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…

br>

‘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.

Future Projects

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.

The Zanif Pass / Bei Village

a1fc02c9b4df067c2fa132bed80bdf44While there are many paths that crisscross the peaks of the Fallen Mountains only a single route is suitable for larger forces. The Zanif Pass (known as the Ichira Pass by the Unicorn) bisects the mountains almost in half and forms a major trade route for those wishing to avoid travelling the length of the mountain range. Unicorn legends tell that the Kami created the pass centuries ago in order to aid the Clan as they began their great journey while local tales speak of a great battle on the peaks that continues to echo in the thunder and lightning of winter storms.

Control of the pass swings between the Unicorn and the Lion on a regular basis and each maintain sizeable garrisons at the edge of their stable territory. Large scale battles are rare, with neither side being willing to commit the forces required to confidently take and hold the positions of their opposite number. ‘Misunderstandings’ and duels are the norm and during the summer months military encampments will move back and forth along the length of the Pass as inexperienced samurai are given the chance to hone their skills.

Despite the regular skirmishes the village of Bei, resting on one of the plateaus accessible from the pass, has managed to remain neutral over the years. The village is comprised of a half dozen samurai households, associated peasant families and a lone tea house / inn, which often serves as a meeting point during disputes between the Unicorn and the Lion. Bei is popular with members of the Oriole Clan, who maintain a sizeable holding in the village. The current head of that household, Tsi Shiori, has become the reluctant spokesperson for the village despite her desire to lead a quiet life dedicated to the arts.

Plot hooks

1. Akodo Naru, the young daimyo of the 3rd Zanif Garrison has dispatched soldiers to take and hold Bei, claiming they owe taxes to the Lion. Word has reached the Unicorn at the Ichira Garrison and the soldiers there prepare themselves for the chance to ‘liberate’ the village. Trapped between the two opposing forces the party have only a short time to calm the situation before the Pass once again erupts into bloody warfare.

2. It is Bei’s turn to host the region’s annual brewing festival, bringing together representatives from towns and villages across the Fallen Mountains. As a neutral group the party are recruited to serve as judges for the final competition, drawing then into a web of politics as complex as any found at the winter courts. Matters are further complicated when the Scorpion Governor’s favoured nephew enters a batch of beer which has spoiled during his journey to the festival.