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[Falling Leaves] GMless samurai angst

Started by TheTris, December 14, 2005, 10:02:10 AM

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This is a game.

In this game, the players tell a story.

It's a story about Samurai.  Dutiful warriors who hold loyalty above all, and see death as nothing if it serves their lord.  Humans, just like you or I.  It's a story about how difficult that is - to be a perfectly loyal flawless servant, and to be human, with all that entails.  At the end of the story, each Samurai will have faced inner doubt, and made decisions with wide and terrible consequences.

Character Generation:

Write a Japanese sounding name at the top of your character sheet.

No Mind:

Draw a Big circle on the character sheet.

You're ready to play

Falling Leaves

Each player takes it in turn to set a mission for their character.  This is something their lord has asked the character to do, and they should accomplish it at all costs.  Then another player should narrate a scene where a problem faces that character, so that they must either deal with the problem, or continue their mission.

Seven Breaths

The samurai takes seven breaths to reach a decision.  The first breath is always used by the player who set the scene.  He describes a consequence which will occur if the samurai continues his mission.
The second breath is taken by the player of the samurai.  He describes another consequence which will happen, describing if it is a consequence of continueing his mission, or solving the problem.
The third breath is taken by another player, the fourth by the samurai's player, the fifth by another player, the sixth by the samurai's player, and the last by another player.

These consequences should drive the background of the game world, so that it is clear to the players that the actions of a few samurai can cause or prevent wars, death, misery, glory and honour.
It's fine for the same "other player" to take more than one breath.


Now the samurai makes a decision - to continue with his mission, or to deal with the problem.

Emptyness is my Weapon

When a samurai wishes to accomplish something, he rolls a number of dice equal to the number of things written in his circle.  If any come up with a 6, he has failed to accomplish what he wanted.  If a samurai fails to accomplish something of massive importance to him, he may sacrifice his life, in which case he succeeds.

In an opposed test, any Samurai who succeeds accomplishes what he wanted.  The most obvious case where this can not happen is if one samurai declares "I want to live" and another declares "I want to kill him".  In this case, death trumps life.  In any other case where both samurai succeed at directly opposing aims, each has the opportunity to die for what they believe in.  If both choose to die, neither is successful.  Otherwise the one who chooses to die wins the conflict.

The Sins of Bushido

If a Samurai chooses a path other than loyalty, he allows the world to encroach on his perfect soul.  Write a sentence inside his circle, reflecting what is important to him about the conflict he was involved in.  It must include the word "Fear" "Desire" or "Regret".

Actions, Not Words

A "Tsudo has been told to ride hard for the border, taking a message to a general which may prevent a war"

B "As Tsudo flies through the countryside on his horse, he sees a village gathered around a well, and a peasant woman throws herself in front of the horse, crying "my baby, my baby is down the well".  If Tsudo doesn't stop to help, the baby will drown" (1)

A "If Tsudo does stop, the peasants will regard him as a hero" (2)

B "And thousands will die in an unneeded war" (3)

A "His lord will forgive him" (4)

B "But thousands will not be able to" (5)

A "If he continues, he will prevent the war" (6)

B "But the peasants will begin to hate the samurai class for their uncaring nature" (7)

A "Tsubo...dismounts from his horse, and strides to the well.  He grips the sides, but then, unable to hold on, slips down into the well, where he lands next to a child.  It looks at him.  He helps it put it's hands around his neck, and struggles desperately to carry the child out of the well on his back, his hands clawing at the slimy rock."

A "I have no dice to roll - Tsubo claws his way to the top of the well, his mind empty of all, save the landscape of the stone he must read and climb.  He reaches the top, and hands the child to the parents.  He is feted as a hero, and the head villager sends a messenger to his lord, to praise his courage and strength.  Tsubo remounts and rides as hard as he can for the border, but in his mind is a 'Fear that the dead will wait for me, on the other side'"

Next:  I need to think hard about what brings a samurai's story to the end, unless it is just sacrificing his life for something he cares deeply about...and how to get rid of Fear, Desire, and Regret.
My real name is Tristan

Darcy Burgess

>best valley girl voice<

OMG, this

I don't have anything to add at this point other than: KEEP AT IT.  I really like this.

I'll be watching this thread for an opportunity to contribute in some way.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Joe Zeutenhorst

Breath is such an obvious and elegant way to mark things off; I'm wondering why I've never seen it before. Makes counting words, sentences, or just waiting for a player to get to his point seem clunky. Extremely cool.


Actually, I think this is a very elegant mini game the way it stands. The only thing it might benefit from as it stands is something for slower players, reluctant people or those who aren't all that into Japanese culture. Just a list of tables or something that you could roll on if you were short of ideas. (Since you're using D6 anyway.) Call it (Optional) - just a net for those who's imaginations need a jump start. (It'll also help you define the color you want in your game.)

Otherwise, hey, I think this stands as it is. I like simple stuff.
(But, as you can tell, I'm not a big fan of Bushido. I might steal this idea for a semi-annual Unknown Armies-like occult game with some friends next year.)


Yeah, one thing I notice is this: If you ever disobey an order, you've got a possibility of rolling a 6 and failing every action after that.

Is there a possibility to redeem yourself? Like can you remove things from the circle if you follow orders above all else?

Eero Tuovinen

This might or might not be a problem: the game rewards pure bushido over all, because the pure samurai never fails. So why will the player ever choose to stray? Because another player sets such a price on obedience in setting the scene. What does he construct the scene out of? The values and fictional bits the samurai player wants to uphold. Does he have those bits? I don't see them. The character generation does not necessarily create anything for the other player to work with. In my experience a majority of roleplayers will choose to be the perfect samurai even when thousands will die. It's easier. Depends on your goals and the target audience whether this is a problem. If it is, I suggest giving some non-conflict story-spinning tools to allow for character development and situation characterization between these "seven-breaths" (brilliant, that) scenes. While I can't see many players sacrificing their pure samurai mind for an unnamed NPC, I can easily see it for an NPC with a name and established relationship to the character, especially if the player got in at least one dialogue scene with the NPC.

I don't know if you should be able to get rid of your Fear, Desire and Regret. Rather, a samurai with too much clutter will just have to become a monk and go live up a mountain or fail horribly enough sooner or later and die. Of course, you could allow for temporary suppression of the clutter: whenever the samurai sacrifices something to his Fear/Desire/Regret, he can ignore it for a while, or something like that.

As for endgame: looking at samurai fiction, the following are some of their "story-ends": seppuku, ronin with dishonorable end, ronin with honorable end, monk, artisan, death in battle. Alternatively, you could approach it like this: everybody dies, it's just a matter of where and when. The samurai is always on the road to death. To choose where and when he dies, that is not bushido. To die when and where it happens, that is the samurai. So each character goes on and on until he dies on the road of bushido or his mind is cluttered enough that he chooses some other end. So the player could choose to stray from bushido and state that his character became a loyal retainer who died on his deathbed of old age. But he can only do that when there's enough clutter and he's willing to stray from the bushido of continuing play. So the play continues as long as the samurai is willing to risk death (or rather live death, there's no risk involved in true bushido), the only way to end it is to "choose the time and place" of the character's death, effectively writing an epilogue for the character and removing him from play as a PC. The effect of this is also that there is no "progress" for the player of the pure samurai, because he can only look forward to eventual death in a suitable conflict. To genuinely wrap up the character's story the player has to make the bushido sin of "thinking ahead" and starting to avoid death. At which point you might as well let the player pick the ultimate time and place (and thus the epilogue), if you know what I mean; this is not a game about unpure samurai, but of only those willing to breathe death, so a character who starts trying to stay alive might as well be narrated out of the story.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Thanks for the praise guys.  It was a "OMG" moment for me, thinking of the empty circle and the seven breathes.  I'd like to write the whole game wrapped around the theme like that.  We'll see...

Arpie - You're right, I think, about the need for some background for inspiration.  Also in my experience roleplayers tend to have very different ideas about Bushido and Samurai, and it would help if everyone was singing from the same songsheet when they play, hopefully background would help this.  I'm not keen on tables, but you may also be right about the need for those.  Still, I'll avoid them if I can.

Joepub - I was thinking about ways to remove things from the circle, but thinking on what Eero said has changed my mind.  It seems to me that allowing players to get rid of those traits permanantly has the potential to remove some direction from the game, and make the decisions less critical - as it stands, if you do choose to influence things, your samurai will never again automatically succeed.

Eero - It was my hope that there would be a conflict between influencing the world, and remaining apart from it inherent in the system.  If you always choose duty, your samurai remains apart from the world (and worldly things can not pollute his pure mind) but what use always passing if you never make a check?  This might not be enough however, and I think I have an idea to tie this up with the possible story ends.

Talking of which I was leaning towards story ends from samurai fiction, and that idea appeals to me more the more I think about it.  So, some ideas:

Last Breath:  Upon failing an action, a samurai may take a last breath, to describe how, through his self sacrifice, he succeeds, and dies in the process.  He has fallen to a worldly, but heroic death.

Enlightenment:  (some process) has placed a number of connections on the character sheet.  Things like "The Geisha who I absolutely do not love, whose footsteps sound like spring in my heart" or "The glory I have earnt as a noble and fierce warrior".
As part of the seven breaths, another player may place one of these connections at stake, should the character continue on his way without addressing the problem.  If a character placed in such a situation decides to continue with his duty, he crosses off the connection from his sheet.  If a character loses his last connection, he has discarded the mortal world, and lives only as a vessel of his lords will.  He will retire at the appropriate age, and withdraw from the world entirely, becoming a monk.

Ronin:  There is some way for a samurai to decide that the world is more important than his lord, and have a scene where he defies his lord directly, perhaps to save a village the lord would destroy for what the samurai sees as a bad reason.  The samurai becomes Ronin, and leaves play to wander the land, or perhaps to settle in the village, protecting it from bandits and the like.

Sepukku:  One form of sepukku was used to disagree with your lord's decision - the only honourable way a samurai could do so.  As such, if a samurai is due for a "Ronin" scene, he may choose instead to commit remorseful sepukku.  His lord's will is done in this one case, but the sacrifice of a loyal retainer moves the lord's heart, and the player may narrate the effect this has (eg "The village in ruins, Otohime returns to his lord's castle, and in the courtyard, recites a haiku, before cutting open his belly.  The haiku talks of compassion and duty, and compassion as duty, and as Otohime breaths his last his Daimyo resolves that this village shall be the last to suffer in this revolt, and sends out emissaries to speak peace with the rebellion's leaders.")

Oh, and I think I like the idea of temporarily ignoring fear/desire/regret, if it can be made to work thematically...
My real name is Tristan

Ben Lehman

This is cool stuff.

Can I suggest that all Samurai start with one karmic tie in their circle?


Justin A Hamilton

Very, very cool stuff Tris.  This game is a superb idea.

However, I agree with Ben Lehman about all characters starting with at least one statement in their circle, as that at least gives them a chance for failing a roll and having their character progress down the karmic path.

Like Eero Tuovinen said, this game right now pretty much just encourages staying on the path of the Samurai, because then it is impossible for the character to fail at any action.  I see where you are coming from concerning the "affecting the world" issue, but I think that the rules need something to really encourage the players to have their Samurai step off the path that they have been walking, otherwise its possible to play this game with certain people on an infinite level.


Well, this is kind of corny, but it might solve a problem or two:

Since the circle represents the pure mind of the Samurai (if I've got my references right) - why don't you start by drawing the circle and then writing something outside the circle that impacts the Samurai and reflects something the player wants to see in the world of the game.

It doesn't have to be a karmic tie, but it could hold the potential to become one and it would certainly provide players a chance to foreshadow their own desires. It might also be a useful tool in developing the falliability of the character and provide some pull towards denying the mission - something more solid than a pure life of mindless obedience... er... honorable service.

(See, SOME of us would fail in our missions all the time! It's a matter of taste.)

Also, as to the idea of tables:
You can sort of get around that and still provide the same "crutch" with suggestions lists. The rubric I use is to start the tables with something along the lines of:

These are the most common breaths/karmic ties/etc. people use in this game.
Players who want to maintain the status quo and remain true to the setting will usually pick one of these or create some small variation thereof. Players who want something more unusual or creative will try to pick something or make up something that matches nothing on the list.
Everyone else falls somewhere inbetween, which keeps the motif structure nicely on course.

Eero Tuovinen

Writing things both inside and outside the circle is a logical extension of the mechanic. Use it! Use it to solve the motivation problem! Also, consider using lines drawn between components, both internal and external. Special significance for lines crossing the circle. With the character schematic and dice you should have all props the game needs.

Other than that: looking good. Endgame-wise I rather prefer my latter suggestion that doesn't differentiate between different endings, only between following or not following bushido (the latter equaling game end and epilogue). Becoming a monk or whatever, they're all the same in an operation of this scale. Tables: I don't like, think they're useless, uneconomical, and increase the prop-factor greatly. Any and all advice on style and color can be given through writing style and setting info, like Polaris does, for instance.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I agree with Eero in that leaving the end-game open seems to fit most of the samurai stories I've seen.
That focus the game on bushido vs. personality (what? did I use the wrong word? ha!)

But, of course, I don't agree with the tables stuff. Because my players, who are largely boardgamers or traditional TTs, like a high prop factor. I say this because, if I ran Falling Leaves, I'd HAVE to provide some "menus" for my group. I had to do that with Capes (which has it's OWN menu in the form of those clicky pieces.)

But, yeah, tables are a sacrifice to mass consciousness, not an artistic improvement.


  Like the others, I feel like there is no demonstrable reason to break with Bushido. I did think you should start with one term in the circle so that the character starts out flawed. Also, you need to come up with a way to atone. Samurai feel that high art is a way of taming the agression within, so that maybe if you character makes a haiku, painting, tea ceremony or other artistic endeavor can remove a word from your circle. If done right, you can still capture that epic samurai feel.
A: My character is attempting overcome his regret, he will perform the Tea Ceremony for the widow of a fallen comrade
B: She questions your motive for inviting her, are you courting her?
A: I show her to the room for Tea Ceremonies with the utmost poiteness and ceremony
B: She accepts graciously while gently questioning you about the meaning of this visit
A: As my character begins, I dedicate the ceremony to her fallen husband and do my utmost to perform the ceremony with solemn dignity
B: Disarmed by this open display of humility she admits that she always felt that you supported her family to the best of your ability
A: When the Tea Ceremony is complete, I thank her for easing my regrets in this life and pledge to server her husband's memory.
  Maybe the example is a little klugey, but you get the idea...
  Either way, it is an innovative approach and very natural to the genre, good luck!
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Joshua A.C. Newman

This is really cool.

Have you read Polaris? It may be instructive in terms of the mechanics of negotiating a situation collaboratively.
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.


Wow, okay thanks for the guidance and ideas so far.  I'm more excited about this than when I had the first couple of ideas, I reckon it's going places.  It seems to me that the next step is likely to be drafting the rules again, incorperating some of the fine ideas raised by you lovely people, and then a couple of actual play's to work out what is really working, and what is dead wood.  Don't stop with the ideas...
My real name is Tristan