus wrapped in thin layer of pork belly as a starter.
It was obvious how much care in it’s presentation and the knowledge in the pairing done.
Shigeru marveled at how well this was going… had it been anyone else, anywhere else he was ready to call for the artisan. But there was something sincere about this approach.
“This is remarkable, you’ve got quite the sublime palate to form these pairings.” Kuwanan noted, having finished the first of the courses.
“Arigatou.” Tetsumi bowed her head slightly in acceptance of the compliment. “Sake is a passion of mine.” As if that is NOT very obvious by now, even as the servant announced the arrival of the second set.
A slightly heavier sake ginjo-shu with another excellent pairing, allowing the servants to plate the second course before speaking again.
“Sake is often used in offerings to the ancestors, and in discovering their likes I have come to learn more about sake, it’s history, the pride of craftmanship by the people who grow the rice to it’s brewing.”
“Sake is rice in distilled form. It is a reflection of the hands that made it to the land the rice it was grown from. The Soul of Rice.”
The two Cranes shared a quiet look. Eloquent too.
“Intriguing…” Shigeru offered, “What was the planning behind this particular tasting menu? Did you draw upon any particular inspiration for it?”
It’s not quite a sake ceremony, but the art of formulating and presenting the tasting menu itself that deserves mention.
“After,” Tetsumi let a small mysterious smile touch her lips.
“There is no point in revealing the story if you are in the first few pages of a book.” She makes a motion to the second course, inviting them to partake.
Each of the courses was sublime. The pairings were masterful, with the sake complementing the highlights of the food, while the food options did the same to feature the best elements of the sake.
It was clear to the two Cranes that despite being a capable combatant, this was a woman who had a true flair for being a gourmand
The fifth course came, the servants setting down what would be a very familiar set for Kuwanan.
A daiginjo-shu, one specifically Tetsumi had to look up to be a vintage taken by a time Lady Teinko would be alive, paired with lightly grilled sweetfish and pickles. White miso with clam soup to refresh the palate.
Tetsumi took special care to this particular set, even taking a hand in cooking the food. Considering this was a meal for his son, Tetsumi took the time to prepare this also in the behalf of Kuwanan’s mother.
She took Lady Tienko’s words, her guidance and crafted this particular sake set with extra care.
Kuwanan’s eyes widened at the sight of the course, looking at Tetsumi and back again. She watched him as he picked up his bowl and tried the food, having it with the sake paired with it.
It was a taste of home. A taste that he’d long lost after his mother had passed away.
Shigeru on the other hand seemed rather perplexed… certainly the pairing was excellent, but compared to the others this particular set seemed almost pedestrian.
“Just like mother’s.” Kuwanan spoke, and understanding dawned on Shigeru. Tetsumi was a spirit-medium. Could she truly have done something like this?
Tetsumi did not answer, instead a soft smile touched the Sodan Senzo’s lips and simply allowed Kuwanan to enjoy the meal.
This was the story of the sake course. She had chosen different sake that conveyed a journey from Lion to Crane lands, each sake was a place that led him home.
“You are far from Crane lands. And though perhaps the circumstances of your stay are not ideal, I can at least give you the comforts of home even for but a moment. Know that you are never alone and family will always be with you where ever you may be.”
“A fitting tribute to the O-bon.” Shigeru noted, turning to look at Kuwanan, who savored this course, perhaps lost to the world and reminded of a time when he sat on a table to eat such a meal with his entire family.
“And I hope you’re enjoying the courses?” Tetsumi focused to speak to Shigeru, if only to allow Kuwanan the time alone to enjoy this meal without the two of them gawking at him.
“Ah, hai… very much so.” Shigeru smiled, “I will confess to being caught off guard by the quality of this entire experience. Are you certain that your heart isn’t that of an artisan as opposed to a martial artist?”
One whispered word and I could make this sort of thing into a trend…
“Can it not be both?” Tetsumi gave a soft laugh of amusement even as she refilled his cup. “My duty requires travel and my being a medium and a priest of Emma-O meant my life is dedicated to the dead.”
“My passions for sake and in experiencing the arts is what grounds me to the Living. That my work is not only for the benefit of the ancestors, but for those they left behind.”
Shigeru nodded, receiving the cup of sake gratefully.
She spoke truth. A spirit-medium, chosen of Emma-O. It’s not a surprise that her duties set her apart from what most ladies of her age would be involved in.
Arts, fashion, music… courtly romance.
The wheels began to turn.
“Tetsumi-san.” Kuwanan set his cup of sake down, “Thank you for this. You’ve managed to bring back something I thought was forever lost to me. Thank you for your most excellent of welcomes. I have a newfound appreciation for you and your Clan.”
Tetsumi gave a bow of her head. “And thank you for allowing me this opportunity to be a host.” A warm smile.
“We still have one last course, something to cap this evening.” The servants will enter to set down the last course. A dessert sake and paired sweets.
Kuwanan partook of the last course, and the conversation drifted to other things, some mundane, others poetic, but all born of the warm feelings of home shared around a sake tasting on a cool autumn night at the O-bon festival.
A small number of mechanical events happened here. One was that Tetsumi was able to reduce her Strife by 3 thanks to engaging in her passion for Sake.
The second was that she was able to gain a favorable response from the NPCs and get them to consider doing her a favor in turn for such an event, all without having to resort to manipulation.
– I found this on a google image search but the site it led to seemed down. If anyone knows who to credit for the image I’ll add it here.