Monday, April 11, 2016

Usagi Yojimbo: Two Hundred Jizo

Two Hundred Jizo brings the Ronin Rabbit Usagi Yojimbo to his 29th collection of adventures by writer and artist Stan Sakai.

This volume includes the usual assortment of heroics and villains with those who live in this version of Feudal Japan trying their best to get by.

If you haven't read any Usagi Yojimbo in the past, the good news is this volume, like many, is relatively self contained and doesn't rely on following any long standing plot lines or resolutions. While not necessarily "done in one", many of the stores are quickly told.

In some aspects, that is very much like the old Marvel Comics "Conan" where the barbarian would wander from one adventure to the next with the whole issue of continuity becoming more embraced when years later Dark Horse would take over.

The black and white artwork of Stan Sakai is solid. His ability to use minimal amounts of line work does not hold back the flow of action on the page. And let me try to clarify, when I say minimal amount of line work, I'm noting that on the characters, not necessarily on the designs. Some of the clothing he draws has intense amount of detail to it.

If you want to read about samurai fighting bandits and playing detective, this collection has you covered. If your curious but want to know more, Dark Horse Comics has a multi-page preview over here:

But what if you're hear for some Appendix N musings?

The Artist: This collection starts off with Usagi meeting  Yoshi, a young man who has had teachings of art styles outside of Japan. Because Japan is very traditional at this time, the artist's own father has decided to have his son killed as opposed to allowing those teachings to spread.

This 'clash of cultures' is not one that occurs with guns and bombs. It is not an exchange of arrows and swords. It is a divergence of styles, teachings, and culture. Perhaps something far more insidious in it's reach.

How far would people go to keep things separate? Sometimes this is used by marketers as a ploy to push merchandise. I can't be the only one who remembers "Freedom Fries".

Other times it can be used to justify murder.

Buntori: Despite the focus on historical accuracy, Stan Sakai has used elements of the supernatural many times. In this instance, Usagi falls asleep outside and has a dream of two samurai fighting, one falling and suffering an unkind fate. When Usagi awakens, he takes care of that business. Stan's use of dreams to convey information is solid.

This isn't just a small time independent publisher thing though. The recent movie Batman v Superman uses several dream sequences to suggest things and to push the characters. Dreams allow the game access to locations that the characters may not physically have access too.

Murder At The Inn: Inspector Ishida makes a pleasant return visit here, fighting against bandits and is assisted by Usagi, who he meets by chance! The two take shelter in an Inn with the bandit leader their prisoner. After exchanging some pleasantries with some of the customers of the Inn, murder happens overnight!

I recently played in a game of Legend of the Five Rings with a similar incident, murder with a group of suspects.

When dealing with multiple non-player characters, it's vital to draw those characters clearly in the player's mind. Just having a name isn't necessarily going to be enough unless there has been some extensive role playing done to determine the nature of the NPC's character.

Cheat sheets of portrait cards can be vital here. Find an image from the vast horde of the Internet and print it out on some nice paper and use it to represent those characters. The visual cues will be a lot more memorable than some hastily done verbal description.

Two Hundred Jizo: Feudal Japan is a land with its own religion and its own mythology. That of Jizo is no exception to the rule. This time period of Japan also seems to be teeming over with bandits.

Despite the vitriol that it received, one of the things 4th edition did well was the "fallen" kingdoms, the "points of light" idea where society as a whole was not empire spanning but rather small clusters of civilization which easily lends itself to having a setting overrun with bandits.

If your setting has a lot of bandits, why? Are they a culture whose homeland is destroyed? Has the warrior class being displaced through peace? Has some calamity befallen a part of the setting creating waves of mass migration?

Ice Runners: Usagi becomes involved in situations by accident. He is often wandering onto a scene of some ongoing action.

In this case, some runners are bringing ice as a tribute to a lord to showcase how great their own lord is. These runners are under attack by "bandits" who are suspected of being hired by another lord who wishes to see the first lord fail and lose honor.

When showcasing the abilities of an organization, there are often those who seek to take the glory away from such an effort and cover themselves with it. When designing an adventure seed, keep in mind those that may not want characters to succeed if it casts themselves in a better light.

Shoyu:  Sometimes you read something that makes you want to share that knowledge. Sometimes you want to incorporate this cool thing you've learned. Stan does this often with his writing. In this case, it's the creation of soy sauce and a feud between two crafters of the seasoning. Stan does so in a way that's organic and grows out of the situation and it works well.

A good way to 'feed' such information into a game is to have an NPC whose passionate about the subject matter and eager to show it off. They want to talk about the thing they love. They want to share that knowledge.

If you're running a Legend of the Five Rings game or an older game like the original Oriental Adventurers, Usagi Yojimbo continues to provide entertainment and inspiration.