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Welcome to my commentary on the campaign so far. I'm going to ramble here about gming techniques, plotting, and lots of other stuff. For more whinging, check the writings page when I put stuff up there.
I intended the campaign to be fairly long. I had the vague plan of running Pendragony-type intrigue for a few years until the characters were tough and influential enough to make a difference to the Coup. Because 5 of the 6 players were fans of the ccg, I'd decided to play as close to the official storyline as I could. I wasn't quite sure what the Stones of Sin were, but I had a vague idea they were something to do with the ninja. That's one handy tip - if you've got a mystic thingy, just drop hints about it and references to it into the campaign, and only decide what it actually does or means when you have too. If I'd gone with my original idea  - that the Stones are naga artifacts - I'd have lost the whole Oracle plot. Roleplaying is supposed to be improvisational theatre, so GMing should be improvisational writing too.

Year 21 of Hantei the 38th: Shiro No Matsu is attacked by the family of Bayushi Toshiyama. The siege is broken, and the Matsu armies take the lands and castle of Toshiyama. Toshiyama is hung from his own castle. His family flees to the Summer House.
The summer house was just a name for a hidden castle. An accident when drawing the map put the summer house waaay too close to the castle of the Crane, so I made the woods around the summer house a lot more foreboding and unkept. The summer house crops up again in my short stories.
When I wrote the background for House Toshiro, I didn't know why Toshiyama attacked. It all came together when I realised that the Stones had been around Ryoko Owari for a long time.

Year 26 of Hantei 38th: A young courtier named Henshu saves the life of Lord Dajan from an assassin.
Heritage tables. Ed (Henshu's player) started with Glory 4 thanks to the heritage tables. Eeep.

Year 28 of Hantei 38th: Ide Emishiko is sent to be schooled as a courtier.
Again, the heritage tables played a role here. Emishiko got benten's blessing & dangerous beauty, a killer combo. I let her have it. It made the character cool, and I could always have the ninja take her face if it got too powerful.

Year 31 of Hantei 38th, spring:

The topaz championship is the introductory scenario from the rulebook. I removed the stupid assassination plot, and upped the number of contestants to a few hundred. I can't see the Emperor turning up to a tournament with only a few samurai. The Fire was set by Tsuyite. The Scorpion actors were going to put on a play insulting the Lion. He guessed (correctly) that it was a ploy by Suko to cause tension between the Lion and Toshiro.
Gotoki was a Scorpion bloodspeaker who wanted to escape. He turned up again much much later. None of the players recognised him. Pity. Ninja girl cheated. Lots. Here's where the campaign took its first wierd turn (during the second session). Bayishamon was wanderng through a forest during the tournament, when he finds himself on a beach on the Mantis islands. He's given a small stone with the kanji for Fear on it by an armoured figure - then finds himself back in the forest.
I listened to myself describing the scene, and thought "what the hell am I on about?". The Stones were supposed to be local artifacts, and suddenly I was bringing in the Mantis islands and wierd guys in armour (and I'd sworn not to bring Togashi Yokuni in for a long time...). Eventually, I worked out what was going on - although I'm still not sure why the Oracle of Water had the first Stone of Sin.
Bayishamon eventually sent the Stone to the Asahina, who sent it to the Asahina who knew most about such artifacts...Asahina Tomai. One of the plots I wanted to run was the Unicorn take-over of Ryoko Owari. I kept trying to fit it in, but it never happened. More interesting stuff was always going on. Killed by ninja. I can't recall why. I tend to throw lots of plots into the air, and only catch some of them. It's more interesting that only having one thing going on. Cool scene. Tsujite knew Sugai was a far better duellist. He therefore cheating, striking before the duel began and aiming to injure Sugai's hand. Tsujite rolled really well and ended up crippling his rival. Even cooler scene. I extended the iaujitsu portion of the tournament into a single-elimination series of duels. Kakita Bayishamon (the Ronin) and a Lion NPC were the clear favourites. When the final round came, the Lion took Bayishamon aside and whispered "would you do me the honour of using unblunted weapons in the duel? I do not wish to live if I do not win." Rob - Bayishamon's player - looked at me, then bowed.
We went back to the gaming table. I declared the Lion was using a real katana. Rob said his character was doing the same. Everyone gasped.
We ran the duel using the rules as written. Sometimes, I'd fudge dice or roll them out of sight. Here, we did everything openly. The Lion was technically a better duellist, although Bayishamon had the Way of the Crane.
We rolled. Rob won - and rolled for damage. 10-10-10-10-10. He hit for 90-something points of damage. The Lion was hit by a thunderbolt, and died with honour. With his son's hand broken, Suko needed a duellist - and what better tutor than the Topaz Champion? This let me set one character - Bayishamon - up in the rival house to Tsuyite.
Hotasu became one of my favourite npcs. He embraced the Crane philosophy while remaining a Scorpion. He was on the border between the Blue and the Black-and-Red up until the end...

All in all, it was a great first scenario.

Year 31 of Hantei 38th, winter:

The secret plot (tm) was that the merchants and fireman were working together to block the river. Y'see, Takiji was trying to muscle in on the Opium Trade. He had a warehouse next to the river full of opium. The merchants' ships blocked Takiji's barges, and the firemen were digging a tunnel through the sewers to break into the warehouse and steal the opium.
I intended this session to introduce the characters to the City of Lies. The dinner scene in the inn didn't go well - I was playing about a dozen NPCs at once. Should have run it as a LARP. The characters investigated, broke into the tunnel - and found an abandoned Temple to Lord Moon. The "Undead Warrior" taught me a valuable lesson - monsters who lose initiative aren't scary, no matter how tough they are. Unless they eat castles or something. Mummy boy crawled out of the tunnel, went grr a bit, then Emishiko stuck a ninja explosive device in his chest and blew him into the river.
While exploring the Temple, Henshu picked up a glowing blue stone and got possessed by Asahina Yajinden. It takes a certain kind of bravery to pick up glowing things in evil temples. <sigh>. Mwwahahahaha. Or something. I knew the Bloodspeakers were behind the Temple, but I expected Shinzui to find the stone and experiment with it. I didn't expect any of the players to mess with it while unprotected. The whole Tomai plot worked out very well in the end though.

My intent with this session was to get the whole political campaign into action. This quickly polarised the campaign. Two of the characters (Henshu and Tsujite) were very much into politics, the others could take it or leave it. More on this problem in Writings, later.

Year 32 of Hantei 38th, early spring:

A lot of stuff happened in the background. A lot of monks, including Junro, were slaughtered by an agent of one of the characters. Guess who. With only two Phoenix in the region, it was fairly natural they meet up. I wasn't sure which way I wanted to use Isakamiko though, so I acted as mysterious and aloof as possible during these meetings. It fits the Phoenix mystique, and let me keep my options open. Another plot that never really got started. The Lions had been responsible for wiping out the Bloodspeakers in the first place. As it turned out, the Lions had enough trouble with the living, and I didn't need to beat 'em up with the dead.

Year 32 of Hantei 38th, summer:

Shien was my token Lion character for a long time. She was a classic Matsu, honourable, unreasonable, and borderline psychotic. She was fun. The "several nobles", obviously enough, were the PCs. Ooohh...this guy was fun. The Government Inspector From Hell, Yasho was a parody of the worst excesses of the Imperial family. He wandered around the city, ordered that they change various laws, reroute the rivers, move the palace a bit to the left etc. Henshu toadied to him like there was no toadmorrow. If anyone crossed Yasho, he shouted at them. I have a fairly load shout. :-) He also had an Imperial Legion with him, so NO-ONE was arguing with this guy. Except Suko. I was going to run the Coup, and possibly the Clan War - so I thought I'd better start setting things up. The festival of Osano-Wo had the Thunder Dragon appearing to some old monks, Thunder booming seven times in the distance - and Satsu getting tetsuboed by Yakamo. Cheesy, and very much a wave to the ccg fans. In retrospect, I handled this badly. More thoughts on this in writings... Big fight! BIG FIGHT! Nothing shakes things up like billions of oni invading. My main intent with this bit was to break the Crab off from the Empire ('cos the Crab have to get all tainted and nasty, Kisada had to make his bargains with evil etc). The Demon of Unutterable Hunger came from this incursion. The Takiji's had already been nearly bankrupted by the Opium Scandal of the previous adventure. Their castle was a small one. It got oni crunched with ease. While this was going on, the characters were running around mustering their armies. Everyone understood the principle that it was better to fight on the Crab's land than their own.  Henshu and Tsuyite brought small forces to the battle. Fai Suk gathered a ronin army and sprinted to defend the city. Emishiko had her bodyguards. Bayishamon had a disadvantage - fear of the Shadowlands - so he refused to go, which wracked his character with angst(tm). (He got over this by writing to his sensei, Toshimoko, who replied and basically said "get over it you git, you're alive and that's what counts", only he quoted Shinsei and had poetry. And rhythm.) Shinzui found herself wandering through caves, and arguing with Togashi "cameo" Mitsu. She found an old store-room owned by Bayushi Isakamiko, and got a jade belt out of that. That jade belt proved very handy later on... The fight was a fairly cool one. There were lots of invulnerable onis, and only one magic sword - Tsu's ancestral katana. There was a lot of katana-juggling, with the blade being thrown from one pc to another. The characters never worked out the cunning way to kill the Demons, and ended up hacking 'em to bits. It was a blantant clue and all - the Priestess of the Temple had told Fai Suk to "consider the snake". Snake eating own tail...demon eating itself...I thought it was blantant. The players disagreed. Guess which PC wrote that letter. hint: it's the one who took forgery as a skill. and got Tainted for her trouble. Dajan had been sickly from the start of the campaign. Shinzui turned up at the castle in time to meet Tomai. Tomai claimed he could save Dajan if he used Shinzui's blood in a ritual. She accused him of maho and refused. Tomai could have saved Dajan with the ritual. Admittedly, he'd have summoned Oni no Shinzui and used the Oni to animate the corpse, but that's a minor technicality. That's Crane Daimyo no. 1 dead.

Year 32 of Hantei 38th, winter:

Winter Court is a good book for any campaign, even ones which aren't set in High Society. Dajan's funeral and all the weddings were fun to run. Henshu's childhood friend is now his daimyo. Thus merging the two damaged Crab houses into one. The land grabbing would have consequences later on. Another cool scene. Tsujite ended up challenging his father, who stepped down as daimyo.

Year 33 of Hantei 38th, winter:

All the characters were invited, although some of them weren't especially suited. You sometimes have to bend "what should be" for the good of the game. Coup, coup, where are you? Meh. A botched combat scene in some ways. It did show how deadly combat is though. Ah. Scenes like this one make l5r worth playing. Tsuyite had gone to court with the intent of seducing his rival's daughter. Suko was planning to have his daughter seduce Tsuyite. Suko had also sent Bayishamon as his daugher's chaperone. Firstly, Bayishamon had to protect his charge from Toshimoko-sensei's advances. Then, in the court scene, the interplay between Yasho, Suko and the PCs was great fun. Yasho was so obnoxious yet powerful, he made a wonderful enemy.

Year 34 of Hantei 38th, spring: Sukos daughter is to marry Tsujite, but the ceremony is disrupted by Isakamiko, now tainted by the Shadowlands. Matsu Jitae strikes her, and the resulting explosion destroys the chapel. The second stone of sin falls into the hands of the Bloodspeakers.

The infamous wedding episode. Isakamiko had been getting more and more tainted thanks to (a) killing Oni during the Incursion and (b) studying the Stone of Sin. Knowing she was succumbing to the Taint, she tried to pass the burden of the stone on - and got blown up. She reformed though. The characters forgot to pick up the Stone of Sin from the ruins, and it was stolen by Tomai.
There was a second mysterious woman at the wedding, who turned up carrying what appeared to be a dead child. I'm not going to say who that was...

Year 34 of Hantei 38th, Summer:

Translation: I said "guys, the next session will be in the shadowlands. Who's going, and who wants to play an NPC?" Half the players pale and refuse to send their characters. The group sent consisted of Asahina Tomai (a known bloodspeaker by this point, who had been given this chance to redeem himself), the tainted Matsu Jitae, Emishiko, Fai Suk, and a few others. Omasu is Omatao's brother. The whole wedding thing had been going on for some time, with Henshu trying to deflect Emishiko away from his daimyo. See Writings for notes on the Shadowlands. Basically, the session was as hellish as I could make it. Eventually, the characters found Isakamiko, who had the third and final Stone of Sin. Jitae (who was being played as a PC) chopped her in two like he did at the Chapel. BOOM. All the characters except Tomai knocked down lots of wounds. Tomai grabs the stone and triggers a teleportation spell. Bayishamon's player, Rob, was leaving the campaign (and country), so this session was going to be his last. I wanted to resolve his major plot (his missing wife) and round off the Stone of Sin thing (to end his campaign with a bang). When Bayishamon took employment with Suko, one of the things Suko offered him was the services of two Scorpion-trained investigators. The two Scorpions had trailed Bayishamon's missing wife to the Mantis Isles, and found out she had taken ship to a mysterious island far to the east.

The same island Bayishamon had glimpsed in the first session.

Bayishamon and Shinzui sailed to the island. Henshu followed them on his own ship. The player of the last PC, Tsuyite, wasn't at the session, so Tsuyite stayed in Ryoko Owari.

They travelled via the same Magic Teleporting Gadget Tomai used. Magic Teleporting Gadgets are handy for bringing characters to the plot. The Island On The Edge Of The World was a kind of wierd place, suspended between the mortal world and the Celestial Heavens. There were five paths crossing from west to east, each path representing a path through life.

The Eta's Path lead underground, through filth and slime.
The Peasant's Path was a long, dry, flat road, which wound around the northern coast of the tropical island.
The Path of War, or Samurai's Road, went through the mountains, and was full of traps and monsters.
The Path of Heaven, or Shugenja's Road, went along the southern coast. To travel the path, the traveller must demonstrate mastery of the elements.
The Chrysanthemum Road, or Emperor's Road, branched off the Samurai's Road lead straight east.

Each path defined a character's future. Bayishamon and Fai Suk went along the Samurai's Road, and Shinzui travelled the Shugenja's Road. Henshu took the Peasant's Path. Emishiko started on the Eta's Road, then changed her mind and fought her way onto the Samurai's Road.

As the characters walked the paths, they walked into the Heavens. They saw Lord Moon, not as a shining light in the sky, but as a gigantic armoured samurai walking across the heavens, close enough to touch. They saw the stars looking back at them.

Eventually, they reached the beach on the edge of the world. The Oracle of Water and his handmaiden (Bayishamon's wife) lived in a temple there. Tomai had brought all three stones of sin to the temple. Asahina Yajinden took control of Henshu's body, and used the Stones to make the Oracle vulnerable. He intended to kill the Oracle and steal his power. The characters used Henshu's epilepsy to zap Yajinden, and Shinzui blasted the stones with a spell.

However, the Oracle was mortally wounded by Yajinden. When an Oracle dies, someone nearby takes its power. I intended for either Bayishamon or his wife (both of whom were leaving the campaign), or Shinzui to take the power. I asked all the characters to roll Water+Void (the wife had a high Water+Void, so it was likely she'd win. Emishiko's player rolled loads of tens. Wonderful. Ninja Oracle of Water.

Ah well. It was a fine farewall session for Bayishamon (Rob Feeney), it ended the first stage of the Bloodspeaker plot and the whole Stone of Sin thing, and opened up some possible routes for development...