Thursday, March 17, 2011

Usagi Yojimbo Demon Mask: Book 14 by Stan Sakai

Stan Sakai continues to showcase his talents as a storyteller involved with the long term development of his main character, Usagi Yojimbo in volume 14.

Part of the methodology that he uses, is humor. Usagi gets into all sorts of situations, some of them quite dire, but Stan manages to often put a few smiles in there. His encounters at the Inn on Moon Shadow Hill involve deception, but not malice, and he turns a bet into an event for the other patrons of the Inn while pocketing some nice change. When the GM can encourage the characters to win without having to kill everything around them, it makes a nice change of pace. To do that though, the GM has to put characters IN such situations where they don't have to be bloodthirty barbarians.

Stan also doesn't shy away from the follies of youth nor the caste system that Usagi's world works in. When Usagi is assaulted by a teen claiming that he wants to become a samurai like Usagi, the samurai notes that peasants cannot become samurai warriors.

In another story, while taking shelter with a merchant family, the family notes that "To have one of the saurai class act on our behalf will ive our humble wars great prestige." The merchants aren't kissing up to Usagi, that's the way the world is, even as Usagi, whose now been on his warrior pilgrimage for a long time, does not necessarily see it so that way anymore.

The background of known characters continues to be expanded on even as events which are not directly tied into Usagi at the time, are fleshed out. For example, the Ninja leader Chizu and her first Kagemaru are involved with handling deserters and the two disagree, the latter taking action without the knowledge of the former.

In large organizations, especially those of the various nameless mooks that players may be struggling against, such as Zhent agents, Red Wizards, and good old bandit kingdoms, somewhere near the top, someone else wants what the person at the top has and with such individuals being of a generally less benign nature than the players, blood is often spilled to get it. If possible, let the players know of the various doings of different organizations as new blood comes and goes within it.

In other areas, Usagi's old teacher has another new student, this time it's Jotaro. Usagi's son follows in his birth father's footsteps without even realizing it and their eventual metting and adventurers have those seeds started long before the metting.

Note that some of this advice may be entirely useless depending on the length of the campaign. If you're running a convention one shot, you might be able to have the players take the roles of the outsiders to build some connections with them. You might be able to start at the very begining of the game with some background information. But usually, without longer term play, the depth of those relationships doesn't have time to grow.