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ShermanS

In the Palace of the Emerald Champion

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Ok, so my players have requested that I run them through In the Palace of the Emerald Champion so they can get a better feel for the world before creating their own characters. I kind of hate this adventure, but I want to make the most of it. I ran through Act I: The Journey, tonight and it was fine. I despise random encounters as a general rule, and these are more random than most. Three encounters that have zero to do with any plot is just painful, but I did it, and it was nice for us to see more of the combat rules... Though I imagine there could have been plot + combat somehow.

Anyway, I find the entire premise baffling. Why does Sumiko want another investigation into the Emerald Champion's death if the only explanation she's willing to accept is that it was natural causes? In fact, she's only willing to officially announce it was natural causes. They had an internal investigation, they found that he died of natural causes, but she wants a group of novices to the castle to "prove" it and put everyone's minds at rest on the matter? This is frustratingly obtuse. Is there a good way to make this at all plausible and still give a feel for the world? It would be way more intriguing if she did something about it at least... Or was hoping they'd find out what was going on since she didn't trust the initial investigation and thought it was an inside job. Maybe I'll do that. 

I'm not impressed by the official adventures... Even in the starter box, I'm still not sure how a Major Clan sent their top aspirant to complete their gempuku at the Jade Championship with an order to commit seppuku if they failed. I don't see how failure should even be an option for the top samurai in the clans... The Crab clan drunkard I explained away as an insult by the Crab who don't have time for games while they're stopping the destruction of the world. Jun was everyone's favorite in the party, but I couldn't see the Crab taking him seriously as a contender for that year's Jade Champion...

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32 minutes ago, player387247 said:

I despise random encounters as a general rule, and these are more random than most. Three encounters that have zero to do with any plot is just painful, but I did it, and it was nice for us to see more of the combat rules... Though I imagine there could have been plot + combat somehow.

Airi the Tengu and the Merchants & Goblins certainly have nothing to do with the plot - Meeting Ryu again and the Bandits arguably do. I'd agree that just sticking to those two would probably have been enough, though.

34 minutes ago, player387247 said:

Why does Sumiko want another investigation into the Emerald Champion's death if the only explanation she's willing to accept is that it was natural causes? In fact, she's only willing to officially announce it was natural causes.

Because whilst she may only announce 'natural causes', she wants to know the truth - the actual truth, not the verdict reached by whoever investigated it before - note that since she was at Tsuma at the time of the Topaz Championship, and has been run off her feet as acting Emerald Champion, she may not have had a chance to be involved in the investigation.

39 minutes ago, player387247 said:

They had an internal investigation, they found that he died of natural causes, but she wants a group of novices to the castle to "prove" it and put everyone's minds at rest on the matter?

No. She wants a group of novices to look into it and find out what happened. She explicitly orders them not to discuss the investigation with anyone else, so no-one knows she's done it.

She's using low-status newbies so that they can't insist their findings be the basis for her decision - she's doing this for her own benefit, not anyone elses. No-one else knows their investigation is happening, so it's not to 'put anyone's mind at rest' (indeed it'd be a non-too-subtle insult to whoever investigated the first time if they find out Agasha Sumiko is having someone check their homework).

Note the last bit:

"You overhear lots of chatter later in the day. When you ask someone, it seems that the Ruby Champion has released her long-awaited official declaration concerning the Emerald Champion's recent death. After much reflection and review, she has confirmed that the death was from natural causes."

So whilst the investigation (the 'proper' one) delivered an answer, it wasn't 'official' because the Ruby Champion hadn't signed off on it yet. She was never not going to sign off on it (because it's the best answer for the empire), but wanted to know beforehand whether any elements of the case were going to come back on the Emerald Magistrature, the Empire as a whole, or her in particular, when she did so (in this case "oh, bloody heck, the Kolat are here").

 

54 minutes ago, player387247 said:

Jun was everyone's favorite in the party, but I couldn't see the Crab taking him seriously as a contender for that year's Jade Champion...

Well, whilst he may like Sake, he's clearly competent at tactics - being the front runner in the Go contest, even if he's not much cop in the combat tasks (losing out on sumai, weaponry and archery...), and - for all we know - a gifted negotiator.

Thing is, the Topaz Champion doesn't really....do anything. They have no particular duties or authority, so there's nothing particular for the Crab to gain by pursuing it that emphatically (Hida Sugi is a pretty good contender, if a bit wide-eyed). It's not necessarily that the Crab are trying to insult anyone, but that Hida Kisada isn't going to go around hand-picking contestants* because it just doesn't matter enough. Equally, we don't know what strings Yasuki Jun may have pulled to get himself an invite. He's stated not to be taking the contest itself too seriously himself, but wants the chance to make contacts with promising scions of other clans - which in itself is a vital tool for a courtier.

After all, your PCs found him entertaining, and - win or lose the tournament - would probably be inclined to take a letter from Yasuki Jun seriously at some future date, wouldn't they?

 

1 hour ago, player387247 said:

I'm still not sure how a Major Clan sent their top aspirant to complete their gempuku at the Jade Championship with an order to commit seppuku if they failed. I don't see how failure should even be an option for the top samurai in the clans...

It isn't - especially to Bushido-means-victory-or-death sorts like the Lion. They're not necessarily expecting Kitsu Tsubasa to fail - indeed he doesn't fail (by my count he comes away with a respectable ten points even if you beat him in the Heraldry contest) - but that doesn't mean that having been told "pass or kill yourself" that he's not entitled to a little private nervousness....

 

 

 

* Whilst Togashi Yokuni apparently did, despite (or maybe because of) Togashi Yoshi being a private Perfect Land sympathiser. But who knows why that masked mystic weirdo does anything?

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   The encounters that have nothing to do with the plot are all plot hooks which are actually designed for GM's to easily tie other adventures into the main adventure line.

The adventure outright says that Sumiko chooses the PC's because they are considered heroes after their actions during the Topaz championship, but they don't have many political entanglements.  Consider the storyline to be a manifestation of Sumiko's Giri v. Ninjo.  The Ruby Champion has the Giri for doing what is best for the empire, but her passion is for truth.. for that reason (if nothing else), she'll only give one possible outcome, but she wants to know what's actually going on.

  You say that Sumiko is being "obtuse", but what exactly do you find obtuse about it?  Consider that only about 10 people in the Empire could actually even call Sumiko's findings into question.  Of those, only the Emperor himself could actually make Sumiko answer for her findings.  If Sumiko wanted to, she could literally just say "There was an investigation" and very few people would be able to question her.  If she was worried about any of those ten actually questioning her, she could have simply assigned someone like Yasuki Jun to the investigation knowing he would be passed out drunk the whole time.  In other words, the actual Samurai involved in the investigation doesn't really matter for the purposes of the findings.  With that said, Sumiko still assigns samurai to the investigation.. knowing that these samurai can't actually impact the outcome of the investigation,  Sumiko doesn't want samurai who actually have important things to do.  Wanting to make sure she isn't being manipulated, Sumiko wants to use samurai who haven't had much exposure to the political machinations of the empire.

  In essence, because the task they are given is NOT in the best interests of the empire, but is only to fulfill Sumiko's personal desires, assigning Samurai that are inexperienced but trustworthy is actually ideal.  I also want to point out that we don't know Sumiko doesn't actually do anything about what the PC's find.  The adventure ends right after the Ruby Champion's findings and it seems that Sumiko is now watching certain people more closely than she had been before.  For all we know, those people end up dead the next day.. or they are found guilty in "unrelated matters" or something like that.

  As for the Lion in the Topaz champion..  keep in mind that he's only being ordered to pass his Gempukku..  if he doesn't pass he's not samurai anyway, so you could view the seppuku idea as "This is how you can show that you're still samurai even if you don't pass gempukku".

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Lots of good points here, so I will tackle them one at a time.

5 hours ago, player387247 said:

Ok, so my players have requested that I run them through In the Palace of the Emerald Champion so they can get a better feel for the world before creating their own characters. I kind of hate this adventure, but I want to make the most of it. I ran through Act I: The Journey, tonight and it was fine. I despise random encounters as a general rule, and these are more random than most. Three encounters that have zero to do with any plot is just painful, but I did it, and it was nice for us to see more of the combat rules... Though I imagine there could have been plot + combat somehow.

Honestly? Then do not make them random! My solution was to do a variation on the "Mass Battle Table" from older versions of the RPG. The travel from Tsuma Village to the Palace of the Emerald Champion along the Imperial Highway still required some actual skill at navigation and reading road maps. I took a nod from the Intrigue mechanics, and made it a "Travel Scene" where PCs rolled Survival, Culture, and other applicable Skills along with a particular Approach. "Random Encounters" were actually titled, and had an "Opportunity Cost" that they could buy. The party just needed to make a certain number of successes within a certain number of "rounds" to get there on time (and if it took more than that, they simply arrived late and lost some Glory). This made the PCs invested in the process of reaching the Palace of the Emerald Champion, but ALSO invested in the encounters on the road, as their natural curiosity caused them to try for the higher Opportunity cost (and thus more distinct) encounters.

I have refit this system for the "Random Encounters" in the Beginner's Box, and we'll see if it works there as well.

5 hours ago, player387247 said:

Anyway, I find the entire premise baffling. Why does Sumiko want another investigation into the Emerald Champion's death if the only explanation she's willing to accept is that it was natural causes? In fact, she's only willing to officially announce it was natural causes. They had an internal investigation, they found that he died of natural causes, but she wants a group of novices to the castle to "prove" it and put everyone's minds at rest on the matter? This is frustratingly obtuse. Is there a good way to make this at all plausible and still give a feel for the world? It would be way more intriguing if she did something about it at least... Or was hoping they'd find out what was going on since she didn't trust the initial investigation and thought it was an inside job. Maybe I'll do that. 

I think that this is where a GM needs to handle the matter delicately. Agasha Sumiko probably knows that Satsume was murdered. She is a Dragon, after all, and she is not a fool. She knew Satsume had enemies, and she suspected he may have had elicit dealings. Her characterization in the fiction shows her having direct, undeniable proof of the unworthiness of the Imperial Heir, but also being able to walk the fine tightrope of that knowledge. However, the most important part is not that the PCs discover it is "natural causes", but that it LOOKS sufficiently like "natural causes" that the CRANE CLAN CHAMPION WHO IS IN SUMIKO'S HOUSE has a reason to not go to war over the death of her father or demand someone's execution. If handled well, this becomes the perfect example of how to handle a matter wherein what is honorable, what is legal, and what is moral are all separate options.

Of course, in the version I ran, I changed the identity of the person pulling the strings on the assassin... (SPOILERS) to Agasha Sumiko. She had Satsume assassinated because she discovered he was a Kolat asset, and tasked the PCs with investigating to make sure that all the pieces of her cover up were in place, especially when that assassin gets the orders to attack her as well and is unknowingly attacking the very person who ordered both assassinations, as that takes care of a loose end. (END SPOILERS)

6 hours ago, player387247 said:

I'm not impressed by the official adventures... Even in the starter box, I'm still not sure how a Major Clan sent their top aspirant to complete their gempuku at the Jade Championship with an order to commit seppuku if they failed. I don't see how failure should even be an option for the top samurai in the clans... The Crab clan drunkard I explained away as an insult by the Crab who don't have time for games while they're stopping the destruction of the world. Jun was everyone's favorite in the party, but I couldn't see the Crab taking him seriously as a contender for that year's Jade Champion...

I also never liked the idea that "if you fail, you have to kill yourself!" aspect of the Topaz Championship. I always liked the idea of "Return home in shame", which means a lot of different things depending on your Clan. The Crab Clan honestly does not care if you fail, as long as you rise up again, stronger and better. The Crane Clan would most likely ask you to kill yourself, but if you are well connected, you might just get a backwater post in an irrelevant corner of the Empire. The Dragon Clan would probably just say "Well, now you have a learning opportunity", and just go forward with it, since they cannot afford to lose children. The Lion Clan would likely refuse your gempukku, and make you a ronin. If you kill yourself over that, that's on you. The Phoenix Clan may ask you to commit seppukku if you are a Shiba, but an Asako or Isawa is just likely to get put on permanent book-writing duty. The Unicorn Clan will probably go "Well, it's a rigged contest anyways. You tried your best. Let's put you on the Sand Road for about ten years, until everyone forgets." Unless you're Utaku. Sorry, Utaku shiotome, but you are apologizing to your ancestors in person.

For the Scorpion Clan, this is a perfect opportunity. Now, you have nothing in the public life left for you. You have lost. You have failed. And the Scorpion Clan has uses for those who no longer want their old identities...

Yasuki Jun is a fun character, especially considering that unless the PCs intervene? He cannot reach his gempukku unless you fudge the points (an oversight of the writers, I think). This is why I usually call this out on the second day, going into the Go competition. Point out that Jun might not reach the necessary points, and then let the players decide if they want to oust him as the top spot. Make his failure (or success) a choice of the PCs. INVEST them in that decision.

Likewise, I usually play Kakita Riku as a classic Heel. She knows she's the favorite for the competition, because she's OBVIOUSLY the best. She's been preparing for this competition for seven years. She knows all the contests. She knows all the contestants. Unless you have a PC playing a Kakita duelist? Make her the heel that everyone wants to beat.

And then (SPOILERS) have her almost kill Hitoshi, and break down into actual tears at what she's done. Shake her to the core of her being. Have her fight the judges who pull her off the field, yelling for someone to help Hitoshi. Make her a human being, a CHILD who just almost accidentally killed someone, and when the PCs get back? She is resolutely begging for the right to commit seppuku to cleanse her Clan's shame. Make her humble. Make her human, and you will have an NPC that the PCs will remember for years to come. (END SPOILERS)

So, those are my thoughts. I hope they do you well!

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17 hours ago, sndwurks said:

Honestly? Then do not make them random! My solution was to do a variation on the "Mass Battle Table" from older versions of the RPG. The travel from Tsuma Village to the Palace of the Emerald Champion along the Imperial Highway still required some actual skill at navigation and reading road maps. I took a nod from the Intrigue mechanics, and made it a "Travel Scene" where PCs rolled Survival, Culture, and other applicable Skills along with a particular Approach. "Random Encounters" were actually titled, and had an "Opportunity Cost" that they could buy. The party just needed to make a certain number of successes within a certain number of "rounds" to get there on time (and if it took more than that, they simply arrived late and lost some Glory). This made the PCs invested in the process of reaching the Palace of the Emerald Champion, but ALSO invested in the encounters on the road, as their natural curiosity caused them to try for the higher Opportunity cost (and thus more distinct) encounters.

I have refit this system for the "Random Encounters" in the Beginner's Box, and we'll see if it works there as well.

That's a very good idea. I like the successes to arrive on time (I doubt bonus successes really do anything, but not 'enough' momentum points costing glory makes sense).

I guess you could have 'the journey' generate a number of momentum points each 'round' (or 'eat up' a fixed number of the PCs).

 

17 hours ago, sndwurks said:

I also never liked the idea that "if you fail, you have to kill yourself!" aspect of the Topaz Championship. I always liked the idea of "Return home in shame", which means a lot of different things depending on your Clan. The Crab Clan honestly does not care if you fail, as long as you rise up again, stronger and better. The Crane Clan would most likely ask you to kill yourself, but if you are well connected, you might just get a backwater post in an irrelevant corner of the Empire. The Dragon Clan would probably just say "Well, now you have a learning opportunity", and just go forward with it, since they cannot afford to lose children. The Lion Clan would likely refuse your gempukku, and make you a ronin. If you kill yourself over that, that's on you. The Phoenix Clan may ask you to commit seppukku if you are a Shiba, but an Asako or Isawa is just likely to get put on permanent book-writing duty. The Unicorn Clan will probably go "Well, it's a rigged contest anyways. You tried your best. Let's put you on the Sand Road for about ten years, until everyone forgets." Unless you're Utaku. Sorry, Utaku shiotome, but you are apologizing to your ancestors in person.

This. Not everyone would expect someone to kill themselves, but "return home in shame" does mean a lot more to the Lion than to other clans, and it's quite likely they would seriously consider ordering (or subtly hinting at) seppuku rather than accepting that.

17 hours ago, sndwurks said:

Likewise, I usually play Kakita Riku as a classic Heel. She knows she's the favorite for the competition, because she's OBVIOUSLY the best. She's been preparing for this competition for seven years. She knows all the contests. She knows all the contestants. Unless you have a PC playing a Kakita duelist? Make her the heel that everyone wants to beat.

And then (SPOILERS) have her almost kill Hitoshi, and break down into actual tears at what she's done. Shake her to the core of her being. Have her fight the judges who pull her off the field, yelling for someone to help Hitoshi. Make her a human being, a CHILD who just almost accidentally killed someone, and when the PCs get back? She is resolutely begging for the right to commit seppuku to cleanse her Clan's shame. Make her humble. Make her human, and you will have an NPC that the PCs will remember for years to come. (END SPOILERS)

I pretty much saw that as how she was shown in the story. Having her be the only one of the contestants the PCs don't meet before Scene 4 immediately sets her apart and sets her up as 'the one to beat'. And, yes, given the circumstances, an emotional breakdown is not especially unreasonable. These characters are ultimately either teenagers or little beyond that (depending on clan, school and life experiences), after all.

17 hours ago, sndwurks said:

However, the most important part is not that the PCs discover it is "natural causes", but that it LOOKS sufficiently like "natural causes" that the CRANE CLAN CHAMPION WHO IS IN SUMIKO'S HOUSE has a reason to not go to war over the death of her father or demand someone's execution. If handled well, this becomes the perfect example of how to handle a matter wherein what is honorable, what is legal, and what is moral are all separate options.

Indeed. As I said before, she's never not going to sign off on the 'official verdict' but she needs to know what may be lurking in the shadows, and just as importantly, that Doji Hotaru isn't going to come up with a contradictory theory - especially with evidence, or worse yet, testimony, to support it! - after she's done so.

 

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The adventure makes a lot more sense if you realize that almost always there is daylight between what a major Rokugan NPC asks for and what he or she really wants. Canny players should always have an eye out for that daylight and be as interested in the “holistics” of where they are, what they are being asked to do, and the interests of their clan, their sponsor & the empire. Maybe they will also develop angles they want to pursue as well...even simple things can get complicated quickly when you pulled in different directions.

A lot of good things have been said about what the Ruby Champion is up to. And why she uses the PCs the way she does. PCs should be wary about a powerful noble giving them weird tasks. And given how they are powering through to become Emerald Magistrates, the circumstances ARE weird. They should also be cognizant that the Ruby Champion is potentially a powerful ally (or a terrible enemy). If they don’t catch on that there are under currents, you could have the Scorpion in the Library share “a story” that illuminates the current situation with thinly veiled “fictional characters.” Perhaps in exchange for a future favor to be named later...

I agree the random encounters could be tied into the plot more. I recommend the Tengu ask PCs Koan-like questions that illuminate the struggle between justice and preserving the peace. That can turn the encounter into foreshadowing.

Good Luck

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