Monday, October 4, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: A Mother's Love

One of the things I enjoy about reading Stan's work is that he throws in the odd vocabulary here and there but doesn't overwhelm the reader with it. For example, as the ronin is sitting with an elderly woman, he calls her obaasan (old woman). Little touches like these can add flavor to the game that has nothing to do with game mechanics.

In the 'old days', Planescape was famous for it's method of speaking, the 'cant' so to say. Thieves also have their own way of speaking and the whole thieves tongue is one of those old bits where you can lay down some words without going completely overboard to showcase how a different style of life lives. Harold Lamb and Chalres Saunders were also good with this placement of foreign words to bring their settings alive for the reader.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about in the story, A Mother's Love. Rather, it's that you can't trust old people!

The story would work perfectly well for almost any setting. A chance encounter with an older woman whose out to pray for her son leads the characters to befriend her. She invites them to her home where the players learn that the son is a poison upon the town.

While Usagi initially doesn't take up the challenge of killing the son at the mother's request, player's might do so. In the story, Usagi is forced into fighting the son's minions as the mother has warned the son that Usagi is coming to kill him. When Usagi fights throught the minions, he learns that the mother has already killed the son and wishes for Usagi to kill her as well because she doesn't have the strength to do it.

In a role playing game, the character, as noted, might decide to take the job in the first place. This makes it a fairly straight up mission of taking out the son. After the son is slain though and the pay is collected, do the players then follow through and honor the mother's final request? Do they put the mother out of her misery and allow her to join her son in the next life?

And if the player's don't take the mission, the GM can still roll with the option that Stan uses here. The mother sets the son against the party members and the party members have to fight their way through the minions anyway. They might even be surprised to learn that the mother did it to divest the son of his bodyguards so that she could finish the job herself.

Let the motives of the NPC's surprise the characters and let their actions showcase what their intentions are about. While them other doesn't want Usagi to get hurt, and indeed, after seeing his swordskill, is confident that he won't be, she could have been mistaken. She was willing to put a stranger, a kind stranger at that, in risk so that she could end her son's life because the damage he was doing to the town was that horrible that she felt that much responsiblity for it.

Other aspects to remember when working on a setting also come through though. There is a reverance for the elderly. For example, Usagi carries the old woman home because he doesn't want to leave her on the road by herself. Even though he doesn't want to get involved in a family matter, he also intimidates the son into apologizing to his mother for his cruel treatment of her.

Little touches like this, and like how samurai are an honored caste, allowed to stay as peasants houses and share their meals, shine through in various adventurers that Usagi has. While not all of these touches are appropriate for all campaigns, try to keep in mind the way the characters perceive and are perceived by the world about them.