jueves, 12 de octubre de 2017

The epic Bushido campaign Pete Nash played

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Below, Pete Nash, co-author of RuneQuest 6 aka Mythras, tells his tale about the Bushido campaign he enjoyed as a player for no less than 26 years, from 1991 to 2017. In a series of messages I exchanged with him, Pete told me many details of this mega campaign. It all looked too interesting to be left in my inbox, so after receiving his permission, I decided to share them below with you. (Puedes leer todo esto en español aquí).

March 5th - 2015

The Bushido campaign started after university (I got the starting date wrong, its actually in its 25th year now), and began with a seemingly unending series of PC deaths to wolves and bakemono. This continued for several years until the steady accumulation of karma gave us a group which managed to survive. It has wound though many themes over the years, starting off as traditional D&D style adventuring whilst exploring a region haunted by 'mythical' Japanese monsters, fixing the problems of local villages, gaining 'official' clan or temple membership for services rendered, then into a political phase trying to survive internal clan power plays.

The player of the group's ninja betrayed the rest of us and so wrote himself out of the campaign, but in the process became a major NPC threat. The Yakuza retired in-game to become a professional rikishi as did the Shugenja when his player moved away from London. After many years we had three key characters remaining: a Buddhist priest who sank all his physical rewards into setting up a temple to Fudo Myoo; a Budoka who eschewed wealth to seek self mastery and start his school; and my Bushi who was given a small fiefdom to supervise.

By this time a major plot-line had emerged concerning a secret trade route in Hokkaido to China and the mysterious absence of all birds. So the campaign shifted across to China itself as a survey/spying mission, which eventually ended up as an epic journey up to Chinese Heaven. 10 days there resulted in 10 years passing in the mortal realm. Lots of overt supernatural stuff going on, plus odd intrigues in imperial heaven. 

Returning to Japan started off a higher level political game with power plays between clans and open war as things began to break down. Several years of game time passed as smaller clans made alliances or were conquered by bigger clans (lots and lots of battles). This was followed by a three way power split with each alliance trying to control the Emperor. In the meantime the characters effectively reached the pinnacles of their respected professions, and my character in particular was made war leader of the clan (with a lot of extra fiefs to look after). There were a number of personal plot lines which came back to haunt us, such as illegitimate children who grew up during the years in China or abandoned wives.

We're now mid way through the third and final phase of the campaign, as the order and stability of earth, heaven and hell have begun to break down. It started with outright civil war, the south of Japan rebelling against the rule of the emperor. Soon after the dead began to return to the world which not only upset people, but caused an imbalance of military power since they were fighting for the south. Later saving the emperor from an assassination attempt caused me to be promoted to shogun - which led to yet more battles against the rebels, but at the tens of thousands of troops level.

A many year long trip to the underworld to sort out the problems down there then led to an epic battle in Hell itself, the constables of hell versus armies of oni and the Japanese mother of monsters - god-level stuff (Loz plays one of the crass and ill-mannered constables as a Toshiro Mifune archetype). This was followed by battling kaiju on the slopes of Mt Fuji and this week just passed, a trip to the moon by riding a rabbit kami to discover why nobody is now being reborn (lots of 9 month pregnant women have been building up over the last half game year). This last multi-day session actually involved almost no combat whatsoever; just an intricate knowledge of Japanese customs, protocol when pacifying kami and lots of investigative work to figure out what was going on.

Art bu Artozi from Devianart

In summation, during the multiple decades we've played the campaign, its pretty much covered every aspect of the samurai genre from lone adventuring to now administrating hundred-thousand sized armies. Game play oscillates back and froth from blood and guts combat, to sweat-breaking tightrope walks of verbal fencing within the limits of rank and protocol. We've won, lost, gained vengeance, suffered frustration and still the great conclusion has yet to be faced.

As for rules for troops and fiefs, I think at first our GM played them by the book (I have still never read Bushido book II, and will not until the campaign ends). However, over the years we both immersed ourselves very deeply in Japanese history and purchased several hundred books on a variety of Heian/Sengoku subjects. So after a while we just played things like troop numbers and recovery times by ear, with either of us correcting the other if it felt wrong. Ultimately, perfect accuracy fell by the wayside, and by midway through the campaign we had long left behind the resource management aspects of game play, being so senior that there were lower level functionaries to handle those sort of issues for us.

Pendragon is of course an excellent system for domain management and I wholeheartedly endorse it for a military style of game. Bear in mind that much of Japan is very mountainous so depending on the terrain you can't match the population numbers or crop growth of pastoral Britain. In addition, the reality of war is that you can lose an entire generation of men in a single battle or campaigning season, but it will take a decade or more to replace that loss of manpower. Conscripting a lot of ashigaru from your peasant population can prove disastrous, even if you technically win.

So if you run a long term game based on lots of battles; make sure you embrace the concept of troop attrition, because if the PCs don't end the war quickly or fight very frugally with their troops, the clan will effectively destroy itself - not having enough men to defend itself in the next battle or simply starving to death when fewer crops are planted.

September 4th - 2017

As for the Bushido campaign, it ended in an apocalyptic fashion, since the campaign reached epic levels of myth in play. For the last decade or so the main characters had ventured to both celestial heaven and hell, as well as butting heads against the top bureaucratic ranks of the Imperial Court.

Very, very, long story short, due to the foolish actions of our novice characters at the start of the campaign, we triggered the Big Bad Evil Guy (a dai-oni king who ruled the monsters of Japan in his own small prefecture) to start a war between local clans, using politics and the magical abilities of his underlings. This eventually lead (over several decades in the background of the campaign) to a civil war that split Japan into two factions.

During this time the campaign was still grounded in mundane life: bandits, social progression, adventuring, treachery, military expeditions and eventually politics when our respective statuses grew high enough. Typical Kurosawa movie stuff with the odd monster here and there.

As a result of the war, the good guys ended up trapped in the less fertile northern third of the country, along with the Emperor who fled the capture of Kyoto and assassination of his father. The BBEG controlled the more fertile southern two thirds. Mythic influences grow however. Supernatural shenanigans proceed to draw the hidden world into the conflict, mostly as a response to our Buddhist priest summoning bodhisattva willy-nilly, crushing the Machiavellian plans of the oni.

Famine struck the north, due to the emperor not being able to hold the rice ceremony. The Celestial Emperor who already has issues with our PCs due to a certain impromptu party we arranged in heaven (causing a two year drought - one day passing in heaven being 1 year on earth), begins believing the propaganda of the BBEG.

Things come to a head when the dead no longer go to hell but remain wandering about as ghosts. We head off to the underworld to discover Emma-o dismembered, and cast into his own pits of purgatory. These we recover and rejoin, bringing the direct support of hell and the Myo-o onto our side. To win it back we fight battles using countless millions of dead souls, demons and the like fighting against the traitorous oni led by Izanami-no-Mikoto, who it is revealed is the mother of the BBEG.

On our return I am made shogun, ordered to oversee the defence of Japan. Our immense battles in hell now become struggles against kaiju at the foot of Mt Fuji (which we unwittingly created after a time travelling escapade with 医者 and a deadly artefact we buried in the flat Honshu plains). The south now fields huge armies of bakemono. We recruit the Tengu, but things look doomed unless we can beat the BBEG in personal combat.

The last sessions involved surviving an eternal winter which strikes the north, open hostilities between the Celestial Emperor and Emma-o, and awakening the kami of the mountains to guard our last refuges. Facing outright defeat, we venture on a suicidal quest for Ruyi Jingu Bang.

With the armies of heaven and hell manifest, we launch a do or die military expedition of the last remaining samurai against the drawn up armies of ghosts and bakemono. This is merely a diversion however, as the real attack is led by the level 6 PC's armed with the sword fated to kill the BBEG and the staff of the monkey king, which is needed to bring down the invulnerable castle in which the dai-oni resides.

Rivers flood disgorging river spirits which eat bakemono. Cracks open in the ground swallowing samurai. Volcanoes erupt and storms lash the world. Epic destruction ensues.

Several hundred thousand deaths later, the final one-on-one fight occurs between the player characters and the demon, which thanks to an awesomely lucky critical at just the right time, we barely win. The Celestial Emperor retreats to heaven angered by his loss of face. The Myo-o drag the soul of the BBEG to hell for punishment. The Buddhist priest is sent to India on a quest by Fudo-myo to keep him out of trouble, the budoka is 'rewarded' (read punished) by being married to a minor Imperial princess, one dead samurai is elevated to a minor kami, the demon loaned to us by Emma-o returns to hell promoted to supervisor, and I step down from being Shogun and retire to an isolated tower which contains a library.

It was a satisfying conclusion, yet one which was starkly different to the simple 'ronin vs. wolves' begining of the campaign!

September 6th - 2017

If you really want to know a bit more about the early days of the campaign go here: http://www.tenwa.com/. It's a very old and incomplete web page which will probably never be finished, written from the in-game notes of the Buddhist priest (many of which have been lost). I don't think it extends much beyond the first decade of play. Now that I've taken a look myself, it seems I mis-remembered the starting date which was 1991 according to Tim, making it a 26 year long campaign. I could have sworn we started in 1989. My memory is obviously fading with age. If you read too closely you will note that whilst the campaign grew in seriousness, we started off with a rather inappropriate degree of humour... due to the rapid turnover of player characters, mostly killed by wolves and bakemono. (We still fear wolves in any game now, because of the horrific experiences we had against them in Bushido!).

My character was Krappi Karma (named for my famed bad luck when rolling dice). It's difficult to pick out a 'best' part since we did so many things over the course of the campaign. Surviving to level 3 was pretty epic, as was finally killing the damn ninja (an ex-PC) who betrayed the party and had assassinated countless friends and allies. I also fondly remember the moment when I fumbled extraordinarily badly and broke the fabled Sword of Tenwa (+3 katana), the blade fated to kill the dai-oni BBEG... horrified I thought I'd destroyed the entire campaign!

Two mind-blowing memories stand out in particular. The first was when the GM pulled the time-travel trick on us, sending us back to the past with The Doctor (no, despite being British we didn't recognise it was that Doctor), then realising that everything, literally everything that had gone wrong between humans and the monsters, the repressions of certain kami, was all our fault - a closed circle of causality.

The other was with my secondary character a shugenja who figured out the secret of daigenja magic (the major mystery of the campaign) which was key to solving how to beat the BBEG. After years of beating our heads against the proverbial wall, training ourselves to use petty daigenja magical items, I had a moment of personal enlightenment and suddenly understood how it all worked - at which point the GM swore me to secrecy and my poor shugenja underwent instant apotheosis, turning into a deified NPC!

In retrospect, whilst the entire 26 year run was fantastic fun, I actually enjoyed the early days the best. Being low level and very vulnerable, yet without serious rank-related responsibilities so that I could pop off on an adventure at will. Being unable to fight without hatamoto leaping in harms way to protect me, grew to be very frustrating. ;)

*   *   *

So this is the Bushido campaign Pete Nash played with his friends. I've enjoyed immensely reading about this epic campaign and peeping at the kind of campaigns those who create roleplaying games and supplements play. More importantly though, I've liked seeing how in such an epic campaign the players used funny names as in every other gaming group of friends. Also, the fact that a pseudo-historical roleplaying game like this encouraged both GM and players to read lots of books about Japanese history. I think generating interest in many other non-gamey fields has always been one of the biggest virtues of roleplaying games, don't you think? Finally, after the evolution of the campaign from low level adventures to leading armies of thousands of soldiers, I've found interesting that Pete came to miss the early days. I guess something similar could have been said by Oda Nobunaga himself!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this read as much as I did and I'd like to thank Pete for his kindness in telling all these details and for giving his permission to share this tale in the Runeblog.

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