Tuesday, 11 June 2013

TBZ: Guardians of Green River, Acts 2-4

After not being able to meet up last week, we got together on Tuesday for the second half of our Tenra game. First half here.
  • Chris plays Crimson Lotus, a male Phoenix Order Buddhist monk who has lived in Green River for several years.
  • John plays Honjo Yoshino, a female samurai and high-ranking member of the Iron Fist Mercenary Company.
  • Sean plays Omayu the Worm, an annelidist doctor of indeterminate gender (possibly female), who's lived on the outskirts of Green River for many years.

Act Two: Winter of Discontent

It's the middle of Winter, and a light dusting of snow covers the village. The long-house that now serves as the mercenaries’ quarters is warm and cosy inside, with those not on duty relaxing, drinking, and enjoying the company of the more willing village girls. Honjo talks to Captain Souma about the company's plans for the future. The Captain is considering staying on as the village's protector rather than leaving in the Spring. The village elder's granddaughter is delivering another jar of sake, but Goroyoshi, one of the kijin mercenaries, grabs her by the wrist and asks her to keep him warm. Crimson Lotus happens to be walking past, and makes a speech about the responsibilities of guests and hosts. The mercenaries stop and look at him, the message sinking in to some of them. Captain Souma tells Goroyoshi to let the girl go. 

The village men hold a rather cramped meeting in Elder Kobunta's new lodgings to discuss the situation. The mercenaries have been consuming large amounts of food and drink; although the stores will last, they will have little surplus until the next harvest, and the sake may run out entirely. Some of the village men are worried about their daughters spending time with the mercenaries, and the chaos caused by so many idle warriors. Omayu the Worm suggests putting a curfew on the village women, and enforcing it with an armed militia of villagers. Crimson Lotus suggests another path - instead of treating the mercenaries as honoured guests, why not officially make them a part of the community? If mercenaries have been besmirching the honour of the village girls, then they should be invited to preserve the family's honour through marriage. In return, the villagers gain even closer bonds with the warriors, and Green River gains a second source of income if some of the mercenaries go away to war during the campaign season.


This scene was the pivot-point that put paid to 90% of my remaining scenario notes. I had to scramble to rewrite and re-cast. My original plan had been for the mercenaries to become more and more of a nuisance, until they started to cause serious problems.

Originally, the Final Boss was going to be Captain Souma himself, as he became a tyrannical despot ruling the village with a literal Iron Fist. Having the village open up and welcome him and his men in this new way, making them a valued part of the community, played up to the Captain's desire to stay and rule the village while sidestepping the problem of the village wanting to be rid of the mercenaries.

It was a subtle redirection of the story's energy, which completely removed almost all of the tension I was attempting to build between the villagers and the mercenaries!


As Winter draws long, Tsubo uses his Kimen Armour to help build a new barracks and a palisade around the village. Honjo makes sure that the villagers and mercenaries work on the project together, growing closer through shared labour and achievement.

Crimson Lotus, Honjo, Omayu, and Captain Souma discuss marriages over a game of Mah Jongg. Honjo, who thinks of the Captain as her soul-mate, proposes to him on the spot. Unfortunately for her, the Captain does not return her affection; practically speaking, a samurai cannot bear him an heir, and it would be more politically beneficial for him to marry Old Kobunta's granddaughter and legitimise his aspiration to rule the village. Many of the other mercenaries are marrying and settling into their new families.


I suppose I could have changed the tension-lines somewhat - after all, many of the Iron Fist are kijin with mechanica bodyparts, and that's something a new family may not easily accept. Also, some of these guys are professional soldiers who may not have the urge to settle down. That said, most of the girls getting married were the ones who'd already begun courting the soldiers, so I guess it wouldn't have come to much anyway.


Act Three: The Fruits of Resentment

Spring has come, and life in the village is looking rosy. Omayu is deep in the woods looking for medicines when she hears a scream! She finds the village girl Onatsu running barefoot through the woods, her kimono showing signs of cuts from bladed claws. Two kijin mercenaries, Goroyoshi and Juroyoshi, soon appear running after her. She tells Omayu that they tried to sieze her while she was bathing, but she managed to get away. Crimson Lotus and Honjo both enter the scene. Honjo orders them back to the village for disciplinary action, but they are sick of placid village life and are spoiling for a fight. Omayu tells Onatsuto turn around and close her eyes, and unleashes a volley of Talonfang needles at the pair. Honjo engages Goroyoshi, and Crimson Lotus disarms Juroyoshi. The two kijin are quickly defeated.

Back in the village, Juroyoshi and Goroyoshi are cast out. Gotoyoshi suggests that any other dissatisfied people should come with them. Honjo makes a speech, reminding everyone of what they have built and gained by staying in Green River, and persuades the other mercenaries to stay. The two outcasts leave under a cloud of bitterness and resentment.


This was a very short Act, where I basically cut to the chase and presented the most provocative scene I had in an attempt to get a passionate response out of the PCs. As it was, the offending mercenaries had to insist on a fight, rather than meekly surrendering and being escorted back to town for disciplinary action.

I was hoping the scene in the woods would be a good chance for Omayu to shine, as her player was a little quieter than the other two. It didn't quite work out that way since they both bought into the scene; although she protected the girl, concealed the annelids from her, and unleashed a barrage of highly effective needles, the other two got to share the combat glory.


Act Four: A Harvest of Swords

Late in the Spring, the two exiled kijin return, guiding an advance force from the neighbouring province. The force consists of three Kimen Armours and nearly two hundred footsoldiers, and is led by the Armour-Hunting scion of a noble house.


As the force assembles on the far side of the rice paddies, Crimson Lotus walks out to parlay. He tries to persuade the commander to leave the village alone, but is roundly ignored. The commander signals the advance, but Crimson Lotus uses the Binding Prayer of Acala to stop the lead Kimen Armour from moving. He has to fight off a wave of footsoldiers and an attack by Juroyoshi and Goroyoshi, until Honjo runs down from the palisade to help. Between them, the two defeat the traitorous kijin, and Honjo stops to finish them off.

Soon, Armour bombardment has rendered the village's wall useless, and the mercenaries of Green River flow across the fields to meet their enemy. Tsubo and Captain Souma fight the enemy Armours, while the kijin mercenaries prove their worth against the rank-and-file soldiers. Omayu arrives just in time to engage the enemy commander alongside Honjo and Crimson Lotus. Honjo takes him on blade to blade, gaining the upper hand. Omayu ran in, attacking with her unexpected Talonfang Bugs at the last second to inflict a grievous wound on the commander!

The enemy lord summons all of his strength to strike Omayu down, but Honjo steps in front of the blow and takes it full-force. With both of their lives on the line, Honjo prepares to unleash a flurry of attacks which will mean the end for one of them. However, the commander succumbs to a volley of Spirit Burst attacks from Crimson Lotus, and falls dead. The monk topples one of the remaining Kimen Armours with a spare fireball.

With their commander dead, the rest of the enemy force is soon routed. Green River stands victorious, a shining success of harmony between farmers and soldiers.

Epilogue

While Captain Souma is on his way to becoming the legitimate head of the village, Honjo Yoshino takes on the role of "sortie captain," leading the fighting men away from home during the campaign season.

Crimson Lotus, having struggled with the practicality of behaving peacefully in a world at war, renounced his vow of pacifism and is considering joining the Ebon Mountain sect.

Omayu the Worm still lives in her hut on the edge of town, but has a more active role in the community dealing with the injuries of farmers and soldiers alike.


Well, to put it mildly, the game went in a direction I had not anticipated! This was a playtest of the scenario concept, using the notes I'd worked out up to this point; I wanted to test it out before refining the details. It's a good thing I did, because it has a few issues.

I'm concerned that there's not enough dramatic tension, especially in the earlier Acts. Indeed, I deliberately set it up so that things would start out looking great, and slowly go downhill as time went on. However, a lot of the early scenes are just two people talking about stuff. I'm not entirely sure if the players just weren't expecting that type of in-character, RP-heavy gameplay, because they didn't tend to engage with each other all that much with in-character conversations. There was some (the monk espoused philosophy quite frequently), but some of the scenes were more like one or two sentences followed by an awkward silence.

Perhaps I didn't communicate this aspect of the game clearly enough, but Tenra runs on characterisation. By portraying your character in a strong and vibrant manner (rather than a considered and subtle manner), you earn Aiki which you use to overcome opposition later on. It's like a Kabuki play in this regard - even the audience up the back needs to have a clear idea of what your character is about.

When I was writing up the scenario concept, I pretty much had it in mind that, with the power of hard scene framing, the GM can direct the flow of the game. You present the players with a situation, and it's mostly their job to show how their characters react to that situation. It's a pretty railroady approach, which runs counter to my usual flexible GMing style, and the brittleness of a nailed-down script was made clear when the group came up with a solution to the major problem in the scenario, rather than just reacting to it.

Unfortunately most of my late-game tension-building and hard-choice scenes got taken off the table by the monk's social engineering in Act Two. I am wondering if it would be better if there were more tense scenes earlier on, but then again I'm wondering how a different group would approach the same scenario.

All in all, I think the Guardians of Green River would need a serious overhaul to make a useful scenario supplement. I have some other, newer, and more flexible ideas that I think I'll probably develop instead. If the new approach works, I may return to Green River and redesign it from the ground up.

This is the second Tenra game I've run, and it's the second one in which no PCs were injured. Well, Honjo took a blow in the boss fight, but that was purely voluntary so she could tick her Dead Box and gain bonus dice. If the PCs have Kiai on hand, it seems to be trivially easy to stack in enough dice that you'll overwhelm the opposition, and if you roll badly you can buy up to 1 Success to make sure you hit them. I may have to consider exposing Bosses to the PCs early on, just to prove how bad-ass they are, and how unbeatable they are without Kiai.

It worries me, what will happen in a Final Boss Fight if all the PCs run out of Kiai. It seems like they would have no hope of winning at that point, and they wouldn't have enough time to regroup and regain Kiai. Downer ending?