Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo: The Brink of Life and Death

Let me hit some of the points here:

Kaiso: Usagi encounters a village of seaweed farmers but there is something odd going on with the other nearby village. Here Usagi is able, as an outside, to see where the true conflict lies. In addition, the author, Stan, is once again able to take something that seems small, seaweed farming, and make a story out of it. Not only that, but he does so in a way that's informative without being boring. If you can bring your setting to life in little ways like this, you're doing it right. Then again, it helps if the players are like Usagi and are willing to learn and explore the world about them.

A Meeting of Strangers: Usagi is always meeting 'the most interesting people' so to speak. In this case, he meets a woman swordmaster who showcases her skills by killing several bounty hunters. During that time though, a 'snitch' spots her and Usagi, who has made his own share of enemies. The stranger comes through and even saves Usagi's life. Intorducing NPCs into the game that the players want to learn more about can be tricky in that you don't want them to outshine the players in their fields but at the same time, if those NPCs don't stick around, they can make the players want to learn more about them.

Black Soul: Jei makes another apperance here. This would be considered an 'interlude' in some novels or comics in that it doesn't touch the main body of the story but at the same time, Jei has a huge role to play in upcoming events and by giving Jei his own 'sidekick', the author makes him more than just a mad killing machine. By giving the players a glimpse into what else is going on in the setting, the GM can set up anticipation for future encounters and events.

Noodles: This one has several factors going for it. A meeting with an old friend, a corrupt police officer who gets the wrong man for the wrong reason but that man is still a criminal. The use of irony in man-man karma and other bits. This is writing work at its strong points. Stan is able to weave continuity together with new elements and make the reader want to know what happens next. By having the problem be theft and having Usagi meet his old friend, the thief Kitsune, the reader automatically assumes that the rash of thef is caused by here.

Further reading however, shows that it's the corrupt official who winds up using Kitsune's accomplace, Noodles, as the fall guy. By doing this, the author switches the expectations around and sets up the officer for his own Karma based fall. Truly Stan must be a fan of such series as My Name is Earl.

Wrath of the Tangled Skein brings more of the supernatural to the forefront. Usagi fights a nue, a monster with the head of a monkey, a bager's body, tiger's legs, and a snake for a taile. Now mind you, the thing is about as big as a horse, not a badger. Usagi also battles a tanuki, a raccoon-like dog that is a shape changer trickster. These two monsters alone provide a suitible encounter with the nue acting as a 'brute' and the tanuki acting as a controler of sorts.

Usagi also meets Sanshobo, a priest that was a former warrior. Another character that will come to be more important as the series progresses. Despite being a former warrior however, Sanshobo doesn't cross over with Usagi's skill set in terms of swordskill or motivation. He's a priest that tends to specialize in fighting off possession.

Bats, The Cat, and the Rabbit brings more ninja warfare to Usagi. He meets another ally and fights against the bat ninja. It's another instance of trouble running into Usagi. It's important for me to keep these events in my mind because they are effectively random encounters that go beyond the single encounter. The chance meeting is the start of the actual adventure as opposed to just a onetime battle.

The Chrysanthemum Pass showcases Usagi as the do-gooder again. He happens to meet an older individual who is a disguised assassin. The use of disguise here is solid in that it allows the assassin to get in close to its target. The use of the mole ninjas however, allows the surprise to take a more dangerous form. These can make good encounter elements where the party is lead to an ambush point by what they take to be a friendly face only to find out that it is not.

Lightning Strikes Twice is the last story here and brings Usagi face to face with the female swordswoman who we learn calls herself Inazuma or lightning flash, for her speed with the blade. She is telling her tale almost as a warning to Usagi and her backstory, of being hunted for murdering a crime boss's son, comes into play as she continues to fight off disguised assassins and bounty hunters as well as where he travelling takes her.

Stan is able to use his visual style and storytelling skills to bring the setting to life. He is able to put Usagi against enemies that take a wide variety and prevent the sword scenes from being boring.  Stan brings forth new characters and uses older ones to keep the action moving forward. By expanding the setting, Stan keeps Usagi from becoming stale and keeps the setting fresh. When you think you're out of ideas, look at something mundane and ordinary and bring some opposition to it.