Saturday, September 18, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo Book One: Homecoming

It would seem that one of Stan's favorite methods to get the action to his character Usagi, is to have him simply come upon it. In this instance, on a cold winter road on the way home to pay homage to his father's gravesite, Usagi comes across a gorup of travelers who decide he is a village who is not listening to their warnings.

The usual fight occurs and Usagi saves the hostage, a small child, that the ninja moles possessed. When the ninja retreat, he meets an old child hood sweet heart, Mariko, and we get a flashback of a tender moment between Marko and Usagi. During that flashback there is some banter, but also a quick showcase of Usagi as an artist, with Usagi himself noting that the brush is part of the samurai's discipline.

Usagi is a little shocked to learn that the child he saved is Marko's. Apparently she married Kenichi, Usagi's nemesis from when the two where children with another flashback.

The use of flashbacks here do a few things. They provide the character a reason to interact with his environment and they provide context for the action that takes place.

The use of an old rival married to his childhood sweetheart, could also have gone several ways. In some media, the old rival would look for any chance to dispose of Usagi in any way he could. Here however, the rival even winds up saving Usagi, with Usagi doing the same for him. This character who doesn't like Usagi is in some ways more interesting than someone whose just out to kill him.

How do players react to not being well liked? In the game I'm currently playing in, one of my friends makes a lot of characters because half the time he's in love with trying out different game mechanics and the other hanlf of the time he's trying to be a helpful player and fill a niche that the group is missing. His latest character is a sorcerer skill hound who comes from a noble background, Count Victor.

I kept referring to him as, "You." and when Count Victor pressed me on this matter, I explained that I'd already travelled with several other short stinted comrades and after a few weeks I might bother to remember his name. His response was to bribe me with an item we found later that night, asking my character, "What's my name." It was a funny moment at the table as his character was played the way the player wanted, with his desire to be well liked coming out even in simple things.

In terms of the background flashes, these additional flashes to do conflict with the earlier flashes in the book, but rather help to flesh out not only the characters but the setting. If a player has some idea for adding some elements to his background, before vetoing them, think about what those background elements actually mean to the game. Ask the player to define his relationships with others if he asks if he knows someone.

For exmaple, a member of a noble house may often have had guests and on the road may meet them. Ask the player how those interactions went and if it works with the campaigns themes and mood, run with it. Let the players do some of the campaign lifting when you can. It will allow you more time to come up with combat stategy and allow the players a better fit into the setting.