Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams by EverettLO
PostOriginal SA post Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams
The Night of a Thousand screams was an adventure module for L5R first edition. A number of people have mentioned it on here, and anecdotally it seems to have been one of the more popular adventures written for first edition. It was intended to be used in conjunction with the very popular and very well written City of Lies box set created by thread favorite Greg Stoltze. The adventure is set in the city of Ryoko Owari which is analogous to a Rokugani Las Vegas or Macau, although with a larger footprint and political importance to Rokugan. Unfortunately, the adventure doesn’t quite live up to its source material and has a poor understanding of 1e L5R rules combined with a lot of railroading. The intro to the adventure claims that it’s made to answer the question “What can I do to add more combat to my game without killing off all the player characters?” In this it fails because without careful control by the GM those characters are all going to die hard. All editions of L5R are notably deadly for PCs in combat, but first edition is worse than most since the writers invariably fail to understand the brutal potential of their combat encounters.
The adventure begins with a set piece at a nice sake house called the Inn of the Orange Blossom. As with many first edition adventures the writers generally assume your characters are magistrates or other authority figures, and so the characters arrive at the inn just after their shift ends at 5:30 PM. The entire adventure runs of a very tight time frame and is completed in a single (in game) night.
Your characters arrive at the Inn of the Orange Blossom and, as is traditional, they have to check their weapons and armor at the door. Since they’re probably the cops, they get taken to a special room for extra special service. The inn is filled with ronin and one table of important looking Crane Clan samurai. A fairly simple courtier skill roll tells the PCs that they’re merchants in service to a local Crane daimyo.
Now comes the fun part that most people remember from this adventure. The players roll initiative despite nothing much happening. Suddenly an oni smashes in through the front wall of the inn and begins to massacre patrons. Now one thing you should know: oni are the boss monsters of L5R. Even high level PCs have a better than even chance of dying to oni and odds are characters playing this adventure are not high level. Oni typically have very good attack rolls, one hit kill damage rolls, and are often invulnerable without being attacked by special weapons.
The Oni no Chizaro here is no exception. It has 8k3 to hit and 5k3 damage for three attacks that all have a fair chance of putting taint into your characters. If you don’t know anything about the L5R setting, any amount of taint is basically giving your character something like evil leprosy: it can’t be cured, it gets worse over time and if anyone finds out you have it you’re basically barred from Rokugani society. It’s a slow death sentence that ends with your character a mindless zombie or evil undead. The Oni requires a TN of 30 to hit and normal weapons do 25% damage to it. All this adds up to an enemy that would TPK a party in full armor with weapons drawn, but your characters specifically don’t have weapons or armor on. To make matters worse the Oni drops off minor spawn that look like it but are much smaller and weaker. Their stats make them much more manageable (although at TN 25 to hit, still a challenge to hurt) but they still potentially deliver taint on a hit.
Now I should mention that the specific intent is that your characters are not intended to fight the Oni at this point. The Oni is there to attack the Crane table and doesn’t care one bit about your characters. I don’t think the writers spent too much time considering how players think, though. In my own experience the players went right for their weapons and dove right into suicidal combat that they could never, ever win. I may be in the minority, but I think most players see a monster attacking innocent people and think that’s the adventure. I had to stop the players and fully explain the hopelessness of the situation just to prevent them from killing themselves.
The best case scenario is that the characters manage to save the life of a single one of the Crane merchants. Likely the only way to ensure this is to put their own characters in the way. In five rounds the local SWAT team, the Thunder Guard, arrives and the Oni retreats. It covers its retreat by dropping a few minor oni for the players and guards to deal with. If one of the Crane merchants survive then the players can find out that he has no idea why the Oni attacked him.
The PCs are left in the devastated Inn while the innkeeper mourns his now dead daughter and worries that people will think his Inn has been tainted and stop coming. The PCs answer questions for the Thunder Guard and generally fail to try to track the Oni.
While they’re waiting around, the local Crane Clan magistrate, Doji Oruku, arrives and introduces himself to the players. He’s basically a GMPC set in the adventure to provide clues and prodding if the PCs lose their way. He directs the local underclass (I’ll avoid using the term ‘eta’ that the adventure drops all over the place) people to begin removing bodies since touching dead bodies is horrendously taboo in Rokugan. With that task complete, he sits the players down to tea and questions them about what they witnessed.
Shortly after the tea arrives, an underclass boy comes running in from the poor part of town to tell the PCs that bandits have begun to attack the crematorium where the bodies were delivered. They appear to be trying to steal corpses and have driven off the weaponless underclass people. The PCs and their new Crane friend go charging off to confront the bandits and find around 15 to 20 of them rooting through bodies.
Normally combat against 15 to 20 enemies would be another long suicide, but in this case the bandits immediately flee at the sight of the law. A few are left to provide an easy combat encounter that includes the bandits using bodies as shields and throwing chunks of dead flesh in order to use the PCs taboos against them. Victory is almost inevitable and the PCs will soon notice that the bandits were rifling through the clothes of the Crane clan samurai corpses. If they were smart enough to keep some of the bandits alive, they might coerce one into admitting that someone called ‘Silence’ hired them to attack the crematorium. They were directed to steal anything left on the bodies of the Crane samurai and were set to meet back up with Silence later. One bandit has a bag with 10 koku (a very large sum of money) with a Crab clan mon on it.
At least six bandits got away and Oruku guides the PCs into chasing them down. He goes after one and tells the PCs that he will meet back up with them at the Inn in an hour. The chase itself begins the next part of the adventure and will be covered next time.
PostOriginal SA post Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams Part 2
Something I forgot to note last update, but that plays an important part of this adventure: it takes place on the night of the Bon Festival. The Bon Festival is an important holiday for giving honor and remembrance to the dead. It’s celebrated by going out at night dressed in masks and costumes and reveling with drink and fireworks. I’m picturing a sort of Japanese flavored Day of the Dead celebration with Noh masks in place of skull masks.
We begin the part of the writeup with the chase. Don’t get too excited – it’s actually going to be one of the more boring updates. Your PCs chase a number of bandits as they scatter in different directions, one PC per bandit. The stated design goal is to allow each PC a moment to shine and let them get to tell the story to the other PCs when they regroup (presumably emphasizing how awesome they are in the process). In theory it’s a neat roleplaying experience, but in practice putting everything on hold while you run five mini-sessions for one player at a time will probably bore people.
The first bandit runs through the underclass village and takes a young boy hostage. Your PC has a couple of different ways to handle this before the bandit decides to stop threatening the child and attack the PC. It barely matters, though, because this bandit doesn’t know anything.
The second bandit runs into an underclass geisha house, because of course he does. As he flees he pushes a woman down the stairs behind him. If the player takes time to make sure she’s okay, then the bandit likely gets away. If they coldly charge on by then they corner the bandit and kill him. This bandit has a trade manifest from a Scorpion merchant with nothing but fairly prosaic items such as wicker baskets and masks for an upcoming festival.
The third bandit is a hell of a runner and you have to take some stamina rolls just to keep up with him. He runs through the heart of the village and knocks everything in the way of your PC to slow them down. If the PC manages to catch this bandit and keep him alive, then he will spill his gets for the promise to be set free. If so, he tells that they were paid to steal the Crane’s swords because apparently one of them was magical.
The fourth bandit runs and hides in the fishery. He tries to ambush the pursuing PC but will almost certainly just get himself killed in the process. He has no clues.
The last bandit conveniently runs back toward the Inn of the Orange Blossom. When the PC catches him he turns around, whips out a katana and begins making threats with an insane gleam in his eye. He mentions that even with his death, this night will end with the city drowned in a thousand screams. When the PC takes him down they’ll probably notice that his clothes are much nicer than the other bandits and that he has another pouch with five koku and a Crab clan mon.
The players, and their NPC minder Oruko, regroup at the Inn and tell their story. Oruko killed his bandit and has nothing much to add to the players’ stories. If the player relays the information about the potentially magical sword then Oruko can explain that one of the murdered Crane samurai was a famed Daidoji warrior who spent time on the Crab border and claimed his sword was found near the Shadowlands. Which is, uhhhhh, a terrible story for a samurai to spread around but whatever. Oruko also explains that the bandits’ mission was folly since the dead Crane’s weapons would be in the hands of the Crane consulate.
Oruko leads the PCs to the manor of Doji Tsumetsu’s, the local Crane Clan daimyo, to see about this sword. It’s not very clear why the PCs would be going without finding the clue about the sword but I assume a clever GM could manufacture a reason for Oruko to lead them there.
It’s a beautiful mansion with an immaculately manicured garden, as befits a Crane lord. As the PCs approach they notice that they’re all getting tired. When they get to the door Oruko calls out a greeting but nobody answers. As they enter they find the guards on the floor unconscious. Every round they’re in the mansion they need to pass a TN 25 Willpower roll to avoid falling asleep. This seems like the authors not understanding the system since that puts an average PC to sleep between 85% and 95% of the time each round, but in this instance they just want you to fall asleep. It’s more railroading and slightly more inconvenient than straight up telling your PCs that they fell asleep. Assuming by dumb luck a PC manages to stay awake for another turn or two, they’ll see a mostly naked man covered in tattoos running upstairs.
The PCs wake up a short while later and notice a handful of the mini-oni ransacking the upstairs of the house. They’re tearing everything apart and clearly looking for…something. The PCs may get a chance to save a room full of civilians from the mini-oni before running into the main Oni no Chizaro down the hall in the master bedroom. It’s tearing into a chest full of porcelain masks when a minor oni rushes in carrying a wakizashi from a fallen guard. The main oni licks the sword, roars angrily and breaks it in two. Rather than fighting the PCs it leaps away and leaves a handful of minor oni to stall the party. At face value it’s a fair fight, but with the likelihood of getting the taint through damage rolls, it’s actually a brutal fight that could potentially kill off a PC or two in the long run.
The main oni gets away in great leaps a la the Hulk. If the PCs look out the window to track it, they notice a man in the garden also watching the oni bound away. It looks like the tattooed guy a PC had a very, very slim chance of noticing! Even if they try to catch him he gets away because now the authors remember that they don’t need to roll for it if they want something to happen.
The residents of the Crane manor wake up and take their bearings. The Crane daimyo is particularly grateful to the PCs for risking their lives to protect the unconscious Crane samurai and civilians and gives the players a handful of minor one-shot magical items. Their haul includes a key that can magically open one locked door, a fan that temporarily makes the user a master of social graces, a fruit that cures poison, and sun figurine made of jade that can create a globe of sunlight. The daimyo tells you that the figuring can restore a lost soul to Amaterasu’s grace. That’s…suspiciously specific.
While the Crane begin to rebuild and tend to the injured, the father of the daimyo’s hatamoto (basically the daimyo’s consigliere) takes you aside and presses one of the PCs to play a game of Go with him. Presumably they’re too polite to refuse. While the old man plays with one of the players, the hatamoto explains why he wasn’t around to protect his lord: he was out investigating an attack on a Unicorn Clan warehouse that was assaulted by bandits and cost a Unicorn merchant a whole lot of party favors. Masks for the Bon Festival are part of that loss and by now the players should realize that masks are part of what the shadowy demon conspiracy are searching for.
The player playing Go with the old man can succeed at a reasonable Courtier skill roll or an unreasonably high Awareness roll to figure out the old man sees the mysterious tattooed man as a friend. The old man also shows the players that he found a broken hourglass outside the house that was likely part of a one-shot magical item to put the house to sleep. He seems to think that the tattooed man put the house to sleep and did it for a good reason.
Next time: off to the Unicorn Warehouse for more investigations, then to a different warehouse for an incredibly deadly combat encounter.
PostOriginal SA post Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams Part 3
The players and their pet Crane magistrate now go to investigate an attack on a Unicorn trader’s warehouse. The players’ reasons for going to the warehouse are honestly not too strong but there are really no other leads at this point so I guess they take what they can get.
When they arrive they find the Thunder Guard (the governor’s private SWAT army) talking with the Unicorn merchant who owned the warehouse. His crates of goods have been torn apart by some sort of animal. The PCs will clearly recognize the handiwork of the rampaging Oni. It seemed to once again be going after masks intended for the evening’s celebration. If they investigate around they might notice that one shipment from this warehouse was sent to the mansion they just came from. The players are given a chance to pass a fairly simple Heraldry skill roll, which becomes quite a bit more difficult if no one has Heraldry as a skill. If they pass they find that the shipment originally came from a Scorpion controlled warehouse. If they don’t pass this skill roll then I assume the GM will need to come up with another way for them to progress the plot. I’d say a Thunder Guard member makes the discovery for them.
At any rate, they now go wandering off to a Scorpion controlled warehouse to see if they can find why the Oni keeps attacking crates of masks originating there. This encounter is actually the most deadly in the adventure in my experience. Sure, the Oni is a brutal beast and will kill the shit out of your players without a thought, but the players know that. No one is going up against a boss monster without putting everything on the line. Here we have an encounter that is deadly mainly because the designers didn’t have a good grasp of how deadly combat in their own games ends up being. Your players just get crushed under waves of enemies that grind them down.
The PCs arrive at the warehouse and enter to shouts from guards that it’s the “Magistrates! Get them or we’re all dead!” Six armed guard rush the PCs while someone bars the door to prevent escape. The stats for the guards are given and are all at basically the level of an average beginning level PC. You can easily make a better PC purpose-built for combat but these guys are no slouches. To make things worse, they all have the first rank Bayushi school ability that allows they to roll an extra die for initiative. Thanks to the way initiative works in 1e L5R, that just means they’re twice as likely to go first - an incredible advantage in a game where going first is one of the most important determinants to combat.
Two more guards are standing above on an upper level walkway firing down at the PCs with bows. For an average group of 4 to 5 PCs this is a horrendously grim situation. Surviving the six guys on their level is no guarantee, and getting fired on for at least several turns with no good way to respond only makes it worse. If they manage to rout the guards on the ground, they have to run up some rickety stairs that require a TN 15 agility roll to avoid slipping on and losing a turn. For a beginner level PC that probably around a 50% chance of happening.
If they killed the six guys on the ground, ran up the rickety stairs and killed two more guys with bows, then they can move toward the warehouse offices on the second floor. Here your likely injured or nearly incapacitated PCs run into three more guards to dispatch. After heroically fighting through a horde of enemy samurai they come to a locked office. They can pretty easily bash down the door and come face to face with three more guards and one guard with a bow hiding behind a barred gate. Using the power of love your PCs manage to subdue the three guards and now can’t get to the one behind the gate without several PCs working together (under fire) to lift it. Or the guy may run out of arrows while peppering the PCs. If the PCs don’t break in then he gives up when he runs out of arrows and gives the PCs a key if they promise not to kill him.
The one time I ran this game around 15 years ago the PCs were not beginners by any means, but hadn’t yet made it to the second insight rank. One was crippled and one was injured to the point of uselessness (the game is known for its brutal death spiral) before they could even make a move. They didn’t even finish the first portion of the combat let alone the two more waves. I had to cut it short to avoid a pointless party wipe. I think I just had Oruko show up with a small private army of Crane guards to threaten the warehouse guards into stopping. There was no fucking chance my players were going to survive.
I cannot stress how brutal the death spiral was in 1e. If your PC gets hit by one katana strike by an average enemy, they’re in for around 20 damage. For an average Stamina 2 PC they are now down 4 dice on everything they do and a hair’s breadth away from being totally incapacitated. Even if they survive everything they can do is down four dice, which is tough in a game where a talented PC is throwing around seven or eight dice on a roll. There is really only one healing spell in the game and it doesn’t heal for much, so that PC is going to be useless for the rest of this adventure. If they were higher level with great stats then maybe they could manage to squeak this one out. The odds of a random hit, particularly in 1e L5R where it’s easier to hit than in later editions, makes this one insanely dangerous even then. No amount of void points are going to get you through fifteen armed, quick and well prepared samurai unscathed. This game isn’t D&D and sometimes the writers seem to forget it.
The guy behind the gate is terrified because of what is going on in the main office. When the PCs enter they find a man in the middle of a blood ritual. Nothing can penetrate the circle of candles surrounding him so it’s lucky that a shugenja is cringing in the corner to explain things. This shugenja is the one who helped the man in the circle summer the Oni, and he’s more than willing to explain why. All of the people the PCs just fought through were part of a bandit gang that attacked a caravan carrying supplies for the celebration. They brought the supplies they liberated back to their warehouse to be fenced and managed to sell some to the various people thus far struck by the Oni. Yesterday a group of men with a black moon tattooed on each of their wrists came and visited the boss, a man named Chizaro, who is currently in the summoning circle.
Other than the tattoos they didn’t seem unusual, wearing plain brown kimonos and being slightly overweight. The shugenja doesn’t know what these men said to Chizaro but he does know that when they left Chizaro was terrified and needed to get one single mask back from among the many crates they sold and he only had one day to get it done. He has also figured out that they’re moon cultists who worship Lord Moon which is a dangerous heresy in Rokugan.
Apparently Chizaro’s fear was enough that he agreed to give his name to an Oni from Jigoku (re: superdemon from hell) in order for it to find the mask. The problem is that the shugenja only knew a third rate Oni summoning ritual to bind it. So long as the candles continue to burn then the Oni is forced to do their bidding and search for the mask. If it finds it before the candles burn down then they can banish it and Chizaro can get his name back. If the candles burn down first then the Oni will permanently take Chizaro’s name and be free to kill at maim at its leisure. Dropping a free, named Oni in the middle of a populated area like this is equivalent to a major terrorist attack.
The only other useful thing the shugenja can tell the PCs is that one more crate appears to be unaccounted for – it was sold to a merchant named Whisper.
Now we get one of the most annoying parts of the adventure – a frustrating talk with the tattooed man who’s been shadowing the PCs for a few scenes. I’m reminded of an NPC from an Unknown Armies adventure (or it might have been Feng Shui) who was cursed so that he could only speak in fortune cookie style couplets. It was incredibly hard for him to communicate meaningfully and it pissed him off to no end. The tattooed man here seems to be laboring under the same curse but doesn’t appear to mind.
The gist of what goes down is that the tattooed man tells the PCs that he is working for the merchant Whisper and used some of his magical tattoos to steal into the Crane mansion to take a sword for Whisper as repayment for some unspecified favor. The sword, it turns out, is very specifically dangerous to Oni and can hurt this one grievously. It also has a drawback in that it hurts the wielder, too. Instead of just explaining this, though, you have to filter everything through the lens of a fortune cookie or Chinese monk stereotype. If he wants to tell the PCs that they’re doing something wrong, he says “Not all blooming flowers bear fruit.” If he wants them to know that the sword he stole is dangerous to the Oni, he says “With courage, buy victory. With blood, buy peace. With death, buy life.” It’s nonsense. Actually, let me just post all the suggested dialogue options:
Holy shit shut the fuck up with this crap. This is probably the most important infodump yet and it has to come from a man with some kind of brain damage. The adventure suggests making him more coherent for the most important information but I suggest dropping this shit entirely. It’s cutesy crap that just annoys me.
Next time: The Penultimate Chapter
PostOriginal SA post Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams Part 4
While I’m closing out my unfinished reviews, I’ll go with this one that has only been abandoned for a single year rather than three. As a reminder of what this adventure is, your PCs are either investigators or have been shanghaied into acting as investigators. They’re in the City of Lies. They witnessed an attack by a major Oni in a sake house and have been chasing a very thin trail of clues all over the city, always ending up just a step or two behind the Oni itself.
When we last left the PCs, they managed to fight through a basically impossible battle and got clues that lead them to a shopkeeper named Whisper. Off they go! As has now happened twice before, they arrive at Whisper’s shop to find minor Oni ransacking the place and looking for masks. No sign of the shop keep himself, though. A small battle ensues and the Oni are driven off. Actually, I say small battle but after just surviving the fight of their lives using a rules system that has a strong death spiral, it could be quite difficult. There is no real time to heal between fights and since healing magic is nearly nonexistent in L5R, there’s almost no way they go into this or any later fight fresh.
The battle is straightforward enough with the only hiccup being that one of the Oni has a high quality porcelain mask that it’s trying to flee with. Likely the PCs stop it and now have a mask that the Oni were trying to take and if they have the ability to sense it, the thing is positively pulsating with dark magic.
With the Oni gone, the PCs search the shop and find a journal from the owner. Reading the journal informs the players that Whisper knew the Oni was coming for him and was set upon delivering a sword to a geisha he was familiar with. The players likely have little idea what the value of the sword is but they don’t have much else to work with so once again they go traipsing to a new location on thin speculation.
The PCs head to Teardrop Island, the fanciest red light district in the city. One of the requirements for being allowed onto the island is to give up their weapons for ‘polishing’ at the gate. It’s a law enforcement effort to keep a bunch of drunk samurai from killing each other and they call it ‘polishing’ to assuage bruised egos since the implication is they can’t control themselves. Face culture! After the night they’ve had the PCs are probably resistant to this idea but there isn’t much they can do. After all, if they’ve been paying attention they know the second they drop their weapons that fucking Oni is going to show up. Sneaking in might work, but unless they manage to hide their katanas they’re going to get caught by the Thunder Guard. Being an imperial magistrate is not enough excuse to risk disrupting the lucrative geisha trade.
One way or the other the PCs arrive at The House of the Water Lilies. The headmistress doesn’t want to show the PCs to the geisha they want to see but likely caves to a minor amount of legal arm twisting. I’m not sure what leverage they have if they aren’t Imperial Magistrates. I’m sure clever players would think of something.
The heroes are led to a room where they find Whisper and his geisha friend looking panicked. Once again a bit of leaning is necessary before he spills his story. He’s been working hard to raise enough money to buy out the contract of his favorite geisha. His greed made him careless and he bought a bunch of masks off some Scorpion merchants that were a little too eager to close the deal with no questions asked. Now he’s found that each person he sold the masks to has been killed by Oni and took the precaution of stealing an enchanted sword from the dead Crane samurai (way back from the start of this thing) in an effort to fight it. He’s certain it’s the only blade in the city that can hurt the Oni. I have literally no idea how he found out about the sword or what convinced him it would be effective. Magic items are not as common in L5R as D&D and not nearly as utilitarian.
Regardless, he got it and he managed to sneak the sword into the room. An impressive feat! It also means that the sword is the only weapon around when the main Oni inevitably bursts into the room. A brief aside about the sword. It is able to do regular 3k2 katana damage to the Oni (all other weapons do ¼(!) damage) but has a weird side effect of damaging the wielder if they call a raise and fail to hit. In practice this means the player is probably gonna stick to regular attacks. It sucks and I have no idea how a single sword doing normal damage is supposed to provide a credible threat to one of the deadliest enemies in the game.
The Oni’s goal appears to be to kill Whisper and it probably achieves it. At that point everyone is probably fucked including the other helpful patrons of the Geisha House. One in particular, a Crab witch hunter named Meishozo Nisei, is quite helpful. Even so I have no idea how this fight is supposed to be possible. The book does provide the option of letting your character run away and leave Whisper to his fate but if they brought the porcelain mask from the last encounter then the Oni will go after them like a bloodhound.
This is the main Oni, only one person has a weapon, and it’s a fucking Oni! These are the dragons of the L5R setting – an endboss if there ever was one. The thing has a TN of 30 to be hit, has 8k3 on attack, and hits for 5k3 or 7k3 damage (two claws or bite). A purpose built combatant with high stats and skills will probably hit this thing two times in three, while anyone else if looking at less than a third of the time. The absolute highest TN to be hit that your unarmored PCs will muster will still be hit by this monster around 60% of the time, he makes three attacks per turn, and a single hit will cripple pretty much any fresh PC.
A reminder of what you're up against.
You’re not going to hit it and it’s going to hit you. It will cut through armored samurai like a buzzsaw, and none of these samurai have weapons or armor. The writers provide no guidance other than having other patrons help in the fight, except that they don’t have any weapons or armor, either. The writers act like having a single sword doing normal damage is some kind of trump card. Even if they were fresh this would be a likely TPK. To make this remotely possible I would have the Thunder Guard promptly show up and tank the fight for the PCs or just let them run away.
Perhaps the problem I have is assuming that PCs in the lower insight ranks (levels). An insight rank 5 Lion or Dragon might have a chance of downing the Oni with the magical sword. A party of them would probably be okay. The adventure does not have a suggested power level, though, and no indication of that level of power being required is made.
When they win, PCs now begin to get better acquainted with Meishozo Nisei. Ostensibly he’s a Kuni Shugenja who has been tracking the Oni and its trail of destruction. He’s always been just one step behind the PCs much like the PCs have been a step behind the Oni. He provides a major info dump for the PCs: it seems that the masks and the caravan that was originally carrying them were members of a Moon Cult. They were producing maho (dark magic) items to trade with someone in the city. Before it arrived, the Scorpion allied bandits opened one hell of a can of worms by raiding the caravan and selling the masks to unscrupulous buyers. Now a caravan load of dark magic masks are distributed all throughout the city and no one knows where or to whom. Nisei knows that the masks can be used to make zombies if placed on dead bodies. Cool L5R zombies with rotting bodies topped by expressionless, Noh-masked faces. They always were one of the more visually appealing monsters in the Rokugani deck.
A quick aside on the Moon Cult. Lord Moon is one of the strange antagonists of the L5R setting in that he’s not much of an antagonist at all. Despite setting into motion all the evil that plagued Rokugan for over a millennium (both Fu Leng and the Lying Darkness are the direct result of Lord Moon fucking around) he never ends up doing anything else to directly cause harm until he eventually gets cut down like a chump in later, totally insane, metaplot. In a way he’s like the Cthulhu of the setting in that his cult fumbling around and causing chaos is usually more dangerous than the god himself.
11:00PM to 2:00AM
Someone will know who traffics in stolen items in the city, whether it is Whisper in the unlikely event that the PCs saved him, or Oruku who is still hanging around waiting for the PCs to give him back the magical sword that he was sent to retrieve. Four names come up as likely suspects.
The first merchant is a loutish oaf named Hida Muchi. He has some cause to want to traffic in maho since, due to Scorpion machinations, his daughter and grandson were killed. Revenge of some sort is a likely motive. Unfortunately there’s not a lot to press him on and interviewing him likely only leads to the next name on the list, Kaiu Shirya.
Shirya is in the middle of moving out of his own house in a somewhat haphazard manner. It looks awfully suspicious but he says it’s because his wife is pregnant and he wants to go stay with relatives since he expects it to be a difficult pregnancy. Once again nothing much is gained by talking to him other than to be directed toward the third name on the list, Yasuki Nobuko.
She’s in the middle of a sale or some sort to a Phoenix diplomat and isn’t eager to talk to the PCs, either. I guess a lot of legitimate business is conducted after midnight! No comment is made on this by the authors. I guess they forgot what time it was. She admits to buying masks but assures the PCs that they were all purchased through reputable sellers. On to the fourth name!
We end with Kuni Ryo who, spoilers, is an actual black magician and is the person the Moon Cult was shipping the trafficked masks to. He plays dumb and leaves the PCs with nothing to charge him with, but suggests that he will ask his contacts to help them out and requests and address to send information to. Knowing their location, he then sends an ambush their way.
The PCs and Oruko are walking away or near their place of residence when Oruko is suddenly hit by a bolt of fire barreling down from a nearby rooftop. Kuni Ryo has sent his three apprentice shugenja after the party. Oruko is likely down so now the PCs have three spellcasters who are in an advantageous position and have gotten the drop on them. One is on the rooftops and two are in alleys waiting to further ambush PCs trying to take cover. Luckily they have one decent attack spell and frankly they’re not powerful enough to make it any more dangerous than an opponent with a bow or sword. Given the night the PCs have had, though, it’s still gonna be a dicey scenario.
Here’s a good place to end this update. Next time: the grand finale! Also, the true purpose of this adventure, which is totally unrelated to everything that’s happened so far!
PostOriginal SA post Legend of the Five Rings 1e: Night of a Thousand Screams Part 5
Where we just left them, the PCs bumbled through another fight that was deadlier than the authors intended. Assuming they won and didn’t kill everyone, the PCs capture the lead apprentice who quickly cracks and tells them they work for Kuni Ryo and that he had the masks, but that he doesn’t have them any longer. The adventure calls for the PCs to take the apprentice to the local prison for processing before execution. Again it assumes that the PCs didn’t act like PCs do and let a hugely dangerous enemy live. Luckily it’s fairly easy to adjust what happens next to fit the scenario either way.
The PCs are stopped by Shinjo Dokiu who they met earlier in the night. He tells the players that he has arrested some ronin for talking about stolen masks. Rokugani justice prevails! When the PCs go to interrogate the ronin it should be immediately obvious that something is wrong. The first man questioned screams at the magistrates to fuck off and begins a litany of insults against them, their family, and their clan. It’s the kind of thing that will almost certainly get someone killed, and absolutely should spell the death of a ronin. If the PCs are clever, though, they’ll figure out that the ronin is looking for suicide by cop rather than be questioned. If they pass a TN 20 awareness roll they’ll notice a small brand on his arm that looks suspiciously like the brand mentioned two updates ago as those worn by Moon Cultists. It’s not an impossible roll but a mid-level player group still has a solid chance to miss it.
Here’s where things go off the rails in my estimation. The standard method of interrogation both among Rokugani magistrates and among angry players is torture. If they decide to go this route, the ronin feigns putting up a good fight but eventually tells the players about their hideout at an abandoned manor outside of the city. Careless PCs will go charging off, spend hours traveling to the house, probably fighting a handful of random, non-Moon Cult ronin and end up learning nothing. It was a false lead planted by the tortured ronin to distract the PCs and waste enough time to let his cult’s plans come to fruition.
In order to get any useful information on the Moon Cult, they players need to pass an awareness TN 20 roll to notice that the Jade Sun figurine they were given earlier has begun lightly glowing. Once again, it’s not an impossible roll to make but failure basically means the adventure is over. The PCs will only be able to react to the carnage of what’s coming and will fail to stop the Moon Cultist plot. It’s a very old-school adventure design thing, putting absolutely necessary things behind stat or skill rolls that might stop the adventure dead. The easy fix is to just let the players notice it’s glowing without a roll.
When they pull the figurine out, the ronin react like he’s been set on fire and begins grasping protectively at his brand. If the PCs place the figurine against his brand, he screams and convulses. The figurine bursts into a blast of pure sunlight and the brand on the ronin’s arms disappears.
He awakes from a haze. The brand has been controlling his mind for years and forced him to do unspeakable things. He immediately asks for permission to commit seppuku to restore his honor and assuage his stained conscience, but presumably the PCs want to know what he knows. The ronin is more than willing to spill everything he knows about the Moon Cult’s plot. Thier plan is to ‘destroy the light’ by using the masks but the ronin isn’t sure what that means. He does know enough to point them to the Cult’s actual headquarters, though, which is down near the docks. The PCs go running off to the penultimate fight of the night.
It’s one more unmemorable encounter, this time against five Moon Cultists, one of whom is a powerful shugenja. She has at least two spells that could quickly end the encounter and four bushi bodyguards to ensure that she has time to get them off. It’s one more fight that could be a challenge for fresh PCs and is instead thrown against a collection of sentient wound penalties. I won’t go into detail since it’s old hat by now, so let’s assume that by some miracle the PCs get the job done.
If they let the shugenja live, which seems unlikely to me, she’ll pull some classic villain shit and gloat out the majority of their evil plan. The Moon Cult plans on causing a massacre and destroying the ceremonial sun at the end of the Bon Festival. The Bon Festival has been celebrated in the streets all night and can basically be compared to a Rokugani version of Halloween. People dress up as ghosts and the dead and march in a parade to the center square of the city where a ceremonial sun will be lit that will ‘banish’ all the costumed dead and grant blessings to the city all year long. People use it as an excuse to get out, get drunk and have a good time in costume. The Moon Cult plans on flooding the city with hundreds of actual zombies, who will go unnoticed during the masquerade, then have them begin a massacre on cue. With everyone distracted by a horror of unparalleled proportions, cultists will take the opportunity to get to the normally-well-guarded ceremonial sun and destroy it. It will be an important symbolic victory for Lord Moon and his cult.
The players rush off to the Temple of Amaterasu located in the center of the city to stop the Moon Cult. All hell is breaking loose in the streets. It seems the Moon Cult managed to gather most of the masks back and raised the majority of their planned army at the local burakunin graveyard. The zombies have marched into town unnoticed and are just now beginning to make their presence felt. Chaos ensues as some people panic and try to flee, others pull weapons and try to attack zombies only to hit costumed revelers, and some stand around trying to figure out what is going on. The GM may force the players into some fights with zombies but that feels needlessly cruel.
To cap off the chaos, when the players arrive at the town square in front of the temple, the leader of the moon cult is casting a devastating earthquake spell. The panic is only beginning to reach the square and hundreds of citizens mill about while cheers are slowly replaced with screams. The PCs likely run up to the temple to protect the Dragon Globe, which is the symbolic representation of the sun. Zombies begin to attack the priests of the temple in order to prevent them from lighting the globe. Meanwhile, the PCs have ten turns to stop the enemy leader from completing his spell. He has two competent bushi acting as bodyguards, but if the PCs have made it this far then they should be able to handle such a piddly fight. The leader, the same Phoenix bushi who was conducting midnight business with Yasuki Nobuko, probably won’t put up much of a fight since he is in the middle of trying to finish his earthquake spell. It’s a strangely anticlimactic fight considering what’s come before.
If the PCs should fail to stop the earthquake then the Dragon Globe comes crashing to the ground before it can be ceremonially lit. Spirits normally friendly to the city will see this as a bad omen and leave. For years to come it will be more difficult to cast normal magic in and around the city due to the dearth of spirits. Crops will fail and starvation will sweep the countryside. It will be a crippling blow to the most populous city in the empire. It’s not exactly an apocalypse scenario but try telling that to the tens of thousands of peasants who will suffer and die as a result.
Let’s continue with the players having instead won the day. With the leader of the Moon Cult dead the players can help mop up the remaining zombies. The real kicker is what they find on the body of the cult leader (the authors forget that your PCs probably shouldn’t be rooting through corpses if they want to fit into Rokugani society): some powerful scrolls and a large porcelain mask. The mask is far too large to fit a human being, is finely crafted, and is designed with a strange two-faced motif. The front facing side is a fairly standard Noh mask without significant expression. The inside of the mask, rather than being flat, is actually a different face – one contorted in a rictus of pure rage. It’s seems like a weird artistic piece that just so happens to radiate enough evil magic to make any shugenja notice immediately. Anyone who holds onto it for a few months will likely succumb to fatal shadowlands taint.
Meishozo Nisei is still hanging around like a bad penny and requests the mask so he can take it back to his homelands to be purified or quarantined. The PCs probably defer to the expertise of the experienced and friendly Witch Hunter and if so, he thanks them and assures them that he’ll sing their praises to his lord. Then he’s off.
Should the PCs fail to hand it over, he shadows them until he can steal it and is more than willing to kill the PCs if they prove intractable. Obviously this all seems like a strange coda to an otherwise self-contained adventure. It turns out that the mask is the most important part in this whole thing. Huge spoilers coming up for anyone who actually cares.
The mask is the last key to opening the Tomb of Iuchiban. For those who don’t know the backstory of L5R, Iuchiban is perhaps the second or third most powerful evil entity in the history of the world, and the only one of the top three to start as a human. He was a failson brother to an emperor and in his jealousy figured out new forms of blood magic. He managed to magically remove his own heart so that he cannot be killed and waged a war of raised undead against the Empire 500 years before. He was defeated and they tried to contain him but he escaped using the power of magical body switching and raised another army of undead to topple the empire. When defeated the second time the empire got serious. They created a tomb bristling with magical traps and wards to ensure that he could never escape and his followers could never get to him. Then the Scorpion clan murdered the engineers who designed the tomb to ensure that its secrets never get out. Also they created several other empty tombs also bristling with similarly deadly traps to further confuse and decimate Iuchiban’s followers.
Our good friend Meishozo Nisei is actually Iuchiban’s second in command and an incredibly powerful magical blacksmith named Asahina Yajinden. Yajinden has his own plot to get into the Tomb of Iuchiban and needs the final mask to complete it. Following his trail of destruction is actually what leads the players into the Tomb of Iuchiban in the adventure box set of that name.
Absolutely none of this is known to the players at this time and may never be known since the odds of the players even reaching, let alone surviving, the Tomb of Iuchiban adventure is slim. At this time Nisei and the mask don’t appear important even if it’s probably the most important thing happening in the empire at this time.
Thoughts on Night of the Thousand Screams
Night of a Thousand Screams has the bones of a good adventure but suffers from three problems. The first and most critical is combat. From the introduction, the purpose of this adventure is to “help answer the question “What can I do to add more combat to my game without killing off all the player characters?”” In that they’ve failed fucking miserably. As noted again and again, the combat in this adventure ranges from dangerous to nearly impossible for a fresh party, and your players’ party will not be fresh for long. It feels like the designers forgot two things. One is that healing in L5R is slow and magical healing is rare. The second is that all of this adventure is compressed into a 12 hours timeframe and natural healing just isn’t going to happen. If they assumed you were at high insight rank and fresh in every fight then maybe some of the ‘impossible’ combats might become merely ‘very difficult’. I don’t know why they would’ve assumed it, though.
The second is that the designers frequently forget to provide reasonable difficulties for their target numbers. Luckily this adventure is not nearly as egregious as Code of Bushido was. There are still a number of times where rolls to notice important details are behind incredibly unlikely numbers. It’s frustrating but an easy fix and not a game killer.
The third is the pace of this thing. Large amounts of time are spent running back and forth with little payoff other than maybe getting in fights. The middle part of the adventure is a series of situations that could easily be compressed. The big notes of the adventure can be broken down into about five major events, but there are about twenty in total. The GM could certainly change things to make it work with fewer stops. Reviewing things based on what could be done rather than what was done is folly, though.
Up next, if I ever get to it, is the Tomb of Iuchiban.