An Illusionist with a well-earned reputation for honesty, all so they can tell a lie exactly when they need to. A Bard without a voice, tasked with telling grandiose tales. A one-armed Duelist struggling to quell the rage within her heart. A Worldly Rōnin hiding a deadly secret that forced her to flee her clan. An Outrider with a chip on his shoulder, trying to make others accept his clan while wanting to prove his clan’s superiority. Each of these Samurai has found themselves invited to the Winter Court of Rokugan, so we’re following them into another Meet the Party for Legend of the Five Rings!
I wanted to do something different for this group of L5R characters, and not just different when it came to choosing Clans/Families/Schools to feature. When I made the Mahō Hunters I wrote a bit about thinking that an L5R group with various (and sometimes rival) Clans needed a premise to bring them together to function as a party, whether that happened before play or in an inciting event in the first (few?) sessions. For the Mahō Hunters each of them had been exposed to some version of the supernatural threats to Rokugan, and had chased their separate leads until they met with a mutual goal.
Since that premise could potentially lead the Hunters down a more traditional adventuring path of wandering from place to place, I decided the premise of this party would keep them in one spot: the Winter Court. Every year the Emperor himself picks a Clan to host his Court for the length of the season, inviting members of every Great Clan along with various other groups and individuals that have caught the interest of the Emperor or the host. Obviously this is a big political event, but there are also lots of opportunities for skilled persons to engage in competitions and challenges throughout the Court. So I wanted to create a group of characters that would be largely skilled at social events (4/5 have the Courtier tag for their School), and everyone would have some kind of skill or ability that would be unique to them and worth showing off in front of a crowd (even the one not!Courtier has the Artisan tag).
So, who are our guests this Winter?
Clan: Scorpion Family: Soshi School: Soshi Illusionist
Status: 45 Glory: 45 Honor: 30
Giri: Gather secrets and blackmail to hold over the other Clans.
Ninjō: Form genuine, honest bonds with others.
Air: 3 Earth: 2 Fire: 1 Water: 2 Void: 2
Endurance: 6 Focus: 4 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 3
Skills: Skulduggery 2, Design 1, Theology 1, Courtesy 1, Games 1, Performance 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 1
Starting Techniques: Bō of Water [Invocation], Cloak of Night [Invocation], Token of Memory [Invocation], Commune with the Spirits [Ritual], All in Jest [Shūji]
School Ability: The Kami’s Whisper
Advantages: Famously Honest [Air], Secrets [Void], Keen Hearing [Air], Blessed Lineage [Void]
Disadvantages: Sworn Enemy [Earth], Paranoia [Water]
Starting Outfit: Sanctified robes, inconspicuous garb, wakizashi, knife, scroll satchel, traveling pack, shuriken, 6 koku
How Do They Stand Out: Thoroughness, patience, or calm.
What detail do others find most striking: The full-face Scorpion mask that, as it turns out, is modeled after their real face.
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent [Skulduggery]
Who have they learned the most from: A shinobi of the Bayushi who taught them how to wait and listen. [Keen Hearing]
Samurai Heritage: Imperial Heritage [Blessed Lineage]
Death: Poisoned, for a lie they though harmless that came too close to a dire truth.
Unmasking: Reveals troublesome truths.
Soshi Nao is a master of magic, the shadows, and the courts. The Kami’s Whisper conceals the physical signs of their invocations and channeling, and increases the TN of Theology checks to detect their supernatural activities. The fact that Nao is Famously Honest lets them reroll dice on checks where their veracity can benefit them, and they have the Keen Hearing needed to ferret out the Secrets they enjoy. They can also leverage their Blessed Lineage as an advantage. Bō of Water summons a watery weapon for Nao to fight with, Cloak of Night grants invisibility, and Token of Memory lets them summon illusions. Commune with Spirits lets Nao do just that, and All In Jest lets them spend Opportunity to regain honor that was forfeited to say something rude or base.
Clan: Lion Family: Ikoma School: Ikoma Bard
Status: 35 Glory: 48 Honor: 55
Giri: Enhance and maintain the reputation of the Lion.
Ninjō: Tell true, inspiring stories instead of fabrications or embellished tales.
Air: 2 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 3 Void: 1
Endurance: 8 Focus: 4 Composure: 10 Vigilance: 3
Skills: Tactics 1, Composition 2, Performance 1, Courtesy 1, Culture 1, Sentiment 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 1, Martial Arts [Melee]
Starting Techniques: Warriors Resolve [Kata], Fanning the Flames [Shūji], Tributaries of Trade [Shūji]
School Ability: Heart of the Lion
Advantages: Support of the Dragon [Water], Brushwork [Air], Subtle Observer [Air]
Disadvantages: Muteness [Air], Battle Trauma [Fire]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, wakizashi, tessen, yumi, quiver of arrows, traveling pack, any one musical instrument, journal, calligraphy set, Lacquered Armor*, 5 koku
How Do They Stand Out: Grace, eloquence, or empathy
What detail do others find most striking: A thin scar across his throat, the cause of his muteness.
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Orthodox
Who have they learned the most from: The Kitsu healer who helped him recover from his wounds and learn how to live with his muteness. [Subtle Observer]
Samurai Heritage: Famous Deed [*Lacquered Armor (Durable, Resplendent)]
Death: Quietly, at an advanced age, a finished epic that will be passed down through the ages on the desk before him.
Unmasking: Wildly inappropriate or insulting stories, anecdotes, and jokes.
Ikoma Soh might not be able to speak, but he hardly allows that to stop him from being a skilled Bard. Heart of the Lion allows Soh, once per session, to either transfer Strife from himself to his target(s) or from his target(s) to himself. He has friends among the Dragon Clan thanks to his care for the truth, and Subtle Observer makes it easier for Soh to spot small details. Warrior’s Resolve lets Soh spend a Void point to remove fatigue equal to his honor rank. Fanning the Flames will see the bard spending Opportunity to inflict the Dazed and Enraged conditions on opponents in social situations, and Tributaries of Trade allows Soh to quickly (and maybe even cheaply) produce an item when needed. Think of the gift-giving opportunities!
Clan: Crane Family: Kakita School: Kakita Duelist
Status: 35 Glory: 50 Honor: 60
Giri: Duel for the honor of the Crane.
Ninjō: Strike down all who would doubt her.
Air: 3 Earth: 2 Fire: 2 Water: 2 Void: 1
Endurance: 8 Focus: 5 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 3
Skills: Culture 1, Fitness 1, Tactics 1, Courtesy 1, Design 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 2, Meditation 1, Smithing 2, Sentiment 1
Starting Techniques: Iajutsu Cut: Rising Blade [Kata], Weight of Duty [Shūji]
School Ability: Way of the Crane
Advantages: Quick Reflexes [Fire], Armament [Earth]
Disadvantages: Lost Arm [Fire], Perfectionism [Water], Ferocity [Air]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, ceremonial clothes, katana and wakizashi, yari, traveling pack, an attendant, 7 koku
How Do They Stand Out: Adaptability, friendliness, or awareness.
What detail do others find most striking: An empty sleeve, flapping in the wind of Mariko’s passage as she darts forward to strike.
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Orthodox
Who have they learned the most from: The Matsu who took her arm. [Martial Arts [Melee]/Ferocity]
Samurai Heritage: Wondrous Work [Smithing]
Death: A heartbeat after her opponent in a duel that saves the Crane Clan.
Unmasking: Challenge an offending party to a duel.
Kakita Mariko has turned dueling into an art style (although it’s not her only talent). The Way of the Crane ability can greatly increase (or decrease) the severity of a critical strike Mariko makes. Her Quick Reflexes make her quick on the draw and can let her reroll dice for any action that involves being swift, and she finds the creation, maintenance, and study of Armament to be particularly soothing. Mariko’s Iajustu Cut: Rising Blade lets her draw and strike with her blade in a single action, dealing damage equal to her weapon’s deadliness rating, damage that cannot be defended against if the target is Compromised. The Weight of Duty allows Mariko to spend Opportunity on Social [Earth] checks to learn the failure-based fears of other samurai, and perhaps even their giri.
Clan: Crab Family: Hiruma School: Worldly Rōnin
Status: 30 Glory: 39 Honor: 35
Giri: Live according to Bushidō despite being a Rōnin.
Ninjō: Conceal the Taint at all costs.
Air: 1 Earth: 3 Fire: 1 Water: 3 Void: 2
Endurance: 8 Focus: 2 Composure: 12 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Fitness 1, Skulduggery 2, Survival 1, Command 1, Labor 1, Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Martial Arts [Unarmed] 1, Courtesy 1, Theology 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 1
Starting Techniques: Crescent Moon Style [Kata], Honest Assessment [Shūji]
School Ability: School of Waves [Courtesy]
Advantages: Seasoned [Void], Sake [Water], Ebisu’s Blessing [Earth]
Disadvantages: Shadowlands Taint [Earth], Fear of Death [Earth]
Starting Outfit: Traveling clothes, kiseru, katana and wakizashi, bottle of sake, sake cup, finger of jade, 3 koku
How Do They Stand Out: Self-awareness, insight, or mysticism.
What detail do others find most striking: Eyes that seem to stare right through you.
Opinion of Clan: Negative [Courtesy] Opinion of Bushidō: Orthodox
Who have they learned the most from: Peasants who took her in when she first went on the run. [Ebisu’s Blessing]
Samurai Heritage: Ruthless Victor [Ranged]
Death: Slain by the Kuni . . . then rising again to avenge herself.
Unmasking: Panicked retreat.
Rumiko has learned hard lessons on the road, lessons that have left her quite capable. Her School of the Waves ability adds a skill to her curriculum at all ranks; additional skills are added for each time her school rank increases. Not only does this provide her with extra options to advance quickly, but she can negate one Strife for every roll with one of her added skills. Being Seasoned lets her use her hard-earned wisdom to reroll dice on checks, and Ebisu’s Blessing helps her to interact with and work alongside people of low status. Crescent Moon Style allows her to spend Opportunity garnered from the Guard action to counterattack opponents. Honest Assessment lets her speak plainly to others, letting them ignore their disadvantages and even making checks that would be disadvantaged easier.
Clan: Unicorn Family: Shinjo School: Shinjo Outrider
Status: 30 Glory: 49 Honor: 35
Giri: Increase the acceptance of the Unicorn by the other Great Clans.
Ninjō: Prove the superiority of the Unicorn over the other Great Clans.
Air: 1 Earth: 2 Fire: 3 Water: 2 Void: 2
Endurance: 10 Focus: 4 Composure: 8 Vigilance: 2
Skills: Survival 2, Sentiment 1, Commerce 1 , Martial Arts [Melee] 1, Martial Arts [Ranged] 2, Skulduggery 1, Tactics 1, Medicine 1, Command 1
Starting Techniques: Striking as Fire [Kata], Lady Shinjo’s Speed [Shūji], Divination [Ritual]
School Ability: Born in the Saddle
Advantages: Dangerous Allure [Fire], Animal Bond [Earth]
Disadvantages: Gaijin Name, Culture, or Appearance [Fire], Delusions of Grandeur [Void], Disdain for Courtesy [Air]
Starting Outfit: Ashigaru armor, traveling clothes, scimitar and wakizashi, yumi, quiver of arrows, knife, traveling pack, Unicorn warhorse, Shinjo horsebow, 8 koku
How Do They Stand Out: Self-awareness, insight, or mysticism.
What detail do others find most striking: The hair and complexion of the people of the Burning Sands.
Opinion of Clan: Positive Opinion of Bushidō: Divergent [Medicine]
Who have they learned the most from: A bushi of the Moto.[Disdain for Courtesy/ Martial Arts [Ranged]]
Samurai Heritage: Stolen Knowledge [Divination]
Death: In a foreign land, sparking a legend of Bataar that will spread across the world.
Unmasking: Relentless bragging.
Shinjo Bataar strikes observers as the iconic version of a Unicorn warrior, and he knows it. His Born in the Saddle ability lets him reduce the TN of a check by his school rank once per scene provided his horse aids him. His Dangerous Allure allows him to reroll dice whenever he can leverage his good looks to incite emotion or get someone to act without considering the consequences. His Animal Bond is a perfect fit for an Outrider. Striking as Fire lets Bataar set up potentially devastating critical strikes by spending Opportunity on a hit to increase the Severity of the next Critical. Lady Shinjo’s Speed can bring him and his steed to a destination twice as fast with a TN 2 Survival [Void] check, along with a passenger; Opportunity can lead other willing characters along. Finally, Divination allows Bataar to look into a characters future, bestowing a kept die with Opportunity and Strife upon a future check.
Last time the exception to the rule was a courtier of the Tortoise Clan, and this time it’s the Worldly Rōnin. A couple of thoughts came up over the course of building Rumiko. First, the fact that the Worldly Rōnin can be of any Clan/Family without too much narrative effort makes the fact that it adds +1 to any two chosen Rings an extremely flexible mechanic. It allows a character to possibly be quite balanced, with 2 in every Ring, or extremely focused as in Rumiko’s case. Second, while it’s not territory I’ve yet delved into, I think this gives a glimpse at what not using the strict Clan->Family->School progression that the other characters have been built with can do.
Who They Are
Soshi Nao is not the mask-less Honest Scorpion, but they have cultivated a reputation for honesty all the same, all for the purpose of being believed when they finally tell a lie in service to their duty. Genuine, honest connections can be like a drug to a Scorpion, however, and Nao has certainly felt the itch more than they should.
That reputation for (and preoccupation with) honesty has proven quite useful, but it’s caused some trouble for Nao as well. A fellow Scorpion, a Bayushi, had their own plots unraveled when Nao revealed the truth of what was going on – it was for the good of the Clan and Rokugan, but the Bayushi has held a grudge ever since. Nao thus has a tendency to be suspicious of others, which conflicts with their own desire to build connections (and gather information). A Winter Court is a great place to do both, however.
Ikoma Soh is a bard of his family, but like most Lion he is also a warrior; it was the activities of the latter that have forced him to adapt the methods of the latter. A clash with a band of honorless mercenaries terrorizing Lion villages left Soh with a scar across his throat and a silenced voice, forcing him to tell his stories through gestures and the brush.
The road to recovery has left Soh a better bard, though, at least as far as he’s concerned. He’s become much more careful in observing orders, and having to write most of his stories has taught him an appreciation for brushwork he lacked before. Something about putting his stories into writing has made him more aware of getting those stories right; his own desire for inspirational sincerity has since earned him many friends among the Dragon. The Winter Court will be an excellent canvas for Soh to work on.
Kakita Mariko is like many students of her School, less a warrior and more of an artist. Being a Duelist allows Mariko to earn both personal glory but to win great gains for the Crane, settling disputes in her Clan’s favor. The Doji might win arguments and the Daidoji might shield the clan in open warfare, but it’s the Kakita who eliminate problems with a single cut.
A duel to first blood with a Matsu of the Lion, however, took a fair bit more blood than usual. The loss of a left arm would be a major setback for any warrior, but Mariko responded by only becoming more determined to excel. She’s become a perfectionist, to the point of obsession, but her loss has also weakened the chains on a ferocity she didn’t know she possessed. She may get a chance to fully unleash that ferocity at the Winter Court, perhaps on a certain Matsu . . .
Rumiko was a scout of the Hiruma and the Crab, going beyond the Wall and into the Shadowlands to ferret out threats to all of Rokugan so its defenders could be prepared. The evil of that place is pervasive, however, and eventually the Taint seeped into Rumiko’s bones.
An encounter with a particularly zealous Kuni ended in bloodshed, and Rumiko taking to the roads. She refuses to lay down and die, but she also refuses to give in to the low behavior exhibited by so many Rōnin. She has lived honorably during her time as a wanderer, and perhaps that is why she received an invitation she could not refuse. Perhaps.
Shinjo Bataar is not a member of the Unicorn Clan who takes the scorn of other Clans lying down. Instead, he’s dedicated his life to being the pinnacle of the Shinjo, a warrior that members of other Clans will have to respect, and by doing so give the proper respect to the Unicorn.
The thing is, he’s largely succeeded at being the pinnacle; the unforeseen consequence of that is that he can sometimes be like a Shinjo warhorse charging through a tea house. He’s skilled and, frankly, gorgeous and he knows it, and he has a tendency to forget what limits he has and stomp over proper courtesy in trying to impress others. His time at the Winter Court is . . . likely to be dramatic.
How They Came Together
As mentioned above, the premise for this batch of characters is that each of them has been invited to the Winter Court. Essentially they’ll all be stuck together, along with a lot of other characters up to and possibly including the Emperor, in a castle and its immediate surroundings for months. There will be plenty of intrigues, challenges, competitions, and assorted other problems for them to deal with. So what actually brings them together?
Each has goals of their own, both dutybound and personal, that they might pursue. Aside from Rumiko they are all present to represent their Clan to one degree or another, and their giri reflect that (even Rumiko doesn’t want to bring any further shame to the Crab, while proving herself at the same time). By the same token Nao will want to form bonds, Soh will want opportunities to tell true stories, Mariko will want to work out her grudges, Rumiko will wish to be secretive, and Bataar will be hungry for bragging rights.
So while all that is good material to work with that’ll keep the characters/players busy and maybe even set them against one another, you’ll probably need something to unify them as well. Now, I’m no L5R veteran, but my understanding of the Winter Court gives me the impression that you could set an entire campaign during one. All the Great Clans are in attendance, the Emperor is about, and there are sundry other factions in play. So:
Which Clan is hosting the Court? Who invited the characters? Why would someone like Rumiko be invited? What plots do the clans of each character have in play that the characters themselves might not actually know about? What do the other clans and guests have up their sleeves? What’s the event that will force the characters to work together, at least for a while? Assassination attempts, perhaps even on the Emperor? A brewing clan war to cause or avert? Mahō-tsukai infiltrating the Court? The entire event is an elaborate trap by the Emperor to kill everyone?
Answer some of these questions, or similar ones that you come up with yourself, and you should be able to tie everything together and play out a Winter Court campaign. How will Nao, Soh, Mariko, Rumiko, and Bataar fare? As always, that’s for you (and your dice) to determine!
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