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Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories
Topic: Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories (Read 2917 times)
Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories
January 07, 2003, 03:22:42 AM »
Well, here it is, what I believe is the first actual play report for Ronin (the feudal Japan adaptation of the Dust Devils rules). I'll try to play to all factions by recounting the story we created, along with my observations on my experience of using the Dust Devils system.
First let me comment that I had never played Dust Devils itself, nor in fact run any of the modern systems that explicitly transfer director power to the players, although I have played in some. So the first thing I noticed was the serveral times my players had to remind me when it was time for me to shut up :) But in all, I liked the ability for players to insert their own ideas into the story. One trick I did use a few times was to "clarify" a fact that a player had introduced in narration to introduce a plot element from my back story. Is this a sin against the freedoms of shared directors stance? I dunno, but i seemed to work.
Also, I added a variant to the variant, in that I felt that the use of poker cards as the fortune mechanism was a great choice for the old west, but disturbed the mood of Ronin. So I developed a variant conflict resolution system using Mah Jongg tiles. We also used Go stones in place of poker chips. The players had a little difficulting figuring out their hands until they got used to the Mah Jongg suits, but I had prepared cheat sheets with pictures of the tiles, and after a few conflicts they got the hang of it. Everybody loved the feel of using the tiles, and it was great to be able to say stuff like "Well, your flush in bamboo wins the hand, but I have the red dragon so the narration is mine!"
I set my adventure in the early medieval period, during the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate and the rise of the Daimyos as powers in their own right. Unlike the sample Dust Devil adventure, I did not pregen characters, but had players create their own. One of the players wound up using Roji the Damned from the Ronin sample rules. The others were:
Matsunai Ishiro, a samurai disgraced by defeat in battle, driven to seek out and challenge the best swordmasters in the land to learn their secrets.
Endo Toshiro, a ronin of dubious repute, driven by his lust for wealth, justified to himself as "saving his family from poverty"
Tanaka Umiko, daughter of a great swordsmith and last of her line, she seeks revenge on the mysterious lord who killed her family and stole her fathers greatest sword.
One challenge was then to weave the characters motivations into what I had prepared. My preparation consisted of developing four important NPCs whose relationships presented two seperate, but losely linked conflict, was well as detailing a few important locations, and providing myself with a list of other 'color' NPCs that might come in handy if needed. The back story I developed was partially a mystery, and in development I had to explicitly force myself *not* to come up with all the answers, since I did not want to be too wedded to something if the players came up with a better idea. My final approach was to provide myself with a good history of how the current situation came to be, but not to run my ideas forward to any kind of conclusion.
The advantage of having the setting worked up in some detail was that I was able to come up with plausible tie-ins for all the characters except one (Roji) and after the game I realized I could have accomodated him as well with a little more thought.
I also took some effort before hand to think up a variety of "intro scenes" for characters other than "you start at the inn" (although I did include that :) which allowed me to start the characters fairly spread out. I think this worked out well, because even once the characters came together (and not till near the end) they did not seem at all averse to suddenly striking back out on their own as need dictated, and I think we did a good job of avoiding the "party mentality".
The setting was the village of Isawa, in the moutains of Mutsu province, the summer estate of Governor Ando Tadao adjoining the village, and the nearby Stones Rest monastery. Peaceful until recently, there were now reports of bandits waylaying travellers on the road at night, and the Governor had sent his most trusted lieutenant, Takehashi Takeru to investigate and deal with it. Unfortunately, the lieutenant was *not* dealing with the problem, and instead was spending all his time at the Ando estate, being entertained by the governor's daugher, Lady Haruko (the governor was elsewhere). Ishiro arrived in the village, having travelled to challenge Takeru, but instead met his wife, who was camped outside the gates of the Ando estate, waiting for her husband to emerge. Roji travelled in from the opposite direction, spending the night at the monastery and learning strange rumors from the monks. Toshiro came to the village following the talk of bandits, whether to gain a reward for defeating them, or to join them was not clear at first, and Umiko came to the monastery on the rumor that they might have word of her father's sword. Toshiro and Umiko had stopped at the inn, and heard locals speculating that instead of bandits, an Oni (demon) was loose in the mountains.
Early on I ran into two difficulties figuring out how to do certain things in the Dust Devils system. One: how to deal with conflicts that involved some uncertainty, but wouldn't really result in any risk if the didn't succeed. For example a character wanted to identify strange carvings at the Stones Rest temple using a lore talent. I wound up using the conflict mechanic, and simply ignoring difficulty if the player lost. The other was what to do if really only one element applied. For example, in the aformentioned challenge, its really just intellectual, so after some messing around the players and I agreed that it was okay to just pull tiles for one attribute. Since these conflicts were usually minor, I typically only pulled a three tile hand for them, so I think it worked out. Also once in a while I would simply pull a tile for myself to randomize some decision I needed to make (i.e. who spots the bad guy first).
There was an initial convergence of all the characters but Ishiro at the monastery, but it didn't last, as each character had distinct motivations. Toshiro appeared to be casing the joint, Umiko wanted to know if they had ever heard of the sword she was seeking, and Roji was fascinated by the strange carvings on the temple tower, which predated the founding of the monastery. Also, on the way up to the monastery, Toshiro had found a roadside Shinto shrine which had been defiled by the addition of a cracked human armbone to the offerings, which lent some crendence to the Oni idea. Or was somebody trying to frighten people.
Toshiro actually figured out that the mysterious carvings on the temple were t'aoh t'ieh, ancient Chinese beast masks of uncertain provenance. This involved an interesting piece of resolution, as Toshiro won narration, but I paid all players one stone to bid away the narration, since I wanted to introduce the t'aoh t'ieh symbolism for forshadowing. I see reading the rules afterwards that that is not one of the listed options for the dealer, but nobody seemed to mind, and it worked out fine in play.
There were some good role playing bits at the temple thanks to the character of a elderly monk with a vow of silence I had added as a color character. He would only communicate via guestures and by writing the occasionaly character in the dust. I think the players were exaspirated by him, but I can tell you that the GM had a ball :)
Umiko was redirected to the Takeru the swordmaster by the monks at the temple, and when she arrived at his pavilion, found Ishiro waiting there with Nezumi, Takeru's wife. Ishiro had taken to tossing small rocks at an elderly farmer whom he felt was being too nosy into the affairs of his betters, which eventually got him read out by the farmers daughter who was also working nearby, and earned him the nickname "rock thrower" for the rest of the game. Nezumi chided the Ishiro and Umiko for being irresponsible lay abouts, and urged them to seek out the bandit (in the hope that if the bandits were eliminated, her husband would have no more reason to remain in the area). This in fact got the characters to go do some more investigation on the moutain road.
One other piece of preparation I did was to write up a few events which I could drop on characters to get them motivated again when things go slow. I believe in Forge terminology these are called "Bangs" ? Anyway, having them handy came in useful several times. Nezumi goading the characters into going after bandits was one of them.
Umiko and Ishiro going up the mountain met Roji coming down, and they decided to join forces. This is where the characters started to come together. They searched for awhile, then set up camp in the forest to have dinner, and were telling tales of their exploits to each other, when they were surprised by the appearance of the elderly farmer from earlier. His name was Horokewpo, and he was an Ainu (northern barbarian) who had once served Lord Ando in his youth, and who despite having lost a hand in the service of his lord, was later abandoned when his lord found him socially inconvenient, and he felt a bit ill used by the Ando family. "I gave my hand that my lord might take an arm" he said.
He revealed to the players that Lord Ando had once driven an Ogre (or Oyasi as he called it) from the tower which is today the monastery. He mocked the characters, and felt they would not fare well against such a creature. He then left for the village, but Umiko, reminded of her father by the old man, chose to escort him back. And well she did, for as they came upon the roadside shrine, seated upon it in the moonlight, reading from a book was a giant terrible figure. Umiko tried to sneak up on it, but the creature spoke a poem of secret things coming unbidden, and turned and stuck at her with what at first she assumed to be a bone, but later realized was the pommel of sword. She also learned that the creature was missing its left arm.
(This was one of my "edits" of player narration. The player said bone, afterwards I added "well, that's what you thought it was at first..." In additional incidents I detailed the sword until it was finally determined to be the one that Umiko was seeking.)
Umiko was overcome by the beasts furious strength, and ran for it, pulling the old man with her. Unfortunately, he fell, and the ogre seized the old man and lept over some nearbye trees and vanished.
(This was an adaptation of bang I had prepared, in which Horokewpo would be captured while seeking the ogre out by himself, and his daughter would come to the character's for aid. I learn that prep work is good if you are ready to quickly mold it to the situation that the players ultimately develop)
She quickly returned to the camp and gathered the rest of the players (Toshiro had now joined them). They attempted to track the creature, and eventually were able to trace him to a nearby crag, where they found his campfire and stewpot set up, and Horokewpo trussed up but not yet cooked. They freed him, and he informed them that the Ogre (Wu Fang, although the characters never learned his name) had not eaten him yet because it seemed very impressed by this threats that Lord Ando had beaten him once and would do so again. Fang had then left saying he had a task to complete.
(Toshiro also stole a book from the creature's cave, which turned out be a volume of ancient poetry (the Kokin Wakashu). The player specified "an ancient tome" in his narration, and I had happen to specify that the ogre possesed this book in my character description. Ain't coinkydink lovely? :)
Realizing that the Ogre was up to mischief, the characters rushed back to the village, and spotted him climbing over the wall of the Ando estate. Ishiro, headstrong, rushed into the house without even knocking and began searching it. The rest of the characters waited outside to ambush the Ogre as it emerged. Ishiro wound up waking up the head servant, and convincing him of the danger, and they and additional members of the household rushed to the Lady's bedchamber to check on her.
Meanwhile, having been woken by the noise from the house, Takeru emerged from his pavilion to spy the other characters lurking suspiciously about, and thinking them bandits, challenged and attacked them. Being honorable, the characters chose to fight him one at a time, and Toshiro got lucky with a tremendous draw and managed to disarm and humble the swordmaster before things got out of hand.
Ishiro, hearing the fighting outside was about to rush out when a crash from in milady's bed chamber drew his attention. Peeking in, he saw the Ogre in the act of opening a great iron chest. He taunted the creature with insults and tried to draw its attention, which he succeeded in doing, but not before the creature drew from the chest its missing arm and reattached it.
The Ogre attacked Ishiro with a terrible fury and nearly slew him. However the noise from that battle drew in the characters outside, in time to save Ishiro, and defeat the beast. Umiko's fury on beholding her fathers sword was truely terrifying, but in the end it was Toshiro's masterful swordwork that saved the day.
Takeru, witnessing this battle, realized that he had become deceived by his pride in his own skill and worth, and that true selfless valour was what was needed of a great samurai (in his battle with Toshiro, his Fire had been reduced to 0). He abandoned his foolish daliance with Haruko, and returned to his faithful wife.
And we rolled credits.
A final comments on the experience. I initially found it difficult to figure out when to call for conflict, since the mood of setting seemed to make it often more appropriate to introduce subtle obstacles or innuendo. Alot of things along these lines were handled by Karma, or later as I got more comfortable I started using three card hands and ignoring difficulty as I discussed above. Of course once the sword play got thick and fast, conflicts were all around.
We discussed the suitability of the DD rules to the Ronin setting afterwards. It seemed like the concept of Duty was not quite as much of a driver as the DD devil, and also seemed to be prone to "being completed", but on the other hand we speculated that a linked series of adventures might be done by having new Duty grow out of the old one as the original one was fulfilled.
All in all, a good, and fairly thematic time was had by all. For those that are interesed, I plan to put my Mah Jongg variant up on the web, as well as the Stone Hearts, Stone Memories scenario (once I have had a chance to do a little polishing).
And if you were one of the players in the game, I'd love to hear your opinions about how it went as well, and how the system affected your experience (and was I being too controlling?)
Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories
Reply #1 on:
January 07, 2003, 06:57:35 AM »
Wow! I'm impressed.
One little thing. You wrote,
"One trick I did use a few times was to "clarify" a fact that a player had introduced in narration to introduce a plot element from my back story. Is this a sin against the freedoms of shared directors stance? I dunno, but i seemed to work."
Hell no it's not a sin. The GM is a player too.
Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories
Reply #2 on:
January 07, 2003, 10:43:02 AM »
I'll second Ron's 'wow!'.
I'm a big fan of games based on Japan, and I found your post very interesting. Thanks!
Pasi Juhani Backman
Jason L Blair
Nothing is sacred.
Ronin: Stone Hearts, Stone Memories
Reply #3 on:
January 07, 2003, 11:40:47 AM »
Great read! The game sounded great.
Any chance I could get a copy of the Mahjongg cheat sheet? I'll append it to the RONIN PDF (with all due credit, of course). If so, email me at
Jason L Blair
Writer, Game Designer
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