Note to readers: I’m going to do my best to make these write-ups as “actual play” as possible. There may be some artistic license taken with descriptions of events, but I’ll try to keep it to a tasteful minimum.
Currently Complete: Session #1, Session #2, Session #3, Session #4 and Scenario
Session 1: Flashback and Arrival
After we performed the Salute, I asked some various Investment Questions at the beginning of play:
- What is your derogatory name for the nature-guys who rebelled and won the war? Answer: The Gnats – Annoying insects that get in your teeth and buzz in your ears, that you can seemingly never get rid of.
- One of you committed one of your Initial Deeds in this coming town: Answer: Kenjuro! More details in the Flashback below.
- One of you has an old Buddy from Days Long Past who was last known to reside in Rainbow Maiden – who? Answer: Michi-aka has an old party buddy here named Tenchi. Back in the early days of the Pack, before she really had any responsibility and really just rode along as a follower for kicks, they would party together whenever she rode through town.
Opening Flashback: The Victory party
We flashed back to a night eleven years ago (two years after the end of The War). The Fallen Legion – still under the active command of the Hound – had just slaughtered a camp full of Gnats that had dared to recently trod upon a ground the Pack considered sacred. After the fight, they rode to the nearby town of Rainbow Maiden to celebrate their glorious victory with a wild party. They took over a large abandoned house on the outskirts of town, and many of the younger, more rebellious townies came and joined them. Within only a few hours, the party was raging indeed, and everyone was good and trashed.
The Hound had devoted the entirety of his attention that night to the gaggle of local townie girls that had swarmed around him. As such, The Widow (actually known as The Wife at that time) was left on her own, completely ignored by her husband. She had stepped outside, to a koi pond in the back garden of the house, to be alone with her thoughts, when a drunken Kenjuro interrupted her. Kenjuro came onto her, expressing his distaste in the taicho not giving her attention, saying she needed a better man in her life.
The Conflict in 3 Parts: As The Wife attempted to subtly deflect Kenjuro’s advances, we entered the flashback’s “conflict in three parts.” The Wife attempted to make a poetic gesture of deflection, but the wording of that gesture could have been taken as an advance in itself. So the first Gambit’s question: Does the Wife’s distracting gesture make its intended point? The result was "Yes, and at that moment the moon comes in full from behind a passing cloud, shining light upon the pond and captivating Kenjuro with deep introspection.
The point was made, but it did not succeed in dissuading him from trying a different tactic. Kenjuro moved in to “share the moment” with her, as amusingly enough neither the drunken character nor the player (nor the GM, for that matter) actually fully comprehended the poetry of the Wife’s action (deep, man… deep). The second Gambit’s question: Does Kenjuro move with enough stability to not make a complete fool of himself? The answer was “Yes, and the Wife is impressed enough with the action that she even allows him to place an arm around her shoulder.”
Meanwhile, the migi ude Ebisu (remember: he can only speak no louder or quieter than the current sound of his bike’s engine) was waiting outside, watching the party, and frustrated. At that point in time, Kenjuro and Ebisu were pretty tight, and frequently acted as each other’s wing-man at parties like this. Kenjuro was nowhere to be found, and Ebisu was needing some revelry of the “get with the ladies” kind. He set out looking for his wingman, and eventually made his way to the back yard. It’s dark out there, but he could just make out someone having a moment… The Gambit: Does Ebisu see everything that is happening and realize the identities of both people involved? The result is “Yes, and right at that moment, he hears his bike start up out front, giving him a moment to speak if he likes.” The player was given a choice: do you make yourself known and interrupt the moment, or do you run back out front to see who the fuck just dared to start your bike?!
He chose the latter, leaving quickly. But he did loudly close the outside door to let them know somewhat was watching. They both turned to look, but only saw a retreating shadow…
With the Flashback ended, everyone’s Ki Pools were restored to full. Potential Lessons were also recorded:
- The Widow: “Acknowledging my own Needs could jeopardize the Pack.”
- Ebisu: “Sometimes when searching, you may not be ready for what is sought.”
The Present Day: The Town of Rainbow Maiden
Back in the present day, the Pack is in serious need of some everything. Their three main group Resources (Morale, Sustenance, and Operations) are at 2, 2, and 3, respectively – in other words, they are at each other’s throats, their bellies and coffers are almost empty, and they are practically running on fumes. Days of getting lost and backtracking through and around overgrown highways and back roads have taken major hits out of their resources and their stats of being, but fortunately the end of their long ride is near. Oak Harbor is just around the next bend in the Highway, and the little fishing towns that surround it will surely bring some supplies – and some action.
Oak Harbor was never of any major trade or strategic importance before, during, or even after the War, and as such it never saw any action during the main conflict. However, as a result of the growing “spiritual buildup” of the nation’s reclaimed lands, many of the small villages and communities around it have crumbled or been overrun by nature. Today, only two towns are left, on opposite ends of the Bay: the fishing-and-trade town of Rainbow Maiden on the close end, and the beautiful “resort retreat” town of Rises the Dawn high up on a natural bluff at the far end.
Up until this point in their ride, the roads of the surrounding region were in horrible disrepair, sometimes missing entirely, reclaimed by the empowered and revitalized post-War spirits of the land. They Pack hasn’t been in this region for 11 years – since that very celebration mentioned above! – and as such they weren’t prepared for the drastic change in travel conditions. Thus what was intended to be a much shorter trip to the coast was prolonged by many days, resulting in great loss of food and fuel.
As they roll into the final stretch of road, they notice that the roads are in greater repair now. The closer they get to Rainbow Maiden, it seems someone is actively maintaining the area, putting in effort to keep the overgrowth from spreading. We play a quick Gambit: “Will the final stretch into town be unhindered?” The answer: “Yes, and they actually hit a decline and are able to kill their engines to save a tiny bit of fuel, coasting to a stop just in front of that same abandoned house they partied at eleven years back.” By the time they coast that last hill, they can see the open circular bay before and below them. With just two hours of sunlight left, the fisher-boats are all on their way back to harbor, and the catches are being hauled in for the day.
They dismount get to work setting up a camp at the old house. The Widow immediately sets to cleaning and polishing her bike, while the nameless cohort lines theirs up and surrounds them all with salt. Ebisu lights a stick of incense, and walks about the inside of the house, taking in the scent, cleansing bad karma, and reliving old memories. He finds that one back corner room seems to have been consumed years ago in a fire, taking only that room and thankfully sparing the rest of the house. He finds the back pond covered with algae, and the koi fish still alive and swimming around. Of note is the fact that the back pond has not been taken over by nature, and yet neither does it appear anyone has been maintaining the place.
Also in the back pond garden he finds an old lean-to against a far tree, and the “new” addition of a bamboo sōzu fountain. The lean-to is made from a charred door – the door from that burnt room, in fact – and underneath it is the skeleton of a long-dead man, his bones mostly covered with vines and branches now. The Widow comes out and Ebisu whispers to her his findings – he is able to quietly whisper, as his bike’s is still cooling and plinking from the day’s long ride.
Meanwhile, Michi-aka and Kenjuro – now best buds – have gone into town to find her old friend. Gambit: “Does Michi-Aka find her friend Tenchi today?” Result: “Yes, and as it turns out, he has done well for himself, now owning and operating a portside pub called ‘The Salty Catch of the Hook.’” They enter the pub and are met warmly by Tenchi, a small-framed man with a wisp of meticulously-cultivated facial hair who has grown somewhat physically “softer” in the last decade. Tenchi greets them with cold beers, mentioning that the “power problem” was only fixed just last week and he’s glad to have his booze cooler running again.
From Tenchi, the group learns some various facts about the area:
- There are only really two towns left on the Harbor: Rainbow Maiden, and the “resort” town of Rises the Dawn on the other end.
- The gnats in charge of the region are big fans of licenses, technology regulations, and taxes.
- There’s a small local garrison of mounted forces stationed at Rises the Dawn.
- Aside from the garrison, though, Rises the Dawn is a fancy “resort” town. The ruling Groundskeeper has left nature take over in force, and then used the spirits to craft a beautiful retreat for the wealthy and empowered within the ruling party of the nation. Hot springs, great vistas, natural housing and more.
- Rainbow Maiden’s big trade is in fish. Big boats of their catches are sent out to bigger towns. Occasionally some trade comes inbound, as well. Most travelers who pass through are on their way to and from Rises the Dawn, and few even pause in Rainbow Maiden.
- Some folks from Rises the Dawn do periodically come down to trade with the village, as the fish are pretty delicious.
A couple of linked Gambits are played out, as Kenjuro – who only tastes motor oil when he drinks anything – graciously accepts and imbibes the beers without losing face. He succeeds at these, and even gains additional Morale from it (current Morale is 4), but ultimately a new Omen is revealed from the Sensei deck, and in response the previously-clear sky opens up and pours down rain (note: no storm, just heavy vertical rain for now). But despite the rain, Tenchi volunteers to cart a few kegs over to the abandoned house and help them with a party.
Session #1 Conclusion.
We concluded the session a half-hour early, since it was a good point to springboard the events that will follow. There is so far one Omen in play, revealed from the Sensei deck.
And it dawns on me now that we forgot to salute-close the session.
Session 2: The Party
We’re down one player (Kenjuro), but trek on anyway. Omens from last time (one Sensei joker) are returned to the table face-up. We open with the Salute and, as explained down at the end of this piece, choose to skip the opening flashback and get right into play.
Back at the old house, the motobushi regroup. With little over an hour left of sunshine, the Taicho decides to split the team for a bit and do some supplies-scouting. There’s a good fifteen miles of road between Rainbow Maiden and Rises the Dawn at the other end of the Bay, and that terrain is full of ruined towns and shacks mostly reclaimed by nature. She aims to go out into those ruins and see if there’s anything at all left of salvage. She takes Kenjuro and Ebisu with her, assigning The Widow the somewhat demeaning task of “go get fish for the party.”
Searching the Overgrowth
The rains are still falling as the search party prepares to depart. Michi-aka makes the call that their Masks are not to be worn for this mission, as they’re just looking for supplies and not out for a battle. The silent-by-curse Ebisu refuses to take his off, and Kenjuro (played by The Widow’s player for this scene) takes offense at this, telling him to stop being an asshole and do what the Taicho says (accompanied by a face-down challenge card, initiating a Duel). Ebisu accepts, playing one of his own cards face-down as well, and the Duel begins.
Kenjuro entreats Michi-aka to act as Second, but she refuses, choosing instead to watch the Pack-brothers squabble. Both sides demand Honor, and after the questions are established the Duel begins. It’s a pretty quick one: Initiative (Kenjuro), Counter (Ebisu), Counter + Relentless Assault (Kenjuro), Concede (Ebisu). Ebisu is forced to remove his mask, and the consequences of the Duel also give him one Stain. But on the plus side, he has now satisfied the terms of his “Fratricide” requirement, as per the Migi Ude Role description, so at least there’s that.
Rather than slog through describing every aspect of the search, we turned it into a Gambit: “Do you find something interesting in the rain and the ruins?” Since there’s one omen out, I draw and play two cards, and the players decide that they’ll all throw down a card together. The reveal: My two aces (!!!) vs their Ace + 10 + 7. The answer: “Yes, and you find more than you expected!” But what’s this? Two new Omens entered play during that Gambit, one from each deck! That leaves both Sensei Jokers in-play, and one Player Joker, letting them know that a Storm is most definitely on its way.
So putting this into play takes some tricky work, but it happens thus: Night is falling and the rain is staying steady, and it’s miserable and getting harder to see anything at all. The ever-ready Kenjuro then supplies them all with flashlights, making the search a bit easier. But after a while of digging through debris and reclaimed villages, Michi-aka is ready to give up and head back. She hears a snap, though, and gets into a crouch, right as the floor underneath her collapses. She ends up in what turns out to be a concrete boathouse that sunk into the ground! Bonus: there are two decent-condition jet skis and a barrel of gasoline in there! Score! (Note: That’s the “Yes, and…” in action there). However, in the fall she has broken something in her leg (Player Omen revealed).
Kenjuro heads to the direction of the crash he heard, and Ebisu also moves that way, but right then his flashlight powers out and he is suddenly very aware of an imminent danger (Sensei Omen revealed). New Gambit: “Do you spot the Danger that approaches?” Even by evoking Deeds, Ebisu can’t defeat my four-card draw (the power of Omens!), and he chooses to answer “No, but I am not the target.” I must note here, that’s one of the best answers I’ve ever heard for a Gambit.
Ebisu starts to make his way to where he thinks the Taicho fell, and moments later is aware that several sets of hard-ridden hooves are thundering past down the road nearby, heading in the direction of the town (and their origin is assumed to be Rises the Dawn, aka the Gnat garrison). He makes it to Kenjuro and Michi-aka, and after quickly putting some of the fuel in Kenjuro’s spare gas canisters, they set off back to the town and their Pack. But being slowed down significantly by Michi-aka’s broken leg, we play another Gambit: “Do you make it back in time?” Another team effort, but Sensei prevails. The players answer: “No, but they aren’t caught aware.” Interesting…
Meanwhile, the Party…
We switch back to the Widow, accompanied by two now-first-named members of the Cohort, Tako and Rudito (played by the other two players). It’s established that these are two “hot dudes,” and she brought them along with the hopes of enticing more local youngsters into coming to their party. They stroll towards the harbor, saying hello to everyone along the way and inviting them to the party. At the harbor, the last boats are unloading their catches, and The Widow is met with some degree of interest. We play another Gambit: “Do you build interest and bring people to the party?” The answer: “Yes, but too many people come.” Mechanically, this means that they won’t get any additional Sustenance resources out of it, as I suspect they were hoping to by bringing in the fisherfolk.
They head back to the house, arriving just as the sun finally sinks below the waters, and arrive to find the party has already begun. Word spread pretty quickly, and in a small community with lots of bored people, everyone was in desperate need of exactly this kind of entertainment. The Pack revels in the attention, and Tenchi’s kegs are hit hard. Everyone seems to be having a blast.
Shortly after nightfall, The Widow becomes aware of an old man in worn armor standing out in the rain, watching the party with a grumpy look on his face. She steps out and confronts him, noticing his rainbow scarf and worn-but-functional old armor and spear. He tells her “I know who you are,” and other weird things such as “if you are responsible for the missing people, there will be a reckoning,” and even “You should leave.” He also warns her that others are approaching, and then leaves of his own accord.
Moments later, a four-man patrol arrives: gnat soldiers, riding tauntaun-like Elk steeds, and carrying pole blades. The Window confronts them, they tell her to leave town, immediately. She has a clever verbal retort, to which they immediately throw down a challenge (played from the top of the Sensei deck, face-down). She accepts, with Tako serving Second and Rudito as Cohort. The Widow demands Influence, the Gnats demand Blood, and the Gnats are playing with three Omens on the table, thus their draw and Strike are very dangerous.
Sadly, I didn’t note every play that happened, because it turned into quite the exciting conflict indeed! But there was a lot of Blocking done by the Widow and her team. They blocked the Gnats’ Initiative card, then their second Counter, then their Escalate, then another Counter as well. Blocking does happen a lot more than people might expect, but this was definitely the most block-heavy Duel I’ve ever run.
In the end, the Widow wins in Stage 3, and the Gnats have one Allowance. They get away, and burn one of their accrued Stains, but are down one elk-beast. The Widow narrates that their embarrassing defeat here excited the crowd, and she invests an array of Resource and Favor into the present variables. The Townsfolk are established as a new Faction, gaining one Favor for the Motobushi. When done, Sensei’s remaining hand is invested directly into the Gnats as Disfavor, as well.
But during the post-Duel re-draw, the final Omen comes into play, triggering a Storm. I decide to convert Tenchi’s two invested Favor cards to Disfavor, stating that this new trouble has soured him against the Pack. They are now Bad for Business, basically. He departs the party unseen. All Omens are returned to their decks and reshuffled.
The Taicho and the rest of the search party arrive in time to join the celebrations which are now quite wild, and we call the game session there. Looks like the next session will begin Omen-free!
Session #2 Conclusion
We concluded on schedule this time, but damn! We again forgot the closing salute. I guess it’s difficult to remember when you’ve been gaming with the same team so regularly and you already are used to closing shop in certain ways.
Important considerations of note for next time:
- Michi-aka’s leg is broken from the earlier fall
- Faction Status:
- Tenchi has turned against them, Disfavor 2
- The Gnats are definitely pissed: Disfavor 2, Stains 1
- But The Townsfolk think they are great: Favor 1
- The Named Cohort:
- Takajuro: +1 Water
- Yoshi: Nothing of Note
Session 3: Ebisu’s Maritime Adventure
Back to full party size, we set things back up (zero omens this time!), salute, and get to playing.
The Party, Continued.
During the initial hand deal-out, a player Joker is revealed, starting us off with one brand new Omen: (To Kenjuro, Michi-aka, and Ebisu) “As you return to the Party, the sight of your other packmates ripping into the corpse of the fallen Elk is a most savage vision indeed, and feels like a dark portent of things to come.” Also an unrelated thing: we decide to rename the two guys from the previous session, re-christening them “Takajuro and Yoshi” in order to avoid silliness and confusion.
Michi-aka immediately seeks assistance from the Pack in patching up her injured leg. Kenjuro tries a gambit: “Do you have the proper medical supplies on-hand?” Answer: “Yes, but it will cost 2 Operations, and she still needs to see a medic.” She can ride, but if she wants that leg to keep working in the long run, she’ll need to find a sawbones sometime soon. They patch it up and spend the 2 points of Ops on it, but on the plus side they got 3 points of Ops from the gas and parts they brought back from their scavenging run, so on the whole they’re up a net of 1 point.
Mingling around the party, The Widow does some rumor-milling, and learns from an intoxicated young couple that young girls and women have been disappearing from the town over the last year. Mostly locals, but occasionally travelers too. This rumor is similar to something that weird local watchman said in the previous session…
The party passes in a rage of drinking and revelry, and later in the evening the Widow secludes herself outside to grind up the dead Elk’s antlers into a powder, to sell down the road to travelers. Kenjuro again encounters her out here by the pond (deja vu!), and an awkward moment passes between them. They finish up their short conversation and go their separate ways, and The Widow convinces a local gal to flirt with Kenjuro. The flirtations are successful, and Kenjuro ends up spending the rest of the evening in intimate contact with the local girl.
However, he doesn’t get much sleep. After their intercourse, she cries and tells him her story: she lost her fiance a year ago, when he was conscripted into the local army, and Kenjuro reminds her so much of him! She asks that if they are truly dedicated to fighting against the new order, if they would please look out for him and bring him back to her, so they can leave and be together. Awkward…
Later that night, Kenjuro, Michi-Aka, and The Widow all wake from an identical dream vision. In this vision, they individually wake in the house to the smell of smoke, and rush to find out that the back room is on fire. Even worse: there’s a girl in a bed in there, and she’s screaming for help! Before they can reach her the ceiling of the room collapses upon her, and the vision ends. They wake for real, and meet each other in front of that now-missing room’s open doorway, and share their vision details. They also discover that Ebisu seems to be missing…
Ebisu Gets Separated
After everyone has mostly passed out, Ebisu decides to head out in the night to get some more supplies. For some reason I can no longer remember, his first priority was to steal some fishing nets from the locals. He slips out silently to the docks and gets to scrounging, so we make it a Gambit: “Do you find the nets you are seeking?” “No, but you do encounter something else interesting instead.”
As it turns out, nets are a pretty valuable item to the fisherfolk here, so they keep them locked away and secured against thieves. While skulking around in the boats, Ebisu was about to give up, when he witnessed a bizarre event: two large figures dressed all in black, making great effort to quietly load some very heavy objects into a black-painted boat in the middle of the night. They silently row away out into the Bay, and Ebisu decides to follow. Gambit: “Do you avoid alerting them?” “Yes, and you reach their intended destination silently enough to get closer and make out more details.”
The end point of this marine voyage is a larger, almost-60-foot barge-like boat way out in the harbor. Other men are on this boat, also all dressed in black. When the smaller boat gets close, they pull up and start unloading the heavy objects, which turn out to be very large barrels. Ebisu can’t make out what they’re saying, but he does here a very distinctively feminine whimper coming from within one of the barrels. Despite having not personally heard the same rumor about the local disappearances, he’s smart enough to put two and two together. He makes a decision: Assault!
We turn this into a creative Duel, with modified stages. The Confrontation will represent his initial infiltration of the barge, the Struggle will represent the actual fight with the sailors, and the Finishing Blow will represent his final swath of slaughter. An initial Block on their initiative almost caused Ebisu to drop the duel from the get-go, but he pressed onward instead and it was most heinous indeed. Fortune smiled upon him, as they escalated twice, and he forced their concession in the third round, resulting in their complete and utter obliteration. One potential new Faction removed from play before it could even be fully introduced!
Ebisu quickly gets to searching, and does indeed find a kidnapped girl in the barrel – in fact, it’s a girl he’s previously seen at that night’s party! How’d she get here? The other barrel just contains alcohol. There’s also another kidnapped girl – he hears her crying out from below deck! But a botched Gambit results in the boat getting set on fire, and he is unable to rescue her. He does find a quick-inflate emergency raft, though, and gets both himself and the rescued girl into it before the ship does down. As they float back to shore, he notices two others things. First, the water isn’t that deep out here after all, as the boat only half-sinks and the fire extinguishes before he makes it back to shore. Second, thanks to the revelation of the second player Omen, he notices multiple shark fins, signifying their feasting upon the sailors’ bodies and chumming up the water around the wreckage. There’s also a Wave here, but apparently I didn’t write it down in my notes. My bad!
Ebisu makes it on shore, but as he drags the raft and the girl out on the water, he realizes he has landed on the exact opposite end of the Bay – right underneath the high bluff that is Rises the Dawn! He also sees lantern light coming down a path up the bluff, from the direction of the fort itself. He deflates the raft and sets it afloat, then hides in some rocks along the shoreline. Turns out it is just a trio of Gnat guards coming down to share a secret smoke. He and the girl patiently wait for them to finish and leave, before they themselves depart for the long trek back to Rainbow Maiden.
Session #3 Conclusion
At the end of the session, I opened discussion on where the players (not the characters) would like things to go. I realized that I’d been kinda meandering with this first exploratory scenario, and I’d like to bring it to a close so we can get to some more Pack-driven adventures and stories. I also attribute it a lot to my GMing of two other ongoing games (Warhammer and OD&D) which have very different GM mindsets behind them.
So we agreed to push toward resolution, and the players are eager to lay waste to that Gnat resort down the Bay. I have a feeling our next session will be filled with violence and bloodshed.
Also, it looks as if Sean has accepted my offer to run the second scenario for this campaign, letting me step in as a player for once. I’m considering bringing in a Prospect, simply because the flavor text we’re building around Kenjuro’s “special sacrifice” is just too good to not explore in actual play.
Anyway, we concluded with a single GM Omen on the table, revealed after the re-draw from the very last Gambit. Opposing Factions are still in play and invested with Disfavor, too. Important considerations of note for next time:
- 1 Sensei Omen is currently in play
- Michi-aka’s leg is ride-able, but she still needs to see a doc
- Who is this girl that Ebisu rescued? And who were those guys he killed?
- Faction Status:
- Tenchi has turned against them, Disfavor 2
- The Gnats are definitely pissed: Disfavor 2, Stains 1
- But The Townsfolk think they are great: Favor 1
- The Named Cohort:
- Takajuro: +1 Water
- Yoshi: Nothing of Note
Session #4: Assault and Conclusion
Another full-party game session! The usual: salute, deal, play. 1 Sensei Omen is returned to play, and existing Factions are set up again with the cards previously invested.
The Angry Mob
At dawn the next morning, an angry mob arrives at the old house. Led by two fishermen named Karl and Pasha, the mob is accusing the Pack of being involved in recent thefts and kidnappings. The most recent of these is the disappearance Pasha’s daughter Yoriko, and both Karl’s daughter Malita and Karl’s fishing boat. We run a quick gambit for Ebisu: Do you arrive in time? “No, but…” (I know what the but is, but I’m holding it for a bit to reveal with dramatic timing).
Michi-aka tries to threaten the mob into leaving, but they will have none of it, and initiate a Duel. The Stakes are Blood (mob) vs Influence (pack). The Mob opened up with my new “Immediate Escalation” house rule (see below) as we wanted to try it out and see how it worked. Michi-aka used her Lord’s Fist tech and blocked that escalation, a very wise move. The Mob conceded, and the Pack got some resources and Favor out of it.
Michi-aka then promises the townsfolk that she will lead the Pack to get their daughters back and find out what is going on. The Town accepts this, and gives them supplies for the mission. The Pack rolls out, and on the road they encounter Ebisu! The “No, but…” comes into play here as we say “…but the girl you rescued is in fact Karl’s daughter, Malita.” The daughter is still in shock, not quite aware of the weird events going on. She says “ninjas” kidnapped her in the middle of the night, taking her from the Pack’s party!
Bickering breaks out in the ranks now between The Widow and Ebisu. The Widow is angry at Ebisu for abandoning his watch and brothers in the night to go thieving, and then Michi-aka gets involved. Widow challenges the Taicho for not reprimanding Ebisu! Accepted! Duel: Honor vs Honor, Ebisu is Michi-aka’s Second, and pack cohort member Takajuro steps up to serve as a “cohort bonus” to Widow. Duel Flow: Leading with Widow: initiative is 4, then 9 (initiative with a stain), 10 counter, 10 (block), 10 again! (from Ebisu), 10 again block from Takajuro (turns off ebisu’s bike), then “badass” king from taicho, then QUEEN BLOCK OMG from widow, queen counter, king badass sportbike counter, ace of spades counter, Widow escalates to second stage with a 3, Ebisu (as Second) counters + “split the hair” with 4, Widow concedes. Consequences: Michi heals a stain, and delivers one to Widow. Widow shifts it to her bike with a busted headlight, and goes back to town to take the girl to her father.
Jet Skis: Motorcycles of the Sea
The Pack proper continues to the hidden stash of Jet Skis. They decide that Michi-aka and Ebisu will ride forth on the skis to the wreck of the slavers’ boat and give it another inspection. The question arises: these are high tech, so do they need to bond with the demons within in order to ride? Gambit: Can you ride them without new sacrifices? “Yes, and they are already gassed up!” We decide that the demons within these machines are so eager to prove themselves and get new action, having been in here for decades, that they let the two motobushi ride just this once without making demands.
They ride to the wreck, where we do another Gambit: Do you find anything useful? "Yes, and in fact the captain’s “cabin” is intact and still above water." Ebisu is able to recover the keg of beer he had previously left behind, and tie it to his Jet ski. Michi-aka explores the captain’s cabin, looking for specific details. She finds a small chest full of documents! But in leaving the cabin, she breaks a wall and impales her leg with broken wood (I make a call here that she’ll have a -1 to Strike Range until she sleeps it off). She falls into the water, and the blood attracts more sharks.
Ebisu manages to get her back on her Ski, and they take off for the shore again. They manage to get +2 Sustenance from the chest (money), +2 Sustenance from the keg (booze for trade), and two Jet Skis to load onto their supply wagon and cart to The Garage. Additionally, secret documents in the chest implicate that Tenchi was behind all of the local kidnappings, and the Gnats were turning a blind eye to it!
Back at town, the Widow has returned the daughter to her father by the time the rest of the Pack returns. The town is grateful, and also devastated that the other daughter could not be rescued. Michi-aka proves to them that Tenchi was behind it all, and she rallies the people to go hunt him down. Gambit: Do you get ti him in time? “Yes, and he’s just finishing loading up his truck with one more barrel before leaving town!” The townsfolk tear him apart like jackals, and another Omen enters play, connecting the moment to the dark savagery that’s been shadowing them throughout their whole stay in Rainbow Maiden.
In the barrel is another kidnapped girl, a foreigner tourist who will go on to be a new Prospect in our very next scenario.
Taking no pause, Michi-aka whips the townsfolk back up into a furor, and leads them in an assault against the nearby Gnat camp at Rises-the-Dawn. We play out one last duel, extending the scale to a more epic format. I make the call that the Confrontation stage will represent “The Approach,” the Struggle stage will represent “The Siege,” and the Final Blow stage will represent “The Sacking.” I admit that I got lost in the awesomeness of the action, so can’t recall the exact plays, but some highlights include archer volleys, elk rider phalanxes, giant armored bear attacks, and trained war gorillas. In the end, Ebisu won the day by channeling the Demon Ape God within his mask and taking control of the attack gorillas, using them to finish routing the Gnat forces.
The Gnats are routed, Rises-the-Dawn is burning, and Tenchi is no more. The Pack has spent considerable resources, but gained others. A new Prospect has petitioned to join, and new horizons call to them. Introductory scenario concluded.
Lessons Learned: We save the Lessons vote for the final session. Some Lessons are left written down, as characters didn’t learn anything from them. Others are erased, as the opposite came true. The following, however, we turned into character evolutions:
- Michi-aka: “Being Leader does not necessarily mean that she has to be ‘All Boss, All The Time.’”
- Kenjuro: “Sometimes it’s best if the past remains in the past.”
- Ebisu: “Might really does Make Right.”
- Ebisu: “Sometimes when searching, you may not be ready for what you find.”
As for the plot, why, yes: a large portion of this plot was pulled from an episode of Samurai Champloo.
During this story, the following rulings were made by Sensei:
Limited Opening Flashbacks: We’re limiting the Session Opener Flashbacks to once per scenario for now, instead of once every session. This is due in part to this being many of the players’ first times actually playing the game, and also due to me having not run an honest, true, non-playtest campaign of this before.
TV-Like Lessons: This is less of a ruling and more of a greater explanation. I realized (now far too late) that I never actually defined how to write a new potential Lesson anywhere in the core rules. Shit! So I had to make a ruling on this, which I will probably include in an upcoming digital game expansion. Here goes. Ahem. Basically, think of Lessons like the morals of family-oriented TV shows (Full House comes embarrassingly to mind). When you earn a new Recorded Lesson during play, you should word it as a moral-like lesson that you may or may not learn from during the course of play. Examples: “Wild dogs bite hard and cannot be tamed,” and “Even the hardest brigand can be scratched to reveal a soft underbelly.”
At the end of the session or even the full scenario, you should be able to ask aloud “Did Kimmie Gibler truly learn from her experience being mauled by DJ’s pitbull? Or do you think she’s just gone back to her old thieving ways?” The answer to that will determine if the samurai Kimmie gets to evolve that Lesson into solid character growth, leave it to be considered again later, or remove it from her sheet.
Lessons by Scenario: The game text calls for Lessons votes at the end of every session. But since this group is just now getting the feel for this new system, and hasn’t quite mastered the use of the Lessons currency, I’ve made the call to wait until the end of the scenario to vote, so as to give them more time to explore the setting. Also, this is the very first scenario and they’re really just getting the feel of their brand-new characters.
Junshou Rank Power vs Initiative: During the second session, a question arose when a character of Keisotsu (Masked) rank challenged a character of Junshou (High Command) rank. The Junshou’s rank benefit allows them to force a lower-ranked opponent to discard a play and play something else. The question was: “Can this be used against my opponent’s revealed initiative card?” I thought about it, and initially ruled “No, it can’t,” because at the time that seemed pretty heinous. But now as I write all of this up, I realize I made the wrong call. The source genres are full of instances of the higher-ranked opponent simply refusing to even acknowledge their underlings at all, swatting away their challenges as if they were jokes. This is a great way to represent that! So my new, official call on the matter has changed (sorry, Brad): “Yes, the Junshou rank power can be used against Initiative, provided you are the challengee, and the challenger is of lower rank in the Pack than you.”
Linked Gambits: In our second session, there were a few Gambits I chose to make “just to see what would happen,” that had increasingly interesting and potentially-foreboding results, especially when combined with the revelation of the Omens during the middle of them. This ended up creating a cascading series of dangers, which I really enjoyed watching take form during play. Masterful narration of the Gambits by the players resulted in what I believe to be an unintentional setup for The Widow at the end. With the Taicho hindered by injury and Ebisu having deflected the danger along, the arrival of the warning (in the form of the weird old man) set the session’s conclusion up so that The Widow – the character I considered most unlikely to do as such – ended up being the first player character to get into an actual duel with an enemy force. Seeing it all come together was a thing of beauty.
DUEL OPTION: “Immediate Escalation” (Skipping the Confrontation Stage): If you are the Duel Initiator and you want to skip the Confrontation stage of a duel, moving right to the bloody martial action of the Struggle, that’s cool. But doing so will have some drawbacks. First, you will automatically accrue one additional Stain for such a brash action (in addition to any you would have accrued for playing a too-high Initiative). Second, you will give your opponent an Allowance. Third, you must throw down a second card (your choice) alongside your revealed Initiative card, and that card serves as your Escalating play (and follows all Stains rules for escalating, as well).
What if this gets Blocked? It’s just the same as playing Block against Initiative. If your Immediate Escalation action is Blocked, then the Escalation fails, and you are returned to a point as if the Duel (and the Confrontation) had never begun in the first place. You can attempt to Immediate Escalate again, but it requires two more cards, more Stains, and is a sign of either character stupidity or desperation.
Allowances – Can you have more than 2?: No. Let’s say your opponent Escalates, and you Block that Escalation, sending the action back into the previous round. You would have gained an Allowance from his Escalation, and you would still have it after the BLock (the past cannot be undone). But if he escalates again, you do not gain a second Allowance. You will only gain a second Allowance if he then escalated the next stage as well.
No let’s say that a few actions after you Blocked, you decided to escalate. In that case, you would lose your allowance for that stage and give it to your opponent instead. In other words: There can only be one Allowance given per Escalated stage of the Duel. And to extend that: Blocking an Escalation does not negate the Allowance.
Stunt Suits: To balance the stunting rules a bit, I added the following new errata to the Stunt rules. “The card suit you can declare for your stunt card is determined by your current Highway Tier: 1 = Club, 2 = Diamond, 3 = Heart, 4 = Spade.”
Fleshing Out the Rest of the Cohort: (This might get a bit long-winded.) For a considerable portion of the second session, the team was split into two groups. Personally, I as Sensei and Games Master really enjoy this kind of play, not because it separates players but because it allows greater flow of story, without forcing me to shoe-horn parties together at every moment of the game. In this particular instance, we were actually down a player (Kenjuro) that night. The story and team choices ended up separating the party, with Michi-aka, Ebisu, and Kenjuro foraging through the overrun out-lying ruins, while The Widow and two other nameless samurai went looking for supplies and people in town.
Since there were three players, it made sense to have Sean temporarily take on the role of Kenjuro in place of the absentee player. It worked out, and kept everyone involved in that scene. When switching over to The Widow’s actions, I had the other two players take on the roles of these newly-mentioned samurai. Remember: there are other samurai in the Pack beyond the named motobushi players, they simply have no real mechanics of their own. Thus were born the characters of Tako and Rudito, two of the bosozoku members of the team.
Now, normally the non-player members of the Cohort have no mechanical sway over the game. But I wanted to give the players something to do while in these roles, so I made the call that they are each statted out just like the “Takeda” template for the bosozoku character Role (p.32 if you’re reading along).This worked at the time, and they were even directly involved in The Widow’s Duel against the Gnats. But it also lead to post-play discussion of how to continue handling this in the future.
The idea, then, became one of “keeping these guys around for later use.” And it can work, too, I think. I’ll have to see how it works out in longer play, but the basic gist of it is to keep the names of all casually-mentioned Pack cohort members written down, with short notes on how they are made different. Assume that they are all based on the Takeda template, with little tweaks here and there. For example, I’ve written down one of them now as “Tako: +1 Water,” deciding that he actually should have a 4/2 Water/Steel balance due to his use of wisecracks and provocative techniques. Should they ever get played again, they will use these mechanics.
However, remember that they are not the main Motobushi, and thus not the stars of the story. The players should not expect to use them any time they wish, and they should only feature mechanically in the narrative when absolutely necessary. This also means that yes, both Players and Sensei can narrate their deaths at any time, the same as with any other no-Agency named character in the story.
Now, should Tako and Rudito break away and become a new Faction of their own, the Pack will have a completely different situation on their hands…