Thursday, September 16, 2010
Usagi Yojimbo Book One: Chapter Two
In a role playing game, the characters are central to the action, but not necessarily central to the world. This is even more true when the characters really hold no political ambition and have no desire to mire themselves into the games politicans. This is in many ways how Usagi Yojimbo operates. He's a masterless Samurai whose interested in increasing his sword skills and doing things by what he considers the code of Bushido.
Having said that characters are not necessarily the center of the world, chatper two of Book One starts off with an introduction of characters that will be used through the series from this point on; Tomoe a female samuaria and her lord, Noriyuki. They stumble unto Usagi and are pursued.
It brings the action right to the characters door. Now while this method might not work for everyone, it will start a game going.
For example, in an evil campaign, the characters might attack the lone samurai and her lord. They might seek an alliance with Lord Hikiji who seeks the death of the Geishu lord. One of the things about role playing is that as the GM, you're not writing a script so things can always happen that surprise you. Use events and hooks that you think the players will go for or will go for in a way that you want to happen.
If you have a blackguard, half-orc assassin, a necromancer and demon-summoner in the party and throw the lone guard and lord, yeah, expect it to go a far different way than even a standard group of adventurers who might want to be on a lord's good side but want a little incentive for it.
One of the ways you can augment the chances of things happening as you as the GM might like, is to set up parallel events. The enemy of Tomoe, Hikiji, is also just by chance the same one who wound up killing Usagi's old lord.
In terms of adventure writing, the GM should have different elements in mind. One thing that crops up in Usagi with some frequency is the weather. During his efforts to elude capture for Tomoe and her lord, night travel proves difficult. How often does the environment come into play as you prepare material?
During one fight, while Usagi does his bodyguard thing, Tomoe is surprised by a disguised assassin. In a campaign where magic is often as common as it is in standard Dungeons and Dragons, these disguised individuals could be anything ranging from a standard doppelganger to a dragon. In a more grim sword and sorcery or historical adventure like Usagi, just being in the right place at the right time with the right clothes is enough to make a thin disguise that may work against those in a hurry.
The GM can also use elements outside the characters to indicate that things might not be what they seem. In some games, this might be resolved by a standard perception or other skill check. It's a valid method that's worked for years. But in some 'old school' methods the players might be awarded the benefit of not being surprised if they notice animals moving in a certain way or if their new stray dog is indicating danger ahead.
The world building in Usagi doesn't happen instantly but it does happen. As Tomoe and her lord are walking, the peasants sing of their hard life. When the lord encounters the stray dog, he takes it home and it becomes his pet. Tomoe and the lord make several appearances in the series and the relationship between the ronin and the clan grows and deepens.