Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: Book One, Chapter One

Usagi Yojimbo is a hell of a comic. It's often described as "A masterful adaptation of samurai legend to sequental art."  The story is that of a masterless samurai named Miyamoto Usagi who often acts as Yojimbo or bodyguard.

I was introduced to Usagi many years ago but can't recall the specifics. Unlike the manga Berserk, published by Dark Horse also, I actually don't own all of the Usagi books yet. The series has been around for a long time and is still being printed and still being collected.

In this first chapter of the first book, our Samurai Rabbit approachs a house and asks for shelter and it is granted. The elderly woman inside relays that her husband was killed in a great battle, one that Usagi also took part in. 

Here Usagi's background comes out just a little. We learn that he served a lord and failed. The lord died but Usagi escaped with the Lord's Head to prevent it from being disgraced.  Usagi asks the old woman why she doesnt' fear the goblin of the region and she says it is not here karma to die by such a creature's hands.

During the night when the beast attacks, Usagi is ready and quickly dispatches it. He learns that it is his old mentor's betrayer and that he was once 'normal' like Usagi but guilt and rage drove him to become monstrous.

The part I'd like to touch on here is the background. It's brief but it presents a motivation for Usagi to wander. It's brief, but ties into the scene. It's brief, and it can be expanded.

In that I'd like to offer my own character Rus as a way of comparrision. One of my friends was running a Forgotten Realms 4e campaign. He is known by the group to be a pretty fair GM, one who gets into character's background and other bits. I didn't both putting down anything because I was more interesting in some light popcorn style playing and testing out some game mecahnics and more importantly, my friends and I were aware that despite his good habits as a GM, his worst habit is being a flake and quiting after running for a brief time.

So the inevitable happens. He stops running. But another player picks it up. He's interested in our backgrounds and would like more details. I resist the urge and put only the faintest bit of background into it so that I can keep gaming. It provides the other players, who are mostly new, with a lot of scenarios designed around them, but I still don't know the new GM so I hold off on it.

I do however, write out my character's take on how various adventurers go based on what happens to the game and throw some reference to the background ideas I have there. After a few months of this the GM wants some more information directly from me and I provide it in layered spades as at this time, I'm pretty sure the GM is going to be running for a while and is more than capable of taking things into the game from background.

The thing that I'll tie this into Usagi though, is that as the game has continued, I've added little bits of background to the game. In one instance, this was to form a tie or link with another new player. I thought it best if the new character had some ties to the campaign. The other time was when I was adding some details about the character's family. 

Neither instance effected the current campaign save to provide it with more opportunities.

This is more easily accomplished if you're not playing a wet behind the ears character. Sure, it may seem strange to flashback to your character being roughly as effective as he is at higher levels, but this is in part the nature of the game. If the Game Master is willing to let the players narrate their past histories with the setting and to include events in it, the Game Master can take those elements and add them to the campaign. This allows the world building to be done by the players and gives them more interest in the setting as they've now helped to develop it.

When thinking of background, it can effect current game play but most importantly, shouldn't get in the way of game play.