22 Mar 2016

Building a Samurai - Legend of the Five Rings

Tzar my cousin is coming down on in the end of April. He is also going to be running a game of Legend of the Five Rings. He's been running a game in fourth edition for quite some time now and his last run of stories in his world ended with all the player characters dying. The hier and future Emperor was 2-3 years old when the Kolat violently took the captial by force and suplanted the ruling family.

The idea I understand from Tzar is that it's been 15 years since the last game's events. We the players are playing Bushi who grew up with the Emperor in exile. Now he is 17-18 ready for the coming of age ceremony, the gempuku, and he is coming back to reclaim his place as the Emperor of Rokugan.

Of course when the Emperor leaves a loyal servant shall follow and as such Tzar has decided that we the players will have player characters that are going back with the Emperor to help him complete his goals of putting down the Kolat and taking back what is his.


When building any character I always have my players come up with a theme that will help direct the choices made during the process and mechanics of character creation. My theme will be a perceptive and loyal companion. The one who sees things that others miss.
The 8 Major Clans
by: Artigas  

With that in mind I started down the path of character creation within the game. In this case Step one is pick a Clan. Rokugen has 8 Major Clans and a dozen or so Minor Clans. Early in the change from 1st edition and 2nd edition there was a storyline that took the strongest Minor Clan, the Mantis, and transitioned them to Major Clan status. Much later in the two decades of the game's timeline a ninth 'dark' Clan joins the ranks of the Major clans but I don't think Tzar is using the Spider Clan. Now I have three Clans that are my favorite in the setting.

The first of my favorite (in no order) are the Scorpion Clan. They are the hidden hand of the Emperor and his most loyal Clan. So much so that they are willing to sacrifice their own Honor, body, lives, and very soul to serve. They will give everything away of themselves and from that thinking they are also willing to sacrifice everyone else as well. Nothing is more worthy than the Emperor and upholding the Celestial Order. By giving everything up they earn an Honor that no one else can understand. They are a clan of secrets, spies, assassins, masked warriors and shugenja.

The Mon's of the Minor Clans
The second of my favorite Clans was founded by Shiba. Shiba was the twin to Bayushi, the founder of the Scorpion Clan. Shiba founded the Phoenix Clan with the help of gifted shamanic spellcasters called Shugenja. The Phoenix clan is known for keeping the great library, being masters of magics, and having the most dedicated Yojimbo (bodyguards) in Rokugan. They are the most pacifistic, have the smallest standing army, and yet they are very dangerous because their soldiers work so well with their shugenja. No Clan can bring to bear such magics and has collected so much knowledge.

My final favorite clan (again all liked equal) is a Minor Clan that was later absorbed by a Major Clan. Dante seemed to have inspired this Clan with the opening lines of the Divine Comedy: 

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
(Inferno - Canto 1:1-2)

The Clan I'm speaking of is a Clan know for its perceptive Bushi, the art of Falconry, and those who fight ghosts. The Toritaka Family, the Falcon Clan. Surrounded by a dark wood that is haunted. Neighboring between the Lion Clan, Crab Clan, and Scorpion Clan. In Tzar's campaign the Toritaka were not absorbed by the Crab Clan. The War of Spirits never happened.

My last consideration is what I've had the opportunity to play. I've played more than one Scorpion in the few times I've be able to be a player rather than a game master in Lo5R. I've built but have never played a Phoenix. I've never built a Falcon Clan and I've never played one either so that really makes me want to play one. Also the one line character theme I have works very well with all three clans.

I've chosen the Falcon Clan because in Tzar's setting they are still a unique Minor Clan. Also they are the specialists of perception. That also solves the second step, picking a Family. In Lo5R each Clan is made up of three or more Families that bring a history, skill set, and role to their parent Clan. Minor Clans are made up of only one Family and so that's been chosen for me. Family also decides my first attribute bonus.

Each Character has a score of 2 in each attribute. In character generation your family and school each add an bonus point to an attribute. Schools also determine the base set of skills, equipment, and honor level. From there the player character has a set of points that they use to complete their character. The Toritaka Family gives a +1 to Perception. The family spends years training to gather details in order to keep their home Tani Hitokage safe. Ghosts, as they manifest slow, start to disturb the area they haunt and the Toritaka found that observation was the first key to hunt down ghosts and detect possession. This trait is what earned the family recognition and Minor Clan status when it started.

Next is the skills. The Toritaka Bushi get's a selection of skills and a choice of any skill. Animal Handling/Falcons, Hunting 2, Kenjutsu, Lore: Spirit Realms, Spears. I pick Investigation as my free skill choice and most of the character is done. I picked Investigation keeping in line with my Character Theme.

I also rolled on the Heritage Table in Great Clans, and I rolled: "Your ancestor made many political connections with another clan which have lasted to this day. You gain a 3-point Ally Advantage in that clan for free."

I'm deciding that my player character was there during the Kolat attack that put the young heir in hiding. This political connection would make sense as to why a Minor Clan was there during the attack on the Palace and why my PC would be treated as one next to Major Clans. I'm going to say it was my mother who made the connections. I started looking for a picture that would represent my mother and her capabilities. These pauses in character creation really flesh out the story of my characters.

Toritaka Chokichi
a Falcon Hero hunting in Shinomen Mori
Images help define and round out ideas for players and game masters alike. Ontos for example starts with an image. I'm start with a theme and allow images to inspire the direction and options. In this case Legend of the Five Rings is littered with gorgeous art since it's been a Collectable Card Game for quite some time. Some of my favorite images for the Falcon Clan is of Toritaka Chokichi. My favorite image is of her wielding a spirit blade or enchanted/jade blade reacting to evil spirits/Oni while hunting in a forest.

So the image is perfect. My player character is the son of a proven Falcon Clan hero. Someone who's preformed a deed that has earned her bloodline/family an ally. Since the Falcon are not known for earning political favour in the courts, a trait they share with the Lion and Crab, I feel she 'did' something. As the something the Falcon Clan does is fight spirits I feel she earned a boon by doing just that. She made a name for herself as being a competent hunter of corrupt and violent ghosts. One of the times she hunted it just so happened to catch the eye of someone more versed in the courts. Now the story is starting to form... My player character was going to be introduced to the ally for the first time by his mother at the Imperial Courts when the Kolat attacked. My ally is still around and still loyal, having escape somewhere else during the fighting.

At this stage I have an idea on where my player character came from and what my character is becoming. He is a loyal son to a skilled mother who was 'lucky' and earned notice from someone of a higher social status. After escaping she continued his (I'm playing a male) training and imparting a sense of duty into her child. This duty is shapping up to be something like; Be loyal and protect the Emperor and know your place. Being of a Minor Clan, and only being there because she was 'noticed' may have her impart a level of pratical social grace. They are not equal to the Major Clans but they have earned a place beside them. I can already hear her words. "They are greater because of where they come from but you've earned your place beside them. Know that place but do not allow them to tarnish or takeaway what you've earned and continue to earn through your efforts." I see my character like the poor kid that hangs out with the group of rich kids. From outside he seems like the token member but within the group privatly he's an equal. I see him to not rock the social boat just in case any of his Major Clan friends decide it's better for them to treat him like a lesser.

With that finished I'm looking at other advantages. I want my Falcon Bushi to be more than being simply perceptive but also something more. I looked at the Clan found that they are known for being great Falconers. So being a perceptive Bushi and a gifted falconer might be a neat way to go. Looking at the advantages there is a connection to Chikushudo that would be a good place to start. So I picked Touched by the Spirit Relms: Chikushudo for 5 points. This also fits because there is rumored to be a door in Shinomen Mori the forest next to the Falcon Clan's historical home to that spirit. This connection to animals would ostracize my character even more so than normal. So a connection to the animal spirit realm, a feeling of inferiority towards major clans, and a predisposition that all Falcons have to social activities Antisocial might be a good disadvantage. I don't want to have the personality of a brick but some sort of social disadvantage would make sense so I picked the 2 point disadvantage. Being perceptive and somewhat animal in nature it made sense for my character to be naturally wary for another 3 points.

That's a good start advantage and disadvantage wise so I started to look at skills. With 34 points to spend after advantages I started looking at what skills I was missing. I picked Calligraphy, Athletics, Sneak, and Medicine. My character when allowed to be alone, would go out hunting and work with his birds. Athletics and Medicine provide that physical independence that supports my character living off the land through hunting. As a hunter Sneak would be a good skill to have a toe dip in. Lastly his control over trained animals and his perceptive nature would make him a great long range messenger and so I took Calligraphy. Now I'm at 30 points time to upgrade my current skill set.

Noting that nothing can get higher that 4 I've started out with my emphasis that seem important. Looking at my skill set I pick Hunting/Tracking, Investigation/Search, and Investigation/Notice. Leaving down 9 points for 21 remaining points. I look at upgrading a skill to 3 from 1 and it will cost me 5 total (2 points for rank 2, 3 points for rank 3). I also need to look at my  attributes. I know it will cost me 16 points to have an attribute move from 3 to 4 which I do with my Perception. So I'm down to 5 points to play with and able to only upgrade my Animal Handling from 1 to 3.

Toritaka Sasaki
Falcon Bushi
With no other skills upgraded I find myself a little short on points. I would like to increase at least
two of my skills from 1 to 2, which means I need to find 4 more points. I pick Doubt a 4 point disadvantage to reflect the lack of training while abroad. I could see her weaknesses become amplified while she trained her son and a he would feel insecure about a particular element of the school's teachings. I look back at the mother of my character and I go over her history and the picture I have of her. She was a confident and skilled Falcon Bushi she uses two weapons, Spears and Katanas. The spear is a powerful hunting weapon and great for taking down larger beasts. While the Katana is a weapon shared by the other clans. With that in mind, I figure my characters training would be weaker in Spears. His mother with limited resources and lacking support would not leave him with the confidence he'd need with the spear. With the 4 extra points I put my Investigation to 2 and give my character a Defence of 1 and a point in Archery called Kyujutsu. I'm worried that without access to Spears my character will be weaker in a fight against creatures with damage resistance. But if that wasn't there the Doubt wouldn't be that much of a disadvantage.

I pick the ten items of my traveling pack: Blanket, Cooking Pot, Fishing Pole, Flint and Tinder, Ink Brush Kit, Rope (50'), Small Knife (non-combat), Week's rations, Small Tent, Spare kimono and sandals. These my character would carry around when told to leave, most of which would support his hunting lifestyle. I add his light armor, sturdy clothing (now that he has a spare set when not in the woods), daisho (Katana and Wakazashi), a bow, and 3 koku (o. I spend 10 bu or two koku for a set of books and scrolls to support my characters role as messenger. I spend another 3 bu on a small folding stool, 1 bu on a grappling hook, and my last bu for a medicine kit with ten uses. I now have no money but my character is equipped to be self sufficient.

Toritaka Horoiso
a Falcon Hero fighting spirits in Shinomen Mori
Something my character would aspire to
So sitting at an Insight of 125 (Total of my skills + my rings x10), my character is looking at needing another 25 points to rise to rank 2. This fist well since my character would still be young and very inexperienced. I see my next sets of experience going into expanding his rings - I need 16 xp to upgrade his Strength while I'd need 24 (12 per attribute to upgrade another ring). This has a feeling of untapped potential with my character. Also if he ends up supporting the role of messenger, running and climbing are Athletic skills who's parent attribute is Strength. All of which seems to be fitting in well with his background. He's from a lesser clan, but was pulled in and had to leave his life behind. While growing up he felt insecure with his skills and his position and he was perceptive enough to see the truth. Trained and raised overseas he worked hard but never impressed instead he used his free time to escape into the woods, hunting and and training his falcons. His only insight into his clan is what other say about the Falcons which is not much since he is a minor Clan. and what his mother teaches him. He is able to see how she interacts as an subordinate to the rest of the court in exile. All that he has left is the legends of famous heroes and someone like Toritaka Horoiso would be a good example to follow. Toritaka Horoiso came at the end of the current history of the setting but his sacrifice, his act is what would attract my character.  

With that done I need to do the last thing, name my character. I will also name my mother and father so I go looking through my collection of Manga, Anime, and Japanese novels. I pick for my mother Reiko, the name of the guitar playing strong middle aged woman from Haruki Murakami's novel Norwegian Wood. I pick for my father, who died while I was young - duel gone wrong, killed in the attack - the idea is starting to form. He is a footnote and so I don't want my character to be influenced by his father's presence or lack thereof. I have a feeling he will have died quietly but keeping his honor. I decide he died from a sickness. I pick Shinriji named after a supporting in Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the ImmortalHe died and was a character of little skill but lots of well meaning. Lastly and most importantly is my character's name. I pick Sasaki, taking the first name from Sasa Kojiro Ganryu, Musashi's final opponent of in Eiji Yoshikawa's novel Musashi.

So there we have it. Toritaka Sasaki, young heir of the noble and heroic Toritaka Reiko. Quiet and reserved, lacking confidence and feeling inferior to those around him. He is only happy when deep in the woods alone with his trained animal companion a Falcon named Kiri (meaning Fog of Autumn).

Long post but all done.

- Cheers

Dozer