(Statue of Gyoja; Danny Pak, "Secret Entrance.")
Our Thursday session of my Oubliette campaign was a lot of fun; I think I'm getting back on track, at least with running games. Let's hope I can capture the rest of that momentum in my life! So game. I won't go into too much exquisite detail, but it was a lot of fun. After concluding a sprawling wedding story arc that took on a life of its own-- which is me bragging, since character driven storylines are my jam-- I asked my players what they wanted to do next & they said "another big fancy wedding!" so here we are. Luke's character Haru o-Kitsune is betrothed to Iroha o-Lung, & he's off to a shrine of her family's cult god, the Monkey King to get the sect's blessing. Last session was more of a brainstorming & socializing evening, with the 7,kl7 putting their affairs in order. Luke tried to stir up enthusiasm amongst the peasantry, Lilly's character Amina o-Kitsune left her new husband at the Skull Forts to take care of business & Keku no-Kin, Nicole's character, can't say no to a good time. Or to ambition! Hobnobbing with the Shogun's family & all that.
After running D&D 5e, I found myself really missing the "dungeon" sort of environment. Sure, I had the Pyramid of the Royal Physician & I started the whole thing off with Naga haunted ruins at summer camp, but mostly I plan things out as a checklist of vignettes ordered either by trigger or stationary event-- that is, [X] is what is going on in the basement, whenever the PCs go there, but [Y] happens if the PC's get spotted anywhere in the mansion & [Z] if they confront their target, here's what happens. It works well for my character driven sessions...but lately the old school location based system has appealed to me. & to my players, as well, since they tried their best to make the Gates of Yomi a dungeon crawl. Anyhow, my point is that I took this opportunity to make the shrine along a "dungeon" mentality. I drew it as a map, to start with: oh, & Jenny got me a book for maps on Valentine's Day! How about that?
They stay with Haru's vassal-- Mifune, formerly one of Goro's lieutenants-- & the group starts by brainstorming the gift they've brought to the shrine. Haru brings a black cherry blossom tree that he's bonsai spliced together, another nod to his Kumo parentage; Amina brings shochu but her real present is the obsidian bottle she's had crafted for it. Keku's fallen on hard times & she can't get the credit--kane is the Zaibatsu backed credit system-- for her gift. Haru notices & his majordomo Gong buys an expensive bottle of sake & leaves it in Keku's room, nothing further said. Could this mark the mending of the rift between the the notoriously wary Keku & the somewhat scheming Haru? That & the secret pact of the Blue Koi Society.
(Statues of Gyoja & Shojo; photo by me.)
The Lung lands are volcanically more-or-less active, which is to say that the extinct caldera that the shrine to the Monkey King is in is one of the older ones, as periodically a long-dead volcano will burb out enough ash or lava to have destroyed most other similar Kamido temples. Outside there are two large statues in a defunct style; each is about two stories high, & marks a path. One is of Shojo, the drunken monkey, the trickster hero, & the other is of Gyoja, the seeker of enlightenment, the zen master. Both are aspects of the same god. There is a fire a little ways away, but after the serfs-- mixed from the border crossing-- deliver the PCs to the two entrances, they leave, & they players go on in.
In the shrine, they meet Monk Zhu, wearing a simple orange gi & a necklace of shrunken heads. "Oh, these aren't mind, they are Monk Sha's, he loaned them to me when I loaned him my rake," he says to them, & then proceeds to insult & belittle them. Because, right, obviously it is a test of composure, & when Amina fails & goes to threaten him with her wakizashi, he trips, stumbles into her, & knocks them both into the dirt. He comes up easy but she's ass over teakettle. Three things come out of the ensuing dialogue as dawning realizations. One, that this guy is Iroha o-Lung's brother, two, his sister fancies the lasses & three, that he's totally a Drunken Master. He's at a feast table, stuffing himself with food & drink-- we drink too!-- & he lays out a riddle for the party:
A curiosity hangs by the thigh of a man, under its master's cloak. It is pierced through in the front; it is stiff & hard & it has a good standing-place. When the man pulls up his own robe above his knee, he means to poke with the head of his hanging thing that familiar hole of matching length which he has often filled before.
The players fool around for a bit, but before too long Amina figures it out; a Key! Haru insists it must be a Penis. Yes, that's...that's the joke. Thanks, Exeter Book. When they walk into the next area, the orchard of peach trees where monkeys swarm in massive numbers...well, rather than trigger a combat with swarms of primates, their successes with Monk Zhu & solving the riddle of Shojo make a monkey just toss a single peach down to Amina. Inside, instead of a pit, is a black iron key. Okay then! On down along the path. There, at the feet of three massive pillars cris-crossed by graffiti & linked by a web of chains, is an enormous woman. Not the alien proportions of Goldur bint Agrat, Goro's Gaki mentor, but human gigantic, like Brienne of Tarth, wielding a massive iron club, a Kanabo. It is Kaori o-Foo, or so she announces herself...as well as her intention to duel Haru o-Kitsune. Amina o-Kitsune accepts the duel on his behalf-- her honor as his bushi kinsman, as he's a kuge courtier-- as Haru hides himself, drawing back his bow from behind Kaori, ready to strike her down if the duel goes against Amina...
(Kaori o-Foo; Miguel Coimbra, "Hida Kaoru.")