Our group is not the typical Rokugan band of adventurers but a little more unconventional. They went to the Tonbo school that boasts teachers and students from all clans to promote good relationships throughout the empire and fight vendetta’s (like the one that almost wiped out the Tonbo clan). Here they found something fairly rare in Rokugan: real friends! When they are amongst themselves, the rules of Rokugan society are lot less strictly enforced. Of course, they still need to deal with the outside world in all the proper ways or face the consequences.
Cast of characters
Kuyako Taeko, F (picture by Maevre below) – A Mantis-trained fire shugenja and a stunning beauty, loves fireworks – played by Maevre
Kuyako Sotaro, M – A Hiruma-trained scout who enjoys the brash Crab lifestyle – played by Conlaen
Kakita Toshiaki, M – A Kitsune-trained Earth Shugenja, rather short attention span – played by Richard
Kitsuki Ren, F – A Kaiu-trained engineer, paranoid towards authority figures and masks – played by me!
Tonbo Katsuko, F (picture by Puizebol right) – A very promising mirumoto-trained duelist and a stunning beauty, very outspoken – played by Pluizebol
Bayushi Kaukatsu – The Bayushi ambassador and the group’s former Bushido sensei at the Tonbo School. Made an impression on the group by evesdropping on them through their bedroom door and then bursting in to confront them with what he’d heard.
Baysuhi Ogura – Kaukatsu’s son and former classmate of the group where he was the main bully
Baysuhi Higatsuku – Bayushi bad egg who tried to blow up the group and their parents over some grudge. Wanted by the magistrates of the Tonbo lands.
Hida Benjiro – A former classmade of the group where he was part of the jock-clique
The five samurai arrive in the capital around the same time to participate in the funeral proceedings for the recently killed emperor.
Day I: A day out in Otosan Uchi
Katsuko and Ren have been here before and easily find each other. They head to the Kuyaku embassy – which looks a lot like a normal house to them. No wonder, since the Kuyaku are the smallest minor clan. They knock on the door, only to have it opened by Taeko herself. She and Satoro have already been bickering for a while – Satoro is the official funeral envoy and he’s not pleased to find Taeko there as well.
Ren and Katsuko are amazed to see that the Kuyaku have no heimin – how will their laundry get done? How will dinner magically appear? Taeko doesn’t seem so sure herself.
So close to a full reunion, the group wants to go look for Toshiaki at the Crane estates. Katsuko seems unwilling to go into the estates and will see about getting Taeko’s salt-encrusted kimono washed instead. The rest go into the fancy part of town. As they look for the only Kakita with unbleached hair, Ren explains the fancier parts of town are the reason for her recent transformation: she looks fairly girlish in a frail doji style kimono with her hair put up and her dog Kokoro has a big blue ribbon tied around his neck.
Ren: It’s because the Crane are snobs!
Toshiaki: The Crane aren’t snobs!
Ren: Well, they kind of are.
Toshiaki: Well, yeah, they kind of are.
Together they get back to the Kuyaku embassy and soon enough Koto of the monkey clan joins them as well. Back with their childhood friends, they instantly start planning to make the Kuyaku embassy into their club house.
They catch up on everyone’s activities as well. Satoro has travelled back to the Crab lands to do a second gempukku with the Hiruma – he scouted the shadowlands looking for information about it’s self-proclaimed ruler Shokansuru. He can’t tell what he found, that’s confidential information. Taeko has been sailing with the Mantis ships performing both sailor and shugenja duties there and enjoying it immensely. Toshiaki has been spending time in the Kitsune forests, but doesn’t really go into what he did there. Ren has been renovating temples in a countryside Crane province. Katsuko tells about her time as yojimbo to her sister in the capital, but she’s not yojimbo anymore – now she wants to join the Emerald Championship tournament and then go on a Musha Shogyu, a samura pilgrimage.
(The last two years were filled in by the players themselves (in Google Docs) who decided what job their samurai would have gotten and what had happened (roughly or in detail) in those two years – a nice opportunity to actively give your PC some character development)
Koto remarks that it’s a bit strange that they’re holding a tournament while the Emerald Champion is still alive on his sickbed, and that it’s an insult to him. But then, the son of the late emperor is organising the tournament. They are unsure if it would be a bigger insult if they go or don’t go.
Ren asks Katsuko if she isn’t worried she will end up as Emerald Champion. Katsuko thinks that’s not very likely, surely one of the great Mirumoto or even Crane duelists will participate. Ren thinks it’s far better to stay unnoticed and unglorified so no one will marry you off or make you do things you don’t want to do. The others also value their freedom over glory.
Walking through the city, they notice and hear about a few peculiarities; there has been tension between Crab and Crane, and between Phoenix and Dragon – resulting in a lot of duels. Katsuko and Sotaro know that the Mirumoto have recently started cultivating a bit of land that the Phoenix own but weren’t using. Also, more people than usual are giving Scorpion the stinkeye, and the Scorpion seem to accept it!
They plan to go into the city to visit the shops (Taeko, Ren and Katsuko’s idea), a sakéhouse (Satoro’s idea) and a theatre (Toshiaki’s idea). In front of the lantern shop they are passed by former classmate Bayushi Ogura but only Katsuko recognises him with his white and gold mask on. He stays around a while to eavesdrop but finds the group only talking about lanterns and funeral proceedings and eventually saunters off when he’s noticed. The lanterns are very expensive, so they buy materials to make their own floaty lanterns for the funeral procession – with their own mon (Katana & kemari ball on a kite) on it.
(Our previous PC’s were much more reactive, but these PC’s are far more active. They will go out and find all sorts of things they want to do without any prompting or railroading. The GM mostly plans ‘encounters’ and he has an easy time planting those in the activities our group is already embarking on, making play feel fairly organic.)
Next they visit a sakébar where Sotaro, used to the good stuff, finds out exactly how much the good stuff costs outside of the Crab lands. Fortunately, they are soon joined by their former classmate Hida Benjiro and Hida Reiha, his sister (as Sotaro is happy to find out). The Hida is happy to buy them drinks and they happily toast to Hida! Finding this establishment suddenly distasteful, the last Crane leaves the bar, brushing Toshiaki with his sleeve – a courtier insult that makes Toshiaki uncomfortable, but the best thing seems to be to ignore it. Their second drink toasts “To the Emperor”! No one in the bar wishes to be seen missing out on that particular toast – everyone drinks no matter if their glasses are full or not.
Benjiro explains the current tension between Crab and Crane involve the Yasuki succession. The daimyo recently died and the Crane claim his closest blood relative is a Daidoji. De Crab have their own successor, but the emperor has to recognise him. But since the emperor’s dead and no successor is named yet – the yasuki will remain in limbo for a while longer.
(We often have knowledgeable NPC’s around to give gossip and context to events. It’s kind of essential because
1) Knowing what’s going on greatly enhances your experience of the story – these small events are often seeds that will grow into a super-dramatic finish you do not want to miss
2) it replicates Rokugan society which is all about the gossip
3) it forces our group to stay into the world story a bit, as they would be happy to just to talk about cute boys/girls, building projects and Oni for the rest of the campaign)
The theatre in the Crane estates is for guests only and still has room for them. The Death of the Emperor play is on stage, adjusted slightly to give the audience a few etiquette tips for tomorrow. It’s fairly late after all that, so most of them go to bed. Only Taeko (pictured right) and Ren stay up late to make and decorate their lanterns for the funeral tomorrow.
Day II: The Funeral procession
The next day they get up early and spend hours getting ready for the funeral procession.
The procession shows all the emperor’s children: Shining jewel Tsudao, the eldest, Cezaru, the eldest male, and younger brother Naseru with a star-lined scar over his blind left eye. The procession also shows marks of the recent tensions. The Crane are walking with the Lion and the Phoenix. The Dragon and Scorpion along with the Mantis and the Dragonfly. And the Crab along with the Unicorn. Eventually it’s the groups turn to join the procession. They make a few circles through the streets before ending up in the forbidden city.
The crowd gets squeezed in on itself as they take their places around a three storey funeral pyre. A body is put on the pyre, wrapped in cloth. Shugenja lead in a prayer to the kami to take the emperor’s soul to yomi. The fire is lit, lanterns are sent up in the air, and a night-long wake begins.
Day III: Proclamations
Cold, stiff and more than a little sleepy, they find the dawn. A Miya appears to read the emperor’ last will: “Rokugan will be led by the emperor’s wife as the next emperor until one of his four children claims the throne.” A big buzz goes through the crowd. ‘Four children? But he only has three!” Everyone tries to gossip and not say anything bad about the emperor at the same time.
Bayushi Ogura is next to them and, to his pleasure, gets almost everyone to ask him to share his gossip. A certain Kaneka has stood up and claimed to be a son of the emperor. The emperor went to meet him, but before he was due to arrive, a shugenja came to Kuyuden Bayushi saying the Emperor was being attacked. When they arrived he was duelling an Oni and died by its hand. How did he have time to already accept this new son? Much of the square is hearing the same gossip around now, and the crowd is rife with speculation. Eventually the gates open and they are allowed into the inner part of the forbidden city.
There, four figures appear on the wall. It’s the children of the emperor, accompanied by an older man dressed in brown. Now that they see him, people remember he also rode in the procession, dressed in brown with a shaved head, wearing a daisho set. Tsudao speaks and says their mother has gone into the void. Silence runs over the square. She continues, saying, they will respect the wishes of their father by ruling with the four of them. Until they receive a sign that one of them is to be the ruler of Rokugan, they will rule as the four winds with the void between them.
Three of them leave. Naseru stays to say that the Emerald Champion’s tournament is still happening as planned, on the day Seppun Toshiken became champion. He also says the function of Imperial Chancellor is vacant and that clans should submit candidates. He then leaves by another way, fueling the first of many rumours of dissent within the four.
(The whole funeral sequence is hard to do since the PC’s are only viewers, not participants: they’re only here to witness the events. This can drag a session down a bit and the tricky bit is when these sequences happen, they’re often long and can’t be shortened. So it was good to have Bayushi Ogura to talk to and stir up some conflict. As players we also came up with the lantern crafting, which kept us active during the events as well.)
Everyone leaves. Bayushi Ogura eventually gives Katsuko the letters back that arrived for her but that he’s been keeping back. On their way home, they are passed by Kaneka on horse, followed by a company of a Kitsuki, a Mantis, and two Scorpion – one of which is wearing the mask of Higotsuku – who tried to blow up the group and their parents in Starfall Castle!
(Aha, our personal interest in these matters!)
When they get home they find an invitation from Bayushi Ogura for a class reunion on the coffee table in the Kuyaku house. Ren takes a look around the house, finds about 4 different ways to sneak in, and declares this clubhouse needs to be fortified. But first, they sleep.
(In Rokugan, both privacy and safety are carefully crafted illusions and it’s always interesting when PC’s discover that. Next time we won’t assume our house is a safe place).
Day IV: Preperations and Gossip!
The next day Ren is preoccupied with her fortifications but as the others go about their business they hear that Bayushi Kaukatsu is a candidate for the Chancellor position and his champion is Bayushi Yojiro who hasn’t been seen for over 10 years. The Chancellor position is won by a test of influence – who can get the best duelist to show up and fight a duel to the death for them wins (the duel often doesn’t happen in the end). They debate whether their old Bushido sensei who once listened at their door to hear what they were talking about and confronted them about it – is the best choice for Chancellor.
Taeko goes to the harbor district and sees a big ship go up in flames – the ship of the Mantis Champion. It’s said that he himself was aboard. A new champion will have to be chosen by all the mantis captains in a big meet.
They also hear and see a bit of the informal support the regents are getting. There are Dragon and Phoenix supporting for Sezaru, the shugenja and eldest son of Kaede. There are Mantis and Unicorn supporting Kaneka, the unconventional and oldest candidate. There are Crane and Scorpion supporting Naseru, the courtier and youngest son. And there are Lion and Crab coming out for Tsudao, the eldest and a bushi.
Ren is also convinced the class reunion is a trap and doesn’t want to go. The others assume it might be, but they still want to see their classmates. As a compromise they check if their other classmates are invited (they are), and scout out the building (it’s a building you can rent for parties, and it’s being rented by the Scorpion embassy tomorrow). Not knowing what else to do either, Ren is content to just mumble ‘trap’ under her breath for the rest of the day.
(A good PC difference of opinion always gets the party going)
Day V: The class reunion and possibly a trap
The day after that, they head to the reunion. The building is dark with a very small light coming from deep within the house (It’s a trap!). They wait a bit longer but eventually go in. The hall is dark as well and the only sound they make comes from the servants quarters. They go into the mail room and find Ogura there, oh so suprised that they’ve showed up so early. The clerk must have made a mixup with the invitations (SUCH a trap!). They have some forced smalltalk, but eventually their other classmates show up and they have a good time talking about politics and what everyone’s been up to. Eventually Ogura announces it’s time for a surprise and would everyone join him in the backyard? (Here comes the trap!).
Outside they are treated to a very beautiful and expensive display of fireworks. Everyone claps and is delighted, most of all Taeko the fireworks enthousiast. Everyone except Sotaro who hates fire showoffs, and Ren who is disgruntled there was no trap. Then everyone in the group feels someone putting a small paper in their hands. Sotaro is the quickest to notice and confronts the heimin servant who only explains it’s a message and then runs off. It says “Go to the first floor”.
(This entire sequence was of course well done by the GM who kept bringing up things that were a little suspicious which kept being blown up by our conviction that the Bayushi don’t lift a finger unless they can screw someone over with it.)
Taeko is too mesmerised by the fireworks and Ren stays with her – the rest go up to see. It’s very dark upstairs but they come into a small room where their Bushido sensei from the Tonbo School, Bayushi Kaukatsu, is sitting writing. But he’s not wearing his mask! He welcomes them, and points them to the pillows on the floor, and Koto (who came uninvited) to an empty pillowless spot near the side. Katsuko goes to get Ren and Taeko, they go up together. Ren says she prefers to stand and leaves her pillow spot for Koto.
Ren: You didn’t have to throw a party to meet us like this, Bayushi-san, I remember you used to find our door easily enough.
Kaukatsu: I’m happy you all remember my Bushido classes so well.
Toshiaki: Oh, I think about Bushido every time we meet you.
(Ah, Rokugan where you can get beheaded for speaking an insult, and gain respect for insinuating one).
After this chit-chat, Kaukatsu quickly gets to the point. He will be made chancellor tomorrow and when he does he will need to serve four regents – a very tricky job and he will need reliable people who haven’t expressed support for one of the regents to work for him in secret as spies. He’s sure they want to do it because of course it’s their greatest desire to work for the empire.
(There’s no saying “no” to that one without dishonoring yourself by not serving the empire, so trying to wheedle out of it is the way to go)
The group counters that no one wishes to serve the empire more than their own daimyo’s, and that they are very willing to bring Kaukatsu’s request to them and so that their clans can appoint capable people. Kaukatsu is happy to hear them say that, since he’s already spoken to the Dragon ambassador and she’s given Katsuko and Ren full orders to obey “the bearer of this document”. He turns to the Kuyaku and says that he couldn’t reach their ambassador’s before, but well, he’s talking to them now, isn’t he? He also thanks Toshiaki for volunteering. No one wants to really offend tomorrow’s chancellor so they are a bit stuck there.
Looking for a way out, Ren points out that if unfortunate rumors were to pop up about their support for one regent, they wouldn’t be very useful for him anymore, right? Kaukatsu says he sees where she is going with this, and that they can either have a long fruitful career in front of them, or a very short one. The implication is clear that this career includes breathing.
He tells them more about their first assignment. They are to travel to the Mantis meeting and try to make sure that the killer of the mantis daimyo doesn’t end up being the new mantis daimyo. There are currently three candidates for the Mantis leadership:
– Mantis Naisen, the current general who has most of the war ships
– Mantis Kitao, heiress to the trade ships
– A Manthis Shugenja, head of the mantis shugenja
Whatever they find out they can tell to his contact there, who will identify himself as the Chancellor’s man.
Toshiaki: But what if he’s only pretending to be the contact?
Ren: It’s only his people who pretend to be other people.
Kaukatsu: It should be fine, but if there’s need for a code phrase it’s ‘For the Empire’
(Our first real quest! In our first Rokugan campaign we had “the uncaring questgiver”: an Imperial Magistrate who had recruited the group as yoriki (and who reminds me of the social worker from Misfits now). It’s very nice to put the group in the employ of someone since that’s about the only excuse for them to work together. This time it’s much more ambivalent whether they or their employer will be doing good things – which I like since accepting/defying authority is becoming a recurring theme for this campaign)
After that, the matter seems decided but there’s still some old scores to settle. Ren offers that they might be obliged to serve him, but that they’d be much more competent about it if he does something for them as well and takes care of Bayushi Higatsuku and Bayushi Churai who tried to blow up Starfall castle with them in it.
This is apparently a sore spot. Kaukatsu says he would love to do something about Higatsuku but that he was the one who came to tell him about Kaneka, the emperor’s new son declaring himself, and that he thinks Higatsuku is working for someone more powerful that he doesn’t want to offend until he knows what’s going on. He assures Ren he’ll stop Bayushi Churai only in the faintest of faint terms.
(Which is interesting – certainly it would be easier just to lie about it, no? Perhaps his own Bushido at work?)
Katsuko: I also have grievance! Bayushi Ogura is a nitwit who has kept my letters from me.
The group gets very silent because it seems bad from to complain about the son to the father. Kaukatsu himself is also silent but looks displeased.
Katsuko: I won’t apologise because it’s the truth!
Kaukatsu: The truth is often an excellent thing to apologise for.
Katsuko: He himself won’t even apologise because he follows Churido, or whatever.
The group turns to Katsuko curiously, what is this Churido she’s talking about, and how do you follow it? Is it like Bushido?
Kaukatsu: I’ve heard you were a fabled duelist but you seem more to me like a digger – you keep digging deeper holes for yourself.
With this Kaukatsu lets them leave (ouf!) and Katsuko explains outside that she’d forgotten all about their family relationship! They return to the party which is still going strong. Ren is still fuming about these new developments and about how Kakautsu will make them work without glory or recognition until Taeko points out that’s exactly what she wanted, right? To stay off of the radar and not get noticed and married off. Ren grudgingly agrees that’s a very good point. They decide that now the trap part is over, they can finally enjoy the rest of the party!
(A nice session! My only complaint would be that I would love to see and explore more of Otosan Uchi! It seems such a rich and detailed environment, our characters could have a lot of fun there.)