Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Truth

The Truth


Rokugani law is an interesting beast. But before I get into the bulk of this conversation I think we should watch this video.

There is a lot about Rokugan we can walk away from watching that scene. And not just Scorpion players, or Crab players or even Lion players, Jack speaks to several elements that are thematic to L5R in a matter of a few minutes. But what we are going to walk away with today is the point that Rokugani don’t want the truth.

Now this is partially true. They do after all value Honesty, but the tenet of Honesty is not the same thing as being truthful and a guileful person can uphold Honesty without being 100% truthful. That’s why Rokugani worry so much about their On, they desire in some regards to hide the truth.

Thus Rokugani law isn’t about the truth. Well not in a straightforward Perry Mason, Law and Order or CSI kind of way. That’s not to say that games run on the idea of getting to the bottom of it all and finding out who really did it and thus punish them is wrong. I love a good mystery, and that kind of adventure has its place in a game. It’s the Kitsuki’s strong point and it makes them the king in a magistrate game.
However that’s just a tiny fraction of how Rokugani law works. After all the Kitsuki method is considered a joke by most clans.

Ultimately what Rokugani want from their law is accountability. A crime was committed and someone has to pay. Honor demands it. Because Rokugan is a land where honor is stronger than steel it is assumed that the guilty party will be found out. Because the honorable thing to do once confronted with the fact that you committed a crime is to admit it and to ask for seppuku. Honor is the reason why someone can’t be punished for a crime till they confess to it. The honorable mans guilt will eventually weigh him down enough that he will give in and seek redemption. That or he gives into the torture.

In either case because honor is such a central key to how law is prosecuted in Rokugan, things like Investigation skills or techniques become secondary to the individuals with in the setting. Good magistrates get the job done because honor will guide them to the right person and honor will cause said person to admit his guilt.

Now the reality is far far worse and more bleak than that. People lie and cheat and abuse the system all the time. Innocent samurai get accused and are convicted of crimes. But even the possibility of a wrongfully prosecuted case has hope. Rokugani believe in karma after all and if a magistrate knowingly convicts the wrong person then he’ll get his in the end. There is also the possibility that the wronged samurai’s spirit will find a way to get revenge from beyond the grave. After all spirits and ancestors influence Rokugani life and getting ones family to clear your name is right up the alley for their beliefs.

The wonderful thing about this though is that it opens up more avenues for rp. Being a magistrate after all is as much a matter of political ties as it is a matter of skill. And because it’s not an evidentiary based system it gives both players and GM’s wiggle room on how to be a good magistrate.

You’re not required to have more ranks in Investigation than the Kitsuki to be good at being a magistrate. You can approach the magistrate game in your own unique way based on how you see law in Rokugan.

Do you want to trade favors to catch the “right” crook? Do you want to blackmail the guilty or the innocent? Or someone close to an innocent or guilty person? Do you see it as a means to more power and prestige? Do you want to right the wrongs of society? Avenge a family slight?

For the GM you can test a player’s resolve. Is he going to back down to political pressure? Is he going to accuse people regardless of whether or not they actually did it? How long can someone with high status protect themselves from the law? Are the PC’s going to build a group of allies to help take down a well placed criminal? Is an ugly truth that does more damage to one’s family, clan the Empire worth punishing the guilty?

It’s a rich field that opens up the more and more one considers that Rokugani law ultimately cares about accountability than it does truth. That it makes a very large assumption that honor will win out in the end. And it gives characters who aren’t Kitsuki more to do than being back up dancers :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Naked Steel 5

This is a bit late. School and all :(. But Naked Steels has been up for awhile. Anyone who hasn't checked it out should. You can find it here.

Shawn gives us another sneak peak into mechanics of Imperial Histories and the Book of Air. Though I'm far more interested in what he shows us of the prize winning setting that will be apart of Imperial Histories. Great stuff.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kokujin Tattoo's

Kokujin Tattoo's


Hello everyone,

Dace asked me to tell you a bit about the Order of Kokujin tattoos, since the family is now available with the release of Great Clans. Mechanically, players should consider tattooed monk and order of the spider monk schools to create characters from this family.

I would go myself for an order of the spider monk 3 then multi school in the tattooed monk : Kokujin didn’t had as much power in his blood neither as much quantities as the Togashi (since he was the only one providing, while they were a couple providing for the Togashi). As such, his students had to prove themselves through his Dark Lotus sect training before being granted any tattoos. In truth, most of the original members of the Order of Kokujin had ranks in other schools before joining and were granted tattoos to enforce loyalty through the Shadowlands power Blood domination but those who joined his Dark Lotus sect (after Kokujin joined with Daigotsu) had to undergo many trials before being granted tattoos.

Now that we cleared the question of which school to use, let’s see about the tattoos in question. I would use quotes from the story The Mad Dragon by Shawn Carman ( http://www.kazenoshiro.com/kazenoshiro/8/h8e02p25.php ) to illustrate the tattoos in question. Those tattoos will have the same mechanical effects, but much darker visual effects. A good thing to throw your players off-balance wondering what those tattoos do !

Matsuo unleashed a devastating cone of frost from his mouth. The cone washed over Kokujin, who disappeared in the blinding sheet of white. The cone gave way to a hissing cloud of steam, however, and Kokujin re-emerged, his body wreathed in red fire, a tattoo of a boiling pit of pitch blazing on his shoulder.

So our first tattoo is the boiling pit of pitch. One of the most visual tattoo ever described, covering the whole body in red fire, his effect is protection. I would use the Crab tattoo, who provide reduction, to simulate this tattoo.

Kokujin's fists grew like stone as the tattoo of obsidian on his back surged with power.

An martial art tattoo, this one can easily be duplicated by the Blaze tattoo.

A Tsuburu no Oni tattoo crawled up Kokujin's back, and the mad monk leaned forward and bellowed. It was a riotous sound, accompanied by a tempest of unbelievably foul-smelling wind. Matsuo was lifted from the ground and dashed against the cavern wall.

An interesting effect for this tattoo : the creation of a cone of wind. Difficult to really imitate that with another tattoo, but you can get it close with the Dragon tattoo. The main difference is going to be in the way damage is dealt (wind instead of fire, which can have different effects regarding to some protection, most likely spells) and the DR of the spell. As a fire-damage tattoo, the Dragon tattoo uses the fire ring. As a wind-damage tattoo, I would use the air ring for the damage rating of this tattoo.

the form of a brilliant white dragon on his chest. The tattoo had not been there only seconds before, and as he rose, Matsuo unleashed a devastating cone of frost from his mouth

Following on my suggestion on making a Dragon tattoo using the air ring, here is a normal Togashi tattoo : the frost dragon tattoo. The Frost Dragon is the wrathful aspect of the fortune Inari, and punishes those who offended him by icing their rice paddies. The Frost Dragon tattoo creates the same effect as the Dragon tattoo, but with frost instead of fire. Using the same basic idea as for the Tsuburu no oni tattoo, the Frost Dragon tattoo would use the water ring for his damage rating instead of fire but works otherwise like the Dragon Tattoo.

Shikibu no Oni tattoo: this tattoo show a representation of the oni lord that stole the bodies of the dead.

A tattoo who isn’t actually described directly in the stories, from the bits of description I assumed it was Shikibu no oni and that the tattoo allowed healing abilities. A dark twist, I would use the Phoenix tattoo to simulate it. The visual of the deadly oni lord moving from one body to another would be quite a scary tattoo.

Here we go, I hope those few lines helped you with ideas about how to turn your Togashi tattoos into scary Kokujin tattoos with little rule changes. There is a lot of possibilities ( Kyoso for Wind, Akuma for Blaze, Yakamo for bamboo…) now open, just take a list of scary shadowlands monsters and you are set to go.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Persona


While I feel the Shosuro Actor is a good school, as with anything in life, there are some area’s that I feel it could be improved upon. Or things I would have done differently. Nothing major mind you just some personal taste that I think makes more sense to me.

First things first, breaking the persona. Now I’m of the opinion that doing such should be a hard task. It is after all a technique here that we’re talking about, not a mere use of the Acting skill. Thus I do agree with the side bar on Dealing With Shosuro Actors in a Game, with one minor exception.

In my opinion the strength of a Shosuro Actor isn’t so much in his acting as is it’s his knowledge of the clan in question. For me no amount of acting is going to help you preserve your persona if you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. The book calls for two rolls in certain situations for covering up a mistake. The first roll is for when you say something wrong and you are attempting to ally fears, thus a Sincerity (Deceit)/ Awareness roll vs Investigation (Interrogation)/ Perception works. And if you’re displaying skills or attempting to “fake” it Acting/Awareness vs Investigation (Notice)/ Perception is called for.

But sometimes the character clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Or simply forgets to do something that anyone from that clan would otherwise know to do. In these situations I recommend a Lore (Appropriate Clan)/ Intelligence roll vs Investigation (Notice)/ Perception. The reason for this is that ultimately you have to know something about the clan you’re attempting to infiltrate.

On the flipside, if you don’t really feel like adding more rolls but feel as I do that you can’t fake your way through something you have no clue about I would recommend limiting the number of dice added from the skill by the characters rank in that particular clans lore. So if you’re pretending to be an Akodo Bushi and you need to cover up for not knowing something about the Hall of Ancestors or faking a ritual you just now learned about you would roll either Sincerity or Acting and limit the dice from those two skills by the Lore skill in question.

Another concern comes in the form of the Persona skills themselves. Now during PT I tested it with the idea that the Persona skills never raised or that you weren’t using the higher of the two (your skills or the persona). In some regards it makes sense. You haven’t really learned all those skills. And of course you don’t want a character who uses his persona’s to become a jack of all trades with free skills.

But it also presents an interesting problem in that Ide Tang obviously was a skilled diplomat and his skills were likely higher than just the basic beginner. So here are a few options.

The first and easiest method is to merely allow the character to use the higher of his persona vs non persona skill. Thus if the persona has a Courtier of 1 and the Actor actually has Courtier 3 then use 3. Another method that one might consider is persona stacking. So instead of gaining a new persona at IR 3 and 5 you stack them onto your current persona and thus raise your phantom skills.

But the method I prefer to use is to simply reduce the TN adjustment for the use of skills that both you and your persona knows. Thus if your persona is a Doji Courtier and you want to use Courtier and your normal roll has it at 4 then I would have them roll and require +5 raise in the TN.

The reason for this is that at the end of the day you kinda have to balance the phantom skills against spending real xp on real skills. I think it would be less difficult to “break character” to do something both you and your persona can do than it is to “break character” to do something only you know how to do. But as I mentioned initially the balance between providing PC's with a jack of all trades character with phantom skills that are better than his real skills vs what the character truly knows is a though one to strike. With this method you maintain that it is in fact hard to "break character" even for something you already know and still encourage the character to learn real skills instead of always relying on phantom skills.

Naked Steel # 4

Naked Steel #4 is up. In this update Shawn talks more about Imperial Histories, dropping a note about some extra web content that we'll see :)

Also more on the Book of Air

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Naked Steel #3

The third issue of Naked Steel is up. It gives you another sneak peek at Great Clans (which should be availbe soon), Imperial Histories and Book of Air.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Kakita Artisan


You know there are plenty of reasons to hate the Crane. They have good duelist. They have good courtiers. Their bushi are fairly decent as well. So, yeah I can understand why people would hate the Crane. I suppose the Kakita Artisan will just be one more reason to hate on the Crane.

The Yang to the Shosuro Actor's Yin, the Kakita Artisan makes a strong addition to most parties. They will sign extremely well when backed with a Kakita Bushi or a Doji Courtier. But in general for a school whose primary focus isn't politics but art it's got some very good political teeth. Having a Kakita Artisan can make some aspects of an adventuring party easier (gift giving for the win).

The game has its fair share of schools that allow for more artistic pursuits. The Shiba Artisan, Tsi Smith, Shosuro Actor all let you be artistic for your clan. But in the realm of art the Kakita is king. At least to me anyway :).

The Kakita Artisan also gets some very nice support in the form of Paths and Advanced Schools. Overall I expect Crane fans to be very pleased with what is offered.

Kakita Artisan (Artisan)

Unlike their occasional rivals among the Shiba, the Kakita Artisans do not confine themselves merely to the creation of physical art such as paintings or books of poetry. The Artisan Academy devotes itself to the study of every sort of art, whether it is performance-based or creation-based, and studies not only the ways of art but also the ways in which such art may be turned to the service of the Crane Clan.

Rank Four: Undying Name
Your art is now so magnificent that you can make and break the reputations of others by depicting or referencing them in your work. You may create a piece of art referring to another person by rolling [chosen art]/Awareness at a TN equal to 20 plus 5x their Glory Rank. With a success,
you may either increase (if your art is complimentary) or decrease (if it is critical) their Glory by up to 5 points, plus an additional 5 points for every Raise you make on the roll. You may call two additional Raises to inflict a gain of Infamy on the target instead of a Glory change.

You may not target the same person with this technique more than once every six months. Furthermore, persons of high station cannot have their reputations damaged by artists lacking in prestige – the target’s Status Rank cannot exceed your Glory or Status Rank (whichever is higher).

Sample NPC

Kakita Naomi – Crane Storyteller

Kakita Naomi is said to be one of the best storytellers alive. The wit and humor in her poems and stories are the stuff of legends. Her tales have even moved the Crab Champion to tears, though many do not remind the Champion of this.

Naomi is a favorite in the courts of Rokugan, being sought after each winter to entertain and enthrall the host guest. She even has a standing invitation to the Emperors imperial court each winter. She even holds the position of honored guest when visiting the Imperial City.

Her rivalry with the Scorpion playwright Shosuro Sakuya is notorious. While the source of their animosity is unknown it is rumored that in their youth the pair were lovers until Naomi was bethrowed to another.

Naomi does not like her husband. She feels he is barely above being a barbarian. His only saving grace was that he came from the Ide family and not the Moto. She spends as much time as possible away from her husband, touring the empire and giving stirring performances to honor the Crane and its allies.

Naomi’s favorite stories and poems focus around the conflict between love and duty. She has also captivated many a court with gripping tales of honor in the face of great adversity. Naomi is sharp witted and equally sharp tongued. When not entertaining a court she can often be found deeply involved in a conversation of some nature.

Kakita Naomi
School/Rank Kakita Artisan 5
Air: 5
Earth 2
Fire 3
Intelligence 4
Water 3
Void: 4
Glory 4
Honor: 5.0
Status: 4

Skills: Calligraphy 4, Courtier 4, Games: Sadane 6, Etiquette (Conversation, Courtesy) 4, Sincerity (Honesty) 4, Artisan: Poetry 6, Perform: Oratory 6, Perform: Storytelling 6, Perform: Song 4 Tea Ceremony 5, Lore: Heraldry 4, Lore: History 3, Lore: Crane Clan 4

Advantages: Fame (3) Kharmic Tie (3 Shosuro Sakuya) Voice (3)
Disadvantages: Contrary (3) Sworn Enemy (5 Shosuro Sakuya) True Love (3 Shosuro Sakuya)
Techniques: Soul of the Artisan, The Souls Dreams, Free the Spirit, Undying Name, A Gift Beyond Price

Great Clans Preview: Shosuro Actor


The Shosuro Actor was one of my favorite 1st Edition schools. But it always had one large baffling problem that made the school unfun for me. You couldn't disguise yourself in a new persona till IR 3. This made no sense. After all they're actors right? Undercover agents. They should be able to assume that new persona when they are done training.

Luckily for 4th Edition this logical inconsistency I faced was removed. Starting out a Shosuro Actor gains a persona at IR 1. Oh happy day :)

Now for those who are new to 4th Edition the Shosuro Actor is part of the ninja team. Working as deep cover agents they go in and assume the identity of another clan member and collect information for the Scorpion. They also make fine assassins. Some even rise to prominent positions within their infiltrated clans, such as Ide Tang the daimyo of the Ide family.

I would like to note that the Shosoru Actor is a somewhat difficult thing to play. Not too many non Scorpion's are going to be understanding of you wandering off to “be someone else” ;). It's one of those schools that will require a fair amount of work from the GM and player. But one that I think is worth it.

The Shosuro Actor (Ninja)
The Shosuro Butei (Acting) Academy is a famous acting school, rivaling the actors of the Kakita Artisan Academy, but its students are also taught methods of infiltration and impersonation. The most promising students receive instruction in poison, stealth, and assassination, and are
given contacts within the Scorpion spy network to help them to build up the false personas which they use in their later espionage careers. For the vast majority of its students, of course, the Butei Academy is simply a school of the arts—the Scorpion students are aware the school is more than it seems, but are content to ignore such unpleasantness and focus on pursuing their craft.

The skilled infiltrators who emerge from the Butei Academy are a matter of rumor and supposition to the rest of the Empire. There are fanciful tales of Scorpion infiltrators so skilled they could convince a doting mother to place an entire family’s welfare into their hands. These are exaggerations, but the Shosuro Actors are certainly quite skilled and they take their clan’s sacred duty to protect the Empire extremely seriously. In their view, whatever deceptions they must perpetrate are more than justified, and they are as ready to die for the clan as any other Scorpion.

Rank Five: The Third Face
The Shosuro Actor is now a true master of deception, infiltration, and murder. You gain a third persona. In addition, if you attack a foe who is unaware or does not expect danger from you, your Raises are not limited by your Void.

Sample NPC

Shosuro Sakuya – Scorpion Playwright

Shosuro Sakuya is one of the empires best playwrights. His troupe, the Laughing Frogs, has performed in various courts throughout Rokugan; including the Emperor's court. Sakuya has a standing invitation to attend the Imperial winter court. It is an honor that Sakuya enjoys taking as often as he can, when clan duties permit him to attend.

Sakuya's plays are well known for their political satire. The Crane often serve as the antangonist for his plays and many delight in watching Sakuya's hero's (often Lion, Scorpion or Phoenix) getting the upper hand against them. Sakuya's critics speculate that the rivalry between Sakuya and Kakita Naomi is the cause for his depictions against the Crane. Whatever the reason though, Sakuya is not always welcome in Crane lands.

The Shinning Blossom is Sakuya's playhouse in Ryoko Owari and serves as his training grounds for many agents with in the Scorpion. The Laughing Frogs are composed mostly of other bueti and infiltrators. While the bueti entertain a cities nobles the infiltrators sneak in and find information useful to the clan, plant incriminating evidence and other nefarious activities. It is rare that Sakuya undertakes assassination missions. While many in his employ are more than capable of taking out a target, the attention it would draw would undermine future performances.

Shosuro Sakuya
Air: 4
Awareness: 5
Earth 3
Fire 4
Water 3
Void: 4
Glory 5
Honor: 2.5
Status: 4

Skills: Acting (Crane, Phoenix, Lion) 6, Calligraphy (Scorpion Cipher) 3, Etiquette 4, Lore: Crane 3, Lore: Lion 3, Lore Phoenix 3, Lore: Heraldry 3, Knives 5, Meditation 4, Sincerity (Deceit) 6, Stealth 6

Advantages: Fame (3) Great Potential Acting (5), Kharmic Tie: Kakita Naomi (3)
Disadvantages: Dependant (Niece 4), Sworn Enemy Kakita Naomi (5), True Love Kakita Naomi (3)

Techniques: The First Face, The Subtle Sting, The Second Face, The Vipers Kiss, The Third Face

Friday, July 29, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter

written by Kakita Seigi

Even in the early days of the Tsuruchi family before the family joined the Mantis Clan, the small family was legendary throughout the Empire for its tenacious bounty hunters. These bounty hunters are a peculiar breed of law enforcement in Rokugan. Most duties are handled by magistrates, but an enduring contract made between the Tsuruchi family and the Emerald Champion authorizes the Tsuruchi family to hunt down known fugitives on the run. They are mercenaries for hire and magistrates, often busy with other important duties, will employ a Tsuruchi for a fee. So welcome to the world of Rokugan's bounty hunter.

From a mechanical perspective, Design was strongly interested in developing a new Mantis Clan bushi school that focused on law enforcement, but one that was unique. Like other magistrate schools though, the requirements needed for an effective magistrate require a different set of techniques than the regular bushi. And the Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter is an interesting half-way marriage between the normal magistrate and an investigator. There is the usual set of magistrate schools, such as the Doji and Soshi Magistrates, that focus on more martial techniques to disable opponents. And while this works well for standard magistrates, the trail is often already "cold" by the time a Bounty Hunter is hired. So very much like a Kitsuki Investigator, an effective Bounty Hunter needs to specialize in tracking down his prey, sometimes with very little information to initially utilize.

To represent both of these aspects, the Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter specializes in two major themes: tracking down fugitives and disabling opponents guilty of a crime. The first two techniques of the school actually solely focus on the hunt and its not until later that the school begins to focus on disabling the Tsuruchi's target. This means often that the more inexperienced bounty hunters will be sent on missions, in which the bounty hunter is asked to execute the target. After all it's usually much easier to just outrightly kill a criminal, than to be bothered with capturing him.

In Tsuruchi fashion, the favored weapon of the school is unsurprisingly the yumi. However unlike their cousins in the Tsuruchi Archer school, the modern day Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter also trains with other weapons, such as a katana and knives, as often the Bounty Hunter may find himself in a social situation where it is unacceptable for the Bounty Hunter to carry his beloved yumi with him.

Now I mentioned earlier that the school focuses on two themes. As a consequence that the Bounty Hunter often must devote a significant amount of his training to learn how to hunt down convicted criminals. This leaves a Bounty Hunter with much less time to fully master the martial arts like regular bushi. A Bounty Hunter is pretty much focused on fighting criminals declared guilty of a crime by an Imperial or a higher Mantis authority. Many of the Tsuruchi's more martial techniques reflect this more focused martial training

Thus, a Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter is aptly comparable to the Lion's Shadow with respect to their combat competency. While very much skilled in the ways of the warrior, a Bounty Hunter is not nearly as a skilled combatant as a seasoned bushi. But what the Bounty Hunter lacks in the martial pursuit is made up in the extra focus of tracking down criminals. For gamers that enjoy magistrate games, the Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter promises to be an excellent and exciting school that complements the party's other bushi.

Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter [Bushi]
During the early days of the Tsuruchi family when they were known simply as the Wasp Clan, the vassals of Tsuruchi were well known for two things: their incredible skill at archery and their unwavering tenacity as bounty hunters. The clan was authorized by the Emerald Champion to hunt down fugitives from justice for a fee, and for many
years the Wasp survived largely on the income generated by this practice. Although many samurai condemned this mercenary practice, no one could deny Tsuruchi prowess
and few clan magistrates refused to employ them.

Since the Tsuruchi family joined the Mantis clan, its two iconic pursuits have separated somewhat, becoming distinct schools which young Tsuruchi may choose between depending on their aptitudes and preferences. The majority choose to pursue a career as soldiers and archers within the Mantis military (the Tsuruchi Archer School), but a select few continue the family’s original tradition by becoming members
of the small but famed Tsuruchi Bounty Hunter School.

Members of the Tsuruchi Bounty Hunters are usually treated as clan magistrates within the Tsuruchi provinces and often within the Mantis Clan’s territory as a whole. The contract between Tsuruchi and the Emerald Champion still exists and thus the family can impart authority to a select number of students that is roughly equivalent to an Emerald Magistrate, at least insofar as the ability to apprehend known criminals. The Tsuruchi are extremely cautious in whom they trust such authority, however, since they are keenly aware the contract could be nullified if it is abused or misused.

Tsuruchi Bounty Hunters traverse the Empire in search of fugitives, those accused of crimes by superior authorities who have escaped the justice they deserve. Although they can technically only hunt those decried by an Imperial authority, the Tsuruchi also accept individual bounties from clans or families who wish their assistance. Bounties are usually a number of koku equal to the Insight Rank of the target. This fee is doubled if the target is a violent criminal or a shugenja, and may increase even further if special or unusual circumstances apply.

Technique Rank: 1
Technique: A Hunter’s Sense: A Tsuruchi bounty hunter is well known as a fierce and terrible opponent of all who seek to evade justice, and even those who are without guilt find them intimidating. You gain a bonus of +1k1 to any Intimidation Skill Roll used against someone of lower caste who you believe can help you find your prey. When interacting with samurai, this bonus is reduced to +1k0 but applies to all Social Skill Rolls, not just Intimidation. Also, when you are hunting a particular target, you may roll additional unkept dice equal to your School Rank on any Hunting or Investigation Skill Rolls used to track the quarry down.

Sample NPC
Tsuruchi Kita – The People's Bounty Hunter!

Kita is a confident bounty hunter who makes her business other people's business. And she thinks that she has developed a revolutionary way of obtaining information. By treating the lower classes with respect and helping them in need, they are only so happy to return the favor when Kita has need of it.

She tirelessly works upon crafting a reputation as a "noble" hero of the lower classes, so that whenever her Tsuruchi lords have need of information she is the one there to provide. Her many successes were recently noticed by the Emerald Magistrate, Doji Gohei. The two became fast friends and Gohei has provided Kita with endless employment as a bounty hunter. After a few years of working for Gohei, the Crane magistrate confided to Kita about a personal investigation. A very close friend of the Doji had asked Gohei to help him find a certain stolen item with the utmost discretion. While Gohei was skeptical of finding it, Kita boasted that not only could she find it, but that she would find the item before the winter. The two made a sizable wager of koku and Kita set off to find the missing artifact.

Through her many contacts, Kita found that the missing artifact was actually Kaiu Armor and that two ronin were also searching for it in the North. After many months elapsed with no sign of either the armor or the ronin, she almost decided to give her search up. Two days before she was going to return home empty-handed, an eta in Nanashi Mura renewed the trail with some critical information. He had recently spotted a tattooed monk sporting a cart with magnificent armor.

Traveling north upon the Dragon Heart Plains, Kita happened upon the two ronin she had earlier heard about. Instead of directly approaching them, she painstakingly crept upon them. Overhearing their rowdy and crude conversations, she learned that they were Crab ronin attempting to retrieve the same artifact she was. She also learned a great many personal things about both the samurai, most of which Kita didn't particular care to hear.

During the night, Kita moved on and tracked down the monk after a few days. Kita attempted to ambush the monk, but the monk was too fast and strong. Instead of killing her, the monk restrained her and revealed himself as Togashi Kaiden. Kaiden offered her a hefty bounty by the Dragon Clan if she helped him dispose the armor in the Dragon furnaces. The Togashi asserted that a dark spirit had possessed the armor and that he was tasked with destroying it. Although she was undecided on whether this was true or not, Kita still agreed to help knowing the monk might kill her otherwise. However, while journeying with the monk, she left a trail that even an ignoramus could follow.

Days later, her salvation finally came. The two Crab ronin attacked, and Kita took her opportunity to dispose of the tattooed man. After a short bloody battle, the monk was dead and the armor rescued. Kita and the two Crab headed back to Crab lands. She was going to claim her prize no matter what. After all, the monk could not have been right?

Tsuruchi Kita
School/Rank: Rank 3
Air: 3 -Reflexes: 4
Earth: 2
Fire: 3
Water: 3 -Perception: 4
Void: 3

Glory: 3.2
Status: 1.5
Honor: 3.9

Skills: Athletics 3, Commerce 3, Hunting (Trailblazing, Tracking) 5, Etiquette 3, Intimidation 4, Investigation (Notice, Search) 5, Jiujutsu 3, Kenjutsu (Katana) 3, Kyujutsu (Yumi) 5, Lore: Heraldry 3, Lore: Underworld 4, Sincerity 2 (Honesty), Stealth 2

Techniques: A Hunter’s Sense, No Prey Escapes, Justice of the Wasp
Kata: Striking as Air, Striking as Fire

Advantages: Ally: Doji Gohei (Inf. 2, Dev. 1), Hero of the People, Seven Fortunes' Blessing (Ebisu), Spy Network
Disadvantages: Greedy, Overconfident

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Naked Steel #2

Shawn's column Naked Steel went up last week.


Covered in this article is the Matsu Beastmaster for Great Clans. The Kitsuki Justicar from Imperial Histories and a first look at the Daidoji Trading Council and the Doji Innocents from the Book of Air.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Kaiu Engineer

Kakita Seigi

The great Carpenter Wall has stood for over a millennia as a monument to the perseverance and strength of its creators, the Kaiu family. They make up the diverse group of engineers and craftsman that have aided the Lords of Hida since the Dawn of the Empire. Whenever or wherever the Crab needed something, the Kaiu family has been there to provide. It mattered not whether they had to build the sinister Tomb of Iuchiban to trap an incalculable foe, craft unbreakable Kaiu Blades to help the Hida combat the Shadowlands, or even make siege weapon to bring down the largest Oni. The Kaiu have never shirked in their duty to supply the giant Crab war machine; not even during the darkest days the Empire has ever seen has prevented the Kaiu from enabling the Crab Clan to fight their perpetual war against the Shadowlands.

Fitting this diverse set of themes into a single school has been difficult for the L5R RPG to represent. In the 1st Edition of the RPG, the Kaiu Engineer only had one technique that got better with each rank and allowed the Kaiu to diversify or specialize inri a multitude of skills. This led to a rather vanilla and oddball school. 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition attempted to solve this problem by creating individualized techniques to satisfy each specific niche the Kaiu had to fill.

For 4th Edition, Design wanted to start with something fresh and try a different approach. So now in 4th Edition, the Kaiu get to do all these things with a single school and five techniques. Kaiu enthusiasts need not worry abut the school lacking any punch. Instead each Kaiu has the opportunity to provide for the Empire in a great manner of functions, not just a single specialty. They are the Crab's jack-of-all trades. It's also important to note that the school functions both as a bushi and artisan school. The school starts with both keyword tags and takes into stride this dual approach.

The first rank technique provides the basis the Kaiu technique which provides bonuses to the Kaiu's different themes. From a mechanical perspective, this technique shares a lot of similarity with the original technique of the Kaiu in 1st Edition. However, with each subsequent rank, the school's technique emphasizes the Kaiu's four paths of approaching war: the path of stone, the path of shell, the paths of war, and finally the path of steel. So grab your hard-hat and let's see what the Kaiu Engineers learns!

In the path of stone, the Kaiu gain powerful bonuses in an entire new combat system: siege warfare. Now I can't spoil all of the particulars, but broadly speaking it's a simple and exciting system to help players model the construction of fortresses and then bring them down with siege weaponry. Other characters can take advantage of this system, but the Kaiu Engineer is the master of siege warfare. For our next path, the path of shell, the Kaiu start constructing much tougher armor for his Crab brethren. And while the Kaiu Armor is strong, it's very expensive and takes time to produce. Moving on to path of war, the Kaiu gain some abilities to help them thrive during the chaos of mass battle and even smaller skirmishes. Finally we have the path of Steel, the very pinnacle of a Kaiu Engineer's achievement. It is the path that allows a Kaiu Engineer to craft tough weapons, including the legendary Kaiu Blades.

There was a great temptation to show off how the Engineers might make cool weapons like Kaiu blades, but today's preview is going to highlight on something more broad to the Crab audience. When visualizing a Crab samurai it's hard to imagine them without armor. To this end, today's preview is going to focus on crafting Kaiu Armor. Crab players will want to note that these items are intended for Crab characters only, just like Kaiu blades. However, if you're not a Crab Player, don't despair! Other characters can get access to this equipment, such as a Kaiu Blade, but its good to be mindful that it's a significant gift to receive Kaiu Armor. You see the Crab aren't very keen on parting with badly needed equipment that could be instead used against the Shadowlands.

Kaiu Engineer School [Artisan/Bushi]
The Kaiu Engineers are the most formidable crafters in the Empire, and their skills are turned almost entirely to the Crab Clan’s duty of defending Rokugan against the Shadowlands. Masters of construction and siege craft, they are also formidably talented at the manufacture of arms and armor. Many Kaiu also serve as battlefield commanders, turning their talents at siege to the service of war.

Technique Rank: 3
Technique: The Path of the Shell - The security and protection of Crab samurai is a somber duty all Kaiu take very seriously indeed. When crafting any set of armor, you may double the crafting time and cost in order to add your School Rank to the armor’s Reduction value. You may also add half your School Rank (rounding up) to the armor’s Armor TN bonus.

Sample NPC
Kaiu Genzo - Dishonored Armorer

In an Empire constantly at war, Genzo is a man of peace and to him bloodshed is an anathema. However, his samurai duties require him to walk a very narrow path. Fortunately Kaiu Fumiyo, his sensei and aunt, recognized that sending Genzo to the front lines would break his spirit. Noticing the great talent Genzo had with constructing magnificent artifacts, Fumiyo instead niched him into the craft of armor making and fostered the belief that Genzo was saving lives by creating fantastic armor for the Crab to defend themselves.

The favor did not go unnoticed by Genzo and he immersed himself completely in his work. Armor after armor he fashioned for his Crab comrades and, with each new creation, every armor became progressively more perfect. After many years in the Kaiu Forges, he had finally perfected his greatest masterpiece. The Kaiu Armor was so impressive that his sensei wished to gift it to the Crab Champion's son upon his gempukku.

Unfortunately before the armor could be delivered to the Hida family, the armor was stolen enroute by a hooded monk. The Captain of the Guard, Hida Aki, requested permission for seppukku to atone for his failure to protect the armor. However, the Captain's request was denied by the Crab Champion and instead Aki was ordered to become ronin until he could find the stolen armor and return it to the Crab.

An uncontrollable rage awakened in Genzo's soul to right this injustice done to the Crab and he begged for permission from his Kaiu lords to embark upon a Musha Shugyo, a warrior pilgrimage to better his craft. While his lord was not fooled by the request, he allowed Genzo to go anyway with a final order, “Find what you are looking for and cleanse your personal demons. Only then can you return.”

Not long after two ronin were seen leaving Crab lands.

Kaiu Genzo
School/Rank: Kaiu Engineer 4
Air 2
Earth 5
Fire 4
Water 2
Void 5

Glory: 4.4
Honor: 4.7
Status: NA

Skills: Battle 3, Craft: Armorsmithing 8, Craft: Weaponsmithing 2, Defense 5, Engineering (Construction) 4, Etiquette 1, Lore: Architecture 3, Lore: Theology 4, War Fans 4, Sincerity 1

Techniques: The Kaiu Method, The Path of Stone, The Path of the Shell, The Path of War
Kata: Striking as Earth

Advantages: Ally: Kaiu Fumiyo (Inf. 2, Dev. 2), Dark Paragon (Perfection), Great Potential (Craft: Armorsmithing)
Disadvantages: Fascination (Armorsmithing), Driven (Find the stolen Kaiu Armor), Social Disadvantage (Ronin), Soft-Hearted

Friday, July 15, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Asako Inquisitor

I apologize for the lateness of the preview.

written by

I'm not sure many know this but Phoenix happen to be my second favorite clan. I know at times it looks like the Crane. But that's only because I have so many wonderful friends in the Crane clan :). I've always had a soft spot for the magical. My traditional PC in other games was either a rogue or a wizard. As you can guess Mage was my favorite oWoD game. The fact that Shiba and Bayushi are twins just makes the two clans even cooler.

The Asako happen to be my favorite family of the Phoenix. Don't get me wrong, the arrogance of the Isawa is appealing and the Shiba are some of the best bushi's in the setting. I don't really count the Agasha as true Phoenix :P. So with Great Clans I'm glad to see that the Asako get some real love. The family has a lot to offer. They are courtiers. They are shugenja. They are monks. And I'm sure they could be bushi too.

The Asako Inquisitor is a solid addition to the taint fighting schools in the game. After Great Clans I'm sure I'll finally be able to run my Mod Squad of taint hunters (maybe I'll recruit Seigi and Rixy to help too). The Inquisitor is unique in that it offers something both for the taint hunting shugenja and the taint hunting bushi of the Phoenix clan.

The strongest element of the Inquisitor is it's ability to disrupt maho users. Every technique offers a means in which the Inquisitor can make a maho tsuki's day into a bad day. And this disruption ability is why it's such a solid taint hunter.

Overall you'll find the Asako Inquisitor not only a good addition to the Phoenix clan line up, but a good addition to any party formed around the idea of hunting down those who traffic with magics that are forbidden.

New Advanced School: Asako Inquisitor (Monk)

The Asako are generally regarded as a peaceful and serene family, the very picture of the pacifistic Phoenix. For the most part this is an accurate picture of the family and their philosophy, but there are those who stand apart from it. The Asako are the primary force behind the Inquisitors, the Phoenix order devoted to eradicating the corrupt and blasphemous from within the ranks of the Empire’s shugenja. It is a mission they embrace completely and enact at any cost. The order has existed since the Empire’s earliest days, long before the creation of the Jade Magistrates, an organization that fulfills much the same purpose. The Inquisitors sometimes work in cooperation with the Kuni Witch Hunters and have even had a few limited contacts with the Yogo family’s secretive Kuroiban.

The Asako Inquisitors do not concern themselves exclusively with maho or Shadowlands corruption, although these crimes are among their most frequent targets. They also investigate gaijin magic and any religious groups with heretical beliefs, such as the Bloodspeaker Cult. Members of the Inquisitor order are selected primarily from the ranks of Phoenix shugenja, but many bushi serve with them and a few Henshin and Brotherhood monks have been inducted as well. Those who are inducted into the order and take the necessary vows of duty and secrecy are granted a stylized tattoo of an eye, the symbol of the order, somewhere on their body. The back of the hand is the most common location.

Rank Two: The Trials of Jade
An Inquisitor finds the weakness in his enemies and exploits it, bringing them the Emperor’s justice. When casting any spell, you may spend a Void Point for the spell to count as jade or crystal for the purposes of reducing or defeating your target’s Reduction or Invulnerability traits. If you cannot cast spells, you may instead make a melee attack as a Simple Action instead of a Complex Action when facing an opponent you know has violated the Empire’s laws regarding the legal forms of magic.

Asako Fuyu – Artistic Inquisitor

Asako Fuyu shows amazing talent and promise. He possesses a level of innate understanding for earth magic that is normally only had by the Masters themselves. His understand of the Earth kami seems so deep that sometimes he goes a bit to far with his magics. It is no wonder that he is one of the Master of Earth favorite students. It is even rumored that Fuyu could in fact succeed the current Master of Earth when he retires.

The Phoenix feel that it would be a waste of of Fuyu's talent not to put him on the front lines in some form or fashion. And the Inquisitors always need talented earth shugenja to help in their fight against maho and the servants of Jigoku.

Like a good samurai Fuyu does as he is told. He serves with distinction and honor among the Inquisitors. But this is not where Fuyu's heart lies. He yearns to use his talent for more peaceful means. While he admits that the Emperor's enemies are his, if he had a say in such matters he would spend his time creating as opposed to destroying.

In his free time Fuyu creates amazing sculptures. His skill is such that the stone literally melts away in his hands as he molds the earth into any shape or form that his heart desires. His work has been featured not only at Kyuden Isawa and Kyuden Asako but in Kyuden Doji and the Imperial Court itself. If Fuyu could have his way he would do nothing more with his life than create.

But that is not his fate. So he will tirelessly hunt down those that the Phoenix ask him too. And maybe one day he will become the Master of Earth. And perhaps then he can spend more of his time creating instead of destroying.

Asako Fuyu
School/Rank Isawa Shugenja 1/Isawa Tensai 1/Asako Inquisitor 2
Air: 3
Awareness: 4
Earth 4
Fire 3
Water 3
Void: 4
Glory 4
Honor: 5
Status: 4

Skills: Artisan: Sculpture 5, Calligraphy (Cipher) 2, Defense 3, Investigation 4, Kenjutsu 3, Lore: Theology 2, Lore Elements: Earth 4, Lore: Shugenja 4, Lore: Law 4, Medicine 3, Lore: Maho 3, Meditation 4, Spellcraft 3

Advantages: Elemental Blessing (3), Friendly Kami (5), Friend of the Elements (3), Great Potential: Artisan: Sculpture (5), Sacred Weapon: Inquisitor's Strike (6)

Disadvantages: Compulsion: Sculpting (2), Elemental Imbalance: Earth (3) Fascination: Sculptures (1),

Techniques: Isawa's Gift, Embrace the Elements, Eye of the Inquisitor, The Trial of Jade

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Shawns new column

Shawn has started a new column that discues the rpg, allows for more transperancy and lets players give input into the design proccess of the game. You can find it here


Also if you want to discuss the article on the forums there is a thread here to let you talk about it.



Friday, July 8, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Moto Vindicator

Written By
Kakita Seigi

Today's preview we are featuring the Moto Vindicator, the original Moto Bushi school from 1st Edition. Canonically this school was developed by the Moto Family after many of their samurai succumbed to the Shadowlands Taint during Moto Tsume's infamous campaign against the Shadowlands. For many centuries after this shameful incident, the Moto family was single-mindedly focused on eradicating the forces of the Shadowlands. Often Moto Vindicators could be seen fighting side-bg-side with the Crab on the Kaiu Wall. It was not until the modern era that the Dark Moto were finally defeated. After this victory and the rise of the wild Moto within the Unicorn, that many Unicorn began to wonder about the school's relevance. Recent events involving the Shadowlands, such as Iuchiban's Rain Blood and the Kali-ma's Plague, have changed many minds and the school's ranks have swelled with many vengeful Unicorn seeking revenge against the Shadowlands.

Moto Vindicators resemble the classic Crab schools with a Unicorn touch. The school emphasizes endurance and fighting against incredibly odds. A Moto Vindicator is death incarnate. Vindicators are Unicorn Clan samurai who are "already dead," their bodies just don't know it yet. All that matters is how many enemies the Vindicator vanquishes before death finally catches up to him. Mechanically, this means the Vindicator school emphasizes minimizing wound penalties with a high armor TN, and holding a grudge. And boy do the Vindicators hold special grudges for their enemies. For example, the school gains bonuses based on the Vindicator's wound penalties, regardless of who attacked them. So boys and girls, remember that a wounded Moto is enraged Moto!

A notable aspect of the Moto Vindicators is the school's powerful Rank 1 technique. This technique provides a Moto Vindicator with the unparallel flexibility to switch from an Armor TN bonus over to negating wound penalties. This can be very handy as a Moto Vindicator initially possesses great defense abilities, but once hit a Vindicator will often need to focus on minimizing wound penalties so he can retaliate. This is a very powerful ability, but during playtesting we found that it was more-or-less balanced by two factors. First, the school requires certain advantages/disadvantages at character creation. Namely to join this School, you must have either the Higher Purpose (Defeat the Shadowlands) Advantage or the Driven (Defeat the Shadowlands) Disadvantage. Also, the school starts with Heavy Armor. Normally, Heavy Armor is a great defensive bonus, but at Rank 1 this means the school suffers from a -5 attack penalty for wearing Heavy Armor. This also means wound penalties can prevent a character from effectively attacking and a Vindicator will often be forced to switch his Rank 1 technique over to minimizing wound penalties.

New Basic School - Moto Vindicator [Bushi]
The Moto family suffered a great blow to their morale and honor during the ninth century when their daimyo Moto Tsume, fueled by pride and arrogance, rode into the Shadowlands with the majority of his forces. He and his men fell to darkness and became some of Jigoku’s greatest tools in its fight against Rokugan. Those Moto who survived or remained behind were deeply shamed and swore to eradicate all those Tainted creatures who bore their name. This oath gave rise to both the elite White Guard and to the Moto Vindicator school. Although the order of Vindicators existed before the fall of Moto Tsume, they did not have an intense personal hatred of the Shadowlands and their Techniques had not yet advanced to form a full school. The disgrace of Tsume’s defeat changed everything.

The Dark Moto were terrible creatures. They rode monstrous steeds that never tired, struck with inhuman strength, and used foul magic to destroy their foes. The threat forced the Vindicators to become stronger, strong enough to overcome their fallen cousins. They trained to spot the signs of the Shadowlands Taint and to neutralize their opponents’ advantages. The Moto called every favor at their disposal to learn from the best, and the Crab were glad to help, especially since the Shinjo had offered help to their Hiruma family.

The Moto Vindicator School focuses the fury and dedication of the Moto to a destructive point. If a Vindicator spots his sworn nemesis, he will not retreat until either he or his foe is dead.

Technique Rank: 1
Technique: Purity of the Breath - The Vindicator knows the only way to combat the Shadowlands is to maintain integrity in the face of the foulest corruption. At the beginning of each Round, you may choose one of two effects to apply until the end of the Round. You may reduce your TN penalties from Wound Ranks by an amount equal to your School Rank plus your Willpower. Or, you may instead choose to add a bonus to your Armor TN equal to your School Rank plus your Willpower.

If you are in a skirmish against creatures of the Shadowlands, the chosen bonus is doubled.

Sample NPC
Moto Yesugei - "The Purple Crab"
Moto Yesugei is a grizzled old veteran, now well into his fifties. He's first hand seen the devastation that the Shadowlands has wrought upon his own clan. As a young teenager just right out of his gempukku, he had swelled with pride when he assisted his family defeat the Dark Moto during the tumultuous events in 1132. However, over the years, he's lost so many loved ones to the accursed Shadowlands that his youthful optimism has been replaced with grim determination. He truly believes now that the battle against the Shadowlands can never be ultimately won. Perhaps affectionately many of his friends have dubbed him with the nickname, "the Purple Crab."

Personal tragedy struck Moto Yesugei recently during Iuchiban's Rain of Blood, when his only son and two grandchildren fell to the corrupting influence of the Shadowlands. Although having been retired for some time, Moto Yesugei decided to take up his swords again and hunt down his corrupted kin. When Yesugei finally confronted his son and two grandchildren, he surely would have perished and failed without the timely aid of Akodo Akio. The two samurai together overwhelmed Yesugei's kin, but regrettably the Lion succumbed to mortal wounds incurred during the ensuing battle.

The greatest irony now is that Yesugei is mortal enemies with Akodo Akio's son, Akodo Kazutoshi. As a favor to the deceased Akio, Moto Yesugei has spared Kazutoshi for each life that Akio helped Yesugei avenge. Now that he has spared Kazutoshi three times, he hopes he will not have to kill the young man. Although Kazutoshi and Yesugei now serve together in the same unit fighting off the Destroyers, Yesugei has yet to tell Kezutoshi why he has repeatedly spared the young Lion officer's life.

Moto Yesugei
School/Rank: Moto Vindicator 5
Air: 2 -Reflexes: 4
Earth: 5
Fire: 3 - Agility 5
Water: 4 -Strength: 5
Void: 5
Glory: 5.4
Status: 3.5 (Gunso)
Honor: 4.3

Skills: Athletics 3, Battle 3, Etiquette 2, Horsemanship (Gaijin Riding Horse) 5, Heavy Weapons (Ono) 5, Hunting (Tracking) 4, Iaijutsu (Focus) 3, Investigation (Notice, Search) 5, Jiujutsu 3, Kenjutsu (Katana, Nodachi, Scimitar) 6, Kyujutsu 5, Lore: Shadowlands (Dark Moto) 4, Lore: Theology (Fortunes, Lords of Death) 4, Meditation 2, Tea Ceremony 2

Techniques: Purity of the Breath, Facing the Dark Within, Justice of Our Ancestors, Avenging Our Own, Bloodied but Unbowed
Kata: Indomitable Warrior Style, Striking as Earth

Advantages: Balance, Higher Purpose (Defeat the Shadowlands), Large, Strength of Earth, Seven Fortunes' Blessing (Jurojin’s Blessing)
Disadvantages: Lost Love (His Family), Obligation (Akodo Akio), Sworn Enemy (Akodo Kazutoshi, 3)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Akodo Kensai

Written By
Kakita Seigi

Welcome back to the Great Clan previews. Today, we'll be focusing on the Lion Clan preview, the Akodo Kensai. Also known as the “sword saints,” the Lion Kensai are the most traditional of all Lion warriors. Kensai practice the art of kenjutsu and iaijutsu with such pious fervor that they are known throughout Rokugan for having developed a supernatural connection with the katana. Many an onlooker has claimed that to watch a Lion Kensai handle a katana is to observe the most spectacular display of kenjutsu. And while many samurai consider the Kakita style to be the most preeminent form of swordplay, none can deny the potency of a Lion Kensai's skill with a sword. Indeed the Kensai's technique is both artistic and ritualized, developed over thousands of hours of training with kata until a Kensai can instinctively hear the beating "Heart of the Sword."

The Akodo Kensai was first introduced in the Third Edition of L5R RPG as an Advanced School. For Fourth Edition, Design has revamped the school to instead be a path. I'd like to take a moment to emphasize this important change. Paths in Fourth Edition aren't nearly as much alternate forms of study like they were in Third Edition, in which samurai could jump from one school to the next. Instead paths now reflect the rich diversity of styles across the dojos of a clan's major bushi schools. Thus, Design felt that the Lion Kensai would be best represented as the distinct traditionalist approach that Lion Bushi utilize, rather than representing a cohesive group of swordsmen like the Crane Kenshinzen or Dragon Swordsmaster.

Now as a path, the Akodo Kensai path replaces any Lion Bushi's Rank 4 technique. The technique offers two interesting advantages. The first bonus is a minor Armor TN bonus, which both the Akodo and Matsu Bushi lack. This obviously can be an useful advantage for any Lion Bushi trying to survive the carnage of combat; however, the bonus can only be used against the first melee attack each round and the bushi must be in the Attack stance, so the bonus isn't a blanket armor bonus and has some restrictions. The second ability, the heart of the technique, involves being able to activate a kata as a free action, once-per-skirmish. This ability can prove to be incredibly handy for Lion Bushi that need an immediate combat edge from kata. For practical purposes, this also means a Lion bushi can benefit from more than one kata per round, such as an Akodo Bushi using the Disappearing World Style on his first attack and then following up with Strength of Purity Style on his second attack.

The Akodo Kensai path is an excellent choice for Lion players that enjoy utilizing kata or want an additional defensive benefit. Though this path is not for everyone. The original Rank 4 techniques of both the Akodo and Matsu Bushi schools are still quite effective and more general, whereas the Akodo Kensai is more build-specific. For example, the high entry requirements of this path, which requires high skill ranks in both Iaijutsu and Kenjutsu will make the choice difficult for non-duelist characters. Also, Lion characters that favor using the Full Attack stance will find some less utility from this path.

New Alternate Path: Akodo Kensai [Bushi]
The samurai of the Lion Clan value tradition above all else, and many Lion warriors follow directly in the footsteps of their ancestors. While other weapons may be better suited for the battlefield, the katana remains the icon of samurai culture. The Akodo Kensai focuses exclusively on this weapon until he can overcome its deficiencies. He pours thousands of hours of practice into kata, kenjutsu, and iaijutsu until he has a profound connection with the weapon. When he is ready, the Kensai can move and attack as if the katana were a very part of his body. He strikes with almost supernatural ease, with a grace and beauty that enthralls any who watch him.

Technique Rank: 4
Replaces: Any Lion Bushi 4
Technique: The Heart of the Sword - The Akodo Kensai navigates the battlefield with his katana in his hands. He remains untouched by the enemies around him, for he can direct the flow of combat with his own attacks. While using a sword and in the Attack Stance, you may increase your Armor TN by your Honor Rank against the first melee attack each Combat Round. Additionally, once per skirmish you may activate a Kata as a Free Action.

Sample NPC
Akodo Kazutoshi - Vengeful Kensai
Kazutoshi was a child prodigy, a spitting image of his father. For most of his young adult life, he displayed remarkable talent as a swordsmen and continually honed both his body and blade to a razor-edge. His friends and family had often noted that one day Kazutoshi would became a great sensei of the Akodo Bushi school like his father Akio, teaching the art of the blade to the next generation of Akodo.

However, that was before his fateful encounter with Moto Yesugei during the Battle of Toshi Ranbo. Although Yesugei was a grizzled Moto well past his prime, Yesugei single-handedly crushed Kazutoshi and his squadron. Yesugei cut down every Lion in the unit, sparing no one save Kazutoshi. Kazutoshi bristled at the injustice of not being given a proper samurai's death, but Yesugei only responded "a life for a life."

At that moment, something terrible awoke in Kazutoshi's soul. A sleeping Lion was aroused to ferocious fury and it demanded retribution. Many of Kazutoshi's friends have now become anxious at Kazutoshi's vicious actions during the Fall of Shiro Moto. Kazutoshi's sole goal is to defeat his nemesis in honorable single combat... or die trying. Any Unicorn who stood in his way has been crushed ruthlessly.

Unfortunately Kazutoshi chafes at his inability to best Yesugei. Kazutoshi has now lost a total of three duels to the old man, each time being spared by the Moto. Kazutoshi has now begun to despair of ever defeating Yesugei and Kazutoshi's quest has become all the more sardonic now, since Kazutoshi must serve side-by-side as comrades with Yesugei during the Destroyer War. Kazutoshi still hopes to triumph over his rival, but Kazutoshi has come to begrudgingly respect Yesugei. Time will time tell whether Kazutoshi ever gets the chance to fight the Moto again. And if he does, will Kazutoshi still have the resolve to slay the old Moto, especially now that the Moto is finally showing signs of old age?

Akodo Kazutoshi
School/Rank: Akodo Bushi 4 (Akodo Kensai)
Air: 3 -Reflexes: 4
Earth: 3
Fire: 4 - Agility 5
Water: 3 -Perception: 4
Void: 4
Glory: 3.7
Status: 3.2 (Gunso)
Honor: 7.1

Skills: Athletics 4, Battle (Mass Combat) 5, Defense 3, Etiquette (Courtesy) 3, Iaijutsu (Assessment, Focus, Strike) 5, Kenjutsu (Katana) 7, Kyujutsu 3, Lore: Bushido 4, Lore: History 3, Sincerity (Honesty) 2

Techniques: The Way of the Lion, Strength of Purity, Strength of My Ancestors, The Heart of the Sword
Kata: Disappearing World Style, Striking as Water, Strength of Purity Style

Advantages: Ally: Moto Yesugei (Inf. 2, Dev. 4), Heart of Vengeance (Unicorn), Prodigy, Virtuous
Disadvantages: Driven: Regain His Pride, Idealistic, Sworn Enemy (Moto Yesugei, 8 - includes nemesis)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Ninube Shugenja School

Written by

The inclusion of this school caused some what of a stir in PT. On the one hand many of us felt that the rules for the Lying Darkness were more than adequate to make Ninube (and Goju) characters. Since the Lying Darkness doesn't really create anything, instead opting to absorb the needed information from those it corrupts, it was thought that a school wouldn't form. And I also personally found it more horrifying that no matter the case that each agent of the Nothing one faced would be different and thus unpredictable.

On the other hand, the Nothings agents had received mechanic's in previous editions. In addition to making the job of a GM easier players would want to have something of their own to use. So as you can imagine it was a hotly debated topic.

That's not to say the Ninube is a bad school. I'm a big big fan of ninja stuff in L5R and as such the Nothing in all its forms is one of my favorite aspects (screw Daigotsu, the Shadow Dragon is where it's at). And that's not to say it was a bad choice to include the Ninube and Goju. But there were differing idea's on how best to represent them as PC's in the game.

The Ninube school is actually interesting. It has a very good way of invoking the eerie nature of those who serve the Nothing. And that I like.

One of the mechanical changes that was done with the Ninube (and something you may seen repeated for other schools) is the spell list. In previous editions new spells needed to be written in order introduce such schools. This time around DT examined the spells already present. The ones that were most like Nothing spells were given the Nothing tag for the purpose of this school. That's not to say that these spells were created by the Nothing and thus are corrupted. But that some spells already mimic the effects that Nothing spells normally would.

Ninube Shugenja (Shugenja)

The individuals who call themselves the Ninube are not truly shugenja in the conventional sense of the word, but then they are not truly individuals either, so the terminology here is largely a matter of convenience. The Ninube are minions of the Lying Darkness who seem to retain a portion of their individuality (whether they truly do is impossible to say). After the Darkness was defeated but before the Shadow Dragon usurped its place as the avatar of Nothing, the Ninube chose to go their own way, forsaking loyalty to this new master. (Or so they believe… in truth, they remain every bit as much a part of the Shadow Dragon’s machinations as their more willing former comrades among the Goju.)

If the GM allows this school to represent the Ninube, the rules and mechanics for Shadow Ranks in Chapter Seven of Enemies of the Empire not be used.

Technique: Mask of the Nothing
As a Complex Action you may expend a spell slot to dissolve your physical self and become a shadow. As a shadow you are invisible in darkness and gain a bonus of +5k0 to your Stealth Skill Rolls under all other circumstances. You are immune to most mundane attacks, but crystal and magic can affect you. Magical attacks that involve crystal or generate light double their rolled damage dice against you. When in shadow form, if you suffer damage that would kill you, you instead return to physical form at once with either half of your Wounds or with the Wounds you possessed when you entered shadow form, whichever is lower; you are Stunned when this happens.

You may not inflict damage on others in any way while in shadow form, but you may cast non-damaging spells and can speak in the form of a disembodied whisper.

You gain a Free Raise on all Nothing spells. You may not cast maho spells.

Sample NPC

Hitokage - The Watcher
Hitokage has been working for the Nothing for so long he no longer clearly recalls his life before corruption. What little he seems to remember comes to him in the form of broken dreams. Hitokage believes he was once a promising Ishiken in the Phoenix clan. Either as promising student or possible even the Master of Void at one point. He recalls being an Isawa, though he does not remember his name. And he has strange memories of his family through out the ages.

When active he normally takes on the form of an wandering Ishiken. Their rumored odd and eccentric nature help to cover for his momentary lapse in memory or awareness. Though when working on a directive from the Nothing he seems oddly clear headed.

Hitokage's targets for corruption typically tend to be other shugenja or courtiers. He enjoys (as much as he is allowed to enjoy) manipulating the courts of Rokugan. Due to his long life, he often times enacts plans that take years if not decades to come to fruition. And isn't above targeting a persons children or grandchildren if their family line shows promise.

Because of his long life and service to the Lying Darkness Hitokage isn't bother by disruptions in his plans. Taking the long view he will patiently wait for troublesome individuals to forget about him or his plans, knowing that he will out live them anyway (Rokugan is a dangerous place after all).

Hitokage typical assumes either a Scorpion identity (many people often do not look to closely into the plans of the Scorpion) or a Phoenix one. Though he has started a growing fascination with the Asahina and Crane.

School/Rank: Isawa Shugenja 3, Ninbue Shugenja 3
Air 5
Earth 3
Fire 3
Water 4
Void 5
Glory: 2.0
Honor: 2.5
Status: 1

Skills: Calligraphy (Phoenix and Scorpion Cipher) 2, Courtier (Manipulation) 6 , Defense 4. Divination 4, Etiquette 4. Forgery 4 Knives 4, Lore: Phoenix Clan 4, Lore: Scorpion Clan 3, Lore: Lying Darkness 4, Lore: Theology 3, Lore: Omens 3, Medicine 3, Meditation 5, Sincerity (Lying) 5, Spellcraft 5, Stealth 5, Temptation 5

Advantages: Forbidden Knowledge (Lying Darkness) (5), Ishiken- Do (6) Multiple Schools (10)

Disadvantages: Fascination (former family members) (1), Touch of the Void (4)

Notes: As a Rank 6 character that has been around for centuries Hitokage has a very expansive spell list. The GM should use whatever spells he feels a century spanning agent of the Lying Darkness needs to achieve his goals.

It should also be further noted that the Shadow taint and Void interact in strange and interesting ways that can sometimes lead them to being what is called the Nameless Ones. When this happens the Void itself has acted to protect the Ishiken. I personally felt it was a worthy concept when I initially created the character so ignored that tidbit. But a GM may want to switch out Void for another element if they wish to maintain that the Lying Darkness can not corrupt Void shugenja.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Great Clans Preview: Tamori Master of the Mountain

Written By
Kakita Seigi

Today the Dragon Clan Preview is going to focus on the first advanced school for Dragon Shugenja, the militant Masters of the Mountain. Students from this school usually not only shake the very foundations of mountains, but metaphorically the very pillars of tradition holding Rokugan up. And while the Phoenix are still the traditional masters of all the Elements, the power of the Tamori Masters of the Mountain comes from its perfect union of Earth magic and the martial ways of the warrior. To many traditionalist sects, the ways of the Tamori are an anathema, but the Way of the Dragon is hardly one that observes the traditions of other clans and instead emphasizes self-discovery.

The Tamori Master of the Mountain mechanically offers synergistic bonuses not just to the Tamori shugenja school, but also with the Tamori Yamabushi path. As the Master of the Mountain increases in school rank, he gains a new ability that is fueled by sacrificing spell slots to increase the Tamori's flexibility in other areas. One downside to this school, is that it doesn't offer as much ways to increase the shugena's school rank to access more powerful spells. So players that are planning on getting access to all the high level spells will have a more difficult decision to make. If they don't want to sacrifice high level spells and keep the very powerful techniques, they will need to wait to enter the school.

However more militantly minded shugenja will probably want to join the school earlier. The techniques will allow them to trade spells for increased combat proficiency just like the Yamabushi path. A great example of this power is the Master of Mountain's Rank 2 technique. By sacrificing a spell slot and making spells slightly more difficult to cast, the shugenja can increase their combat survival. If the Tamori is caught unaware in an ambush, this technique is a great asset to help the Tamori get out of jam. Even better, if the character has time to buff themselves with the Earth kami beforehand (i.e. with spells like Armor of the Emperor or Be the Mountain), the shugenja can become quite the tank. This technique reverse mirrors one of the Tamori Yamabushi's ability that allows a yamabushi to increase their ability to hit by expending a spell slot.

There are a number of great shugenja builds that allow a character to excel in combat. But mirroring the story, the 4th Edition RPG provides a versatile arsenal for the Tamori to lead the shugenja pack as the premiere warrior priests in Rokugan.

New Advanced School: Tamori Master of the Mountain [Shugenja]
The Great Wall of the North is a treacherous mountain range that kill those who are unready for its sudden, vicious changes in weather. Despite its dangers, the range is admirable to those who can see the beauty of its cold violence. Mountaineers who brave the fierce peaks are forged into powerful men. The Tamori Masters of the Mountain learn to harness the power churning within their own souls, a violent echo of the strength of the Elements themselves. It is an old tradition, dating back to when the Agasha family first explored the mountains and studied their secrets. The name may have changed over the years, but the traditions remain true.

The Master of the Mountain is a loose organization with few sensei and fewer regulations. The Masters induct shugenja into their ranks when they spot one with the proper potential. The elders tend to choose impetuous and brash shugenja who trust only their own strength, a preference those outside of the school often question (albeit usually under their breaths). They worry the Masters of the Mountains will be influenced by the impatient natures of their young recruits. However, usually the opposite is true, as the wild students are taught proper methods of venting their anger through their powers, making them wiser as well as more powerful.

Technique Rank: 2
Technique: Inner Fortitude - The Master of the Mountain draws power from within his own body as well as from the Elements outside himself. Your Shugenja School Rank increases by one. Additionally, you may spend a spell slot as a Free Action to gain Reduction 2 and +10 to your Armor TN. This effect lasts for a number of Rounds equal to your Earth Ring, ending during the Reactions Stage of the final Round. You may choose to end the effect early as a Free Action. While this effect is active, you find it more difficult to tap into the Elements around you. You must call one Raise to no effect every time you cast a spell.

Sample NPC
Tamori Yue - Clan War Hero
Cheerful and amiable are not usually words associated with the militant Tamori Yamabushi. Rather Yue reaffirms the notion that there really are no stereotypical Dragon Clan samurai. Like the enduring mountains, she has been a stabilizing influence upon the Dragon Clan during her long appointment as a Clan Magistrate. Yue's positive demeanor did not sour, even during the dark days of the Scorpion Clan Coup, the confusing times of the great Clan War, or even when most of her family defected to the Phoenix. And while many Tamori held a grudge against the Agasha who defected to the Phoenix, Yue continues to have close ties with the Agasha family. Her closest friend was Agasha Hisojo, who she worked tirelessly with to help the Agasha transfer peacefully over to the Phoenix.

With her close connections to samurai in both the Dragon and Phoenix clans, Yue has become a particular terror upon the Kolat and those guilty of supernatural crimes. She is a proponent of the Kitsuki Method, so whenever a law is broken, she believes that evidence leads the way to the guilty. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant the evidence, Yue unerringly uses the Kitsuki Method to solve crimes. And whenever those who are guilty resist arrest, her training as a Yamabushi and Master of the Mountain make her success in combat all but a given.

Only twice has she failed an investigation. The first was to discover an insidious link between the Lying Darkness and Lady Hitomi, while the other was a more private endeavor to apprehend Master Tiger. She was very close to catching Master Tiger, but a traitor in the Phoenix Clan pre-warned Master Tiger of her arrival. The trail has now long gone cold and, for now, she has given up her search. While both bear a heavy burden on her heart, she looks positively towards the future and employing her skills to make the Empire a better place.

Tamori Yue
School Rank: Tamori Shugenja 4 (Warrior Priest)/Master of the Mountain 2
Earth: 5
Water: 3 -Perception: 5
Fire: 4
Air: 3 -Awareness: 5
Void: 4
Glory: 6.6
Status: 4.5 (Clan Magistrate and Revered Sensei)
Honor: 4.8

Skills: Athletics 2, Calligraphy (Cipher) 3, Courtier 5, Defense 5, Divination 3, Etiquette (Courtesy) 5, Investigation (Notice) 7, Kenjutsu (Katana) 5, Lore: History (Mysteries) 5, Lore: Law 4, Lore: Theology (Shintao) 4, Lore: Underworld (Kolat) 6, Medicine (Antidotes) 3, Meditation 4, Spellcraft 5, Sincerity 3

Techniques: Flesh of the Elements, Integration of the Gods, Inner Fortitude
Spells: Sense, Commune, Summon, Armor of the Emperor, Be the Mountain, By the Light of Lord Moon, Earth Becomes Sky, Earth's Touch, Elemental Ward,
Fires From Within, Jurojin's Balm, Katana of Fire, Light of the Sun, Mental Quickness, Never Alone, Reflections of Pan'ku, Reversal of Fortune
Kiho: Earth Needs No Eyes, Touch of the Void Dragon

Advantages: Allies (Many), Clear Thinker, Hero of the People, Social Position (Dragon Clan Magistrate), Seven Fortunes' Blessing (Benten), Wary
Disadvantages: Compulsion (Be Bubbly, 4), Idealistic, Sworn Enemy (Kolat)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Philosophies of Bushido and Shourido

The Philosophies of Bushido and Shourido
Alex Jacobs

Since its first appearance in l5r during late Lotus Edition, shourido and the dark virtues have been among the most fascinating and compelling aspects of the l5r setting to me. While Rokugan is not as philosophically-driven a game as many others, such as Mage: The Ascension or Unknown Armies, in many ways it is more philosophically-relevant because the philosophy is rarely a matter for debate and instead directly informs the actions of the characters, whether they are story characters in an official fiction or the PCs and NPCs in table top or larp game. As such, having two competing philosophies which direct the characters presents great opportunity for examination and introspection not afforded in many other settings. Unfortunately, the rigid nature of Rokugan makes discussing, let alone contrasting, these philosophies in-character very difficult. Instead, I will be discussing them here with an aim of providing thoughts and advice on how to incorporate them into a home-game.

What is Bushido?

Let us start by examining the older and more prestigious of the two philosophies: bushido. As with many Japanese words it is a conjunctive. Bushido separates into bushi-do, literally the way of the warrior. An in depth translation reveals more. Bushi are not simply warriors. They are the guardians and protectors of Rokugan's society. They are a class of samurai, and while a Doji Couriter would be very unlikely to refer to herself as a bushi, she would claim to follow bushido. We may get some clues from the word samurai, which is often used interchangeably with bushi (though the opposite is most certainly not true); the character for samurai in Japanese is composed of two figures which mean, “sword,” and, “stop,” and so the character for samurai translates literally to, “stopping the sword.” In point of fact, one translation of the character “bu” gives a similar meaning: “To stop the spear.” When we combined this translation with the translation of bushi as a protector, we gain a nuanced understanding of what a bushi is: one who stops and protects people from violence, a task that may be undertaken by a courtier as often as a warrior.

The word, “do,” is slightly more complex to translate but again the nuanced understanding is well worthwhile. Literally, “way,” other translations include, “path,” or even, “calling.” A do is not simply a prescribed set of rules and orders, but a transition. It suggests not a rigid way of living your life but a striving.

When we recombine everything into, “bushido,” we have not a legalistic samurai code but an infinite journey. To follow bushido is not a set prescription of actions – or at least, not just that – but rather an infinite journey to moral rectitude. One who follows bushido may not be perfect in every action, but dedicates him or herself to protecting others, to stopping violence, to preserving society, to following honor. He or she may slip, but because he or she is attempting to follow the path, this is only a temporary setback. Bushido is not the end goal that is either reached or not reached, but the entire, never-ending journey.

Okay, So What is Bushido?

Understanding the flexibility and accountability of bushido, we are better able to understand its component parts. Knowing that bushido is a journey, rather than a destination, the virtues come into their own not as rigid standards to show a samurai has or has not achieved honor, but as guideposts, a road map if you will, to how a samurai may yet reach honor. Likewise – and this is critical – it is a system whereby others may recognize how well that samurai is progressing toward honor.

One area l5r departs from historical Japan is on the code of bushido. While l5r adopts the modern concept of seven tenets or virtues of bushido, there is no historical precedent for these seven tenets, which waxed and waned from as few as zero tenets, leaving the nature of bushido unspecified, to five specific tenets, to a whopping thirteen. Historically, the vagaries of bushido's tenets left it open to wide interpretation, but by specifying the seven tenets in l5r, the writers gave us a Rokugan with an ethical system as well as a moral one. Examining this ethical code allows us to truly understand how bushido functions.

Most importantly, of the seven bushido virtues, only one deals with the self (courage) whereas five define how we are to interact with other people (compassion, courtesy, duty, honesty, sincerity). We will deal with honor in a moment, but let us consider this five-to-one ratio; it signifies the purpose of bushido and Rokugani ethics. Bushido is not a prescription for how one should be but rather how one should act. Bushido details how one should treat others.

A classic dilemma in western ethics is the question of whether it is right to commit a minor wrong for a greater good, such as lying in service to a cause or killing a small number of people to save a greater number. Western philosophy accords many responses to both, from Kantian morality (to consider people as ends rather than means) to Mill's utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number of people) to Nietzsche's complete rejection of traditional morality (more complex than I can sum up in a single sentence fragment), but all acknowledge a conflict and attempt to resolve it. Bushido does not consider a conflict to exist in these instances because the samurai's honor is not to himself or his sense of morality, but to his role in society.

If a samurai is ordered to lie by his lord his duty compels him to follow the orders, but it is not in conflict with his honesty – it is in conflict with his lord's, and his lord bears the burden of the sin. Likewise, if the samurai refuses to follow the order, even to the point of facing execution or offering his seppuku, it is not because his honor would not let him lie (although hit might make lying unpleasant for him) but because his duty to his lord would not allow him to assist his lord to participate in an act of dishonesty. Indeed, note from the honor table on p. 91 that the samurai may even gain honor from obeying such an order (following orders despite personal misgivings) – he does not lose honor until the point that he is expected to serve as an example to others, which would include his own lord.

Courage is the only bushido virtue that focuses on the self, but it is a necessary one. When five virtues specify how a samurai should compose himself among others, the samurai becomes quite vulnerable. There is no accounting for agency among the five social virtues of bushido, and one of them (sincerity) mandates that the samurai give herself over in full to all that she does – there can be no half measures. Surrendering agency to an ethical system, and an ethical system that mandates one follow the free will of those above you rather than your own, is a frightening prospect. Courage must accompany the virtues in order to see them through, else they are meaningless.

Finally we come to honor. Honor is both a social virtue (it describes the character of one's actions) and a personal virtue (it describes one's character). It is also the hardest virtue to define. This is because honor is not an intellectual concept; as both social and personal honor exists outside intellect. One cannot argue honor, only its points. People can abide by honor or reject it, but each person recognizes their own honor or lack thereof. Society acknowledges honor, bestows it, or removes it. These are all in reflection of actions or motivation, but not, curiously, discussion – honor may be debated but the conclusion of the debate cannot and will not change honor because the honor is separate from the discussion: it has already happened and the debate is but an attempt to understand what has occurred. This pre-intellectual honor is the final key to bushido: honor may change in response to the world, but never in response to the samurai; if honor is relative, it is not manipulatable.

Thus we have our understanding of bushido as an ethical system that guides a samurai through society. The samurai who follows bushido has the courage to follow an honorable understanding of moral rectitude directed by the five social virtues which will inform his each and every action.

What is Shourido?

This is all well and good for the purposes of understanding bushido, but what of shourido, the new moral code? While I have not been able to find a direct translation, one possible translation would be, “the way of victory,” though, “conquest” or “triumph” would also be appropriate (thanks to Dan Zelitch, English teacher living in Japan, for helping with the translation). The name tells us what we need to know about shourido: its purpose is to aid the follower. While bushido is intended to help the samurai help others, shourido serves oneself.

The seven virtues of shourido are quite explicit about this. Unlike bushido, only one of the tenets (control) deals with others, while five (determination, insight, knowledge, perfection, strength) deal with the self. A seventh (will) deals with the implementation of these dark virtues. A follower of shourido does not serve or protect others, for duty or any other reason, but controls them putting them in service to her. She does not seek inner strength to implement these virtues – such strength is the entire point of shourido. She needs but the will to follow the path.

Shourido or Bushido? Or Shouido and Bushido?

Having set up shourido and bushido as two antithetical ethical systems, we may at last contrast them. Superficially they are entirely contradictory: shourido is a guide to ones' duty to self, while bushido is a guide to one's duty to others. Bushido is a goal to work toward and a path to that goal, while shourido are mandates of power. It would seem impossible to follow both. After all, one cannot be compassionate to a thief and deal with him from a position of strength, one cannot control an opponent while extending courtesy, can one?

Of course one can. A father must be strong with his child but compassionate: a stern warning not to play with fire, and a punishment if the rule is broken, are both acts of strength but are done out of compassion, to keep the child from being burned. A lord commands her vassals, controlling them, but shows her appreciation for them by extending courtesy. The virtues are not inherently contradictory.

This is the compelling nature of the dual philosophies. It is possible to follow both shourido and bushido, but only in very specific ways. An army commander who is ordered to resolve a border dispute with a neighboring clan may consult with political advisers to gain knowledge of the disupute, meditate on the nature of the dispute to gain insight into the other clan's legitimate and illegitimate grievances, and manipulate a representative from the enemy clan to control him and force a peace settlement, all because she is determined to resolve the issue without bloodshed. Yet in doing so she has fulfilled her duty to her lord, extended compassion to her own soldiers and those of her enemy, and demonstrated honesty, sincerity, and honor at every turn. This is a more honorable outcome than could have occurred without shourido.

At the same time, a samurai who only followed shourido could have seized the disputed territory through strength of arms, controlled the courts to resolve the dispute in her clan's favor, or determined to continue fighting even if hurt both sides until the outcome was settled as she wished, and all of those possibilities are much easier and much more likely to spring to mind than the intricate dance required to interweave shourido with bushido.

One can follow both shourido and bushido, but it's a fine line to walk, a difficult path on a mountain ridge with a great drop on either side.

Shourido and Bushido in Your Game

The first thing a character should do when incorporating both philosophies is forget the mechanics. Both philosophies describe actions, and the mechanics are quite capable of reflecting those actions. The Dark/Paragon/Failure/Consumed advantages and disadvantages may be selected after the character is created, but should be selected in response to the character created, not to determine what character will be created.

A character who follows bushido is trying to compose himself by society's dictates, and so there will often only be one correct action, or at least one correct goal. A character who follows shourido is seeking to both improve and utilize his strengths and power. As such, the two are best interwoven by using bushido to determine the end and shourido to determine the means. Shourido may provide and open the character's mind to options bushido would never consider, even if bushido favors them or is neutral to them. Playing an honorable shourido character is about turning shourido into a tool in the character's arsenal.

The GM should use the honor table on p. 91 as a guide to determine the character's honor. Note that some of the character's actions will now cause both honor gain and honor loss; this is a good thing. The character is still honorable, after all, but is hardly pure. Most likely, the character's honor will hover somewhere in the 3-6 range, honorable but rarely exemplary (either as a positive or a negative).

This is where I consider the Dark Paragon advantage to truly shine. By striving to follow bushido, the character has a regular honor engine, but Dark Paragon allows him to sacrifice that honor in service to... well, even in service to that honor. As a storyteller, this provides a wonderful opportunity to roleplay a falling hero. Shourido is a slippery slope and as the PC begins to rely on using the benefits of her Dark Paragon, it becomes easier and easier to think, “I'll make up that honor loss later.” “There's nothing wrong with my honor falling to 2; the honor gains are a lot bigger down here when I do get them.” The GM should provide regular situations of temptation to allow the character to drag herself down.

The most interesting confrontation at this point is rarely an accusation but rather a counter-example. A character who has fallen into shourido is best contrasted with a character who has starkly followed bushido. The bushido character may or may not judge the fallen shourido character, but if the shourido character has any honor left she will realize the comparison herself.

Of course, it is possible for the shourido character to maintain her honor in spite of her dual philosophies. After all, if the character's will and determination are strong enough shouldn't she be able to follow both? Would that not be both the ultimate state of perfection and fulfillment of honor?

It can be, if one truly follows both, and the more one uses shourido the harder that becomes. I'm reminded of an old Nintendo Power comic about the Legend of Zelda. Though the early video games focused on retrieving Gandalf's Triforce of Power, and the cartoon made regular use of Zelda's Triforce of Wisdom, in the comics there was included the third Triforce held by Link: the Triforce of Courage (make sense why they're the “Triforce” now?). In this comic, Link actually defeated Gannon and gained the Triforce of Power, which then began to corrupt him. At the comic's conclusion, it was revealed that he had lost the Triforce of Courage without even realizing it, which had given itself over to Zelda. What she said, though in a cheesy merchandising comic book being read by a seven year-old was nonetheless so poignant and true that I have never forgotten it:

“He who relies on power alone cannot claim courage.”

Shourido is the way of power. Whoever relies on power alone cannot claim honor. Power must serve honor. In the end there is no balancing act possible, no matter what the mechanics state. A good GM will at some point make the player choose: his honor or his power.

That is a tale worth telling.