Monday, February 21, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo: Grey Shadows



Usagi Yojimbo Grey Shadows is the thirteenth volume in the Stan Sakai collection of Usagi Yojimbo's adventurers. The book starts almost immediately after the previous one leaves off and does so with a bit of a twist.

You see, in the last volume, Usagi and the demon spear man Jei had another epic confrontation and although Usagi won, both he and his friend Gen, were injured. And that weapon of Jei's doesn't just pierce the flesh, it drains the soul.

This gets me to something that's hard to pull off in 'balanced' roleplaying games. The injuries that last. In my experience with GURPS, if I'm recalling correctly, you can get points for a handicapping injury when you first make the character, but anything after that is a GM freebie. Hero isn't quite like that depending on the GM. Previous editions of D&D weren't quite like that either in that if you lost a hand, very difficult to do outside of GM fiat or certain traps, it was a quest to restore it, until you hit X level and then it was pretty much asking the cleric to heal you.

You can bring the spirit of such elements to the game though with reinforcement of what the wound is supposed to represent. In Gen's case, it's almost a meloncoly mood of depression and despair. The seriousness isn't carried too far, but Gen's wound does have repurcussions down the line.

Another element Stan uses here is the friend of a friend when he introduces the readers to inspector Ishida. The law of Usagi's time have a distinctive weapon, the jitte, it's almost like a sai and serves as their symbol. Here though, Usagi is told of the inspector by his priest ally Shanshobo. This helps move Usagi along the way and proides him with a new encounter and one that is potentially an ally off the bat since this is coming from a friend.

While it can seem heavy handed if done too often, networking is something that happens every day. If you know someone who has skill with something you need done, and you have friends who know someone, you'd ask right? If your friends need someone that they trust, they might ask you if you know someone. Once the initial meeting is made though, then the characters have to move on their own and interact as their natures dictate.

In introducing the inspector, Stan pulls a little trick that's often seen in comics and anime. He showcases Ishida fighting two samurai and casually besting them to illustrate that the inspector is no soft politician or fool. In anime and comics, it's often done to showcase what a menace that the heroes are up against. If done in a game, you want to just make it a quick illustration of the NPC's abilities because you're not there to hog up the game with demonstrations of NPC power.

While Stan manages to hit some of the historical notes of his period piece, he also continues to sprinkle language through the series.

Copper Zeni: Small coin
Hour of the Ox: 2-4 Am
Obake: Haunts
Torihada: Goosebumbs
Hanya: Female Demon

This list goes on for quite a bit and there's numerous bits and pieces that make sense in the context of the story they're told in. It makes for some diversity that's often lacking in most standard fantasy unless it tries to go the way of the Planescape setting and make up a lot of its own dialect.

Usagi Yojimbo continues to showcase adventure seeds that don't necessarily have to take place in the dungeon.