Monday, January 13, 2014

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson Stan Sakai


Dark Horse comics publishes a lot of non-superhero comics that I enjoy. Last year during the old 'Black Friday' bit, they have their annual half-off sale. I picked up the 47 Ronin in digital comic format. Written by Mike Richardson and illustrated by Stan Sakai, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Mind you, that's not true in the art department. I've written about Stan Sakai and his long eared wandering ronin Usagi Yojimbo many times before. But Mike RIchardson wasn't as familiar to me. Still, it's a fairly well known historical tale, and Dark Horse's website is generally nice in that they often have a multiple page preview for all the digital comics they sell. Looking through those previews, I felt pretty secure that it would be a 'safe buy'.

And it was.

47 Ronin provides a much more grounded and historical version of events that Keanu Reeves recently brought back to theaters in a semi-fantasy, semi-westernized style.

Here there is no magic needed for the assault. Here there is no need for a half-breed of magical nature to assist in the taking of vengeance. Here there is no love story. Or at least no love story between a princess and her servant.

Instead we see 47 loyal ronin, loyal beyond all sense of the word, who are determined to avenge what they see as a wrongdoing to their lord regardless of the personal cost. This cost comes in many forms ranging from their personal honor, to their status that they could have had even as ronin. As they know this is a death sentence, it also costs those who decided to have families that opportunity to live outside their lord.

It's well told and takes its time. We see the general plan and the specifics that each character goes through. We see the fall from grace, we see the rise of a force capable of laying siege to a powerful merchant. We see the end result which is almost universally the same.

Mike Richardson did a fantastic job in the telling of 47 Ronin and I'll be keeping an eye out for anything else he does of this nature even as I wait for the next graphic novel of Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, which according to Amazon, is a while in coming and is title, Usagi Yojimbo Volume 28: Red Scorpion.

All good and well said, but what does that have to do with role playing?

1. Lead by Example: One of the things I unfortunately see often as both a player and a GM, is that the GM has expectation X and the players have expectation Y. Sometimes this happens even after they talk about the concepts of the game. This generally happens a lot with superhero settings. Older readers often think that the games are going to reflect the comics where characters are generally law-abiding heroes who don't kill. Younger ones who grew up with Image in the 90's, or heck, even with movies, don't necessarily see anything wrong with massive property damage, lose of civilian life, or killing your enemies en mass. By providng material, either in movies or in other media, such as comics, the players and game master can have a clearer understanding of what they are expecting the game to actually play as. If someone said, "I want to play 47 Ronin" and meant the latest movie as opposed to someone who read the historical based comic, there would be some issues.

2. Lawful Villains have allies: Sometimes you just want to take your katana and strike a merchant dog down in the presence of the shogun. Well, that's not necessarily a good idea because that villain has a son married into a very powerful family and hey, even if he deserved to be struck down from behind like a dog, those other people aren't going to have their name, and their honor dragged through the mud. Their not going ot take the chance that someone will be sympathetic to the poor good guy's tale of woe and suffering. No, their going to buy that guy with every force at their disposal as quickly and inhumanely as possible. When designing your villains, don't forget their network.

This network may not even be one that they sought out. For example, a rogue elf may have a half elf son who feels determined to protect his father regardless of the cost and that half elf is married into a very powerful merchant family who can hire the most dangerous defenders and mercenaries in the land. In a fantasy RPG, that might even include assassins to hunt the players down before they get their bearings.

At that point, what would characters do? The source of their enemy's power isn't actually the enemy, but perhaps a non-evil individual who simply doesn't want to see his relative killed.

3. Suicide Mission: Sometimes you have to take one for the team. Sometimes the team has to take one for the boss. If there is absolutely no chance of winning, or at least living and winning, this should be something that is clear to the players at the start of the campaign. If the GM has poisoned the characters and they only have X amount of hours to live, a popular plot device, or that if the players going on with their course of action because that's what they're meant to do, such as say Rosach from the Watchmen, they should know ahead of time that it's death to do so.

This doesn't mean a bad role playing session though. It might be best for a one shot or a limited campaign, but there can be powerful action scenes, there can be allies gained and lost, there can be vast treasures gambled and earned. It's just your going to die.

Knowing that ahead of time may make some players bold. It may give them role playing opportunities that they've never engaged in before.

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai has a lot going for it and is well worth a read.

47 Ronin is available at Dark Horse over here in electronic format with the individual issues running about $3.99 each, each one with a preview, and is available from Amazon.com over here in hardcover format for $14.99, a $5.00 savings form the cover price.

For those who've read the Dark Horse comic, do you have a particular scene that stands out? A particular bit that you'd like to bring to your RPG?

For those who've read other accounts of the 47 Ronin, is there a particular version you'd recommend? I picked up two of them immediately after seeing the movie in kindle format, and have an old hardcover with other stories in it, as well an Osprey book I want to get to.

The 47 Ronin is a tale with a lot of elements to it that historically bears retelling in one form or another.