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A Time of Troubles: An L5R Campaign

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I thought I'd share my campaign summaries... the first game was a smashing success!  My players thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to play again (though, we've got a bit of downtime with the holidays).  I'm a long time L5R player, but most of my group is new to it.  Doomsayers aside, I think I like 5e at least as well as 4e and maybe even a little more, and we certainly had fun with creative opportunity spend (like the Crane duelist spending opportunity to make sure the blood sprayed AWAY from her so as not to soil her finery).

I started with a heavily modified version of the Beginners Game. 

  • Each player has a regional daimyo to which they are beholden and that daimyo has tasked each young samurai with a secondary goal to be accomplished while at their gempukku ceremony. 
    • The Crane has been told that the Clan's enemies are whispering that they have evidence of some scandal on Kakita Toshimoko's part that will cause great embarrassment and loss of face.  The Crane must find out what this is so the Clan can be prepared.
    • The Dragon has been tasked with winning the Topaz Championship at all costs, so that the Clan can boast back-to-back Topaz champions
    • The Crab has been told that somewhere within Tsuma, there is evidence of taint and it must be found and dealt with
    • The Scorpion has been tasked with ensuring that Hitoshi wins the Topaz championship, but if it looks like that will be impossible, to "remove" him instead
  • I've thrown the ghost story out entirely because I'm not going the Emerald Magistrate route with the campaign and have different plans with respect to the Emerald Champion (though Satsume-sama is still dead at the start of my version of things and the group still encounters Ryu
  • I've added a new sub-story to the Topaz Championship adventure that revolves around the idea of a tainted artifact that is currently being stored in the Kakita Dueling Academy dojo.  The premise is that a well-known member of the Academy died on the Wall and his belongings were sent back to the Academy where they have remained.  Among them was a totem of some sort that is deeply tainted.  It is being sought by a maho-tsuki, which will come up later in the game

I strongly suspect my game will deviate pretty sharply from the "standard" Topaz Championship, but so far, it's off to a pretty good start.   The summary below is as presented to my players, which is why it has XP awarded and such (and hopefully the pictures will load).  So, without further ado, here's Session 1....

Session 1: The 3:10 to Tsuma
Experience Earned: 4

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.
  • 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 Curtain Rises

It is the 20th year of the reign of the Divine Emperor, Hantei the 38th. The Emerald Empire has stood for 1,000 years, thanks to the guidance of the kami and the wise benevolence of the Hantei emperors. Each of the seven Great Clans vies eternally to be first in the Emperor's favor while safeguarding Rokugan from its many enemies, within and without.

The Topaz Championship is a chance for each clan to test their best and brightest against one another. Though all contestants can pass the tests and become a samurai, the winner claims glory for themselves and their clan.

You have each been chosen, honored, to undertake the journey to the village of Tsuma, deep in the Crane territory, where, as your gempukku ceremony, you will compete for the Topaz Championship. You have met each other along the road, and as you are all traveling to the same place, for the same purpose, have chosen to cross the last miles together.

A Matter of Bakemono

The young samurai-to-be (and one older and somewhat put-upon servant) traveled down the road towards Tsuma when Daizu-san was distracted by the appearance of a earth kami who bid him beware and make ready. Moments later, despite being deep in Crane territory and a long, long way from the Kaiu Wall, a half-dozen bakemono burst from the surrounding brush armed with broken spears and armored in the cast-off bits and pieces of ashigaru armor. In the ensuing fight, the Rokugani proved their mettle, easily slaying the foul creatures.  A fire kami appeared to Daizu-san, leading him to the trail that the bakemono left in their wake.
Never Split the Party

After some discussion, Ayame, Jin, and Meiko all decided to continue on to Tsuma, unwilling to get sidetracked from their duty and risk bringing dishonor on themselves by showing up late to their gempukku.  Daizu, however, torn between his duty and the need to hunt down the tainted creatures, opted to follow the trail.

The trio followed the road for a couple of hours more, until they neared the village proper.  There, they found the road blocked by a bent old man by the name of Ryu who was scrabbling to gather the spilled contents of his upturned cart.  Meiko immediately "helped" by sending her servant to assist and Jin also stepped forward.  Having a noble deign to help a peasant so directly overwhelmed the man who was effusive in his gratitude.


A chance wind brought a paper to Meiko's grasp, which immediately caught her eye as bearing the seal of the Emerald Champion, Doji Satsume and being addressed to no other than Kakita Toshimoko, the head of the Kakita Dueling Academy.  Meiko read the letter, which was written in acipher.  She managed to decipher it, however, learning that Kakita Toshimoko-sensei was the brother-in-law of Doji Satsume-sama.  For all the world, it appeared that the Emerald Champion was urging Toshimoko-sensei to acknowledge a bastard child.  The letter seemed to imply that the bastard was unknown to Toshimoko, and it did not identify anyone by name.  

Meanwhile, Kunis Daizu came upon a clearing in the forest that had drawn numerous kami.  By communing with the spirits, Daizu-san managed to contact the ghosts of some villagers who informed Daizu that the bakemono were taking refuge deep within the earth.  He learned that there were enough bakemono to destroy the peasants' village, which likely held somewhere between 30 and 50 souls.  Realizing that even he might not be equipped to take on such numbers, Kunis Daizu marked the location in his mind and started the long run to Tsuma.


Back outside Tsuma, through conversation with Ryu, the rest of the samurai-to-be learned of the death of the Emerald Champion.  Ryu, unwilling to go against the official word, told them that Satsume-sama died of natural causes, though Ayame suspected that the loyal servant believed no such thing.  Meiko also noticed that Ryu had a charm on that bore the mon of the Mantis clan.  It seemed an odd thing for a servant of the Crane to be wearing... but the cart was righted, the possessions put back in place, and Ryu gratefully moved out of the samurai's way.  Meiko-san asked to keep the document she had found... despite Ryu's obvious reluctance, she took his assent at its word.

The First Night

The group (minus one marathon-running Crab) made their way into town and to the registrar's office, where they were given their lodging assignment.  Meiko asked after any Mantis clan members and learned that there was, indeed, one participating in the Topaz Championship, a young man by the name of Hitoshi.  As they were having this discussion, a tired and sweaty (and sure to be cramping later - all TNs for the first day of the competition increased by 1) Kunis-Daizu made it to town, rejoining the others.

The group, reunited, made it's way to the House of the Laughing Carp, the Inn and Teahouse where they would be staying.  Even from the outside, they heard the commotion and upon entering saw a young Mantis in a heated conversation with the innkeeper about the lack of available accommodations.  Togashi-Jin headed off any confrontation by immediately offering to share his room with Hitoshi.


Of Sake and Animal Cruelty

Hitoshi and Jin went off to the Poisoned Water Sake House to drink the night away.  Meiko engaged the other contestants in playful banter while Daizu set up shop to tell the fortunes of anyone who would listen (and several who wouldn't).  Ayame engaged in somewhat darker pursuits, identifying the front runner for the horsemanship test the following day (one Moto Batbayar) and then sneaking off to find her horse.  She lamed the mount in such a way that it would not be obvious until under stress and then rejoined the others.

The Competition Begins

The following day, Kakita Toshimoko-sensei addressed the contestants, reminding them that they eyes of the Empire were upon them.  Then, the competition began!  On day 1, the contestants were tested in: Sumai, Heraldry, Athletics, Horseback Riding, and Conduct.  The most notable event of the day was when Moto Batbayar suffered a terrible accident, her horse laming when she attempted a flashy turn and actually throwing her.  She lost her cool (unmasking) and weeping in a most unseemly manner.  Kakita Meiko attempted to comfort her, but the Unicorn still seemed distraught.

Though there were some ups and downs, all of the traveling companions had a solid showing on the first day.  The session ended with Kakita Toshimoko addressing the gathering and with the promise of celebration and sake to come...

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Session 2: The Idol, the Duel, and the Murder
Experience Earned: 5
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.
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 Evening

On 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 Batbayar

Meanwhile, 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.

Edited by CassusAevum

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Session 3: In Defense of Tsuma
Experience Earned: 4

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.
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...

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Wow, that's an awesome story! Outstanding writing. "Heavily modified" version of the beginner's game might be an understatement. How long have you been a GM? Do you GM other games besides L5R? Clearly a great deal of this story you have related is something you have created as a backdrop, or back story, and it's amazing. As an aspiring GM (about to attempt my third session ever), I'm curious as to how much of what you related resulted from interactions between the story and the players, and how much was just story that you essentially inserted. That's probably a question that would take much too long to answer, but I thought I'd ask anyway, just in an attempt to learn something (anything..) about how I should be proceeding in my future sessions. 

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed your narrative. Great work!

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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!  

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Thank you and sorry to make you feel old. I'm "old" too, so I guess we're even. As someone more clever than I once said, "it's better than the alternative". May as well leave it at that.. It does seem to me that you have a definite gift for story telling, which is much more to the point. Because what you have been so generous to share in these posts is brilliant, in my opinion. 

I do have another question though.. Regarding the events you presented for Togashi Jin, in your example, was that essentially a "back story" that you used to fill in the space between adventures, which was at the same time "interactive" with the decisions and consequences presented? Or are these again summaries of sessions involving adventures in their own right? Either way, it seems incredibly interesting, I'm just curious. I only saw one skill check involved, the Air/Survival check in Event 1. 

I'm just interested in the mechanics that were deployed, how these sequences of events unfolded exactly. Being a total hack of a GM at this point, I'm trying to gain an understanding of how to lay out the material for the players. Just reading through what you created is a helpful exercise for someone trying to learn how to be a GM on the fly.  In re-reading your explanation, I think I know the answer to the question now...that this was something you provided "between adventures", and the events weren't adventures in their own right. I think that's a great idea! Thanks again! 

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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.

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