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Schmiegel

Palace of the Emerald Champion - Investigations

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Spoiler alert: Anyone who is playing as a PC in the In the Palace of the Emerald Champion adventure should not read any further.

I'm a greenhorn GM just now reaching the investigation phase, at the castle, of Satsume's death. (The PCs arrived at the castle at the end of our last session, after their approximately 8-day journey to get there, which went pretty well, in my opinion. But this particular transition point is entirely a horse of a different color..) I'm hoping someone might be willing to share "best practices", or ideas or a process that worked well from a GM perspective. I remain a bit vague as to how I'm going to go about running the PC's investigations. And after reading the conclusion of the adventure, I now see that there isn't even necessarily a black and white resolution to it that has been scripted, which doesn't really help, at least in my case. I had expected the adventure to be less open ended, so I'm concerned about exactly how I'm going to run the investigation side with relatively little to work with, if that makes any sense.. Do you just make stuff up?

And it's not that there's nothing to work with, of course. But how did you go about pushing the investigation forward? What process might you have used to reveal necessary information to the PCs? How many sessions did you play once the adventure arrived at the castle phase? Any thoughts or ideas are welcome, as I'm feeling kind of short in that department at the moment. Thanks for any help! 

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The PCs should have a couple of leads to follow up immediately after speaking to the Ruby Champion. They will probably want to start there. IMO as far as best practices go, the players are in charge of their own destiney. They shouldn't ever need more than a nudge or two from you. If they are really bad at investigation you can drop hints but you shouldn't ever railroad them or explicitly tell them where to go.

If the PCs are really slow to pick up the ball and run with it, there is the NPC Kitsuki lieutenant of the Ruby Champion. He's kind of an ambiguous figure in the module. Is he complicit or not? You could have him get nosey about the PCs business and drop clues and/or red herrings as he tries to get them to fess up to what they are up to. As the "minion" of the Ruby Champion its reasonable that he doesn't like the PCs acting on his corner...

If the PCs put a foot wrong with other Emerald Magistrates ... have one of them arrange for the PCs to be put in charge of embarrassing or demeaning cases/issues. Like looking into the problems with the chickens. Lots of clues to be found there.

Don't panic. It's not your job to successful resolve the investigation. Just be ready to have reasonable reactions to whatever your PCs come up with.

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Continuing with the investigations questions.... In the first two beginner adventures, there is red text that should be read verbatim to the PCs, and there is a great deal of other informational text that is written in black.

What is the best way to present the information presented in black? A lot of it just has to be paraphrased or narrated. But presenting all of it in that fashion is just sort of reading the players a story, without making them earn anything.. So there has to be a balance. Is using NPCs in some fashion (that isn't clearly stated in the adventure instructions) a good tactic for revealing key information directly? In some instances, it's made clear how this is supposed to happen in the adventure. But for the most part, it's not clear, at least to me..  What are some other mechanisms people might use, or have used perhaps, to relay some of these key facts without simply reading them to the players? Thank you!
 

 

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First of all: Welcome to the wonderful world of roleplaying games and especially warm welcome to the beautiful job of game mastering. From my perspective the most interesting thing about our hobby is the openness and the variability (which isn't of much help when you are searching for direct scaffolds how to provide certain information) and it's exactly that, which comes in handy regarding your question. Basically, the information in the black text is provided for you and for you alone - and you give this information to your players indirectly through playing the world around your samurai player characters. Let's have a look at the Hennery:

  • The characters are provided with some basic information in the text you read with an incentive for them to interact (Oji is adressing them)
  • The following text provoides a lot of information, the characters can gain by interacting with Oji: The hens did die they did so the day before the emerald Champion died, Doji Satsume visited often, and they can find some information and note by checking more closely (the text states that this can be done at night).
    This is a relatiively straight forward scene, Image you being Oji. You are sad about your departed chickens, especially since you believe that they portended Doji Satsume's Death. You take some pride that the Emerald Champion visited you and your hennery to talk. So, maybe you want to portray Oji in a boasting way, so he's telling a lot of people about that fact - such a high Samurai coming to you, talking with you about hens and eggs. Clearly that has to do something with the incredible quality your eggs have due to your skills. In this case, I'd play him in a humbly manner (because he's just a Bonge) that explains his dead chicken and how sad he is because Doji Satsume clearly was very fond of his work. This way you can give leads to the samurai investigating about Doji Satsume's visits and by interacting, the Samurai will get all the information they can have in this scene. You could also decide to play Oji in a more contemplative manner, very religious and not all too confident. This Oji would clearly highlight the fact that he's worried about the fact that his hens did die the day before the honorable Emerald Champion and by interacting, the characters will find out that he visited Oji repeatedly.
    In the end, the characters will get the information they need by interacting with Oji. But your portrayal of this person will lead them in different directions and will support a different picture. Maybe Ojialso lets something slip that he cannot really put into bigger context. I could imagine the Samurai asking about anything Oji can remember and maybe he says something about once encountering Doji Satsume early in the morning; to Oji, it seemed as if the Emerald Champion had been on site for quite some time which underlines his fondness of the Hennery. It may raise your player's awareness to have a closer look by night, though.

This scene is much more straightforward since there's a NPC with lots of information, however, the principle is the same for a different scene, for example the cave. If the players encounter the scene and begin to look around, they can find the strangely placed boulder. If they are not interested in the scenery at all and do not tell you that they have a look around the cave but just enter and leave it (which would be irritating, but it could happen, of course), then they do not find the information - simple as that. If you really want them to find the documents, you could provide another hint and simply just change the scenery spontaneously. When they say they leave you could tell them that they see some footprints in the sand that are clrealy theirs - but there are other footprints as well, leading to another part of the cave, but they can only see it now. Or someone else in the castle mentions, that Doji Satsume was really fond of the cave and sometimes spent hours there, contemplating.

To put it in a nutshell: Use the information given in the black text to get a better image yourself and decide which information is epecially important for you. You can always find ways to provide this information. If the characters do not go to the cave, the letters could also be found in a loose board below the Hennery or in a hidden compartment somehwere in his private chamber or in a small pavillon in the garden. It's often the case that you can provide the most important clues anywhere you like. And by not pointing too obviously to certain points ("But the cave is super interesting, have a look at it, come on, guys!"), your characters will have the feeling of agency. They do not want to investigate the cave? Fine with you. But they will get the information - somewhere 🙂 

Hope that helps and doesn't confuse you more 😉 

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Thank you Klatschi! That's not confusing and is actually just the information I was looking for. And thank you for the welcome, as well! At the end of the day, I now see that I bumbled into deeper water than I expected to be in. There is really quite a bit of work involved in being the GM. Way more than just being a player. It's not so much that I mind that, but more like I didn't really fully understand where/how to focus my attention, leading to all of these stupid questions I've been posting on this forum.  Thank you again for the helpful and detailed response!

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this sort of thing is why gm's should always read through adventures a few times before actually running the adventure. read through it once to get familiar with it, and again as if you had a character going through the adventure so you can try to figure out what important details the PC's might miss and what unexpected actions they'll take that will just completely run the whole adventure off the tracks. Read the adventure a third time to fill in holes and decide what information should accentuated for the players and what stuff should probably be played down.  Then read the adventure a 4th time because they're short anyway and you want to be certain.

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On 3/15/2019 at 5:29 AM, Black_Rabbit_Inle said:

this sort of thing is why gm's should always read through adventures a few times before actually running the adventure. read through it once to get familiar with it, and again as if you had a character going through the adventure so you can try to figure out what important details the PC's might miss and what unexpected actions they'll take that will just completely run the whole adventure off the tracks. Read the adventure a third time to fill in holes and decide what information should accentuated for the players and what stuff should probably be played down.  Then read the adventure a 4th time because they're short anyway and you want to be certain.

Definitely. Reading an adventure repeatedly with a notebook to make some notes is super important.

On 3/14/2019 at 7:15 PM, Schmiegel said:

Thank you Klatschi! That's not confusing and is actually just the information I was looking for. And thank you for the welcome, as well! At the end of the day, I now see that I bumbled into deeper water than I expected to be in. There is really quite a bit of work involved in being the GM. Way more than just being a player. It's not so much that I mind that, but more like I didn't really fully understand where/how to focus my attention, leading to all of these stupid questions I've been posting on this forum.  Thank you again for the helpful and detailed response!

Glad I could help!

From my perspective, it may seem more complicated to you than you've initially thought since you started with a more complex roleplaying game 😄 
When I started playing roleplaying games it was much more of dungeon crawling, straightforward adventures with little complexity. The amount of time invested in these adventures was far lower than prepping an L5R adventure. The world itself is complex, investigations are more complex than straight-up fighting adventures and the social aspect of the adventures is also quite complex. This shouldn't sound as if you couldn't have such adventures in L5R but it wouldn't feel like samurai drama to me. Rather like DnD with fancy rules.

Anyway, it's quite normal to be insecure in the beginning and you want to do the right thing, providing the best possible story for your players. But it's something you can learn and get better and better doing it, so nevermind making mistakes in the beginning - as Bob Ross says, they are just funny little accidents and you will learn from them. 

And there are no stupid questions, quite the contrary 🙂 

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