Generic NPCs for Legend of the Five Rings

When it comes to GMing I have to admit that quite often I cheat with NPCs and enemies. Not with their dice rolls but with their stats. Most of the NPCs and monsters in my games consist of only a fraction of the detail that would be found in a complete write up.

A lot of the time I lean towards the bare minimum, noting attributes and skills on the fly as required. I’ll often have an idea of their competencies in my head but until they come into play they’re just that, ideas. Doing so requires a level of system mastery that I don’t currently have with Legend of the Five Rings, especially given it’s a system where antagonists can easily out-rank the PCs. To help with that I’ve put together a generic NPC cheat sheet, which covers all of the essential components other than the school specific abilities. It’s geared primarily towards bushi and courtiers. For shugenja rings will be slightly higher, skills slightly lower. It’s already proven useful in my current Fallen Mountains campaign, hopefully it’ll be of use to other GMs out there.

Session report: The Fallen Mountains #1

As I’ve alluded to in a couple of posts I’ve taken up the GMing reigns once again for a short Legend of the Five Rings campaign set in The Fallen Mountains. We’ve now completed character gen and session one, the log of which can be found at: http://l5rfallenmountains.obsidianportal.com/adventure-log/session-one-sedition-revealed

Overall I’m a little disappointed with myself for how the session played out. I’d set it up with the expectation that the PCs would go straight into combat to provide a chance to learn the system. They instead chose to try and negotiable with their opponents to avoid bloodshed. I’ve no issue with this but felt a little pinned down with how to respond as I didn’t want to then turn around and force them into combat by having the NPCs just attack them / be dishonourable.

We ended up having an interesting exchange between party and enemies and in the process an NPC ronin developed nicely from a combat stat block to an actual character that could have a recurring role. Overall though I feel like I failed to portray the situation well or the fact they’d just walked into what was essentially an enemy camp. The biggest challenge was the flow, we kept having to pause to clarify the expectations of the setting while also dropping a lot of plot details / hooks. I had sort of expected this but in retrospect I should have kept things simpler and waited a session before introducing more hooks. The party now find themselves with a variety of options, which was my aim but it felt too much too soon. They have the target of their mission probably heading one direction, a fire to investigate in the other and the mystery of a dead body with ties to two of the PCs. All in all a lot to take in for the first session.

One thing that did come up which I hadn’t expected was duels – we had one but I’m now wondering whether the situation was one where dueling was an appropriate way to resolve the issue. Under what circumstances should a samurai issue a challenge? In the rules it mostly focuses on slights and insults but also indicates they can be used for resolving other issues. If that’s the case what’s to stop somebody just constantly demanding duels and when is it appropriate to decline a duel that isn’t about personal honour. It’s something i need to think about and convey to the players in case they try to resolve everything in that way.

The final thing that clearly needs work are the NPCs. I need to ensure I have a list of appropriate names and a clearer idea of stats they are likely to possess. With a few exceptions I’m not too concerned by school techniques but the characters themselves need fleshing out so they don’t come across as either generic or made up on the fly. This will be especially important once the PCs head to the main city where they’re going to be encountering individuals from a range of clans who each need to have their own motivations and focus.

The Fallen Mountains – Rough Map

One of the things I’ve always had in my head for the Fallen Mountains setting is the geography of the region but getting it down on paper has always been a stumbling block. An upcoming short campaign in the setting has provided new impetus to put something together, produced using the InKarnate web software. I’m still not 100% happy with the outcome. Hopefully with some more practise I can replace it with a hand drawn version but I still struggle with too many of the details I want to add.

fallen-mountains-draft2

Soshi Mirai, Scorpion disappointment

The Scorpion Clan is renowned amongst the Emerald Empire for not only lacking in honour but for the level of incompetency tolerated amongst their samurai. To their rivals this merely demonstrates the failings of the Scorpion Clan, few appreciate the extent to which the Scorpion have deliberately cultivated this image. A Clan perceived as weak is overlooked and underestimated. The promotion of Soshi Mirai to a courtly position embodies this philosophy for she brings nothing but disgrace. Disgrace for her Clan, her family and school. The daughter of a respected Scorpion courtier she has failed to achieve anything of significance and continually humiliates those around her. In failing she serves her Clan with distinction even if this will never be acknowledged.

Compared to many samurai Mirai is a jovial and open individual with a tendency to speak her mind more often than she should. Beneath this mask she is deeply unsatisfied with life, all too aware of her failure to live up to expectations. Mirai is tasked with overseeing liquor distribution within Shirayama Toshi, overseeing the taverns and breweries which fall under Scorpion control. It ensures she is regularly present in court and that she comes into frequent contact with samurai of the other Great Clans. Ever seeking the approval of her lord (a distant uncle) and peers she persists in attempting to gain leverage over her clientele. While the results rarely bear fruit it has ensured that Mirai is well known by the samurai of the city, with the majority rightly regarding her as essentially harmless. If only they paid more attention to those who serve them in the taverns she oversees…

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‘Blade’ Terrel, fanatical monk

When the samurai Toritaka Nobu took his leave of the Crab Clan to join an esoteric order within the Brotherhood of Shinsei most assumed that would be the last they heard of the stalwart warrior who had faced the evil of the Shadowlands his whole life. He had never once ventured beyond the holdings of his Clan.

Taking the unusual name of Terrell he disappeared from records for close to a decade before resurfacing during a peasant rebellion in the shadow of the Fallen Mountains. Guided by an oath to maintain the Celestial Order he gathered a small force of ronin to smash the rebellion and personally executed it’s leaders.

His reputation was earned not for this action but while meeting with the samurai in charge of the village from which the rebellion had spread. Declaring she had failed in her duty as much as the peasants Terrell offered her the chance to commit seppuku. After she declined he slit her throat during the dinner which had been organised in his honour. Three more members of her house fell to his great blade during his escape into the wilderness. In the time since Terrell has stalked the Fallen Mountains, enforcing an extreme view of the Celestial Order with blood and steel.

Plot hooks
General: The Governor, growing tired of Terrell’s lone crusade, dispatches a party to apprehend and return him to the city for justice. They find him deep within the mountains, at a village long wiped from the maps. With him are a sizeable group of monks who seek to learn of his radical philosophy so that they might spread it throughout the Empire.

Order & Chaos: A warband, let by Terrell, overruns the Temple Shrine of the Lost and takes hostages. The monk releases a proclamation that those who maintain the temple have forsaken their duties by concealing a violation of the Celestial Order and that he aims to restore balance, even though doing so will unleash a great evil.

​Tsi Shiori, spokesperson for Bei

While the Oriole Clan is renowned throughout the Emerald Empire for their blacksmiths few realise their talents extend beyond the forge. Tsi Shiori is one such individual who eschews the stereotypes of the Clan and has become widely respected for her dreamlike watercolours and haunting poetry. 

Shiori arrived in Bei seeking escape and solitude following the death of her betrothed Doji Okimoto and over the years she has become accepted as the head of the village. Her daughter Momoe, now approaching the traditional coming of age ceremony, is quiet but adventurous and dreams of life outside the Pass.

As the spokesperson for the village Shiori is responsible for welcoming guests and maintaining Bei’s neutral position. Many samurai make the mistake of underestimating Shiori’s quiet nature and soft words, only to find themselves quicjly ostracised by the rest ofthe village. Those that truly offend her find themselves the subject of her poetry, whose subtle admonishments carry great weight in Rokugani society. Persistent rumours say the Scorpion governor Shirayama Toshi takes great pleasure in ensuring her work is distributed amongst his court. Regardless of the truth Shiori’s words have a habit of discretely finding their way into the upper echelons of the nearby city.

Plot hooks

A Lion noble in the White Mountain City has made the mistake of openly disparaging the skills of the Oriole Clan blacksmiths. With the honour of her Clan challenged Shiori must travel to the city to face them in court, backed by delegates from the Crane. She will seek justice. Others, however, seek only to reignite old guess.

Tsi Momoe, the young daughter of Shiori and Okimoto, has absconded from the town with her father’s daisho days before a Crane delegation led by her Grandfather is due to arrive. In an effort to save face her mother has secretly reached out to the party to search the surrounding area, believing that Momoe is likely hiding out in one of the many abandoned peasant huts that dot the mountains.

A spirit claiming to be the deceased Doji Okimoto has been spotted roaming the village, demanding it’s family join it in eternal exile. Doubting the truth of the spirits words Shiori barricades herself and her daughter into the nearest shrine after sending one of her servants to seek assistance. As the spirit grows impatient it begins to claim the life of peasants unfortunate enough to cross it’s path.

First Thoughts: Torg Eternity Preview 1

Torggame-logo

Torg holds a special place in my heart, it was the first proper tabletop game I ever played and also the first system I even ran a campaign in. As much as I love the game the system underlying it has a tendency to get under my skin, especially the use of multiple sub-systems which were intended to give each Cosm a unique feel. The game is a product of it’s time (which was the early 90’s) so it’s with interest that I’ve been keeping track of any attempt to update and re-release it.

Torg Eternity is the long awaited new edition of the game and Ulisses Spiele who currently own the licence have recently put out the first preview for the new game. At the moment the details are limited, mostly focused on what the principles for design and what core elements they are maintaining. The design principles are:

  1. The rules must be easily identifiable as being Torg
  2. The resolution of actions must be fast and easy
  3. Reduce the number of sub-systems while keeping the Torg flavor.
  4. Changes must provide benefits. No changes for the sake of change.

All in all the preview is a solid start and it looks like a lot of the bits I really like about the system are staying put. Central to those are the core roll mechanic, the drama deck and possibilities, without which the game just wouldn’t be Torg.

The reduction in sub-systems is something that the game definitely needs. There were just far too many in the old game, especially given each of the many Cosms had it’s own unique aspects. Magic in particular was overwhelmed with systems, there were in the end close to 7-8 distinct magic systems each with it’s own quirks so anything that reduces the constant need to look up rules is a massive bonus as far as I’m concerned.

The other big change in this first preview is the removal of separate action and effect totals, which tended to complicate matters. The new system replaces this with a bonus die system – beat the target by 5 and you get +d6 to your result (such as to damage), beat it by 10 and get +2d6. Simple, quick and hopefully effective.

That’s all from this preview, it looks like the Kickstarter for the game will be sometime early next year so plenty of time for more updates.