Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Weekend 2011 Part 3: Cherry Blossom Rain

Let me start, as all good articles should start, with a joke.  When Rene finished writing his session last week, he posted to Facebook: Finished with session.  Raoul responded: Will finish tomorrow.  Bee then responded "Dan has been writing his one-shot since February and still isn't finished."

Alright, so that's less funny "ha ha" and more funny-sad.  Still, it highlights how important this session was too me, though putting so much into it almost made me choke at the beginning (the players didn't sense how awkwardly I lurched into the game, but I could feel it).  We got a late start (Jozef had to take some people home) and we finally bullied him into choosing his NPC (as the Daimyo of his clan, he had the choice between bringing his loud No-Dachi swordmaster and his elite samurai, his Machiavellian warlord and political advisor and his agile cavalry, or in bringing his sister, who wasn't particularly useful, but really, really, really wanted to come.  He chose, to the approval of the other players, his sister).  Then I described the kidnapping of the Imperial Princess, Kimiko, by some mysterious Yakuza soldier...

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I introduced the players.  First, Desiree met her samurai's father, who demanded to know why his son (Ren) had paid a king's ransom for her, who she was, and why Ren wanted to marry her, then we shifted her to another scene where the Witch of Jukai offered to curse Ren for her (less because she wanted to protect Yukiko and more because she wanted to harm Ren).  Yukiko interfered and took the curse herself.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to hit her with said curse during the session.

Next, we had a scene where Jaap (Katsuro) had been arrested for bar-room brawling, and after revealing some of how the police worked, our noir detective Asano Makoto freed him in exchange for his services hunting down the Yakuza accused of kidnapping the princess, Taro, because he's tied into an investigation into who really killed the previous police captain (Detective Asano never accepted the official story that Taro did it: Too many holes).

Then we introduced Rene(Daisuke) and showed the players the muddy, cluttered, stinky side of Kamurocho.  A beautiful Mizushima prince named Kaito gathered rest of the players together in a tea house (including Jozef as Kenta and Raymond as Hayate) where he explained the situation with the Imperial Princess, suggesting that if they rescued her, they could rescind the execution order against the Senshin and their allies (the whole point of the game).  And so, they get ready to set out when Tsao Bei, arrogant Chinese Ambassador and Akiyama toady shows up with the Executioner (a terrifying Shinigami warrior) and Dark Shota (a mystical Kakashi seer with a special connection to ravens) and numerous soldiers.  Violence erupts as Tsao Bei proclaims that the Akiyama will rescue Kimiko.  The battle only lasted about 5-6 seconds, though it took about an hour to play out.  Raymond had a nice duel with Shota (which he lost in a contest of wills, but still bravely sought to fight out), and after being frozen solid while watching a samurai cut down Kyo (only 7 damage, which is a pretty bad wound, but survivable), Jozef managed to actually rip through the Executioner's armor with his might blade (I spent an action point to turn it from 24 points of injury to 1 because I wanted to have a rematch later in the session, but still hats off.  Man, I always underestimate Kenta), and Rene lost his sword to a beat from the Executioner, who also cut clean through Jaap's sword, hand-clap parried Tsao Bei's blade and tossed it to Jaap.  Interrupting the fight, Ren (and Desiree) showed up with his dark and creep secret police and ended the battle, promising Tsao Bei to take the PCs into custody, which he promptly failed to do as soon as the Akiyama allies left.

The party split: Jaap and Raymond took the detective to a gambling den run by a Yakuza named Hachiro, who gambled with Raymond over who would help whom (actually gambled it out, Yakuza style, with two dice and a cup.  Raymond lost every toss :( ) and so Hachiro persuaded Raymond to expand the Yakuza's power, in exchange for a meeting with the Oyabun.  Meanwhile, it came out in other parts of the gambling den that the police captain had been trying to force a woman to be his lover, and that they suspected she might have been the one who really murdered the police chief, and also, that Taro was generally a really good guy.

Meanwhile, the rest of the players took Kyo (and the barely wounded Jozef) to a doctor (Satomi, who happened to be a woman).  Along the way, Rene confronted the fact that Desiree might be the daughter he never knew he had, the child of his one moment of passion with his beloved Aiko.  While at the doctor's, discussion turned to Taro, and Desiree, thanks to her character's empathy, picked up on the powerful, romantic and guilty connection between Satomi and Taro, and was able to talk her into taking her to Taro (on the condition that they did it alone, leaving the dangerous Ren behind, whom Satomi worried might kill Taro.  Desiree had forgotten that Ren was both very possessive/protective AND had an entire secret police force at his disposal, and had an appropriately chagrined expression on her face as I described black-clad samurai descending upon the city, tearing it apart to look for Ren's missing geisha).

They found Taro (by coincidence, also found by Raymond and Jaap), who agreed to bring them to the princess when Daisuke proved that he belong to the Shimada clan by drawing Legacy, the legendary Shimada blade. He explained that the Imperial Princess had never been kidnapped, but was hiding from the Akiyama and hoping to form an alliance with the Senshin, acting as their "hostage."  He took them to the princess... only to discover that his Yakuza rival had gotten there first and snatched her out from under their nose.  And there, the session ended.

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How did it go?  The battle flowed so much better than I expected.  The players used their signature moves and my NPCs fought in a fascinating manner.  The fight was messy and swift, just as it should be, and I think my NPCs (except for Tsao Bei, who came across as a bitch, which is probably appropriate for him) came across as suitably powerful.  Raymond really connected with Shota, and the Executioner terrified people to an appropriate degree (Though I wish I hadn't needed to fudge that wound away like that.  Must remember: Kenta is goddamn lethal.  Should have learned that lesson when Raoul was playing him).  I managed to show the players enough of the story that it made sense, and the story swept along rapidly, with every action, every step, leading to more story.

Desiree's response was very positive.  She felt it was a shame that we "didn't have enough time," which Raymond agreed with.  Given that the session lasted 5 hours, I took this as a good sign, because it meant that nobody had felt bored.  Indeed, the system never intimidated Desiree, and when she was struggling to decide what to do, her Common Sense and Empathy kicked in, giving her plenty of things to do.  And, in fact, she had quite a few opportunities to show off her "beautiful" skills, performing a tea ceremony for the players at the doctor's house.  She was very interested in playing in the campaign (provided she had time, which she was doubtful of), and commented on how she could really see that it was a whole setting.  Raymond echoed her sentiments, expressing interest in knowing more about Shota and certainly enjoyed how his character played out.  He also spent half the session speculating on what was really going on, which means the mystery engaged him.

Rene left too quickly to comment (we really ended at the very last minute and it was "get out, get your stuff, leave"), but I think he enjoyed it.

Jaap likely enjoyed it too, but he found it hard to follow the names.  My large NPC casts are difficult to follow at the best of times, but when Japanese names sound like gibberish, as they do to him, you can lose the thread completely.  I had to stop and explain the social situation to the players a few times (Tokens for the win!), and I didn't mind that, but before the game I worried if Jaap and the setting would really fit one another, and I suspect that my worries were spot on.  Likewise, Jozef seemed lost, less because of the setting, I think, and more because he was treading outside of his comfort zone.  He's an experienced D&Der, and he wants to try other things, he wants to poke at romance and is certainly interested in politics, but joining my game was like jumping into the deep end of the pool, and I think he was a touch overwhelmed by it, though I bet if I asked him, he'd also say he enjoyed it.

But what about me?  Just the other day, I was complaining about all the planning I did.  In fact, we used almost none of my material.  They didn't do any of the Yakuza quests, they found none of Kimiko's jewelry, and they didn't even really pursue Shinobu and deal with Goro.  But, to my surprise, I didn't mind in the slightest.  Whatever they did, I felt like I not only had the material to cover it, but I was excited to do so.  I had so many ideas spilling out of me that, as far as I felt, literally every scene, every moment, was interesting.  There was no lull, no boredom, and I was able to bring across the sense of the greater world around them.  That's exactly what I wanted.  So, yes, all that planning was worth it.  This means, of course, that if I want to keep working this way with games like WotG, I need to settle down and start working on it for a week, an hour or two a day for about 4 days which, incidentally, advice I had given to another GM ages ago.  Turns out to have been good advice.

I'm going to put CBR down for a bit, let it rest, but already, there are people asking about the campaign, so I think I'll try to kick that off in about a month.  More on that later.  For now, I'm going to bask in my success.
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