Saturday, May 11, 2013

What's in a Name?

My friends are encouraging me to write more so here I am writting more :P. No but really what's in a name? I think one of the more important aspects to designing a game is to name the campaign you want to run.

Why is this important? Well I think the name conveys the games themes. It helps the players get an idea of what to expect and what to look forward to in relation to character creation and story.

Take my new tag Honor's Shadow. It was/is the name of a game that I was setting up for some friends who had never played L5R before. Sadly life being what it is means the game may not get run (moving). But that doesn't mean I can't share the game idea's right?

So why did I go with a name like Honor's Shadow? Well it conveyed a double meaning to me. On the one hand I wanted to set up a game in which the Scorpion and Crane were rocketing towards a war over the insults laid between Shosuro Jimen and Kakita Noritoshi. Neither men acted with the utmost of honor and such a conflict took place in the shadows. In the game I was setting up the conflict grew to be larger but still occurred in the shadows of Rokugan. No one wanted to consider the possibility that the Emerald Champion and the Kakita daimyo were waging a private war using both their clan and the Emperor's resources.

On the flip side the name was also intended to be a bit more sinister  If the players had explored this option the game would take a more ..... supernatural bent. The Shadow Dragon would rear it's ugly head as the Sparrow Clan slowly became corrupted from the inside by Daigotsu and the Spider. The players would be given the chance to stop it but if it went unchecked a new age could dawn on the Empire and the Sparrow could become a cautionary tale of vigilance.

And there you have it, Honor's Shadow.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Owl Clan

The Owl clan. If you're gonna have a Bat clan in the game you might as well have an Owl clan right?

So for those who haven't picked up Imperial History II the Owl clan is the clan of Hantei featured in the Togashi Dynasti chapter. Their charter in is to handle non human threats to the empire that aren't shadowlands related. So oni and taint are the Crab job, the Owl will handle Naga relations and taming Nezumi. Togashi's empire is filled with more magical critters and thus there is a stronger need for a clan that specifically deals with otherworldly beings. So translating them to a normal game can be somewhat challenging if you want to keep the essence of what is presented for the Owl while finding a need for them.

But I like owls and the Hantei dynasty has a warm place in my heart (I still wish they were ruling). So integrating them into a normal game presented a nice challenge. So here goes ....

Shortly after the Destroyer War ends Iweko is put in the position of having the empire accept the Spider clan and in exploring the former Ivory Kingdoms. Just as important though is reconciling the traditions of old with forging a new path in an uncertain future. In steps the Owl clan.

To show her respect for the past Iweko instructs her imperial historians to find any living members among the Imperial families who may have had Hantei blood. These scant few individuals pool together to take on the Hantei family name. Carrying on the Hantei name these indivudals will serve as a reminder of Rokugans glorious past and traditions. Iweko doesn't stop there however, chosing to honor the Toturi line Toturi Shigekawa becomes daimyo of the fledgling Owl clans second family as the Toturi daimyo. So now we have the Hantei and the Toturi in one clan!

Moving forward the Hantei and Toturi families adopt a number of ronin shugenja. The Empress grants her blessing for them to combine into a single family and to honor one of the most powerful shugenja's known to the Rokugan they take on the Sezaru family name.

Mechanically speaking we make use of the Hantei bushi school as the main bushi family. The Sezaru family would make use of the Seppun shugenja school from Imperial Histories II. Meanwhile the Otomo Diplomat school from that book would become the Hantei courtier school, with the Hantei taking on the responsibilities of leading family in both bushi and courtier. Similar in structure to say the Bayushi family does business. There isn't really a good equivalent for the Toturi family as far as bushi schools go. Their initial training could start out as Lion or even Toku. However the advanced school, Tsudao's Legion would fit in very well as a school for the Toturi family.

Their role in the empire going into the Age of Exploration is to help keep an eye on the Spider clan while also reminding Rokugan of it's past. The non human bent of the Owl clans mechanics makes them ideal for helping to lead the development of the colonies as the clans face down a number of non human enemies. Just think how different the War of Serpents would have been if there was something like the Owl clan around.

But is another way the Owl clan could be used outside of the Togashi timeline. Just take them as is and apply them to the Emerald Stars setting. Since alien races are beings from the other realms the Owl clan could be the Emperors first contact clan. They help to mediate the disputes of the native life on the worlds that they encounter.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Togashi's Empire

So the book should be hitting the selves soon. It is due to release today and thus most players should be able to get it sometime this week.

Now going into this chapter I didn't expect to like it. I don't think it's any secret that the Dragon are one of my least favorite clans (vying for that position with the Mantis and Spider :P). So honestly I didn't expect to like the chapter. I've always felt that Togashi as a character was jerk and he was given far to much credit for a person who didn't seem to act except to make peoples lives more difficult.

 So if you asked me before reading this chapter what I would think of a Togashi dynasty I think the words lame and boring would have been what I said.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

So what makes this setting so appealing? Well for starters it is truly a different kind of Rokugan. Well one of my favorite aspects of L5R has always been the spiritual side and Togashi's empire is filled to the brim on spiritualness. It also pulls martial to the fore front as a setting fixture.

One of the featured changes to Togashi's empire is the lack of a Kitsu family (my favorite Lion family!!!!! :( ). I think in this regards I would have added mechanics for a Lion themed monks school but the reasoning for it is very sound. In Togashi's empire the Lion may respect shugenja but they do not practice magic itself. They tend to rely on the gifts of men and their own personal strength. Fertile ground for Kolat I might add ;).

But what really appealed to me is the Hantei family. In this version of Rokugan Hantei goes off to form his own clan known as the Owl clan. His sacred duty is to protect the empire from non human threats. So this pretty much puts them in a position to deal with things from Naga to Nezumi. If it's not a tainted oni it likely falls under the Owl to deal with.

And with the Owl clan comes the mechanics. The Owl clan features a Hantei bushi school, a new take on the Otomo school and a new Seppun shugenja school. There is also a new monk Order and family bonuses for the Hantei and a new family called the Yoshun. There is also the Owl blades as a sacred weapon to round things out mechanically speaking.

Check out a future out a future update on idea's to add the Owl clan to a game not features around the Togashi dynasty. Until next time.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Final Frontier

So now I'm going to talk about the last chapter in Imperial Histories II. This one is titled Empire of the Emerald Stars. As you can guess from the name of the chapter and the picture to the right this is a setting about Rokugan in space. This is pretty much the far end where one can take their game.

I also find it amusing since back during the 15th anniversary of L5R, Todd Rowland said that if L5R made it to it's 20th anniversary he would take them to the moon. A bit early but glad it's here.

So the timeline picks up roughly in the year 2765. Not every possible change is listed in the timeline, it more or less serves as a sign post of the major things that lead up to space travel for Rokugan.. The Phoenix are the ones to pretty much discover other planets and thus play heavily in the race for the stars, even going so far as to design radiant energy weapons and armor. Radiant energy is a process that allows for the awakening of an objects spirit. This isn't a full awakening but it's enough to give items a new energy aura. This energy is used for armor, katana's, ship hulls etc etc. The use of radiant energy though keeps melee combat an important part of fighting since having shields limits the overall effectiveness of blasters. It also helps that the daisho is still a mark of ones station and thus samurai still carry them to prove they are samurai.

Space itself is an interesting place. Many planets are representations of one of the many realms. It's alien inhabitants creatures native to those realms. Just imagine it, an entire world that could be dedicated to 1000 Years of Darkness. Chilling. :)

So much as how the clans carved up Rokugan (and latter their entire planet) the clans carve up space settling entire regions of space. The book goes on to describe several key worlds for each of the clans. My favorite being a planet controlled by the Lion that does everything as if the year was 1171 as opposed to 2765.

So what mechanics are in the chapter? Well it starts off with a few pointers and guidelines for updating a standard L5R game to this new setting, after all it would take an entire book to update everything. Because Rokugan is still a tradition bound society most of the schools remain unchanged themselves. What makes things different is instead of adding in a bunch of new basic schools the weapon tags changed on ranged weapons so that they work with the same basic techniques that a katana might. So that's 4 weapons added plus an additional 4 or so new skills that reflect traveling among the stars.

So what would you do in an Emerald Empire among the stars?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Heresy of the Five Rings

So Imperial Histories II is making it's way out. It should be out in most locations by the 29th of April. But while we wait on the book to make it's big splash everywhere I thought I'd take a moment to talk about my favorite chapters from the book.

The first up is Chapter 4, Heresy of the Five Rings. So what makes this chapter good? Well it's the first time we explore a theological conflict in Rokugan. This chapter, combined with the information later presented in the Age of Exploration is excellent for anyone who wants a conflict that is more than just politics as usual.

So what happens? Well the year is 510 I.C. (Isawa Calender). Gorinno grows in popularity as he begins preaching about the imbalance of the current age. The solution for him, is simple and elegant; there are to many clans. Since there are five elements there must be a clan that represents each element. However there are six clans (the Unicorn haven't returned yet) and having this extra clan is creating a spiritual imbalance in the empire that is spilling over into conflict for Rokugan.  The only way to fix this is to remove one of the great clans.

This problem is made all the more dangerous for the clans because Gorinno has the ear of the emperor. And with that kind of power he can take a simple philosophy and turn it into a reality. And this is where the conflict starts for the clans involved. I'd tell you which clans are which elements and which clans get proposed into being removed and how, but I have to leave you with something to read right?

Of course this isn't the only way to use the setting. In the current story arc Fudo is making a return and spreading through out the colonies. So it is very possible for this time period to instead be about the original conflict between Fudo and the Empire itself. Or you could take what's presented and move it to the Colonies as Fudo makes it's return.

What I enjoyed most while reading the chapter though was the use of the Brotherhood. I'm not a major monk fan mind you, but I do love some good kung fu. Using monks as the center piece for conflict is something that I haven't seen too often in Rokugan. I know there are a fair number of monk fans out there so this kind of conflict is ideal for them. The Brotherhood, after all  isn't in 100% agreement with Gorinno's idea's. Therefore it is very possible to run the entire game as a conflict between the various Orders of the Brotherhood.

And of course there are new mechanics. The Order of the Five Rings is a new monk path works on seeking and capitalizing on the imbalances of your opponent  There is also a new ronin path called The Hawk Purist. This is a level 1 ronin path that capitalizes on being a member of the Hawk Clan. What's the Hawk Clan .... well ..... ;)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Powder Blue Shogun

One of the more interesting turning points for the L5R story was when the Crane clan champion Doji Domotai was told about the infamous Daidoji Harriers. For those who weren't around back in the day, the Daidoji Harriers went around and sacrificed their honor for the good of the Crane clan by using gaijin pepper and sabotage to gain battlefield advantages.  The were the Crane clans dirty little secret since they did something that was fundamentally against the Emperor's wishes. So in a nutshell .... powder blue ninja's.

Now Domotai had been trained as a Matsu when she was young. So she had the unyielding honor of a Lion. When the lord of the Daidoji, one Daidoji Kikaze, informed her of the use of the Harriers Domotai was outraged and demanded they be disbanded. This was one of many hard life choices for Kikaze. The Harriers caused no small amount of trouble for the Crane, being the source of war between the Crane and the Dragon and .... well .... their explosives going off during Moto Chagatai's invasion of Toshi Ranbo.

So what would it take to bring them back and why? Well the why is easy, I liked them and I think they make a nice counter point. In the same fashion that I think the Lion Shadows make a nice counter point. Not a big group mind you but just enough to make a difference every once in awhile. I've recently undertaken introducing L5R to some new players and so I wanted to bring them into a shadow war and who better to use than Harriers vs Shinobi.

The year is 1171 and Iweko has just ascended to the throne. For over a year now Shosuro Jimen, the Emerald Champion, and Kakita Noritoshi, best duelist in the empire and Kakita daimyo, have been engaging in a shadow war over the fact that the Crane had Harriers. This is yet another cost that the Harriers have wrought against the Crane. Enter the new Shogun, Daidoji Kikaze. Iweko instates him as her new Shogun to garner favor with the Crane and to gain their support as she begins her reign. And it is shortly after becoming the new Shogun that Kikaze is approached by one Kakita Noritoshi. Noritoshi has been "off the grid" as he engaged in a smear campaign against Jimen. Meanwhile Jimen has been sending shadowy agents against the Kakita in general and Noritoshi in particular. This feud is Kikaze's fault as far as Noritoshi is concerned and it is time that the Daidoji bring something to the table to make up for all the trouble that has been caused.

Noritoshi is, by this point, a deeply broken man. He has become an ends justifies the means and while he can not ask Domotai to go back on her decree he can ask Kikaze to do something about it. Kikaze meanwhile has always struck me as a character who would carry a large amount of guilt over his families actions and thus would be willing to do anything to make up for it. This includes reinstating the Harriers not as Crane, but as a special forces unit for the use of the Shogun. Transferring what few Harriers remained after the purge into the Shogun's army, Kikaze enters a shadowy war between two colossal figures.

So into this war of red vs blue I will toss a new group of players fresh to L5R. Charged with having to balance the honor of the Crane verus battling a man who corrupts the lands most important political office and willing to hold nothing back.

For Noritoshi this is a chance at vengeance. For Kikaze this is a chance at redemption.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preparing for Winter Court

It's been over a years since I've last had the chance to sit down and write an article. With Winter Court III: The Hangover around the corner though I felt now was a good time to do a new article. I think this will be the first in a series of things I'd like to say about Winter Court. So stay tuned for more. And if any other Winter Court vet has some sage words to share, drop me a line and I'll post them here.

I've had the benefit of playing in one Winter Court and also GMing another Winter Court. What I express is my personal opinion based on my observations of the games thus far. So with out further adieu prepare to lose three months of your life. Say good bye to your loved ones. Put the family pet up in an animal and get yourself a Hulu or Netflix account.


I think this is one of the first and key things to enjoying Winter Court. While people will devout a lot of time to playing in Winter Court life itself doesn't stand still. Many of us will still have family obligations, and jobs and homework. Add in the factor of time zones and well ....

So sitting there and refreshing the forum every 10 minutes is likely to lead you to burn out and have a rather unfun experience  Instead I recommend, patience. People will post when they have time to. Some scenes will move by swiftly, but not all scenes. As a matter of fact it is only the largest of scenes that seem to move with any real speed.

There is of course a difference between giving people proper time and someone who is just dragging a scene out. But in general most people will be reasonably swift in their responses  And few things in the game occur at such a break neck speed that an instant answer from a player or a GM is going to make or break things.

A tie in to patience is


Another factor that I observed that leads to burnout is trying to do to much. Especially in the beginning  Now this doesn't mean not to get objectives and things done in a reasonable amount of time (it is a headache to have to approve treaties all at the last second for instance), it does mean to not feel rushed. You don't need to be in ever scene to have an influence. Sometimes a handful of scenes done with the right people will go further than a bunch of scenes done with everyone.

When you start on Day 1 you don't have to hit the road hard and running. A lot of people pre game seem to worry about not getting everyone together pre game to do some planning and to figure things out. You'll have plenty of time to get things moving.

My recommendation for your first week. Say hi. Spend your time getting to know people. Start building towards your goals, but focus on just getting used to being in the city.

In the past I've noticed that players want to rush and hurry and get all sorts of things done right away. Day 1 seems like a mad rush to be the first to complete all their goals. But to be honest, you have a fair amount of time to complete your goals. So taking awhile to get into the swing of the game, will benefit you more in the long run.

This isn't your GM's game:

What I mean by that is that Winter Court is a slightly different beast than other games you've played in, both online and offline. It is likely best not to walk into the game with a lot of preconceived notions about how it should be run.

In the past this has tripped a lot of people up. However much like when you move to a new city or start a new gaming group with a new set of players and a new GM, this game too must be approached with an open mind and a willingness to try things their way.

The Staff is your FRIEND :)

I'm not a GM this year, but I was one last year. And one of the things that made the game a bit harder was the belief that the GM's were out to get people. Or rather certain GM's were. The staff is there to help and they aren't out to get anyone. A lot of problems with other players can be avoided if you come to them as friends and allies.

Have Realistic Expectations:

This is my final piece of advice for the night but one I feel to be the most important. Have a set of realistic expectations. While Winter Court offers you the chance to change the game in new and exciting ways some things are going to be harder to change than others. You're going to be very disappointed with the game if your goal takes your clan or the empire in radically different directions.

Rokugan is a land with 1000 years of tradition on its side. Yes we are here to make a difference, but some things just won't change during the course of one court.

Therefore it is important when considering your own personal goals to make sure that they are realistic in their expectations. If you're ever unsure of if your goals are going be on the far side of realistic then I recommend talking to the GM's. They won't stop you from going forward with your plans, but they can advice you on if it looks like it would be something that has a smaller chance of being realized.

Of course things are different this time around with everything being done made canon unless the ST say otherwise, but if you work with a realistic set of expectations then you decrease the odds of an ST veto :).

And on that note I will close this article. Until next time.