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.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great Clans Previews

Great Clans

So Great Clans, the third supplement to be released for 4th Edition comes out soon. So what can you expect from Great Clans? Well it's an in depth look at the clans. More so than what we saw in the Core book and Emerald Empire. The clans history, out look and knocks and knacks are explored.

Great Clans features new mechanics. You will see some location information about important clan holdings. A look at individual clan traditions. The book also includes NPC's from the clans history (the NPC's in my previews are not in the book and are not canon).

For new players to the game this sourcebook will provide you with details that help you flesh out your character. Combined with Emerald Empire you'll be able to be brought up to speed on the setting. For veteran players the book contains little gems and nuggets of new info. I learned a few new things from reading the Scorpion chapter and I've been playing the game for a long time now. There's also the added bonus that I no longer need to toss all my Way of and Secret of books into my bag before going off to game.

The mechanic's featured helped to round out the clans more. There are more Ancestors and even the addition of Vassal families.

Next week I'll start clan previews.