The Fallen Mountains campaign I was running wrapped up a couple of months ago and having gained some distance from it I thought it was time to reflect on the ups and downs of the campaign. All in all I would classify it as a success but I wanted to focus on a few individual bits that went well and a couple where I felt I was especially lacking.
The players. Dear god were the players a highlight. None of them had ever played Legend of the Five Rings or had me GM for them before but they each dived into the game and got it. They understood the role of honour but also that samurai are just human. They let themselves mess up and say the wrong thing while striving to be honourable. They also embraced both the strengths and the flaws of their clans, especially the Scorpion players who both refused to fall into the stereotype of a dishonourable ninja. Being samurai is about walking the knife edge of what is necessary and what is right, what is easy and what is polite. The players got that and the game was better for it.
Character backgrounds. Across the 11 sessions we managed to cover 3 distinct short arcs while also hitting upon at least one element of backstory for each of the five characters. The balance between them wasn’t perfect but each of them had a moment to shine and develop their characters in ways that I hadn’t anticipated at the start. I think 11 sessions was too short to give each their own arc but I’m glad we did manage to incorporate something for each of them into the wider campaign. Which brings us to…
The setting. While I always had an idea as to the mysteries lurking in The Fallen Mountains I’d never really fleshed them out, preferring to deal with it in play. Across the course of the campaign we managed to do so and in a way that really worked. The players seemed to buy into the story of the Lost Legion but didn’t chase it until they started uncovering clues. Until then they treated it as the characters would, a tale from the history books and used to scare children. It made the setting feel like what it was meant to be, a legend, and not just a simple plot hook.
Ending. We finished the campaign and in a manner that was satisfying. Like many people (I assume) that’s pretty rare for me so it’s always satisfying when it happens. I’m also coming to the opinion that those mid length campaigns suit my GMing style. It gives enough time to learn the characters, have multiple adventures and showcase a metaplot. 11 sessions is probably the minimum for this sort of campaign and I feel like it could stretch up to around 20 without feeling like I was pushing it too far.
Not so happy
The second arc. Shugeki’s wedding, the second of our three arcs, was inspired by the introductory adventure from the 4th edition rulebook. For those not familiar with it the adventure is a murder mystery that occurs during a series of inter Clan courtly challenges. The former is the backbone to the adventure while the latter provides an introduction to the system and Rokugani culture. Taking place at court it is very heavy on NPCs and in the end I just wasn’t happy with my portrayal of them. The NPCs were introduced too quickly to get a feel for them or build proper relationships with them. Likewise I didn’t feel like I’d introduced enough characters to really widen the suspect pool. Maybe that’s the best way to go, it works in TV shows where only the prime suspects ever get any real screen time but it felt forced here and isn’t an adventure I would feel comfortable running as a one shot or opening arc. I think it could work well as part of a longer campaign with a cast of established NPCs. Despite my misgivings about the overall structure of this arc it did introduce one of the best moments of the campaign, with one player fully diving into the role of being a Kolat sleeper agent and then having to commit Jigai to atone for her sins.
Combat. At the outset I’d been expecting a combat heavy game and things just didn’t go that way. Partially because of the players circumventing it (which I’m all in favour of) and partially because of how the plot progressed. When it came to the final adventure there was combat but I failed to adjust it to take into account the rapid advancement of the characters (we went from rank 1 to 4 over the 11 sessions). In doing so I failed to provide any meaningful challenge, an issue for a game with a reputation for being deadly. To compound this error I feel like I failed to properly pace the final combat, which was meant to cut back and forth with events occurring elsewhere. A lesson to learn from and I think in future I would keep the game at a low power level, likely Insight Rank 3 or below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 of 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.
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.
With Project Cassandra edging ever closer to completion I’ve been given some thoughts as to what I want to work on. The length of the list was rather surprising, I didn’t realise I had accumulated notes for so many ideas already.
Niska’s Race – A Firefly Adventure. Having run this at multiple conventions it’s about time that I wrote this up and put it online for others. I’ve got a partial draft of the adventure, what it really needs is some focus on the structuring and what information needs to be presented for others to run it.
Demon Hunters Adventures – Again adventures I’ve run in the past that I’d like to get out for others and again I’ve already got a partial draft to work from. For these I’d love to be able to get them released on drivethruRPG as some sort of semi-official / recognised adventure for the system. First step though is writing then I can worry about layout / publishing.
Neon Blades, cyberpunk reality TV – Aim is a lightweight system with a focus on the idea of looking good over all else, hence the idea of some sort of reality TV show focused on a team of operatives. I’ve got the initial outlines of a system but it’s lacking any details, so in keeping with the theme of style over substance for now.
The Fallen Mountains – I’d still like to flesh out my Legend of the Five Rings setting to the point of it being a resource for a future game. Likely to be a slow ongoing process as I detail characters, events and locations.
The Delve, Leverage / Cortex+ hack – The idea for this actually came from a series of images I got through JEShields stock art patreon. The idea is of a group of fantasy dwarves trying to break into a wizards vault. Thinking more along the lines of D&D style fantasy than Tolkien with magic being relatively common. At the moment just an idea, first step will be to go over the original game again and see how much can just be used as is.
Cortex+ hack based around the adventures of soft toys – Another vague idea for the moment, could probably be achieved with just some custom distinctions and renaming of a few elements. Originally inspired by a DoubleClicks song called Lullaby for Mr Bear.
Powers, PbtA followup to Project Cassandra. Again a vague idea for a thematic follow-up to Project Cassandra using a hack of the Apocalypse system dealing more with the consequences of gaining powers in a world dominated by global conspiracies. Will hopefully incorporate some ideas from an old Cortex game where powers regularly went out of control with devastating and tragic consequences.