Tuesday, 5 April 2016

[Actual Play] 5th Edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Session 3 - It was a really good job they brought the guide...

(You can read the previous session report here.)

Our three philosophers (who are most assuredly philosophers, despite doing so little philosophising so far), Monomi, Goro and Terasu, had made the decision to attempt to forcibly relocate a "disorderly" river mussel god who was plaguing the local Emishi villagers. To do this, they needed to find an Emishi elder to cast a magical bond on the god to keep it from shifting its form for a time. They headed, then, to the village of Okoppe, which they knew to be friendly to Japanese 'Southrons' like themselves.

They travelled by night, following the salmon river, and in the early hours came across somebody hiding in the trees. Tempting this person out of hiding with the use of magical legerdemain, they discovered a young woman of aristocratic bearing. She revealed herself to be the daughter of Lord Uesugi-no-Mishiri, the Japanese noble who had established the small colony of Kawa-no-Kuchi where their adventure had begun. She said that she had gone out for a walk in the evening and had somehow become lost, and had been wandering the forest alone all night.

The philosophers were naturally suspicious of this (they watched her closely to check whether she had a fox's tail underneath her robes) but offered to allow the Uesugi daughter to accompany them. On the way, they asked her a little more about her situation, hoping to flush out the truth; it turned out that her father had recently had a new concubine brought to him from the South. Our three philosophers began to suspect that there may have been some sort of enchantment afoot associated with this new concubine. But they set that to one side for now.

By morning they reached Okoppe and were brought to the headman, Menkakush, whose daughter, Toitoi, spoke Japanese and could translate. The headman agreed that the philosophers' plan was a good one, but he was unwilling to offer help unless he could receive something in return. He revealed that his village's traditional fishing areas were being encroached upon by the warlike people of the nearby village of Kikonai - and also by the Southron settlement of Kawa-no-Kuchi. The three philosophers eventually agreed to go to Kawa-no-Kuchi and intercede on his behalf with Lord Uesugi. They stayed for a feat and ate the smoked salmon offered to them. Monomi chatted some more with the Uesugi daughter, and learned that her father was very much a man of action - given to solving problems through force of arms and derring-do. He had established this settlement in the North in order to expand his family's power and wealth, and also, hopefully, to curry favour with the Emperor. The philosophers decided they would have to present their plan as an opportunity for the Uesugi to grow.

The next day, they headed to Kawa-no-Kuchi and were ushered into Lord Uesugi's hall. The Lord was there with his two advisors, his wife, and a very beautiful young woman who was apparently his new concubine. There was some initial befuddlement at the appearance of his daughter: it seemed that Lord Uesugi and the others had been under the impression that his daughter had been ill and was sleeping in her bed chamber. They were surprised to find her out and about. But she was quickly sent away and the three philosophers began discussing their plan. (They resolved to investigate the mystery of the Uesugi daughter at a later date.) This was, in brief, to gain the assistance of the people of Okoppe in binding the river mussel god and bringing her downstream to the area around Kawa-no-Kuchi. This would benefit the river mussel god (more detritus for her and her kind to feed from), benefit the people of Kawa-no-Kuchi (they would have mussels to eat), and also benefit the Uesugi (greater wealth and a 'curiosity' for the delectation of the of the Emperor in the South). All that needed to happen in return was for Uesugi to agree to give the people of Okoppe protection in their fishing. After some discussion with his advisors (his general, Hatake-no-Yama, and his onmyoji, Takayama-no-Mahotsukai), Lord Uesugi agreed to this, and gave his sealed written promise to the philosophers to take to Okoppe.

Back in Okoppe, the philosophers were welcomed and thanked profusely. They were then taken to a middle-aged woman, Umoshmatek, who was a shaman and storyteller. She agreed to help in the binding of the river mussel spirit, but to do that she needed to use the magic of the lichen men. The lichen men had lived in the forests long ago, before even the Emishi had come, and though they had now left, their tombs could still be found. Umoshmatek needed the breath of a lichen man wizard, which would have been given to a lichen man king, queen or princess to take to the afterlife for protection. With this, she could exert power over the river mussel god. She explained that there was a lichen-man tomb two days up the salmon river to the North-West; it consisted of three burial sites, one of which she knew to be the grave of a king, marked by wooden stakes. The other two sites "should on no circumstances be entered". The philosophers prepared to set off, and took with them a guide - Umoshmatek's son, a young hunter called Pasekur, who was keen for adventure.

Two days later they arrived at the tomb and, sure enough, discovered three cave entrances in a small river valley, one of which was marked with wooden stakes. There were also three stone cairns at the base of the valley, by the river side. Deciding to follow Umoshmatek's advice, the three philosophers began investigating the staked tomb while Pasekur waited outside. Inside, they found some tunnels, with the sound of growling audible from deeper within. Despite this growling, they investigated the first chamber they came across - a room decorated with paintings all around its walls. Many of the paintings depicted hunting scenes, but another depicted two snow-capped mountains, with what seemed to be a volcano in between them. Monomi ran his fingers over this painting and became overwhelmed by a strange sense of nostalgia for this view, that he had never seen before.

Just then, Pasekur called for help from outside. All three philosophers ran out and discovered three skeletons emerging from the stone cairns. They were wearing rusted bronze armour and helmets, and carrying bronze axes. Terasu made a plea to Amaterasu, the deity of the sun, and blasted one of these skeletons to smithereens with a bolt of light. Monomi charged downhill to attack the others. But just then, from behind, two skeleton dogs appeared from inside the cave and ran out to attack Terasu and Goro. In the ensuing melee, Terasu - despite valiantly defending himself with his mace - was ultimately rendered unconscious and bleeding. Goro, badly wounded himself, was forced to try to drag his comrade away, but the dogs leapt upon him, savaging him and likewise causing him to lose consciousness. In the meantime, Monomi and Pasekur destroyed the remaining two human skeletons, but Monomi was badly hurt; the two of them then charged the dogs in an attempt to rescue Terasu and Goro from certain death. The dogs fought fiercely and Monomi was then also critically hurt; this left Pasekur, the young guide, alone and with only a small stone axe to defend himself, against the two undead curs. Yet the local kamuy must have given aid to his arm, because he was able to vanquish them both and then stabilise the three philosophers and keep them in the world of the living.

And thus the session ended. A near TPK, and Pasekur was very lucky with the dice rolls at the end. I rolled in the open, but it was exactly the kind of result that would have happened if I'd been fudging! The philosophers were a bit foolish in all rushing out of the caves and leaving their rear completely undefended against whatever growling menace was behind them, but then again, they are philosophers and not tacticians, after all. The funny thing about 5th edition, of course, is that if you give them a day or so's rest they'll be right as rain. That's no quite how things worked in The Revenant! Tune in next time to see what on earth happens next.... 


  1. Very creative stuff!

    One of the major difference with 5e vs some of the older editions is this massive amount of natural healing. How is this working out so far?

    1. It means that the PCs can have a fight which near-kills them but then be ready to go within a few hours' time. I am not a huge fan of this, but it means that if there is a random encounter while the PCs are resting you can really put the fear of god into them.

  2. Can I second this question. I haven't run 5e yet, despite getting the core books. I'm always interested in hearing the experiences of OSR gamers when running 5e - how does the availability of magic (damage dealing cantrips) the expectations re: healing and levelling etc. change the way in which you run a game, and more, a campaign.

    And now I will forget where I left this comment, and find it from Google in several years time...