In an effort to increase the fiction and role-play opportunities for our game, I am creating a Sideline Play wherein players will be given the opportunity to shine outside the bounds of the regular session. Basically, I’m writing some little tidbits of story that were either glossed over or didn’t get a lot of play, but could be interesting if developed. I will probably do this every couple of sessions, giving each player a chance to flesh out some more story, to carve out a little more of the story.
The focus for these is on story, not mechanics. Dice rolls will only be necessary in the most extreme cases. You, as the player, will take the written prompt and run with it however you want – within reason, but feel free to stretch the bounds of reason. If necessary or if it feels like it would enhance game play, we will bring these stories into the session as well.
Each story will have a quickly written prompt and a few suggested paths. Feel free to ignore them or run with them as you wish.
I will print these and given them out at the game, as well. You can work on them while others are setting up their parts of the story. Please do feel free to have something figured out before the game.
Sidelines, Attempt One:
These take place in the first day(s) of the Topaz Championship. Most occur during the first Tournament Day or during the night before at the Game of Gifts Presentation (wherein the players are assigned Investigation Teams and awarded their gifts).
The young Bayushi twin listens to the announcements of the next contestants as she finishes her chance at the Heraldry Competition. She notes that all eyes are on the newest pair of contestants and does a quick calculation. She knows that her brother will note her disappearance, but few others will care. Kiwadoi ducks out surreptitiously after her round.
Kiwadoi is concerned about the absence of the Imperial Contestant from both of the first events. Atari Uchigon has a reputation for debauchery, but even an Imperial cannot offer such slight and expect no repercussion. The Bayushi feels a kinship with the Atari because of their shared bloodlines. She moves quickly, venturing to the likeliest of locations for the Atari – the Inn of the Last Light.
The proprietor states that other Imperial Guards have been through, but found nothing. No sign of the young courtier, no sign of anything suspicious…but then, Kiwadoi catches his nervous glance. He looks nervous and she sees it: a crack in the wall where the paper should meet. A hidden door, a hidden room, left open, most likely after the last Imperial inspection! Kiwadoi slaps open the panel and takes in the hidden room. Just inside are five empty bottles scattered about the floor and the unconscious for of Atari Uchigon…
- What does Bayushi Kiwadoi do?
- How did Uchigon get in this state?
- How does she proceed with her findings and how will it affect the tournament?
- Kiwadoi has less than one hour before the next event – an event she does not even know the nature of as yet; how will she proceed?
The battle-map was exquisite. As art, it held a unique style of painting: short, abrupt strokes all reaching upwards towards Heaven with heavy bases in Earth. A fiery passion had created those sharp lines and the result was a tactical map of an unknown region, most likely a non-existent region, of Matsu territory that was accurate down to the most infinitesimal Way Station. That it was created by the Matsu Daimyo, now also the Turquoise Champion was no less impressive.
Hiruma Renzo studied the map carefully, committing its lines to memory, judging how he could improve the design if such was possible. Around the Display Room in the center of the Kakita Dojo, were varied works of prominence and historical value. Eiko-To, the massive personal katana of the Second Lion Thunder, Matsu Tadaka, sat front and center, aggressive in its display. The blade looked too heavy to use. It would be a gift to the Emperor, received by the Empress herself upon the last day of the Tournament. Nearby, twin jade daggers, gifts from Kuni O-Yama, the Kuni daimyo, to Isawa Mitsuko and the Phoenix, specifically, the office of the Jade Champion. An insult? Perhaps, but the small daggers were no less beautiful. The Topaz Armor, of course. Clear and clean and functional, it sat in the back of the room, overshadowed by other work.
“Toturi’s Daisho. Now, there is a work you should consider, Hiruma-san.” Renzo turned to see a non-descript woman in plain brown kimono looking into the room. Her features were pretty enough, but stern with a hint of reproach. Renzo considered for a moment before responding. The woman glanced his way, just briefly, and then to the Map, and he realized…
“Matsu Kenji-sama…” Kenji smiled and nodded, the only confirmation, and continued. “You should examine those blades closest of all, Renzo-san. Toturi was a good man, and a great general, and I, for one, would be most interested to see such craftsmanship. I know from history that Toturi’s personal daisho had hilts worked in the image of wolf heads. To see such artistry…”
Renzo listened. He turned to look at the daisho, and then back to Kenji, whose gaze had moved on. Could she have been mistaken? Perhaps she had misspoken? Surely Matsu Kenji would not have made such an easy mistake. Toturi’s wakizashi, at least, did not have a wolf head hilt, but that of a lion…
- How does Renzo continue the conversation? Does he bring up what he has noticed to the Turquoise Champion?
- Does he continue speaking to her in the calm, cavalier tone she has broached to him? Does he discuss her map further?
- If there is no mistake…what has happened to the real Toturi’s Daisho and does Kohatsu know?
Shiba Tsukimi stood in the pre-dawn light of the first day of the Topaz Championship amid the scent of fresh grass, morning dew, and just a hint of honeysuckle on the wind. She wore only a basic kimono, for proprieties sake. The Phoenix pavilion was large, dominated by the dozens of Asako Inquisitors, servants, and bureaucrats that the Elemental Master of Air and Jade Champion, Isawa Mitsuko, brought with her. Tsukimi would have been overwhelmed by it all were it not for the Void.
She stood silently, unmoving, as she had for the better part of an hour. This was an act she performed every morning, every day, since leaving her dojo for this Crane city. She was focusing, finding her Center, preparing herself for the final confrontation.
“Tsukimi-san. I do not mean to interrupt…” Tsukimi turned to see the bare-chested form of Asako Fujiko, her fellow Phoenix contestant. He was hesitant, as if not wishing to shatter her meditation. He did not understand that the Void flowed through all things – even this distraction.
“I wished to discuss a proposition, Tsukimi-san. Or…more to the point, a request. I have been sent here by my daimyo to compete and I wish to fulfill my duties as well as I can. However, I find that for the final day, for the Iaijutsu Match, I will be sorely under-skilled. I was wondering if you would be willing to…assist.”
Tsukimi smiled inwardly. The Henshin were known for their skill at entertaining the little kami of the elements without imploring them as shugenja often did. That this Asako, this Henshin, understood his weakness did not surprise her. However, that he reached out to a fellow opponent, a fellow contestant, did.
“You would learn the art of the Center, of the Void, from a person likely to face you in the Final Challenge? I would know your weakness; your strength; your skill…”
- How will Asako Fujiko proceed? Will Tsukimi be willing to take the time over the next few days to teach Fujiko the basics of Iaijutsu, possibly granting him the ability to understand the skill better?
- What will Tsukimi require for her tutelage?
- When will the two train, how, and will it affect the rest of the Tournament for them?
- [Note: If you work this out as Fujiko practicing, he must spend considerable time doing so, possibly to the detriment of other aspects of the Tournament. And you will only be able to buy Iaijutsu at a 1 as a tradeoff.]
The dinner had been marvelous. One of the true delights of being in the land of Artisans must be the care with which everything was prepared. The castle was art incarnate from sliding shoji screen to hardwood, nightingale floor. The aroma of scented candles mixed perfectly with the remnant smell of spectacular cooking and the young Omoidasu knew it was all a trap. A lure. The Crane drug you in with pleasure, with desire that you did not know you possessed, and they gave you a taste for the fineries of life.
Then, when you could no longer have them, they offered to continue for a price. Oh, but Jun knew the temptation present here and he almost did not care. It was that good. He walked into a side room, what he mistook for an alcove, while reminiscing and pondering the Tournament to come. Jun found himself standing amid a dozen guards, a hundred blades, and a lone Crane historian.
“My Lion friend, it appears that you may be lost.” Jun frowned, but then gazed over the room once more. Kakita Blades. Everywhere. Surely this must be a repository/viewing room for the finer blades on display. And this man…this man would be their caretaker.
“I apologize, of course, but I wandered in by mistake…” Breaching the conversation was easy. Molding it amid the trained guards was more difficult, but eventually Ikoma Jun could ask the right questions. He leanred that each blade had a record, easily researched by those with the reason and right to do the searching. After a time pondering the beauty of the steel, Jun made his way to leave. The conversation was enlightening, but he wished to get back to rest before the Tournament tomorrow.
Jun stopped as the door closed behind him. There…just ahead he heard whispering between three individuals. No, not whispering, just calm words spoken in somewhat hushed tones. People discussing…him? Ikoma Jun overheard Doji O and Utaku Lao-Kira speaking to a third party that he quickly understood to be O’s brother, the second child of the Crane Champion: Doji Zhejiang. Zhejiang had been fostered to the Khan at an early age in order to foster goodwill between the Crane and the Unicorn, perhaps against the Lion.
There. Again, his name in unfavorable light by the Utaku. The Unicorn was plotting against him! But…no, her comment was merely passing. However, O-san took it, ran with it, and soon her brother offered…what? To help defame the Ikoma, perhaps even during the tournament!
“No, my lord, that is not what I meant at all…you cannot!” The Utaku defended him. But…why? Later, as he walked from the halls of the Kakita Dojo, Ikoma Jun could not help but catch the glance of Utaku Lao-Kira watching him from across the room.
- How will Jun respond to this unusual information? Given his dislike of the Unicorn, will he attempt to plot against the Crane believing them to be working with the Unicorn against him?
- Will Jun follow up on the knowledge gained of the Kakita Blades?
The young Crane wandered the halls of the Kakita Dojo with no seeming goal in mind. She knew the building like the back of her hand and was attempting to find some brief respite from the constant display of affable young student. Yoritomo Zenwadi, in particular, continued to hound her in his blunt, heavy-handed way and she knew that soon he would behave inappropriately forcing a response.
She knew she was ready for the greater court, but her sensei insisted on her participation in the Topaz. Showcase your skill before the assembled Clans, Seiyami. Prove yourself.
If they only knew.
Seiyami rounded a corner in a hallway towards the lesser-used rooms and stopped. No one should be down here at this time. The Game of Gifts dinner was winding down and everyone should either be there, on their way to their own pavilion, or elsewhere in the town. Yet, there stood a lone guard halfway down the hall where he should not be. He didn’t react to her presence – she would have been surprised if he had, considering his age. But she could tell by his mere presence that something was…off.
There, at the end of the hall, a single door slid open and a man dressed in a vivid green kimono interwoven with triangles of gold stepped out. He wore no mask, his hair down, and had the air of a man well-sated. His intense eyes locked onto hers from afar and Doji Seiyami knew that she recognized this man, even without his customary accoutrements: Shosuro Jimen ,the First Magistrate and second-in-command to the Emerald Champion.
The man smiled, a wicked thing from someone who rarely showed that portion of his face. He left the door slid partially open and turned, walking away.
Seiyami considered for a moment the invitation to knowledge…and realized that she knew who the room belonged to: Doji Mikohime, or Doji O, the 3rd child of the Crane Champion. The girl had requested it specifically days before. But…could it be her inside?
- Will she pass by the door to see who is inside?
- Will she wait in the hallway to do the same, perhaps being seen herself?
- Who is in the room? Maybe one of the contestants, a Doji Courtier, some other guest using the room with Jimen in this secret way?
- Will Seiyami attempt to ninja about or confront Shosuro Jimen about his indiscretion?
The outer garden of the Kakita Dojo was resplendent in the white light of the Obsidian Moon. Night flowers intertwined with hedgerows to complete the fantastical array of flora, ever a reminder of Crane resplendence.
Bayushi Konitsu stared down as he had been for the past few seconds. The rustle of leaves nearly masked the sound of crunching gravel and shifting silk. A man left the Scorpion’s presence, but left behind thought and action, ideas aplenty, enough so that he may as well stand there still.
Bayushi Konitsu stared down, considering hard. He had walked up on a smallish man, frail looking from the outside, but then that measuring look told Konitsu instantly that he was wrong. Calculation flowed from the Yasuki Daimyo like the smell of honeysuckle into his nostrils.
Bayushi Konitsu stared down hard at the twin helms, each alike in nearly every manner, the differences so minute he could not have said to notice them without the clue.
“The beauty in both is obvious, friend Scorpion. The beauty in the craftsmanship, in the glinting steel, in the starlight streaming off the Crane blues and whites and silvers. No one would ever notice the tiniest of scratches unless it was pointed out. One, that one,” the Yasuki Daimyo gestured with a wrist clinking in koku strands, “is true and the other is not. It would be a shame indeed if the false helm were all that remained. I would be remiss if I did not state a desire to see the true one in my own personal quarters, if just for a time.”
The Yasuki sought to own him through this gesture. Offer the favor, expect that the Scorpion would leap at the chance for reward from such an influential man. But, the favor required dangerous action with no known result. The favor could end in death for all parties involved.
Why was the helm out here in the first place? Why did the Yasuki want it? Why had he chosen Konitsu to be his patsy? Certainly it could not be mere luck…
- Will Konitsu swipe the True Helm of the Steel Champion, on display in the Fantastic Gardens of the Kakita Dojo and deliver it to the Yasuki Daimyo?
- Will he make demands of the Yasuki in return?
- Will he turn down such an influential Courtier knowing the result could be dangerous? Will he attempt to turn the man in with nothing but his own testimony to go on?