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Old Aug 8th, 2021, 11:07 AM
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Tales of Heike - Courtiers, Demons and Samurai

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Tales of Heike - Courtiers, Demons and Samurai



Heike Monogatari
炳卦物語

Disclaimer: This is not a straight-up retelling of the Japanese Epic "The Tale of the Heike", a story about two Clans in a Feudal society warring over supremacy. The game is referencing that work, since what you would find in that piece of literature is exactly what this game will be about also, just in a slightly different setting. Instead of real-earth Japan this game is set in a homebrew world called Heike (written with different Kanji), a mythical island nation where Spirits, Demons and Humans live together for better or for worse, but which otherwise closely resembles early Japan.

ThemeSamurai Clans engaging in intrigue and war to increase their personal power and influence on the Imperial Throne in a mystical land of demons, spirits and ghosts.


FlavourJapanese inspired low fantasy


SystemSword Chronicle, the slightly updated reprint of the Green Ronin Chronicle Rules first found in "A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying" - Either ruleset is fully compatible with this game, and not knowing it at all does not preclude joining. No experience or purchase required (though the rules can be found on drivethrurpg).

I've created a reference lists on chargen and things required for it here. A reference list on manoeuvres in physical and social combat will follow.

Some notes on the system:
 



Post Rate1-2 posts per week


The Set-upEmperor Hachirō is dead, long live Emperor Kazushige. After twenty years of a glorious reign the ruler of the Tsuhara Empire has been called up to the heavens. After the customary period of mourning his only son was crowned and anointed as his successor in a ceremony that lasted fifteen days. There is only one problem - the only offspring that Hachirō was able to produce is only three years old, and from his fifth wife no less. The Empress died in childbirth, and the Nursemaid of the child-emperor, Masae, has manoeuvred herself into a position as de-facto Regent. She is a Yōkai, a Spectre, and a Mononoke at that, but this is not the problem. The whispers that she has ensorceled all the other High Officials are. The Lord Protectors (Shugo) will not stand this situation, and most have vacated the Capital that they are legally obligated to reside in. While they have returned to the holdings that they are custodians over in the name of the Emperor only the true Loyalists remain gathered around the child-emperor and his court.

For the first time in over a hundred years there is a sense of danger in the air, a feeling that somebody will start pulling on the strings that bind the Empire together again. Most Lord Protectors are reconsidering their position of servitude at least in part, feeling like they should be recognised as proper Lords (Daimyo) over their own domains, for is this not what they truly are? They might force this issue by pure might. But such thoughts about recalibrating the distribution of power are not only floating about the heads of the highest Clans, as their subordinate Provincial Lords (Shugodai) are similarly pondering whether they too should be grasping for more.

Many see possibility in chaos, but many more are seeing dark days ahead. The worriers may be right to fear, as the last time shifts as big as this were happening around Heike a civil war raged, the aftermath of which is still felt in many a province to this day. In the west, the only enemy of the Empire is sharpening its blades in anticipation of a state weakened by internal strife.

You are the men and women of a Provincial Clan somewhere in the middle of this, and it will be up to you to navigate the turmoil ahead. Will you forge a new destiny for your family, or will you be content to merely try to weather the storm?


The Setting
As suggested in the disclaimer above the world of Heike resembles a slightly more mythical early Japan without adhering to any particular time period very closely. What one would imagine finding in such a place is there: A feudal society, an Emperor, Samurai, Ninja, a plentitude of Religions and Philosophies (Shinto, Buddhism, Neo-Daoism, Bushido). There is no Shogun yet, a feudal warlord that holds the true power over the Empire, with the Emperor as figurehead alone. There aren't any actual Daimyo either, with provincial rulers having only "leased" their land from the Emperor in a very legally tenuous way, but all of these are things that might soon change completely.

To get a full overview of the different Protectorates of the Empire visit this thread
It will become relevant when you decide on a part of the world to place your Clan into, and it also outlines the History, Religions and Culture a little more.

Since the world is based on Japan I'm not going to produce any essays on the specifics of culture upfront, though somebody not familiar with it at all would pick it up quickly during play. With that I'm not trying to be purposefully superficial, but I want to emphasise that to make it accessible it's going to be recognisable to people that watched Samurai movies, played Legend of the Five Rings, read Clavell's Shōgun or dabbled in the history in any other capacity. I homebrewed so we are not bound by any need to be accurate and can instead take what we want and leave what we don't behind.

While it is similar to feudal Japan, one of the biggest differences is that Spirits, Demons are real and live among Humanity. A large part of them are civilised beings that loosely align with the majority culture, even if they give it their own bend. They produce Samurai, Ronin, Lords, Artists and are not seen as a terrifying "other" by most of Humanity, though as something distinct and different. Only a few of them remain truly wild, and those are the ones that can cause mischief and trouble just like their counterparts in earth-myth. Another difference is that in many places there is more equality between the sexes (it would be handled differently from one Clan to another, but on average this is a more gender-equal society than actual early Japan).

As already touched upon above, Magic exists too, but it is a costly, difficult, and indirect thing in this world. This aspect is more Sword and Sorcers/Low Fantasy than High Fantasy Epics. Mystery remains attached to anything surrounding sorcery and magic.

-About the different Species:


Yōkai - In Japanese Folklore these are what one could call apparitions, spectres or spirits. They can appear in the form of humanoids, as inanimate objects or with animal features. In Heike the civilised species of Yōkai is only of the last category, strange animal people of various descriptions, some still with the ability to shift into the shape of a mundane animal. Common forms are dogs (Inugami), foxes (Kitsune), monkeys (Yamako & Satori), Bears (Onikuna, not considered an actual Oni) or Rabbits. They are often smaller in stature, presenting like small turtles (Kappa), lapdogs (Keukegen), monkeys again (Furi), Cats (Kaibyō, including Bakeneko, Maneki-neko & Nekomata), Tapirs (Baku) or Racoon Dogs (Tanuki). This is not an exhaustive list of their shapes, as much more is possible and can be found. A defining feature is that Yōkai are lithe, dextrous, cunning and often somewhat playful when compared to their cousins.

Mononoke - A subgroup of Yōkai, these have a more negative bend in traditional Folklore. They are not inherently evil in the world of Heike, even though some others have their prejudices towards them. What is a fact is that they are Yōkai that are more regal, softly spoken, with a lot more gravitas and strength of personality. That a few of them are indeed more devious may be coincidence. As for the physical, they rarely to never present as small animalmen, with a few of them actually appearing almost entirely humanoid - though always with some small or even hidden change from the norm. As the lines are blurred an Inugami or Kitsune could well be a Mononoke depending on their overall traits, but something like a Tengu (an avian spectre, or sometimes an old man with a long nose) would also fall into this category, which is inherently a bit too aloof to be considered a mere Yōkai. It's not uncommon to find them having traits from species with negative connotations either, like Spiders (Jorōgumo). Mononoke have are sometimes slightly more adept at sorcery too, but shapeshifting is much less common with them.

Oni - This is the Ogre, Demon or Troll in Japanese Mythology. And indeed they are on average tall and brutish looking beings with skins of various bright hues - blue, red and white being very common - that generally sport one or two horns. Overall this makes them look fairly frightening, and some live up to the stereotype of loincloth-wearing club-wielding monster. But those are the ones that live in the wild and on the fringes, as the Oni of the Empire can be as law-abiding and honourable as anybody else. In fact, since they seemed to be hardy and headstrong by birth they often make remarkably good Samurai or Priests - Lords even, as they work with diligence to make up for a mind that may not be as sharp as that of either Yōkai or Mononoke.

Human - The baseline human is much what one might expect, a species that is plentiful and ever-growing on Heike, so much so that they outnumber everybody else put together. Adding to this fact is that while species can interbreed, humanity always wins out. Since Heike is stretched out over a long chain of islands and features very different climates there are Humans of all shades and hues.

(Yūrei) - Not a playable race but a significant category of being, this is a general word for Ghost. As many religions present in the setting deal with the worship of ancestors to some degree, a lingering ghost is not seen as a positive thing, and indeed they are usually the bane of the place they haunt.

As far as the rules go, the System has a very modular and light-touch approach to fantasy Species, where one gets 2 "ancestry qualities" that are selected from different lists for different races. One can have up to two ancestries too, but there are no real "half-xy". Yōkai and Mononoke are not distinctly separate species, so the actual ancestry of anybody defining as either can be a mix or pure depending. If Oni Ancestry is involved with either of those two (Yōkai/Oni or Mononoke/Oni) the person will always present as an Oni. If Human ancestry is involved with any other species, the person will present as a Human.

You may have the general idea already, but to spell it out this is what the Ancestry Qualities of each category deal with:

Yōkai - Speed, Dexterity
Mononoke - Charisma, Sorcery
Oni - Strength, Resilience
Human - Versatile, pretty much anything



What will this game be about/Style of PlayClan: The binding glue that keeps the characters together will be a shared association with a Clan and a desire to not see it go to ruin. The system has some rules to give the Clan stats and features, but we will not get lost in the macro level and turn this into a strategy game. As far as I see it these things are just there to give context and circumstance that we will translate into adventures on the personal level. You are not barred from diving deeper into macro affairs, but it is a roleplaying game first and foremost.

Story: There is some freedom in play involved, as we will get together to see what the individual character's vision for the Clan is and how we could go about achieving them during play. It would be good if we got an active agenda ahead of us, but either way the world is at the cusp of quite a lot of things happening. It will become inevitable to at least react to the variety of dangers and changes appearing in short order. The group will need to sort friend from foe very quickly if only as a safeguard, since regardless of whether the Group and their Clan is going to grasp for power, other Minor and Major Clans are going to get into that heavily. What one might expect to see are Provincial Vassals rebelling against their Lord Protectors, Lord Protectors rebelling against the Emperor, Protectorates grasping at each other's lands, discrediting each other, the Gamatte Oni catching wind of weakness in the Empire and doing something with that and so on and so forth.

With that being said, these things will not just happen on the battlefield. Enacting change through social means is a very big component of this game system - see the notes on the system above - so the Clan may need physical and social "warriors" alike.


ApplicationsEDIT: Since the Clan has already been created I will only the following things for applications:
  • Name
  • Species
  • Core Concept
  • Mini-Bio/Description

You should still think about the cornerstones below, which are "Place in the Clan", "How your character will be influencing power", "Personal Goals"

 

Character
 


Cornerstones:

Place in the Clan - This includes defining what type of character you would like to play (for example a Bushi, Courtier, Low-Born, Steward, Sorcerer, Priest among other things) and how you are associated/related to the Clan. You are free to mix and match archetypes or create your own, it can be as complex or simple as you like as long as we get the idea. While not everybody needs to be a blood relation at least one person should be. One might even want to play the Heir, while the Lord will remain an NPC at the start of the game (that one is again to distance ourselves from the strategy game a little). I will want to make some concepts unique in the game. For example, there will only be one heir, one sorcerer, one steward, though there might be multiple bushi or courtiers, as these are broader types.

How your character will be influencing power - The characters will likely be servants or members of the clan in good standing, but they will not have direct control over it at the start. The head of the Clan may coincidentally align with what their goal for the family is, but he might also not. So how is your character specifically going to make an impact if you have to work to steer the Clan?

Now, I realise that some people will want to go for a character that is purely a warrior or some other expert, though that does not inherently lock them out of making themselves heard. You could go ahead and say that your character is "apolitical" and will just serve, but you could also say that they will serve so valiantly (in whatever they do) to earn the respect that wins over Lords to their side of thinking.

For those that are adept at social manipulation, it would be good here to state in what manner you would want to enact your will. A Courtier might give honest advice based on solid reasoning and facts, or he might manipulate even his own Lord and scheme behind his back. That's all fair game, as long as we are not pitting PC and PC against each other. Any character might try to accumulate some personal resources to leverage, or gather secrets and outside friends.

I'm not necessarily looking for a great battle plan here or anything like an "optimised" character - it's just something that everybody should think about in this type of game. I don't think it's actually as fun when one just trods along as the resident strongman/wise man/charming man, but makes no impact outside of their narrow remit.

Personal goals - The game has already a concept of a character's goals, motivations, vices and virtues which will be determined at a later stage, so this is more about how you see your character progress and develop. This can be internal or external progress - are you setting up some conflict that you'll overcome through the story? Will you start them out as something slightly lower status, but aim to work for a more prestigious position? Those sort of things.


Last edited by Phettberg; Nov 23rd, 2021 at 07:40 PM.
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Old Aug 8th, 2021, 11:08 AM
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Applicants:

 


Player Name Species Concept Character Name Status
Touketsu Oni Scholar/Strategist TBA Idea
Sirius Human/Mononoke Healer/Aspiring Priest Mei withdrawn
Hotshot lasgun Yokai Warrior Momiji withdrawn
Saratek Yokai Heir/Strategist Taichi applied
Lunarc Human/Mononoke Sorcerer/Advisor Keishi applied
Ironbeard Oni Smith/Aspiring Samurai Toshiro applied

Last edited by Phettberg; Nov 21st, 2021 at 11:06 AM.
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Old Aug 8th, 2021, 12:27 PM
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This is very cool. I’ll start working something up.
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Old Aug 9th, 2021, 06:37 AM
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Welcome! Looking forward to it.

You don't have to rush it though, since I expect this ad to be a slow burn, as with many offerings for non-mainstream systems.
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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 07:17 AM
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Some changes to the ad: I've added a link to my thread for character generation where the ad talks about the system, though you can also just follow this link here. There isn't really much more to read than what's in that thread (just actions for both types of combat) if you are unsure about the work involved in learning a new system.

Additionally, since I have already rolled the stats for the Clan I have summarised them above as well. That you can find at the start of the application section.

Lastly, a bit of an aspirational change I suppose, I've added a list of applicants to my second post.
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Old Aug 10th, 2021, 09:57 AM
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Takes a little huh? That’s cool. It was no rush, I was thinking about it, big picture, and this is what I came up with. I’m not attached to anything here, so it’s all open to change. But I think it can line up pretty closely to and fit in well with the setting, once some details are filled in.

Let me know if you have any feedback and thanks for the opportunity.
ClanRace:I think I'd prefer human for the dominant race of the clan, but I'm down for anything. Human provides a good touchstone for us to dive in.

Location:I have no real specific location that I saw (everything seemingly has its merits), however I think a defensible location (either hard to reach by water or in a valley or mountain top) could be pretty cool. Isolation could be played up and the paranoia of the other clans about "what are they doing over there" could lead to some interesting developments.

Goals: I think my preferred goals would be making sure our clan can't be blamed for the assassination, actually solving the mystery, making our clan strong, then eventually ruling over all of the other clans.


Character
Place in Clan: I think it would be interesting to play as someone attached to the ruling family, but out of line of succession. Like a third cousin or something. And this is the guy they use to do their dirty work. He's always close to the leader, because he knows where all the bodies are buried and which ones to bury next. Gets his hands dirty. In general, maybe one of the clans fixers/problem solvers.

How the character influences Power: I think this character is respected due to his loyalty to the clan and his vision of the future. He's had his loyalty tested time and again by having to do some ugly stuff, or very brave and foolish stuff, for the clan. And he always comes out on top or at least alive and loyal. How I see this playing out is that those he's close to, love him as a person (he's a solid guy who does what he says and has integrity to a certain point) and inspires loyalty in return so he can influence that way. Others that know of him, have heard of his deeds and that inspires fear, so he can intimidate. And somewhere on that line, is where he is, trying to do what's best for the clan.

Personal Goals: He's long since made his peace that he won't ever lead the clan (too far out of succession for the seat of power) so instead he wants to act as a tool for the clan's success. Maybe this means becoming an advisor to the emperor or some great general (he and I don't know yet) but helping to lead the family into the future would be great.

He also loves the adulation of his peers and lessers, so keeping and acquiring more of that is high on his list. And at the end of the day, he's aware that he's only a half dozen or so heart beats away from sitting in the clan leaders chair...

Last edited by Lighting Lad; Aug 10th, 2021 at 09:58 AM.
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 09:03 AM
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Excellent application, thank you! That's more or less how I imagined it to be, so might serve as inspiration for others still on the sidelines

Let me give you some of my thoughts on what you put forward:

Clan Location: There are certainly a lot of defensible positions around Heike in the sense that you are suggestion, at higher altitudes or kept save by features of the land. I would probably recommend not going too hard on the remoteness, however, as I think it would be better for gameplay to be a remote part of a more central protectorate than a remote part of an area already on the fringes. If you are the Clan at the end of the world it limits your interactions quite a bit, as you may only have one or two neighbours.

Just a random example that might illustrate this: If the Clan were sworn to Heiwara but had their holdings in the northwestern Highlands then it would be far from the Imperial road and not too easy to get to, while still being close to the border of two other protectorates, and not actually that far from the Capital. The majority of Provinces in the realm have highlands and mountainous regions like that, so you have tons of options. There are also more remote peninsulas in a variety of Protectores, for example Ora, Ichikawa, Minamita - where you could be coastal and fairly far away from things, which has defensive advantages I suppose.

If you were interested in a protectorate that is inherently further away from the capital I would probably do the opposite - place the Clan at whichever side is facing the rest of Heike, so you have more of a chance to actually engage with more Clans.. So either remote in a central location, or central in a remote location is my recommendation - if that makes sense.

Anyway, given that the Clan has a high defence score you will be able to set up a good castle (or richly ugraded hall) in either case.

Clan goal: I like what you've done here (besides thinking very big at the end). I didn't actually suggest that the Emperor was maybe assassinated, or at least I think I didn't make that explicit, but it is a possible story-feature that I have absolutely planned. He certainly died abruptly and at an inconvenient time, so people may certainly wonder...

Just to clarify though - are you ultimately aiming for the Clan's head to become Emperor or Shogun, or did you mean rule over all the Clans in your immediate area?

Character: I love this idea of a dirty man who's still very loyal. I think it's good to have him out of the direct line of succession as well, as it keeps him free to engage in slightly unsavoury conduct. And mind you, to a Samurai even what a merchant does can feel beneath them.

You said you see him as a fixer, but also as somebody intimidating - would you intend to keep this character strictly social, frightening people with leverage, or does he sort of veer into a spy territory as well (where he may at times sneak about or kill somebody in cold blood)? Just wondering how I should summarise it on the table.

Last edited by Phettberg; Aug 11th, 2021 at 09:04 AM.
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Old Aug 11th, 2021, 04:40 PM
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That's great! glad you liked it and it works with what you're thinking and looking for.

All of that stuff about location makes sense. If we want to be influential, you've got to be around people to influence.

As far as the Clan goals go, I think my guy wants his clan head to be the Shogun. That's seems about as safe and powerful as you can get without being just a figurehead. I know that's down the line somewhere, but shoot for the moon, land amongst the stars.

Great! I'm imagining a spy type of guy who gets his physical hands actually dirty. To be frank, I'm imagining something like Bron from Game of Thrones, Robert McCall from Equalizer and Sanjuro from Sanjuro rolled into one. But loyal and honorable (in our more Western view of honor and maybe not strictly in the Bushido version). I think we're on the same page though; give him a mission, he'll leave in the middle of the night and do what needs to be done. Something like that.
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Old Aug 12th, 2021, 05:18 AM
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That sounds interesting - I've never seen Equalizer in any iteration, but I know the other characters, so I'm pretty sure I get the idea.

I suppose in terms of abilities this is a Bushi character at its core, even if it involves sneaking as well. One could say a fighter with brains, as that's what Sanjuro and Bron certainly are. That'd be important for other players to know, so they have an idea of which skills this character taps into. I assume it may be a balanced spread, given that spying takes a lot of different abilities.

I'm not sure this is your preferred term for it, but I'll put the character type down as "Enforcer" for now and make clear that it's a bushi. I think Fixer sounds more like a person that knows people and almost always solves problems with words. That's not to say this character can't have connections or be a smart talker, but in mechanical terms it sounds like those types of skills won't be their highest.

Still open for applications - who wants to get their Samurai on?
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Old Aug 13th, 2021, 12:49 PM
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right-aligned image
Oni Buddhist Priest
To supplement the ad and keep it relevant I've decided to showcase some characters and scenes that one might find in this world - it might serve to bring the feeling of the setting across a bit better.

Starting with - a wandering Oni Priest. While the stereotypical image of these Ogres is that of the loincloth-wearing club-wielding brute they can be as spiritual and refined as any of their Yokai or Human contemporary, and many take up the profession of Priest in one of the philosophies - this one adhering to the Buddhist faith specifically. Besides, many Oni families have interbred with the Yokai and Mononoke to retain some of their agility or strength of character, supplementing the proverbial strength of body that the Oni possess.

I'm also going to do away with the deadline - as I will continue to look for more players even if I start a story with one or two PCs only.

Last edited by Phettberg; Aug 13th, 2021 at 12:50 PM.
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Old Aug 14th, 2021, 05:52 PM
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I think I should clarify what the lifting of the deadline means - I will still start the game around the 22nd with however many players I have at that point (even if it remains just the one), but applications will remain open indefinitely and characters can join at any time. Bumping the thread, however, will become more sporadic, as I am sure the reds would not appreciate anything else.

The big difference will be that those people joining by Sunday in a week will take part in designing the Clan. That is when we need to set all the big picture details that anybody joining later will be presented with.

I've edited this into the ad now too.

-Showcase #2: Yokai Bushi of various families taking a break and having and impromptu wrestling competition.

The Yokai are outwardly an extremely varied people given that they present as a seemingly limitless number of different animals real and imagined. Surprisingly they retain the ability to interbreed regardless of their looks, sometimes producing surprisingly shaped progeny. At times their appearance can give a hint to their temperament, though this is not particularly reliable, and the smartest of them use the expectation to twist things in their favour. But while they are known for speed, agility and capriciousness they still raise many a fierce warrior. Those of them that are so physically inclined like to test their strengths, as contests in wrestling, fistfighting and duelling are extremely popular on Heike among all people.

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Old Aug 16th, 2021, 03:24 PM
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Yeah. Enforcer is exactly what I’m thinking concept wise. Thanks!
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Old Aug 17th, 2021, 07:28 AM
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Great to hear that we're on the same page then. As I think I said above, if you feel like it you can rustle up a preliminary sheet to discuss, as that may pass the time until the soft deadline to start on Clan design comes around.

Speaking of which - I have had people contact me privately to voice some tentative interest. At least one person is interested but swamped until the sunday soft "deadline" (so may join while we're in the middle of family design), another wants to reevaluate at the end of the month, so might join when we get started with story. In the end some people may find it easier to make a character for an existing clan too. As it stands we are likely going to have more than just one player if we're patient.

However, even with that we are not yet full by any means, so anybody lurking or wondering if this game is for them, I'd be delighted if you stepped forward:

Declare interest by sunday (even without having answered the questions above) and take part in creating a mighty Clan of Samurai! Duels, Warfare, Magic and Intrigue awaits!

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left-aligned image
And to illustrate it a little more here is Showcase #3:

A human Shugenja (Shinto Sorcerer) blessing a river for a good catch this year, or blessing a newly constructed bridge. As I said the magic in this setting/system is more demanding and less flashy than it sometimes is, but the magic users are often called upon to do acts like these. They bless, they ward, they curse, and depending on how big the potency of said spells and rituals is supposed to be, the higher the price. What one has to know about this though, is that the price is not always paid by the sorcerer, and that is it not literally paid in blood. Since in mechanical terms the metacurrency is used (temporarily spent or burnt forever), what cost means is that the truly powerful magic can only be performed so many times during a given mission, or so many times during a lifetime.

A note: In our real world this print depicts an actor playing a historical figure in a play. This sort of bright facepaint is an aesthetic feature especially of Kabuki theatre and wasn't worn by non-actors - though for our world we will assume that some sorcerers paint their faces while communicating with the powers that they control. That way we can tie in the images that exist, we'll just make a sorcerer out of an actor.
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  #14  
Old Aug 17th, 2021, 03:58 PM
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Lighting Lad Lighting Lad is offline
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Thats sounds fine to me. Get in where you fit in.
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  #15  
Old Aug 18th, 2021, 04:37 PM
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The Dark Star The Dark Star is offline
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I am posting my interest and when I get some time today, I will make a proper application post!
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As always, good luck and have fun!
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