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  1. Session 15: Kolat Rising Experience Earned: 3Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan Arrival in Kyuden BayushiWith the fall of Shiro Shiba and the return of the stolen Phoenix lands, the hunger for warfare among the Clans had been sated - at least for now. The Scorpion Clan, as the only neutral clan, offered to hold peace talks, inviting representatives to their capital at Kyuden Bayushi. Meiko, as the commander when Shiro Shiba fell and adviser to Kakita Jomei was, of course, invited. Jin, now a prisoner of the Crane, was brought since, if a treaty was, indeed, signed, a prisoner exchange would be taking place. Kuni Daizu learned of a famed scholar within the walls of Kyuden Bayushi who might help him with the fortune given to him by Tsugumu, and the peace talks provided him a window to move about the Scorpion lands that would otherwise be closed. Ayame was only peripherally aware of the burgeoning peace. Her return to Kyuden Bayushi was instead to inform Kiyoshi-sama of the army of peasants even now marching towards the Empire's capital.Reports, Proposals, and PropheciesAyame reported in to Kiyoshi, informing her of the peasant uprising. Kiyoshi responded with excitement. The Scorpion were aware of the Kolat threat brewing beneath the surface, but suspected the secretive Kolat would be impossible to find. The Scorpion encouraged chaos in the Empire to bring the Kolat out of hiding. Now was the time to stamp them out and remove their threat for another thousand years. Ayame was told to enjoy the city but to also be ready. The time to act would come soon and the forces of the Empire were certain to march to the Emperor's defense.Meanwhile, Togashi Jin received several missives. Among them were his formal release from the Dragon, his adoption into the Lion by Akodo Kusamoto, Daimyo of the City of the Peaceful Hills, and a marriage proposal from the Matsu engaging him to Matsu Osaku. All they needed were his signatures to become official. After some contemplation and deliberation, Togashi Jin of the Dragon became Akodo Jin of the Lion.Kuni Daizu, meanwhile, found the scholar Bayushi Nezu. He spoke to the man of both the prophecy (well, eventually) and the obsidian statues. Daizu learned that the statues were the end result of a dark ritual designed to steal a person's memories. The ritual required human sacrifice to fuel and the chunks of obsidian used in it took on the likeness of those who died. It seemed Daizu had found one clue as to his missing memories, but even more questions around why this had happened and who had done it to him. He also learned from Nezu that the prophecy given Daizu by Tsugumu likely referred to three other people who must be brought to the Rift.ReunionAfter a day or so of pursuing their own tasks about the city, the young samurai found themselves reunited once more. There were some awkward moments as old friendships strained by the trials of war and the necessities of realpolitik were rekindled. Daizu, having deciphered the prophecy with Ayame's help, informed the others that he believed they were tied to the mystery of his lost memories and he needed them to come with him to the Shadowlands. His friends agreed, supposing only that they could get the appropriate permission from their various daimyos.At that point, a courier arrived with a message for Meiko. Meiko excused herself and the impromptu party broke up.The MessageThe message proved to be from a Kolat agent named Yotogi, the selfsame man who had once asked for Meiko's help in getting a peasant woman released from a Lion prison. It was essentially a recruitment pitch, laying out what the Kolat believed and letting Meiko know that they saw a kindred spirit in her need for compassion and kindness to all. If Meiko was interested, she was to go to the Crimson Blossom Geisha House.Meiko deliberated for a day...The Scorpion KnowsNothing stays hidden from the Scorpion for long, particularly in their own cities. Roughly a day after Meiko received her message, Ayame received a hasty missive from Kiyoshi. It didn't tell her much; the Kolat were operating out of the Crimson Blossom and Ayame was the only resource currently available to find out more and do something about it. Ayame sought out her friends and told them she needed her help.They all agreed, including Meiko whose decision had been outpaced by events.At the Crimson BlossomUpon entry to the Crimson Blossom, Meiko was immediately welcomed and informed that Yotogi was waiting. While the others went to take a table, Meiko went to meet with the Kolat (though she had not, at this point, told anyone about the message she had received). Ayame snuck out and rushed around to listen to the conversation while Daizu and Jin enjoyed the sake and entertainment.Yotogi tried to convince Meiko to join the Kolat and betray the Empire. Meiko, in turn, tried to convince the Kolat agent to try to create change in a more peaceful manner rather than rebelling against the Empire. Needless to say, neither was particularly successful. Yotogi, however, could not risk allowing Meiko to leave the Crimson Blossom now that she knew Kolat secrets and combat broke out.In addition to Yotogi attacking, all of the geisha in the house also leaped to the attack, slaughtering unsuspecting samurai in their midst. In the ensuing melee, most of the samurai were killed, but Jin, Daizu, Ayame, and Meiko managed to defeat the Kolat.The heroes were left alone amidst the corpses of their enemies.Next Time: Assassins!
  2. Session 14: A Time of WarExperience Earned: 4Dramatis Personae: Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clanRaising the CurtainFor six months, war has raged across Rokugan.The combined might of the Crane, Phoenix, Crab, and Unicorn has struck deep against the Dragon and Lion, forcing the two-clan alliance on to the defensive.The main push by the four clans has been in the Phoenix lands, pushing to retake Shiba Shiro, the castle originally taken from the Phoenix by Mirumoto Bokai. This is not, however, the only battle raging, as forces converge on the Dragon and Lion from all sides. With little other recourse, the Dragon and Lion have largely holed up in their strongholds, allowing the superior numbers of the armies against them to be countered by the strong fortifications of the Lion and the remote fastness of the mountain peaks of the Dragon. While the initial losses were high, things have settled for the moment as the leaders of the Four-Clan Alliance decide which castles must be broken first to protect their own long and complicated supply lines...Looking BackEach of our heroes is perched on the eve of battle.In the Northern Mountains, Kakita Meiko strides through the lines, preparing to launch the assault on Shiba Shiro. On the borders between Crane and Lion lands, Togashi Jin surveys the weary and broken raiding force that he has been leading to harry the supply lines of the enemy. To the south, Kuni Daizu stands on the Kaiu Wall, and stares down at the Shadowlands horde that has gathered for yet another assault. And on the far borders of the Empire, Shosuro Ayame observes a massive force of peasants armed with the forbidden black powder, marching steadily to Toshi Ranbo, the Imperial City.All four heroes took a moment to reflect on what had brought them here...Four PathsA Path of CompassionKakita Meiko's journey began with a desire to try to save a friend. Shiba Ayaka was far gone in madness, consumed by her hatred of Mirumoto Bokai and the Dragon for murdering her family and taking her homeland. Rather than pursue the politics of Court, Meiko took up her blades and stood at her friend's side as Shiba Ayaka began her merciless journey to retake her family's rightful lands. Though the Dragon put up a valiant defense, they could not hold out against forces that outnumbered them four to one. The madness that filled Shiba Ayaka was evident, and Meiko did what she could to ease it, to try to bring back the friend she remembered from their shared childhood. This culminated in three separate moments:First, when Shiba Ayaka ordered a village put to the sword. The people of the village - Phoenix citizens - had not, in Ayaka's estimation, provided adequate resistance to their Dragon conquerors. As such, Ayaka deemed them conspirators and worthy of death. Meiko calmed her friend, and, in fact, convinced her to show not only mercy, but compassion. In that moment, Ayaka's madness eased, just a bit. Next, when a Dragon defensive position was overrun and a large contingent of Dragon soldiers captured, Shiba Ayaka deemed them unworthy of a warrior's death. These selfsame men may have been those who burned her villages and killed her people. She ordered them hung. Once again, Meiko intervened, reminding her friend of the honor of soldiers and the courtesies of war. Again she urged compassion, and again, despite the odds, Ayaka relented. Once more, her madness seemed to ease.The final moment came on the eve of battle, when Shiba Ayaka called Kakita Meiko to her command tent. The Phoenix was experiencing what might be called a moment of clarity, fully aware for perhaps the first time in years of the horrors she had wrought. She confessed to Meiko that the war was her fault, that she had hounded the Phoenix until they agreed to launch the dishonorable attack on the Court of the City of the Peaceful Hills. She felt the only true way to expiate her shame was by taking her own life and asked Meiko to serve as her second. Meiko was faced with the most difficult choice - help her friend follow where she felt her honor demanded or convince her that life was still worth living and that the better path to redemption was making up for her mistakes. Meiko recalled their shared childhood and shared tragedy and implored Ayaka to reconsider. In the end, Meiko's words were heard, and the final vestiges of Ayaka's madness fled. The friends - reunited in truth - swore to finish the battle quickly and then see how things could be made right.A Path of ProphecyKuni Daizu, driven to return to his home and take up once more the battle against the Shadow, left the City of the Peaceful Hills on his own, striking out across the war-torn lands. It proved an arduous journey, as even escaping the bounds of the city itself was frought with peril. Nonetheless, he escaped the City, crossed the mountains, and traveled through the wilderness, relying on skills learned in the harshness of the Shadowlands to stay hidden and stay alive. In his own land, he came face to face with a different kind of threat: a superior who "requested" Daizu accompany him to the front lines to serve as shugenja to the Crab forces. Daizu, already pushed to the edge by the journey to date, opted to ignore what honor required and simply go, ignoring the officer and leaving him standing in stark surprise as the Purifier simply left.Outside the walls, Daizu came across an old woman who was staring forlornly at a spilled cartload of supplies. Despite his haste, the Crab could not simply let this woman struggle alone, and lent his assistance. The woman than changed, revealing itself to be Tsugumu, Fortune of Secrets. As payment for his services, Tsugumu offered Daizu a fortune of his own:In days not far gone / Two delved into the shadow / Only one returnedA task to fulfill / Among the feathered topaz / The three must be foundTorn by the harshness / Of both politics and war / Discontented bladeA darkness within / Sworn to protect Rokugan / Seeker in shadowsThe loyal soldier / Fighting at his lord's command / Warrior poetReturned to the rift / To restore that which was lost / And save an empireFinally home, and with his head full of a newfound prophecy, Kuni Daizu was called to Kuni Ineko, his patron among the Jade Magistrates. Having completed the mission earlier assigned (defeating the maho-tsukai in the city) and showing aptitude for the calling (by finishing the title tree), Daizu was formally inducted as a yoriki to the Jade Magistrates. Given the chance to speak with Ineko, Daizu asked of the fortune he had received and of the darkness he felt within. Ineko could not tell him much, though she tried to provide some comfort in the knowledge that all Purifiers and Jade Magistrates succumbed to some level of taint. It was impossible to work so close to the Shadow without its tendrils finding purchase. She also told him that she suspected Daizu had been touched by the fortunes in a way most are not, even among the Jade Magistrates. She gave Daizu formal permission to "follow his heart in this" and promised to investigate further on her end and see if she could learn anything more.A Path of PassionDisgraced in the eyes of his daimyo, Mirumoto Bokai, for the presumed failure of guarding Kaito Takeo, Togashi Jin was stripped of his rank and sent to serve with the common soldiers. Akodo Masuru offered Jin a place among the Lion instead, serving as his second in command harrying the supply lines of the superior forces. Happy to be away from Court and back to honest warfare, Jin accepted. He displayed his tactical acumen early, leading the skirmishers to a victory over superior forces and risking everything to achieve the goal of destroying the enemy supplies. In short order, everyone acknowledged Jin as the de-facto commander of the group and took to calling him the Emerald Lion, for his passion in battle was truer to the spirit of the Lion than the Dragon in their eyes.In fact, this passion caught the eye of a young Lion samurai, a woman named Matsu Osaku. Over the months on the trail, a romance developed between the two, with the normally "unlucky in love" Togashi Jin finding a kindred spirit in the wild Lion warrioress. The Dragon knew then that Benton's Curse had been broken and he had found a woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life.But war is a fickle mistress, and their relationship could not stop the march of the enemy. Word came of vital orders and supplies being sent "the long way around" to avoid the demon that Jin had become in the eyes of the 4-Clan Alliance quartermasters. The mission would likely be suicide for the entire troop and Jin had to make the call - did he risk his newfound love for honor and duty, or did the unit stay in place, and let the supplies through? In the end, it wasn't even a question. The Emerald Lion marched with his troops (and his newfound love) at his side. They defied all odds to even make it to the supplies caravan in the first place but, once found, Jin reached new levels of tactical acumen and command. Perhaps inspired by Matsu Osaku or perhaps by the loyalty and honor the Lion had shown, the planning and execution went off flawlessly. The battle should have been suicide, but instead, the skirmishes executed a near-perfect ambushes, destroying the enemy, capturing the intelligence, and taking only light casualties.Of course, the Crane were unlikely to take such a defeat lying down...The Path of LoyaltyWith the Scorpion netural in the war, Shosuro Ayame found herself called to Kyuden Bayushi to meet with Shosuro Kiyoshi outside a certain wood. Ayame knew what was rumored to be in that wood, the Grove of Traitors, where those who had betrayed the Clan were subjected to eternal torment. Had she been led so far astray? Still, she was loyal to the Clan and when Kiyoshi called, Ayame answered. When she stood next to her daimyo, Kiyoshi explained that all Scorpion were expected to be loyal, but those who served as spies and infiltrators had to be held to an even higher standard. Ayame found herself presented with a choice. She could go into the forest, into the Grove of Traitors, into the very heart of it. There would be someone waiting for her; someone who would test her loyalty. If she failed that test, then she would not return. Or, Ayame could decline and she would serve the Scorpion as bushi or courtier, but her days as an infiltrator would be done. Ayame did not hesitate - she opted to go into the Grove. She was asked to remove her weapons, and when she had, Kiyoshi gave her back a single blade - a rusted and ill-cared for knife that Ayame recognized as her own. It was the knife she had offered Meiko; a knife that had obviously been discarded.Though the journey weighed on her sanity, Ayame made it to the center of the Grove. There, she found a twin-tailed kitsune waiting for her. The spirit gave her a "Welcome. And goodbye." Ayame found herself floating over a mountain. Balanced on the peak rested a wakizashi made entirely of emerald. Down one side of the peak lay a Rokugan that had fallen under the influence of Fu Leng and was a place of darkness and anger and slavery. Down the other side of a the mountain was a Rokugan equally unrecognizeable, one where all of the traditions of the Empire have been ground to dust beneath the booted feet of gaijin influence, the Celestial Order overthrown and the soul of the samurai lost forever. Looking closer, Ayame saw that the blade was not balanced on the mountain. Instead it sat on the back of a tiny Scorpion. The edge of the sword had cracked the creature's carapace and fluids oozed forth even as the weight of the blade continued to sink it ever so slowly deeper."This is what the Scorpion are," said a voice distinctly different from that of the kitsune. "This is what the Scorpion do. We maintain the Balance, no matter the cost. We protect the soul of the Empire as surely as the Crab protect it's borders. We do what is necessary. We do what others won't. We do it proudly. We know that it will one day be our undoing, but we will die before we allow the Empire to fall. And as we must pay the ultimate price, then those who betray us must pay a deeper price still, for they do not only betray us, but the entire Empire."Without warning, Ayame found herself back at the Topaz Championship, in the dining hall. The poison provided by Shosuro Kiyoshi-sama was at hand. She saw Hitoshi's spoon. Her duty was to poison it. But in that moment, Ayame knew the future. She knew the strife it would cause, the rift it would open with Meiko. Ayame felt a weight at her hip and looked down to see a decaying dagger, flaking slowly to dust. A scuttle at her other hip. A scorpion there, it's carapace cracked and broken from a great weight.Ayame made her choice, poisoning the spoon and found herself once more in the Grove, if only briefly. The Kitsune told her that twice more would she be tested, once for what is, and once for what would be.An army is spread out before her. They carried the dreaded firearms, banned throughout Rokugan. Ayame had been observing them and knew that the Unicorn had forces nearby and that a surprise attack from the horsemen might just sweep aside the armies before they can make their way into the Empire. But... those were not her orders. She had been sent out here to monitor and report back...to return to Kyuden Bayushi with the information she had received, no matter the consequence. Ultimately, Ayame kept true to the Scorpion, heading back to Kyuden Bayushi and leaving the army to their march.Her vision swam again. She found herself on a blasted, unrecognizable hellscape. Her body battered and wounded, her armor broken, her blades shattered. Some dark monstrosity stood against her. She saw Jin, near death, struggling to stay on his feet and hold his blade upright before the creature. She heard Daizu, shouting for the kami. And before her, she saw Meiko, likewise on her last legs, just within reach. The creature, the darkness that she could not see was laughing at them all. Ayame knew what she had to do... the fate of the Empire required blood. She looked down at her hand and saw a rusted knife there, a knife once offered in friendship. Ayame did not understand why, but she know that if she plunged that knife into Meiko, the Empire would be saved, and she would live, to continue to protect the Empire under the orders of the Scorpion. But if she plunged it into her own heart, the Empire might survive, but the fate of her friends would be forever unknown...Unable to kill her friend, Ayame thrust the blade into her own heart... and woke beside Shosuro Kiyoshi. A very rumpled and disheveled Kiyoshi who appeared to have been living rough for many days. "You have passed. Time for new orders."A Fight In Four PartsBack in the present day, the battles were joined...Atop the RampartsKakita Meiko led the forces of the Four-Clan Alliance in an overwhelming wave, crashing over the walls of Shiro Shiba. In the midst of the battle, she locked eyes across the field with a demon of a swordsman, a Dragon warrior who bore a striking resemblance to Mirumoto Bokai. The man called out, demanding a duel and the Kakita swordswoman, the Topaz Champion, the Champion of the Tournament of the Dojo of the Falling Petals, accepted at once. The clash was fierce, blades flashing in the sunlight as the Way of the Dragon met the Way of the Crane. Those watching could scarcely see the movements, so swiftly did the two strike, but in the end, the outcome was clear. The head of Mirumoto Jiro, son of Mirumoto Boakai, himself a renowned duelist went bouncing down the castle steps to land staring up at the camera as the Dragon forces broke and the castle fell.On the Kaiu Wall Kuni Daizu stood shoulder to shoulder with his fellow crab as the Shadowlands creatures assaulted the walls. Archers rained down arrows, foul creatures rushed the walls, but, most concerning, massive battle engines worked to reduce the grat walls to so much rubble and open a breach for the Shadow to spill into the Empire. Daizu's duty was clear - the engines must be destroyed. Calling upon the kami, he fought, bound, and blasted the creatures, trying to make his way down the enemy scaling ladders to get in range of the war machines. But ever step was paid for in blood, and his fellow Crab were quickly falling to the onslaught. He felt the dark temptation, the call to use blood magic, to empower the mystical forces within... but he resisted. Step by bloody step, until, on his section of the wall, no Crab stood. But it didn't matter, for he was in range. Now he had no choice but to call out to the darkness, to use blood and obsidian to blast the great catapults into timbers, taking their crews with them. When the dust settled, he was alone on the battlefield, the sole survivor (of that particular section, anyway). He had had to call upon the darkness, but the Wall had held. That was what mattered.Wasn't it?The Feathers of the Crane In Crane lands, the weary skirmishers led by Togashi Jin tried to get what rest they could. But the Fortunes had other plans and arrows began to fall like raindrops. In seconds, the vast majority of Jin's force was down, and he found himself back to back with Akodo Masuru and Matsu Osaku as the enemy poured out. The Crane, fueled by their fury at the Emerald Lion, came in unending waves and though they died on the blades of the Dragon and Lion, they did not fall without price. Akodo Masuru went down, killed by the press of the enemy. Matsu Osaku took wound after wound, until she, too, was at risk of death. Togashi Jin, pushed to the brink of his endurance, battered and wounded, seeing his friend dead and his paramour dying, Jin did the only thing he could think of to save Osaku. He surrendered.On the Plains of the UnicornShosuro Ayame shadowed an army of peasants - peasants armed with black powder weapons. When she was certain they were heading (as her vision had shown) towards the Capital she broke away, seeking to make it back to Kyuden Bayushi. But before she could, she had to break through the enemy pickets. Ayame picked her way through the guards, using her training to take out the enemy silently and efficiently wherever possible. In the end, the peasants never stood a chance, as Ayame slipped through their grasping fingers before an alarm could even be raised.Next Time: Reunions
  3. Session 13: The Breaking of the Fellowship Experience Earned: 10 (including bonus XP awarded for the end of the chapter)Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan Dragon Amidst the Flames Having returned to the City of the Peaceful Hills only to find it aflame and scarred by the sounds of battle, the intrepid samurai rushed across the hills to the city's edge, hoping to discover the details of what had happened in their absence. At the city's edge, they were met by a patrol of Dragon soldiers. Those soldiers appeared quite disdainful of the presence of Kuni Daizu, but otherwise informed the group that the Phoenix, acting with duplicitous dishonor, had launched an attack upon the Dragon, ignoring the Emperor's Peace and the long standing traditions of Court. The Lion, their city attacked and the safety of those attending Court their responsibility, joined with the Dragon. The other Clans sat idle, though the Crab - of all clans - were giving at least tacit support to the Phoenix. Moreover, Mirumoto Bokai lay wounded, victim of a cowardly attack by Phoenix assassins. The Dragon were happy to see Togashi Jin and offered to escort him through the chaos that was the city at the moment and back to his daimyo who would certainly have orders for him. The others all knew they must seek out their own daimyos and the group separated to find the various bastions of their clans within the disputed city. A Journey of Many Steps As the samurai made their way across the City of the Peaceful Hills, they found trouble hounding them at every corner: Kakita Meiko Kakita Meiko's journey across the city began with encountering a group of Lion and Phoenix engaged in battle. Meiko, showing incredible diplomacy skills, managed to bring the battle to a halt and convince the warring forces that this was not the way. They reluctantly parted and returned to their respective lines. She then chanced across a lone Dragon on a bridge, backlit by the raging fires. Obviously a duelist, the Dragon was simply waiting for anyone to cross his path. Meiko, believing her duty lay in getting back to her daimyo with important information and not in indulging in duels, avoided the bridge. Doing so ran her full into a patrol of Phoenix that happened to be led by none other than Shiba Ayaka. Meiko talked with Ayaka who had clearly been pushed into a sort of madness by the events around the deaths of her family and taking of her family lands by Mirumoto Bokai. Meiko offered what comfort she could and the two parted with at least some of the enmity that had built up between them resolved. Togashi Jin Jin's journey through the city was one of blood and battle. It began almost immediately with an ambush by peasants, of all things. Two of these peasants were armed with matchlocks, but even with the firearms, they could not stand up to Jin and his patrol. A quick search of the bodies found the strange lotus tattoo on all of the dead. But there was no time to linger. Jin next came upon a battle between the Phoenix and the Dragon, with the outcome balanced on a razor's edge. Jin quickly took control of the Dragon forces and led them to a decisive - if brutal - victory over the hated Phoenix. When they had nearly reached the safety of the Dragon lines, Jin and his soldiers chanced upon a detachment of Phoenix who seemed to be taking some delight it watching the city burn. The Dragon fell upon the enemy without warning and slaughtered them to a man. Kuni Daizu Daizu's journey across the City of the Peaceful Hills was one that seemed under the guiding hand of the kami. He first chanced upon some lost children whom he convinced to follow him to the relative safety of the Crab lines. This act of compassion was only reinforced when Daizu and the children came to a plaza that was the killing field between two groups of opposed archers. Trapped between them were a number of acolytes from a local shrine, unable to move out of harm's way for fear of being inadvertently - or intentionally - struck. Trusting in the kami (I am one with the kami and the kami are with me) Daizu simply strode onto the killing fields, and the kami turned aside all of the arrows that should have found purchase in his flesh. Inspired by his presence, the acolytes flocked to him and he continued his strange procession across the square. There was one brief moment where he caught the eyes of a Dragon soldier that Daizu knew from the wall, and in those eyes, Daizu saw fear. He faced but one more obstacle before reaching the safety of the Crab lines - what at first appeared to be a group of looters. It turned out, instead, to be a trio of zombies, perhaps newly minted, perhaps left over from the foul maho-tsukai the samurai had already dealt with. In either case, they fell swiftly before the might of Daizu's magic. Shosuro Ayame Perhaps because of her intuitive need to stick to the back alleys and shadows, Shosurro Ayame had the misfortune of chancing across two separate groups of looters. The first were peasants, and while they seemed to waver when faced with a samurai, their greed and perhaps some pent up anger against their masters overshadowed their better judgement and they attacked. This proved a fatal mistake as one of the looters was quickly killed and the rest fled. The second group of looters (encountered later) were Phoenix soldiers who had forgotten their honor and begun to loot. Ayame shamed them into giving up their dishonorable ways. Then, in a dark callback to earlier events, Ayame chanced across a house on fire. Within were a mother and her two children, already rendered unconscious from the smoke. Ayame had to decide whether to save the children (a sure thing) or risk the death of all by trying to save everyone. Believing that the mother would not wish to risk her children, she saved the kids, though the mother, unfortunately, perished. Among the ClansBack among their own clans, the samurai found themselves faced with yet more problems. They all learned the specifics of what had happened; the Phoenix had been smuggling soldiers into the city almost from the first day of Court and had launched a surprise attack to try and defeat the Dragon and kill Mirumoto Bokai. The result had been the clans each laying temporary claim to some part of the city. In addition, formal declarations of war had apparently been laid at the feet of the Dragon by the Pheonix, not just at the local level of Mirumoto Bokai and Shiba Ayaka, but at the Clan level. The Lion, victims of the surprise attack and already favorable to the Dragon, had thrown in with them while the Crab, for reason largely unknown, were standing with the Phoenix.Kakita Meiko found herself in the unenviable position of being able to dictate the likely outcome of the war. The Crane - largely through her actions - had amassed enough influence at court to dictate not only their own actions, but also the actions of the Unicorn. Kakit Jomei's council was at an impasse, and it would fall on Meiko to tip the scales one way or the other. Meiko could keep those two clan out of the war or have them join one side or the other, or any combination thereof. She retired to think on it - and to send out a request for a final meeting with her friends before deciding.Meanwhile, Jin was greeted by a very much alive, if somewhat wounded, Mirumoto Bokai who praised the soldier for his successes and explained that Jin was the one he trusted most to guard the assassin that had tried to claim Bokai's life. The assassin was to be hung at dawn. Jin, though disquiet about the dishonorable death of an enemy combatant whatever the circumstances, accepted the honor, not knowing that it was about to pit him against a friend.Ayame, too, found audience with her daimyo. Shosuro Kiyoshi rather casually mentioned that she knew of certain conversations between Ayame and the Crane and that the Scorpion would not brook disloyalty. Ayame was reminded the the sole duty of the Scorpion was to protect the Empire, even if that protection took on forms that other Clans might find dishonorable. Ayame was properly chastened, and, as a sort of reward, Kiyoshi-sama told Ayame that Ayame's paramour, Kaito Takeo had been captured by the Dragon and was set to be hung with the dawn. Ayame was given tacit permission to deal with that matter as she saw fit, though she was warned that the Scorpion were leaving at once and there would be no support.Kuni Daizu, meanwhile, found himself plagued by dreams. In these dreams, he saw his Master, first on the wall speaking to none other than a younger Mirumoto Bokai. An assassin attempted to end the life of Daizu's master and Daizu called upon dark forces within himself to prevent the assassination (a thing I forgot to mention with everything going on is that any investigation into the identity of the assassin would have hinted at a Scorpion without any actual proof). As a result, he remembered that he has some aptitude for blood magic (gaining an "obsidian strike") while simultaneously remembering a darkness that had lurked within him (gaining a Tainted Earth disadvantage). The dream came with a change to the first geisha statue. Where once it had been lifeless obsidian, now all-too-human eyes gazed at him from the statue. Another restless night brought another dream, this time of being deep in the shadowlands and some sort of tainted rift in the earth itself. Daizu's master stumbled from this rift, presenting Daizu with a wrapped package and telling him that Daizu knew what must be done and that he must not look in the package. Daizu held true and did not look within the package, though he also knew that at no point on his return to the Wall, despite questioning, did he once mention the package. At this point, Daizu replaced one of his "truthy" disadvantages with an advantage called "Skilled Deceiver." The second geisha statue now also stared at him with human, soulful eyes.Jin and Ayame were on a collision course as Ayame decided to rescue Takeo. When she found Jin waiting for her, rather than fight, the two shared sake and talked of love and friendship and duty. In the end, Jin, ever the faithful soldier, chose friendship over duty and allowed Takeo's release. The only condition was that if the Dragon ever saw the Phoenix again, there would be no more chances. Jin would do his best to take Takeo down. Jin then instructed Ayame to "make it look real" and was knocked unconscious by the Scorpion. His actions resulted in being berated by Mirumoto Bokai and having his title of Gunso stripped from him, but being returned to the life of the common soldier was a price Jin was willing to pay.The MeetingIn the closing scenes, Meiko called her friends together in the gardens to make a desperate plea. She felt that the looming war was a great injustice, the end result of political machinations of the Scorpion, and something that would destabilize and weaken the Empire. Rather than follow that course, Meiko called upon her friends to join her in calling out the Scorpion for their manipulations and in denouncing Mirumoto Bokai as a warmonger and fool. Daizu, rattled by his own awakening memories and the newfound darkness within, demurred not feeling confident in anything at that particular moment. Jin, already in the bad graces and not understanding how the warrior who stood at his side when the Phoenix tried to kill him could now want him to side with those same Phoenix, turned and walked away. Ayame, knowing that the Scorpion had eyes everywhere and knowing the penalty for betrayal - and even more, believing deep down that the Scorpion were truly working for the good of the Empire - declined. She offered Meiko her dagger as a symbol of friendship, so that the Crane would know Ayame would always be willing to fight by her side - at least at the personal level - before she, too, departed. Left alone in the garden, Meiko tossed the Scorpion's dagger to the ground, where it remained, and perhaps yet remains.The WarBelieving Mirumoto Bokai to be the root cause (with the perhaps unknown assistance of Scorpion manipulation) Meiko opted for the short, brutal war. She cast the deciding "vote" to bring the Crane and the Unicorn into the war on the side of the Phoenix and Crab, pitting four clans against two.Next time: War of the Clans
  4. Session 12: City of the Burning Hills Experience Earned: 4 Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kuni Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan Questions and AnswersThe curtain rose to find the samurai interrogating the bandit they had captured. He showed no compunction about admitting to his crimes, blaming the samurai caste as a whole for driving him and his fellow bandits to their actions. He also boasted about there being hundreds of bandits in the hills, unaware of the defeat the bandits had suffered at the Village of Clear Waters. When asked how the samurai taxation justified the assault of the farm girl, the brigand replied that it was the samurai who had taught them that the strong take what they want and the weak submit. Meiko took some exception to this attitude and with one swift stroke of the sword, severed the bandit's head.Jin, meanwhile, took note of the fact that the arbalest that had punched a hole in his armor was, in fact, a gaijin weapon. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of an opportunity to question the bandit further on where he had obtained it, as he was no longer in a position to give answers.The Abandoned CampAfter dropping the shocked and traumatized girl back at her parents' farm, the samurai ventured north, to the possible bandit camp that had been indicated by the huntsmaster. What they found was no mean camp, but a veritable fort, complete with wooden palisade and enough tents to hold hundreds. Of course, the army that had been housed here had already been defeated. Ayame and Daizu scouted ahead, confirming that the camp was truly empty. In fact, it appeared that the survivors from the attack on the village had returned, claimed what supplies they could, and departed once more, skirting the boundaries between Lion and Scorpion lands in their retreat.A more careful search of the camp uncovered some disturbing finds - evidence that black powder weapons, banned by Imperial decree, were present in the camp. No weapons were found, but the samurai did uncover a powder horn. Disturbed by this finding, they set out at once for the City of the Peaceful Hills, to report the presence of the banned substance to the proper authorities. Along the way, they did pause once more and the farms, picking up Kisa who had sworn herself to Meiko's service.The Phoenix Attack The samurai made haste back to the City of the Peaceful Hills. Along the way, however, Meiko caught sight of movement and an arrow streaked towards Togashi Jin. With a quick flick of the blade, Meiko struck the arrow from the air. The ambushers revealed themselves to be a group of Phoenix ashigaru lead by a trio of samurai. The heroes recognized Shiba Toya as their leader. Toya had orders to kill Jin, and was willing to let the others go about their business. The others, of course, did not agree, and a fight ensued. The heroes proved triumphant, though it was a near-fought thing. In the end, Togashi Jin claimed the life (and head) of Shiba Toya.The City of the Burning Hills At last, the samurai crested the final hill and looked once again upon the City of the Peaceful Hills. The city was on fire. Sounds of battle could be heard, distant, but unmistakable from clashes taking place within. The samurai looked at one another, and then set out for the city...Next Time: Dreamers, Lovers, and Deciders
  5. Note: I'm not a huge fan of the new mass combat system. So, I used a sort of amalgamation of 3rd and 4th to do the fight in the village. Worked okay, but it would have been better if I had included a greater variety of battle opportunities. Session 10: Four SamuraiExperience Earned: 3Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. The Bandit Hunt After returning from the horrors of the crematorium, the young samurai spent some well-deserved time healing their wounds, recovering their frayed sanity, and being ritually cleansed of the foulness of the maho-tsukai's abode. During this time, the Court of the City of the Peaceful Hills lapsed into a quietness of its own, the tempers and political machinations cooled by the notion that an army of the dead may well have marched upon the city. But not even this could quell the Court for long, and tensions began to rise, with accusations falling on the Lion for the seeming inability to control their own citizens. The general bellicose air fueled the tensions between the Dragon and Phoenix as well, and things seemed close to the point of shattering the Emperor's Peace and having steel drawn and blood shed at Court. The city Daimyo, Akodo Kusamoto, acting to quell the potential violence, opted to channel it in a different direction. He declared a grand event, a sweeping bandit hunt that would send all the young, hot-blooded warriors (and no few of their older cousins) into the hills around the city to hunt down the bandits that plagued the area. He who returned with the most heads would be named Champion, and earn great influence. Kuni Daizu, fearing that the taint of Shadow may be behind the increased banditry, convinced the others to join his cause (though, in truth, most of them wanted to get out of the city and doubted the presence of any dark magics or Jigoku-tainted things). They were assigned an area of the countryside to explore that included the Village of Clear Waters, which had already asked the city for help, a series of isolated farmsteads that had not been heard from for several days, and a suspected bandit camp. In Defense of Clear Waters They opted to make their way to the village first, since the village request for aid had, as yet, went unheeded. Upon arrival, they found the villagers piling up all of their worldly possessions. Talking first to a peasant girl and then to the village headman and elder, the samurai learned that dozens of bandits, perhaps more, were operating in the area and had threatened the destruction of the village if they did not pay tribute. Kuni Daizu elected to leave at once, to scout the area north of the village and report back. Meanwhile, Meiko, Jin, and Ayame worked to convince the villagers that it would be in their best interests to stand up for themselves. Their arguments wore down the villagers who, at length, consented to gather what weapons they had and, under Togashi Jin's leadership, fight the bandits. An A-team style montage followed, showcasing Kuni Daizu's scouting efforts (where he learned the bandits numbered in the hundreds, but appeared to be poorly equipped and more than half-starved), Shosuro Ayame supervising the construction of numerous traps to slow the progress of the armies and Kakita Meiko and Togashi Jin training the peasants and preparing their grand strategy. A Battle Joined By noon the following day, the bandits arrived and the battle was joined. By grace of the preparations and the sheer battle skill of the samurai, the battle was largely one-sided. The highlights included: Kakita Meiko charging into the thickest fighting and singlehandedly eliminating a dozen enemies Shosurro Ayame dispatching one wounded and cowardly enemy officer and defeating a second in an honorable duel Kuni Daizu retrieving the fallen banner of the army and protecting it against the bandit hordes while rallying the peasant defenders Togashi Jin holding the line against the enemy while simultaneously directing the tactics and strategy that, in the end, won the day When the dust finally cleared, the bandits had broken. Half their numbers lay dead, the other half scattered to the four winds. The heroes surveyed the battlefield, knowing the these bandits had been defeated, but that there was yet much left to do... Next Time: It's not skull mountain...
  6. Session 9: The Maho Tsukai Experience Earned: 4 Dramatis Personae -- Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection.-- Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. -- Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier.-- Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan.The House of HorrorsAfter fighting off the hungry dead, the intrepid samurai ventured into the crematorium itself, a place whose very existence smacked of unpleasant and dishonorable things. Within the first chamber, they found a scene right out of nightmare. The dead of the City of the Peaceful Hills had been taken to the crematorium for proper disposal as was customary, but the cremations clearly hadn't been taking place. Bodies were stacked like cordwood in the chamber, covered with rough canvas tarps. As the heroes entered, the doors slammed shut behind them and a disembodied voice laughed maniacally. "Too late! Too late! Now you'll have to join me!"At those words, the foul taint of Shadow fell over the room and the dead began to stir. In the ensuing battle, the swords and spells of the samurai cut through the dead... only to have them rise again. Only through the holy magics of Kuni Daizu and the relentless assault by the other samurai did the heroes prevail. But what horrors had they found?Kitchen of the DamnedIn odd counterpoint to the outer chamber, the next chamber proved to be a well-stocked kitchen, complete with meals laid out for at least a half-dozen people. As the samurai fanned out to search (and Jin-san couldn't resist the temptation of a bite of chicken and some sake), they heard chanting coming from up a set of stairs in the back of the room. Meanwhile, Ayame found a door that felt somehow wrong. When she opened it, a wash of green energy flooded the room, carrying with it all of the horrors and nightmares (and subsequent strife) of the foul and tainted blood magic. No one could set foot in that room... not with such an aura pouring from it.In fact, the aura was so strong that it caused Kuni Daizu to unmask, revealing his rage at the presence of Shadowlands taint as he rushed headlong up the staircase, intent on putting an end to whatever strange magics might be taking place above...The Cultists... And into a trio of black-clad cultists. Daizu's sudden appearance interrupted their ritual, but also caught his friends off guard, and he was forced to try and fend off the cultists alone (at least for a round). Then his companions rushed to his aid, and though the quarters were tight and the enemy skilled, they still made short work of the tainted cultists. That left them facing three obsidian orbs, each rife with dark energy. Already close to being overwhelmed by the strangeness and darkness of this place, the samurai decided that the direct approach was best and set about smashing with a vengeance.With the orbs broken, the sense of taint - and the strange green light - vanished from the chamber below. But Kuni Daizu could still feel the presence of something dark and despairing in the depths. The heroes caught their breath for a moment, and then descended, making their way into the basement of the crematorium.The Maho TsukaiThere they found the giant ovens gone and a throne of bones standing in their place. A Lion - dressed as a samurai, but unknown to them - waited upon that throne. Before him rested a pile of corpses, a thing so horrible that even looking upon it tore at the sanity of those who beheld it. Clearly in the throws of madness, the mage again assured them that they were "too late!" The meaning of the words was made clear when the pile of corpses began to stir and then move. As one crawling, writing mass, the corpse golem crawled forward.The ensuing battle was a thing of nightmare. On the maho-tsukai's word, corpses crawled free of the pile, rising as zombies in their own right even as the golem kept trying to finish the party. Kuni Daizu and the Maho Tsukai traded magical blasts. The battle seemed to teeter on the razor-edge of a tanto until Ayame, using her Shosurro training, put all of her reserves into a massive strike, severely wounding the golem. It spun, and with dozens of fists pummeled her into unconsciousness. Driven by the injury - perhaps death - of her friend (or is it enemy?) Meiko, in turn, unleashed a powerful attack, finishing off the corpse golem. Wounded and with his minions defeated, the maho-tsukai had one final trick up his sleeve. He drew his knife and made eye contact with Kuni Daizu. "Tell her I did my best," he said as he slit his own throat, spraying them all with his life's blood.Nothing happened.Kuni Daizu felt drawn to the throne, where he found a second obsidian geisha. As he touched it, there was another flash of pain, and another resurgent memory. A blurry vision of the scarred and shattered land that he knew to be the Shadowlands A hazy view of... someone... his master? The certain knowledge that what was about to happen was going to be painful beyond all imagining. The knowledge that Daizu accepted it, wanted it, even. Another flash of pain.Blackness as Daizu-san collapsed.The AftermathIn the end, all four samurai emerged from the Jigoku-cursed crematorium. Despite trying to destroy it, Kuni Daizu now had two obsidian geisha statues in his obi... and more of his fractured memories restored. Honor and glory was sure to follow as the battered and bloody - but triumphant - heroes made their way back to the Palace of the Endless Sky.Next Time: The Beginning of the End (of Court)
  7. Session 8: A Less than Peaceful Interlude Experience Earned: 3 Dramatis Personae-- Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection.-- Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. -- Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier.-- Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. Sickbeds and ConfessionsThe curtain rose to find Ayame recovering in her sickbed, her life saved by the quick thinking of Togashi Jin who brought her posthaste to the Scorpion for care. While receiving visitations from her friends (and a spiritual cleansing ritual from Kuni Daizu) Ayame decided to come clean and inform Kakita Meiko that it had been her, acting on orders from her Clan, who had eliminated Hitoshi more than a year gone. Understanding Meiko-san's vow and knowing that her honor may demand satisfaction, Ayame offered to meet Meiko on the last day of the Court, in a duel of honor. But not until then, as both still had work to do for their respective Clans. Meiko took the news hard and left the presence of the Scorpion to contemplate what this might mean for their friendship and for her own ideas of what it meant to be Samurai.The Passing Days of CourtNone of the companions were destined to spend much time together over the next several weeks, as the ebb and flow of Court seemed to come crashing in, and all suddenly found themselves burdened with numerous duties.Kuni Daizu lead an investigation into the maho being practiced within the City of the Peaceful Hills. He opted for a slow and steady approach, using his careful reasoning and the resources provided by the Lion Clan to track down the blood mages. The investigation lead him to the Bitter Leaves Tea House, where Daizu-san and the ashigaru in his command observed the tea house until they spotted some unusual activity. This lead to the capture of two men who seemed to be in league with the maho-tsukai and the capture of the proprietor of the Bitter Leaves. The interrogation that followed pointed to the crematorium located just outside of the city proper. However, Kuni Daizu had a strange vision - armies of the dead rising up and tearing down the City of the Peaceful Hills, particularly if he undertook his endeavors alone. After almost a month of investigation, Kuni Daizu set out to find his friends and companions so that the could help him save the Lion city from the Shadow that was sure to follow...Shosuro Ayame set about the task of finding and dealing with Kaito Takeo, her erstwhile lover and the man who had tried to kill Togashi Jin and come within a hair's breadth of killing her. During her own search, she chanced to overhear the location of a much coveted prize - the knowledge of the item all sought in the Game of a Thousand Gifts. Unwilling to let such temptation pass, she infiltrated the quarters of the Lion Master of Games and retrieved the information. After a few more days of fruitless searching, she returned to her chambers to find Kaito Takeo waiting for her. The shinobi offered his life in exchange for almost taking hers, but warned that he had his orders from the Phoenix and he could not put aside his duty. He could die for Shosuro Ayame, but he could not stop his mission to kill Togashi Jin. Coming from her own recent admissions to Meiko-san, Ayame understood duty well, and did not take his life - though she warned Takeo that she saw it as her duty to keep Jin alive. They shared another night together and parted as friends, but with each knowing that they would shed the blood of the other should their respective duties demand it. The matter of Takeo settled - at least for now - Ayame turned her attention back to the tournament that she and Meiko had sponsored. Meiko might be upset with her, and yes, they might even have to fight come the end of Court, but that was no reason not to proceed with her plans to ensure that Meiko would be crowned champion of the Tournament of Falling Petals.Togashi Jin, spurred on by the clear approval of his daimyo, Mirumoto Bokai, continued his efforts to undermine and belittle the Phoenix. At first this seemed to be progressing nicely, with the Phoenix doing little to counter his efforts. Then a new samurai showed up at Court, a wandering Unicorn with a dangerous air about him by the name Moto Renga. Without so much as a single word, Renga struck Jin and challenged him to a duel to the death, tossing at his feet a single scroll. Upon the scroll was the mon of the Imperial Family, and the words authorizing the duel, Emperor's Peace or no. Jin, his honor in question and knowing how his daimyo would want him to address such, accepted at once. the date was set for two weeks hence. Jin-san split his time between training for the fight to come and using what resources he could to determine who Renga was and why he had shown up. He learned that Renga was known to be a somewhat dishonorable man and a duelist for hire, a deadly combatant with many victories under his belt. It wasn't much of a leap to assume that the Phoenix had found a way to try to silence Jin. Still, true to his word, Jin met Renga on the field of battle. The battle was quick and brutal, and though it was a near thing, in the end, only Togashi Jin was left standing on the field.Kakita Meiko and all of the Crane Clan courtiers were brought before Kakita Jomei and impressed with the knowledge that all efforts of the Clan must be turned towards stopping the budding conflict between the Dragon and Phoenix lest it spill over and result in a war that could pull apart all of the Empire. Jomei-sama suspected the Scorpion were behind things, and that all of them must work together towards thwarting their will. Sensing Kakit Riku's reticence to work with her, Meiko sought out Riku-san, confronting her (albeit gently) about the rift between them. It came to light that Riku-san felt displaced by Meiko, as it should have been her, as Toshimoko-sensei's first student, who acted as his second. Though she did not say as much, Meiko also suspected that Riku's loss to her in the finals of the tournament was playing a role in her distance as well. Meiko, her eyes more fully open to the truths of the world, comforted Riku, agreeing that, perhaps it should have been Riku and not Meiko, and informing Riku that for her it had been duty and not honor that made her act as Toshimoko's second. To cement the peace between them, Meiko gave Riku the blade of the Topaz Champion, to hold until such time that the two of them could meet in an honorable duel and determine who was its rightful bearer. Later, as she continued her efforts to block the plans of the Scorpion, Meiko was approached by an unexpected visitor, a wealthy peasant named Yotogi. The man came to Meiko with a plea for compassionate intervention - a peasant woman named Tsuko had rebuffed the advances of a young samurai and, as such, he had had her arrested for her insolence. Tsuko was set to be executed for her "rudeness" to the samurai, but Yogtogi had heard that Meiko-san was a compassionate woman. He also knew that the Magistrate had invested her with a certain amount of authority and that intervention on her part may well save Tsuko's life. Meiko agreed and upon verifying the woman's story, managed to get her released from prison. Rather than have the woman simply return to the city where the young samurai might find her again, she offered to take Tsuko into her service. The Lion agreed. The days continued to pass and Meiko-san found that the Tournament of Falling Petals was upon her. She made her way quite easily through the earlier rounds (unknowing of the subtle aid that Ayame had provided) and found herself once more in the championship match. This time she faced off against none other than Moto Batbayar. Meiko-san made short wort of the Unicorn, but acted in such a way that Batbayar's honor was not damaged. Meiko even earned a grudging respect from the Unicorn who had, until their match, a less than flattering opinion of the Crane.The CrematoriumDespite their differences and the busyness of their days (and the fact that it had been three weeks since most of them had spoken to one another), when Kuni Daizu called upon the young Samurai to join him in his mission to stand against the Shadow, the others readily agreed. They made their way to the crematorium where Daizu-san ordered the ashigaru to stand guard and make sure no creature tainted with Shadow made it from the grounds. As they approached the squat stone building, the well-manicured lands seemed to shift, to twist, taking on the taint of evil. From the ground flowed the spirits of the hungry dead, creatures who cold touch seemed to drain the very life force from the heroes. The fight was short and ugly, but the heroes managed to triumph. They caught their breath for a moment, staring at the monstrosity of stone and death that awaited them. They had vanquished a few guardians, but they knew that somewhere within that stone shell dwelt...The Maho-Tsukai (next time....)
  8. Note: We've had 2 sessions since I last posted. One of the summaries is rather sparse as noted below... Session 6: Of Fire and Silk Experience Earned: 4 Dramatis Personae -- Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. -- Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. -- Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. -- Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. Note: Just a quick recap this time as my allergies are currently doing their best to make my head explode... these are the high points... I may have missed a thing or two or three...Resolutions The Salamanders Meiko, Jin, and Ayame went in search of the Salamanders, hoping to convince them to give up their arsonous ways. After speaking with Tozasu (he whose home was burned) they learned the general location of the Salamanders' hideout and managed to track it down. Things went a bit sideways when Togashi Jin met disrespect from the peasant door guard with swift violence and barged into the gang hideout. Kakita Meiko managed to calm the Salamanders to the point that they did not immediately attack while Shosuro Ayame made her way around the back in case a fight broke out. The Salamanders seemed unimpressed by the samurai, knowing that they had no official capacity within the city and suspecting that the strictures of the ongoing Court would keep them from drawing steel. After some discussion, the samurai decided to obtain that official authority from the Lion clan rather than risk a political faux pas. They found the local Magistrate (who was quite apologetic) and managed to obtain the authority needed, deciding to go back the following morning. Shosuro Ayame, however, unbeknownst to the others, decided that the matter called for a more Scorpion-esque resolution and went back to the hideout armed with accelerants and irony. She burned the Salamanders in their beds, finishing those few that made it out with well-placed arrows. Unfortunately, the fire spread to several nearby houses... and the local fire-fighters' guild all happened to be otherwise disposed. In a bout of rare luck, the peasants managed to escape their burning homes without injury... though many lost their homes. The following day, the samurai, accompanied now by Kuni Daizu, returned, intent on exercising their new lawful authority. Unfortunately, they found burned-out wreckage. When Kuni Daizu inquired as to what happened, the peasants, awed by the presence of a bona fide Purifier, spun a story of angry, avenging fire kami. The samurai seemed to accept this story and considered the matter closed. The Kimonos Angered by the disrespect she received from the peasants, Kakita Meiko channeled that anger into her art. After an evening of late-night embroidery, she completed her kimono and that she made for Shosuro Ayame. When presented with the kimono, Ayame-san (stressed, though her friends did not know it, by the brutality of the murders she had committed) unmasked, breaking down in tears. Continuing ThreadsThe Jade Magistrate's RequestKuni Daizu pursued the mission that Kuni Minori assigned him, investigating the complaints of the Temple of Ebisu. He discovered that many strange omens had been happening and that the kami seemed... odd... in the city of late. Daizu-san tracked down one of the farms where these strange events had been happening and discovered a dark influence that seemed to be warping the livestock and staining the land. It seemed symptomatic of something else happening, rather than the source, however. Continuing his investigation, Kuni-san spoke with the kami, who seemed to point towards the heart of the Warehouse district where "something in the earth" seemed to be to blame.On his way to investigate, Kuni Daizu came across a terrified crowd. The crowd had gathered around a mostly-eaten body. Consoling the crowd in his own unique way ("You're fears are reasonable / you should be afraid") Kuni Daizu learned that several people, even a samurai, had gone missing in the area. He discovered some odd tracks leading away from the body and deeper into the district. Following them, he found a warehouse that was boarded up tight. A close inspection revealed that numerous wards were carved into the doors. The wards would keep tainted creatures from crossing. Daizu-san also felt a great darkness from somewhere within the building.He gathered his companions and, together, they made their way back to the warehouse. Upon entering the building (and closing the doors behind them) they discovered what one might expect - a bunch of broken crates and piles of trash. Things took a turn for the horrifying as emerging from the piles of trash were strange, beetle-like creatures with tentacled maws and mouths that, despite the monsters that bore them, looked shockingly human.Next Time: Warehouse of Horrors AND HERE IS OUR MOST RECENT SESSION... Session 7: Warehouse of Horrors Experience Earned: 3 Dramatis Personae -- Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. -- Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. -- Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. -- Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan.The WarehouseAs the curtain rose, the samurai found themselves face to face with horrifying Shadowspawn and leaped immediately to the attack. They made short work of the strange beetle-and-squid-like creatures, but despite their ready victory, the feelings of unease continued. Kuni Daizu pointed out the way to the basement below - a simple trapdoor set in the floor. No kami seemed to be nearby to help guide his path, and everyone felt a sense of dread as they threw open the trapdoor and dropped into the darkness below.The Lair of Mukadi no'OniThat fear proved well-founded as the samurai took in the scene. The center of the warehouse floor had been torn open, revealing a dug out den of sorts that vanished into the earth. Worse, numerous piles of slightly glowing eggs, each almost as large as a man, were stacked all over the warehouse. Kuni Daizu unleashed a bolt of Jade at one such, half-destroying it. But as he did so, a nightmare creature burst forth from beneath the earth even as more creatures like those the samurai had already vanquished began to burst forth from the eggs. A desperate battle ensued. The oni - though small and weak for its kind - still proved to be a near deadly challenge as it threw the samurai about like puppets. But the relentless attacks of holy energy and cold steel eventually wore down the oni and, at last, it fell.Blood MagicThe heroes discovered runes written in blood all around the basement where ceiling and wall joined. Kuni Daizu correctly identified them as being part of a ritualistic summoning - the kind that might, for example, bring a minor oni into the heart of Rokugan. The spirit of Kakita Naomori - still haunting the Purifier - seemed very interested in a particular set of runes. Upon closer examination, Daizu-san realized that these runes were a scrying spell and that, even as they had dispatched the oni, they were being watched. Using his divine connection, Daizu had a sudden sense that the person on the other side of the scrying runes was "Always Watchful" (as in, this is an advantage he or she has). They quickly scrubbed away the runes, breaking the spell and blinding - for a time - the watcher.Return to the Palace of the Endless SkyCovered in the filth of the day and fearing the taint of the Shadowlands, Shosuro Ayame and Kakita Meiko immediately sought ritual cleansing at the nearby Temple of Ebisu. Meanwhile, Kuni Daizu and Togashi Jin made their way first to the local Lion magistrate to inform him of the dangers and then to their respective clan daimyos, to ensure that they, too, were aware of the presence of maho within the city. Then the Crab and Dragon went to see about their own ritual cleansing. Upon return to the Palace (where Meiko and Ayame had also returned), Meiko, in the capacity of adviser to Kakita Jomei and Daizu, as the closest thing to a Jade Magistrate within a hundred miles, were summoned to a council session of the visiting daimyos at Court.The true matter at hand - the presence of maho and shadowlands filth within the walls of the City of the Peaceful Hills - was almost lost beneath the ongoing feud of the Dragon and Phoenix. Only Kakita Meiko's impassioned speech prevented the council from degenerating into outright battle - though she risked her own honor, and perhaps even her life to interrupt her superiors. Fortunately, Mirumoto Bokai seemed to find the whole thing amusing and disaster was averted. The Council agreed to empower Kuni Daizu, a mere yoriki, to act in the capacity of a Jade Magistrate and scour the city for any source of maho or shadowlands taint.Meanwhile...In the courtyard, those samurai not part of the Council had gathered. Togashi Jin quickly became the center of attention (especially once Ayame-san let drop that it was the Dragon who had slain the oni). He regaled the gathered samurai with the tale of the battle, being careful to give each of his companions their just due. As this was happening, Ayame caught sight of a dark-clad figure moving along the walls. Despite the concealing clothing, she could not help but recognize her paramour, Kaito Takeo. The Phoenix, unseen by the rest of the crowd, hurled a shuriken towards Togashi Jin, a throw that had it landed true may well have slain the Dragon. Shosuro Ayame, however, stepped in front of the blade. She felt the bite of poison at once, and then the world went slowly dark...Next Time: The Hunt Begins...
  9. Note: No pictures in this one, as I had to put it together quickly and have another game coming up that I need to focus on... Session 5: The Game of a Thousand Gifts Experience Earned: 4 Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. Kuni Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. The Salamanders The curtain rose to reveal Togashi Jin and Kuni Daizu standing before the semi-circle of men between them and the burning house. The distraught family watched as their home burned, powerless to do anything. Kuni Daizu communed with the kami, finding himself faced with a difficult choice - the fire kami could grant him a boon and extinguish the flames or they could tell the Purifier who had set the blaze. Seeing that the city was not in danger from the fire and only the singular home would be destroyed, the Kuni chose to know the truth of the fire. He was shown a vision of the men before him - the men in the red sashes, the Salamanders - throwing torches through the windows and then preventing anyone from helping put out the blaze. Togashi Jin stepped forth, hand on blade, and commanded the men to depart. Between the presence of the Purifier and the samurai who seemed willing to draw steel to enforce his will, the ruffians thought discretion might be the better part of valor. There were a few smirks at the burning building, but the men departed without further incident. Togashi Jin organized the bystanders into a bucket brigade while Kuni Daizu called upon the fire kami to assist. Though it took hours, they eventually managed to put out the blaze. Unfortunately, the home was lost. In talking to the family who lived there, Togashi Jin learned that the proprietor had refused to pay the Salamanders for their services as fire-fighters and, in retribution, or perhaps to send a message to the rest of the neighborhood, they set the fire and have now ruined his livelihood. Deciding that they could not take the troubles of a bunch of Lion Clan peasants on themselves, Togashi Jin and Kuni Daizu headed back to the Palace of the Endless Sky. Of Friendships and Intrigues In the meantime, Shosuro Ayame and Kakita Meiko continued to pursue their unlikely friendship, discussing their passions and pledging to try to support one another at least to the degree that they could within their clans. When "the boys" returned, the companions had their nightly tea (or sake, in Jin's case). During this time, Meiko made a plea to the others, asking for their assistance in determining the killer of Hitoshi. Kuni Daizu agreed, sharing his influence with Meiko. Ayame was not in a position to help (she did not have enough influence) and Togashi Jin tried to make a bargain. He sought a commitment from Meiko to support the Dragon in their efforts against the Phoenix in whatever way she could. Meiko declined, leading to some tension, and leading Jin to withhold his influence in the matter of Hitoshi. The companions traded some other commitments as well: Togashi Jin agreed openly to serve on the Wall with Kuni Daizu. Daizu and Ayame came to an agreement as well, though the details were not made public. The companions continued to pursue their various intrigues in motion as well, striving to earn what influence they could before the formal start of Court. Court Begins With the arrival of the last invitees, the formal court began. Akodo Kusamoto, daimyo of the City of the Peaceful Hills welcomed everyone. He informed them of a moon viewing party after sunset, and explained that there would be a grand game played throughout court, the Game of a Thousand Gifts. Each court attendee received a small item. One of these items would be the prize. The rules of the game were simple - whoever holds the prize at the close of court, wins the game (and also a great deal of influence). The companions pursued more intrigues and returned to the gardens in the evening for the Moon Viewing party. In the midst of the party, a procession of kabuki actors entered. Through exaggerated pantomime, they depicted chopping down one of the cherry trees in the garden, which the Court took to mean that the steel cherry tree (currently in Ayame's possession) was not the prize in the Game of a Thousand Gifts. Ayame and Meiko both composed haiku's to Lord Moon and presented them during the viewing, earning some acclaim and influence. Daizu told a chilling ghost story that caught the Court's fancy. Ayame, determined to help Jin with his relationship problems, arranged for Kitsuki Yuikimi to ask him to dinner. Jin came close to ruining it, until Meiko stepped in to serve as his "wingman" and helped him at least get the date. Revelations The following morning, Kakita Meiko was summoned to serve as Kakita Jomei-sama's assistant and advisor at the first gathering of daimyos at the court. Her goal was to observe closely and identify the subtext of what was not being said. She learned that Mirumoto Bokai and Isawa Toju seemed to have a deep, personal hatred for one another and that Toju-sama also seemed to be quite angry at Akodo Tanaka (NOTE - I got this wrong in session and said Akodo Kusamoto). Kakita Meiko got distracted by the broader politics between the Crane and Scorpion and did not pick up any additional information on the individuals. She did, however, manage to discern that, in the broader sense, the following appeared to be going on at the global politics level: The Scorpion Clan currently has the Emperor's ear. They are trying to keep a new Emerald Champion from being named. Meanwhile, the Crane, who were the right hand of the Emperor, are working tirelessly to not only have a new Emerald Champion named, but to make sure that person is a Crane. An Unexpected Arrival Ayame-san caught sight of a most unexpected arrival - Kaito Takeo, the young man who, not so long ago, tried to kill her in an alleyway in the city of Akodo Tanaka. Though she had the chance to eliminate him, Ayame let him go. Now, the two share a dark secret, with each knowing something of the other's less-than-honorable activities. Rather than cause tension, this seemed to intrigue Ayame-san, who has begun pursuing a romance with the young Phoenix. An Unsettling Missive Meanwhile, Kuni Daizu received a scroll from the Kuni Minori, the Jade Magistrate to whom he is serving as yoriki. The scroll informed him that priests from the Temple of Ebisu had reached out to the Jade Magistrates, concerned about ill omens and the behavior of the kami. Since no Jade Magistrate can be dispatched, Daizu-san has been asked to look into the matter. Next time: Gangs, Murders, and other Courtly Affairs...
  10. Session 4: Court is (not quite) in Session Experience Earned: 3 Note: I've introduced my own "Influence" rules, which are basically a political currency a character receives for completing intrigues at Court. This currency can be used to "purchase" various things from the very small (acquiring an item) to the very, very large (with enough influence, they can have one of the provincial daimyos attending the court killed). In addition, each player has a series of tasks that their daimyo has given them to accomplish which require spending influence. Each player also has some character-specific influence spends available to them. The idea is to make them choose how they want to spend the capital they gain at court - pursuing their own goals or doing as instructed by their daimyos. Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. She is accompanied by her long-time servant, Daisechs. Kuni Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. The Curtain Rises It has been a tumultuous time in the Empire of Rokugan with conflicts breaking out among the clans. But no more. Heralds have gone out across the length and breadth of the Empire, and with them they have carried the seal of Imperial Peace. In celebration of his upcoming birthday, the Emperor has declared that no clan shall lift blade or spear against another and that all conflicts must be put on hold. The peace will last for three months time, and woe be unto the Clan that dares break it. With the throne of the Emerald Champion still vacant, the proclamation lacks some of its teeth, but the Emperor's will is still the will of Heaven, and few in Rokugan would go against it. As such, the Clan Daimyos have agreed, and word has spread that a general armistice is in effect. Though it is not the season for Court, invitations flow in the wake of the Emperor's edict, calling samurai of all rank and station to Courts across the land. The purpose of these Courts is clear - discuss what is to be done about the lack of an Emerald Champion and cement new alliances against the stirrings of war that are sweeping across the land. While you may not be high enough in the ranks to receive your own invitation, you have each been tapped by your respective Daimyos to accompany them to a Court taking place at the City of the Peaceful Hills. Peaceful Hills is located in Lion lands, but sits close enough to the border of both Scorpion and Northern Crane lands to see many visitors from both. It is also relatively centrally located within the Empire, making it easier for delegations from all the clans to attend. Given that the heart of any Court is politics and that every resource should be put to use, you have all been tasked with certain things by your daimyos. To achieve your goals, and those of your daimyos, you will have to navigate the dangerous currents of Court and gain enough influence to see your will done.Ambushed!You set out with your daimyos from various points across Rokugan, bound for the City of the Peaceful Hills, eager for your first true experiences at Rokugani court. Unfortunately, despite the Emperor's peach reaching out across the land, your journey was not to be uneventful. Each of your retinues (at various points along their journey - not simultaneously with one another) suffered an attack from a most unlikely source. Whether passing by a roadside shrine, traveling through the forest, leaving a village where you had sheltered for the night, or making your way through rice paddies and farmland, you found yourself set upon by peasants of all things. They poured out in great numbers, determined to tear down the samurai travelling across their path, using crude farm implements and improvised weaponry. Though the samurai (our heroes and various retainers alike) managed to deal with the peasants, there was some loss of life among the non-samurai who make up part of the various processions. Unfortunately, this included Meiko's attendant, Daisechs, who gave his life valiantly defending the less spry and capable servants. In the aftermath, it was found that one member of each ambushing group bore the tattoo of a lotus on their person. Shelving this information for later, the various parties continued to make their way to the City of the Peaceful Hills.Court is not (yet) in SessionUpon arrival, each clan was assigned quarters and informed that the formal start of Court would not happen until all of the invitees had arrived. This would take a few days only, and until then, they, of course, had the freedom of the City and the Palace grounds, though they were asked not to go into the Palace itself, as there were still preparations under way. Kuni Daizu and Togashi Jin both immediately headed for the city, Daizu-san to share some tales of his exploits and Jin-san to have a drink with an old friend, Akodo Matsuru. Meanwhile, Shosuro Ayame and Kakita Meiko sought one another out, to renew their friendship after a year apart. They decided it would be a wonderful thing to have the Crane and the Scorpion host a joint Dueling Tournament, which, they were confident, Kakita Meiko, the Topaz Champion, would win. They set about gathering the resources and influence that would be necessary to do so.Reunion and MourningAt the end of the first day, the four companions from Tsuma crossed paths with one another. There was a moment of tension as Shosuro Ayame and Akodo Matsuru (who was still accompanying Jin-san) renewed an old enmity, which was made even more awkward by Kakita Meiko's former relationship with the Lion and Jin-san's general obliviousness. The Lion excused himself, giving the companions some time to renew their rather unlikely friendship. They were interrupted, however, by the arrival of Shiba Ayaka, a young Phoenix woman who had her own past with most of the young samurai, but who immediately unmasked and called out Togashi Jin as a murderer before storming away, ignoring the calls from the others to either explain herself or to provider the Phoenix with some comforting words. A brief discussion revealed that Togashi Jin had valiantly fought and defeated the commander of a Phoenix castle during the prior year, likely saving many lives. It seemed, however, that said commander was none other than the brother to Shiba Ayaka. While Jin and the others felt bad for the young Phoenix, they all agreed that such was the way of Rokugan - the Phoenix commander had fought honorably and died well, and both he and Jin had been doing their duty for their Clans. What samurai could ask for more?Dark Stirrings Against the backdrop of the preparations for Court, the young samurai pick up on a number of dark stirrings within the city and maybe within the empire itself. Kuni Daizu had previously visited a village near the roadside shrine where the Crab were attacked by peasants. In that time, he had heard a few blasphemous mutterings about how the Celestial Order of Heaven was unjust and how the Samurai were not inherently better than the peasantry. Since such blasphemies were not directly related to the Shadow, he let it slide at the time, but in the wake of the recent attacks, perhaps that was not wise... Shosuro Ayame and Kakita Meiko both picked up on a dark and ugly mood in the City of the Peaceful Hills. While, on the surface, all was celebration and preparation for the upcoming Court, there was an undercurrent of... something. Perhaps fear. Perhaps anger. It was subtle and hard to identify, but both agreed that it was most assuredly there A Matter of Fire After spending some more time in the city, Togashi Jin and Kuni Daizu both caught wind of something burning. Daizu-san had a brief premonition of the entire City of the Peaceful Hills being consumed in a great conflagration and, as he headed towards the smoke, saw many fire kami who seemed to have a strange and hungry look about them. Togashi Jin could not see the kami, but he still ran towards trouble. When they arrived, they found a burning workshop and home, surrounded by bland-faced men in red sashes, backs to the flame, and seemingly indifferent to the crowd that had gathered. A family was off to one side, obviously distraught as their home burned. No one was fighting the fire, and in fact, it seemed that the bland-faced men were blocking anyone from doing so. For a brief moment, the Crab and Dragon stood still, shocked that nothing was being done. And then... Next time: Fight Fire with... steel? And, Court Is In Session
  11. I think of the events as a narrative interlude between "main" adventures, but "interactive backstory" isn't far of base, either. How I ran it was, after our mass battle at Tsuma, I explained how the next segment was going to work. Then I started with one of my players, read them the intro and the narrative bit, and presented them the choices (without informing them of the possible rewards/penalties). If they knew right away what they wanted to do, they told me right then. If not, I gave them some time to think and moved on to the next person. To go through 4 people at the table (16 events total) took a little under an hour. Everyone at the table heard everything, and there was some cool interconnectivity between the events that the players realized, even though their characters don't (and I trust them not to metagame it). Everyone walked a way with some new ideas about their characters, which was the goal... Since I'm not running an "Emerald Magistrates" style campaign, I wanted to give the party the idea that they're not just hanging out together "because reasons." They spent some time apart, and now, as the Court of the Peaceful Hill City opens, they'll be brought back together.
  12. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. To answer your questions: I've been running games for a long time... I ran my first game in the summer of 1989... so almost 30 years, give or take. And now I feel really, really old. I run lots of other games outside of L5R, but L5R is one of my favorites. It's one of the few settings that I feel lets you have meaningful (to the story) character to character conflict while still having non-adversarial relationships between the characters. Everything related in the summary is the result of player choices - they chose which cohorts to lead, chose the strategy, chose to challenge enemy leader's, etc... Meiko's player had a real choice as to whether or not to act as Toshimoko's second, and there would have been different strands later in the game based on that choice. The same general doctrine holds true for the previous sessions as well. Letting the players make meaningful choices (and having appropriate consequences) is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a good game. The interlude was a bit of an experiment, where in a more free-flow narrative, I presented each player with a series of events that happened in their year apart. Each "event" forced a choice on the player - do you do A or B (or sometimes C). Each choice came with its own rewards and consequences. The idea was to let the players feel like they were assuming their duties as samurai and adults before the next major segment of the game and to try and present them difficult choices that would shape their character. The actual write-up was pretty long, but here's one of the four to give you an idea of how I ran it (I did 1 event at a time for each player): _____ Togashi Jin In the months since your return, you have served nobly and honorably in the armies of Mirumoto Bokai-sama. With the uncertain times, a number of border flare-ups have occurred between the Dragon and the Phoenix. Each time, whichever clan instigated that attack, they then pulled back to wait and see if the wrath of Empire would fall upon them. Each time, the heralds and magistrates were silent. Event 1: What began as border flare-ups has now escalated to something closer to an ongoing conflict, not quite an open war. You have been tasked by Bokai-sama to lead a group of ashigaru on a raid against a series of Phoenix watchtowers deep in Phoenix territory. The series of raids goes off without a hitch, to the point that the final tower surrenders to you without a single casualty. This leaves you with a problem, however... you are deep in Phoenix territory, with a small, mobile force of infantry. Speed and stealth are your allies if you are to get back to Dragon lands. On the other hand, bringing the prisoners back would bring the Dragon clan even more glory while being an additional slap in the face of the Phoenix. Do you: Try to bring the prisoners back, knowing that the extra risk will be great... Make an Air / Survival check TN2. If successful, you escape unscathed. Gain 5 Glory. If you fail, word of your failure spreads. Lose 5 Glory. Release the prisoners, after getting their word of honor that they will raise no alarm for one week's time Gain 5 Honor. Execute the prisoners Gain 5 Glory. Event 2: It has been more than half a year since the events of the Topaz Championship. The conflict between the Dragon and the Phoenix continues, and Bokai-sama has decided that the time has come to expand his reach and break off a piece of the Phoenix lands for the Dragon. The province to which he is laying claim houses several small towns, a number of villages, and one small keep. Bokai-sama leads the siege on the keep himself, but tasks you with patrolling the surrounding areas and providing warning should a relief force approach. The duty is long, lasting for months and though no relief column shows up, you face a great deal of groundswell resistance from the surrounding villages. Finally, fed up with the constant guerrilla tactics, Bokai-sama orders an example to be made. He commands you to put a nearby village to the torch and suggests that it would be best if there were no survivors. Do you: Follow the orders, destroying the village and putting the villagers to the sword. Gain 10 Honor, Gain 10 Glory. Gain the Whispers of Cruelty disadvantage. Destroy the village, but let the villagers go. Gain 5 Honor. Gain 5 Glory. Do not destroy the village or harm the villagers in any way. Lose 5 Honor. Lose 5 Glory. Event 3: The siege upon the Phoenix lands has dragged on for months. It has now been nearly a year since the the Topaz Championship, though it seems like it's been far, far longer. For whatever reason, no relief column has come, for either side. Bokai-sama has grown frustrated with the delays, and orders a final, all-out assault on the castle, hoping to overcome the beleaguered defenders in the keep. You are in the van, fighting your way over the walls. In the press and swirl of combat, you catch a glimpse of the enemy commander. You think you can get to him, but in doing so, you'll have to abandon your unit. Without your leadership, they are likely to be overwhelmed and destroyed. On the other hand, if you can defeat the enemy commander in single combat, the garrison might surrender, saving many more lives. Do you: Sacrifice your unit in order to face the enemy commander in single combat Gain 5 Glory. Gain 1 Rank in Tactics. Stay with your unit and lead them through the battle with minimal casualties Gain 5 Honor. Gain 1 Rank in Command. Event 4: After six months of siege, the enemy has crumbled, and the Castle is yours. Mirumoto Bokai wastes no time moving his forces into the stronghold and immediately effecting repairs, securing it against any reprisals from the Phoenix. In this time, you get a message from home. With the main bulk of the forces gone for so long, the bandits in the mountains have grown bold and there have been numerous attacks on the family lands. Your parents are requesting that you request leave from Bokai-sama's service to return home and help deal with the more local, domestic issues. The call for help from your family is compelling, but you also know that in the coming days, there will be many new duties - and new promotions - handed out. Do you: Request leave from Bokai-sama and return home Though Bokai-sama will be disappointed, he will still end up awarding Jin the rank of Gunso. Jin will not, however, receive any additional influence. Ignore the request from your family and remain with the army There will be a great celebration held and as part of the ceremonies, Bokai-sama calls you before the assemblage. "In honor of your contributions to this campaign," he says, "I award you the rank of Gunso." Mechanically, Jin has been awarded a title, Gunso. This comes with a +5 status (or a raise to status 20 if the person's status is lower than that) and unlocks the school bits on p. 251 of the emerald empire campaign setting. In edition, he gains a set of lacquered armor. Jin will gain 1 Influence to spend at the Court scenes. ____ Good luck with session 3!
  13. Session 3: In Defense of TsumaExperience Earned: 4Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. She is accompanied by her long-time servant, Daisechs. Kuni Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan. Upon the Day of Battle With the war drums of a bakemono hoard sounding on the horizon, the young samurai rushed to Kakita Toshimoko's side. With so many of the experienced samurai dead or grievously injured, Toshimoko-sensei singled out the heroes to act as the leaders of what few defenses Tsuma could pull together in the hour or so before the battle would be joined. Each was given the responsibility of leading a cohort: the "younglings" consisting of students from the Kakita dueling academy and the contestants of the Topaz Championship were given into Kakita Meiko's care; the lone contingent of trained soldiers - some ashigaru archers - became the responsibility of Shocuro Ayame; the remaining forces, two cohorts of green peasant levies, were led by Kuni Daizu and Togashi Jin respectively. The Battle was joined, and the Defense of Tsuma began in earnest. Kakita Toshimoko, with the aid of his leaders, devised a plan to first Draw the Enemy In and then try to Grind them Down. While the battle took some time, the planning and prowess proved potent. The bakemono hoards suffered extensive casualties, and the momentum gained from well-executed orders chewed away at their discipline. But the true panic came when two of the enemy leaders were taken out within the span of a single hour, falling victim to heroic Clashes with Togashi Jin and Kuni Daizu. The hoard driven off, but far from killed to the man (or monster), the survivors went about the task of caring for the fallen and shoring up the defenses against what might be coming. They also pooled their knowledge to know that the numbers sent against them could not have simple crawled over the Kaiu Wall. The only way for an force such as this to appear in the heart of Rokugan was through the use of dark blood sorcery. A Matter of Honor Relief came a couple of days later, when a garrison from Son of Crane Castle and a contingent of priests showed up. The Crane warriors took the watch, while the leader met with Kakita Toshimoko. Given their first chance to stand down, the defenders retired to the House of the Laughing Carp to rest. The rest was short lived, as the evening brought sad news. A herald arrived, to inform all present that Kakita Toshimoko had brought great shame upon the clan. In a happening unprecedented since the start of the Topaz Championship centuries before, a student had died. Worse, numerous visiting samurai serving as judges and given surety by the clan, had been killed in the attack. And, finally, the land itself was now tainted by the aftermath of the battle, rendering Tsuma and the finest dueling academy in the Empire a place unsuitable for human life. Given this, Kakita Toshimoko chose to the honorable thing. The following day, he would exercise the rites of expiation and take his own life. The herald then offered Kakita Meiko a scroll sealed with the personal seal of Kakita Toshimoko himself. Within was a simple request - for the new-minted Topaz Champion who had performed so admirably in the battle to act as his second and wield the blade that took his, did she deem him worthy of such a death. The Fall of Toshimoko The following morning, the ceremony took place. Kakita Toshimoko-sensei with Kakita Meiko acting as his second performed seppuku clearing the stain of honor from his soul and that of his clan. Meiko-san struck with mercy and precision, her blade claiming Kakita-san's head at the perfect moment, so that he felt only enough pain from the ritual disembowelment to meet the demands of honor before being mercifully ended. In the somber time that followed, the companions, having assumed the true mantle and responsibility of adulthood, prepared to return to their respective lands. A not-so-Peaceful Interulde A year passed with the companions separated. In this time, each companion was presented with a series of choices to make. I'm not going to detail all the nuance of those choices, but I'll attempt to summarize briefly the year that was spent by each player. During this year, the throne of the Emerald Champion sat empty, and the Clans began to test the limits of what they could get away with without the Emperor's right-hand at their station. Togashi Jin - The Dragon, under the command of the provincial daimyo Mirumoto Bokai began an incursion into Phoenix lands, looking to bite off a nice chunk of the mountains to expand his own holdings. Togashi Jin served well and honorably, threading the needle between following orders and becoming a heartless warlord in his own right. In the end, he held true to his ambitions of being a soldier, and after a successful campaign against the Phoenix, was awarded the title of Gunso. Kakita Meiko - As the new Topaz Champion, Kakita Meiko was offered a choice to pursue her interest in dueling by heading the City of the Rich Frog to support the Crane delegation there and answer any questions of violence with her blade, or to hone her understanding of the inner workings of the Crane by serving as Adviser to her provincial daimyo, Kakita Jomei. Feeling she could better support her clan at her daimyo's side, she opted to accept the title and spend a year in politics. Almost at once, she learned how dirty politics could be, as she was approached by Doji Fuchida to overthrow the old and weak Jomei-sama, "for the good of the clan." Despite some misgivings, Meiko-san held true, remaining a faithful servant of her lord. Things turned a bit more personal, as she received word from Hitoshi's mother, seeking closure for the death of her son. Not believing the Mantis' theory (that Hitoshi was ordered killed by his father, Toshimoko) Meiko vowed to find out the truth and let the Mantis know. Her year ended with another missive, this from a dear friend among the Phoenix, who informed her that her father's lands had been overrun by the Dragon. While she knew their was nothing Meiko-chan could do directly, Shiba Ayaka begged Meiko-chan to help her find vengeance, by challenging Mirmoto Bokai's son to a duel and killing him. Still torn by the death of Kakita Toshimoko, Meiko refused. Unfortunately, driven to the brink of madness by her helplessness and the usurpation of her home, Shiba Ayaka declared her own enmity towards her one-time friend. Kuni Daizu - While the others played the game of politics, Kuni Daizu spent a year on the wall. The Shadowlands seemed to be stirring, and before long a minor breech occurred. Daizu-san went with Hiruma scouts to find the source... and discovered instead an entire village that had given in to the taint and simply allowed the creatures of the Shadowlands to pass. He ordered the entire village put to the sword. Not long after, he began having visions of obsidian Geisha statues. They plagued his sleep to the point that he had to do something. Still feeling guilt over the loss of the statue at the Kakita Dojo, he made his way to Tsuma (still thoroughly uninhabitable) and then outward, seeking the lands of Kakita Naomori. He found them, but also discovered that Naomori-san had died unexpectedly. While her family had no notion, Kuni-san could smell the taint of blood magic. Not long after, he was visited at the Wall by a Jade Magistrate, who seemed to suspect Daizu-san in Naomori's death. Being almost mechanically incapable of lying, Daizu-san told the Jade Magistrate everything. Sensing something in the young Kuni, the Magistrate accepted his tale and offered to make him her apprentice, earning Daizu-san the title of Yoriki. Later, Kuni-san was visited by what looked like the shade of Naomori-san. The spirit attempted to seduce him, but Daizu raised the alarm and the apparition simply looked at him sadly before vanishing. It left behind one of the obsidian geisha statues - and left Daizu with the Haunting adversity. Shosuro Ayame - Welcomed back after her successful mission, Ayame-san was almost immediately dispatched to continue her work for the Scorpion. It began with intercepting a missive from the Phoenix, headed towards Lion lands. Ayame-san managed to complete that task without bloodshed. Next, she was sent to the Castle of Akodo Tanaka, nominally to serve an apprenticeship of sorts and learn about the different clans, but, in actuality, to attempt to undermine negotiations between the Phoenix and the Lion to secure the Lion's alliance against the Dragon. Ayame-san did this first by seducing a young samurai among the Phoenix (Shiba Shiro) and using him as a conduit of information. This worked well until she overplayed her hand, and assassins were set upon her. Ayame-san managed to defeat them, but one, a young Phoenix whose shinobi-style mask came off during the fighting, stirred deep feelings in the romantic side of Ayame's nature and she couldn't bring herself to strike him down when the opportunity arose, so he managed to escape. Knowing that she didn't have much time left in the wake of the assassination attempts, Ayame-san had to attempt a desperate ploy. She decided to assassinate the lead envoy of the Phoenix in such a way that hinted at Lion foul play, souring the burgeoning alliance between the two clans. When she returned home, her daimyo, Shosuro Kiyoshi, awarded her the formal title of Spy. The Emperor's Peace It has been a tumultuous time in the Empire of Rokugan with conflicts breaking out among the clans. But no more. Heralds have gone out across the length and breadth of the Empire, and with them they have carried the seal of Imperial Peace. In celebration of his upcoming birthday, the Emperor has declared that no clan shall lift blade or spear against another and that all conflicts must be put on hold. The peace will last for three months time, and woe be unto the Clan that dares break it. With the throne of the Emerald Champion still vacant, the proclamation lacks some of its teeth, but the Emperor's will is still the will of Heaven, and few in Rokugan would go against it. As such, the Clan Daimyos have agreed, and word has spread that a general armistice is in effect. Though it is not the season for Court, invitations flow in the wake of the Emperor's edict, calling samurai of all rank and station to Courts across the land. The purpose of these Courts is clear - discuss what is to be done about the lack of an Emerald Champion and cement new alliances against the stirrings of war that are sweeping across the land. While you may not be high enough in the ranks to receive your own invitation, you have each been tapped by your respective Daimyos to accompany them to a Court taking place at the City of the Peaceful Hills. Peaceful Hills is located in Lion lands, but sits close enough to the border of both Scorpion and Northern Crane lands to see many visitors from both. It is also relatively centrally located within the Empire, making it easier for delegations from all the clans to attend. Given that the heart of any Court is politics and that every resource should be put to use, you have all been tasked with certain things by your daimyos. Next Time: The Court of Peaceful Hills City...
  14. Session 2: The Idol, the Duel, and the MurderExperience Earned: 5Dramatis Personae Kakita Meiko - A Crane duelist who struggles with her innate soft-hardheartedness and her quest for perfection. She is accompanied by her long-time servant, Daisechs. Kunis Daizu - A Crab purifier, intent on tracking down the Shadow wherever it may go. Togashi Jin - A Dragon bushi cursed with bad luck and destined to be a great soldier. Shosuro Ayame - A Scorpion courtier (so far as anyone knows) who secretly works as an infiltrator and, perhaps, shinobi for her clan.A Wild EveningOn the evening after a long day of competition, Togashi Jin and Kakita Meiko headed to the Poisoned Water Sake House along with most of the other competitors. The only exceptions were Kunis Daizu, who decided to take the time to investigate the sense of evil he perceived within the dojo proper, Shosuro Ayame who elected to retire to her room to rest and prepare for the next day's competition, and Bayushi Mei-Lin whose whereabouts were unknown. Along the way to the sake house, Togashi Jin, aware of his clan's orders to win the tournament at all costs, sought out Kitsuki Yuikimi, last year's champion, to pick her brain for anything that might be of use in the coming days. Meanwhile, Kakita Meiko attempted to console Moto Batbayar, by drawing her into conversation and, being softhearted, convince her that maybe her injured horse could still be useful. This backfired when she suggested that the noble Unicorn steed might be suitable to be a pack animal or some such. Narrowly avoiding a duel in the streets, Kakita Meiko made her way to the Poisoned Water Sake House as well. She sought out Hitoshi, the young Mantis clan samurai, who was drinking alone. She attempted to make him feel welcome among the samurai of the great clans. Moto BatbayarMeanwhile, Kunis Daizu made his way into the storage chambers beneath the dojo where, among other things, he found what appeared to be the personal effects of several people. The darkness was calling him from somewhere within. He searched the belongings and found an obsidian idol carved into the likeness of a sad geisha. Unsure what to do with this obviously tainted item, he took it to one of the judges, Kakita Naomori, to get her thoughts. He learned that the belongings beneath the dojo came from former students who died and asked that their belongings be returned to the school. This triggered some odd flash in Daizu's mind, where he saw himself, standing in the Shadowlands, holding an obsidian Geisha statue, but not the one he had just uncovered. Was this one of his lost memories? Unfortunately, his painful honestly got the better of him, and he informed Kakita-san that the Crane shugenja had failed in their responsibilities. Angered, Naomori instructed the Kunis to leave the item with her.Back at the Poisoned Water Sake House a group of ronin arrived and immediately began hurling insults at the young samurai present. A brawl broke out, with Togashi Jin throwing the first punch. Kakita Meiko managed to stay out of it and only observe. She did note that Togashi Jin in a cunning and somewhat ruthless display, seemed to intentionally hurl a ronin into an unsuspecting Kakita Riku, injuring her and worsening her chances in the coming days of the tournament. With the excitement for the day at an end, all the contestants retired to their chambers to await the next day's competition.Competition and Murder Most Foul The day's competition went smoothly, with the young heroes performing exceptionally well and most of the other samurai having a solid showing as well. There were a few performances that were a bit sub-par, most notably that of Kakita Riku, who seemed to be suffering from some broken ribs.With the evening came the feat and presentation of gifts, to somewhat mixed results. The Scorpion and the Dragon managed to provide gifts pleasing to Kakita Toshimoko, though the gifts from the Crab and the Crane fell a bit flat. When Hitoshi was passed over and not even given the opportunity to present his gift, he pushed himself to his feet in a rage and challenged Kakita Toshimoko to a duel. Hitoshi was red-faced and sweating, clearly out of sorts. Then he began to shudder and a gout of blood spurted from his mouth. He fell across the table, having some kind of seizure. Then he laid still, clearly dead.After a few moments of chaos, Toshimoko ordered everyone back to their chambers.Back at the House of the Laughing Carp, the traveling companions gathered in Hitoshi's quarters (those he shared with Togashi Jin) and went through his belongings, looking for anything that would explain his sudden death and likely murder. They found nothing out of the ordinary. The only item of real note was a small travel painting of a young Mantis woman. Servants of Toshimoko came to claim the belongings, presumably to look through them in the same way the companions had. Shosuro Ayame kept the small painting, intending to find out who the woman was. With no other recourse, the young samurai held a brief vigil for Hitoshi and then retired.A Day of Dueling... When the contestants gathered at dawn of the final day of the Topaz Championship they found a disheveled and saddened Kakita Toshimoko awaiting them. He explained that it appeared Hitoshi had been murdered, and that the Mantis seemed to be the only target. His people were investigating, but in the meantime, the tournament must go on. With that, he revealed the bracket of matchups that pitted the remaining contestants against one another. Yasuki Jun immediately bowed out, acknowledging the rest of the opponents as superior to him. Kakita Meiko was paired with Moto Batbayar and (unintentionally) offered up a humiliating defeat. Togashi Jin defeated Bayushi Mei-Lin, striking her so hard that he shattered her face, broke her nose, and may very well have permanently scarred the girl. Shosuro Ayame, paired against a Kakita Riku that hardly seemed slowed by her injuries, elected to acknowledge a superior opponent and concede. Kunis Daizu had a hard-fought duel against Shiba Toya, but ultimately fell before him. Kakita Meiko bowled through Kitsu Tsubasa and found herself facing her companion, Togashi Jin. It was a hard-fought duel, but, ultimately, the specialized skills of the Kakita overcame the more warlike training of the Dragon, and Kakita Meiko advanced to the final round. There, she faced off against Kakita Riku, the star pupil of Toshimoko-sensei.Bayushi Mei-Lin The duel was quick, but intense. Both contestants landed strikes, became compromised and went for simultaneous finishing blows. Again, they both landed, but Kakita Riku, slowed as she was by her injured ribs, clearly had the less-solid strike. After some deliberation, the victory, and the honor of being Topaz Champion. The formal presentation would be held that evening, 2 hours after sunsent, at a grand feast (and hopefully, one not interrupted with murder). ... An Evening of Horror As the sun fell and the contestants prepared for the feast, screams rang throughout Tsuma. Rushing from their rooms, the samurai found the halls full of bakemono, these clad in garb that looked like a poor imitation of what shinobi might wear. The ensuing battle raged in the House of the Laughing Carp and then spilled out into the streets. There, the newly-minted samurai saw that the ninja-bakemono were everywhere. The judges from the competition were fighting against them, but were being overwhelmed. Worse, near the dojo itself, a might oni towered, casually tearing the life from the samurai who tried to stand against it.As the young samurai finished off the last of the bakemono near the House of the Laughing Carp and rallied the other contestants to them, Kakita Toshimoko strode out to confront the oni. In a display of mastery that showed why he was the main instructor of the most renown dueling academy, he moved like lightening and the oni fell before him. There was a moment of absolute, perfect stillness.And then the party heard the steady approach of war drums... SPOILERS -- If you're one of my players, don't read this... Hitoshi was murdered by one of the players. They had received a mission from their clan to eitehr see that he won or, if it looked like it would be impossible for Hitioshi to be named Topaz Champion, to remove him entirely. This will feature into the Clan's plans at a later time in the campaign.
  15. I've got a "dangerous fauna" encounter planned. It sounds like the best approach is to go for the "make these check to see how bad of a state you are when you get there" kind of thing. I was leaning that way, anyway, but didn't know if there were any other takes on it. I mean, apart from doing a whole scripted mini-adventure thing like with the pirates mentioned above.
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