Welcome, fellow Samurai!
Here, I'm sharing the story of four brave souls who inherited a terrible burden: a secret that would decide the Crane-Lion conflict over Toshi Ranbo, and not for the liking of either of those two! The scrolls describing these secret were divided into three parts: one for the Lion Clan to be guarded by the Ikoma, one for the Crane Clan to be guarded by the Daidoji, and one to be sequestered away in the Brotherhood of Shinsei. The Ikoma later relocated their scrolls to a safer location in the Matsu Lands, while the scrolls entrusted to the Brotherhood disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Some seventy years after the disappearance of the third batch, the Daidoji was informed that these scrolls were sighted in the remote Three Mountains Town, a settlement that once belonged to the Badger Clan. The Daidoji scrambled two samurai from the Crane Clan to re-acquire the scrolls while also alerting the guardians in the Matsu to do the same. Thus the four met at the borders of the former Badger Lands, prepared to face anything... apparently except what actually awaited them!
This was a fairly small game by local standards (7.5 hours), played by two veteran L5R players (the guy who played Isawa Macha in our beta game, and me), a GM new to the game, his wife (/my sister) and another player who both had some limited experience with the RPG. Everyone knew the setting very thoroughly (my sister and brother-in-law are big fans of the fics) and the GM was one of the best (mostly running World of Darkness and FFG's 40k line), so the game was, like, super-fluid. We had a blast, with the final duel being especially good and memorable. Our only problem was that the characters weren't min-maxed properly with one exception, so we had some unexpected uphill battles during the otherwise quite laidback and straightforward story.
The party was (all characters had 40xp to spend at the start):
Matsu Kiriko, a scion of the branch who were tasked to protect the Ikoma's scrolls, a member of the famed Lioness Legion. A young and idealistic bushi, Kiriko is very much into this "lioness" theme but despite being a little embarrassing her fury is indeed that of a lioness'. Mechanically, she was the min-maxed build with an extreme focus on causing critical strikes with Fire 4, Heartpiercing Strike, and the Mother of all Void Economies. We also houseruled the Matsu Berserker school so that she could enter Enraged willingly any time once per scene rather than only after suffering a critical strike or unmasking.
Tashu, a Shinseist Monk who accompanied Kiriko to make up for the Brotherhood losing the scrolls. A man of big stature and an even bigger mouth, Tashu is one of those "worldly" monks who is not necessarily against an inappropriate amount of sake and a company of beautiful women because "enlightenment should feel something like that" as he often says. Despite his frolic habits, he did have a name for a deep spiritual connection to the world around him and his sudden changes between revelry and spiritual wisdom are bewildering, to say at least.
Asahina Futake, a shugenja specialized for augury. He is probably the smuggest know-it-all in Rokugan and greatly enjoys it. This whole adventure was strictly business for him and he never forgot to remind the rest of the party of this at the start of every scene. He had some crazy invocations but then nothing else and the player was fairly unlucky with Spiritual Backlash.
Daidoji Inochi, a scion of the branch guarding the Crane scrolls, now tasked to retrieve the lost batch. Doji Satsume would be proud of this walking avatar of stern non-nonsense who always looks like he is sucking on grapefruit. He talks in a low, harsh voice, nobody has ever seen him smile, and generally, he is considered an extremely unpleasant company but a loyal and dutiful samurai. By the way, this was the last time I played a polearm-toting character - never again!
Prelude: Three Batches of Scrolls
Before the game started for realsies, the four players were allowed to talk about what they knew about the scrolls and the secret within. The GM distributed info leaflets about what we should know or suspect, and guess what? The information of course contradicted each other!
As far as Kiriko knew, the scrolls were made by an Imperial Cartographer who, while surveying the Toshi Ranbo domain, discovered that it actually fell far outside of the boundaries the Crane and the Lion established, and the city was actually a Dragon or Phoenix holding by Imperial Law. The scrolls guarded by the Matsu are the maps the cartographer made to prove this. The scrolls guarded by the Daidoji are the Imperial sanctioning for the re-drawing of boundaries. The lost scrolls are actually decoys and contain no useful information.
As far as Tashu knew, the scrolls are parts of an Imperial Edict that would deny both the Crane and Lion Clans of the city, and establish a Minor Clan to govern the domain. The Daidoji guards the scrolls required to establish the Minor Clan. The lost scrolls are about stripping the Crane and Lion claims. The Matsu guards a kind of counter-edict the Ikoma forged to disqualify the original edict, but it can only dispel one part.
As far as Inochi and Futake knew, the scrolls were made by an Imperial Cartographer who was called in by the Crane to resolve the Toshi Ranbo situation. Unfortunately, the cartographer was assassinated before he could finish his task. The Daidoji keeps the cartographer's unfinished but usable work. The Matsu guards a bunch of official letters from Crane and Lion officials who were setting up a shared Crane/Lion governorship over the city. The lost scrolls are evidence about the cartographer's murderers.
The four of us talked about these lengthily, figuring that the cartographer bit might be true, so should be the part where there was some kind of agreement concerning the future of the city. We also agreed that one batch of the scrolls is a decoy, but probably not the one we are searching. The GM then told us that our theories are all rumors our characters heard about, so, for example, Tashu heard about an Imperial Cartographer being involved while Inochi and Futake are aware of the decoy possibility.
Act 1: Three Mountains Gorge
The game began with the scene of the four meeting at the gorge that leads to the former Badger lands and ultimately Three Mountains Town. The introduction went a bit awry as Tashu was sobering up from a wild night, Kiriko tried to make a "lioness impression" and failed spectacularly, and Futake brazenly commented both instances despite Inochi's clear protests. Fortunately, before Kiriko could take any ill-advised actions, Tashu became a wise monk and defused the situation with Inochi's assistance. The argument about the Lion compartment being... uh... mission non-comforting continued for some time, mostly between Futake and Inochi, but then an old peasant couple appearing on the road delivered us from the drama. Tashu questioned the peasants and found out that the lands are ruled by a certain Lord Komone, a mostly-honorable ronin and his merry band of outcasts. Komone is a decent governor and treats his people well, but he has tendencies for decadence and ignorance, and his advisor is a crazy monk who calls himself Truthbringer.
We were, like, "Truthbringer? That sounds bad@ss!" and the couple told us that he is totally crazy and has a cadre of similarly unhinged warrior monks under his command. We were, like, "Warrior monks? How do they look like?" and the couple pointed forward and told us that they look exactly like the three sohei heading our way. Here we had a small... uhm... disagreement, because the sohei wanted us to turn around, leave, and never come back, while we obviously did not want to do any of these. They insisted, they drew their weapons on us, we drew our weapons on them, then the peasant guy cheekily shouted in that for his part, whoever wins the fight is right, and that gave us the sign to beat up the monks. Kiriko rolled a 10-something Initiative, HPS'd a sohei like it was nothing, then had to unmask at the end of her very first turn. The other two sohei fell on Inochi and put him into Incapacitated before he could do anything. Futake Path to Inner Peace'd Inochi back to action and Tashu Guarded Futake. The next round Kiriko killed another sohei with HPS then GG'd out because she became Compromised yet again. The last surviving sohei put Inochi back to Incapacitated then got blown away by Futake and a Grasp of the Air Dragon, eventually fleeing the fight altogether. Victory!
Futake tried to spin the incident like Inochi owned him one now, but the grim Iron Warrior was not so easily persuaded and he told Futake to shut up. The peasant couple turned into mist, and Tashu took the whole violent-monks-encounter to his heart, especially the part where Kiriko sliced up two like it was nothing. But alas, we continued our way to Three Mountains Town.
Act 2: Dragon's Tail Inn
Once finally in the town, we visited the Dragon's Tail Inn where our contact was waiting for us. Expectedly, at least, because the guy didn't show up. We asked around a little bit and ran into the old peasant couple from the gorge. The man quipped at us again and it started to become really suspicious, so we made Futake follow them closely while the rest of the party shadows the couple from a safe distance. Our suspicions were proven right as the couple just kinda fumbled around despite looking like locals until they found an abandoned shack not far away from the town that they unceremoniously took over. After measuring up our options, we decided to ambush them and it went off perfectly despite the woman peppering Inochi with some shuriken. We tortured them a little bit, especially the woman because the man looked a few fries short of a happy meal, and it turned out that the two were Scorpion shinobi tasked to retrieve the lost scrolls for the Scorpion Clan. This was also a kind of suicidal punishment mission for them because they messed up the last one thanks to the man growing too old and senile for the job. You know guys, the GM really put some effort into the woman's sad tale of how they are old and expandable and treated like crap in the Scorpion Clan, and we kinda decided to help them out by offering them a place in the team. This was obviously a mistake, but hey, we started to really-really pity them and feel really-really bad after the whole ambush and torture deal.
Now reinforced with two aging shinobi of questionable value, we went back to the inn to wait for our contact. He did not show up so we withdrew to our room for some shugenja scrying magics. By the way, Tashu tried to cheer up the shinobi couple, but with little success. Turned out our contact was dead and he was killed in Shiro Ichiro, the ruined castle from where Lord Komone rules the land. We were, like, "Ok, Shiro Ichiro it is, then!" but as we were about to leave the inn six sohei showed up to kill us for the gorge incident. Tashu made a futile attempt to calm down everyone and got promptly Water Fist'd by one of the sohei in return. This was maybe the toughest fight of the game and almost resulted in a TPK. We could kill three sohei before the party ran out of pretty much everything thankfully to Strife and Spiritual Backlash. Fortunately, Inochi endured a little longer and the leader of the sohei impaled himself on his Iron Forest Style - the remaining two warrior-monks then fled. Since Kiriko fell unconscious and did not have a Void Point to wake up, we decided to rest and visit the castle the next day. During the night Tashu successfully broke through with the shinobi couple and they told him they knew that Lord Komone has the scrolls.
Act 3: Shiro Ichiro
During the morning Tashu shared his new discovery about Lord Komone having the scrolls, and the party forged a masterful plan: exploiting Komone's decadent tendencies, we will have Kiriko put up a disguise of a geisha and then offer her for a night in return of the scrolls. Well... uh... Kiriko was fairly unimpressed, so to speak, but then Inochi gave her a speech about how absolute duty requires absolute sacrifices, and we told her that we would try to ask nicely first, so she kinda went with the plan. Luckily for us, our clash with the sohei did not register with the local authorities yet, so we had an uneventful journey to the castle.
Once in the castle, we prepared ourselves for a tough welcome, but Komone and his gang turned out to be decent people for real. We had an Intrigue scene to ask for the scrolls nicely, but our rolls were not stellar and Lord Komone insisted for some kind of compensation. So we pimped Kiriko and she had a spare point on Performance so Komone did not stand a chance and was instantly infatuated with the beautiful geisha. We got our scrolls and Kiriko was granted an invitation for the night in Komone's personal chamber. She obviously did not intend to show up and urged us to leave ASAP. The rest of the party, on the other hand, wanted to fidget around a little, mostly take a look at this Truthbringer guy and figure out what happened with our contact since it became obvious that it wasn't Komone who killed him.
We couldn't find Truthbinger despite looking really hard, much to Tashu's dismay. The old man shinobi almost got us killed when we ran into Komone again and he busted Kiriko's cover for him but we managed to handwave it away as a crazy man saying crazy things. The beautiful geisha being a ferocious Matsu maiden? Ridiculous! We also had an argument about whether Bushido supports our current actions or not, and we had this Samurai Drama(tm) scene where Inochi tried to pin down how honorable we are for doing all this for these very important scrolls but it all came out very awkwardly and of course Tashu had to spell out the truth (what we were doing was deeply dishonorable) and Kiriko broke down crying and Inochi had a momentary crisis of faith that almost made him hand back the scrolls to Komone. We left the castle without a fight but not without scars. We totally forgot the contact's case, by the way.
Act 4: Three Mountains Gorge, Again!
We returned to Three Mountains Town to get our gear, then left immediately. After what transpired in the castle our characters were too angsty to think about what would happen next. Like, we still had the two shinobi with us and Komone wouldn't like our leave either. The latter came first to bite us in the back as a dozen of Komone's men caught up with the party to get the geisha for their lord. We tried to trick them by telling that the geisha ran away, but this Intrigue scene did not go as planned: Kiriko ate six-gorillion Strife, unmasked, and told the men that she was the geisha but she wouldn't play her part in this and they either kill her for this or they could all go to ****. The men chose the first option and attacked us for dishonoring Lord Komone. This one was a hard fight because we were seriously outnumbered, but we had some magical dice rolls and pried out a fairly smooth victory from Fate's hand. This Matsu Critserker build is actually very-very good. The men actually fled after losing half their numbers.
Victorius, yet we kinda started to wonder about this whole ordeal. It did not help that our two shinobi obviously ran away with the scrolls while we were busy with Komone's men. Not like they could get far with Futake in our ranks, but it still made us wonder a lot. Since the cat was kinda out of the bag when we caught up with the "couple", the clock struck Truth-O-Hour: the shinobi man was Truthbringer, while the woman was Lady Komone. These two followed us around to ensure that the scrolls were real and employed some pretty heavy-duty misdirection to keep us on track. The irony of the situation did not elude us.
So Lady Komone still felt a bit hurt over this whole geisha thing and challenged Kiriko to a duel to death. This was fairly uncomfortable because Kiriko was resource-starved from the previous fight and she wasn't exactly a duelist build while Lady Komone seemed like a formidable opponent. The duel itself was tense. Kiriko was locked out from HPS because she had too much Strife to pull it off and she had to turtle in Air Stance and use Predict to fish for a lucky Finishing Blow. Lady Komone, on the other hand, went full Strike-spam and even hit Kiriko once, putting her just one point of Fatigue away from Incapacitated. Then the incredible happened, Lady Komone ran into a Predict and became Compromised, triggering Kiriko's Finishing Blow. Yeah, you would think that she cut her up with her katana, huh? Wrong! That's not very lioness-like! Kiriko actually went with a bite attack and after a pretty decent roll she successfully inflicted Agonizing Death on Lady Komone, brutally gnawing the woman's throat out like a true lioness!
Seeing her lady's death, Truthbringer unceremoniously fled so we still didn't learn anything about him. The plot twist allowed Inochi to retroactively justify his dishonorable plan with some mental gymnastics, and her brutal victory over Lady Komone calmed Kiriko's honor too, so the party parted in rather good terms, with Tashu taking back the scrolls to the Brotherhood and others returning home to report a job well done (certain details omitted of course).
The game was actually shorter than the GM intended. We skipped some of the plot hooks in the big angst and Samurai Drama(tm) but that ending was awesome. I don't like the Daidoji Iron Warrior, way too much flirting with Incapacitated for my weak heart. Multiple consequential Conflict Scenes of similar type (like Intrigue-Intrigue or Skirmish-Duel) are a bad idea, the resourcing system is not designed for it. The Asahina Artificer School is really-really good. The Enraged-at-will change is a really good fix for the Matsu Berserker School. Deadliness 3 for the bite attack is kinda hilarious, but it fits the whole hilarity-ensues aspect of a heroic samurai biting their opponent.
This game is definitely in my top 3 5R5 game experiences. It was a solid 8.5/10.